When everyone else was at the beach last summer, I went bush.
The blistering heatwaves were almost inescapable last summer, but I found a spot that was so cool, I needed a jumper and long pants. In Gloucester, NSW, it was 44°C and the beaches were packed, so I headed up the range into the Barrington Tops, where it was over 20°C cooler. A storm came through as I set up camp and the next morning it was 16°C and almost no one else was about.
A 4WD track through subalpine forests and tall ferns was certainly the place to be while those at the beach were sweltering. I could have gone for a swim in the cold waters of Junction Pools but quite frankly, it was too cold. Ok, enough of my smarty pants rhetoric. The Barrington Tops are a great place to visit any time of year, although some of the tracks will be closed during the winter months – snowfall is not uncommon up here.
The locals in the early part of the 20th Century even formed a few ski clubs, with the Barrington Club building the Brumlow Ski Hut in 1949. The ski hut was more like a tin shed but it stood for around 25 years. The site of the old hut can be seen when travelling on the Barrington Trail out to Junction Pools. In these days of climate change, it may not snow as much as it once did, but certainly be aware that it could.
There is a great selection of national park campgrounds to choose from in the Barrington Tops. These cater to 2WD car camping, 4WD camping and walk-in camping with basic facilities available. As I set up the camper trailer on the ridge at Junction Pools, I was questioning my choice of camping location as a thunderstorm rolled up the valley.
It quickly brought the accompanying wind and rain, with the occasional nearby lightning strike. The couple in the swag on the other side of the campground took on a bit too much water during the storm and headed down the mountain the next day. I was comfortable in the camper trailer so I stayed another night. The fog stayed around for much of the day as the birdlife seemed to relish the damp conditions. The local ‘roos and wallabies looked a little less happy with sodden fur.
The Junction Pools campground is really just a small flat area on top of the ridge overlooking the creek. There are a few walk-in campsites down by the creek but if you are planning to camp with a group, the Little Murray campground would be better suited.
It is a large, grassy and flat campground suitable for larger numbers and with enough flat area for the kids to kick a footy or ride their bikes. You are likely to see plenty of ‘roos and quite a few brumbies in the vicinity of the Little Murray campground.
Both Junction Pools and Little Murray campgrounds can only be accessed from October 1 through to May 31 via the Barrington 4WD trail. Other campgrounds are available all year round. The Polblue campground has 40 campsites and can be accessed in all weather via unsealed roads. It is set in a subalpine woodland with some excellent walking trails including the Polblue Swamp walk, which is short and kid friendly.
Apart from the cooler temperatures, the Barrington Tops has a lot to offer if you like the outdoors. The forest is made up of remnants of the Gondwana Rainforests and is a link to a time before humans. To get a feeling for the subalpine area, the Aeroplane Hill walk starts at Junction Pools and is 6km one way across the plateau region of the Barrington Tops, with an elevation of around 1,500m.
One thing to note is that there has been an outbreak of phytophthora, a mould that causes dieback in plants. It is easily spread by footwear or tyres. There has been a quarantine area established to try and keep the outbreak contained. Don’t worry, it won’t cause any harm to humans, but it is a reminder of why some areas need to be off-limits to people – once weeds or diseases get loose, we could lose what we came to see. There are boot washing stations in place at the trailheads to limit the spread of the phytophthora. Now there is a word to try and say six times, fast. If you can say it more then three times in a row you could be on the way to becoming a biologist.
Some of the other walks, including the Antarctic Beech Forest, are on the southern side of the mountains and need to be accessed via Buckets Way and Gloucester Tops Road. You will need to spend a few days or make a couple of trips to see all that the Barrington area has to offer.
The Barrington Tops makes a great alternative in summer to keep cool and a place where it will be possible to see snow in winter, although don’t expect to take your skis with you. This is about as far north as you can go in Australia and still experience subalpine climate. Bring on the chill of the mountains in summer, and lose the crowds. The Barringtons are definitely tops.