Mar 19, 2014

Finding The Promised Land

It is interesting the way in which some places become tourist attractions while others sit more quietly. Neither of Victoria’s two highest peaks (Mt Bogong and Mt Feathertop) are ski resorts. Infrastructure was created elsewhere and the skiers followed. While sitting on ski lifts at Mt Hotham, I have often looked over at the clean, fresh snow on Mt Feathertop and wistfully compared it to the busy ski runs of Hotham. Odd quirks of fate such as this are innumerable. Why is Byron Bay so popular when you can sit on many beautiful beaches by yourself elsewhere on New South Wales’ north coast? How many places exist that only locals know about?

The bridge over Killick Creek, Crescent Head on the mid-north coast of New South Wales

We spent a few days at Crescent Head, a couple of hours north of Newcastle. Crescent Head is popular with tourists, but its distance from Sydney and Brisbane make it quieter than some more famous beachside towns. Short drives into Hat Head National Park, Goolawah National Park and Limeburners Creek Nature Reserve reward the curious with turquoise waters washing onto quiet sandy beaches. But eventually we continued north to visit the World Heritage listed Dorrigo National Park.

On the drive, we were listening to Dr Karl’s segment on Triple J radio. A caller rang with a question and said that he was from Bellingen, coincidentally our destination for lunch that day. Dr Karl and the caller chatted briefly about Bellingen and they mentioned a place called the “Promised Land” just north of the town. The caller was quick to say that he should keep quiet lest it become more popular. Needless to say, this little exchange piqued my interest.

The view over the Bellinger Valley and Bellingen from the World Heritage listed Dorrigo National Park

Bellingen, although unknown to me, is clearly known to many others. It has a plethora of hotels, shops and cafés that are clearly designed for through traffic rather than the 2500 people who call the town home. Contrasting this is the town of Dorrigo, about 30km away and about 600m up the mountain. Whilst Dorrigo does have some tourist-driven infrastructure, its main function is to service the local farming community. Dorrigo’s claim to fame is a World Heritage listed national park, and Bellingen is known as the birthplace of Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist yet Bellingen is the more popular tourist town. Another oddity.

We spent a day exploring Dorrigo and its National Park. We strolled out on the Skywalk at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre and took in the view over Bellingen all the way to Urunga on the coast at the mouth of the Bellinger River*. A number of walks began from the Rainforest Centre and we chose one to explore the Gondwana Rainforest that made the National Park World Heritage listed.

Rolling green farms in the Promised Land, north of Bellingen and Gleniffer, New South Wales

The popularity of the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre was obvious. Tourists stopped off while driving Waterfall Way, and school groups regularly came through for educational experiences. A large gift shop and café serviced those that came through. But the highlight of Dorrigo National Park came for me when we took a drive to the Never Never picnic area. The 10km drive through the park was picturesque with the rainforest encroaching on either side of the road. Occasional breaks in the foliage made possible astonishing views of nearby hills and rolling green farmland. We were the only people at the picnic area, which was a slightly peculiar feeling given we had only driven 15min from the popular Rainforest Centre.

Fortunately, our visit to the region coincided with the 3rd Saturday of the month – Bellingen market day. We left our campsite early to investigate the wares available and were not disappointed. After wearing the mini-Bugler out, we strapped him in for a sleep while we drove out to the day’s main event.

Never Never Creek wends its way through the Promised Land north of Gleniffer and Bellingen, New South Wales

There is little on the internet about the Promised Land. A quick search only netted a few results but did identify a road near the hamlet of Gleniffer called Promised Land Road. But we didn’t quite know what would be there. The one website with some information said that it is a “tranquil part of the Bellinger Valley” and one of the “purest and most magical places”. It mentioned that the Never Never Creek was good for swimming and for enjoying a picnic. Clearly good enough for the Bugle family to explore.

Even the drive to the Promised Land was spectacular. A narrow road wound its way through incredibly verdant farmland. The cows grazed on thick grass at the foot of a dramatic escarpment covered with thick rainforest. Mrs Bugler and I were left stunned at the beauty of the farms that were in stark contrast to those where we grew up. Less than 100km to the west parts of New England are suffering through their worst ever drought, but in this valley that seemed an impossibility.

The mini-Bugler enjoying the crystal clear water of Never Never Creek in the Promised Land near Bellingen, New South Wales

We continued our drive on the Promised Land Loop Road and ogled slack-jawed at the properties. No wonder the likes of George Negus and David Helfgott call this home. Eventually we arrived at a bridge crossing Never Never Creek. A couple of parked cars signalled this as our picnic and swimming spot. A short walk through the rainforest and we were at a perfect swimming hole with superbly clear fresh water. The Promised Land.

More than once I have arrived at a place and been frustrated by the lack of phone reception or the inadequacies of the dining options. For these reasons I understand the attraction of popular tourist destinations. Mrs Bugler is also fond of telling me that places are popular for a reason and, certainly, I was still astonished upon viewing the Taj Mahal, Uluru and the Eiffel Tower despite seeing millions of images of them. But just occasionally if you follow a rumour or a tip, you might just find yourself enjoying the solitude of a Promised Land.


* As an aside, the Bellinger River is spelled with an ‘r’ at the end while Bellingen obviously ends in ‘n’. The mistake was made by a draughtsman when the area was mapped. He mistook the ‘n’ for an ‘r’ in the surveyor’s handwriting.


  • Hi Buglers, amazing trips and love your stories. Sadly the prophecy has come true. The secret is out about the promised land in part to blogs like yours. The never never creek has current measurements of human faecal EColi that are above unhealthy. Bellingen council is now warning us not to swim there. The never never is not resistant to the pressure of the numbers of tourists and the behaviour of day trippers and illegal campers. People pee and poo in the bushes or even in the river itself. people leave dirty diapers behind. Tourist and locals alike are falling ill with staph infections, blastocystisis and other nasties. There are very limited toilet facilties, mainly because it is all flood area, another reason any “number two’s” deposited in bushes get swept back into the creek. We used to be able to drink this water. Now we can’t even swim in it anymore. I hope you can remove your instructions on how to get here, or even the name, or at the very least explain this current situation to your readers and ask them for their support to keep it clean… thanks!

    • Hi Erik,
      Thanks for your comment and taking the time to read the Bugle!
      I read the ABC reports about Bellingen Council developing a master plan for the Never Never Creek. I was saddened to hear that the environment of the area was being compromised by the behaviours of some people – a typical story being repeated all over the world, behaviours of some ruining the experience for others.
      I am flattered that you think visitors to the area might be using the Bugle for travel advice, but I am not so bullish about my influence on tourism numbers. I just had a quick look at my stats for this post and I am sure that they pale in comparison to the numbers who might do a quick Google Maps search as we did when we were passing through!
      I hope that the water quality and natural environment improves in the Promised Land with or without Council intervention. And I remain sincerely hopeful that our fellow humans will show more responsibility when visiting sites such as this!

  • Dear Bugle and Erik,
    Very interesting reading from you both …
    I know that you are proud of your blog Bugle, and it is truly lovely …
    How great it would be for sites like this one to fall into a big black hole, so that the environment has a chance to heal.
    People are always looking for something special and do not think past their own wants and needs, unfortunately …
    Best kept secrets are best kept for reason!
    Yours truly Linda

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