Monday, June 01, 2009

If you are not pressured for time, or are not tied to the tried and true, or are not worried by a hour or two on a lonely, dirt road without take-aways or cafe latte then the Great North Road is for you.
There you can get in touch with the days of convict work-gangs and early settler-pioneers as you follow this alternative path to Sydney through pleasant contrasting scenery from the Hunter valley via Wollombi, Bucketty, St Albans, Wisemans Ferry, Dural and originally on to Ryde and Five Dock in inner Sydney.

Convicts build the road between 1826 and 1836 and their civil engineering can be seen at various points while a section of special interest is by-passed altogether with access given only to walkers and bicycles (according to the official brochures). It was the path that the early settlers took to reach the Hunter Valley.

Beginning at the village of Wollombi the route south takes in Laguna and Bucketty. (Several turn-offs go to other destinations including a sealed road to Central Mangrove which offers another route to Wisemans Ferry etc).

Above is Murrays Run culvert: The most elaborate of the culverts just beside the road between Wollombi and Bucketty and restored by the local community. Other sites of interest can be found along there.
Near the intersection at Bucketty is Mt McQuoid Bucketty precinct.
Above is a rock cutting with the road surface cut into the bedrock and below, a large culvert with winged walling are among the structures in the precinct which is beside the busy road.
The Great North Road continues, possibly as a dirt road to the South West as St Albans Road, while the other road, typically buzzing with motor bikes, goes to Central Mangrove.

Soon the St Albans Road Ramp is found and forms a section of the road, seen above. Two stone walls up to 4m high and 50m long support the roadway. Over 170 years of continuous use shows the lasting quality of the workmanship.

In this vicinity, somewhere near the Mt Manning intersection and sign, (still north of the Mogo Camp Ground) the Great North Road itself continues south and disappears into the bushland to emerge at Wisemans Ferry.

This special section of the road is extensive and has steep grades and many features of note that can be seen by hikers as it is closed to vehicles (although they have invaded the initial area).

Instead, any car tour will continue south-west on the dirt of the St Albans Road.
Below, the Mogo Camp Ground, off St Albans Road, south of the featured Road Ramp, has basic amenities, camping ground and shade trees.

Above, once-upon-a-time, an intrepid little Renault 4 had no trouble on the dirt. Only very heavy rain would make four wheel drive de rigueur.
Saint Albans Common has a unique feature. Other historical features can be sought out along the way.
From the hilly tree-country a descent is made by interesting narrow winding road to an unusal valley and a lakeside drive.
The small village of St Albans has an old working pub and a rustic beer garden under the trees. The Macdonald River is close by, the valley has narrowed and is crossed by a large wooden bridge which at that time was 'held together' by Bailey bridge sections. The river floods at times.

It seems that one can drive south either on the east or on the west side of the Macdonald River to roll on down to the Hawkesbury River, which is still some distance away, so, one can cross this bridge near the pub for the western side for a pleasant drive to the Hawkesbury which is a wide river and crossed by the additional, up-stream vehicular ferry (which is not far from the Wisemans ferry itself).

From the south, the 'closed' section of the Great North Road can be approached, on foot etc, near the area of the Wisemans Ferry crossing.

An informative, artistic booklet named Explore the Convict Trail Great North Road is from Tourism New South Wales and the RTA and has been used for data and it explains the whole story and refers to more historical features on the Sydney side.

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