It’s time to get off the beaten track a little with a visit to Wauchope. Not that Wauchope is remote or hidden away, but this town definitely lives in the shadow of its much larger coastal neighbour, Port Macquarie.
Say hello to…Wauchope.
Driving North on the Pacific Highway running straight up the East coast of Australia, it is easy to become mesmerised by the steady and constant North-South direction. I would like to encourage you to slow down, flick your indicator on and turn left to explore the coastal hinterland.
Heading West on the Oxley Highway the scenery morphs from coastal forests to cleared paddocks and then back into heavily forested areas surrounding Wauchope itself. The paddocks are lush and green, but not their usual vibrant Spring-green and I suspect that the drought is touching these coastal areas too.
The beauty of the landscape is muted somewhat by a thick blanket of smoke. There were around eight bushfires burning in the region on the day I visited and the breeze stubbornly refused to disperse both the clouds of smoke and its acrid scent. Looking around, it was like 50 Shades of Grey, unfortunately dulling the vibrant purple of the blossoming jacaranda trees. What a show they would have put on if their backdrop was a sparkling blue sky.
Founded in 1836, Wauchope is a small town located approximately 20km due West of Port Macquarie and 406km North of Sydney. It looks like any ordinary bustling regional town, but on closer inspection you quickly discover its wonderful historic origins, mostly centred on thriving timber and dairy industries.
The dominance of the timber industry, especially high quality red cedar, saw the region produce and supply more timber than any other town in Australia, including timber used in the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Source
Wherever you drive or walk there is a reference to the town’s timber heritage. The most obvious example of this is the popular tourist attraction, Timbertown. Located on the western edge of Wauchope, Timbertown celebrates the colourful history and heritage of the region’s timber industry. Surrounded by soaring Tallwood and Blackbutt trees, Timbertown has a whole range of working displays, steam trains, shops, galleries and farmyards to captivate history lovers of all ages. When I popped in the carpark was buzzing even on a weekday, which was good to see. Timbertown has had a bumpy financial past with a few stops and starts, so it is good to see it firing on all cylinders again.
In addition to Timbertown, there seemed to still be plenty of active timber yards and heavily-laden timber trucks navigating the tight corners of the winding mountain roads. Make sure you keep your eyes open and be aware of these powerful and lumbering vehicles as you move about.
I can only imagine what a tough place it must have been to live and work as the early pioneers tried to establish themselves. The trees still stand thick and tall by the side of the road and clearing these by hand and by bullock train would not have been for the faint-hearted. Those early settlers were much tougher and more determined than I will ever be.
The other prominent aspect of Wauchope was the word ‘co-op’. Wherever you looked there appeared be a co-op business – on every corner, on every street. The Hastings Cooperative was established in 1916 by a group of dairy farmers who recognised the benefits of joining forces to strengthen their industry and their community. The Co-op’s dairy focus has broadened dramatically since then, now employing more than 300 people across supermarkets, liquor stores, fuel, hardware and rural supplies, department stores, cafes, condiment manufacturing and car hire. Now that is strength in numbers and a pretty inspiring example for other rural communities.
Today it seems that the dairy focus of the region has shrunk considerably and yet the Co-op still plays an active and important role in the community.
I suspect Wauchope’s role and structure has changed somewhat in recent years. Located a short, 20-minute drive from Port Macquarie, I imagine Wauchope is now considered to be part of the city’s commuter belt. Certainly the amount of eastbound traffic I passed indicated the magnetic pull of the larger centre. However, Wauchope had its own bustle and vibe, and the streets were busy enough. People seemed to be going about their daily business, although they did not loiter with their coffee al fresco due to the smoky air.
Wauchope is a nice country town to break your journey. It promotes itself as an RV-friendly town and lays claim to being the first motorcycle-friendly town in NSW. It would be the perfect spot to base yourself to explore the surrounding countryside and the many little villages and communities tucked away in the rolling mountains and valleys.
To me, the small towns and villages of rural Australia are where you find the real Australia and definitely worth a visit.
Do you have a favorite small town?
What: If you are looking for a cost effective place to camp in Wauchope, Timbertown has set up a basic camp ground right next door to the attraction. It is only $10 a night to camp and there is a supermarket directly opposite and a couple of cafés within walking distance.
Where: Wauchope is an easy five hour drive North of Sydney on the A1. It is dual lanes most of the way and it is very straight-forward driving. Turn inland (West) at the major intersection as you near Port Macquarie. Wauchope is well signposted and only 20km from the beach.
When: Timbertown is open Thursday to Sunday 930am-4pm and seven days per week in NSW school holiday periods. Allow 2-3hrs for a good look around
Why: To step back in time and see history come alive or simply kick back on the friendly streets of a small country town.
How: You will need a car to get to Wauchope or you can catch the Busways bus number 335/335W.
Who: Wauchope is the place to be for grey nomads, families, history buffs, and anyone in need of a coffee and a leg stretch after a long journey.
Related Posts: For another little town that is definitely worth a visit, say hello to Kiama on the NSW South Coast.
Related Blogs: Feeling a little crafty? Then check out the Wauchope Quilters Group – a bunch of very talented locals!
Read About It: For an outsider’s perspective on travelling in Australia, grab a copy of Bill Bryson’s Down Under – Travels In A Sunburnt Country. His eye for detail and quirky sense of humour is sure to bring a smile to your face and give you some insight into the way we think down under. Available from Book Depository.
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