I first heard of track that followed the route of an old Hoop Pine tramway from an old farmer while photographing the beautiful landscape of Gleniffer, west of Bellingen. It remained one of those things that the mind recollects but the body does nothing about for many months. Recently I made time to get out into the bush and take on the challenge of the Syndicate Track. A full days walk, the track begins at the end of Slingby’s Track 15kms north of Dorrigo and ends in Gleniffer, 10 west of Bellingen in the Bellinger Valley. The track traverses the country of the Dorrigo Plateau and the very steep descent into the Bellinger Valley, all the while taking in a wide range of environments, that are all part of the Dorrigo National Park and also part of the World Heritage listed Gondwana Rainforests.
Getting to the start of Slingby’s trail requires one to head north from Dorrigo along Coramba Road for 15km, the track begins at the end of this road. For the most part Slingby’s Trail follows an old logging road so is quite broad and traverses gently undulating ground taking in a number of crystal clear streams and the Killungoondie Plain. This natural treeless plain is thought to be maintained by the Gumbayngirr people who took advantage of sparse vegetation and hunted Red-necked Pademelons (small wallabys.) Local folk lore records Lane’s Lookout as the place that half the town of Dorrigo was conceived, during the time of the Cedar and Hoop Pine logging hey day in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
As Slingy’s Trail approachs the beginning of the Syndicate Tramway the walker is presented with a choice to continue to Lanes Lookout for a magical view all the way to the Pacific ocean or to veer across Wild Cattle Creek heading toward the top of the tram way. I took the second option and climbed back up to the lookout for lunch. The forest changes quite dramatically as the edge of the plateau is reached, sparse eucalypt forest gives way to thicker sub-tropical forest with a few large Hoop Pines that must have been not wanted by the loggers. At the top of the Syndicate Track lies ‘Old Bull’, a seven foot bull wheel mounted horizontally used to winch the empty carts up the tram-way from Gleniffer. The tram-way was built in 1912 and was constructed to transport Hoop Pine from the Dorrigo Plateau down to Gleniffer and then to the Bellingen wharf.
From ‘Old Bull’ the track actually follows the line of the old tram way, in some parts the sleepers on which the track was laid is still visible but mostly all evidence of the Hoop Pine Logging is gone. The track descend very steeply toward Gleniffer following a natural ridge, little imagination is needed to understand what kind of tough gig the loggers had constructing the tram-line. Halfway down the mountain is the site of the winching station used to power the cars up while counter balancing the loaded cars coming down. A 64 horsepower engine and a six-ton boiler were both pulled up the mountain by bullock teams; it took two teams over six weeks. (During my descent I came across a pair of trekkers in training for a Himalaya expedition – this perhaps illustrates how steep the Syndicate Track is.) The engine driver camped at the winching station so he could fire the boilers every morning, smoke from the boilers could be seen way down the Bellinger Valley.
The Syndicate Trail suddenly exits the lush forest at the bottom of the mountain onto private land. On my way down i encountered a pair of old cow farmers, complete with navy blue overalls and a beat up old tractor. They were looking for a lost cow in the National Park and had a good story to tell about the history of the tram line and subsequent bulldozer style logging of the Hoop Pine forest. An fantastic experience, the walk from the beginning of Slingby’s Track to Ryan’s Road in Gleniffer took about eight hours with half an hour for lunch and regular stops to take photos. The track in parts is overgrown and in a state of disrepair but all the same is still quite clear. I highly recommended this walk for anyone interested in the history of the Bellinger Valley or indeed anyone who loves the bush of northern New South Wales – i had a great day!
Note: For most of the way there was no phone reception and this track is one of the lesser-traveled paths in the area. It is probable that you will encounter no one else during the descent. So I advise, if going alone as I did to let someone know when you expect to return.