Living Fossils at Nahuelbuta National Park
If you want to read a really positive blog about this national park, go to Heather and Scott’s blog . Our experience, while worthwhile, was accompanied by difficulties from start to finish.
We love to spend time in national parks and when we read about this one with the amazing Monkey Puzzle trees, and realised it was on our way south, we decided we should go. There are two main ways into the park – one from Cañete in the west and the other from Angol in the east. Since Cañete was closest to where we were, we decided to follow that route. This produced our first problem – totally unpredictable and out of our control. There was a forest fire burning somewhere near the route and we didn’t know, until we reached the intersection in Cayucupil (15km from Cañete and was crowded with fire-fighters and various onlookers), that the road was closed that day. So, we had to backtrack and make a detour of over 100km to enter from the other side. It took us most of the day to reach Angol. It is sign-posted as 36 km to the park, so we slept by the road just over 20km from the entrance.
According to the information sheet provided at the entrance to the park: “It is a one-hour trip on a gravel road until the park ranger’s post at the entrance to the park.” I suppose that is possible in a smaller vehicle than ours, but I do doubt it. The road is very steep, corrugated, and narrow in parts. We were very lucky we didn’t meet many oncoming vehicles. We arrived at the entrance to the park at around 1pm on Thursday. We had planned to camp and maybe spend a few days relaxing and exploring the park. When faced with a 14000 Peso per day camping fee, we very quickly gave up that idea. The young ranger was very encouraging – it’s only about 10 km through the park to the road to Cañete, and it’s daylight until 9.00 pm, so you should have plenty of time to see some of the sights, take a couple of short walks and be out of the park by the end of the day.
He made recommendations on where to go and what to see. Juergen asked him about the size of our truck and any access problems there might be. He assured us that we would have no problem visiting the places he suggested. So we paid our entrance fees and drove off. The first problem inside the park was definitely one of access! The roads are very narrow, but the main problem is that the tree foliage is so low we often had to slow down to a crawl to avoid worse damage than all the scratches we already have along the sides of both truck and camper.
We made it to the first intersection and turned left down another narrow track to get to an information centre. The campground and a picnic area were also down that way. We stopped before reaching the information centre in a small parking lot, next to the track going down to the campground, to have lunch. So far so good, but we didn’t like the look of the track to the campground, and didn’t even try to drive down to check it out. After lunch we drove to the information centre, only to be stopped by an arch created by two overhanging trees that there was no way we could pass through – we couldn’t park there. Then we tried the picnic ground. We crossed a very narrow bridge with no sign of weight restriction, but… We crossed successfully (although Juergen said he felt it shake!), and then on the other side were faced with more overhanging trees barring our way. We had to turn around in a very tight spot and go back over the bridge. We ended up parking the truck right on the track at the intersection between the information centre track and the picnic area track, leaving enough room for small vehicles to get around us.
The walking track from the information centre goes all the way to Piedra del Aguila and returns in a loop – a 4.5km walk that should take around 2 hours. We walked some of it and found it to be very relaxing and quite beautiful. It was steep upwards on most of the part we walked, but we didn’t really notice that until we were walking back down – probably because we were walking slowly, taking photos and enjoying the environment. The Araucarias (monkey puzzle trees) are truly unique and majestic trees. The oldest tree in the park is on this trail – Araucania Milenaria, about 1500 years old. There are also other trees in the forest including Coigües, Robles, Raulies and Lengas – and very striking yellow and orange flowers, which we found are a parasite called Quintral (Tristerix corymbosus). And the whole forest is hung with masses of pale green moss, which makes it look like something out of a fairy tale!
We drove on from there to Piedra del Aguila, which is supposed to be an amazing lookout with views to the Andes and the ocean. On this track we had to stop about 500m short of the parking lot for the lookout, again due to branches hanging too low for our truck. This time there was parking available for another trail (to Casa de Piedra). So our walk to the lookout was twice as far as it would have been if we could have accessed the parking lot. But we walked it, still intending to leave the park when we got back.
This path had some fairly difficult parts where we had to support each other climbing over rocks. By the time we reached the top it was around 6.00 pm and we were both totally exhausted and hungry. We then decided that we would leave the truck where it was, risk sleeping overnight and hope for no problems. The view from the top was fairly good, but we never did find the actual lookout. The signposting was poor and we had no energy left for more walking than might be necessary in order to find it.
Back at the truck we had got it level and started cooking when we were disturbed by a member of the park police who wanted to tell us we couldn’t stay there. I continued cooking while Juergen talked to him. He explained our problems with access due to our truck’s size and that there was no way we could have reached the campground with it. He listened and then told us that we could stay the night, but only one night. We thought that we might be stopped on the way out in the morning and asked to pay, but didn’t worry about it at that time.
It was a lovely quiet and peaceful spot and we went to bed reasonably early due to our extreme exhaustion. Shortly after midnight we were woken by a car and then the occupants banging on the camper. When Juergen spoke to them out of the window, they just seemed to be interested in us needing to pay for camping there. They eventually left saying they would return in the morning – they didn’t. My opinion is that they were hoping that by waking us in such a shocking manner we would be too dazed to think straight and just pay them. A nice little money earner for them, I’m sure. But we had decided that if there was a discussion about us paying for a campsite, we would have it with whoever was at the gate when we left.
We were very lucky in that there was nobody to be seen as we left the park. We were a bit worried because we had wanted to check if the road was open again after the fire, but we took the luck and drove on. According to their information sheet, the distance to Cañete is 47km on gravel road and takes about 1.5 hours (all sings say 50+km). It took us about twice as long as that! The first third was really terrible – even worse than inside the park. We were constantly on the lookout for branches that could damage our camper in some way. We would stop and break off pieces through our windows. The next third was mostly through pine and eucalypt forest which caused less trouble with overhead branches, but the road was in worse repair. And, given that we had climbed a long way up, we also had to come a long way down. The brakes were really working overtime and smelled like it!
It was a relief to be back in Cañete, even though we hadn’t expected to return there.
Practical Information Parque Nacional Nahuelbuta
As mentioned above, there are two main access roads. There is a third option from Los Sauces, which is not sign-posted and is a much longer stretch of dirt road (we don’t know about this road’s condition).
Please note that the condition of dirt or gravel roads can change quickly, e.g. after heavy rain. Our description is current for early January 2014! You can drive both roads with a normal vehicle, the lower in height and the narrower the better. Good ground clearance and slow driving will make it easier.
1. Access from Angol: leaving Angol the road is very steep, first rough concrete, then wide ‘ripio’ with plenty of deep corrugations, switchbacks, and loose dust. The road accesses two settlements along the way and is also used by heavy timber and gravel trucks, which explains some of the corrugations. As soon as it levels out it becomes narrower with trees both sides. The last section towards the park’s entry is again fairly steep and dusty.
2. Access from Cañete: the first part follows a river and is not very mountainous. This ‘ripio’ section appeared to be well maintained. It then gets rather steep for a while, going past several fresh logging sites; hence the road is reasonably wide. The last 10 km towards the park’s entrance looked like it had not seen any surface maintenance in several years; there were some small landslides, water washouts, rocky section and many potholes. Fallen trees and overhanging branches had been cut back to the bare minimum, most not really far enough for our vehicle.
3. Roads inside the park: the main access from Angol was in good condition, though very narrow in sections, winding its way between mature trees. The track towards the information centre was in decent repair, very dusty in parts, but certainly suitable for any vehicle. Access to all three facilities, campground, picnic area, and the ranger’s information centre, is severely restricted to small vehicles (up to a normal van size) due to overhanging low branches or mature trees both sides of the tracks. The track towards Piedra del Aguila is very steep in sections with big boulders sticking out above the dirt surface – good ground clearance and slow driving is advisable! The road from the turn-off to Piedra del Aguila onwards towards the exit in direction Cañete was not in good repair. As this entrance was not manned when we exited, we guess it is of lesser importance.
The park’s entrance fee is 2,500 Pesos for Chileans, 4,500 Pesos for foreigners.
In January 2015 the camping fee was 14,000 Pesos per site (for up to 8 people, tariff for foreigners), so if you can share a site with friends it might be okay, otherwise we find it outrageously expensive for the facilities on offer. There are supposed to be toilets and cold showers, plus picnic tables. Coming from Angol we noticed a flat section along a river bank, roughly 3-4km before the park entrance. Leaving towards Cañete there was a small level field to the side of the road, fenced but with no gate, within a short distance of the park’s gate. The next level section is probably 4km of rough dirt further on.