When people get lost they go in circles; it’s a fact. You’ve only got to go 100 metres without being sure where you are when you start to turn. I read a story of a hiker in the Appalachians who’d perished. Her husband had notified authorities when she failed to turn up, but they never found her body for some months later, despite searchers, at times, being less than 100 metres away.
Now that I’ve been lost three times I can confirm the reality.
I’d left New Berrima uncertain of my destination but thinking I’d end up at Carrington Falls, so I headed in that direction. My brain however, was wandering and, from the depths came some falls I’d been told about. Was it “Belvedere”? I pulled up and typed in Carrington because they were roughly in the same area and there it was on the perimeter – Gerringong!
Part of me wanted to go, the other was reticent. I headed there anyway; I mean, what else was I doing on New Year’s Eve? Somewhere south of Robertson I swung off where the sign said “Budderoo National Park”. It’s around 600 metres in on a rough dirt road to the locked gate. Others had arrived before me but I got the second last parking spot, unpacked the mountain bike and started to get excited; not before time.
Just then two fellow bikers returned so I button holed them. “Don’t go past the gate like we did” was the repeated message. They’d missed the Hersey Fire Trail and gone about 4 kms past before their error was realised. I took note and headed off. Wildflowers were out in such proliferation that, in places, it looked like a massive white hakea doona had been thrown across the plateau.
A walker came into view coming over a locked gate as I rode on and I pulled up as he exited. There was a small dam beyond but he said it wasn’t exciting. His name was John, he was an ex teacher of Maths and Science and John was looking at the trackside pools, of which there were many. It was with enthusiasm that he spoke about the tadpoles he was looking for. He said that by tapping the puddles with your toe that the tadpoles moved and he proceeded to demonstrate. However, John knows a whole lot about nature generally. The botany, the bird life, just being in the bush; it was obviously his life and his knowledge was vast.
We moved on and came across two men and a car. They lived further down the road, one of only a couple of property owners from when the whole area was gazetted for grazing and divided into blocks. The eldest of the two men originated from Iowa 40 years ago but had retained some of his accent. He, too, was a font of knowledge.
In this area there are 82 quolls. How was that figure arrived at I queried. Turns out that NPWS have a type of trap that captures a few hairs off them and the hairs are then D.N.A. tested – who’d have thought. He then got on to sugar gliders, quite a few around here as well but, turns out Iowa man goes back to Wisconsin every year to a dairy convention. While at one of them a lady was walking past wearing a fisherman’s many pocketed jacket and he heard a noise. “You haven’t got gliders have you?” Indeed she had, one in every pocket! Apparently, it’s a big thing in the States and there’s even a group of vets who specialise in treating them.
Iowa man then explained how he maintained the road at his own expense, even though it was Crown Land. I’d have loved to learn more but my goal was still aways off.
Iowa man told us it was downhill, then uphill to a rainforest and turn right after about 300 metres. I left Tadpole John and sped off, figuring I’d see him later. I bundled the bike over the locked gate to the Hersey Trail and headed off, anticipation rising. In just a few minutes the noise of a creek foretold how close I was getting, but there were very rough gravel patches and two large logs to get over first, put there to prevent erosion.
The two bikers had said something about going 30 metres to the left when you arrived at the feeder creek but I parked the bike and couldn’t help but notice a seldom used track going somewhere across the other side, so I moved to ford the waters but, on the right was one of the most beautiful pools I’d ever seen. The green was reflected from the forest into a pool coloured red and brown from the local minerals. I fancied that ancient civilizations would have labelled it the “Pool of the Gods”.
In time I moved onto the track, such as it was, for it was overgrown and you continually had to brush vegetation aside. Up to your waist the trail was visible but, the top part was reclaiming the heath lands. I pushed on, unsure just where it came out but I figured it had to lead somewhere. Small bits of red on top of stakes indicated that fox baiting was taking place here, the main reason for the healthy quoll population.
Iowa man had told us they used to have a terrier that woke them every night with barking. The first night after it died, they lost their chooks. The quolls’ persistence had paid off.
Meanwhile, I pushed on and eventually stumbled through the branches to another stream, Gerringong Creek as it transpired. Upstream was a small cascade that I deemed worthy of a pic or two so I removed my shoes and socks and waded in an ungainly manner through the waters. It felt like a privilege to just be here. Immersed not only in the waters but nature itself.
Working my way around the stream to get different angles I noticed a trail on the far side and pondered its destination, so I barefooted my way along it and, lo and behold, here was a side angle on the falls. Frankly, and I’d been warned, it’s downright frightening because here, in true wilderness, there are no railings, there’s no O.H.&S., just a massive sheer drop over the edge if you make a false move. I got low on the ground and hauled myself closer and gazed down on the sassafras way below. A braver man might have gotten closer still but I wanted to enjoy a few more years in the world.
I returned, crossed the stream and put my shoes on again and headed off. The trail seemed more indistinct on the return journey and I reached a spot where it got confusing. It seemed like there were three options. In hindsight, I took one of two wrong ones and ended up squeezing through scrub and starting to doubt if I was heading the right way. It’s the cobwebs that give you the clue. If you start brushing cobwebs aside, you know no-one has been here for a while. You’re probably getting lost. Not probably, I was, and realised it when I stumbled into a round clearing. There was no way out save bush bashing.
Well, I stumbled around that clearing for what seemed like ages but was probably only a few minutes. I even had trouble finding how I’d even gotten in here and pushed through where it seemed possible to do so. In hindsight it seems ridiculous but reality can be a big awakening.
I could hear water splashing not that far away but could only see metres in front while getting a face full of twigs, the scrub being that thick. After some time I stumbled out at Gerringong Creek again, just 10 metres from where I’d left originally.
I started out again and this time jagged the actual trail. An occasional footprint and red label made me confident but then, I met up with John again who was also exploring and somehow convinced him it wasn’t worthwhile continuing on and we headed back towards the crossing.
Back at the feeder creek we took the downstream option as I’d been advised and there was the trail. A narrow bush one but clearly utilized by many people and it followed the unnamed water flow before swinging south to follow the ridge line to the best lookout, a protruding section of sandstone cliff that lorded over the chasm beneath.
Towards one edge there was a raised section about the height of a sofa, ideally placed for relaxing and soaking up the view. We sat down and pulled out food, though John had a proper lunch while I made do with an apple. We were both agreed that taking time out in a place like this was special, not to be forgotten and to be savoured for longer than a glance or two. The whole time you’re there you keep thinking “Wow, it’s a long way to the bottom”, or more coarse words to that effect.
The man who’d tipped me off over a year previously had raved about them and the two bikers had echoed those sentiments. They were all agreed it was the best of the Southern Highlands waterfalls, now I was here checking them out. As for height, they were correct, though exact elevations are hard to come by. Roughly they are as follows: Fitzroy – 80 metres; Belmore 100 metres; Carrington 160 metres; Gerringong 180 metres.
The other factor here is that there are no crowds. In the middle of the busiest holiday season of the year, less than a dozen people were sighted in three hours. There’s a genuine feeling of being somewhere special, unlike the very popular Fitzroy where they come, literally, by the busload and you have to pay parking fees if you’re in your own car.
Chilling out with John is a totally different experience. If you weren’t in touch with nature before you met John, you’d certainly be a lot closer afterwards, his quiet nature echoing that of the location.
After we’d tarried on the rock we parted ways as John had an app that showed a shorter way out if you were walking whereas I had to return to where I’d left the bike. En route back I worked out there was another view point if you went off piste and so it transpired, though hanging onto a tree while you’re trying to photograph with 600ft plus of nothing less than a metre is away unnerving, to say the least.
Back on the bike I felt a sense of joy at having seen these elusive falls and thought of nothing else until I reached the Budderoo Plateau Road and visions of the thick ferns in the rainforest came to the fore. It is an added bonus to the experience because it’s a different look to the other waterfall entries. The variation from low heathland scrub to rainforest is unusual and offers so many variant types of habitat and flora. Amazing to think they were going to use it all for grazing.
When I reached the car I sat down on the stile and ate a meal of prawns and avocado, much to the amusement of a family who’d returned not far behind me. There was concern voiced as to the wisdom of eating the prawns after they’d sat in the car for three or four hours. I had to relate it bothered me not as I plopped another in my mouth, savouring the flavour yet again and thinking how lucky I was to have brought them with me to cap off one of my best ever days bushwalking.