POOL OF THE GODS

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.

FIND YOUR WAY THROUGH THIS LOT

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.

BUDDEROO FIRE TRAIL

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.

HAKEA SERICES

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.

WHERE TO LOOK FOR TADPOLES

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. 

BUDDEROO FIRE TRAIL, AS MAINTAINED BY IOWA MAN

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. 

ACROSS THERE IS A TRAIL….SORT OF

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”.

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.

THE CASCADE

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.

SCARY VIEW FROM THE SIDE

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.

GERRINGONG CREEK

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.

THE CIRCLE – HOW DID i GET HERE, HOW DO I GET OUT?

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.

CASCADE ON THE FEEDER STREAM

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. 

GERRINGONG FALLS

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. 

WILDFLOWERS

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.

SASSAFRAS AT THE BOTTOM COLOURED RED

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.

BLACK PRINCE CICADA

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.

BACK ON THE FIRE TRAIL

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.

KNOW MY NAME

it was strange was immediately obvious.  A fallen and malleable Greek Corinthian style pillar; who knows, it might have once graced the Parthenon but – just when you least expect it – it moves! Snake like, it seems to follow you, about to pounce but, fear not!  Its title is “Hello”.  As Friedrich Nietzsche once remarked ““If you stare into the abyss, eventually it will stare back at you”.

YES, IT MOVES!

No, I found that quite benign compared to his “Calm”.  Imagine a rectangular pile of builder’s rubble.  You walk past it, merely glancing at something that seems meaningless and needs to be swept away but, then, it heaves up and down, likely making you feel a little queasy.  It did it for me.

The National Gallery in Canberra doesn’t shirk from controversy, Blue Poles tells us that, and Xu Zhen, one of China’s most significant artists and activists, certainly will add to that genre. In the gallery’s script, “His recent work centres on sculptural installations, video and performances that challenge cultural assumptions, question social taboos and comment on the idea of art as a commodity.”  Frankly, I thoroughly enjoyed his work, particularly the classic sculptures lined up on a slightly inclining surface.

Entitled “European Thousand-Armed Classical Sculpture 2014”, it takes you from antiquity to the Statue of Liberty (twice, both left and right handed).  Very eye-catching and thought provoking.

SCENES ON THE DEATH OF NATURE

The main feature during this visit however was “Know My Name – Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now”.  Here there was a wide variety, as you would expect.  With 170 artists on display with 350 works, it’s unlikely you’ll soak it all up in one viewing.  Covering over 100 years there’s a broad spectrum of genres, from moving pictures of someone, well, moving, that lost me as to its value to Anne Ferran’s imaginative “Scenes on the Death of Nature” that grabbed my attention, a self portrat by Nora Heysen (now there’s a famous name in art) who was the first female to win the Archibald Prize (1938) to indigenous art of high quality, Grace Crossington-Smith’s (an artist I’ve admired at the N.S.W. State Gallery) “Interior in Yellow” and eX de Medici’s seminal (and huge) work called “The Wreckers” purportedly depicting the crash of capitalism.

PART OF MEDICI’S WORK

And who could ignore the Seven Sisters, the woven figures standing around in the middle of a room, especially when all the staff remind you that it’s there.  From nudes to Impressionism, the exhibit has it all.

SEVEN SISTERS

So many more across a broad spectrum made it well worthwhile in this spacious venue whose very architecture is worth a look as well.  That’s also ignoring the outside works, mainly sculptures, scattered around various sites that both greet and farewell you.  One of the better exhibitions I’ve seen there.

SELF PORTRAIT BY ONE OF THE ARTISTS

THE GLENBROOK EXPERIENCE

Leura has a reputation.  Food, food and more food.  One salivates just thinking about it.  The streets are awash with culinary delights and tourists flock there in significant numbers.  However, Leura has opposition.  An almost nondescript hamlet much closer to Sydney is thriving on the same format.

THIS IS ACTUALLY A COPY OF A FAMOUS STATUE CALLED “THE BOWLER” FROM HERCULANEUM. IT’S IN AN HISTORIC GARDEN AT THE LOWER END OF LEURA

Glenbrook is on a roll, yet it’s not even situated on the highway.  It’s set back a block or two, out of sight of the thousands rolling past, but it’s become so well-known its reputation has spread.  It also has an advantage of having natural attractions nearby; places for picnics and national parks walks.

TRAIL AND CREEK

Settling into the relaxed setting of a café with heaps of outdoor settings with views across the road it was hard not to be impressed by what Glenbrook has made of itself.  There’s those quirky gift shops and connoisseur style grocery shops designed to catch your eye and your wallet.

WILDFLOWERS EN ROUTE

During research for a hike or two I’d noted more than a few south of the town that seemed to hold promise.  I’d also seen visions from train journeys that got my blood racing.

The day moved on, post morning tea break and down a seriously winding road, through a gorge and up and out the other side.  Eventually the road petered out; a carpark, a few picnic spots and, bless them, a couple of toilets at the termination point indicated some popularity.  Fields were mown either side of a stream.  A good place to pause for a drink before a walk and people were taking advantage.

STREAM BESIDE THE TRAIL

Again there were maps, again they were slightly unclear.  The chosen trail was elusive.  Double checking, it definitely wasn’t where it was shown.  Directions indicated it followed the creek on the western side, but that quickly petered out, causing a retreat, fording the stream to the far side and moving on to the second choice.  This trail, the Euroka – Nepean River walk, led, you guessed it, to the Nepean River.  I’d never seen it this far up and curiosity was a motivating factor as the track headed east. 

MOTTLED TREE TRUNK

It was a pleasant stroll in benign weather and the mature forest was unscarred by the bushfires with wildflowers scattered here and there for colour.  It was well worn and easy to follow with a trickling stream for company just below and weathered sandstone outcrops and ageing scarred and mottled tree trunks to distract the eye.

THAT TRICKY U-TURN

Then, at a tricky U-turn, it came to the stone staircase that leads to the river.  The roar of a motorboat indicated the direction of water, even if little was visible from the heights, obscured by lush vegetation.

It seemed like a long way down but, in reality, was probably less than 200 sandstone steps.  It’s simply that my knees were less than keen, but I descended anyway.  The undergrowth was thicker here, obviously favoured by runoff, and was reminiscent of rainforest.  Closer to the river, the scoured cliffs on high on the far side became apparent, adding another dimension to the scenery.

THE STAIRCASE

I watched a lone speedboat scurry by before retracing the stairway (much easier going up) and pausing more often to survey the varied foliage, or was that to catch my breath?  As ever, somehow the return route didn’t seem as far, because the knowledge that the track leads somewhere familiar is now entrenched.

There are other places there also worth exploring but, for today, this had been enough.

THE ARBORETUM IS A WINNER

                                          

From Dairy Farmers Lookout

In 2019, the Canberra Region Tourist Attractions award went to a bunch of trees.  Think about that; in Australia’s centre of government and public service, green came out a winner.

Yet the whole project came from something awful – bushfires.  In 2003, what was then mostly pine plantation was hit, along with many Canberra homes and six telescopes at Mount Stromlo Observatory, by the scourge of Australia.

The impressive village

However, visionaries looked to the future and saw the chance to fulfil Walter Burley Griffin’s original plan to have an arboretum on the western side and so 250 hectares were set aside.  It’s the largest monoculture of its kind in the world.

Still, in truth, the National Arboretum is so much more.  The view from either the café or restaurant over the A.C.T. is sublime.  It’s in the area they call “The Village”, a name that came from the company that sponsored it. Perched on a small ridge, the eye-catching building has wrap around glass, so no-one misses the view, while light emanating from the double glazed roof panels, supported by massive laminated timber beams, (56 metres the longest) means no-one is in the dark.

If you glance to the side you can see the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion, an eye-catching function centre designed with acoustics in mind.  The structure is an innovative pre-fabricated arrangement of steel beams and insulating composite panels, clad externally in zinc, echoing the ribbed roof of the Village Centre to the north apparently.  It also has echoes of the Sydney Opera House for me with the sharp vertical angles. In between the two is a large field favoured by kite fliers shaped like a Greek theatre, because its intention is to become an outdoor auditorium for concerts.

However, inside the main building is a surprise.  Well, if you haven’t done your homework it will be.  There’s a first class bonsai and penjing exhibition, garnered from enthusiasts everywhere and a must-see while you are here. 

An example of penjing

In case you were wondering – Bonsai is the art and science of growing miniature trees and shrubs in containers by regular pruning of the roots and branches. It has been practised in Japan for at least 1,200 years, and includes training, styling and maintenance of the trees. Bonsai originated from the Chinese practice of penjing, which is the art of and science of growing miniature landscapes in a pot or tray, and can include rocks, different types of trees and ground covers, and perhaps small objects or figurines. Penjing may have a story, name or piece of poetry attached to it, and has been practised in China for at least 1,400 years.

All these works are either donations or loans

There’s also a quirky gift shop in the village with unusual items should you be inclined for same.

Oh, and then there’s the arboretum itself.  Varied plantings are scattered everywhere and, beneath the Dairy Farmers Lookout on high, you can see more of them than from any other land based viewpoint.  While you’re at the highest point it’s hard not to notice Nest III, an eagle sculpture of rusting components, that confronts your eyes.  You’ll probably see that old spanner that you lost years ago included in the nest itself, along with 100 others.

The other big feature of the arboretum is the Wide Brown Land sculpture, in similar rust brown, set beside the Himalaya Pine.  It’s written in running writing and sits upon a prominence looking back to the main building.  It’s a must take photograph.

Wide brown land

When it all opened in 2013, it was estimated that they’d draw in around a million tourists over the first five years.  Well, they got that wrong didn’t they!  Around 4 million found their way here, which would partly explain why the expensive carpark in usually always busy.  My take is that they could run the whole place with the money they make from it.

The cork oak – note bark

Probing further on subsequent trips I made my way to the mature cork oak trees on the lower slopes.  They were planted from acorns brought from Spain by Walter Burley Griffin himself as far back as 1917 and established by Thomas Weston.  Apparently their quality is good and they have been harvested on a few occasions under supervision from Portuguese professionals.  The 8 hectare section contains almost 4,500 trees.

Japanese flowering dogwood

En route to the cork I passed plantings of , eucalyptus and some Japanese Flowering Dogwood, whose white flowers were slightly past their best.  However, I was amazed when I wandered out behind them and found a large planting of magnolia with their first flowers just showing. The magnolia forest (magnolia grandiflora) contains a few rare Chinese magnolias (magnolia delavayi) as well.

In between the hills there’s a zig-zag path that runs up the slope (or down depending on your viewpoint) and the triangles it makes can be purchased if you have a spare $50,000; which would explain why only about half a dozen have been taken up to date.  It’s called the Central Valley Path and the potential for this is exciting to say the least.  It was the last thing I wanted to see so, on my last day in the A.C.T., I rode off down the hill from Higgins and inadvertently came in through an obscure, and rarely used, entrance at the far end of the oak forest.  I knew this because of the outdated signs it had proclaiming that the café was closed when it had been open for weeks.

The wollemi pine

Reaching the path at the base I worked my way upwards until, ¾ of the way up I came upon an angry worker who said I shouldn’t be on the path, there were signs he said.  I pleaded that there weren’t any but he insisted.  He let me shoot the last triangle I wanted and then I ventured off and up the steep climb to Dairy Farmers Hill, just to say I’d done it.  Apparently it’s a bit of a thing to do in Canberra.

Later, at the bottom of the hill, I checked out the path entrance and, in fact, there was a sign.  However, it had been removed from the path and turned sideways between a couple of trees.  No wonder I hadn’t seen it.

Colourful eucalypt

I left the park and its 94 forests of rare and endangered species, including the famous Wollemi Pine, feeling that Australia has, indeed, created something special that will satisfy for millennia to come.

THE SOON-TO-BE ICON

There are buildings in Australia that are inspirational.    Obviously, the Sydney Opera House, MONA Gallery in Hobart, the post office in Perth, Melbourne’s historic district and a raft of others but, I would boldly suggest, none of them will retain your interest longer than the adventurous and highly imaginative National Museum of Australia in Canberra.  The colloquialism “out there” seems to befit this indescribable structure.  Its aim was to be a monument to the centenary of federation in 2000.  20 years on and a revamp and refurbishment later it’s one of the must-sees of Canberra.

Architects Ashton Raggatt McDougall and Robert Peck von Hartel Trethowan created 6600 square metres of exhibition space on the 11 hectare site.  Traditional it’s not.  Post-modern is about as close as you can get to some sort of artistic label.  It’s as different as their names suggest and they won from 76 entries.

Could it be a co-incidence that someone with an easy name like Sue Dove was the one who spent nine months on site making sure it all went together and reflected the history of Australia.

As you are parking your car you cannot fail to notice the Uluru Line; a strange sculpture that emanates from the roof of the main building and rises like a roller coaster loop before your eyes over the Garden of Australian Dreams and heads towards that huge lump of rock in the middle of Australia some thousands of kilometres away.  After the loop it slowly rises until it reaches a concrete sculpture that, to me, resembles a wave.  Frankly, I don’t understand the whole thing but their confrontational power transcends understanding and has you reaching for your camera.

The Uluru Line

Colours are prolific.  Geometric shapes are as varied as they are extreme.  It sits proudly on the Acton Peninsula, once where Canberra Hospital was before the museum’s arrival. 

“An organic melee” is one description that has been used.  Frankly, I love it, even though I don’t fully understand it.  In part it’s claimed to be a visual pun.  However, the joke’s on you.  Paul Keating, ex-Australian prime minister, was not a fan either, calling it a “lemon” and saying it should have been built on an industrial estate.

Lakeside wall

As a social history museum its goal was to reflect land, nation and people.  Its architectural use of metaphor is all encompassing and, might I boldly suggest, for the majority of folks, their meaning will be beyond comprehension.  Certainly, the huge braille, though visible, will fit that bill.  Especially since it’s so high that blind people can’t feel it anyway.

Note braille on left

For me, it’s more like a Disneyland of architectural expression.  References to Le Corbusier, Jorn Utzon, Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin, Sarrinen’s JFK Airport and others leave the casual observer mystified.  Its incoherent appearance doesn’t make it any less attractive though; no, that’s why it’s so good!  Because you can’t wander around unaffected, it’s as much an experience as the exhibits inside, not quite sure of where the building is taking you next.

The Entrance

Controversy is not something they shy away from.  Whether they were on halogenic substances at any time is not recorded.

The Sunshine Harvester

As for the exhibits, it’s a comprehensive range from aboriginal artefacts to Sunshine Harvesters to a Holden towing a caravan and so much more in between.  The building only holds 5% of the collection and it reflects things that are unique to Australia and might interest international visitors as well.  An understanding of culture is what it’s trying to achieve.

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, a separate but linked building, has yet another distinct exterior, reflecting the harshness of the land and incorporating some exceptional quality art inside.

When normality returns, the museum can expect upwards of ¾ million visitors each year, more than half as many as the number one attraction, the War Memorial.  I just hope they remember to bring their cameras!

VICTOR-Y IN SIGHT

Clearly, Terrace Falls aren’t meant to be found.  I checked my guide book.  Lots of times.  I followed my GPS.  Clearly it really didn’t have a clue.  There’s supposed to be a carpark but where in Hades it was located was a mystery to us all.  The only thing I came across was a dead end with a locked gate blocking any entry into Terrace Falls Reserve and the main road going through it.  So, when I came back there again after travelling all the back streets of southern Hazelbrook, I parked.

As luck would have it, there is just enough room for one motorhome.  Any other vehicles and it would have been overcrowded.

It had spat rain en route so I put on all my wet weather gear and left the safety of the motorhome.   I say safety because I must have been about a kilometre into the walk down the fire trail when the cracks and rumbles started.  Thoughts that I was here on my own, about to be struck by lightning, no one knows where I am, all crossed my mind.  I could not work out where I was and pondered going back but, when you’re stuck with the explorer gene, that’s hardly ever an option.

The first small fall I’d stopped to photograph, but I knew there had to be more and then, I reached it – the carpark.  Actually, carpark 3.  This was what I’d read about in my guide book.  Only difference was they’d had access to get down here.  As an added bonus there was an information map.  Hallelujah!  I photographed it for future reference which turned out to be the best decision I made, despite its numerous discrepancies.

Accordingly, I continued on, keeping a watchful eye for a trail that went right to the stream above the falls.  Where it was supposed to be, there wasn’t anything, save for a track someone had bush bashed through that was about 15 cms wide. Virtually next door is a semi-famous loop walk with four drops with car parks and understandable directions.  No wonder more people go there.

Somewhere down there’s a waterfall

Not to worry, according to the map there should be another entry not too much further on.  The sky rumbled once more, the rain, though slight, became constant.  The next entry point was clearly defined and had another map on a post.  It was all perched on a cliff, down which one had to follow a path hewn in the sandstone.  I glanced over the edge, thank goodness I’m not acrophobic.

Though my knees didn’t enjoy the descent, my brain was overtaken by the roar of a waterfall somewhere unseen in the forest beneath me.  It had to be Terrace Falls.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but, when they finally came into view, whatever expectations I had were exceeded.  These were, indeed, a worthy destination in a Blue Mountains littered with such claims and, the beauty of this reserve is, you’ll never get a crowd. 

Terrace Falls from further down

No busloads here, just the occasional local or explorer with an enquiring mind.  I was so glad Ian Smith the other had suggested them.  Many photos and videos later I looked up the map I’d copied.  According to it there should be a trail on the other side and I could just make one out.  Lord it was hard to see.  Ravaged by tree falls it clearly needed a crew with chainsaws in here for a couple of days just to make it realistic again.

Not the best track for walking on

Still, I stumbled, ducked and weaved my way along part of it to get some different angles and witness the falls beneath the main ones.  Wow, it was spectacular and noisy all at once.  I was on the path to Carpark 2, wherever that was.

Trail to Victor Falls

I retraced my steps and finally found the other way out, this time to Victor Falls and Carpark 3.  It’s definitely not overused, in places almost overgrown by ferns, but I found that part of the attraction.

Looking for a trail

Zig-zagging up the cliff side track the river seemed far away and I wondered where these other falls were just before I caught glimpses of them through the forest.  Wow, another significant drop but where was the trail?

Victor Falls

Then, a sign.  Manna from heaven.  Down to the falls and up to Carpark 3.  All my destinations listed.  It’s a steep but short walk down to Victor but they were roaring also with the flush of the recent rains.  It was such an opportune time to visit, even if I was drenched to the bone.  Luckily I was able to thrash around in the water because I’d cleverly remembered to put my gum boots on again and it proved to be an absolute bonus.

To stand before a roaring fall is to be at one with nature.  The beauty, the power, the timelessness all resonate here and it’s food for the soul.

I clambered back up the slope, satisfied for the first time that I was, indeed, where I thought I was and heading in the right direction.  No sooner had I reached the top than the trail veered off over to the stream above the falls and you had to wade across it.  So glad I had the wellies on!  This was the trail I’d sought so much earlier but the entry from the other side no longer exists in reality.

Here and there among the land of the flaky-barked Tea Tree and the hard-leaved Scribbly Gum, wildflowers showed their beautiful presence, some so tiny as to be barely visible but the variety of colours is something to behold.

Carpark 3 came into view and at least I knew the way back from here.  One kilometre plus, uphill on a 4WD road, and it was all over, my knees ever complaining but my mind in seventh heaven.  It’s the kind of day you hope the Blue Mountains can deliver, and I had been only too happy to receive.

SOME DAYS ARE DIAMOND’S

Beyond apprehensiveness, where I was going was scary.  Well, the place where I wanted to photograph from was, so, when I drove past 9, count them n-i-n-e, police and rescue vehicles with flashing lights I could be excused for taking it as an omen.  Still, it was a few kilometres from where I was aiming for.

Sandstone (sliprock if you’re American) patterns on Narrow Neck

I turned onto Glenraphael Road, the way that leads out onto Narrow Neck, a place where adventures begin in various forms.  Abseiling and rock climbing for two, both of which occur where I was headed.

Grass trees burgeoning after the bushfires

I’d travelled the road before and it’s not for the fainthearted but I figured I could get the motorhome down a little way towards the locked gate that guards the rest of it from normal vehicular traffic.  Cautiously I moved forward, eager to save myself the effort of having to ride my bike as far as I’d originally planned.  Crawling along I got to a point and pulled up.  Maybe this would be as far as I would go.  A girl went past running.  How far she was going I knew not, but running around here takes stamina and supreme fitness.

Looking west along the Megalong Valley

The sandstone protruded over the Megalong Valley a little here so I reeled off a few shots while the noise of nearby abseilers regaled me and then returned to the motorhome.  There’s a seriously steep pinch up ahead and I never dreamed I’d ever had a go at it.  It’s probably around 15 degrees plus but my confidence (another word for stupidity) had grown and I was determined to have a crack at it at least.  It’s the last obstacle before you reach the gate.  Luckily, it’s the only part that’s concreted.

Shuffling into first gear I ground up the slope and was over the moon when I reached the top because the gate is only about 300 metres further along.  I’d managed to avoid getting the bike off.

Vandalism we don’t need

There was a N.P.W.S. vehicle there.  Turns out the clear plastic sheet that covers all the direction and information maps had been spray painted by some idiot.  I felt so frustrated that an underfunded organization has to spend time on crap like this when there are so many other jobs they have to do.

I stepped over the stile and bid them farewell as I headed down to Diamond Falls.  I’d only discovered them when I house sat on Cliff Drive and took to exploring.  They’re not mentioned on any maps that I could find yet they are one of the most amazing falls in the Blue Mountains.  I’d spoken to Ian Smith the other the day before and he’d lived in the Blue Mountains for decades and never heard of them.  He’d also asked me what trail you take to get there.  I replied, “There aren’t any!”  However, that’s not quite true.  There is a Federation Walk that you cross over that’s barely visible at all.  You really have to keep your eyes open to see it or, more correctly, traces of it.

Negotiate that!

My route took me down, negotiating burnt trees that insist on leaving charcoal stains all over your clothing, stumbling over uneven ground and constantly trying to pick a route where you can get through.  I came out further north than when I’d been here previously, which turned out to be a bonus because it offered more photo opportunities before I swung back to reach the only satisfactory viewing point, a scarred bit of wet uneven sandstone jutting out over an abyss dotted here and there with abseilers anchor points. 

Diamond Falls

Here, conquering your fear factor is a must if you want a shot or simply to savour this spectacular cascade that rolls over the edge of a severely undercut ledge before plummeting into the Megalong Valley below, crashing along terraces after it hits the bottom.  It’s an awesome sight that never leaves you once you’ve witnessed it and now was a favourable time to view it because the bushfires had stripped all the foliage away and the new rains fed the waters.

Scary place to take photos from

Sated, I swung uphill again, brushing past the new leafy growth, still moist with the morning’s showers, and zig-zagged up the untracked slope before reaching the gate again, just as the workers were finishing up.  They queried me about the flow and I praised their work and we parted ways, me ever so thankful I’d completed my task before lunch which would allow to do another.

Now you could read the map but I couldn’t help but think how sad it was that a person would go to all the trouble just to desecrate some clear plastic sheeting.  No financial gain, no art left behind, no enhancing other people’s lives, just ruination of a resource.  Can’t begin to imagine what their home life must be like.

Driving back, and almost to Katoomba, I was shocked to see the running girl making her way back up the hill into town.  How long had she been out?  She looked exhausted and with good reason, somehow my effort seemed puny by comparison.

A LEAP OF FAITH

For some reason I couldn’t find it again, yet I knew it was nearby, the sign said so; except this was where the tracks went in three different directions and, as I later worked out, they just wanted you to take the long route to avoid confusion.  Except, 20 minutes later, I was confused.  That I’d descended too far was apparent.  I didn’t need to take any more steps to work that out.  Where exactly was Witches Leap?  (Leap – old Scottish word for waterfall, used in a few places in the Blue Mountains).

Still, the track was listed as one rarely used and I was sure I’d seen stuff I’d never walked past before.  Then again, when you’re leaping fences (not in a single bound these days), dangling over off-piste vertiginous drops and scrunching around in virgin forest, you’re bound to come up with things like angles of Katoomba Falls I’d not taken previously.  The Rough Tree, Soft Tree, King and Fishbone Water Ferns were all flourishing with the recent rains and gathered in great clusters beneath the towering ribbon gums and other assorted natives.

I clambered back up the hundreds of stairs to my starting point, only diverting for an urgent toilet break.  Fog drifted in and around the canopy but it wasn’t thick yet and the new bout of rain hadn’t arrived.

Orphan Rock, once was an attraction

Back at the signs and I ignored the one I’d chosen before and, sure enough, only a few hundred metres down I reached my target.  It was disappointing because the water levels had dropped and, though the flow was good, you couldn’t call it spectacular.

Witches Leap

It was then I made the decision.  Previously I’d pondered following the course of the creek but hadn’t bothered.  Today, it started to gnaw at me.  After I took some pictures for a young couple in front of the cascade, I’d virtually made up my mind and soon I was straddling the fence.  Such a change from the barbed wire I’m used to tackling.  Pipe fencing is so user friendly.

Though initially I sought to record just the first flourish meandering through the rocks; one temptation led to another and, ever slowly, I made my way down the course.  As so often happens, it’s one lure after another and, like the hungry fish, you just have to keep following the bait.

It’s so refreshing for the mind though, having to find ways where there are none, noting every footfall, testing each fallen branch because some are wont to crumble and feeling the natural softness of a bed of fallen leaves.

Scrambling through the virgin scrub

The stream twisted every which way beneath towering cliffs whose cast off remnants formed the natural barrier for the water flow.  Their moss laden presence a reminder that nature isn’t permanent and boulders can fall any time with little warning.  Dead tree branches chose to clutter up some areas and, at one stage the waters cut beneath the cliff which leads one to wonder how long before the next crumbling.

The waters cutting beneath the cliff

At times easy, other times requiring bum sliding, I’d determined that, sooner or later, I had to reach a made path again as I slipped out of some strangling vines that interrupted my progress.  Occasionally busy clusters of fungi were slowly disposing of decaying trees and lichen grabbed onto whatever was available, usually the coachwood with its wonderful abstract bark.

Saplings were urgent in their efforts to climb higher and grab some more of the light, waiting for that opportunity when one of the giants is cast aside in a storm and, here and there, such events had occurred.  They must make an almighty crash when they fall.

Then it was there, the trail, probably half way along the famed Furber Steps that takes you ultimately to the valley below, all 996 of them.  (Named after Thomas F. Furber (1855-1924) a surveyor and lecturer who had an active interest in the reservation of the Blue Mountains and the Sydney Foreshore.)

My only goal now however was up, taking occasional stops for breath and lookouts, of which there are lots in the area, sometimes in surprising places.  At one stage I passed over another fence and found myself on a narrow ledge beside a small cave, eventually becoming so terrified I edged back to safety.

First drop of Katoomba Falls

When the top was reached I gratefully sat on an appropriately placed bench seat and texted some photos off.  Though the motorhome was in sight nearby I simply couldn’t be bothered going the extra 60 metres so I sat there for around half an hour soaking up the atmosphere and greeting the dog walkers as they passed by.  Being carefree in the Blue Mountains has a lot going for it.

The Iconic Three SIsters

“….DON’T TELL ME YOUR SURNAME IS SMITH!”

It was raining, not hard, but the drizzle was constant.  There’s something about being in the forest when it’s wet.  Drips on the flowers, colours highlighted in the wet, the splash of footsteps, the quiet.  It’s all there, you just have to notice it.

I was north of Lawson, hoping to find St. Michaels Falls with a reasonable flow of water.  There were puddles here and there after I left the parking lot and I diverted initially to Fairy Falls, the loud noise of water thrashing on sandstone being the attractant.  There was, indeed, about twice as much water as when I’d last visited and the diversion raised my spirits.  This time I splashed through the falls and shot them from behind.  I could do this comfortably because, only hours before, I’d made the decisive move to purchase a pair of gum boots.

FAIRY FALLS

When I’d house sat at Berry, the owners had given me a pair and it opened up a whole new world of bushwalking.  No longer did streams and cascades necessitate fear of sloshing feet.  Now you could plunge into the waters, offering up a multitude of camera angles I’d not contemplated before.

FAIRY FALLS WHERE IT DISAPPEARS INTO A GULLY

With a spring in my step I moved again towards St Michaels and came across a lady on the path.  She was stereotypical Blue Mountains.  How many had I seen of her type.  Vibrant, happy, not an ounce of fat, wavy hair, content to be in the bush under any circumstances.  One couldn’t help but reflect that obesity is a scarcity in this area.  People come here to enjoy nature; not only that, to thrive on it.

ISOPOGON ANENOMEFOLIUS

The wildflowers were plenty.  There’s no boldness about Australian wildflowers, the vast majority are tiny, though some are in such profusion as to make up for their size. 

Then the stairway to St. Michaels.  Easing down the worn sandstone with my painful knees there was no rush so I stopped from time to time to simply enjoy the moment before reaching the slippery bridge across the downstream waters.  St. Michaels was loud, the waters pounding into the splash pool beneath and the sound of the contact was magnified a multitude of times in the caves behind.

I wandered around in the waters, indulging in the moment, feeling the power of nature, soaking up its beauty.  Eventually I headed south east, searching for an elusive route to the lower part of Fairy Falls.  I crossed the stream to a trail I’d never been on.  It climbed, ever so slowly, making the stream impossible to get to until a sign was reached.  It indicated that it may actually have been a trail I’d visited before but from the other end. 

No sooner had I made my mind up to retrace my steps when a stranger walked into view.  I thought the possibility remote that I would have come across two people out here on a day like today but we said hello and then delved into our reasons for being here.  Since he was carrying a tripod to go with his camera it wasn’t hard to work out that he might be interested in the same type of photography that had egged me on today. Indeed, he was keen to shoot as many falls as he had time for in the area and we shared some information until it was time to part when I introduced myself.

HELLO, I’M IAN

“I’m Ian by the way.” 

“You’re kidding.  Don’t tell me your surname is Smith.”

The shock of what was about to happen next surprised us both.  For here was Ian Smith talking to Ian Smith.  It transpired he’d met a few of our namesakes but this was my first such encounter so it was perhaps a touch more memorable for me.  Naturally, that led to us exchanging contact information and we parted richer for the experience.

I headed back while Ian2 pushed on.  Aways on the return trail I espied a safe way down.  At least, by hanging onto some passing trees it was.  There were small cascades I was keen to shoot and the results were pleasing so I continued further up the stream, recording photogenic spots and splashing through the water with gay abandon in the gum boots.  It’s definitely so much easier and they’re surprisingly comfortable.

I hadn’t gone that much further when, lo and behold, there was Ian2 again.  He’d doubled back and scrambled down further upstream and had noted me on his way past so it came as no surprise when I reached his position.  It’s nice being with someone of similar interests; you understand what they’re feeling and why they’re taking so long.  Explanations are superfluous, you can simply savour the company and compare notes.

COLOURFUL COACHWOOD

After this we headed back for North Lawson Park.  Ours were the only two vehicles there and I invited him in for a cuppa but, alas, bowls beckoned.  Apparently he’s keen on rolling down a few and was involved in a tournament this particular week so my attempts to meet up for a cuppa anytime were futile.  Still, it had been a special day in so many ways.

THE DAY THAT SUCKED

12, 13.  I don’t know why we count….actually, yes I do.  It’s because you want to tell people afterwards; boast a little (14, 15) and get some brownie points for being so silly in the first place (16).  Yet there’s nothing glamorous about it, the rise and fall and the probing nature is, in some way, revolting, it’s such an unusual gait, yet common if you insist on going bushwalking in the wet (17).  The car offers no respite except it’s dry, even if we aren’t.  In fact, it’s so wet that even our cameras have tossed it in, shame the leeches didn’t try and attack them instead.  Why a phalanx of them is making its way up my trouser leg is a mystery; I’ve never seen a whole group before; it’s like a military excursion, a band of scouts setting out before the main attack.

I was with Gerry and my second outing with him, this time we’d pencilled in Chasm Falls, after negotiation, and a side trip to Smoko Falls.  This walk had sort of been on my reserve list, i.e., something I wanted to do but might not have time for.  Gerry said, bearing in mind the lack of rain, that this was a preferred option because a lot of water was not required here in order to get good photos.  Ever keen to listen to this sort of advice I readily acquiesced.

We met at Deloraine, a town with an aura.  That aura is one of attractiveness; it’s one of those places that makes you feel good without you necessarily being able to put your finger on the exact reason, though I think it has a lot to do with the winding main street girdled by historic houses, chic cafes and quirky shops.  Still, we’re not here to look around, we’re off to the scrub somewhere south.  Gerry kindly uses his car and we’re off, moving towards the Western Tiers.  The cloud cover is noticeable, even though it’s not raining yet.  That will come later.

Luckily Gerry knows the way.  I think that even if I had instructions I might never have found the way in but the dirt road we’re on has obviously been worked on recently.  It’s smooth and has lots of base.

Arriving at the carpark, so called, I’m surprised to learn that there used to be a bridge across the Mother Cummings Rivulet (nee Smoko Creek) and that you used to drive across.  Now, there is no bridge and you’re forced to go down through the scrub and cross the stream before picking up the old road again until you reach an intersection where there used to be a carpark and here you turn left on the Ironstone Mountain Track for a purported 1 hour return trudge to Chasm Falls and back.  The sign has fallen and is resting on some trees, resplendent with its coat of Spanish Moss and lichen that make it barely legible.  Other tempting destinations such as Smoko Falls and Bell Tarn are also listed.

You immediately become surrounded by Myrtle, King Billy Pine and Sassafras that dominate the temperate rainforest of this region and, as you move into the bush proper, leaving behind the forestry practices of the past that have regenerated as scrubby eucalypt, it’s time to meet the Tasmania of Gondwana times and walk between the carpets of sphagnum moss that lie thick among the rocks.  Elsewhere ferns survive where they can, mostly beside the streams where they can catch flickering glimpses of the sun at certain times of the day.

It seems not that long at all before you reach the falls…..except that these aren’t the falls.  In fact, you’re not even half way; the “real” track is just beginning.   Stumbling along the slippery rock surfaces it’s not that long before you’re ascending a grade 3 hike where no footing is even and, in a while, you’ll be asking, “How much farther?”

At the side, at varying distances, are tempting bits of flowing water that agitate your camera fingers to the point where you cannot resist at times.  It’s a photogenic strip of fluid to say the least.

I can barely find it credible that the track diverts, moves away from the river, and gets even steeper.  Surely we must close?  No, but we are about 2/3rds of the way and the forest is eye candy all the way along the route, supplemented by colourful fungi that we find irresistible.

Almost suddenly, after being so focused on gaining a sure footing, we’re there.  Gerry points to something down below and I’m off, only to discover it’s a large log, resting across a gorge, sorry chasm, hence the name.  If acrophobia is part of your make up, you won’t be walking across this span over a vertiginous cleft continually being eroded by nature.  On either side of the log is chicken wire attached to a single strand of fixed wire.  That’s all that separates you from death.  It must be said however, that the log’s surface is pretty flat and I found walking across it easy, unlike poor acrophobic Gerry who, having made it across, wouldn’t go back but chose the option of crossing the stream above the falls.  Unlucky Gerry, there was too much water coming down so he was forced to return and negotiate the log once more.  That was after we’d consumed lunch, my choice being a gourmet roll I’d purchased earlier in the day and kept boasting about all the time I ate it, while Gerry was stuck with his home-made sandwich.

About this time it started to rain lightly, just when we’d finished our lunch and were packing up in fact.  It wasn’t a factor as we reversed trail and headed home, stopping twice at agreed places that we’d pencilled in on the way up.  It was about when we’d shot the second one that the rain got a little heavier.  Of course, we know who that encourages, so we started checking our legs and it wasn’t too long before the probing black creatures from insect hell started either upon our person or our clothing, seeking the warmth or pulsing of a vein that would serve as dinner.

It rained so that our camera bags were saturated, our footwear totally drenched and our clothing uncomfortable.  Now, so much water was coming from the heavens that even the forest offered no protection.  Our socks started to squelch in our hiking shoes and misery was raising its ugly head.  The suggested 1 hour return time is a bit fanciful.  Though we did take quite a few photos it’s only the really fit and focused that would be able to manage that time, better you should allow an extra half hour.

Gerry’s missing jumper came into view and I pointed it out, rather than pick up the sodden woollen garment, before we reached the old abandoned carpark and walked downhill to the crossing, then rock hopped to the other side before climbing back to the car.  Blessed relief, a chance to sit, maybe dry just a little, check ourselves for beasties and head back to civilization.  I’d divested myself of back pack and camera and was safely ensconced in the passenger’s seat with Gerry still outside at the boot when the heavens opened up.  As if he wasn’t wet enough already!  While I would probably have dived in the car until it eased, Gerry, in true Taswegian style, toughed it out and got on with unburdening.  Eventually his saturated clothes and body entered the vehicle and we headed off, heater at the full.

We hadn’t gone far when the rain stopped.  Even the road showed no sign of moisture.  We’d simply been caught where the updraft had formed clouds and dumped on us.  Or perhaps it was some kind of message from the gods that I’d done enough, it was time to leave Tasmania.  Certainly it’s a message my body was in tune with.  We pulled into a picnic area by some lake or other, put there for irrigation purposes.  I vividly recall reefing strip after strip off the paper towel dispenser and wiping my synthetic walking trousers.  Because they don’t hold moisture that readily, much of it came off fairly easily.  I suppose being half dry is better than being totally drenched, at least it seemed so at the time.

(18) I picked the last one off me, so I thought, as we neared Deloraine.  I offered to shout Gerry a cuppa when we arrived and he accepted so we adjourned to the gourmet café where I’d earlier purchased my fancy roll that I kept gybing Gerry about while we were walking.  I doffed my shirt and put on a jumper, my only item of dry clothing and grateful I was.  While I ordered a large hot chocolate, Gerry surprised me by ordering an iced chocolate, something I usually reserve for warmer days.

We reminisced about the walks we’d done, only four in number, over the years, and how pleasurable it was to walk with people who understand the driving need to stop and photograph and aren’t worried if you get a bit behind or in front.  In addition, it’s an extra set of eyes to see those things that you might otherwise miss and when you recall moments, they are so often common because you’re both on the same page.

We discussed the possibility of Gerry doing a trip north sometime in the future, when I could pack up the motorhome and we could set out for a few days in northern N.S.W.  Perhaps it would happen, perhaps it won’t, but it was nice to dream.  Then, all too soon, it was au revoir, and who knows when we’ll get together again.  At our age, you can but hope.