Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.— Oscar Wilde.
This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.
Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.— Oscar Wilde.
This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.
I could hardly forget. I’d sat there on the step of the motorhome shaking my head from side to side and started picking. In the end there were 23. I counted them to keep myself amused, but there’s little amusement in leeches. Rubbery figures sucking your blood and leaving an anaesthetized hole for the blood to keep running through is not a subject that comes up much at dinner tables. At the time it was a personal record (later vastly exceeded in Queensland).
Still, knowledge had made me less wary of these slimy creatures, and, as I applied the wondrous Vaseline around the top of my socks I was able to look forward to the 5.2 kilometre return walk to the base of the 40 metre high Rawson Falls. It traverses three or four different types of rainforest, this remnant from before white man came and stuffed the rest of it up, though even here wasn’t spared entirely. The woodcutters saw to that.
Because the walk isn’t that popular for a number of reasons, you can usually have it almost to yourself. Lack of publicity, distance from the beach attractions at Port Macquarie and the fact that you actually have to get out of your car to soak it all up (sometimes literally) means it’s as close to pristine as you could hope to find
There was a car there already today as I set out past the ideally placed toilet block and into the subtropical rainforest, the first of three types of forest the route traverses. I love the mottled bark of the carabeen and white aspen, so artistic and no two the same. The fluted root system of the carabeen is sometimes mistaken for a strangler fig but, apart from the supports, there’s little they have in common.
The upper slopes are gentle and, as I brush past a large turpentine, I’m grateful some of the giants have recovered though there’s one I have to negotiate, fortunately with steps cut into it, that has collapsed in the recent past, probably due to the persistent rain loosening the soil. The first time I ever walked here, a few decades ago, the memory that lingers was of a large area where the sun was able to come through and birds nest and jungle brake ferns were in such profusion, the like of which I’ve never seen before or since.
There are brush box trees here that may be a thousand years old. From the family myrtaceae, related to eucalypts, you can’t exactly tell their age. Many people are unaware that most Australian trees are hard to date because they don’t have rings, unlike those where it snows.
Leaves crunch beneath my feet as the progress becomes ever steeper, requiring the trail to zig-zag down towards the first lookout. The second time I came by on this trail it was after some seriously heavy rains and the trail was impassable at this point because a minor pondage on the ridge above had flooded over and taken heaps of soil and rock with it. I momentarily put my foot in the morass and found myself in trouble because it was as quicksand and I was immediately up to my knees.
Boorganna was the second ever gazetted public reserve (1904), all 74 hectares of it, and this has allowed the vegetation plenty of time to regenerate, especially timber like the brushbox and cedar that were much sought after.
It’s so diverse that four types of forest are on show here, subtropical, warm temperate, gully rainforest and wet and dry sclerophyll forest. These days the reserve has been expanded to 396 hectares in recognition of its long term value.
At over half way you come to the platform lookout with views to the falls. After that it gets a tad steeper and the forest changes again.
There’s over 80 bird species here, including a rose robin who cheekily lands just an arm’s length away. I curse after the camera refuses to focus and the bird has flown but now I’m at the base of the falls and that spectacle has taken over my attention. Once when I was here the water was so voluminous that a constant mist was drifting by even though I was 50 metres away.
Rawson Falls are virtually unknown because their nearby cousin, the famous Ellenborough Falls, garner all the attention yet, within a 20 kilometre radius, there are many dramatic drops, including one that I was so fortunate to visit once that used to supply hydroelectric power to Comboyne.
Then it’s time to leave and I’m climbing back to the black booyongs, rosewoods and prized native tamarinds further up and rubbernecking a vine that has climbed to the sky on its host while stepping over the occasional tree root. There’s a pleasantness about walking here, deep in the forest yet not having to hack your way through underbrush, simply admire the giants around you.
It is a relief as the terrain levels out somewhat and you know the small carpark is nigh though, in some way, you’re disappointed to be leaving this wooded wonderland that’s given you such pleasure. Never mind, there’ll be another day.
Once you’ve fallen in love with the ocean, there’s no chance of divorce, or separation even. The magnetic attraction remains, fluctuating in its intensity maybe, but constantly present.
With the news that a significant swell was running, stood up by offshore breezes, I had to go and have a look. Kiama, after all, is famous for its blowhole. However, there are other places more dramatic and mind blowing. The Little Blowhole, situated a couple of headlands further south, may have lesser volume but spews much higher while Bombo Rocks to the north is epic on so many levels.
I’m staying in a house sit that looks over the ocean, although it’s a few kilometres away. The view is stunning, across the rolling hills and rooftops to the heaving ocean beyond. The downside is that it gets the wind….all of it. Just two days previous they had a gust in excess of 110 k.p.h. in this small retirement enclave where the interest in velocity is such that three of the houses have wind speed devices. Right now it’s early morn, the sun has yet to rise and there’s a ruddy glow across the horizon that sits above a distant line of clouds.
Knowing where I’m mainly headed makes the choice to leave later, rather than sooner, a definitive one as the light will favour photography in the afternoon. Looking out from the glassed-in balcony you see the lines of swell wrapping around some point or other, partly vomiting skywards as the jagged rocks halt its progress momentarily.
Having to take the dog for a walk makes the decision to not drive down there immediately a little easier. I find a recently slashed paddock nearby with a pair of significant fig trees on the edge to distract me but the swell breaking beyond the branches remains a magnet.
It’s early afternoon when I head east and, just before the blowhole, there’s a tiny beach at the end of Storm Bay that the waves funnel up to but they smash themselves over all manner of rock shapes before they get there so I find a spot on the rugged outline and spend half an hour in solitude photographing the varying ways the foam goes before joining the regular tourists at the blowhole for a minute or two. It’s blowing, and one of the better days to see the phenomenon and listen to the oohs and aahs as the ocean vomits from the caves beneath, heralding its coming by a significant kerwhoomph beforehand that momentarily precedes the cries of the tourists.
However, it’s Bombo Rocks that I’m drawn to as I slide into the front seat of the car and proceed northwards to the relevant carpark at the north end of Bombo Beach where the lines of swell are indicative that it will be a good day to view the area.
From the carpark it’s a 10-15 minute walk to the rocks and you’ll invariably see a dog or two as this is an off-the-leash area. The southern headland is worthy of a snap or two in its own right and finding a small patch of pig face (where did it get that name?) for the foreground adds to the images, but it’s the other side and its latite columns that are the magnet.
Heading off down the road that leads to a treatment works is something I’d not done before but it becomes a dead end except there’s a thin trail through the bush where others have gone before and soon I’m making progress through the scrub and it leads to where the porphyritic basalt used to be quarried well over a century ago. It wasn’t until 1979 that the quarry was proposed for heritage listing by the Geological Society of Australia. Confirmed in 1983, the public can now view this extraordinary landscape at their leisure, though entry at the northern extremity via a stairway is still to be finished, despite the passage of a significant amount of time.
Meanwhile, I’ve reached what used to be one of the quarry roads and affords a different take on the whole area. A more inland rural atmosphere pervades because the ocean isn’t dominant here. Vegetation clambers around some rock columns while others are reflected in a still pond.
Yet the restless sea is never that far away and, moving on to the flat section behind the column barrier, it’s audible again, very audible, for, beyond those basalt ramparts lies the most extraordinary wash.
It rises and falls with the unpredictability of rolling dice. A swell that has risen up a steep slope at the southern side now plummets headlong back into an oncoming wave that is suddenly and simultaneously hit by a wash off the northern columns and they all head onto a forceful backwash from the previous incursion. The sea rises, dramatically, uncertain of where to go. It peaks then flops and then subsides into the maelstrom of rollicking foamy waters. It’s a dead end of ocean that wants to go somewhere but cannot make up its mind and is constantly intruded upon from unpredictable masses of water.
At times it smashes into the columns and rockets skywards before casting the foam beyond the basalt barricade which serves to create ephemeral waterfalls off the high points. That this wonderland of spectacle attracts few visitors is a surprise, for it is surely deserving of a much greater audience. I spend two hours poking around, ever awestruck when a large lineup literally roars into the enclave. Anticipation of what is about to happen and never disappoints is omnipresent, sending adrenalin rushes constantly through one’s body.
Bombo Rocks is a natural phenomenon adjusted by the hand of man and the remnants eventually saved by man as well. These days it’s used by television companies for advertisements and a drone photographer has his work on display at the tourist office near the blowhole. Still, the tourist numbers are outdone by the dog walkers though they seldom, if ever, venture as far as the cauldron. It’s a rugged treasure that will remain for a long time, don’t miss it.
To circle Mount Tuggeranong, that was the goal. I’d managed half way two days previous and it seemed feasible according to maps on the internet and the one I’d garnered from the tourist office. Framed by a gorgeous autumn day I pedalled up the pinch to gain the main trail and turned left onto the dirt road that circled the hill, maintained, one suspects, in case of fire.
Soon I was at an intersection where there’s an electrical sub-station. Hitherto, I’d gone to the right, today I opted for the left and found myself on a moderate slope above the suburb of Theodore but, it was merely the precursor to the next two climbs that necessitated finding granny gear and puffing my way skyward.
Traffic noise was foremost now. I’d stumbled on the Monaro Highway just the other side of the barbed wire fence that defined the reserve. Then the dirt road I was on, such as it was, petered out and became a wide, rocky, walking track peppered with jagged edged rocks. Not good for traction.
Cresting the climb I’d reached a point where a narrow trail led off at right angles to a rounded grassy peak, devoid of any significant vegetation. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to ride the whole way was but a momentary deterrent. Half way up I dismounted in a distinctly ungainly manner, losing traction and control on a conglomeration of large pebbles. It was getting ugly so I started walking and eventually summited.
Though the hill I’d sought to climb appears to be nameless, it’s part of the Rob Roy Range; a series of rolling hills to the south of the A.C.T. The view from the top was extensive, genuine 360 degrees. The overall layout of Canberra alternated between shade and sun as the big cotton balls of cumulus moved ever so slowly across the sky.
That others had been before was highlighted by the crude but effective seat that featured a wooden plank inserted into a prominent rock. Just the place to relax and wallow in the view with glimpses of autumn in the flashes of leafy deciduous colour throughout the distant suburbs. Layers of mountain ranges rode the distant horizon in various shades of dull blue.
Somehow you feel like you’re in another world as rolling over the bald hill the cooling breeze caresses your cheeks and your mind drifts this way and that as your eyes absorb the vista before you. Varied thoughts cross your mind as you wander into nothingness and it’s so relaxing.
Eventually I moved, regained the bike and gingerly, with much trepidation, started the crumbling descent and made the main trail before an ill-advised gear shift caused me to stop. I worked on the chain to retrieve the situation, overseen by a mob of eastern greys who gazed quizzically from the ridge above.
In gear again, I decided that might do me for the day, Lake Tuggeranong could wait till tomorrow. Still, I’d had some serious exercise.
It had been years, okay, decades, since I last visited the lake. It had been created around the early 1900’s to supply water to what we now know as Sponars, nee Hotel Kosciusko, but even that amount of water couldn’t stop the original hotel from burning down in 1951 due to a fire emanating from the kitchen. It took just one hour to destroy the entire premises that had originally been suggested and promoted in 1904 by one Percy Hunter who was, wait for it, the State Minister for both Intelligence and Tourism. Not sure how that combination worked!
It’s not much of a welcoming carpark, just a slight widening of the road for about 50 metres at Dainers Gap. Above, the clouds are thickening, but there’s plenty of light about.
Since this was an unplanned stop for today I move into lazy mode, fairly normal for me I freely admit, and deign to keep my sandals on, something I regret it as the trail slides between some snow gums to a tiny streamlet widened by all the recent precipitation.
Climbing away from the stream on this gentle 2.5 km return trail the ground is decidedly boggy where there are no trees as I slip slide along the alpine grasslands. I pass a couple returning and they become bug eyed as they view my footwear. Who can blame them.
The temperature is benign, something that’s not always so in the Snowy Mountains, as I push uphill and reach the twisted snow gums that surround the lake. Flickering views can now be had of this sublime little body of water and, despite the movement of the sky, the surface is surprisingly calm and the unhindered reflections a delight for the eye.
The way to the eastern side of the lake involves a creek crossing where the lake drains and I take a few minutes to work out the way I can get least wet stepping across rocks and branches to walk among ancient growth that survived the 1939 and 2003 major fires that swept the region.
Also in the ancient class is the old wharf that must now be over 100 years old. Despite its relatively small size it’s a dominant and a much-photographed feature of the pondage though few would venture onto the rickety twisted remnants these days. Overhead the clouds are starting to thicken and the colour grey hangs from some of them, foretelling the return of the rain on the morrow.
Being here on one’s own is a special thing and I tarry a bit longer to soak up the atmosphere and the peace, especially the peace. There’s something about tranquility in the bush that cleanses the soul and I want some of it.
There’s a few hardy flowers about, though naturally they’re small due to the at-times harsh climate, unlike a couple of fungi I spy that have garnered a protected spot low on some tree bark beside some lichen. There’s a few insects around but getting a shot proves impossible so, with other things in mind, it’s time to head back to the motorhome.
There’s a wonderful sense of freedom on the return walk. You have this delightful place all to yourself and the zephyr carries a feeling of freshness with it. It’s been more than a pleasant afternoon and I hope it’s not decades before I return again because, by then, it will be too late.
He was behind the counter at the auto electricians. I was glad he was serving me because his female partner was hobbling around with a pronounced limp. I told him all I wanted was a replacement globe for the motorhome’s tail light. I’ll meet him out there at the motorhome I said.
Imagine my surprise when I reached the motorhome, turned around and out he came from behind the counter. His right leg was in a huge medical-related plastic cast. It was bent at right angles and rested on a substantial four wheeled device and he rode the whole thing like he was on a scooter. In fact, they’re called a leg scooter. When finally I retrieved my lower lip it was impossible not to ask what had happened. “It was on the Flow Trail at Thredbo,” he retorted. My god, I’d been in the area just a couple of days after his leg had buckled under his bike, tore three ligaments and two tendons and started him on a three month rehabilitation program. His wife had been luckier.
No-one had warned me about such things when I ventured that I was going to ride the Valley Way out of Thredbo a month previous.
One man had said little, “It’s a bit rough at the end” or such, the next had gotten me lost in the story of what happened after. He’d been wearing protective knee pads yet had still managed to crash and get gravel beneath the skin covering his knee. When he’d reached Jindabyne his party had called in at a service station to ask where he could get treated. Well, right there was where. A mechanic specialized in such things apparently. Should have known. Perhaps if he’d gone to the hospital they may have fixed his bike as well!
Now I stood in a Jindabyne bike shop and here was this serious faced man, obviously of much experience since I was in his premises, with no sign of emotion or passion, advising me about the ride from Thredbo to Jindabyne.
“It’s 42 kms (I’d been told 35 max), the first part to Lake Crackenback is easy. Beginners, intermediates etc. will have no trouble. Make sure you take everything. Repair kit, lots of food and drink, because the next section has no reception should you fall off. It’s rugged and you’re kilometres from the main road. There’s no easy trail here and there’s uphills. Helicopter out is the only option. Do you do any mountain bike riding?” I had to confess that I did a little, but not much. Somehow his look now seemed sterner, like a schoolmaster wandering the desks disappointed at the class results.
“I did road race for 23 years,” I managed to blurt out, “so I can handle a bike a little.” Finally, this seemed to reassure him, perhaps stop him from telling me to take my wallet so they could immediately identify the body.
“It will take you six hours, two for the first section and four for the last.” That was scary because the first section is well over half the distance. How hard was the second then?
Also however, despite the internet saying differently, it seemed I wasn’t going to get a lift up. Another salesman in the bike shop had tried without success but it seemed the transfer vehicles were going to start, coinciding with the school holidays, and not before.
Next morning, after a night where a new estate is being built, because Jindabyne no longer welcomes freeloaders in motorhomes and has negative signs everywhere, I looked up people that offered lifts for you and your bike; rang one and he was available but when the fee of $150 was mentioned I moved back to plan B – drive up to Thredbo, ride down Valley Way, lock the bike up and thumb a lift back.
Driving up you couldn’t escape the fact that the gaps in the cloud cover were minimal. In fact, you could count them on the fingers of one hand and they were becoming fewer until they became extinct as I drove into Thredbo’s carpark.
Getting the bike off, changing clothes, packing the bag, going to the nearby toilet, unable to find the start of the trail and having to ride back to the chairlift for directions took over an hour before getting under way around 10.30. Time was already running out; 6 hours plus my endless photography and I couldn’t hope to get back before 6 p.m. and that was only if I got a lift immediately.
Still, being on the Valley Way finally meant concentrating on something else. A pleasant start through the forest and it was happening just as I’d hoped. The continual ups and downs and meandering meant concentrating but there was nothing difficult until a shock. A rider was coming the other way!!
Jokingly I mentioned he was going the wrong way but he said he was doing it to get warm and was an endurance athlete. All I could think about was what might have happened if we’d met on a blind corner.
Now the track plunged and the river could be heard. The word “rush” must have been conjured up for just such a river as it thrashed its way downstream bounding over rocks and poking at the frayed edges. There were no smooth pools, everywhere the surface was rippling with activity, roaring its way north, plunging through crevices, creating lively effervescence funded by the recent rains.
It was a wonderful place, just to be there made one grateful. The endless snow gums on the mountainous background, the sounds of the Aussie bush and the meandering trail with two hundred whoop-de-doos satisfied many of the senses. Some veteran trees displayed the ravages of turmoils past; twisted and bent, scoured where lightning had struck, burls aplenty, yet still defiantly surviving.
There are six bridges to cross and, apart from one at Bullock Yard Creek that had been thoughtfully erected by the Geehi Bushwalking Club, a substantial amount of money had been spent on the others as evidenced by the modern materials and design.
At times, on blind corners, rocks jutted above the trail and one caught me out though luckily my speed was low and a serious crash was averted. On reflection, I was so glad I hadn’t met the auto electrician yet. Another three riders came past going the “wrong” way before a scattered group of five overtook me.
Reaching The Diggings I knew Lake Crackenback was close; 2.6 kms in fact, but a problem surfaced. Navigation, that had been easy till then, suddenly became problematic. I still don’t know what happened but a very narrow riverside track was what I ended up on. The minimalist track signs were confusing and, after a couple of kms and seeing no tyre marks on the surface, I figured I had to be going the wrong way.
The only reasonable thing to do was return to The Diggings where there might be someone who could point me in the right direction and, mercifully, a pair of cyclists were at The Diggings crossroad where I’d become misplaced and they were heading to Lake Crackenback. Relief flooded through my veins, a restaurant was nigh, comfort beckoned.
At Lake Crackenback, cycling is a big thing, as indicated by the wash stations they’ve set up. Imagine that, me washing my bike….
The comfort and warmth provided by the restaurant was not matched by the menu. The limited selection (hope you like hamburgers if you go there) was still some sort of nourishment and meant I didn’t have to dip into my backpack. Outside a shower had started and thus a decision to quit became quite easy. I’d already used up three hours and a continuation meant coming back in the dark; something I definitely wasn’t going to do.
Thus, half an hour later and after hiding my bike, I found myself on the main road with my thumb out.
It was sprinkling, though merely a heavy mist really, and the clouds capped the mountain range but I had my spray jacket on so it wasn’t all bad. The gap between cars seemed to be about five minutes and, after half an hour, it was beginning to get problematic. Perhaps I’d have to grab the bike and ride back up the hills to Thredbo but, at 75, my body didn’t like that idea after three hours already in the saddle.
It wasn’t noticeably cold, more the kind that slowly takes over your body and you’re not aware of it until you get into a warm space and realise how you’d been sinking into a dose of the shakes. Another brace of cars swept by, would there be no end to this waiting?
The answer came after about half an hour. A 4WD with pop up caravan in tow slowed to a stop and I gratefully hobbled as fast as I could to the passenger’s door. Opening it revealed a wizened old man in the driver’s seat whose face had last seen a razor a week or two ago. He was on his way to an annual poet’s convention, Victorian version, while he himself hailed from Kangaroo Valley.
This wasn’t the route he normally took but, with the recent precipitation overload, there was now only one way out of Kangaroo Valley instead of four. He was a veteran of bush poetry, travelled everywhere to compete, but he wasn’t a writer as such, just a performer.
It was mentioned that I’d just completed the trail from Thredbo to Lake Crackenback and he shook his head in abject horror at such a thought. “You know what happened to Mulga Bill?” he queried, conjuring up memories of Banjo Patterson’s famous verse where Bill bought a bike and tried it in country like that which I’d just ridden but came to a sticky, or should that be wet, finish when it ended up in Dead Man’s Creek.
“I’ve never owned a bike or wanted one,” he quipped with an expressive face, “too dangerous” and I took him at his word so we moved the topic to politics and travel, where we were on the same page, but I reflected that there were places on Valley Way where one might come unstuck and, four days later, his words rung true though I forgot to ask the auto electrician if his name was Bill.
I was huffing, lots of huffing, not to mention puffing. The climb was seriously steep and, after scaling the first three steep sections with my mountain bike, I’d stopped to catch my breath at the top of each gradient. Now I was stopping halfway up for a breather. At least there were some colourful mushrooms to concentrate my photography on.
I’d been ascending Mount Taylor days before and someone at the top had mentioned Square Rock was also worthwhile. They had no idea whether it was mountain bike suitable and, nowhere on the internet could I glean any relevant information. I assumed it would probably be but, after driving out beyond Gibraltar Falls, started out from the carpark on my bike anyway.
I’ve developed a habit of photographing the maps on the notice boards before I leave; it was to prove fortuitous. Leaving the carpark a dirt fire trail was obvious so I went for that. Climbing off to the left I was lured into believing this wouldn’t be that difficult. Certainly, in terms of following the route, it wasn’t.
As one ascends, panoramas develop and, on a mount some distance away on the other side of the main road, the scars of the bushfires could be clearly discerned. A wide row of bare trees blighted the hillside and also exposed some of the base rock around here which is a form of granite called Shannons Flat Adamellite. For thousands of years previous the Ngunnawal people had populated Namadgi National Park before foresters came in. These days, it’s under the National Parks banner and everything is protected.
Finally I guessed I was near the top of the loop and paused to check the map I’d photographed. I later learned the route I’m on is the Smokers Trail Short Loop and is shaped like a voice balloon in a cartoon. Why anyone would want to smoke while climbing this mount remains a mystery.
Eventually, on the ridge line, the road goes down as well as up which gives relief and then I reach the sign. I’m to head right apparently, off the road and onto a narrow walking trail. There’s no doubt I’m on the correct route, it’s just that I’ve come to a swamp that I wasn’t expecting. Not to worry, there’s a well-made walkway over it and I’m pushing towards the next intersection with the three and a half hour return main walking trail that normal people take.
Some small areas have been burnt. Most trees use epicormic growth from seeds beneath the bark to recover but, in the snow line areas, lignotubers arise from the root area. However, if there are too many fires they die off. Potential climate change victims.
The final intersection is attained. The small sign indicates the route to Square Rock is on my left and I ride off until it becomes problematic with rock stairs in multiple numbers so it’s time to park the bike and head further on foot, just like the makers of the track intended.
There’s an offshoot to Orroral Lookout, recommended by someone on a bushwalking site. It adds just over a kilometre to the journey and, after viewing the panorama over the valley, personally I feel it’s probably not worth the extra. There are a couple of mildly interesting rock formations there though.
Back on the main trail it’s probably just over a kilometre to the goal and, just before you reach the lookout, there it is – a square rock. Dressed in some finery of moss and lichen, it’s hard to miss but you feel the pull of the nearby outlook which is finally reached via a ladder of about a dozen steps. It has its interesting crevices and shapes but the vast view isn’t overly photogenic though it’s certainly scary in places with the vertiginous drop beneath. Massive cracks in granite always fascinate me. The time the weather takes to create them is beyond my imagining but the results are spectacular.
A cool zephyr rising from below caresses my skin as I decide my time here is up. Before reaching my bike the first people I’ve seen for hours approach and I quiz them about the last of the loop, realising that it will be all narrow track. They look quizzically at the earth, deep in thought, and then warn me of a water crossing with rocks and branches but suggest that the overall track is probably “doable”, but neither of them ride mountain bikes. I retort that the worst that can happen at the crossing is that I get my feet wet and decide to chance the route.
The swamp crossing is partly bridged but then the rocks and sticks appears on the far side and it’s really no trouble at all. I’m chuffed but the remainder isn’t easy. Single steps are regular and not well shaped. I stay mounted for a lot but also stop several times to walk them and then have another two swamp crossing near the bottom. At least it’s downhill all the way.
The relief after 3 hours is palpable. The uphills had been exhausting, the amount of walking more than I’d wanted to do but the feeling of accomplishment at the end overrode all that and I felt sated.
Two more cars arrived while I was packing up and I hoped the wombat I’d seen on the way up had retired to its burrow though the eastern grey hadn’t been so lucky. All it was now was food for the crows. Sad, but inevitable, where humans are involved.
I stood at the door; disheveled, sweaty, bloodied arm and covered in cobweb remnants. I pondered what they may think of me because I was about to look after their house for two weeks and it was the first time they’d ever seen me.
I hadn’t meant to arrive like this, it just happened. Well, that’s my story anyway. I blame the rock. Had its countenance not protruded above all else I would never have been tempted.
The day had been different to say the least. To begin with at Lake Macquarie it started out with threatening skies and the promise of rain. By the time I was parallel with Singleton, those promises had been fulfilled. Paddocks had ponds, the Hunter was rising, main roads were awash and the pace of traffic had noticeably slowed. The possibility of not being able to go any further floated through one’s mind as the rain was bucketing down.
Then it eased and stopped completely but the casual water and streams across the Golden Highway bore testimony to how much there had been. I sought solace at the Denman bakery and sat outside with two motorcycle riders who must have fully tested their wet weather gear at some stage.
Easing out of Denman on a road I didn’t even know existed J was grateful that the storm hadn’t made the one lane dirt roadworks harder than they were. Rock formations had become interesting and I tinkered with the idea of stopping and photographing one, but the opportunities for parking were zero and it would have been on private property. Well, that was until a small layby with parking for about four vehicles on the edge of Wollemi National Park on the Bylong Valley Way. This had promise for, on high, a ragged rock face stood above all else.
To heck with the bike ride I’d proposed to do, I saddled up with my work boots instead and headed off through the tall grasses that caressed my bare legs and dropped various seed varieties onto my socks. All part of bushwalking but the humidity was the discomforting factor. My new shirt was awash with sweat as the wooded terrain was reached and the grasses disappeared.
Then there was another distraction – spider webs. Many of my friends would stop right there but I’m beyond caring about them these days. Besides, they were Christmas (or Jewel) spiders and I wanted to get a shot of one. Eventually I would brush through about 200 of them but, early on, the destination was my main focus.
There were no set trails, just occasional parts were the grass had been trampled, whether by humans or wallabies it was hard to tell but I was grateful for those small sections. The summit was invisible as I crossed a tiny rivulet and started the ascent, zig-zagging this way and that, not knowing if I could even reach the goal. Eventually I got a bearing and worked away more towards the west, often using a stick to brush the cobwebs away, even though it seemed fruitless.
Now the glimpses of the outcrop were more frequent until I came upon a clear area with a conglomerate barrier that I’d have to climb. Not wanting to retrace my steps I searched until a slight gap finally appeared and I scaled up through that.
En route I noticed some horrible looking round cactus with nasty thick needle like spikes. Just how nasty was soon ascertained as I looked at my hand in shock. One had embedded itself and broken away from the main body. The spikes were in backwards, forwards and straight down. The problem was compounded because, as you removed the forward poking ones, that pushed the rear facing ones deeper. Teeth gritted, the removal was commenced and the bleeding began. Having to watch it unfold made it worse and unsavoury. Spike by spike, wince by wince, it was with great relief that the cactus was finally removed.
Then I went to use my camera/phone. Up came a message – You cannot use the camera because it is too hot to use; or similar. 60 years of photography and this was a new problem for me. I guessed it was partly due to the new cover I was using and I had to admit it certainly was hot as I removed the cover and let the breeze run over it while wondering what else this small excursion was going to throw at me.
Behind me, vistas across the Goulburn River and farmlands stretched way into the distant mountain ranges. I had no doubt this spot would have held some significance to the native people of centuries ago, though the thought of someone walking up here barefoot made me cringe.
The rutted vertical faces, pock-marked with erosion, were stained with leaching minerals. The flora appeared not to have been too affected by the historically recent bushfires though, probably why the spiders were in profusion!
Next came the thought that maybe the summit was possible. Working away to the north east the going was easy, ever so slowly rising till I made it around to the rear. Then, a crevice offered promise, at least it had the benefit of some dead fallen trees to grab hold of. Apart from one tricky section where the muscles had to be strained and unusual body positions attained, it wasn’t too difficult.
From the top, panoramas opened up in all directions with the winding, brown Goulburn River guiding the eye and up here the spiders became large orb weavers, their fat bodies indicating that food was plentiful.
It was pleasing to have made it but now I had to descend. The problem being that there were no tracks and the crevice had disappeared. I spent about ten minutes finding it again, and it was with some relief as I was able to bum slide down easily, only to face a new raft of a hundred more webs.
Still, a goal had been achieved, internal satisfaction gained and it felt good traversing the grasses again when they were eventually reached. The obligatory cup of tea afterwards went down well while the river flowed by across the road in its timeless journey to refresh the ocean whose surface would soon evaporate and return more rain. All part of the cycle of life.
It’s fair to suggest that, other than those who live nearby, few would have heard of a park in Sydney called Oatley. It’s one of many areas of interest that abound in the city that tourists overlook. Personally, I’m glad, because it’s busy enough as it is! Still, during the week it’s not crowded and the lookouts you can pretty much have all to yourself.
At 45 hectares, Oatley Park can handle a few visitors and has a number of carparks from where bushwalks can be accessed and, there’s a bonus, it has protected baths and there’s a shower and toilet block with a small sandy beach. There’s even a swimming club here that is within five years of its 100th anniversary.
Still, that’s where the good news ends. Upon entering the warm dark coloured water you’ll notice your feet starting to squish in the gooey mud. And it gets deeper, over ankle height, the further you go out leaves you with the only real option and that is to swim to the pontoon, which is what I did. Unfortunately, on a slightly hot day, you can’t stand there for longer than about ten seconds because your feet will start to burn. Lucky there’s water nearby!
Still, in its seclusion among the forest in the reaches of Georges River, there are worse places to be and, if a picnic is your go, there are a few shaded bench tables where you can relax without the sound of motor vehicles impinging on your ears though, occasionally, the clunkety clunk of a train crossing the distant Como Bridge wafts across the water.
The name Oatley came from a convict with a life sentence who got a conditional pardon for doing such a good job with the colony’s essential clocks.
If it isn’t already, the park should be famous for its angophora costatas. Around every corner there’s Tuscan orange branches twisting every which way heading towards the sky in eye catching configurations midst the rest of the dry sclerophyll forest.
Here and there weak spots have been opened and a dynamic red sap oozes out. The condition often indicates that the eucalyptus tree is under attack from a type of insect called the eucalyptus borer which targets trees under water (read “lack of”) stress and attempts to get beneath the surface and lay up to 300 eggs. When you see the weeping, it’s too late to save it from the borer because the eggs have already been laid. Sometimes the sap, called “kino”, works, other times not.
Others have been rent by lightning, the deep grey or black vertical scar prominent beneath the overgrowth. There are rare flora contained within the boundaries and an even rarer structure, to whit, a castle! It’s a small building, constructed during Depression times to provide employment that today is a feature set up with a barbecue and ground floor seating in the shade.
Elsewhere, there are lookouts offering differing vistas over the waterway. The higher parts of the Hawkesbury sandstone out on spurs offer tempting 270 degree views beyond the eucalyptus branches over Boggywell Creek and Georges River.
In the lower levels, particularly on the shores of Boggywell and Dairy Creeks, there once were lime kilns that utilized indigenous midden heaps. The natives were here because of natural caves, these days mostly blighted by graffiti artists, where they would eat and leave piles of shells. There is an instructive walk that takes you through the whole area at the rear of the Hurstville Golf Club and a suspended walkway above the high tide mark further on where you can strut through the mangroves and hopefully see some exotic fauna.
Whatever you choose to do here, I’m sure you’ll find something to enjoy if you, as myself, enjoy the delights of the Aussie bush scape.
Yes, I realise it wasn’t lost, but people living just a few blocks away are unaware of its existence, so, perhaps a more accurate description would be “overlooked”. It’s maybe a reflection of the inner suburbs of Sydney that people seemingly aren’t that interested in either the historic architecture or the large body of street art, yet, when I’ve posted photos, the opposite seems to be the case.
In over five weeks of living in the area, I can’t recall a single day of local travels where some impressive art work or gorgeous piece of architecture that I hadn’t seen before popped up in front of me as I rolled the bike wheels around Newtown, Eveleigh, Redfern, Glebe and a dozen other inner suburbs.
The sheer delight of the daily discoveries could not be over-estimated. The patterns of the pristine wrought iron work, variety of exterior colours, the 100 year old trees that lined the streets, amazing attempts at some sort of a garden and the extraordinary paintings that popped up in the most unlikely places, down back alleys hardly visited by any humans except maybe the garbage collectors were all lures that had me biting.
The shade enveloping the road was a distinct plus on this humid afternoon, especially since it was uphill all the way.
Being on a bike was, in itself, a distinct advantage because some lanes are so narrow that cars wouldn’t even get down there and some art works are beside walkways in park areas. It’s one of the great disadvantages of the housing in the area that parking, if possible, is very limited.
Then there’s the tiny laneways that are closed off to vehicular traffic where people have put pot plants and rustic artwork all along one side. The urge for beautification seems ingrained in the human psyche.
Crossing from one area to the next sometimes entailed going through Sydney University, whose own structures are architecturally significant, modelled as they were on that shrine of learning, Oxford. It was overkill.
So it came to pass that I turned up an obscure road just six blocks away from my digs in Eveleigh called Watkin. Tucked in behind the significant paper barks and spotted gums were Greek style Ionic columns supporting decorative curved balconies and, above, on the verandah, were beautiful coloured-glass semicircular windows gracing these treasures of Victorian architecture. Here and there a modicum of greenery and a couple of tall palm trees with their slender trunks reaching skywards stood out.
By the time I reached the top of the hill I realised I’d just been somewhere special, vindicated by the later discovery that it’s Newtown’s number one rated street.
I know a man called Maurice. He is very French, even if you didn’t know, his thick accent is a giveaway. His speech is also rapid; he tells stories. You could learn more in his bike shop than watching the news for a whole week and it would be a lot more colourful. However, they are mostly bike related but I used to go to his shop because it was entertaining and he didn’t overcharge. Sadly, his shop is closed these days.
Today I was meeting another Maurice, this one with degrees. He’s a font of avian knowledge and softly spoken, almost the reverse of the other Maurice.
I was waiting for him between life and death. On one side was a sublime bush reserve with over 140 listed bird types, on the other Avondale cemetery, where a few elderly folk walk with flowers to mourn someone’s passing. Funny how it’s mostly women, you don’t often see men on their own in places like that. I find it sort of odd that the nature trail entrance carpark is also the cemetery carpark.
The weather was close to perfect, though a wind was in the offing; the first zephyrs pushing through the leaves foretelling of an afternoon sea breeze, though Cooranbong is hardly by the sea. The bush that surrounds Avondale College and the now-closed Sanitarium factory (where, as Maurice two says, “You just opened your door in the morning, took a deep breath and that was breakfast”). For those of you who don’t know, they make Australia’s most popular breakfast cereal, Weetbix, though the new factory is now about 40 kms away. No more free breakfasts.
We’re doing Boy’s Walk, one of three listed here, the other two are Girl’s (there’s a surprise) and Sandy. At some stage all three intersect out the back of the old factory though they’re all individual loop trails and they all have one of the tidal affected fingers of a Lake Macquarie delta running through them.
Maurice knows all the bird sounds, where they nest, where they were seven years ago, but haven’t been seen since, and all their odd habits. Did you know, for instance, that the familiar beep of the bellbird mynah becomes something completely different when they’re on the ground feeding?
It’s a mature forest with enough variation to be a botanist’s delight, part of the reason for the broad variety of wildlife. The waterway adds an allure with small schools of mullet rippling the surface, a sacred kingfisher keeping an eye out above and a pair of cormorants swimming by before they dive, never to be seen again, at least not by us in the next ten minutes…..perhaps they drowned or were eaten by a shark….perhaps not.
Maurice proceeds to tell me about a deceased blind snake he found. Put it in the fridge this morning (as you do); just the thing for the good woman to see when she opens the door to get some milk for her cuppa. I try to imagine the conversation when he gets home.
Apparently he also chills spiders in the fridge. Must be a bit of a nightmare when you open the cheese door and a colourful redback says hello. If you chill the spiders too much they die. There are a lot of people I know who might suggest this could be a good outcome.
I digress, Maurice spots a rufous fantail, a bird I’ve been trying (not very hard) to get a shot of for the past decade but to no avail. He proudly shows me his shot from a day or two ago. The sort that, once you’ve taken it you don’t have to worry about any more because you’ll never get a better one. I get three shots off, all complete rubbish, I’ll have to wait for another day.
Just up the trail there’s a serious photographer. $28,000 worth of gear and he’s camped there with his tripod waiting for one particular specie. We say hello, have a brief chat and move on. Maurice is keen to renew acquaintance with a regent bowerbird he’s recently seen and then, my only glory moment of the day, I actually spot the yellow flashes first and have to point it out to Maurice. Not only that, I got a shot as good as his. We meet another photographer, a few bikes go by, then, yet another photographer and some hikers.
Maurice points out a significant pine tree. It’s all alone and is the base for all measurements on the trail, as in, “Where did you see that alligator? About 200 metres before the pine tree”. It’s such an oddity on the riverbank you hope they never lose it.
There are bench seats for resting here and there and, on my knees’ advice, I utilize all of them. It’s not too hard to be seduced when you’re enjoying the Aussie bush. It’s been almost two hours and we’ve hardly gone anywhere but Maurice is under instruction to head home (obviously to get rid of the deceased snake) so we repair to our vehicles and look forward to another outing together but, he’s left me instructions as to how to get to the other trails, so I unload my bike, grab a pie from a nearby shop and head off to Girl’s Walk.
It’s easy riding the well-used trail and I find it odd that the only three people I see are, in fact, girls. For some reason I thought that the old days were behind us but, seemingly, the tradition continues.
The slight undulations of Boy’s Walk are gone, it’s dead flat and easy pedalling here and when I reach water again it’s swamp land overgrown with what looks like duckweed with a couple of dead trees arched over the surface. A kingfisher flashes by and I stop to shoot some dragonflies before heading to Sandy Walk.
It’s more of the same except the inlet is more pronounced here and tidal movement keeps it free of weeds, but not assorted deadwood. An eastern long necked turtle suddenly appears and I tell him to pull his head in, which he does, but later he comes out for a peek and I get the shot I’m after. A phone call indicates I’m required elsewhere so I pack up and head off. No time for the rufous whistler that I’m after, perhaps another day.