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.
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.
I’d corresponded with someone on the internet about the Burr Trail. He said to make an effort to do it. So, as I sat in the hotel room in Torrey, knowing I’d already gone past the turnoff yesterday, a decision was made to go back. The skies were still overcast, blue skies notably in absentia most of the trip.
I’d been speaking to a guy who worked at the motel I was staying at. His words, “I’ve been here for 24 years and haven’t even scratched the surface yet.” He’d also added about my intended route, a loop on Burr and back on Notom Road, “It’s just about all tarred now anyway” and “It should be open now”; referring to the weather, post the precipitation.
Thus encouraged, I stepped out into the brisk morning air looking across at the snow-splattered mountains and started the car, noting all the literature lying around on the passenger’s seat that hadn’t been tidied up. Mmm, must get around to that.
As the byway climbed over Hogback again I wondered if it would be the last time I’d see snow for a while. At Boulder, a nondescript community where people cling to life, I turned east onto the famed Burr Trail, named after a man who was born while crossing the Atlantic in the 19th century.
Initially there are large hills of bare slickrock called Durffey Mesa, which is, in fact, petrified sand dunes, and then you descend past the picturesque Deer Creek, a permanent waterway popular with the hiking fraternity where there’s a cautionary sign with a scorpion and skeletal hand that says, “Desert Canyons Don’t Care, your life and safety depend on you”. Mmm, then you traverse the Gulch. It’s along here that I noticed what might be a canyon on the left, so I pulled up and wandered over for a picture, noting tufts of snow still intact beneath shady nooks.
Imagine my shock when I looked down the steep walls and saw the road down there. Welcome to what’s known as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument! If you’re a little confused, there are national parks (mostly with sealed roads and entry fees); state parks (mostly similar to national parks) and then there’s the monuments, run by the bureau of land management where, unless there’s a pre-existing road, it’s left just as it is, a primitive area. All part of Grand Staircase.
About a kilometre further on, the tar took the plunge and soon you’re driving through Long Canyon with massive walls of rusty coloured Windgate sandstone all around. At one stage there’s a neat short slot canyon on the left, about 10 metres wide and just over 200 metres long, with straight sheer walls either side and a jaw dropping dead end where, from on high, water drips. It’s called Singing Canyon and is a stop most tourists make.
Though the road slightly ascends after that, the cliffs actually get higher until the next shock. The road abruptly breaks out of a side exit and Long Canyon ends immediately at a saddle of the Circle Cliffs with far reaching views to the Capitol Reef and then, way in the distance, the snow-capped Henry Mountains. Below on your right are the colourful Chinle Hills and it’s hard to grasp all the geology that’s going on around you.
The sealed road plunges onto a relatively flat section for a few miles that reminded me of Outback Australia with vegetation only 2-3 metres high at best and several spots where there was barely ground cover. Then, you roll over the edge of the Waterpocket Fold just where the road becomes dirt and there’s another memorable viewpoint at the edge of the Capitol Reef National Park boundary. Capitol Reef National Park….why is called this? Well, the answer takes us back to the early settlers of the area. Settlers thought the white Navajo domes looked like the capitol building in Washington DC while others thought the long wrinkle in the rock layers looked like an oceanic barrier reef. Oceanic reefs make it difficult to travel, as did the Waterpocket Fold, hence the name “Capitol Reef”.
Now the road scenically descends another 1,000 ft over the next few miles to Muley Creek where there’s a noted hike to Upper Muley Creek. In another weird naming event it was determined that the canyon was so narrow a mule would have to bend to get through.
I felt I had to make an effort sometime today so I got my cameras out and set off. The trail follows the creek bed exclusively; it’s also the route 4WD vehicles take to get to a trailhead in the middle of the canyon, winding along through varied hues of rock and variety of shapes, including arches, two of which I viewed before deciding to turn back around the halfway mark, the shortcomings of my legs becoming clearly evident. All the way up I’d hoped a 4WD might give me a lift, but none came by. Now, on the way back, three passed me going up the canyon.
Again here you couldn’t help but notice the varying colours of the sediments, how fragile some are and how cemented others. Then, back in the car and just a couple of kms down the road, the road suddenly almost disappeared down some electrifying switchbacks. Oh shit, I have to drive down there? In places, you couldn’t see the road ahead, because it curled back under itself. It descends 800’ at an average 12 degrees. At least you were wide awake by the time you reached the bottom.
The junction with Notom-Bullfrog Road was soon after and I was quite looking forward to heading north back towards base, not really knowing what to expect. Bad road, that’s what to expect! In certain sections it was seriously rutted and it took all my years of accumulated driving skills to maintain a relatively straight line. Even then I’m sure I used the sump a couple of times to flatten some of the ridges out. The good side is that they were sandy soft but after each bad section, of about half a dozen, I was glad of respite.
Then there’s the panorama off the road, a massive green tinged Cedar Mesa and the snow-capped Henry Mountains, some over 11,000ft, beyond on one side. It’s all a bit much to grasp in a moment or two but, if you stop and climb the hogback ridge of Dakota Sandstone on the other side, it’s yet another wonder of the state of Utah called the Waterpocket Fold. Sedimentary layers have been compressed into waves whose colour belied the forces of aeons ago and a valley carved by Bitter Spring Creek had exposed them. I’m in a strike valley and, had I continued up Muley Creek earlier, eventually I would have reached an overlook at the top of this range. Still, I clambered up the central ridge three times and was able to see one of nature’s grand wonders.
The paucity of vegetation also helped lay bare the geological forces of times past and I wished that I’d time to spend a couple of hours to wander across to the dried up river bed and explore, but time and energy (plus a decent place to park) were lacking, so I took the easy option and was ultimately relieved when a tarred surface was attained about half an hour later and revived myself thereafter when I reached the motel.
How is it that one half of one state can have all these amazing things all to itself? Yet, I knew, that tomorrow there would be more, whatever direction I chose.
I’d read good reports about it but hadn’t really done a lot of research. I’d copied out details of what to see and I moved out as soon as I had the car rental keys in my hand. The road north from Las Vegas is straight and, when you turn off after just over 50 kms, it’s straight again, albeit with only one lane either way, even if it does go into a few dips. I’m keen to get my rock photography under way and the road climbs to the edge of the valley and there’s a nice view but, it’s the desert big horn sheep that I hit the brakes for. I catch a glimpse of them beneath a steep drop and head over to get a picture.
They scatter like scared rabbits when I lean over to get a snap but, the camera won’t focus. Quickly I try to rectify the situation, taking the lens off and on etc. Nothing works. Despair reigns. For the next two weeks I’ll have no functioning camera. I try manual focus and it clicks but the picture doesn’t come out. There’s a strange blackness with some light here and there. I change battery (like that’s going to work!) but it’s what you do in desperation. The lens gets removed again and then, inspiration! There’s a mechanism that leaves your shutter open. I click that, then click it shut and, bingo, camera is working fine again. The sheep, however, have moved well away.
Where I’ve stopped looks down the valley and around three quarters of an hour is spent here scaling the steep ramparts to get a better angle and then scrambling back down what seemed like an easier route from above but isn’t. Still, that’s why we have hands, to stop us sliding down.
2 miles on is the entry gate where a cheery woman takes my cash. At this point the reason for the name of the valley is readily apparent. There’s a rugged outcrop of deep rust red misshapen rocks in the distance that’s imposed itself on the landscape and that’s where I head next. A dirt loop road takes you around one side but I can’t help stopping at least four times and exploring its uneven nature. It seems that wherever you walk there’s some sort of picture. All this chews up probably another hour because there’s an arch and petroglyphs around the far side that have to be visited. Eventually I reach the visitors centre and a worm in my brain keeps wriggling and saying “Why is the centre so far into the park?”
Not to worry, I can buy a Fanta here (did you know it was invented in Germany in 1941 and has 100 flavours?) to quench some of my thirst and refill my water bottles. Warnings abound on the internet about the importance of bringing fluids though they mostly refer to summer…..or so I thought! I’d already drained my two containers and was refilling them already.
I learn that from here there is more to see, the main part apparently, but what form it takes I don’t know. From the central area the road dramatically does a short climb right into an elongated rock formation and, at the crest, you can see it traverses a couple of miles through it. More places to stop and another half hour slides by.
Then, cresting a small rise at the far end, the day suddenly changes. The panorama from here is breathtaking. It’s called Rainbow Vista and it’s hard to know where to look first. All manner of hues are sprinkled on the horizon. It’s photography heaven. Days could be allocated to this area, which is probably why there’s two campgrounds inside the park! The word “wow” keeps tumbling out of my mouth. It’s better than I dared hope for because, mainly, I’d come to see The Wave, a patterned piece of rock that’s shaped like a roller when viewed from a certain position.
It’s hard to drive more than 500 metres without pulling up but eventually the end at the White Domes is reached and it’s time to head off for the second last time with the cameras. Because I’m tired I forget the ranger’s instructions about this walk. Down you go and turn right into a slot canyon. By the time I arrive nearly at the bottom half an hour later I’m overcome by desire to get up where some other tourists are high above and that’s where I head. It’s good but my legs are looking for some energy source.
Back at the car there’s only one thing left to see, Fire Wave, and it’s back about a kilometre but in a totally different direction. To get there you first go past a dramatic upright outcrop, the end of which is named Gibraltar Rock. Like so many features in the park, it seems so out of place. Well over 100 metres high, it’s mildly popular with rock climbers.
Lots of movies have been shot in the park. Star Trek Generation was almost exclusively shot here and the outside scenes of Mars from Total Recall were just a couple of many, which is why I shouldn’t be surprised to see a crew turning up for the golden hour at Gibraltar Rock.
Down at Fire Wave there’s a scattering of tourists and a few have to climb all over it, something to do with man dominating nature I expect. However, it’s the trip back that gets me excited. There are all these different coloured bands in the foreground and Gibraltar Rock as a backdrop and the bands are constantly changing.
If you’re into photography, this place is a must-see. On reviews some make comparisons with Zion and Bryce and say how much better they are. For me, it’s not better or worse, but different, and it’s different in spades. So much variety in such a relatively short space gets my recommendation.
Having researched the location I picked something I would remember, Hollywood Street, no boulevard here. The street I wanted was two past that. I’d chosen not to use google maps in order to save batteries, don’t want to run low while I’m taking photographs. The Princes Highway was busy despite lockdowns so I gratefully turned off and headed up Dowling Street to one of two main entrances.
It was there I was stunned. For decades I’d tried to get a meaningful book on wildflowers, I’d even spent money for heavens sake. Yet, for some reason, I could never crack a relevant one. In Thredbo I was assured that the volume I’d just purchased would identify plants I’d seen and photographed that day. It didn’t.
So, imagine my surprise when I stopped at the entrance to South Pacific Heathland Reserve. Here were some laminated sheets with relevant plant information but, just in behind them, was a free pamphlet that identified half the plants that I’d seen today. If there’s an annual contest for the most useful brochure, City of Shoalhaven would surely romp in. There was a map as well, take a bow Shoalhaven.
The trustees in charge of the 14 hectares of reserve won a best in the state award in 2017. The brochures, track and lookouts are all well developed and when you get a brochure it actually relates to the trails. There are appropriate signs so it’s almost impossible to get misplaced and you certainly can’t get lost because you’re only ever 500 metres from an intersection. In the whole reserve there’s less than 4 kms of trail, no hills, protected by the forest. No wonder it’s popular with locals.
There’s only 14 hectares of the reserve but it’s clear that people care about it, particularly bearing in mind that there was a protest just two days ago about developers wanting to clear more of the wonderful forest that’s left at Narrawallee just down the road. It’s always sad when some of the reasons for people moving to an area disappear. Glossy black parrots are already endangered here and the bushfires didn’t help.
Rennies Beach was my ultimate destination, so I thought. I didn’t even know it existed until one week earlier. There’s many kilometres of coast around here and everywhere I’ve been, you can’t help but notice there’s small unnamed islands and adjacent rock shelfs in many places. Their influence on wave patterns is undeniable but, today, the swell is having a day off. However, on the plus side, the colours are brilliant, the blues and greens as stunning as any you’ll see.
Getting there IS half the fun. The recent sunshine has sparked interest from the plants of the coastal heath. Windblown though it is, flora survive and thrive here on either side of the narrow bush trail that I decide to ride. Here in the land of acacia, she-oaks and banksia there’s any number of flowers competing for space on the floor. On the reverse side, the fire, started by arsonists in 2018, has left its scars on more than one place and the remnants of the banksia stand like wizened old men at odd angles. In time, their seeds will take hold and it will all come again but, for the time being, the low growing flowers are having a field day, literally and figuratively.
The wash sound of the sea floats up the escarpment, enchanting in its own way, controlled by the offshore winds that were dipping over the hill to the waters. Sitting on the cliff edge on this gorgeous day I took time out just to recharge my batteries.
The lookouts here and on Wardens Headland appear to have no maintenance schedule as the vegetation steadily climbs in front of the lookouts, blocking some of the view on all but one I’d been to. Many are the feet that have gone outside the protective barriers in order to get a decent shot. Still, parts could be viewed and the presence of that ocean sound just wafted all over you, something soothing about being beside an active sea.
However, not far away, along a narrow unnamed track, there’s a better viewpoint because of the fires. Naked banksia branches indicate dead trees whose seeds will take a few years to re-emerge. Meanwhile, the view is significantly enhanced so I sit down with a pie and drink and soak it all up.
Just north nearby is Rennies Beach, access to which is via a steep path off Dowling Street but, from this viewpoint, defining individual beaches is problematic, especially when you’re not a local. What you see is a long stretch of sand interspersed with small headlands and/or a rock shelf. It’s quite beautiful, enhanced by the sublime colours of the ocean, changing from green to blue the further offshore you look with dark patches indicating rock slabs. It’s the definition of sublime, and it would draw me back time and time again.