Australia Day Weekend 2019
We clear town while the dawn sky is being scrubbed with a small dose of bleach, taking the colour out of the horizon leaving the white sky to hint at the hot day to come. The air is cool for the moment and we are deceived into thinking the humidity is low but in truth the lightest effort raises a sweat. It’s Saturday morning and we have a three hour run up to Barrington Tops followed by a 19km walk and we want to beat the traffic which will bottleneck Sydney over the next hour or two – by the time that happens we want to have packs strapped, boots on and metres behind us.
We are pretty much on timetable although we did stop at Dungog for a coffee. It’s the long weekend and this sleepy country town is barely stirring but we open the car to discover we have landed in an oven. We make our way into a café. A woman sitting in the shade of an awning cheerily says good morning and stops to chat. She is startled that we might contemplate ‘the Tops’ and warns of heat and snakes. Like all those who start out on an adventure even on the smallest scale, warnings slide right off us and we humour her and go inside to air conditioned comfort and a pretty good coffee.
We drive out through Salisbury (about 30km from Dungog), a settlement with a heavily patched road and farm yards and stock yards accessing the road directly, which only underscores how rustic the valley and small settlement is. We amble on to the end of the road at Williams Creek where we park the car. A rowdy group of teens is getting ready, while a group of young adults, who I suppose might have been swimming are getting ready to leave. They are equally noisy and we hope that we don’t encounter any on the tracks. The teens are lightly equipped and some carry no gear at all so we figure they are walking the short Blue Gum Trail. The adults grind off in their large four by four and the teens disappear up the road to the track head and we are left in thundering silence. The day bakes us already and at thirty degrees we know we are in for a warm walk.
The distances confuse us as nothing seems to add up on the parks boards but we rectify all that when we have a chance to plot the maps carefully. But we decide we have a target to reach and set out at 1030. From the Williams Camp spot we walk 150m back up the road we have driven in on and swing right onto the Blue Gum Track. The transition from dusty road to cool jungle is immediate and we turn to each other and grin. This is where we want to be. The track starts out quietly and flat but we know there is about 20km of gradual and steep climbing ahead of us to the top of Barrington Tops. I’m carrying 20kg and Kavitha 14kg (sensible girl) but there are some lessons in that as we progress. More later. The section of the Blue Gum Track we are on leads gently up to Rocky Crossing Track, winding around large tree trunks and within sound of the rushing Williams River which tumbles through fractured rock, nothing like the slow meandering water course we passed on our way up here. Those large tree trunks are Blue Gums but we are to see even more magnificent examples further up the track, striking enough to stop us in our tracks, crane our necks and admire their height and mass. And colour and texture.
We walk off the Blue Gum section onto the Rocky Crossing Track after about twenty minutes and step into an even more luscious garden than before. We are in dappled light, soft leaf litter, bright bird song (including the chitter of the Rufus Fantails that dance around us every now and then, drawn to the insects we stir up as we pass). We have already run into the ubiquitous Bush Turkey as we started out and he treated us with the indifference for which they are well known. Every now and then we spot old stumps with the notches still visible where timber cutters ascended the sides of these giant trees to fell them. This is World Heritage list rainforest which tells a story in itself. It’s magnificent. Strangler Figs are giants among equals here and the track occasionally takes us through fields of rotting figs split and scattered across the ground. We kick ourselves for not bring our bush food guide for these and any other number of fruit flourish right now.
The track follows a barely perceptible rise and it’s an easy walk. We amble along and allow ourselves to have a look at the Pool of Reflections. There are a few pools. Is it a place of reflections or reflecting? Neither really. Just some clear water pools. Pleasant and refreshing but nothing to write home about. However the pools at the terraces are another matter altogether. They are at the bottom of a steep drop and as we carted our packs down to the river bed it was with a little dismay at the prospect of having to haul them back up. There is no one around when we reach the river. Water trickles over a rock terrace on the other side of a tight gully and tinkles into the pool below. The pool is clear and limpid and very inviting. I resist a swim until we have lunch which is fish in bread along with some fruit. Carbs and protein and sugar. All the right stuff. In the course of having lunch we become aware of a family further upstream bombing into a larger water hole than is in front of us. But they keep to themselves. The boots then come off and I take a dip, minding not to knock my knees on the rocks below. It is deliciously good and in the heat and humidity of the day a real point of temptation to stay. A single woman turns up, keeps to herself and has a swim, followed by a family of five who are a bit more gregarious and boisterous and who fill up the small rock pool. But we have had our swim and are on our way. Socks and tee shirt have dried in the sun in 15 minutes – it’s that kind of day! Dry socks. Packs on. Climb out.
And climb we did. In fact we start a steep climb that is relentless pretty much for the next four or five hours. Up out of the creek bed, then 800m on to the top of the Rocky Crossing Track which ends at a car park. We then walk another four hundred metres or so to the carpark at the end of the road, named Lagoons Pinch. We arrive at 1245, just as a group of young trekkers are heading out looking like this might be the first time – day packs with large car camping tents loosely strung underneath, sleeping bags in one hand, shopping bags in the other. They disappear into the bush while we stop at a picnic shelter to take a drink and a break from the sun and to brace ourselves for the climb ahead. The sound of motorbikes shatter the silence then stop and we hear a conversation with the riders (who sound like rangers given the questions they ask – do you have enough water, do people know where you are, do you have an EPIRB? – but turn out to be Police) which reinforces the perception this might the first time this group have been in the bush.
We take a deep breath, haul on packs and start the alpine shuffle up the aptly named Corker Track at 1.15pm. Its not long before we overtake the small group of seven friends from Hurstville who were poorly equipped and even more poorly rigged. Bits of gear swung off them in loosely tied strangles of string and cord, and they were carrying car camping gear, newly purchased, for their adventure. Eventually we fell into conversation with them. This was their first trip in the bush and the first overnight expedition. Despite their fabulously poor preparation and inappropriate gear they impressed us with their resilience and fortitude. The cops were right to ask the questions they did for they conveyed a profound sense of folk doing this for the first time. Which was the case. But they got to their destination as planned and enjoyed the experience and did it safely (but perhaps not comfortably) and that can only be admired. Respect.
Especially given I grind to a halt at 7.30 just a couple of kilometres short of where we were aiming, but after an 18km ascent. I learn again the lessons learned ten years ago walking in heat and humidity in our preparation for, and eventual trek on Kokoda – don’t do this without salt tablets. It’s a strange sensation in which muscles just don’t seem to want to work, no matter how much you will them – the nervous system needs those salts. A temporary remedy was a small bag of crisps which made an immediate difference, but not enough to keep me going, just enough to make me feel better. So we pitch our tent on the side of the track. It’s a new One Planet tent and this is the first time it’s been out in the wild. Fortunately we are able to decipher it easily and it’s not long before I am flat on my back asleep. Boots off only. No sleeping bag.
We arise on Day 2 and are on the track a little before 7am, and arrive at the Wombat Creek campsite at 0810. Our Chinese friends are just surfacing, the sun no doubt backing them alive in their tent, having pitched it out in the open. At least they were not under any large limb dropping eucalypts. We push into the campsite close to the creek and uncover what is probably one of the best bush camp sites we have ever seen. Its sheltered, wind proof, close to fresh water and there is the convenience of a long drop further up the track. We pitch our tent again and have breakfast before heading out for the day.
Our initial objective was Careys Peak which allowed us to indulge a look back down the 20km ridge up which we had ascended the previous day. Along the way we were greeted by a family of four, the son, all of about 12 years old, regaling us with stories of the track, the hut and the local waterfall where they were camped. The sparkle in his eye and the enthusiasm and passion in his voice were infectious. The bush is strong with this one.
As we came off Careys Peak I covered myself with glory. To my embarrassment, and despite good time/distance calculation discipline the previous day I failed to notice the track plot on our topo map was incorrect. These mapping things happen. But the T-Junction we were looking for was not where the map showed it to be, and that threw me. It shouldn’t have, had I been paying closer attention. If it was just us then that would have been okay but we insisted that a couple of Irish trekkers were at a point on the map which they clearly were not on. It was only after we had gone our separate ways, and fallen into conversation with a cyclist with a NASA grade GPS that I twigged to my error. Feeling very sheepish, in part because of my claims of map reading expertise, I hoped never to see these two ever again in my life, or that we crossed paths very shortly and I could grovel an apology. We pressed on to Black Swamp where we had lunch (1315) and rued our erroneous mapping advice, lifted up over Aeroplane Hill at 1420 (site of a Mosquito crash in 1944) and on to the Junction Pools where we took a swim at 3pm. Junction Pools are unfortunately at the end of a 4×4 track and it being Australia Day there were any number of loud young men boozed up and full of bad manners. They crashed around with their crass and loud jokes (trying to impress a couple of girls) but were soon bored of the pools and went back to their campsite. We bugged out after the swim and walked into an afternoon that threatened storms but only delivered the occasional diamond white drops of rain to tease us. But unlike Aeroplane Hill, on which we found rather boring scrub, this section of the loop track was delightful, passing old swamps and passing through pleasant patches of scrub, full of birds and flowers. We are on the Edwards Swamp Trail and by 1620 we are closing on Wallaby Hill and the intersection with the Careys Peak trail. Fortuitously, along here we bump into our two Irish friends and I have an opportunity to right my wrongs. They were good natured about it all for which I was thankful.
We are back at the campsite by 5.30. its been a full day but we take the time to cook dinner and had barely packed up when the threatened storms hit and we were lashed by rain. It poured for at least an hour – I’m not really sure how long since I dropped off to the sound of it on the tent though the flashes of lightning disrupted the nodding off for a while.
We were up just after 6am and walking by 8am. A slow breakfast and leisurely start. But the sun lets us know quite quickly that it is not done with us yet. We are back at Lagoon Pinch just after 1100 and well down into the rainforest by 1200. This section of the track proved very very arduous. We might have been in shade and it might have been a downhill run but the humidity was excessive and every step was an effort, all the way to the carpark which we struck right on 3pm. The packets of crisps and the drinks of Coke were very welcome – we imbibed at a pub in Dungog, helped along by locals who were amazed we had been out in the heat, but understood that we didn’t want to sit too close – we must have ponged up a storm!