Day 8: Patonga to Wondabyne

Today’s walk put me on home turf, with the track passing within five hundred metres of my back door. While I’ve hiked many segments of this leg over the past two decades, this is the first time I’ve done it all in one hit.

The day began with a stroll through the quiet backstreets of Umina Beach to catch the 8:22am bus to Patonga from Mount Ettalong Road. I was the only passenger on board and even that seemed exceptional as the driver double-checked whether I really wanted to go there.

Upon arrival, I ducked over the road to grab a coffee before returning to the Patonga trackhead.

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Obligatory photo taken, from there it was a short walk along the beach to the GNW track climbing up onto the Dark Corner ridge, with a couple of quick detours to do a post school holidays check on my Patonga’s Grotto and Lurking in a Dark Corner geocaches. From the latter I had a good view back to the cafe and fish shop.

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The track then headed east and up along the headland above the river, with the surface underfoot being a pleasant mixture of rock steps and leaf litter.

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Before long, the walking track joined a broad fire trail surfaced in, of course, gravel, but I only had a few hundred metres to go before reaching Warrah Lookout with its beautiful views across Barenjoey to the east…

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…and up-river to the west where I’d kayaked on Wednesday.

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Opposite the lookout is the Tony Doyle path up to the top of the ridge at Warrah Trig, obviously built at a time when money for track construction was plentiful.

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The final climb to the trig point is up a flight of wooden steps which are starting to show the first signs of decay.

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The trig point itself has now lost its black discs to vandals or the elements, and with the advent of GPS they are unlikely to be replaced as such structures are now only of historical interest. Strange, though, that the stand appears to have received a fresh coat of paint.

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Beyond the trig point is the car park and dirt road north to Patonga Drive.

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Just before the main road, the walking track branches off, running parallel with it for a few hundred metres before crossing over to the fire trail on the other side. This is in keeping with the GNW philosophy of minimising contact with busy roads.

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North of Patonga Drive, the walk zig-zags along several fire trails with frequent side tracks. I’m not sure of the reason for this one’s name, but it’s been an awfully long time since we had a Post Master General’s department.

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A bit further along I came to another side trail with a bit of history. In the early days of settlement, the night cart would make the journey up here to dispose of its cargo. Why all the way up here I’m not sure, but they must have had their reasons – maybe the smell was too overwhelming for it to be any closer to town.

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A few kilometres on I reached the point where the GNW deviates left of the fire trail.

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Before long I came to the reason for the detour, that great scenic wonder in the middle of Brisbane Water National Park. Now I know where the contents of my red bin end up.

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Just past the tip, I caught my first glimpse of today’s lunch stop and the highest point in the park at 251 metres, Mount Wondabyne.

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The track followed a narrow spur, with Correa Bay and Woy Woy to the east and the upper reaches of Patonga Creek to the west. Much of it was across rock shelves with some interesting heath vegetation growing in the minimal soil.

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After half an hour or so of pleasant walking, the track crossed Dillon’s Trail. By strange coincidence, today it was announced that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel prize for literature. Weird the way these things happen.

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Only some twenty metres further on, the track joined the Tunnel Trail, so named because it crosses the rail tunnel between Wondabyne and Woy Woy.

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Shortly after passing the Rocky Ponds track, I reached the turnoff to Mount Wondabyne. Much stomach rumbling in anticipation of lunch!

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Just past a campsite, where the fire trail turns into a walking track, is the side path up to the summit where there’s a trig point complete with black discs.

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From there is a nice view over Ettalong, Killcare and the ocean beyond.

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Also visible in the distance was today’s destination, Wondabyne railway station, with the towering cliffs high above it where one of my geocaches is hidden.

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With lunch eaten, I didn’t linger as the summit is home to swarms of vampire flies, and yes, they did draw a few drops of blood with their bites.

Once off the mountain, the GNW track heads steeply downhill with lots of fresh-looking loose gravel underfoot. This foot-tenderiser was to become something of a theme for the rest of the hike, with copious amounts spread across the walking tracks as well as the fire trails.

Near the bottom of the descent I came to another walkers’ register, which I dutifully signed.

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Soon I reached another fire trail, the Mullet Creek Fire Trail according to the map. Only 7km to go on today’s walk!

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A few hundred metres along, the GNW turned left onto a narrow and pleasant side track, crossing a few small streams that feed into the upper reaches of Mullet Creek. At one point I caught a glimpse of Mount Wondabyne’s conical northern aspect which has caused some to speculate incorrectly that it might be an ancient volcano.

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All too soon this pleasant path joined Tommo’s Loop, a popular track for mountain bike enthusiasts. From here it was more gravel for about two kilometres until the turnoff and climb down to Kariong Brook.

The way down to the brook is steep with many steps, much steeper and with twice as many steps as the last time I was here, I’m sure! But at the bottom is a beautiful waterfall and pool, making the climb down worthwhile.

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I’d been thinking of taking a skinny-dip in the pool as the day had turned quite warm, but the water was freezing so this was the closest I got.

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In any case, there were other inhabitants that might not have appreciated my intrusion, and with those nippers, who was I to argue?

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From Kariong Brook, it was up and over a small spur to Myron Brook, another tributary to Mullet Creek.

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From there, it was uphill onto a series of rock ledges that worked their way westwards along the edge of another side gully.

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As it climbed further, the track became more gravelly until, with a final burst of elevation, it reached the main fire trail on top of the ridge above Wondabyne station.

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From here, the spine of the GNW heads north to Mooney Mooney Creek via the suspension bridge over Piles Creek, but for now I was heading the other way, south and down the hill to Wondabyne station.

With my upper thighs tightening up and my soles well and truly tenderised by all the gravel, I completed the final 2.5km with about a fifteen minute wait for the next train home. According to the sign, I’d covered 18km today, although the guide book claims it’s 19.5km. I think I’ll believe the book!

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This was the last time I’ll have public transport access to both ends of a leg, until the final stetch from Teralba to Newcastle, so I’ll now have to rely on the generosity of friends to drop me off or pick me up at the various trackheads. With summer approaching and even the cooler days becoming uncomfortably warm, the pace of my trek will no doubt slow but I’ll get there eventually, I’m sure.

Coming up next: Wondabyne to Mooney Mooney Creek.

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