This leg of the walk has been a long time in the planning, but finally the planets aligned (or whatever) and, with perfect walking weather, I met up with Allan Savins at the finishing point for the car shuffle back to the start.
The sign at the trackhead says 16km for this leg but the Wildwalks guide says it’s 18.3. Either way, with the track passing over the GNW’s highest point of some 560 metres, it was going to be one of the tougher segments of my journey.
Underway right on 10am, the track first took me slightly downhill to cross Cedar Brush Creek on a plank bridge.
Once across, it was straight into the uphill climb towards the ridge, but a well-placed walkers’ register halfway up gave me an excuse for a breather.
From there the track turned into a staircase up to the top of the ridge with a gain in altitude of 300 metres from the start.
Once at the top, it joined the broader Kingtree Ridge Road for a spell of level walking.
Some three kilometres on, this road met Walkers Ridge Road, the main vehicular thoroughfare through this part of the Watagans. As I was taking a sip of water and checking my maps, a couple of trailbikes noisily appeared from the undergrowth almost right on top of me, did a couple of loop-the-loops then just as quickly disappeared.
Turning left onto Walkers Ridge Road, I only had a few hundred metres to traverse before the GNW headed off to the right on a side track leading steeply down into the Wollombi Brook valley. At the bottom it met the 2km link track to The Basin campsite, and although the guidebook recommends breaking this segment there, I was instead heading north along the Lyrebird Trail.
A couple of hundred metres along, the track descended to the water’s edge at the Wollombi Brook Pool, a recommended spot to cool off with a quick dip. The water however looked rather stagnant and murky, and was a bit too cold for my liking anyway, so I opted out of that.
Instead I decided to take my lunch break there, digging into the trail tucker I’d brought along and making my pack slightly lighter.
Lunch eaten, it was back onto the steps for a rapid climb out of the valley past an impressive honeycombed sandstone cave.
Once back onto the ridge, the track joined Piglet Point Road which took me north past Wild Boar Road, Pork Point Road, Bacon Point Road and Rasher Point Road before eventually meeting Pig and Sow Ridge Road. Do I detect a theme here?
Once across Pig and Sow Ridge Road, the track dived back down into the Wollombi Brook valley, with the option (untaken) of an alternative route via Walkers Ridge Road.
Part way down the hill I came to another walkers’ register. They’re really keeping tabs on everyone on this leg, or perhaps they’re just making sure the pigs aren’t feasting on hikers.
Descending a well-made series of steps and switchbacks, it soon bottomed out at the crossing of Wollombi Brook. Not much water in it though this far upstream, just a bit of a brown puddle.
From here it was up, up and more up, climbing first a narrow track and then the steepening Kangaroo Point Road (it makes a change from the pig theme I guess) to the highest point on the entire GNW at its intersection with Murrays Forest Road.
My GPS receiver showed the altitude here as 556 metres above sea level.
At this height, I was able to access the Somersby amateur radio repeater to report my progress back to Allan. After a bit of a snack and water break, it was back to the walking, albeit all pretty much downhill from here.
Turning off Murrays Forest Road, the GNW followed a narrow spur across onto the eastern flank of Mount Warrawolong.
Here was a good view west of the flat-topped Mount Yengo in the distance.
While taking that shot I startled a goanna that had been sunning itself, causing it to make a beeline up the nearest tree.
Out to the east the views were just as good, with the ocean faintly visible through a gap in the mountains.
Immediately to the north was Mount Warrawolong with its communications tower, a place I’d visited a few months back with a group of geocachers.
With a steep descent down a rocky and badly eroded track, I soon found myself at a familiar spot where the road to the mountain’s summit turns off up the hill.
No more climbing for me today, though, instead I continued north, following a fairly level trail for another kilometre until I reached the edge of a cliff, with the Watagan Creek valley (and my car) way down below.
What came next over the final five hundred metres was surely the toughest part of the day’s walking. Following what was probably a disused logging track, the path rapidly descended through a series of steep and very badly eroded switchbacks, with loose rocks, soil and leaf litter threatening to inflict painful injury at any moment. Taking it at almost snails’ pace, I survived the descent shaken but unscathed, reaching the Watagan Creek trackhead just on 5pm.
So all up the day’s journey had taken me seven hours, not too bad considering all the altitude change along the way. Only 88km to go now to Newcastle, but before I get there, the next leg of my journey will take me straight back up onto the ridge on the other side of Watagan Creek.
That’s for another day though. My thanks again to Allan for his assistance with the car shuffle.
Coming up next: Watagan Creek to Congewai Valley.