With a cool sunny day in the offing and Allan Savins available for the usual roadie duties, we headed north along the M1 through the multiplying roadwork zones, leaving my car at Heaton Gap before continuing up to the starting point in Allan’s car. Let’s just say he wasn’t impressed with the state of Heaton Road, describing it as the second worst road in NSW. We made it, though, and as Allan disappeared off back home, I readied myself at the trackhead for the day’s walk.
A couple of kilometres down a recently graded dirt road, I reached the well-constructed Hunter Lookout, offering views north-west up the valley.
From there, it was only a few hundred metres further to Maclean Lookout with its northerly aspect, although there was a lot of smoke haze in that direction, presumably from hazard reduction burns. Here I stopped for a bite to eat.
The GNW heads east from the lookout, mostly leaving the service roads behind as it traverses several gullies and ridges along the northern edge of the Watagans. I’d done this section across to Heaton Lookout last September with a group of geocachers, so had a pretty good idea of what the medium to hard meant.
The track followed the edge of the cliff line before reaching the end of Glenn Road where someone seems to have had a bit of van trouble.
From there it climbed onto the end of another spur, with some steps provided for us elderly hikers.
A little way along I came to a moist rock overhang. At first I thought it was the spot we’d previously stopped at for lunch, making me think I was making excellent time, but no, it was a different one.
Climbing out of the gully onto the next spur, the track passed close to a picturesque vantage point looking north-east, where I stopped for a breather and another snack.
Across to the right I could see the telecommunications tower that’s directly above the final descent to Heaton Gap, but between me and there was a deep gully that had to be traversed.
Just around the bend the track reached Hammonds Road, where the sign informed me that I’d covered 2.5km since Maclean Lookout and had another four ahead of me to Heaton Lookout.
A short way on, where the track began to descend rather steeply, was a fence presumably to stop crazy drivers of 4WDs and souped-up Datsuns from going beyond the point of no return.
The track became much steeper and narrower as it wound its way along the base of a cliff, eventually bringing me to the real lunch spot of my previous visit. Checking the time, I decided to repeat the ritual and found a sunny place to sit and refuel.
Once underway again, the track descended further to a rather wet and muddy spot, making me glad I was barefoot.
As I progressed, the mud got deeper and oozier, so yes, bare feet were definitely the go here.
At the bottom of the next descent I reached a stream with a decent flow of water in it where I could wash all the mud off.
That wasn’t the bottom of the gully, though, as there were a few more ups and downs with a bit more mud before I reached another familiar landmark, where a geocache is lurking amongst the rocks overlooking the main creek.
Finally across the lowest point of the gully, I’d just begun to climb when my arm became ensnared by some thorny vines. I was starting to think I’d had enough of deep dark wet gullies for one day. But soon I emerged back into sunshine, although by now the wind had picked up a bit, and, at the top of the climb, I reached Barniers Road, relieved at last to be out of that gully.
From here, the track follows the road north for a bit before turning to the right where a walkers’ register waited to be signed.
My journey recorded, I pressed on along the track which traversed another couple of small but dry gullies before finally emerging at Heaton Lookout with its breathtaking views across the lowland forests, lakes and the distant sea.
Just north of the lookout is a new geocache which I wanted to find on the way past. Sussing out a relatively easy scramble down to a lower ledge, I soon had the cache in hand and the log signed.
Back on the road, I headed north while dodging a procession of 4WDs going the other way. Perhaps doing the walk on the first day of the school holidays wasn’t such a good idea. By now the wind had really picked up, becoming almost gale force as the road wound its way uphill for the two kilometres to the communications tower, where the GNW turns right to begin its final descent to Heaton Gap. With more 4WDs coming up the hill, I made my way down to what is a popular hang-glider launch spot, with more great views to the south-east.
At the end of the power line service road, the GNW becomes a walking track again with a sign warning of the steep descent ahead. This was the first time I’ve encountered such a sign anywhere along the walk so it must be pretty steep!
It turned out that much of the steepness was down steps, firstly stone ones…
…and then wooden ones.
Steps, steps, lots and lots of steps before it joined another power line service road for the remainder of the descent along the spur. At a bend to the left, I caught my first glimpse of the road through Heaton Gap.
Before reaching the steepest bit at the bottom, the GNW turned to the right, following a series of switchbacks down to the road directly opposite the Watagan Forest Motel where my car was waiting. I’d made it!
This is one of the few places where the GNW crosses a major road without an overpass or tunnel, hence it’s well signposted.
Once safely across, I reached my waiting vehicle.
The Heaton Gap trackhead completes the Watagans traverse, with just 41km remaining in my journey to Newcastle.
My next leg will take me back up and out along the spur before descending to Teralba railway station on the north-western corner of Lake Macquarie. After that, I’ll only have two more legs through the southern fringes of Newcastle to complete the walk.
My thanks go once more to Allan for providing the car shuffle, without which I wouldn’t have been able to get through the remote sections of the Watagans.
Coming up next: Heaton Gap to Teralba.