With this leg ending at Teralba railway station and the starting point also tantalisingly close to public transport, but not quite close enough to walk, I considered a few options before deciding to book a taxi for the 6km ride from Awaba station to Heaton Gap.
Reaching the trackhead at about 10:45, I set off on this 15km hike in weather more like early spring than mid winter.
The walking track followed a dirt path behind the guard rail on Freeman’s Drive before turning onto Gap Road.
This soon entered the Sugarloaf State Conservation Area, although Mt Sugarloaf itself is some 8km north of the GNW track.
Gap Road, presumably the original route over Heaton Gap, heads down the hill towards Freeman’s Waterhole, but the GNW turns off to the left for some more climbing.
Steepening, the path soon becomes rather eroded in places, not helped I suppose by the many trail bikes using this area, as I was soon to discover.
Eventually growing tired of the rutted road, the GNW takes a detour along the side of the ridge, becoming a much more pleasant bushwalk.
Reaching the top of the spur, it passes another grove of grass trees, although not as spectacular as the ones back at the Barraba Rest Area on Day 17.
At the top of a rise is an outcrop of sentinel-like rocks, which was a good place to pause for a snack.
Pressing on, I soon reached the top of the hill and the highest point on today’s walk.
Here my GPS receiver showed an altitude of 347 metres, with the rest of the hike descending almost all the way back down to sea level.
Through the trees I was able to glimpse a hazy view out east across Lake Macquarie and the ocean beyond, although my camera insisted on focusing on the foreground trees rather than what I was really interested in. The haze was apparently due to raised dust from a gusty cold front crossing inland NSW, although the air on the coast remained still and warm.
The GNW soon joined the Brunkerville Trail, which passes north of Heaton Gap and down to the township of Brunkerville. I was heading the other way, of course, down towards the coast.
At the turnoff to Mount Sugarloaf, I was about to take a photo of the sign when a group of trail bikes rapidly approached, heading down ahead of me. At the same time, a 4WD came up the road, together creating quite a dust cloud to add to the haze.
Trail bikes aren’t the only hazard for barefoot hikers along here. This one is equine in nature.
Just past the horse droppings I came upon red Keep Out pennants strung along each side of the road. I was curious what the hazard might be as there were no obvious signs of fallen trees or logging activity.
A little further along the signage became more emphatic. Was this an alien landing site, or perhaps a toxic waste dump?
Finally all was revealed.
It seems carbon dioxide isn’t the only environmental downside to coal mining. The mystery solved and my stomach starting to rumble, I spied a comfortable-looking rock under the banners and had my trail lunch of hard boiled eggs and a banana.
The track soon reached the bottom of the hill and the end of the mine subsidence danger zone. Just ahead it passed under the M1 motorway, my first encounter with that road since passing under it way back on Day 10 at Mooney Mooney Creek. This crossing is a little less spectacular than that one, though.
That will be the last time I see the M1 on this trek, either walking or as a motorist, for the GNW continues well east of it on its journey to Newcastle. At the top of the next rise, the GNW branches off to the left of what had become quite a gravelly road.
There wasn’t much of a reprieve from the gravel, as this turned out to be a power line service road, which I discovered when reaching a swathe cut north-south across the landscape, framing a nice view of the TV towers on Mt Sugarloaf.
A little further along I reached another power line corridor, but this one seems to be missing something. I’m not sure if they haven’t strung the wires yet or they’ve been removed (or perhaps stolen).
Beyond the power lines, real and virtual, the track re-entered the forest for the final bit of bushwalking to Wakefield Road on the outskirts of Wakefield.
From here, the GNW followed the grassy verge to the Eddie Peterson Memorial Park and the Wakefield trackhead. Only 6.8km left to go until Teralba, but little did I know what that final stretch would entail.
From the trackhead sign, the GNW follows Wakefield Road for a couple of kilometres to the junction with Rhondda Road. It sounds easy when you say it like that, which is pretty much how the guide book describes it, but Wakefield Road has narrow gravelly shoulders with guard rails in places where it crosses small culverts, and with a steady convoy of gravel trucks zooming past at 80km/h in both directions, I would have to rate this as the most unpleasant section of the GNW I’ve experienced to date. One redeeming point, though, was a geocache near the intersection with Rhondda Road, which I soon logged.
Interesting that a couple of other people had also logged it today. Turning onto Rhondda Road, I’d hoped it’d be a quieter rural back-road, perhaps even with a grassy verge like Cedar Brush Road back on Day 14, but no, it was just more of the same with a similar number of gravel trucks. After a long steady climb I finally reached the top of the hill and the 50km/h zone marking the edge of Teralba and a view of Lake Macquarie tantalisingly close now.
Thinking there’d be suburban blocks with lush manicured footpaths to walk on just ahead, I pressed on, but no, the road actually became narrower as it passed through a cutting. The only consolation to walkers was a narrow track just behind the guard rail, with occasional broken bottles and other urban detritus to dodge.
At the end of that path I finally reached suburbia and, surprisingly, one of the cream GNW markers with the round knob on top. The last one of these I saw was back in Asquith on Day 4, I’m sure, with the dark green plain wooden posts being used for all the bushland markers.
Finally at the end of Rhondda Road I reached Railway Street, suggesting I mightn’t be too far from my destination.
Indeed, a hundred metres or so along the now lush grass verge, I reached the entrance to Teralba station, still with the old L7-style sign (disparagingly said to mean late 7 days a week). I’m sure those signs date back to the Cityrail days before the break-up into Sydney Trains and NSW Trainlink, or perhaps they’re even older.
With fifteen minutes until my train home, I headed across the footbridge to the official Teralba trackhead on the eastern side of the line.
There’s now just 25km to go until I reach Newcastle. The next leg to Charlestown is mostly along the lakeside bike path and bush trails east of the lake, so I should be spared any more stretches like Wakefield Road and Rhondda Road. With the GNW’s philosophy of avoiding busy roads, I’m surprised they couldn’t have at least provided an off-road dirt footpath alongside those roads to provide walkers with a bit more protection from the traffic. I guess the state government has other priorities.
Coming up next: Teralba to Charlestown.