Almost two years ago, on the 29th of August 2016, I set off on this adventure, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with just the first leg’s 13km from Sydney Cove to North Ryde seeming daunting enough, let alone the entire 250km to some magical far-off finishing point in Newcastle. Even then, I hadn’t expected it to take all of two years to complete, but the logistics of the Watagans traverse and desire to restrict my walking to the cooler weather stretched it out more than I’d planned.
Today, I was joined by Peter Mudie on the train to Adamstown where we then took a number 14 bus to Charlestown, beginning the walk proper at about 10am.
After following suburban streets for a few blocks, we re-entered bushland, following a dirt path punctuated by wooden bridges and boardwalks as it hugged Flaggy Creek.
After a short back-track to find a geocache I’d missed, we descended further into the valley, criss-crossing the creek several times. My bare feet came in handy at the water crossing.
The track soon brought us out onto the Fernleigh bike path, which was once a train line running from Adamstown south to Belmont.
A short distance along we reached the elaborate intersection with Burwood Road where some of the orginal tracks remain to the side of the path.
Turning right, we crossed Flaggy Creek on a high road bridge before entering the Glenrock State Conservation Area, a nature reserve extending down along the gully to the sea where coal had once been mined.
Joining the Yuelarbah Track, we soon passed a couple of groups of school children receiving nature lessons from the park staff.
Much of the initial section of the track consists of elevated walkways through the bushland.
After crossing Little Flaggy Creek, we reached Leichhardt’s Lookout, getting our first glimpse of the lagoon and ocean beyond.
After a short head-scratching moment trying to figure out which was the correct track, we made our way down many stone steps, stopping at one point to examine a mining artifact needed for a nearby earthcache. At the bottom of the hill we reached the sand and the halfway mark in today’s walk.
With the Great North Walk now turning north along the beach, we made our way up to where the remainder of the earthcache questions had to be answered, followed by a quick testing of the waters.
Continuing along, we came across remnants of the old railway line that ran along the exposed coal face just above the beach.
Lying on the beach were some sizable lumps of coal that the miners apparently didn’t want.
There were also some more almost-buried remains of the old railway.
Around the base of the headland, passable only at low tide according to the sign, we reached Merewether baths, our planned lunch stop.
Here there’s another trackhead sign, showing only 4.6 kilometres remaining to Newcastle. As you can see, it had become rather windy.
Time for some much-needed trail tucker at the Swell Cafe.
Stomachs replenished, we continued north along the beachfront towards Shepherds Hill.
There came a long climb up many steps.
At the top is a trig marker with expansive views over Newcastle and its harbour port, with my GPS receiver reckoning we were about 75 metres above sea level.
Just beyond there is the Anzac memorial walkway, commemorating those from Newcastle who died in active service.
Another sign informed us that we were now just 1.6 kilometres from the finish.
After descending through a park and barbecue area, we then had another hill to climb where an obelisk now marks the site of Newcastle’s original water works.
Looking south-west, I was able to spot a familiar communications tower, this being the one I passed on Day 18 at the top of the descent to Heaton Gap, reminding me again of the distance I’ve covered since then.
Descending from the obelisk, the final stretch of the GNW took us through the back streets of the Newcastle CBD, past the Grand Hotel and then west along the Hunter Street mall to where the final marker post pointed right into a cul-de-sac.
Just ahead was the Queens Wharf Tower, the official finish for the GNW, but I was left scratching my head as the overpass mentioned in the guide book was demolished a couple of years ago and the way is now blocked by a construction zone for the Revitalising Newcastle light rail project and redevelopment.
Returning to Hunter Street, we headed west until we reached a point where we could loop around to the base of the tower and the end of my 250km barefoot hike.
There was once an official trackhead sign here, but from what I understand, it was attached to the concrete pillar supporting the old overpass but this is now all that remains.
The tower itself won’t be there for much longer either, with demolition scheduled in the next month or two. What will become of the Great North Walk’s northern end then I don’t know, so perhaps it’s just as well I didn’t postone my trek any longer.
Climbing the tower offered some breathtaking views over Newcastle, including Nobby’s Head to the east at the entrance to the harbour.
Rested and snacks eaten, we headed down to the bus stop for the slow shuttle to Newcastle Interchange and the train trip back to Woy Woy. There we were joined by Allan Savins for a celebratory dinner at the Made Brus Mexican restaurant, a fitting end to my journey.
Those 21 days of hiking over the past two years have been an amazing experience, one that I’ll never forget, and I must once again thank Barry and Ros Jones for their help with my kayak paddle across the Hawkesbury, Allan for all the weekend car shuffles to the trackheads beyond the reach of public transport, and my brother Alan and Peter Mudie for their enjoyable company on days 17 and 21 respectively.
Looking to the future, I’m considering a possible coastal walk from Newcastle back to Sydney, which is looking increasingly practical with work currently underway to link up many of the existing tracks. That will be something for another year and another blog, though. For now it’s goodbye and I hope you’ve enjoyed following my adventure here.