Day 21: Charlestown to Newcastle

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.

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After following suburban streets forĀ  a few blocks, we re-entered bushland, following a dirt path punctuated by wooden bridges and boardwalks as it hugged Flaggy Creek.

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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.

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The track soon brought us out onto the Fernleigh bike path, which was once a train line running from Adamstown south to Belmont.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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After crossing Little Flaggy Creek, we reached Leichhardt’s Lookout, getting our first glimpse of the lagoon and ocean beyond.

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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.

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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.

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Continuing along, we came across remnants of the old railway line that ran along the exposed coal face just above the beach.

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Lying on the beach were some sizable lumps of coal that the miners apparently didn’t want.

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There were also some more almost-buried remains of the old railway.

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Around the base of the headland, passable only at low tide according to the sign, we reached Merewether baths, our planned lunch stop.

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Here there’s another trackhead sign, showing only 4.6 kilometres remaining to Newcastle. As you can see, it had become rather windy.

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Time for some much-needed trail tucker at the Swell Cafe.

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Stomachs replenished, we continued north along the beachfront towards Shepherds Hill.

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There came a long climb up many steps.

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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.

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Just beyond there is the Anzac memorial walkway, commemorating those from Newcastle who died in active service.

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Another sign informed us that we were now just 1.6 kilometres from the finish.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Day 20: Teralba to Charlestown

Having recovered sufficiently from last Wednesday’s walk, and with a perfect hiking day forecast, I set off north on the train this morning, arriving back at the Teralba trackhead at 10:15 am.

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From the railway station, it was off down Anzac Parade for a few blocks to Lake Crescent, just before the busy Five Islands Road.

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Going between the main road on the right and a caravan park on the left, Lake Crescent transforms into a bike path leading down to an underpass under Five Islands Road. Close to this bridge was a geocache, which I found and signed before heading through.

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Looping around, the path joins another bike path on the lake side of Five Islands Road, crossing several bridges as it traverses some of the islands for which it’s named.

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After the last bridge it comes to a bicycle roundabout – I kid you not!

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Here the GNW heads down the slip-ramp to join the main bike path along the northern edge of Lake Macquarie.

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This was my first encounter with salt water on the GNW since leaving the tidal limit of Mooney Mooney Creek back on Day 10, so I had to test the water, so to speak.

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Yep, definitely wet. Heading around Speers Point, I soon came to the public wharf, making me wonder if there are ferry services operating across the lake from here. I couldn’t see anything like a timetable, though, just a sign listing all the things you can’t do here.

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At the tip of Speers Point, the view south opened up between headlands, showing the great expanse of water down to the higher ground beyond the lake’s mouth at Swansea.

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After finding a geocache hidden nearby, I rounded the point, bringing my lunch stop at Warners Bay into view.

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Just along here is a pink bust by sculptor Guy Maestry entitled Facsimilies Darwin 2017.

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Reaching the main shopping centre of Warners Bay, I ducked over the road to join the queue for some trail tucker, which I brought back to the water’s edge to consume amongst a flock of hungry seagulls.

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While eating, I spied a communications tower atop the mountains west of the lake and, taking a compass bearing, it seems likely this is the tower on Heaton Road just before the steep descent to Heaton Gap. It’s moments like this that drive home the distance I’ve covered on my bare soles.

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With lunch eaten and distances pondered, I turned my attention back to today’s walk, reaching the Warner’s Bay trackhead a block further south where the GNW leaves the lakeside bike path. With 5.8km covered and 6.8km remaining, I’d almost reached the halfway mark.

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The path follows Queen Street, a local access road alongside the main thoroughfare King Street, before turning west onto Myles Avenue. Ahead I could see the forested hills that the GNW would soon climb into, becoming a bushwalk once more.

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Sure enough, the urban cream guide posts with the spherical knob on top gave way to the bushland plain green ones.

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The climb up into the hills wasn’t quite what I’d been expecting, though, being mostly eroded gravel trails popular with trail bike riders rather than the more pristine walking tracks I’d grown accustomed to in the Watagans. As if on queue, a trail bike zoomed past me as I neared the top of the hill. Once over the peak, though, it became narrower and more pleasant, with a couple more geocaches to find and then a recently constructed wooden bridge over a small stream.

DSC_0161A little way on, the track turned due north, coming alongside a golf course on the left with the busy Newcastle Inner City Bypass on the right. I hoped the golfers’ aim was good as there’s not much protection for walkers from stray golf balls.

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Continuing on for the best part of a kilometre, the track eventually turns east, going down and under the Bypass through a tunnel alongside a stream. Again there was a geocache nearby to find before going through.

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Once on the other side, the track turned back east, winding its way along Winding Creek before darting across E K Avenue and Redbud Close before returning to the bush for another short stint to Park Street. Here the track turned right between two houses to pass into a dark heavily forested gully between the back yards of Park Street and Gari Street.

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Climbing out of the gully, the track returned to suburbia in Anjon Street where a taxi was waiting, but not for me I hasten to add!

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With the track markers becoming the cream sphere-topped ones again, it was a suburban walk along concrete footpaths up the final hill to Charlestown Park where I reached the trackhead sign at about 3:30pm.

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Across the road was a more impressive sign.

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Charlestown Park itself wasn’t quite the open parkland of grass, trees and picnic tables I’d imagined, instead it consisted mostly of a sports oval surrounded by a four or five metre high fence and, at the northern end, a large construction zone where it looks like they’re building a skateboard theme park or something. After passing a bunch of obnoxious teenagers wanting a cigarette lighter, I reached the bus stop for the number 14 into Newcastle to catch the train back home.

Only 12.1km remains of my hike, this being through a bit more suburbia before entering the Glenrock State Conservation Area where the GNW finally meets the sea. From there, it’s north along the beaches and headlands to my final destination at Queens Wharf on Nerwcastle harbour.

Coming up next: Charlestown to Newcastle.

 

Day 19: Heaton Gap to Teralba

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.

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Reaching the trackhead at about 10:45, I set off on this 15km hike in weather more like early spring than mid winter.

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The walking track followed a dirt path behind the guard rail on Freeman’s Drive before turning onto Gap Road.

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This soon entered the Sugarloaf State Conservation Area, although Mt Sugarloaf itself is some 8km north of the GNW track.

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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.

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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.

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Eventually growing tired of the rutted road, the GNW takes a detour along the side of the ridge, becoming a much more pleasant bushwalk.

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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.

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At the top of a rise is an outcrop of sentinel-like rocks, which was a good place to pause for a snack.

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Pressing on, I soon reached the top of the hill and the highest point on today’s walk.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Trail bikes aren’t the only hazard for barefoot hikers along here. This one is equine in nature.

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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.

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A little further along the signage became more emphatic. Was this an alien landing site, or perhaps a toxic waste dump?

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Finally all was revealed.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Finally at the end of Rhondda Road I reached Railway Street, suggesting I mightn’t be too far from my destination.

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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.

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With fifteen minutes until my train home, I headed across the footbridge to the official Teralba trackhead on the eastern side of the line.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 18: Watagan HQ Campsite to Heaton Gap

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.

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A couple of kilometres down a recently graded dirt road, I reached the well-constructed Hunter Lookout, offering views north-west up the valley.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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From there it climbed onto the end of another spur, with some steps provided for us elderly hikers.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Once underway again, the track descended further to a rather wet and muddy spot, making me glad I was barefoot.

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As I progressed, the mud got deeper and oozier, so yes, bare feet were definitely the go here.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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From here, the track follows the road north for a bit before turning to the right where a walkers’ register waited to be signed.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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It turned out that much of the steepness was down steps, firstly stone ones…

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…and then wooden ones.

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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.

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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!

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This is one of the few places where the GNW crosses a major road without an overpass or tunnel, hence it’s well signposted.

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Once safely across, I reached my waiting vehicle.

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The Heaton Gap trackhead completes the Watagans traverse, with just 41km remaining in my journey to Newcastle.

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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.

 

Day 17: Congewai Valley to the Watagan HQ Campsite

Finally our almost never-ending summer has ended, so with the cooler weather it was time to get back on the trail. At our family Christmas gathering, my brother Al expressed an interest in joining me on one of the legs, so our plans were hatched for today’s walk. Coming from Camden in south-western Sydney, it was a pre-dawn start for him, but he made it to our meeting place on Mt Faulk Road in good time and followed me up what has become a very corrugated climb to our finish place at the Watagan HQ Campsite.

Leaving his car there, I drove us down Heaton Road and west to the Congewai Valley where I’d left off last November.

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Crossing the stile, we headed gently uphill through farmland, with plenty of cowpats to avoid along the track. Once into the forest, the climb became a lot steeper with sections of steps, necessitating regular rest breaks.

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Catching our breaths, we made it to the ridgetop where views back over the Congewai Valley opened up through the trees.

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Our climb wasn’t over, though, as the track continued to weave its way uphill along the ridge, passing a grove of impressively tall grass trees. With their snail-pace growth rate, these specimens were probably well-established at the time Captain Cook came visiting our shores.

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Finally at the top, the track joined a dirt road, taking us past an old logging hut that might best be descibed as a handyman’s delight.

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Soon we arrived at the Barraba Trig rest area where we signed the walkers’ register. I’d considered topping up my water bottle from the rainwater tank but, after taking a taste, decided I probably had enough to get by.

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On the eastern side of the rest area stood a grove of even more impressive grass trees. They must really thrive in this mountain environment.

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Rested and refreshed, we continued our trek east, passing below a cliff line with many impressive caves. Our thoughts turned to the Aboriginal inhabitants who might have once resided here.

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With stomachs starting to rumble, we took a short detour south to the 125r lookout, a place I’d visited three years ago on a geocaching adventure. This time we made a beeline for a different sort of log for our lunch break.

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Stomachs pacified, we ventured over to the cliff top to soak up the amazing views down over the Congewai Valley. Al suggested it’d make a good golf course, so I said they should put the clubhouse at the lookout with a chairlift up and down.

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Back on George’s Road, our next stop was the Narrow Place, a cliff-top lookout offering amazing views north across the Hunter Valley and beyond.

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From there, the remainder of our walk was along the mostly level dirt road which looked to have been recently graded. It was certainly in much better nick than when I’d taken the Corolla out there on my previous visit in 2015. I was almost tempted to start singing The Road Goes Ever On and On but thought it mightn’t be appreciated.

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In any case the road didn’t go ever on and on, and just over six hours and seventeen kilometres after we set off, we came to Al’s car at the Watagan HQ trackhead and the end of our day’s journey.

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The final leg of my Watagan Mountains traverse will take me cross-country to Heaton’s lookout and then down to Freeman’s Drive at Heaton Gap. Following that will be theĀ  descent to Teralba railway station and two more legs along the northern fringe of Lake Macquarie and up the coast into Newcastle city and the finish at Queen’s Wharf.

My thanks to Al for joining me today and making it such an enjoyable stroll.

Coming up next: Watagan HQ Campsite to Heaton Gap.

 

 

Day 16: Watagan Creek to Congewai Valley

With Allan Savins once again providing the car shuffle for me, I was back underway just after 10 am on a mild and partly overcast day, ideal conditions for walking.

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From the Watagan Creek trackhead, it was a short walk back along the road before heading down across farmland to the civilised creek crossing.

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Following the fence line, there was soon a stile to cross.

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The cattle seemed undisturbed by my intrusion into their domain.

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They left some hazards for barefoot hikers though.

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After one more stile it was out of the farm and into the forest.

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The track quickly began climbing up towards the top of the ridge, with many switchbacks and steps.

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Part way up I came upon an impressive grove of grass trees.

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Eventually it reached the turning circle at the end of a fire trail along the ridge, where I decided to stop for some refueling alongside a termite mound. Just as well I’m not made of wood!

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A bit further along I came to the Walkers’ Rest Area, but I was eager to reach my lunch spot at Flat Rock Lookout so didn’t stop for any more rest. At least resting walkers have a supply of water here, assuming of course there’s been recent rain.

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At Flat Rock Lookout the view opened up to the east across the Congewai Valley.

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Looking carefully, I was able to spot my car sitting alongside the road way down there. It was only 3km away as the crow flies, but I still had another 12 or 13 kilometres of walking ahead of me to reach it. Oh to be a crow!

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The views photographed, it was time for some lunch. No fish and chips here, so I had to settle for the hard boiled eggs and salad I’d brought along.

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Shortly past the lookout is a geocache, so time to break out the GPS receiver and go hunting for the quick find, which included a blue Smurf guardian.

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From the lookout, the track undulated north along the ridge top following a narrow spur.

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Another three kilometres on I reached a communications tower.

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Here was the end of the Great North Walk’s traverse of the ridge top, with the four kilometre descent into the valley immediately ahead.

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Near here was also another geocache.

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The cache found and logged, the steep downhill trek began.

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The track headed down and around an impressive rocky outcrop.

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From there it followed a narrow ledge as it made its way down the side of a spur.

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Once at the bottom, it was back into the farmland, cattle, flies and stiles.

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After following a fence line across private farmland, it joined Eglinford Lane which leads up to the Lonely Goat Olives bed-and-breakfast. At one time I’d considered making a stopover there, but its placement made it too close to the Watagan Creek and Congewai Valley trackheads and too far from the next one along at the Watagan HQ campsite.

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Turning my back on the lonely goats and their olives, in due course I reached the Congewai Road West trackhead, but this wasn’t the end of my journey.

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My car was at the Congewai Road East trackhead, a further five kilometres along the road, so, with my soles starting to become a bit tenderised by the gritty surface, it was onward into the valley.

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This was surprisingly the toughest part of the walk, with a strong headwind at times, lots of flies and, with the cloud having mostly cleared, hot sunshine. At one spot a couple of farmers repairing a fence offered to give me a lift but, as tempting as their offer was, I still had enough stamina left to graciously decline.

Some roads might go ever on and on, but thankfully this one didn’t and I eventually reached Crawfords Bridge over Congewai Creek.

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From the top of the rise just the other side, I saw my car waiting patiently for me a few hundred metres ahead, with the towering cliffs of the Dutchman’s Stern (home of a challenge geocache I completed a couple of months back) on the left.

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With my energy almost spent, I reached the Congewai Road East trackhead, the end of the day’s journey.

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From here, the next leg of my walk heads up onto the ridge north of the Dutchman’s Stern before turning east towards the Watagan HQ campsite, Heaton Gap, Teralba and, in just 71 kilometres now, Newcastle!

My thanks again go to my roadie Allan Savins for his help with the car shuffle, and to his wife Jude for letting me borrow him. Only three more legs and I’ll be back to having public transport access for the remainder of my journey.

Coming up next: Congewai Valley to the Watagan HQ Campsite.

Day 15: Cedar Brush Creek to Watagan Creek

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Once at the top, it joined the broader Kingtree Ridge Road for a spell of level walking.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Instead I decided to take my lunch break there, digging into the trail tucker I’d brought along and making my pack slightly lighter.

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Lunch eaten, it was back onto the steps for a rapid climb out of the valley past an impressive honeycombed sandstone cave.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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My GPS receiver showed the altitude here as 556 metres above sea level.

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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.

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Turning off Murrays Forest Road, the GNW followed a narrow spur across onto the eastern flank of Mount Warrawolong.

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Here was a good view west of the flat-topped Mount Yengo in the distance.

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While taking that shot I startled a goanna that had been sunning itself, causing it to make a beeline up the nearest tree.

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Out to the east the views were just as good, with the ocean faintly visible through a gap in the mountains.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.