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.

 

 

 

Day 14: Yarramalong to Cedar Brush Creek

After the heat of January, the rains of February and March, my April trip to Lord Howe Island and then Easter, I finally had the chance to resume my barefoot trek to Newcastle. Meeting Allan Savins at the well-concealed Cedar Brush Creek finishing point, he drove me back to the Yarramalong trackhead where I’d hoped to grab a coffee before starting the walk, but alas the shop was closed for renovations.

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Disappointed but not undone, I set off west along Yarramalong Road, soon crossing the new concrete bridge over Wyong River.

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Motorists in these parts need to watch out for the wildlife, although wombats are mostly nocturnal and are unlikely to bother GNW hikers.

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Shortly I came upon the quaint St Barnabas chapel built in 1885, these days a popular venue for wedding services. No-one tying the knot today though.

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On the left the countryside opened up across the Wyong River valley. A few years ago I spent a week working at an electromagnetic compatibility test range just along here, but it’s not visible from the road so I don’t know whether it’s still operating.

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The road surface is gravel embedded in tar, not ideal for barefoot hiking although the volume of traffic along here has mostly smoothed it out and in places I was able to use the grassy verge. About 3km into the walk I came to the Cedar Brush Creek turnoff.

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Some inquisitive cattle on the left gave me a good look as I passed.

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From here the going became easier, with plenty of freshly mown grass to walk on and a lot less traffic to contend with.

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There are some unusual letterboxes in these parts.

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There are horses too on some of the properties, and like the cattle are enjoying the lush fields after all the late summer and early autumn rain.

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Speaking of autumn, the exotic trees are putting on a fine display of colour as they lose their foliage in anticipation of the snow that’ll never come. A bit sad when you think of it that way, but the fallen leaves felt nice underfoot.

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It’s starting to get cool for our reptilian friends too, with one of them seeking out the warmth of the road surface.

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As the road headed further up the valley I came to Fernances Country. Now all I need to do is figure out what a Fernance is.

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The road crosses Cedar Brush Creek at Yorky’s Bridge where it was time for a snack stop.

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Just the other side is the end of the bitumen, with the road becoming a pleasant recently graded dirt surface with minimal gravel.

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One of the neighbours has a quirky sense of humour. I wonder what they do there if it isn’t a pharm.

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Another five hundred metres along I saw a familiar vehicle lurking on the side of the road.

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Opposite is the Cedar Brush Creek trackhead and the end of today’s journey.

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I’ve now covered 146km and there’s just another 104 to go to Newcastle. Immediately ahead though is the steep climb up into the Watagan Mountains and what will probably be a four day traverse across the wild country to Heaton’s Gap, where the track returns to civilisation with the descent to Teralba railway station.

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Thanks once again to Allan for getting up early on a Saturday morning to do the car shuffle.

Coming up next: Cedar Brush Creek to Watagan Creek.

Day 13: Kulnura to Yarramalong

With much cooler weather forecast after a week of sweltering heat, I arranged the usual car shuffle with Allan Savins, meeting him at the finishing point in Yarramalong before heading up Bumble Hill Road and along Cherry Lane to where I left off last time.

From the corner of the farm, the Great North Walk heads north along Cherry Lane…

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…over hill and dale…

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..and over more hill and dale…

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…until finally reaching Greta Road where it heads east.

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A few hundred metres on where high tension power lines cross, it leaves the road at what used to be a stile over a fence except the fence has now gone.

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Heading north under the wires, the track crosses a couple of gullies before joining the electricity service road.

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After the last stanchion where the wires disappear over the edge of a cliff, the GNW branches off to the right, almost immediately changing from a rocky eroded track to a pleasant leaf-litter covered walk through dense forest, with sections of board walk over the numerous small watercourses.

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Following the contour, the track snakes its way along the edge of the valley through patches of subtropical rainforest.

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On the right, shear cliffs drop down from Greta Road high above, with water still flowing from some of the ferny overhangs in spite of the recent hot and dry weather.

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Around the spur the forest becomes drier,  with an impressive cave eaten into the side of a huge boulder perched uneasily on the slope.

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Soon the track joins a wider path, a part of the original road built in the mid 1800s when bullocks hauled timber dreys from the cedar forests north of Yarramalong across the ridge to Mangrove Creeek where it was loaded onto barges for transport to Sydney.

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As the track descended, a power line clearing provided a tantalising glimpse of farmland at the bottom of the valley.

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With the sound of traffic on the modern-day Bumble Hill Road growing louder, the track soon came alongside, descending the rest of the way between the guard rail and the neighbouring fence.

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A few hundred metres on, the track ended on the edge of Yarramalong township with the rest of the walk along the grassy verge.

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Just around the bend, the day’s two-hour journey ended where Bumble Hill Road joins Yarramalong Road at the GNW’s Yarramalong Trackhead.

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Just to the right of the sign is the Yarramalong roadhouse where I enjoyed a welcome cup of coffee to finish off the walk.

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With 115km remaining to Newcastle I’m technically about 10km past half way, but Yarramalong is the notional midpoint of the walk, being the last township before Teralba on the final sprint into Newcastle. It’s here that I’ll leave the GNW for a few months, resuming in mid to late autumn when the weather has cooled down enough for the rugged trek through the Watagan Mountains.

My thanks again to roadie Allan for making these last few legs possible.

Coming up next: Yarramalong to Cedar Brush Creek.

Day 12: Ourimbah Valley to Kulnura

After a spate of hot weather over the Christmas – New Year period, today was forecast to be cloudy and much milder so I arranged transport with Allan Savins from the finishing point back to where I ended last time at Palm Grove in Ourimbah Valley.

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From there, the walk headed west along Ourimbah Creek Road, now a broad tree-lined dirt road through rural properties.

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Just ahead of me were a couple of people using a mode of transport more in tune with this part of the countryside.

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After a couple of kilometres, I came to the end of the trafficable part of Ourimbah Creek Road.

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From here, it becomes a service trail into the Jilliby State Conservation Area.

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Soon, the GNW diverged onto a narrower side trail…

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…which led me to the Stringybark Point Rest Area where it was time to put my feet up for a snack.

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The track then crossed a substantial bridge over a side stream before continuing along Ourimbah Creek.

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Eventually it was time to leave Ourimbah Creek behind, with the crossing being a series of mossy stepping stones.

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Once on the other side, it was a long steep climb to the top of the ridge. Although the temperature was still mild, the humidity was high and with little wind, it was a very sweaty ascent with plenty of drink breaks.

At the top, the track passed below a ferny slope leading up to a rocky outcrop at the summit. I was half expecting it to loop back and onto the top, but it didn’t.

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The track then joined Tooheys Road, itself little wider than a walking track although there were fresh horse prints in the sandy parts. About a kilometre along the GNW again turned off onto a track of its own.

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Descending now towards Dead Horse Creek (I kid you not, that’s its official name), the track passed a substantial termite mound.

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Going down a series of steep switchbacks and losing all that hard-won altitude, I reached the creek crossing at the bottom. There were no dead horses, but someone had left his trousers behind.

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On the other side, the track climbed a bit before meandering above the creek to a crossing over a side stream. Here a large tree had fallen, making the track hard to discern, with more fallen vegetation further along causing a few head-scratching moments as I tried to figure out which way it went.

Once unlost, more stone steps and switchbacks led me out of the valley to a wide cleared area where high tension powerlines crossed on their journey south.

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Soon I emerged on the edge of farmland where a geocache lay waiting for me to find.

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The cache found and another snack eaten, I resumed following the track along the southern fenceline of the farm, surprised to realise I’d almost reached Cherry Lane. A few hundred metres on I found my car waiting where I’d left it a bit over four hours earlier.

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Having finished this leg in quicker time than the guidebook suggested, with hindsight I could’ve continued on down to Yarramalong, but that relatively short leg can wait for another day. I did however pass the half way mark of the GNW (sadly there wasn’t a sign depicting that point), with about 122km now remaining in my barefoot journey to Newcastle.

My thanks to Allan for again being the roadie.

Coming up next: Kulnura to Yarramalong.

Day 11: Somersby to Ourimbah Valley

With Allan and Jude Savins generously providing transport from where I left my car at the finish to the starting point at the Somersby store, I took the opportunity to grab a coffee before beginning my walk.

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From the store, the GNW follows Wisemans Ferry Road across the bridge over Peats Ridge Road, the latter being built in the 1960s as an interim link from Calga to Ourimbah to bypass the twisty Old Pacific Highway’s route across Mooney Mooney Creek. Being a single lane undivided road, this circuitous stretch quickly became a highway black spot, claiming many lives in head-on collisions before it was finally replaced by the more direct¬† M1 motorway in the 1980s.

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A few hundred metres on, my path left Wisemans Ferry Road to continue north along Kilkenny Road. Just before the end of the road, it crosses a causeway that still had a fair bit of water flowing over it in spite of the recent dry weather. The surface was very slimy and splippery, as I soon found out when my feet went out from under me and I ended up on my back in the water.

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Wet but otherwise unharmed, I soon reached the end of the road and the beginning of the bushwalk through Palm Grove reserve.

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From here, the track skirts around the back of a farm before heading down into the valley.

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Heading out along a spur, I was soon in amongst the palms.

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Leaving the ridge, the track descends into the valley past mossy rocks and fallen trees.

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Down here, even the rocks have palms growing out of their heads!

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After a steep descent, I reached Mill Creek, a tributary to Ourimbah Creek, where the leeches were out in force. Being barefoot, I was able to feel them wriggling about before they’d latched on and no blood was lost.

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Just the other side of the water is a huge fig tree, a giant of the rainforest.

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From there, the track climbs back out of the valley through a series of switchbacks, returning to the top of the ridge where there are remnants of earlier logging activities.

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Near a campsite at the top is another walkers’ register which I duly signed, noting that a group from Switzerland had been through a few days ahead of me.

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From there, the track descends through an open dry eucalypt forest towards Ourimbah Creek.

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All too soon, my day’s walk was over, taking me about two and a half hours to complete the 6km hike.

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From here, the GNW heads northwest towards Yarramalong. Although only 19km, it involves a fair bit of road hiking (not good in bare feet) as well as substantial altitude gain as it crosses the intervening ridge, so I expect I’ll be following the guidebook’s advice to break it at Cherry Lane near Kulnura, which will also make the car shuffle a bit easier.

Coming up next: Ourimbah Valley to Kulnura.

 

Day 10: Mooney Mooney Creek to Somersby

After weeks of heat and humidity, a cooler and drier air mass moved in overnight, promising a perfect day for bushwalking, so I arranged a car shuffle with Allan Savins and arrived at the Mooney Mooney Creek trackhead for the 17km walk to Somersby.

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First off it was up the stairs onto the Old Pacific Highway bridge to cross to the western side of the creek where the GNW followed a gravel access road north and under the new motorway bridge.

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Soon the walking track branched off the road, entering Brisbane Water National Park and following just above the creek through a forest of ghost gums.

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A couple of kilometres along I heard the sound of falling water and, descending to the bank, came upon the tidal limit of Mooney Mooney Creek. Another milestone as this is the last time I’ll see salt water on the walk until reaching Teralba on the northern edge of Lake Macquarie.

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From here, the track headed steeply uphill, following along high above the creek. Occasionally I’d catch the sound of cascades far below, making me wonder if I’d encounter any substantial waterfalls. As if in answer to that thought, around the next bend I did, although it was mostly dry except for a trickle of water on the far eastern corner.

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Finding an easy way down to the bottom, I decided it was a good opportunity to cool off with a quick skinny-dip in the pool.

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Returning to the top of the falls, I sat naked on the rocks, drying off while devouring a mid-morning snack.

Underway again, I followed the track across the creek on the rock shelf before heading up along the eastern bank through a pleasant mossy glade with moist leaf litter underfoot.

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Soon I reached the old Mooney Mooney Creek dam which was once Gosford’s water supply.

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Having taken my photos, I was about to return to the track when I noticed a small waterfall just below the dam wall on the far side. I’m not sure whether this is a side stream, seepage from the dam through the rocks or an intentional outlet.

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Once past the dam, the track headed steeply up along the side of the gully, leaving the coolness of the water behind, with Gymea lillies replacing ferns as the dominent understorey. At the top of the ridge the forest suddenly disappeared, replaced by a huge quarry.

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Flies filled the air, along with the unmistakable aroma of cattle dung. Sure enough, in the next paddock were the cattle. Welcome to the hinterland!

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The track continued along a gravel road behind the paddocks, passing some reservoirs and zigzagging up a couple of power line access roads before disappearing back into the forest. A short way in I began to hear voices behind me, seeming to approach at a rapid rate. A minute later the track crossed a broader trail where two people on horseback almost collided with me.

The other side of the horse path, the GNW headed steeply downhill, soon entering a subtropical rainforest as it crossed a tributary gully to Mooney Mooney Creek just above a small waterfall.

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Once on the other side, it was back up a couple of switchbacks to where the trail threaded its way through a series of dirt roads at the back of farm properties. The flies returned with a vengance!

Soon I reached a familiar landmark, an ancient scribbly bark (Eucalyptus haemastoma) where a geocache is concealed.

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Leaving the dirt road, the GNW veers left, going around behind another farm before reaching Robinson Road. Here the bushwalk ends, the final two kilmetres to the Somersby trackhead being along rural roadways.

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I’m not sure which was worst, the flies, the gravel or the patches of bindii and broken beer bottles, but I eventually reached Wisemans Ferry Road and the short climb up the hill to the end of the day’s walk at the Somersby store.

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A hundred and twelve kilometre behind me now and only a hundred and thirty eight left to Newcastle; another thirteen and I’ll be halfway!

The trackhead photos taken, I adjourned to the shop for more of that wonderful nutritious trail tucker.

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Coming up next: Somersby to Ourimbah Valley.