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.

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.

Day 9: Wondabyne to Mooney Mooney Creek

With a week’s break for my soles to toughen up again after all the gravel last time, it was back on the trail for the much easier 10km walk from Wondabyne to the Old Pacific Highway bridge over Mooney Mooney Creek.

After leaving my car at the finish, I was driven back to Woy Woy station by Allan Savins to catch the train to Wondabyne. Upon arrival I had to wait at the crossing for a steam train to pass. Glad I got through the Woy Woy tunnel before it did!

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Once across, it was back up the steep climb and along the fire trail to the track junction where I’d left the GNW spine last time.

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Very soon I came to a vantage point looking south-west along the lower reaches of Mooney Mooney Creek.

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The fire trail continued for another kilometre before reaching the locked entrance to the rifle range. Here, the GNW turns left onto a narrow walking track leading out along the next ridge west of the range.

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A little way in was another walkers’ register which I duly signed, noting that a large party of scouts was also out and about today.

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The steep climb up Scopas Peak (230 metres above sea level) gave me a nice view back to Mount Wondabyne where I’d had lunch on the previous day’s hike. It’s views like this that make me appreciate the territory I’ve covered.

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On the other side of the peak, the track crossed open rock shelves along the saddle to the western flank of Leochares Peak.

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From there, I caught glimpses of the M1’s high bridge over Mooney Mooney Creek, which is just north of the old bridge I was aiming for.

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All the while, the sound of gunfire from the rifle range had been growing until, on the northern side of Leochares Peak, it came into view across the valley. While I’m not particularly fond of the idea of having rifle ranges inside national parks, at least this one hasn’t completely closed north-south access through the park like the one at Horsnby has.

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Soon the track began descending towards Piles Creek, lessening the sound of the gunfire a little. Rock steps were now the order of the day.

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At the bottom of the descent the track crossed a small side stream with a nice little flow through some potholes and cascades.

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On the other side, it headed steeply uphill again through a series of switchbacks as it negotiated its way past another side gully. But what goes up must come down, and as I was heading for the sea level crossing of Piles Creek, there were plenty more steps ahead.

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Along the way I passed this hoary old eucalypt bearing the scars of many fires past. I couldn’t help wondering how many walkers it’s seen go by.

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More steps led down into the lush forest above the creek, with spring wildflowers in abundance.

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Soon I reached the junction with the east bank of the Girrakool Loop, meaning I was getting close now to my lunch stop.

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With a final loss of altitude, I reached the suspension bridge over Piles Creek, erected a couple of decades ago after the old timber bridge washed away in a flood.

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A short flight of steps led up onto the bridge decking for an easy stroll across to the other side.

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Just upstream is the creek’s tidal limit along with the remains of the old bridge.

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Downstream, it broadens into a tidal estuary heading south-west to join Mooney Mooney Creek.

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Just over the bridge is an open picnic area with some makeshift log seats around a fire pit. I’d been going to host a geocaching event there yesterday but the heavy rain forced a postponement for a couple of weeks.

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With lunch eaten, I followed the track along the creek bank past mud flats and mangroves.

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A boardwalk crosses some of the lower lying wetlands.

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The creek broadens further as it approaches the junction with Mooney Mooney Creek just around the next corner.

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Turning right along the bank of Mooney Mooney Creek, I soon had the Old Pacific Highway bridge in sight. Now the explosions of gunfire had given way to the roar of motorcycles.

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Another hundred metres or so and I was at my destination for the day.

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The next leg crosses the creek on the highway bridge before following the west bank north for 17km to the Somersby Store. While there’s a bus service from there back to Gosford, it’s very infrequent with only a handful of morning runs and one afternoon run on weekdays only, so I’ll no doubt arrange a car shuffle to access each end when I come to do it.

Coming up next: Mooney Mooney Creek to Somersby.

Day 8: Patonga to Wondabyne

Today’s walk put me on home turf, with the track passing within five hundred metres of my back door. While I’ve hiked many segments of this leg over the past two decades, this is the first time I’ve done it all in one hit.

The day began with a stroll through the quiet backstreets of Umina Beach to catch the 8:22am bus to Patonga from Mount Ettalong Road. I was the only passenger on board and even that seemed exceptional as the driver double-checked whether I really wanted to go there.

Upon arrival, I ducked over the road to grab a coffee before returning to the Patonga trackhead.

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Obligatory photo taken, from there it was a short walk along the beach to the GNW track climbing up onto the Dark Corner ridge, with a couple of quick detours to do a post school holidays check on my Patonga’s Grotto and Lurking in a Dark Corner geocaches. From the latter I had a good view back to the cafe and fish shop.

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The track then headed east and up along the headland above the river, with the surface underfoot being a pleasant mixture of rock steps and leaf litter.

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Before long, the walking track joined a broad fire trail surfaced in, of course, gravel, but I only had a few hundred metres to go before reaching Warrah Lookout with its beautiful views across Barenjoey to the east…

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…and up-river to the west where I’d kayaked on Wednesday.

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Opposite the lookout is the Tony Doyle path up to the top of the ridge at Warrah Trig, obviously built at a time when money for track construction was plentiful.

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The final climb to the trig point is up a flight of wooden steps which are starting to show the first signs of decay.

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The trig point itself has now lost its black discs to vandals or the elements, and with the advent of GPS they are unlikely to be replaced as such structures are now only of historical interest. Strange, though, that the stand appears to have received a fresh coat of paint.

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Beyond the trig point is the car park and dirt road north to Patonga Drive.

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Just before the main road, the walking track branches off, running parallel with it for a few hundred metres before crossing over to the fire trail on the other side. This is in keeping with the GNW philosophy of minimising contact with busy roads.

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North of Patonga Drive, the walk zig-zags along several fire trails with frequent side tracks. I’m not sure of the reason for this one’s name, but it’s been an awfully long time since we had a Post Master General’s department.

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A bit further along I came to another side trail with a bit of history. In the early days of settlement, the night cart would make the journey up here to dispose of its cargo. Why all the way up here I’m not sure, but they must have had their reasons – maybe the smell was too overwhelming for it to be any closer to town.

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A few kilometres on I reached the point where the GNW deviates left of the fire trail.

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Before long I came to the reason for the detour, that great scenic wonder in the middle of Brisbane Water National Park. Now I know where the contents of my red bin end up.

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Just past the tip, I caught my first glimpse of today’s lunch stop and the highest point in the park at 251 metres, Mount Wondabyne.

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The track followed a narrow spur, with Correa Bay and Woy Woy to the east and the upper reaches of Patonga Creek to the west. Much of it was across rock shelves with some interesting heath vegetation growing in the minimal soil.

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After half an hour or so of pleasant walking, the track crossed Dillon’s Trail. By strange coincidence, today it was announced that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel prize for literature. Weird the way these things happen.

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Only some twenty metres further on, the track joined the Tunnel Trail, so named because it crosses the rail tunnel between Wondabyne and Woy Woy.

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Shortly after passing the Rocky Ponds track, I reached the turnoff to Mount Wondabyne. Much stomach rumbling in anticipation of lunch!

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Just past a campsite, where the fire trail turns into a walking track, is the side path up to the summit where there’s a trig point complete with black discs.

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From there is a nice view over Ettalong, Killcare and the ocean beyond.

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Also visible in the distance was today’s destination, Wondabyne railway station, with the towering cliffs high above it where one of my geocaches is hidden.

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With lunch eaten, I didn’t linger as the summit is home to swarms of vampire flies, and yes, they did draw a few drops of blood with their bites.

Once off the mountain, the GNW track heads steeply downhill with lots of fresh-looking loose gravel underfoot. This foot-tenderiser was to become something of a theme for the rest of the hike, with copious amounts spread across the walking tracks as well as the fire trails.

Near the bottom of the descent I came to another walkers’ register, which I dutifully signed.

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Soon I reached another fire trail, the Mullet Creek Fire Trail according to the map. Only 7km to go on today’s walk!

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A few hundred metres along, the GNW turned left onto a narrow and pleasant side track, crossing a few small streams that feed into the upper reaches of Mullet Creek. At one point I caught a glimpse of Mount Wondabyne’s conical northern aspect which has caused some to speculate incorrectly that it might be an ancient volcano.

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All too soon this pleasant path joined Tommo’s Loop, a popular track for mountain bike enthusiasts. From here it was more gravel for about two kilometres until the turnoff and climb down to Kariong Brook.

The way down to the brook is steep with many steps, much steeper and with twice as many steps as the last time I was here, I’m sure! But at the bottom is a beautiful waterfall and pool, making the climb down worthwhile.

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I’d been thinking of taking a skinny-dip in the pool as the day had turned quite warm, but the water was freezing so this was the closest I got.

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In any case, there were other inhabitants that might not have appreciated my intrusion, and with those nippers, who was I to argue?

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From Kariong Brook, it was up and over a small spur to Myron Brook, another tributary to Mullet Creek.

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From there, it was uphill onto a series of rock ledges that worked their way westwards along the edge of another side gully.

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As it climbed further, the track became more gravelly until, with a final burst of elevation, it reached the main fire trail on top of the ridge above Wondabyne station.

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From here, the spine of the GNW heads north to Mooney Mooney Creek via the suspension bridge over Piles Creek, but for now I was heading the other way, south and down the hill to Wondabyne station.

With my upper thighs tightening up and my soles well and truly tenderised by all the gravel, I completed the final 2.5km with about a fifteen minute wait for the next train home. According to the sign, I’d covered 18km today, although the guide book claims it’s 19.5km. I think I’ll believe the book!

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This was the last time I’ll have public transport access to both ends of a leg, until the final stetch from Teralba to Newcastle, so I’ll now have to rely on the generosity of friends to drop me off or pick me up at the various trackheads. With summer approaching and even the cooler days becoming uncomfortably warm, the pace of my trek will no doubt slow but I’ll get there eventually, I’m sure.

Coming up next: Wondabyne to Mooney Mooney Creek.