NSW, Australia, July 2015
Whenever hiking, always carry an emergency apple. Let me explain..
Of late I have been following the blogs written by folks walking the Appalachian Trail, the PCT, the CDT, crossing Scotland and circling Australia (check out “The Happy Walk” 16000 km’s over 3 years!). One common theme that I have noticed that I have become completely jealous of is their ability to do 30 mile (~50km) days back to back and still be unhappy at their own progress. So I set myself the challenge of completing a long day walk that would give me some idea as to what these trekkers are going through as well as to test my personal limits. Being winter in Australia it was cool and clear – perfect walking weather!
I chose the beautiful “Coast Track” near Sydney Australia, a 27 km walk stretching along some of the most amazing coastline I’ve personally ever seen.
I started the day at 4:30 am, and caught the train to Cronulla, a beach suburb of Sydney. From here I needed to catch the ferry over to the isolated beach suburb of Bundeena which formed the entrance to the magnificent Royal National Park. I arrived too late to catch the 6:30 ferry so stopped at a local coffee shop to wait for the next one at 7:30. The ferry that arrived was nothing like the major Sydney Harbour ferries, rather it was a cute little yellow tub with room for maybe 30 people. I boarded and picked up a free map of the park from an information stand. The crew looked like they had been doing this all their lives. Some young school kids hopped on and I got an inkling into their lifestyle. They knew the pilot saying “Hi Clive!” as they boarded and sat in the middle of the boat on a raised platform ready to watch the scenery go by, chatting away. It was lovely and I, of course, thought about my children and what sort of life they would have. I can only hope it can be this positive.
Anyhow, soon I was on my way to Bundeena and after disembarking I headed directly to the entrance to the park. Although it was cool I stopped to take off my fleece before walking and a group of three late teens passed by. There was a sign on the entrance for a missing person. There was also a sign saying don’t go too close the the edge of the cliffs. I couldn’t help but draw the connection. Soon enough I was ready to start walking and noticed immediately that the track was quite wet. I wondered about the creek crossings to come and whether they would be passable. I soon caught up to the teens – well, I caught up to one who was peeing in the bushes. I walked past him and took a look at the first information sign. Pee-boy walked past and I said, “Don’t worry I don’t think anyone saw you!”, to which he replied, “Yeah I think I got away with it hey!”
Moving forward I took in my first view of the cliffs and the ocean beyond. It was spectacular! The cliffs were sandstone based and the wind and rain had carved smooth curves and hollows in the rock. The rock was bordered on the land side by short bushes and hedges and heath.
The walk, until recently, featured “Wedding Cake rock”, an almost pure white outcrop that was a favorite for tourists, but the area now sat behind a tall safety fence due to the instability of the area, so I just walked on by. That said the three teens that were now behind me seemed to stop at this point so, in my mind they were on the other side of the fence having the iconic photo’s taken regardless of the risk of death due to the crumbling cliff face!
After an hour or so I hit my first major descent, and my first beach! Marley beach had looked lovely but rough. The guide warned of pollution risk but it looked clean today. There was a steep drop off at the waters edge that looked like it could carry you away. This beach was soon followed, after a short climb and descent, by Little Marley Beach. I wasn’t too tired at this point and my legs were holding out well so I didn’t stop.
I decided to keep walking and have a break at Wattamolla Beach. The ups and downs of the terrain were not bothering me, I passed a dense section of bush load with frog-song, but I saw no frogs. I entered dense bush land and descended though some lovely rock formations (I went looking for Aboriginal artwork in a small cave but none to be found. It just seemed a perfect place but I suppose the trail wasn’t there back in the day). A small creek flowed directly into a rock built dam and any overflow headed eventually out to sea. The dam was clearly meant to be a spot for swimming and whomever decided to build it was simply a genius! Soon I arrived at Wattamolla beach and sat down for a break and some food. I heard the slamming of car doors (this was a popular picnic area and had a small car park) and saw five men in leather jackets head over to the lookout. They seemed Turkish or Lebanese in descent and were surely out for a photo shoot of some kind in what they were dressed in! Okay – I’m entertaining myself; they soon realized that leather jackets were daft for such a perfect day and took them off to reveal t-shirts underneath. It still seemed odd to me that it was just five guys and no women but I guess that could be a cultural thing, or just simply a guys road trip.
I was off again. Wattamolla was lovely but it was quite a drive for a picnic if that was all that one intended.
Beyond Wattamolla beach the terrain began to get very tough. The track was quite muddy and the ups and downs became steeper. I got fed up of trying to avoid the mud and just started stomping through it. Two older ladies walking the route in the other direction laughed and said, “Straight through it then!” and I replied, “there’s just so much of it!”. They didn’t realize how bad it would get. The track passed though a gorge that was steadily eroding out to see then ascended to pass though an area of beautiful bushland – I felt as remote as I have ever been. The track followed the ridge line around the valley and I must say that this part of the walk was the most uplifting as I truly felt like I was in nature. The pictures don’t do it justice. I apologize for the selfies – I got carried away 🙂
Next up was a series of creek crossings, and thankfully the levels were low. The bushes buzzed with bees and I wondered what I would do it they decided to swarm. A large variety of birds darted in front of me and I had one eye out for snakes which were meant to live in this area. Thankfully I had no dramas with the wildlife. There was one intersection that made me check my track notes for the first time, I even checked the phone map to confirm which way to go. Someone had helpfully scratched an arrow on the signpost and I followed it. I was starting to tire and decided I would rest at Garry Beach for lunch.
On the descent to Garry beach my right knee started to complain. It had happened before so I knew to adjust my gait but it meant that I was still not fit enough for this!
I ate my sandwiches on the beach and used the loo’s. This would be an awesome beach to come to in summer to avoid the crowds of the city beaches. It was quite hard to walk on the sand. After lunch I walked over to Little Garry Beach which was characterized by a small beach cabin community. I took a wrong turn that had me walk past the cabins and everything started to feel creepy in a “the hills have eyes” kinda way. If anyone was still looking for that missing person I’d suggest tapping on these doors first… A rustle in the bushes took my attention. In front of me was a family of deer – four or five of them! They dashed off too quickly to take a photo but to be honest I just wanted to look at them. Pity there were signs everywhere saying that after hours the park was closed for deer eradication measures… Poor things. They looked quite at home. I headed back the way I came, found the “Community Hall and Chapel” (shudder down spine) then headed up the hill on the correct path.
It was here, as I neared the top that I completely ran out of energy. The hill was a huge struggle but the fact that it was still a struggle when it was flat made it clear that I needed a quick energy boost. So I sat down and rested for a few minutes. “Hmm. What would Sporticus do?” I thought with a smile on my face. “Sport candy!” I thought as I pulled out my emergency apple! I had purposely saved it until the afternoon as I thought I might want it more then but I hadn’t realized I needed it! I ate the apple like I hadn’t touched lunch at all. After a few minutes, and a substantial amount of water, I was feeling much better. The sugar and hydration was all I needed and I started walking again as though I had just started. Thanks Sporticus! (Parents will know what I’m going on about).
I was rewarded with a wild wallaby sighting. Difficult to photograph but I did get a shot of it on the video i took.
The next part of the walk would start to take me away from the coast and into a creepy Palm Jungle. Again I didn’t take many pictures but there is video. I think I was getting tired. Just ahead of the jungle was some long stretches of metal grating type track – this seemed to hurt my knee more than anything and I adopted a weird side to side sway to stop the pain. Whatever works hey? Pretty soon I was walking normally again.
I was starting to worry about the remaining daylight as the tough stretch had slowed me down quite a bit. I picked up the pace and plowed through the jungle as though it was perfectly normal to be walking through it. I did think a few times that the gnarly tree stumps that I was passing would make excellent geocache hiding spots and I was tempted to check my geocaching app but frankly I was on a schedule and running out of battery! The steep sections here were tough but I pushed through it. I could hear trains in the distance and was aiming for a 5:30 pm service. I passed a few joggers and walkers so I wasn’t far off the finish. After another hour or so of walking I finally popped out of the jungle and took one last look at the coast from the lookout at Otford before heading to Otford station for the train. Thinking of the comfort of my fellow passengers I took off my t-shirt first and put on my long sleeve shirt and fleece. I realized I had been looking at the weekend timetable so I had a thirty minute wait for the train. For those doing this walk the train may not go direct to Sydney you may have to change at Helensvale as I did.
I arrived home at 7 pm completely thoroughly satisfied. The walk was amazing and I highly recommend it to anyone. It was tough in sections but I think any reasonably fit person could do it. The walk can be completed in two days if you bring a tent. This would allow time to spend at the beach or the Dam at Wattamolla. I actually would like to do the walk again one day in the other direction – it’s a great work out if nothing else.
I managed the 27 km track in nine hours including breaks and emergency apple eating time. I’ve got a long way to go before I can managed what the PCT hikers can do but I have a better understanding of my current limits for future hikes. Side note: My big toe started to hurt and the nail has developed a bruise. I have realized that my laces were not tight enough and my foot was slipping too far forward in my shoe (North Face Hedgehogs). Its interesting the things you learn about your body and your equipment while out on the trail. Who would have thought that tying a shoelace was so important to reduce injury? I’ll know for next time.
Next Time? I’m thinking of the 44km Six Foot Track over Sydney’s Blue Mountains – a two to three day journey. I know now that I can do the two day version. I’m sure I’ll do some smaller walks before then though.
I took some video of my walk, roughly every thirty minutes or when there was a substantial change in scenery. I do huff and puff a lot on it but you can hear the frogs at one point. Thanks for reading!