Great North Walk 10: Flat Rock to Watagan Forest HQ

This is the third day of my 100km trek along the northern reaches of the Great North Walk, NSW, Australia. It’s my 10th day on the trail to date.

It had been a freezing night. The temperature at Flat Rock campsite was -2C when I woke up in the morning! I had set the alarm to go off just before dawn so I could be up and out really quickly. I didn’t want to move! However when I saw the dawn light begin to shine through the tent I knew I had to get up. I reached behind my head and popped the valve on my sleeping mat. It deflated and the ground was too cold to stay flat on my back any longer! I ate a museli bar and quickly packed up. I refilled my water from the water tank, drinking half a litre too, then headed off.

I felt a bit uncomfortable… A bit sore at the back…. ugh. Butt chaffing! I stopped right there and then and applied some curash cream before sanitising and carrying on. Fortunately no one appeared as I was doing it! Ibuprofen helped and the pain was gone in a few hours.

Flat Rock lookout was only a few hundred meters from the campsite and it was spectacular! The landscape glowed orange in the morning light. This was the perfect way to start the day!

I walked along the ridge line for a while taking in the views, silently wishing the logging companies would come through and remove a tree or two so there were better views! (I hang my head in shame!). I passed a telecommunications tower and understood why I had such good phone reception! I soon began the big descent of the day (500m). At the lower elevations the trees became wrapped up in lush green vines and there was more moisture in the air, but the streams were still dry. I sat by a low dam and contemplated filling up my water supplies again. I decided I wasn’t quite ready for cow water yet!

I reached the valley floor and began walking along countryside roads. I felt there was a bit of pointless walking here as the route was obviously selected based on which land owner had given permission for walkers to pass through. Still- the farms were lovely and I felt a bit envious of the lifestyle. I like to send a thank you to the farmers who allowed the track to pass through their land.

It was noticeable how dry the land was becoming. Many dams were empty and many fields were yellowing. Many creeks were empty. I hadn’t expected the drought to be affecting farmers here – I had imagined it only being an issue way out west. Tougher times ahead for all, I think.

I saw a few cars and found myself hoping one of the farms would have an honesty box with some fruit at their gates, but no such luck. It wasn’t a heavily trafficked road. I was craving an orange.

I tried to pick up a bit of speed given that the terrain was so flat. I drank quite a lot of water and my thoughts turned to where I would obtain it further along, given Everything was so dry.

I came upon one of my bailout points, the turn off to Pokolbin and had a decision to make. I was tired and wondered whether I had the strength to do this full trek and I also questioned whether it was wise to carry on given the uncertainties over water. The dry tank back at Basin Campsite had me spooked. My decision was made hard by a helpful sign pointing to “Paxton Hotel and Pub 7.5km”. Now I wasn’t a big drinker but I had never wanted a beer so much in all my life! I carried on.

At the end of the valley the trail once again passed through a farmers land. There were two men putting in a new fence which would clearly seperate farmland from the trail. I had a chat and I was told I was doing well. The little compliment buoyed me. Folks, if you meet a long distance walker don’t underestimate the power of a kind word. It gave me the energy to climb up to my next rest stop at Crawford’s hut (not far but all uphill). My route was blocked by cows. That wasn’t on the map! They were standing right in front of the next stile. I sort of looped around saying “it’s ok cows. I won’t hurt you. I just want to pass”, all the while worried they’d get cranky with me.

Crawford’s hut had beds (I wouldn’t use them), tables, a creepy looking outhouse, room to set up a tent and shade. It also crucially had a water tank. This would be a key stop for me. If the tank was dry I could still bail out. I turned on the tap and out came a crystal clear flow of fresh drinking water! I filtered it and made sure I filled up all four litres and also drank a half litre for good measure! I would have to carry it up the next climb (500m) but at least I would have enough to get me to a petrol station the following day. The walk would go on!

The climb was excruciating! I took it slow and reasoned that trying to go fast would only tire me quicker. It was so steep that I would take ten paces and pause then another ten then pause again. I took lots of photos to justify each pause but few were actually interesting to look back on. I kept checking the WildWalks app, that I was using to guide me on this trek, to see how high I had climbed. I’d curse every time as I’d only risen 50m when it felt like 100 or I was still at 300m when I wanted to be at the top! I recommend the WildWalks app for doing the Great North Walk as the track can be downloaded ahead of time, with trip notes, photos and estimated walking times and it always shows your position on the trail. It was invaluable and well worth the few pennies I paid for the full version.

At the top, the walk along the ridge line took me past an old loggers cabin and from there it was only a short walk until I reached Barbara Campsite. I must say I kind of wished I was staying there, it was beautiful! The vegetation was otherworldly and small birds darted all over the place. It was clean, sheltered from the wind and had lots of room for tents. The water tank was full so I decided to cook a meal and have a cup of tea. The place was too lovely to just walk on by! I would need the energy for the final walk to Watagan Forest HQ if I was to get there before nightfall.

I had the urge to just set up my tent and make it an early night. But no! I had a plan and by golly I would stick to it! I made sure I topped off my water and set off with renewed energy! For a while…

The views were very nice with gaps opening up in the trees every now and then. I have to say though that I was at the point where I had almost stopped looking. There were no major climbs left but there were smaller ups and downs and I found I had no desire to do the ups! When the trail descended more than twenty meters I would curse it as I knew it would only rise again by twenty meters! My legs were ready to stop. I caught a photo of my hiker shadow. It wasn’t the usual hiker striding forth image, it was an exhausted trekker leaning on his poles for support! As fit as my legs have become over the past few years, this was still a massive strain on them. Oh well, nothing for it but to carry on!

The last few kilometres dragged on. I was walking on forest roads and was focused on getting to camp. It felt like the sun was setting faster this evening! Or maybe I was just walking slow…

I reached the campsite just after the sun had set but with enough light to set up my tent. There was one other person camped. As I was setting up we had a chat. His name was Lindsey and he had driven up for a couple of nights of solitude. He had music playing and I reassured him that it was ok and that I wasn’t out for a silent wilderness experience. I usually play some music myself. Besides, he had a good selection of Aussie classics playing so what was not to like? He asked how I got here and I told him I walked. He didn’t seem aware that the Great North Walk passed through here. He told me he’d love to get a setup like mine so he could go hunting with just a backpack. I had to check afterwards but it seems that hunting is permitted in some parts of a state forest. I didn’t know that, but then it’s not a world that I want to be a part of so I wouldn’t have ever thought to check. We said our goodnights and I retreated to my tent as the music resumed.

The best trail food that I have discovered for this trip is Rivita and cream cheese (the type that doesn’t need refrigeration). So I ate that for my evening meal as well as an apple and snickers bar.

I fell asleep easily but was awoken a few hours later by some astonishing animal noises coming from the bush. It sounded like an orangutan was having a fight with a possum or a bird! I settled on it being a possum but that didn’t feel right as I’ve never heard a noise quite like that before. When I was home the following night my wife and I googled animal noises and I’m pretty sure that what I heard was a yellow bellied glider. They are endangered but known to live in the forest where I camped.

I made a YouTube video of today’s walk GNW Flat Rock to Watagan Forest HQ.

Next up: Watagan Forest HQ to Teralba

Links: 1: Sydney to Thornleigh, 2: Thornleigh to Berowra Heights, 3: Berowra Heights to Cowan4: Cowan to Brooklyn5: Patonga to Wondabyne6: Wondabyne to Somersby Overnight , 7: Somersby to Yarramalong 8: Yarramalong to Basin Campsite  , 9: Basin Campsite to Flat Rock ,  10: Flat Rock to Watagan Forest HQ ,11: Watagan Forest HQ to Teralba  12: Teralba to Newcastle

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