This is the fourth and final day of my 100km trek along the northern reaches of the Great North Walk, NSW, Australia. It is my 11th section of the full trail to date.
I woke up just before dawn and had Ryvita and cream cheese for breakfast before packing up to leave. There were toilets only 1.6km away and I was in need! The walking was fairly flat and easy and I was soon at Hunter lookout relieving myself! The toilets were really clean, spider-free and had loo roll too. Oh and there was a lookout!
It proved to be one of my favourite spots. The views were spectacular! There were benches and bbq areas and a water tank. There was no camping permitted which seemed a shame as it was an awesome spot with lots of room for tents. I spent way too long enjoying the views but it was definitely worth it.
A few hundred meters down the road was Macleans lookout. I didn’t linger there as the views were the same.
The track started to become trickier with lots of ups and downs and I realised my legs were not going to enjoy today. I descended into a dry gully and back out again. I seemed to take a very long time doing it.
The next gully proved more difficult and I found myself wishing for bridges. After this gully there was a smaller gully and then a walk along the cliff side before beginning a much more difficult descent. The track was quite horrible with lots of small one and two meter rises and falls. It was just hard work. I dragged myself up out of the gullies and cursed the descents knowing full well they would lead to climbs. A large descent took me down to a surprise sandstone cave. I must have missed it in all the notes. It was quite large and one could have used it for shelter if the need arose. There was a section of the rock that was moist and orange and had a stick poking out of it. Someone had tried to create paint from the rock. There were drawings and handprints all over. One of the signs said “Canada” and had a picture of a moose. I don’t know how I feel about that. It feels like graffiti but the fact that some sort of traditional style method was used somehow makes it different, like there is some sort of connection to, and appreciation of, the past ways of living. It was interesting…. It is graffiti… but it was somehow not as bad as a can of spray paint and a tag. I wondered how long it would last.
The trail then took me to a little waterfall, where I drenched my cap and put it on my head to cool down. The trail was horrible for my legs and I really just wanted to be out of it and on to forest roads. I have never felt that way before!
Somewhere along here I met two people, Jane and Elka, who were training for a 100km running race in the area. It was kind of like the Oxfam Trailwalker except on the northern part of the Great North Walk. They said, “we haven’t seen anyone in three hours” to which I replied , “I haven’t seen anyone in three days!”
They were nice enough to stop for a chat. I didn’t realise how much I needed to just talk to someone! Thanks ladies, I don’t think I could do the race you are doing but you have made me start thinking about it – very inspiring! Good luck to you.
There was a lovely little pool a bit further along. It was far from full but at least there was some water. It would be a nice spot for a dip when full. There was a lot more moisture around and the trees had once again become draped with green vines.
As I was climbing out of one of the gullies a huge black dog appeared on the track ahead of me. One of my emerging fears on the trail is encountering a feral dog. I don’t really know what I’d do. I stood still and tapped my poles together. The dog turned and ran back along the trail, barking. I then thankfully heard an owner and shouted a hello. She held the dog and we had a little chat. She was also out running and told me that she had seen a koala at the next lookout.
Well that gave me a push! We said our goodbyes and I powerwalked my way up out of that gully! There was still a bit of work to climb up to the lookout but I did it! I found a table and dropped my pack on it. There were a few other folks there having barbecues. I wondered how their town cars managed to make it up here on the rough roads.
The view from Heaton Lookout was amazing. I could see the ocean! It was quite far away and I realised I still had a lot of walking ahead of me! I had lunch, a rest and then put all my garbage in the bin so I no longer had to carry it. I then walked towards the loo and found the Koala in a nearby tree exactly where the runner had said it would be! It was a big one and it had a fantastic view!
I headed off and got a bit confused by signage and found I had looped back toward the lookout. After four days this was really only the second time I truly needed my map. I figured out my error. I had essentially followed a sign intended for southbounders at a Y-intersection. I should have stuck to the left path not the right. The slope of the terrain was how I convinced myself of the correct path (even though at that point there really wasn’t another option, I just had to be sure to save the legs from unnecessary walking).
After a ridge walk with a few more maddening ups and downs I reached Heaton Gap, which one again had amazing views. All I could think about at this point though was the petrol station at the base of the mountain and the warm food and coffee it promised. Just after a telecommunications tower the trail turned into a vertical staircase. I don’t know how many steps there were but they seemed to go on forever. I stowed my poles and hung onto the railing whilst I descended very slowly and carefully. I was aware of how tired I was and I didn’t want to make an error here…
The base of the staircase joined a power line trail that was quite exposed. I got a little sunburnt. The trail descended endlessly until finally I reached the road and was pleased to see the petrol station directly across from me. I ordered the advertised chips and gravy but they had no gravy and they seemed to find such a simple situation quite difficult! Lots of quiet discussions. I assured them that sauce was fine. I had a Powerade instead of a coffee which was probably a good move. After lingering too long I headed out and started the next climb. It didn’t look tricky from the map but I now had 90km of leg ache to deal with and so it was tough.
I entered the sugarloaf conservation area, though I couldn’t quite see anything with the traditional sugarloaf shape so I wondered at the name. It was a tough climb with lots of false summits. I swore out loud at one point when I crested a hill only to see it go straight up again. The top of the climb had a few filtered views and I suspect that a bit of bush bashing could have yielded more, but I was aware of the time and had to keep going as I would likely be walking in the dark.
Gymea lillies were blooming here. It is essentially one big red flower on top of a stalk that shoots up from a leafy base. I think they are amazing and it was lovely to see so many in their full glory.
There was a point at which I could look back and see the walk I had just done from the top of Heaton Gap, down the power line trail then back up to where I was at that point. It looked hard!
It was now late afternoon and I heard a barking noise coupled with a rustling of the trees. I was quite confused. I was too far from property to hear a dog and the rustling wasn’t that far off. I was again a bit edgy that there might be a feral dog in the area. It wasn’t until I was home and googling animal noises that I realised I had probably heard a Barking Owl. That would certainly explain the tree rustling.
As the trail descended there appeared a large number of warning signs. There was a risk of land subsidence due to mining so one couldn’t leave the track. I don’t understand how a mining practice that could leave the land so unstable is acceptable, but at least the land would be left undeveloped and essentially conserved.
I passed under a freeway and felt the walk coming to an end. I passed through a last tatty piece of bushland that hosted powerlines and dumped garbage (grr) and then joined a road for a final road-walking leg. I saw a sign that said I had 6.5 km where I thought I only had 4km or so. I had miscalculated so I would definitely not make it to Teralba in the daylight.
The walk along the road felt dangerous at first as I thought at places where the road passed over creeks that I would be forced into the road. I realised after the first such passing that there was a place for a walker to pass but it just differed in which side of the road to do it. Once I figured that out I just crossed the road where needed and had a fairly safe walk. The final walk into Teralba was up a slightly raised hill which of course felt like a mountain at this point! I pulled out my headlamp only to discover it no longer worked. I changed the battery but got nothing. I later realised that I had simply not closed the battery compartment correctly. A sign I was tired. So I did the final leg into Teralba by iPhone light.
It was a fantastic feeling reaching the station. 4 days and 100km completed! It hurt but I was happy. This was also the multiday walk for my 12 Hike Challenge and it felt amazing to have achieved it. I would only have a final 25km section to complete later this year and then I will have completed the entire trail! I felt great. I had just missed a train so I wandered into the local pub and changed my top and had a wash before treating myself to a beer. I’m not a big drinker but it sure hit the spot. I was quite the celebrity and had a chat with some of the locals. One gentleman told me of his trip through Thailand and Nepal and it got me googling treks in Nepal…
I caught the train home and my wife collected me from the station. She almost vomited at the first smell of me! Perhaps I need to look into trail hygiene for next years adventure! At least the workers in the pub smelt bad too so I don’t feel too embarrassed. My kids didn’t seem to notice and they fell asleep instantly after waiting up so long. I showered and spent the evening chatting with my wife and googling animal sounds.
I made a YouTube clip of today’s walk GNW Watagan Forest HQ to Teralba (5.54min)
Next up: Teralba to Newcastle- the final section of the Great North Walk! I am planning to do it later this year. Whatever shall I do next year???
Links: 1: Sydney to Thornleigh, 2: Thornleigh to Berowra Heights, 3: Berowra Heights to Cowan, 4: Cowan to Brooklyn, 5: Patonga to Wondabyne, 6: 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