26 to 29 January 2020
Sydney to Katoomba, 92km
to Greenmans, 138km
to Blacksmiths, 88km
The Blue Mountains had been on our list of places to visit from the start but the bushfires had recently caused, were still causing, so much devastation that we had thought better of it. However, spending time in places like Beechworth made us realise that, so long as the area we were going to was safe and the weather forecast right, visiting was probably better than staying away in terms of supporting fire affected communities.
So we went and can report that they are still beautiful, vast areas of deep green forest punctuated by sheer sandstone cliffs and rock formations that disappear into the distance in a blue haze. And we were right to go too because the caravan park we camped at was surprisingly quiet for Australia Day weekend and had seen most bookings cancelled because of the fires.
Just a five minute walk from our tent we found a lookout with the best views of The Three Sisters and The Orphan, rock formations weathered over thousands, millions of years. Those braving the cable car got an even closer look and on this side of the range there was no evidence of any burning there.
We walked the Prince Henry Cliff Walk which started with a view of Katoomba Falls that drop 150m into the Jamison Valley and then climbed down to the cascades
and back up to Echo Point. The lush greens of the grass and trees made it hard to believe such destructive fires had been through
but only a few kilometres away at Govetts Leap lookout we started to see where the fires had been
and at Evans Lookout we could see the huge areas of burnt trees even through the blue haze.
Many of the park’s trails were closed due to fire damage but there was evidence that work was already going on to clear up. If nothing else this place is resilient and won’t be closed for long.
Whilst in New South Wales there was another place we wanted to visit, somewhere that we had read about in one of the books we have read during this trip. The Secret River, by Kate Grenville, tells the tale of a convict transported from London to Sydney in the early 19th century and who, with his wife, Sal, goes on to settle on the Hawkesbury River. It is a story of the struggles and hardship of early settler life and the inevitable conflict with the local Aboriginal people. It is a fictional account but set on a very real river just north of Sydney where very real people took a parcel of land to make a home and a living. As we were passing we thought we would stop there awhile to see it for ourselves.
Only a short distance from the Pacific Highway, a bumpy ride along a rocky road switching back and forth and down to the water, we found a view that hasn’t changed much in 200 years, probably thousands of years. The Hawkesbury is a huge river system that spreads its watery tentacles for miles and miles and is best explored by boat.
In a clearing at Greenmans Caravan Park we put the tent up alone on the edge of the forest. It was such a hot and sunny afternoon that for the first time we put it up without the flysheet and when it was up we retreated to the campsite’s swimming pool to cool down. The river might look inviting but the advice is not to swim as sharks have been known to swim quite far up it. Sharks aside, we’ve had some pretty cool campsite pets on this trip but the peacocks at Greenmans were the most ostentatious. This one nearly waltzed right on in to the tent!
Stefan had warned me about Australia’s summer storms but I hadn’t appreciated how quickly they might come and just how much water could fall out of the sky. One minute we were hiding in the pool from the sun, the next the heavens opened and torrential rain fell, sending Stefan running to get the flysheet over the tent before it was drenched.
When the skies dried this peahen was my constant companion as I cooked dinner in the camp kitchen and her kids showed up for the crumbs when we had finished.
With a still damp tent in the back, we continued north again through the Brisbane Waters National Park where we stopped at the Bulgandry Aboriginal Art Site. Here in this sacred place, etched onto the flat rock are images of kangaroos or wallabies
and fish and dolphins.
Human images are also depicted with a hunting woman and what is believed to be an ancestral hero complete with impressive headdress.
Walking back through the bush the artistic patterns continued in nature. These scribbles are the tunnels made by the larvae of the Scribbly Gum Moth.
With the summer storms set to continue we needed to find ourselves a more solid roof and so after another night in the tent at Blacksmiths at the entrance of Lake Macquarie we headed to a perfect bolthole…