Dayna's Blog

Holidays, walks and who knows what


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Mt Field East Circuit – Mt Field National Park, TAS – 29 Dec 2014

If there’s a way to condense the whole of Tasmania’s famous 6-day Overland Track down to a day walk, surely the Mt Field East circuit has to be it – what’s more, it’s so close to Hobart!

Start/Finish: Lake Fenton Car Park, ~11km along Dobson Road from the Visitor Centre at Mt Field National Park, Tasmania
Distance: ~9km
Time: ~4hrs (plus lunch break)
Difficulty: Medium
Note: National Park Permit required, as with all National Parks in Tasmania; passes can be obtained from the Visitor Centre near the entrance of the park.

Mt Field East Circuit - Elevation Profile & Location Map

About the only thing I knew for certain before visiting Mt Field National Park, was that it’s the place closest to Hobart that you can see Fagus – also known as Deciduous Beech (Nothofagus gunnii).

We’ve been to Cradle Mountain around Easter time to see it changing colour before, but the question in my mind was: how much harder would it be to spot in summer when it’s leaves are all still green?

Of course I’d heard and read interesting things about the park, but unless I have a memory to link them to (e.g. linking the Fagus to a previous Tassie holiday), I find they just don’t stay put. So I just have to go and find out for myself. It’s also much more fun that way.

Armed with a Park map as well as Chapman’s Day Walks Tasmania, we thought we’d make a final decision on which walk to do when we got there. Due to a little sunburnt from the Taste of Tasmania festival the previous day – and that was with temps in the low 20’s – and given today was looking like it’d be pretty similar for Hobart, I didn’t pack a heavy jumper, instead planning to rely on my Gortex jacket if it turned windy. By the time we’d made lunch and were ready to go it was already about 10am – not really an early start.

Mt Field National Park is roughly a 1 hour drive north-west of Hobart, along the River Derwent past New Norfolk, through Bushy Park (where they grow lots of hops), and around the rolling hills, closer and closer to the mountains until you come to Westerway; a small town supplying the nation with its blackcurrant requirements over about 30 hectares, with a few hectares given over to luscious raspberries and sour gooseberries. Despite how much I love summer berries, given our late start we thought it better to stop on the way back.

Turn left again at Westerway as signed and follow Gordon River Road (Ginger Creek is now on your right) for a few more kilometres to the park’s entrance. If you haven’t noticed the old railway tracks running alongside and crossing the road multiple times by the time you’ve arrived at the park’s entrance you must have been asleep the whole way (if so, I hope you weren’t the driver!). There used to be a train servicing townships from Bridgewater (the suburb on the north-side of the bridge over the Derwent that you’re most likely to cross if you’re driving up the Midland Highway to Launceston or Devonport) through to, and just beyond, Westerway. The trains would also bring logs back to the paper mill at Boyer (read more here). It would be nice to have trains operating in this part of the state again like they do on the west coast. Our train ride on the West Coast Wilderness Railway was a real highlight from a previous trip.

When you reach Mt Field National Park (about 7.5km from Westerway), drive past the picnic area about 400m and the Visitor Centre is on the right. It’s signed; you won’t miss it. There’s a cafe/shop there too.

As we already had a Parks Pass you may wonder why we bothered to stop at the Visitor Centre. Besides simply being interest to have a look, we wanted to check the condition of the road up to Lake Fenton and even more importantly – to log our walk. The sign in book for all walks is just outside the front door of the Visitor Centre, so before leaving I duly logged our intended walk – Mt Field East circuit from Lake Fenton Car Park.

We hadn’t stopped long, but as we walked back to the car Stephen pointed out the clouds which were coming over the range above us were thick and black. Despite this, we headed off along Dobson Road into the Park. It wasn’t long before it started to spit, and as we climbed the slightly corrugated (dirt/compacted gravel) winding road up into the mountains, it soon turned to sleet, then small hail was bouncing off the windscreen. We watched the temperature fall to around 10oC, which had me hoping that what I was wearing would be warm enough!

Fortunately the road wasn’t boggy, and there wasn’t much traffic so we didn’t have to pull to the side more than a couple of times. The poor MINI was getting a splattering again! (Mud and dirt does show up very well on a British Racing Green car!)

The hail had passed and changed back to a light rain by the time we’d driven the 11km to the small car park near Lake Fenton. We were lucky – there was one spot left. We got out, put on our Gortex jackets… and then the rain stopped. Typical. Regardless, we took or wore everything we’d brought with us. For once we hadn’t over-packed!

The short track to Lake Fenton starts at the top corner of the carpark. Summer is a great time to visit Tasmania – so many plants are flowering. I felt like I was in heaven before I’d taken 10 steps!

Lake Fenton is part of a catchment area supplying drinking water to Hobart. As such, recreational activities such as camping, boating, swimming and fishing and not allowed. After reaching Lake Fenton we had to stop and refer to the walking notes (a couple of times) to make sure we were setting off along the right path.

Cross the outlet pipes and follow the track over the wall and around the north side lake until you come to a sign (a very weathered one on this trip) marking the turn off to Seagers Lookout and Mt Field East – but while there may be, or at least was, a track that continues around the northern edge of the lake, the water catchment committee and Parks & Wildlife Tasmania are trying to discourage people from walking that track. The Seagers Lookout/Mt Field East Track that we were taking is quite clearly well used, and there was little chance of us missing it at this point.

Under grey clouds the forest seems to be leached of colour. Then Stephen pointed out that the spots of white on the ground, which I’d taken to be petals or leaves, were actually small hailstones.

The track climbs steadily, but not steeply, up to the junction to Seagers Lookout. Had we started walking earlier maybe we would have done this side trip. As the sign there indicated it would take more than an hour to return to this point we chose to continue along the Mt Field East track.

Lake Fenton can be seen as the trees give way to a small swampy area. I was surprised, but also very thankful, to see the boardwalk – the ground looked very boggy beneath. Not something I would care to step in. Before long you’re back on rocks and climbing up, past some very impressive boulders, to cross a boulder field. This was where we had our best view over Lake Fenton and south-west toward the Mawson Plateau and Mt Field West.

The area between the boulder field and the top of the hill is quite marshy – I’m not sure if it’s technically a small moor or not. There are plenty of woody shrubs to about 1m tall that do not appear to be present on the large moors. While very wet, you can mostly avoid stepping in and muddying the water as there are plenty of rocks forming the track through this section. No need for more boardwalk.

Entering the shelter of trees on the other side, the track rises over, then follows the curve of the hill around to the left. It seemed a never-ending display of wildflowers and other flora were just waiting to be discovered.

We passed by spiky lawns of Pineapple Grass (Astelia alpina) which were just starting to flower, and through banks of Scoparia (Richea scoparia) in all it’s colour variations, which delivered us to the edge of Windy Moor, whereupon a wave of nostalgia swept through me.

Gazing upon the browny-green moor, with Mt Field East in the distance, and low, grey clouds overhead, I felt like I was back on the Overland Track. I felt like I was where I longed to be. I felt like I was home.

And I knew precisely what was ahead of us.

Starting out across Windy Moor to Mt Field East

Starting out across Windy Moor to Mt Field East

There’s no boardwalk, or even duckboarding here. But then, there aren’t crowds of tourists trampling all over the place like a herd of Brown’s cow’s turning everything into muck, either. If you haven’t got gaiters on already, now is the time to don them (or kick yourself for leaving them behind) ’cause you’re about to find out just how water- and mud-proof your hiking boots are, and when some of the ‘puddles’ are more than ankle-deep, you’ll want those gaiters.

With only a small, tree’d hillock providing a windbreak, there’s no prizes for guessing how Windy Moor got its name. The clouds had not cleared from the previous storm front, yet the westerly wind was intent on pushing more rain clouds in our direction.

A lot of work must have been done to create the stony path across the moor, and indeed much of the whole Mt Field East track. I’m not sure how much the Friends of Mt Field Landcare group are responsible for (whether it’s more maintenance, or everything) but their work for the benefit of all bushwalkers cannot go unthanked or unappreciated.

Sticking to the rocks on the path (though not always possible) will help prevent damage being done to this most fragile of environments. A footprint can scar a cushion plant for decades – if it ever recovers. Cushion plants are actually a community small plants rather than one large, spreading plant, and they’re quite often composed of more than one species. Their dense outer foliage is what protects the plants from the elements and allows them to survive, grow, and reproduce.

Despite the earlier storm, the edge of the moor was quite distinct as the track became a lot drier and tree’d at the base of Mt Field East. Now sheltered from the wind blowing across the moor we were befriended by a cloud of midges. Rather more numerous than those met earlier on the walk, and so rather more annoying. I was glad we had insect repellent mixed in with our suncream, but I wasn’t sure how long its effectiveness lasted.

Climbing to the summit of Mt Field East is possible by following a series of cairns. You’ve got to keep your eyes open and stick to the track, apparently. Well, we had our eyes open, alright – we’d been watching another bank of clouds approaching from the west. A couple of bolts of lightning dispelled any regrets I may have harboured about coming this far and not at least attempting to climb to the top.

We weren’t the only ones on the track that day, it seemed. As we turned to continue on to Lake Nichols we saw two other walkers making their way down from the summit as the storm approached. We didn’t stop to watch them, but followed the track to the trees disappearing over the edge of the plateau, trying to hurry along whilst still taking a moment to appreciate the view.

Moving down through the forest involves a bit rock scrambling across a couple of screes, but as on the climb up above Lake Fenton, the path is marked by poles and is not hard to follow.

Although a little steep, footing is quite sure along the track as it remains fairly rocky. Further down towards the lake the path does become a more soil than rock, but it wasn’t muddy. Still, we were walking in summer. Winter and spring conditions are probably much wetter due to snow/melt.

What really caught my attention along this section of the circuit was the incredible diversity of mosses and lichens growing on the trees and rocks in this protected area of the park. I noticed some above, earlier, but I was probably more distracted by the diversity of wildflowers. Here it was like exploring a coral reef, but a terrestrial one – a world of unusual colour and form and things that look like plants or branching corals but aren’t either.

I’d spent quite a few minutes at the base of the tree, marvelling at the species around it, and as I regretfully left I wondered just how far ahead Stephen was…

Fortunately, the answer was ‘not far’, because as it turns out I was just a short walk from the Lake Nicholls hut. Chapman notes that it makes good shelter in wet weather, and yes – we can attest to that! We were grateful for the opportunity to take off our packs, hang up our wet jackets, and sit down somewhere comfortable and dry for lunch.

We didn’t cool our heels for too long in the hut, as nice as it was; we didn’t want to get cold and stiff or lose too much time. (Our thanks again to the Friends of Mt Field Landcare group who do such a great job of maintaining this hut and track.)

After crossing the outlet stream to the lake, there’s a very short rise up to a rocky ridgeline that the track follows for a good kilometre or so. Now walking through wet sclerophyll forest there are fewer types of flowers blooming, but the diversity of other vegetation was getting better and better!

Good thing we hadn’t taken off our gaiters because soon enough we came across another wet section of track. It doesn’t last too long, and the puddles weren’t too deep. The slope of the track increases as the track descends towards the Lake Dobson Road.

The first turnoff to Dobson Road marks the lowest point of the circuit. Our walk didn’t exit to the road along this quite steep looking track, but continued uphill on the same track towards the Lake Fenton Car Park (as signed). The path is very lush, mossy (‘bryophyte-y’) and provided a nice view of Mount Monash directly ahead as the clouds lifted.

A newer wooden sign (the wood was still brown when we were there!) at the next bend in the road leads you up a short track to meet the road a turn or two closer to Lake Fenton Car Park. The bleached, silvery grey, twisted tree trunks against the grey, jumbled dolorite boulders is quite a contrast to the green forest we’ve just emerged from.

When you step onto the road this time, there are no more shortcuts – it’s simply a matter of following the road back to the start. It was about 1km from the forest to the carpark. Given the weather and time of day it’s not surprising we were only passed by a couple of cars. The most surprising part about this walk was that the road is lined by Fagus! They grow quite tall and bushy in protected spots. I really was quite astonished to see what I had thought to be – if not a rare plant, then certainly one that required effort to find – growing so happily beside the side of the road.

Although it was getting late by the time we made it back to the Visitor Centre and logged out – it was closed, but that’s why the log books are kept just outside – we still (just!) had time to stop at the raspberry farm at Westerway for some fresh fruit and an ice-cream.

We got talking to one of the members of the family who own the farm and it turns out that they’re the last growers of blackcurrants in the country! Growing up in Queensland, blackcurrant juice (or cordial) wasn’t something we drank as kids, or that I readily identify with but, by the sounds of it if you grew up in Tasmania or Victoria it’s something you may become quite passionate about. Not just where the berries are grown, but also the percentage of juice being used, trademarks on recipes and brand take-overs.

Ice-creams finished, we were back in the car for the drive home. As the weather hadn’t cleared the grey clouds made a dramatic background against the rolling countryside as we drove back down the valley. Tasmania is not just scenic around the edge. Like most of the roads in the state, the road is single carriageway until you get closer to Hobart, but the surface was pretty good.

While I certainly had fun taking lots of photos on this walk, I also found enjoyment in trying to correctly identify species in for this post. My main references were:

1. Launceston Field Naturalists Club Inc, “A Guide to Flowers & Plants of Tasmania”, 4th Edn, Reed New Holland

2. Howells, Christine (Ed), “Tasmania’s Natural Flora”, 2nd Edn, Australian Plants Society – Tasmania Inc

The first book is a very good field guide and although I found the second book very useful, there are some notable gaps in the information contained, for all its’ nearly 400 pages of species photos and descriptions. Unfortunately, I haven’t – yet – bought a field guide to Australian bryophytes, and since we have over 2,000 species of them it’s not a simple matter of Googling the answers, especially if you’re not sure where to start. I’ll endeavour to come back and update the titles of these photos once this situation has been remedied. Identifying species in cushionplants has also proved to be somewhat challenging.

I’ve done my best, but if anyone thinks I’ve mislabeled something, or if I haven’t been able to identify it myself, please – let me know!

: )

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Grand Canyon Circuit, Blue Mountains – 10 September 2014

A spectacular walk showing off the contrasting habitats, magnificent geology, and spectacular scenery of Grose Valley. This walk contains many stairs, potentially slippery surfaces and a short tunnel. Check conditions at the Blackheath NSW Parks Information Centre if there has been recent heavy rain and, as always, be aware the day’s fire danger rating.

Afternoon sunlight streams into the secluded canyon as the sound of the waterfalls fills the air

 

Start/Finish: Grand Canyon Loop Car Park, Evans Lookout Road, Blackheath

Distance: Approx 7.4km (Officially 5km, but I’m not sure if that includes the distance between Evans Lookout and Neates Glen Car Park. Also, satellite signal for our GPS’s was extremely patchy in the canyon)

Time: Approx 3hrs

Difficulty: Medium

Elevation profile graph and map for Grand Canyon Circuit bushwalk - Blackheath, Grose Valley, Blue Mountains National Park

Following our successful early morning walk to Leura Forest (by successful I mean we started and finished before noon!) we were primed for an afternoon walk to pack in as much as possible on our last full day in the Blue Mountains.

Even though there were still walks around Katoomba where we were staying (eg Wentworth Falls), if it meant a drive in the car we thought we may as well see a different valley altogether.

The Grose Valley is a very large, long valley to the north of Katoomba. There are many walks dotted on our SV map near the town of Blackheath, situated at the western end of the valley. The Grand Canyon is briefly described on that map, but we also bought a much more detailed Walking Track and Visitor Guide solely on the Grand Canyon walk from the Echo Point NPWS Information Centre (and at $3.00 you can’t quibble at the price).

Our information sources - NSW NPSW Grand Canyon booklet and SV Map of Blue Mountains North

Blackheath is an easy 10min drive up the road (west of Katoomba). The turnoff to this walk is before you get to the actual township, if you’re coming from Katoomba like us. There are signs, but keep your eyes open all the same as you get close to the town.

Following the instructions in the NPWS booklet, we parked in the Grand Canyon Loop Car Park (the second of three car parks) near the end of Evans Lookout Road. Somewhat surprisingly, there was another car in the first (Neates Glen) carpark, but no one else in the second. Judging from the number of car spaces available, this area can be pretty popular sometimes. Once again I found myself thankful it was a weekday, and not during school holidays.

Grand Canyon Loop Carpark is quite large...and we had it all to ourselves

Grand Canyon Loop Carpark is quite large…and we had it all to ourselves

Just like over at Jamison Valley, the vegetation atop the ridges here is tough and dry, full of prickly acacias and rough-barked banksias, scrubby grasses and brakenfern. There’s no hint here of the Grand Canyon just a stone’s throw away, nor what it contains…

On the other hand, it’s no stretch to imagine how an uncontrolled bushfire could race through and decimate communities living here – human, plant and animal. With our climate changing leading to the frequency and intensity of fires increasing, even communities that are fire tolerant will come under pressure.

The path leading back up to the first carpark (Neates Glen) was easy to find. There’s a very gentle incline on the path between the two car parks to the start of the proper Grand Canyon track. But pretty much as soon as you turn into the bush you’re walking downhill, increasingly steeply.

It was only early afternoon, but the shadows on the western side of the ridge felt cool and welcoming as we dropped below the ridge line. The undergrowth becomes softer, and it’s not too long before we came to the first set of doors across the path.

The first portal (flood door) of many along the track - Grand Canyon Walking Track, Grose Valley, Blackheath, Blue Mountains National Park

Doors? What on earth are these for?

To keep walkers out of areas affected by flooding, apparently. A good idea, but I wonder if the Rangers are sent to close the doors before or after the rain ?

Stepping through the first black door was like passing through a portal to a parallel universe. Almost immediately the vegetation becomes lush – not just beside the path – completely surrounding you, as you carefully make your way down the rock and concrete steps.

There is water trickling over the path, down the boulders next to you, off every piece of moss and fern frond, after having been filtered through and slowly released by the hanging swamps above. Looking down to check my next step, I was amazed at the volume of plant life growing on the vertical rise of the step – in fact, there are ferns and mosses growing on every millimetre of surface that’s not regularly trodden, by the look of it.

Mosses growing on the vertical rise of each concrete step

Mosses growing on the vertical rise of each concrete step

Too soon the narrow gully widens and we found ourselves in a small valley. I thought at the time that these cliffs towering up to 100m above formed the ‘Grand Canyon’ referred to in the title of the walk… but this is just the start.

While nowhere near as large as the ‘real’ Grand Canyon in the USA (not even a speck compared to that) it is still impressive as you cross Greaves Creek for the first time and follow the canyon (aka gorge) down to the valley floor.

It’s not far before you reach the end of this upper, open section of the canyon, where a flight of stairs takes you down a level to a place known as the “beach”, I guess due to sand deposited here over time by the creek. It used to be known as the “Rotunda”, and was quite a popular spot. It’s not hard to see why. The afternoon sun was just at the right angle for a ray of light to pierce through the canyon onto the stream and yellow sand of the creek bed, illuminating the canyon wall with a dancing, golden light.

Tearing myself away from this fascinating area, we came upon the tunnel. In my brief scan of the NPWS notes over lunch I hadn’t noticed anything about a tunnel!

Fortunately Stephen had come prepared! Fishing the small torch out of his backpack we ventured in…

So it turns out it’s only about 5 metres long – but not knowing that I was happy for the torch. No, we didn’t get out and re-read the notes (also in Stephen’s backpack), but in case you’re wondering, it’s simply described as ‘a short tunnel having been formed by a rock fall’ and walkers are warned to “watch your step (and your head) as the floor of the tunnel is rough”. I didn’t notice it was particularly rough, but then – Stephen had brought a torch!

Looking back up at the tunnel's exit

Looking back up at the tunnel’s exit

Before you, after you exit the tunnel and walk down the steep stairs, is a… bowl? basin? a gigantic pothole ground out by a million seething swirl pools of debris after eons of flooding? I’m not sure how to properly describe the large round space. The middle of the floor is filled with large boulders and a few trees, while ferns and other plants grow down the sides of the canyon walls. The path continues to hug the canyon wall on the right and, by so doing, leads you under a waterfall that feeds Greaves Creek.

The path leads behind a waterfall - not flowing too strongly today

The path leads behind a waterfall – not flowing too strongly today

It wasn’t flowing very strongly that day, so the only reason I got just a little wet on the shoulder was because I had to wait for Stephen to be satisfied with the photographs he was taking. But fair’s fair – it was his turn next!

Entering the canyon proper I was awed by the rocks, shaped by the passage of water over millennia. The NPWS booklet explains the canyon is formed from what’s known as Burra-Moko sandstone. Not only does it look different to the Banks Wall sandstone that is widely recognised from photos of cliffs (most notably the Three Sisters) in the Blue Mountains, but it’s a softer sandstone, too.

The creek disappears from view down into the narrow, dark depths of the canyon. Ferns line the sides of the canyon walls, using any crevice, crack or ledge for support as they unfurl their fronds to catch the limited daylight – and the constant drip of water from the hanging swamps above – entering the confined space.

Walking across the scalloped side of the canyon, and through the cuts gouged into the walls made by the creek (some places deeper than others) I marvelled at the power and beauty of nature. For someone who loves rocks (in a forest setting), this was a place I could have only dreamed of prior to now… In short, it was fantastic.

Just before you descend to the valley floor, the canyon widens and the path transects some scrubbier forest on the hillside. The opposite side (much more of which is now visible) is topped with tall and straight eucalypts, silvery in the fading afternoon light.

Although it’s still only mid-afternoon, when you’re down this low in the protected canyon it feels a lot later. The light is fading quickly so we’re trying to hurry, yet at the same time at almost every turn there is a new sight to take our breath away.

Turning a corner and entering the gully that would reunite us with Greaves Creek, my immediate impression was that this would be just the sort of place to find elves (the benevolent kind); mossy and green, and perfectly arranged.

Tall straight trees trunks are a stand-out feature of this mossy gully leading down to Greaves Creek - Grand Canyon Walk, Blackheath, Grose Valley, Blue Mountains National Park

Tall straight trees trunks are a stand-out feature of this mossy gully leading down to Greaves Creek

Ferns quickly populate the gully as you descend this magical gully to Greaves Creek - Grand Canyon Walk, Blackheath, Grose Valley, Blue Mountains National Park

Ferns quickly populate the gully as you descend this magical gully to Greaves Creek

As mentioned, there hadn’t been all that much rain lately; while there are a few small sources of water feeding into Greaves Creek along the way, it’s just enough to keep it flowing. The deep, dark pools of water are calm and cool. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are leeches in the water though, and drinking from the creek is definitely unsafe without sterilisation. There was no chance of getting our feet wet as we crossed the creek a couple of times on perfectly spaced stepping-stones as we followed the track down to the intersection with Rodriguez Pass Walking Track. The NPWS notes warn that you may have to look carefully in places to follow the track; this might be the case when the water level is higher, though we didn’t have any problems following it.

The size of the tree trunks lying discarded in, or propped up against the walls of the canyon are evidence of the power of past flood events. It looks like it’s been a while since the last big flood. Or maybe they’ve fallen down from above… either way, I’m glad everything was quiet as we walked through. The logs there have a reasonable covering of moss, and there are plenty of young trees and ferns growing the canyon floor.

Near the track junction the creek forms a very small waterfall as it enters the roof of a little cavern and fills a pool with a sloping edge of fine gravel (almost sand) by the path that looks absolutely perfect for a quick dip. Lucky it wasn’t a particularly hot day or I might have been tempted to stick a toe in. Or simply walk in, boots and all!

Rodriguez Pass Walking Track will take you into the middle of Grose Valley before exiting at Govett’s Lookout. Had we started this walk at 8am then this may well have been the route we would have taken. It would mean an extra 6-7km (at a guess – I haven’t got a map that tells me exactly) which I expect would take about 3hrs (definitely allowing time for photo opportunities!) plus a lunch break.

Junction with Rodriguez Pass Walking Track

Junction with Rodriguez Pass Walking Track

After the intersection it’s pretty much all uphill back to the car park. As Stephen is known to sagely remark, “What goes down, must come up.”. Take heart in knowing the climb out is not as steep as any of the ‘Staircases’ we’d climbed in the last couple of days, because (for once) the track leads up a sloping gully to the cliff top instead of trying to scale the cliff itself! After climbing Giant Staircase that morning the climb out did seem to go on and on… and on some more, but on the other hand, it had been a lovely, long stroll to the bottom.

The air was already beginning to take on its evening chill; very pleasant in summer, but I imagine it can get really cold in winter! To begin with you’re still surrounded by lush forest, down on the valley floor where streamlets feed into Greaves Creek. Further up the gully the undergrowth thins out allowing a better view of the moss-covered trees and rocks along the path and the huge boulders and cliffs behind the reaching skyward.

With every step (and there are a lot of steps!) the mossy forest gets a little drier until there are just a few trees below two very large boulders. Climbing the stairs between them (here it was steep enough to put in a hand rail and, yes, I gratefully accepted) we emerged back into a eucalypt dominated forest – Blue Mountain Ash. Goodbye to the lush fern and moss adorned rainforests below, and surely, just at the top of this rise – hello Evans Lookout?!

But we weren’t there yet. Not until we’d climbed the dirt track up the hill, through the last gate and passed the information plaque (for people walking the circuit clockwise) could we breathe a sigh of relief. And then gasped in amazement, since this was our first look across Grose Valley! Magnificent! However, Evans Lookout is a still bit further on – another ~500m, but fortunately it’s just a gentle incline along the ridge to get there.

Anxious about being too late for a good sight (and photo opportunity), we didn’t dally but hurried along to the proper lookout and – thankfully – managed to arrive in time to snap a few photos in which the opposite cliffs were simply glowing in the late afternoon light. Mission accomplished!

Grose Valley is more intimate than Jamison Valley

Grose Valley is more intimate than Jamison Valley

Panorama of Grose Valley from Evans Lookout - Blackheath, Blue Mountains National Park

Grose Valley, whatever time of day, really is much more impressive than Jamison Valley. The cliffs on the opposite side of the valley are closer, and positioned so even amateur photographers can catch their evening glow. There are many interesting geological formations, walks, and even an impressive waterfall (Govetts Leap) that can be appreciated from a lookout adjacent to a car park – for free! It’s so big it’s hard to capture properly in its entirety, and possibly relief at finally being at the Lookout enhanced my experience, but there’s no doubt that it’s a magnificent location.

Easy steps back to Evans Lookout Car Park, past the distinctive shelter design used around Blackheath

Easy steps back to Evans Lookout Car Park, past the distinctive shelter design used around Blackheath

Photos taken it was time to set ourselves for the last few hundred metres (which felt more like a kilometre) back to the car to complete the circuit.

It was a short, if damp, walk back to the Grand Canyon Car Park

It was a short, if damp, walk back to the Grand Canyon Car Park

Done! And what a walk that was!

I think most amazing aspect of this walk is discovering a completely different and marvellous world so very well hidden and remarkably close to town. In a relatively short walk you journey from dry, grey bushland to wet, fern-filled gullies, through a deep canyon carved out over hundreds of thousands of years, beneath the canopy of a sub-tropical rainforest, and finally by a small forest of beautiful Blue Mountain Ash. Walking under and past waterfalls, over the creek more times than I can remember, reinforces that it’s water – that most precious of commodities on our dry continent – that created and continues to shape this environment. Even the drops of water falling down from hanging swamps above giving the impression that it’s raining contribute to shaping tomorrow’s Grand Canyon.

Of course, this route wouldn’t be accessible without the enormous amount of work done by NSW NPSW to map out and create the route, install the small bridge, a few kilometres of handrails and fencing in places, and even more than a couple concrete steps which would have been made on site. An unbelievable amount of work has made it possible for the public to come and appreciate this jewel in the Grose Valley, and I, for one, heartily thank everyone (past and present) who has been involved in setting up and maintaining these walking tracks.

When we return, we’ll definitely be re-visiting the Grose Valley. There’s a lot more to discover here.

: )


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Leura Forest, Blue Mountains – 10 September 2014

A spell-binding short to half-day walk for bird lovers, nature photographers, or people seeking Shinrinyoku*. Moderate fitness and an ability to cope with lots of steep stairs required for the walk as described below, however less strenuous options may be available from Leura.

Bathe (metaphorically) in an unbelievably green forest - a great place to practice Shinrinyoku

Bathe (metaphorically) in an unbelievably green forest – a great place to practice Shinrinyoku

*Thanks and credit to Jane for the word ‘Shinrinyoku’ that best describes my Leura Forest experience, and the link borrowed from her Mildly Extreme blog post.

Start/Finish: Echo Point Lookout, Katoomba

Distance: Approx 6.5km

Time: Approx 3hr 20min (Note: our ‘moving time’ was 2hr 40min)

Difficulty: Medium/Hard

Leura Forest Circuit from Echo Point - map and elevation profile - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Once again, this didn’t turn out to be a fast walk. Not just because I had a camera in my hand (which is my usual excuse, true though it is), but because of (a) the birds and (b) the magic of Leura Forest itself.

I shall explain. (You saw that coming?)

Feeling positive after yesterday’s walk to Ruined Castle, we wanted to do a really awesome walk on out last full day here. But with so many walks to choose from it was hard to know which would tick all the right boxes. Stephen wanted to walk to the township of Leura, so we set off once more for Echo Point.

It was an early start – for us. We were walking by 8:10am which is very nearly unheard of on any holiday where we set our own schedule. Starting out along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk towards the Giant Stairway we spotted a White-browed Scrubwren (Sericornis frontalis) and a couple of Rock Warblers (Origma solitaira) hunting for insects in the leaf and bark litter by the side of the path. A good start to the walk.

Rock Warbler (left) and White-browed Scrubwren (right)

Rock Warbler (left) and White-browed Scrubwren (right)

For much better photos, see here for Rockwarblers (sometimes spelt as one word) and here for White-browed Scrubwrens.

Another windy day meant Northface jackets on while we were on the ridges. Out of the wind and climbing down the Giant Stairway we definitely warmed up enough to warrant taking that layer off.

Reaching Dardanelles Pass Walking Track we turned left this time, heading towards Leura.

Setting off along the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

Setting off along the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

The beautiful forest, thick in parts with bird calls, just got more and more beautiful the further we walked. Right beneath the cliffs my Garmin was constantly letting me know it was having trouble finding satellites (so I’m surprised that there’s anything remotely sensible on the map above, even though that’s Stephen’s data again) but I didn’t really care at that point. The cliffs, so close and towering above are magnificent. The boulders you pass are a reminder that things larger than pebbles occasionally fall from the heights – although, by the extent of moss covering the rocks, there haven’t been any recent falls.

Walking along here I experienced feelings of utter bliss, awe, tranquility and harmony – that was probably aided a great deal by the fact that there was no one else around. I didn’t even know how far ahead Stephen was. I wanted to hurry to catch up – yet at the same time I wanted to slow down and savour this almost spiritual experience, too. The forest was so green! Slow down and watch the small birds on the forest floor hop over the logs and flit over rocks to hunt out insects. See the fungi helping to break down the dead wood and return nutrients back into the earth. There are plenty of lyrebirds too, who turnover the forest floor, like a gardener with a hoe, as they dig for invertebrates. It’s an amazing place, and we are privileged to be able to share it, as it’s part of a National Park. To be able to walk through it in peace and quiet was really something special.

Can you spot two white-browed scrub wrens here?

Can you spot two white-browed scrub wrens here?

There’s a picnic area – tables and bench seats – just before the path crosses Banksia Streamlet and starts heading up out of the valley towards Leura township. We crossed and walked on to the first set of stairs at the lower end of the Marguerite Cascades, where we stopped to watch another lyrebird before she moved on, and question whether we wanted to continue up to Leura or back via Federal Pass. I don’t remember exactly why now, but we decided to go back.

Federal Pass Walking Track drops almost immediately quite a bit lower down the hillside than the Dardanelles Track. It’s a very different walking experience; a more undulating track through a completely different habitat. Once again it was interesting to observe how different the forest can be just by moving a short distance away.

It was decision time again when we re-met the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track. I confess it was more Stephen’s decision than mine to climb back up the Giant Stairway, but the alternative choice of walking around to Furber Steps or Scenic World was something we’d already done, so up we went!

Stephen smiling encouragingly at the bottom of the Giant Stairway - but what choice did I have?

Stephen smiling encouragingly at the bottom of the Giant Stairway – but what choice did I have?

At the time, and even now, my first thoughts are thank goodness for the handrails! Yes, I was definitely using my arms to help pull myself up. But what if the lovely stairs and beautifully smooth metal handrails (that would have taken an enormous effort and cost a lot to put in) weren’t there? Well, I’m not sure it’d be open to the public. I’d like to think I’d give it a go if there was a chain or similar, as there are in sections of walks around Dove Lake in Cradle Mountain National Park, but since the stairs and rails are there, this is purely speculation…

The benefits of walking on a weekday and not during school holidays is the decreased likelihood of encountering other people – I was glad there wasn’t anyone coming down while we were walking up the 883 (per Stephen’s count) stairs. The first people we saw were at the bridge to the first Sister. There are plenty of people willing to walk the couple of hundred metres there from the Visitor Centre and get just a taste of the stairs.

It was good to be back at the top, even though it meant being blown by the wind again. We took a short detour to Spooners Lookout, just for completeness.

When we started that morning we were the only tourists at Echo Point; now the place was its usual bustling self. Do those people milling around the lookout have any clue about the wonders I’ve just seen and heard?

Given we had finished this walk so early (it was still morning!) we had time to fit in another walk that afternoon. It would turn out to be the most stunning of our walks in the Blue Mountains yet!

: )


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Ruined Castle, Blue Mountains – 9 September 2014

A half-day walk for anyone of moderate fitness wanting to escape the crowds, get a different view of the Three Sisters, and who isn’t afraid of stairs. The walk can be extended to a full day walk depending on your starting point, or to include over-night hike options for experienced hikers.

Start/Finish: Glenraphael Drive, Katoomba

Distance: Approx 9km (+0.5km each way to where we left our car)

Time: Approx 4hrs

Difficulty: Medium

Ruined Castle hiking map & elevation graph - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

The geological feature in Jamison Valley known as ‘Ruined Castle’ (circled in red below) is visible from Echo Point Lookout as a little rise between Mt Solitary (which rises up directly in from of you from the middle of the valley), and the Narrowneck Plateau which has a ridge extending into the valley from the right.

Ruined Castle from Echo Point Lookout - it's the small rise circled in mid-distance - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

After yesterday’s (slightly disappointing) walk, we were looking for something a little more challenging – and one that would ideally also take us away from other people! We were on holidays, after all!

Our New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service (NSW NPWS) Walking Track Guide suggested the walk would take 6 hours, and rated it medium/hard. This didn’t faze us; along with the description of walk it sounded just what we were after. The SV Map had a slightly more conservative estimate of 5 hours to complete the walk. You’ll note from the graph above that we weren’t exactly racing along (camera-in-hand syndrome) and we did it in 4hrs, so… mind you, we didn’t really stop as we climbed back up the steps. Just one or two photos on the way. Yep, have a cruisey walk then race up the cliff at the end (with, ahem, the aid of the handrails). Makes perfect sense.

Glenraphael Drive was very easy to find; it was once we got there that the fun started. Yes, we have asked the MINI to pretend it’s a 4wd before and it’s done admirably well to date, but the further we went along this unsealed road, the larger the ruts and holes got! Fortunately there was a spot we could park on the side of the road which turned out to be only about 500m from the start of the Golden Stairs, so it wasn’t too bad.

We were looking forward to getting down into the valley – it was incredibly windy on the ridge tops. It had blown in overnight; a cold wind too, for all that it was a bright, sunny day.

The Golden Stairs are steep, though on average possibly slightly less so than those of the Giant Stairway, but more than the Furber Steps. The signs advise to allow half an hour to walk the 800m to the bottom where the steps meet the Federal Pass Walking Track, that more or less follows the old tramway put in when coal was being mined in the area by pick and shovel.

As on the other stairs in the area there is a handrail for a lot of the way down. I shudder to imagine what it would have been like to climb up and down, in all types of weather, for people back when the area was being explored and mined (late 1800’s I think). Apparently the stairs got their name from a Salvation Army Officer who was known to sing a hymn on the way back up, after holding services for the miners below.

Federal Pass Walking Tack is wide and flat at the bottom of the steps, perfectly matching what we expected to find from an old mining tramway given our experience around Walhalla in Victoria (see here and here). It doesn’t remain like this the whole 3.4km to Ruined Castle, so you will need to watch where you put your feet, but does remain reasonably level, as it follows the base of the cliffs. As you follow the path out along the base of the cliff and into the valley, the forest changes from a dark rainforest with a high canopy and moss-covered rocks littering the forest floor, to a much more open eucalypt forest with ferns and then grasses as the dominant ground cover.

Right before the turn off to Ruined Castle we came upon a couple of NSW Parks rangers hard at work preparing foundations for public toilets. That was a double surprise! We don’t often see park rangers doing things in a park while we’re out on our walks (normally staff wearing Park uniforms are seen behind desks or cash registers at information centres) despite evidence that work has taken place (at some point in the past). For once we had a chance to talk to – and thank in person – the people doing the hard work!

NSW Park Rangers hard at work (photo taken on our way back)

NSW Park Rangers hard at work (photo taken on our way back)

The second surprise was that they were putting in loos. Maybe the overnight walk to Mt Solitary (an extension of this walk – advised for experienced walkers only. Someone required rescuing from there a day or two before we did our walk) is more popular than we realised.

A comment made in the NSW NPWS walking track guide book is there is some rock scrambling required on the path up Ruined Castle (see also here, about half way down the page). Now, either they’ve smoothed the path somewhat or we were supposed to bring our own rocks – I’m not sure which. I’ve done more rock scrambling around various beach heads. The path up is pretty obvious and not that tricky. If you stick to the path and don’t climb up the ‘castle’ there isn’t any ‘rock scrambling’ required.

I was rather disappointed to see building materials had been choppers in to build steps up the side of the hill. Are we causing that much erosion? Or are we intent on making everything boardwalk grade?

At the top of the short rise the track winds its way between the banksia trees and rough-barked eucalypts on top of the ridge leading to the ‘castle’. Most of the way along the ridge you can’t actually tell how far away you are from the formation. We followed the path through them and around the other side of the boulders making the formation known as ‘Ruined Castle’ before picking a spot to have lunch.

Picking your way down the other side is trickier than climbing up. The path is steeper and the loose dirt and litter (leaves, twigs, gum nuts, pebbles) between the rocks can make your footing less certain. It was good to make it down to Federal Pass without any slips.

On the return trip we found more new facilities for hikers – shelters in clearings below the main track, and completed toilets. Evidence that the two Park Rangers had been hard at work for a while.