Author Archives: rachel

Mt Werong exploration (6-7 July 2024)

I’d been tipped off that the the south-western side of the Mount Werong road had not burnt in the 2019 fires. The SEED fire intensity map showed the road had been a clear barrier to the burn. When so many other places are somewhat unpleasant to walk in I find myself increasingly seeking out unburnt regions. This weekend definitely delivered.

A few us arrived on Friday night after yet another soggy week. Everything was saturated, and while we had dry wood in the car, it was all large pieces to go on an established blaze. The firelighters which had previously lived in the firewood bag were no longer there. Subsequently Tom and I spent over an hour bullying the fire into getting going. Our forearms were pumped, as if we’d been climbing, after an hour of fanning oxygen into the reluctant kindling. But eventually we succeeded and had a pleasant night around the fire.

The next morning we were joined by two others before heading off to Mt Werong. I had planned to drop a car along the fire trail at the end but with only one AWD and a very muddy section (due to needing to avoid a tree across the road) we only managed to knock off a kilometre or so instead of four.

We had our first climb immediately – the goal Mount Werong. Never was there an easier peak or trig to bag. Less than 20 minutes into the walk, having ascended 40m (maybe 50), we had achieved that goal. From there we had several kilometres of very gentle descent along a delightful ridge line. To my surprise there was even a pad most of the way. Tom’s theory was that it had been created by trailbike riders but if so it didn’t look like it had much recent use.

Tom has conquered Mt Werong (Werong Trig)

So happy with the walking conditions he’s doing a jig

The first real difficultly we encountered (excluding the boggy road) was crossing a pumping creek. It was clearly up and a dry feet crossing was looking unlikely until Tom with his long legs and long poles managed to get across. The rest of managed to follow suit keeping largely dry.

Katie crossing the raging creek

Climbing out of the creek – for once a symmetrical line!

Beautiful ridge walking

Anyone would think it’s a little chilly at lunch

We hit a rocky band above Parliament Creek. Tom was sure he could hear cascades so he went hunting them. Crossing the creek proved a little tricky – though with 5 people we managed 4 different methods to get across the creek.

Some of us headed down to the base of the waterfall which was quite impressive. I doubt that was the normal flow level though. Tom and Jon wanted to explore further as they thought there might be more cascades but with time getting away from us I said no. We’ll have to go back and explore more another time.

Tom at a rocky knoll

Looking for a way through the cliffs

Now how do I get to that side?

Waterfall in Parliament Creek

Tom and Jon on the way back from waterfall-viewing

Heading up the ridge

As it turned out the locked gate on the map, where I’d planned to leave the car, didn’t even exist. So had we got past the boggy section we would have been able to avoid walking the entire fire trail. Since we didn’t know exactly where we left the car it was a bit of a mystery. Both Jon & I kept expecting it would be ’round the next bend’, ‘over the next crest’, but were generally disappointed.

Yep, fire trail

Almost back at the car??

When we eventually got back to the car we put some effort into clearing the fallen tree that was blocking the road. It was a pretty big tree but with 3 of us putting some serious grunt into breaking off the branches we managed to clear enough of it that I was confident we could get further down the road the next day. We had a solid 8 hours out walking and so were only back at the campground at 4:30pm. Fortunately the fire was much easier to get going and we had a pleasant evening in relatively mild (4°C rather than 0) conditions.

Getting ready to settle in

We lost a couple from the previous day to sickness so that left 3 of us for Sunday’s activities.

Confident we could get further down the fire trail after our efforts the day before we set off with cautious optimism. I was hoping to get 7km down the trail and all it takes is one obstacle to put a spanner in the plan. Unfortunately less than 500m after we’d turned onto Little River F/T we came to a 20m puddle that didn’t look passable. So onto Plan B. Except I didn’t really have a Plan B.

In low cloud, in an area that had burnt, there was perhaps a little less enthusiasm for heading off compared to the day before. But I led us through wet regrowth which opened up after a couple of hundred metres. The ridge we were following is the boundary between Kanangra-Boyd National Park and the Blue Mountains National Park. The park boundary on the map obscures the narrow ridge line very effectively. It was only on the map Tom had created from the DEMS using QGIS that we could see the distinct ridge with its series of knolls.

Great views early on…

Wattle and burnt trees make a striking contrast

In my efforts to ensure we ended up on that narrow ridge and not the more obvious one on the topo I led us through a less pleasant section of wattle regrowth. It was as we popped out of that Roger realised he no longer had his phone. But he didn’t know when he last had it other than the car. Rather than go back and look, when it could have been anywhere, we kept going. The scrub eased off and we found ourselves on a typical rocky Kanangra ridge with dramatic views falling away on each side.

Tom checking out the views off Mt Moona Loombah

After morning tea on Mount Moona Loombah, we had lunch on the ‘other ridge’, perched on a cliff edge, with great views down the Kowmung. Then it was time to go phone-hunting!

Lunch views down the Kowmung

That doesn’t look that comfortable!?

Life on the edge

I was quite disappointed we had needed to go back into the wattle regrowth – it had been apparent that section had been unnecessary and we could have just stuck to the relatively clear ridge. But nevertheless if we were going to make a serious effort to find the phone we needed to retrace the whole route. I think it was to all of our amazement Tom managed to locate Roger’s phone in the midst of the wattle regrowth. Roger was very happy!

Is that a phone you’ve found!?

It was relatively short day but completed a most satisfying weekend away. A place to revisit again soon.

Carnarvon Gorge road trip (6-16 June 2024)

King’s Birthday weekend was coming up, and taking the rest of the week off seemed like a great way to get 10 days off in a row with minimal annual leave burnt. But where to go?

Carnarvon Gorge has been on my to-do list for a long time. Not sure exactly why – possibly because it’s mentioned in the back of Rick Jamieson’s Canyons Near Sydney book. (Not that Carnarvon Gorge is near Sydney!). Every time I’ve looked at it before I’ve been overwhelmed with how far away it is from everywhere, but this time it seemed like 10 days might be just enough time to make it worthwhile. Do we fly or drive? Tom convinces me that it’s probably easier just to drive since then we can take all our gear from home and not worry about weight limits on the plane. Slightly dreading the 1500km we have to drive each way I agree.

Day 1: Sydney to Quirindi (350km/4 hours)

We knock off the first 4 hours of driving on Thursday night after work. This puts us in striking distance of breakfast in Narrabri and then the opportunity to visit two areas we didn’t make it it to our on our previous visit to Mount Kaputar National Park – Sawn Rocks and Waa Gorge.

Day 2: Quirindi to Nindigully Pub (573km/7 hours)

Sawn Rocks, Mount Kaputar National Park

Waa Gorge, Mount Kaputar National Park

Mill-Bullah Waterholes, Mount Kaputar National Park

The schedule for the second day was pretty tight, but we managed to make up some time with the overly generous national park estimates for how long Waa Gorge would take to explore. We figured that gave us time to stop for coffee in Moree… but we’d failed to note where One Ton Post in Mungindi actually was. And had no reception – rather than just drive until we found signs we tried to find it (on the wrong side of the Barwon River). Any time we’d made up in Waa Gorge was squandered, but we made it into Nindigully Pub just on 5pm. We were somewhat disappointed that the thick stands of trees surrounding the pub obscured much of what had promised to be a good sunset.

Thallon Silos

Nindigully Pub

The pub was pumping and we somewhat accidentally found ourselves in the food queue, which was just as well, as otherwise we may not have got our first choice order. Live entertainment by Adam Kilpatrick was excellent – I couldn’t have pictured a more stereotypical Queenslander! (Maroons shirt & cap, stubbies & thongs… in 6°C) We particularly enjoyed his full rendition of American Pie towards the end of his set.

Day 3: Nindigully Pub to Carnarvon Gorge (491km/5.5 hours)

The next day was an early start, our preferred way to tackle a long driving day, getting a couple of hours of driving under the belt before breakfast (in Surat). With the schedule already falling behind we didn’t do the full riverside walk but it was good to stretch the legs out.

Roma’s supermarkets seemed packed with people like us stocking up for a few days. We managed to get in and out fairly quickly before lunch at Injune, in June (never gets old I’m sure). The only option was the pub of which we were 2 of 4 patrons. It’s hard to imagine the economics work – but I assume it must get busier at night. The chips were some of the best I’ve ever had – so crunchy!

Largest bottle tree in Roma

By the time we got into the Caravan Park at Carnarvon Gorge mid-afternoon I was ready not to do much for the rest of the day. Originally we had thought we might go and do a walk, but setting up camp, and not having to think for half an hour won out. That said there was a lookout to visit for sunset and some supposed platypus viewing to be had. Sadly, we didn’t look at the map properly and so spent a good 20 minutes looking for platypus at the swimming hole instead of the platypus area. Then mistimed our arrival at the lookout for sunset. Quickly dashing back to the actual platypus pool we did get to spot one before it swam off downstream away from where we were allowed to go. Ah well, can’t have it all. With a new moon the sky was dark and clear, the stars were phenomenal. It was also good to know we didn’t have any real driving for the next 4 days.

Day 4: Carnarvon Gorge caravan park to National Park entry (Driving: 6km / 15 min)

Another relatively early start, complicated by needing to pack overnight packs for the next few nights. But we managed to be walking by 9am which was the goal. The vegetation was so lush – not really what I was expecting. It really didn’t feel like we were in Outback Queensland. We did all the side-trips as we walked up the gorge; the Moss Garden, the Amphitheatre, the Art Gallery and Cathedral Cave. Wards Canyon was closed due to flood damage.

Beautiful day in Carnarvon Gorge

Tom in the Amphitheatre

The Art Gallery – the most impressive collection of art I’ve seen in one location

All 17 crossings up the gorge were labelled – though the signs got further and further back from the creek as we went upstream

Around one of the communal fires the previous night we’d met a couple of young guys who were heading out on the Great Walk and camping at Big Bend like us that evening. We kept leap-frogging them through the day – though they were doing was more exercise than us, as we dumped our packs at the junctions, whereas they were carrying them in and out on all the side trips. We also explored up an unwritten up side creek, which ended up being quite a lovely section of gorge/canyon.

Precipice Sandstone cliffs in lovely light

Big cliffs

Dramatic gorge, small human

Epic camp cave (Cathedral/Pitjara) – you can see why this was used by the local people for thousands of years

Eventually we made it to Big Bend – the last arrivals for the day, with 6 others already set-up. As such we got the ‘worst’ pick of the campsites, but we were happy enough with it that we didn’t bother moving when everyone else cleared out the next morning.

Our camp cave not quite so epic (or is it..)

We chatted with the two young guys until it got dark and cold. They headed for their tents, and we rugged up. Another couple from Cairns shared the picnic table with us while we had dinner. The third couple barely left their tent, so we never spoke to them. It was pretty cold, and the Cairns couple headed to bed by 6pm. That left me & Tom partying until 8pm.

Day 5: No driving!

It was a chilly night, we slept really well and after all our early starts were happy to have a sleep in. Our relaxed start meant we didn’t get away from camp until almost 10am. A day of exploring up-gorge with no real goals meant timing was pretty flexible. We had a successful day poking our heads up a number of gorges, generally getting stopped by some sort of chockstone block-up.

A canyon!

Tom in the canyon

Trying to replicate a photo of me in Blarney Canyon in Utah (turns out not that similar)

Tom looking small in a mossy section

Will he hop in the water in an attempt to continue upstream?

Large log jam!

Cliffs in the main gorge

Staghorns

Starting up another side gorge

up/down climb (depending on your direction)

Handy roots provide access into this side creek

Back at camp we had a new cohort of campers. Mum & 2 young daughters who were obviously experienced campers and quite precocious, plus a couple from Mackay on their final day of the Great Walk. They spoke of how cold it had been at the higher camps of the previous few nights. It seemed slightly warmer than the night before but still pretty chilly and yet again we were the only ones up at the late hour of 8pm.

Big Bend campsite reflections

Day 6: No driving!

On day 6 we were back to an early start, aiming to get up Battleship Spur in the cooler part of the morning. Not that it had been particularly warm during the day (maybe 19°C?), but a 500m ascent is a 500m ascent. What a delightful walk – the start of Boowinda Gorge was quite impressive, the scramble up the gully onto the ridge, then the ridge walking was excellent, before traversing across the tops to the lookout. We had a perfect day for it, and it was really enjoyable.

“the Subway” of Boowinda Gorge (at least that’s what it reminded me of)

On our way up to Battleship Spur

It took us 2 hours from camp to the lookout which was great timing for morning tea.

Battleship Spur viewpoint

Eventually we decided we better head back down. Everything had a slightly different perspective going the other direction. We enjoyed watching a couple of wedge-tailed eagles soaring just overhead, and Tom got to photograph the orchids we’d rushed past on the way up.

Tom in dinosaur country

At the bottom of the steep gully which gives access up to the tops

Back down in Boowinda Gorge, we headed upstream. I wasn’t really feeling it so I let Tom keep going while I found a nice flat rock to lie on. The sun vanishes early from the gorge in winter, and it was pretty chilly in the gorge, so it wasn’t quite as relaxing as it could have been. Tom eventually reappeared and said he’d found a flowing canyon only 9 minutes upstream. So we headed up to that, but I decided I didn’t need to go past the section where wading was required (Tom already had).

Tom found a wet canyon!

Back in the subway

On the way back down the gorge we had an unusual encounter. Two wedge-tailed eagles were perched in a tree in the gorge – seemed unusual, but maybe they roost there for the night?

It was a lot milder that evening – I didn’t even put my down jacket on till after 7pm. We had a full party around the picnic table – Mum & her daughters were still there, plus a couple from Kingaroy on their first overnight hike, and a couple from Brisbane just starting the Great Walk. Despite the mild(er) temperatures we were still the last ones up – at 8pm!

Day 7: National Park entry to Carnarvon Gorge caravan park (Driving: 6km / 15 min)

Day 7 was another full schedule so up early again – but to be fair when you’re going to sleep by 9pm, that’s still over 9 hours sleep with a 6:30am wake-up. The first half of the walk back down Carnarvon Gorge passed very quickly. The first of the day trippers we encountered quite early – unfortunately one of them had fallen in at Creek Crossing 10. We’d seen 2 people slip in there while having lunch on our first day. So beware crossing 10! The second half dragged a bit as we both waited for the turn off for Boolimba Bluff to appear. Eventually it did. We stashed our packs and walking on air with only day packs as we headed up to the lookout. The ‘steep and rugged’ walk up the gully reminded me of the Devil’s Hole in Katoomba and was lovely as it was in the shade. Apparently we’re fitter than we thought as we overtook quite a few people on our way up.

I obviously wasn’t that impressed with the view as I didn’t see fit to include a photo!

On our way back from Boolimba Bluff lookout. The sigh says “the next 300m is very steep and rugged. Recommended only for the physically fit”. Not sure what Tom was doing up there… 🙂

We were back at the visitors centre in time for lunch. We almost lost lunch to a determined kookaburra but fortunately it didn’t manage to make off with most of our cheese.

Post lunch we still had Mickey Creek, and side creek Warrumbah Creek that doesn’t even get a mention on the map, to do so Tom said there was no time for me to have a coffee. Boo. Turned out to to be a good thing, since by the time we’d been up the upper left fork and upper right fork of Mickey Creek and then explored a long way up Warrumbah Creek there wasn’t that much time left in the afternoon.

Found us another canyon

Turns out we left the best for last. Warrumbah Creek was a stunner. I think the other canyons may have felt a bit disappointing if we’d done this one first. Tom went a bit further than me, as I wasn’t keen to have wet shoes to go back down the flimsy branch we’d balanced on to get up the canyon. He didn’t get much further though as he came to a chest deep section, followed by a tricky looking climb up. With his camera/phone/gps in his short pockets it made it an easier choice to turn around.

Slanty corridor here we come

Canyon shoes come into their own for some bridging

Don’t think he bridged that pool!

Flimsy branch provided access up-canyon

Spectacular canyon

Back at the Caravan Park we prioritised platypus viewing over sunsets. The first pool didn’t provide much, so we wandered to the second one. Almost immediately I spotted some churned up dirt and bubbles. Bingo! We ended up watching two platypus swim about for half an hour. The closest view I’ve ever got of one. It was an excellent end to the trip.

My best platypus viewing experience – it was in fact excellent, even if this photo doesn’t perhaps suggest that

Day 8: Carnarvon Gorge caravan park to Toowoomba (611km / 7 hours)

Surprisingly (not), day 8 was an early start. We had an excellent breakfast in Injune (the sole cafe is open in the mornings), before stops in Chinchilla and then Dalby to stretch our legs walking along the river. I’d left booking accom to the last minute, and lots of motels in Toowoomba were full. Eventually I found us a much nicer room than I would have normally booked – and for once I took advantage of having a spa bath to soak my legs which were feeling the 4 days of walking.

Day 9: Toowoomba to Girraween National Park (191km / 2 hours 20 min)

We had a relaxing start to the day as we only had a couple of hours of driving and a similar amount of walking. Despite being our first visit to Girraween National Park we eschewed the popular walks and instead headed to the Mt Norman side to walk into a remote bush camp site I’d booked. I don’t think I’d appreciated the walk in was entirely on fire trail, but it was, so we made quick work of the 8km. Unfortunately the blue skies we’d started the day with were now grey clouds which didn’t bode that well for photography.

Stone gate entrance, Girraween National Park

South Bald Rock remote camp

Tom directed us to a track which led around the back of South Bald Rock and eventually up to the granite. At that stage I was wondering why we hadn’t camped closer to the summit as the thought of retracing the route after dark (or before sunrise) was a bit daunting. However, once on top it looked like we might be able to walk off the front back to camp.

Looks like sunset but it’s only mid-afternoon

Can we get off the front of this?

Camp is a long way down

Unfortunately it then started raining – that was not in the forecast! I’d been so casual about the forecast I hadn’t even brought a raincoat. Fortunately there was a large overhanging boulder near by so we sheltered under that with our happy hour while the rain blew through. In the scheme of things we couldn’t have done much better.

Hiding from the rain under a convenient boulder during an un-forecast bout of rain

The rain stopped for sunset but there was a bit too much cloud for anything spectacular. We made it back to the tent before the next lot of rain came through, so I got lucky on my lack of raincoat.

Actual sunset… Putin eat your heart out

Day 10: Girraween National Park to Armidale (265km / 3 hours 10 min)

Tom’s description of the morning didn’t make me rush out of bed to join him for a pre-sunrise hike back up South Bald Rock. I enjoyed being warm in bed while he went seeking sunrise. We walked out straight after breakfast and were back at the car by 11am. A bit earlier than expected – I was a bit over the walking – the weather combined with the fire trail made the trip a bit disappointing.

Instead we turned to the other thing we often do on roadtrips – wine tasting! Only 15 minutes up the road was Queensland’s premiere (and only!) wine region. We found ourselves at a winery with a generous lunch platter and tasting flight – an excellent way to spend a couple of hours before hitting the road to Armidale.

Day 11: Armidale to Sydney (480km / 5 hours 30 min)

We decided to take Thunderbolt Way back to Sydney – looking forward to a breakfast stop at the patisserie in Gloucester. We were very nearly too late as we secured the final two vanilla slices! Though to be honest I think the sausage roll was probably more impressive. Breaking the trip up we had coffee in Stroud, before the final push back home.

Total 2983km

Winburndale (25-26 May 2024)

This was my second trip to Winburndale – given how many closures and areas with unpleasant regrowth there are at the moment I’m surprised I hadn’t thought to come back here sooner. Sure the walking is a little contrived as the areas is riddled with fire trails but if you pretend they aren’t there then there is some really nice walking to be had.

Morning tea – day 1

The tourist at Winburndale Rivulet

delightful off-track walking

Getting to camp mid-afternoon I thought we had plenty of time. Most of us headed off on a water run. I blithely said I wasn’t taking a torch as we wouldn’t need them. But we got into the creek where we’d found water on my previous trip, and it was pretty algae-ridden. We kept pushing downstream until we eventually found some small pools without any algae. By the time the seven of us had filled up water there was only 20 minutes till sunset.

one of the small pools we eventually found late Saturday

‘first’ sunset on our way back from the water collection

I complained that missing sunset when we had a high camp defeated the point, but Paul assured me we’d be back in time. Silently I thought there was no chance. As we crested the first ridge on our way back we could see the sun setting through the trees. Oh well. Then we crossed the saddle and popped up on the ridge we were camping on to see the sun just about to go below the horizon. Amazing. And what a spectacular sunset it was – one of the best in many months.

second sunset from camp

sunset just kept on giving

Sunrise was pretty speccy the next morning – lots of valley cloud adding a magical touch as the sun slowly hit the ridges spread out across the valley.

sunrise wasn’t too shabby either

camp in the trees

valley cloud

One of the party had sprained their ankle the previous day so we split the group on Sunday. Tom headed out with two of the others via the fire trails that the rest of us were pretending didn’t exist. The remaining 5 of us reversed my 2020 day one route. This was really enjoyable walking along the conglomerate escarpment. I think the angle of the views and walking away from the sun made this direction the better one. We spotted 3 goats, quite a few wallabys and heard plenty of lyrebirds in the valley below.

rock strata

The fabulous five at morning tea

Winburndale Dam with a blanket of cloud behind it

mini canyon

Winburndale Rivulet

Conglomerate ridge

Fire trail back to the car

A really enjoyable weekend of walking with a great group.

Anzac LWE scrub-free! (25-27 Apr 2024)

There were a few permutations before our leader John settled on what was a significantly easier trip than the one originally posted on the Club program. We exchanged probable hours of thick bush-bashing with full packs for idyllic open ridges and a base camp meaning we only carried full packs for a day and a half. The downside – a 5 hour drive from Sydney – but something I was willing to stomach given the ANZAC day public holiday was a Thursday, giving me a four day weekend.

The temperature as we drove down from Canberra on Thursday morning started at 4°C and hovered between -1°C and 1°C most of the way. We warmed up with a free sausage sizzle (and excellent coffee) at the Courtyard Cafe in Cooma. Those that had camped at Numeralla had a pretty chilly night and I think we were all questioning whether we’d packed enough warm clothes.

Don’t think this obstacle was on the trip waiver

Our early walking was stymied early on when we found ourselves inside a very securely fenced revegetation area – but like numerous wombats before us, we escaped!

Revegetative works

Regrowth has become such a normal part of walking in most parks within 2-3 hours of Sydney that I had to keep pinching myself as we walked up open ridges where barely a bush brushed our legs. What a treat!

But where’s the scrub?!

By lunch time we had reached our proposed base camp an idyllic setting with what looked like a great swimming hole. Ha swimming. Who would do that when temperatures still felt like they were in the single digits.

River crossing

But why is no one swimming?

Post lunch most of us headed off for a upstream excursion which had some fun scrambling, river crossings and more hills. At the top of our last hill I was wondering why I was feeling so tired, but felt somewhat better when told our cumulative ascent for the day was around 700m.

Lauren attempting to negotiate a bluff

Beautiful river scenery

More open walking!

Our camp for two nights

That night, appropriately given it was ANZAC day, Tom gave us a moving rendition of “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”. A poignant reminder of the futility of war.

Fortunately it was nowhere near as cold overnight compared to the previous night and I think collectively we all slept really well. Day 2, we had a 7:30am departure from camp, for a day trip that John threatened might finish after dark. This time we headed downstream. This was mainly very quick walking apart from a wiggly section with some really picturesque rocks and an amazingly balanced tree – evidence of the previous flood.

Early morning river crossing

Serenity

Lauren taking her own route

Tom scrambling

Fun rocky river section

Chute

We had morning tea downwind of a pig carcass before taking on some more hills. Lunch was at a pleasant spot with views over the surrounding area. Before we had a wonderful ridge walk back towards camp and another scrub-free ridge descent back to camp. A wonderful day with lots of variety and very little to complain about. Especially since we were back in time to have an afternoon coffee 🙂

Less fun scenery – but better dead than alive

Climbing up a small creek

Lunch views on day 2

Despite the cool temperature on the first day Tom & I still had a swim. It was much warmer on day 2 but the water was still very chilly for our swim on the second day.

Our second night’s entertainment, a pivot from the previous night, was the story of an epic that one of the party had recently been on. The story itself was an epic and everyone was so engrossed, that dinner got pushed back to after 6pm!

Chilly swim

Day 3 brought a split in the group. One party member’s knee was not functioning well, so one contingent would take the most direct route back to the cars, while the other group would take on John’s original plan for day 3. Initially the fabulous five were going to take the longer route, but in the end it was just the three musketeers (me, Tom & Lauren). We chose to modify John’s route and just follow the ridges for our route out – these ended up being quite different from our ridge line the previous day. Getting up to 1200m we seemed to be above the main tree line so had expansive views of the surrounds. But the Allocasuarina nana covered much of the bare ridges. While it was generally only knee high it did slow things down.

Early morning views on day 3

Sort of scrub-free – at least we can see 🙂

Unusual rock

Rocky ridge walking

We had hoped for some views from our high point for the day but it was a eucalypt covered mound. Instead we headed down an old fire trail and found a couple of flat rocks poking out of the allocasuarina for great lunch views.

Lunch spot (tree-covered high point in the background)

After lunch we were mainly on fire trail and some very open ridges back to the car. We were also walking into the sun, which seemed very scorchy, and by the time got to the cars we were all feeling pretty fried and looking forward to milkshakes in Cooma!

Another open ridge back to the car

What a treat to get out in unburnt country for three days. Thanks to John for organising.

Colo Pass 5 & 1 (20-21 Apr 2024)

James wanted to go canyoning for the weekend. Woohoo! But his suggestions were far more energetic than either Tom or I were capable of, and the weather forecast was not overly enticing for wet canyoning. But why work out plans more than 48 hours in advance? Eventually we settled on a trip into the Upper Colo since James had never been there, and I was hoping it would mean we wouldn’t be away the *entire* weekend.

About 20 minutes after leaving home on Saturday morning Tom started swearing. His phone and wallet are still on the table at home. “Am I taking the next exit?”… “Running out of time for a decision?”… I assured him it would be like going bush in the old days before Lidar maps existed and we had to just use our experience. I’m not sure he was convinced.

We continued on; but without Tom’s drivers licence I ended up doing most of the driving. Well, until we got to the boggy sections on the Culoul Range Fire Trail. I got us through a few puddles but as we started swinging about I decided I’d had enough. And Tom, licence or not, could be responsible for getting us through the remainder. We made it to the end of the road intact and were soon fairly saturated as we started walking along the overgrown trail. The forecast rain seemed to have come through before we arrived that morning and everything was sodden.

Eventually we dropped off the track, where apparently it hadn’t rained given how dry it was, and headed down to our creek. It was slow going, with plenty of young lawyer vine ready to leave its mark.

Between a petrol stop, a coffee/banh mi/pastry stop, the wet road in and then the overgrown approach, it was almost midday by the time we got to the first abseil. The banh mi had been smelling alluring the whole drive up, but were slowly getting soggy and squashed in our packs. The others weren’t keen for an early lunch so we kept going to the further detriment of the banh mi.

Tom on the first abseil

After the reasonable gap between the first and second abseils I got James to read out Tom’s notes from previous visits. I think both him & I were a little surprised (horrified) to find the base of second abseil was going to have a waist deep pool and the base of the third a chest deep pool! Slightly concerned at my lack of water proofing I was happy to let the others go first.

James on the second abseil, Tom at the base

I convinced them we should have lunch before getting into a chest deep pool and we were lucky to have a calm period on the ledge so we didn’t get cold while we ate our soggy banh mi.

As per our usual practice I took my shirt off for the third abseil, which prompted the others also to do so. I was not unhappy to find it was unnecessary as the pool was only waist deep (maybe even shallower than the previous one).

All smiles that a chest-deep pool didn’t exist (just a waist deep one)

Somewhere around this part of the day Tom objected to my efforts to increase our (his) efficiency getting down the drops. I was labelled the ‘fun police’ and then he started imitating Blackboard from the children’s program Mr Squiggle. “Hurry up” then became his catch-phrase for the rest of the weekend – even though he was really the only one that directive needed to be applied to! 🙂

James with an awkward sit-start for the 4th abseil

Tom on the 5th abseil

James on the 5th abseil

James on the 6th abseil

James on the 7th abseil, Tom on the ledge

Tom in the Colo (as well as two of our ropes!)

James on our 8th and final abseil

We had afternoon tea on the Colo before heading upstream. The river, unsurprisingly given the recent rainfall, had a lot more flow in it than on previous visits. There was no way we were going to be able to just wade up the middle of it.

Looking back up where we came

Tom above the Colo

We had a very pleasant night in our cave, particularly with it drizzling very lightly on and off most of the night. We woke the next morning to sections of blue sky which became full sun and blue sky later in the day. Such a contrast to the very grey day we’d had on Saturday.

It was pretty easy going to the base of Crawfords Lookout – truly spectacular country.

James and Tom enjoy a log walk

James crossing Wollemi Creek, but where is Tom going?

Colo horseshoe bend from Crawfords Lookout

We made it to Hollow Rock!

I won the 3 (or more?) time guessing games against Tom over the course of the weekend. Each time only by a couple of minutes which was highly satisfying.

Back at the car at 2:14pm (beat him again), we had a late afternoon tea stop in Windsor on the way home. A very enjoyable weekend in remote country, even if I’m still not fit enough to carry an overnight canyoning pack and enjoy it.

Wanganderry Wanderings (13-14 Apr 2024)

Morning tea views

Wanganderry Walls

Jo taking in Bonnum pic

A welcome respite from the sun

After last weekend’s deluge (200mm+) there was plenty of water about

5 star happy hour views

Sunrise unfortunately was basically non-existent

Walking in low cloud on day 2

Bonnum Pic suddenly appears out of the cloud

Tom on the edge

Beautiful Bonnum Pic Creek

Some how we got out of the creek through that

Views from Bonnum Pic (a very full Warragamba Dam)

Waterhole on the way back

Easter Canyoning (29 Mar – 1 Apr 2024)

I’m not sure I can remember a time in the past where Tom & I were both so unfit. Tom recovering from a bad ankle sprain in late January hadn’t been out much. And my excuse was much poorer – working (way) too much. Besides a quick jaunt down to Bob Turners in early January we hadn’t carried overnight packs since September last year. So we knew there was going to be a fair bit of suffering given we were not just carrying overnight packs… but 4 days of food, plus canyoning gear. Tom started off with 21kg and maybe for once he was carrying more than his share at the start?!

The Easter forecast was excellent for a weekend of canyoning, so there was no flimsy excuses for a last minute bail. We had a good run out of Sydney early on Friday morning. Lithgow McDonalds was the busiest I’d ever seen it – with every camper trailer, 4WD and general car in the vicinity there. The staff were exceedingly efficient and I was in and out with my caffeine before I could blink. We were walking shortly after 9:30am. Eventually taking a break when my shoulders just couldn’t take any more. We set up our base camp for the 3 nights, then had lunch and headed off to do our first canyon. It felt good to not have a full pack – but with a rope, harness etc the pack was still heavier than anything I’d been carrying of late.

Tom happy to be canyoning

Trying to remember how to bridge

Convenient log

We had thought we might get two canyons in, but we didn’t finish the first one until 4pm. So given our aforementioned lack of fitness we decided it was better just to head back to camp (still a far way away).

Unsurprisingly I slept like the dead and had to kick Tom into action at 7:30am. We were supposed to get up with the sunrise (which was only 7am) – Tom claimed he didn’t think it was light enough for the sun to have risen. A likely excuse.

So with a slightly later start than planned we were off on day 2. We weren’t doing anything new on this trip – everything had been done before, but for me at least, it was all more than a decade ago – so it may as well have been new!

Abseiling on day 2

Hopefully Tom remembers how to scramble!

We dropped into our second canyon of the day just as the sun was directly overhead. Very bad timing from a photography point of view – but given how quickly the sun was moving we decided to have lunch and hope that the glare had moved on by the time we finished. The theory almost worked… though maybe some sections we would have been better off keeping on going.

Narrow abseil

Colours are a bit Utah-esque

Tom abseiling

Base of the abseil

This put us in a good position to start out third canyon of they day in the early afternoon. With our relatively heavy packs (at least compared to previous trips) the various climbs were hard work. Particularly for Tom when he had to pass the packs up to me! We were glad we hadn’t decided to do this canyon the previous afternoon as I’m pretty sure we would have finished in the dark.

Can he get up?

Scrambling again

Awkward climb up

Eventually we topped out and were back at camp by mid-afternoon. I was glad I’d brought some reading material – it was very pleasant to settle down with a hot drink and a book. Later on we spotted gliders jumping around above us as dusk hit (we saw them all 3 nights).

Day 3 we had a somewhat ambitious plan. It was likely in trouble when we hit our first abseil of the day with no obvious anchors. Tom managed to toss the rope over a fallen log several metres above us which saved us trying to backtrack and scramble out. We didn’t remember doing this abseil previously – maybe we dropped into the creek further down?

Abseiling from a very high anchor on day 3!

Finding a way through the hole

Downclimbing

At the end of the canyon for an early lunch we then had to decide on what the rest of the day held. Feeling our fitness limitations we decided a shorter day was a better idea and so headed up another canyon towards camp. The discussion then became about whether we should walk out that night or not – since we were both pretty clear that neither of us had energy for canyoning on day 4. The main argument for walking out that night was to miss the traffic on Monday – which was likely to be horrendous given Easter didn’t coincide with the school holidays this year.

Happy to be back in canyons!

Classic Coachwood chamber

As we got near the top of the canyon an awful smell of dead creature wafted down to us. We’d had something dead in the canyon the previous day – but it wasn’t very big, and so didn’t smell *that* bad. This was pretty awful – and the anticipation of finding it was equally bad. There’s nothing like a bit of bloated wallaby guts floating in the water to put you off your canyon. Fortunately (?) in this case the wallaby was not in the water but in a slightly wider section. But it was lying where we would have walked had it not been there. Tom was in front at this point, and while trying to avoid the carcass, managed to lose his balance and take a full tumble. Fortunately not onto the carcass! But still, we were right next to it for longer than we should have been while he extricated himself from his pack and managed to get back on his feet. Then the wind changed to bring the smell upwind with us. Gross.

Finally we turned a corner and we were free of the smell. Though we weren’t feeling that keen to drink the water we’d picked up – admittedly a fair way downstream from the carcass.

I led us up a steep slabby section of pagodas to a nice shady spot. Once we’d agreed (no arguments from either side) that we would not be walking out that night, then we were able to relax in the shade and enjoy the views.

Afternoon tea views

The next morning we tried to get away relatively early – but with a few hours walk out, and a few more hours drive back to Sydney, it was hard to avoid the peak of the traffic. That’s what you get when you’re too unfit to canyon on the final day! It was good to be back canyoning. And with 6 canyons over the weekend it doubled my canyon count for the season.

Mt Carrialoo (16 Mar 2024)

Despite visiting Kangaroo Valley several times over the years I’d never been up Mt Carrialoo. Time to rectify things this year. I decided to combine it with a visit to the Promised Land Lookout for a fuller day. There’s definitely no mucking around the ascent starts immediately and is relentless as you ascend 400m with only a few flat-ish sections to catch your breath.

If only there were more signs like this!

I was chatting a lot which is never good for my navigation and we over shot the turn off for the lookout (not that it was marked) by a couple of hundred metres – no particular harm done. The track marked on the map was largely imaginary but it was pretty easy going through the bush and we just followed the high voltage cable signs out to the lookout. The cloud which had covered the valley was still lifting as we enjoyed the lovely views over morning tea.

We followed the signs to the Promised Land Lookout (and didn’t dig up the high voltage cable)

Not a bad morning tea spot

Views over Kangaroo Valley

After morning tea we headed back down the fire trail. McPhails fire trail is quite lovely – if I had to walk on fire trails (which I generally avoid) then give me one like McPhails any day of the week. Having missed the turn off earlier I was then hyper sensitive for our turn off onto Mt Carrialoo with a couple of false stops before plunging off into the bush.

This was another climb with nowhere to hide – just straight up the ridge.

Getting off track

Tom had picked out some attractive looking cliffs on the aerials as a good lunch spot. But going on the top wasn’t particularly quick and so I decided rather than have a very late lunch we’d make do with the cliff views we had.

Permanent orienteering course marker

Post lunch things we seemed to move quicker – maybe because we’d had some food. A few hundred metres out from the trig we picked up a solid foot pad that had been visible on the aerials. The same pad took us out to the ‘lunch’ cliffs for some pretty good views. We had a bit of time here taking photos and exploring the pass off.

Carrialoo Trig

Speccy views

Views from the other side of Mt Carrialoo

Once we’d had our fill of views we headed back across Mt Carrialoo picking a different route off, which had some interesting scrambling, before rejoining the fire trail back to the cars.

Scrambly descent back to the track

This was my first full day walk in weeks, with an excellent group, one of the most enjoyable days I’d had out for a long time.

Cycle Touring Part 3: Thailand (1-4 Jan 2024)

Following from Part 1 and Part 2

The border crossing at Poipet/Aranyaprathet was slow and hot. First we had to exit Cambodia, that didn’t take too long. Then walk across to the Thai border. Our Group Leader, who was Thai, was through in 10 minutes. But the rest of us, with our foreign passports, queued in a hot room for over an hour. Eventually we were all through. But then we needed get money, and as it was International New Years Day (as opposed to Thai New Year which is in April) the banks were closed. We found an ATM, but at 4 minutes per withdrawal, and 10 people needing to get money, we were there for a while… Eventually around 2pm we had our first meal in Thailand – pad thai at a road side stall for 40 Baht (~A$1). And it was pretty delicious, at least according to most of the Australians.

The itinerary had us doing 40km for the day and we only got on the bikes mid-afternoon. Needless to say most of us were dubious we would do the distance before it got dark, especially when we had a swim break with no urgency at Karbark Dam.

One of the interesting ‘features’ of the Thailand leg of the tour was that we gained a photographer, Mr Black. And not just Mr Black, also two of his teenage/adult children. So three photographers. Our group leader had already warned us before arriving that we would be photographed a lot, and there was “nothing he could do about it”. I think we were all a bit bemused at this comment, until after day 1, when we were forwarded the album link, and 15 minute Youtube video. And then we saw just how detailed the photographers were, including documenting those of us who went for a swim at the dam in multiple images. This blog post contains many photos by Mr Black and family – however, they are a small selection of the hundreds (literally) that Tom & I featured in over the course of the 3 days in Thailand.

First cycle stop in Thailand, Karbark Dam

Having a swim, along with the locals enjoying “International” New Years Day

Apparently most of the time no one is at the Dam, but there were plenty of people there enjoying the water. It seems only 5 in our group were interested in swimming, whether because it was too much of a pain to get wet/dry, or they were worried about getting something nasty from the water, I’m not sure.

It was a really refreshing break, and the next 34km were some of the most enjoyable riding of the trip. As it was so late in the afternoon we got quite a lot of shade over the road, and the temperatures were more bearable. We were also delighted to find Thailand had curves and undulations in its roads – something we had very little of in Vietnam & Cambodia. Unfortunately for me I ended up towards the back by myself – and had a couple of dogs have a go at me (and some of the others), which left me a bit shaken. I was very glad to finally get to the next snack break.

Me looking serious on the bike

Arriving at a snacks break late on our first day in Thailand

We re-grouped late in the afternoon as it was becoming seriously dusky. A few of us were thinking we would ride as a pack into our hotel, since we didn’t have lights on the bikes. But no, the final 6km of the day, we just rode in the low light and hoped the quiet roads were enough to keep us safe (they were). It was a very long day – 7:30am departure from the hotel in Cambodia – with the bus/border crossing/lunch taking us through till 3pm, and then 2-3 great hours of riding in the late afternoon. Despite some of the challenges, it was an enjoyable cycling day. The place we were staying put on a great banquet style meal for us that evening, and I think we all went to bed quite content.

The next morning we had a short ride to the local market, where our group leader gave us a tour. Some us would have rather have started riding to take advantage of the cooler part of the day…

The photographers photographing another photographer during our market visit in Kabinburi

Market delights

At the markets we purchased some turtles and live fish. We rode a few km along the road, for another break, to release the turtles and fish into a dam, to get good karma or something.

Turtles from the market, which we then released in a lake

Part of the reason for my frustration at the slow start was this was to be our longest day of the whole tour. Advertised at 70km on the itinerary, but if we wanted to ride hotel to hotel then it was 100km. We hadn’t had any other opportunities to avoid the bus so most people were pretty keen to have a crack at the 100km. Anyway, after the market and turtle release, we got down to business.

Group riding, Team #6 very visible!

The roads in Thailand were good quality, but with enough bends and undulations to make them interesting. Late the day before Tom had managed to fix himself on the back of the strongest riders and draft his way to the end, unlike me who had battled into headwinds for much of the afternoon. We managed to both get up with the strongest riders this day – what a joy it was to have finally found my cycling legs after the previous few days. While there was no way I could lead out the group I could hold on in the draft. Less time on bike was an obvious consequence of being up the front – in some sections we were averaging 29km/h. By myself I was probably capable of 24km/h.

Tom, fashion icon

me & Tom on the road

Are we riding in Australia? (Eucalypts a common plantation crop) Tom & I holding on to the back of the strongest riders.

Thailand snack breaks were a smorgasbord of delights

We knocked off about 60km before lunch. The heat was upon us, so the afternoon was broken into 10km segments. This meant a drinks break every half an hour or so, and by chunking it out like this, it meant everyone in the group managed the 100km.

One of many dogs we encountered. Mostly they were no problem….

Arriving at a drinks/rest stop

That’s not to say there weren’t some Strava fails. The strongest rider in our group had forgotten to start his tracking until 10km in, so he spent part of the afternoon riding out ahead, and then coming back to us, to try and make up the “missing” 10km. Another lady got to the end with her Strava only tracking 98km (though others had 100km), so she proceeded to ride around the car park for a further 2km. Only to have her Strava die just as she finished (don’t worry, it recovered later!).

Hotel car park… venue for 2km of laps

The crew packing up the bikes after our penultimate day

Our final day of cycling was 50km, which seemed like a breeze as Tom & I once again hitched our wagons to the front riders. That morning may have been the most enjoyable – lots of curves and small hills and an excellent rest stop at a cafe with coffee frappes.

Tom the cyclist

Rachel the cyclist

Playing it up for the cameras

Start of the final leg of the trip

Enjoying the final section

Most of the group

We finished up in the middle of the day at Khun Dan Dam, where the same 5 of us who had swam two days earlier, had a swim. Then it was onto the bus for a few hours into Bangkok.

Having a swim below Khun Dan Dam, at the end of the cycling

All up the Thailand cycling was the most enjoyable for me. This was for several reasons;

  1. We spent more time riding point to point, instead of taking the bus, making it seem more like a tour/journey
  2. I had found my cycle legs and worked out how to draft
  3. The roads had curves and undulations instead of being dead-straight and flat.

That said, the overall tour was good for seeing 3 countries while getting a decent amount of exercise. Riding around Angkor Wat was also a highlight.

Overall Summary

 

Cycle Touring Part 2: Cambodia (26 Dec 23 – 1 Jan 24)

Following Part 1

Lunch was the first priority after the border crossing. We got our first taste of Cambodian food – delicious curry! We did a somewhat meaningless section of cycling along the main road on our new bikes after lunch. At a fairly arbitrary spot we stopped riding and got the bus into Phnom Penh. I was excited that our new bikes were the same Trek hybrid model that I have at home. The only disappointment – mine was blue instead of red.

We had warning about how bad the Phnom Penh traffic was. The bus driver was a superstar – handling the tight corners, in narrow streets, amidst the large amounts of traffic. We were pretty happy to be based out of the same hotel for 3 nights. In retrospect I think the tour could have spent one less day there without suffering for it.

Our first full day we took the ferry to Silk Island and rode around. It was a pretty short day – 20km was the consensus from most people’s devices. That did mean there was time to explore in the afternoon if you wanted to. Tom & I got as far as a money changer to get a dreadful rate on our remaining Vietnamese Dong, otherwise stuck to the air conditioned hotel room. Fortunately some of the others in the group were a bit more motivated and managed to corral most of the group into tuk-tuks to a rooftop bar, which overlooked the river and had great views of the city in general.

Our second full day was sight-seeing via bus. No bikes in sight. The morning was pretty depressing – first up, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former school which served as a Khmer Rouge torture centre. Over 20,000 people were once incarcerated and tortured there. Then we went to the Choeung Ek Memorial, where a stupa made up of some 8,000 human skulls marks the site of the infamous Killing Fields. This was where the prisoners of Tuol Sleng were executed and nearly 9,000 corpses have been exhumed from the area. Heavy stuff, and unsurprisingly no photos.

The afternoon was stifling hot and most of the group were pretty over the sight-seeing. Going around the Royal Palace a tactic of running from shady patch to shady patch, while listening to our guide, was employed.

Tom at the Cambodian Royal Palace

Grounds of Royal Palace

We hit up another rooftop bar that night, and then Tom & I felt very daring by going to a restaurant on the way back to the hotel with no English menus.

The next day we were off the bikes again as we spent 7 hours on the bus to Siem Reap.

Drinks at our rooftop bar at the hotel in Siem Reap

We were all excited to be back on the bikes on our first full day in Siem Reap (where we also had 3 nights). The riding to and around Ankgor Wat was very scenic, quite shady and enjoyable. Up to that point in the trip it was my favourite cycling day.

Angkor Wat fashions

Central tower symbolising Mount Meru

It had got so busy at the top that they closed the right-hand staircase to upward traffic so the congestion could be cleared from the top

Angkor Wat

Boo!

Engravings

Very scenic riding!

Bayon Template, Angkor Thom

Some of the group at Ta Prohm

The queue for the Tomb Raider shot at Ta Prohm… I didn’t wait.

Plenty of other (non movie famous) tree roots

Our next day in Siem Reap we rode out to Banteay Srei via Pre Rup, about 35kms.

Tom in front of Pre Rup

Tom started a trend…

Climbing Pre Rup

Banteay Srei

Doors for making the non-royals feel small

Most of the group at Banteay Srei

In the afternoon there was the option to cycle back, or else go on an excursion to see some of the floating villages on Tonlé Sap. 6 of us elected to go on the excursion. It was probably the most authentic view we got of Cambodia through the trip – seeing the fishing ‘industry’ of the town, and then heading to Tonlé Sap via boat past the floating village.

Visiting the floating village at Kompong Khleang

Our excursion ended up being quite a lot of bus time. As it was New Years Eve, and Siem Reap seemed to be the place to be, the traffic returning to town was pretty busy. We’d been kept awake by practice runs for NYE for the previous 2 nights, but I was so tired that I fell asleep at 10pm and didn’t hear much at all!

The next morning was, unfortunately for those who had stayed up, an early start to get to the border. We left behind our Cambodian bikes and crew after a 3 hour bus ride to Poipet.

Continue to Part 3

1 2 3 20