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Published: October 31st 2015
The Coast Track, shortly before the climb to Otford Lookout
Having arrived in Royal National Park and spent the previous night in Bonnie Vale campground on the outskirts of Bundeena, Monday 19th
October saw Linda and I setting out on the famed 26km Coast Track along the shoreline of the national park. Generally done as an overnight trek, we had decided to tackle it as a day-hike, before taking the train to Cronulla and then a ferry back to Bundeena; but with the final ferry of the day leaving Cronulla at 6:30pm this meant that we would need to complete the trek and be at Otford train station by 4:52pm in order to make it back to the campground for the night.
As we made our way through the backstreets of Bundeena under leaden skies and with light rain steadily falling, we couldn't help but question the wisdom of our decision to set out on such an ambitious undertaking - especially given that by the time we arrived at the begining of the trail we had just over eight hours in which to complete our journey. Time would not be on our side...
A kilometre into the track we hit the coastline, where we were immediately greeted by the sight
Linda atop one of numerous sea cliffs along the trail
of jagged cliffs stretching off into the distance; though unfortunately the grey skies also extended to the horizon in every direction. Thankfully though it wasn't long before small pockets of blue sky started to appear overhead, and we were soon reaching for the sunblock as we followed the shoreline in a south-westerly direction, alternating between bare rocky ground and low coastal shrubland as we went.
As we reached the southern end of Marley Beach we were greeted by a most unexpected scene in the form of a beautiful almost-white dog (looking more like a wolf) lying beside the body of a dead deer - which had presumably been shot the night before as part of the national park's deer eradication program. Continuing along, the ground beneath our feet began to change appearance, with wavy streaks of red and yellow at one point being followed by irregularly-shaped blocks of white-washed sandstone further on.
A third of the way through the hike we reached the undisputed highlight of the trail at a place called Wattamola, as we emerged from the bush first at Wattamola Creek - where a stream has been dammed to create a lovely little freshwater pool atop
Wattamola Creek rock pool
a series of cataracts, providing weary hikers with a perfect place to indulge in a refreshing swim whilst soaking up the beauty of the surrounding landscape - and then only a short distance away Wattamola Beach, where the creek reaches sea level and forms a stunning lagoon tucked between a low rocky bluff (complete with it's own waterfall) and the sandy beach, with trees flanking the picturesque pool on either side. After walking nine kilometres across rocky, somewhat barren ground beforehand to arrive here - something that drive-in visitors would clearly miss out on - the visual impact upon emerging at this hidden oasis was almost overwhelming; and the sheer beauty of the location nothing short of breathtaking.
Having lingered for quite a while at Wattamola, we were slightly behind schedule as we set out on the next part of the hike, which took us down beside a lovely rocky bay and then up and over a high ridge. Having crested the ridge we came to a perfect vantage point offering views back towards Eagle Rock, where the weather-beaten cliff has been naturally sculpted into a shape that - despite the name - bears a striking resemblance to a
Wattamola Beach & Lagoon
Further along we came to a small stream that first tumbled across the track and down into a narrow gully, before plunging straight off the cliffs and into the sea - or at least some of the water made it to the sea; while it seemed that most of the water was blown straight back up the cliff-face to then rain down on Linda when she moved in to take a closer look! Not long afterwards we began the long descent towards Garie Beach, which we then walked along barefoot as powerful swells rolled in from the ocean and crashed onto the beach one after another.
After skirting alongside the base of the cliffs at the far end of Garie Beach, we then faced the steepest climb of the trail up to that point, as we huffed and puffed our way up and over the ridgeline that separates Garie Beach from North Era and South Era Beaches. It was at around this point in our journey that Linda started to tire, which coincidentally was also about the time that I realized we were running further behind our self-imposed schedule than I had previously thought. Either of
The poorly-named (in our opinion) Eagle Rock
these circumstances on their own would not have been cause for alarm, but when put together it made the prospect of reaching the end of the trail in time for the 4:52pm train seem rather unlikely.
Nevertheless we were hot, tired and in dire need of a rest, so just beyond South Era Beach (at the 18km mark of our trek) we found a shady spot on the side of a hill overlooking the beach and sat down for a snack break. The ten minutes spent out of the sun with a cool breeze blowing off the sea proved to be invaluable, leaving us both feeling infinitely better as we set off on the final 8km stretch - though with just two hours left to complete the walk and the longest, steepest climb of the entire trail still to come, the odds were definitely against us making it to Otford Station in time.
After following more raised boardwalks with nice views over the sea, we then disappeared into the Palm Forest, at which point the long, sweaty haul to the top of the ridge began in earnest. A trail sign confirmed our dire predicament - that we still
Wet, Wild and Windy
Waterfall dropping straight into the sea... and being blown straight back up the cliff again!
had 5.9km to go to the train station, and just 1 hour and 23 minutes to do it in. Quickening the pace as much as my weary legs would allow, I was pleasantly surprised to find Linda keeping up with me - though the look on her face and the occasional expletive that escaped her lips whenever the gradient increased made it pretty clear that she was nearing her breaking point!
Onwards and upwards we struggled under the dense forest canopy, until eventually we emerged onto a much wider dirt track, where we encountered an older couple who - clearly noticing our exhausted state - happily exclaimed 'you made it - only a little further to go now!' A nearby trail sign confirmed their assessment - we had somehow covered 3 kilometres in just 33 minutes, almost all of it uphill, and having already walked over twenty kilometres before that! The relief was overwhelming. With just another 2.9km to go - and fifty minutes to do it in - there was no way we were going to miss that train now. Or so we thought...
Finally reaching the end of the Coast Track with twenty minutes to spare,
Green and Gold
View of Garie Beach from above
we snapped a couple of quick celebratory pictures and then followed a sign that said 'Otford Station - 550 metres'. This was promptly followed by more signs: 'Otford Station - 500 metres', 'Otford Station - 400 metres', 'Otford Station - 200 metres', and so on... until suddenly the track we had been following through the bush peetered out - at which point there were no more signs, and still no train station!
Numerous times we back-tracked to the previous track intersection and followed a different route, only to come to yet another dead end. Eventually I caught a glimpse of the train station far below us through the bush - and on the other side of a high fence - by which time we had no choice but to plow straight ahead through the tangled foliage, leaving me with cuts and scratches all over my arms and legs, and Linda wondering how the hell she was supposed to follow me down the steep embankment! But with no real alternative, she did just that - gritting her teeth and forcing her way down through the maze of branches, as I slipped under the fence and raced onto the platform to
Celebrating our completion of the Coast Track at Otford Lookout
buy our tickets! And just as I did so, the announcement came over the speakers 'the next train to depart from platform one is the 4:52 train to Waterfall'. We had made it - and with just two minutes to spare!
Of course the irony of the fact that we had completed a 26km hike without losing our way even once, only to then get hopelessly lost on the 550 metre walk to the train station at the end of it, was lost on neither of us; but as our train pulled out of Otford Station we couldn't help but smile with satisfaction - and no small amount of relief - at the knowledge that we had just successfully completed a demanding 26km hike along a spectacular stretch of coastline, and would be back in the relative safety and comfort of our campervan in Bundeena by nightfall... and we sure had one hell of a story to tell for our troubles!
Not surprisingly, the following day was somewhat sedate by comparison, as we left the coast behind and headed inland towards the Blue Mountains - though first we stopped at a picturesque picnic area beside the Hacking River
View of Wentworth Falls from below
for breakfast, where we were entertained by some of the resident cockatoos. From there we had to negotiate the southern suburbs of Sydney before reaching the Western Motorway, which then took us straight up into the Blue Mountains.
After stopping for lunch at Wentworth Falls, I set off on a 6km loop trail that combined the Undercliff/Overcliff track with the famous National Pass track - though unfortunately thanks to our exertions the day before Linda had blisters on her feet which prevented her from joining me. She sure picked the wrong hike to miss out on - for this would have to be the best short hike (it took me about two hours) that I have ever done!
Starting with a couple of viewpoints overlooking Wentworth Falls, the trail then dropped down to cross in front of a smaller (but equally beautiful) cascade immediately above the top of the main waterfall. From there the descent began in earnest - as did the unbelievable views - as the trail took the form of several sets of steep steps hewn directly from the cliff-face, with sheer cliffs both above and below the trail in some places! Every step was a
The National Pass trail traversing a cliff-edge
delight, while every bend revealed another postcard-worthy view, as I walked on completely mesmerised by the scene unfurling around me.
Eventually I reached the base of Wentworth Falls, from where the trail followed the cliff-line around to the west. Passing behind a slender waterfall one minute, then ducking down to negotiate a section of track hewn straight from the rock the next, the entire trail was a visual feast - and I couldn't help but marvel at the ingenuity of the folks who had built the trail over one hundred years ago. After plunging into a forest of ferns, the trail then arrived at the base of Empress Falls - yet another highlight on a trail full of such wonders - at which point it started to climb back up towards the top of the cliffs.
It was only after reaching the end of the National Pass trail and setting off on the adjoining Undercliff/Overcliff trail to complete the loop that the sensory extravaganza began to abate slightly, but even then the walk was most enjoyable and the odd viewpoint provided yet more extraordinary views of the steep-sided, forest-clad Jamison Valley snaking it's way into the distance. Returning
Secluded Beauty Spot
Empress Falls from below
to the carpark I had to be careful not to wax lyrical too much about what Linda had missed - though I'm pretty sure she got the idea that I had enjoyed myself!
After spending our first night in the Blue Mountains at a free rest area just outside Woodford, we headed back past Wentworth Falls to the twin towns of Leura and Katoomba for more hiking and sightseeing on Wednesday; and so after checking into the Katoomba Falls Tourist Park we headed straight across the road to take in the views from the Prince Henry cliff walk that follows the cliff-line around to the tourist mecca of Echo Point - where the close-up views of the rock formation known as the Three Sisters were admittedly pretty impressive, even if they couldn't compare to the views I had encountered the day before.
With Linda turning around and heading back to the caravan park, I was left to continue the walk solo - first along the remainder of the Prince Henry cliff walk, and then down to the base of the impressive Leura Falls. From there I continued my descent all the way to the base of the cliffs
Under-cutting the rock face
The Federal Pass trail negotiating some steep cliffs
on the Federal Pass trail - which like the National Pass trail in Wentworth Falls was built way back at the beginning of the 20th
century, over one hundred years ago.
Stopping for a snack break in the depths of Leura Forest, I then continued to follow the Federal Pass trail along the base of the cliffs - past the Three Sisters which towered hundreds of metres above me - before ending up at the base of Katoomba Falls, directly below where Linda and I had begun our walk. And from there, with the scenic railway having made it's final run for the day up to Scenic World over an hour earlier, there was only one way for me to get back up to the top of the cliffs - the Furber Steps! Slowly but surely I climbed the thousand-plus steps - painstakingly hacked from the mountainside many years ago - before ultimately finding myself back up at one of the many viewpoints overlooking not only the Three Sisters, but also Mount Solitary. And at that very moment, the sun finally broke through for the first time all day just above the cliff-line to my right - to add
a splash of colour to the already impressive views.
On Thursday I had planned to explore the area around Blackheath - about twenty kilometres beyond Katoomba - more thoroughly, by way of the cliff-top hiking trails that overlook the Grose Valley. But with the weather - which had been ordinary to say the least for our first two days in the Blue Mountains - only getting worse, there was little we could do but hang around in Blackheath; with Linda doing a spot of window shopping while I holed up in a cosy cafe and caught up on my internet correspondence. Eventually we headed out of town to spend the night at the free campground at Perry's Lookdown, though even then the clouds at the viewpoint were so thick we could barely see the mountains on the other side of the Grose Valley!
Leaving the Blue Mountains (and leaving my one and only pair of shoes behind at Perrry's Lookdown!) on Friday morning, we took an alternative route back to Sydney along the Bells Line of Road; before heading to the Lane Cove River Tourist Park, within the confines of Lane Cove National Park, just outside the city
Billowing sails and Cruise-liners
Sydney Harbour near Circular Quay
to check-in for the next three nights. From there we headed across town to Maroubra (I couldn't resist the urge to drive over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, despite the inevitable Friday evening traffic jams) to visit friends of ours from England, Jo & Marv, whom Linda and I met and became good friends with whilst living in Cairns two years ago. It was cool to look back on our time together in Cairns, when all four of us were backpacking and I was the only Australian, now that all four of us are (hopefully) going to be permanent residents!
Saturday started with a relaxing breakfast at the camp kitchen in the caravan park - with bush turkeys, kookaburras and rainbow lorikeets for company - before Linda and I took the train to North Sydney, from where we were able to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, marvelling at the magnificent views of Sydney Harbour and the Opera House as we went. Wandering through the historic Rocks district below the bridge on the south-side, we tried Japanese street food from a market stall and watched a couple of street entertainment performances - the first of which featured a young woman
Syndey Opera House
squeezing herself into a glass box no more than fifty centimetres in diameter; while the second featured a young man freeing himself after being chained up and handcuffed (by myself and another volunteer).
After a short stroll around to see the Opera House up close, we then took one of Sydney's famous harbour ferries from Circular Quay to Manly, near the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Strolling along the Corso to Manly Beach, we then followed the coastal path to Cabbage Tree Bay, where the delightful Shelly Beach looks back towards Manly and provides a perfect sheltered swimming spot for families and dive students alike. As the day neared it's end we made our way back to Manly Wharf - stopping off for a pint of Pale Ale at the Four Pines brewpub along the way - where we ordered ourselves gelato and sat by the water to watch the sun set over Sydney Harbour.
Feeling somewhat tired after waking up at 2am to watch the Rugby World Cup semi-final between New Zealand and South Africa (which the All Blacks won 20-18) in the television room at the caravan park, I nevertheless joined Linda in heading back to the
Dreamtime hostel reunion
With Jo & Steve on the Bondi-to-Coogee coastal walk
eastern beaches of Sydney with another English friend of ours (and potential Australian resident) named Steve, whom we had also met in Cairns and who happened to be celebrating his birthday.
Thankfully this time it was Steve who was behind the wheel, as our 30km drive from the caravan park to Maroubra on Friday evening had ended up taking an hour-and-a-half, and left me cursing Sydney's congested traffic, poor signposting, ignorant drivers etc; while Linda was no doubt cursing my impatient and direction-less driving! Needless to say it was with great relief that I was able to sit in the passenger seat and enjoy the scenery along the way, as Steve negotiated pretty much the same drive in just half-an-hour - though we did then spend another thirty minutes or so searching desperately for a parking spot in the Sunday traffic crush at Coogee Beach!
Meeting up with Jo & Marv and some friends of theirs named Matt & Emma, we then all set out to walk the Bondi-to-Coogee coastal walk (in reverse obviously). With the sun shining overhead and the coastal scenery living up to it's reputation, we slowly made our way from one beautiful beach to
the next. From the sandy arc of Coogee Beach, to the rocky v-shaped Gordons Bay, to the artificial Clovelly Bay - where Marv, Matt and I took the shortcut by swimming straight across, rather than walking all the way around - each beach was delightfully different to the next.
The ever-popular Bronte Beach was then followed by the disproportionally deep yet narrow Tamarama Bay, where the crowds of people winding their way along the coastal path really started to swell; and from there the crowds only got worse as we slowly inched our way along the cliff-tops (past numerous art installations specially placed alongside the path as part of the 'Sculptures by the Sea' festival) towards the heaving mass of humanity that is Bondi Beach. Funnily enough, both Linda and I agreed that of the six beaches we had been past, Bondi was probably the least impressive - yet it is by far the most famous and popular.
From Bondi we said goodbye to the others and took a cab back to Coogee (which due to the crowds took around twenty minutes, when we had expected it to take only half that time), and then got a ride
Mass of humanity
The ever-popular Bondi Beach
back to the caravan park from Steve - who was not surprisingly rather jealous of our extended holiday! Returning to the comfort and familiarity of our campervan, Linda and I were in agreement that while Sydney may be a fantastic place to visit, it is surely far too crowded to live in for our tastes. And though we would dearly love to have been able to explore Sydney further, as always the road was calling us...
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