If you thought this was going to be some sort of click-bait type title to get you to read all about my most joyful experiences trekking throughout Australia, you would be wrong. Not even close. This week, week three of gardening leave I decided I needed a lighter walk and opted for the easiest and closest one I could find near Sydney. I plan to stay in Newcastle this week and this one seems perfectly situated, right in the middle of the two cities.
Finch’s Line & Devine’s Hill Loop.
Travelling to Wisemans Ferry mid-morning after a delicious sleep in, a very long black and a crispy croissant. The car is packed for a glorious few days in Newcastle including; surf board, trekking boots, skateboard (you never know) and Birkenstocks (gotta love a mild autumn.)
Upon parking at Wisemans Ferry, I stare blankly at the front seat where the guidebook sits unassumingly. Should I read the content? Should I take any pictures? Other than ogling at the map, the distance and the title, I unashamedly look away knowing this will be the easiest walk on the books. Easier perhaps than the well marked Taronga to Manly beach walk I did two weeks ago, or the Coast Track or even Kosciuszko? Knowing how well marked they were, I forgo caution and piss into the wind.
I board the ferry, ripe with the ingredients of fresh air and silence. It’s free, much to my surprise and very efficient. Feeling jolly, I ask the helmsman which way I should start. Why should I care less, this is the easiest walk they’ve got. He points vaguely towards Devine’s Hill and off I go. Walking along tarmac for about 500m before actually starting the trek, all before I see my first roadblock. A closed fence. I bound over the padlocked fence one leg after the other, “No-one can stop me!” I scream valiantly to myself. I turn back to witness my not-so triumphant opponent with a pedestrian track parallel to the fence. “Ah shit” I mutter.
And off I go, oh how I walked. Not a soul to be overheard, not a footprint to follow: except my own, I later discovered.
This is of course, the old convict trail located in Dharug National Park for those less informed. (I knew nothing of this before the walk, so don’t feel bad if you are less acquainted.) Constructed between 1826 and 1834, the Great Northern Road was the largest public work attempting to join Sydney with the Hunter. This section is sealed off from motorised commuters to preserve the track and thus is strictly for walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers only, hence the fence, it all makes sense now.
It is so charming to walk at ones own pace; to stop and sigh, to reflect and to consume all that can be. The slow burning incline is full of facts, memoirs, stories and sentiments. Really, there couldn’t be more factual information and I immediately sigh knowing I didn’t need to read up on this walk at all, I have a surplus of data. It’s a shame Vodaphone couldn’t rise to the occasion, but who needs google when the faint breath of ferry fumes are lingering on the wind?
And, from there, things got better, more remote if you will. I pass just one lady and her daughter at the start and I realise I haven’t passed anyone else for over an hour. That is odd, surely. I reach the top of Devine’s Hill and switch onto the Finch Line, a wide ridge running parallel to the Hawkesbury River. I have shifted the focus of the walk from a leisurely stroll to a serious hunt to spot a koala, I stop and pause every few steps to see if I can find one high up among the eucalyptus. To no avail, on I walk.
A few clearings later, I find a crossroads; one with a fallen down tree across the track and another with a sign post describing slippery rocks. Hmmm. I opt for the latter and the view takes my breath away (note: feature image). The hues of autumn are truly magnificent from way up here.
It appears there is no way down from here and so I opt for the former of the two and climb over the rotting tree trunk. Off I go. Off. Into silence. Seriously, where are the other walkers? What was that noise? Don’t be silly, keep on going not far to go now. Shouldn’t I be looping back by now? I passed the ferry ages ago! Oh shit! I’ve missed a turn off… but where was the sign! (From here, you can read my internal dialogue, the dialogue of a person who was so close to the end of the track, about 2km to be exact, but a person who panic’s is a person who isn’t thinking rationally.) I opt for google maps to help me out; this is what I see:
Well. That’s just great. My fear increases. I’ve missed the path somehow. And then. I make the cardinal sin. Something I never, ever do. I turned back. I pace back, quicken my gait, the clouds are threatening a month’s worth of rain over three days, predicted to commence any second now. My mind shoots to what I’m carrying. It’s okay; calm down, you have a sandwich, a banana, a poncho that can be constructed into a tent should you need to stay the night, which you definitely will at this rate; that is of course if a bush bandit (not sure if a thing) doesn’t come out and snatch you away. All of a sudden I’m actually frightened. I make it back to the cross roads and search for a path near the slippery rocks… I actually contemplate scaling the rocks, a mere two hundred meter scramble. Thankfully sense kicks in. I turn back again, again opening google maps. Where the hell is this stupid blue little line track? And why the hell is there no sign! I retrace my steps a final time (in the right direction) before giving up hope. I resign to the fact that NSW National Parks must have spent all the allotted money on signposting the Devines Hill walk with nothing left for this one. Why? Why didn’t I take a picture of the map in my guidebook? Argh!
It’s two in the afternoon, I make a judgement call not to call the police (insanity rising) to report the sign issue or my own stupidity and stomp back along the way I’ve just walked for the past 3 hours. A simple 11km walk soon turned into 15km after my epic misjudgement.
Ah sigh! Let’s put this one down to 99% of the blame on NSW National Parks and maybe 1% on me, even though we both know that’s beyond fair. I make it back to the ferry by three in the afternoon and hang my head in disappointment, I can’t believe I just did that. I cant even use snapchat, instagram, facebook or chrome to lift my mood (would they anyway?)
The drive to Newcastle was sombre, the clouds roll in and out with a few droplets of rain, no downpour was to come at all. A massive oversight by the weatherman, somewhat like my mid-walk reaction perhaps.
The lesson here is: Read. Take pictures of maps. Take sufficient supplies. But above all: DON’T PANIC. Oh, and if NSW National Parks could fashion a sign soon, I think that would be helpful too.
Until next week, my final week of gardening leave and I’m going out with a bang: The Six-Foot Track in the Blue Mountains. I have been advised this is both incredible and dull, from separate sources. I will report back in due course.