Friday, July 17, 2009

The Coastal Walk - Otford to Garie - Part 1

Foolhardy. It's the only word for it. Delayed and delayed and delayed we finally set of after lunch headed for the Royal National Park in the south of Sydney. We have booked the youth hostel at Garie Beach for tonight and we really want to have a bit of a go at the first leg at least of the Coastal Walk.
From our home in Macarthur we head straight down the delightfully scenic Appin Road and head along beautiful traffic free fast roads through the bush down to edge of the Illawarra escarpment. It's a simple turn to the north onto the Princes Hwy before parking at the Otford lookout where the walk commences. We of course don't realise that this is where the walk actually starts and we go for a bit of a drive down in the national park before realising we've missed it. It's a beautiful forest drive through the world's second oldest national park (Only Yellowstone in the USA is older)

We're conscious that time is ticking away so we turn around and finally find where we're supposed to be.

Looking out from Otford lookout you can see the Seacliff Bridge. This is quite a new bridge that was constructed after the old narrow road, which was perched along the edge of the headland slipped into the sea. Further along are the northern beaches of Wollongong and some old coal mining communities around Coalcliff and Scarborough. With a setting like this, I'm sure you can imagine that the process of gentrification is well under way in these charming little villages. A scenic tourist drive has been established along here. They've called it the Grand Pacific Drive.

As we head off on the walk we soon find a lovely spray of native clematis or old man's beard with it's dainty starburst flowers. The flowers are followed by furry seed capsules again like hairy starburst arrangements that inspired the popular name for this beautiful creeper.

We've left it ridiculously late to be starting a 10 km walk, but we've been informed that other than the walk up from the Otford train station, others have found the walk pretty easy.
As we get going I take my time, but hubby must be trying to actually get a bit of effective exercise so on his long legs he just about sprints away...

I am entranced and as usual spend some time stopping here and there to snap photos and digital memory joggers.

The first part of the walk heads generally uphill, through a typical tumbledown arrangement of sandstone boulders among which the trees, grasses and native shrubs make a lovely scene that is typical of coastal Sydney bushland.

As the path levels we travel through a beautiful patch abundant with Angophera Costata - the sydney red gum which regular readers of this blog will be more than familiar with!!!
It's my very favourite tree and I am in heaven!

I cannot resist snapping some pics of some red gums that have bled their lovely red sap quite profusely, staining their trunks with glistening red.
Hubby and I recently came across a new young artist who is practicing in the Blue Mountains - Megalong Valley somewhere I think. He collects his own local pigments to colour intricate pyrography work. Gum tree sap is among them. His name is Scott Marr and I WILL own one of his pieces one day!! Follow the series of three videos on youtube that describe his process of Natural Pigment Pyrography.

In Sydney bushland, particularly in the south from Sydney Harbour, a beautiful element of the understory is the Kai'mia (commonly known as Gymea Lily). When the kai'mia are in full bloom and not producing nectar any more it is time for the local Dharawal people, traditional owners of this land, to visit their whale ceremony site to wish the whales and their new born babies a safe journey back to their homelands in the southern oceans #. The Kai'mea is now quite popular for landscaping in the coastal suburbs of Sydney along streets and motorways, their architectural foliage providing a perfect base for their enormous spikes topped with red flowers.

We have had a fair bit of rain over the last week, and the paths show it. Some stretches are quite good, as you get further along the walk long stretches are forming a sort of stream for the water and it's slow going picking a way along. I just knew I should have worn my old yard shoes!!

There are a range of Banksia in the area. This beautiful specimen sits just near one of the lookouts which give glorious views down the coast. Another of the groups walking part of the track have stopped on the natural sandstone ledge to admire the view.

The hairy grey Kuritjahs sit on the branches of the banksia trees. These kuritjahs seem to have their eyes closed, but if they open their eyes watch out because it means the Dooligah men are awake and trying to escape from their prisons in the trunks of the kurrajong trees. The Dooligah were imprisoned by the kuritjah a long time ago when during a very severe drought food was scarce and they developed a taste for eating Dharawal children. I don't notice any kurrajong trees around for the little Kuritjahs to guard. You should always warn children, just in case the kuritjah fall asleep, or some foolish man comes along and decides to cut the kurrajong trees down, or the tree is blown over or struck by lightning and damaged, it is always a good idea to behave yourself in the bush and do what your parents say...

The indigenous stories are at odds with the imaginations of European settlers when they see kuritjah sitting on the branches. May Gibbs imagined the kuritjah as the big bad banksia men who try to run away with Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.
Clearly these tales of big bad banksia men are a baseless slander against the Kuritjahs, reminiscent of the images of ape-like germans running away with defenceless women that were painted in the Great War! :o)

.... but I digress... I continue along the track, travelling through the littoral rainforest. Cabbage palms and dark clear streams, moss and ferns abound. The path is still quite boggy in places. This ancient patch of protected forest includes some amazing examples of the tenacity of the angophera. Look at this one who's base has grown around a large boulder.

Here and there attractive fungi are at work breaking down the fallen or damaged vegetation.

We emerge from the rainforest onto open headlands covered with clumps of what looks like some sort of lomandra. The path has eaten deep into the ground and as I head across to Burning Palms it's very slow going trying to pick my way though or around the very slippery, de facto creek. Oh how I wish I was wearing waterproof hiking boots! Looking south the view is amazing.

To the north the communities of beach shacks are visible. Hearsay tells me that these shacks cannot be bought and sold. In the past it has been possible to inherit them, but I am told that this has also been stopped and that they will be progressively removed.

As I snap the photo to the north my camera batteries give up the ghost. Hubby is somewhere ahead with the spares, but in any case the light is dying and we still have a way to go.
We meet up at burning palms and move along. The the paths improve and there are metal boardwalks here and there. The path isn't all that obvious to start with and in the low light conditions we stop to ask a shack holder for directions. Just there he points. You can't miss it. I look across... I look. ... oh... yeah.. (???) We head off. He sings out.. no over there you can't miss it! Redirected we stumble down the hill. None the wiser as to the actual location of this alleged path..

My knee is getting pretty sore and I now have to favour one leg for the down stairs. Up stairs isn't so bad. It gets progressively darker and darker. Thank god the track visibility and signage improves. We take our time up over headlands, down the other side, across the camping grounds and across sandy dunes with healthy dune grasses. At the camp ground the frogs are singing very loudly. There must the hundreds of the little guys and I pity the campers. How on earth will they sleep with that racket going on!
Eventually we round the headland just south of Garie Beach, with it's level path quite firm footing where the pace can be a little quicker and the knee is not so annoyed. What a welcome sight that car park is. Still a lot of cars. We admire the very modern surf life saving club building. Very swish! We locate Daughter and her friends who are joining us in our exclusive occupancy of the hostel.

First on the agenda is to go and collect our car, so we pile in the car, pushing aside the collection of teenage detritus. A jolly conversation ensues. We transfer to our vehicle and head back to Garie. The Hostel is a km up a dark bush track so we're not keen to cart more than we have to. A picnic in the car is called for we decide. Friends have brought delicious and elaborate salads to go with my quiche. Yum.

Eventually we meet up with the caretaker. Hear some stories about foreign visitors who didn't much appreciate his references to the YHA being "spooky" - the spooky is generated by the sound of the wind in the she-oaks.. we load ourselves up and start to feel our way up the dark bush track. Amazingly we make it up OK with noone breaking anything. Great teamwork.

The shack was built in the 1950s. It's a great spot. Fires are prohibited but there's a nice inviting fire pit on a concrete slab and clearly people use it.. we didn't. While the prohibition in summer is understandable in winter it seems a bit like over-kill and I can't help feeling a LOT of sympathy with the rule breakers. We open the door and flick the light switch. .. again.. hmm. Torch please. flick, flick.. hmmm. looks like an early night.

We nominate our selected sleeping spots. Hmm. Beds and bedding are all slightly damp...hmm. Glad I brought the sheets they said we should. Clearly others don't. Sand on bed, sand on floors that clearly haven't been swept by each occupant as is requested, but it's not toooo bad. A ground sheet would be useful to sleep on. I decide maybe if I turn the mattress (also supposed to be done by each visitor). Hmmm. mouldy underneath. I might leave it as it is then. We use spare jumpers to cover the pillows. We've forgotten pillow cases. Jumpers are better anyhow. Thicker. Feels cleaner and drier.
The young'uns trek their way across to the composting toilet.. clearly it gets a bit more use than it can ideally cope with.
The night is not as bad as it could be. We rise, breakfast and discuss the day ahead. Hubby and I are off. My knee will prevent any thought of completing (the even longer) Garie to Bundeena section of the walk.
the weather is rather damp looking. Showers of rain continuing as they have done for a week or more. We leave the young things to their day after following all the instructions and sweeping out all the rooms.

In closing I would say the walk is great. Maybe better in drier conditions perhaps, however it is varied and interesting. The first half of this section through bush though, don't expect to feel much like your walking along a coast for much of that bit, but it is lovely bushland. Imagine the hoards of people living so close who have no idea this is on their doorstep... maybe that's a good thing!

# Information about the traditions and knowledge of the Dharawal people is sourced from Dharawal seasons and climatic cycles, compiled by Frances Bodkin and Illustrated by Lorraine Robertson. I bought my copy from the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney Gift Shop. It is packed with fascinating information and traditional stories of the Sydney Region.
Frances Bokdin is a Dharawal educator. If you do a bit of digging on the web about her all sorts of interesting tidbits can be found this article about the Indigenous Weather Knowledge project. Seeing her photo I realise it was she who gave a talk about indigenous plants we went to at the gardens some years back. She is an absolutely fascinating person so if you ever get the chance to attend one of her talks - don't miss it!!