Easter came and we decided it was finally time to get down to the Budawangs, a national park about 4-5 h south of Sydney (depending on where you head for - its a big park!) that is one of the walking Meccas in NSW. The two centrepieces of the park are Pigeon House mountain, with its views for miles around, and Monolith Valley. This very narrow valley is formed at the intersection of four flat-topped peaks arranged in a square, and its completely sheltered location has made the flora totally different from the surrounding eucalypt forest - very green, lush and mossy.
Going to one of the most popular bushwalking areas in NSW on Easter weekend may seem like you are asking for trouble, but amazingly, there were very few people overall. We didn't feel crowded at any point really.
Another great feature of the area is the presence of camping caves. These are a fabulous way to camp - no tent required and you have that open air feeling at night, even if it is raining. In case cave conjures up images of a lightless grotto for you, i should say that camping caves in Australia are generally just eroded overhangs under sandstone cliffs. The "roof" may be 30-50 m above you and the cave is generally only 10-20 m deep, so you really do have a feeling of openness.
So, we headed off with Ann and Chu Wai (out for her first multi-day camping adventure) for a 3-day investigation of the area. It started a little late because of downpours in the Sydney region. We were aiming to enter the park by the southeastern entrance, but were thwarted by thirty or forty kilometers of what would normally be dirt road but was a bit more like a river of mud and not something that our little Pulsar was going to cope with. Some dithering, and a lot of driving later we went in via the Wog Wog gate on the opposite side of the park. This meant we started walking at two rather than ten, so we had a few kilometers to cover before we would reach out intended camping cave campsite. We were moving pretty briskly and thought we were fairly close when night was just starting to fall when Jacqui placed too much faith in her new walking sticks (trying to save on knee cartlege) and went face first down a rocky incline just past something arch. Fortunately the only real damage was pride and a few bruises. It was just getting dark when when we past a little track marker at a track junction. We started to get a bit worried when the track we follwed started to go the wrong way so backtracked and went down the other track which got more and more overgrown. It was getting a bit dark by now so torches on head we re-took our original route and eventually got to our cave. It turned out that the track had been rerouted, presumably to bypass a boggy section and by daylight (a day or two later) we saw that the marker was actually a marker with a red slash through it (i.e. DON'T GO THIS WAY). In our defence, the slash had faded and wasn't at all visable at night. The cave was great, spacious, only two other well spaced groups, running water and shelter from the remaining rain.
Day Two we decided to make a day trip to Monolith Valley - we figured that we had enough time to get there do a circuit and get back to our home cave before dark. That plan went well at first, we got to the Seven Pinnacles by lunchtime and meandered down the lush Monolith Valley. Our near undoing was forming the circuit - up between Mt Cole and Mt Owen and down a pass on the other side to head home. That route was a bit trickier than the rest, a few quite demanding rock scrambles and skirting high up along creek beds. At one stage we spotted some other walkers, only to find we were heading the wrong direction. But we eventually got up to the plateau and tried to follow the marker cairns that should have led us to the one cruicial cairn that marked the top of the only pass down the other side (lots of cliff faces otherwise). The trouble was, which set of cairns? - there seemed dozens of slightly differing routes up there. After wandering aimlessly, noting the time pass all too rapidly, Jacqui, Joel and Ann were all privately taking stock of what we had in our packs to cope with a night out on the top of the plateau, but trying to not seem worried. We think it would have been OK, but we were saved from having to try it by Joel finding a cairn heading what seemed like the right way then route finding down the pass, while Jacqui, Ann and Chu Wai were often reduced to 'bottoming down' (i.e. slithering, gracefully of course!). We were all pretty grubby by the end. It was definitely a route rather than a clearly marked trail! After that it was easy to get back on the path home and, with a forced march home (Chu Wai and Ann racing out front) we got home around nightfall.
Next day was relatively uneventful, a lazy morning and walk back to the car. We didn't even get lost once! And Chu Wai stubbornly refused to fall in at the creek crossing although Joel was tempting fate by waiting with a camera. It was certainly a baptism by fire for Chu Wai - for a while she thought that all bush walks entailed wandering around in the dark, scrambling up and down steep narrow passes and being forced to eat gruel by Ann. She'll probably find other bushwalks a bit too tame now....
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