Monthly Archives: September 2010

SIX FOOT TRACK – Blue Mountains, NSW

The Blue Mountains are known for their gorgeous vistas, but after a solid hike no sight is more beautiful than this – a cluster of little blue tents under the peppermint trees, with smoke rising from a campfire on which our chef is preparing Thai-style snapper. A circle of folding chairs with wine bottles and a platter of hors d’oeuvres at elbow level complete the idyllic scene. This is not camping, but glamping.

We’ve earned a little luxury. Today we’ve trekked 20 kilometres horizontally and climbed 1000 metres vertically. It’s taken all day and my legs have been chanting, ‘Are we there yet?’ for hours. Now we’re ready to enjoy the evening and let someone pamper us.

The Six Foot Track is a classic 45kilometre walk, originally opened in 1884. ‘Opened’ back then meant people could follow it by scrambling through scrub, watching for the slashes on trees. Then it became a Bridle Track between Katoomba and Jenolan Caves, six feet wide so that two pack horses could squeeze past each other. With the arrival of the automobile, the path fell into disuse until reclaimed by the bushwalkers. Now thousands tramp it each year and 800 masochists run it as an annual marathon.

We’re not interested in setting records on this trip; we have three days to get there. Twelve of us assemble just west of Katoomba, by the Explorers’ Tree on which early vandals Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth reputedly carved their initials. We’re not alone. Excited scouts are pouring out of buses and strapping tents and sleeping mats to bulging backpacks.

A motley crew gathered for the adventure...


We glampers are doing it differently. We have a guide, a chef and logistics coordinator Mark to load our luggage onto the roof of the Landcruiser, leaving us just light daypacks with rain jackets and water bottles. ‘Michael will be your guide for this leg,’ calls Mark. ‘See you at the winery for lunch.’

The winery? On a bushwalk? It sounds great but we have some work to do first. We clamber down the steep stairs of Nellie’s Glen, a perfect Blue Mountains gully, with dripping ferns, little waterfalls, mighty sandstone cliffs towering above and currawongs carolling in the treetops. It’s a 300metre descent, but just as my knees are starting to whine about having enough of these damn steps, the path emerges in the broad Megalong Valley.

...and started through Nellie's Glen.

We’re making good time. Our group is reasonably fit, median age late thirties, though the walk is challenging enough to make us all feel we’re getting a good workout. The only one not puffing is our guide Michael, who we’ve just heard climbed Mt Everest in 2006 and is in training to do it solo next year.

The route is clearly marked and it would be hard to get lost, but Michael earns his keep by leading us on a short detour to where Dryridge Estate winery gazes across the valley to the glowing orange Narrow Neck escarpment.

It’s lunchtime. Mark has arrived with the support vehicle and is turning steaks on the barby, while chef Carl lays out the salad and winery staff pour generous samples of riesling and Six Foot Track Shiraz. The scouts file past below, looking for a suitable spot to eat their muesli bars and scroggin.

...Don't swing the swing bridge!


Our afternoon route takes us through open forest to where the Cox’s River cuts a deep gorge. Crossing it on the narrow swing bridge quickens the pulse of those with vertigo, self included, though any danger is imaginary rather than real.

Cox’s River Campground is a mini metropolis on a spring weekend, crowded with four wheel drive enthusiasts, family groups and, of course, those scouts. Fortunately we glampers have Mark, who was here yesterday to set up tents and a hot shower cubicle away from the throng. My super deluxe tent is high enough for me to stand in and equipped with a stretcher. My knees would genuflect in gratitude if they could, as would the rest of me when the dinner and wine work their magic.

Day Two was steep - and a 1000m climb


Day Two is a challenge as we climb from the Megalong Valley onto the Black Range, fording creeks along the way. After a particularly steep pinch we settle on a log to catch our breath. ‘Phew ,’ puffs Lyn, ‘I’m supposed to be playing mah-jong with my U3A (University of the Third Age) group today. ‘ She’ll have bragging rights when next she sees them, and an excellent bedtime story for her sixteen grandchildren. She’s certainly setting us an inspiring example.

Next morning we’re woken by the kookaburras and ready for the final leg. Anyone who’s really hurting could ride in the Landcruiser, but Mark gently encourages everyone to push on to complete the last 10 kilometres down the hill into Jenolan, where some visit the famous caves and others grab a coffee or cool drink at the cafe.

‘ You drink cola?’ says Michael the guide, ‘You know that’s not good for you.’

‘Climbing Everest’s not good for you,’ counters a glamper, ‘but you have to live a little, don’t you?’

Walking the Six Foot Track has been good for us in every way, and we’ve all lived a little this weekend.

TRIP NOTES:

GETTING THERE: The Six Foot Track starts from the Explorers’ Tree parking area, 3km west of Katoomba on the Great Western Highway. Limited private bus services run between Jenolan and Katoomba. See jenolancaves.org.au

FURTHER INFORMATION: Life’s an Adventure run 3-day walks including all meals, beverages, tent accommodation and shuttles from Sydney if required. Prices range from $379 for a standard tour to $549 for the super deluxe option. See lifesanadventure.com.au

It helps to have a friend at the creeks...


...and a very good friend at the rivers.

The writer was a guest of Life’s an Adventure, who run guided walks on the route.
www.lifesanadventure.com.au

First published – Sun-Herald, Sydney

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Filed under Budget travel, Hiking, Travel-Australia

AUSTRALIA’S BEST BIG RIDES – Spring on the bike

There are many reasons to hate mass organised bike rides – the crowds, the bottlenecks, the collisions, the toilet queues. But there are plenty of reasons to love them too. Continue reading

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Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling, Travel-Australia

SYDNEY’S COOKS RIVER CYCLEWAY – a nice little city ride

When I first started jogging this path fifteen years ago, the Cooks River was a disgusting, dirty drain, and the path beside it was a treacherous mix of potholes, flood plains and asphalt broken by tree roots. Things have improved a lot since then. Continue reading

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Filed under Cycling, Travel-Australia

URBAN HELMETS – the new crocs?


I can’t recommend these helmets. I haven’t tried one on. I have no idea about their comfort, safety or magpie-repelling qualities.

All I can be sure about is that I’d look very silly wearing one. But they may serve a very useful purpose… Continue reading

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Filed under Cycling

TRAINS, BIKES AND BUSES – a pain in the Downunder


The Great Victorian Bike Ride is a superbly organised event, but getting to the starting line with a bike can be tricky, to say the least… Continue reading

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Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling, Travel-Australia

BIKE HELMET vs MAGPIE

While out on my morning ride today, I was swooped by a magpie. A sudden flutter of wings around my ears, a slap on the helmet and two squawks – one from the bird, the other from me. Australian cyclists know the problem only too well.

It’s that time of year; magpies defend their territory during the nesting season. These handsome black and white birds have a pleasant, musical call, strong necks, sharp beaks and a nasty nature. They are carnivores, direct descendants of velociraptors, it would appear.

They are also cowards, according to the old wives’ tale. They know they’re a protected species in Australia (though a noxious pest in New Zealand). They won’t attack if they know you’re watching them. Sneaky assaults from behind are their modus operandi, and they’re particularly vicious if you’re a dog, a toddler or a shaky cyclist who needs to steer with both hands.

Melbourne's Magpie Map

Melbourne has produced a useful magpie swooping map to warn people about black (and white) spots, where the birds are at their most deadly. Melbourne looks like a dangerous place. Alfred Hitchcock could have used it as the location for his film The Birds. It’s rumoured that Melbourne cyclists are leaving the city in droves and heading north, hoping we’re not quite as badly affected up here in Sydney.

Various solutions to the magpie problem have been suggested – carrying a golf umbrella, painting eyes on the back of a bike helmet, painting eyes on the back of a golf umbrella, attaching bird-repelling spikes, attaching bird-repelling spikes to eyes on a golf umbrella…

But we should all be grateful to a few courageous people who are prepared to put their heads on the line in the interests of scientific research and getting a laugh on YouTube:

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Filed under Birds, Cycle touring, Cycling, Travel-Australia

AUSTRALIA – high speed rail coming soon?

Shinkansen, Japan. It certainly looks fast! Photo Nick Coutts

I’m delighted to see the proposal for a very fast train network in Australia is again on the table, according to an article in today’s paper.

Of course it will cost many billions, and if it ever gets built, would people use it? Can a VFT match what is currently available?

I’ve done years of research on the 875km trip between Sydney to Melbourne. I haven’t yet walked it, cycled it or ridden it on a camel, but I can give you my comparisons of the time and cost of other modes of transport, based on a one way journey. Continue reading

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