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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
First published – Sun-Herald, Sydney