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by Paul Ellis
On Saturday March 6th 1999, my friend Gary and I joined up with four Shoalhaven Bushwalkers for a 3-day walk in the Royal National Park. Instead of following the traditional South to North route that is described in most guidebooks, our group walked the track from North to South.
As I had stayed overnight at Gary's place, we were to meet up with the rest of the party at Cronulla's Tonkin Street Wharf. We arrived at Cronulla and made our way down to the wharf, arriving just after 10.00am. The weather was hot and the sky was cloudless, it was going to be one of those days. Already I wished I had worn a long sleeve shirt, I was going to get burnt before the day was out.
Gary, Paul, Denise, John, Ivan and Alwyn
The other four members of our group arrived at 10.25am, 5 minutes before the ferry to Bundeena was due to leave. Naturally they had made their way north from the Shoalhaven district that morning. They were walk leader Alwyn Martin, Denise Davies, John Goodwin and Alwyn's friend Ivan Goozeff. Introductions were made then we boarded the ferry for the 25 minute journey across Port Hacking to the village of Bundeena. The ferry ride cost just $2.60 and was quite pleasant. I did receive a nasty shock during the journey when I noticed a fault with the harness system of my Macpac rucksack.
The attachment points had split leaving one shoulder strap loose. Alwyn was later able to temporarily fix the problem with some twine from his repair kit, but for me, it meant sending my rucksack back to the manufacturers for repairs once this trip was over. Once at Bundeena we made our way to a small park near the beach where the regular Shoalhaven Bushwalker's call for morning tea was made. We all had a chance to purchase ice creams from a nearby shop and pick up a free brochure on the Royal National Park at the same time.
Finally we moved out at 11.20. We made our way through the town which was uphill and exhausting in the heat. Eventually, at 11.45 we arrived at the park gate and followed a dirt road for 200 metres until we came to a dirt track junction on our left. We followed this sandy track for some distance through the heathland until we arrived at a cliff-edge with great views. We followed the clifftops here for a short distance until we descended at a place called 'The Waterrun'. Despite warnings about the safety of drinking water in the park, our group drank thirstily from the fast flowing creek, much to the amusement of 4 female American walkers who were on their way out. Despite their thirst they refused to drink the water, though our party suffered no ill-effects during the trip. We quickly ascended again and followed the cliffline further south. The track was very sandy and difficult to walk through, but the views kept us entertained.
Just before 1.00pm we descended to Marley Beach and found a shady spot for lunch. We also discovered that this was also a popular nudist facility as one male, much to Denise's amusement, walked past us with proud erect poise. Before we all partook of lunch we decided to cool off with a swim in the lagoon behind the beach. This was most refreshing after a hot sweaty walk. I was quite surprised to find the lagoon was freshwater. Lunch was then taken, this break was a marathon effort of nearly 90 minutes. I guess the swim took up much of the time, but another possibility was the excellent birdwatching available to us. Most notably the tit variety, but there was also the occasional Robin Red Breast too. Denise, the only woman in our group commented quite audibly that it was no surprise that so many males went on the Royal Coast Walk.
We continued our walk across Marley Beach, then crossed a small rock platform to Little Marley Beach. From here the track ascended quite steeply to the cliffs and followed the headland using metal grill boardwalks. Once again the scenery was quite impressive. Before long we could see the carpark and buildings of Wattamolla in the distance. We crossed Wattamolla Creek by a small fast flowing waterfall that drained into a man-made pool. Just south of here, we headed into the bush and dropped our packs. This was to be our campsite for the night. The time was just 3.35pm. Ivan decided to stay with our gear while the rest of us made the short journey to Wattamolla and the kiosk, where no doubt we could get our fill of ice cold drinks and ice creams.
All forms of amazing sights awaited us at Wattamolla. At the falls on Coote Creek a couple of foolhardy male teenagers were showing off to their girlfriends by jumping from the falls into the lagoon far below, despite the huge safety warning signs erected nearby. At the kiosk was the sight of a well-endowed young woman wearing (of all things) a red nylon and lace negligee over her tiny black swimsuit. Any surprise where all the male attention was centred in this place. Once we had made our purchases we walked down a tiny track to a spot above the beach where we finished off our refreshments.
Once back at the campsite, we busied ourselves putting up our tents, which wasn't too easy as the ground was very uneven and quite scrubby. With that job completed we all made our way to the man-made pool nearby for a cool refreshing swim. Not surprisingly, I had caught the sun quite badly on my arms during today's walking so I wasted little time cooling off in a shady spot of the pool. At 5.45 we returned to the campsite and prepared our meals. We ate in the glow of a small campfire, washed up, then sat around discussing the merits of bushwalking equipment and previous bushwalks until 8.45 when we retired to our tents for the night.
I woke up next morning to the sound of jet aircraft flying overhead. We had camped right in line with the main flight path approaching Sydney airport. It had been a good restful night's sleep up until then. I got out of my sleeping bag at 7.30 and faced the world. It was overcast and a storm was closing in. We wasted little time having breakfast and packing away all our gear. We donned our raincoats and moved out towards Wattamolla at 8.30am, just as the rain came down. We passed through Wattamolla and up through part of Carracurrang Camping Area. This area was being used by a large group of youths who obviously had quite a party the previous night, judging by the mess. The place looked more like a rubbish tip than a camping area. We quickly moved on, crossing the Curracurrang area using the metal boardwalks to get over the difficult terrain. At the bridge over Curracurrang Gully we managed to get our only group photograph for the trip, taken by a member of another walking party. There suddenly seemed to be a lot of people walking this section, to the extent that the area looked quite crowded. At Curracurrong Creek we stopped for morning tea, despite the rain. Ahead of us falling from the cliffline to the sea below, was an impressive waterfall.
We moved on again, ascending a small hill which revealed the viewing platform for Eagle Rock, definitely one of the highlights of the walk. Despite the wet conditions we couldn't help but enjoy this view. At Curra Brook we almost took the wrong turn, but backtracked to find the right trail. We crossed the Brook and ascended steeply onto Curra Moors. This was the worst part of the walk. The track was badly eroded and in some places the trench we walked through was so deep we could not see over it. This is definitely one place where the metal walkways are desperately needed. Occasionally we got good views of the ocean from small rock platforms and on one occasion saw the amazing sight of 2 kayakers battling the rough seas below. Curra Moors would be a marvellous place in spring, with the colour from all the wildflowers in bloom, but with the torrential rain we were experiencing, we didn't have much love for the place.
Suddenly we came upon a spot that gave us an excellent view south down the coast. Below us was Garie Beach, a long way down. We wasted little time getting down there. By now I was starting to notice a few sore spots on my left foot. I knew I had to tend to them before blistering started. Once on the beach we all removed boots and socks for the walk across the sand. Once we reached the rock platform on the other side I took the opportunity to apply plasters to the sore spots. Unfortunately, as my feet were quite damp, nothing would adhere. Instead I put my socks and boots back on, but laced them lightly. We had a quick lunch in the rain on the rocks just north of Little Garie before continuing.
Paul and Gary and Garie Beach
Our path now took us across a number of boulder strewn rock platforms. The going here was quite slow. Whenever we got the chance we crossed using a ledge on the cliff, but we soon realised these were dangerously slippery, I almost came to grief on several occasions. Thankfully it wasn't long before we stepped out onto the beach near South Era Surf Club. We followed the track behind the club and up a very steep grassy hill to Burgh Ridge. Strangely the rain had now stopped and we all relieved ourselves of our now cumbersome wet weather gear.
It was now obvious we were not camping overnight. The original plan for the 2nd night was to camp behind the beach at South Era. Our leader, Alwyn, had decided, that due to the poor weather conditions and state of the camping areas, we would head home. We now followed a rough muddy track towards Burning Palms. The track was extremely slippery in places and we had to tread carefully. We descended passed the Burning Palms Cabin Community, thankful at least that this area had well groomed tracks. Then we started the long steep ascent through the Palm Jungle towards Werrong Point. The ascent wasn't too bad, it was a gradual climb for most of the way. The surrounding rainforest was magnificent. At one rest break near the top one of our group commented on the absence of leeches and the fact no one had seen any. How little we knew.
The last section of the ascent was quite steep, but we managed it quite well and refreshed ourselves at a fast flowing creek not far from Werrong Point Lookout. What a view this was. I was quite surprised how high we had climbed. The beach was a long way down below us and to the south we could see as far as Port Kembla, even through the rainy conditions to the south. It became apparent during a rest break that most of the group had hosted leeches, several had blood spots on their legs where the little brutes had feasted then dropped off. Even Gary had caught a couple on his boots just in time, for me, I had not seen any. We finished the walk along the Cliff Track which took us high above the ocean, by now my feet were starting to hurt quite a bit, though strangely it was my right foot now, not my left.
Eventually we came out onto Lady Wakehurst Drive at Otford and made our way to the local milk bar where we purchased refreshing drinks, just as the rain pelted down again. We had to follow a small bush track to the railway station but arrived there at 4.10pm. Gary and I farewelled the other 4 members of our group, we were taking the 4.25 train back to Sydney while they had a longer wait for their southbound train. During the journey back to Gary's we both discovered we had been the victims of leeches. Gary had a live one stuck to his socks and had some trouble removing it while I had bites on my upper thigh and left ankle. Despite having no further problems with my left foot, I found I had blistered badly on my right.
This was our first trip into the Royal National Park. Despite the obvious difficulties we experienced in the heat and then wet, there is no doubt we had a good trip. The views were marvellous and some of the walking was most enjoyable. It's a pretty good bet both Gary and I will be returning there for a repeat performance in the next year, perhaps in cooler weather this time. Once again, we'll be going North to South.