Graham Reid | | 6 min read
tell the truth, I lied. When The Coastal Track people sent
information about their three-day hike through Sydney’s Royal
National Park there was a section asking about my fitness.
exaggerated enormously and said I exercised “once a week“.
on the first day when I queried Colin, our guide, about the route he
pointed to his map and said, “there’s the killer bit, three
kilometres uphill on soft sand”.
lie would soon be discovered to my shame and embarrassment . . . but
the killer but wasn’t that bad, more like a slightly testing walk
than the gruelling hike I had imagined.
Coastal Track is the project of Samantha Madsen and our walk (with
minimal footprint on the environment) would be along the dramatic
coastline an hour south of Sydney and take in wild beaches, rolling
Banksia heaths, waterfalls and rock pools, deep coves and dense bush
-- and at day’s end we would have a massage then enjoy glasses of
wine and fine dining at our campsite above Wattamolla Beach.
quite the arduous hike I made out to my tramping friends back home.
26k walk along a public route for our cheerful group -- six plus
Colin, average age early 50s -- started at the small community of
Bundeena and made a brief digression around Port Hacking Point to see
Aboriginal rock art attributed to the Dharawal people.
were images of a stingray, totemic male figure, kangaroo and a whale
carved more than 200 years ago. But no one knows how much more.
our route headed into the 15,080 hectare Royal National Park,
dedicated in 1879 and the second oldest national park in the world
is an extraordinary landscape: the Hawkesbury sandstone around the
Woronora Plateau is estimated at 200 million years old and throws up
unusual colours, oddly coloured banding (Liesegang rings) and weirdly
alien rock formations sculpted by wind and water.
Colin’s “killer bit” we’re on the hard shoulder of Australia
and can see massive cracks in the rock ready to break off in
strangely symmetrical blocks. Come back in a few thousand years and
some of this won’t be here.
this is Camembert Cliff,” says Colin as we reach a football
field-sized plateau high above the ocean. It is iceberg white and in
clearly definable segments divided horizontally and vertically. The
result of iron oxide leaching or seepage from a nearby swamp which
has bleached the stone, it hangs with picturesque precariousness
above the deep blue sea. I reach for my camera.
the final day Colin says to me, “You’re the only writer I’ve
met who takes photographs.”
But how can you not? Cheese-coloured
stone, rock formations like frozen whirlpools, massive fingers of
sandstone pointing out above the ocean like surreal shapes from
Mordor, honeycomb patterns in rusty rocks, stone like warped
stalactites, a cliff top lake acting as an infinity pool to the sea
beyond, a dam built when people lived out here in the Depression . .
Wattamolla (which I mishear all day as “Guatemala” because I
don’t speak Australian) I take a clichéd photograph of solitary
footprints along the empty sand.
had to close the park on Boxing Day,” says Colin that night. “There
were 22,000 people on the beach.”
come at a better time.
the beach is our camp, from where we walk the following day and are
returned to by van for the comfort of our private tents and the fine
make camp on the first day around 3pm -- we’ve found time to eat
delicious packed lunches on Little Marley Beach and dawdled when the
mood took us -- and spots of rain start to fall.
chef Rob Lisk of R‘n’R Catering -- 2009 Corporate Caterer of the
Year on the Sydney South Coast -- and his crew set up the dining
table under a large tent.
swims in the bay and the warm lagoon -- and massages -- we settle
down for drinks, king prawns, superb lamb . . .
his tiny, lamp-lit tent Lisk creates culinary magic -- and desserts
we take photographs of. We can see why the television travel show
Getaway was quick to come on the walk when Madsen started it
share life stories and jokes. “Was it on Getaway?” becomes
a running gag. Laughter rises into the night.
bleary-eyed hour before sunrise the following day I hear incessant
laughter again, like the high-pitched cackle of a chardonnay-fuelled
hen’s party in a Sydney suburb.
not used to the dawn chorus of Australian birds. Over breakfast I
tell my new-found friends I once I mistook the avian racket for car
this park boast considerable bird life. Colin points out the New
Holland honeyeater, yellow-tailed black cockatoos down from the Blue
Mountains to escape the winter chill, sea eagles, wattlebirds,
rosellas, kookaburras . . .
park is also home to wallabies, a few varieties snake (none of which
we see although Colin spots a few), beautiful dragon lizards with
geometric patterning and innumerable deer, the descendants of those
released here more than a century ago to give the English colonists
second night, as we eat fresh scallops and delicious duck under the
stars, a fox trots through the camp. Then a possum blinks into the
light of Lisk‘s tent.
had been quite a day until then: we’d walked across a clifftop 200
metres above the turbulent ocean, swum in a secluded lagoon and
splashed under its waterfall, seen where a hermit had lived 30 years
ago on a site of an ancient Aboriginal midden, taken photographs of
distinctive Eagle Rock then made the steep descent to Garie Beach
where surfers braved towering waves while we slumped in the sand and
waited for our bus back to camp.
the end of a perfect day we drank our wines watching silent
satellites move across the dense scatter of stars, and the winking
wingtips of aircraft in the blackness.
the final afternoon as we lie on the grass at Otford, happily weary
the end of our walk, I ask Chris -- turning 50 in a few days -- what
he would tell his friends.
me, he’d felt slightly embarrassed about the luxury treatment
Madsen and her crew afforded guests, “but the walk was more of a
test than I’d thought“.
felt the same: not too arduous but a rewarding workout.
of boot camp for lazy people -- with fine food, wonderful wine, and
good company in a very special place.
my kind of “hike“.
that is the truth.
The Coastal Track offer two and three-day catered and guided package tours which include seasonal highlights such as whale migration (May) flowers in bloom (September) and a spring weekend (November). There are also tailored walks for photographers, singles, over 50s and women-only groups.
photographs and details of the track, accommodation and catering go here.
Lisk of R’n’R Catering, go here.