GARDENS OF STONE NATIONAL PARK
BLUE MOUNTAINS (WEST OF SYDNEY)
Donkey Mountain from the Glow Worm Tunnel track
I was lucky! You may recall that earlier this year I went on a trip to Donkey Mountain, Gardens of Stone National Park, Blue Mountains, New South Wales. You may wish to re-read it at https://barrieridgway.wordpress.com/2018/06/02/donkey-mountain-trip/ Well, the other day, Gemma emailed me saying they were going again and there was a spare sofa bed going for me if I would like it. I didn’t hesitate!
So we went down last weekend. This time, Gemma’s husband, Peter, was able to get the Friday and Monday off, so we had 4 days, and could drive down in daylight on the Friday, returning in the afternoon of the Monday.
5 of us went down in the one car. Peter’s sister, Rosalie , and her husband, Ian, came down from Orange, just for the day, to give us the guided tour of Donkey Mountain, and Peter and Gemma’s son, Jarron, joined us for that day from Sydney..
The other two in the car were Chrissie and her father, Paul . I had met Chrissie months ago, but really did not remember her. Paul, sadly, has Alzheimers and has also had his bladder removed. Poor man. He is only 78, too. Chrissie is a midwife at the hospital and lives with Paul as he needs constant care now. (Gemma is a nurse at the same hospital) . Chrissie is wonderful – to see her compassion, patience and sense of humour as she cares for Paul brings tears to the eyes. Gemma is also wonderful (well, they all are, really) – she wanted to take Chrissie away but knows that is impossible unless Paul also goes, so she organized the whole trip around that, there was something for all of us, and we all had a great time. I would not have missed it for all the tea in China!
Last time we stayed in a very nice cabin at Newnes, but they were all booked this time. Gemma managed to find a cabin called “The Barn” not far from Newnes, tucked away in the cliff-walled mountains on a large farm.
Initially Gemma had indicated that we would all be using the cabin, but I think she then realised it would be more convenient if they took their small, off-road caravan as well. The Barn has a sofa bed and, on the mezzanine floor, a queen size bed and 2 singles, so we could have all fitted in although it would have been cozy! There is little floor space around the beds! So they took their small, off-road, van down for themselves.
The Barn is a slice of heaven. A beautiful, small cottage which blends in well with its environment, tucked away, hidden away, in its remote valley, surrounded on 3 sides by the bush and mountains, and on the 4th side green paddocks slope away downwards to the foot of more mountains. What a fantastic place. I hate homes which do not blend in with the bush, but this cottage is a beauty.
I am really lucky to have been invited along. They are all lovely people with a great sense of humour. Gemma is a real “livewire” and never seems to stop. She is a most compassionate person (as is Chrissie) just bubbling over with good humour. Peter is quieter, with a subtle sense of humour and quietly makes Gemma’s ideas a reality. Together they make a great team. I got to know Paul. He is a really lovely man, quiet, and with a great sense of humour. As for Chrissie, well, we really hit it off, She is just so full of cheekiness, has a naughty sense of humour and has the most gorgeous smile. We all got along incredibly well, with never any tension or awkwardness or disagreements.
We all took our own breakfasts and lunches, Gemma provided all the dinners and did the cooking with help from Peter, and I must say that her meals were delicious, Chrissie and I took snacks and wine.
Oh, on the way down we stopped at Secret Creek on the outskirts of Lithgow, for lunch. A vegan café, with excellent food. a great place for delicious meals. We arrived at Lithgow at exactly 1.00 Pm.
I had left my place at 7.15 am and it had taken me 30 minutes to drive to Peter and Gemma’s place out in the bush, south of Canberra. The intention had been to collect Chrissie and Paul at their home in Queanbeyan at about 8.30, but for some reason, that morning, Gemma had asked them to come to their place , but we still got away at about 8.30. We stopped for some food shopping at Jerrabomberra , so we really didn’t get away from Queanbeyan until about 9.00. Then we had to clear Canberra when we were truly on our way. We stopped for morning tea at Taralga. It was great coming down in the daylight, as last time it had been nighttime. Now I could see the scenery. Although the terrible drought prevails, a very light shower in the last couple of weeks has turned the countryside green. But not enough for animal feed.
The descent into the Wolgan Valley is quite something. On either side the valley is lined with very steep mountains rimmed with cliffs of magical red, orange and yellow hues. The narrow road clings to the mountain sides as it winds steeply downwards.
Getting in across the farm to the Barn was an adventure in itself, along a 4×4 track, including a creek crossing with steep and eroded approaches, and then we were there and we all gasped with delight. We went in and Gemma proclaimed that there was my sofa bed and Chrissie and Paul would be upstairs. 5 minutes later she changed that and said that I would sleep upstairs with Chrissie and Paul would have the sofa bed as he would never manage the very steep stairs, which, incidentally, Chrissie and I treated with great caution each time we descended. The stairs are not only steep but the treads are very shallow. This arrangement did not worry me. As a one time mountaineer and long time bushwalker I am used to sharing accommodation, whether it be a tent, a cave, a room or a hut. But don’t know what Chrissie thought about sharing a bedroom with a strange man – she gave nothing away! However, her reactions were interesting. The first night there was no “good night” and on the first morning there she lay buried under the doona, not moving, until I had gone downstairs. The next night she said goodnight and the following morning she peeped out and said good morning, the next night she chatted a few minutes after lights out and in the morning half sat up to say good morning and then came downstairs in her pyjamas!!!
I hope she will forgive me these tongue in cheek “observations” ! We actually hit it off very well together with much banter and laughter. She has a wonderful, cheeky, often naughty, sense of humour which appeals to me .
Inside, the cabin was as lovely as the outside. All of us were delighted. Gas stove and perhaps the fridge. Rain water tanks with a pump to take the water to a 1000 l. tank up the hill side for some gravity pressure, blazing hot water provided by solar panels and solar electricity from the panels stored in batteries. Totally self sufficient. My cup of tea.
On arrival there was of course the usual unpacking and placing food in the fridge and Peter reversed the van through the garden gate and right up to the house before unhitching the van and moving the car away before leveling the van We went for a short drive to show Chrissie what there is at Newnes. Just before reaching the Barn there is a whimsical display of about 30 very old vehicles (well, what do farmers do with old vehicles? Take them into town at great cost? ) , and with the setting sun starting to paint the red cliffs even redder, Chrissie and I took our cameras and went for a stroll to have a look at all the old vehicles. Very brave of me, as I usually feel very awkward one to one with people I don’t know. But it was a lovely time, walking there and back in such a beautiful place.
By the time we got back it was time to have some wine and snacks and heat up the absolutely delicious pearl barley soup which Gemma had brought from Canberra which we greatly enjoyed with fresh crusty bread. We didn’t need a heavy dinner since we had had a very large lunch! We sat outside for our aperitifs and cheese and biccys and soup, and bread, under the wisteria at the side of the cottage. A lovely spot, and we were at peace with the world at peace. As it grew dark the frogs started croaking and what a din they made. A few metres from the cottage there is a pond, inhabited by wood ducks and I suspect is a breeding ground for the frogs, but it seemed to me that they were in the roof! The din in the bedroom was incredible and we both wondered how on earth we would sleep. They seemed to have a director, for every now and again they would stop as one, and then start up again, all together. Chrissie chose the Queen size bed , but didn’t offer to share it with me!!
Oh gosh! My bladder really played up that first night and I had to creep down the stairs to the loo a number of times. I set my torch on red which is far less disturbing than a vivid white led light, and crept down the stairs, trying not to fall or make any noise, but the stairs did creak a bit. Poor Chrissie. She told me I woke her every time. I wondered whether at first Chrissie thought I might be up to something, using a red light and the creaking stairs were very close to her bed!! The next two nights I slept right through, except once on Sunday night when Chrissie crept downstairs to help her father who couldn’t find his torch.
On Saturday we were all up early, as Peter wanted to leave by 8 . 00 am. But how early should I get up, to go to the bathroom, shave, etc? Didn’t want to wake Chrissie too early. Think I got up at 6.45. washed, shaved, put the kettle on. Went upstairs to dress and then in came Gemma and Peter, and everyone trying to use the toilet/bathroom and make tea and coffee and breakfast at once. Just as well we get on together and are used to this sort of thing!
After breakfast we drove 15 minutes down the road to Donkey Mountain. We hadn’t long been there when Jarron, arrived for the day with us from Sydney. Soon after that Rosalie and Ian arrived . Wonderful to see them again. Old friends now. How much I look forward to their company. They are a fantastic couple and are also real live wires, full of fun and laughter, good humour, full of energy and clearly highly competent in the bush and in leading a party.
At the start, Chrissie was a bit apprehensive about Donkey Mountain. However, she went well, and in next to no time had adapted to rock scrambling, very loose terrain with huge drops alongside and so on.
We had a wonderful time and Rosalie led us with great skill and fantastic memory through this incredible maze. . The area had had just a little rain and so was looking rather green and lush. Very different from last April. The lichens had come back to life as had the tree ferns, “ordinary” ferns, bracken and mosses and what I assume to be worts, all of which were now green. There were even dendrobium orchids in flower, sprays of yellow, on the rocks. Deep and extensive “beds” of mosses on the cliffs were dripping with water.
Within minutes of the car park we were making our way up the ridge, then through the portal to the summit ridge where all the fun is. Chrissie had great fun playing on a twisted vine the thickness of a man’s arm and also entered a fire-hollowed stump of a once huge tree to “serve us with beer”! For someone with no previous rock climbing or scrambling experience she was quite incredible, especially in those narrow slots which hung over immense drops. Lunch was on the top of one of the many rock towers, and then, just before we commenced the descent off the mountain, Rosalie took us to the top of two rock towers, with a leap across a deep, narrow chasm from the one to the other. None of us ventured to make the second leap to another tower. this would have been a much longer leap, and on the return would have meant leaping uphill onto an inwards sloping slope. But what a magnificent place to be with views that go forever – valleys and cliff lined mountains. A vast and stunning place. During the afternoon a RAAF plane was doing circuits and flying down the Wolgan Valley at our feet, well, at tree top level anyway.
I love this mountain and could go back there many times. It is a maze of caves, cracks, narrow passages, mini canyons, and rock towers, with plenty of rock scrambling from one place to another. The vegetation, too, is varied, from dry open forest to rain forest . It is a beautiful and exciting place to be, where one gets a real sense of exploration and adventure.
We were back at the car park a little before 2.00 pm. Luckily, the forecast early to mid afternoon storms had not arrived. Peter had dropped us off there that morning as he was going to stay with Paul and had said he would pick us up at 2.15 pm. However, Ian and Rosalie decided they had time to have a quick cup of tea with us, so we all piled into their car and arrived back at the Barn just as Peter and Paul were leaving to fetch us..
Gemma had wanted to cook over the fire and Peter had prepared the fire and placed a tarp over it in case the storms came. However, as the afternoon progressed Peter and I both thought that a storm was brewing. Also, a high wind had sprung up which could have whisked embers away to start a forest fire in the nearby, tinder dry forest. Gemma decided that we would cook on and sit around the fire the next evening instead and cook the lamb shanks for tonight on the stove. A slow cook, too, so while this was happening we watched another episode of Air Zermatt Mountain Rescue which Gemma had copied off Netflix.
Well, thankfully, for both Chrissie and myself, I slept through the night.
While we had been on Donkey Mountain, Peter and Paul had done a bit of exploring and found a shortcut footpad leading from The Barn through the bush and up the hill to the Glow Worm Tunnel track from Newnes to the tunnel. This meant that we could walk from the cabin and did not have to drive anywhere first.
Weather is fickle. Saturday evening the storm had rolled over us but now, this Sunday morning, it seemed that the world was making up for its seeming wrath and showing us its laughing, playful, lighter side . The early morning was absolutely stunning. Last night’s brief storm had passed , leaving a brilliantly clear dawn over the mountains, but as the sun rose it left us with a beautiful aftermath of yesterday’s storm : mist wraithes formed in the valley and then slowly, playfully, spread up the mountains, shifting and weaving, creating ethereal window views of the cliffs catching the sunlight. What a special place and how lucky we were to be there. And so, with light hearts and good cheer we commenced our walk to the Glow Worm Tunnel.
Back at the beginning of last century Newnes had been a shale oil and coal mine. Oil had been extracted from the shale and refined, while as a by product there was also a huge paraffin or tallow production plant for candle making. Coal had been mined, not only for the shale oil plant but for other users around the south east of the country, going as far as Newcastle.
A 52 km branch railway line was built in the early 1900’s to serve the then thriving mining town of Newnes. The line has been dismantled and part of it is now the walking track from Newnes to the tunnel. The track is fairly level, but one can only admire those who built the old line, cutting a way through cliffs and tunneling 400 metres through a mountain.
The walk to the tunnel is through beautiful forest, with great views of the Wolgan Valley and its red and orange cliff-lined mountains. The old railway line hugs the great cliffs, the land below it falling steeply to the valley floor. Creating this line along these cliffs must have been a huge undertaking. From the track there are good views, too, of Donkey Mountain, and also of the luxury resort at its foot where, I understand, one can stay the night for $1500. No wonder Newnes displays a notice which says everything money can’t buy! As I have said, the walk along this track is though beautiful forest, this morning filled with bird calls and wonderful light. How I love the Australian bush, so filled with light and lightness, the gum trees so attractive with their mainly light coloured, patterned bark, sometimes even orange coloured. Native plants were also coming into spring flowers. Eventually, the track swings into a narrow valley between two huge, cliff-lined mountains to enter a totally different world. Water was cascading down the face of the cliffs and we walked beneath a canopy of huge tree ferns alongside a trickling stream, flanked by mosses, ferns and bracken; a softer, damper and more shadowy world highlighted by vivid green tree fern fronds catching shafts of sunlight. Such a different world but equally beautiful and one I also love We were now in the mountain fastness , a green, damp world between towering cliffs. Soon we were at the mouth of the tunnel which is curved, so soon after entering it one is in total darkness. Here we paused to put on our head torches. The floor of the tunnel is quite rough, rocky, and there are many shallow pools. Once one is out of sight of the ends of the tunnel, all one has to do is to turn off the torches and be silent and the walls become alive with pinpricks of light.
We walked through and then returned and had our morning tea just outside the mouth of the tunnel.
It had been a glorious morning’s walk and we were back at The Barn at about 1.30 pm for lunch. Paul, although slow and a bit unsteady and needing some help in and out of gullies had done very well and I hope, had enjoyed himself. It was lovely that he had been able to join us.
The glorious morning extended into a glorious afternoon, although clouds drifted in at about 5.pm.
Peter and Gemma disappeared into their van for a nap. Paul fell asleep on a sofa. Chrissie listened to a book reading on her tablet, and I read a bit before going outside to sit under the wisteria to watch the changing, magical light on the mountains. Eventually I went back indoors. Suddenly Peter appeared, telling me to come and see something. They had been lying on the bed in their van and through the end window had noticed a long Red Bellied Black snake climb up onto the carport roof! Sure enough, there he was on the carport roof . Oops! We had been warned to look out for one, but of course had forgotten about it! Now it was pretty real! The large gaps under the doors were now blocked up with carpet or towel and we carefully checked the ceiling for openings.
This evening Gemma got her wish and Peter lit the fire which we sat around, chatting and enjoying wine and snacks while the coals built up for slow cooking of steaks and another delicious meal. Pity there were no stars, but it was still, and a lovely evening. Slowly the light faded and then the beauty of the gloaming faded into night. A couple of solar lights in the garden came on, but didn’t provide much light onto the ground. Strange how quickly the memory of the snake disappeared! Frogs started loud croaking. No wonder there is a resident Red-bellied Black.
Everyone was bustling around a bit early on Monday. This was our final morning and we had to have breakfast, pack, clean The Barn and Peter needed to ready the van for towing. When all was done we were on our way, Gemma doing duty opening and closing gates. I might add that when we arrived here on Friday, she couldn’t wait to open the gates as she enjoyed riding on them as they swung open. However, Peter curbed her youthful exuberance, reminding her thst farmers didn’t like that. For a while she lost interest in opening them!
We now drove to Newnes and left the van beside the road before driving across the ford on the Wolgan River and up to the car park for the industrial site walk, on the way passing some stunning free camping areas on the river, with hardly anyone there, whereas the main Newnes camp ground had quite a few vans. We spent a delightful and interesting morning walking around the ruins of the old refinery ; good friends and lots of banter. Another stunning, but different morning. It was overcast, but not that heavy overcast. Rather a lovely mistiness and haziness bringing a sense of mystery. The great cliffs and buttresses were no longer clearly defined, but more ephemeral. A few metres away and the forest too became uncertain. One could feel dampness. The vegetation seemed to revel in it, for the bush, although not sparkling in sunlight, seemed to be much more saturated in colour and beauty: the tree trunks , the bark, the leaves, the understory, all glowing in colour. It is amazing that in only a hundred years the forest is taking over and replacing man’s damage. Huge trees have now grown where once the ground had been scraped bare. If only man would stop “scraping the ground bare” we humans might have a chance of surviving on this planet . I was going to say ” on this planet of ours” but in truth it is not ours: we are sojourners here and may be exterminated if we do not value what we have been granted to live amongst.
Then it was back to the van for lunch and the trip home. I was amazed by Peter’s skill in reversing the car up to the van’s towbar. Using the reversing camera screen in the car he ended up only a centimeter away. We arrived back at Peter and Gem’s place at about 5,30 pm.
A fantastic 4 days in great company. Thanks, guys and gals. I feel I belong and love being with you all, all of you. Just a pity that Rosalie and Ian couldn’t have stayed on with us. Many thanks, too, Peter, for all the driving you did and towing a van too.
Looking forward to many more adventures like this one with you all.
And before I forget, and before I bring in the pics of this trip, I must thank Chrissie for being the best sleeping partner !!! (well, you know what I mean!!) Always so considerate, never imposing , so easy going and not one snore! What could be better! The following selfie which does neither of us justice, is a good one to end off the narrative as it shows that after 4 days in close proximity and 3 nights sharing a bedroom , we are still laughing.
Now I leave you with photos of this stunning part of the world
AFTERNOON, DAY 1, AND CHRISSIE AND I TAKE A STROLL FROM THE BARN :-
THE BARN AND ITS VIEWS :-
Gemma and Chrissie
DAY 2, SATURDAY, DONKEY MOUNTAIN :-
Setting off from the car park
we went up along the left skyline ridge and came down from the gap just visible through the trees on the right
Still going up
looking back – Wolgan Valley
The Portal, which takes one through to the summit ridge
Just through the portal. A breather after the climb
l-r : Chrissie, Gemma, Jarron, Rosalie (where is Ian?)
Gemma disappearing into a cave
Looking down into a small canyon (in which people camp) from a window in the cave
looking back to the vine, on the left
In the canyon where people camp, viewed in an earlier
photo from the cave
The bows of the Titanic
The beautiful, dried/weathered bark on the stump of this old Eucalypt below the Titanic
From where we had lunch, looking across to the pillars Rosalie took us up, the two on the left. In the distance is rock pillar the other side of the gap from which we descended to the right.
making our way to the gap
Stating the climb from the gap to the top of the pillars
Yay! Rosalie on the top of the first tower
Me on top
Jarron, Gemma and Rosalie
from top of the tower
from top of tower, showing the gap from which we descend, right, to the cars,
Going down to rejoin Ian waiting in the gap, seen in distance but around corner to left
DAY 3, SUNDAY, WALK TO GLOW WORM TUNNEL :-
Ethereal and ephemeral beauty after the storm
from the cottage
Setting off from the Barn
along the track
The track now starts to head left up the side of the left hand cliffs
great view? hailing Donkey Mountain? Pagan rite?
Peter and Gemma.
Looking up Wolgan Valley
Donkey Mtn and Wolgan Valley
Donkey Mtn on extreme left
Looking back as we enter the tunnel, about 400 metres long
Chrissie and Paul in the tunnel
Coming out again
Paul leaving the tunnel
DAY 4, MONDAY, A MORNING’S WALK AROUND THE OLD INDUSTRIAL AREA :-
Just two of the 90 or so old coke ovens
Youngsters having a laugh at the maturer members of the party !
And who laughs loudest and shows least respect?
Chrissie and her dad, Paul
In contrast to the super expensive resort just below Donkey Mountain