About 1hr north-east of Gosford lies my favourite section of the Great North Walk to date: deep rainforest gullies and tree-lined trails make for standout bushwalking. The campsite was top notch too.
The only problem? You’ll need to be pretty fit to enjoy the hike into and out of the creek gullies. It’s made harder by the scrambles over and around the numerous blow-downs across the track. Sadly, our mid-winter fitness levels were less than ideal.
The Road to Mt Warrawolong
After catching an early train, I met John and Cole at Tuggerah Station. From there it was an hour’s drive through Wyong’s pastured valleys and up the forested hills that surround Yarramalong and other townships. Then we turned into Olney State Forest.
Despite its relative proximity to Sydney and the Central Coast, I had the impression of entering another world as we wound our way up an undulating mountain road, glimpsing eroded mountain ranges through gaps in the trees.
From the shady (and dank) Basin Campsite, it’s a 12km walk to the Watagan Valley campsite, and 784 metres of climbing. But with John recovering from a chest infection, and Cole having spent more time buying hiking gear than hiking in recent times (something I can fully relate to!), we had a plan B: the Mt Warrawolong campsite, which actually sits about 150m below the summit. Camping there would save about 4km and a steep 300m descent/ascent.
You can’t see the mountain for all the trees
‘The only thing this walk is missing,’ remarked John as we relaxed by our excellent camp fire at the Plan B campsite, ‘are some good outlooks.’
Indeed, we had hiked through rainforest gullies where the canopy was so thick in parts that daylight barely penetrated. We had walked up forested hillsides and on service trails lined by impossibly tall eucalypts. But not once had we viewed the mountain range around us.
Not that this was a major issue: the rough bushtrack that follows Wollombi brook felt incredibly wild as it rose and fell, its muddy surface slippery underfoot. Vines, mossy tree trunks and overhanging boulders required extra effort. Occasionally, sunlight burst through, tinting the dark creek water a crystal-clear gold. Bright red mushrooms, whose colour screamed ‘Do not eat’, grew along the path as it twisted back and forth.
At some points we were at least 15 or 20 metres above the creek – a bad slip would have meant a bad fall.
‘This would be so stressful with children,’ I said, watching John lose his footing on a particularly treacherous patch. Recovering his balance, John agreed: ‘It would be awful.’
Luckily it was Winter and the cold seemed to be keeping the leeches at bay – by all accounts they are terrible in warmer seasons. Soon, we crossed a rocky creek bed and began the first serious ascent of the day: a trail – barely distinguishable at times – that rose from rainforest into dry sclerophyll forest where massive eucalypts stood like columns from a long-abandoned city.
End of the line
After a welcome stretch of flat road, a descent into and climb out of an even darker rainforest gully, and a fairly relentless ascent to another service trail, the Mt Warrawolong campsite was too good to pass up. It had only taken us 4 hours to walk here but the transition into the state of being that can only come with overnight hiking was complete.
In some ways, traveling for 4 hours to do a 4-hour hike seems like madness but when everyone has young families to get back to the next day, you grab whatever snatches of wilderness you can. We spent hours in front of the fire, just talking, eating, being. I hadn’t seen either of my friends since our last hike a few months earlier and this time away from time together was hard earned.
We kept warm by the fire but the night was long and cold; we were at the tail end of a record cold-snap. Depite wearing every layer, I couldn’t warm up once the temperature hit its nadir in the early morning, a period of about 2 hours. Neither John nor Cole slept well either. We were all glad to make it back to the car the next day, after a mostly downhill return route in light rain.
‘You can tick the Watagans off your bucket list,’ said John as we drove back down the mountain.
In my head, however, I was already planning next year’s return and a multi-day traverse of the range… That and a slightly better cold-weather sleeping system.
Need to know
- Full track notes at Wild Walks (note this walk describes the one-way journey to Watagan Creek Rd)
- Access to the trailhead at the Basin Campsite is by car only – about 1 hour from Gosford/Tuggerah
- We did this as an overnight, return walk from the Basin Campsite though it could be done as a one-way day walk with a car shuffle
- Water is plentiful in the gullies but you’ll need to carry it up to the campsite
- Buy the full set of handy Great North Walk topo maps from the Department of Primary Industries