This section of the Great North Walk takes you through the sandstone ridges and creek gullies around Mooney Mooney Creek. It reveals a nuanced landscape defined by expansive vistas and hidden creek gullies.
‘Hey guys!’ I yelled out to my companions, John, Cole and Adam, ‘See that mountain over there: we have to climb up it.’
‘Really?’ exclaimed Cole and Adam, who were on their first overnight hike and starting to flag. John on the other hand was doing well, especially considering his past knee problems.
‘Nah, just joking,’ I replied, looking up from the map.
But I was wrong: we did need to climb it. The peak in question was Mount Wondabyne, where we would camp for the night.
The tallest peak
Mt Wondabyne is the most recognisable feature in Brisbane Water National Park’s rolling sandstone hill landscape. It rises about 100m above any of the surrounding ridges. From the north, it looks like an imposing, stone-tipped monolith, especially after a day’s walk with full packs. Despite countless drives up and down the F3 to Newcastle, I had never noticed it before.
So, how had I mistaken it? Confused by intersecting fire trails and a thick dotted trail line on my Great North Walk map, I had placed us further South than our actual position. The map fold didn’t help either. But closer inspection revealed my error: there was only one peak in this area. With some reluctance, we trudged on.
In the end, the ascent was pretty tame: the trail skirted the western side of the mount and provided fantastic views back across the ridge-top landscapes and creek gullies we had just traversed. These ridges now obscured the Girrakool picnic area near Gosford, where we had started our walk some six hours earlier. Since then we had hiked through rainforest pockets, across flat sandstone expanses, and past quiet creeks and a hidden waterfall.
As the sun dipped toward the horizon, birds started to emerge and I spotted a family of cute brown quails hopping across the path ahead.
We arrived at the camp site just south of the peak to find it almost full: a school group had walked up via a nearby fire trail. Hanging out with a bunch of teenagers, no matter how civilised, was not the wilderness experience I had in mind. Luckily a couple perched right on the summit had alerted me to a grassy clearing 10 minutes walk away.
I convinced the others to make the extra effort and it turned out to be worthwhile. We followed the fire trail to find a recently mown and relatively flat site. We set up tents and got a fire burning before cracking open one of the many bottles of wine we had brought. It was good to be on the trail with friends again.
The next morning, John and I made the short walk to the summit of Mount Wondabyne. We arrived just as the sun rose above the Pacific Ocean and the sky transformed from soft pink and indigo hues to a light, unending blue, broken only by clouds. Mist gathered in the river valleys to the north while the Hawkesbury River glinted in early light.
The rest of the day proved to be more lacklustre. John and Cole forged ahead while I finished packing up. Eventually Adam, would pull ahead too as I slowed to take photos. I spent most of the morning walking on my own along fire trails that eventually led past Woy Woy’s landfill and up onto an exposed and somewhat featureless ridge, with glimpses of the ocean.
But approaching Patonga I found a lookout from where I could gaze out over the entire mouth of the Hawkesbury River. As a small fishing boat sped off, a trail of white water in its wake, I imagined the river’s steady and timeless wash out into the sea, past Pittwater’s sheltered cove. It was a reminder that no matter how many times you visit a place, there are always new ways to see it.
Need to know
- Find detailed track notes on Wild Walks
- Make sure you fill up on water in one of the creeks before you climb towards Mount Wondabyne
- Getting here by public transport is difficult: we left a car parked at Patonga and one at Umina (from where we caught a taxi to Girrakool) – there are reports of vandalism and theft of cars left over night at Girrakool
- There is a great if overpriced pub at Patonga: a nice way to end Day 2
- Walk totals 25km: 15km on Day 1 and a much shorter Day 2. Allow about 5-6 hours on Day 1 and 3-4 on Day 2. Total climbing about 1050 metres. It can be done in the either direction.
- Day 2’s walking is pretty forgettable for the most part; the lookout I found is not actually marked but is accessed via footpad from the fire trail as you approach to Patonga (just past actual lookout)
- There are a couple of alternative campsites, including a primo spot near the top of Mt Wondabyne, that would be perfect for 1 tent