Monday, April 13, 2009

Australia – Part II - Playing Tourist: Adventures in Mount Buffalo National Park, Royal National Park and Blue Mountains National Park

After Norma's race, we had a couple of days to enjoy the area before we flew back to Sydney. My plan in Sydney was to go to Royal National Park, to run the Coastal Trail and then head up to Blue Mountains National Park, to enjoy 3 days on the trail.

The day after the race, Norma was moving amazingly well. We got to enjoy a morning of leisure with all of our new friends and had a wrap up breakfast and awards presentation and say our thank-yous and good-byes. The first thing we did, was to go for a 2nd breakfast (a full on Aussie fry-up with eggs, bacon rashers, fried tomatoes and mushrooms). It was one of the best things we did all day! Fuelled by coffee, we were ready to go play tourist and take a closer look at the beautiful surrounding area. We took a short road trip to Mount Buffalo National Park where we spent the day sightseeing. It was another gorgeous place, with scenery that changed every 5 minutes.

The road took us up through Eucalyptus forests, across high alpine plains and lakes, past sheer rock cliffs and above tree line into the high country. The rock formations above tree line were crazy, with strange clusters of round smooth rock sculpted by Mother Nature. The trail system looked to by expansive, with single track running all through the park from the valley floor and into the high country. Mount Buffalo would most definitely be a great place to run! We took it easy on this day but still enjoyed a short steep hike of 1.5k to the high point of the park, the Horn. I could not believe that Norma managed the rocky walk up and down with relative ease. At the top, our view was completely hazed over with the smoke from surrounding bush fires. It was pretty funny to be at an overlook with a commanding view of all of the mountains of Alpine National Park and seeing…..nothing! We rounded up the day with a picnic by Lake Catani and some quality relaxing.

Hazy and smoky views at Mount Buffalo

Let's Go Snow Tubing at the Dingo Dell!!

Top of "The Horn" Mount Buffalo National Park

Norma and Jason

The next day, we spent the day in the car and took a road trip out of the mountains, into the flat land and back to Albury. It is really dry in this corner of the world and we were told that there had been ongoing droughts and subsequent fires, for 3 years and counting. During the race, we had run through large forests of old burns. The silver forests of dead Eucalyptus were eery, but quite beautiful! Just outside of Albury, we came across something completely different. Lake Hume looked to be a man-made lake, with ghost trees poking out through the water.

Good times.

We flew in to Sydney early and my plan was to get to Royal National Park and run the Coastal Trail, all in one day. The Coastal Trail was a 29km run which is so close to Sydney, but a world away. The Royal National Park is the 3rd oldest National Park in the world, behind Yellowstone (#1) and Banff (#2)!! It sits just South of this huge city, remotely located, an island of wilderness which you can access easily by ferry. The trail was recommended to me numerous times, by many different people. My plan was to stay in the park at a remote wilderness hostel and enjoy a couple of days of running. The plan changed when I was offered a lift into the park and the chance to run a 20km section of the trail instead. At the end of my run, I would take a ferry back to the city and sleep at the youth hostel in Cronulla where my gear was waiting for me.

My run started from Garie Beach, where I filled my shoes up with sand in the first 10 minutes of running, despite my gaiters. The surf was up and the swells on the ocean were huge! There was a lot of debris on the trail because of a massive amount of rain that had fallen in the previous 24 hours. For this Banff girl, the heat and humidity felt smothering and downright hot, even though it was overcast and only 18-20c. I was a sweaty mess.

Garie Beach - starting out.

Rough and Scenic Single track

The day was moody, humid and overcast which just added do the dramatic effect. As I climbed up and out of the beach, I got glimpses of views into the park: a sprawling mass of dark, green, steamy, impenetrable forest. It was truly an oasis, a world away from the city.

Despite the terrible forecast and the high humidity, I never actually got rained on. The ocean swells were hammering the shore line and the beaches that I crossed were covered in debris from the recent storms. I think the weather had people scared as I only saw 2 other people on the trail all day.

I ran into the village of Bundeena and headed straight down to the ferry dock to catch the 6:00 ferry. I was tired, hungry and sweaty and ready to sit down and have myself a post-run feast. At the ferry dock, 6:00 came and went and I began to have a sinking feeling. Where was the ferry? There were no signs, no schedule, no evidence of a ferry even existing. I flagged down the first two people I saw and they told me that the ferry wasn't running because the ocean was to rough. I was stuck. No bus service. No local taxi service. I was soaking wet, it was getting dark and I was hungry and stranded. Fortunately for me, the nice people took me home, where I put in the emergency phone call to my uncle in Sydney to come rescue me. They were SO awesome, that they drove me to meet my uncle half way between his place and their home in Bundeena! Ah, the joys of travelling and meeting good people. My uncle was fantastic and gave me a hard time for not phoning him when I arrived. We picked up my gear in Cronulla and I got to enjoy a great nights sleep and some quality time with Uncle Ronny. The next day, he drove me out to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, where I was planning on getting 3 long runs, in 3 days.

I really didn't know a thing about the Blue Mountains National Park or the town of Katoomba, but I knew it was a mountain town in a very pretty place. Sound like something familiar? Like Banff, perhaps? I knew that Katoomba would be the kind of place that I enjoy. Great scenery, lots of trails and the type of good people that you find only in mountain towns. Naturally, I felt very at home in this place. I loved it.

My uncle delivered me to Katoomba early enough that I could go enjoy a few hours on the trails. It poured rain on the entire drive into the mountains and the clouds were sitting thick and low. But it was warm and the moist air was lovely. It was a few degrees colder in the mountains that on the Coastal Trail, to make the temperature just perfect. Moist, but warm! On my first run, I had my first glimpse into the park on the Prince Henry Cliff Walk. It was pouring rain and I was out running in a sleeveless jersey and shorts. It was so much fun tearing around on the trails in the rain. I was soaked to the skin, filthy and having a ridiculous amount of fun. Every now and then the clouds would lift and I would catch a glimpse of some massive cliffs off in the distance. The trails, the scenery were incredible and much more than I had expected! I ended up with a solid 3 hour run and who knows how long for distance.

Leslie Of the Rain Forest


I was so excited for my run the next day because I had the entire day to enjoy. I was keen to get out into the park and see as much of it as I could, on the trail. I had grandiose ideas of attempting something really long, like the Six Foot Track, a 46km long historic walk but I realized that there was waaaaay too much good scenery to see in Katoomba. I decided to piece together one long day of running all the short and scenic day treks of the area. That morning, when I returned to the Prince Henry Cliff Walk and the clouds started lifting to reveal the incredible scenery, I was pretty happy with my decision.


I ran at cliff level for about and hour and a half before descending the Golden Stairs down into the valley. This trail was an adventure of roots, rocks and mud and was cut straight through the cliff to descend into the rain forest below. I said good-bye to the sunshine, because running in the rain forest was pretty dark.

Everything was alive and green and the forest was loud with the sounds of Bell birds and insects. I never actually SAW a Bell bird, but I sure heard them. My first destination was a place called Ruined Castle, a rocky outcrop in the forest. It was a short upward scramble up to the Castle which had me grabbing roots and rocks to help me up the slope. Apart from the scramble, the Ruined Castle trail was a pleasure cruise through the rain forest. It joined up with the Federal Pass Walking Track which took me back to civilisation and past the Scenic Railway Terminal. After running in the woods by myself for 4 hours without seeing people, it was a little shocking when the trail dropped me abruptly back into the tourist zone of the Railway Boardwalks. It was just like being at home and going for a run on Mystic Pass and arriving back at Johnson Canyon, the most popular walk in Banff National Park. Or, the same claustrophobic feeling that I sometimes get when I arrive at the top of the Banff Gondola on my afternoon run. Come to think about it, it's the same feeling that I get when I drive from Banff into the city. Anyhow, within 10 minutes the people had all but disappeared and I had the trail back to myself. Phew.
The trail provided me with a great view of the Three Sisters, this little gem of a rock formation on the Escarpment. It had turned into a hot and lovely day and I was just cruising away the day in the rain forest. I connected up the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track and Federal Pass as a bonus loop before continuing onward and upward, returning to the top of the escarpment via some crazy amazing trail with lots of waterfalls and overlooks. I continued cliff-side all the way to Gordon Falls before calling it a day and making the return journey back to my hostel. When I got back sweaty, happy and content I had been running for 8 hours. A great run in the park! My roommate shrieked when she saw me, because as well as being filthy and stinky, a couple of leeches had gotten a hold of me in the rain forest and I had blood stains all over my white jersey. I was having so much fun that I hadn't even noticed. Ewwwwww.

For my last day, there was still some new trails to connect up and this time I used the Furber Steps to descend down from the escarpment. This trail was in way better shape than the Golden Stairs and I managed to stay on my feet for this descent. A quick tour of some of the shorter trails in the railroad area and an excursion onto a fire road not on my map, took me about 4 hours of running time. I was one happy girl. 3 days and 3 great runs in a beautiful place!
Uncle Ronny collected me and took me back to civilisation, where I got to relax and enjoy and evening with my Aussie family, before heading to the airport in the AM. Sigh. Whirlwind Aussie Holiday Over. How lucky am I?!? Total, about 33 hours of Aussie trails under my feet. Kilometres? Who the heck knows. Fun? Yep!


JeffO said...

I think you saw more of Australia than some Australians have!

Danni said...

Amazing! And the pictures are awesome. What a fantastic opportunity!

Crosskpmv said...

I think you saw more of Australia than some Australians have!

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