Party: Bruce (leading), Candice, Cathie, Emily, Karen, Gen Lei Mo, Dong, Xinyi.
Date: 18-20/08/2017

The Friday morning started off with my Samsung mobile phone dying as it stubbornly refused to recognise that it had a SIM card installed. With a vital need for a working mobile phone for contacting walk people later that night, the morning was spent buying and then figuring out how to work an Apple iPhone.

So the plan was for Karen, Gen Lei Mo, Dong, and Xinyi to meet up with me at Maccas at the Caltex service centre on the M1 freeway near Jilliby, and I would collect Cathie, Candice and Emily at Tascott Station. When the train pulled in to Tascott however, only Candice got off. Soon after I received a call from Emily that she had forgotten to be in the last car for Tascott, and then Cathie texted that she was getting off at Gosford as the doors didn’t open at Tascott (seems she on the wrong side of the car).

So Candice and myself drove to Gosford Station to pick up Emily and Cathie, and then we drove to The Caltex centre to meet up with the others already patiently waiting there at Maccas. Cathie and Emily were happy to discover an “Olivers” organic food outlet there.

Then we continued along the M1 and then onto the Hunter Expressway and then to Maitland and on to Dungog. There we stopped for a loo stop at the local hotal, the only thing open in Dungog at that time of night. We got curious looks from the local yokels there. From Dungog it is a 39 km drive to Barrington Tops National Park and on the way we did not see a single other car. The last 5km is within the Chichester State Forest on a dirt road which turned out to be in very good condition.

We intended to camp at White Rock camp in that forest, but missed the turnoff as someone has removed the signpost, and we ended up at the start of the Corker Track, which we were doing the next day. On the road we noticed signs stating “special event” without indicating what that special event might be. Anyway I found the correct turnoff for White Rock Camp which was only 10 minutes away. On arrival there we found that there was onbly one other group being two couples who were camped on the far side of the camp ground. Sowe set up out tents – with some people learning the intricacies of where to put poles etc under torch light – and settled in for the night. By then it was almost 2 a.m.

A strong cold wind blew continuously throughout the night, but all the tents survived. When we woke we found that there was not the slightest bit of dew or any moisture on any of the tents, which is unusual. A turkey walked round the tents, inspecting them (and probably hoping for scraps). After breakfast we packed our tents back into the cars and then drove the short distance to the start of the Corker Track, which was our walk. There was a surprise waiting there for us! The “special event” tuned out to be some sort of running festival (which I later found out was called the “Thunderbolt Trail Race”). There were run organisers parked there and several runners already passing through for a run up the Corker Track.

(Now this raises a question: if the size limit of groups going into Barrington Tops and other World Heritage areas is 8, how come a run with 71 participants was allowed there??).

So we set off up the quite steep Corker Track (which is at its steepest in the first 1-2 km), being regularly overtaken by the runners who, unlike us, only had to carry a “camelback” water container. Most of them said hello to us, but there were several who either completely ignored us, or gave us looks as if to say “what are you doing blocking our track”. (You see lots of these “Type A Personality” types on the “City to Surf Run” as well).

The Corker Track continues up and up, with a fairly level section at a place called “Scouts Alley”. Here the vegetation is lush and what you would expect to see in the North East tropical rainforests. It is a fairly solid unrelenting slog up along for the first 8 kms, and after that it levels out more. At the halfway point there is a lookout where we stopped for morning tea. At this point the track is at 1250 metres altitude, approximately the Barrington Tops snow line. The sun was out on this cold clear day. After another kilometre the track starts to level out, and we encountered a “hygiene stop” for treating shoes to stop the spread of Phytophthora cinnamomi, a soil-borne water mould which can cause plant roots to rot (it is not native but is an introduced pathogen). We all scrubbed our shoes at the hygiene station. Not too far along we came to the junction with the Gloucester Tops Trail, which is a walk back to Gloucester Tops 18km away. It is a walk worth doing, longer than Corker Track but a much more easier gradient. At this point we are at 1400 metres altitude, higher than the highest mountain (Ben Nevis), in the British Isles. The vegetation type also had changed to predominently Snow Gums.

Straight ahead is Wombat Creek campground, but we went left left for the final (thankfully short) climb to Careys Peak. On arrival there we stopped for lunch. Dong and Gen Lei looked in vain for a hot water outlet (a kiosk?) for the noodles they had brought along for lunch, and rest rooms, but all there is at Carey’s Peak is a rudimentary hut (see photo).

The walk was not only a steep walk, it was culturally a steep learning curve for some as well. In Australia we tend to take the conditions on our bushwalks for granted, but they can be a surprise for people from overseas.

You may note in the photos that a previous group at Carey’s Peak had built a fireplace using a stone ring. This is bad bushwalking practice! There should be no need for stone rings, and collecting stones deprives small creatures of their homes and spoils the area. Beetles, small lizards, frogs and scorpions all live under stones like these. If the National Parks or Forest Services provide fireplaces (such as here), use them!

After lunch we took the short track to the Lookout at Carey’s Peak, which provides a wonderful view to the east and south west. Although the day was slightly hazy the sand hills along Stockton Bight on the ocean could just be made out. Much closer were Mount Allyn and Mount Carrow, in Mount Royal National Park. By this time the weather was getting very cold and clouds were starting to hide the sun, and the wind was increasing. We decided to make our way back down the Corker Track back to the cars. Again we stopped at the previously mentioned lookout, and then continued on the steep track downwards. By this Gen Lei had found sleeping time all the runners had left, but they also left behind an unwelcome “gift”: the track surface had been worn by 71 runners going up and down it causing the displacement of a lot of lose small gravel on the stack. This made it rather slippery in places and care had to be taken. At one point I slipped and unfortunately the stretching of my thigh muscles caused cramps, which required a 5 minute stop until the cramps ceased. Otherwise I could have easily got up, but not with those cramps. (I though it odd as the previous Sunday I had done the City 2 Surf 14km with an extra 3km walk to Bondi Junction without any ill effects).

By the time we reached the cars it was right on sunset, but we only took another 10 minutes to get back to White Rock Campsite so we were able to set up the tents in the dusk. Noted that the other group we saw the previous night were still there. Dong and Gen Lei has found it cold sleeping in tents the night before and decided to sleep in their car. They were warned by me and Candice that they would be sleeping in a tin box, likely colder than a tent, but they decided to proceed. (They later said that they were warm overnight, but I suspect that was helped by occasionally running the car’s heater!). Similarly, Cathie and Emily found their tent had been cold as it had an outer fly but a mesh inner -more suitable for summer trips. I had brought along a back-up tent – just in case – which I had found kept me warm under snow on Barrington Tops on a previous trip, and they set it up.

Then it was time for dinner. I had brought along three large chook-food bags full of wood from home, and we built the fire with that. And a very good fire it was! (see photos). Then it was an early night to bed, to make up for the short sleep of the previous night. Meanwhile it was a clear night and the Milky Way and the Constellation of Scorpio were directly overhead. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the “bulb” function on my camera to work properly so there are no star photos. A trial by Candice, and also myself, was made of the latest fashion in sleeping mats – the now-empty chook-food bags! I put one under my inflated mat, and Candice used two of them. Report, they made a difference in stopping any cold or damp from coming up from the ground.

Next morning we packed up, again finding very little moisture on the tents, although the wind had ceased during the night. Cathie and Emily had found the replacement tent much more to their liking. The zip on the fly had jammed on an earlier trip and I had replaced it with Velcro, and this was its first test. It work well.

The it was the drive back to Dungog for a late breakfast. This time we could all see the nice rural countryside and at one point slowed right down for dairy cows crossing the road. The cows said moo. Also a couple of dead kangaroos were seen beside the road (apparently hit the previous night), but I didn’t require my passengers to pose with them (I will explain that comment at a later date). In Dungog we went to a nice cafe and ordered breakfast. It was good timing as it appeared we were the first customers there and got served quickly. Within 15 minutes quite a few day-trippers started to appear there also.

Then Candice changed to Dong and Gen Lei’s car as they could drop her off at Wahroonga on the way home. Then Cathie, Emily and myself drive a block to Dungog Railway Station so Cathie could top up her Opal Card. Yet despite Dungog being the northern-most limit of where Opal Cards can be used, there was no top-off point there! A sign said, go to the IGA shop instead. Thank you, Transport Minister Constance! So we simply went back to the M1 with a slight deviation through Lorn and the trendy historic town of Morpeth. Again the “Olivers” organic food place was visited, and a loo stop. Then back to Tascott Station. As there was a bit of time before the train left I showed Cathie and Emily my chooks and the large Bush Turkey nest in my backyard.

It was a good trip for everyone and a good learning experience for some. The original weather forecast for Barrington Tops had been snow, but although it was cold enough for snow the weather remained dry the whole weekend. Pity about the presence on the Corker Track of the runners though.

And a great effort by all who did the 24km round-trip walk on the steep Corker track, especially by our novice bushwalkers. Well done!

My photo link:

Bruce Stafford.