A lazy, quiet Sunday at home on the lounge, turned into a massive Sunday afternoon Blue Mountains adventure.
We live in Hawkesbury Heights, in the lower Blue Mountains, near the little town of Winmalee. The relatively isolated residential area is completely surrounded by wilderness and bushland. It’s close to the outskirts of Sydney, however, when you’re in the thick of the bush, it feels as though you’re a million miles from anywhere.
My wife casually asked me if I’d like to go for a walk around the block with the dog, because “the dog was looking bored.” Even though I was slowly sinking and becoming part of our lounge after an hour of relaxing, I agreed to join her on the short walk. The dog would be happy, my wife would be happy and once I woke up a bit, I’d be happy.
Our fourteen year old son upped the ante by suggesting we walk into the bushland at the end of the street because, “Dad, I’ve heard a waterfall in the distance, we should go and check it out.” I was someone taken aback by my son’s suggestion of a bushwalk because he too was morphing into a couch potato. Any longer and we could’ve served him up with peas and gravy at dinner time. His suggestion of a distant waterfall had triggered my curiosity. After a quick discussion with my wife, we agreed that it would be fun and a good bit of exercise for us and the kids. Our other two children caught wind of the idea and were equally excited about the looming adventure.
We grabbed bags, cameras, water, snacks and slipped our boots on and set foot to the end of our street, only 100 metres away. Upon crossing the road, we left civilisation and charged into the unknown. The bush was filled with leaf litter, bark and branches. Logs were scattered along the uneven ground. Small ferns and shrubs were dwarfed by the towering Eucalyptus trees looking down on us. The tree canopy shimmered slowly, hinting at a slight breeze sneaking its way throughout the bush.
After 5 minutes of meandering aimlessly though the bush, we stumbled upon a hermits make-shift bush house. It looked as though it had been abruptly abandoned quite some time ago. The hermit had obviously gone to great lengths to make himself feel right at home. He had carried and dragged a number of items to create a feeling of normality in the thick bushland. Along with other items, he had built a rendered pizza style oven, connected solar power, dragged a wooden office desk into the bush and an Engel fridge. The bushland outlined the remnants of a major bushfire. A sporadic number of trees still held onto the reminder of devastation via the black bark that cloaked the high tree trunks. A good reason as to why the hermit probably left the area in a hurry. After scouring the area and pulling back the lurking thought that we might discover human remains, we moved further south and deeper into the bush. As we trod carefully, we found ourselves starting to descend down into the gorge. We were accompanied by orchids and sandstone caves, hiding in the rock-face. We stepped slowly and briefed the children of the pending danger. “One slip and you’re dead,”was basically the catch-phrase. The kids saw for themselves the seriousness of one wrong move. We had a family discussion to decipher whether or not we should continue down. All the kids in unison yelled out “Yes, lets keep going.” The sound of the distant waterfall was growing and so too was our intrigue. We painstakingly kept moving forward and downward.
We heard a thump and crashing noise coming down through the bush and I screamed, “lookout.” We had dislodged a large rock and it had worked its way loose. The boulder went flying passed my wife’s head at a great speed and then shot passed my son. I shudder at the thought of what would’ve happened if the rock had connected with one of us. We stopped, froze and looked at each other, breathed out and counted our lucky stars simultaneously. After refocusing on the job at hand, we headed further and further down into the gorge. Once we had reached about seventy five percent of the way down, we came to a stand still. A rock ledge looked too steep to scale. We scoped the ledge to east and the west and luckily found a dubious line to take to venture down. My older son was first to arrive to the very bottom of the gorge, followed by my daughter, my youngest son, then my wife and I. It was a welcomed relief to have made it down safely.
We perched ourselves onto a large moss covered rock to rest for a while and gather our thoughts. My daughter brought out some savoury biscuits and my sons munched on pop corn in between sips of water.
The rock we rested upon was surrounded by low lying ferns and small coach wood trees. A steady fresh stream of fresh water raced down and jumped over the small rocks and fell into a large pond. The sound of flowing water headed into the unknown in an easterly direction. We had found the little distant waterfall.
Once we were well rest and hydrated, we discuss the idea of walking back up to the top of the gorge. A chorus of sighs could be heard. Shoulders dropped like a well choreographed dance and a look of dread filled our faces. We hatched a plan to continue east to the foothills of the Blue Mountains. My son and I had ridden mountain bikes down in that area before, so we had a loose idea of which direction to head. Sunlight was quickly fading and we had to get moving. Fast. The thought of a freezing cold night stuck down the bottom of a gorge in the Blue Mountains was unnerving. This prompted us to get up and go. Due to a constant lack of the sunlight at the bottom of the gorge, the area was transformed into temperate rainforest. The coachwood trees created a thick canopy and the bracken was choking. One we started to make our way, every step was arduous and tentative. The uneven ground made each step a constant guessing game. Was the grown even or did it drop down one metre? I led the way and pushed back the bracken as best as I could to identify the terrain. It was hard going. Hidden vines tripped me up occasionally and brought me crashing down. Lying on my back underneath the bracken, I quickly dusted myself off and kept pushing on. With every step I constantly thought there must be a better way. Once the wife and kids caught up we had another family discussion and came to the conclusion that it might be better to work our way up the sourthern side of the gorge, where the rainforest becomes bushland and make our way along side the ridge and stay out of the vines and bracken. We looked up. There was a towering sandstone ridge to scale. The afternoon sun lit up the top side of the gorge, yet we knew that the sunlight wouldn’t prevail for much longer. Daylight was closing to an end, we had to keep moving upwards and and then head east. I took a line up the ridge and headed east. My wife and children climbed further up the ridge to a higher point and then continued east. We had unintentionally chosen another path and stuck to it. I was making good ground. I had scaled the steep ridge and was moving steadily though the bush. the valley was steep, but the terrain was rockier and clear. The silence of the canyon was sometimes broken with each step through the bush and from when I screamed out a “coo-ee”in order to be heard by my trailing family, somewhere in the bush. I could hear a very faint “coo-ee”in the far distance, so I could breathe easy knowing the family weren’t too far away. I started to make my way down the ridge line and I could see the power lines at the foot hills of the mountain. I stopped and smiled to myself. I knew we were safe. I had been to the power lines before via a mountain bike track. I mustered up a deafening “coo-eeeeee”and my son returned the familiar sound. They were fifteen minutes behind me and had finally made their way down the ridge to the power lines as well. We greeted each other like a family that had been departed for years. We hugged and laughed and continued to exit point about two kilometres away.
Our hands were blackened from grabbing onto burnt trees as we made our way though the bushland and our legs were covered in surface scratches from the bracken and vines. Physically and mental tiredness started to kick in as we made our way back to the road. But the smile remained on our faces. We phoned our neighbour and asked them for a lift back home and they kindly obliged.
Upon returning home, we all let out a sigh of relief. We kicked our shoes off at the door and headed straight back to the lounge. When I sunk back into the lounge where I had found myself five hours earlier, I asked myself if I should’ve stayed on the lounge in the first place. Basking in the light radiating from the heater and tv. My youngest son came running down the stairs and jumped on me and gave me a big hug and thanked me for the big adventure. There was my answer.