With the furthest to walk, the nine strong Gold contingent (accompanied by Mrs Purkis and Messrs Pain and Hill) started out early on Tuesday, 5th August from Kulnara. Our path took us down a sandy fire trail to join the Cedar Brush section of the Great North Walk. Here we walked along a variety of fire trails and bush paths until we made it through onto some remote roads servicing some beautiful farming properties. Here, whilst we had lunch, Fraser entertained us with his remarkable horsemanship, whilst Chelsea and Abi took in the view over a cup of tea. Our walk after lunch took us further down the valley along the back roads servicing the farms, until we took an abrupt right hand turn, and, contrary to Mr Hill's GPS, followed the trail up a couple of steep hills. Mr Pain, ever keen to turn everything into a Geography lesson, keenly observed that in the space of two steep hills and the intervening valleys there were three distinct vegetation communities evident. Wilson, however, seemed more keen to show how dedicated he was to his English studies, brandishing his Shakespeare study notes at a mid-ridge rest stop.
Once we had finished summiting and descending, we reached what was to be our overnight stay. Given it was still early in the afternoon, a team meeting was convened and we decided to push on. After what seemed like yet another endless climb, we arrived at Somersby Store. Buoyed by a successful day of walking, we stopped for a quick drink and a visit to Reid's water merchants - before setting off to find the next trail head and a suitable place to make camp for the night. After the group politely declined Mr Pain's suggestion that we might camp on a fire trail, a spot for the night was found. So ended Day One.
Early on Day Two, the Gold group were joined by the Silver and Bronze walkers, along with Miss Vander Straaten and Mr Goodrick. After those joining made it down the trail to the Gold overnight spot, the combined group headed on. Our route today started on the Mooney Mooney section of the Great North Walk, which joins Somersby in the North with Patonga in the south. As the path snaked its way along the ridge lines and down along the watershed of Mooney Mooney Creek, we passed a quarry, water filtration plant and the Mooney Mooney Dam. Along the way we met numerous other people going the opposite way, including a Firefighter who impressed Miss Vander Straaten and Mr Pain by announcing he was training for a 100 mile run - by running the equivalent of the Silver group's three day walk that morning! We were also passed by two horse riders and their Kelpie puppy, who were navigating the at times quite technical path on their trusty steeds.
By mid-afternoon we had reached our overnight stop near Mooney Mooney Creek Bridge, where the combined Gold/Silver/Bronze group made camp for the night. Once everyone was settled in, Mr Hill lead fishing in the creek, whilst those in need of drinking water went to find the jerrys that Mr Pain had hidden earlier in the week. Given we were camped next to a sizeable creek, we were able to have a camp fire which took the edge off the winter chill as the sun set behind the ridge line.
As Day Three dawned, we broke camp and headed under the New Mooney Creek Bridge (circa 1986, subject of a school project by Nathan Prassopolous) over the Old Mooney Creek Bridge (built in 1932) to follow the creek south east. After regrouping and crossing the impressive suspension bridge, we started our first main climb of the day. Half way up the climb we reached a slightly confusing junction in the track. In true pioneering spirit, some of the group took the path less travelled and got a little 'geographically embarrassed'. Fortunately they followed Mr Pain's first rule of bushcraft and stayed together! So Mr Hill was able to hot foot it back to retrieve them as soon as this became apparent, and after a little delay, everyone was back together.
After a little more perambulating along the sandstone ridges we reached yet another junction. Here it was time to say farewell to Mr Hill and the Bronze walkers. Here they headed down to Wondabyne Train Station (Australia's only passenger station not serviced by road) to conclude their walk with a train trip home to Hornsby. Meanwhile, the now diminished in size Gold/Silver group walked on towards Mt Wondabyne camp site. As a result of time lost earlier in the day reuniting the groups, the last section of the walk into camp happened as the sun was setting. We were treated to a stunning crimson sunset over the Upper Sydney basin and Lower Central Coast.After a slightly less hurried wake up, the Gold/Silver group packed up camp for the final push to Patonga. Mr Pain assured everyone today's walk would be all downhill, after all we were ending on a beach and had camped on the highest point in the Lower Central Coast. Well, he was wrong - but only a little. As we walked along the coastal sandstone plateau we did indeed walk mostly downhill. The scenery gradually became less bushy and more urbane as we neared our destination, with our track today taking us past the back of the Woy Woy Waste Management Centre. Soon enough we reached Patonga Drive and once again the familiar sight of sealed roads. Here we crossed and walked the last few kilometres down to Patonga. By early afternoon we had reached our destination.
Now with the knowledge that the walking was over, Mr Pain came good on his downhill walk promise and bought hot chips for the group to concede defeat. So we sat in the sunshine contented, waiting for our ferry home. After a fairly considerable wait, the ferry arrived and we boarded for the short journey back to Brooklyn. As we sailed across Broken Bay and down the Hawkesbury River civilisation seemed to be looming close. Soon enough we were deposited at Hawkesbury River Station, where after a brief encounter with NSW Trainlink's most officious Station Master and CCTV viewer, we boarded the train home.
A trip like this does not happen without considerable preparation and oversight. We are all very thankful to the staff who accompanied and supervised the trip - Messrs Hill, Pain and Goodrick, Miss Vander Straaten and Mrs Purkis (parent of Gary, Year 7).With Bronze now finished walking for the year, thoughts now turn to the Silver and Gold qualifying trips - in the Blue Mountains (15 -17 October) and Tasmania (29 Nov - 4 Dec).