18 January 2012
Perpendicular Point was first mentioned to me as a possible fishing spot. It's located near Laurieton, a popular town north of Taree, and the reserve is called Kattang Nature Reserve.
I found Kattang Nature Reserve to be quite a wild place. The rumble of the surf bounced through the trees with the crashing of each swell and drummed on the leaves of the trees – it was like a clarion call for me to go and take photos. It was dark, but I wanted to be there before the sunrise, so I put my fisherman's light on and set out.
It seemed hardly to take any time at all before I reached the cliff where I thought the best vantage point would be. I'd spooked myself a little en route, expecting at any time to hear a wallaby thump right beside me and crash through the bush.
Standing high on the cliff top above Perpendicular Point, I could hear the swell smash into its face, spew skywards and send a rain of spray over the top to greet me. Not being able to see it made it scary to say the least! I couldn't see the ocean and couldn't see the waves, but I could hear their power and it was right beside me. The wildness of Kattang Nature Reserve had come to get me!
First came the false dawn that dispersed a soft glow over the scene so I could at least see the foam as it danced upon the waves, constantly changing its patterns. The sun slowly outdid the stars as the outline of the clouds became apparent and I could at last see the rolling swells billowing in from the horizon seeking to make their presence felt. The dawn came and I could now look back to Fisherman's Bluff and see the ocean explode up the face of the rock and leave behind a dozen salt-laden waterfalls of a temporary nature, each one taking a grain or two of the conglomerate with it – one day, it will all become part of the sea bed.
I find such scenes mesmerising. So much energy being discharged in a dozen directions, the gentle rise and fall of the swell replaced by the erratic spume from the spent waves, and all from the same source. I spent over an hour taking it all in, watching the first of the seabirds rise on the wind as the clouds changed colour in dawn's first rays and the insects flexed their gossamer wings, awaiting the sun's warmth that would soon have them on their way flitting from plant to plant.
I thought perhaps I might photograph some birds on the way back but could only manage a butterfly I'd never seen before and a spider that I ran into while treading the virgin scrub trying to get close to the honeyeaters. Save for a fearless butcherbird, I could only hear his feathered friends and was a tad disappointed until I chanced upon a several fungi all eking out an existence on a newly fallen tree.
Such variety I'd never seen before, so I had ten minutes of wonder at just how they manage to arrive at such places all at the same time to live out a fleeting existence until the moisture runs out. There are always so many things to see on nature trails, it just depends on what your mind can notice.
Next I visited Woolpack Rocks, west of Ebor Falls in the Dorrigo area. I camped at Native Dog Rest Area overnight, when it rained and rained and rained. Portents in the form of thunder had been around for hours before it finally arrived, but when it did, it stormed! The sound had woken me about 4am and by the heavy sound of it I wondered if I'd be able to drive out of the area I was in...
I later learned from a guy who stayed at the local Dorrigo caravan park just a few hundred metres away that he'd had to slosh around in mud. Me, I had the grassiest field in all of Dorrigo. Still, it looked like my walk to Woolpack Rocks, a place I'd never seen before, was in serious jeopardy. I'd been to Cathedral Rocks twice before but Woolpack had eluded me – this time, luckily, the heavens took pity on me.
The sun was working hard to push the clouds away, so I gave the day's expedition the go ahead. I had a cup of hot chocolate in Dorrigo, where I met an Argentinean with an exotic bike collection and a wealth of life knowledge that he was only too happy to dispense to passersby. Why his life had led him so far away to a secluded village atop the Great Dividing Range was a story I didn't have time for, as I headed off as soon as I'd downed my beverage.
At the start of the walk I met up with my bushwalking buddy Julie and her son Dylan, both of whom were familiar with the area, and we walked off together down the track. The landscape alternated between bush and swampland until we started to climb. It was here we came across two National Parks workers, one of whom had taken the famous photographs of Ebor Falls when they had completely iced up a few years ago. The pictures made the front page of all the local papers, with good reason, as the event is an extreme rarity!
We moved on up the climb, though I sidetracked down to a streamlet that gurgled attractively enough to lure me to its cool splashing waters, drooping ferns and decaying branches. It wasn't a permanent stream but it was nice. It sits at the bottom of the granite outcrop called Woolpack Rocks and the trail immediately begins its uphill transition from there. It takes less than ten minutes to ascend the trail, at times through narrow clefts and up ladders.
Up on high, it's a different world. The vegetation is negligible; it's the rocks and their endless variety of shapes that grab your attention. The wind was extremely noticeable on the exposed portions, and its cooling effect contrasted with the sweat I had exuded on the climb. There was no life save for an eagle that appeared and soared around the outcrop on the updraft, eyes keenly focused for the possible movement of prey below, its tufted wingtips flexing in the breeze.
Your mind starts to drift in places like this. Life's problems take on a different dimension; the vastness of the continent is clearly visible from on high and there's time for reflection as you recharge your mind. After about 45 minutes on top it was time to leave, but the memory still lingers of another place in Australia's wilderness where the scars of time can be seen, yet, somehow, the granite seems timeless.
My next stop was Guy Fawkes:
"Chaelundi, it has an exotic ring to it don't you think?"
Although that's where I was heading, it's actually down the road. Well, Chaelundi National Park that is, not Chaelundi Creek which begets Chaelundi Falls that you can view from Chaelundi Bluff. They're all in Guy Fawkes National Park and you can readily access them all from, wait for it, Chaelundi campground, which is where I started my walk. This naming has confused more than one person!
Other than myself there was a couple from New England, about 30km west of Armidale, and they had decided to pack up and see some of the great wilderness that was, so to speak, in their own backyard. I've spoken to quite a few who have the same passion for bushwalking as I do and they've universally said they'd thought of coming out here but had never actually made it, so I felt like something of a trailblazer among my contacts.
For some reason I had it in the back of my mind that it was a 4WD road in, but the new brochure that I picked up from Dorrigo seemed to indicate otherwise and so it turned out; although the National Park section of the road in was narrow, and it would be even more so when you're driving a motorhome.
I met up again with my bushwalking buddy Julie, and we set off after an early lunch, initially following the creek that had a little fresh in it, which was just as well because it would be struggling to even trickle in a drought.
It's less than a kilometre before you reach the falls, though it's not a sheer drop but more a series of steps going down a steep incline for a long way. The view from there was good, but as we pushed on along the Lucifers Thumb Track it became apparent that it could be even more special up ahead, as touted by the National Parks brochure.
The relatively mundane sclerophyll forest eventually gave way to the final bare rock of the bluff and immediately convinced us that we had made the right decision to come here. It is unquestionably one of the better panoramas I've gazed upon in Australia, this viewpoint giving around 180 degrees of panorama down the valley to where the Guy Fawkes River meets Chaelundi Creek. The truly adventurous can do multi-day walks through this astounding landscape. The high points visible from here and listed further down at Misty Creek Lookout are too numerous to mention, but Woolpack Rocks, where we'd trekked the previous week, was among them.
There's something special about sitting on an outlook such as this with the updraft caressing your face and just the sound of flexing leaves and the occasional bird to disturb the peace. Not even the distant drone of aeroplanes pervades this place, there's merely the white cloud puffs rolling across the sky, their shadows traversing the ridges and plunging into the canyon floor before effortlessly climbing across the verdant landscape, which was rich green as a result of recent rains.
There's a feeling of spiritual renewal in landscapes and moments such as this and we tarried awhile to soak it up, though I spent some of that time photographing a bird I'd never seen before, a white-eared honeyeater.
We later visited Wurrang Lookout because that's one of two entry points to Jordan's Trail, which is a two-day hike that starts its descent here and returns up the ridges when you reach Wallaby Point a few kilometres upstream. It was here that we felt the first bite of the afternoon chill that pervades these parts in autumn and winter and beckons you to warmer places, such as the fire that our New England friends, also camping back at Chaelundi, had already started. So, we took nature's hint and headed back to camp.
The next day started so gloriously, if a tad cold. I revisited the exceptional Chaelundi Bluff, suitably attired for the chill conditions of the brisk morning air. The moving white blanket of fog, prodded north by the prevailing wind, shifted along the valley like a giant glacier, from time to time exposing islands in the mist as small hills flaunted themselves in the drifting mass.
It didn't seem really cold, but perhaps I was just in the correct attire as I sat on the rocks of Chaelundi Bluff while around me the morning birds rose: striated pardalotes; satin bower birds; wattle birds; and white faced honeyeaters, to name but a few. I later found out it had been -2 around seven o'clock.
On the way back, I revisited Chaelundi Falls, hoping for better light than the previous day. As luck had it, the light was perfect. The only problem was that I descended further than I had previously, going where prudence dictated that I shouldn't have. Genuinely rock climbing, I reached a point where I decided I had a photo that no-one else would get. Problem was, it coincided with my battery life expiring. I never did get that shot.
As I clambered back up the precipitous cliff, desperately seeking hand and foot holds, I little realised what the rest of the day held for me. It had been a portent of things to come, but that's another story.
HOW TO GET THERE
To get to Dorrigo NP, Woolpack Rocks (Cathedral Rocks NP) and Guy Fawkes NP take the Bellingen turnoff on the Pacific Highway or Waterfall Way from Armidale.
Go for a drive around Dorrigo and take the Fernbrook Loop Road and go part way down the Tyringham Road – very scenic. The nearby famous Ebor Falls are also worth a look.
The Dorrigo National Parks Centre has lots of interesting stuff the kids will enjoy. Touristy but nice; tell them I sent you.
WHERE TO STAY
Native Dog campground or Barokee Campground for Woolpack Rocks; Chaelundi Campground (not in Chaelundi NP) for Guy Fawkes NP. Fees apply but they are minimal.
The site for the campgrounds:
Dunbogan Caravan Park; Brigadoon Caravan Park; Laurieton Gardens Caravan Park; Christmas Cove Caravan Park; The Haven Caravan Park or Diamond Waters Caravan Park for Perpendicular Point.
Go for a wander around Dorrigo. Often there are stalls in the shopping centre and there are some arty places and reasonably priced coffee lounges, not to mention the Argentinean's place with all the motorbikes on display.
Also, if you're going through Bellingen, it's a great place for the arts and a cuppa.
The lookout at the end of Lucifers Trail at Chaelundi Bluff – Once in your life you should see it, but make sure you check the weather forecast. A good swell running into the cliffs at Perpendicular Point is spectacular.
WORDS AND PICS BY IAN SMITH