It's nice to be able to write a blog post about an activity, rather than whining about being stuck in the Cave – which was starting to feel like Hotel California (you can check-in any time you like but you can never leave). We left the Cave around 2.00 pm yesterday on a “test” trip to see how all our caravan systems are working and drove down to the Mittagong area and into Belanglo State Forest to Daly's Flat campground. We stayed one night at this little free clearing/camping area on a previous climbing trip late last year. By the time we arrived, we only had time for a brief walk along some tracks through the pine plantation before the sun set and it was cold and dark.
Our caravan was very comfortable particularly when it rained overnight! In the morning, it was about 5C and, being the weak-willed individuals that we are, we decided to go for a hike instead of standing shivering at the climbing crag at Mount Alexandra all day.
Just off the Hume Highway near the small town of Welby, is the Boxvale Walking Track. There are a variety of walks you can do in this area as the Mount Alexandra reserve spans both sides of the Hume Highway. We did a circuit down to Forty Foot Falls, along the Nattai River and back along the old railway that used to haul coal up from the Nattai River and out to the main southern railway line at Mittagong.
This is actually a pretty nice scenic little hike with some historical interest. The trail initially travels north and crosses Nattai Creek near a reservoir. Past the reservoir it is quite obvious you are on the old railway line although nothing remains to mark it except for old post holes, cuttings through sandstone bluffs and the raised railway bed. After you walk through Casuarina Cutting – these cuttings through the sandstone bluffs were undoubtedly hacked out by hand by convicts – you reach a trail junction. We took the right fork to Forty Foot Falls as I had read that the trail back up out of the Nattai River was quite steep and preferable to ascend rather than descend.
Doug at Forty Foot Falls
You walk for a kilometre or so on a fire road, then the trail resumes and you descend some steps to the base of Forty Foot Falls which are on Nattai Creek near its confluence with the Nattai River. The falls are pretty and you can stand behind them. The trail then follows the Nattai River north (downstream) for 3.5 km (or so the sign says). There is a fair bit of blowdown on this section so it is a little slow going and the trail crosses the river four times in all. Near a big bend in the Nattai River, the trail passes under a sandstone arch that has beautiful colours and patterns etched in the ceiling of the arch. Shortly thereafter a handy log allows an easy crossing of the Nattai River and you must search around a bit to find the trail going back up to the top of the escarpment. If you go slightly to climbers left after crossing the log you will find the trail but it is buried in a thicket of stinging nettle.
The trail is basically just the bed of the old tramway that hauled the coal up from river bottom to join the railway on top of the escarpment. Apparently, the old adit and mine is just to climbers left of “the incline” as the old tramway cutting is called, but we didn't see any sign of it. At the height of production, in the mid 1800's, this mine produced 100 tonnes of coal a day all dug out by pick-ax and shovel!
At the top of the incline, a side track leads down to a picnic area on a rock platform looking over Nattai Gorge. You are supposed to be able to see Mount Cloudmaker – which we almost hiked too when we were in Kanangra-Boyd National Park a few months back, but as Cloudmaker, despite it's auspicious name is merely a tree covered bump on a long ridge, it would be hard to positively identify it. We had lunch here, it was windy and cool, and we were dressed in full winter kit with toques and puffs on!
From the lookout it is perhaps another four kilometres (maximum, could be less) back to the car park, all of it along the old railway line. You pass a couple more cuttings and also through a 100 metre long tunnel, again hewn out by hand by convicts. The tunnel is actually pretty neat and now has some beautiful big gum trees growing outside either entrance.
We got back to our caravan around 4.30 pm and it was very nice to climb inside and brew up some afternoon tea!