Sunday, 6 April 2014

Valley of the Waters: Summer Bushwalk

As I write this in April 2014, we are barreling through autumn here in the Blue Mountains in Australia. It actually feels as though autumn has been eagerly hanging around, trying to stake a claim on our corner of the world since mid-February.

I find myself already pining for what feels like a very brief summer. And I harken back to one of the stand-out days of the summer: the day we did the Valley of the Waters bushwalk.

The bushwalking gang was made up of family members, who don't get to come up the Blueys that often. There were several firsts for the walk: this was our first group bushwalk ever; our first in the summer; and our first on a weekend (ahh, the luxury of being local). 

We did the walk on a hot day in a hot week in January, when 2014 was new enough to still be saying 'Happy New Year' with genuine sincerity. It was the type of hot day where your hairline prickles with sweat after a few seconds in the sun, deodorant dissolves into a bunch of sticky, stinky chemicals slithering uselessly around your armpits, loose-fitting clothing finds a way to glue itself unpleasantly to you and you cannot drink enough cool, cool water which tastes like the most delicious thing on earth.

It had been a while, several years actually, since HD* and I last did this walk - which is hard to believe. I suppose it's part of that casual attitude you can take on when you live in the Blueys - that the walks are there and you can do them anytime you want. And as a result, months collect into years and you suddenly find half a decade has slipped by without visiting your favourite walk. Yikes!

Our bushwalking gang's ages ranged from 11 through to 60+. No-one was unfit-unfit. It's not a difficult walk (in that there are no extreme vertical walls requiring anything resembling abseiling skills or gear), but there are still a LOT of stairs that will definitely cause thigh burns and leg shakes.

You can come into this walk from the Conservation Hut at Wentworth Falls. This is what sensible people do. Within 15 minutes you're at the spectacular stuff.

We didn't. We started earlier. Much, much earlier. With many, many more steps. A secret, 'local knowledge only' start to the Valley of the Waters walk.

The very name, Valley of the Waters, suggests mystery, allure and enchantment.The reality is not that different - there are trails of white sands, ferns, unexpected glens with little sandy pools, waterfalls and cascades in abundance and some truly amazingly ancient rock formations.

The gang wanders along the pathway suspended above the ferns, which descends into the olive green bush. 
Note: ReeDaBee is bravely bringing up the rear. She explains that it is the best way to take photos. No-one disagrees with her to her face. 

We descend a lot of stairs to get into the gorge and into the first magical place. I can still remember the thrill of discovering this little glen for the first time. 

This, ladies and gents, is a real glen! 

And you know what? If you start at the Wenty Falls Conservation Hut, you won't see this unless you 'take the road less travelled' away from the headlining cascades. 

This makes Lillian's Glen feels like a little secret nook that few people know about. 
Lillian's Glen: filled with secret pools of water, sand (yes - in the middle of the Blue Mountains!), running streams and ferns. And probably sprites too. 

And sunbeams and shade. 

And waterfalls and rock pools. 

It's just a gloriously special place. 
One of the gang kicks back and enjoys a quick siesta in an idyllic setting. 

And then the walk continues. 

There are mercifully flat stretches, but also a lot more steps. 

The sun beats down as the gang peers over a bridge into a deep gorge. How deep? Deep enough to induce a hint of vertigo even for those not normally bothered by heights. 

There are helpful notices dotted throughout, informing us about the local mountains fauna and flora, and also providing some snippets about those who have walked this land in the past. We take great interest in these notices - and it has nothing at all to do with the opportunity they provide for a breather.

The further down we go, the cooler it gets. It is a noticeable physical change. And it's a welcome relief. 

Then we start begin meeting the many falling waters that give the walk (and Wentworth Falls village) their names. 

One of the photographers in the gang gets busy.

And still we descend further into the cool towards the Empress Falls.

The falls are high, too numerous to count and gather in multiple rock pools.

By now, we're encountering those who started at the Conservation Hut, and the paths are busier. We take turns to stand aside and let people through, also taking turns to mumble hellos. 

Around the Empress Falls, some people are swimming in rock pools, and others compete for the best photo compositions. But we also do the obligatory exchange of cameras with a touristic couple; we get a couple of photos with everyone in it and the couple get some non-selfie photos with both their hands in the shot!

These are the main Empress Falls:
Easily some of the most spectacular falls in the whole of the Blue Mountains. The photo does not do them justice at all!

It is a while before we move on. On previous trips, we've actually ended the bushwalk at this point. You can stop here and feel sated and sore and feel that these Falls are a good payoff for the bushwalk. 

But the walk goes on much further, if you want. This is what you see to the right of the Empress Falls. The crescent of heat, sun and light unable to enter the canyon where we are. 

And this is what you see if you look straight up:
Blue sky thinking anyone? (Sorry, couldn't resist!)

The heat picks up again as we walk out of the gorge, going uphill and on to Wentworth Falls, our destination. 

Along the way, geology and rock formations present their stories to our uncomprehending eyes. 
Stories of the Stones. 

After a lot more walking, some trudging, gulping in of water and of the view, and wandering under the gentle almost non-existent spray of a very thin, almost dry waterfall tumbling from very high up, we reach our destination. 

It may not be clearly visible, but there is a thin ribbon of water falling from the very top (look closely at the right hand side of the photo). You can imagine what that would like after great swathes of rain.

We reach the base of Wentworth Falls and collapse onto the warm rocks, wheezing for breath, bemoaning our aching legs, and gulping the last of our water. 

Oh wait. That was just me. 

We take our time admiring the Falls, the cascades, and the rock pools. 

Tempting. Oh, so tempting!

The gang takes in the vista and rests. 
This is an impromptu, awesome, contre-jour pic that shows the intense heat of the day, the mountains and gorges beyond, the tired bushwalking gang in silhouette prepping themselves for the long walk back. I'm pretty chuffed about this particular shot!!

And then we turned around and did it all again on the way back. 

It was about a 5 hour round trip, including the breaks we took to admire everything. 

It was a lovely, memorable, sticky summer day that I can hold close and re-live as winter charges in. 

Footnote: on the return drive home, we had near misses with a wallaby, 3 young kangaroos, and one fox (twice)! 

*HD = Hubby Dearest

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