Hike number one - Summer in Wollemi National Park
The outdoors are a magical place for little kids to grow and learn, where they really get to tap into their imagination and sense of adventure, away from all the technological distractions of home. My two girls are five and eight which is an ideal age where they can walk a few k's, carrying a sleeping bag, a water bottle and some clothes. But one of the challenges of introducing kids to overnighters is finding hikes that aren't too steep, too far or too boring... and unfortunately there isn't a lot of info available. So for 2018 I'm planning to take the girls on a multi-day hike in every season, document it and share it in this blog.
Colo Meroo Campsite, Wollemi National Park NSW
Our summer camping spot needs to be: close to Sydney, only accessible by foot and - being the last week of the summer holidays - a place with a river to cool off in the 30+ degree heat (and for water supply). But most importantly the walk has to be easy enough for our five and eight year old daughters.
Colo Meroo Campground - set on the upper banks of the Colo River in Wollemi National Park ticks all these boxes. The site is well set up with pit toilets and a shady picnic shelter/galley with a fireplace. And we are lucky enough to have company too - with our friend Frank having the same idea of taking his seven year old daughter Viv on a hiking trip. So, loaded up with swimmers, camping gear and lilos we head for the Wollemi Wilderness.
GETTING THERE - track notes.
There are a couple of ways to get to Colo Meroo - but for small kids really the only way is via Upper Colo Rd.
To access the trail, drive to the end of Upper Colo Road. It’s about 1.5 hrs drive North West from Sydney - via Windsor. The last few km's of the road are unsealed but it is fairly well graded - a 2WD is fine. At the trail head there are multiple “no parking” signs and room for only about 4 car parks. We park on the side of the road, clear of any of the gates to avoid obstructing any local traffic.
From here the hike begins. Load up the packs and enter through the decorated gate on the main road (the continuation of Upper Colo Road). The walk in is about 2.5km, mostly through private property and it follows the river valley so there are virtually no hills.
We follow the dirt road through three or four properties - making sure to stay on the road and leave gates as we find them. If the gates are locked we look for the narrower gates that will fit a person on either the side of the main gates. Occasionally we need to pass large packs over the fence to get them through - the gaps are very narrow.
After crossing through a beautiful property “The Meroo No169” with an old bullet riddled “Wildlife Refuge” sign we soon arrive at a bend with a “Private - No Trespassing” sign. This is about the only point where the direction isn’t clear.
Don’t follow the road up the hill to the left (that is a private driveway). You need to go straight ahead through the paddock. This would be a great place for Parks NSW to put a sign because we met the property owner and he said everybody always goes up their driveway. (When we were there the paddock had a trampoline, ride-on lawnmower and other backyard items so we thought it looked private but rest assured the paddock is the way to go).
About 100-150 metres into the paddock we see a national parks arrow directing us to take a hard right towards a set of steps going over the fence. This is where the private property ends and the National Park walk begins.
After the steps the walk meanders through a shady gully between the river and the paddock. There is lovely bird-life here - we see a pair of Lyrebirds and evidence of Wombats (who are probably resting in the shade of their burrows). We follow the single-track for a hundred metres or so before another set of steps and head left along the back fence of the paddock. The end of this single track rejoins the main trail and is marked with a big Colo Meroo Sign.
We follow the main track/road. The campsite is roughly 1km from this point. If you are walking with small kids watch out for ants, there are a lot of big ant nests along this track.
This is the point where the kids had both have had enough. It's mid-morning and hot and we have been walking for over an hour. But the pain is all forgotten as soon as we enter the clearing for the Campsite.
THE COLO RIVER
After dumping our packs and a quick inspection of the campsite we get into our swimmers and head down the short track to cool off in the river. The river valley is more sheltered than the campsite and great refuge from the heat.
The Colo River winds from the wild interior of the Wollemi National Park and is clean and unspoilt. The water is shallow and sandy but there are numerous holes that are fun for the kids and deep enough to be comfortably submerged. It is really lovely to dive under the water to escape the shrill of the cicadas and listen to the internal sounds of the river. I feel like I can hear the rumble of a billion grains of sand gently rolling in the current.
After a swim we go back to the campsite to set up our tents. Frank and Viv arrive and by coincidence another dad from the Blue Mountains with two daughters (6 & 8) arrives too, so it became a real dads and daughters party - Another top tip for hiking with kids, the more kids there are the more fun they have!
We set up tents, cook some sausages and settle into an afternoon of river fun… then an evening of marshmallows for the kids and wine for the dads under the stars.
We get up early with breakfast of fruit and honey tortilla wraps - with coffee on the side for the dads. Then we set off to the wilds of the Colo river with three of the finest lilos ten dollars can buy (two lilos had already been punctured). Our mission is to walk upstream into the Wollemi wilderness and spend the morning floating back downstream to the campsite.
As we head upstream it is clear how untouched the Wollemi is. The pristine river winds its way through stunning stands of grey gum trees, river gums and various native pines. The Eucalypts on the northern shore stand up to 60 meters high with their mottled white and turquoise bark reflecting the morning sun.
Unfortunately the natural beauty isn't enough to inspire some campers to take their rubbish with them and we have a few extra items to take back with us. But this only happens at one stage, overall the river is untouched..
The Colo is renowned for bass fishing, but the bigger fish are further upstream where the river is deeper and surrounded by rocky gorges. We notice three types of small fish in the river: One i like a miniature flathead sitting on the sandy riverbed, presumably a "Flathead Gudgeon".
The kids drift on the current on their lilos while Frank and I follow on foot, diving into the river to cool off when it got deep enough. The wildlife is the real star of the day. On the riverbank the girls spot a green tree snake and are startled by a large monitor lizard when they arrived back at the campsite. We also see an azure kingfisher, brush turkeys, native pigeons, spooky spiders, lots of grasshoppers and hundreds of butterflies.
Later in the morning we explore a track on the other side of the campsite and discovered an old building - probably accommodation for a former work team. We all enjoy deciphering the mysteries and clues of the ruined shack.
The afternoon reaches 39 degrees in the shade so we spent most of our time in the river cooling off. After a simple freeze-dried pasta dinner and an evening dip we hit the hay, the night is still very hot but we are determined to break camp early to beat the heat on our walk back to the cars.
I always feel really confident and pro having good trekking gear - like my expensive backpack, self inflating mats, hiking stove and multiple compression sacks to make it all fit in… But Frank just has one gigantic old Kathmandu travel backpack and threw all his stuff in there… and still has time to go for a swim with the kids and come back while I am still packing… And we still have lilos to deflate! This is one of the disadvantages of travelling alone with two kids - you are basically carrying three people’s gear and it takes you three times as long to set things up or pack things away. So for a trip like this, it’s probably best to keep your packing uncomplicated. It’s only a short walk for an adult. Or even better, encourage the kids to take care of their own mats and sleeping bags.
We get packed in the end and walk out together at around 8.30am. The kids have more fun walking in a group and we benefit from less whining. On the drive back we stop at Wilberforce for a sandwich and lemonade and are back home by midday.
The Colo Meroo is a fantastic summer campsite for kids and families. The river is safe and provides clean drinking water. The location is remote enough that the only sounds you hear are from nature and the walk is easy enough for small kids to handle. The facilities are very good although the campsite is a bit overgrown with weeds and a lot of ants nests, there was also unfortunately a bit of rubbish left lying around.
But for a quiet, easy hike into real wilderness not far from Sydney, Colo Meroo is a great option. Especially good for introducing kids to overnight hikes. I highly recommend you go to a discount store and buy some inflatable lilos for some extra fun.
Eight year old Daisy had this to say about it:
“There were lots of owls hooting at night time and lots of brush turkeys and you can drink the water from the river. Be careful because the turkeys might eat your food!”
Five Year old Mary had this to say about it.:
“I liked playing with Vivi… and also sleeping in the tent, the big lizard and jumping off the rock. And you know the ants… I just walked straight through them, I didn’t worry about them.”
So the site gets the double tick of approval from the kids! Next time we will be looking for the perfect Autumn hike.
For more info on the Colo Meroo Campsite and Wollemi National Park check out the Parks NSW Website
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