Hike number two - Autumn in the Blue Mountains National Park
Having small kids doesn't mean the adventures have to end, with a few minor changes you can adapt bushwalks to suit your kids needs and abilities and get back on the track. So for 2018 I'm taking my two young daughters on an overnight hike in every season and sharing them in this blog. For Autumn the adventure reaches new heights with a challenging trek through the Blue Mountains.
Blue Mountains – NSW
Govetts Leap to Perrys Lookdown
Autumn. It’s a great time of year for bushwalking in Australia. The weather is cool, the fire-bans are usually over and the mosquitoes are retired for the year (hopefully). For our Autumn 2018 adventure we’re heading to the Grose Valley, high up in the NSW Blue Mountains. The scenery is spectacular with cliffs, waterfalls, hanging swamps, rainforest gullies, eucalypt forests and crystal clear rivers. The Blue Mountains is also one of the colder destinations near Sydney, which should help test the kit and the kids endurance for when we get really serious with our winter hike.
Our team includes my Eight year old daughter Daisy, younger daughter Mary (who is six and three days), our mate “Crazy” Chris and his Eight year old son Rory. Chris and Rory are Blue Mountains locals so they are well acclimatised and Chris knows the area so he is our “Mountain Guide”, he's also the only grown man I've ever shared a macpac minaret with... but that's another story.
The hike will take us from the escarpment at Govetts Leap - on the North Eastern side of Blackheath - down into the Grose Valley where we spend a night in Acacia Flat campground. Day two sees us walking through the historical Blue Gum forest and up the stairs to Perrys Lookdown.
It’s a total of bout 9.5 km, involving a 350 metre vertical descent on day one - meaning day two we need to climb back up. Tears are expected… emergency sweets are packed.
Like all good adventures it starts with a car shuffle - leaving one car at Perrys Lookdown. To get there we drive along the Great Western Highway into Blackheath and head East onto Hat Hill Road. Hat Hill Road eventually becomes Perrys Lookdown Road - an unsealed access road – we follow this until we get to a magnificent view at the end. From here we leave one car behind and navigate through Blackheath to Govetts Leap Rd until we hit another magnificent view. This is where the walk starts.
PACKING FOR AUTUMN
It's very late Autumn - practically winter - and the forecast is for temperatures as low as 4 degrees, which means we need lots of warm stuff. I can tell if I’m cold but I’d hate to think the kids are freezing without me knowing and we only have two down-filled sleeping bags (one is rated to -18 degrees the other about +5 degrees) and a totally unsuitable summer sleeping bag with a comfort rating of +12 degrees. So I’m designating a “three bears” order of priority: the smallest gets the winter bag, biggest kid gets the 5 degree bag and daddy bear gets the summer bag.
We also have two 37mm thick Self Inflating mats and one 70mm down-mat. I will also use a Sea to Summit reactor bag liner which should boost the summer bag’s temperature rating a bit. Our tent is a Mont Moondance EX, it isn’t a 4 season tent but it’s a top quality 3 season tent so we should be protected. We will also sleep in thermals and thick socks…
All of this gear, clothes, stove, fuel plus 3 litres of water is in my pack. The kids are carrying smaller loads containing a parka, gloves, water bottle, cup, bowl, spork, teddy bear and torch. Chris is generously carrying all the food.
For day two we are relying on water from the creeks that flow from the mountains. Drinking untreated water is not recommended here so we will be treating water with purifying tablets or by boiling for three minutes.
DAY 1 - GOVETTS LEAP TO ACACIA FLAT 6.3km
After a quick toilet stop at the Blue Mountains Heritage Centre we park at the Govetts Leap Lookout, load up packs and begin the adventure. The kids are excited and the weather is perfect. Today 6.3km of World Heritage National Park lays ahead.
We head down the path to the left hand side of the Govetts Leap lookout (facing the valley). And follow a sign for the “Grose Valley Walks”. Straight away we begin descending very steep, eroded stairs. The narrow path traverses the amazing Hanging Swamp that grows all over the cliff face, permanently wetting the track. We also get a great view of the waterfall cascading 180 metres down and a good idea of how far we need to go to get to the valley floor.
The kids need to walk very carefully as there are a lot of opportunities to slip. The stairs are also quite high and it’s a bit of a scramble at times, particularly for Mary’s little six year old legs.
The views are magnificent all the way down and we get the occasional shower from the water dropping out of the hanging swamps. Eventually after about 900 metres (and 180 vertical metres) we stop for a rest at the base of the falls to explore the rocks and pools below. Daisy enjoys it so much she slips into the pool and gets soaked up to her belly. Luckily she finds the humour in it and after a mini chocolate bar and a snake we take off, Daisy slightly damp but in good spirits.
Daisy just before and after her little dip in the pool.
The track follows Govetts Leap Brook as it cascades through a rainforest gully. The track is still slippery and slow going for little kids but the features of the gully are spectacular. With boulders, vines, creek crossings, tree ferns, logs to climb over or under… it is a real adventure.
We stop at a clearing for Sandwiches that Chris prepared before following the creek to Junction Rock, where the canopy opens up and the track flattens out a bit.
Crazy times at Junction rock
Junction rock is over 5kms into the track which is already further than the kids have walked before. But the variety and diversity of the track keeps things interesting and setting regular goals helps break up the walk. But six year old Mary struggles at this stage so I take her pack giving her a bit of a boost.
After crossing the creek at Junction Rock we follow the signs towards the Bluegum Forest, following the left hand riverbank. It’s much more open and dry at this point and even involves an unexpected climb over a ridge. But once we descend the ridge we see the welcoming Blue Gums and follow a flat open area into the Acacia Flat Campground.
The kids were relieved and excited to have made it and ready for camping fun.
ACACIA FLAT CAMPGROUND
The campground consists of a couple of large open wooded areas near the track and a number of smaller sites on the bank of Govetts Creek. There are two pit-toilets and various logs to sit at with unofficial fireplaces. We have since discovered that fires aren’t permitted at Acacia Flat but there was no sign at the site and it’s obvious that people do regularly have campfires.
At about 3.00 pm we set up the camp at the edge of the woods and collect firewood and water from the creek, change into thermals and fleeces and proceed to cook and consume marshmallows.
The kids play a game of Uno and do some camp-craft, building an elaborate tee-pee for their teddy bears. This is one of the best things about taking the kids into the bush, it really opens their minds and simulates their creativity.
Not long after we set up a large group of tourists arrive, then another, then another… by the time we are eating our sausage and rice dinner the site looks as busy as a drive-in campground on a long weekend, with tents and fires popping up everywhere. Fortunately we secured a good spot and although initially there was continuous loud talking, cackling, stick-breaking and bluetooth speaker-ing, by about 9.30pm the campground was quiet and peaceful.
DAY 2 ACACIA FLAT TO PERRYS LOOKDOWN 3.2km
It was a cold and restless night, with the temperature dropping dramatically in the early morning. Chris and I had both froze in completely inadequate sleeping bags, Daisy (8) said she was a bit cold and Mary (6) said she was hot… so it looks like the sleeping plan needs refining before the next camp.
Anyway, it's a stunning crisp morning and we all go to the picture perfect creek to collect water. The sun streams through the smoky valley as mist rises serenely over the water. Mary drops her beanie in the creek and Rory slips over on the river bank - the day has begun!
After breakfast of hot noodles for the kids and salty powdered mash and sardines for Chris and I, we take our time packing up and the kids disappear into the bush to play. By about 11.30am we are ready to set off to tackle the big climb up to Perrys.
The start of the walk takes in the Blue Gum forest, a stunning stand of Sydney Blue Gums that is said to be the birthplace of conservation in Australia. Back in the 1930’s a group of bushwalkers chipped in to buy the forest to save it from developers and it is still enjoyed today for that reason.
We follow the track past the Blue Gum Forest until we get to a track junction, then follow the sign to Perrys Lookdown.
The walk up takes about two to three hours and is made almost entirely of very steep steps. This is where bargaining and negotiation comes in to get the kids motivated
A good tip when walking with small kids is to make sure you are prepared to carry all their gear if they have a meltdown, because the psychological boost they get from ditching their pack is amazing. Both Daisy and Mary started the walk with their backpacks on until we stopped for lunch. After wraps, hot chocolate and the last of the Milky Ways both kids ditched their backpacks and morale really lifted when they could clearly see the top of the escarpment.
The last section of the walk takes in an amazingly steep scramble up a ferny gully between enormous cliffs. Although it’s tough going the views are spectacular with the Blue Gum forest visible hundreds of metres below. Once at the top the kids forget their pain and have a real sense of achievement. I was so proud of them for toughing it out and I could tell they were proud of their efforts too.
Perrys Lookdown, at the end of the walk.
Govetts Leap to Perrys Lookdown is a tough walk, even for fit adults, for kids it’s even harder. But it’s not too hard, just hard enough.
I love a challenging walk, where you get to test yourself and discover something new, where you’re pushed to the limits of your endurance in a new environment. This walk taught me that it’s no different for kids. Kids may not have the strength and endurance that an adult has, they can’t lift their legs as high and they can’t carry as much weight, but if they feel confident and safe and if they get the right amount of help and plenty of patience they can achieve a great deal. Good company helps a huge amount too, with Rory and Chris keeping it fun.
Up until now we have done short hikes, around 2-3km of generally easy terrain, this walk has been a huge leap for Daisy and Mary and I would be confident taking them to Mt Kosciuszko or Tasmania.
After the Walk Daisy said:
“I loved the hanging swamps and getting a shower from the water drops”
“I just loved all of it”
Next stop. WINTER.
For more information about the campsite check out:
Or check out the Bush Trackers Initiative for kids in the Blue Mountains
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