Hike number four - Spring in Marramarra National Park
After a year of making little footprints our spring adventure could make or break my girls' carefully cultivated love of the outdoors.
It’s my only week off during school holidays and it’s the wettest week of the year. Thursday and Friday are the days I've chosen to complete the challenge and I'm determined not to postpone. The forecast is predicting 1-5mm of rain on Thursday and 0-1mm on Friday… Not too bad, practically no rain on day two... or so I thought.
A NATIONAL PARK OF HISTORY AND MYSTERY
I have been wanting to explore Marramarra National Park for a while. The park has a few campsites, but the one we are aiming for is Marramarra Creek Campground, a relatively unknown spot far away from the crowds and accessible via a loop of two trails, or by boat via Marramarra Creek – a secluded tributary of Berowra Creek and the greater Hawkesbury.
Marramarra National Park has a lot of history; indigenous, colonial and pastoral. And the most exciting thing is the suggestion of action and mystery along the adventurously named Smugglers Ridge Trail.
The track is accessed via Arcadia and Fiddletown – a great name for a town – along Bloodwood Road, a sealed road that eventually turns to gravel and becomes the Marramarra Creek trail. It's an all-weather unsealed track that can be driven all the way to a locked gate where a steep descent takes you approximately 3km to the campground. We could do that, but it's the boring way to go.
Our plan is to take the more scenic Smugglers Ridge trail down to the campsite and return via the firetrail on day two. An approximate 14km loop. Daisy has recently turned nine and is carrying her own sleeping bag, raincoat, water bottle, torch, blanket and a tin of baked beans (her private stash). Six year old Mary is carrying her raincoat, water bottle, teddy bears and torch. It's just the three of us this time, so I'm carrying everything else.
THE SMUGGLERS RIDGE TRAIL
We leave home late at around 10am and arrive at the national park at around 11.15 to the main carpark. We then drive down Marramarra Creek Trail and veer left after a few hundred metres at a sign to the Smugglers Ridge trail. There is an improvised car park with a trashed Hyundai wreck taking pride of place - this causes some concern about the welfare of our own vehicle - but it looks like it was dumped by joyriders a while back so we bid a nervous farewell to our car and hit the trail at around 11.30.
The Smugglers Ridge trail begins as a sandy firetrail that looks like it gets a lot of 4WD action with rutted out sections and various car-parts and wrecks along the way. The firetrail continues - fortunately without the Mad Max scenery – and it erupts in the colours of banksia, eucalypts and native wild-flowers. We see black cockatoos, butterflies, various small birds flying around and a dead snake. There are also nice glimpses of the surrounding ridges and escarpments that are quite scenic.
After about four or five kilometres we hit the end of the fire trail and the start of the single track descent down to the creek. This is where the way becomes very scenic and you can imagine the smugglers of the colonial times heaving their barrels of rum down this steep track. It looked like the track was probably a pre-colonial route used by the local Guringai people too. A short way into the descent we see a large engraving of a Kangaroo in a big sandstone clearing, it's a great discovery for us as it's quite difficult to make out after centuries of exposure.
The last few hundred metres are extremely steep and slow going. With a bit of scrambling and bum sliding the valley opens up below us and we get a glimpse of Marramarra creek and arrive at the campground. It's a really well positioned site with a pit toilet, designated fireplaces, creek access and a picnic table beneath a large tree. It's not raining when we arrive but everything is wet from the week-long deluge and the clouds are looking menacing, so we set up the tent straight away and have some noodles and tomatoes for a late-lunch.
The campground and surrounds are the remnants of an old farm and there is a lot to explore. Heading East along the creek is a track to the old orange orchards - it's a bit too late in the season for oranges but we take a stroll the explore anyway. We fill up the billy at a stream that feeds the creek with slightly brackish fresh-water that we will use for washing. Along the track we discover old farm relics and eventually make the 2km to the old orchard. There are no oranges but the trees are still very healthy and a month or two earlier would have provided us with some delicious fruit.
The walk to the Orchard and back is about 4km on level firetrail and by the time we get back the kids are trashed and it's beginning to get dark. We gather firewood on the way back and manage to get a very small fire going for a short time so we can roast some marshmallows. But everything is soaked through and the fire smoulders out, despite Daisy's efforts at keeping it alive. We have some sausages, mushrooms, wraps and Daisy's baked beans for dinner and finish off with hot chocolate.
Dinner time. Mary is exhausted but still happy
RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY
Teeth brushed, wees done, pots cleaned, faces washed, campsite secured and into our tent we go.
All evening we'd had isolated light showers... and as soon as we begin to settle into bed the intermittent drops of rain begin to increase to a drumming rhythm on the tent. Daisy comments that she likes the sound of rain on the tent saying it's like being "rapped to sleep" - she demonstrates her sleep rap with "Sleep, Dream.... bla bla bla bla bleam." Not a perfect rhyme but it made us laugh. The rain gets heavier and heavier and it seems to be bucketing down all night.
Our Mont Moondance EX tent manages the deluge flawlessly, allowing us to stay completely dry while keeping the ventilation open and the air flowing in the tent. But we did have a slight issue with some mats we had at the doors under the vestibules. It's really important to make sure any mats or ground sheets are completely covered by the tent or the water will flow off the fly, onto the mat/ground sheet and back in under the vestibule, wetting anything you have stored there. I had to tuck a few corners under the tent when the rain got very heavy but everything kept dry and we eventually got some sleep.
The morning was still raining - so much for the 0-1mm forecast. The girls were so excited about eating coco pops that they didn't care about breakfast in the rain. Giant drops of water falling all over them as they rapturously consume their sugary cereal. The morning was then spent trying to pack things up without getting all the gear soaked. Once again our tent proved its value when were were able to comfortably roll the sleeping bags and mats inside.
The final stages of packing take place under the stinky shelter of the composting toilet and we get packed up ready for the walk back up to the car. Instead of returning via the smugglers track we follow the firetrail east back towards the orchard. A kilometre in the track splits off up the hill and it's a heavy slog up the Marramarra Ridge Track.
It was raining for most of the morning and the kids were real troopers for persevering with what was basically an uphill forced march. There are some nice views occasionally but it's really not a very pleasant walk, for little kids it would seem like endless firetrail with multiple false peaks. Needless to say we obliterated our lolly surprise and there were a few tears.
THE END OF THE ROAD
We made it back to the car! What the?!?!
After our hardest day on the trail - possibly ever - we made it back to our car and the sense of relief and achievement was amazing. It really was a hard walk... basically seven kilometres of slogging up steep firetrails.
This was the end of the road, our spring hike was finished, so was our winter hike, so were our autumn and summer hikes. We had achieved what we set out to do for 2018 - to do an overnight hike in every season - and learnt a lot along the way. What's most important is we managed to survive with our health intact and without crushing the spirit of adventure out of the kids.
The Marramarra ridge loop isn't a hard walk for adults and if the weather is good it's a quick and easy trek.
If you just want to get to the campground it's possible to drive to a gate on the firetrail and only walk 3-4kms. But that's the worst part of the walk. The most interesting route is definitely the Smugglers Ridge trail. However the majority of this route is firetrail and not overly exciting. If we were to do it again we would possibly take a 4WD as far as possible along the Smugglers trail and walk the last bit and then return that way, but this wasn't an option with the wet conditions and our 2WD vehicle.
It would be really interesting to kayak down the river and camp at the Orchard campground (2km east of our campground) and if you go in Orange season (mid-late winter) it would be sensational. But I don't know how passable all parts of the creek are. Either way it's a nice campground, with interesting surrounds and potential for adventure. In summer it would be great to swim in the creek and fishing is possible too.
Make sure you bring enough water for each person for the duration of your stay. There is a small permanent stream that feeds the creek a few hundred metres east of the campground. The stream's water was fresh after all the rain but is potentially brackish and unreliable at other times.
For more information about Marramarra National Park check out the national parks website
For some interesting info about the indigenous and pastoral history of the area check out this article about Biddy Lewis
Keep an eye our for my "What I learned from taking my kids on a hike every season" article coming soon.
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