The forecast is for dry and hot weather, as we take advantage of the October long weekend to head out of Sydney for an overnight bushwalk. I’ve been meaning to undertake this steep but not particularly long circuit within Bungonia Gorge since researching it as part of my Guide to Overnight Walks near Sydney blog post. I’m joined by my daughter, who’s enthusiasm for a bushwalk quickly wanes once we actually start walking!
We’re underway around 1pm, after a much slower than planned trip due to heavy traffic on the freeway out of Sydney. The start of the Red Track is clearly marked, near the David Reid Car Park where we leave our vehicle.
It’s incredibly dry, and pretty hot (around 30 degrees) as we start descending through the open eucalypt forest. It’s hard to imagine that only a few weeks ago there was snow on the ground. I’m hoping we won’t have a problem with water once we reach the bottom. Visible across the valley is a large limestone quarry operated by Boral Limited, which has been operating since 1871.
As the Red Track (formerly called the Bungonia Slot Track) descends there are noticeable changes in vegetation: at around 450m above sea level there’s a band of grass trees.
The track is very steep and it’s slow going, with loose gravel under-foot and occasionally the use of both hands is required on the steepest sections.
We’re both happy to reach the bottom, a journey of only 1.5km that has taken us exactly an hour. There’s a few pools of stagnant water in the canyon, but at least it’s a bit cooler at the bottom.
Now the real fun starts… there’s no longer a track, as we follow the narrow canyon downstream. While the terrain consists of loose rock, years of drought means that there isn’t much vegetation to deal with and it’s easy walking…
…what I wasn’t really prepared for is a boulder field that needs to be navigated, a few hundreds metres futher down the canyon.
The enormous limestone boulders are a formidable sight, and a challenging obstacle. There’s two other groups making their (slow) way down the canyon, and we compare notes on the best way through, over, under and around the boulders. (Having overnight packs doesn’t help – many guides suggest a different route where you leave your back at the bottom of the canyon, and make a sidetrip sans-pack up through the boulders.)
We finally make it to the other side, where Bungonia Creek is now flowing. There’s even a few water holes that provide an opportunity for a swim. After about 1.5km down Bungonia Gorge (although it feels much further!) the Red Track heads up the steep ridge back to the top; there’s a nice swimming spot at this spot.
The other two groups are doing day walks and head up the Red Track; we are the only ones who continue down the gorge. It’s now much more open (and warmer) as we continue following Bungonia Creek downstream. The vegetation on the valley floor consists mostly of casuarina trees, and it’s generally not to difficult walking.
We reach the Shoalhaven River around 4pm, having taken us about 3.5 hours to cover 6.6km. Just to the north of where Bungonia Creek meets the Shoalhaven the river has been blocked, forming a deep swimming hole.
The original plan was to follow the Shoalhaven River downstream for a few kilometres, which we would have had plenty of time to do. But Amy has decided we’ve done enough walking for one day – and there are plenty of nice campsites near the junction of Bungonia Creek and the Shoalhaven River. We put up the tent, overlooking the river, and relax as we wait for the sun to set. I’m surprised there is no-one else here; eventually a small group of climbers arrives and sets up a camp a little downstream and a little later a family of five appear and camp just opposite us.
With plenty of time to explore before dinner, I follow the Shoalhaven upstream. There’s a thick “layer” of Casurani trees just above the section of the river that’s been blocked up and I’m glad I’m bush-bashing without a heavy backpack. It’s only a few hundred metres through the scrub before I reach the river again. It’s fast-flowing and seems like a completely differrent river to the one we are camped next to! It would be slow-going from along the river, with the trees growing right down to the river’s edge.
The following day we’re up early, so we can get the steep ascent done before it gets too warm. The White Track (also known as the Mount Ayre Track) starts just opposite our camp site.
The track ascends, gently at first, as it follows the side of the ridge along the river.
Directly ahead is the first (unnamed) peak that we are climbing up to, which doesn’t look too daunting!
But the track soons becomes steep, and our progress slow as we climb up the ridge towards the first peak. There are views of the Shoalhaven River below us, which is at least proof we are steadily gaining altitude.
After the first peak, the track levels out for a while, before another short but steep climb up to Mount Ayre. There are glimpses again of the rather ugly mine on the other side of the valley – an unfortunately fairly common view from various lookouts.
Finally we reach Mount Ayre, which offers a view down the Shoalhaven River and Gorge, and makes a good spot for a rest. It’s been a fairly steep and relentless climb to here – but not as steep as the Red Track on the previous day.
From here it’s fairly easy walking through light eucalypt forest back to the car, past the junction with the Red Track and Green Track.
We’re back at the top by 10am. I think this is shortest overnight walk I’ve ever done – and it could have been done as a day walk. But, the advantage of doing this over two days is the very pleasant camping by the river, and you’re doing the steep ascent early in the morning. (You could extend the walk by continuing down the Shoalhaven River.)
Although I have no chance of convincing Amy we could easily do another bushwalk before heading home, we do make a stop at the Bungonia Lookdown. A cantilevered platform provides sweeping views over the park.
You can see from here the entrance to the narrow Bungonia Gorge (bottom left), and the size of the Marulan South limestone mine.
DAY ONE 0.0km David Reid carpark, Bungonia Gorge (550m asl). 1.5km Bottom of Red Track; start of Slot Canyon (255m asl) 3.2km Junction with Red Track 6.6km Shoalhaven River. Multiple campsites. DAY TWO 8.8km Mount Ayre Lookout 9.3km Junction with Red Track 9.9km Bungonia Gorge carpark