Despite the forecast of a cloudy day with a good chance of rain, it’s the best weather in almost a week and I’m looking forward to re-visiting Emerald Pool – an area I haven’t been to for many years. Popran National Park is only an hour away from Sydney, but isn’t as well well-known or visited as the other nearby national parks. It’s accessed by Ironbark Road from Mangrove Mountain; the last 850m of the road is steep and eroded (4WD only), so we leave the car and continue on foot to the small picnic area.
Almost all of the trails in this section of Popran National Park start here. From the picnic area, there’s initially only one option – the Mount Olive Trail, which is a wide service trail. The Mount Olive Trail reaches a junction with the 248 Trail after a few hundred metres, and then with a bushwalking track that heads up to the top of Mount Olive.
We take the short detour up to Mount Olive, the highest point in the area. There’s some nice views over Popran National Park from various rock outcrops, but no obvious summit.
Hidden in the bush only a few metres from the bushwalking track is TS3236 OLIVE, an old trig station. Despite being on the highest point of Mount Olive there are no views from the trig point – but go a bit further away from the track and can see the Mount Olive Trail below.
Continuing beyond the Mount Olive “summit”, we find some interesting and well-preserved cave paintings, of a wallaby and some other figures which are hard to make out. One of the most significant reasons for the creation of Popran National Park’s was its high density of Aboriginal sites – there are over 800 known Aboriginal sites.
Returning the same way, we continue along the Mount Olive Trail. It’s easy but not particularly interesting walking along the wide service trail. As well as the occasional monitor for company, we’re serenaded by a load chorus of cicadas.
As we get closer to the bottom of the valley, the Mount Olive Trail veers to the left (it continues for another 1.4km), and we turn onto the signposted Hominy Creek Trail. This is also a wide service trail for another 0.6km, before it becomes the Hominy Creek Track, a much more pleasant bushwalking track.
As the Hominy Creek Track decends towards the creek, we spot a mundoe (footprint) on a rock platform, the peck-marks clearly evident in the hard stone.
After reaching Hominy Creek, the track continues parallel to the creek down to Emerald Pool. The small but fairly deep swimming hole is surrounded by low shrubs and tall eucalypt trees: perfect for a swim on a hot day, but not so tempting today, as it starts to rain.
At the upper end of the pool is a small set of cascades, where Hominy Creek flows into Emerald Pool.
Just downstream of the pool are a large number of axe grinding or sharpening grooves (of the 800 Aboriginal sites recorded in Popran National Park, the majority are engravings and grinding grooves).
There’s also some engravings near the creek bed, which are remarkably well-preserved and show the individual “peck marks” used to form the outline of the fish.
We continue along the Hominy Creek Track, which ascends up the other side of the valley, before reaching a large clearing where it meets the 248 Track.
Before taking the 248 Track back up to the picnic area, completing our loop, we head to the end of the track where there is a large rock platform. The rocky outcrop is 248m above sea level at the highest point, giving the 248 Track its name. There are views over Popran National Park, including Mangrove Creek to the north-west.
We find one faint Aboriginal engraving on the vast rock platform, a few circles in the sandstone (I don’t know if these are naturally occurring or engraved) and an unusual collection of small rocks that may be a stone arrangement.
From here it’s back along the 248 Track to the junction with the Hominy Creek Track, and then a gentle ascent up to the Mount Olive Trail, which completes the Emerald Pool loop. Along the 248 Track is a long rock shelf protected by a series of timber logs; it’s hard to make out the individual engravings due to natural tesselation.
The 248 Track passes through Donovans Forest, named (I believe) after district pioneer Elizabeth Donovan (1791-1891).
We’re soon back at the Mount Olive Trail, which completes the loop, with an easy walk back to the Picnic Area and down the rough section of Ironbark Road to the car. An enjoyable walk despite the damp weather, despite much of the bushwalk being along service trails.
0.0km Ironbark Road (before 4WD section) 0.8km Picnic Area and carpark. Start odf Mount Olive Trail 1.2km Junction with track up to Mount Olive summit 1.4km Mount Olive summit 1.6km Mount Olive Trail 4.0km Start of Hominy Creek Trail 4.9km Hominy Creek 5.1km Emerald Pool 7.0km Start of 248 Track [+1.5km return to end of 248 Track] 8.5km Junction with Mount Olive Trail 8.8km Picnic Area 9.7km Ironbark Road