I’m joining a bushwalk in the D’Arcy Range led by Yuri, an explorer, bushwalker and environmentalist who’s traversed the Wollemi National Park from east to west – and north to south. I’m not sure what to expect, but being in the company of some very hardcore bushwalkers I fear that I may be crawling back to the car around midnight!
We start the bushwalk near the end of the D’Arcy Range Trail, which is north of Bilpin. It’s pretty easy walking as we descend the ridge from the firetrail, through tall forest with minimal undergrowth.
We soon pick up small creek, which we follow downstream.
There’s a nice view over the small gully from a waterfall along the creek.
Just above the waterfall is a small waterhole and a couple of axe grinding grooves; the first of a few indigenous heritage sites we visit on today’s off-track bushwalk.
There’s a bit of easy scrambling as we continue down the creek, exploring a small overhang in the valley.
It’s easy walking at a relaxed pace, and unlike the thick scrub that I’m often negotiating along creeks in Sydney’s north, there’s almost no undergrowth along the bottom of the shaded valley.
It’s way too cold for a swim, but the occasional pools along the crystal-clear water look very inviting!
After a couple of kilometres we head up a small spur above the creek, where we have a morning tea break.. and agree where we are going next. There’s two different valleys we’re keen to explore, but only enought time to tackle one of them.
There’s a tricky scramble and bum-slide down the opposite side of the spur to reach the creek again, before some more easy walking along the creek.
We stumble across what was probably an old logging trail, with evidence of trees that have been cut or sawn.
The faint trail follows a creek, which is a tributary of our first creek. After a short distance we head up the side of the valley, past some large sandstone overhangs.
In one of the overhangs is a lyrebird nest; females build a dome-shaped nest of sticks, which can be on the ground, on rocks, within tree stumps, or in tree ferns and caves uch as this one. Breeding occurs mainly in June and July, with one egg being laid that hatches in around 6 weeks, with the young lyrebird remaining in the nest for 6 to 10 weeks.
From here the side of the valley gets steeper, and Yuri brings out his tape to help us scramble up one particularly challenging boulder.
We’re soon at the first shelter we’re visiting on today’s bushwalk: the D’Arcy Range 6 site has some Aboriginal drawings in charcoal.
We continue past more high cliffs, as we continue ascending.
There’s one more shelter, which some of the group have visited before, that also contains Aboriginal art. Like the previous shelter, D’Arcy Range 7, has multiple charcoal drawings.
We walk past few more impressive caves and overhangs. One of them has honeycomb weathering, a form of tafoni (“ellipsoidal, pan-to bowl-shaped, natural rock cavities”). I’d always thought this was a result of abrasion, most likely weathering from the wind. But it’s actually the result of a complex interaction of physical and chemical weathering processes, including the expansion of salt crystals that break fragments of rock to create small holes.
The next shelter is the most impressive: from the outside it doesn’t look too interesting. But on the inside, it is quite deep and sheltered, with a smooth, wave-like structure.
Although no Aboriginal art has been found in the shelter previously, six pairs of eyes scour the cave for any traces of drawings or stencils…
We find both charcoal and red ochre drawings inside the shelter (now recorded as D’Arcy Range 19), and above the shelter are multiple sets of axe grinding grooves.
Our last shelter doesn’t have any Aboriginal art, but does offer striking natural art.
There’s one a last tricky scramble and an easy walk through tall forest, before we reach the D’Arcy Range Trail again to complete our loop.
We’ve finished the walk around 2:30pm, having covered 5.8km of mostly easy off-track meeting. I’m a bit muddy, but less battered and bruised than I feared… it’s been a very interesting bushwalk, in a part of Wollemi National Park I’ve never explored before.
Getting to the D’Arcy Range
The D’Arcy Range in Wollemi National Park is 19km in length, and starts about 5km north-west of Bilpin (which is about an hour west of Sydney). The D’Arcy Range Trail (a firetrail) follows most of the D’Arcy Range Trail, and is accessed from Mt Tootie Road (which is off Bells Line of Road near Bilpin).