It’s hard to resist a bushwalk in the Gardens of Stones that’s described by Yuri as “one of the very best walks in the Gardens of Stone area” – so I’m very much looking forward to this bushwalk, which traverses Witches Watch, Hecates Cauldron and Tara Point. Half the fun is getting to the start of the walk – it’s a solid hour on a rough 4WD track to where we leave our vehicle along a trail that branches off the Bicentennial National Trail.
There’s a short briefing on the bushwalk by Yuri who’s leading the bushwalk: despite a few jokes about having much easier access once the road is upgraded to support the proposed cafes and zip-lines, the sad reality is Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area remains under threat from both coal mining and development of adventure tourism facilities. We’re soon heading off into the scrub – despite much re-growth from bushfire a couple of years ago, the walking (at least for now!) is pretty easy.
It doesn’t take too long for the first short and easy scramble up to a small, rocky platform.
This informal lookout provides some nice views over the Gardens of Stone and towards Donkey Mountain in the Wolgan Valley to the east.
Next to the rock platform is the Gordian Knot, a large outcrop (or small pagoda!) of ironstone, for which the Gardens of Stone is known. Yuri points out a yellow Pagoda Daisy (Leucochrysum graminifolium), which are endemic to this area.
We’re soon on our way again. The re-growth is initially quite thick, before we reach a grassier section at the top of the ridge – and (for a short time) even have the luxury of a distinct trail.
Although it’s a bit hazy, through the trees are increasingly interesting views of the rugged pagoda country.
We soon reach the end of the ridge, and after a bit more easy scrambling we reach the next lookout.
We’re now at Witches Watch, a vantage point with spectacular views over the headwaters of Baal Bone Creek and four ridges lined with pagodas.
Almost directly below is Hecates Cauldron: this was named by Michael Keats of The Bush Club in June 2010: “This country is another world – a world of soaring rocky pagodas, tens of metres high, joined by fern filled chasms and slots and peppered with large Eucalypts.”
The platform is covered with shards of ironstone, including a natural collar or rock, and in every direction are more ironstone formations.
From this ridgetop lookout we walk, scramble and slither down Pandoras Ravine, a series of slotted and sometimes exposed ramps that form a natural pass down from the cliff at the end of the ridge. A length of tape is deployed at the last, slightly tricky drop to the bottom of the cliff-line.
We only walk a very short distance along the base of the cliffs, before stopping at small and innocuous opening at the base of the cliffs.
This, Yuri points out, is Pandoras Box: a short tunnel that leads to a chamber which opens up to five narrow ravines.
Leaving our packs in the chamber at the bottom, we head up one of these ravines, up through a wide slot and then clamber up to the top of a rounded pagoda.
From the top of this large pagoda, or boulder , there are more breathtaking views.
Through a narrow slot is a view of the Capertee Valley, and in every direction are interesting rock formations. We are not far from Mcleans Pass and Stargate Tunnel, which lies just to our east on the other side of a large pinnacle of rock (it is possible to return from here via McLeans Pass).
Turtle Rock – a naturally eroded rock with an eye socket and a “quizzical smile” makes for a great photo opportunity – both of the turtle and looking out the turtle’s eye!
We return the same way, re-shoulder our packs and continue along the base of the impressive cliff-line.
There’s a brief stop to admire and photograph another small grotto at the base of the cliffs – this one has lush ferns surrounding the entrance, fed by a small but constant dripping of water at the back.
Continuing alone the base of the cliff-line, we reach a fern-filled valley, surrounded on all sides by cliffs, and with a giant monolith in the middle – a slab of rock that may have have sheared off the nearby cliffs. Yuri called this magical place The Pentacle.
We weave around the cliffs, through head-high ferns and past tall towers of rock…
…and then Yuri guides us down more slots and narrow passageways that provide a way through the vertical cliffs.
Reaching a section of the cliffs where they are less steep, we scramble up to a emerge onto a large, rocky platform.
There are some more sweeping views from here, and lots of brittle ironstone formations.
A narrow ledge with what looks like a precipitious drop below (it’s not really) followed by an easy scramble up a wide sloping rock face provides access to the next cliff-top platform.
There’s more interesting ironstone formations here.
There’s also some awe-inspiring views from the end of the platform over the rugged Gardens of Stone landscape.
The top of a rounded boulder makes offers a great vantage point of the surrounding landscape.
As always, what goes up must come down, and we descend to The Dungeon via a series of slots between the pagoda, one of them a little steep and requiring us to take care as we slide and scramble down.
In the distance is Gonzo Rock, which was given this name by Jafar Calley in 2015 “because of its likeness to Gozo the Muppet”. Hey, I’m just the messenger… make up your own mind!
Below us is a good view of a cluster of pagodas.
There’s another steep but short descent between the pagados, before we leave our packs at the base of The Dungeon, another narrow slot. Following a route that winds up through and finally on top of large fingers of rock, we end up what Yuri calls The Tower of Hope. From here there are spectacular views in all directions, in particular to the north where Pantoneys Crown rises distinctively above the Wolgan Valley.
We return the same way, picking up our packs again at The Dungeon.
With our packs again, we continue through several narrow passageways between the cliffs.
The exit from the labyrinth of passages is via the Witches Mouth, where we crawl through a narrow gap under a boulder wedged between the cliffs.
The route continues to descend, reaching a fern-filled valley.
We soon reach an impressive overhang, at the base of rock outcrop which towers abovethe valley floor.
It’s an impressive overhang from every angle, being over fifty metres in length and quite deep.`.
We descend the valley below the cave, through dense ferns and past some more interesting rock formations.
After crossing Baal Bone Creek (which is dry) we turn east up a tributary valley, before clambering up a series of ledges and a steep rock face.
With a tall cliff above us, it’s not at all obvious how we’re going to find a way up to complete our loop. Until Yuri points out Tara Slot, an impossibly narrow crevice that provides an easy ramp all the way to the top of the cliffs.
At the top is Tara Point, where the rock shelf juts out into the valley – providing another dramatic scene.
There are views of the Wolgan Valley, the steep cliffs beneath us and of the route we’ve just taken.
We’re nearly back at our car… we climb up a gentle slope towards the top of the spur, completing the loop at the Gordian Knot platform. We stop here briefly to photograph the cliffs of the Wolgan Valley in the afternoon light.
It has been an incredibly scenic walk, and while only just over 7km in length it’s taken us a full day (just over six hour of walking).
Getting to the Witches Watch to Tara Point via Hecates Cauldron walk
The route starts from a branch road off the Bicentennial National Trail, which is off Wolgan Road in Lidsdale – 22.5km (20min) from Lithgow. Allow at least an hour for the 4WD Bicentennial National Trail, which has some very rough sections. Park along the shoulder of the road as close as you can to -33.247900, 150.108610.