Royal NP overnight hike
I just spent the last 2 days hiking the coastal track of Royal National Park. It was a very long and trying 30km, both physically and emotionally. But somehow we all survived and reached the end, which I am now deeming my biggest physical achievement to date.
On Wednesday morning (the 1st), the 8 of us from Unimates met in the city, bought food and supplies, and caught the train to Cronulla. From there, we took the 11:30 ferry to Bundeena, where the start of the hike was. Unfortunately, there were virtually no signs or directions to the starting point, so we wandered around Bundeena for 1.5 hours, up and down hills, before finally getting there at 1:30. The fact that we got lost before the hike even began did not bode well for us, at all! And we knew this, yet proceeded anyway.
Day 1 was not too strenuous. It was mostly 15km of hiking on top of big flat rock along the coast, with the gorgeous ocean and craggy coastline to the left, and the distant forest to the right. The rock formation was just incredible! There were so many different colors and patterns to the rock we were walking on, it made me wish I knew a bit about geology. The path sometimes took us a bit more inland, where there was more bush to negotiate, but it was smooth sailing for the most part. Around 4:00 we stopped at Marley beach to rest and cool off in the water. The shore was lined with blue-bottle jellyfish every 2 feet or so, and even that wasn’t enough to deter us from going for a swim… that’s how hot we were. Not to mention, how pretty the beach was. The water, admittedly, was freezing, but felt nice after the first minute. And no one got stung by the jellies.
Except it was quickly approaching sunset, and we weren’t even halfway to our destination for the night. We resolved to pick up the pace a bit, but that’s when our troubles began. We got lost numerous times once the track signage virtually disappeared and/or lied to us. I proved to be not-so-hot at navigating. Several times we ended up on fake side-tracks where we had to hike through bush, and my poor pant-less legs took a beating. At dusk, we were hopelessly stuck a bit inland with contradicting signs telling us to go this way and then that way, essentially taking us in a circle. It was inevitable that we’d be stuck on the trail after dark, but the question was, would we even be able to see our way through the trail? Would we even be able to stay ON the actual trail? Everyone was getting worried about this, but no one freaked out or lost their cool. We had an amazing group of troopers.
Eventually we ended up back on the main trail, but not for long of course! We saw our destination, Garie Beach, but it was quite far away, and way down below. The trail markers pointed one way, but there was no path to follow at all so we went down a fake-trail that appeared to be more direct anyway. BIG MISTAKE. We got lost in a wildlife rehab area, which was totally covered in bush that we had to walk or crawl through, forging our own pathway. Somehow the last remaining sunlight held out for us as we eventually made our way through. I still have no idea how we ended up in this rehabilitation zone where penalties apply, when the trail signs actually directed us toward it! There was no other way but to go back inland and all the way around, which would be absurd. I also have no idea how we made our way through this jungle. We couldn’t see where any semblance of a path was around us, so it was really like a giant nightmare of a maze.
It was pretty much dark once we began our final stretch down this huge cliff and through more bush. But we had found the trail, and were surviving on plain biscuits and flashlights to guide us. The moonlight also was a tremendous help. This last stretch was so steep, we had to climb down all these rocks and steps about 2-feet high… all after dark. Quite an accomplishment. We finally reached Garie Beach after 9:00, where we all rejoiced. Except then the hostel directions were for coming from the opposite direction, so we hiked into this valley off the beach and couldn’t find the path described. It was stressful, but I was all ready to just lay my sheet out and sleep on the beach if necessary. Thank God we found the steps leading up to the cabin, just a tad further down the beach. At this point, I knew we were going to be ok. We were at the Garie Beach YHA in no time, and by 10:15 everyone was in the cabin, relaxing, and toasting to Kristina’s 21st birthday. I accumulated a blister the size of Everest on my heel, and my feet in general were just beyond sore. Not fun.
The cabin was small and simple, with a main room with a stove, sink, all utensils, and a table. Plus, 2 rooms with bunkbeds. We cooked pasta for dinner, and ate a whole lot of food. It was glorious. Somehow I had a second wind and was motivated enough to make nutella sandwiches for everyone for the next day. The cabin is powered by solar energy, so the lights actually shut off on us around 12, which was when we were about ready to sleep anyway. And sleep we did… very well.
The next morning, we were up, packed, cleaned up, fed, and on the beach by 10:30. It was hotter today, so hiking was more difficult. We only got lost once, at a beach where the path said to cut inland rather than hike along the craggy coast, but no path was to be found. But soon the coastline sort of ended with a 10-ft drop, so we had to backtrack and hike up the hill to where the hidden track was. I cannot get over how horrible the signage is on this trail. Sometimes, when you’re already on the trail and there’s no question about where you should go, there are signs galore… but when the trail sort of ends and there are about 10 different ways you can go, there’s nothing and you have to guess. Good Lord.
The rest of the track [10km total] was basically uphill. It was painful. My foot was giving up on me, so I limped the whole way to avoid the pain in my heel. We were all drenched in sweat and it was so gross. No one was happy anymore. This was the first time the whole trip that my spirits weren’t high. I’d been fine the first day, even with the stresses of getting lost multiple times, and I had been pretty positive. But with nonstop uphill hiking leading further and further up the cliff and into the forest… no. I hate that stuff. That’s why I didn’t care for hiking in NZ, because of the constant steep uphill climb. It was staircase after staircase. Luckily we were shaded by trees, but it was still hot and icky. And I ran out of water about midway through. It was pretty traumatic overall.
But I have to say… the views on day 2 were far better than those on day 1. We saw more of the gorgeous coastline, and there were more beaches with the various colors of blue, and golden sand, and all the crazy rock formations, and the lush green forest inland. It was really beautiful. And the view at the lookout at the very top of the cliff we’d climbed was just incredible. We were so high up, but we could see the beaches so far below us, and then the coastline extending further south, receding in the distant haze. I’m not sure if it was worth all the pain of the last leg of the hike though. Thankfully after this, it was mostly level hiking. We trudged on, just waiting for the endpoint. And finally, around 3:20, we had it. We were all pretty ecstatic to have finished the hike in one piece. We had to wait awhile for the train in Otford, but we welcomed the rest. It felt so good to sit and have water to drink again. And we were back in Sydney by 5:45.
So overall, this overnight hike was difficult and challenging. But I had a blast! And everyone else said they did too, even after everything we went through. Some of them actually thanked me for organizing the trip, and said how much they enjoyed it, and that makes me really happy… that an idea I had and worked to implement actually meant something to others. I’m so glad they had a great time. We had such a great group of people, and everyone handled everything so well. Throughout the hike, everyone would kind of walk with 1 or 2 other people and just chat… I’m sure each person got to chat with each other person, which was kind of nice because you get to know everyone a bit better. Oh, and I was slightly wrong with the demographic: it was 2 Americans, 3 Japanese, 1 German, 1 Danish, 1 Mexican. I rather like hiking, as long as it’s worth the views you see… and as long as there’s minimal steep uphill climbing. I am now very very sore in the feet and legs, I have a slight sunburn on my neck/shoulders area [not bad considering I sweat all my sunscreen off despite reapplying constantly]. And the weather is conveniently cruddy now, which means I have no choice but to start studying for finals.