Party: Tim Vollmer, Mariacristina (Mary) Merlo and Ulla Heikkilä
Pulling in to the Bendeela campground, it looked like the trip had started off poorly. The scene was reminiscent of a refugee camp, with what seemed like hundreds of people – complete with cars, caravans, tents, tarps, and camp chairs – packed into a paddock about the size of a football field.
After a couple laps in the car I eventually spotted Mary and Ulla. I suggested we head elsewhere, but thankfully they’d been for a walk and discovered a huge grassy area a short distance away with not a soul in sight. It turns out about three quarters of the site requires you to walk in – something none of the lazy car campers were willing to do – so we ended up with a spectacular spot all to ourselves.
Once we were set up we strolled down to the water for a swim. The camp site is on the banks of the Kangaroo River, which at this point is deep, wide and very still (thanks to the fact that it is actually at the upper end of Lake Yarrunga, formed by the Tallowa Dam on the Shoalhaven River). This meant the top layer of water was surprisingly warm, although deeper down it was rather chilly so the swim wasn’t too long-lasting.
On my way here I’d already had a dip at Seven Mile Beach at Shoalhaven Heads, but this was still a great way to wind down for the day.
The one downside to the camp ground was the ‘no fires’ policy, so the night seemed a little cooler than normal, but we made up for it with plenty of wine, beer and delicious food.
With a clear sky we were able to admire the stunning stars, while the bright moon illuminated the field nicely, allowing us to watch several wombats nibble on the lush grass.
Given Ulla had been hanging out to see her first wild wombat in Australia it turned out to be the perfect camp spot, with four or five hanging around during the night.
We finished off with a quick kinesiology consultation from Mary before retiring to bed (I had an injury, which she did seem to help, and I’m always keen for a chance to put alternative medicine to the test).
By the morning a thick fog had settled on the valley, inspiring a sumptuous sleep-in and some pleasant solitary strolls along the river, where little wisps of mist slowly danced along the water like a procession of ghosts.
We eventually packed up and got moving by about 9am, but even then we didn’t get far as I was determined to pause at the nearby Old Store at Barrengarry with its sign claiming “World’s Best Pies” (I’m not sure about being the best on earth, but they were bloody good), and the others were happy to stop for coffee and to pick up some local gourmet produce.
Finally we hit the road to Woodhill, a small hamlet on the ridge top between the Kangaroo Valley and Berry.
We’d decided to take the day pretty easy (as the coffee stop should have proven), so a short walk to the spectacular Drawing Room Rocks was chosen.
Given we knew it was a short day we took every opportunity to explore, scrambling up rock slabs that had long-ago broken away from the sandstone cliffs and making our way to the nose of the ridge, overlooking the island of rock that is Broughton Head (aka The Wedding Cake).
This tadpole-shaped miniature version of Mt Solitary, which tapers at it’s western end to a long knife-edge of rock, is definitely one to return to (given it is surrounded by private property I’d appreciate it if anyone who knows the best access route could drop me a line).
From here the well-defined track pushed through thick scrub which would be most unpleasant without a path (something we found out later), and after one more exploration of some rock slabs we arrived at our destination.
Drawing Room Rocks is a pretty self-explanatory place name, with the ironstone-capped sandstone eroding into an interesting formation of tables and chairs. Some of them proved very comfortable, while one, which hangs precariously over the cliff edge, was a little too dangerous for the other two!
We explored down some cracks and crevasses before following the cliff-tops along to a mix of interesting headlands and rock formations. Below us a patchwork valley of farms and bushland rolled away to the unfortunately foggy sea. (It sort of felt like the Blue Mountains if sea levels had risen a few hundred metres).
Rather than just turn back, like the other day-walkers we watched come and go, we decided to push on east and explore a bit further into Barren Grounds Nature Reserve.
Unfortunately our plan was harmed by the fact that we started off down a false footpad, which meant a fair bit of scrambling and scrub bashing as we worked our way north in search of the footpad I knew existed.
Eventually we hit the path – which was clearly much less used than the earlier track – following it down into a lush rainforested saddle.
Somewhere on the other side we managed to lose the path and foolishly decided to bash our way to the top of the ridge. The more we pushed on the thicker the scrub became, to the point that in places we could only see each other if we remained within two or three metres. Ulla joked that she was looking forward to the Swiss Alps, where she’d be in a week, because they had no scrub!
Eventually we hit our path — which still required us to walk like wombats through the scratchy bushes — before coming out at an old fire trail.
A short walk had us at a nice rocky slab with more expansive views, so we sat for a while, enjoying the shade and watching the clouds race overhead. Given our walk was an out-and-back effort, every step we took had to be retraced, so we decided not to push on any further and instead try to make time for a visit to the beach.
We made much better time on the return leg (although we briefly lost the track again through the saddle) before eventually hitting the main track next to a very distinctive rocky outcrop. It was actually a couple hundred metres back from Drawing Room Rocks and easy to see how we’d have missed it on the way through.
We zoomed back along the now distinct track, only pausing when eagle-eyed Mary spotted a baby brown snake slithering in our path. We admired it briefly (another first for Ulla) before getting moving again, although the conversation now turned to the various near-misses we’d had with slithering creatures on previous trips (Mary won, having actually stood on a snake hard enough to feel the softness underfoot!)
Back at the cars we decided to ask some locals about Broughton Head, so we drove up to one house (ignoring the ‘private property’ sign) and bailed up a bloke inside. Unfortunately he was the brother of the owner, so didn’t know too much, but he still gave some ideas that could help.
From here it was on to historic Berry, where we grabbed some fish and chips for a late lunch. We had to rush them as the weather was taking a turn for the worst, with a storm rolling in from the south. Determined to press on regardless we drove down to Seven Mile Beach and raced down to the water.
It was lovely to wash off in the salty water, even after an easy walk, and we had a great time watching distant lightning as the waves rolled in. Unfortunately the rain then started, and ended up coming down pretty hard, so we raced back to the cars and set off home.
There was a little traffic as we headed back to Sydney, but nothing too bad, and certainly nothing that could take away from the lazy half-weekend in the bush full of swims and stunning views.
Definitely an area worth returning too.