Picnic at Cathedral Rock

I like when places in nature start to take on stories and rituals related to our lives – the magpie swoop tree, the pond of regret, the grandma rose. It’s like a modern kind of ‘songlining’ of our environment; a building of relationship and intimacy.

Travelling to Bellingen last week to visit a close friend, we decide to celebrate my birthday in the same way we had hers the previous year, with a walk up Cathedral (birthday) Rock.

The 90 minute drive there is part of the journey.  Winding our way up Waterfall Way to the high rainforests of Dorrigo we find a toe tapping banjo trio busting out early morning tunes to the breakfast crowd as part of the annual bluegrass music festival. Grabbing a coffee we continue west to the vast plateaus of the New England Tablelands east of Armidale to Cathedral Rock National Park.

A more perfect spring Saturday morning I couldn’t imagine, and for a few minutes we stand in silence listening to the songbirds celebrating, breathing in the clarity of a mountain air tinged with blossom and honey.

I just love this kind of country with its the languid woodland gums and wildflower meadows, itssub-alpine heaths fed by tiny trickling streams and generous grassy groves begging for a tent and a campfire. Comparable to the shaded humidity of the valley, the sun streams through like a meteor shower. And the rocks! Boulders of granite poised on the side of hills like a giant game of marbles in suspended animation. 

The walk is a 5.8 kilometre loop track, yet could easily take hours with every pause to examine orchids, flowers and birds, and to rest and cup some mouthfulsat thecreek.

About halfway the tracks peels off for the rock-hopping scrambleto the top, where a natural throne perched on 200m of stacked boulders sits. The nearby Round Mountain is the highest point of the New England Tablelands, although only by a whisker at 1584m.

From atop the granite tors the view across the wilderness country of dry eucalypt forest and rocky outcrops lends itself to a reverie befitting its name.

Although bright with birdlife the landscape feels deeply quiet but present, almost hypnotic. A cloud passes over and the birds quieten, except for a single mournful cry of a fantail cuckoo. I imagine myself here alone, wandering off between the crevices as if in a half-sleep, disappearing down some crack like Miranda at Hanging Rock, never to be seen again. It has the same timelessness about it.

 Luckily, the more pressing celebrations interrupt the daydream, and we descend to follow the circuit back through a protected valley of manna gums to a three-course picnic, and a birthday song care of the resident campsite currawongs.