The other day I hiked the Great North Walk.
OK slight exaggeration - I did but a few kilometres of the 250 kilometre track that runs between Macquarie Place in Sydney to the Queens Wharf Tower in Newcastle. Still, it was enough to have me itching to don my backpack and boots and set my sites further afield.
Rather than the well-planned 10-day affair the entire walk requires, mine was a spontaneous early morning adventure.
My brother’s house in Charlestown overlooks one of the many small bushy creeks in the catchment. From their verandah, the kids recognise the resident yellow-tailed black cockatoos, currawongs, tawny frogmouths and even the occasional powerful owl in the canopy. One morning after babysitting, I venture down to the creek to explore.
The tunnel through the lantana was height restricted to 10 and under and I have to crawl on my knees to penetrate the thicket, imagining that I could well pop out at Hogwarts. Instead, I enter into a slightly more spacious thicket of privet. Weeds aside, crouching down by the trickling creek, the suburbs have disappeared behind this wall of green, and I breathe in the fresh morning breath of the forest.
Following the creek downstream, my small trail joins up with a larger track signposted ‘The Great North Walk’. Wow, in another two hundred kilometres or so I would be in Sydney. I felt immediately the desire to keep walking, to know what it takes to make that journey by foot instead of by car; to know the real lay of the land, the hills and valleys and waterways through the speed of my walk rather than racing through the mountains split open by highway.
For awhile the trail south runs parallel to the highway, emphasising the two parallel universes. The speedy noisy one to my right, and the one here thick with birdsong, moving at a very different pace. I focus my attention on the colours as they pass, the mottled rusts of grey gums and blue of dianella berries, as the highway fades into the distance.
Apparently, the name 'Great North Walk' was derived from the first road from the Hunter Valley to Sydney, called the 'Great North Road'. The track began construction in 1987 and was completed less than a year later in early 1988, in time for the bicentennial celebration year.
Explored in bite sized day walks or longer overnights, the track traverses Glenrock to Warners Bay, the Watagan mountains through Yarramalong and Somersby, through the stunning Hawkesbury River region, and into Hunters Hill and Pymble to Circular Quay. There are also many side tracks which link to populated areas along the length of the walk. The first 25 kilometres from Queens Wharf to Teralba railway is also known as the Yuelarbah Track, and is the section most Novocastrians would have walked unwittingly.
Turning for home, I bookmark my place on the Great North Walk, knowing I’ll return for the next chapter someday.