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Walking the upper Williams River, Barrington Tops NP

Port Stephens Walking Group, National Parks Association

Our first walk for 2023, Blue Gum Loop and Rocky Crossing Track

Wednesday 1 Feb 2023

We love exploring walks locally and regionally. As a first after a gap of many years, we were excited to charter an affordable small bus for the nearly 2hr drive to the Williams River Picnic area in the Barrington Tops National Park – arriving fresh after a more social trip, with a little pre-walk organisation underway on route.  

With the combined incentives of an escape to walk in cooler highlands under shady forests, swims in refreshing rockpools, and an easy journey, our walk was over-subscribed. Jacob, our amiable driver stayed with us for the day, enjoying the walk and a dip too.

Our leader Barb Boundy split the group — the explorers and a smaller group the sprinters, names dubbed for this report.

The ‘explorers’ with Barb enjoyed a fairly leisurely walk along the Blue Gum Loop to ultimately reach the Pool of Reflections, a side branch of the Rocky Crossing Trail for lunch. As always her superb timing ensured we reached Lions Rock for morning tea, where we rejuvenated under the shade along the rocky gorge. Thanks heaps Barb for leading our walk.

Morning tea at Lions Rock, to the sounds of the gushing water, though not a location suitable for swimming.
Can you spot the lion’s head far right?

The ‘sprinters’, keen to stretch out and visit Rocky Crossing on a 15km round trip upstream, were ably led by our volunteer on-the-spot leader Fred Fetherston, who’s enjoyed many holidays here. Thank you so much Fred for leading and writing the basis for these notes. Unfortunately today the sprinters didn’t have time for the Blue Gum Loop, that’s a treasure for another trip.

Currawong Creek Falls, Rocky Crossing
Chilling out over lunch
A little too gushing for safe swimming

The recent rain brought out plenty of leeches. De-leeching was a common occupation, and while not a competition, at one stage Sue was up to eleven leeches, all but three readily brushed off or removed before drawing blood.

A few sections were wet and slippery, but rains magically transformed old logs and branches into green wonderlands with exquisite fungi and orchids nestled in miniature moss forests.

White flower clusters of Christmas orchids, Calanthe triplicata, were a spot of contrast in the green forest.
Now toward the end of their flowering, some were starting to develop fruit.
A gully of Cunjevoi lilies, aka elephant-eared cunjevoi, Alocasia brisbanensis, thrive in a swampy patch track-side. It’s perfumed summer flowers (right), bear red fruit when fertilised and ripe.
We enjoyed long views of the Williams River gorge (right)

The sprinters were early enough to meet a pademelon and lyrebird close to the track.  Yellow-tail black cockatoos and more lyrebirds were called most of the day.

A couple of small goannas, a large skink and a bearded dragon enjoyed their sunny spots among the general shade that made the walking comfortable for us.

We spotted a freshly raked lyrebird display mound
Massive hollow trees with massive girths puncture holes in the forest canopy.
Bird’s nest fern has overtaken a small tree — fortunately it’s still standing!

NPWS have installed good signposts and several galvanised bridges with effective plastic walking grids.  

We hope their budget can replace a few more of the closed dilapidated treated-pine bridges taped off for safety, leaving walkers to splosh precariously through the creeks, unfortunately trampling some vegetation and creating erosion.

A chance conversation with a ranger explained the huge cost of these bridges. Airlifting is not possible, instead pieces brought in on quads are constructed onsite. Replacing the bridges where banks are the steepest will apparently be the higher priority when/if funds become available

For many, their strongest memory will be the amazing abseiling caterpillars.  Frequently brushing them aside as we walked, and even while we lunched in the open at Rocky Crossing they descended from high above to gently land on us!  Maybe someone can identify them and suggest what’s behind such behaviour?  There was no wind to dislodge them from the treetops…maybe they hatch in the canopy to start life in safety then come down for different food as they grow?  We could hardly believe that such a small body contained enough silk to stretch so far, let alone imagine them ever being able to re-ascend.

Responses to Louise’s facebook post suggested possibly a dispersal mechanism or predator avoidance. We’ll update this post if anything is confirmed.

The sprinters managed the walk comfortably with a short lunch at Rocky Crossing and meeting up with the explorers as they departed the Crystal Pool, the swimming hole nearest the lodges. The explorers had enjoyed a leisurely swim and relaxation at Crystal Pool (above). With just enough time for a refreshing dip, the sprinters returned to the nearby Williams River Picnic Area.

The explorers enjoyed a well earned cuppa under a shady tree at the picnic area and shared chocolates, biscuits and fruit cake — ensuring any lost calories were quickly regained!

Should we have more time on another trip, the sprinters may explore more side branches and also enjoy a restful cuppa before boarding the bus homeward bound — delighted we are not driving!

We hope you enjoyed the photos as much as we enjoyed the walk, every season brings different delights in this special forest.  Be sure to look for the fabulous fungi in autumn and there are great air bnb’s, pubs and cabins to stay in the area for a few days to relax and explore the area.

We plan to use the bus more frequently for longer trips.

Fred Fetherston, Wootton

Sue Olsson and Barb Boundy, Port Stephens

Photos courtesy of Fred Fetherston, Louise Sorenson, Marjorie Maxwell, Sue Olsson and Tracy Hoogland

More information

Go here to find out more about the Port Stephens Walking Group, part of the National Parks Association, and our walk program for the current 6 months.

For more park information see the Barrington Tops National Park, and from the Williams River Picnic Area, the Blue Gum Loop and the Rocky Crossing walk.