We were scrambling to get a tarp up over our gear in the pouring rain. We were out for a three day wild camp in early winter in Northern NSW Australia, a few hours after dark, and we were drenched, tired and laughing.
This was our second night wild camping on a three day wilderness hike in two amazing National Parks. Our first day and night started late. We didn’t arrive at the trail head for Woolpack Rocks in Cathedral Rock National Park until just before dark, so we knew we’d be arriving at camp after nightfall. There was also rain moving in and a really thick fog rolled through as we broke the first clearing. We had to get going before the rain caught us out.
The walk was a fairly easy 4 kilometres until darkness hit, which slowed our ascent to the rocks. We had originally planned to break camp along the banks of Native Dog Creek, but we weren’t going to risk bushwhacking in darkness so we pushed to the summit and then double backed until we found somewhere off trail under the 270 million year old rock formations to settle in for the night.
My plans for some astro photography and sunrise shooting from the top of the rock peaks had disappeared with the weather, but a small fire and tucker lifted our spirits while we rested before turning in for the night.
We woke to a light drizzle which followed us for the hike back, and returned with a vengeance that afternoon. We ate, cleaned our site and packed out, refilling our water from the creek on our way back down.
I’ve always loved rain, and hiking and camping in the rain makes wild places sing. The colours burst from the foliage and the soft light from cloud cover lights every gentle detail of the landscape. It keeps people away and the birds come out to feed while the sound of our heavy footsteps are swallowed in the mud. It’s magical.
Day two was our big day. We drove down to New England National Park and had planned to hit three trails, Weeping Rock, Wright’s Lookout and finally the Cascades Track where we’d jump off trail and wild camp along the cascades further upstream. We spent a little while along the lookout trails at Point Lookout, and soaking in the surreal experience of heavy fog from the lookout.
We then walked down to the mesmerising Weeping Rock Trail and spent waaaay too long in this incredible place, forcing us to change our plan and spend another afternoon hiking through darkness to camp. As you approach Weeping Rock you wind your way through Gondwana rainforest covered in mosses, ferns, fungi and fog, finally approaching a rock tunnel.
And as you walk out from the rock-face and into the light on the other side, you find yourself in an incredible alcove of weeping stones, damp moss and a winding descent. It’s absolutely impossible to capture on camera and I spent too long trying to, and failing. It’s too beautiful to photograph, you simply must visit this place.
The rock faces run with freezing water and drip down over us in slow motion. The size and scale of the basalt rock faces are surprising, and I’m told that further into winter the rocks freeze over with a film of ice which we didn’t get to experience on this trip.
So we had to change our plans because I never expected we’d get sucked in this place for so long. We still had a 4km hike down to the cascades to go, so we abandoned Wright’s Lookout entirely to make it before night fall. We bogged down through steep, soaking rainforest, giant ferns, a cemetery of fallen trees, and scrambled over mossy boulders down into the cascades I’d been waiting two days to find.
The hike down was hard and slow, the decline was intense and incredibly slippery, fallen trees from excessive rains threw us off course and destroyed several sections of the trail. I had underestimated how much slower we’d be in the wet, and darkness was creeping in for the second night in a row.
And then we made it to the roaring cascades at the foot of the valley just on dusk, and everything was worth it. I was absolutely blown away in this place, it was beyond beautiful.
We filled up our water and tried to find the where the trail continued so we could move further upstream to camp but it was too dark. We couldn’t see our feet, the trail, or signage. Being in a steep valley, it was getting darker much quicker than usual. Then it started raining again, quite heavily, so we had to make a decision.
We spent a few minutes exploring off trail downstream in the hope of finding flat ground to make camp. I was sleeping in a hammock, but my brother had a tent so our choice was limited. What we thought was flat ground was closer to 30 degrees and upon investigation we found there were too many rocks and branches to make do.
Not wanting to waste more time we decided we had to suck it up and hike back up the steep, wet valley sides until we could find somewhere flat. We hiked for a solid 45 minutes in the pouring rain, torchlight could only light a few metres in front of us, our legs were on fire and we were exhausted.
My brother scrambled ahead while I trudged behind with an extra 10kg of camera gear. We were okay, but the thought of hiking back 2-3 kilometres was not encouraging. Thankfully, we found a little pocket just off the trail about halfway up. It was soggy with two inches of mud, but it was flat enough, clear enough and it had to do.
It was too wet, too late, and we were too tired to do much more than to get dry. So we bunked together in the tent and threw up a smaller tarp for our gear outside. All I remember was laughing at the ridiculousness of our situation and jumping in out of the rain with M&M’s and marshmallows for dinner. It poured solid rain all night, but the next morning was worth everything to be there.
I was up early for some photos, to check how our gear had dried (pretty well considering) and to get ready for a now even longer return hike. After having to climb back up the valley to camp overnight, I wanted to continue the loop track along the cascades from the bottom so we had a few more kilometres added on our return.
The hike down for the second time was just as steep, but twice as slippery. My brother nearly went for a roll down the side a few times, but we got down eventually and the sun started to poke through and dry out the trail, the rain had cleared and we had fantastic soft sunlight streaming in through the valley along the cascades for most of our hike back with was exceptional for some photography.
The cascades were absolutely magical, mesmerising, and a just reward after our ridiculous night getting down. There’s no way I would have made it down in the dark before sunrise, so the hard work was worth every moment we had down here alone with the cascades and incredible light.
It was a challenge at times. It tested us. It tested our gear. And it pushed me to be more comfortable being uncomfortable in new places, in wild weather, and in the wild. An experience and an adventure. Can’t wait for my next wild camp in spring.