Now that the weather is a bit cooler, it’s an ideal time to explore the wilderness national parks on the escarpment to the north of Bega. We tend not to do much bush walking in Summer because of snakes, as well as the heat, though Tuross Falls and the Cascades in Wadbilliga National Park would also be wonderful to visit in Summer….
The easiest access to Wadbilliga National Park from the south is via Cooma and the sealed road to Numeralla. Here is a map from the National Parks brochure: On our first visit, we took an the unsealed road Tuross Falls Rd from Nimmitabel and while we saw some lovely old grazing properties dotted with giant granite boulders, the road from Cooma is much easier and quicker. From Countegany Rd, its only 4.5km to the turnoff into the park and another 7km to the Cascades camping area. Here are 2 maps from the National Parks brochure: There are 20 sites beside the river and 2 walking tracks : a short walk (5-10 minutes) down to the Cascades and a longer one to the Tuross Falls viewing tower (2 hours return, though we only took 1 hour).We started with the Tuross Falls walk, which winds along a sandy track past huge granite boulders and outcrops. The granite was intruded into the sedimentary bedrock 400-100 Million years ago. I loved their rounded domes and weathered forms. The soils have low fertility, but still support a wide variety of vegetation from eucalypts to banksias, hibbertias, hakeas , wattles and grevilleas. Because of its ruggedness and relative isolation and history of predominantly open grazing, there was little clearance of the vegetation, so the old growth forests are relatively undisturbed and provide plenty of nesting hollows for birds, gliders, possums and owls. We saw plenty of wombat droppings on our walk and disturbed a pair of Superb Lyrebirds, who glided very quickly and very silently away!Tuross Falls are spectacular and well worth the walk in. They drop 35m into a gorge, which is 5km long between cliffs, up to 100m high. The falls looked like silky tresses and the rainbow at the bottom of the falls was quite beautiful! The pool at the base then feeds via 2 smaller falls into another pool, which in turn falls into another pool, which then bends back to continue the river , having dropped a further 360m. Apparently, there is a narrow ridge a little back along the path, by which you can descend to the base of the falls. Here is the Tuross Falls Climbing Guide Map, as seen in : http://www.canberraclimbing.org.au/media/9987/tuross-falls.pdfOn the walk back to Cascades, we diverted to explore a huge granite outcrop off the path. Another visitor had made a cairn of rocks at the top.We were also very impressed with the Cascades. The view from the viewing platform down the Tuross River with its long pools is beautiful. Apparently, you can also access Tuross Falls by rock-hopping down the river, swimming across 3 pools, then abseiling 40m down the falls. If you would like to do this, it is worth visiting this site : http://www.immortaloutdoors.com/articles/tuross_canyon
Below the viewing platform, a track leads to a water slide into the first of the pools. It would be great fun in Summer- apparently, it is advisable to slide down the side nearest to the track!We then drove ½ hour back south along the Tuross Falls Rd to Wadbilliga Rd, a 4wd track, which starts in private property and looks south to Wadbilliga Peak (1337m) and the 7km long plateau (average altitude: 1200m), which separates the Wadbilliga and Brogo Rivers and is another future walk. The road climbs down from snow gums and dwarf sheoaks and heath, then skirts the mountain at Conways Gap, where we saw another rainbow over the rugged cliff line. To the south lies the Brogo Wilderness, untraversed by any tracks and the total catchment for Brogo Dam.
Further down the track are spectacular views of the coast. We surprised a lyrebird with its baby, who made a tremendous racket of indignation, then tore off down the road!The road was scarcely wider than the vehicle and skirted by overhanging tree ferns. The steep escarpment catches all the rain and the rainforest is very lush.The views of the surrounding cliffs were spectacular.We finally made it down to the beautiful Wadbilliga Crossing, where we enjoyed a cuppa with an inquisitive Yellow Robin. I love the huge sheoaks, gums, angophoras and huge rain forest vines here, as well as the very attractive rocky banks of the river. The Lakes Camping area down from here has 15 sites. As the sun went down, we passed through lush river paddocks to Yowrie, past Galba Blacksmithing Forge, to Wandella, then Cobargo and home.It was such a lovely day out, that one week later, we decided to explore the next national park to the north : Deua National Park, another wilderness park. Here are 2 maps from the National Parks brochure: We drove via Cooma, then took the very civilized, dirt Snowball Rd to our first stop at Badja Swamp Nature Reserve, the only example of a subalpine vegetation community on the eastern margins of the Monaro Tablelands. The colours of the grasslands and peatlands were beautiful and a tiny heath was beginning to flower. Again, we saw plenty of wombat droppings and this veritable palace, as well as a family of choughs! If I was a wombat, this is where I would live – well away from the risk of being flattened by cars on the roads, which are littered with their dead cousins!We took a quick look at Middle Mountain Road, which leads into Minuma Range Fire Trail and the Bendethera Fire Trail and is the access to Bendethera Homestead and Caves from the west. From all accounts, this road is serious 4wd territory with very steep grades and some pretty dodgy parts round Dampier Trig, so we had already decided to explore Bendethera from the east ( along Little Sugarloaf Rd ) in the future, but we wanted to check out the start of the track. Ross baulked at the first deep river crossing! A map from the National Park interpretive board showing the route to Bendethera:Bendethera (1860s on) was one of the early properties in the area, supplying fruit and vegetables, bacon, beef and grain (corn, wheat, millet and oats) to Moruya, as well as the miners in the goldfields of Araluen and Nerrigundah . The George family carted everything with a team of 40 packhorses, using 4 bridle trails. The homestead, a single-storey, hip-roofed dwelling with a front verandah and a separate kitchen, was burnt down in 1969, but the old bread oven, a family grave, a water race, post-and-rail cattleyards, exotic mature trees and cleared river flats still exist. The property has a fascinating history and it is worth reading the NPWS management plan for the area at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/planmanagement/draft/10487BendetheraCMPdraft.pdf
From the site of the old homestead, a 3.6km track leads to Bendethera Main Cave, which was one of the earliest protected areas in NSW, being protected in 1897. It is a large cave and its roof is 90 feet high. Handrails, steps and cuttings were made in the 1890s and 1903 and still exist today, along with signatures from the 1890s. There are also 40 other caves in the area and the Bendethera karst system is 4km long and up to 0.5 km wide. It is in the same line of limestone as the Wyanbene cave.
After the Middle Mountain Rd, Snowball Rd becomes Krawarreee Rd and a little further on is the turnoff to Wyanbene Caves along Wyanbene Rd – nothing is signposted, so it obviously isn’t promoted that heavily by NPWS!It is a lovely drive in past rolling hills covered in colourful Scrub Sheoak and beautiful views over the surrounding countryside.We passed this lovely old homestead on a bend in the creek on the way in.At the end of the road is a delightful bush campsite with 5-10 sites. We much preferred it to Berlang Camp, which we visited afterwards.Everything is very low key. The entrance to Wyanbene Cave is a simple gated hole in the hill and is hard to detect from the base of the hill. It is just to the NW of Ross, as he passes through the gap in the fallen tree. We climbed down a steep ladder into the dark and that was enough for me! Ross took the torch and went a bit further in down a tiny hole to the creek. You are only allowed in the first 200m, after which you need a caving permit from NPWS, but that was far enough for Ross too. To go further in to the chamber entailed a stomach crawl along and in the freezing cold water of the stream within a space of 2 foot high!Can you see Ross waving from the bottom? Apparently, in the Aboriginal Monaro/Snowy Dreamtime story, Wyanbene Cave , along with Tuross Falls, was created by Djamalang, the Platypus, as he travelled from the Shoalhaven River to the Snowy River.
A much more romantic than the dry geology history, which goes as follows:
500 Million years ago, sediments, deposited in a deep ocean trench, were folded, heated and compressed to form a sedimentary bedrock, while fringing coral reefs in the edge of the seas became limestone bands throughout the area.
400-100 Million years ago, large granite bodies were intruded into the sedimentary rocks, pushing them upwards and metamorphosing the limestone in the Wyanbene and Marble Arch area, recrystallising it into coarse red and white marble.
Wyanbene Cave is one of the longest karst systems in NSW with the passage measuring 1830m long. It is an outstanding example of a cave formed by a subterranean stream, where water slowly dissolves the limestone over thousands of years. It contains a large number of limestone formations including stalactites, stalagmites, shawls, helicites and flowstones.It is also home to the threatened Eastern Bent Wing Bat, as well as the Eastern Horseshoe Bat, the vulnerable Sooty Owl and a number of aquatic and terrestrial cave invertebrates, including syncarids, a species of crustacean adapted to living in the icy cold waters of caves.
A pair of bushranging brothers, the infamous Clarke Brothers, had a hideout nearby in another cliff overhang until they were captured in 1867. Wyanbene Cave was also popular with tourists in the 1930s and were protected in 1931. It is still explored by speleologists today, but I’m afraid that I’ll never be one of them! I was very happy to get back on top of the ground! Our final stop was at Berlang Camp (15 sites @ $6 per night) to visit Big Hole. Here is a map from the National Parks brochure: We had to cross the Shoalhaven River to access the 3.5km return walk to Big Hole. Ross was a mountain goat in his last life and rock-hopped across, while I just took off my boots and waded through! The first part of the walk is up a dry stony ridge, but I loved it when we reached the scrub sheoak and snow gums. Such attractive vegetation and beautiful views!Further into the forest, we discovered Big Hole and it is spectacular! Measuring 35m across, 200m around the circumference and 110m deep, it was formed when the ceiling of an underlying limestone cave collapsed. The theory is that sedimentary siltstone, sandstone and conglomerates were laid down under the sea 350 Million years ago over a large body of limestone at or below the level of the Shoalhaven River. The limestone was dissolved and carried away by water, leaving a large underground cavern, whose sedimentary roof then collapsed, creating the Big Hole. Here is a photo of the interpretive board:
The cavern must have been so deep, as there is absolutely no evidence of the fallen debris. In fact, there are no broken tree limbs either, which is amazing, given the reach of the branches of surviving trees, clinging onto the cliff edges. Instead, there is a bed of 2m high soft tree ferns, supported by the Shoalhaven River underneath. I loved the ferns adorning the rock walls too.It was protected back in 1932. On our next visit, we will continue on the walk (13km return) down steep steps into the ravine to see Marble Arch. We retraced our steps back to the camping ground.By the time we returned to the car, it was 3.30pm and since we did not want to get caught in the dark, we decided to go home via Braidwood and the sealed Kings Highway instead of the Araluen 4wd track, which was an old bridle trail from the Araluen goldfields to Moruya. We travelled up this route back in 2012- an incredibly scenic drive- and we will do it again, perhaps stopping to camp at one of the camping sites along the Deua River : Deua River, Dry Creek and Baker’s Flat, so I will have more photos later, but for now, here is a taster from the 2012 trip!For more in-depth information about these beautiful wild national parks, please consult the NPWS management plans for the area at : http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/planmanagement/final/20110159FarSthCoastFinal.pdf