Palona Cave, Royal National Park

I have done a few walks in the Royal National Park near Sydney and I have really enjoyed each one of them, although they were all quite different! I have done a walk along the beach and a forest circuit, but the most recent one I did was to Palona Cave.

I found out about this walk when I was doing some research online to find new walks near me. I read a blog post of someone else that had done it and their story really piqued my interest. I kept it in the back of my mind and when a few friends and I were looking for a walk that was fairly local and not too intense, it seemed like the perfect option.

The drive to get to the start of the walk was beautiful in itself and it was like a breath of fresh air as we transitioned from suburbia to the smooth winding road amidst the green trees and shrubbery. The start of the walk was located on Lady Carrington Drive and is highlighted by parking areas on both sides of the road (very full when we got there, but we managed to get a park right next to the entrance) and some beautiful brick pillars that form a gate.

The track, at least for the first two thirds of the walk, is quite wide, which meant that the three of us were able to walk next to each other the majority of the time. This made conversation easier and we were able to enjoy a leisurely stroll, although our pace was probably a bit faster than a stroll!

Honestly, I dropped the ball a little bit on the planning before the walk, and I had a rough idea of how to get to the Cave and which turn off to take, but I wasn’t super confident, so we were aware of the possibility that we may end up just having a nice walk before turning around and heading back to the car. But in the end my prior research didn’t fail me, and I was able to spot the sign that indicated where we were meant to turn off the main track and start heading uphill. The blog post I read had said that the sign was facing the opposite direction when you approach so I was grateful that I managed to spot this sign and the track opposite it.

Once we turned off and started the climb, the track narrowed to the point that we were walking one at a time, which doesn’t lend as well to conversation, but it was also nice to enjoy the quiet – and let’s be honest, my heavy breathing also made me appreciate the fact that we weren’t in deep conversation. The uphill climb was not too intense which I was grateful for, although it was steeper than on the flat and required more focus to make sure I wasn’t going to trip and faceplant. When you are this focussed on your footing, you can sometimes miss out on the beauty of the rest of the walk, so we did take a moment to stop and take in the scenery.

It didn’t seem like it was too long before we reached the cave and there were 3 or 4 other groups of people there so we decided to keep going because from my research I knew there was a waterfall beyond the cave. We could hear it and it was about 15 to 20 metres down the track. It was not the biggest waterfall that I have been to, but it was beautiful, and because it was on the smaller side, we were able to climb up to the top of the waterfall and climb around on the rocks above it. This is always a plus for me!

One of the friends that I was with has been on a number of adventures with me and we have said on numerous occasions that we are bad for each other (or good depending on how you look at it) because as soon as one of us mentions swimming, we look at each other and say ‘I will if you will’ and then we inevitably will end up swimming, even if we didn’t bring swimming gear with us.

This happened on this particular walk and although we weren’t swimming as much as sitting in a pool of water, I still didn’t regret it. I climbed around next to the waterfall (being very careful as there were some holes that I was cautious not to fall into) and we managed to convince our other friend to join us.

After we had sat in the water long enough to start shivering, we hopped out and made our way back to the cave. I couldn’t get past a big rock that was there and had to find a way to climb it, which I eventually did, although I was covered in dirt by the end of it as it stuck to my wet clothes.

I really enjoyed this walk and the day was a beautiful mix of spending time with friends, exploring a new place, and swimming and climbing rocks. And then when we got back home, we all very much enjoyed a shower and some warm take away food which hit the spot after our earlier adventure.

The Beauty of Creation

We live in a world that is full of so much beauty, particularly in nature – the majesty of the mountains… the elegance of a swan gliding across a lake. I have always loved getting out and exploring – seeing new things and enjoying God’s creation.

But I can sometimes forget to do this, particularly in the last few months when I haven’t been able to get out and about as much. Recently I was given a verse that touches on nature and how it points us back to God – Isaiah 55:12.

“You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

I spent some time reflecting on this verse and was reminded of just how incredible nature is and the way that it always points us back to God. I wrote a prayer which kind of turned into a bit of a poem, and I thought I would branch out and share it with you. I hope you enjoy it:

All of creation knows just how incredible you are

 It is constantly worshipping you and we get to sit and watch!

I feel so blessed and honoured to watch the birds singing, the trees clapping their hands, the mountains bursting into song

I love watching the passing of the seasons – throughout all of it you are visible

I can see you in summer in the crashing of the waves at the ocean and the crabs climbing around in rock pools

I can see you in winter in the peace and stillness, in the stunning beauty of bare trees, the odd flower resiliently peeking up through the soil

I can see you in autumn, in the brilliance of the trees, in the yellows, oranges and reds

I can see you in the spring and abundance of new growth, in the flowers and trees. And so many young animals just learning the ways of the world. Curious in their innocence, wanting to play and frolic with each other

Memories while Adventuring

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and then you look back and remember vividly what you were talking about and where you were? For example, you are going on a hike and you remember exactly what you were talking about when you got to a particular lookout, or when you stopped to enjoy the view along a hike.

And then if you ever go back to that place, you can clearly remember the conversation that you had that one time. I honestly don’t know how this works, but I have experienced it myself.

One of my favourite memories like this is from the first time I did a walk in Cairns called the Green Arrow. It is a pretty long hike that starts in suburbia and makes its way up to the top of a mountain where it connects up with a few other trails named after different colours – Blue, Red, Yellow. I have walked all of these tracks at different times and I have really enjoyed them, but for some reason I have the most vivid memory from walking the Green Arrow.

The start of the track is fairly relaxed and after the first hundred metres of walking on a fire track it opens up to a grassy field with an incredible view over Cairns. Naturally the first thing that came to my mind when I emerged onto this open field was the opening song from the Sound of Music – ‘The Hills are Alive’ when Maria is spinning around on the mountain. We stood and enjoyed the view for a while (and took the obligatory jumping in mid-air photo) before continuing onto the rest of the hike. My dad had recently read a book that dove into the Sound of Music movie, about the making of it and the real-life story that it was based on. So we spent the next 30-40 minutes talking about what he had learned. Talking about the fun facts and obscure trivia. (Did you know that when they shot the opening scene of the movie where Maria spins around on the hill the helicopter kept getting too close and blowing her to the ground at the end of every take?)

This is such a vivid memory for me and a pleasant one because it involves so many of my favourite things – hiking, spending time in nature and having quality time with my family.

I don’t just have this with conversations, but with songs too. One night I was on a spontaneous adventure with some friends – you know the one, where you randomly decide to go out and what starts as a Maccas run then goes to hanging out at a park or wandering around K Mart in the middle of the night. These are some of my favourite times and something that always brings up the atmosphere even more is music. This particular night was the one that I was introduced to the song ‘Mountains’ by Hans Zimmer. It comes from the movie Interstellar and it is an incredible instrumental with amazing bass. We turned up the bass in the little car so that as the music built we could feel it all around us. It was such an incredible moment and such a great introduction to the song. I have since watched Interstellar and the music and cinematography is beautiful.

I love times like this, where fun with friends and family is paired with having great chats or listening to incredible music that create lasting memories.

Bungonia National Park

Something you may not know about me if you haven’t read my other blog posts is that I love exploring. I love going on adventures, whether it is a day trip closer to home or bigger trips for longer periods of time. I am always looking for new places to visit and I look forward to going on trips with friends.

On one of these trips, I went to Bungonia National Park. It is a couple hours’ drive to get there and we made it a longer day trip. I can’t remember how we first heard of it, but I am so glad that we went. We drove down and then spent the day exploring the area, not really sure what we would find. We started with a visit to the Lookdown lookout which had incredible views a gorge, some mountains and valleys. We then went partway along the Green Track which is an easy track that links a few different lookouts.

An aerial view of the gorge

The National Park has a number of different walks titled after different colours, from the White Track to the Green Track and the Red Track. One that we didn’t get to on this day but were all very interested in doing at a later date was the Red Track. This track started at the top of a mountain, wound its way down and actually went through the bottom of the gorge, out the other side and back to the top. It is an intense walk (although we didn’t know just how intense it would be at this time!) and was longer than we had time for since we were just there for a day trip.

So we made plans to go back a few weeks later to do the walk. We planned to go one morning, do the walk, camp overnight and then head home the next morning. Everything went according to plan as we headed down and got set up at the campsite before heading off on the Red Track.

It was fairly smooth sailing to start with, although we did slip and slide a little bit on the stones, and it was amazing how much the scenery can change in such a short period of time! At the top we were in an Australian National Park and by the time we got to the bottom it felt like we were walking in the Lord of the Rings set. We then got to walk through the gorge which was a fun mixture of walking in sand and scrambling over and under rocks.

Rock scrambling through the gorge

By the time we got to the end of the gorge we realised that we had made one big mistake – we hadn’t brought enough water to comfortably get through the walk. Most of us only had one bottle with us, although one or two people thought ahead and brought two bottles. This meant that the last third of the walk, which was entirely uphill I might add, felt very long and was filled with lots of stopping and starting. But we did eventually get to the end – it was such a great feeling when we finally came within sight of the car! The first thing we did was to drive back out to the highway and stop in at Hungry Jacks to fill up on food and soft drink. By this time, we were pretty exhausted, so we headed back to camp and had an early night.

Although the walk was very intense, I am super keen to do it again sometime (I must have blocked out the memories from trudging uphill). The National Park is beautiful and well worth a visit, whether you are game to try one of the walks or even just to enjoy the views from the lookouts.

Escape Rooms

Escape Rooms have become increasingly popular in the last few years and I am definitely on board with it. I did my first escape room a few years ago and I have done a number of rooms since then, but the first one I did is probably one of my favourites. It involved a human sized hamster wheel and a floor that moved by pulling on ropes to reveal the door to another room.

I love the idea of working with a group to solve puzzles and it is really interesting to see how people think differently – where I might struggle to solve a puzzle, someone else might find it quite easy and vice versa. So when you have a group with lots of people that think differently you generally can solve puzzles more quickly.

Naturally when you have people that think differently and go about solving puzzles in different ways there can be some disagreements – this has definitely been the case for me. The experience can be very different depending on who you are doing the room with as well as how many people you have. I have done rooms with any number between 3-6 people, but I have found 4 people to be the best number because it is less cramped, but you still have the benefit of different people with unique approaches to the puzzles.   

During the Sydney lockdown, as if we weren’t sick of being stuck inside already, a friend and I decided to explore the idea of virtual escape rooms. We have a group that we have done escape rooms with in the past so we floated the idea to them, to see if they would be interested. They were keen so we set a time and sat down to play. There are a surprising number of options for virtual escape rooms – I’m guessing with covid, this has become increasingly popular with a higher demand in the last few years. We picked a room that looked interesting and started off. I wasn’t sure how the experience would be and although it wasn’t quite the same as being there in person, it was still really fun.

There were multiple rooms involved, and it was fun to piece together the story as we went along, with interactive elements at the end, where we got to choose the ending of the story. I am very much looking forward to doing escape rooms in person again soon, but the virtual escape room was definitely a nice way to connect with people in the meantime.

Road Trips

There’s something so freeing and exciting about taking to the road for hours on end, whether you have a destination in mind or not. Road trips bring out my sense of adventure because there is so much potential – new places to see, snacks, good conversations and pitstops at the most random places. I have done a variety of road trips, from driving up and down the east coast of Australia, to exploring parts of different states, some shorter trips and some longer ones. I have done road trips with my whole family, some with just some of my siblings and others with my friends.

Compared to a lot of people my family tend to be pretty hard-core road trippers. The last road trip I did with them was at the start of this year and we drove from the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland down south to the town of 1770, which is about a 16-hour drive. We had 5 grown adults squished into a 5-seater car, with 4 drivers in the group. We started out just before 6am and drove the whole day, only stopping briefly for food and rest stops, and we got to our destination between 10-11pm. It was a solid day of driving; however, it was a breeze compared to the drive back a week later.

The return trip was much more eventful with us getting lost in the first 30 minutes, followed by a flat tire an hour or two into the trip, and a stop to get the tire fixed. Things were smooth sailing for a while after this, although we were already slightly behind schedule. But then as we got further north, we were stopped due to flooding of the road ahead. We sat behind a long line of cars for a while before pulling over the side of the road and hopping out to wander around while we waited. My younger brother and I went exploring along a train line which was quite fun; we were able to walk out on it until it disappeared under water. We then hopped back in the car as traffic started to crawl forward slightly, although we were able to watch almost a full movie in the time that we waited to get past the flooded area and back to a regular speed. By this time, we were quite a few hours behind what we were expecting, but we pressed on, choosing to keep going for as long as possible.

Like I said earlier, we are pretty hard-core road trippers and there have been multiple times where we have been faced with a decision over the years of whether we pull over for the night to sleep or find somewhere to stay, or whether we press on to try and get to our initial end destination, and every time that I can remember we have chosen to press on. In this particular instance we chose to keep going, grateful for the fact that we had 4 drivers and reminding each other to stop as soon as we started getting tired and take a nap in the back while someone else took over. We reached home around 3am the following morning, over 20 hours from when we left the Airbnb.

Road trip meals cooked over a BBQ

Although this particular road trip was quite different to what we were expecting, I generally enjoy the freedom that comes with a road trip, to pull over whenever you choose. When I was with my family in Western Australia, we were driving up to see family north of Perth and we saw some big sand dunes close to the road so we decided to pull over and go have a look. I love the spontaneity that comes from seeing something interesting or unique and being able to pull over at the last minute and check it out. And although at the end of a road trip I often get to the end destination tired (and probably slightly dirty and smelly!) and ready to get out of the car, it never takes long before I am ready for the next road trip – dreaming about the possibilities of who I can convince to come with me and where we can go.

Sydney Harbour

I’ve never been much of a city person, generally preferring to go out exploring in areas with more nature – to the mountains or to the beach. But every once in a while, it is nice to change things up and go exploring in the city. I have visited many different areas in Sydney city, but the harbour would have to be the most well-known.

Climbing the mast of a tall ship in Sydney Harbour

My first time visiting the harbour was before I moved to Sydney when I was passing through on a road trip. We did all the usual touristy things from walking across the Harbour Bridge to walking around the Opera house. We even stopped to see a busking act involving a guy riding a 12-foot-high unicycle. On the same trip we were able to sail on a tall ship in the harbour. It was a very unique experience and one that I very much enjoyed. I even got to help steer the ship briefly and climb to the top of the mast. It was certainly a fun and unique way to see Sydney Harbour, one that I am very grateful that I got to do.

Since moving to the area, I have visited Sydney Harbour numerous times, mostly to visit with friends that are passing through – it is a great place to meet up because it is very easy to find! I’ve spent plenty of time catching up with friends while walking around the Opera House and crossing the Harbour Bridge.

I have also gone to Vivid, which is an annual light festival held in Sydney where they light up areas all around Sydney Harbour, including the Opera House and the Botanical Gardens. It really is a great time, wandering around and looking at all of the different light shows. While I enjoy the multicoloured displays, I must say my favourites are some of the simpler ones, the ones with just one or two colours, often they have a more elegant feel to them. It certainly is a different way to see the Harbour, at night lit up amongst crowds of people.

Although I tend to visit other places over the city, Sydney Harbour is definitely somewhere you should visit if you ever get the opportunity. It really is a unique place.

Planning Future Adventures

As I wrote last week’s post on the Snowy Mountains I got a real case of wanderlust. Actually, let me rephrase that – my wanderlust increased significantly. Being from Sydney I have been in lockdown for the last 3 months, only leaving to go for walks or occasionally shopping, and I must say I have increasingly struggled with being cooped up. I am very blessed to be living on a big property in a rural town, but even so, I miss being able to travel. Or even being able to do something as simple as go for a hike in the forest or climb around on rocks at the beach. These are things that I miss more than being able to go shopping for clothes in person or go to the movies (although I certainly would love to be able to do both those things!)

As I wrote about my experiences walking in the Snowy Mountains and looked at photos of my time there, it made me really miss being able to explore and to plan trips, whether for a day or for longer.

So that’s exactly what I’ve started to do. Even though everything is uncertain and there is no way to know exactly when I might be able to travel, I have started to plan future adventures. For me, part of the excitement of a trip is the planning stage, looking at all the possibilities – the walks that I can do, the natural attractions that I can visit. Although I know that I can’t fit it all into one trip, I still love looking at all the options. I have multiple lists of places that I want to visit, some locally that I can do in a day and some weekend trips, and even an international one.

I honestly have no idea what I will be doing even over Christmas – whether I will be able to travel interstate to visit family, or even travel within New South Wales. This is fairly new for me, until this year I have had my Christmas plans booked well ahead of the end of the year, but this year that is a bit difficult since I have no idea what restrictions will be in place.

But I am hoping that interstate travel will be allowed by early next year, as all of my family live interstate. In the past I have travelled down to Melbourne to spend time with my siblings and travelled north to Cairns to see my parents, both of which I hope to be able to do next year.

So even though I don’t know if it will be able to happen or not, I am starting to put out ideas of adventures, trips that I could go on with my siblings, or walks that I could do with my mum. It feels odd at times, because it is so normal to make plans like this, and yet I haven’t been able to do it this year. But it feels nice – nice to have something to plan towards and research ideas for. And I hoping at lease some of these plans will be able to happen!

The Snowy Mountains

The Snowy Mountains are found in southern New South Wales and they are home to Mt Kosciuszko, the highest peak in Australia, along with many other peaks. The mountains are a favourite destination for many during the winter months with a couple noteworthy ski resorts (Thredbo and Perisher), although I have not visited during winter yet. My trips have been in the warmer months of the year, from late spring to early autumn. Each time I have stayed in the town of Jindabyne, which is located on the shores of Lake Jindabyne. It is a great central location to reach the ski resorts and to access the Main Range walking track, which I have completed multiple times.

The Main Range walking track is the best way to get to Mt Kosciuszko, and it is a 22km loop. I have really enjoyed the walk, although each time I have come out of it sore and tired. My favourite time to walk it is in late spring, when the track is accessible, but there is still snow on the mountains. There are points where you have to walk over sections of snow to get back to the track and we also did some off track exploring.

A view of Lake Albina from the Main Range walking track

The start of the track is fairly flat for the first few kilometres, and then it’s a steady uphill until you get to Mt Kosciuszko. The top is a great place to stop, have a bit of a rest, and a snack. You can see all around you and it is stunning! Particularly with the mountains capped with snow reaching off into the distance. The rest of the Main Range walk is just as beautiful, with stunning lakes, and views of mountains off into the distance.

Toward the end of the walk there is often a part of me that regrets it, when my feet are exhausted, usually with blisters. This is particularly the case for the last kilometre or so which is a steep uphill, but it makes it all the more satisfying when I get to the top.

When I haven’t been walking the Main Range track, I have spent time exploring the town of Jindabyne and walking along the shores of the lake, enjoying some beautiful sunsets there. (Seriously, they are stunning!) I have also visited Thredbo a few times and looked around the village, and we even got some falling snow on of the trips which was a bonus!

A stunning sunset from the shores of Lake Jindabyne

I absolutely love the Snowy Mountains, there is a joy that I get whenever I am there. It is so different from where I usually live and it is so nice to get away. There is so much exploring that I want to do in the area, so many walks and natural attractions that I would love to visit. I have really only done the Main Range walk and seen parts of the town of Jindabyne, so I look forward to when I am able to see more of the area.

Beach Sunrises

I don’t know about you, but I am definitely not a morning person. I find it a lot easier to stay up late and then sleep in than to get myself up early in the morning and still function like a normal human being. The few times that I have woken up early in the past were for early morning airport runs, or for school or work.

That is until last year. One day one of my housemates and I got to talking about how beautiful the beach is and how it would be amazing to get up early so that we could go to the beach and watch the sunrise. Me being the adventurous, spontaneous person that I am, forgot momentarily my difficulty in waking up early and jumped at the opportunity. Although I did regret this when my alarm went off very early on the chosen morning, I still got up and trudged downstairs to make myself a caramel latte to take with me.

There is something so unique about driving along almost empty roads while it is still dark that awakens my adventurous spirit, and I quickly found myself getting more alert and warming up to the adventure.

By the time we got to our chosen beach, about 45 minutes away, the sun had already started to peek above the horizon. We made our way to the sand and settled in to watch the show. Although the sunrise wasn’t the most spectacular one that I have seen, it was definitely a lovely experience, with the light breeze, the constant crashing of waves on the shore and the company of a good friend. After the sun had well and truly risen we started to tune into the growling of our stomachs so we sought out somewhere for breakfast before heading home. We arrived home by 10am with the rest of the day ahead of us.

We repeated this trip multiple times throughout the year, mostly just the two of us, though we did take a group one time, which was another lovely morning that included sunrise, breakfast and then some spontaneous exploring and climbing around on rocks – something that I am always up for.

My friend moved interstate this year and I have missed our sunrise adventures, particularly in this time when going 6 km from home is a novelty. I would wake up before dawn again in a heartbeat if it meant that I could go to the beach and enjoy a sunrise.