Sunday, 8 March 2015

Karst Country - exploring Cave Creek in Kosciuszko National Park

I wish we'd thought to bring a topographical map for this spot, or done more research before arriving. Because, after a noisy night in the campground and a steady stream of day-trippers raising dust in the car park, we need to escape the growing weekend crowd and find a wilder, more remote side to this popular destination. Caz, of course, doesn’t mind the lack of information. He is happy to wander off and follow his nose: no map, no research, no word-of-mouth tips – sounds like the perfect recipe for an adventure.

Summer is a popular season to visit this part of Kosciuszko National Park. We are in the northern section of the park, (which means south-east of Tumut) and 25km off the Snowy Mountains Highway, via the Long Plain, in an area known as the Blue Waterhole precinct. The area features the Blue Waterhole, Cave Creek, Clarks Gorge, and the excellent (and free) Cooleman Cave and Murrays Cave. 

This is all Karst Country – a landscape of underlying limestone that has been eroded and dissolved to form fissures, secret sinkholes, caves and unmapped tunnels. At Blue Waterhole, crystal clear water from this subterranean world rises to the surface in a quiet and mysterious way.  

Less than half a kilometre from the car park, the signposted foot-track brings us to the first creek crossing. A line of roughly placed stepping stones are wobbly and balancing is tricky with a heavy overnight pack disrupting my usual equilibrium. At the next crossing we source a couple of bush sticks to help. 

After less than one kilometre, and another three creek crossings, the spectacular Clarks Gorge comes into sight. This is what drew us here in the first place. Forty metre high grey, limestone walls tower above the track. The gorge is a surprise – even if you know what to expect – and we wander along in high spirits, having already lost the weekend crowd. Most people seem to head in the other direction, towards Murrays Cave, which makes me wonder what we might be missing. It can't be much better than what we have got – the cliffs are spectacular, tiny holes and caves disappear into the walls, skinks and water dragons bask in the summer sunshine. 

Our track is a narrow, rocky pad that hugs the water's edge beneath the cliffs. We continue past the gorge towards a waterfall that was mentioned on the information board back at the car park. There are a couple of trickier climbs along the rocky bank towards the end of Clarks Gorge but it is worth persisting because the track to the waterfall is easy and quite distinct. 

At the base of the falls we get chatting to five young men who are sitting eating lunch and taking photos. The men have recently been posted to RAAF Base Wagga and are out for a weekend adventure, keen to get out of the confines of their barracks. They have small packs and wet boots. Their sleeping bags are also wet as they slept out the previous night in the heavy dew and fog. They tell us about their rock-hop up Cave Creek, from its junction with the Goodradigbee River.

After the waterfall, there is a series of drops and cascades and we scramble over the slimy rocks. To follow the creek from here to its junction with the Goodradigbee River will involve a mandatory swim.  To avoid this, we head up the open, hot slope to the right and on to the ridge top, which we follow directly to the junction. 

I am half expecting a good footpad up high, because although we have not done much research I managed to gather enough snippets of information to know that the walk to the junction is a popular one for local bushwalking clubs. Just as we start descending again, we stumble upon a good, wide track. I look back and wonder where it might have started after the waterfall. 

After some relaxation time at the junction, swimming and picking endless grass seeds out of our socks, we decide to rock hop upstream to see how far we can get. Before long, a huge cave is visible on the hillside to the left. I have since learnt this is Murderers Cave, so-named after a partly burned body was found in the cave entrance in the 1890s and a man named Glover was convicted over the death. It is a terrific cave and near the entrance we disturb an enormous, fat lizard. It is nervous but doesn't move much at first. As we try to get a better photo, it runs off on its tiny legs, does a big belly slide down the dirt slope, then pulls up, turns, and scurries into a hidey hole amongst the grass.

Back at camp, dark rain clouds are building but by 8pm they seem to move east and the sky is clear. Mozzzies and midgies move in. The water skinks disappear from the creek rocks. The pink blush on the trees seems to brighten as the cold night air starts to drop. 

As this was supposed to be an adventure, the next morning we decide to forge our own track back to the car park via the northern bank of Cave Creek. The walk on this side of the river feels more like a wild, gorge walk. It is easier to stick to the edge and the cliffs fall directly to the creek below. There is a short section of bush-bashing through a gully where we grapple and push and pull our way through a tight growth of saplings and shrubs. The walking is more difficult but more scenic and with the creek to follow it no longer matters that we haven't got a map, or track or advice. We follow the curving grey walls of the gorges. 

On the river crossings back to the car park our bush sticks are handy. We use all kinds of special techniques and a different one at each crossing – there's the old pull-me-with-your-stick crossing, the stationary rail support, the single stick crossing and the two stick crossing which involves a double stick throw and double stick catch while standing balanced on a rock mid-stream.

Overall, it isn't an exciting or dangerous adventure but it is beautiful, peaceful and away from the crowds. It has also been a thorough exploration of a place we knew little about. It makes me wonder about the difference between an adventurer and an explorer. Which raises the illustrative story of the final encounter we had in Clarks Gorge on our walk out. 

It is the story of a man who for 15 years never turned left. We found him staring in awe at the 40m high limestone cliffs, shaking his head and repeating: I can't believe I've never been down here. He was from Canberra and had been coming to Cave Creek since he was a kid. In other aspects of his life, he pursued adventurous and dangerous sports, but was he an explorer? Always his family had turned right at the car park and walked up the other marked track to visit the wonderful Murrays Cave. In all those years, he had never thought to turn left and see what was down the other track. On this visit, a chance conversation with other campers prompted him to turn the other way. And now he was looking at the potential for adventure arising from his new-found sense of exploration. 

The road across Long Plain

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  1. Visited this area on our bikes many years ago. Near here was where Trevor had the famous nude stand off with a large male kangaroo that was keen to get at the food in our panniers while we were asleep in the tent.

    1. Now that sounds like a story worth blogging about - are there photos!? We did sit at the campground there and watch a big male kangaroo spend 45 minutes licking clean a recently used bbq plate - might have added a nice flavour for the next campers cook up!

  2. I need to be in a place like this. I too haven't visited in all my time in that part of the world......Thanks again.

    1. It's often easy to overlook the "touristy" spots but this one is definitely worth making the time for. :)