As the lay of the land drops away, we begin down a gentle slope. I notice Caz keeps stopping. Every now and then he looks around the forest with searching eyes. This is Caz taking me for our first off-track walk together (many years ago now but I can still vividly recall this moment) him constantly looking around, checking back over his shoulder. He claims he has been here before but as he stops yet again I grow increasingly nervous. He looks lost to me.
We push through the light scrub and fallen logs. The walking is slow and precise - stepping carefully through long grass, pushing past lanky stalks of cassinia, resting a hand on the rough skin of stringybarks.
Our destination is Moses Rock - a pinnacle that towers over the Nymboida River valley in Nymboi-Binderay National Park. There's a road named after it - Moses Rock Road, which is the starting point for many an adventure on this blog: packrafting, liloing, camping. However, Moses Rock is not marked as such on the topographic map (Clouds Creek 1:25,000). It's a few kilometres past Fish Back Rock, another jumbled uprising worth stopping and exploring on the way in or out. Moses Rock is a shortish bush-bash from the main road.
This kind of off-track walking reminds me of exploring the hills behind the farm I grew up on. The forest is similar: bladey grass and eucalpyts. So, technically it is not my first time off-track but I knew that farm forest like the back of my hand. I simply had to walk up into the trees, back down to the paddocks. Here, I am quickly surrounded by a horizonless landscape. Closed in by trees. But, it is not uniform, and, explains Caz, that is the first rule of off-track walking. As we are planning on returning the same way we came in, it is important to turn around and take note of how the bush looks in reverse. Because it looks completely different.
By appearing lost, Caz is making sure we don't actually get lost. I join in; turning around every hundred metres or so and taking note of distinctive looking trees - one with a severe left lean, behind it is a tall burnt out stump and further back a stringybark that is redder and fatter than the rest. It is the first and best lesson in off-track walking - keep an eye out, be observant, notice the landscape you are walking through not just for its beauty but for navigation.
We continue this routine until we reach Moses Rock and the stunning view makes me ignore everything else. There are some loosely balanced rocks that bring butterflies to my stomach when I step across and it feels like the whole tower is toppling. But, everything holds. I climb up through a small hole to reach the flat rocks on top and there we enjoy lunch.
This river is so scenic. Nymboi-Binderay is the Aboriginal name for ‘the mighty river'. Scarred trees, where canoes were carved from the trunks, are dotted throughout the park providing evidence that the local Gumbaynggirr people paddled here. We are not heading down the final 200m drop to the river today. The view is enough, don't you reckon.
As we finish lunch, I notice dark clouds gathering to the west and it is not long before the first rumble of thunder reaches us. Farewelling the mighty view over the mighty river we use the visual clues we picked up on the walk in. All that stopping and looking around, picking out particular trees and logs, now act as Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs to lead us back to the road and quite precisely to our car. Never truly lost, said outdoor legend Paddy Pallin. Even if you might look it.
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