Cycling Lithgow to Mittagong via the caves

Inspired by this post, and in search of something fun to do with his visiting cousin Henry, Ollie organised for the three of us to ride from Lithgow to Mittagong. We’d pass Jenolan and Wombeyan caves. The guy who’d written that blog had done it in 11 hours – surely we’d be able to make it in 2 days!

We set off from Lithgow at 9.30am, filled with pastries and hope. After a short bit of highway riding, we turned off and then were on our first hill out of Lake Lyell. Excitement! Dirt! But hard packed, and if you were paying attention you could mostly avoid the corrugations.

The 5km or so between where we met Jenolan Caves Rd, and where Duckmaloi Rd turns off for Oberon, had the most car/truck traffic we saw for the rest of the trip. Once clear of that we had a beautiful run along past Jenolan State Forest (with a brief stop to forage mushrooms).

Then down, down, down into the valley… We relaxed and enjoyed the stunning descent to Jenolan Caves. We ate lunch, watched a platypus swimming in the Blue Lake, took ourselves through the Nettle Cave.

Then reluctantly, we started up the hill back out. Bloody hell it was steep. 4.3km, 11.2% average gradient. I was in my easiest gear from the very start, and even then had to zig-zag towards the top. Ollie caught me up after stopping to take photos, and we had a race in the last 50m, though gentlemen’s discretion prevents me from revealing who won (it was me).

(Above, Ollie models the excellent Vivente World Randonneur touring bicycle. You too could own one of these bikes!)

We rode through pine plantation country, camping somewhere in Gurnang State Forest. Ollie prepared what seemed a giant pot of curry and mushrooms, though we still needed to eat some nuts, chocolate, bread, extra wraps from lunch, and a few other snacks before we felt satisfied. Some amateur stargazing followed, and we were in bed by 7.30pm.

The next day we hopped back into the saddle and set off down some more beautiful country roads, although it would have been nice if there was slightly less pine forest (which my ecologist friend calls the equivalent of a carpark). Eventually we reached the Blue Mountains National Park, and followed the Oberon-Colong Stock Route for a while.

At some point we turned off down the Mt Werong fire trail instead of the Mt Fatigue fire trail. I’m not sure what the condition of the Mt Fatigue fire trail is, but the Mt Werong trail was: Rocky. Sandy. Loose. Steep.

This next photo shows a massive downhill – Henry has just hit the last berm, with Ollie following behind. It was so steep that I was just barely slowing down without locking up my wheels on the loose surface.

There were also some uphills.

And some creek crossings.

And then some uphills that we walked/rode up, depending on how steep/loose/rocky that section was.

Eventually we reached the tarmac on the descent into Wombeyan Caves, which was truly joyous after all that dirt.

We enjoyed lunch, tea, coffee, and several chocolate bars at the Wombeyan Caves kiosk, and then began the climb out, which was extremely gentle in comparison to what we’d become accustomed to. The view from the top was stunning – steep slopes of thick trees, with a thin dirt road winding down the side.

So it was back down, this time descending to the Wollondilly River. This was probably my favourite section of the trip – seemingly endless downhill, swinging around on a dirt road that dropped off in a very threatening way. We felt like we were on some European mountain pass.

If you squint you can almost see Ollie riding past the base of this landslide.

We reached the Wollondilly eventually, and crossed it to start up the hill. Which was, again, exceedingly pleasant and gentle.

We were even treated to some bush humour.

At the top of the hill, we were greeted by Ollie’s mum, come to collect Henry and whisk him away to some other family engagement.

All in all, we had an excellent adventure. However we thought that, if you had 3 days, it would be more fun to do this as a 3-day trip, either camping, or staying at the Jenolan Cabins and then Wombeyan Cabins. That way you’d be able to explore the caves, and not thrash yourself. But then again, we kind of enjoyed trashing ourselves.

Mt Hay canyon

Scott was so excited about this canyoning trip, he booked me in 3 months in advance. Mt Hay had always been an exciting prospect, with its twin abseil across a chockstone down a waterfall, not to mention the rock climb to get out.

We were five brave souls: Scott, Christine, Katie, Brendan (his first canyon!) and I.

The walk in was straightforward, with an abseil or two before we reached the first swim. Here are Scott and Christine scrambling down.

Some creek walking and a very fun 9m water jump brought us to the main drops, where we were greeted by this frog. Yet to be identified.


It truly was a spectacular drop into the slot and onto the chockstone.


Katie coming down the second drop.


Looking back up the constriction.


Scott turns a slide into a jump.


Before we knew it we’d reached the end, and slogged back up the hill towards the cliff line. Here’s us having edged back along the ledge, and crawling through the cave.


The climb out was easy in rock shoes – I think everyone else had a harder time of it in vollies.


The others following the climb.


Everyone made it up!


Scott rates the view.




It was 6 hours car-to-car, a bloody fun trip.

Canyoning for Dummies

Guest Blogger: Maria WhiteDSCN2557

Canyoning canyoning canyoning. I’ve heard about canyoning A LOT. But if anyone ever quizzed me on what canyoning is, or how one canyons I would be all _____________. Let’s start with what a canyon is.  I think it’s a little creek that used to be at ground level but is now underground sort of. This is because the little creek has, over a few millenia (may or may not be true) eroded away at the rocks. A canyon is not enclosed like a cave, it’s just a cool little fern-bejazzled creek that’s lower than it should be. So what I’m trying to say is, canyoning is not caving. Say it with me now, canyoning is not caving.  And I don’t really know what caving is. Here’s what I know about canyoning:

Chris and I started our day early on Tuesday after a Monday night of free alcohol. (Not a Monday night free of alcohol, which would have probably been the better choice.) We took our bikes on the train and changed at Strathfield. Our mountains-bound train was chock full of tourists so I slept on the floor. This was the classiest choice I could have made.

From Blackheath station we gobbled local caffeine and sweets and rode our bikes to the start of the Grand Canyon track. I liked the way our canyoning helmets doubled as bike helmets:


We started down the track and I realised I had walked it last year with Amelia, Jess and Chris. This pleased me.


After 30mins or so we arrived at the canyon we were to abseil into. You would be excused for missing it.  On the left of the track were a couple o’ hooks to strap into and a deep hole to walk backwards into (?!)


Chris explained what I had to do extremely well but the caffeine and sweets had not yet kicked in, really. He patiently explained again and I realised that this was because he prefers it when I’m alive.


One thing I learnt was when you throw a huge rope down a hole where people might be you need to yell ROPE as you’re throwing it so people have no time to run for their lives. By the time we were dressed in our crazy costumes and ready to hit the ledge* a young man stopped to watch us and be generally annoying. “First time canyoning?” he asked me. “Stop looking at me in this unflattering thermals/wetsuit combo” I wanted to reply. But NO he watched us the whole time and yelled out “helpful” things to me, much to the dismay of his impatient girlfriend. DSCN2510

Chris hooked himself into the rope first, and he was gone! Down into the crevasse. Saying things like “STICK YOUR BUTT OUT A LOT”. I was connected to the rope at this point and although Chris is a light water sprite it still felt like he was going to pull me in after him.

I wasn’t fazed.


Next it was my turn and I tried hard to hold onto the rope with my right hand and stick my butt out. Here are the results:


So that was a bit scary but extremely fun, I tried not to make eye contact with the onlooker as he on-looked. Once I got to the bottom of the drop the onlooker was gone forever! And it was a cool ferny dino paradise, perhaps 8 degrees colder than the outside world.


We walked and swam through the canyon for ages, soaking my sneakers thoroughly. We saw a bunch of critters, mostly crays and water dragons. (Cray.)



Chris praised my canyoning skills frequently and this somehow exponentially increased the amount of times I fell over. This realisation explains a great deal about my life so far, I think.

We had lots of stimulating conversations, an example.

Aside from the neon crays, this was the other cool thing we found:


* Not sure if that’s the correct terminology.

Rainwater harvesting

My seedlings often wilt due to my neglectful watering, so I’ve long considered rigging up a watering system. I also wanted to collect rainwater from our roof, so over time I cobbled together the bits for a system that would do both.

I diverted the downpipe into a 300L water tank (without a lid – thanks Bunnings for the 2-month ordeal trying to get one!), which I’ve covered with some flyscreen.


The water tank supplies an Irrigatia solar-powered watering system. You can set how much you want it to water – at the moment I have it cranked up to the maximum setting – and then it’ll come on at various intervals during the day.



I dug up the pavers to route the tube through a piece of poly pipe, and improvised some caps with jar lids.


The pump came with 24 drippers. I’ve tried to extend it by poking holes into the tubing, but I think the holes need to be bigger as there doesn’t seem to be enough pressure for them to seep.

DSC_1260 DSC_1262

The verdict so far is… it seems to work. The seedlings seem reasonably happy. At the moment it’s not watering the whole bed (just the trellis), but if I can get the seep tube working then that’ll extend its usefulness.

Penguin counting on Lion Island

So I joined a group of volunteers who went out with the National Parks and Wildlife Service to count penguins on Lion Island. Lucky me!

We met at Bobbin Head, where I found this lace monitor. The ride in from Hornsby was pleasant but steep.

DSC_1168 DSC_1170

Here’s our first glimpse of Lion Island.


Disembarking from the boat. Landing on the island without a permit is prohibited, so we felt pretty lucky to even be setting foot on it.


We were visited by a series of raptors: peregrine falcons, sea eagles, and whistling kites like this one below.

DSC_1198 We could see the burnt-out headland at Barrenjoey across the water.

DSC_1208 We bashed up an overgrown path through the lantana to the ridgeline.


Looking out towards the north head of the mouth of the Hawkesbury.

DSC_1218 As the sun set, we marked out the beach and took up positions on the rocks.


The sunset was glorious, but we didn’t see any penguins until it was pitch black (so no penguin photos). Even then we only saw 17 in total, which was much lower than anticipated. The most recent count, about 5 years ago, found 40 penguins. Nobody was quite sure why there were so few this time.

DSC_1243 As a consolation prize, here’s a photo of a boobook.


Hunter Valley Cycle-Tasting Part Two

Guest Blogger: Maria White


Welcome back.


For those playing at home (both of you) we made it to the B&B and it was fancy. I ran around the cottage a few times making involuntary noises, alerting the owner to our arrival. Chris apologised for me.

There was a bedroom with an ensuite, a bedroom upstairs with a view, a fireplace, a BBQ, and wait for it _____________ A JACUZZI. I used it twice over the two days that we were there and accidentally dreadlocked my hair in the jets three times. (Some people just don’t learn.) If you want to recreate the experience and get your hair stuck in the spa jets, here is the link to the accommodation.

The second day we rode down down down the mountain to Cessnock, all the while getting severely ‘jangled’. Cessnock was a bit of a culture shock after all the Hunter-Valley-quaintness. It was the kind of town that (despite having very few shops) had FOUR op shops, and get this…. we didn’t even want to buy anything from any of them. Yes, I think Cessnock has seen better times. We got supplies from ALDI and scooted back towards the mountain.

We fell in love with a puppy and a puppy fell in love with my armpit. Her mother barked from the sidelines, disapproving. It was a Montague / Capulet situation and bound to end in tears.


We visited three wineries that day: Mount View Estate, Peterson’s and Tallavera Grove. Here is the view from Peterson’s. Too serene, too pretty. Something was up.IMG_20130725_153014WE GOT A BIT DRUNK. Chris and I performed a rendition of Snappy Birthday for my brother in Canada via Snapchat.


Chris told me to hide my helmet so that it wasn't in the shot.

Chris told me to hide my helmet so that it wasn’t in the shot.

Over the two days of wine tasting we bought 8 bottles of wine (carried in panniers) and had a case of Cabernet Merlot from Tallavera Grove (our pick of the wineries sampled) posted back to Sydney.

The third and final day of the trip involved absolutely no wineries to break up the day. I was nervous. We rode through country towns that had one general store, one tiny 1950s church and nout much else but potholes. If we hadn’t been carrying so many bottles of fermented grape juice I would have bought a $2 bag of mandareens from the side of the road. Chris and I had watched Raising Arizona the night before so I was speaking in what I thought was an Arizona accent most of the day.DSCN2285

As the day got hotter we approached the Watagans National Park via a State Forest. The road was a steep and unsealed, which meant that we shed a bunch of clothes and often stopped to push the bike up the hill. It was dusty business. As we were pushing our bikes up a part of the hill one Australian Man thought he was the funniest guy on the mountain and said, “You’re meant to actually ride them you know!” He laughed at his joke and Chris responded jovially. Nope. Not having it. This was fucking difficult so I just death-stared the Australian Man until he drove off.

Ten minutes later I thought of a comeback. “THEN WHY ARE THEY CALLED PUSHBIKES?” I yelled to nobody in particular.


Riding across the ridge was incredibly pleasant and the views were pretty stunning. This picture was taken from a lookout called Bald Monkey Face Head Something [Ed: Monkey Face lookout]:1374943661839

Here is a diagram of our whole trip courtesy of Chris Moore; statistician, magician and owner of this blog. You can use this visual aid to predict the janglyness of our final descent down to Dora Creek station. My brain was throughly rattled.


Hunter Valley Cycle-Tasting Part One

 Guest Blogger: Maria White


Bicycle Touring is one of those things that I felt I had done before, until I really thought about it. Kinda like how I assumed I’d met my friend’s 3-year-old until I realised that I had just seen excellent pictures and heard excellent stories about him.

We decided to go to the Hunter Valley. I am not ashamed to say that Chris Moore did all the planning and I was gearing up for camping and not showering, but little did I know that this holiday was going to be fancy.

I did some terrible late-night packing and we got the earliest possible fucker of a train: 5.11am from Central. 

At Woy Woy we changed trains, at Hamilton we changed trains again. It was at Hamilton Station that we met a man who would talk at us for at least 45 minutes. He looked like this:

Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 10.08.25 AM

The Australian Man was the most relentless talker I have ever met. I liked him. However it didn’t take long for me to turn around and pretend he wasn’t there. Chris politely continued to listen, twisting his neck to give the Australian Man eye contact. After 30 minutes or so I began live-tweeting his #oldwhitemanologue

We arrived at Greta (pronounced Greeter) station at about 9am. Ready for work.

Then we did some cycling. Bought some olives, cycled a bit more, enjoyed a brunch of cheese (like I said, fancy.) The chef recognised my bike and it turned
out that she had also bought a bike from Omafiets. This was a strange coincidence because we were very far from Marrickville (pronounced Merrickveel) at this point. Chris gave her a pump connection thingy [Ed: Woods to Schrader valve adaptor] and we got our tea for freeeeeee! Sexy.

We cycled past many wineries but it still felt a little early to be drinking. Chris tried to climb a tree and it was funny. A butcher bird watched and was confused.

DSCN2249 DSCN2251

We cycled past the Worlds Largest Lolly Kangaroo and it appeared that a tremendous person was visiting it. Here is the evidence (not pictured- Worlds Largest Lolly Kangaroo) :


Because it’s ‘a Ford’

We are decent upstanding citizens and therefore we tasted our first wines just after midday. We tried some wines at Brokenwood Winery and The Small Winemakers centre. The lady behind the counter at Brokenwood asked us what we drank at home. “Reds,” I responded. Her face had a knowing look, it wasn’t going to get any more specific than that. At first we were pretty silent during the wine tastings but eventually we learned to muddle through a few adjectives, and even some nouns when describing wines. The more Chris drank the chattier he became. We developed opinions. I decided to dislike Chardonnays, while Chris told people that he was ‘not a fan’ of Shiraz. You know, just generally.

The first afternoon was spent slogging it up a beautiful hill. Our accommodation was at the very top of it- ‘Mount View’. I had to stop frequently because my belly was full of wine and lunch and the roads are unsealed and look, I don’t need to explain myself. Chris decided to take all 4 panniers at this point. I was embarrassed and protested but eventually agreed that it was for the best.DSCN2257

We saw buffaloes I think.


This was where it got a bit nuts. It turned out that we had a few kilometres to go to get to the B&B and it was through a section of the Great North Walk i.e. a bushwalking track and pockets of someone’s property. The following images contain paths not to be deemed cycle-worthy by anyone. [Ed: Google Maps had it marked as a cycling route. I have suggested an edit.]

IMG_20130724_162024 DSCN2260

Cycling through the big paddock was probably my favourite part. The cows were behaving strangely. I confused their adorable curiosity with territorial aggression, because I is dumb city folk. As you can see we then CLIMBED OVER BARBED WIRE WITH TWO BIKES AND FOUR PANNIERS. Like you’re supposed to when you go cycling in the Hunter Valley. It felt pretty hardcore.

Did we make it to the luxurious B&B? Did we appropriate the word ‘jangled’ to describe the feeling of being shaken wildly when riding down an extremely gravelly hill? Find out in the next installment of Hunter Valley Cycle-Tasting.

Climbing at Medlow Bath


Seven of us (me, Ollie, Victoria, Lucy, Laura, Susie and Alice) headed down into the cliffs behind the Hydro Majestic for some climbing. The clouds threatened to rain but never quite did (though they spat a bit).

Below: Susie on “Kaboomba Brothers” (4/8/13 depending on who you believe)64009_10101235163464447_1729972919_n

All struggled on the sandbagged Kaboomba Brothers, but a few made it to the top. Much nourishment was required.


Much more satisfying was Manana (14), which at 25m was a good length on jugs the whole way.

Below: Ollie shouting encouragement.


Below: Victoria killing it.



Below: Views down into the Megalong Valley.


Below: Being very careful near the cliff edge.


Climbing at Mt Kuring-Gai

Tessa and I headed up to Mt Kuring-Gai for some easier climbing. With bolted routes in the mid-teens, it was great for me to practice leading (and Tessa to practice climbing).

It was the winter solstice so, after some delays on the train, and a longer-than-expected walk in (the walk in to the Lost and Found wall is half an hour from where it leaves the fire trail) we only had time for a few climbs. We headed up Ding Bat (14), Lactose Free (16) and Foundling (17), and enjoyed them immensely. Here’s Tessa on Ding Bat.


The climbing was improved by the excellent views up and down Berowra Creek. We speculated whether it was possible to get down to the creek, as in summer it would make a great swimming hole. Perhaps you could just abseil down…

Here are some photos from back up near the top.

1016112_559249847446837_1151443885_n 1005042_559249874113501_446576438_n 1016591_559249910780164_1463281472_n

As an added bonus, on our way back we spotted a mini-citrus orchard in front of a vacant warehouse. We crammed our bags full of mandarins and grapefruits, and lugged them back to the train station. Score!


Canoeing on the Hawkesbury

Tony, newly finished with his PhD, proposed a canoeing trip over the long weekend. After a couple of criss-crosses of the car ferry, we located Tony and Cissy at our starting point.DSCN2130

We were quickly on the water, making our way down Berowra Creek. Almost immediately we left behind the roads, and wandered through a corridor of houses that are only accessible by boat.


Photo credit: Cissy

Tony and Cissy, biologists by trade, kept us abreast of any fauna-spottings. Here’s one of the many White-bellied Sea Eagles watching from the shores.

DSCN2142A seaplane transporting diners to a fancy restaurant.DSCN2143

Tony brought his fishing line, but only succeeded in catching and releasing a series of undersized tailor.DSCN2151

After lunch we turned into Murramurra Creek and headed upstream past the oyster farms. It was quieter still, and although there were still a few houses they were becoming less common. The birdlife became correspondingly richer. If you squint at this photo you can almost see an Azure Kingfisher.

DSCN2153When the tide was low the water was quite shallow – here’s Tony dragging the canoe off a mud flat. DSCN2156 DSCN2158The creek narrowed and the mangroves crept in, and the bayou took on an eerie feeling (but maybe it was just the mud). This strange boat had a top-hat. DSCN2167Our campsite on the first night was at this lovely clearing, with a clear mountain stream trickling just round the corner.DSCN2168

Though the entry was a bit muddy…


Photo credit: Cissy

Retracing our steps, we followed the tide back down the creek. Pied cormorants dried their wings.DSCN2170 DSCN2173 DSCN2174The oysters were abundant, and with only a couple of scrapes we snacked on them between meals.

DSCN2186 This rock marked our campsite for the second night – a lovely beach with a pit toilet. It was busier than the previous night’s, as while rescuing our food from a possum at 1am I almost fell over a bandicoot digging through the sand.


296101_10103234545581660_2078529406_n (1)

Photo credit: Cissy

We went out on the water at night, spotting jellyfish and muddling through the constellations. Tony was back on the water at first light, fishing in the fog.

Photo: Cissy Ballen

Photo credit: Cissy

And that’s a paddlin’.