08 Dec 2020
Under a clear blue sky and a gentle breeze we pulled on hydration packs ready for the first proper trail run of the trip. Castle Rocks Track in the Munghorn Nature Reserve, was a short half hour drive from Mudgee. The Lonely Planet promised an easy 8K walk to the sandstone pagoda features and views over the Park.
The track started as a narrow fire trail and led us into a back-burnt eucalyptus and native pine forest. The trees still had most of their canopy but the ground level leaf litter was burnt off. The freshly pealing eucalyptus bark stood out against the blackened forest floor.
15 mins in, and we picked up the pace to an easy jog, scanning ahead for snakes. The path was open enough to see ahead but I was a little suspicious of a couple of branches.
“I love how the sand feels beneath our feet – it’s crunchy” I was glad to be wearing my trail shoes with extra grip. “I’m surprised it’s so sandy.”
“To have sand here, it first needed to be sandstone and then eroded down to sand – both processes would have taken millions of years” marvelled Dave, still in the mindset of geology.
As we ran the cicadas suddenly grew louder and louder into an ear splitting frequency. Normally you can hear them and not see them, but here they were everywhere- in the trees, on the track and flying around us! We stopped to be with them for a minute before pushing on. It didn’t take long to run out of their area and the volume returned to normal.
“It’s the sound of the Aussie bush” says Dave, imitating my Aussie accent.
Eventually we rounded a sandy bend and came face to face with towering sandstone structures looking a little like the walls of a forgotten castle. With the path promptly abandoning us, we searched around the base of the rocks and scrambled up through a saddle to find ourselves standing above the trees.
“Oh wow!” was all I could say.
“This is amazing” he agreed.
Clambering along the rocky ridge in search of a different perspective, a gentle breeze cooled us down. “Smell the eucalyptus…” I said drawing in a lung full of cool dry air, so different from the salty air of Sydney.
Back down on the sandy track we hunkered down in search of a comfortable pace. It was hard going in the heat, on the sand and constantly scanning the path. I concentrated on keeping pace with Dave, gradually falling behind on the hills. He kept an eye out for me, often waiting so I could keep up.
We retraced our steps back to car, so the track was familiar and yet the last few kilometres seemed to stretch on for longer. Arriving back at the car, hot and overheated I needed to cool down fast. Dave cranked the air-conditioning in the car as we headed back to the hotel.
We’d had plans of stopping at a few cellar doors on the way back to the hotel, but recked from the run, all we could think about was a cold shower, a snooze and dinner. A hard and rewarding day!