ETTREMA THREE CAVES WALK – JUNE 2017
Sassafras > Ettrema Tops > Waterfall Cave > Discovery Cave > Bollards Cave > Sassafras
Steve told me this weekend that I wasn’t a “normal” girl, and he must be right. No-one in their right mind would encourage a person that has never walked with them before to go with them on an adventure into the Ettrema Wilderness. What was I thinking? Mind you, I’d forgotten some of the “rough” bits. I have to say though that no matter what we threw at him, Ian kept his sense of humour and could definitely hold his own.
Originally advertised as a walk in the Blue Breaks, the thought of 17k on the first day was more than I could contemplate so we changed the walk to revisit Discovery Cave. Ian M joined Jeff B, Steve R and me for the trip. The weather looked decidedly average as we drove down in pouring rain, but overnight it cleared up and by 8am there was just a bit of mist around. Ian had done quite a bit of track walking recently but this was his first off track adventure in quite a while.
There isn’t any photographic evidence of the first part of the trip. I thought I’d left my camera at home (blog emergency), but at morning tea I found it.
We’d done this walk in April 2016 and had a number of areas that we wanted to avoid. In the main we did so but then we found other areas of horrendous scrub that we didn’t find on the first time … how lucky were we!
We started out with rain coats on and walked for about an hour on an old fire trail before heading off on a bearing. I took is off into impenetrable scrub for a while but then we got back on track and were soon on our way to the “high point”.
There was a little bit of uphill to the high point and a few rocks to scramble around.
Once at the top we were off on another bearing.
As promised up until now (except for that little unintended excursion into scrub), the terrain was quite nice, good open country.
Down on the flat on our way to a creek, walking through lots of ferns … “look out for that wombat hole”.
Last year, we got into awful bother amongst sedge grass, we were determined to avoid that this time and ended up in lots of tea tree, almost as bad.
Sedge grass avoided and now out of the scrub and tea tree, with nice plateaus to walk along before we dropped down into a side creek which would take us to Waterfall Cave.
We’re on the route that we took last year, nice open rock slabs. We spent the whole 3 days looking for these slabs as the walking was so easy! Unfortunately, every once in a while, you’d have to bash through scrub to get to the next one!
Heading into our side creek, I’d hoped that it would be a bit easier to walk in.
Finally we’re in the creek that flows past Waterfall Cave, big rock slabs and pools, very pretty.
Waterfall Cave in the distance, this is a secondary overhang that can be used when the water is too high in the creek to cross over to get to the cave.
A better view of the waterfall and lovely pool.
Ian making his way down to the cave, it hasn’t been too bad a day and he’s still keen (and smiling)!
Right on target we arrived at Waterfall Cave at 3pm … it’s massive and a nice spot to camp, close to the water. Steve and Ian were wondering why we weren’t stopping here … I promised them that Discovery (aka Rainbow) Cave was better!
The route out of Waterfall cave, up through the cliff line.
Now, here’s where things went slightly off … last time with only a little bit of searching around, we walked straight to the spot where you access Discovery Cave. This time we stuffed around, don’t know why, maybe we were tired, it was 3pm, or maybe we were a little complacent, in any event took longer to find the pass than the last time!
Finally we’re at the pass, Jeff goes down under the chock stone.
Ian was the last to come down … by this time he’s wondering what the hell he’s gotten into, you don’t get climb-downs like this on track walks!
After the pass it’s about 100m to the cave, all through nice open bush with a footpad.
And here’s the cave, Steve gave it a 9.5 out of 10, flat, dry, lots of wood around, and the “best cave he’s come across”.
The water is about 100m away from the cave, but because of the rain, there was a curtain of drips from up above, we set out a ground sheet to collect the water (easier than walking 100m to the creek). The only problem was, because of the fire we had going, the water tasted smoky!
Everyone’s had dinner, we’re warm and dry, with a great fire, eating chocolate truffles and the scrub bashing for the day’s all forgotten!
So, the plan was to cross the creek the next morning, check out the cool rock formations about 200m from the camp and then head back down to the creek and follow it downstream. Geoff J (my Ettrema Guru) had written on his map “stunning section of creek” and then on an exit creek we’d use “series of small waterfalls – easy going”, so we were going to take that route over to Bollards Cave. This was the whole point of this trip, to see these two creeks that we’d missed the back in April 2016.
On checking his map, we also thought that it would be good to check out an area above another side creek, sort of on the way. So, we headed up into the rock formations (the Passages of Time), go over to the side creek, follow that down to access the stunning section of creek and then go up the series of small waterfalls. Sounded like a plan … well, didn’t quite go according to plan!
Over into the Passages of Time, it’s easy going and really quite spectacular.
Nice little ramps between the rocks.
Tunnels and caves to check out.
Challenging little climb downs
More climb downs and ramps
And incredible moss-covered rocks.
We spent about an hour in the Passages of Time and then headed in the direction of our side creek.
Steve was particularly enchanted with the area, with the amazing rocks and lovely open areas to camp.
He wasn’t so enchanted when I said “OK time to get into the creek”.
It was fine for a while
Although I think Ian found the logs a challenge (with the big pack on)
Jeff and I went down this chute and then found a 10m drop afterwards, so we retraced our route.
Another section of acceptable creek, then Steve got in the lead and took us out away from the creek, probably just as well as it ended in a 10m waterfall. The route was quite scrubby though.
And then it was time to drop down into the creek and the route was almost vertical, on loose rock and shale with the odd tree to grab hold of.
By this time I think Ian was wondering what the hell he’d gotten into! I think he was having visions of falling to almost certain death.
And still we dropped down, you can see how deep it is by the dark hole in the top lh corner.
We got into the creek, and it was very nice, but I had visions of it being a bit like Plain Creek (that we would visit the next day). If you just did a day walk down this creek from Discovery cave, it would indeed be stunning. But we didn’t really have the time to enjoy it properly.
There were little cascades and pools along the way, but the rock was quite slippery (due to recent rain).
It was quite easy going on the banks though.
Action shot of Jeff rock hopping!
I had estimated that we would be at the creek junction by about 12 noon and we were right on time, that allowed 2 hours for us to go 2k up the next creek.
It wasn’t as easy going up this creek and there were a few rocks we had to climb around. Ian said that there was a 10m waterfall up ahead, I didn’t believe him!
Geoff J had marked on his map that this creek was a “series of small waterfalls – easy going”. I had visions of small 1m cascades, not waterfalls like this, so my 2 hours to negotiate this creek was going to be seriously off!
At the waterfall we decided to exit to the right up onto the ridge, if we had stayed in the creek, we’d still be there trying to get up those waterfalls!
It took quite a while for me to climb up to the top of the ridge, Steve and Ian had charged ahead but I just don’t like hills so I dragged myself up. Once on top though it was nice walking through open forest.
With some nice rock formations!
Surprisingly, we were soon onto big flat slabs again … until we had to go through that dense scrub to get to the next one!
We made pretty good time once on the slabs and were soon at the side creek that I wanted to go down to access Moore Creek.
Yet again we took Ian a little out of his comfort zone when climbing around small drops negotiating through bloody trees!
Once in Moore Creek the going was pretty good. Later on Ian said, “why didn’t we camp in that other overhang”, I think he must have meant this one and both Ian and Steve had had enough by this time.
Close to the waterfall, the creek is quite spectacular, big flat slabs.
And small pools. When the water is low, quite often people camp on these rock slabs.
The waterfall at Bollards Cave. The water was quite high, and the volume of water was much higher than the last time we were here.
Crossing the top of the waterfall to climb up to the route to the cave. We had started in the morning at 8am and we were at the cave by 4pm.
Once in the cave, we sorted ourselves out (not that many flat rocks to sleep on) and the boys got the fire going. There was a lot of flood debris so obviously the water had been even higher than it was on this occasion.
Heather had slept behind this waterfall in April 2016, there was probably 1.5m of water where she slept.
I had carried in chestnuts to roast on the open fire. We knew they were done when one exploded and landed at Ian’s feet (he was lucky it didn’t hit him in the head). We used a rock to break them open. Pretty tasty really, melted butter would have been nice to dip them in.
Looking back to where Ian and Steve set up camp.
Next morning we set off at 8am with the promise that we might be able to get to Nerriga Pub for a late lunch of hamburgers. Jeff crossing the creek below the waterfall (the creek seems to go underground here).
With the sunrise it was really pretty in the creek, lovely light as we headed up Moore Creek to Plain Creek (our exit route).
Nice section of creek.
We soon got our feet wet when we came to a pool I thought we couldn’t get around, well, I just went straight through it and Steve and Ian followed me, I think Jeff might have found a way to stay dry.
Lots of tiny waterfalls in Plain Creek. These were all dry the last time we were here.
If there weren’t slippery rocks that Ian had to deal with, there were climb-ups (with a heavy pack on it’s not so easy).
And the rocks were really slippery …
This has to be my favourite creek, it’s a pity though that these lovely rock slabs only go for 1/2 a k.
By now we’re at the big waterfall. Last time we just walked around the base of it, this time it was just too slippery, so we had to climb up this rock face, there were lots of hand and foot holds.
Negotiating across the top of the waterfall.
If you slipped, it would be very messy, there is a pool, but there’s a bit of a ledge that you’d smash into first before you hit the pool!
Getting close to the top of the creek now, with more small cascades.
And finally the top of the rock platforms looking downstream.
And looking upstream to where the creek disappears into scrub.
From here we tried to find the best route over to the fire trail, less than 3k away. We didn’t find it, we battled hakea, tea tree and impenetrable scrub, the going was so hard that I didn’t even take photographs. It took us what seemed like 2 hours to battle the scrub with lots of muttering from the rear.
Eventually, we broke out of a bit of scrub and there looked like a watercourse to our right, we decided to go up that as it was clearer than the scrub and lo and behold it turned out that it wasn’t a watercourse but an old 4wd track.
The 4wd track led us straight to the old fire trail and everyone was now happy! We were back at the car by 1pm and on the road to Nerriga by 1.30.
Sadly, the kitchen at Nerriga pub was closed but they had pork and beef rolls that they were selling, so we grabbed a few of those and went out to the beer garden with a few beers!
One the walk out, we ran into Geoff J (the Ettrema Guru) and a group of CMW walkers that were with him including Ute, Helen and Marion, all of whom I’ve walked with in the past, nothing like meeting up with old friends in the middle of no-where!
Ian was a real trooper, he maintained his good humour for the whole trip, and I don’t think we’ve burned him (unlike so many others!).
A couple of points to note …
I am so glad I didn’t have a cast of thousands with me, particularly some of those that I’d invited along (yes JV it was a bit of a nightmare).
Don’t think I need to go back to Bollards cave and Plain Creek again.
I did say that now that I’d seen those two creeks (the whole point of the trip), I’d never have to go back to the area again, but how quickly you get over some things. We’re now thinking that a 3 day walk in to Discovery with one full day to explore Passages of Time (plus an area with these really neat slot canyons) would be a good walk!
There’s nothing glamorous about bushwalking, caving or canyoning, but it sure is fun! If you’re an armchair bushwalker, someone looking for new adventures, or one of my friends who just wants to see what I’ve been up to, this site is for you, sign up to get email alerts now!
You’ve never been a “normal” girl!
Are you sure? I never thought I was abnormal! Maybe just “different” … maybe that’s why we get along so well!
I’d do the 3 day version with time to explore and enjoy some creek time as well. Always an adventure with you M
The way my hips are feeling today, this might be a few months away!
A Great adventure in the “Extrema” wilderness with Marilyn and friends! Had a few moments where I wondered what on earth I was doing in the middle of nowhere with these guys carrying a full pack whilst clambering over slippery rocks, climbing muddy creek banks and forging through impenetrable and seemingly endless hakea thickets… I had to remind myself that getting out of your comfort zone is the only way to grow your skills, to grow personally – and to experience some of natures greatest gifts. Thank you again to Marilyn, Steve and Jeff for a great weekend and for teaching me how to move myself safely through rough country. I look forward to joining you all again on another adventure some time soon.
Was great to have you on the trip Ian … hope to see you on another one!
The area looks like other sections of Ettrema (ie. difficult) and I’ve just started looking at this area on the topo you describe. My previous trips have been into the Myall and Ettrema Creeks area and some distance down Tullyangela Creek. But the topo shows none of the named caves you mention and nothing about “Passages of Time”. Is there any chance you have GPS coords for any of this and the previous trips you have made into this area. I’m heading back into Ettrema again in September and again its over in Ettrema Creek. I would love to explore some of this area you mention. I live in Sydney but have walked in the Budawangs and other areas for most of my life. Thanks for the article and the pics.
Hi Robert, thanks so much for your comment, I’ll send you an email, much easier than a thread in the comments.
I would be very appreciative if you could also provide some further information for me regarding some of the areas you’ve referred to in your notes.
I’ve had this area on my to do list for a while and would love to make sure I visit some of the places in your photos whilst I’m there. Interested to see how it compares now post fires to your photos!
Hi Jessica, I wouldn’t recommend going to this area for a few years, the regrowth after all the rain we’ve had has been incredible, very hard walking at the moment. I don’t have any track notes I can share with you. I’d suggest choosing an easy to find destination, then doing that and then moving out from each of those destinations to explore the area. That’s how I did it, first went to Tilly Ann’s Gap, and had a look around there, familiarising myself with the area, then moving further afield. Good luck, hope you enjoy the area as much as I have.