“We might be walking out in the dark”

CARRAI NATIONAL PARK – 27 January 2023
There are benefits to not researching something before you go, and this trip was a case in point.  I knew we’d be driving up “Kempsey way”, about 338k – a 3.5 hour trip.  I’d driven to Kempsey before, and yes, this time I was by myself in the car, but how bad would it be?  Well, Kempsey was just the start of the trip, another 1.5 hours west of Kempsey on fire trail, in my little AWD Mazda CX5, and finally we were at the campsite.  If I’d known it was a 5 hour trip, I might not have gone and I would have missed one of the best trips I’ve been on in quite some time!

Fortunately for me, we drove there in convoy so I didn’t have to worry about how to get there!  I met up with Laurie & Chris, Cat, Jason, and Tim at a Rest Area just north of Raymond Terrace and then we met up with Rob at Port Macquarie.  Fortunately, Cat was able to take over some of the driving from Port Macquarie to Kempsey as I was getting pretty tired (I’m not the best long-distance driver).

After the ordeal of the fire trail (ruts all over the place that I was loath to accidently drop into), we arrived at what was the remnants of the settlement of Kookaburra, our campsite for the weekend.

In its heyday, the settlement of Kookaburra had 22 houses (“of good standard” according to a newspaper report), occupied by 80 (men, women and children).  They had their own hall and a tennis court.  The mill cut most wood species, the main one being coachwood, but they also cut sasafrass, silky oak, and yellow bean, their tactors hauling over 1m feet in lots per annum!

Up until a few years ago, there was the remains of the old school house or what might have been a “hall”, plus a decrepit house.  Apparently you could hire out the hall for $5 a night pp – rats included at no extra cost.  Then, the mega bushfire went through and burned everything.  Obviously, some funding had been thrown around because now, there is a brand new “hall”, which looks to be fire-resistant (metal rollers over the windows), 2 drop toilets (you could almost hold a party in them they’re so big, AND they have soft close toilet seats), and a lovely picnic shelter.  Have to say it was 5-star!

The first time Laurie & Chris did this trip it was after the mega fire and all the vegetation on the walk out had been burned to a crisp.  The next time the re-grown wasn’t all that bad, but after a couple of years and el Nina weather, Laurie was concerned that the regrown would be impenetrable.  So, we took an afternoon walk down to the Falls Lookout so we could determine how bad it would be.  And it was pretty bad, I think Laurie had had a sleepless night worrying about the fact tht the walk out would be horrific, he suggested that we take headlamps, and bivvy bags just in case the scrub was so bad “that we might be walking out in the dark”, or be benighted.  We all assured him that we were up for the challenge!

We all called it a night around 9pm, looking forward to an early start in the morning.

We took an old tourist track through what would have been State Forrest a couple of decades ago.  Falls Lookout was where we’d walked the previous afternoon.

On the tourist track, there were interpretive signs on some of the trees, and this one section of track had a “path” that had cut wood arranged in a decorative manner to be used as stepping stones, Chris wouldn’t let us walk on them though, the moss was too fragile.

The rainforest vegetation of the track was really beautiful, sadly the photos I took on the day weren’t on my camera (weird), but luckily Laurie had taken some. (Photo Laurie).

The track is probably no longer used by anyone other than abseilers and ends at the waterfall, definitely wouldn’t want tourists stumbling to this “lookout”!

Abseil #1 – 30m:  Laurie set up the first anchor and then gave us a run-down of how the trip would go, isolated double ropes that could be released in an emergency to lower someone down. We had 2-way radios for communication – and a rescue rope at the back of the group – we were all set to go!

Deploying the rope.

Rob is the second one down, followed by me, and then Chris.

Nice abseil, but very slippery in places, not too much flow at this point and what flow there is, is spread out across the cliff-face.

Cat belaying at the bottom of abseil #1.

Abseil #2 – 35m.

A lovely abseil, with spray on either side of us.

The base of Abseil #2, Catherine belaying.

Another view of Abseil #2 – we had great weather as you can see.

Abseil #3 – 25m: Laurie about to go over the edge.

Rob on Abseil #3.

Chris belaying.

Another view of Abseil #3.

Abseil #4 – 36m.

Abseil #4 – with Rob belaying.

Me on the pitch.  This was my favourite abseil, you got in the slot and all the water was pounding on your head, a real buzz. (Photo:  Laurie)

Short scramble through scrub.

Abseil #5 – 57m – the longest of all the abseils.  If you didn’t want to carry 60m ropes, this abseil could be split in 2 so that you’d only be carrying 40m ropes.

Abseil #5 – this was a bit of a pain, lots of lose rocks, thankfully, any dislodged just fell on the ledge(s) below – there were a few ledges and the abseil then went around a “corner”, so the risk of falling rocks wasn’t as great as it appeared.

Next ledge on Abseil #5.

The bottom of pitch #5, bit difficult to belay on this abseil as much of the time you couldn’t see the abseiler.

This image gives some scale to the pitch.

And difficult for the pull-down, it was looking as though we would have a problem with the pull-down but once all the guys got on the rope it released.

Abseil #6 – about 45m and “cross country”, through some vegetation.

Laurie on Abseil #6, goes down and then around a “corner”.

And then the thunderstorm, it had been looking cloudy for a while and then the heavens opened. This was not a problem in this particular creek as the catchment was very small, and no possibility of any high water. (Abseil #7, 26m)

A view of the abseil from the bottom, by this time half the group had gone ahead, and there were 2 behind me, pulling down the rope.

We had to walk cross country on very slippery rocks, and then through some vegetation – AND there was a stinging tree just beside these vines, if you weren’t careful, you’d hold onto the trunk for balance and then you’d have stinging hands!

Chris on Abseil #8, 30m – and a dreaded stinging tree just beside her!

This was my second favourite abseil, loads of fun coming down the waterfall.

Some exited on the right of the waterfall, some logs to negotiate, I went to the left and whilst it was deep I could almost walk (lol).

We said goodbye to the waterfalls and then made our way about 300m downstream in the creek, lots of slippery rocks in the rain (which was still falling). Eventually Laurie stopped at the spur we would be climbing up.  From the time we arrived at the top of the falls, it had taken us around 6 hours to complete all the abseils.

The spur was initially very steep, but there was plenty of vegetation to hold onto (to keep your balance and not slip backwards) (Photo:  Laurie)

And yes, it was pretty dense, but not the worst scrub I’ve ever been in. And we went up at a Goldilocks pace, not too fast and not slow!  Took us between 1-2 hours until we reached where Laurie had placed a car to eliminate the walk back.

It was still raining when we got back to the campsite, fortunately I had parked my car under part of the roof over an interpretive sign which had a nice cement floor, so I could stand out of the rain to change into dry clothes – I have to say getting into dry warm clothes was shear heaven!

Perfect weather next morning so we could hang out stuff to dry under the picnic shelter. This shelter was a god-send the night before when we were preparing dinner in the rain.

After a leisurely breakfast, we nixed the idea of a creek walk (we’d had enough yesterday), and opted instead to look for some of the saw-mill infrastructure. This big wheel was set in concrete it would have been brought to the site in pieces and then reconstructed on site.

Whilst wandering around, we stumbled across a “hedge” of hydrangeas, whilst there was no sign of a house nearby, this would have been someone’s garden.  Just goes to show that hydrangeas don’t have to be pruned to give a stunning display.

After looking around for more of the mill infrastructure, we made our way back to the tourist track we’d taken the morning before and retrieved the first abseil anchor (which was temporary). Very pleasant walk in the rainforest.

On the walk, Laurie pointed out this low growing plant, and then sent me the details, Elatostema reticulatum aka Rainforest Spinach, apparently the young leaves can be eaten just like spinach – must try it one day!

On the way back, I found this “track marker”, a cement block set in the ground (about 30cm long), with arrows pointing both ways, for a small tourist track in the middle of no-where that was quite difficult to drive to, the infrastructure on the tourist track was impressive, with much thought put into making it a great experience.

By now it was lunchtime so I decided to start making my way home, I’d planned to visit Arianne in Nabiac, and if I left on the Saturday, it would give me more time with her.  I followed Tim and Rob out (was nervous of driving down the mountain by myself), and was back in Kempsey 1.5 hours later.

This was a great trip, thanks so much Chris & Laurie for organising it and for putting in the hard yards to find the creek and check whether or not the trip was feasible (I think this was the fourth time that Chris & Laurie had done the trip).  The campsite was great and the company entertaining.  Looking forward to your next abseil adventure.

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