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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Big Brother

Each day at first light the shadow of North Brother enters our lives. Even before that, it dominates from the earliest whistling of doves, repetitive, mixed with raucous laughs of kookaburra resident amongst its forested slopes. Sharp and cool in the mornings, it becomes dark and cloud draped when the afternoon sea breeze roughens the river and drives our anchored vessel into a tizzy. That’s when we look up to the mountain and yearn to be under its peaceful canopy.

Sandwiched between river and mountain are four quiet lanes and one main street making up the undiscovered village of Laurieton that dates back to explorer John Oxley, who named the inlet Camden Haven in 1818. Before that, the region had been roamed by the Gadang Aborigines for tens of thousands of years by the time Captain James Cook sailed up the coast in 1770. He noted in his log: “At sunset were in 23 fathoms of water (65 m), and about a league and a half from the land (7 km), the northern most part of which that we had in sight bore three remarkable large high hills lying continuance to each other… As these hills bore some resemblance to each other we called them the Three Brothers. They lay in the latitude of 31ยบ 40’ and are of a height sufficient to be seen 14 or 18 leagues (86 km).

For some peace and security, we shifted Banyandah to the Laurieton Service’s Club dock after being caught between current and wind and flung about like a mad cat by its tail. This made possible a trek  up the mountainside the following morning.

Besides the usual food, water and medical kit, we had a council printed map, which should have assured we’d find the trail without any hold-ups. But that was no to be the case.

At the end of Laurie Street, under the first copse of trees, a green Park’s sign welcomed us to Dooragan National Park and noted that it supported some of the best old growth Blackbutt forest in NSW, with pockets of sub-tropical rainforest, providing habitat for gliders, bats and koalas. As well as offering unbeatable views up and down the NSW coast.

At the end of the tarmac, our problem began when I spied a gate ahead and thought that was the track. It wasn’t. It lead to a quarry. I then lead Jude down another track which I felt sure would take us up the mountain. It did. But for only a couple hundred metres. It then petered out into thick bush that descended into a thickly overgrown creek.

“Hey, blow this,” I moaned to Jude after clipping my nose on some lantana and making it bleed. “Let’s just take the ridge where we know what we’re doing.” And I tramped off through low vegetation and up a hillside encumbered by lovely trees.

Eucalyptus forests are usually quite open, the ground covered mostly with dead limbs coated with leaf, and if not hampered by vine or rock are usually fairly easy going. As easy as going up steep hillsides can be. This one rose alongside a deep gully, and went up at a rate that had us stopping every dozen steps to recover our breath.

But, when taking these breaks the morning breeze would rustle the trees and cool our sweaty shirts, and bring on a glorious feeling. And it felt good to be off the boat, where the moments catching our breath gave ample opportunity to observe the resident wildlife. Little golden skinks sunbaking on exposed rocks, parrots chattering on branches above us, and some unseen critters rustling away, maybe wombat or roo, but definitely not a fast moving snake.

We were off track, but from our little map, we knew reaching the top would get us near one of the lookouts. But we didn’t expect to come out the foliage and find the main viewing platform directly above us. Sometimes we strike it lucky.

From that viewpoint, the entire Camden Haven waterway was painted in cerulean blue with sepia and tawny stretching as far north as Smoky Cape, two day-sails away. Taking advantage of the stout posts to steady our cameras against the nor’easter blowing strongly, we went to work zooming in on Banyandah lying peacefully alongside the town wharf.

After taking our fill of scenic photos, which included a walk on a circular route through cool, fresh rainforest, we headed back down. This time taking the approved track. Honestly, it was much harder work. The 880 steps that took us back down to reality gave our vintage knees a really hard workout.

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