Why is it that visitors often see more of your home town or region than the residents do?
Yes, we are not on holiday and are busy doing our day-to-day hustle, but that means we can easily miss the delights that exist in our own ‘backyard’.
Over the next few months I am going to attempt to rectify that by ‘wagging school’ ie. sneaking away from my office desk to explore a few local places that have long been on my one day list.
Introducing…the Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve.
While the name of this small patch of Aussie bush may not sound inspiring, it is the perfect way to spend a few self-indulgent hours on a pristine Winter’s day. Munghorn Gap is a nature reserve as opposed to a national park, which according to the experts means that, “National parks are areas of land protected because of their unspoilt landscapes, outstanding or representative ecosystems, Australian native plants and animals, and places of natural or cultural significance. Nature reserves are areas of land in predominantly untouched, natural condition, with high conservation value. Their primary purpose is to protect and conserve their outstanding, unique or representative ecosystems and Australian native plants and animals”. Source. From that definition I am still not completely clear as to the difference between the two, but I will just take their word for it.
Munghorn Gap is located 35km north-east of Mudgee in Central West NSW and covers around 6 800ha. Not such a small patch after all.
It is one of those on-the-way and out-of-the-way places that I have driven through over the past 25 years and every time I thought, ‘I must stop here one day and go for a walk’. Instead I had to schedule it as a destination rather than waiting for another drive through.
I do admit to feeling a bit guilty as I jumped in my car to drive out into the countryside. If I was a ‘good’ girl and a dedicated business professional, I wouldn’t be sneaking off to go for a bushwalk on a work day afternoon, but life is short, so why not?
It was one of those sparkling Aussie Winter days when a warm sun beats through the car windows encouraging you to peel the woollen layers off, but when I stepped outside a chilled breeze sliced through, providing an instant reality and temperature check. I knew I would soon warm up once I started walking.
Turning into the dusty carpark, there was just one other lonely car. Obviously someone else was sneaking away from work too.
The Castle Rocks Walking Track is the only designated walking track in the whole nature reserve. As the name suggests, the main attractions are the imposing and elegant pagoda rock formations waiting for hardy walkers at the end of the path.
I wasn’t quite sure how clearly marked the path would be, but I needn’t have worried. There was a large sign at the trail head and the path was actually a wide, graded fire trail. Up until the very end of the path – about the last 150m to the base of the pagoda rocks – the track would be suitable for all-wheel-drive prams etc. It was relatively smooth and flat, and people with a wide variety of fitness levels could get out and enjoy it.
Walking in the Aussie bush is a complete sensory experience on every level. The astringent smell of eucalyptus wafts in the air, the intermittent sound of birdlife and the breeze crackling through the tree tops, the sight of sculptural shrubs and plants draws the eye, and the spiky feel of the plants if you care to brush your hands lightly over the leaves. Believe me, there is nothing soft and fragile about the Aussie bush.
It has been many years since we have enjoyed good consistent rain in our region and the drought has us in its choke hold. This means the bush is layer upon layer of dusty browns, greys and greens. I marvel at how the native plants can grow and thrive under such conditions and how some young plants, like the cycads, are able to get their roots deep down into the soil and hang on for grim death.
Munghorn Gap is a bird lovers’ paradise with over 164 species calling this region home. They are also cleverly adapted and, while I could hear them high up in the tree tops, my untrained eyes couldn’t spot them.
Stepping out along the track I was transfixed by the different patterns and textures of the various tree trunks – all just crying out to be traced with my fingertips. The Xanthorrhoea plants were called Black Boys by the early settlers as they stood proudly in the Australian bush with their ‘spears’. I was fascinated by the many stages of the Xanthorrhoea lifecycle from standing tall or twisting themselves into all sorts of shapes, to broken and waiting to send their seeds off into the wind to start the growth cycle once again.
I had to laugh as I rounded a corner and frightened the life out of two young women. Apparently they were striding along discussing the chance of discovering a Yowie (Australia’s equivalent to Big Foot or Yeti) and there I was! Not really a flattering description of me, but funny all the same.
Eventually the track narrows to a dirt trail leading to the foot of Castle Rocks. Clambering over the rocks you get sweeping views of the valley stretching away and a handful of other pagoda formations. The rocks are weathered sandstone and their rainbow-like layers are full of warm creams and orange strata.
Turning around to return to the carpark I focus on many of the old eucalypts who have been hollowed out by fire and yet continue to sprout green shoots. Now that’s either determination or eternal optimism. It just proves how powerful and resilient Nature is.
As I neared the carpark, I passed a man walking in the opposite direction who greeted me and commented that he had always wanted to walk this path and this was his first time. It must have been the day for firsts.
A few tips:
- Water: Take water with you. There are no watering points available anywhere along the track. This is even more important if you are walking in Summer.
- Sun Protection: Wear a hat and sunscreen. Even though there is some shade on the path, the Australian sun is unforgiving.
- Snakes: This area would be prime snake country in summertime. Be careful where you step.
- Toilets: There are no toilet facilities on this track. If you feel the ‘call of Nature’, take your toilet paper with you, not like the inconsiderate people who left theirs behind…literally.
The Munghorn Gap region has been important to the local Wiradjuri people for over 12 000 years. Don’t you take that long to visit.
What have you discovered in your own backyard lately?
What: The Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve is a good example of the harsh yet irrepressible beauty of the Australian bush.
Where: The Castle Rocks Walk is approximately 8.24km return (according to my Garmin watch) with an ascent of 99m and a descent of 86m.
When: You could easily complete this walk at any time of year however I would recommend avoiding the serious heat of Summer due to the lack of water, shade and the real risk of bushfire.
Why: To pause and take a moment to appreciate the wonderful things that are available to you literally right under your nose.
How: You will need a car to drive to the reserve as there is no public transport. The road out to the Munghorn is sealed and in good condition and an energetic alternative would be to ride a bicycle as most of the road is a quiet country one.
Who: The track is suitable for walkers of all ages and levels of fitness. The fitter you are, the easier it will be. While it may be a hard going for wheelchairs, off-road prams with a strong pusher on the handles would be able to cover the territory quite easily.
Related Posts: For information about walks closer to Mudgee, have a look at my Part 1 post about Walking Mudgee.
Related Blogs: For a fresh take on bushwalking trips, tips and recommended tracks, especially for women, have a look at Lots of Fresh Air.
#bushwalk #travelinspo #nationalparks #bigdayout #skippingwork