This Easter I set off with a fiddle playing friend (sadly, sans fiddle) on the Six Foot Track from Katoomba to Jenolan caves.
The Blue Mountains, like Australia more generally, lack well-marked challenging walks. It seems you can either have markings or you can have challenge, but you can’t have both. Every physically challenging walk also seems to require at least some navigating, errors dooming you to die of exposure. The Six Foot Track is not an exception to this rule.
It is incredibly well marked but lacks any real physical challenge other than those inherent in walking 45 km or so over a few days. There are no scrambly bits or other difficulties. Note that the map is completely unnecessary, as well as being useless (the scale is all wrong for the length of walk).
We chose to take the walk over three days, preferring to stroll along rather than rush. I was a bit nervous about my fitness so I was pleased that the rather fitter Fiddler was happy with a slower pace.
Day one of the walk starts at Explorers Tree, just outside Katoomba. After a minor hiking-boots-left-in-Coogee disaster (happily solved by some very kind locals) we were dropped off at the tree. Note that the tree is in fact a stump and is unlikely to be the tree actually engraved by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth on their historic crossing. (Look for a caged stump by the side of the highway).
From the tree you descend into Nellies Glen, which is a lovely little walk on sandstone paths and stairs edged with ferns and gurgling creeks. The trail then smooths out to take you past the historic Megalong Village site. Somewhere along here we were surprised by a lyrebird that popped out of the bush, darted across the trail and then disappeared, as quickly as it came, back into the bush. The horses in the adjoining paddocks stayed in view much longer and were terribly picturesque.
By the side of the track – off to the right – there was a happy little ford and wider creek crossing that was perfect for a lunch stop. We also investigated a little further up that road and discovered the cutest little stone cottage held in the green bowl of the valley. I want to live there…so long as I have an endless supply of firewood.
In the early afternoon we passed the historic cemetery – it’s difficult to make out any of the gravestones, it’s more of a wild little patch of scrub. The path thins to a proper little footpath and takes you up and over some smooth round green hills, home to some very placid and fat black cows. The surrounding views back over to the cliff line are really lovely – the walls of the mountains rise up magnificently in the distance.
Near the end of the day’s walking you come to the crossing of the Coxs River. We went for a wander upstream for a private bath. The water has worn smooth and quite deep little pools in the bedrock of the river, many are perfectly round and invite splashing and frolicking. The river can also be crossed by the suspension bridge, which looked fun (and would be essential if the river was in flood) but the long queue dissuaded us and so we crossed in the usual manner.
The campsite at Coxs River was absolutely packed – as you’d naturally expect of a sunny Easter long weekend. It’s a pretty little spot in the curve of the river with ample grassed campsites even for a weekend deluge of walkers and car campers (I’d only attempt access by four wheel drive). There are safe sandy paddling spots all along the river near here and there is a pit toilet, sheltered picnic tables and water tank. We treated our water with chlorine tablets and had no issues with the tank water.
The first day of walking was great – interesting scenery, fun activities, and enough exercise that you felt you deserved your tasty angel hair pasta with garlic mushrooms for dinner but not so much exercise that you’d wake up stiff or sore.
Unfortunately the second day of the six foot track had very little to recommend it. Almost the entire day was walked uphill on fire trails, the dust and general ambiance of which was definitely not improved by a significant number of four wheel drives and a handful of hooning dirt bikes. Yuck.
After 18 boring kilometres (the highlight of which was five minutes of walking along Alum creek and a black bean taco lunch) we reached the Black Range camping ground which has car camping access, a toilet, water tank and sheltered picnic tables. It’s not a particularly scenic spot but we enjoyed the incredible star-scape, a sneaky 1 litre shower and a tasty dinner.
The third day was incredibly short and sadly most of the walking was on boring fire trails or about five metres to the side of a road. We saw some black cockatoos and a mob of kangaroos and had a funny conversation with a very nice man who had brought a six pack of ‘Up and go’ as a lightweight (??) breakfast option. The pleasantest part of the walk was the curve along a walking track into Jenolan. The views were wide and very pretty.
As we curled in towards Jenolan we paused at the lookout with a view of the impressive Carlotta Arch, a classic limestone arch and cave remnant (no visible bolts). The teeming multitudes in Jenolan decided us firmly against attempting a caving adventure and so we (with some cajoling) blagged a seat on a ‘booked-out’ bus back to Blackhealth. Watching the driver in action, against the deep and mystifying stupidity of long-weekend drivers, was worth every penny of the $40 bus fare.
We really enjoyed ourselves but I would hesitate to recommend this walk. There is just too much road walking for it to be an agreeable hike. I’d perhaps suggest an overnighter from Katoomba to Coxs River and back instead. The hunt for a challenging Australian walk where you won’t get easily lost continues…