Approximately 1 km loop, 30 minutes
Decades ago when I was growing up in the Philippines, a distant relative we called Lola [grandma] Eling stayed with us one summer. That summer, Lola Eling took me, my brother, and her grandson on outings with minimal fuss and preparation. Our recent walk at the Bungoona Path and Rawson Parade Trail in the Audley end of the Royal National Park reminded me of the impromptu days out to parks with Lola Eling with just breakfast leftovers neatly tucked in her handbag. One time she just picked up a pot with some leftover rice that was mostly the brown crunchy bit, dumped the leftover fried egg and tuyo [dried fish] inside, wrapped some plates and cutlery in tissue, put all these in a plastic bag, then off we went to rent bikes at the local park. In Lola Eling style, this impromptu walk was agreed to on the day because the track was short and it was near where we had to drop off my sister-in-law, Alicia, anyway. We brought some leftover fruits and crackers from home.
The Bungoona Path is located in Audley near the Royal National Park Office and Royal National Park Environmental Education Centre. We parked close to the Education Centre which housed the toilets and from there we walked towards the eastern end of the carpark. There was a slight breeze on the day of our walk and the rustling eucalyptus leaves hushed most of my worries about leaving our house untidy and floors unmopped on a Sunday.Shortly after the information board, we came across the Bungoona Picnic Area where Alicia inspected some plants. Andrew lay down on the concrete path to take a closer look at a beetle while I rested on a picnic table. The kids sat on the ground watching Andrew and in hushed voices, instructed each other to be careful not to squash the insect. After a few minutes, my daughter pleaded for me to look at the beetle, which I did after reluctantly peeling myself off the picnic table warmed to napping comfort by the midday sun.As we continued our walk, we spotted an anthill. Here Alicia recalled a friend of hers whose father always took her on hikes. Alicia believed that these experiences sparked her friend’s curiosity about insects which eventually led to her pursuing a career in entomology. On the topic of nature and youth, I shared my interest in a blog by the Young Fermanagh Naturalist, Dara, who is very passionate about nature and wildlife. At the age of 13, Dara is one of the leading voices in saving the hen harrier in his beautiful part of the world and his blog pieces are nothing short of inspiring. 50 metres into the walk with Alicia leading, I hung back thinking about what exactly did I want my kids to take away from all this time outdoors? Alain De Botton sums up one of the lessons I want my kids to take away from these walks; the same lesson I have learnt over and over again every time I stepped outside the comfort of my home:
“…it is the vast spaces of nature that perhaps provide us with the finest, most respectful reminder of all that exceeds us. If we spend time in them, they may help us to accept more graciously the great unfathomable events that molest our lives and will inevitably return us to dust.”
I want my kids to draw on their experiences in nature to build resilience, to stay curious, to be inspired, to feel connected to the world…then Alicia’s fancy nature fact brought me back to the present. Why was I worrying about the end result when ultimately the kids would be the judge of what they got out of all these walks? Rhetorical question. The fancy nature fact? Apparently there are certain types of mistletoe that mimic native plants. I focused on the leaves of the trees we passed until Alicia mentioned that sometimes even scientists find it difficult to identify which leaf is a mistletoe and which leaf is a native plant leaf. Right.
The path meandered along typical Sydney forest vegetation of eucalyptus trees and native shrubs, a contrast to the seemingly unfamiliar temperate rainforest vegetation of the Forest Walk located at the Waterfall end of the National Park. As we inspected a tree that seemed to have grown around a boulder, a local walker stopped and told us that there were signs along the path that explained what the plants were and the history of the area. He said the signs were removed a few years ago and have not been replaced. He recounted that the tree was just a small sapling growing out of a crack on the rock and now, many years later, the roots are now overwhelming the boulder it started its life on.We followed the concrete path and veered right towards the Bungoona Lookout overlooking the Hacking River. As Alicia, Andrew, and I appreciated the tranquil river and explored the possibilities of kayaking below the Lookout, the kids complained “There is nothing out there”. We headed back on the concrete path we came from but instead of following it all the way back to the car park, we veered right to follow the Rawson Parade Trail dirt track. A few metres into the track, the kids sat on the dirt and, as Andrew insisted, to the left of the track. I realised that the walkers passing us were the same walkers that passed us for the past hour and they had already overlapped us at least three times. One of the walkers stopped to catch his breath and commented, “Good on them. Playing like that on dirt builds immunity just like in my day”. Alicia quipped that the dirt track must just be a giant sandpit in the kids’ eyes. Alicia, Andrew and I took advantage of the kids’ quiet play and took turns walking to different parts of the dirt track to try and spot the silhouette of the Sydney CBD highlighted by the Sydney Tower. From this part of the track, we heard the distant hum of cars and motorbikes from Farnell Avenue and we spotted some planes circling the National Park before they eventually landed at Mascot Airport.
The Bungoona Path is a straightforward and relatively plain walk that is often overlooked, which is fair enough given that the Royal has so much to offer. We approached this track with curiosity and focused on things that could could easily have been glimpsed over. The kids’ waddle speed afforded us with the time to look for the insects on tree trunks and shrubs, the thin worm scrawls on the scribbly gums, and the random sprays of pink, white, and yellow wildflower buds on the native shrubs. Going back to Lola Eling, our park visits with her always felt unhurried. We walked slowly around lakes and through gardens instead of working out shortcuts to the best picnic spots. My brother and I had time to enjoy the concrete elephants and the two-person swings at our favourite playground instead of being the told to quickly finish so we could get home. She didn’t give us a set time to go home, we all decided when we were ready. Looking back, Lola Eling’s slow and calm approach to our outings was probably because she was retired, and as her daughter explained to me a couple of years ago, Lola was forever visiting distant relatives because she loved to socialise and she simply adored kids. Whatever the reasons behind Lola’s slow and relaxed attitude to our outings and life in general, the memories from that one summer she came to visit have stayed with me decades later and have helped shape my approach when I go walking with my kids. Thanks Lola.
When you do go: The concrete Bungoona Path is ideal for prams. If you are up to it, you could also push a pram through the Rawson Parade Trail dirt track to spice things up.