Cumberland State Forest, West Pennant Hills

Sensory Trail, 350 m loop, 30 minutes

Forestry Trail, 1.3 km loop, 1 hour

The Cumberland State Forest in West Pennant Hills is home to over 100 species of birds being the last remnant of genuine forest in the Sydney Hills District. The Forest was established in 1939 with parts of it naturally regenerated from earlier agricultural clearing and other parts planted as an arboretum. According to the Forestry Corporation, the Dharug, Guringah and Gummeriagal Aboriginal people traditionally visited the Forest.

While walking here a couple of weeks ago, my kids were mesmerised by the sight of people climbing the trees and ziplining through the Treetops Adventure Park. After much begging from my daughter and a sigh of relief from me that it was an affordable $28 for a two-hour session, I booked a spot for her when we got home that day. For two weeks, my daughter and I talked about ziplining and balancing through obstacles to prepare her for the big day. She oscillated between excitement and terror during these discussions but in the end, it was a YouTube video of a little girl going through a similar park that settled her nerves.

On the big day, we arrived more than an hour early to check in at the Treetops reception area located next to the nursery. When we got there, my daughter was comforted when she saw a couple of children her age lining up.  With more than an hour to spare, I decided to take my daughter to the short Sensory Trail to get her warmed up and to let her balance on some logs. We leisurely walked the trail and stopped once in a while to read the sensory prompts and to change walking sticks. My all-time sensory prompt favourite is to rub a tree stump with my hands and then they are supposed to smell like soil. They never do so I keep trying every time we walk this trail.

When we found suitable logs to balance on, my daughter eagerly set to walk on them. She fell over a lot but I reminded her each time that it is all right to fall and she can just get up to try again. On what felt like the twentieth try, she was finally able to balance the length of the log. Spirits up, my daughter jogged the rest of the Sensory Trail until we found the signs leading us to the Adventure Park. It was another 10-minute walk from the end of the Sensory Trail to the Adventure Park.

When we got there, my daughter clung to my clothes as she would when feeling scared or anxious. During the orientation session, a friendly staff member reassured her that she doesn’t need to go up the ropes if she doesn’t want to and she just needs to wear the costume (the harness and the helmet) then listen to the lesson. She didn’t want to go at first but when she spotted the two kids from the reception area earlier and watched them do the course a couple of times, she decided to give it a try. I felt proud when she tried all of the obstacles in the White course and when she asked for help from staff when she needed it.

I was relieved that the older children seemed to have a natural instinct to gravitate towards the younger children to help them through the course or encourage them. Of course, there were older kids who were shouting at the younger ones to hurry up so they themselves could continue. Treetops’ 5-minute time out for being loud in the course helps with this. The staff were always on hand to assist children who were stuck on obstacles. I was particularly impressed that instead of just picking up the children or herding them to the desired spot (as I would), most staff merely scaffolded the experience by encouraging and demonstrating.   The two-hour session was a worthwhile lesson on waiting turns, risk taking, and following rules to ensure safety. As she was getting out of her harness, my daughter asked when she could go again so I told her that she has to do some pretty big chores at home to slowly earn the money for the next visit.

After a quick snack of apples and garlic bread, we followed the stairs next to the Adventure Park that led to the Forestry trail. One of the things I love most about walking with my kids is that it gives us the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation. Today was no exception. When I congratulated my daughter on how brave she was by playing the Adventure Park even though she was scared at first, she shrugged and said “When you practice, you can do it”, then we listed all the times she practiced to do something and then she could do it. When I asked her what she thought of the teachers, she said “The teachers were nice because they helped other kids and me”. When I asked who should go on the Treetops Adventure she replied “Everyone because you learn, even grown-ups learn.” Then she asked me if I’ve ever been to the Galapagos. I haven’t. It turns out that she watched a documentary on the Galapagos islands with her uncles recently – a bargain before they let her watch My Little Pony and Mia and Me.

We continued walking on the wide well-marked Forestry Trail knowing that, like all trails in this forest, it would lead us back to the nursery and carpark where we started.  The forest was quiet without bird sounds on the day of our walk perhaps because it was about to rain. My daughter ran her hands along the barks of trees and asked me each time what the trees were called. I didn’t know but I was glad some trees had name tags so we learned together.

My daughter tried her newly-acquired climbing moves from the Adventure Park on a couple of boulders she found. She then spent a few minutes going up and down as I briefly chatted with a few people we met from our last walk.

As glimpses of the car park came into view, the wind picked up and the sound of the rustling leaves on the canopy left my daughter wondering loudly if there was a waterfall nearby. Just as it started to drizzle, we reached the Café and ended our four hours of adventuring with celebratory chicken nuggets, chips, and milkshakes followed by a 15-minute coulouring in session at the Visitor Centre.

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