4.4 km loop, 1 hour 45 minutes
My sister-in law, Alicia, and her partner, Neil, recently joined my family for a winter walk at the Forest Path in the Royal National Park. The Forest Path was built in 1886, seven years after the park was declared a “National Park”. Logging was permitted in the area during the early part of this century, but public pressure led to the cancellation of the logging contracts. The signboards at the start of the walk remind visitors that “These majestic forests remain a memorial for those people who spoke for them.”
Despite having weeks to check out the Wildwalks track notes for the Forest Path, Andrew and I left reading them to the last minute. This meant we ended up being at the wrong entrance to the walk in Audley, while Alicia and Neil were at the correct entrance, closer to Waterfall. The kids were oblivious to the slight mishap. With a stroke of serendipity, Alicia and Neil were able to receive Andrew’s voicemail on our whereabouts before their reception failed and it turned out they had to come back to the NPWS Office in Audley to buy their park entrance ticket anyway.
By 11.30 am, after a quick 15-minute drive from Audley to Waterfall, we finally reached the start of the walk at the intersection of Lady Carrington Track and Sir Bertram Stevens Drive. We started our walk with my daughter holding my hand, freshly roused from a brief nap, and my son in the backpack carrier, refusing to walk despite bribes of more vegan chocolate. Weeks before the walk, Neil who is originally from New Zealand, bantered with us Aussies about dangerous Australian insects and animals, something not encountered in New Zealand treks. As he summed up at the end of the walk: “This is Australia. What does not kill you only makes way for the one that will.”
At the wooden sign pointing to Audley, by the sound of distant waterfall splashing, we stopped to consider whether to take a side track to Palona Cave and Waterfall which was 1.8 km one way from the start of the Forest Track Path. Andrew pointed out that the side trip would add an extra 3.6 km to our just over 4 km walk and it was almost midday. We decided to leave exploring the cave and waterfall for another day so at the Forest Path turn off, we turned left towards Bola Creek.
Past the picnic area, the distant sound of the waterfall receded making way for the quiet rush of Bola Creek. The path got narrower and we walked single file as we marveled at cabbage tree palms growing among cedars, casuarinas, and corkwoods, some with resident epiphytes. There was an information sign that provided the name the trees, otherwise we had no idea.
The fern-covered side of the track was interrupted at some parts by fallen trees at varying stages of decay. Andrew crouched low, face centimetres away, while inspecting the lichen and moss-covered logs. At times Andrew and Neil pointed to different logs strewn on the fern-covered part of the track and to some resting on the creek below, jigsaw puzzling the pieces back together.
Neil took the lead and at one point, may have come across a lyrebird, but the encounter was brief. The bird was disturbed by the sound of my daughter’s fast pounding feet on the dirt track as she made her way to check out Neil’s find.
Progress was slow and we walked on a “one foot, wait one second, shuffle the next foot forward” rhythm. I hung back as I coaxed my 15-kilo load to get off while Andrew kept me within eyesight just in case I needed backup. I bribed my son with treats, he got off, only to be met with a grumpy face and growls when he realised daddy had the chocolate. He tried to use my oft-used phrase, “That is unacceptable!” which came out as “Mummy, this is unexpectable!” After distracting him with a stick and giving him his promised treat, he was off exploring.
Alicia pointed out that the Forest Path vegetation was really different from her walks in the Blue Mountains. Most Blue Mountains walks feature eucalyptus forests which provide the mountains’ blue hue when viewed from a distance. The Forest Path contains temperate rainforest vegetation with large old towering trees, epiphytes, ferns, moss, and lichen.
We came across a few trees that were hollowed out by fire, some large enough to fit a few people. We couldn’t find any mention of these trees and how they came about on the information boards.
At 1.00 pm, my son dragged his feet and whined as he insisted to get carried in the backpack carrier. I couldn’t resist his big puppy eyes and I also wanted to walk in peace like the other walkers that passed us, so I picked him up. We stayed at the back of the group, snacking and leisurely strolling. Alicia and my daughter shared treats.
My daughter was happy to keep up the lead with Neil and Alicia, at some point convincing them to get them to pick her up, one arm each as she leaped along the path. My son turned his stick to a horse, a fishing rod, and a “pirate shit” (he can’t say “ship”) flag.
Having another two adults allowed Andrew and I to hang back and take in the views. Our kids really enjoyed the novelty of spending time with and learning from other people.
At 2.30 pm, walking quietly among the forest’s giants turned to running and shouting “Coooeee!” and “Fish and chips!” to encourage my daughter to walk faster. We were all getting hungry and despite our packed lunches, a trip to McDonalds was unanimously agreed to. As I stopped, panting on a rock in the middle of a small creek crossing, my son, energised enough to enjoy the backpack ride but not to walk, urged me to continue running. I walked. My daughter stopped running when she spotted some boulders which she then inspected with Alicia. I exclaimed “Wow, awesome rock to climb!” which probably worried Neil a bit because he came up behind me with eyebrows raised, asking “You don’t really want to go back, do you?” I didn’t, but I was getting tired carrying my son, so we skipped rock climbing.
At 3.00, we reached our cars and headed off to Engadine McDonalds for some late lunch and a debrief. Alicia reflected that she didn’t expect the kids to notice so many things that we would have taken for granted like the ferns, mushrooms, and the moss. Andrew admitted that this was the slowest walk we’ve done and at times he felt bored. Neil found the walk unique, perhaps in the same vein as Andrew’s thoughts. There is no denying that this walk was at times painfully slow, but this was no race. The plain reality of walking with kids is that it can be slow. Slow can be good. Slow is when we can truly stop and smell the roses. Needless to say, Alicia and Neil have already signed up to join us on our next walk to Palona Cave and Waterfall. Phew!
When you do go: The start of the track up to Bola Creek Picnic Area is quite flat and is suitable for prams. From there, the track narrows, there are some roots, steps, and a creek crossing to navigate through. Best to bring a baby carrier if you want to walk the entire track.