OUR COASTAL TRACK HIKE & WOD – Monday 6 February 2017
This past weekend a small group from GEO took on The Coastal Track, a 26 km trail (we later discovered was closer to 30kms) from Otford to Bundeena through the Royal National Park. This was planned many months ago so it was quite unfortunate for us that the weather forecast was for heatwave temperatures, thunder storms and high humidity. But never ones to shy away from a challenge (because we are CrossFitters), we took on the trek anyway.
Day one started with a train ride from Sutherland to Otford – about 30 mins. When we arrived at Otford we were slapped in the face with a very steep walk from the Railway Station to the head of the trail. This walk alone set the tone for the rest of the weekend – hot, humid, and a tough slog. We opted for a quick stop at the Otford Pie shop to recompose, get our heads back in the game, and then headed off.
Our first day (Saturday), would see us trek about 7-8kms (we still don’t know exactly as the distance quoted on Google differed wildly from the signs posted along the trail) through some typical Aussie scrub, followed by dense palm jungle. There were a few small climbs but for the most part it was down hill to Burning Palms beach where we stopped for lunch and a swim. Whilst the walk to this point wasn’t too taxing, the loads we were carrying (so much water) and the humidity really sucked the energy out of us. We had walked for a few hours to this point and the sweat metre was registering “very moist”. Some of the group went for a further 20 min walk along the rocks to the Figure of 8 Pools while the rest of us had a bite to eat and relaxed.
After an hour or so for lunch we hoisted our packs back on and trudged off along the sand to the other side of the beach for our first major climb up and away from Burning Palms. It was slow progress to the top but we got there and enjoyed the downhill walk through the “Cabin community” to South Era Beach. Another walk across the sand, then up and over another ridge brought us to North Era which was where we set up camp for the night. All up we had walked about 5 hours to this point.
Some scouting around for the most desirable camp site away from the swamp and the resident red-belly black snake that Johanna saw, meant we set up our home for the night with views out to the ocean and close to the trail out of North Era. Whilst some of us set up our coffin-sized tents, Robbie and Rach set up their Taj Mahals and made sure to rub it in just how much space they had in their lavish shelters.
The rest of the afternoon was spent swimming (the water was absolutely beautiful), collecting firewood or just chilling out and chewing the fat. We knew there was a kiosk at Garie Beach about 20-30 mins walk further north and everyone was stinging for a nice ice cold refreshment, so all of us bar Johanna and Rach, walked along the rock platform to Garie. The thought of a Lemonade Icy Pole washed down with a cold Coke was so inviting that despite the heat we were prepared to go for the walk, so you can imagine our disappointment when we arrived to find the kiosk closed. NOOOOOOOOOO……….
We looked longingly at a group of tourists who had a BBQ set up and an esky full of cold beers. It was cruel. So cruel.
We ended up filling our bottles with tank water and walked back defeated. Another swim was on the cards when we returned then we settled in for dinner around the campfire. Other campers arrived and what had initially been a big campground all to ourselves was later filled with young revellers who pushed Robbie’s buttons with their loud talk and laughter. Luckily Sailor Jerry was able to calm his nerves and a clash between young and old was avoided.
We sat by the fire, stared at the stars, watched satellites race across the sky, talked about our insignificance in the universe and reflected upon the day just passed. We all turned in about 10pm and did our best to sleep and recharge for the big day ahead. A fly flapping in the wind, no pillows and a thin mattress meant Johanna and I had a pretty rough nights sleep. We were the first ones up in the morning and we opted for a swim. The forecast thunderstorms had not come yesterday so there was every hope that they (the meteorologists) had got the 37 degree temperature for Sunday wrong also. [insert Game show sound effect for a wrong answer]. At 7 in the morning it was already bloody hot. This did not bode well for the day ahead as this was going to be the bigger trek day.
After brekky, we packed up quickly and headed straight to Garie to restock our water supplies. An Icy Pole and can of Coke never tasted so good at 9 in the morning. Kaino, much to the disgust of the Kiosk owner, bought them out of the remaining cold 1.5 litre bottles of water. He bought 5 bottles of water plus a pie and an ice block for Suzannah and I think it cost him about 50 bucks. If you are paying that much for water, damn right you want it cold!
An hour later we set off for what was going to turn into a very long, arduous and mentally taxing day. According to Google we thought we only had to walk about 16 kms today, which is a lot, but certainly much better than the 24kms it ended up being. The heat was punishing and just sucked the life out of you. There was some respite with the occasional “cool” sea breeze, and the clouds coming over were a welcome site. But when the sky was clear and there was no wind, man, it just sucked! There was a very real risk of some of the group coming down with heat stroke. There was just no way to cool down and we had to keep moving in order to make the ferry at Bundeena. Every time we asked a hiker going in the opposite direction where they had come from and how long it had taken them, we were met with answers we did not want to hear.
The scenery and landscape on this part of the walk is absolutely stunning, and there were rare moments when it was appreciated, but for the most part people just had the blinkers on with their focus being on getting to the end. It really was like a long, grinding WOD and luckily we have experience with that. An 8 hour WOD though is not fun for anyone. The walks along the beaches, whilst beautiful, were a real drag. Walking in sand when you are hot and carrying a load is mentally draining. A couple of steep climbs added to the challenge.
Everyone pushed on though. Some opted for a quick pace while others just took one step at a time, taking it nice and easy. When we arrived at Wattamolla (about halfway for Day 2) we enquired with a Ranger if there were any buses – that’s how bad it was. No. We decided to visit the Ice cream man who was there, bought some cold drinks and rested for about an hour to recharge our physical and mental game, then we head off again. We had about 2 and half to 3 hours more walking to do.
When we started seeing tourists walking towards us on the trail, our hopes brightened and we knew we were getting close to the end. It’s funny, just like in a WOD when you know you only have one round left, after doing 9, you seem to find some untapped energy and you rise to the occasion to finish strong. This is what we did.
Bitumen never looked so welcoming as what it did when we finally reached the end of the trail and hit the last 2 kms walk through residential Bundeena to the Ferry stop. The body started to hit a wall, feet were burning, knees were aching, and shoulders were knotted as we stumbled into the local IGA to purchase ice cold drinks. Beers and ciders were thrown down like water. Powerades and Coconut water were like nectar of the Gods.
We collected ourselves and dragged our smelly, dirty, sweaty bodies to the ferry. We just managed to squeeze on board and the adrenaline wore off. As we sat there on the ferry our bodies started to shut down knowing that the hard work was over. The WOD was finished.
I’ve most likely made this trek sound really bad and uninviting. I’ve done this trek 3 times now with long periods of time in between each one and it was never ever as hard as what it was this past weekend. That heat really did make all the difference and turned what should have been a pleasant, medium-challenge hike into a real physical and mental battle. I will do it again but definitely during the colder months.
A big thank you to my fellow hikers – Johanna, Kaino, Suzannah, Robbie, Erik and Rach for joining me on what was another experience of exploration and challenge in the great outdoors. I hope you still enjoyed two days despite how tough it was. We will do another one. Anyone for snow camping?
NOTES IF YOU INTEND TO DO THIS TREK:
- There is free overnight parking near Sutherland Railway station, on the western side near the cemetary.
- There is no where to get freshwater between Otford and North Era campground. This walk takes about 4-5 hours.
- There are toilets and showers at Garie Beach (another 30 mins north of North Era). There is a Kiosk there that is open on demand. Coffee is instant Macona. Water is $5.50 per 1.5 ltr bottle. Cans of Coke are $3. You can get sandwiches and pies there. On Summer weekends the Kiosk closes about 5pm.
- North Era campground has a few pit toilets with toilet paper available – they are disgusting! It say’s no fires but everyone had a campfire going. Firewood is scarce.
- The trek from North Era to Bundeena is about 24kms. It is far longer than what is quoted on the National Parks website (26kms in total). You are better starting the trek at Bundeena and getting the long part out of the way first.
- You can refill water at Wattamolla, near the halfway point.
- Ferries from Bundeena to Cronulla cost $6.80 (cash only) and run every hour on the hour until 6pm.
WORKOUT OF THE DAY
A. Deadlift 5 x 5 – build up over the 5 sets
B. Bulgarian Split Squats 3 x 10