A ’10km moderate walk’ said the sign at the beginning of the Canoelands Ridge Trail, accessed logically by Canoelands Rd, Canoelands in the rural north west of Sydney just past Dural. The naming conventions alone lead us to believe this to be an orderly town and as such, signage to reflect this order.
Four hours later we were immersing ourselves in the overwhelming coolness of the Hawkesbury River. Trying to distance ourselves physically and mentally from the gruelling trek in blisteringly hot conditions and undulating unforgiving bushland. How this town of order turned to canoelands chaos forms the basis of this story. Yet there was certainly adventure! One must remember, unique picture postcard moments often do not reflect the much more frequent, yet not so aesthetic, moments of trial and tribulation that led to their creation.
But enough philosophy. It was not all the trail’s fault. In fact not at all. The trail and terrain has been there for centuries. In fact when Governor Philip, quite possibly the first white person, visited Gentleman’s Halt in 1789 it was unlikely to have changed much at all. It was more our forethought and planning which culminated in our seeking of a river to dunk ourselves in.
A cool overcast morning with showers forecast had us moving at a lackadaisical pace to begin the trek. Meaning we set off on the trail at midday by which time the clouds had burnt off and mid summer heat in full sun was at it’s strongest. A few kilometres down the trail a discovery was made that we were out of water. This was the result of storing the packs poorly ending in leaking water bladders. A return for water from a generous local was required to replenish our supplies.
All set. While the going was hot and the fire trail was steep in parts it was a semi-drawn conclusion that we’d reach the destination in time. So, at nearly 9km the sign pointing to the campground appeared, indicating 1.4km to go off the main trail. Happy days!
The trail however turned from a car wide fire trail to a barely distinguishable track. The copious spiderwebs across the trail meant none had trod this track today nor recently. The track was also going up, which was concerning because we were already a ways above the river where our supposed camp was. Meaning with every step up, the way down to the river was getting steeper!
1km down and another sign reads 2.2km to Gentleman’s Halt. For the observant, we had either just been going backwards or one of two signs were wrong. While slightly perturbed with an extra kilometre being added to the trek it was the cliff we were now faced with down climbing that took the focus of attention. We’d soon value any sort of signage to know we were heading in the right direction.
Downwards then through large sandstone cliffs. We rarely had time to appreciate the quite magnificent caves as we descended down around them. Small rock cairns piled three stones high were now the only form of navigation as the trail was indistinguishable. Often it was a fallen cairn used for direction. With obvious questions on whether it was a fallen cairn, or in fact just any other three rocks on the ground!
After descending a good while longer another sign appeared. 1.5km to go. Still!? And, now the trail goes back up again? And steep too!? The millions of cicadas populated throughout the trees around us have been finding this quite amusing for some time. Their rising laughter echoing in waves through the clammy, energy absorbing heat.
All decorum abandoned, we trudge on and just head towards the water. We imagine the water covering our bodies and the cooling, cleansing effect on our skin. Bush turns to a soft grassy patch and a trail appears etched into the fertile soil and eventually we descend to an opening to a quite magnificent campground at the bend in the river.
Bypassing the campground for now we make a beeline for the sandstone dock. We strip to the bare essentials and fall in the refreshing water. We are much relieved and soak until our bodies cool.
In comparison, the camping is less eventful yet more spectacular. Fire pits and plenty of space on soft green grass. While this adventure is to road test a new 2 person MSR tent, for use on the Tasmanian Overland track, the camping hammocks are still with us and slung quite promptly between a few close trees and the perfect way to relax for the early evening.
A storm was now brewing over the Hawkesbury river. Dark clouds looming just as we cooked dinner by camping stove. We get ready to batten down the hatches of our tent and wonder how hail proof this tent might be. The tempest of the storm seemed to circle us as though we were truly and permanently in the eye of the storm. Not a drop of rain fell yet lighting thundered down all around.
The next morning we were up early, intent on beating the heat of the day and given no water, make the trek safely back to the car. However, seeing sense we instead hitched a ride on a fellow campers tinnie (boat) across to the small settlement of Spencer on the opposite side of the river. We figured, with no drinking water, 10km of a hard uphill slog hauling full packs in 30 degree heat was not ideal. Only trouble was that Spencer hwe had to arrive back to our car at Canoelands Rd, Canoelands which was 10 km away on the opposite side of the river up a cliff in an area not really where Uber or any taxi for that matter services.
Being laughed at by the owner of the general store was not welcomed or warranted, but it did at least rouse a generous patron who offered to drive us 30km or so to Wisemans’s Ferry. A great conversationalist we learnt a lot about the goings on and the underworld goings on in Wiseman’s ferry, none of which can be revealed here! Once in Wiseman’s Ferry a scout around town found a chef finishing up in a few hours going back the way we needed to go. Again generously offering us a ride.
We had a cool drink in the iconic Wiseman’s Ferry Hotel learning some more history and getting more insight into the convict times of the first settlers. Soon enough our chef, come cab driver, was ready to leave and we travelled another 30km or so with him back finally to Canoelands Rd. Our car waiting dutifully by the trailhead.
While not the intended adventure, we got an unexpected but welcome adventure. Leaning on the generosity of four individuals to get us to where we were going has our faith in humanity restored! While in many countries this type of travel is common place, in what is still counted as the Sydney metropolitan area, this was sadly unique! However I would suggest a visit to Gentlemans’s halt is best done via boat unless you too want to test the generosity of the locals.
About The Author
Ever since venturing out the back gate into the bush as a kid, I've had a curiosity to escape and explore as often as I could. It's fair to say that my curiosity has continued to grow instead of fade as the years go on. It eventually came time to turn a few scribbled notes into some legible stories and travel tips for anyone with a similar curiosity as me.