Time of writing: 3:22pm 13 July
While I toyed with the idea of braking the final 41km down into two days, the reality is that it was never going to happen. I could either hike 15km to Teralba and spend $40 on a crap caravan park site, or I could hie to Teralba and catch a train to Newcastle for the night before catching a train back the next day to finish off the hike. Neither was an appealing prospect, so a marathon day it was.
I set off long before dawn, excited about reaching the end. Not because I’d had a bad time (I had a fantastic time) but because I was ready to return to the world.
The world was shrouded in thick fog as I walked out of the Watagan Forest Motel. My head lamp illuminated the little beads of water in the air, making navigation a challenge. The lack of signage and multitude of 4WD and dirt bike tracks compounded the challenge. But, as always, the guide book by Wild Walks was spot on and got me out of a few jams (the map kit has been hopeless in this northern section).
As I reached the ridge that would take me to Wakefield the sun started to rise ahead of me. My final dawn on the trail. I will miss the break of day on the trail the most. The possibilities of the sun’s rise are endless.
Once the sun was up, I descended into Wakefield. Oh boy! The road was dangerously busy with limited shoulders and invisible corners. I had to rely solely on my ears to cross and walk along the road. Urgh! The 7km from Wakefield Road to Teralba were terrifying. First, I had to walk through about 2km of road construction with machinery going everywhere and some stupid directions from road workers (really, you want me to walk behind the reversing plant because there might be cars on the road who are driving forwards and would actually be able to see me? Okay. If you say so. And yes, I am walking to Newcastle. That’s what those Great North Walk signs are all about people).
Roadworks cleared, I turned right onto Rhonda Road. There is no shoulder on most of this road, which leads past a busy quarry. I’d come through blind corners, praying no truck was hurtling the other way and then trying to balance in the steep roadside drop if they did. If you are doing the GNW, try to organise a lift to avoid this section. I wished I had. It was not fun or safe at all.
Teralba wasn’t much. Just an industrial town perched on Lake Macquarie. But once across Five Island Bridge, things improved greatly.
Speers Point Park was delightful. It was a vast open grassy space overlooking Lake Macquarie. A group of women were running and jumping under the guidance of a personal trainer. I couldn’t help but notice that I’ve never seen anyone smiling or fit-looking (as in toned and athletic, not the British use of the term “fit”) in a personal training class. Think I’ll stick to hiking and cycling myself.
At Warner’s Bay, I treated myself to a chip butty. I had a massive serve of hot chips and bbq sauce on a hamburger roll with a slab of butter slathered on it. I’d covered 22km with just 19km to go and it was still only 10am.
From Warners Bay it was a long 7km to Charlesworth Trackhead. It was the most difficult section of the day (roadside walk not-withstanding). But I got through it and found myself almost overcome with emotion when I reached the trackhead near a huge Great North Walk sign next to the Pacific Highway. I wonder how strange I looked to those drivers as I sat trying to hold back tears of emotion near the sign.
The final 9km were beautiful! First, I went to Leichardt’s Lookout overlooking Glenrock Lagoon.
Then down to Burswood Beach, which I followed north for 2km around a rocky point to the Merewether Baths. The soft sand was simultaneously soothing and challenging to walk through. But it was such a treat.
Then, I put my shoes back on to walk on the roadside paths along Dixon and Rocky Beaches, watching the surfers as I went. I almost didn’t even notice the final climb up the headland before the finish (though I’m not sure why we had to walk up in a loop around the obelisk).
And then, as simply as that, I was standing at Queen’s Wharf looking at a sign that said Sydney Cove was 250km away. I tried to take a selfie at the sign and a kind girl took a photo for me before trotting off to return to her friend.
A short ferry ride and a kilometre or so walk later I was at Stockton Beach Holiday Park. After a quick visit to the grocery shop and bottle shop, a shower and shave, a phone call home, a steak dinner cooked in the camp kitchen, and a bottle of sweet cider I was asleep in my tent.
There will be more adventures. But first I need to reflect on and process this one. There’s things I need to change in my life. Priorities that need to shit. Attitudes to be adjusted. Lessons to be implemented.
But no one can take away the adventure I’ve just had.
Total: 42.5km hike with 15kg pack