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Hi, welcome to my blog. I'm a writer of poetry, prose and plays but my best known work is children's fiction. My most popular books are the Selby series and the Emily Eyefinger series. This blog is intended as an entertaining collection of thoughts and pictures from here in Australia and from my travels in other parts of the world. I hope you enjoy it. (For more information have a look at my website.)

Friday, March 2, 2012

In the Footsteps of Charles Darwin

In 1836 Charles Darwin, then 27, and sailing around the world on HMS Beagle, docked in Sydney. From there he made a side trip to the Blue Mountains and over the ranges to Bathurst. On the way he and his guide stopped on what is now the Great Western Highway and walked along a track to look out over the Jamison Valley. As he wrote in his diary:
About a mile & a half from this place there is a view, exceedingly well worth visiting. Following down a little valley & its tiny rill of water, suddenly ... an immense gulf is seen at the depth of perhaps 1500 ft beneath one's feet. Walking a few yards farther, one stands on the brink of a great precipice. Below is the grand bay or gulf, for I know not what other name to give it, thickly covered with forest. The point of view is situated as it were at the head of the Bay, for the line of cliff diverges away on each side, showing headland, behind headland, as on a bold Sea coast. ... The class of view was to me quite novel & certainly magnificent.

The route Darwin took is now named the Charles Darwin Walk and it leads to the top of Wentworth Falls, which even at the time of Darwin's visit, was already a popular tourist attraction. Back then you could only stand and look out over the Jamison Valley but now, thanks to the staff of the Blue Mountains National Park, and all the work they've done constructing walking paths, you can descend the "line of cliff" and walk along it. One thing hasn't changed from Darwin's time: the view over the Jamison Valley is still pristine.

Last week my old friend and fellow author, Richard Tulloch, and I did one of our favourite walks at Wentworth Falls, The National Pass. Starting at the Conservation Hut Cafe at the other end of the escarpment from where Darwin was and, after fortifying ourselves with coffee and scones (with jam & cream) we started off down the track. Ignoring  the Yowie warning sign.

The Conservation Hut Cafe

Yowies are  Australia's answer to the Yeti and Bigfoot. Sadly, we didn't see one. It would have made for an interesting blog entry. Unfortunately Darwin didn't see one either as it would have given his book The Descent of Man that little magic something to keep it in the charts a bit longer.

Beware of the yowie
In any event these men descended to Lodore Falls, Sylvia Falls and Empress Falls on the Valley of the Waters Creek. A group of canyoners were busy canyoning down the creek. We stopped to watch just long enough to be happy to be warm, dry and on foot.

The National Pass Track

The National Pass track traverses the middle of the cliff from the western (Conservation Hut) end to the eastern, Wentworth Falls end. Or the other way around depending on where you've parked. I've drawn a red line on the photo above to show were it goes. If this looks scary, it's really not. The track is well-maintained and the National Park people have made every effort to keep people from unnecessarily plummeting to their deaths. I guess it's in their interests, too.

A paved path---not to every bushwalker's taste

It was a warm day but, considering it's summer here, we were just pleased that we weren't walking in blistering heat. But it is a well-shaded walk and it's been so rainy recently that there was always a bit of cooling spray from above.

Low overhead
A few stretches are better for kids---short ones---than adults.

Richard in welcome shade
Okay so now you wish you were bushwalking instead of staring at a computer screen. You can get to the Blue Mountains from Sydney by car, bus or train and there's all the information you need at the various Park information centres---such as the one in Springwood on the Great Western Highway on the way to Wentworth Falls. There are also excellent guide books. My favourite so far is Blue Mountains Best Bushwalks by Veechi Stuart. For those of you from away, Sydney is just a short plane ride. Just hop on the plane, go to sleep for a day or so and you're here.

The railing does take away some of the fun

A metal lizard climbing a new, very classy, National Pass trail marker

A real lizard, an Eastern Water Dragon, standing in our path

The track has wonderful views out over the valley but, equally interesting, is the variety of plant life on the cliff face. There are a number of plants that grow only the wet rock faces in the Blue Mountains and nowhere else in the world. If I knew anything about plants I'd have included a photo of one.

Wentworth Falls from below
At the other end of the track we arrived at Wentworth Falls. It's a good climb up but there are stretches of metal stairs that make it easy. This is part is a popular walk so it can be a bit of a conga line on weekends.

The upper part of Wentworth Falls
Once on top of the Falls the trip was only half over. From here we again traversed the cliff line on the Overcliff Track back to the Conservation Hut Cafe and rewarded ourselves for our efforts with a filling lunch. 

Back to Charles Darwin's brief trip to Oz: he wasn't as excited by the fauna here as he had been in the Galapagos because so much of it had already been described. He didn't see a yowie but on his trip to the Blue Mountains he came across other animals that puzzled him. He saw a rat-kangaroo that seemed to fulfil the same function a rabbit does in England. And he saw a platypus that was much like an English water vole. But both were very different in anatomy. In his diary he wondered who one creator would have designed different animals to fill similar ecological niches in different parts of the world. It wasn't an original thought but Darwin eventually pursued it in a way that on one else did. Using this and other evidence he collected on his voyage he wrote a book with the catchy title, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. We know it simply as On the Origin of Species

So there you have it: if it hadn't been for a tourist visiting the Blue Mountains years ago we would never have had the Theory of Evolution. QED.


Lana Patterson said...

Great pics of your bushwalk! That trail along the cliff looks like great fun...but it does look a tad scary from a distance. My husband and I did a lot of hiking in the Adirondack Mtns. in NY back in the day but none of the trails hung on the cliff side like this trail. And the view of Wentworth Falls is awesome. I can't remember as I'm writing this whether you mentioned how long a hike it is one way...so, how long is it? =) Thanks, once again, for sharing the pics of your latest adventure!

Lana Patterson said...

Hi Duncan...this is kind of a PS to my previous comment. I meant to mention that my husband is an avid reader of Charles Darwin and when I told him about your blog he said he remembered reading the part in the HMS Beagle book where C.D. visited Australia. Cheers!

Richard Tulloch said...

Well blogged, Duncan! Any blog post that mentions me in a non-derogatory light is a good post in my book, but here you exceeded yourself by working Charles Darwin in too.

Thanks for the info, and the company on what is one of the Blue Mountains' finest short walks. Till the next one!

Duncan Ball said...

Hi Lana, thanks for your kind words. The whole circuit---across the National Pass Track and returning on the Overcliff-Undercliff Track---is six kilometres. So it's somewhere between a dawdle and a death march. Very different vegetation to that in the Adirondacks but equally fascinating. All the best.

Anonymous said...

Hi Duncan,

Juliet and I are soo going to do that hike next time we go to the BMs. It sounds beautiful and the pictures prove that you were not exagerating.

Great to learn more about some important history as well. I had no idea about Darwin's trip to Australia.


Lynn said...

Hi Duncan,

Friends and family in the Netherlands loved this article and photos - stunning landscape. Looks like you two had a great day.