Mount Victoria to Leura
By David Rutter
I step off the train and into a quiet place – Mount Victoria station on a Saturday morning. The wind is gusty and cold, and the few passengers on the train brace themselves, giving a little shiver as they scurry off. I have no need to hurry. I need just a few more items for my hike, and seek out a store to find them.
I walk up the hill, and across the roaring highway to the local mixed-business-cum-post-office store. After the noise of the highway and the cold wind outside, the shop is a small sanctuary. I find condensed milk for my tea, and band-aids in case blisters should appear on my feet. The man behind the post office counter doesn’t even lift his head out of his newspaper as I pass him. As I approach the store counter, the girl delays lifting her head out of her magazine until the last moment, and gives me a “no worries” as I pay. She returns to her magazine.
My small pack is stuffed to the gills. For this hike I am deliberately travelling light, and every item I have packed has been considered to ensure that only items essential for a safe hike are included. It is an experiment of my own doing – to travel light along this track. The heaviest items I am carrying are my water bottles.
I trudge east beside the highway towards the start of Victoria Falls Road. I am wary of wayward cars as I walk on the narrow shoulder of the highway, especially at points where overgrown lantana and blackberry bushes block my path and I must either step onto the road around the weeds, or cross the road completely. I am relieved when I step off the highway and onto the dirt road, leaving the noise and the fumes behind.
Beside the dirt road I see a few late blooming Waratahs, and then more. I pause momentarily to admire them before moving on down the road. Soon the flowers are but a memory as the drudgery of walking along a dirt road takes over. I am keen, too keen perhaps, to get into the bush. My feet step along the road, through sand, jagged ruts carved by running waters, and corrugations.
Victoria Falls Lookout is just over 6kms from the station. Despite its name, you cannot see Victoria Falls from the lookout, the information board points this out to confused walkers. From my view at the lookout I can see down into the valley below, and to the north see the bush with its canopy burned off by recent fires, looking like a tree plantation with its uniform spacing and formation.
The steps leading from the lookout down to Victoria Creek are new, rebuilt after the fires. There are many weeds beside the track, and the pungent smell they throw off overwhelms the aroma of eucalyptus.
At the bottom of the hill, beside The Cascades on Victoria Creek, I have my morning tea – a few gulps of water and a muesli bar. I listen to the water running down the cascades and settling in a pond near my feet. I take a deep breath. The air is fresh, and tastes of the water near my feet. I pick myself up and head down to Victoria Falls. I pause again momentarily to take in the view of the falls, before walking downstream and across the creek. Through the walk it is a quiet companion, speaking when I need assurance that I am in the right place. I bound along the track, stopping occasionally to check my course against the description of the walk in the photocopied guide I am using to navigate. The darkening of the sky and the cooling of the wind are signs a rain shower will soon be upon me. Throughout the day I have to periodically take off my Gore-Tex and fleece jackets when the sun shines, and hurriedly put them back on when a shower approaches.
I am dressed in my rain gear looking for the landmark of Burra-Korain Flat when the pat-pat-pat of the rain on my hood changes to thuds, and I look down to see small hailstones swimming in the air before melting in my hand. Burra-Korain Flat is at the confluence of Victoria Creek and the Grose River. It is smaller than I imagined – not so much the open flat I had expected, but a collection of small havens for weary campers. I see a fireplace, some flattened grass, and a log with a comfortable seat worn into it. I rejoin the path and now I have the Grose River to my left. The river ripples across pebbles, sparkling in the sun. I wish I had my lilo. I quicken my pace; I am tiring, but happy. I need to move. My feet step through patches of wet, patches of dry, scuffing on rocks, and cracking sticks and dry bark.
Two walkers kitted out with new packs, hiking poles and gaiters approach from the opposite direction and stop to ask if I’d seen a dog. One of them offers that perhaps it was a fox. “You can smell a fox”, I remark. Their incredulous looks make me wonder for a second whether I had suggested that humans can talk to foxes. Trying to explain myself, I offer: “It’s hard to describe the smell, but you can smell them”. Unconvinced, they smile nervously, abruptly say their goodbyes and head off down the track. This would be my only conversation on the track for the whole weekend.