New hubby Phil keeps telling me I shouldn’t post about this wild little gem of a camping spot, because why give away a secret sanctuary on the edge of the city that we can keep to ourselves? We even scored a spot here for New Years Eve – two days before the fact.
In his ‘shush’ request, I think he’s (wildly) overestimated my influence, my ability to keep travel secrets and to hold on to my photos for no one to see. Sweetie! *newlywed gush*. OK, back on topic. The campground is called Crosslands Reserve and is tucked into the back of Hornsby Heights, down in the Berowra Valley National Park. It took us less than an hour to get there from central Sydney.
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The site is essentially a couple of adjoining parks down in a bush-clad valley with a skirting creek along one side. It was New Years Eve and we were astounded at how much space there was. Given we were planning on a sunrise mission and hiking on New Years Day, we opted for the more family-friendly side of the park, and thought we’d let the younger crew there party at a distance. But seriously, there weren’t too many groups there. A group of twenty-somethings with bell tents and teepees doing headstands by the river, and a larger group of local-looking lads kicking a ball around and drinking beers. Apart from that, it was mainly families and those that would fit into one or two tents. We couldn’t believe it. New. Years. Eve! So I can’t imagine how quiet it is on a normal day.
But the other reason for our shock was this: the place was stunning! It was surrounded by hills of bush, had a nice breeze by the river and was populated as much by birds (like Australian Wood Ducks and Masked Lapwings) than people. There were no power sites or showers, and you had to carry your gear from the car, but there were plenty of picnic benches and barbecues. We took a short walk to a creek-side viewing platform, returned to set up our tent and settled in to one of said picnic spots.
We cooked a vegetarian barbecue, shared a bottle of red and played trivial pursuit until midnight (look out!), before hitting the sleeping bag (on top, waaaay too hot for inside in a Sydney Summer). We had set our alarm for before sunrise, but we didn’t need to, as the cicadas woke us with their deafening, undulating screeches. There has been a lot of talk about the loud cicadas (males singing for a mate apparently) this year, which are perhaps in plague proportions. Certainly sounded like it on New Years morning, that’s for sure!
SUNRISE AT BARNETT’S LOOKOUT
I’d read that Barnett’s lookout was one of the best spots in the area for looking out over the valley, and it was a 25 minute drive from Crosslands Reserve (or a 2 1/2 to 3 hour walk, but we didn’t want to do that in the dark in an area we are unfamiliar with). So, we drove back up into the ‘burbs. I’d imagined there would be an eager crowd of bleary-eyed locals and outdoor enthusiasts, budging each other for a partial glimpse of the day rising.
We were the only two there.
It was us and a misty valley view. Us and the wildflowers. Us and the billion cicadas calling out for sexy times (OK, it wasn’t nearly as loud here as back down at camp). Us surrounded by eucalyptus and pale blue sky. Us and the morning calm of a new year.
WILD WANDER. Mother Nature had other ideas.
Back to Crosslands and we were getting set for a hike. We munched on some muesli bars and fruit, packed lots of water (it was already inching towards 30ºC), and head for the trail at the end of the reserve. The track wound along the river, past the odd rope swing and kayaker. I was on the lookout for snakes. I was grateful that the track was in the shade at this time of the morning. This walk links up with The Great North Track, a 250km nature trail between Sydney and Newcastle.
In under half an hour, we crossed a steel bridge and came to a magical looking flat covered in reeds, that shone with the subtle glow of the sun. We approached with the giddiness of two lucky folk who had stumbled on a little paradise. But then we were stopped. The river had risen and the wooden footbridge was engulfed in water. To even get within a meter or two of it, we would have been up to our shins in water.
This was exactly where the walking trail split off in two directions, towards Berowra Waters one way, and Mount Ku-ring-gai the other. Both were under water. Crap!
We wanted to go for a lengthy hike, but nature had other ideas. So, we decided to make the best of the situation and slowly saunter back, stopping along the way – by the river or to look at the flora and fauna. Just a minute back up into the track we came across a few Brown Cuckoo Doves, nestling in the trees above. I actually recommend a slow saunter through the wild, taking everything in. The bark, the moss, the flowers, the bugs. The soothing flow of the river. We weren’t too bothered by the turn of events. Did I mention it was approaching 30ºC? Well, it was above that by now.
We were about to arrive back to the Reserve, when we realised that the creek had risen at the camp end of the track as well. We thought we’d avoided getting wet shoes and ankles, but not so. It was a little gross, but fine, and we had thongs waiting for us at the car (or flip flops if you’re North American, or jandles if you’re from New Zealand). We were actually luckier than others. The big group of lads I mentioned earlier had moved on, due to their whole section of the park being underwater!
We made a conscious choice toward having a healthy, nature-filled New Years Eve where we would watch the sun rise on 2018 somewhere beautiful. And that it was. I was pleasantly surprised how close this pristine little utopia is to Sydney and how quiet it was, even at peak holiday time. Oh, and $25.50 for the night ain’t bad either!
NEED TO KNOW
Where: Crosslands Reserve, Hornsby Heights. Part of the Berowra Valley National Park.
Cost: $25.50 for one site
Getting there: 50 minutes north of Sydney city along the M1 and M2. The campground is at the end of Somerville Road in Hornsby Heights.
You’ll love: The quiet, the bird life, the calming river, the proximity to Sydney
Not so much: The cicadas in summer, the river flooding
Take: Barbecue food, bug spray, ear plugs (in summer – this is for the cicadas), camp lights, your hiking shoes and your camera!
Also check out: Barnett’s Lookout
Oh, and: check this site for swimming conditions. It said (and does still) to swim at your own risk in this area
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