The areas surrounding Braidwood are mainly made up of rolling green mountains with forests, towns and farms (especially cattle). Best way to explore is by car as these areas are very vast and with not much population.
Most Australians probably are familiar with “ant nests”. This large earthen structure was built by insects. Although they are called “ant nests’, the insects which build them as homes really are not ants, they are termites. The pile of mud is somewhat like an insect skyscraper, full of passages and corridors and (I am told) with a quite stable internal climate and housing countless termites. In the appropriate season, for purposes of mating and forming new colonies, the termites take wing (I told you they were different from ants) and swarm across the skies in the evening. The problem is that they eat timber, so termites taking residence in buildings can be a source of real concern.
On the walk to the Big Hole, you will pass several of these “ant nests”. For a general idea of scale, the older boy alongside this one is nearly six years old.
That was about it really for the gorge natural, though the gorging continued when we sat down and pigged out on Pauline's (George's wife) delicious soup. A very refreshing drop at that point in our travels with the thought of the climb out ever on our minds though the lyre bird did its best to distract us while we ate.
Once the climb is finished it's fairly easy going except for the short uphill back to the Big Hole.
Not long after we were into our rubber footwear and crossing the serene Shoalhaven again. The whole exercise, and I use that word advisedly, had taken us around four and a half hours, allowing an hour at the canyon for photos and exploring.
It's a 12 km return journey and we found it easy except for the last bit as detailed.
Remember to always take water with you when trekking in the Australian bush to replenish lost fluids and you should have a good day out like we did.
When we returned to George's abode I managed to get a shot of one of the many parrots that visit on a regular basis. I had to put that sentence in as a poor excuse to include the photo! (pic 4) It is of a King Parrot (Alisterus scapularis), supposedly shy but, like most animals who get fed, they tend to become less wild very quickly.
That's alright, I don't know how to pronounce it either but, hey, I wasn't there for an English lesson.
There's a bit of a story attached to how I was en route on this particular early spring day to a National Park I'd never heard of before. It turns out that I'd done a page on Braidwood and then, as an afterthought, looked up VT to see if anyone else had done similar. This was the beginnning.
This action led me to fellow VTer tiabunna and, over a few weeks, we corresponded and I put feelers out as to whether or not he was up for a bushwalk, an activity I'm somewhat partial to.
Agreement was reached and we concurred on a suitable time whereupon I arrived at George's home base, in the back blocks south of Braidwood, the night before the event. This served as an opportunity to get to know both George and his "crafty" wife Pauline and exchange travel stories. Well, more precisely, let George tell me about all the places he'd been and it was fairly obvious that his crowning glory was Antarctica. A glow emitted from his furrowed brow every time the subject was raised. His knowledge of Macquarie Island and points further south was detailed and, at times, illuminating. When there's a good story under way, I'm a happy listener.
Which is just as well because the next day, when we were actually on the way to Deua, the subject of the Clarke family and the heydays of bushranging was raised and George has a passion for this subject as well.
Heck, we'd arrived at our destination and George had to draw breath to let me know we'd actually arrived.
I had noticed a couple of photogenic items during our passage there though, and I include them here. The first is an old teacher's house, wonderfully rustic and now owned by someone new which, judging by the pile up of rural rubbish in the backyard, is probably just as well.
The other picture is simply a nice reflection I happened to notice, it's Jerrabatgulla Creek. I hope it wasn't named after anyone, you wouldn't have many friends; at least none that could pronounce your name.
"And what about the marble?" I hear you ask. Well, it's certainly there.
When you walk through the cavern part there's a large white slab of it along with several other smaller pieces and, if you choose to investigate the side stream you can clearly see it in conglomerate form (pic 2) which is where George is taking the picture (pic 1). Rusconi (see my Gundagai pages) would have no doubt have made something of it but for us it was only a passing interest.
Also littered around is the evidence of wilder times in the gorge (pic 3) when floodwaters would race through and etch the layers even further, bring with them trees and branches from the surrounding bush. This hadn't happened for some time though and it would be interesting to see the area after the next major downpour.
Then, at a point about 5 kms into your walk, you arrive at a sign. This gives you some information about what you are about to experience.
When it mentions the trail, you'd better get the message that from here on in it's downhill. The commencement of the drop has some boards beside it that were apparently left some time ago with the intention of being the front part of steps, but funds or keeness were lacking and they just sit there. Fortunately, a little further on they have put them in and it makes for much easier descending. Remember the old saying, "Knees on the way down, heart on the way up".
It's interesting that I have a comprehensive book on Australian National Parks yet, when it comes to Deua, the Marble Arch is not even mentioned. Since it is relatively well known in the area, being featured in Braidwood's tourist literature and on the signs at the carpark, I found this omission somewhat surprising.
It's around a 200 metre descent with nothing to indicate the arch is near until you're nearly there. Then the rugged nature of what we were about to embark on became readily apparent.
Water from Reedy Creek, though not running while we were there, has made its mark upon this landscape and you can see just how it has made its way through and the destruction it has wrought. There are funnels from the roof (see pics) and strangely worn patterns along the sides to indicate the forces of nature.
We decided to leave our packs here and continure only with our cameras. A wise choice on our part as it turned out.
It was such a beautiful day it didn't take much of a nudge to move George along to the idea that we could make the Marble Arch, still tugging at my curious streak.
The trail from the Big Hole isn't as pronounced but is still easy to follow. At the odd tricky bit the National Parks have thoughtfully placed small marker posts.
The sclerophyll forest is dotted here and there with termites' nests and the dry bark of the trees is not only reflective of their nature but the prolonged drought conditions that have prevailed in Australia for some time.
At one point we came upon a narrow band of fallen trees, obviously the victims of some dramatic act of a passing storm. It was probably only about 200 metres across and about half a kilometre long but the path of descruction was clear to see.
As we crested a rise we took time out to sit upon one of them and have some refreshments.
There were animals sharing the route with us. At times we saw wallabies on the hop, wombats returning to their burrow and, when we reached the area of the arch, a lyre bird took our attention. In fact, both George and I tried to get a worthy snap of the latter beast but it eluded us, as they usually do, by darting in and out of cover and always keeping an eye out so we weren't allowed to get too close.
They're my all time favourite bird and their cries can imitate any sound you may care to think of. If they've heard it on a regular basis, they'll copy it and their shrill sound echoes through the undergrowth any morning you care to wander the southern highlands. If you study the second pic on the left you will notice him.
Where the roof begins it gets decidedly dark. Dark beyond vision in fact and the only way through is by using the Braille technique, i.e. feeling your way through. This is not a place for the faint of foot.
Fortunately it's only a short way and you can just see a small sliver of light where you need to aim for. What I found interesting was that, on the return trip, you can actually see well enough to know where you're going. That's due to the fact that there is a larger light source at the opposite end.
When you finally breach the cave and light enshrouds the scene once more you are confronted with ferns and a small side cleft in the walls through which a steady drip of water was wearing away at the rock.
Your gaze however is transfixed on the route of the chasm. The rippling buttresses are very impressive and, according to the blurb, go for about a kilometre.
We made our way along but the route soon became difficult and then, bearing in mind the problems that might ensue, impassable where it would have meant stripping clothing off and dropping into a pool with no assuredness that one could return.
What we needed was a small length of rope and more time and, on this day at least, it wasn't going to happen.
It's not long after the previous scene that you return to the woods, round a corner and, hey presto, there's a landing in the middle of your vision. This particular apparatus hadn't been there when George last visited. Matter of fact, the majority of this walk was a revelation for both of us.
When you mount the platform the entire Big Hole is within your view. It rates fairly well on the "wow factor" scale.
Imagine a gap 30 metres across and over 60 deep that goes to 90 metres where the side cave slides out of view and you've got some idea. It's pretty impressive looking at the sheer walls with swallows darting hither and thither and a splendid fern forest in the floor of the hole.
Though my goal was Marble Arch, George was only half thinking about it. The Big Hole would have done him. The sign said it was only about 3.8kms for the Big Hole and 12kms for Marble Arch.
We trudged off, in good rambling style, along a well defined trail that ultimately led up a slight hill and through heathland plants that blanketed some hills in the area. The first hill was one such example.
Where we had arrived was actually at the northern extremity of Deua National Park, a small piece cast adrift from the rest of the 82,926 hectares that comprise this park set inland from the south coast towns of Narooma and Moruya.
This is a park that heavily favours those with 4WD equipment and is promoted as "Primarily a wilderness park. It provides opportunities for its wilderness areas to be enjoyed by everyone. (read everyone with a 4WD) There are great camping spots beside clear rivers, 4WD trails, fabulous walks, caves, diverse flora and a huge range of wildlife."
My inspiration had been the brochure put out by the Braidwood tourist board, it had mentioned "The Big Hole" and "Marble Arch". The latter gnawed at my brain. Had to see it. What was it? What did it look like? Was it really marble?
These and other questions were about to be answered; but first we had to cross the Shoalhaven River which, at this particular location, would hardly qualify even as a creek. Still, when it's wet, it can certainly present a challenge. I had been continually warned by George that it would be near waist deep and rubber boots would be needed.
To this end I had brought my rock fishing hob nailed rubbers and George had his Wellingtons.
The creek was another matter. In the years since George last saw it someone had put rocks across and you could almost rock hop all the way across without getting your feet wet.
The Deua National Park is a huge area of forests in the south eastern corner of New South Wales. Access to most of it is very limited, but the Berlang Camping Ground south of Braidwood provides an easy start.
Head south from Braidwood on the sealed road toward Cooma for a distance of about 42km, following the Shoalhaven River. On the left, if you look carefully, you will see the Gundillion cemetery and a sign to the Berlang Camping Ground. Turn left onto the unsealed road to the camping ground.
Take your time on the short access road to the camping ground and look around you: particularly if it is late afternoon, there is an excellent chance you will see many kangaroos, as we did as we departed. Once you leave your vehicle, the bank of the Shoalhaven River is less than a hundred metres walk.
The river is suitable for swimming (photo 1) or you can ford (photo 2) it to continue to the destinations in the next two tips. The good news is that this section of the park is accessible to everyone, no matter how fit or energetic (or the opposite) you may be!
Rather than create a separate ‘accommodation’ tip, let’s cover the few details about the camping ground here. It has barbecues and toilets, but apart from that it’s a matter of ‘take everything’. It is unstaffed, but there is a charge to stay (honour system payment) of $3A for adults and $2A for children aged 5 to 15. We saw nobody else here during our visit, but it can become busy during summer school holidays.
The email from Vter iandsmith asked if I had any details on The Marble Arch and ”Also, is the Big Hole worth a visit?”. I had visited The Big Hole many years ago, but getting there had involved wading thigh-deep through the chilly waters of the Shoalhaven River, and time had precluded going further to Marble Arch: what’s more I hadn’t a camera with me at the time. The opportunity to revisit was too much to pass, so I warned Ian about the river crossing and told him to count me in for a walk.
As you’ll know from the photos in my Deua tip #1 above, the river crossing is now easy. Drought has dropped the water level, National Parks have kindly added a row of stepping stones, and Ian is still laughing at me. Our gumboots barely became wet: take note if you go though, that prior rainfall could mean some wading if the river is up a little.
Once across the river, follow the well-worn path which rises through changing vegetation, including areas of heathland, with excellent views back northward up the valley toward Braidwood (photo 4): the return trip is 3.5km of moderately easy walking which shouldn’t challenge most people. Eventually the lookout (new since my previous visit) appears as you round the hill (photo 1). Be prepared to be impressed!
The Big Hole was formed by the relatively recent collapse (in geological terms) of giant caverns maybe hundreds of million years old. It is 90 metres deep, with sheer sides and maybe 25 metres across. Think of the inverted negative image of an average skyscraper, as if it had been taken from the ground leaving just a hole, which at depth becomes quite dark (photo 2). At the bottom tiny shrubs are visible: those are treeferns some two metres high! (photo 3).
This walk is slightly more challenging than for The Big Hole, partly because the return distance is 12km return from the Berlang Camping Ground and also because a stiff climb is involved in each direction. The National Parks sign suggests a five hours return time, although we did it in slightly less including a lunch stop. A cautionary note here: check before starting to ensure your walking partner is not also a long distance bicycle racer – I allowed Ian to think that I was allowing him past on the hills so that I could spend more time admiring the surrounding environment! Continue on from The Big Hole on a path which is much less defined, with occasional marker posts to indicate the direction (most of which have ‘3.5km’ scratched onto them). A series of wooden ‘stepping stones’ has been placed in one gully, presumably somewhat wetter when there is no drought (photo 4).
Eventually, after a steepish descent (with 1,583,796 steps – trust me) you come to the gorge cut by Reedy Creek and, shortly after, find yourself entering the cavern it has cut through the rocks. We had no torches and yes, it becomes very dark inside! This is ‘The Marble Arch’. I took a photo with flash and, sure enough, the rock is indeed marble (photo 3).
The cavern is only short, leading to a narrow gorge some 25 metres deep, carved into the rock (photo 1). Be careful in this area, as the rocks are smooth, mossy and slippery: in a wet season, there would be more water and footings could become treacherous (photo 2). Both of us had shoes with insufficient grip for such an area and we found that we could cover only a few hundred metres of the kilometre length of the gorge.
So yes, if you are moderately fit, (preferably) carry a small torch and have shoes which will give a good grip on slippery rock, the Marble Arch is well worth a visit. I have added more photos from it in a separate travelogue.