If you drive through Mittagong, about an hour south of Sydney, you cross a small bridge, near the golf course. The little stream that flows west is the start of a remarkable river - the Nattai. After about five days of walking downstream it empties into Lake Burragorang. At this point on either side of the river, hundreds of metres above are sandstone cliffs. What nature has created is a wonderful river valley wilderness.
About half way down the river it abruptly turns left. At this point it can be accessed by foot. The track down is called Starlights Track. The decent here is about 400 metres. The path is not too bad, a bit exposed and steep in parts but most will handle it OK.
The walk in takes a few hours, the walk out a bit longer. A good set of lungs, strong legs and heart helps. The track meets the Nattai just as it turns west. Here, with a bit of looking around, are the remains of a deserted homestead. Here, also, is a good campsite. An open and grassy patch under the tall gums and next to the river. At this point you are two days walk downstream from Mittagong.
If you are feeling lazy then it is worthwhile setting up camp, having a swim and exploring the other side of the river.
If not then the walk up or downstream quickly turns into a scrub bash, not too unpleasant but slow going. These are the parts I like the best.
It is in these places that I am most complete. Alone. Far from the Madding Crowd, (a name of an Australian book), so to speak.
There is something particularly appealing about sitting in a place, nothing on but your boots and gaiters, (in case of snakes), sitting, looking, a blank mind. A gentle sun shining, no breeze, the sound of the creek nearby. It comes as a bit of a surprise when you realise that your mind has been still for so long.
It's an odd feeling too , when on long walks, you haven't spoken for a few days and you attempt to do so. Your thoughts sound just like the spoken word.
I'm not going to tell you exactly where I go when I am there. You see, I am being selfish. There is one place I go which is rarely used. On my return recently, it had been five years, the fireplace at the campsite was in the same overgrown state when first I visited. It made me feel very happy.
The river does have its downsides. Because it starts in the town of Mittagong, caution needs to be taken in drinking the water. The side creeks, there are enough, provide good sources of water.
I sighted two dead wallabies on this trip. One near a snake. I suspect a snake was the cause of both deaths. It makes sense, narrow track amongst undergrowth, beside the river, Spring and the snakes are a bit aggressive. I find it interesting that my subconscious warns me before I consciously recognise the danger of a nearby snake. From my peripheral vision my subconscious warns me to focus my attention. In simple terms, I either freeze or jump backwards before I realise what is near.
It occurred to me that perhaps the reason why we have no predatory marsupials is because we have so many venomous snakes. A pity the introduced mammals, i.e. cats, foxes, goats and pigs aren't a bit more dumb when it comes to snakes.
Don't get too worried about the snakes though, just keep a watchful eye out. Sometimes this doesn't help though..... in another part of the Nattai I once stopped to have a crap. I looked around carefully, grabbed my pants and was starting to squat down when from between my feet shot a snake. Funny, it had the reverse effect, it didn't scare the shit out of me, I was too frightened. This was somewhat odd as I had been busting at the time.
Another downside is that because of the depth of the river valley and the proximity of the cliffs it is not an easy place to photograph. The magic hours of dawn and dusk, where that special light exists just doesn't get down into the river valley. During the day the extreme contrast caused by filtered sunlight makes scenic photos very difficult. Unless it is an overcast day this means pre dawn rises and early dinners to catch the right light. Pre planning shots during the day is essential as the right light doesn't last too long.
To do this I think you need to plan to be there for a few days.
Tiredness is a point to consider too. I find it a challenge to "be creative" and analytical when I am tired. The temptation is to relax. The problem with wilderness photography is that you have to act when the opportunity presents itself. Nature is its own master - there is no luxury of studio lights.
It is worth noting that several photographers I have spoken to here and overseas via the internet have all said that to take a really good photo you need to be there by yourself and assimilate your surroundings.
Isn't this great. Consider this. After a hard walk in, because you have to carry an extra heavy pack, you set up camp by mid afternoon. You are somewhat tired but you scout around to check the surroundings for water, wood and photo opportunities. Decision time, eat now, then take some photos and return to the campsite for supper beside the fireplace or scrub the photos and spend more time planning shoots or just plain do nothing. In bed soon after dark. A pre dawn rise for some more photos and then a late breakfast. If it is a sunny day and the good photos are therefore limited, then enjoy yourself. Swim, explore, bludge and mid afternoon, decision time again. Etc. etc.
Life can be so hard at times.
I hope that my ramblings have got you thinking about recording our bush with photographs. It is an interest that can become a wonderful obsession.
Any text and images found on this web page are copyright © Geoff Wise, 1998 - 2009. All rights reserved.