2017 October: Looong day walk to the Totem Pole in Wollemi National Park, NSW, Australia
The Totem Pole
- It is a stand-alone rock/earth pillar, about 6 meters high.
- Somehow, the pillar is made of material strongly bound together and resistant to weather erosion ... but how what why and when? It is also protected somewhat by a capstone on its top, but that doesn't explain its continued existence.
- The capstone itself looks like a loose hat. Why hasn't it been blown away already ?
- Standing on a steep slope, the Totem Pole is also gravity-defying. You really have to wonder why it hasn't toppled over already !
- In a remote area of the Wollemi National Park, NSW, Australia
- 16.5 km (as the crow flies) east-south-east of the small village of Newnes
- 50 meters from the south bank of Wolgan River
- Grid Ref: 576 199
- UTM: 56H 0257639 6319973
- Coordinate: -33.23204 150.3991
- 3 mad masochists: Neilson, Jimmy and I
- Plus 3 ladies: Amy, Enna, Rita ... but they drop out early.
Distance & time we took from Newnes to the Totem Pole
- On road/firetrail: 17 km; 4 hrs 30 mins
- On a disused road/track, some sections indistinct: 1.5 km; 40 mins
- Scrub bashing: 6 km; 4 hrs
- One-way total: 25 km; 9 hr
- The return leg: It took us much longer, 11 hrs 40 minutes, slowed down by Neilson who developed minor injuries on his toes and leg.
- Total: 50 km; 21 hrs ... ALL IN ONE DAY !
Is it worthwhile to walk 50 kilometers, 21 hours, just to see the Totem Pole ?
If you have to ask the question, you wouldn't understand it !
Maybe the 3 women who drop out early knew the answer :-)
- 1:25,000 scaled 8931-4S Ben Bullen and 8931-1S Mount Morgan
- 1:100,000 scaled 8931 Wallerawang
Bellow is an overview of today's walk on the 1:25,000 scaled map:
- Our GPS tracklog is in red.
- Newnes is at the left end of the tracklog.
- Totem Pole is at the right end of the tracklog.
- Scroll forward to see detailed sections of the map.
The corresponding satellite overview:
As you can see, the entire trip is a level-ish walk along the Wolgan River.
The map around Newnes: (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
GPS tracklog file & Route
Our GPX tracklog file can be downloaded from:
- Newnes to Totem Pole:
- Totem Pole to Newnes:
Map 1: Our tracklog, in red, superimposed on the above 1:25,000 scaled map: (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
The 3 blue arrows from left to right:
1. Small carpark at Newnes by the side of Wolgan Road. The ford is just to its right (east).
2. Locked gate on Newnes Ruins Road to prevent cars from going further east.
3. Coke ovens (photo #7)
Map 2: Continuation to the right of the previous map
Map 3: Continuation to the right of the previous map ~~~
The 3 blue arrows from top to bottom:
1. The 3 ladies turn back at this point near Rocky Creek
2. Rocky Creek (turquoise line)
3. Wolgan Trail (black dotted line) doesn't exist past the east side of Rocky Creek. The map is wrong. Our tracklog is on a firetrail which crosses Wolgan River at its confluence with Rocky Creek.
Map 4: Continuation to the right of the previous map ~~~
The 3 blue arrows from left to right:
1. Wolgan Trail (black dotted line) doesn't exist. The map is wrong. (There is a firetrail along our red tracklog on the north side of Wolgan River.)
2. The firetrail re-crosses Wolgan River here. We won't cross the river. Instead we continue on an indistinct disused road/track on the north side of the river.
3. The disused road/track ends here. Below it are two tracklogs:
- The one on the left is how we continue to the Totem Pole.
- The one on the right is our return route along the bank of Wolgan River.
Map 5: Continuation to the right of the previous map ~~~
- Our route to the Totem Pole is the left tracklog.
- The return route is along the Wolgan River - the right tracklog.
The 4 blue arrows from left to right:
1. Lunch by the side of Annie Rowan Creek
2. Afternoon tea by the side of Annie Rowan Creek on the return leg.
3. The Totem Pole
4. Houstons Creek, the thin turquoise line
Summary of our route:
- Start at Newnes, at a small carpark by the side of Wolgan Rd near Wolgan River ford crossing
- Cross the ford
- Walk on Newnes Ruins Road, then on firetrail to Rocky Creek
- Cross Rocky Creek
- Then almost straight away, cross Wolgan River to walk on a firetrail along the north side of the river
- The firetrail would re-cross Wolgan River 4.2 km later. But instead, we continue on an indistinct disused road/track
- After 1.5 km, the disused road/track peters out
- At that point, bushbash down a steep slope to cross to the south side of Wolgan River
- Bushbash to Annie Rowan Creek by walking on average about 100 meters up slope away from the river
- Cross Annie Creek
- Bushbash to the Totem Pole by walking up slope, at times 300 meters away from the river
The return route:
- From Totem Pole to where we need to cross to the north side of Wolgan River, we walk along the south bank of the river instead of bushbashing up slope away from the river.
Timeline & Distance
06:15 0.0 km Start at Newnes, at a small carpark by side of Wolgan Rd near Wolgan River ford crossing
06:17 0.15km At junction of an access road to the ford and Newnes Ruins Rd
06:29 0.15km Resume walking
06:44 1.45km At locked gate on Newnes Ruins Rd
09:10 12.3 km Near confluence of Rocky Creek & Wolgan River
Rita, Amy and Enna decide to turn back to Newnes
09:31 12.4 km Neilson, Jimmy and I resume walking
09:43 12.7 km At north bank of Wolgan River after crossing it (still near the confluence with Rocky Creek)
I took off my boots while crossing the river ... now put them back on.
09:50 12.8 km Resume walking
10:47 17.0 km Near where the firetrail re-crosses Wolgan River
Decide whether we should follow the firetrail to cross Wolgan River;
or stay on the north side and follow an indistinct disused road/track.
10:50 17.2 km Resume walking; keep to the north side of the river and start on the disused road/track
11:05 18.0 km At where we lost the disused road
Spend some time to find the road
11:11 18.2 km Found the road ... resume walking
11:26 18.9 km Disused road/track peters out around here. We take a rest.
11:36 19.0 km Start bushbashing down a steep slope towards Wolgan River
11:46 19.2 km At the south bank of Wolgan River after crossing it
then start to walk higher up the slope, away from the river
12:21 20.4 km Stop for rest
12:28 20.5 km Resume walking
13:21 22.2 km At Annie Rowan Creek
Lunch; and fill up our water bottles
13:55 22.4 km Resume walking ... we walk higher up the slope, away from the river.
14:46 23.9 km Stop for rest
14:53 24.0 km Resume walking
15:17 24.6 km At below the Totem Pole, near south bank of Wolgan River
Drop backpack here
15:24 24.7 km Start to climb up towards the Totem Pole
15:26 24.75km At the Totem Pole
15:35 24.75km Start to climb down from the Totem Pole
15:36 24.8 km At below the Totem Pole, near south bank of Wolgan River; same spot as at 15:17
Put on fresh battery for my GPS; and put on backpack
15:42 24.8 km Start on the return trip ... along south bank of Wolgan River
16:16 25.8 km Stop for rest
16:24 25.85km Resume walking
16:55 26.8 km At Annie Rowan Creek
Afternoon tea; and fill up our water bottles
From Annie Rowan Creek to below the Totem Pole: 13:55 to 15:17 ==> 1 hr 22 min
From below the Totem Pole to Annie Rowan Creek: 15:42 to 16:55 ==> 1 hr 13 min
So, the return leg is faster. It is because we walked along the south bank of the Wolgan River (from the Totem Pole to here). By contrast, we walked higher up the slope on the way to the Totem Pole.
17:19 26.95km Resume walking ... along south bank of Wolgan River
18:20 28.7 km Stop for rest
18:30 28.8 km Resume walking
19:10 29.9 km Stop (still at the south bank of Wolgan River)
Decide whether we should cross the river it now
19:14 29.95km Decide to cross Wolgan River now, then climb up a steep slope
19:21 30.05km Stop for rest
19:31 30.15km Resume walking
19:35 30.25km At same spot as at 11:26 (Around here, we can walk on the indistinct disused road/track.)
From here where the disused road peters out, to Annie Rowan Creek: 11:26 to 13:21 ==> 1 hr 55 min
From Annie Rowan Creek to here, where the disused road peters out: 17:19 to 19:35 ==> 2 hr 16 min
So, the first leg is faster. It is because we walked higher up the slope from here to Annie Rowan Creek. By contrast, on the return leg, we walked along the river bank.
20:09 31.65km At junction of disused road/track and the firetrail; Same spot as at 10:47
20:18 32.15km Stop for rest
20:27 32.2 km Resume walking
21:03 34.55km Stop for rest
21:13 34.65km Resume walking
21:40 36.3 km Just about to start crossing Wolgan River; same spot as at 09:43
21:52 36.6 km Stop for rest near confluence of Rocky Creek & Wolgan River; same spot as at 09:10
22:13 36.8 km Resume walking
23:08 39.7 km Stop for rest
23:28 39.8 km Resume walking
00:25 43.15km Stop for rest
00:44 43.3 km Resume walking
01:37 46.1 km Stop for rest
01:53 46.2 km Resume walking
02:32 47.8 km At locked gate at the end of Newnes Ruined Road; same spot as at 06:44
02:37 47.8 km Resume walking
03:06 49.1 km At junction of Newnes Ruins Rd and the access road to the ford; same spot as at 06:17
03:10 49.25km Back at our cars
Total: 20 hrs 55 mins
49.25 km - Distance is from Google Earth
Distance from Garmin GPS is not available (maybe 10% longer)
Pictures - Newnes Camping Ground (the day before)
1) Newnes Camping Ground ~~~
This is where I sleep for the night ... in my car, the silerish/greenish car.
2) (Continuation to the right of previous pic.)
- It is Friday night, the place is quite full.
- The gap near the centre of the pic, between the 2 mountains, is towards east. Wolgan River flows through there; and we'll also be walking through there the next morning.
Today - the 6 of us
3) The 6 of us start out for today's trip:
- Back row row, left to right: Neilson, Jimmy, me
- Front row: Rita, Enna, Amy
Only the 3 guys reach the Totem Pole. The ladies drop out at Rocky Creek.
Ford at Newnes
At Newnes, there is a small carpark (for about 4 or 5 cars) at the junction of:
- Wolgan Road
- and an access road through the ford to Newnes Ruins Road
We park our cars at the carpark.
4) The 2 pics below is the ford on the access road between Wolgan Road and Newnes Ruins Road:
- There are stepping stones for walkers to cross the ford.
- Yellow dashes: The road through the ford
If you have a high clearance 4-wheel-drive, you can drive through the access road to cross the ford. At the time of writing, the access road is badly corroded and rutted.
5) Cute drawings on the stepping stones
6) Wolgan River ... photograph taken from one of the stepping stones in the middle of the ford
After the ford, the access road meets up with Newnes Ruins Road. From this junction, we walk east-ish for 1.3 km to a locked gate. So, if we have a 4-wheel-drive, we could have driven all the way to the gate.
After the locked gate, the Newnes Ruins Road becomes a firetrail. On the map, it is called Ruins Walking Track.
The Ruins Walking Track lasts for about 1 km, after which it is called Wolgan Trail.
In this trip report, I'll call the road east of the locked gate simply as the firetrail.
Ruins of Newnes shale oil processing works
7) On the firetrail (Ruins Walking Track), we pass a line of coke ovens. They are the ruins of Newnes shale oil processing works in the early days of Australian history.
- The 3 pics below are along the same line of coke ovens
8) One of the coke ovens
9) More ruins
10) Former shale mine entrance
Along south side of Wolgan River
The firetrail after the locked gate goes along the south side of Wolgan River all the way to Rocky Creek and beyond.
11) On the firetrail ~~~
Left to right: Neilson, Enna, Jimmy, Rita, Amy
12) This tree trunk makes a Z bend.
Despite its burnt out look, it is alive.
13) Looking down at Wolgan River
14) Jimmy (left) and Amy (right) crossing an unnamed tributary of Wolgan River
15) Typical firetrail that we walk on ~~~
- Left to right: Rita, Jimmy, Amy
16) A dilapidated shed along the way
17) Cliffs lining both banks of the Wolgan River
18) Cliffs lining both banks of the Wolgan River
Near Rocky Creek
Now approaching the confluence of Wolgan River & Rock Creek ...
19) Rita, Amy and Enna decide to return to Newnes ... not a surprise, as the pace required for the 50-km one day trip is too gruelling for most people except the very fit and foolhardy too.
That left the 3 of us, Neilson, Jimmy and I, to continue to Totem Pole.
20) This good looking fire place is about 100 meters further down the firetrail from where the previous pic was taken. It would be a good camping site.
And we are almost at the edge of Rocky Creek, but haven't crossed it yet.
Crossing Rocky Creek
21) Now crossing Rocky Creek ~~~
- Yellow arrows: The way we cross Rocky Creek, then proceed to Wolgan River
- Red dashes: The firetrail is actually along the creek bed ! (On the return trip, we we'll be here around 9:45pm, totally in the dark. We'll just walk through the water, along the red dashes.)
Crossing Wolgan River from south to north
Soon after crossing Rocky Creek ...
22) We now cross Wolgan River from its south bank to its north bank.
- Yellow arrow: The firetrail on the north side of Wolgan River ... We'll walk on there.
- I take off my boots when crossing the river.
- But on the return leg, I'll be too tired to bother about wet feet and will just walk into the water with boots on. Then continue along the wet creek bed of Rocky Creek ... see previous pic. Water depth in both the Wolgan River crossing and along Rocky Creek is up to a bit above the knees.
Along north side of Wolgan River
23) The firetrail is also in good condition on the north side of the Wolgan River.
However, after 4.2 km, we won't cross the Wolgan. Instead, we keep on its north side and walk on an indistinct disused road/track. It peters out about 1.5 km later. At that point we bushbash down a steep slope to the Wolgan River and cross to its south side.
24) On two separate occasions, we encounter two Lace Monitors, Varanus varius. They were sun bathing along the firetrail, but quickly scamper up the trees when we approach them.
25) Quite a few of these rings spaced regularly along the firetrail ~~~
What are they? Please let me know.
Crossing Wolgan River from north to south
26) As mentioned earlier, the firetrail becomes an indistinct disused road/track which peters out 1.5 km later. At that point, we bushbash down a steep slope and cross the Wolgan River ... here.
Bushbash to Annie Rowan Creek
27) After crossing Wolgan River, it is bushbash to Annie Rowan Creek. The scrub is not too dense, but it is prickly with thorns. You are well advised to put on a pair of gloves.
On average, we keep to about 100 meters from the bank of Wolgan River. We didn't notice any foot track. There maybe one, perhaps indistinct. And if so, it maybe further up the slope from the river ... just guessing.
Annie Rowan Creek
28) Now at Annie Rowan Creek ... 22 km, 7 hrs after we started at Newnes ~~~
There is still 2.5 km to the Totem Pole.
We have lunch here. And in the pic, Jimmy is filling up his water bottle.
29) Annie Rowan Creek ~~~
- Upper pic: Up stream
- Lower pic: Down stream
Bushbash to The Totem Pole
After Annie Rowan Creek, it is bushbashing to The Totem Pole. At times we are up to 300 meters from the Wolgan River. It is not pleasant going as the terrain is tougher, the scrub is denser and the slope is steeper than the pre Annie Rowan Creek section.
So if you are at this part of the trip, either go even higher up the slope, or simply walk along the bank of Wolgan River as we'll do on the return leg.
30) Crossing an unnamed dry tributary of Wolgan River ~~~
Most of the time, the bush is much denser than here.
The Totem Pole
If you are approaching the Totem Pole too high up the slope, you may not be able to see it. We drop down to the Wogan River level just prior to where the Totem Pole should be, and ...
31) ... and lo and behold, there it is ! WOW ! What a feeling ... after 9 hours and 25 kilometers !
32) We'll climb up to the Totem Pole later, but first, a photo session !
- Left to right: Jimmy, Nielson, me
33) Now climbing up to the Totem Pole ~~~
As you can see from the pic, the slope to the Totem Pole is very steep ... one step forward, two steps sliding back :-)
Just as well the Totem Pole is not easily accessible. Else all the climbing on the steep slope by visitors would cause enough soil erosion to soon send it tumbling down to the Wolgan River below.
34) Neilson has climbed up to near the base of the Totem Pole. From the pic, you can see that the pole is resting on a steep slope.
35) I am at the Totem Pole. Isn't it a wonderful sculpture by nature !
Somehow, the pillar is made of material strongly bound together and resistant to weather erosion ... but how what why and when? It is also protected somewhat by a capstone on its top, but that doesn't explain its continued existence. Standing on a steep slope, it is also gravity-defying. You really have to wonder why it hasn't toppled over already !
36) Jimmy at the base of the Totem Pole
37) The column looks rickety built with a conglomerate of earth and rock. It looks as if it is going to collapse at anytime !
You just have to wonder what binds the earth and rocks together in the column, while the surrounding hillside gradually eroded away ?
38) The capstone - it plays a part in protecting the Totem Pole from being eroded.
- Lower pic: The mountain in the background is Mt Morgan.
Sadly we can't rest our tired legs for too long. It'll be dark soon and have 25 more kilometers to return to the car.
Along south bank of Wolgan River back to Annie Rowan Creek
On the return leg, instead of retracing our steps by going up the slope, we walk along the river bank instead. Sometimes we are slowed by boulders strewn across the bank. But overall, our progress is faster.
Here are the stats:
- From Annie Rowan Creek to below the Totem Pole: 13:55 to 15:17 ==> 1 hr 22 min
- From below the Totem Pole back to Annie Rowan Creek: 15:42 to 16:55 ==> 1 hr 13 min
So, it is faster to walk along the river bank than walking higher up the slope as we did on the way to the Totem Pole.
The other alternative is to walk even higher up the slope (further away from the river). But I don't know whether it will be faster.
39) Walking along the southern bank of Wolgan River ~~~
- Upper pic: Looking up stream
- Lower pic: Looking down stream
40) A twisted trunk
Annie Rowan Creek
41) We are back at Annie Rowan Creek and taking a rest.
- Jimmy is smiling.
- Time now is 5:11pm. If he knows that he won't be back to the car 10 hours late, not until 3:10am the next day, what is the bet he won't be smiling :-)
From Annie Rowan Creek to where we'll cross to the north side of the river, we also keep walking along the river bank. Again, on occasions, we are slowed by boulders strewn across our path.
Anaylsing the times:
- From where the disused road peters out on the other side of the river to Annie Rowan Creek: 11:26 to 13:21 ==> 1 hr 55 min
- From Annie Rowan Creek to where the disused road peters out on the other side of the river: 17:19 to 19:35 ==> 2 hr 16 min
So, along this section, it is faster to walk higher up the slope (on the south side of Wolgan River) than boulder hopping along the river bank.
On firetrail back to the car
We are fortunate ... just when the sunsets, we are back at the indistinct disused road/track where the walking is much easier. But still, we have another 19 km to cover. And unfortunately, Neilson developed minor injuries on his toes and leg. So we walk a bit slower and take more rests. By the time we are back to the car, it is 3:10 am, all up, a 21-hour day !
Sunrise & Sunset
For the record:
- 5:25am First light
- 5:55am Sunrise
- 7:25pm Sunset
- 7:55pm Last light
I drank about 7.5 litres of water for the trip !
4.5 litres were carried in the backpack at the start of the trip, then top up at Annie Rowan Creek.
- Is it worth all the effort to walk 50 kilometers to see the Totem Pole?
If you have to ask the question, you wouldn't understand the answer !
- And it makes for a memorable trip and an interesting dinner party conversation point for the rest of our lives ... "How we walked 21 hours to see a lone pillar" :-)
- The Totem Pole is an example of a Hoodoo ... refer to this link in Wiki:
Many thanks to Angela Barton and Peter Medbury for their invaluable advice on the route to the Totem Pole.
(By the way, in an earlier overnight backpacking trip, Angela reached the Totem Pole from Newnes in 8 hours. The route she took was the same as ours ... in fact, we copied her route. Geez ! She was fast !)