EXPLORE // Box Vale Walking Track to Lake Alexandra
The confessions of a Bushwalker who wasn't as fit as she thought she was...
Family Friendly :: The Box Vale Walking Track part is!
Easily accessible :: Parking at the entrance to the bushwalk. We took two cars and parked one at the start of the Box Vale Walking Track and the other car at Lake Alexandra
Dog Friendly :: Yep! We saw lots of doggos!
Stairs :: Yes - dotted throughout the walk
Length :: 13.3km
Time :: 5 hours
Now, I’m no stranger to bush walks. It’s one of the reasons I love living in the Southern Highlands. A cheeky Cave Creek bush walk after soccer here, a school holiday visit to the Erith Coal Mine Track there, exploring the abandoned tracks of the Big Hill Cutting – myself and the fam often head off on bush walking adventures.
And I’m also no stranger to distance with a couple of Seven Bridges Walks (and all the training that involves) and a few South Coast walks under my belt.
So after checking out the Box Vale Walking Track one day and realising you can walk all the way to Lake Alexandra via the Nattai River and the 40 Foot Falls, I put it on my adults only bush walk bucket list as it’s waaaaay too long for whinging adults, let alone whinging kids!.
Lucky for me, my bucket list isn’t too long, so my partner – let’s call him Skinny Ross - and I scheduled in an afternoon that we had free and prepared to tackle the 13 kilometre bush walk.
My preparation involved telling a couple of school mums about our plans at school pick-up one afternoon.
Skinny Ross’s preparation involved downloading the route onto his phone and entering key GPS points, pulling out the hiking shoes, pulling out the fancy hiking back pack (one of those ones that has a bladder in it for water with a straw that snakes around to your mouth so you don’t even have to stop to drink if you don’t want!) and filling fancy backpack with a ham wrap (like THAT’S not going to get sweaty), a couple of mandarins, an apple and some sachets of energy gel. Because, hey! We’ll make a leisurely afternoon of it and stop every now and then to take in the view, pat ourselves on the back about how fit and fabulous we are and snack on our fresh food.
Yeah well….that’s not how it played out, but we were hopeful at least!
So we headed to the start of the Box Vale Walking Track – you can access the car park from the beginning of Boxvale Road, just near the Hume Highway overpass at Welby – optimistic about the afternoon ahead. I had even covered my feet in band-aids in preparation! See? Optimistic AND pragmatic.
And off we trotted....
BOX VALE WALKING TRACK TO THE NATTAI GORGE LOOKOUT
The Box Vale Walking Track is fantastic for families and walkers of all levels. While some parts are a bit rocky, it’s fairly easy underfoot thanks to a well-worn pathway and stairs when the path gets steep at times.
It’s a busy track – a favourite among locals and visitors – and doggos are welcome, too! . So there is always someone to nod to, chat to or ask how far the tunnel is (which is what I did the first time).
Now, the original Box Vale Tramway was created to transport coal from a mine down in the Nattai Gorge up to the main train line. The tramway is long gone but it’s path – including the deeper cuttings – remains. The cuttings give the bush walk some character and a change in scenery and propel you towards the old tunnel which is nearly 100 metres long.
We stepped this part of the walk out – confident in our bush walking prowess and ignorant about what lay ahead for the rest of the afternoon - so got to the tunnel within about 35 minutes.
You can walk through the tunnel. Kids love shouting their way through it! Me? I get the heebie jeebies about halfway down because a. it’s dark b. it’s been there over 130 years so who knows what’s happened in there? - and c. I have a ridiculously overactive imagination.
A little further on from the tunnel you come to a sign directing you towards the Nattai Gorge Lookout, another 800 metres on. It’s all downhill and a little rocky but you are rewarded with a cracking view across the Nattai Gorge. We took a few photos, watched a guy try and catch his drone and then headed 800 metres back up the way we came to tackle the next part of the bush walk.
The walk back up is a glute-burner BTW.
BOX VALE TRAMWAY DESCENT
So feeling pumped and still delightfully light on our feet, we peered over the edge of what was the original incline, which is how the coal was brought up from the gorge.
The good news? We couldn’t see the bottom so had no idea how long we would be descending for.
The bad news? We couldn’t see the bottom so had no idea how long we would be descending for.
Now, one of those fabulous school mums I told you about before had told me to pack some gloves because a thick cable runs down the side of the incline – that’s what you hold on to while you scramble down to the centre of the earth! Alright not the centre of the earth but it certainly felt close! That school mum has now been included in my Will. Those gloves were life savers.
Now, the stats say it is a 45 degree incline that runs down the mountain for 160 metres. It took us nearly an hour of huffing and puffing, slipping and sliding, cursing and scrambling to make it to the bottom. There was a delightful 20 something couple in front of us – which this 40-something couple managed to keep up with. Boom! – so we used those guys as a bit of a gauge to see what was coming up (and I felt comfortable that they would break my fall if I slid on my butt down the incline!).
Anyhoo, this bit is definitely NOT for kids or anyone unstable on their feet. It takes a bit of fitness to stay upright and work your way down the incline.
I channelled my inner Bear Grylls and felt super-adventurey (until the muscle pain across my shoulder blades kicked in the next day).
NATTAI RIVER BUSH WALK
Now this was absolutely my un-favouritest (is so a word) part. Yeah yeah it was totally beautiful, and I felt like I was a million miles from anywhere blah di blah - but man, was this track a challenge and a half!
Mother Nature has taken over and the path is an obstacle course of fallen trees, dropped branches, exposed tree roots, small rocks, medium rocks and huuuuge rocks. In fact, when we got to the bottom of our Bear Grylls experience, it took us a little while to find the actual track. We turned right at the bottom of the incline and stayed close to the (mostly dry) creek bed that led to the Nattai River. Once we hit the Nattai River, the track was more discernible – look out for red tags on the trees and signs to guide you - but pretty hard. You went up. You went down. You went up again. It’s a calves / quads / glutes burner for sure.
Now, if that track was fairly even underfoot and not so up and down, I reckon we would have got to the Forty Foot Falls track turn-off in just over an hour. We crossed the river following the path twice – fairly easy to do because of the lack of rain, water levels were low, and the river was barely flowing – and stuck close to the riverbank.
As it turned out, this part of the bush walk which was about 8 kilometres long, took us over two hours to complete.
That even included our one stop we made during the whoooooole bush walk. Long enough for me to eat a mandarin – one goddamn mandarin (I turned down the hot and sweaty ham wrap ewwwwww!) – and realise there was only one way out of this epic afternoon bush walk and that was just pushing through and finishing it! Thanks to that 45 degree Bear Grylls incline, I couldn’t turn back.
So it’s fair to say this is the part of the walk that I became very familiar with Skinny Ross’s back as he wandered ahead. He is fit (having recently lost 20 kilos – I know. I hate him too) and was practically bouncing along the pathway like Tigger!
I was not bouncing.
My not so favourite part of this section was when I slipped on some mossy rocks and fell into a branch that I swear grew arms and tried to kidnap me.
My favourite part of this section was when Skinny Ross slipped on the mandarin peel I had accidentally dropped on the rock that formed part of the river crossing.
40 FOOT FALLS
So we get to the sign-post for the 40 Foot Falls Track nearly four hours after we set off from the beginning of the Box Vale Track at Welby.
Skinny Ross looks at the sky (because apparently, he’s a professional explorer now and can tell time from cloud formations) and decides we should miss the 40 Foot Falls because we are at risk of not making it to Lake Alexandra before sunset.
I trust his judgement, yet calmly explain in completely measured non-dramatic and rational tones, that I have not walked all this way to miss the fricken 40 Foot Falls!!
He sets me a target of navigating the 1.5 kilometre return walk from the main track to the 40 Foot Falls within 20 minutes.
My ridiculously competitive nature and my dedication to the craft of honest journalism saw me turn on my heel and hit that track like a whippet!
This track is another windy and tricky pathway to the Falls. Lots of exposed tree roots, ducking and diving over and under fallen trees – someone had actually brought a chainsaw down and cut right through one of the bigger trees that had blocked the path!
At one point, I warned my partner who was now trying to keep up with me – yeah baby! – to watch out for the low branch at head height only to turn around and smack my forehead on another branch. Yay.
But the 40 Foot Falls were a sight to see. You can duck in behind them without getting wet, and we actually scrambled up a fairly big rock face to the left of the falls to get to the same height as the crest. If you walk along the rocks to the right, you’ll come across a steel ladder and stairs that take you in behind the falls and into a cave. Very cool.
40 FOOT FALLS TO LAKE ALEXANDRA
So we get back to the 40 Foot Falls signpost and yes, the sun is dipping and yes, the temperature is dropping a little and my new-found whippet energy burst to get up to the falls leaves me just in time for the final stretch of the bush walk.
It’s about now that my torso seizes up so I’m basically walking like a Barbie Doll. It’s also about now that Skinny Ross tries to feed me some sort of energy gel that tastes like engine oil. Not long after, I become reacquainted with Skinny Ross’s back as he bounces along the banks of Gibbegunyah Creek towards Lake Alexandra, leaving me and my concrete torso in his wake.
It is actually quite lush and green along this track, and I am enjoying the easy walk through the ferns until I complete the final creek crossing for the day and look up and see……..stairs (millions of them!) leading up towards the fire trail that runs underneath the Hume Highway behind Lake Alexandra.
So. Many. Stairs.
By this time, I am numb inside and have accepted the fact I am now walking at a snail’s pace while Skinny Ross / Tigger bounces ahead. And I’m fine with that because once you get up to the fire trail at the top of the stairs, it’s quite a lovely walk back to the lake! Especially seeing we were now doing it in the golden hour!
Five hours after we had set off, I see this…………
...and have never been happier to see a stretch of water in my life! And my car (we had two cars – one was parked at the beginning of the Box Vale Track and one was here at Lake Alexandra).
This is a walk for fit, fabulous and experienced bushwalkers, for sure. I will conquer it again.
But for now, I have a date with a bath full of Epson Salts and some Deep Heat. Lots of Deep Heat.