“Hi, my friend and I are in Garigal National Park and …..we’re kinda lost.
"...We’ve been walking around for two hours and just can’t find our way out!”
Shaz listened intently to the police instructions on the mobile phone.
“We don’t actually want to be rescued,” she informed the officer, “We just want to be pointed in the right direction.”
What started out as a leisurely three-hour trek through the national park turned, instead, into a confused stumble through the thick tangle of the bush. And we were only 30km north of Sydney.
The aim of our walk was to reach a high point called the Bluff, then loop back to where we had left the car. Somewhere in the early stage of our walk, Shaz and I veered off the track without realizing it.
Three factors not in our favour
1. We were following a wildly inaccurate map
2. We had no sense of direction
3. We were easily distracted
After about an hour, we came up onto a clearing. We stood on a rock ledge, surveying the stunning bushland below us, thinking that we had, in fact, made really good timing. We expected to finish the return leg in time for coffee and cake for afternoon tea.
We had no idea at that point that we were nowhere near where we were supposed to be.
We continued through the bush looking for the next trail which, according to our inaccurate guide book, was well marked.
However, the path soon disappeared and the bush around us became thicker, gradually closing in on us. No matter which way we turned, we were stopped in our tracks by the impenetrable bush. There simply was no way forward, or sideways.
I guess we'd better back-track, we reasoned and turned to follow our footsteps back the way we came.
“We definitely came past this point,” Shaz said.
“No, we didn’t.”
“Well, we passed this tree before,” she insisted.
“Shaz, we’re further to the left than last time!”
We spent the next two hours walking around in circles, unable to find any semblance of a walking track. Everywhere we turned, we were trapped by the bush – we just could not push our way through the overgrown tangle of branches, leaves and vines. What we needed was a machete.
Shaz and I were not yet worried, though; it was still early in the day, we had plenty of water, a hat, sunscreen, lunch and, more importantly, chocolate.
Twice we managed to return to the same rock ledge where we arrived two hours earlier. From that point, we could see where we had come from and we could see where we wanted to go to. We just couldn’t see how to get there.
No, we don’t have a compass
So what do you do when you’re utterly lost in a national park in the heart of Sydney?
We called the police.
“Hi, my friend and I are in Garigal National Park and… we’re kinda lost…”
Shaz rolled her eyes when the policeman asked if we had a compass. I mean, what’s the point of knowing that you’re lost in a north-easterly direction?
The bemused policeman called the State Emergency Services. They called someone from the local council, who called us to say they were trying to locate the local Ranger. Someone would call us back shortly.
We decided it was a good time to have lunch. We were soon bored with waiting, and with no sign of imminent rescue, we decided to forge ahead on our own.
Some time later, we heard voices above us. We stumbled into a small clearing and saw people standing on the Bluff.
“Hello!” we shouted up at them.
They waived back enthusiastically.
“Can you tell us where the track is?”
Over there, they pointed.
Shaz and I looked at the thick wall of bush in front of us. "There’s no way we could get through that,” observed Shaz.
“Keep going through there,” the people above us signalled emphatically. We had serious misgivings, despite the yells of encouragement from above.
Reluctantly, we pushed our way through the dense tangle. Ten minutes later, we tumbled out from the bush.
"So how did we miss this?" I asked Shaz as we stood dumbfounded in the middle of a wide, distinctive walking track.
We followed it to the top of the Bluff within five minutes. As we sat on a rock eating the last of our chocolate, our mobile phone rang.
"Do you still need to be rescued?"
“No thanks," we told the policeman, "We found our own way out of the national park… and without a compass!”
Ooh aah moments
An important aspect of bushwalking is having an appreciation of nature. This is called an “oooh-aaah” moment.
For example: “Oooh - that’s a pretty flower” and “Aaah - look at that bird in the tree!”
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what flower or bird that is; the key here is to be easily distracted by them, as this ensures that you’re not paying attention to where you are going.
New Zealand 2008
New Zealand 2006
United Kingdom 2004
Athens Olympics 2004
Beijing to Athens 1994
I acknowledge the traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, the waters and sky. I pay my respect to them and their cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.
© 2023 HARI KOTROTSIOS