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NSW 5 day Christmas
By Christo Peters - Wed 22 Feb 2023 2:34am

We didn’t know we’d be asked to write a report about the Christmas 5 Days until we met Joolz at the Hobart shorts, but we’re delighted for the chance to reflect on the great terrain and excellent events.

The Xmas 5 Days in 2022 was held west of the Blue Mountains, on the traditional lands of Wiradjuri people. They named the area ‘Waller-owang, plenty of water’. That name was felt a bit painfully by the event organisers, when flooding gouged out access roads to Long Swamp, the location of Day 3 courses. National Parks subsequently removed access permission, giving the NSW Stingers club little more than a month to identify a new location and a couple of weeks to plan new courses on it.

Despite the hiccup we found Xmas 5 Days as enjoyable as the subsequent the Oceania Champs and the Hobart Shorts, our ‘main events’. It was a conversation with Lizzie Ingham that had inspired us to also enter NSW’s annual signature event. After a hectic Christmas day in Wellington visiting 3 families, we flew to Sydney on Boxing Day, had a swim at Maroubra Beach and then drove 160km to our motel in Wallerawang (near Lithgow in the Tablelands). It gradually dawned on us why the lodge was called Black Gold Motel, as 2 or 3 trains thundered past each day with their 50 wagons of ‘black gold’ and the nearby conveyor belts transported the coal from the mines to the thermal power stations. Wallerawang was also in view of the cooling towers at Mt Piper power station, the site of Day 2’s event. 

Day 1 – 4 events were held in forest areas and Day 5 was on a campus. Being up in the tablelands, our GPS logs reveals that the event courses ranged from a minimum altitude of 860m to a maximum of 1050m.

Being up high made for nice cool summery temperatures – helped by the scheduling of morning runs – all starts before 9:30am. And despite all the rain of the previous months and during one or two nights we had fine running weather except for Day 4. We ran in rolling hills covered in traditional Australian forest – full of eucalypts, forest litter, occasional swamps, and kookaburras laughing at the many kangaroos trying to evade the invaders.

Nearly 250 competitors ran each event, but with just a handful from NZ. Lizzie Ingham ran the Men A (Hard #1) courses on all 5 Days. Also running up a grade (or two) was OHV member Ted van Geldermalsen on the Men B, Hard #2 courses. Julia, Alan and Kyla Moore, from PAPO, were also there, with Kyla running well in Women B. Pat and I ran Men D and Women C, or the Hard #4 course (we entered the W and M grades so that we ran the same courses to directly compare splits and routes). 

Event 1 was in Falnash Forest, with courses alongside Thompson’s Creek. The main control feature was termite mounds.

Event 2 was near the Mt Piper Power Station. What an incredible place. This is an operational thermal power plant (unlike the one in Wallerawang) but it is due to close down in about 2035 as Australia switches to renewable energy.

Event 3 was going to be in Long Swamp, however these were moved to Baal Bone Junction near Cullen Bullen (‘Lyre Bird’ in Wiradjuri) in the Ben Bullen National Park. This area introduced us to complex rock features, in addition to our week so far of spur-gully forest orienteering. 

Event 4 was at Gardens of Stone National Park. This was diabolical. Control 1 was 750m from the start in supposedly runnable forest but was actually fast walking. Growth on the ground made it hard to spot the termite mounds. The terrain was gently and evenly sloped and featureless, apart from the odd cave and lake. Rain also impeded map-reading and movement through the terrain. Ocean took 43 min for the first control and Pat wasn’t much quicker. In post analysis we needed to have maintained better contact with the map using intermediate attack points and all the skills that we know but hadn’t applied – including accurate bearing and pace counting (but who wants to pace count 750m?).

Event 5’s sprint at Blue Mountains Grammar School was a welcome way to cap off a fun week of orienteering.

The forest events had many termite mounds, mapped with the brown triangle symbol. These were up to 1.5m in height – large enough to hide a control flag behind. At a certain angle, tree stumps look just like termite mounds too, so these challenged our navigation. Distinctive trees in the eucalypt forest included pines, with the final control in Day 3 at Baal Bone Junction a decorated Christmas tree. It is always fun to spot kangaroos and wallabies while out on Australian courses. Ocean had a particularly close encounter on Day 2 at Mt Piper. Running down a steep track, she almost collided with a kangaroo bounding up the track: it swerved to avoid but was so close she could have reached out and touched it. Poor Wambuwany!
Thanks to Ocean Mercier & Pat van Berkel for the write-up

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