at 6.38am, my alarm went off.

at 7.45am, the North Shore, Northern & Western line train pulled out from Central Station.

at 9.55am, 50km from Sydney City at Muogamarra Nature Reserve, 19 hikers began their 10km guided trek.

Greg Ellis, our “Discovery Volunteer” reminded me of the large, shaggy dog in Disney’s My Little Mermaid, with expressive arms that flopped to make a point and a leather sunhat whose algae-colour made it look even more like a starfish. his wife was a botanist, he confessed, in-between sucks on the straw draped over his shoulder like a pet snake.

“boronias,” he announced, an arms length away from the beautiful, four-petaled blossoms. “they’re mauve-y,” he continued, as cameras and camera-phones devoured everything in sight.

there were (fuzzy) woody pears, wattles (pastel yellow pom poms), and geebungs (globular, astringent) around us, and among us there were biophysicists, manufacturing engineers, and software designers.

we didn’t hike the full 10km because we took a steep, sharp shortcut for the savings in time and the scenic heights.

“you’re fitter than you look, Greg!” cheered J., a stout, bearded man with raw, round psoriasis patches on his elbows.

Greg, with hands on his hips under a jutting belly, laughed.

these roses, banksias, and gum trees in the Nature Reserve only received visitors on six weekends each year, and each inhale was fresh and free of human smells like car exhaust, tobacco, or coffee.

except that one time when a couple walked by, smelling of Fruit Loops.