Winter hiking — in Carnarvon

The Amphitheatre

“Somewhere between the start of the trail and the end is the mystery of why we chose to walk.”  Author unknown

Rock hopping across creeks, tottering on a swing bridge, scrambling up a steep gully, traversing a shale scree slope, kicking up dust in sandy valleys, negotiating boulder lined gorges, walking on narrow ridges, basking on spacious plateaus, luxuriating in the shade of a magnificent forest and sleeping under a trillion twinkling stars. All this and more filled six glorious days on the beautiful Carnarvon Great walk. Yep. I went hiking again.

Long term readers know I am a fan of multi day hikes and have headed into the wilderness on a number of occasions. Our, (my beloved and I) recent hike took place in Carnarvon National Park. We ventured forth on an 87 kilometre, six day independent hike.

View from Battleship Spur lookout

A feature of the National Park is the Gorge. It is literally an oasis in what is classified the  ‘semi-arid’ heart of Central Queensland. Don’t be mistaken, the landscape is anything but barren or lifeless. The countryside of Central Queensland is something to behold; there is a beauty and majesty in its expansive golden hues and resilient plant life. The Carnarvon National park rises from a flat landscape and is strikingly green on approach.

The Gorge itself is about 30 kilometres long and was created in the most part by water erosion.  There is evidence of wind erosion in some areas. The walls of the gorge are white sandstone while the narrow side gorges display hues of red and pink. It’s a magical place, full of history and stunning natural features to appreciate.

Day one of the hike is on the main walking track.  You don’t immediately get away from civilisation but it is a fabulous day. While only 10 km from the visitors area to Big Bend walkers campground, hikers rack up more kilometres with the many side trips on offer.  You don’t want to miss the side trips. We dumped our packs several times to head in and explore the cool, damp lushness of the Moss Garden, the remarkable, ‘washing machine spun’ hollows of the amphitheatre, the dark, protected cavern of Ward’s Canyon and the impressive Art Gallery and Cathedral Cave — both display striking examples of aboriginal rock art; poignant reminders of the heritage of the land.

Day two is when the real fun begins. Firstly, there are no more tourists. just you, your walking buddy and nature. Secondly, hikers experience tremendous diversity over the course of the day. It begins with a walk over a boulder strewn dry creek up a small gorge followed by a scramble up an almost vertical 200 metre gully.  Yes, scramble.  I don’t normally like this sort of thing but it was immensely gratifying once I got the measure of how my 17 kilogram backpack balanced while I was on all fours grabbing onto tree roots, laying away off cliff walls and hauling myself up. It might not have been an elegantly executed ascent but it was enjoyable.  Above, the landscape changes. You are out of the gorge and heading for higher ground. There had been some back burning prior to our hike and the land was blackened, open to the sun and hot.  There are ladders to climb, narrow tracks to follow and a scree slope to negotiate as one heads for the top of Battleship Spur, over a 1000 metres above sea level,  where the view of the gorge below is gobsmacking and the weariness slips away.  The trail continues along a long grassy plateau where, if you are lucky, you’ll see wild Emus running about.  Making camp my mind wandered to the past and images of stockmen herding cattle and making camp, on that very spot, played like a movie behind my eyes.  Gadd’s walkers camp is on an open plain and is a stunning platform from which to watch the sun sink behind the trees and marvel as the sky pricks with thousands and thousands of tiny lights.

I found day 3 tedious. Compared to the previous days it was more desolate and less diverse.  It was exposed and followed dusty, sandy trails.  On reaching the top of a particularly steep uphill section there is a magnificent view of Battleship Spur and the gorge in the distance. The vantage point provided an opportunity to witness how far we’d walked.  It is possible to find shade in spots to rest and revive. A highlight is the suspension bridge that leads to the campsite. There were a number of Kookaburras around camp which came close enough for us to enjoy their proud demeanour.  The river was dry and so we were lulled to sleep by the swish of the wind, high in the trees, rather than gently cascading water.

Day four I imagine will be a favourite for many hikers as they wander through the stunning Mahogany forest. While eating breakfast we were alerted to the flight of red-tailed black cockatoos by their less than melodic screeching. A good signal to start walking. It is hard to describe the Mahogany forest. It’s peaceful, lush, cool and moist.  The trees, silvertop stringy barks, soar overhead while ferns and smaller plants grow below. We decided to throw down a tarp, lie down and take in the splendour around us for an hour. Arriving early to a bush oasis campsite allowed plenty of time for reading and relaxing. A note to potential hikers; you do need to carry toilet paper and a small shovel as a couple of campsites do not have toilets provided.

Day five is a very short day at only 13.8 kilometres and it is tempting to join it to the last day and hike out. It is possible to rise early and make the 29 kilometre hike back to the visitors centre and while I sat reading during the afternoon I felt perhaps we should still be walking. In the end, my love of nature and being away from civilisation supported sticking to the original plan.  Savouring the experience is better than belting out big kilometres and missing the landscape. The track to Cabbage Tree campsite wound through an area of grass trees with towering spikes. They looked like sentinels standing aloft.  It was fascinating and another display of the diversity this walk has to offer.

Having survived a wild and windy night with a significant rainfall we woke to a splendid, misty morning for our descent. From the tableland the trail leads close to the edge of the plateau. There are striking views and if you are lucky you’ll  see large falcons gliding the thermals. Falcons are just one of 173 species of birds in the park. The birdsong along the whole walk is delightful.

The descent is steep in sections, though it’s not all downhill, apparently you have to go up to go down. Wild dingoes can be heard howling in the distance (distance, being the operative and preferred word here).  All too soon signs of the outside world begin reappearing. In the last two kilometres there is a  side-track which leads to a lookout, with views over the mouth of Carnarvon Gorge. It is a popular day walk from the visitors area below. Despite the ‘traffic’ on the trail it is a pleasant ending to an enjoyable walk. The track descends through woodland to Carnarvon Creek and is very distinct with stone steps and a few short ladders.

The Carnarvon Great Walk is the perfect winter hike. It is closed between November and February, the hottest part of our summers.  We walked in the middle of winter and wore short-sleeved t-shirts each day and only donned a jacket in the evenings and early morning on rising.  There are bores or tanks at each campsite as running water is not guaranteed.  All water should be treated before consumption. A hat is a must and a long-sleeved shirt for the open sections will protect you from the sun’s biting rays. It is recommended hikers have experience and be self-sufficient to complete the Great Walk.

We drove from Brisbane to Carnarvon, about a 9 hour drive.  You could fly to Roma and hire a car.  I haven’t investigated tours though we did see tour buses so that could be an option also.  Families love the two camp sites; one for caravans and one for tents, at the base of the gorge.  There are cute little cabins for rent also. There is much to see and explore and something for everyone.

It’s a happy place, even the trees smile

 

Is it a plant or an animal – exploring Queensland rainforests

Why did the mushroom go to the party?
Because he’s a fungi!
Louis Tomlinson

Rainforests are magical places. There is so much to see, hear, feel and smell. There are giant trees, twisting and looping vines, melodic birds, dank soil, tumbling waterfalls, and rough, fuzzy, hairy bark along side smooth and mossy rocks. Another feature of rainforests that deserves some attention are organisms that are often overlooked. Fungi.

Fungi are fascinating. Being neither plant nor animal, despite sharing some properties common to both, they are recognised in a kingdom all of their own. There are five kingdoms used for classification of organisms: Plantae, Animalia, Fungi, Monera (bacteria), Protista (unicellular organisms). Unlike plants fungi do not photosynthesise. Having no chlorophyll they can’t convert sunlight into food. Being unable to produce their own food like other plants they scavenge it, like animals. Another trait shared with animals, or more correctly insects, is the existence of chitin in their cell walls.

Fungi’s role in the rainforest while not terribly glamorous is functional. Fungi recycle and decompose material. Many people don’t realise that the soil in rainforests is quite poor. To ensure rainforests continue to grow in this poor soil fungi break down organic material allowing nutrients to become available to plants for growth. These tiny fungi enable the huge trees to live. Now that’s pretty cool.

To be accurate, there are three basic types of fungi that feed off dead or living flora and fauna. There are Saptrotrophs that break down animal and plant remains so nutrients can be released and taken up by new living plants and animals. Parasitic fungi, on the other hand, attack living tissues and divert their resources to their own use. Mutualists digest wood to help other rainforest beings such as insects and help feed released nutrients back into growing trees. Not glamorous but definitely functional and way cool!

The dampness of the rainforest is essential, as some fungi need it to pump up their cells to keep their shape. Stronger fungi don’t need water for their form but to grow they require a high concentration of water in the wood they digest.

Have you ever hiked in a rainforest or national park and been required to dip and scrub your boots? Often this is because of the way fungi reproduce. They produce large numbers spores; some fungi release up to 200 million spores an hour. These spores are tiny and once discharged can travel huge distances. They are mostly distributed by wind but in the rainforest, the spores of many fungi are eaten and dispersed by insects and animals. Humans are animals. The grooves of hiking boots can carry many spores from place to place and be deposited when the caked on soil dries and falls out. Unwanted or troublesome strains of fungi spore can easily and inadvertently be transported this way.

Of huge importance is that rainforest fungi are not for human consumption. My best advice is to never eat fungi; many varieties can be toxic or fatal to humans. Leave the slugs, snails, cassowaries, rat kangaroos and insects to feast on fungi. Eat your trail mix instead.

Next time you are in the rainforest explore the small magic; look down, pay attention to the fallen trees and stumps. Enjoy the shape and the colour and the arrangement of the fungi on display. They play a vital role in our rainforests.

If you are not quite convinced, I leave you with some fun fungi facts.

  • Without fungi, dead plant material such as leaves, twigs and logs would pile up on the forest floor to form a massive heap as high as the canopy.
  • Some fungi glow in the dark.
  • It is possible there are more fungi than plants or animals.
  • One individual fungus of the species Armillaria bulbosa covers an area of 15 hectares. It weighs an estimated100 tonnes (the same as an adult blue whale), and is thought to be over 1500 years old.

My plans went awry today and it was great!

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh

Wilderness places and the natural world are antidotes for an anxious mind and tired body. I went for a drive today.  It was longer than expected ― the way was blocked by a landslide close to my destination. I rerouted, the long way, and after more hours than intended I arrived high up in the hinterland where a cool breeze whispered around my body and danced in my hair.

I set out with the intention of shrugging off months of overwork and brain drain on a 17 kilometre walk. Alas, it was not to be. The track was closed due to recent weather events and was unsafe. This was not shaping up to be the day or the soothing balm I had intended. Not to be deterred I opted for a much shorter though highly picturesque walk and drank in the gifts around me.

 

My polyester castle in the forest

My whinstone house my castle is, I have my own four walls.
                                                                        Thomas Carlyle

In my plans for this year I resolved to go on a solo overnight hike. I decided to experience life this year through being more adventurous, for me anyway.  Sometimes adventure is simply venturing out the front door and going some place new and sometimes adventure is, well, just what we expect adventure to be: an exploit or escapade.  I’m no newcomer to multi-day hikes but I usually embark on them with my beloved at my side. Going solo, a reckless escapade to some, is to me a compelling  imperative.

I am most at peace in nature and I have a thing for sleeping with my back to the earth, and while I love to share these experiences I want to experience something different.  I want to go it alone, to experience real surrender and solitude and to rely totally on myself, outside the normal routines of life. I am getting closer to my goal each day.

I bought my own tent last week. I’m pretty chuffed. My research turned up a neat little three season tent made for one.  It’s perfect for the walks I want to do but not great for snow and ice but I don’t plan on going to Everest anytime soon. I ordered my tent online and it arrived two days later.  I was bouncing with excitement as I collected my package from the post office. The Postie asked if I was going camping.  I’m doing more than camping.  I’m escaping.

More exhilarating is that I actually managed to erect the tent without help in about three minutes flat.  I known that’s not exactly a huge achievement but when one defers tasks to another on a regular basis it is affirming to know you’re capable.  It’s funny how a little thing like this can cause so much excitement.

My beloved was horrified at its size.
“It’s small.”
Exactly – it’s meant to be.
My polyester castle is roomy enough to sleep in and wriggle in and out of clothes. It’s a shelter from the elements and bugs and best of all, it’s only 1.3 kilograms.  What else would a girl need? Well, as luck would have it, the one other thing that I did want was a vestibule for my hiking pack and voila, this little tent has a very generous space for that.

The weeks draw closer to my first solo overnight hike and I find I am well prepared. I have my tent, my permit and a spirit for adventure. I know roughing it outdoors isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but there is something magical about choosing a spot of rough ground to call home for the night that transforms it.  That rough bit of ground, a small nook in the woods, begins to transform into a haven, a place of comfort and rest by the time one has pitched a tent and claimed a spot for the night. For a long time now I have delighted in the solace of nature, the calm it brings and the return to simplicity and I am looking forward to returning to it.  I’ll let you know how it all goes.

 

Walk the Australian Alps with me

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”
― John Muir, Our National Parks

Okay – we don’t have Alps in Australia like Europe but we do have a beautiful Alpine area in Victoria that is the backdrop for a sensational new walk aptly called the Great Alpine Walk. It’s a 655km one way walk beginning at Walhalla and ending near Canberra.  It is estimated to take approximately 5-8 weeks to complete and is graded 4-5, which recommends moderate to experienced bushwalking experience as there are some sections that are unmarked, rough or very steep.

The walk extends across diverse landscapes of forest, alpine grassland, ridges, high plains and, in the right season, snow-capped mountains. It’s a walk full of history. The Australian Alps is the traditional Country of the Bidawal, Dhudhuroa, Gunaikurnai, Jaithmathang, Taungurong and Nindi-Ngudjam Ngarigu Monero peoples and is very precious indeed. There is evidence of white pioneering cattlemen’s huts, logging and the Hydro Electric Power Scheme along the way.

Over use has damaged the sensitive ecosystem of the high plains and for many years conservationists lobbied to preserve the area as national park.  Finally in 1989 a number of small national parks were joined to create the larger Alpine National Park to protect the fragile landscape, flora and fauna.

Over the Christmas New Year period I hiked the iconic Falls Creek to Mt Hotham section of the trail with my beloved.  What better way to welcome in the New Year than in the wilderness, breathing in the fresh air, sleeping under the stars with only the essentials at hand?

This section of the trail is a three-day 37km crossing which links the Alpine resort villages of Falls Creek and Mt Hotham. It’s a very achievable walk and does not require much bushwalking experience. Hikers are rewarded with stunningly picturesque views from the high plains, the breathtaking ambiance of the snow gum forests and the beauty of plains quilted with wildflowers.  Some of the flat lands reminded me of walking in the low-lying wetlands of Dartmoor and the heather moors of Scotland, with the woody heath like shrubs in abundance. I definitely felt comfortable and at home here.

Just a word of advice – sunscreen up; even if it is overcast. The sun on the high plains is strong as are the winds. On day two of the hike there isn’t much shelter to be had so being protected from the elements is important. Don’t think there’ll be a nice rock or tree to pull up under for a lunch break either.  Up there just find a nice dry spot to plonk down and enjoy the expansive landscape.

The two campsites are completely different in their magnificence. Cope Hut campsite is set amongst the snowgums on the Bogong High Plains and near the first hut in the area purpose-built for tourists. In bad weather hikers shelter in the hut, which is actually quite spacious and relatively comfortable. We luxuriated on New year’s eve under a majestic tree, looking out over the blue hued landscape dotted with skeleton like trees – snow-white and bare of foliage. From our perch (all campsites are on platforms, we rose to a glorious day and drank in the beauty that lay before us . Dibbins Hut campsite was reached by a long decent onto a snow grass plain.  We felt very sheltered here surrounded by mountains.  Our afternoon was spent in the shade by the creek fed by the Cobungra River looking across the plains at the grass swaying in the afternoon breeze. It was a very peaceful and as luck would have it we were joined only by one other couple.

A permit is required to camp at campsites and sites are allocated on booking. Each campsite has a drop toilet and we were grateful we’d taken our own loo paper with us.  Water can be collected at the tank at Cope Hut and from the stream at Dibbins.  We always sterilise water before drinking.

The Falls Creek to Mt Hotham walk can be walked in either direction though all the literature we read from Victorian Parks suggested the direction we did it.  There’s a small problem following this advice though. There is a lack of transfer options in summer. Most hikers on the track began (parked their car) at Falls Creek and caught the shuttle, that runs only on Saturday in summer, over to Hotham. Another couple did a four hour car shuttle prior to beginning the walk so they had a car at the start and end of the walk. Wanting to choose the date we began and the direction we walked only one option was open to us, it was a pretty expensive option but where there’s a will, there’s  always a way.  We drove to Hotham and had Brian from the Mt Beauty taxi service collect us and drive us back to Falls Creek. It’s a definite benefit in having your own transport at the end of a walk.

There is so much to discover on this walk.  While I am always delighted by new landscapes, flora and fauna the touch of history was an additional bonus I hadn’t expected. Inspecting the pioneering huts and reading some of the information boards in the early section of the walk was enlightening and added a whole different perspective to my time there. If you plan on going be aware that accessibility is between November and April.  Perhaps if you are a cross-country skier you’d make the crossing in the winter months.

For a sense of what the walk is like, check out the video my beloved made of our time there.  Enjoy!

GOW – it’s just WOW!

A freedom and peace settle over me when I tie on my boots and shrug on my  pack. Hiking is a salve for my soul and my sanity.      Shannyn Steel

Multi day hikes while tough going at times are rejuvenating for me. Being on track with all the essentials on my back and my beloved by my side is one of the best ways for me to unwind, recalibrate and reconnect with nature. The Great Ocean Walk (GOW) allowed me to do all that, and more.

The GOW is located in Victoria, Australia, and runs through the Great Otway and Port Campbell national parks. It’s designed to be an eight-day hike through forest, across rocky shorelines and sandy beaches and atop exposed and rugged cliff tops, totalling 100 km.

We made the decision to complete the walk in 6 days, cutting down on the amount of food we needed to carry and also, allowing time for us to go off and explore other areas of Victoria.  Our GOW itinerary looked like this:

Day 1: 10 km from Apollo Bay to Elliot Ridge
Day 2 (combine days 2 and 3) 23 km Elliot Ridge to Cape Otway
Day 3 (combine days 4 and 5) 24 km Cape Otway to Johanna Beach
Day 4 14 km Johanna Beach to Ryan’s Den
Day 5 13 km Ryan’s Den to Devils Kitchen
Day 6 16/23 km Devils Kitchen to 12 Apostles (and back to the car).

To give an indication of time, we travelled at approximately 3 km an hour. Which is not terribly fast though perhaps an average speed. Unpacked I can walk 6 km in an hour at a moderate pace.

The memory I will hold of this walk is of its incredible diversity. Passing though so many different landscapes with varying vegetation and fauna was a highlight. Having to be aware of the tides to make river crossings and rock scrambles was a novelty for me.

The campsites are well set out. We pre-booked our sites. There are small numbers of official sites at each campground ensuring a comfortable stay for those on track. We met five other small parties on the walk but were expecting many, many more being the Christmas holiday season so we were pleasantly surprised by the peace, tranquility and chance to enjoy the remoteness of a wilderness hike.

Water was plentiful in the tanks at the campsites due to recent rains. It’s always advisable to carry water when unsure. There are plenty of rivers along the way, though I’d always recommend sterilizing your water, whether from tank or river, before drinking. Campsites were equipped with drop toilets, not the dreadful chemical, eye burning, smelly ones either, another pleasant surprise. Some of them had amazing views. Another added bonus is the no car access to the walk-in campgrounds, making for peaceful afternoons and evenings.

We hiked over the Christmas holiday period, that’s high summer in Australia. We had two very hot days and found them quite difficult to deal with, we drank more than three litres of water each on those days. It rained a couple of nights and was a little showery one morning, cooling things down. We watched fog roll in from the sea and also inland. Friends advise winter is bitterly cold, though those of you from the British Isles might not mind that.  I might advise a September hike – though Victorian weather is extremely variable and it’s anyone’s guess as to what conditions you might face in any season. Best to be prepared for all conditions regardless of when you walk.

The trickiest part of the whole walk was organising transfers.  Having driven from Queensland nearly 2000 km away we wanted to park at the end of the walk for ease of departure. While there are several options for transfers we were only able to connect with  the Timboon Taxi service. It cost considerably more than a bus trip but the convenience outweighed the price. V line buses run every second day and didn’t line up with our dates, another transfer service did not return calls so the taxi was a great option. We were collected from the Princetown Recreation Reserve, where we parked for the small fee of $20 for six days (7 kms from the end of the walk) and were driven back to the beginning in Apollo Bay. While we carried all our food and essentials our taxi driver told us tales of people providing him with shopping lists and paying him to make food drops at each campsite. Nicely extravagant! That’s hiking in style, for sure.

The Great Ocean Road is popular with tourists. It was built by World War I returned soldiers, 3000 in fact, who tackled the difficult terrain and variable weather to build a road that links the region’s coastal towns. The GOW ends at the very popular Twelve Apostles, along the Great Ocean Road, where the crowds are a little disconcerting after 6 days of wilderness but it’s a majestic end to a brilliant walk.

The Gunditjmara people, the traditional owners of the land, ask hikers to take good care of the land they walk on and wish them a visit filled with great experiences, so that part of their Country will remain with you in good memories. I will always have good memories of that beautiful country and am grateful for the opportunity to explore and experience it for myself. I’d like to share a little of it with you in a video my beloved put together of our time on the GOW.  Enjoy! 

Hiking the Larapinta

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Of all the paths you take in life make sure a few of them are dirt.
John Muir

My beloved and I recently spent six days hiking on the Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory, Australia.  I sat just now with the intention of sharing the experience with you but I’m stuck. All that will come is a factual account as the words escape me to explain the experience that is locked away, savouring and maturing in my heart, mind and body. It was a walk of some enormity, not in days, or distance necessarily but in awe. Awe for my country, awe for the man I was walking with (my life partner), awe that I, without much preparation, managed to walk with enjoyment and relative ease. It was a time of reconnecting; with each other, our individual selves and with nature. It was an immeasurably personal, spiritual and sacred time that I don’t feel I can justly explain.  I’ll  see if I can share a little of what the hike was like and perhaps my words will unlock and tumble forth as I go.

Part of the Larapinta trail was established in the 1990s, with an extension added around 2002. More recent changes and upgrades have been made in the last several years, so it is one of the newest and very popular long walks in Australia. In its entirety it is 223 km and follows the West MacDonald Ranges. There are twelve sections so hikers can choose to walk the length of the track or sections of the track as time permits. We had six days so we walked three sections from Ellery Creek to Standley Chasm. There are no hiking fees though some camp grounds do have a small fee, making this one of the most affordable walks I’ve done.

We carried food for six days, though food drops can be arranged at several key junctures for those walking further; a handy service considering the weight of packs. My beloved carried our tent, gas stove and majority of our water with a pack weighing over 25 kilograms, mine was about 19- 20 kilos at the outset, though joyously lightened with each meal. Water was plentiful on the track. Tanks were available at each trailhead, though between trailheads we carried at least 8 litres a day. Water sterilisation is strongly advised as the water may be sourced from bores in the drier months. The water we came across in creeks and gullies was not terribly inviting and during the warmer months when there is little rain there would be a tremendous shortage of drinkable natural water.

We walked in our winter, June/ July, the best time for an arid zone hike. The temperatures were around 20 to 22 degrees during the day but my goodness that sun had some sting in it. I cannot imagine the heat in the hotter months, it must be debilitating. We drank litres of water a day and were always grateful for the shade of a tree or rock or a cool breeze during our rest stops. A hat and sunscreen are essential, a long sleeved shirt is advised. I’m used to walking in humidity here in Australia so the dry air was a change and this too necessitated the intake of large quantities of water for hydration. At night the temperatures plunged to single digits, between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius so thermals and down jackets came out around camp.

Each section of the walk was breathtaking; the landscape and its features, the rock, the plants, the colours. We were mesmerised. There had been an unseasonal amount of rain in recent times and so the landscape was green. Where I had envisioned a red and raw earth, stripped of vegetation, we were instead rewarded with an arid kind of lushness. Many wild flowers were in bloom. The colours of these beauties were yellow, green, purple, white and red. Even the leaves of the trees and bushes were stunning in their many shades of green from silver grey through to army green. We crossed plains, hiked up and across saddles, climbed bluffs and plodded down gorges. Many waded through water in creeks, some waist deep, but we managed to find paths around and once we scrambled over gorge walls to avoid an early morning dip in very cool waters.

We camped in some beautiful spots. Ellery Creek campground is accessible by vehicles and so we discovered many family groups with caravans and RVs as well as a few bike riders and a couple of other walkers. Our second night was quiet by comparison. Rocky Gully was a little flat spot hidden away along, well, a rocky gully. We were one of three small groups that night. Here we met a family of three who were walking the same sections of the trail as us, in the same time as us. Day three saw us arrive at Hugh Gorge camp site. This one too was accessible by vehicle but there were only our trail buddies and us for the evening. My beloved and I made our camp on the sandy banks of a dry creek bed where we could look up at the walls of the gorge we were to travel through the next day. Fringe Lily campsite was one of my favourites. On arrival our trail buddies warned us there was a party of women bathing naked in the creek. Avoiding them my beloved trekked further down the gorge, and I mean much further. After a day of walking I wondered why he was adding another several kilometres to the tally and why we were scrambling over rocks and traversing rocky shelves but when I saw what he had discovered I was pretty impressed. Our camp was a secluded spot on a sandy creek bed with high rock walls on one side and rolling hills on the other. We enjoyed watching the reflection of the sunset in a shallow pool nearby. It was an oasis in the desert. On day four we arrive tired and hot at Birthday Waterhole. We did not camp at the waterhole but instead in the allocated campground with just our family of three to share with. Our plot was surrounded by a grove of trees and we were close to the many birds who sang us into the evening and heralded the next day. Our final camp, on top of Brinkley Bluff, had panoramic views.  After making camp quite early we sat with tea in hand and absorbed vast and beautiful landscape before us. We’d found a little sheltered wall to tuck into and couldn’t have been more pleased. It is hard to say if one place was nicer than the others, all were unique and endearing in their own particular way. I love the sense of ease that comes with pitching a tent and cooking on a portable stove.

John Muir says it best, in every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks. This walker is still processing, nurturing and treasuring the experience. I am filled with the joy of sharing every step of this journey with my beloved. I am filled with the sacredness and spirit of my country. I am filled with the wonder of adventure. This experience is so firmly held in the chambers of my heart, in the recesses of my mind and in the fluid movements of my body that I have no need of words to reflect and recall for myself. But as I hoped to share my adventure with you, perhaps, since words fail me, my photographs can explain some of the magnificence of what I experienced, so you too can share the wonders of the Larapinta Trail.

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Coastal walking, it’s gold.

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When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.  Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve been fortunate to visit several places by the sea of late and I’ve taken full advantage of these visits to indulge with morning walks along the shoreline as well as afternoon frolics. I find the energy of the ocean and a sandy beach satisfies the body, soothes the soul and clears the mind.  It’s hard for me to go long periods of time before returning for more.

After a particularly busy few weeks at work and finding myself unaccompanied for the weekend I went in search of a local walk. My objective was to get out into the fresh air, collect some geocaches and walk for hours. So I hopped onto the geocaching website and found a power tail, by the sea.

I should briefly explain what geocaching is and what power trails are. I was introduced to the world of geocaching about five years ago by my son. At first, I didn’t quite understand how it worked but I was soon hooked once I discovered the places it took me, that it involved getting outdoors and there was a little challenge built-in (I’m a sucker for a challenge). It ticked the boxes for a  fun pastime.

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See those little smiley faces? They represent the caches I found on my walk.

I describe geocaching as being like a treasure hunt. More officially, it is an activity or pastime in which an item, or a container holding a number of items, is hidden at a particular location for GPS users to find by means of coordinates posted on the internet. Once you find a cache you sign the logbook inside, get back on the net and log your find. This creates your personal tally. I have, to date, found 771 caches. Caches are hidden all around the world. A power trail is a path with a large number of caches placed within close proximity to each other. Power trails are a fun way to quickly increase your find count.

Back to my amazing discovery. I located a power trail of about 24 caches along the coast, an hour’s drive from home. Perfect! I packed a small backpack with hat, water, phone (to use the GPS system), pen to log caches, camera to snap the view and sunscreen. Then I was on my way.

The walk I completed is part of a longer walk referred to as the Oceanway which consists of 36 kilometres of walking trails and tracks developed by the Gold Coast City Council. These paths meander along the coast, the ocean is not always in sight but you can always hear the crashing of waves and smell the sea spray. I was delighted with this walk and would rate it as one of the best short walks I’ve done.  The walking path led me across sand dunes, through Casuarina scrub and along beachside board walks. Parts of the walk were quite isolated with little foot traffic, only the occasional bike rider and the beautiful melody of birds. It’s an easy walk along graded tracks and trails, perfect for families to bike ride along. I revelled in the variety, the seclusion to hunt for my caches and the space to clear my head without sharing the path with hoards of people. Though it was surreal at times to step out of scrub onto well maintained pathways fronting luxury accommodation and popular beaches. Despite the small sections of peopled track I was able to power along relatively unimpeded.

I am keen to return and complete the full length of the coastal walk to begin at the spit/ seaway and continue across the state border into New South Wales. It’s not a challenging walk in terms of gradient but it does satisfy my hunger to cover distance. I’ve long had my heart set on returning to Scotland and Cornwall to walk the wild and windswept coastlines. In the meantime, I can satisfy my heart’s desire to meander along the coast with this and a few other coastal walks I’ve discovered at home.

I thrive in the world’s wilderness areas and along her coastlines, the lure is almost primordial. Is there a place that calls to you?

 

 

 

Sometimes you have to be your own cheerleader

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Make sure your worst enemy is not living between your own two ears.
Laird Hamilton

I found myself alone on a long and steep uphill section of track from Phakdingma, 2610 m above sea level, to Namche Bazaar (3400 m above sea level).  I was alone, hot and battling a tummy bug. Scuttling off the track to allow for yak and donkey trains to pass, I realised I was feeling pretty miserable. I was tired and I didn’t feel like going on. Exhausted, I realised I had to be my own cheerleader. I had to keep going. I had to dig deep and find the internal strength to carry me forward.

I hear you ask querulously, “Surely there was little choice?” That’s true. I had to keep going. There was nothing to be gained in stopping and turning back wasn’t an option.  For me, the biggest battle isn’t the mountain in front of me, the altitude or the physical hurdle to be cleared but the battle in my mind.

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Interestingly, on this day, I noticed little negative self talk. There was, I’ll admit, quite a bit of exclaiming, harrumphing and a few ‘motivational’ “Oh shits”. But on the whole the greatest motivator was my internal cheerleader. That bright and bouncing part of myself that wasn’t covered in dust, struggling for air, needing the bathroom, was congratulating my body for its efforts. The little ra ra girl who shook her pom poms and kept me going up that hill was tireless (sounds like I was also delusional doesn’t it?)

In life there won’t always be people around to give you a boost, to cheer for and encourage you. Often, people won’t understand your goals, your passions, your journey. Sometimes people will try to dissuade you. At other times people will be so focussed on looking after themselves they can’t spare any energy to offer you support. In these situations we all need to find our own inner cheerleader. At these times we need to set our sights on our end game. We have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and motivate and encourage ourselves when the going gets tough,  when we reach key milestones and to simply keep our morale high and our focus narrowed.

An inner cheerleader is pretty handy to foster in good times also. We all need a high-five when things are running smoothly too.

Don’t be afraid of talking to yourself, it’s the only way to be sure someone is listening.                                              

 Franklin P Jones

Go ahead, shake those pom poms!

Hiking mighty Maroon

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 “My thoughts have climbed mountains and I’ve overcome boundaries set by the mind.”
― Jeremy Limn

I found myself at the base of another mountain last weekend, poised for the long hike up. This time I had company, my gorgeous husband and his mate. Now, company on a hike up a steep mountain might appeal to some. Hiking with one’s husband should indeed be a welcome opportunity to spend quality time together. Yes. Normally that would be true. However, you must take into account that my beloved is a super fit, deeply driven and totally focused mountain climber, in the true sense of the term. He climbs rocks all over the world and he has added Alpine climbing to his repertoire.  He’s driven. Did I say that already?  And he’s preparing to summit a Himalayan mountain in a few weeks time.

As you can imagine, my idea of a casual mountain stroll, taking in nature and enjoying the view, doesn’t necessarily match with his blinkered view of getting to the top in the shortest time possible.  Add to that my slow return to something slightly resembling fitness and I started to get myself in a tizz.

It all began a week ago when beloved husband asked if I’d like to hike Mt Maroon the following weekend. He mentioned his mate, probably slightly fitter than I but without recent hiking fitness under his belt, would join us. I agreed thinking it sounded like a nice morning out.  The day before the hike  I started to get scratchy about the whole thing. You see, I made the fateful error of doing some research.

Is forewarned better than ignorance? I’m not so sure. Accounts from other hikers suggested the hike was steep to vertical in sections. Some took six to eight hours to complete it. Many mentioned it was pretty hard on the knees. They all agreed the view from the top was stunning. I’m all for a view when I can get it but six hours? Seriously? I hadn’t planned on that one.  Okay, there’s nothing wrong with a six-hour hike, I’ve done longer but I was under the impression from my super lean, super fit hubby that it would take about three hours (he usually runs up in 45 minutes. See the pressure I was under!?).  I don’t do vertical elegantly and I certainly don’t love the jelly leg, arthritic joint pain that follows a steep descent. My head and heart were in conflict.  I couldn’t bail, as I too was in need of preparation for  a Himalayan trek. There was nothing for it but to suck it up and strap on my big girl hiking boots.

Sunrise on the way to the mountian.

Sunrise on the way to the mountain.

The drive from my home town of Brisbane, in southeast Queensland, took approximately and hour and a half. Leaving early ensured we had a nice cool start. The early stages of the walk are through open forest. It’s fairly gentle but certainly not flat. In fact, it isn’t long before the track becomes quite steep going. We rose very quickly leaving the surrounding farmlands behind us. The views were spectacular.

Everything was looking good for me, it was sweaty, heart pumping work but pleasant enough with a gentle cool breeze.  Until the gully (read gorge). Yep, there was a vertical section. While I was initially freaked out it turned out to be a fairly enjoyable, though strenuous scramble. We made use of tree roots and stone pockets to pull ourselves up. At one stage my husband told me to use my feet to bridge between the rocks??? Must be a climbing term. Anyway, it was a handy tip, once my brain wrapped itself a round the meaning.  I can’t say how long this section lasted, maybe fifteen, twenty minutes.  Once through the gully we could see the prize. The top of the mountain.

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A pleasant stroll through forest and a scrambly traverse up some rock slabs had us at the top in no time, where the biggest cairn I’ve seen, since hiking Ben Nevis, marked our arrival. As luck would have it, we arrived soon after  two parties departed and so, we had the summit to ourselves.  I can’t describe the view. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. We had an unimpeded 360 degree view of the national park, surrounding farms and the lake. There wasn’t a sound to be heard, man-made or otherwise. No cars, no planes, no people. It was superb.

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I was pretty excited to have completed the hike. I came away relatively unscathed, only one small scratch and a nasty egg on my shin from a rock, hidden amongst foliage, that I wacked good and proper on my descent.  We moved pretty consistently, with minimal rests (there was considerable huffing and puffing),  so the hike took us an hour and forty minutes up and an hour and twenty return. Not too bad after all my fussing. The track isn’t well-defined. In places it’s hard to know if you are on a track at all. I’m glad I was with someone who was familiar with the area.

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Mt Maroon forms part of the McPherson Range in the Mount Barney National Park. It is a 967 m peak surrounded by other mountains; Barney, Earnest, Clunie, May, Ballow and Mt Lindesay. It was named Maroon after the first grazing property in the area but it’s true, and original, name is Wahlmoorum which means sand goanna in the Yuggera language.

The national park has extremely varied vegetation with open forests around the foothills of the peaks, subtropical rainforest above 600 m and heath shrublands towards the summits. There are endangered and near threatened plant species in the National park. This knowledge really does make you want to walk gently on the earth and adds to the awe of the place.

As for the rock itself, Mount Maroon consists mainly of rhyolite. Rhyolite can be used to invigorate your emotional state and provide energy, relieve depression and lethargy. I’m not sure I felt the energy on the way up but I certainly felt the love once we reached the car park at the end of the hike. I was definitely rejuvenated.

What mountain have you found yourself scaling lately?

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