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

 

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! 

Visiting the heart of my country

“Central Australia has an inner wisdom and knowing that permeates into the soul with every breath you take. Words cannot do it justice.”

                                                                       Karin Schuett

I’ve been struggling to put into words the beauty, the majesty, the wonder I experienced on a recent trip to the heart of my country.  I can’t seem to find the right words to describe how I felt, what I saw, heard and touched. My beloved and I often found ourselves in tears at various times such was the all-encompassing  nature of our experience. It’s all locked inside me, I feel it immensely in my very being but can’t quite describe it.

A wise friend of mine summed up my lack of words very aptly when she said that “Central Australia has an inner wisdom and knowing that permeates into the soul with every breath you take. Words cannot do it justice.”

I cannot profess to understand how the Anangu, the traditional owners of Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park, feel about their land, but if what I feel is even a tiny bit similar I have a deeper and more profound respect for them, their culture and the land they love so very much.  This place is more than just land, it is a living place, a special and sacred place, a place to be protected and a place to be honoured by all.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta are World Heritage areas for both cultural and natural values. The listing of the park in 1994 for its cultural landscape honours the traditional beliefs and recognises it as one of the oldest human societies on earth. Anangu culture is strong and alive today.

Uluru draws millions of visitors a year.  The rock is a sacred monument, one can feel it’s power on approach.  My beloved and I chose to walk the circumference of the rock, a three hour walk of approximately 10.2 kiometres. What an awe-inspiring experience. Every angle, every step was so very different.  The diversity of plant life around the rock, the features of the rock and the bird life were stunning.  We especially enjoyed learning about the ancient beings who shaped the landscape as we walked.  I remember, many years ago, an aboriginal elder told me that wherever I go in this country to ask myself whose footprints I walk in.  This advice has followed me on every journey I make around my country and was especially poignant on my walk around Uluru and then later Kata Tjuta.

Our journey into one of the most astonishing landscapes in the world continued with a visit to Kata Tjuta. This landform is about 50 kilometres from Uluru and again it is a sacred site. Visitors are reminded to be respectful and to stay on the tracks provided.  We enjoyed two walks here; the Valley of the Winds walk; a spectacular steep and rocky walk in places that took us into valleys and creek beds, the views along the way were breathtaking; and the Walpa Gorge walk, a short walk in comparison.  The gorge is like a sanctuary.  It was a cool place between high russet walls ending at a stream. The plant life was rich and varied. Again, we enjoyed learning about the ancient traditions, the significance of the area, the qualities of the plants and how they were used.

More than ever, I have come away with the certainty and conviction that we are all responsible for looking after the land upon which we live. I thank the Anangu people for the privilege and honour of visiting their land.

I think I know what heaven must be like

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“The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul.”  Thomas More

“When you increase the number of gardens, you increase the number of heavens too!”  Mehmet Murat Ildan

I wandered a heavenly space last week, only for an hour or so, at the end of a busy day. It was refreshing to body, mind and soul. I wandered, entranced by the beauty and the magnitude of the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Cairns is a city in far north Queensland. It is part of Australia’s wet tropics and is framed by stunning rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Cairns is a very popular tourist destination.

I fortuitously came across the gardens on my predawn walk and determined to return that afternoon to explore. What better way to spend an afternoon when travelling for work? I did not expect to be so enthralled by the magnificence of the space and of the beauty I discovered there.

I came to learn that the Cairns Botanic Gardens has one of the best tropical plant exhibitions in Australia. The gardens developed, according to early records, in the late 1800’s when a significant quantity of land was set aside for a recreational reserve. Today it has blossomed into several botanic spaces with a diverse plant life that provides visitors with a taste of the wet tropics.

Cairns Botanic Gardens exhibits over 4000 tropical plant species from around the world. Most of the plants throughout the gardens are labelled with both their botanical and commonly used name, which provides interest. There are bromeliads (which I recognised), cycads, epiphytes, ginger plants, lots of flowers and various ferns, along with many native plants, trees and palms. I collected a brochure, one of many, on the Aboriginal Plant Use Garden and took a self-guided walk. It was a truly informative walk; I had no idea plants could be used for so many purposes other than food.

Sharing the space is an arts hub, several neat cafes, an education centre, places for picnics and open space for sprawling on the grass and relaxing. I could have stayed for hours drinking in the uniqueness of the orchids, water lilies, and the carnivorous plants (which are always fascinating) in the conservatory. On my next visit I am keen to explore the Centenary Lakes and the Gondwana Heritage Garden.

Give me a book, a garden to read it in and a cup of tea and I’m as content as can be. I enjoy the beauty of gardens and the functionality of plants. My garden at home isn’t beautiful but it does contain plants that can be cultivated for medicinal and culinary purposes. Herb and plant lore fascinate me. Doing a little research one quickly learns that gardens and the cultivation of plants have been around for thousands of years dating back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Romans, also keen gardeners, were aware of the medicinal properties of plants. Monastic gardens were created around the 8th century and Monks used the beauty of plants and flowers as a celebration of god. Later, what are referred to as psychic gardens, appeared. Basically these were herb gardens designed for academic purposes. The herbs were studied to determine their medicinal properties. The first psychic gardens began to arise in Italy around the 16th and 17th centuries and were often found mostly in the grounds of universities. These were, in essence botanic gardens, though not as we know them today.

Botanic gardens, as we know them today, did not appear until much later. A precursor saw the establishment of gardens, not for the joy or pleasure to be had in the plant itself, but for the nurturing of crops and the commercial advantages to be gained. When international trade became commonplace gardens were established in many countries to try to cultivate new species that were being brought back from expeditions to far off and exotic locations.

In the 19th and 20th centuries gardens for pleasure were created throughout Europe and the British Commonwealth. The scientific programs, previously established in “botanic” gardens, were phased out, though plants continue to be scientifically labelled for our education and enjoyment.

Botanic Gardens Conservation International claims there are currently close to 2000 botanic gardens and arboreta in 148 countries around the world with many more under construction or being planned. I’ve visited only a handful of these in several countries. Which ones have you visited? Did you have a favourite?

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