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

 

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! 

Outdoor gallery swells minds and hearts

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 He held her like a seashell, and listened to her heart.
And kissed her for eternity–nevermore apart.
Author unknown

Exposure to the elements, works of art, water and sand aren’t a typical combination. Except at Currumbin Beach. Each September the Swell Festival brings these elements together.  Lovers of  sculpture, the curious and the unsuspecting descend on the beach as the cold grip of winter gives way to the effervescence of spring. 

Many make the trip because of the sheer delight it brings to squelch through the sand from exhibit to exhibit, some come to the beach and are treated to a marvellous surprise and some, unfazed, go about the business of surfing, building sand castles or jogging along the shore, seemingly heedless of the display.  It all makes for a fascinating spectacle.  The human factor enhances the quirkiness of the art itself and the location.

This is a must see festival with works by both local and international artists. I have made the short drive the last two years to revel and delight in the extravaganza.  There is something very Daliesque about the beach being transformed by an  array of sculptures all  individually unique and interesting and collectively satisfying. The varied works appeal to my sense of play and fun.  What do you think?

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