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!

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.

In training, with purpose and passion

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Purpose is the reason you journey, passion is the fire that lights your way.
Author unknown

I went for a walk yesterday.  No big deal, yet a few things surprised me about this.  You see, it was a pretty long walk. I’d decided to head off for a 23 k stroll and, as Mother Nature would have it, it was blowing a gale with winter westerly winds reaching 41 kilometres throughout the day (pretty wild and woolly for an urban area). The wind chill made the already low temperatures of about 7-10 feel at least a couple of degrees cooler, and that’s pretty low for this normally tropical neck of the woods.

I concede,  these temps  and wind speeds  are pretty moderate, almost nothing in comparison to other places in the world. When I consider my husband sat atop Mt Cook in 169 km winds, I’m almost embarrassed.  Anyway, why am I proud of myself in light of this information? Well, to walk twenty-three kilometres  in a day is a serious undertaking for me and I usually balk at roaming about in weather, preferring instead to rug up, sip tea and read in a quiet, sheltered nook inside.  I can usually find, without much trouble, any small excuse to delay such an undertaking.

But yesterday was different. I was excited about heading off on this walk. I was focused on it and  determined. I’d packed, I had decided what to wear to minimise bulk and excess (should it warm up) yet stay warm. I had  transportable food for lunch, water for hydration. I was set. Not even the remote possibility of a coffee and a chat with my son, who was visiting, stopped me from stepping out the door and heading off into the wild blue morning.

So what was different about yesterday?  (I questioned this myself as I was on my home stretch.)

I had purpose and I had passion.  Two key ingredients to making anything possible.

Since returning from a life changing trip to Nepal I’ve had a hunger. A gnawing need to do something of value and I’ve had an itch to challenge myself physically, in ways I’ve not yet explored ( a crazy thing for someone who hasn’t been a sporting type and nearing, okay, past but just past, middle age). I am temporarily satisfying these burning desires by supporting research for Mitochondrial Disease by joining The Bloody Long Walk.  It’s a  35 kilometre one day walk across my fair city. I’m walking on my own, though I won’t be alone by any means and while I haven’t found anyone willing to join me for the outing I have had many wonderful people support my quest with donations and playful promises to cheer me on from their armchairs while sipping tea. I am heartily warmed by their faith in me, their goodwill and their kindness in donating to this great cause.

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So, I stepped outside, into a blustery day, to continue my training for this event. During a few days at the beach last week I extended my usual five kilometre walk to a few 12 and 14 k efforts before breakfast. It’s not to hard when you get to see the sun come up over the ocean. Look, I know it’s only a walk, it’s not like I’m running a marathon or doing a triathlon but 35 kilometres in a day takes some planning. With a 5 am shuttle bus ride to the starting line and a 7 o’clock kick off I wanted to get a sense of how long it might take me. Yesterday was a good gauge. I had some questions answered about equipment, supplies etc, which was handy. But most of all I really enjoyed myself. I packed my iPod, something I rarely use, thinking I might get bored. It stayed in the bottom of my pack.  Instead, I simply enjoyed just being. I was in the moment. There were no thoughts of what else had to be done, where else I could be. I was purposefully engaged and I was enlivened by it, as well as by the wind and the crisp air.

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Having this small challenge ahead of me is providing a focus and a purpose that is shaping my thoughts and actions in ways I am quietly amazed by. There is a saying that ‘the purpose of life is a life with purpose’ and boy does it make a difference.

What is driving you forward at the moment?

If you are interested in finding out more about Mitochondrial Disease and how you too can help, click here.

Shannyn