Thursday, 31 December 2015

A Year of Adventure - so what was our favourite place?

This blog post is the result of some serious soul searching, a lot of deep thought and consideration, and an awful lot of ruthless culling! Just how do you choose your 'favourite' from a year-long list of adventures!

In November 2014, we set off on a journey around Australia to explore unseen wild lands. In preparation for this, Caz and I sold or gave away all of our domestic possessions - our furniture, pictures, kitchenware, music, clothing, television, stereo, pot plants - you name it! Even some old, dearly loved, adventure equipment, got off-loaded - scuba diving gear and sea kayak! Just about everything went out the door and it felt great! On top of that we quit our days jobs and waved farewell to our home town.

What we held on to was our core adventure gear i.e. backpacks, ropes, walking gear and boots, whitewater raft, mountain bikes and panniers. For 12 months we lived out of our car, or our backpacks, or our raft, or our bike panniers. Many of our trips have made it onto this blog page over the past 12 months - the Jatbula Trail, Mt Murchison in Tasmania, the Walls of Jerusalem, the Kimberley, the Snowy River, Victoria's amazing Alpine National Park and the South-West of Western Australia. Many other stories are still to be told - our amazing 10 day whitewater rafting journey down the Shoalhaven River, walking the Mt Anne circuit in Tasmania, encountering swathes of brilliant wildflowers in the Pilbara of Western Australia, walking the Viking Circuit in Victoria and exploring the rugged Stirling Ranges in WA. These places sit like treasures in the lock box of our souls. Memories are our new possessions.

Now, we have come in, off the road, family and friends have one question, repeated over and over: what was your favourite……?

Friday, 11 December 2015

The trading route - Goulburn River National Park, NSW

Rough-barked apple trees and furrowed ironbarks are dotted across the grassy slope rolling down to a lazy river. This could be some manicured estate or a city park stretching away before us except, there is a rough, wild edge to it and an uncanny silence.

We wander through the sleepy bushland in the rising heat of an early summer's day. The walking is easy, the river shallow and sandy. Simple to crisscross when need be. Sandstone cliffs tower above us, honeycombed with caves and shelters. There are goannas, kangaroos, turtles, fish and mussels. It is a landscape that feels like a home; a place to dwell in, live off, travel through.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

A taste of the Munda Biddi Trail - Western Australia

Do meat pies and cycle touring go together like ducks and water? Is there a symbiotic relationship between bakers and bike riders; a long, evolutionary unfolding of shared necessity? 

Lunch time, at Pemberton in the south-west of Western Australia. Before we set of for a taste of the Munda Biddi Trail, we are tasting the local pies at Crossings Bakery. They're not bad. Certainly they are full of the sort of fat-fueled energy we'll need for the journey ahead. The Munda Biddi Trail (MBT) is a 1,000 km off-road cycling route stretching from Mundaring (near Perth) to Albany on the south coast. Listed as one of National Geographic's top 10 cycle rides in the world, it is a combination of single-track, forest roads, old rail trails and small sections of bitumen.  

Friday, 13 November 2015

Corker of a Walk - Barrington Tops National Park

Steady rain forces me to pull tight the hood of my jacket. All I can hear are fat drops pinging and thumping on my head and echoing inside this cocoon of Gortex. Walking, in this sort of weather, is an exercise in blinkered observation and internal journeying – I watch the mud at my feet, the puddles to dodge, rocks to step over; think about the strength in my legs and the energy in my soul as we march steadily uphill. Then, I glance up and catch sight of Caz, a few steps ahead. It snaps me out of my reverie. I can no longer take this walk so seriously. 

Friday, 30 October 2015

Feathertop - Alpine National Park, VIC

I have not walked on the moon but I know the lightness of escaping gravity - it comes when I unbuckle my backpack and drop it to the ground on the summit of Mt Feathertop. The pack is loaded with my share of our 5 days of food, plus three litres of water, half a tent, clothes. It hits the ground with a thud and my first few steps on the summit of Mt Feathertop are just that - I am a feather on top of the world. Without weight, I walk in light bouncy steps. My muscles feel stronger now they only have to lift bone and flesh.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

In the footsteps of the Jawoyn - The Jatbula Trail, NT

A small tribe of bushwalkers are strung along the dusty track as it weaves its way through dry grass and past scattered bloodwood and woolybutt trees. Two of the youngest are out front, Brad and Angus, a fishing rod strapped to the outside of one pack. Kirsty and her daughter Ruby have stopped to rest in the shade and are eating home-grown mandarins. Behind me are Louise, Red and Caz. We are the chatty ones today, catching up on stories after long absences. Down the last rise are Louisa and Shirley, setting a steady pace that comes with years of experience walking wilderness trails like this. 

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Scott-Kilvert Hut - Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, TAS

This is like escaping behind the scenes at the theatre. Huge towering columns jut out of the mist, holding up a familiar and world-famous fa├žade. But from behind, the shape of the mountain is unrecognisable. Nothing looks familiar. This is Cradle Mountain's hidden side.

Back at Dove Lake car park, the crowd mingles; selfie sticks in hand, wearing their smartest outdoor outfits and shoes and striking fashion poses for the camera. That is the auditorium. People mill around, waiting to see the main show-stopping attraction - the mirror surface of Dove Lake, the wooden boat shed, with the dramatic, rugged cliffs of Cradle Mountain framing it all.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Done by twelve - cycle touring in the Kimberley

Have you heard the one about the meat inspector and the non-breeding golden-headed cisticola. Sounds catchy but there is no punchline. They are just two snippets from an entertaining journey - cycle touring for four days in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. 

Saturday, 29 August 2015

The dingoes' run - West MacDonnell Ranges, NT

Bowmans Gap

No track markers, no blue or yellow arrows nailed to trees, no signposts. There are just paw prints in the sand that have created a well-worn pad leading along the dry, sandy creek bed. Today we are following a trail of a different kind: the dingoes' run.

The path heads east. It is packed down from regular use. Small prints show the dingoes daily travels to and from the Ormiston Gorge campground. They have set a small, efficient path in the sand and it is leading in the right direction for us. So, we follow, all the way from Ormiston Gorge to Bowman's Gap, which is a north-west break in the huge, beautiful bowl that is Ormiston Pound, in the West MacDonnell National Park out of Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territory. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

A salt lake somewhere - South Australia

It's a nine-shooter night lying out on the hard crust of the desert's lake. Where the sky and salt meet is difficult to tell. The stars are in both. If the future were this landscape then it would be endless and yet confined to its own reflection. Lying back in our sleeping bags, waiting for the next shooting star,  the thrill of being in such a strange and rare place makes Caz declare: "When I grow up I want to be an explorer."

Monday, 27 July 2015

Sensory overload - Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria

Returning from a place of wonderful, natural beauty there seems so much to share, and a couple of years ago we were lucky enough to have the story of our one-week walk in Wilsons Promontory National Park published in Wild magazine. But, what to do with all the amazing photos Caz took. The magazine only needed three of them to illustrate the long narrative. What of the powder white beaches, the lush green forest, a sparkling turquoise ocean and colourful, sweet-scented flowers at our feet? 

On a personal note, I am hoping that by posting more photos and some of the highlights of that trip, that it will inspire someone I know to visit "The Prom" for their first multi-day hiking experience! I can never guarantee another's experience will be anything like ours but, with some planning and a bit of luck, we found Wilson's Promontory to be a rare wilderness idyll.

For the full story, visit Wild magazine online and order your back copy of Issue 145.

Monday, 13 July 2015

The Giles Track - Watarrka National Park, NT

Riding in the back of a caravan, to the start of a two-day bushwalk, is a first for both of us. Everything is rattling and squeaking as we sit at the tiny table, clutching our backpacks to stop them flinging about as the unsprung van hurtles along at 90km an hour. What if the lovely couple in the car forget we are on board? We peer anxiously out the curtains. A few familiar landmarks whiz past and then the sign that indicates our turn-off. Our driver hits the brakes and the caravan bounces to a stop in the dirt beside the road. 

Saturday, 27 June 2015

R2-ing the Snowy River, Victoria

There is a saying that you should start each New Year the way you intend to continue it. This year, we woke on New Year's Day on the banks of the Snowy River, watching a platypus fish as dawn light cast a pink glow on the surface of the water and mist rose from the river in thin, swirling wisps.  We had slept in the open, no roof or tent. Dew covered our bivvy bags and beside us, moored to the bank, was our raft and our home for the next four days. Ahead lay a day of rapids and gorges and deep cool swimming holes. I could only hope that the following 364 days of this year would turn out so well.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

On the cirque - Mt Murchison, Tasmania

This is when it pays to sleep high – sitting in the sun on a mountaintop, above a thick layer of morning fog. It feels a bit like take off - when a jet planes carries you up into a different world, rising above an overcast city into a bright day where the horizon is a long way off and you know the invisible towns below are colder and greyer and lonelier.

View along the cirque to Mt Murchison summit (left)

These are my thoughts at dawn, waking on top of Mt Murchison in Tasmania's western region, sitting at 1275m and seeing the cloud curling and lapping below our feet.

Monday, 25 May 2015

The scenic route - cycle touring Coffs Harbour to Newcastle

The temperature each day is creeping higher and higher. It is hotter than November should be although the type of heat changes as our cycle touring adventure progresses – there is a dense humidity on the coast on day one through to the scorching heat of the bone dry tablelands. Each morning we start cycling earlier and earlier. We wake in the dark and wait for enough light to safely hit the road. Still, on day four and day seven we are caught out by hot winds, lack of water, tougher than expected hills and the many other, inevitable, ups and downs of cycle touring as we make our way from Coffs Harbour to Newcastle via the scenic route – Dorrigo Moutain, across to Ebor and Armidale, south to Walcha, then down to Gloucester and Dungog then back to the coast at Newcastle. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Walls of Jerusalem National Park, Tasmania

Tucked away amongst an ancient pencil pine forest beside Lake Ball in Tasmania's wild Central Plateau, is a small wooden slab-and-shingle hut which houses a reflective story. 

Known simply as Lake Ball Hut, it was built in 1968 as a secret retreat by Ray 'Boy' Miles. This respected local bushman increasingly sought solace and healing in the high country of his childhood after returning from World War 2 and three harrowing years as a prisoner of war on the Burma railway.  A plaque in the hut explains the importance of the place and its wild surrounds: "Here he left behind the cares of the lowlands and found a relationship with the land that he was unable to replicate in the human world."

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Sugarloaf Peak - Cathedral Range State Park

Sugarloaf Peak from North Jawbone

Howling wind whips the wild rosemary shrubs into a blur as the open ridge we are climbing is exposed to the roar and rattle of a gusting southerly. We are aiming for the top of Sugarloaf Peak, after a spontaneous, late decision to race up the mountain with lightweight overnight packs hoping to catch a sunset. We left the carpark at 7.29pm when already the mountain was casting a long shadow across the valley. Although listed as a 30-minute walk we are on summit by 7:47pm – surely that is some sort of personal best. But it isn't about records; it is about being in the mountains and savouring the last light across a new landscape.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Gloucester Falls - Barrington Tops National Park

One of the Gloucester Falls

So we jumped the fence at the lookout, and followed a rough pad between rocks and stunted trees. It led downhill to a small saddle, where we turned left and began a steep descent to the river. It is not the sort of behaviour we should probably mention here, or promote by making public on the blog; this breaking of rules and jumping of fences in a national park. But there's a lot of fences in the world these days, and from past experience we knew that beyond this one was a hidden gem of a waterfall.  

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Mt Jaithmathang - Alpine National Park

Forty-seven crows are perched amongst the dead limbs of burnt snowgums. They call back and forth, discussing something more than murder or thievery and from their complex conversation I am sure we are not the only animals with language. It feels like my loss that I cannot understand them but, I never tire of listening to things in nature that I do not understand. 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Karst Country - exploring Cave Creek in Kosciuszko National Park

I wish we'd thought to bring a topographical map for this spot, or done more research before arriving. Because, after a noisy night in the campground and a steady stream of day-trippers raising dust in the car park, we need to escape the growing weekend crowd and find a wilder, more remote side to this popular destination. Caz, of course, doesn’t mind the lack of information. He is happy to wander off and follow his nose: no map, no research, no word-of-mouth tips – sounds like the perfect recipe for an adventure. 

Summer is a popular season to visit this part of Kosciuszko National Park. We are in the northern section of the park, (which means south-east of Tumut) and 25km off the Snowy Mountains Highway, via the Long Plain, in an area known as the Blue Waterhole precinct. The area features the Blue Waterhole, Cave Creek, Clarks Gorge, and the excellent (and free) Cooleman Cave and Murrays Cave. 

This is all Karst Country – a landscape of underlying limestone that has been eroded and dissolved to form fissures, secret sinkholes, caves and unmapped tunnels. At Blue Waterhole, crystal clear water from this subterranean world rises to the surface in a quiet and mysterious way.  

Less than half a kilometre from the car park, the signposted foot-track brings us to the first creek crossing. A line of roughly placed stepping stones are wobbly and balancing is tricky with a heavy overnight pack disrupting my usual equilibrium. At the next crossing we source a couple of bush sticks to help. 

After less than one kilometre, and another three creek crossings, the spectacular Clarks Gorge comes into sight. This is what drew us here in the first place. Forty metre high grey, limestone walls tower above the track. The gorge is a surprise – even if you know what to expect – and we wander along in high spirits, having already lost the weekend crowd. Most people seem to head in the other direction, towards Murrays Cave, which makes me wonder what we might be missing. It can't be much better than what we have got – the cliffs are spectacular, tiny holes and caves disappear into the walls, skinks and water dragons bask in the summer sunshine. 

Our track is a narrow, rocky pad that hugs the water's edge beneath the cliffs. We continue past the gorge towards a waterfall that was mentioned on the information board back at the car park. There are a couple of trickier climbs along the rocky bank towards the end of Clarks Gorge but it is worth persisting because the track to the waterfall is easy and quite distinct. 

At the base of the falls we get chatting to five young men who are sitting eating lunch and taking photos. The men have recently been posted to RAAF Base Wagga and are out for a weekend adventure, keen to get out of the confines of their barracks. They have small packs and wet boots. Their sleeping bags are also wet as they slept out the previous night in the heavy dew and fog. They tell us about their rock-hop up Cave Creek, from its junction with the Goodradigbee River.

After the waterfall, there is a series of drops and cascades and we scramble over the slimy rocks. To follow the creek from here to its junction with the Goodradigbee River will involve a mandatory swim.  To avoid this, we head up the open, hot slope to the right and on to the ridge top, which we follow directly to the junction. 

I am half expecting a good footpad up high, because although we have not done much research I managed to gather enough snippets of information to know that the walk to the junction is a popular one for local bushwalking clubs. Just as we start descending again, we stumble upon a good, wide track. I look back and wonder where it might have started after the waterfall. 

After some relaxation time at the junction, swimming and picking endless grass seeds out of our socks, we decide to rock hop upstream to see how far we can get. Before long, a huge cave is visible on the hillside to the left. I have since learnt this is Murderers Cave, so-named after a partly burned body was found in the cave entrance in the 1890s and a man named Glover was convicted over the death. It is a terrific cave and near the entrance we disturb an enormous, fat lizard. It is nervous but doesn't move much at first. As we try to get a better photo, it runs off on its tiny legs, does a big belly slide down the dirt slope, then pulls up, turns, and scurries into a hidey hole amongst the grass.

Back at camp, dark rain clouds are building but by 8pm they seem to move east and the sky is clear. Mozzzies and midgies move in. The water skinks disappear from the creek rocks. The pink blush on the trees seems to brighten as the cold night air starts to drop. 

As this was supposed to be an adventure, the next morning we decide to forge our own track back to the car park via the northern bank of Cave Creek. The walk on this side of the river feels more like a wild, gorge walk. It is easier to stick to the edge and the cliffs fall directly to the creek below. There is a short section of bush-bashing through a gully where we grapple and push and pull our way through a tight growth of saplings and shrubs. The walking is more difficult but more scenic and with the creek to follow it no longer matters that we haven't got a map, or track or advice. We follow the curving grey walls of the gorges. 

On the river crossings back to the car park our bush sticks are handy. We use all kinds of special techniques and a different one at each crossing – there's the old pull-me-with-your-stick crossing, the stationary rail support, the single stick crossing and the two stick crossing which involves a double stick throw and double stick catch while standing balanced on a rock mid-stream.

Overall, it isn't an exciting or dangerous adventure but it is beautiful, peaceful and away from the crowds. It has also been a thorough exploration of a place we knew little about. It makes me wonder about the difference between an adventurer and an explorer. Which raises the illustrative story of the final encounter we had in Clarks Gorge on our walk out. 

It is the story of a man who for 15 years never turned left. We found him staring in awe at the 40m high limestone cliffs, shaking his head and repeating: I can't believe I've never been down here. He was from Canberra and had been coming to Cave Creek since he was a kid. In other aspects of his life, he pursued adventurous and dangerous sports, but was he an explorer? Always his family had turned right at the car park and walked up the other marked track to visit the wonderful Murrays Cave. In all those years, he had never thought to turn left and see what was down the other track. On this visit, a chance conversation with other campers prompted him to turn the other way. And now he was looking at the potential for adventure arising from his new-found sense of exploration. 

The road across Long Plain

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Friday, 27 February 2015

Learning our ABC - Flinders Ranges National Park

After plans A and B are thwarted we come up with plan C and ironically, or naturally, it leads us to the ABC range, one of the lesser, but integral sections of Flinders Ranges National Park in South Australia.

A is for Aroona

We arrive at the Koolamon Campground in the Aroona Valley mid morning, then pitch the tent and head for the hills. We are aiming for the top of a small but impressive looking peak, marked on the National Parks walking map as The Three Sisters and part of the long, stretch of the ABC Range. It is 548m in elevation and we start walking at about 350m, so it's a good steep pinch to the top. Heading south from the campground, there is an unnamed, dry creek that cuts through the hills. We cross its sandy bed and from here begin veering upwards, sticking to the hills rocky edge, with the creek below us. There is no marked track to follow but the terrain is open and so easy to navigate.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Unfinished business - Apsley Gorge, Oxley Wild Rivers National Park

It is time for some unfinished business in one of NSWs most spectacular, rugged gorges. This is the story of our long-awaited attempt at successfully completing an adventure through Apsley Gorge, from below Apsley Falls to 5km kilometres downstream. 

We are tackling the return trip as a lightweight, one-day expedition with our friend Brad coming along. And, things start well. Caz picks a great line down our steep entry ridge. It is the quickest and easiest descent onto the gorge floor that we've ever had on this route (practice makes perfect)! 

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Walking with the weather - Alpine National Park, Victoria

A storm is moving across the high country, coming in from the south-east. Wind clatters through the dead wood of burnt snowgums. The horizon is crazed with lightning bolts as they strike the adjacent ridgeline. Whipcracks of thunder echo around the hills.

We can smell the moisture and lightning-burnt air but the storm swings towards Kelly Hut and we get nothing but a dozen fat drops of rain.  It is a light and sound show - a wild introduction to summer in the Victorian high country, at the end of a lazy day exploring the beauty of the Alpine National Park, near the ski-resort village of Falls Creek.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Lamington National Park - Toolona Creek Circuit and Elabana Falls

Lamington National Park is like a glossy postcard but with scent and texture - dripping leaves, slippery rocks, whipbirds cracking and waterfalls that endlessly cascade and bring to my mind vague philosophical questions about the endless generations of fallen beech leaves and the way water can out-do rock.