Friday, February 27, 2015

Once A Peak-Bagger: Mount Owen

We were back in Queenstown, doing laundry and drying gear after our three day trip into Frenchmans Cap, but, all the time I was fussing with gear, I was aware of the barren slopes of Mount Owen hulking 1000 metres above the township. In the afternoon, with darkening clouds over most of the sky, we drove the windy Lyell Hwy east from Queenstown to Karlsons Gap just before the tiny hamlet of Gormanston. Here, a steep 4 WD road climbs up Owens Spur to some towers at 1000 metres about one kilometre and 200 metres below the boulder strewn alpine plateau of Mount Owen.

 Doug almost at the trig station on Mount Owen

It's a quick walk to roads end and a poled route that rambles up blocks and boulders to a sub-summit of Mount Owen. A tiny alpine tarn is perched in a cirque to the south, and, a quick descent down boulders (some scrambling), a scamper across the plateau, and one last scramble up some massive conglomerate boulders and you are on top of Mount Owen. 

 Doug scrambling up to the trig point

On a clearer day, the view would be fantastic as you can see the ocean to the west, Macquarie Harbour to the southwest, and across to the high peaks of the inland plateau to the east. For us, the weather was a little hazy and cloudy and we could not even see Frenchmans Cap. 
 Lake Burbury and small tarn

To Cap It All: Frenchmans Cap, Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park

About an hours walk from the Lyell Hwy, the Frenchmans Cap track crests the south shoulder of Mount Mullens and across the button grass plains and the Lodden River, the castellated towers of Sharlands and Philps Peaks rise to either side of precipitous Barron Pass. All the land to the south and most to the west, is wilderness. Every craggy peak and deep bush filled valley, every winding river, every dark hued lake and tiny alpine tarn. All the small storm tossed islands, sheltered bays, windswept beaches, all the wild land and water. Standing on the edge of this magnificent wilderness something takes your breath away and leaves you struck in awe at the beauty of the untamed landscape.

Barrons Pass tucked snugly between Sharlands and Philps Peaks

I have wanted to walk up Frenchmans Cap since my first days bushwalking in Tasmania when I first heard whispers of the arduous (much harder then than now) journey through thick bush, deep mud, and over high passes to the stunning white quartzite dome that is a prominent feature of the southwest corner of Tasmania. Back in those days we wore wool pants and shirts, dressed in heavy oil skins, and the track to Frenchmans Cap was rough, ready, and infamous for the six kilometres across the floodplains of the Lodden River, humorously referred to as the "sodden Loddons" where mud was only knee deep, if you were lucky. Now, the track is walked by 800 people a year, there are two huts, three campsites, two toilets, wooden ladders, bridges and duck-boarding and the rigours of the track are a shadow of what they were thirty years ago. But, while the track has been tamed, the wilderness has not and this is still a wonderful wild walk into the heart of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park.

 Lakes of Livingstone Rivulet

There are all sorts of different schedules for walking Frenchmans Cap. Most people probably take three days, although many seem to have a relaxed five day schedule and I believe ultra-runners have done the entire trip in a day. We decided to have two nights at Lake Vera rather than lugging our overnight packs all the way up to Lake Tahune simply to hump them back down again. As old, retired alpine climbers our motto "don't carry your big pack higher than you need to" originally conceived in Canada remains every bit as appropriate in Australia. 

It is a very pleasant and remarkably easy walk into Lake Vera, a far cry from the old sodden Loddon days. Starting out in rain-forest, the track descends to cross the Franklin River on a suspension bridge, climbs out of the river valley and travels south and west across scattered button grass plains to climb just over 150 metres to the shoulder of Mount Mullens where a first view of Frenchmans Cap, Barron Pass, Sharlands and Philps Peak offers a tantalising view of the next days walk. 

 First views into the high country

Descending through more green tinged rain-forest, a second suspension bridge over the Loddon River (small campsite on the north side) leads out to the Loddon Plains. The track has been rerouted from Philps Lead and is now alternately raised track and board-walk across all the minor creeks, melaleuca and button grass of the Loddon Valley. A gradual climb leads up through more rain-forest to open plains and the final descent to Lake Vera. The Lake Vera hut stands back from the eastern shores of Lake Vera and there are several good campsites further along the track on the north side of Lake Vera. We swam in the refreshingly cool dark waters of Lake Vera (walk along the lakeshore about 5 minutes past the reed beds and campsites to find a good spot between trees where you can swim into the centre of the lake) before settling in for an afternoons' relaxation. It's about a four hour walk into Lake Vera from the Lyell Hwy. 

 Doug near Artichoke Valley

We were away shortly before 8 am the next morning after having spent the night in the unusually empty (we were the only occupants) Lake Vera Hut. It is about a 14 km/1200 metre (elevation gain) return trip (rough estimates) to Frenchmans Cap, and, in our usual Canadian alpine style we kept up a steady pace all day (a round trip of about 8 hours for us including stops). The first kilometre around the shore of Lake Vera has many minor ups and downs, over tree roots, around boulders, up and down steps cleverly carved into leaning logs. At the southwestern end of Lake Vera the track follows the inlet stream and begins climbing steadily past small cliff bands, dark treacly creeks, caves, bluffs and boulders until, about 1.5 hours from Lake Vera, you suddenly stand atop Barron Pass and look out over the Livingstone Valley with Livingstone Rivulet creating several small lakes surrounded by dense forest. The crags of Clytemnestra face you across the valley, Frenchmans Cap floats in the clouds, and the towers of Philps and Sharlands Peak provide a spectacular background. 

Doug on the final climb to Frenchmans Cap

For the next two kilometres the track tackles an improbable route under the west face of Sharlands Peak traversing between 900 and 950 metres (ASL) across to Artichoke Valley to reach a small pass south of Pine Knob. This is all scenic walking and it is hard to keep an eye on your feet when you are goggling at the views in all directions. The track enters some denser bush and then descends steeply on ladders and steps down to Lake Tahune and the smaller hut. Lake Tahune lies in a deep cirque under the east face of Frenchmans Cap and can only really be seen from above. 

A steep climb up a rain-forested gully on the west side of Lake Tahune leads to the cleverly routed track which winds up slabs, and small rock bands to emerge on the big broad summit plateau where, all around you, is this magnificent wilderness country. We stayed a half hour on the summit, dressed in our warmest clothes (a similar experience to Canadian summits) before scurrying back down to Lake Vera hut. 

 Doug on the expansive summit of Frenchmans Cap

Here we met Terry, the ranger, who, while friendly enough, has perhaps been banished to this far flung outpost as he seemed to regard the Tasmanian wilderness as a place to be kept sacrosanct from walkers and climbers, the less visited the better. Doug and I have seen more walkers in Tasmania in two weeks than we have in two years in the rest of Australia and have been gratified by the number of ordinary people actually getting some exercise that does not consist solely of bending the elbow joint. In truth, it would not be hard to imagine Terry as some kind of walkers version of the climbing bolt chopper, heading out under cover of darkness to pull-up duck-boarding to restore the track to its original state. 

Back at Lake Vera hut, a large group was in residence, six Sydneysider's, a garrulous American, and a quieter German. We spent the evening out on the heli-pad where a weak sun shone through the drifting clouds, enjoying the quiet of the evening away from the jostle of the hut. 

 Looking down on Lake Tahune

The predicted rain began overnight, but, around 6.30 am, it tapered to a slight drizzle and gave us the opportunity to quickly pack our gear away and scuttle into the hut for breakfast. I thought walking out would take us a little longer than the way in with slippery ground to negotiate, but we were right on about four hours, and, as we walked up the last hill from the Franklin River crossing, a few patches of blue drifted across the sky behind us. The parking lot and track were busy with the next batch of hikers walking out into the wild, all looking forward to their own adventures in the expansive and alluring Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. 
 Go somewhere wild.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Into The Ducane Range: The Acropolis and The Labyrinth

Day One: Lake St Clair to Pine Valley:

It's about 14 km to paddle from the south end of Lake St Clair to the north versus an 18 km walk along a deep forest track to reach the same destination. Opting to paddle our kayaks up the lake, particularly with a northerly wind forecast for the day we came out, was the obvious choice. We launched from the boat ramp and parked at the main visitor parking area (a short walk from the boat ramp), although there is a small amount of parking at the boat ramp. Alternatively, you could launch from Frankland Beaches where there is parking and a sandy beach. 

The wind must have been swirling a little down in Cynthia Bay because we actually managed to get a little help from the sails for the first two kilometres but the wind was so gusty it wasn't that effective. The rest of the way the wind was light, occasionally in our faces, but over all, not a steady headwind. We reached Echo Point, where a couple of hikers were lounging on the jetty, and, in another 45 minutes, paddled into Narcissus Bay. The boat that shuttles walkers up and down the lake passed us twice as we paddled north. 

 The Acropolis from the track along the plateau

All our gear was quickly moved from our kayaks to our backpacks and we headed off along the jetty track to the Narcissus Hut. There were many unhappy looking hikers at the hut, either the Overland Track was not what they thought or the fact that they were locked out of the hut (renovations) until 5.30 pm was the cause. The first four kilometres was along the Overland Track which is extensively duckboarded in this area but still has some rooty sections and is buried deep in bush with scant views. We stopped for a break at the Pine Valley junction and had a delightful chat with three passing hikers (part of a group of five) who had come down from Cairns and walked in via the Walls of Jerusalem over seven days. This is a bit of a hard slog as there is no track and the bush is dense, but these folks (all easily in their 60's) were having a great time. It was just what I needed to stop being a princess and get up and walk the last four kilometres into Pine Valley. 

Again the track is deep in the forest, some times on duckboards, often in rooty dark rain forest, but all the time running northish up Cephissus Creek. There are three or four campsites scattered around the Pine Valley Hut, all in very dark locations, as is the hut, and the mosquitoes are bad. We stripped off for a dip in the creek first thing as it had been a sweaty walk in, and then spent the rest of the evening on the deck of the hut where the mosquitoes were slightly less ferocious. Pine Valley and The Acropolis are popular side trips with Overland Track walkers and there were four other walkers detouring off the Overland Track staying either in the hut or camping. 

Mount Gould and The Minotaur from The Acropolis

Day Two: The Acropolis and The Labyrinth:

Even deep in the forest we could tell it was going to be a gloriously sunny day as we set off up the track to The Acropolis. The track continues up Cephissus Creek for half a kilometre, passing the small Cephissus Falls, then climbs steeply (200 metres in 700 metres distance) to the south ridge of The Acropolis. This is the typical Tasmanian track, steep, rooty, and direct. There is a big sub-alpine plateau running south from The Acropolis and a half a kilometre of flat walking, mostly on duckboards along this delightful section. The views, all of a sudden, are tremendous and there are groves of unusual palm trees in patches of mossy greenery. 

Soon, however, the track resumes its steep ascent climbing up the south shoulder of The Acropolis until you are right under the characteristic dolerite columns. There's another half kilometre or so of up and down on a rocky rooty track as the track heads northeast along the base of the cliffs before a gully leads very steeply up to the summit plateau. There are one or two scrambly sections on this last bit, but no exposure. Once on the summit plateau it's a simple talus walk to the (not quite) summit. The actual high point is about a metre higher on a narrow stand alone tower, difficult to climb and very exposed. 

 Doug on The Acropolis

We hung out here for quite a while in glorious sunshine watching as clouds boiled and spilled over Mount Massif and Falling Mountain due north across the Narcissus River Valley. Mount Geryon, the next and slightly higher peak to the north is impressive and there are some infrequently climbed rock routes on the steep faces. Through Big Gun Pass, we could see Mount Ossa (Tasmania's highest peak), while to the east lies the lake studded Walls of Jerusalem plateau, and to the west, The Labyrinth and the peaks and lakes surrounding that smaller plateau. Mount Olympus is prominent on the west side of Lake St Clair and pyramidal, Mount Ida on the east. 

Delightful as the scenery was, we also wanted to walk up to The Labyrinth so we scuttled back down the steep, ladder like track to the hut where we had lunch and then walked up the only slightly less steep track to The Labyrinth. 

This track begins climbing just beyond Pine Valley Hut heading pretty much due west for a pass between The Minotaur and The Parthenon. It's about 400 metres pretty much straight up, until the track emerges into bright sunshine on the south shoulder of The Parthenon. The cairned track continues north along the west slopes of The Parthenon until you are overlooking the myriad tiny lakes of The Labyrinth. Mount Geryon and The Acropolis come strikingly into view and, a short steep descent leads to the Cyane Lake, the first small tarn on this plateau. The cairned track continues to Lake Elysia, a kilometre to the north, but we stopped at Cyane Lake and swam in the warm shallow waters. 

This whole plateau is reminiscent of the high Eastern Sierra's of California, except you are about 2000 metres lower. There are rock slabs, small lakes, gnarled white trunks of King Billy Pine and low alpine vegetation. Back at the hut, the Overland Track walkers had all left but two other couples had arrived to explore the area. 

Cyane Lake

Day Three: Pine Valley to Lake St Clair:

A warm northerly wind blew through the trees all night and it was hot first thing as we marched down the track, past the Narcissus Hut and out to our waiting boats. The first thing we did was swim in the lake, then pack up and launch for the journey back. We could hear the wind whistling through the trees, but we must have been sheltered in Narcissus Bay for the first kilometre as our sails were hanging limply from the mast. That didn't last, and the wind (or perhaps our exposure to it) steadily built until we were rocking along in a steep following sea with a strong wind behind. 

Doug was surfing on the tops of waves, but I seemed to spend most of my time wallowing in the troughs behind. After about half an hour, we pulled the tops off our sails reducing the volume as we were yawing about too much. This worked well all the way down to where the lake narrows near Fergies Hill, where we reduced the sail volume a little more as the waves were getting steeper confined by the lake shore. Beyond the narrowing, the waves diminished, but not the wind. Our greatest difficulty was trying to see where the boat ramp was before we got blown onto the rocks at the end of the lake. 

 Mount Geryon from The Acropolis

While Doug went off to get the car, another couple of kayakers arrived sailing in (Flat Earth sails) from Mount Ida which they had climbed the day before. Apparently the route was hard to find, the rock quality poor, but, nevertheless they had a rollicking grand adventure. And, although our trip was considerably less technically difficult, we too had a rollicking good time.

Mount King William I

This is a fantastic walk. Not very long (under three hours) but with the possibility of extending your walk for a few hours, or even a few days. Turn south onto Harbacks Road (unsigned) about 10 km west of Derwent Bridge and drive for about 1.5 km to an old gated road that heads off across button grass plains to the south. 

 Button grass plains

The first 3.5 km of the walk is along this old road. Initially past some beautiful button grass plains (only two weeks in Tasmania and already I love the button grass plains) into an area of large old eucalpyts. Many of the real giants have been logged and now the stumps stand white and ghostly among the button grass but the forest is regrowing and is very beautiful here. Climbing gradually, the track emerges onto button grass plains on the northeast shoulder of King William I and the dolerite columns on the east side come into view. The road steepens before ending at around 1000 metres where there is a National Parks log book. 

 Dolerite columns on Mount King William I

The last 600 metres of track climbs about 300 metres in elevation so it is steep right from the get go and, just before the top gets even steeper. The track is easy to follow and ladder like as you quickly gain elevation. The views are fantastic. Lake King William, Guelph Basin and a slew of smaller higher lakes are scattered about the button grass plains and craggy peaks rise to the south. 

Lake King William 

On the summit, there is a tiny little fibreglass igloo that I assume is an old fire lookout. Milligans Peak is only half an hour away to the southwest at the northern end of a delightful alpine plateau scattered with small tarns. The white dome of Federation Peak lies to the west, and to the south, the remainder of the King William Range. You could easily spend a couple of days rambling across the gorgeous country, but we just had the afternoon and all to soon had to descend. 
 Doug atop King William I

Sea Kayaking Around Macquarie Harbour

Day One: Strahan to Steadmans Beach

The day after our minor spanking at Macquarie Harbour, we were back on the beach again, earlier this time, and packing our kayaks swiftly with only a light breeze rippling the water. As I was tucking the last few items in my boat, a large woman, wearing a jumper ostentatiously plastered with various rescue logos began questioning me closely. Of course, one of her first questions was "Have you done this before?" No doubt, she was delighted when I replied negatively as she was then free to describe the pounding I would undoubtedly take if I were foolish enough to attempt to paddle around the harbour. "Pinned down at a dry camp at Sophia Point" and "unable to exit Kelly Basin due to three metre waves" are some of the phrases that stuck with me. 

I finally managed to extricate myself from this conversation but, shortly thereafter, just as Doug and I were pushing off from the beach, two more folks appeared to warn us about the "40 kilometre fetch" and the "huge waves" that would soon (I presume) be threatening us. I was a bit surprised to discover that these last two folks were part of a group of 14 sea kayakers from NSW who were, for some reason (perhaps rescue lady had got to them?) were too timid to set off paddling in the harbour. I instantly thought of Gnarly Dog's post about sea kayak clubs - read it here - it is interesting, well written and thought provoking.

It was with some relief, that we paddled away from the beach. It seemed somewhat ironic that, on this calmest of days (with a solid weather forecast), all the doom-sayers were out whereas the previous day, when 20 knot winds had been sweeping into the bay, no-one was about. We skimmed past Dead Horse Point, King Point and Connellys Point and landed on a small beach at Sophia Point. The light wind was dropping, and the harbour was virtually glassy as we paddled south to the Butt of Liberty (really) past a few fish farms in the lee of Liberty Point. Initially, we thought we would stop for the night at Double Cove, but, we were going so well we carried on to Steadmans Beach where we found a good sandy campsite by a fresh water creek at the western end of the bay. 

We had a peaceful afternoon and evening making camp, swimming in the tannin coloured water off the beach, rambling along the sandy beach broken by little rocky reefs and enjoying the comparatively late sunset (around 8.30 pm versus 6.00 pm up in northern Australia). 

 View from Steadmans Beach camp

Day Two: Steadmans Beach to Wrights Bay via Sarah Island and Franklin River

We were expecting some rain and it arrived right around 6.30 am so I crawled back into the tent and we hung out playing chess until about 8.30 am when the weather began gradually clearing. Breakfast was pretty quick, and we were on the water around 9.40 am heading for Sarah Island. Sarah Island was an old penal colony and it is interesting and instructive to wander around the ruins. Life was certainly harsh for all in those days, but especially the convicts who not only worked hard every day, but were flogged as well. In time, Sarah Island penitentiary became famous for ship building and, in one two year stretch, 80 boats were built! Our ancestors were certainly much tougher than we are today. 

From Sarah Island we paddled straight across to Gordon Point at the mouth of the Gordon River. A minor but irritating headwind had sprung up. We thought in passing about camping at Birchs Bay, one of the few long sand beaches in Macquarie Harbour, but, for some reason we wanted to flog ourselves and continued up the Gordon River aiming for a rumoured cabin and landing at Pines Landing. Paddling up river was slow and quite tedious. The scenery isn't particularly interesting, there is no where to land as the water runs right into very dense timber, we were fighting an outward flowing current and an increasing headwind. At 4.45 pm, we were still 4 km from Pines Landing and at our present speed it might take us two more hours to arrive. When we stopped to discuss our options, we were blown backward at a rate of 6 or 8 km an hour and quickly decided to head back down river and find somewhere to camp. 

It took us only about half an hour to sail and paddle back down river to a pretty sandy campsite at the southwest end of Wrights Bay. Although it was late, it was still warm enough to swim before dinner. Sunset over Mount Sorell brought glorious alpenglow and perfect reflections in the now placid water.

Gorging on blackberries

Day Three: Wrights Bay to Farm Cove via Kelly Basin

Our morning was leisurely with a couple of cups of tea, a lazy breakfast of bacon and eggs, before we set off toward the old town of Pillinger deep in Kelly Basin. We had a headwind as far as Charcoal Burners Bluff but that gradually subsided as we entered Kelly Basin. In a small bay at the head of the basin there is a little jetty - no landing only a ladder - and the ruins of Pillinger townsite. It's hard to pull a kayak off here as the shore line is rocky, bushy, and heavily forested. We found a little notch to pull into and wandered around the ruins for a while. 

We took lunch on the jetty and got a weather forecast from a couple in a yacht who were anchored in Kelly Basin. As we expected, a change was due the next day, then a few more days of good weather and light winds. Although there is a camping area at Pillinger, it is not very good and not kayak friendly. There are no real sites, just some very small areas (not particularly flat) in dense forest an awkward carry from shore. There's also leeches. It didn't take much to decide we would look for camp elsewhere. The yachties were anchored off the only small beach in Kelly Basin so we paddled into a minor headwind north to Pine Point. In Farm Cove, we found a small pebbly beach tucked in behind Pine Point. We had to level a campsite out of the pebbly beach, but the site was sheltered and had a huge fallen log that made a great table. The evening was incredibly hot, more like northern Australia than Tasmania and we were in and out of the water to stay cool. 

 Pillinger ruins

Day Four: Farm Cove

Sometime in the night, the NW change arrived, it cooled off, clouded up and we woke to light rain. We could have made slow (very slow) progress up to the next camp we knew of (near Braddon Creek behind Phillip Island) but every time we thought of packing up and setting off, the wind increased again and it rained again so we ended up staying where we were. 

Day Five: Farm Cove to Strahan via Braddon Creek Camp and Sophia Point

The wind dropped over night and the weather cleared. We left camp early at about 7.30 am and got a welcome push from some light SE winds up to the beach behind Phillip Island where we stopped for breakfast. This would be a good camp as the beach is wide (the widest in the harbour), but it would be exposed to westerly winds. There is a skanky cabin by Braddon Creek but you'd have to be fairly desperate to stay inside, although, if you didn't mind the piles of junk about, you could have a sheltered camp on the ground outside. 

From Braddon Creek, we continued to Sophia Point getting a diminishing push from the wind. The sun was hot so we had a swim at Sophia Point and took the time to make some tea with our lunch. Doug was half a mind to camp another night as there is a reasonable length of beach just around Sophia Point but I figured we were only two hours from Strahan and the comfort of our podmobile so we ended up continuing on. 

We are both glad we did as we had the most fun paddling on the trip on our last leg (13 km) back to Strahan. Rounding Sophia Point, we found a 15 knot NW wind blowing and were able to unfurl the sails and rip along covering the 13 km in about 1.5 hours. It was the most interesting paddling of the entire trip. 

 Ruins on Sarah Island

What You Need To Know:

Winds are reported to be primarily from the W to NW, but, we had northerlies, southerlies as well as the more typical NW wind. There is no swell, and precious little tide change, so you only have to worry about wind waves. The harbour is oriented NW to SE, so, presumably, a NW wind could blow up a nasty chop over the 30 km length of the harbour. 

We noticed water levels rising significantly at camp only when a NW wind was blowing. Otherwise, the tidal change seems to be about 30 cm (at most). There is very little boating traffic, even on sunny warm weekends in summer. A couple of fish farm boats may be spotted in the distance, and two large catamarans go out to the Franklin River and Sarah Island every day carrying tourists. Close to Strahan, you might see a float plane taking off. 

Campsites are scattered but reasonably frequent, it's just hard to know exactly where you'll find a spot to camp. Apart from Braddon Creek camp, we saw no other evidence of campers anywhere. Camps that we heard off but did not visit include Betsys Bay, Double Cove (in the eastern deeper bay) and near Eagle Creek up the Gordon River. 

It appeared, as we paddled past, as if there would be beach camping at Birchs Beach, Big Pebbly Beach (which is sandy), between Dinghy Point and Gould Point and around Sophia Point. I would expect to have to camp on the sand and maybe level your own site. At some of these camps you'd get sand-blasted in NW winds. There are lots of creeks flowing out so theoretically drinking water should be easy to come by, but, we only had access to a creek at one camp (Steadmans Beach) so were glad to have carried 30 litres of water. The best camp at Steadmans Beach is by the creek at the west end of Bryans Bay. 

The paddling is not really that interesting. There is not that much marine life, even birds are not plentiful and there's a certain sameness to the scenery. But, you will have almost the entire harbour (all 100 km around) pretty much to yourself, the sunsets are glorious, swimming off the beaches is wonderful, and, despite all the warnings to the contrary, this is pretty good trip for beginners with no swell, no tide, no currents to contend with. I'm glad I did the trip, but, it's unlikely I'd do it again, but, then again, when would I ever!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Adventure Is Not Free

It's inevitable that, if you climb, ski, paddle, adventure in the outdoors in any physical way, that you will get spanked, at least once, and, most likely, multiple times. The degree and frequency of spankings may diminish as you gain more experience, but, the unpredictable nature of the environment in which outdoor adventurers recreate means that it's not if you'll be spanked, but when. 

The night before we were to set off on our first multi-day (first in any sense) sea kayak trip in Tasmania (we were planning to circumnavigate Macquarie Harbour and detour up the iconic Gordon River, site of Australia's most famous environmental dispute - the planned Franklin below Gordon Dam), I dreamt I was trying to buy food in one store after another as we got hungrier and hungrier. The meaning of the dream is obvious, at least to me, as I was a bit nervous about our first multi-day sea kayak trip in Tasmania. How cold, wet, miserable, windy and rough would the trip be, and could I deal with such conditions for a full eight days? This is Tasmania, not Queensland, the water is cold, the weather more often bad than good, unpredictable, changeable, windy and wet. 

It was only about 7.15 am when we arrived in Strahan and immediately found a good sandy beach to launch from and a parking place for the caravan right near the police station (bonus). Even an hour after dawn, a headwind was blowing, and, over the next two hours the wind only increased in intensity. Unloading the car and boats, filling up water containers, walking two kilometres down to the store to buy two critical items (coffee and a lighter) which we had forgotten, stuffing the boats full to the brim with eight days of food and water, and, having a very quick breakfast, meant it was 10.30 am when we launched the boats off the beach and headed out into a freshening head wind.

We were launching from a site deep in Long Bay and, the first headland we would reach to the south, Bouy Point, is about 2.5 km from the beach. With heavily loaded boats, we are lucky to paddle at 4 to 5 km (no wind assist), so, into a 20 knot headwind, we would be lucky to paddle at 2 km per hour (1 knot). And that is about what we did, plowing heavily south. I was slower (I'm always slower) than Doug as I have narrower paddle blades and I was struggling not to lag too far behind. 

In the sheltered harbour at Strahan

Approaching Bouy Point, we could see a line of reefs breaking half a kilometre off shore and a navigation marker flagging safe passage around to the east. We turned to paddle around these breaks which necessitated paddling at about a 45 degree angle into the wind. I really struggled to do this with any degree of effectiveness. My rudder was on full to starboard, but, I was moving so slowly it did not seem to help, and my bow (I realise now I had packed the bow too light) was getting blown constantly to port (weather-cocking). It would take me about 10 paddle strokes on the left to get the bow pointed back windward, so my progress became infinitesimally slow as I was blown north at almost the same speed that I could paddle southeast. Pulling grimly into the wind, I started thinking of all that we had done to get to this place - searching the internet for trip reports, studying maps and charts, plotting campsites, buying and packing food, carrying loads of gear up and down the beach, and now, plugging into an impervious wind with gritted teeth - "adventure" I thought, "is definitely not free." 

It's always complicated (almost impossible) to have any kind of discussion about what you should do in these conditions as the wind whips sound away and, obviously, you can't stop paddling or you'll be blown backwards over hard won distance. Skiing, hiking, climbing (even technical climbing) is much easier to manage as you can pretty much always stop somewhere (relatively) safe and assess your options. Out in a sea kayak, in a strong wind, and no such options exist. 

Somehow we did manage to agree on our plan B which was to paddle the northerly shore of Macquarie Harbour instead of crossing immediately to the south shore, so we turned the boats to the east and started paddling towards the far eastern shore of Lettes Bay. This was not much less of a struggle than before. Paddling broadside, I could actually make some progress, but, broadside to the sea and wind, I was getting blown far to the north and was in danger of hitting Dead Horse Point. For a while, I tried ferry gliding, pointing the boat at about 70 degrees to windward and paddling straight ahead. I was moving, but, so, so slowly, and I was constantly fighting to keep the bow from pointing down-wind. 

As far as we knew, the first place we could hope to camp was about 13 km from Strahan, if it were possible to paddle a direct route. Allowing for being blown off course, we could only hope to reach Sophia Point (the campsite) after 16 km of paddling. At 2 km an hour, we might make it in 8 hours! Clearly, even plan B was not going to work. A bit more shouting at one another, and we decided to paddle back into Strahan.
I hated doing this. I hate turning around, it makes me feel as if I have either been beaten or failed, or perhaps both. Heading downwind, we started riding the waves back in, and, suddenly, we were moving fast and effortlessly. I stripped my sail down to two-thirds size, let it up, and sailed on the wave tops into the beach. In two hours, we had covered less than 6 km. 

And here is where we made our next mistake (my first mistake was putting too much light gear in the bow), we decided to pull out for the day, try to get an updated weather forecast and, hopefully, launch again the following day. In our defence, it is unusual for the wind to decrease much during the day; usually it will just keep on building. But, in hindsight, what we should have done is continued on to find a place to land in Lettes Bay and waited for an hour or so to see what would happen. 

As it turns out, the wind decreased, and we could have continued on. Pulling out, we lost another two hours as we paddled back to where we had launched, unpacked, went off for a weather forecast, and then discovered, to our chagrin, that the wind was actually abating. But, it was 3.00 pm before conditions became manageable, neither of us had eaten in the last 7 hours, and we had, were we to repack and continue, another 5 to 6 hours to paddle (if nothing else went wrong) and no hope of launching again before 4.00 pm. Not for the first time, we had been soundly spanked.

Welcome To Tasmania: Mount Farrell

It is 30 years since I spent a year in Devonport, Tasmania as a student midwife at the Mersey Maternity Hospital, and, riding the Spirit of Tasmania into port on the Mersey River nothing was familiar, except, perhaps, a little bit of sandy beach west of the Mersey River where I used to swim (almost all year!). 

I certainly don't remember as much palaver boarding the Spirit of Tasmania at Melbourne. We were astonished to find that, even though we arrived almost two hours before the boat was due to depart, there was a huge traffic snarl clogging up several streets in Port Melbourne as cars, caravans, trucks and motorcycles queued across multiple intersections. Once we actually crawled our way closer to the loading zone we found out why, as not only was our car and caravan searched, but another official climbed up to inspect the kayaks. 

Luckily, we managed to convince her that our wetsuits were clean and dry and we did not have to pull those out as well. Two litres of Shellite were confiscated, never to be seen again, and a small refill of butane was taken away for pick-up in Devonport. No wonder the check-in line moves so slowly.
Add all this to a 9 or 10 hour boat journey, another quarantine inspection for unlucky travellers at Devonport, and arriving in Tasmania feels as if one has arrived in an entirely different country. But, this is still Australia. Free camping is still easy to come by and the country side and coastline is as beautiful as anywhere.

 Lake Macintosh

We arrived in Tasmania with a huge list of multi-day walks and kayak trips we wanted to do, as well as some rock climbing, day hiking, peak bagging and single day kayak trips, and it was a bit hard to decide where to go first, particularly as we seemed to have no data reception on our mobile telephone to get a weather forecast. However, in a brief period of mobile telephone reception we got what appeared to be a good weather forecast in the southwest of the state and decided to head down to Strahan to do an 8 day sea kayak trip around Macquarie Harbour. On the way, we would pass a track leading to the top of Mount Farrell near Tullah, an alpine type peak to the north of the Tyndall Range, and welcome opportunity to exercise our legs.

Tasmanian roads are as narrow and winding - perhaps more so - as other roads in Australia, so, even though the distance is not far, it was 3.00 pm when we left the track head at Tullah on a well signed track leading to either Mount Farrell or Lake Herbert (or both). The track starts climbing straight off up through dense second growth timber passing a few very hidden old mine shafts. After about half an hour, you emerge onto button grass and more open terrain and you can see craggy Mount Murchison at the far northern end of the Tyndall Range to the south. Another ten minutes or so, and a junction is reached with one red arrow pointing to the lake (left fork) and the right branch heading to Mount Farrell. We took the right fork and the track immediately disappeared into dense button grass and shrub. There is a foot pad, it is just a bit obscured. 
 Mount Murchison

After a short climb of perhaps another 100 metres, the track emerges on a ridge scattered with conglomerate boulders. The track becomes clearer again and steadily climbs south along the ridge with views of Lake Roseberry and Lake Macintosh, and, as you get higher, tiny Lake Herbert tucked under the slopes of Mount Farrell. A false summit on the ridge is reached, but the track carries on, a bit more obscured in places and, about 15 minutes from the top, a cluster of boulders and thick scrub on the ridge is turned to the right before the track climbs again and traverses with some scrambly sections on the conglomerate boulders to the top and the trig station. The best views are actually from a large conglomerate boulder just before the trig station. 

 Doug on the track to Mount Farrell

Cradle Mountain/Lake St Clair National Park is, of course, not far to the east, and I'm sure some of the big peaks we were seeing are icons of that National Park but I am not familiar enough with any (I did climb Cradle Mountain 30 years ago) to recognise any. The view, however, is superb and highlights the wonderful wilderness that still remains over so much of Tasmania. It was 5.00 pm, so time to be away down the mountain again. Lake Herbert is only 100 metres below and the track to the lake is much clearer and more defined than the one to the summit, and, there is nothing, apart from thick button grass and waist high scrub preventing a descent to the lake and track, but we opted to follow the track back down (I was wearing shorts - last time I'll do that). 

 Viewpoint over Lake Macintosh

There is, however, another junction, about 20 minutes below the summit near some rock boulders where you first get a view of Lake Macintosh on the way up and a red sign marks this junction (hard to see on the way down). A deeply gouged trench drops about 5 metres down to the east and you can join the better lake track easily making a little bit of a circle route. All up we were about 2.45 return, although it would be nice to also have time to visit Lake Herbert and perhaps have a swim. A great and easy reintroduction to Tasmanian walking with outstanding views. What more can you ask for?

Lake Herbert

Catcher In The Rye: Bushranger Bay to Rye Beach

Driving west from Flinders on the Mornington Peninsular the road dips down and crosses Main Creek and enters a small corridor of native bush all that remains in this area of otherwise cleared farm-land. Doug let me out here at Bushranger Bay Picnic Area and continued north to St Andrews Beach (or actually Rye Beach - but that comes further along in the story). I headed off down the track to Bushranger Bay along a narrow track cut into dense coastal scrub. The density of the bush is a bit illusory here, however, as this corridor of bushland is only a few hundred metres wide and every so often cleared fields are visible to either side.

The track was surprisingly busy with all manner of hikers, some looking moderately fit, others grasping hiking poles (on a flat track?), others carting around the usual Aussie metabolic belly. But, at least everyone was walking and enjoying a sunny, if rather hot, Saturday. Soon, some pleasant views of the coast open up and a side track to the lovely Bushranger Bay is reached. It would have been nice to duck down for a swim, but Doug always finishes these through walks (he starts from one end, I start from the other) before me so I figured I should continue on. 

  Bushranger Bay

After about an hour I came out at Cape Schanck parking lot and strolled around the half kilometre loop that visits various viewpoints and also gives access to a stony little cove. It was very busy with people everywhere. Unfortunately, there is no connecting track to take you from Bushranger Bay track to Two Bays track which continues up the coast, so I had to walk out along the road to get to the track head. I strolled along this track - bristling with people carrying eskies, buckets, spear guns and more, so there must be many vehicle accessible locations nearby to the track - passing the occasional lookout and soon coming to a track that descended to Fingal Beach. 

The Victoria Parks sign indicated that this was an optional low-tide access to Gunnamatta Beach and seemed preferable to walking through the dense coastal scrub so I took this side route down to the beach. I did wonder if this would mean I would, for the first time on the twenty or so occasions that Doug and I have done through walks, not cross paths with Doug along the track. 

 Looking towards Cape Schanck

There were a lot of stairs descending to Fingal Beach which explains why so many people were huffing and puffing on their way up. The beach has nice rock platforms with rock pools and very clear water and it was pleasant wandering north around a couple of small headlands to the long sandy stretch of Gunnamatta Beach. 

Walking out onto the sand at the south end of Gunnamatta Beach I thought I might have a bit of a slog ahead of me as the tide was rising, a strong hot wind was blowing into my face and the sand was a tad soft. But, it all wasn't too bad, although it was hot, and I was soon walking past all the crowds near the two parking areas set behind the beach. 

 Rocky beach near Cape Schanck

We had agreed that Doug would park at St Andrews Beach which, according to my map was the next beach to the north so I thought I had only a couple of kilometres - maybe three - to go. I wandered around rocks at one small headland and then got to Boag Rocks but the tide was too high to stay on the beach so I took the short detour around to the south end of St Andrews Beach where, thinking I was nearly at the end of my walk, I had a swim. The water was gorgeous - crystal clear and wonderfully cool. Another half kilometre along the sand and then I strode confidently up to the car park where a sign said "St Andrews Beach" but no car awaited me. Not to worry, I thought as a track led off to the north, undoubtedly to another car park. But, no, it simply dead-ended near some expensive looking houses. 

I trudged back down to the beach, continued north, trudged back up the dunes again at the next beach exit - a small dirt road with a few cars parked - but no Hyundai with two kayaks on the roof. Back down to the beach, trudge further north, wondering what I would do if I couldn't find the car. About a kilometre or so north along the sandy beach another dense cluster of people indicated another parking lot although my map clearly indicated this was Rye Beach, not St Andrews Beach. Off I went feeling more confident that Doug would be parked at this beach as it seemed to be the first beach he would have reached in the vehicle. 

 Gunnamatta and Fingal Beaches

I was feeling a bit hot, bothered and frankly hungry (I've got into the habit of never packing food with me as I don't seem to need to eat that often now that I'm not a carbohydrate-crashing junkie) when I walked up the beach to the car park and was happy to find our car parked in the first row. It's always interesting when you drive the distances that you walk and paddle as you suddenly realise that you have come quite a long way self-propelled and it probably took me half an hour or more to drive down to Cape Schancks where Doug was waiting in a hot and very buggy car park. 

We still had to drive all the way back to Stony Point where we were staying and I was really feeling like a bit of food, but, it was hot, and Doug hadn't had a swim so we stopped at Flinders for another wonderful swim.
Pulling into Crib Point, we decided to fill the car up with diesel as we were planning to take the boat to Tasmania in two days and figured petroleum products would be a bit cheaper on the mainland. I know I was hungry and a bit dazed with the heat (it was about 34C and the once blustery wind had died to dead still calm) and I guess that is why I put unleaded petrol (almost 24 litres of the stuff) into our diesel vehicle. Luckily, I did notice before the tank was full and stopped immediately, and, that marked the beginning of a bit of a nightmare.

The service station owner could offer no help other than "push the car out of the way" and call the motorists association. Doug made numerous telephone calls - a bit challenging as we had quite poor reception - to every mechanic he could find but, it was almost 5.00 pm on a hot sunny Saturday and the only mechanic we got hold off said he could not help us until Tuesday and the vehicle would have to be towed to his garage. Eventually, we gave up, pushed the vehicle off to the side and walked 3 or 4 kilometres back to the small caravan park where we were staying all the way trying to come up with some solution to this problem.

 Point Nepean beach

We had decided to ask the caravan caretaker if he had a siphon hose and if so, I would walk back up and try to siphon the tank that night. If that worked, we would take the train to the nearest town and buy several gerry cans to contain the siphoned off petrol the next day. Turns out, Gary, the caravan park caretaker is a real stand-up bloke, very true to the typical Aussie stereotype of being quite resourceful. Along with his good friend Peter, he drove us back up to the service station, towed oir car back to the caravan park and helped us drain out all the petrol from the tank by removing the fuel filling hose and siphoning the two tanks. Gary did not have a proper siphon hose so we all got to take turns sucking on a piece of cut off garden hose. Unleaded gas is disgusting. 

Eventually, we got all the petrol out we were going to (not quite empty) and Gary drove us back up to the service station with three gerry cans which we filled with diesel and, finally, about 9 pm, we managed to drive the car back to our site near the caravan. 

Doug on the beach at Point Nepean

We had been planning another sea kayak trip the next day, but, when we finally finished with all these shenanigans we were too tired and stressed out to think about that so after a very late dinner we crawled into bed. I slept soundly but Doug was awake worrying about the car.

Next day, we cancelled our planned sea kayak trip as we thought it a good idea to drive about without the caravan and make sure the car was running okay. Doug and I both hate driving so the idea of going out purposefully to drive was a bit confronting but drive we did. All the way up to Point Nepean where we walked along the Coles track and out to Fort Nepean and Point Nepean (very pretty) and back covering about 150 km. We managed to burn up enough fuel to put another 10 litres of so of diesel in the car and we figure the remaining petrol is now quite dilute and are feeling cautiously optimistic. 

Surfside at Point Nepean

Have You Done This Before: Somers To Flinders By Sea Kayak

Doug and I pulled into Flinders Beach right near the jetty where a kayak-fisherman was just coming ashore on his sit aboard. "Where have you come from?" he asked, "Somers" Doug replied and..... "have you done this before?" the kayak-fisherman asked. Of all the questions Doug and I get asked, this one "have you done this before?" always seems the strangest to me. I always answer politely (almost always with a "no") but, what I am eternally thinking is - if I'd done this before, why would I do it again? 

Somers is in Western Port on the south side of Mornington Peninsular. An off-peak only (four scheduled services a day) runs from Flinders back to Crib Point and would provide our transport back at the end of the kayak trip.
The tide was a long way out at Stony Point where we were staying, but we were easily able to launch the kayaks from the beach at the end of South Beach Road in nearby Somers. We spent a good half hour before we left getting chewed up by sandflies and putting our kayak sails together on the beach. We were hoping for favorable winds and a bit of a push along the coast. 

We cruised down to Point Leo along the mostly sandy shoreline getting an occasional lift from the wind, but it was blowing barely 5 knots and very sporadic. At Point Leo, we pulled in for a stretch and a drink, but didn't stay long. The wind was increasing and we had hopes of getting some push for the last stretch to Flinders. Reefs protrude a long way from Point Leo and by the time we had paddled past the small surf breaking on the rocks, the wind had died and conditions were almost glassy. 

No wind!

It seemed more interesting paddling from Point Leo to Flinders as you get a bit of swell creeping past Philip Island and the water is wonderfully clear. Unfortunately, the sum total of marine life seen on this 20 km paddle was one dolphin and a large jelly fish. There are far too many fishermen in Australia (they are mostly men) and the oceans have been quite denuded as a result. The last few kilometres into Flinders was into a light headwind - so much for those sails. 

At Flinders, I walked up the road to the bus stop, found the bus waiting, and, for the exorbitant cost of $1.30 rode all the way back to Somers.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Tree Ferns, Mountain Ash, Lyre Birds

Two more sleeps in a house (we are house-sitting two dogs, a ferret and an acre of property near Emerald, Victoria) until we are back on the road again. It has been a nice five week break living in houses instead of in our four metre caravan. Hot showers every night (not a bucket of cold water over the head), a good sized kitchen and fridge (vegetables galore and left over slow-cooker roasts), an indoor toilet (not that there's anything wrong with a giant PB jar), it's all been very decadent. About this time when we are staying in houses I start to realise we need to get moving again, or we'll get so comfortable we may never move. 

Stately eucalpyt

Today I drove east towards Belgrave and did a walk in Dandenong Ranges National Park. This is a funny little (or big, depending on how you look at it) National Park spread out over a large area and consisting of many scattered areas of parkland surrounded by urban development. I've been walking around Wrights Forest State Park for the 10 days we've been at Emerald (an 8 minute stroll from our house-sit) and had got used to seeing one, maybe three people on my long rambles through the forest so I was quite surprised to find two cars parked at Nation Road, and even more surprised by the number of people I met on my walk. 

I started out walking west on Welch Track. Immediately, the track plunges into beautiful forest with huge eucalpyts and an under-storey of luxuriant tree ferns. The junction with Coles Track feels a bit like a slap in the face as you have to walk alongside an area of spaced trees as a subdivision backs onto the park here. The track climbs up to about 350 metres and heads away from surburbia and into wonderful forest again. Grants Picnic Ground comes upon you far too soon where I was surprised to find many buses, walkers, tourists and not surprised to find the obligatory cafe selling Metabolic Syndrome. 

 Tree ferns

Skedaddling out of this congested area as fast as possible I wandered down Hardy Gully Nature Walk past more thickets of tree ferns and towering mountain ash trees a few centuries old. Neuman Track climbs up to a ridge again passing a delightful little opening in the forest where a grassy meadow was catching shafts of sun. I heard the thrilling sound of at least a half dozen lyre birds along this stretch mimicking everything from bell birds to whip birds to kookaburras. Absolutely wonderful. The end of the walk was a downhill stroll along Paddy Road and the end of a walk that was about six hours too short. If you've never heard a lyre bird, click here to listen to this wondrous bird mimicking many other birds. 

Single tree fern thinking outside the box