Friday, May 1, 2015

Narawantapu National Park: The Long Way Round

I'm all about novelty. While I wouldn't say I loathe doing old trips again, I much prefer going somewhere new every time I go out, and, if I go out somewhere new, I would much rather do a good loop or one way hike, paddle, or ski than an "out and back." Sometimes, as was the case with this bushwalk, I think I may go too far to avoid retracing my steps. 

We were at Narawantapu National Park on the north coast of Tasmania. It was just a couple of days after our three day walk through the Walls Of Jerusalem National Park (which, happily, was mostly a loop), and the park was pleasantly quiet - only three or four other parties in the campground. Narawantapu is not a big park and it is split in two by some chunks of private land. From Bakers Beach, the park reaches only about four kilometres inland and the main east-west length of the park is only about ten kilometres from Port Sorell to the height of land on the Asbestos Range. Another smaller chunk encompassing Badgers Beach lies to the east separated from the main section of the park by half of the Asbestos Range and a large flat valley of farmland. 

We had arrived the afternoon before and I had wandered along past the wetlands and up to Archers Knob, a rather pretentiously named 110 metre high vegetated sand-hill. After admiring the view, I had strolled back along the wide firm sand beach to Griffiths Point, and finally picked up the horse trail that led back to the campground past grasslands thick with wombats, pademelons and Forester kangaroos. This 15 km loop was all flat (apart from the well-graded hike up Archers Knob) so had only consumed about three hours. 

 Badger Head from Copper Cove

The next day, the only place I had not yet walked in the park was to Badgers Head and Vision Point, each an essentially return trip. You can actually walk the entire coastline of the park from Griffiths Point to West Head (via Badger Head), but the car shuttle is over 50 km long for a walk that is not even 20 km long and I dislike driving even more than I dislike returning via the same route so I wrote that off. Somehow, when it came time to set off, I could not decide whether to walk out to Badger Head and back or up to Point Vision and back. What I really wanted to do was walk to both but not have to return the same way.

Our 1:100K map has the Point Vision fire trail connecting with other fire trails that traverse over the Asbestos Range to Badger Head Road which, of course, leads out to Badger Head and the east end of the Badger Head track through the park. It seemed self-evident that one could connect the Point Vision track with the Badger Head track via these tracks and roads to walk the entire length of the park (and some) and, most importantly, not have to return the same way.

The Park map, however, does not show this connection between the Point Vision track and the fire trails over the Asbestos Range. When I asked the woman behind the counter in the Parks Visitor Centre if the tracks connected she replied with an emphatic "No, the track ends at Point Vision" which only became more emphatic when I asked if she was sure. This is not unusual in my experience. Frequently, the people who work in these parks have no clue what really lies outside the doors of their offices, or, if they do, they want to discourage people from going there. As one of my friends said, "sometimes it is better to ask forgiveness than permission."

 Bakers Beach from Little Badger Head

When I left camp at the rather late hour of 10 am to start walking, I was still not sure whether or not I would try to link the tracks up, whether I would simply walk to Badgers Head and back, or whether I would go to Point Vision and back. But, I took our mobile telephone with all the maps on it and assured Doug that I had adequate food and water for the trip. 

The Point Vision track ambles, or I should say wanders as it goes back and forth across grasslands on the south side of the wetlands towards the Asbestos Range. There were a lot of large Forester kangaroos lazing about in the sun, there being plenty of food and no predators in the park. Eventually, the track enters eucaplyptus forest and begins climbing steadily up a ridge to a saddle just south of Point Vision. There is not much to see, but occasionally one catches a glimpse of the coastline and the wetlands behind. At the saddle, the track obviously connects to fire trails as you have to take a turn to the left and follow a beaten pad the final 50 metres up to Point Vision, which features a giant cairn but no view whatsoever. Well, that's not quite true. If you jump up and down in a certain spot you may actually see a bit of ocean. 

This "6 to 8 hour return" walk had so far taken me 1.5 hours, so, I sat down by the cairn to look at the map and ponder my options. Continuing on seemed perfectly reasonable but I was a little apprehensive that exiting the fire track to the Badger Head Road would be difficult as the road that descends over Asbestos Range passes buildings (sure to be private houses with large rabid dogs or unfenced randy bulls) that would have to be negotiated before I reached the public Badger Head Road. Unfortunately, I would not get to these buildings until I had walked right over the range at which point returning the way I had come would be quite undesirable. 

 Copper Cove from Badger Head

In the end I decided to go. I often decide to do things that I feel some discomfort doing simply because I don't want to be afraid of anything (except randy bulls and rabid dogs). The "fitspo" generators would call this "moving out of your comfort zone" but that is way too trendy an expression for me and really just seems too undeniably pompous to describe something that we should all do as a matter of course. Besides, I reasoned, as do we all "I can always come back." Along with "Let's just go take a look," "We can always come back" is one of those expressions that generates great adventures (and more than a few epics). 

The roads are not exactly as they appear on the map, but they are close enough to make navigating easy and I followed a larger fire trail down into a saddle, along a ridge to a small bump and then down again more steeply on an old eroded track to another saddle and finally a rising traverse up a little ridge to the top of the Asbestos Range. The highest point of the Asbestos Range (392 metres) was just a few hundred metres to the south so I ambled over there on a faint old track but there was even less of a view than there was at Point Vision and the trig station had fallen down. 

Back on the main track, I stumbled down the steep loose track losing 400 metres of elevation down to the valley floor. Somewhere along the way, although I could swear there was only one track going down, the track I was on managed to sidle to the southeast until I was between the two tracks marked on the map. As I was closer to the further southeast track, I went that way and got back on the track marked on the map, but, alas, ran into a private house with a large cleared yard. 

After coming all this way down, there was no way I was going back so I came up with the brilliant idea of bushwacking around the house and out to the road - almost a kilometre of the densest bush I've had the misfortune to wack through. I admit I hesitated for a moment as I did not have my compass with me and losing my way in the brush seemed not only possible but even likely. Still, the old "I do not want to go back" impelled me on and I plunged into the thicket. Fifteen minutes into this nonsense I had barely moved - at least not in the direction I wanted to go - and I really was in danger of getting lost - hard to live down in a mere square kilometre of bushland - so I wacked my way towards the house and yard again, repeating "do not panic, do not panic" to myself whenever the incipient fear of being lost threatened to overwhelm rational thought. 

 Bakers Beach

I managed to stumble out into cleared land a few hundred metres below the house and figuring that the driveway would be near a prominent line of power poles I hightailed it that way and happily stumbled onto the driveway and rapidly the last few hundred metres out to the public road. No rabid dogs or randy bulls were encountered. 

I had, however, come out considerably further away from Badger Head than I intended so I had to walk 5.5 kilometres along the public road to the National Park. I might have tried hitch-hiking had anyone driven by but the only car that passed was going in the other direction and by now I had decided that I really should, for purity, walk the entire way. 

Eventually, I got to the end of the road and the start of the track. I was somewhat disconcerted to note that the track sign indicated Copper Cove was 2.5 hours away and Bakers Beach three hours away. I hoped these were the same over generous times posted for Point Vision otherwise I would be walking well into the night. I had promised myself a snack break if I made it through the private land, down the road and all the way out to the track head, but now I decided I would continue on until I had a pleasant view. After all, I'd spent the last few hours in dense bush. 

The track was much more enjoyable to walk than any of the fire roads except for the lush greenery that had grown back after a fire had come through. All the banksias were burnt and lying on the ground so I had pleasant views of the coast, but the lack of tree cover had resulted in a veritable jungle of greenery all of which was very scratchy. In the end, I didn't stop to eat until I was overlooking Copper Cove and found some lumber left from track maintenance making a handy seat. After all, if this vegetation was scratchy on the legs imagine how it would be on the butt?

 Badger Beach

Copper Cove is a rocky little beach sandwiched between Badger and Little Badger Heads and I could see two figures, the first people I had seen all day, conferring at the closest end. As I stumbled down the track and out to the beach, they approached me "Do you know where you are going?" The woman in front demanded. I've been asked this exact question multiple times before almost exclusively skiing deep in the backcountry of British Columbia (Canada) after some boffin has decided to follow our "ski track" and is now tired, lost, afraid, late for lunch, or out of junk food and is looking for someone to blame for their predicament. "Yes." I replied. This lady was not looking for a scape goat and was happy enough to admit that they could not find the return track they thought crossed over the headland. Turns out they too had been hoping to walk a loop. 

There is, in fact, an old track that the Parks service no longer maintains or signposts and it runs slightly inland south of Badger Head over the Asbestos Range exiting the marked track where an old brown sign ("track") directs walkers down hill just after you crest Little Badger Head. It is quite clearly visible as you travel from Little Badger Head to Badger Head so I was a bit surprised the women had not seen it as they had walked right over to Bakers Beach and back. In any case, they set off back along the track and I continued over Little Badger Head. So far I was well ahead of the three hour time allotted to reach Bakers Beach. 

I was quite glad to be overlooking Bakers Beach and the last stretch of walking as my feet were getting sore and strangely my legs were jerking stiffly on the slight and well graded descent to the beach. Again, the tide was way out and there was good firm sand to walk along. The wind was cold, however, so I put on my wind jacket. Putting this on cheered me up immensely as it is (1) a nice warming bright orange colour; (2) the only bit of gear I have left that has not been half destroyed in thick Tasmanian scrub (mostly because it is not waterproof so I usually don't carry it - a non-waterproof jacket has limited utility in Tasmania); and (3) the bright orange colour meant I would stand out in the dark if Doug should come looking for me. 

 Narawntapatu Lagoon

There are four tracks that connect Bakers Beach to the Nature Track a half kilometre inland and, as I walked along I pondered deeply on which would be best. The first I would encounter leads past Archers Knob and had the bonus of being familiar (thus easy to find) as I had taken it the day before. But, I recalled it having some soft sand which would be tedious to walk on late in the day. The third would require a slight bit of backtracking on my part as it left the beach after I had passed where the campground was, and the fourth was way out of the way down at Griffiths Point and was clearly out of the question. When you've been walking steadily all day, with no company and scant views to distract you, the simplest decisions become profoundly complicated. 

Eventually, I decided to take the second track so I did that handy thing you do with your digits (and I don't mean pick your nose) and that is lay your finger on the scale marker, then lay it along the track and guesstimate how long you need to walk before you find the track junction. I calculated I should reach the track off the beach at about 4.50 pm. Obviously, I did not want to miss it and end up walking even further (plus, I'd be walking the route I had done the day before).
My guesstimate was off by about three minutes and I tried not to spend that time anxiously scouring the dunes looking for a small blue track sign in the fading light. This track is labelled "one" and was probably the worst I could have picked as it corkscrewed its way inland in a devious fashion climbing up and over every soft and heavily vegetated sand dune in the vicinity. In places the bush required bending double to scurry through. My legs felt strangely stiff and jerky as I stumbled along and I hoped this was merely a symptom of cold legs as I was still wearing shorts. Finally, the last sign indicated "Springlawn 25 minutes." I may have been tired, hungry, scratched up and foot-sore but I made it to the caravan in ten minutes and Doug was able to stand down the Incident Command Post. All up, I think I walked about 36 km and gained and lost about 800 metres of elevation - quite a bit of trouble to go to simply to avoid walking back the way I had come.
Wattle Archers Knob

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