Mar 02

An early morning walk is always good – however I must admit to a certain level of madness to be walking in the hills before dawn.  The rewards are quite stunning.

My watch started vibrating right on 6.00 a.m.  I was already awake, lying there waiting for it to go off.  It’s important never to get out of bed before the alarm goes off, it’s a universal rule and as I will show, universal rules are not to be toyed with.

I turn the light on, stumble around the room, find the suitable attire that I’d carefully laid out the night before, brush teeth, beard and hair, throw some items into the backpack and head out the door by 6.10 a.m.

It is dark.  The stars remain bright, overhead is Spica with Jupiter sitting next to it, well, at least in my sky, there’s really 550 light years between them.  There’s also Antares, I mistook it for Mars as it’s red, next to it is Saturn.  The sky to my east is starting to brighten as I head along the footpath through the middle of Halls Gap.   My only company is the kangaroos and wallabies who are enjoying nibbling the grass without hordes of tourist hanging around trying to get close enough for a photo.

In a couple of minutes I have crossed the little village, moved beyond the football oval and begun the climb upwards towards Chatauqua Peak.  It’s only a short walk, about 3½km.  The track is a sandy white, it stands out in the pre-dawn light, however it’s dark away from the village lights, and before long my toes are hitting every rock and tree root, causing me to stumble.  Last thing I need is to be rescued by the SES before I’m even out-of-town.   Luckily a thousand years in the Scouts taught me to be prepared and I whip out my headlamp, remove my cap, attach said light to my head, slap my cap back on,  turn on the light and continue upward.

As the blackness gives way to an eerie grey, the birds start to awaken, first kookaburras begin the morning with a solid round of laughter from all directions.  Like a real laugh it seems contagious and in a few seconds I’m surrounded by the calls of the early birds.  The currawongs aren’t far behind, their distinctive call bounces around the mountains.  The magpies join in with their early morning warbling, like the kookaburras it seems contagious and soon there seems to be hundreds all speaking to each other.  Throw in some ravens and lots of small wrens and we have an orchestra of morning song.   However, nothing compares to the awaking of great flocks of cockatoos who begin their morning by screeching to each other.  It’s like a 3 year olds birthday party, everyone wants to play with the new toys now and they’re all going to yell until they get their own way.  Now that’s a sound that really bounces off the mountains.

I can’t tell now if my headlamp is getting dimmer, batteries running down, or the encroaching daylight means it’s less effective.  As it’s now light enough to see, I turn it off and continue the trek and manage not to stumble so much.  Still to early to be rescued, I’m still in mobile phone range.

As I ascend the sky to the east has a bright orange bubble in the middle of a grey sky, the west is still black.  As far as I can see there are no clouds in the way.  The stars don’t fade away, they simply wink out of existence, all the background stars disappear as the sky changes from black to grey as the light extends from east to west.

If I’ve timed my walk right, I should get to the rock hopping stage of the walk in fairly good light.  I know I’ve been rushing a bit, sunrise waits for no person!  As I get to the fork in the track, I pause to look eastward.  The orange now extends across the eastern sky and I can pick where the sun is going to pop up.  I’m a little worried as I think it might be behind Boronia Peak and I’ll miss day break.

I’m now on the final stretch, it’s 6.50 a.m., I’ve made good time and can slow down a little.  This bit of the walk is along the ridgeline and there’s not a lot of space between me and the edge of the cliff.  The light is good and I hop along the rocks with ease.

I reach the summit of Chatauqua Peak just after 7.00 a.m., I’ve got about 15 minutes before the sun rises above the horizon.  I drag out my phone and fire up Sky Maps, I want to be sure I’ll have a clear view of the right point.  I can see that Mercury has just risen on the map, alas, the sky is already way to bright for me to see it.  I have a clear view of the horizon, a few low hills on the edge, but that won’t matter.

I eat an apple and wait.  I mean, what else can you do while you wait for the universe to spin around?

I snap a couple of photos.  The mountains to the west change colours from their nighttime muted tones to a soft orange colour, the trees that spill around their bases a dark green with spots of moving white as the cockatoos take flight.  The eastern sky is blue with an increasing orange bulge in the middle.  It’s 7.16 a.m. This is the time that has been allotted for our nearest star to put in an appearance.  I know this, because I asked Google.  It’s the only conversation I’ve had today.  I said “Sunrise” she said “The sun will rise at 7.16 a.m. in Halls Gap” and went quiet, not much for small talk, either of us.

And there is the proof of the final universal adoption of Google as the holder of all information.  A bright orange light appears on time and in the place that Google said it would.  The little bit of the sun quickly turns into  a huge ball of glowing orange, within moments it’s too bright to look at.  The world is suddenly bathed in a fantastical hue (I’m trying to avoid using orange again), the high peaks behind me are bathed in a warm glow and this shows off the brilliant whites and reds and all the colours in between.  Now with the sun fully risen I snap a few photos of the daily spectacular.

I have no idea what it is about sunsets and sunrises.  They happen on a continuous basis, as the earth spins there is always one of each happening somewhere on the globe.  Yet, every single one of them is unique.  It is its own moment.  This one feels richly deserved, I’ve climbed a mountain, well, a peak.  Risked life and limb to reach the summit in time to see this daily event on a beautifully clear night that is then pursued by a beautifully clear day with a brilliant blue sky and a now white star marching across it.  It is a moment of renewal, it reminds me of the daily grind of the world and how each day starts afresh with a world of possibilities.  Today is a day for me to renew, refresh and start again.

I sit for 30 minutes enjoying the warmth of the morning sun, I can feel the temperature rising already, heading towards a top of 34°

Below me I can see the long shadows of the trees in the brown paddocks, reminding me that the seasons are turning and it won’t be long before summer ends.  The sun is yet to reach the Fyans Valley in which Halls Gap sits, it’ll be another hour at least before it peaks over Boronia Peak.

I start my walk downward, within a couple of minutes I’ve dropped below the peak and into the shadow.  It’s still cool here and I meander down to Halls Gap where coffee and breakfast calls.

My second conversation is “Good morning, I’ll have 2 eggs and 2 long blacks please”

“Morning, how would you like the eggs?”

“Poached, please”

“No worries”

Not one for small talk.

Click all the images for a better look!

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Feb 21

 

It took me a while to get there, I’ve been struggling for some time and finally my emotional and mental health crushes in on my physical health and I’ve gotta get away.

My go to place is the Grampians, I’ve always loved coming here since I first set foot as a child in these mountains.

I surround myself with the bush. I thrive in its noises, its smells and its sights. I have two weeks to explore and soak in the ancient landscape.

I walk, it gives me time to think, to unwind, to restore the internal batteries.

I become so aware of my surroundings, the breeze blowing gently across my ears, the sound of distant traffic and the singing of the birds. The water gently trickling down to the valley, my footfall as I make my way upward and the sound of my breath at the exertion.

As my feet crunch the sand beneath me I can see the footprints of those that came before me and there’s another story. This white sand is millions of years old, it’s the worn down mountain, the wind and the rain has reduced the rock to this sandy white floor and its been trodden on for over 40,000 years. I’m connected to the land, to its history and I’m reminded that I’m a passer-by, someone who leaves a footprint, washed away in the next rain storm.

I aim for the top. I want to see the world beneath from on high, to thrill in its beauty. I want the blue sky above me and the land below me. I see and hear the wildlife around me, I see the delicate flowers to the big trees, the rocks that look like long forgotten dinosaurs to boulders that form mountains.

Here I find serenity and the chance for my mind to still. To recuperate and ready itself for the next phase of life.


First photo of me on top of Mt William taken by Michael Barnett
Music – Spa Music – Relax, Mindfulness, Yoga (2016) Matti Paalanen
All other video, sounds, words and images are my work.

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Dec 22

I first donned a backpack and climbed the Major Mitchell Plateau in September 1985, I’ve climbed it a total of 4 maybe 5 times now, including the latest hike in 2016.

A lot has changed in our world since then, firstly the medium of recording the story.  I can’t find my log book for 1985 or I simply didn’t have one.  However, my second hike in 1986, dubbed the “Comet Hike” was written in my log book that was a foolscap Collins Minute book.  Written after the event.  Not long after that I started recording in a smaller log book that I carried with me and wrote every chance I had.  These days my rough notes become a word press blog and I share the story with lots of other people!  In the 80’s I would use my log books and diary to record daily life and then record letter tapes for my friends.

The invention of word processing on a typewriter and then computer also means that my spelling is checked.  I also have Michael who proof-reads for me!


Other changes.  Get a load of the car, it’s an HQ Belmont station wagon, not a Kingswood and the rear door has a roll down window and drop tray!  Click on the image, Marcelle and I both have mullets and we’re both wearing our scout uniform.  For whatever reason we thought these heavy cotton shirts were the go for hiking in.  In the other photo we’re dressed in special hiking gear, our shirts have special wicking abilities, we have decent boots and Goretex raincoats.  Marcelle’s backpack is the same one that Michael is carrying, however, check out my old one.  It has an external frame and you can see the aluminium hoop at the top.  That bloody thing use to snag on every low hanging branch I passed under.  You can still buy the sleeping mats, a single piece of pressed material, nowadays you wouldn’t use them as a yoga mat.  We travelled with lightweight self-inflating mattresses.  However, mine had a seam explosion so I would have been better off with nothing more than a sleeping mat.

We spent hours packing in the 80’s trying hard to get the packs as light as possible, these packs had about 16kg.  I carried 18kg this hike, so a little more but a lot less time to pack.

 

In the days before colour photo copiers we carried two A2 paper maps that were very detailed.  If we wanted to check where we were we needed to triangulate our position, so needed 3 landmarks within sight, and using a compass, rotate the map, draw 3 lines and basically have a guess.  The information on the maps was already 10 years old when we bought them.  In 2016 we downloaded an app onto our phones, paid $9 for 3 maps that has information that is regularly updated. The app even puts a little blue dot to show us where we were along with the full longitude and latitude.  There’s no need for wi-fi or mobile reception, just the trusty satellites overhead.  We could zoom-in for a closer look, or out for a wider look and drop a pin, here’s where we had lunch and where we camped.  We printed the maps out in colour to carry a paper copy and gave a copy to various people in case we got lost!

Cooking has changed too.  Here we are with a fire and a billy hanging over it on a structure we’ve fashioned out of sticks, compare that to our lightweight cooking pan sitting on a tripod above the flame.  No need to search for dry wood.  Still, once the matches got wet, even though they were waterproof, no fire was possible!  The menu in 1986 consisted of fresh hamburgers, dried peas and Deb potatoes, sandwiches and pikelets.  In 2016 we had fresh fruit, freeze-dried chicken and potatoes, along with packaged rice and salmon.  Luckily the taste of freeze-dried food is much better!

 

And then our sleeping accommodation.  In 1986 we wanted to go as lightweight as possible, so slept only under a tent fly.  In 2016 we carried a lightweight 2kg tent, including attached groundsheet and fly.  Lucky for us it didn’t rain back in the 80’s.  Ever.

In 1986 my log entry says:

As we descended we watched the mist blowing straight up from the bottom of the mountain.  About half way down the mountain we watched as the plateau revealed itself to us, the mist started to clear up before our eyes

This hike was the reverse, the weather was quite nice as we headed down Mt William, however, half-way up the other side we watched as the mist hid the mountains.

The significant event in 1986 was Halley’s comet, hence the black and white photos.  Marcelle lugged her big camera and tripod to the top of the mountain.  We took photos of the night sky.  I don’t have any of those images.  Michael and I took our phones and snapped many photos of the bush, the flowers and each other.  No need to have a film developed, instant delete, and much easier to manage.

The one thing that hasn’t changed in 30 years is my sheer delight and enjoyment with walking and hiking in the Grampians and sharing that with people who I love.


 

Read Part 1, Part 2 and look at the gallery of images

 

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Dec 22

Sunday 13 November 2016.

I woke up many times during the night to the wind, it was making so much noise.  There’s not much up here to stop it.  The driving rain came and went.  When it stopped the wind would continue to blow drops off the trees and so the fly of the tent was subjected to a steady stream of water falling.  In between all this I could hear the little creek burbling away.

I wanted to go pee.  How I wanted to.  The thought of gearing up to do so was way to scary.  So my bladder and I came to an understanding.

By 6.30 I had to get up.  I discovered that a lot of our gear in the tent was wet.

I climbed out to see the clouds whisking past me, every now and then a downpour would follow the clouds

It was quite magical.

The creek was up a lot.  Yesterday we could jump it to move around the campsite, that wasn’t so easy now.

I tramped through the wet undergrowth to get to the toilet.  The ‘flood waters’ had surrounded our little tent, and the tent itself was now in the middle of a huge puddle.

My hands are freezing.

I manage to make a cup of coffee, no easy task.  I enjoy sipping it, mostly because my fingers are wrapped around the hot plastic cup.  Subsequent attempts to light the stove fail.  The waterproof matches have gone to shit and even the cigarette lighter is so wet it won’t spark.

I spend the next hour and a half standing with my back to the wind, however, the rain continues to fall from all directions and there is no relief from it standing here in the clouds on top of the Major Mitchell Plateau.  Michael wakes and spends his time in the tent stowing our various gear into bags, stuffing bits into sacks.   I resort to running on the spot to keep warm.

We eat a carrot, apple and muesli bar for breakfast.

Somehow we manage to transfer our belongings from the tent to the backpacks, then we pull the tent down and shove it into its stuff-sack.

Ready to go by 9.00 a.m.

The clouds, mist, fog and rain are being pushed by a gale force wind.  With backpacks on we make a start.

Worm out for some sun

Parts of the tracks are on boardwalks, mostly however the tracks have become rivers of water.  I’m surprised at the amount of water about.  The worms have come out of the dirt for a swim too.  There are so many of them on the track, and they’re huge.

Still the wildflowers abound.

The reason for me being here is the view of the western plains from the eastern edge of the plateau.  Alas, I’m deprived of this.  Beyond the escarpment to my left is nothing but grey clouds.  A huge wall of what seems to be solid concrete all the way from the bottom of the mountain, up over our heads.    The rain turns to hail, hitting our faces and stinging.

We trudge along the boardwalk, the rocks and the sandy tracks with the water, gradually making our way towards the southern edge to begin our descent.

It’s very rocky and slippery in places, we take our time, being very careful about where we place our feet.  We arrive at a point where the path seems to stop, the drop to the next bit is quite steep and to big for us to navigate, so we go around.  This proves very difficult.  No track, big rocks, trees and undergrowth in the way.  We bash our way through to get back on the steep downward track.

Swamp wallaby.

Some two hours later we drop off the Major Mitchell Plateau and onto Stockyard Creek track.  The narrow mountain path in the closed bush opens into a grass plain with scattered trees.  The track broadens to a 4WD road.  We see a couple of swamp wallabies, the only wildlife we’d seen apart from insects and worms.

We arrive at a turning point, to the left Mafeking Picnic Ground, to the right Jimmy Creek.  6 kilometres to go.

The path now takes us up to a helipad, over the top and down into the bush.

Compared to the walk on the top this is fairly easy.  Still plenty of rain, down here, though the wind has died down.  I am now very wet.  Water has seeped into my boots and my toes squelch about in their socks.  My hands are in my gloves, keeping warm, but the gloves are soaking.  Every now and then I clench my fists and a stream of water falls onto the ground.  

 

 

 

 

 

In these mountains, away from the rest of the world, we see fields of wildflowers.  Carpets of woven colours in all their glory.  The visual of the track winding up the hill in front of us, the bush, flowers, mountains and the aroma of the flowers and the wet eucalyptus and wattle trees make this a magical experience.  The rain has somewhat abated and I’m happy to be out here in the Grampians.

 

It’s just on 2.30 p.m. we arrive at our rendezvous point and Merv and Naomi are there in the car, avoiding the weather.

I’m sore and wet and I’m very happy.


Read Part 1 of the story and Part 3 that looks at 30 years of change!

Be sure to check out Michael’s gallery of images.

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Dec 22

Friday, November 11, 2016

And so, here I find myself sitting in Halls Gap with my husband, Michael and our parents (in-laws).

Michael and I are about to embark upon a hike.  For the first time since 2002 I have opened my hike log and taken pen to paper.  This is the first overnight hike I’ve done in all those years.

We’re here to walk from the Mt William car park, down into Boundary Gap and then up the other side to the Major Mitchell Plateau.  We’ll camp at 1st Wannon Creek Camp and stop there the night.  Next morning we’ll head around the eastern edge of the plateau, drop off at Stockyard Track and down to Jimmy Creek.

I have my trusty backpack, my boots, food and water.

Ready to go.

I wanted to start at Kalymna Falls.  When I submitted the notification of intention to the National Parks, the ranger rang me and said I couldn’t.  It’d been washed out.

My heart sank.

Bomjima Picnic ground I suggested hopefully.  No, she said, it’s been closed for years.

More heart sinking.

I was a little worried that perhaps Boundary Gap was out of action.  Can I start from the Mt William car park?  Yes.

This is the launching place of so many adventures of my 20s.

Preparations have taken ages, new tent, water bottles, socks, pants, hats, stove.  My pack weighs 18kg.  Michael’s about the same.

Saturday.

Our morning started with the sound of a thousand cockatoos right outside our bedroom window.  Begging me to get out of my bed and ready to go!  There were so many other bird calls in there too, they were gently calling me to arise.  Unlike the cockatoos who seemed rather more insistent.

We all had breakfast in Halls Gap and by 9.30 a.m. we had made all the final adjustments to our back packs, including an emergency repair on Michael’s.

Dig that fancy footwork on the left 🙂

We drove to the Mt William car park.  I’m really quite excited as we drive up the windy road.  It wasn’t long before our bags are on our backs, kisses, handshakes and advice of taking care before we are heading off to start our adventure.

Slowly we start.  It’s just after 10.00 a.m., it’s overcast and a little windy.  On the top of the mountain it’s probably 10°c.  We take some time to get used to the back packs.  Pulling on the straps, make adjustments to the waist belts.  My calves are screaming at me, as they do, when I walk up here.  I remind myself that we have plenty of time and I slow down.  My legs thank me.

We got to the top of Mt William in good time, it’s only a 2km stroll on a made road.  We avoid the summit and turn off to the right before.  We’re now on a rocky 4WD road with plenty of low vegetation.   The flowers are magnificent.  Lots of small blooms, fantastic colours.

The walking was good and while being careful to put my feet in the right place, it was pretty easy.  Michael stopped to take photos along the way.  This first part of the walk is fairly short, so we had plenty of time to smell the roses, or the native flowers as it happens.  The road runs out and is replaced by the rocky path that will take us downwards.

 

By 12.15 p.m. we’d reached Boundary Gap.  It’s quite a steep walk down the side of Mt William to the gap.  I really love this little spot between the mountains.  As we walk off the top of the mountain the low shrubs give way to taller trees and less rocks.  Nestled between these two mountains, still high above sea-level, is this well-wooded area, tall thin trees, small ferns, flowers.  I’ve walked this track many times over the years, mostly with my hiking partner, Marcelle.  Michael has borrowed Marcelle’s Macpac backpack.  The same one that has travelled around the world and up and down hills.  I find myself in the same position that I’ve been in so many times with Marcelle.  Struggling along behind her, with a view of her pack.  I glance up and see the same view now, the blue backpack with the Macpac logo.  I’m transported back 25 years.  The vision is popped instantly when I see Michael’s furry face.

We stop for lunch on the valley floor.  Rice and salmon, both out of sealed foil bags.  I heat the rice on my new stove and then mixed in the salmon.  A little bland, but ok.

The next bit of our adventure beckons, from the floor of the valley, the only way out is up.  So up we went. I trace my eyes along the rocky track and can see the forest giving way again to more rocks and less trees.

Steep.

Then it began to blow a gale, followed by rain.  We stopped to put on our new over-pants and continued to head up.  The clouds hurled through the gap behind us, out past Mt William as if being ejected by a great force.  The rain set in with few breaks between squalls.

It was slow going now, the rocks are slippery as we scramble up and over them, before long though we are on the edge of the plateau.  We haul ourselves up and over huge boulders.  My memory is clearly faulty, I imagined this part of the walk to be much longer and harder.

Still, I love this.

Great wildflowers abound.  So delicate.

A howling wind is blowing the clouds that obscure my view of the world.  In what seems a blink of the eye we attain the top.  I can’t believe it was such a short distance.  The top is rocky, low trees and shrubs, plenty of grasses.  Still lots of colours from the wild flowers.

At around 2.00 p.m. we see the first sign of the camp ground, it’s the ventilation pipe from the loo!  The creek is flowing, so much water.  It’s the first time I’ve seen this.  Previously it was simply a trickle and I struggled to fill up drink bottles without a heap of silt.  Now we have an abundance of tannin stained water, and our water bottles are still full.  We need to jump the creek to get to the camping site that we’ve picked.  We quickly erect the tent and unroll our sleeping mats.  It’s difficult to keep everything dry. The mats are mostly in the tent, all they need is a couple of quick breaths to inflate them.  Michael is done in no time.  I grab the valve on mine and blow into it and there seems to be no inflation.  I keep blowing as if I’m filling the biggest balloon.  It takes a couple of minutes before I realise that I’m not having any impact and that there must be a hole.  An inspection of the mat reveals that the seam along the edge is no more and the innards exposed.  I may have muttered a bit.  There’s little else to do because of the rain so we climbed into the tent and slept for about 3 hours.

When we awoke, it was very very wet, still raining.  That didn’t stop us pulling our wet weather gear on and heading off for a walk in the rain, without our backpacks.  We saw lots of wildflowers with a rainbow of colours.

Back at camp half an hour later we had a cup of coffee and then prepared dinner.  Which wasn’t hard.  You cut the top off the foil bag and pour in boiling water to reconstitute our roast chicken, gravy and mashed potatoes.  Was pretty yummy, considering the freeze-dried nature of it.

It’s been raining the whole time since we arrived at the First Wannon Creek camping ground.  Nothing for it but to go to bed.

This is quite an elaborate dance that needs to be done.

The 2-person tent is only large enough for one person to sit up at a time .  The process begins by loosening your laces, then sitting with your bottom inside the tent, feet outside.  You take off shoes and socks, put shoes between the fly and the tent, put socks near sleeping bag to keep dry.  Slip off your coat, carefully, so as not to spray water around the tent.  Roll coat up and place at edge of tent, just on the inside.  Remove outer garments. pulling jumper over head without extending arms outside the tent, unbutton shirt and try to remove while keeping elbows bent, then slip into thermal top.  This will make your arms wave around in a confined space in a most unbecoming way.

Slip off your over-pants by raising hips slightly and trying to push them down your legs then roll up.  Try not to get water over anything.  Stow them near the raincoat.  Remove trousers by lying down, lifting hips and trying to get them over your knees without hitting the roof or having your legs protrude beyond the tent opening.  Then try and slip into your thermal pants by slipping both legs in and trying to stop the legs of the underwear from getting wet on the over-pants or coat.

Now you’re ready for bed.  Lie back on your sleeping back and search for the opening.  When found, bunch your knees up under your chin and attempt to slide your legs into the opening, work out you have to unzip the bag , do this by lying down on the bag again, locate the zip and undo.

Try to climb in again.  Twist your legs and body to make the bag straighten out.  Make sure you can get feet to appropriate corners.  Realise the bag is upside down as the hood now covers your face.

Lie down and spin the bag around to make sure the hood is on the sleeping mat.

Now, find the zip and try to pull it up.  It won’t work and will need you to contort your body to use your other hand to hold the bag material still while zipping up.  You body temperature will have risen, you’ll be puffing slightly and wishing this bag wasn’t quite so efficient in retaining body heat.

Oh, where’s my pillow?

Once settled lie really still as your partner commences the same dance.

I lay down on my flat sleeping mat that at least gave some protection from the cold wet ground underneath the tent, only to discover that my sleeping bag has a draft too!

It rained all night.  The wind rattled the tent and the rain pitter-pattered on the roof.


Read Part 2 of the story and Part 3 that looks at 30 years of change!

Be sure to check out Michael’s gallery of images.

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Sep 29

Michael and I have been away for another couple of days in the Grampians.  One of my most favourite places.  A couple of days there feels like a couple of weeks.

One of the things I love about being there is the sheer difference between the macro and the micro.

Michael and I walked part of the way up Mt William, the Grampians’ tallest peak.  We sat for a while and looked across the Mt William Range to the Major Mitchell Plateau and the Serra Range.  An amazing macro view.

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Our senses are filled with the wondrous view.  The warm sun on your faces, the cold wind whistling between the rocks, the smell of eucalyptus trees.  Then if you take the time to look closely you can see the micro.

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You can see the dew clinging on the sun-dew flowers, the droplets glisten in the sunshine.

The micro world is getting ready to burst forth with its array of colours as the weather warms up. The orchids are just starting to bloom and they are always a treat.

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Leopard Orchid

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Waxlip Orchid

Somewhere between the big mountains and the tiny flowers is the wild life.  A treat is the local sulphur-crested cockatoos that visited our room for the chance to nibble on some sunflower kernels.


Nothing like a few seeds to bring in a crowd.  Each cockatoo has its own personality, this one carefully picks up each kernel to eat, another one would gather 4 or 5 at once, yet another would peck at your hand and others would be gentle.  There were some that would approach carefully, headed cocked on one side to keep you in its view and one that jumped on our shoulder to get to the seed.

There are always plenty of birds in the Grampians, I could and do stand, stare, point and admire.

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Kookaburra

As we’re walking down from the Picaninny, I can hear some twigs breaking so I stop and listen carefully, slowly spinning my head until I find a family of Gang-gang cockatoos sitting in a native pine eating the nuts.

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Gang-gang Cockatoo

The highlight of the weekend however was the journey home.  We stopped to take a short walk up Mt Noorat, just out of Terang.  It’s a dormant volcano.  The crater is an inverted cone.  As we walked around the rim a flash of movement caught my eye as I turned my head to the left there was a single flap of wings and I came eye to eye with the wedge-tail eagle.  We seemed to make eye contact and he let out a couple of short squawks as he glided past us.

We couldn’t believe our eyes.  We had seen eagles before, off in the distance.  This was close.  We watched as he flapped and began to circle, keeping one eye us.  It was just amazing.

As he circled back around and dipped back below the crater rim we waited for him to reappear.  However, not everyone was as excited as us for this moment.  As he flew over the tree tops the local magpie clearly thought he was a little too close for comfort.

An aerial battle began.  It was very one-sided, the eagle not really very interested in the magpie.  The magpie would be flapping its wings rapidly and I could hear that swooping noise as it flew towards the eagle.  The eagle on the other hand effortlessly flapped twice and kept just ahead of its attacker.  With an extra burst of flappiness the magpie managed to catch up and it swooped down on the larger bird and the eagle flapped a couple of times and continued on its way seemingly unconcerned.   The magpie continued its assault and saw the bigger bird off.

The presence of this bird of prey had the mountain buzzing.  The magpies began warbling, and as the eagle circled around the local population of birds began calling out their warnings.

Here’s a short video of the battle:

As we continued our drive home we stopped numerous times to take photographs of other birds, Nankeen Kestrel, Brown Falcon, a Black-shouldered Kite

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Nankeen Kestrel

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Brown falcon

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Black-shouldered Kite

Each a delight to look at.

Take some time to flip through Michael’s photos – They are well worth it!

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Oct 11

I love the spring!

The best place to smell the roses is Halls Gap in spring.  Well, smell the wildflowers at least.

Michael and I headed up to the Grampians for a weekend recently to do just that, smell the wildflowers and enjoy the great outdoors.  We left on a Friday night getting there late.

The first thing to strike me is the smell of the trees, then as you step out of the car the amazing array of stars spread across the sky above.

I think as I stop to soak it in how the First People who have lived here for over 10,000 years must have often looked up to the sky and looked in awe at the view.  The black outline of the ridges that gives way to the brilliance of the stars.  The First People called this place Gariwerd.

We started Saturday morning with a run from our motel out past Brambuk, the visitors centre, and back, just about 6 kilometres.  My normal run is several times around the local running track, so to be out in the brilliant sunlight in the cool of the morning surrounded by towering mountains, the smell of eucalypt and the odd mob of kangaroos is a real treat.

From the top of Mt William

From the top of Mt William looking towards Victoria Valley

After our breakfast our first stop is Mt William.  The mountain is the highest peak in the Grampians at 1,167 metres. The mountain reminds me of my youth.  Many times have I climbed to its peak and looked at the fantastic surrounds of the Western District and the Grampians ranges.  It’s pretty easy to get to the starting point for our walk.  You drive.  The fun starts after you get out of the car.  It’s just 2 kilometres to the top on a well paved road, however, it’s steep!

We wind our way up and around the zig-zag road.  The day is beautiful.  Bright sunlight, not too hot.  Just perfect for a slug up a mountain side.  The flora changes as we ascend.  From the tall eucalypts to the stunted bushes of the semi-alpine area.  There’s not much to stop the wind at the top as it whistles through the communications tower when we reach the summit.

It’s a hard slog, but well worth the effort.  We scramble around on the plateau exploring the rocks and taking in the view.   We head southwards towards the Major Mitchell Plateau, this is the one spot in the whole world that I want to return to.  It’s an incredible hike that takes you down the side of Mount William to the valley floor then the steep climb up the side of the MMP.  However, that’s an adventure for another day.  All I can do is look at it for now.

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The Major Mitchell Plateau from the top of Mt William

As we head back down the road to our car we pass a few people walking heading up – stopping to take plenty of photos, including a few of a 3 metre snake that winds its way across the road in front of us.

Once at the car we head on to Jimmy Creek to stop for a coffee, then onto Mafeking, home of the Grampians gold rush in the early 1900’s.  We take a stroll around the old town where once 10,000 people lived.  There’s nothing but bush here now, and a few mine shafts that have been covered up with wire mesh barriers to prevent you falling in.

Sunday morning dawns even brighter than the previous day.  Today is wildflower day.  It’s Halls Gap Annual Wild Flower Show, now into its 75th year.

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A tree with character – click on it to see the larger version

First stop is the Botanic Gardens.  I had no idea that Halls Gap had such a place.  We wander around the gardens and look a the display of wildflowers on show.  Mostly cut flowers put into old ice-cream tins.  A permit is required to pick flowers in the Grampians, so not something you’d wander around the bush doing for a lovely display on the mantlepiece at home.

There’s this fantastic tree in the gardens.  A survivor.  Be sure to click on the image to the right to see the larger size, note the ice cream tin at the foot of the tree.

We wander through the exhibition in the local hall, grab some lunch and then head southwards again to Lake Bellfield.

We stop here, as we often do at Dairy Creek, the spot never disappoints with the local corella  population taking up residence in the trees and making a fuss that only they can do.  There seems to be thousands of the things gathered in the tree-tops.  We stop for some photos.

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Corella’s at Lake Bellfield

As we drive out I’m scanning the sides of the road looking for wild flowers.  While it’s great to see the variety on display in an exhibition, what I really want to see is the real thing, flowers in the wild.

In my mind, looking at wild flowers means grasslands with huge stands of blossoms blowing merrily in the wind.  The reality is quite different.  The flowers here are tiny.  Small delicate blossoms close to the ground and scatter among the dead twigs, leaves and other tiny plants.

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Common Correa (Correa reflexa)

A flash of red and I stop the car.  We get out and wander a few metres into the bush.  There are the flowers, on the floor, barely 10 centimetres high with tiny flowers no larger than a 10¢ coin on the end of their slender stems.  There’s a few here and there and we carefully trod our way through the undergrowth taking great delight in finding the perfect specimen to photograph.

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Pink Fingers Orchid (Caladenia Carnea)

At one point I was crouched down looking at an exquisite orchid  and as I looked up at ground level my eyes were greeted with the wonderful array of flowers close by, a wonderful moment of connection for me with my husband, the ancient ground beneath my feet, the beauty of the orchid forest in front of me and the mountains as the back drop.  The warm sun, gentle breeze, the sounds of the corellas, currawongs,
kookaburras and the occasional magpie.

Another great weekend away in a place that I never tire of visiting.  It gives me a sense of mental renewal to be among such staggering beauty with the man I love and the bush I enjoy and admire.

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Native Daisy

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Aug 19

In the middle of a cold Victorian winter, I have a week off, so Michael and I headed to the Grampians.  One of my favourite places in the world.

Leaving Caitlin and Tomas at home in Melbourne, with Shadforth Wilbury Sheep tucked away, coffee and stove, we headed westwards, though Ballarat, Ararat and finally Halls Gap.

DSC_4977.JPG It was late in the day by the time we arrived, I could feel the stress melt away as we rounded the bend into the little township.  Halls Gap is a rather timeless place.  It’s pretty much the same now as it was in the 70’s when I first started visiting it.  The little main street has the same shops, although now there is a new area down by the creek.  I’m pretty sure that the same family has been running the newsagency for well over 40 years.

We’re staying at Boronia Peaks Villas.  The one bedroom self-contained unit is a bit tired after years of use, but it’s comfortable and warm.

We made the short trip to Lake Bellfield. Over many years the lake has been fairly empty.  In fact, when Michael and I first came to the Grampians we where able to drive a fair distance into the lake reserve. Now however the lake is full.  The trees that we walked amongst before are now dead and underwater.

The dry lake

 

The full lake

As we walked along the bank listening to the sound of the bush, feeling very satisfied to be among the trees hearing the many bird calls.

DSC_4924.JPG We continued along the road to Borough Huts, there were no campers, we drove around the camping area, watching some wallabies and kangaroos.

The Swamp Wallaby is very distinctive with its dash of red on its head and it’s darker hands and feet.  We watched for a while as the wallaby grazed on the grass, unfussed by the two humans in their little blue car.

A major reason for me coming to the Grampians is mountains.  I like to get to the top of them.  The first was Boronia Peak.  It’s a pretty small peak about a 3 hour walk above Halls Gap.  The track takes us over Fyans Creek, it’s looking pretty disgusting, and we slowly start to climb up and find ourselves on a fire trail that runs parallel to the creek.  It doesn’t take long before we’re diverted off the wide sandy track onto a narrow winding trail that begins to climb steadily upwards. The track is sandy and rocky, behind us is the valley and then beyond that is the Serra Range, as we continue up we begin to head northwards until we get to the end of the little range we’re on.  The track then swings around southwards and we continue to climb.  We’re both not as fit as we’d like to be and the sweat is pouring off us.  DSC_4990.JPG There’s a few other people on the trail, most of them heading down and giving us words of encouragement.  I’m tempted to throw rocks at them.  As we head southwards the view to the east is of Lake Fyans and Stawell.  Mostly farm land.  Gradually the sand gives way to more rocks, less trees and a clay track of red.

Finally we reach the summit and with a spring in my step I jump across the rocks and perch myself on the top and soak up the view.

This is where I need to be.  On the top of a mountain.  Removed from my everyday environment.  I love it.  I catch myself grinning as I survey the view of the Grampians.  I feel I know them so well.  Mount Difficult Range to my north, the Mount William Range to the south, and across the valley floor is the Serra Range and the Wonderland range.  I can see Stawell to the east sitting out among the trees on what seems to be the flat plains of the Wimmera.

DSC_5002.JPG Now for something new.  There is always some place in the area that I haven’t been to.  We visited two places that I hadn’t seen before, both near Stawell, which to be fair is just outside the Grampians, so no surprises that I didn’t know about them.  The first stop was the Deep Lead Nature Conservation Reserve.  This lightly wooded forest has some significant eucalyptus trees.  We did a short walk around the reserve.  The reserve is a place where the locals bring their dogs to roam freely around.  I’m not sure I think that’s a good idea as the area is supposed to have some endangered species and some plant life of interest.

It was a short drive then to another new place for me.  The Black Range Scenic Reserve.  I found this a bit confusing, because I know there is another Black Range on the other side of the Grampians, near Cavendish and Balmoral. This new Black Range is a small outcrop of rocky hills.  Just a short walk from the car park is a shelter. In that shelter is some rock art.  The Aboriginal art is of their god, Bunjil. Bunjil is the creator deity of the Boonwerung people. The age of the art work is unknown and over the years since the Europeans arrived, it’s been painted over and vandalised.  It wasn’t until the 1960’s that a fence was placed around it to offer some protection.

The painting is of Bunjil and two dingoes.  It’s hidden in a small hollow at the base of a huge rock.  It’s unfortunate that it has to be protected by a cage to keep people away.  I did enjoy the moment of gazing at this image that may have been here for hundreds of thousands of years, painted by people who have long gone from this area.

DSC_5005.JPG Leaving the shelter, we headed up to the top of the small hill.  As we walked I caught glimpses of the Grampians out to the west.

Here at the top was another moment for me.  I could see Mount William, the Major Mitchell Plateau  and the Mt William Range. I hadn’t seen this view before.  It was late in the day and a bit chilly.  However, I wanted to sit and look at the scene before me. Again, soaking up the time and the place.  This feels like home to me.

Our evenings consist of lighting a fire in the open fire-place in the cabin, we watch a bit of TV. Sometimes we went out to one of the many local restaurants, and sometimes we ate in. It was always a relaxing end to the days activities.

DSC_5048.JPG A visit to MacKenzie’s falls was in order. It had been a number of years since I’d been there.  We drove over the mountains to the falls.  Much has changed here.  Gone is the little bush track I used to walk along to get there.  Instead we have a big car park with a kiosk, picnic tables and mowed lawns.

We begin the descent into the valley.  I can hear the roar of the water. It doesn’t take long before we are at the base of the falls. Michael takes lots of photos and I explore the area.  As I cross the little creek I stand on wet slippery rocks.  From here, with my face to the falls I can feel the spray of water as it crashes into the pool.  This generates a wind and I’m directly in its path as it comes up from the surface of the water and rushes past me.  A sweet smell, covering me in a fine mist as the trees behind me rustle in this local wind.

DSC_5087.JPG After we’ve been somewhere like this a cup of coffee is in needed.  We drive around and find a scenic spot to set up my little camp stove – a single burner gas ring.  I pop my espresso coffee pot on it and brew up a cup.  This trip we get a locally made small loaf of multi-grain bread each morning.  It’s great for our afternoon snack, lightly toasted and spread with local honey. This little ritual quite often happens as the sun dips below the mountains, so in the cool of the evening, there’s still an hour of daylight left as we huddle together and sip coffee, eat toast and listen to the settling noises of the bush.

While there in Halls Gap I take the chance to do some walking of my own.  Early in the morning while Michael is still sleeping I get up and rug up and walk along the creek.  It’s very cold, sitting on 0°.  There’s frost on the grass and it crunches as I walk over it.  A fog hangs over the mountain tops as the first ray of sunlight hits the red rocky outcrops high above me making them glow.  I’m surrounded by grazing kangaroos, flighty emus and ducks. The air is still with the sounds of kookaburras, galahs and cockatoos.

DSC_5033.JPG This is my spiritual home.  This is where the batteries get re-charged.  My life exists of running from one job to another.  I sit at a desk looking at computer screens, I go home and look at computer screens or watch the TV screen.  I go to bed and read on my tablet, I sit on the toilet and look at my phone.  I’m surrounded by the technology.  I love it.  I really enjoy that.  My mind is continually challenged by what I read and see on my technological devices.

I also enjoy this.  I enjoy being surrounded by mountains, I enjoy the sounds of nature.  The smells of the bush.  I enjoy the sights I see before me.  I am one with the world.  I am at peace.


Michael takes great photos. Be sure to check out the galleries on line. Click any of the photos above to see them in all their glory.

Below are the galleries.

Wildlife – Swamp Wallabies, Emus and Kangaroos

Boronia Peak Walk

Bunjil Shelter

MacKenzie Falls

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Apr 21

A new experience recently, something different, which I always enjoy.

A couple of hours on Port Phillip Bay on 15 metre yacht with my friends and co-workers.  Seven of us from work.

Some of the other managers had decided that being on the water was a bit scary, so they decided not to join us.

There was an air of excitement as we stood at the allotted place at the allotted time.  The Sandringham Yacht Club is a large marina with plenty of activity and plenty of boats.

The Skipper of the Terra Firma arrived and took us out to the yacht, it wasn’t as big as I’d hoped, something more the size of the Queen Mary would have kept me happy.  We jumped on board and he took us through the safety briefing.  Nicholas Bartels, the skipper, was good humoured, making jokes and generally putting us at ease as he worked out who the strongest swimmer was, in case anyone should fall in! He showed us how the life jackets worked and gave us a bit of a run down on his boat.  He let us know that he was in charge, and that this wasn’t a democracy, no room for negotiation, if he asked us to do something, it should be done straight away.

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Aboard Terra Firma

Once he and a man called Bluey had everything in order, they untied the ropes and with a push off the pier, we were underway.  The engine fired up and we gently left the marina. It was a windy afternoon, but the sun was shining and there was an anticipation of excitement and chatter amongst the team as we made our way around the other yachts, boats and other sea-going vessels that you’d never sit in!

Once clear of the breakwater it was time to hoist the sail!  As it was so windy it was decided to just let the little sail at the front go up as opposed to the big one on the main mast, which I think Nicholas said was about 20 metres high.  Don’t you just love my nautical knowledge!  I was asked to give a hand, so Nicholas jumped up and ran towards the front of the yacht.  There was no way I was running anywhere!  I gingerly grabbed the wire that I assumed would keep me in the boat and sort of hunch over and shuffled my way forward.

As Bluey guided the sail up the mast I had to pull the rope.  At first it was no harder than raising a flag, but then as more of the sail rose, I found I hand to grab the rope and pull hard, bending my knees and almost kneeling.  I reckon I could do that once a day, great sailor I’d make.

Now the adventure started.  I discovered why people get drawn in to sailing.  The seven of us had our legs over the side of the boat, doing our bit to keep that side weighed down, and before we knew it we were hurtling through the water at 27 knots.  (Which I think is about 50 kph).  It was a thrill!  The waves saw us rise and fall, the spray stinging our faces and with cries of terror and delight we heading out into the bay.

Terra Firma Yatch

Not us!

Then it was time to tack, our job was to let go of the security of the wires that we were hanging on to for dear life, and make our way across the other side of the boat.  There was only a moment of panic as you look towards the other side and notice that it’s on a hell of an angle, and just below the wires on the other side is the water, it occurs to you that should you not time this just right you might end up in that water.  As Nicholas brings the boat around, it levels out a bit and we all scrambled across and ensconced ourselves on the other side, grabbing the wire that we are assured keeps in 14 burly blokes.  Now as the boat swings around we are again on the high-end and whipping through the waves.

We did this  a couple of times.  Then bang.  We stopped.  Just like that.  It wasn’t clear what was going on, but we certainly hit something.  I eagerly look towards shore.  Could I swim that far?  Resisting the temptation to go find a life vest, I sat as Bluey and Nicholas calmly talked to each other.  Seems we ended up on an unexpected sand bank.  Using the motor Nicholas gently rocked the boat backwards and forwards until we fell off the bank and were free!

A cheer went up!

A bit more speed before he turned the boat and headed for home.

Now that thrill was over, and the real thrill for the day was about to commence.  Out on the water, with a can of beer in my hand and some sandwiches we peacefully sailed through the waters of Port Phillip Bay.  Off in the distance I can see the Heads and Arthurs Seat.  I can see Half Moon Bay where I spend many of my lunch times looking out at the same spot.  Further around is the skyline of Melbourne.  I have my friends and colleagues with me as we chat and laugh.  Eat and drink.

I’m loving it.  The stresses and the strains of life float away on the water as I look at the crested terns flying off in search of food.  I see a gracious bird with a huge wing span sail off over head.  I hear laughter and delight as we gently sail back to the bay.

I’m in my element here.  Well, not the water as such, but outside, surrounded by nature.  There’s the gentle rocking of the boat, the sound of the wind, the bird life and the water.  The sun is brilliant and I’m here.  I soak up the moment, recalling how grateful I am that right now the universe has reached this place in history and how lucky I am to be here.

We slowly make our way back to the club and reluctantly disembarked.

Even the surly waitress failed to dampen the high we were on as we sat around the table having a quiet drink, re-living the adventure we’d just been a part of.

A time well spent.

 

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Jan 21
  • Michael and I took a four week holiday in August 2011.  We spent our time at Mallacoota in the far east of Victoria.  This is another of my journal entries.  There are others here.

Mallacoota is great during the day, there’s so much beauty all around, but that’s only part of the joy of being somewhere remote.

The world takes on a whole other aspect as the sun sets, and then when it’s dark. We’ve been lucky to be here at a time when the moon is mostly hidden from the night sky. This has let us see some terrific night scenery.

Double Bay Sign

Click to see more great photos by Michael

Let’s start with our trip to the Double Bay nature trail. We’d walked around this very short trail earlier in the day in broad daylight. It’s an interesting walk that follows Double Creek along a valley and into a remnant of rainforest, the track then winds its way upward and into a sparsely wooded area. There’s plenty of evidence of wildlife around. We returned just before the sunset, about 17.45.

We walked around to a seat we’d seen earlier and sat as the sun set and twilight descended. At first it was quiet, but with the increasing gloom the bird life began to settle down for the night. Suddenly the forest erupted into birdsong as each bird laid claim to its roosting spot in the trees. It was near impossible to pick any one bird call among all the sqwarking. The birds were already in the trees when we arrived, so we didn’t get to see to many of them, and those we did were silhouetted against the darkening sky. As it gradually got darker the birds made less noise. The sky was now turning from its daylight blue to black, casting an eerie effect across the forest. The sound of the birds all but dying away was replaced with the noise of insects who starting chirping their nightime songs. Up in the tree tops we could make out a bat flying around in a large circle and beyond that the first stars of the evening began to appear.

All was tranquil now. We sat in the dark listening to the creaks and groans of the forest, until it was completely dark.  There’s plenty of wombat poo around, and I was hoping to see one waddle past, maybe even a possum or small marsupial might scurry along the forest floor.  There were faint sounds, and every now and then, I’d do a sweep of the trees with my torch, but we didn’t say anything apart from fleeting glances of our friendly bat.

After an hour of enjoying this unique experience we grabbed our lights and made our way out.

The Moon

Click to see more great photos by Michael

The night skies here are dark, and it is a great opportunity to get out and do some star gazing. The night we went out at about midnight was cloudless and clear. We headed down to Bastion Point. Nobody else was about, Mallacoota is a real quiet country town in the off season.  The galaxy, and indeed the cosmos was spread out in front of us. From here we are close to the head of the Mallacoota inlet, off in the distance we can see the light house of Gabo Island, we can make out the top of the Howe Range mountains and then the stars.  There’s the sound of waves crashing and every now and then the distinct noise of a hopping kangaroo.  The milky way is in full flight, stretching its hazy light across the sky. I can make out the Southern Cross, which is quite low in the sky, there’s Canopus and Altair. I can make out the constellation of Pegasus and Scorpio. Then the crowning glory of of viewing.  Jupiter.  Low in the eastern sky, the brightest object we can see.  Its just cleared the horizon and is casting its faint, and yet bright light across the water leaving a beam of light  rolling on the waves.  I’ve never seen the beaming light of a planet dance across the water before. We’ve all seen the light of the setting sun or moon across the water, it’s only in a really dark place that you can see reflection of a planet in the water. Simply stunning.

Never to be one far from technology, I have with me my Acer tablet computer, with it I have Google Sky maps, a great addition to star gazing. Long gone are the days of the 1980’s where I had a sky wheel, a cardboard chart to dial up the time of day and time of year to get an approximation of the night sky. Then I’d have to try and handle a torch with red cellophane over the lens to diffuse the light, hold it up to the sky and orientate yourself. Now the tablet app can work out where in the world you are and deliver a pretty good representation of the sky.  I revel in the technology, scanning the night sky with my eyes and comparing it to the chart in my hands.  Finding the names and making out the constellations.  Picking up my binoculars and looking at stars for a different view.

It’s a little damp, and getting a bit chilly.  We have our beanies and gloves on.  The sky is ablaze with light as we talk about our place in this rather overwhelmingly large universe.  It’s a great chance to sit and reflect.

Finally after a couple of hours we called it quits and headed back to the warmth of the inside world, leaving the moon to make its own way across the night sky.


  • Michael takes great photos, be sure to check out his galleries here.

Enjoy these images from his gallery, Double Creek Nature Trail & Gipsy Point.

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