Oct 03

Today’s adventure is at the end of a very potholey road, somewhere between Mallacoota and the edge of the world. You can either walk to Shipwreck Creek along the foreshore or drive around the long way on an 8km stretch of sandy road that has potholes that I’m sure lead all the way to the other side of the world. However, the day is lovely, it’s bright and sunny, in the mid 20s and simply glorious!

Michael navigates our little blue car between the holes, although at times I’m sure he’s driving towards them rather than around them, still, we arrive at the day area of the Shipcreek Creek camping ground in once piece with both axles still attached to a wheel at each end.

Click to see more detail

Our destination is Seal Creek, and it’s only 3km away.

The first part of the walk takes us from the camping ground down to the beach and then back into the bush. It’s mostly tea tree, fairly dense and little sunlight hitting the ground. It’s not too long before we exit the scrubby bush and find ourselves in a heathland. This low-level bush allows us to see to the sea. The other thing it allows is the blooming of flowers.

In our modern era, I want all the flowers to be available to me right now. However, what I discover is that the flowers have a cycle that is only known to themselves. Some flowers are still budding, waiting for the perfect time to bloom, others have already had their time in the sun and are now browning petals dangling uncomfortably from stems.

I was hoping for much more colour, the 500 shades of blue, red, yellow and pink isn’t quite enough!

It’s true that we don’t see huge flowers, there are no dahlias, roses or tulips here to tiptoe through. Just delicate little things bursting with colour. We really have to slow down. Our normal quick pace becomes less than a stroll. Every few steps I stop, squint at a flower, bend at the hips, adjust the multi-focals to get a better view. If it’s something I haven’t seen before, I’ll point it out to Michael, we’ll muse for a minute together, I’ll move on few steps and Michael will stop to take some photos.

It’s a lovely walk in the late afternoon sun. There’s a little breeze and sometimes the faint calls of birds. The heathland continues to astound us as we get in good and close to the flowers. When we inspect the photos afterwards we often see a little spider or insect sitting on it.

We again walk into open woodland for awhile before out again on the heathland. The final part of our walk takes us again through the woods and down towards Seal Creek. This final bit is quite steep. We can see the creek in front of us, and it’s a tanninn colour water. The creek is blocked from entering the ocean, so it pools into a smallish lake.

We stop for a bit and watch a few birds fly around. Eat some food, drink a little water.

It’s now 5.45pm. It’s taken quite awhile to walk the 3k to get here. However, if we leave now, don’t dilly-dally too much, we should be back at the car just before night-fall.

Off we head! Up the steep incline and back on to the open heathland. But now it’s all changed. Whereas before we had bright sunshine, now we have dusk. The sun has dipped below a ridge to our west and given us a wonderful soft light. Michael is delighted as he snaps photos in this perfect light. He plays with his camera’s settings and gets some good shots.

The final part of the walk is almost in the dark. The tea trees kept the direct sunlight out earlier, now they bring an early night time. I find myself tripping on roots and rocks.

We get to the car and start the drive back home. It’s easier to drive on the pothole road now, as we can clearly see the shadows of the holes and avoid them.

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Oct 02

Genoa Falls is just off the highway. You might have a bit of trouble finding the little turnoff. It’s not really signposted at all.

At the end of a little sandy dirt road, a car park surrounded by pine barriers is a sign that declares you’ve found your way to the Genoa Falls.

Michael has arrived

A little walk along the path, through some scrub, and soon you can hear the sound of rushing water. Then the bush breaks away to reveal a large expanse of rock. A little stream of water tumbles over the rock as it makes its way through the area and on to the ocean.

Mostly rocks

We wander around. Apart from the running water, there is very little noise here. No birds, no traffic noise, no wind. Still and quiet.

We spread ourselves out and have afternoon tea, enjoying the warmth of the late afternoon sun while eating fruit and admiring the trees and clear sky.

We can hear a frog somewhere close by, it’s elusive, despite our efforts to train our ears to its location. As we make noise when we move around the frog stops.

I begin a systematic process of listening carefully and when I hear it croak, I move towards the noise and wait for it to start again.

It takes awhile, but I find a soggy patch of grass with a little puddle of water attached wedged between a crevice in the rocks. Here I think is my frog. I stand over it and am rewarded with the sound of croaking. I zero in, but alas, while I know I have the right spot, I can’t see it.

I move around the soggy patch and lower myself to the ground, laying on the rocks. I’ve now excluded all other background noises. The little rock ledge in front of me acts as a buffer. I’m hoping that I might actually see my little amphibian friend. I find all the local ants, and a strange cone-like insect moving down the stalk of grass, but no frog. When it finds its voice again, I am so close, and it such a local echo chamber that the noise becomes overwhelming as its croaking reverberates off the rocks and directly into my ears. I want to pull away it seems so loud, but I stay put to enjoy the sounds as it reaches its crescendo and then dies away for a moment, only to start all over again.

After a few minutes, the frog goes silent and I move on. I jump over the little running stream and onto a sandy bush track. I can hear more running water and head towards it, the low bushes give way to a large pool of water that is being fed by the little stream tumbling over the rocks. Years of erosion have the pool sitting in a perfect rock depression. The water is dark and cool. The bottom is covered with fallen leaves, branches and silt. It looks inviting enough to swim in with its little waterfall feeding it at one end and then pouring out the other. The rock pool is surrounded on one side by large boulders, and those boulders have perfectly round holes that again are the result of erosion, as the water spins small rocks around, they drill into the softer rocks, causing perfectly smooth holes that fill with water.

I follow the stream up stream and find myself on the same rock face that I left from. Michael is there taking photos. As I sit and watch him I see a faint movement off in the distance. At first I’m not sure what it is, but I think I can see a log that wasn’t there before. I lift my binoculars and train them towards the new log, only to discover that it has four legs and a tail and is busily looking at me!

Esmeralda! Our East Gippsland Water-Dragon. She’s one of the main reasons for our visit. She sits very still as I watch her and then signal to Michael, who points his camera at her and starts snapping. Michael slowly moves towards Esmeralda, who clearly isn’t too worried. She plods around in her own time, laying flat at times on the warm rocks in the last of the direct sunlight. Every now and then, she would lift her head and do a nodding motion. She jumps off behind some rocks and disappears.

Our final delight for the day is some small orchids. Michael notices them growing from a small rock shelf. We spend some time admiring them before the failing light and an increasing chill in the air sends us home.

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Sep 26

Put me on the top of a mountain and happiness happens by default.

Setting: Happiness (Default)
It looms!

The old days of leaping a mountain in a single day seems like such a distant memory. As does climbing Mt. Imlay, the first time was in 2011. I remember the dirt road, the logged forest and this huge mountain in front of me. Mountains like this are said to loom. And here it is, a looming mountain. Begging to be climbed. As looming mountains are want to do.

Any notion that you simply lob up to a looming mountain to loom it is foolhardy, to say the least. However, that didn’t stop Michael and me, for lobbed we did. We quickly stopped the car, got out, applied our sunscreen, went to the toilet, read the information board, prepared our backpacks, changed our socks, put on our hiking boots, adjusted our hats and left. This sort of lobbing takes proper preparation.

The day was glorious. The sun was out and bright, which isn’t surprising as it was daytime, just before lunch, so therefore morning. There was a distinct lack of clouds, and this helps for a bright day and the sun being out. It was coolish, but not cold.

Legs not quite fallen off yet

The first part of the walk is steep, as it the second part and the third part. In between the steep bits, it’s steep, but a little less steep. Still, when it’s steep your legs scream at you. When it’s a little less steep, your legs make you stop.

So, with my screaming legs, we made our way upwards, go down for a little bit, and then the final stretch to the top. My heart beats to match the upwards and down movement of my legs. In those days of yore, I knew when my heartbeat was at maximum because my teeth would start to rattle in my head. These days I have an app.

Last time we hiked this at the start of September, this time, we’re at the other end of the month. We have wanted to return over all these years to see more flowers! In particular, we wanted to see the Mount Imlay Boronia (Boronia imlayensis). First however, to the top!

It took us 1 hour and 57 minutes and 14 seconds to get there, I have an app. Luckily the last bit of the upward is pretty flat, but steep. We sat on the ground in a sort of collapsed fashion, like a drying bean bag that has been unpegged from the clothesline.

After we recovered enough we chewed on some food and then looked around the site, admired the view, took a selfie, posted to social media, made a phone call, transferred money from my account to someone else’s and drank some water.

Then, the easy bit, we started down. It is also steep but in the other direction. Luckily we are more interested in taking photos of wonderful things. This means that the down trip takes 2 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds. If you’re astute, and I’m sure you are, then you will notice that it takes us 43 minutes longer to descend. That’s pretty amazing, as the declination is enough that you could probably slide all the way down in half the time.

And this is why we are here. The amazing and wonderfully delightful Mount Imlay Boronia. This rare plant only grows on this mountain in an area of about 500 meters x 50 meters. It’s clear that it wants to make the most of the space, everywhere we turn is another blossom.

Once we drop off the top, that would be about 50 meters, the boronias disappear and we are back into the rough rocky ground. Everywhere around me life abounds. The silver ashes gracefully reach upwards, the grass trees sway in the gentle breeze and the flowers just look gorgeous.

Leaves turning

The balance to the lovely whites, yellows and pink of the flowers, the balance to the thousands of shades of green, are the shades of decay. The newly fallen leaves that turn from dark green to a pastel shade before going brown. The bright silver trunks of the gum trees that shed and turns grey and breaks down into a non-descript colour that sits on the forest floor. The bright red leaves that darken and turn to black. All breaks down into a rich black soil that helps the colours grow all over again.

Even though the mountain will be here long here after all of us, it’s not immune to change. The very rocks themselves have to contend with lichen that will leech them to soil. Bit by bit the rocks break down into stones, I know this because I put my feet on them and they slip, causing me to throw my arms out like Jesus on a Friday. The leaves and the bark work with the stones to create a path that is laden with trip hazards and a quick way down, if not to the bottom of the mountain, at least to the bottom of your spine.

That said, you can’t stand or sit, on this looming mountain and not be taken by the whole package. The wind, the sounds, the colours. The smells, the taste on the air, from the smallest noise to the largest rock, every single part of the mountain comes together to deliver an experience that makes me want to come back for more.

Mt Imlay has every reason to loom.

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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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