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.

on the boat

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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Sep 04

Mt Imlay is just over the border and into New South Wales, our pre-reading indicated that it was a hard walk, but the reward was stunning views of the coast and mountains.  The day was postcard perfect, bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky and the forecast for about 20°C

All properly prepared, we jumped in the car and headed off.

DSC_0097.JPG

It’s a quick drive up the highway from Mallacoota to the turn off at Burrawang Forest Rd.  As we drive through the East Boyd State Forest it’s clear that this whole area has at one time or other being logged.  Just to confirm this government has provided us with nice signs that tell us when it was logged, 1977 and 1978.  The natural bush land is growing back, but it’s a slow process and will take many years.  The road is gravel it’s evident that its made for log trucks to thunder along.  Michael’s little Golf manages to weave it’s way over large rocks, deep pot holes and the odd branch.

After 10 kilometres on the beaten track, we arrive at the picnic ground, consisting of one picnic table, a display board and a toilet.  There’s a tank off in one corner for those that forgot to bring water and a little boot cleaning station.

DSC_0098.JPG The information board gave us some additional information about the park, we’re warned to wear good boots, not take children, and be prepared for cold wet conditions on the mountain, even if the weather is fine down here.  It tells us that the lower slopes are 450-500 million years old and was once the ocean floor, the mountain top is much younger, only 350-400 million years, and it is made of much harder stuff.  Not surprisingly the area was (and probably is) also sacred to the local indigenous population, we are asked to treat it like a church,  and to respect and protect the whole area.

We’re looking forward to this walk, even though all the research we’ve done says that it’s a steep and difficult walk.  There are a number of rare things to see here, foremost in our minds is the endemic Mount Imlay Boronia (Boronia imlayensis).  It only grows near the top of the ridge, and it’s just into spring, with a bit of luck we’ll see it flowering.

There’s two other cars in the car park, but nobody else to be seen.  We don our walking boots, pack our lunches and water, Michael readies his camera, I’ve got my binoculars and bird book and plenty of water.

First stop is the boot cleaning station.  DSC_0108.JPG The National Parks are trying to stop the fungus phytophthora cinnamomi from getting into the forest. The fungus gets into the roots and causes them to rot.  The little boot station is a steel construction with three brushes to scrub your boots, two on the side and one for the sole.  Then a chemical solution wash for the soles, just to make sure you kill the little buggers.

We can see Mt Imlay in the distance, it really does loom above everything else in the area.  The first part of the track is wide and scattered with plenty of dead wood, it looks like it was a road once upon a time.  It’s steep, and long, within moments of putting one foot in front of the other my calves are screaming at me, my pulse is thundering making my teeth shake and sweat is pouring out of every pore.  Bent over, with my little back pack on, I manage to tilt my head upwards and can see the track continues to steeply rise in front of us.  We made slow progress.  Really slow.

The track evened out slightly and we found ourselves standing between some Austral Grass Trees,DSC_0113.JPG each tree was between one and two metres tall, and they were in the way!  We had to push our way through their long narrow and somewhat pointy shoots.  For a few minutes it felt like we were in the middle of some African jungle and needed a machete to punch our way through.  A small sign board said that the local aborigines used these trees in many ways, the long stalks made ideal spears after being harden in a fire, the sap was a glue for adhering shell blades to the end of the spears and the dried flower pods were an excellent burning material.  There weren’t any flower stalks visible, I’m guessing that no fires has been through this part of the forest in many years, and the trees need a decent fire to flower.

We now found ourselves in a small saddle that linked the small (but very steep) hill we’d just climbed to the base of Mt Imlay.  We skirted around the edge of the saddle, not dropping to far into the valley.  At times the track became nothing but rocks as we wound our way around, there was a clear drop to the valley floor, and I had the distinct impression that one foot in the wrong place would see me tumble towards the trees far below.  I’m sure it would be a spectacular fall.  The reality really being a knock on the head on some loose rocks that would stop me tumbling in such a spectacular fashion.  Still, the trail headed around the top of this impressive natural amphitheatre,  and shortly we found ourselves at the base of the mountain.  The relatively flat track around the edge had allowed us to recuperate, which was just as well as now the track began it’s slow climb up to the summit.  We could see it, along with the ridge that would get us there and the steep incline that we now had to tackle.

DSC_0129.JPG The forest was now mostly tall Silvertop Ash trees, these magnificent gum trees are covered in dark bark around their lower half, and the top half silver, crowned with a bush of leaves, up to about 30 metres tall, waving in the wind.  It’s quite an impressive sight to look up see a forest of these trees.   Silver ash also makes great timber, the trees grow tall and straight.  We started scrambling over rocks as we headed towards the peak.  It wasn’t too long before we got to the top of the ridge, the hard work was now mostly over.

The tall trees had given way to much smaller trees and shrubs.  The area abounds with a variety of wildflowers, so many colours, purples, blue, red, pink and yellow.

We were now on the razorback ridge.  I’ve seen worse!  The sides did drop away quickly to the valley far far below, but the ridge was quite wide. I can only imagine that the razorback it was named after was quite fat.  To the west was mountain after mountain, tinged blue as they faded off into the distance, to the right was the Tasman Sea, tinged blue as it faded off to New Zealand.  To the north was the peak.

DSC_0245.JPG Here we saw our first boronia, a delicate little white flower. We decided to get to the top and have time for photos on the return trip.  It wasn’t too much longer before we did reach the top.

There, 886 metres above sea level, was the peak.  A trig point marked the spot.  We had got there, the beauty was stunning, if you ignored the huge Telstra installation sitting right there behind you.

DSC_0154.JPG At the beginning of the walk we are reminded to treat this area with respect as the local aboriginal population regard it as sacred.  Bit hard to do with the solar panels, security fence, tin shack and multiple antennae belonging to Telstra, but clearly it’s treated just like a church that also has Telstra installations on the top.  I think the final disrespect is the dire warnings not to cross the fence line, dangerous radiation inside!  The communications array is of course very important.  It forms the last link to ensure continuous sea communication between Melbourne and Sydney for the ships out there on the water.

DSC_0155.JPG The view is simply breathtaking, the waters of the ocean are beautiful as they meet the wonderfully blue sky.  We can see as far south as Mallacoota, just making out the inlet, in front of us is Wonboyn and further north Eden.  The coast gives way to the rolling hills full of their magnificent trees. It’s easy to see why this part of the world has been slow to be ‘developed’ for pastoral needs, it’s remote and wild!  Not to mention hilly.

We eat our prepared lunches, drink some water and take some time to soak up the glorious sunlight, the superb views.  It’s now about 2 in the afternoon as we turn around and head back the way we came.

DSC_0171.JPGThis time the haste to arrive has gone, so we are able to take our time descending, this allows Michael time to snap the photos of the flowers we’d come to see.   Probably not as many blooming as we’d like, another couple of weeks and the area will be alive with the scent and sights of spring time.  The flowers are stunning.  The boronia blooms are a wonder to gaze at and Michael spends a lot of time and clicks of the camera to get some amazing shots.  Be sure to check out the Picasa Gallery.

The sounds of the forest are stunning.  All around us a cacophony of birds sing their tunes to themselves and each other.  We can make them out flying between the trees, but never still enough or close enough for us to recognise.  One call that we did stop to listen to is that of the lyrebird.  What starts out as the shrill call of a forest bird quickly changes to the raucous cry of a galah to a currawong.  A stunning repertoire.  I delight in it’s on-going call and the versatility of it’s voice.  All around us we can see the scratchings of the lyrebird, nothing fresh.  It’s ever elusive.  Lyrebird scratchings are accompanied by wombat poo.  We’ve noticed that the wombats like to poo on top of things.  So you’ll find a nice little pile on top of a log or a rock.  Very neat.

DSC_0283.JPG While the walk up the steep incline had tried our legs, the walk down now tries our balance.  The rocky areas are fine, as we grapple with lowering ourselves down, but the woodland path is downright dangerous.  Many years of leaf litter, twigs and shale make the downward journey very slippery, it’d be even harder if there was any rain! We stagger our way down, trying to keep our balance, and some how manage to get to the picnic ground without falling all the way over.

DSC_0309.JPG

Our legs are worn out and aching as we quickly take our hiking boots off, change into a dry shirt.  For all our hard work, we enjoy a really good cup of coffee and a mixed berry muffin each.

As we drive away from the mountain, a cloud descends upon the top.  There are no other clouds in the sky.

 

 

Michael takes great photos, the photos are all his work, check out the whole gallery.

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Aug 16

For the first time in many years, I’ve taken a four week break.

Michael and I considered many places to go, but in the end we decided on Mallacoota, in Victoria’s East Gippsland. [map:http://maps.google.com.au/maps?q=Mallacoota,+Victoria&hl=en&sll=-37.89892,145.054146&sspn=0.009939,0.01929&vpsrc=0&z=11]

14th August

Our first stop was at Metung, about half way to Mallacoota, we stopped at a delightful one bedroom flat called Pelican Perch.  We got in at about 4.00 p.m., unpacked and then took a walk along the board walk into Metung, about a twenty minute stroll along the edge of Bancroft Bay.  The water was pretty murky and for reason unknown there were a few bales of hay in the water.  Probably washed in by recent floods.

We walked passed Legend Rock,a plaque on the wall retells the local Aboriginal story of how greed will be punished1. When the fisherman didn’t share their catch with their dogs,

Legend Rock

Legend Rock - photo by John O'Neil

despite have more than enough, the women turned them into stone. Of course, in true Australian style, there is only one rock left, the others were in they way so they have been destroyed.

We walked into Metung, made a reservation for dinner then walked across to the other side of the narrow peninsula and watched the sun set over Lake King. We watched as a pelican skimmed across the lake so close to the water that it left a little wake as the tips of its wings hovered millimeters above the surface. A helicopter flew over us and seem to land close by, perhaps some sort of emergency we thought.  Alas, it seems the owner simply wanted a drink at the pub and flew in to land right next to it!  In the twilight we walked back to Pelican Perch to collect the car and then drive back into Metung for dinner.  We didn’t really fancy walking back in the dark!

Dinner was at Bancroft Bites, a wonderful little cafe with plenty of atmosphere and some funky music.  Duck for Michael and a steak for me.  Yummy.  We spoke briefly with a couple who were visiting from England. He was up for a chat, telling us about his trip and drive from Canberra to Metung, before heading off to the Great Ocean Road.  I like chatting with travelers, it’s good value.

15th August

Next morning we packed up and headed towards Mallacoota, a further 3 hour drive.  Stopping at a few of the towns along the way, through Lakes Entrance (which I’m sure is the best way to do Lakes Entrance) stopping in Orbost for a bite to eat at a local cafe.

We arrived at Mallacoota by about 3.30.  Our accommodation looks out over the Bottom Lake with the Howe Ranges in the background and Rabbit Island just off shore. The place is cozy enough, the view is nice and it’s so quiet!

We discovered the joys of rented accommodation, there’s a nice looking fire-box, loading with wood, but no matches to light it.  There’s a selection of tools to cook with but no can opener, there’s a wonderful array of crockery but no wineglass in sight.


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Mar 09

Michael had looked at the weather forecast for the week and today looks like the best day for a mountain climb. Fifteen years ago Michael had attempted to climb Mt Amos, but didn’t get to the top.
Before attempting that we had to purchase a day pass to the park. $24.00. We then drove to the car park, passing at the base of The Hazards, huge rocky granite outcrops with brilliant colours and sheer sides. This is what I have agreed to climb. Our small backpacks on with ample water supplies, camera and binoculars, off we went. Like so many of the worlds greatest walks, they start off very gently, it’s a way of leading you into the agony that is about to be inflicted upon you. The gentle rise in altitude was met by the not so gentle rise in my heart rate. The calves began to scream at me and I found my initial spritely pace unsustainable. We stopped. Admired the elevated view of Coles Bay, sent a tweet or two and resumed our walk. Well, that was the easy part! A sign appeared on the track. It said ‘abandon all hope ye that enter’.

Beware

Beware ye all who enter!

And the onslaught began. The lovely gravel track gave way to a slippery granite rock, the trees that gave us something to grip on to had gone and instead we had smooth rockfaces with fucking painted yellow arrows taking us right up the centre. If I thought my calf muscles were upset before… and yet this was still the warm up. The angle of the rock face meant I was able to scramble up by having my weight on my toes and doing a little dance, Michael was a lot more cautious as he scrambled up.
We came across our first set of fellow hikers who where coming down the mountain. They looked very fit and healthy! They told us that we weren’t to far away from the top, however if we thought it was tough up to this point… One of them was doing the track in bare feet, he said he’s shoes had exploded yesterday. The ground is so rocky and rough I don’t understand how his feet survived!

And true to the word of BareFoot Hiker, the track did become harder.  The rocks were either smooth and slippery or spikey!  I had to place my hands on the rock face to ensure I didn’t topple over and become a rolling body heading down the mountain, my palms red and sore from the rough surface.  The scenery as we ascend is stunning, the rocks and the colours are quite beautiful, we are surround by plenty of bushes, trees and flowers, it’s great to be out amongst it!

As we continue up we stop regularly for a photo stop, which was actually just an excuse to stop.  My heart is pounding so much that my teeth are rattling in time with my pulse.  I’m out of breath and sweating, lots.

Here I am.  Climbing a mountain. Back six months ago I would not have been able to do this.  I haven’t been fit enough to even think about this for some years.  I thought I would never again climb anything!  Yet, here I am.  Climbing.  Loving it.  It has been an ambition of my recent get fit campaign, and a goal in my life.  Tick that one off.

Finally Michael put his camera away and we both started the final climb up the mountain, and climb we did, almost on all fours at times as we stretched and pushed our bodies up sheer granite rock faces.  At last, the top could be seen and I knew we weren’t far away.   Fifteen years ago Michael had tried and failed to get to this point, so I stopped and let him overtake me so that he could be the first to the top.

Wineglass Bay

Wineglass Bay

It was one of those moments in life, as you reach the top of the mountain, the view on the other side appears and you suddenly realise just why you bother to do this.  All of it becomes worthwhile.  We stood on top and our eyes drank in the beautiful stunning scene of Wineglass Bay below us.

The day was clear and warm, a breeze coming across the sea and we sat and looked at the beauty before us.

I’ve climbed to the top of many peaks over the years, and this is the third time in my life I’ve gasped and used numerous expletives as I see the view beneath me.  (That’d be the Major Mitchell Plateau in the Grampians, Half Dome in Yosemite National Park and Wineglass Bay)

We sat and ate and drank some water, taking it all in, snapping a few photos before turning around and heading back down.  We watched as the clouds rolled in from the west, dragging themselves across the mountains.  We admired the few boats bobbing on the water in the bay far below, we saw people walking along the pristine beach.  We wondered at the poor sods on the other tourist track who didn’t get to seen the bay in all it’s glory.

If I’d thought that going up was hard work, nothing could prepare me for the going down.  I was glad I only had a small light backpack on!

Now instead of scrambling on all fours, I’m sliding on my arse, using my feet as brakes and my hands as anchors.   The granite was now pulling at the soles of my hiking boots, and the rubber was coming loose, leaving little bits on the mountain side.  I wasn’t sure whether I’d have any boots left by the time I got to the bottom.

My boot- fell apart!

Going down is always quicker than going up, but still seemed to take forever, finally the rocky track gave way to gravel and a made path and we arrived at the car park.

That was something worth doing.  Be sure to check out Michael’s Picasa gallery, he has a really good eye and is quite the artist when taking photos.

So… what’s next?

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Jan 09

It’s been years since I’ve been here. I love the Otways, not as much as the Grampians mind you.  It was a spur of the moment decision.  Somehow in the car Michael and I got to talking about glow worms and we decided it’d be good to go and seem them.  It was already 3 in the afternoon and at least a two hour drive to the mountains, but as the glow worms only glow at night we had plenty of time!

A change of plans – a quick zip home to pick up supplies, then off we went.

First stop was Triplet Falls, once through Geelong and Colac we got to the Otways, as we drove along Philips Track I was surrounded by tall trees and tree ferns. Ancient rainforest.

Mountain Ash Tree

Mountain Ash Tree (Photo by Michael Barnett)

We parked in the car park (as you do) and made our way to the Triplet Falls. We descended into a quiet, damp place. The mountain ash trees grew tall above us and all manner of trees, moss and bushes grew around. I was taken away to another place as I admired a mountain ash with another single leaf plant growing along its branches.
I had stepped back to a primeval time with nothing but nature and me. Finally we stumbled into a clearing and the Triplet Falls gushed before us. There had been a bit of rain the night before, so there was a fair amount of water flowing over the falls. There wasn’t a triple stream as such today, just two main falls. We stood and admired the falls,

Triplet Falls

Triplet Falls (Photo by Michael Barnett)

Michael took plenty of photos, but alas, the light was fading so we bounded back up the track to finish the circuit back at the car park.

Once there we got out the little stove and heated up our dinner (steak left over from the BBQ on New Years Eve) and had that in a roll. Did some coffee too. Sitting in the car park at dusk, listening to the wind in the trees and smelling the fresh air, serenaded by nothing but the call of the Australian Raven (farrrrk, farrrk).

Once dinner was done, back in the car and out to the main road, through Lavers Hill and onto Melba Gully State Park. It wasn’t quite dark when we got there, we put our raincoats and beanies on and headed into the bush along the Marsden track with our little torches. At first the only glow worms we saw where two or three here and there, but as it got darker and we walked further into the forest plenty more appeared, until we reached a viewing deck overlooking a creek. Here we saw hundreds of small pin pricks of light glowing in front of us. A remarkable sight.

We looked in awe for at least 40 minutes before turning and heading back to the car.  Along the way, with our torches, we saw plenty of other insect life, spiders, worms, bugs. Lots of fun for everyone.

Along the trip home, we stopped to look at the moonbeams coming through the clouds. It was a near full moon and low in the sky, the effect was quite stunning. Michael took some fantastic shots of the moonbeams, the clouds and the nearby stars.

We got home at about 2.00 a.m.

Images:  Photos taken by Michael Barnett, click the image to visit his Picasa Gallery where more great photos can be seen!

(Jan 2nd & 3rd 2010)


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Nov 20

I was travelling around the world in 1989, and found myself with my good friend Michael Gray in West Berlin, the day the wall came down. Twenty years ago. Michael and I were fairly innocent country boys, to be caught up in this historic event was perhaps one of the great highlights of our trip, and certainly has been one of the more memorable events in my life. I keep a journal of my travels, and have transcribed my adventure below.

Hope you enjoy it.

Thursday November 9th 1989
At last our time was filled and we boarded the train at 13:43. An elderly couple were in the cabin also, German. Just out of Hamburg the door was flung open and I assumed wrongly for the ticket. I passed it to a gun bearing man, who flipped it over and said ‘passport’. He looked at the passport, then handed it back. The train rolled on to Buchen and stopped. We then passed over the border to East Germany. The border is well defined. A mammoth fence with electric barbed wire stretched as far as my eyes could see. What looked like a canal was also visible. Then passed a tower with a man dressed in khaki beret peering out. This is commie country! The deeper we went into the country the more obvious it became that these people live with less. As the train raced through villages I noticed there was nothing new. Apart from high rise housing, all the houses and buildings were drab and old.
Our passports were checked by DDR officials and a transit visa was issue. All a bit exciting.
After 17.30 the train ground to a halt, then slowly crawled along a long stark white wall, about three metres high. The Berlin Wall.
It disappeared and a city lit up like Luna Park. This is capitalism and the West!
Very odd how this city survives in the middle of DDR.
We stopped at the Zoo Station, it was dark and raining, and that feeling of ‘fuck what do we do now?’crept in. We chose a hostel and found the ‘S-Bahn’ but couldn’t find a place to buy a ticket, so we returned to the main stations, at last we found it, a bit of a problem not being able to read German. Armed with the phrase “Englisch sprechen” Michael approached the counter and bought two tickets.

A long tram ride landed us at the station, way out. We followed the signs to the Youth Hostel and for a pricey 21DM we booked in.

Friday 10th November 1989.
The other occupant of the room arrived at 6.30 a.m. He was pretty quiet so he didn’t disturb us. He woke up as we were heading down for breakfast. His English wasn’t too good, but we understood that the wall had been opened. I took this to mean the borders had been opened. All a bit exciting really.
We bought two tickets for the train and returned to the main station. There seemed to be a lot of people about. We found a newstand, but could find no hint of any ‘wall opening’
I was going to change some money at the station, but the line was too long, so I went to a bank down the road. This completed and my money short 5m for the service, we boarded the next U-Bahn on line 6 to Checkpoint Charlie.

As we and hundreds of others climbed the steps to the surface, we glimpsed a scene of jubilation and a fucking lot of confusion. The Checkpoint wasn’t visible from our exit, so we simply followed the throng and found this famous place.
The crowd pushed forward, a sign atop a building announce our arrival at Checkpoint Charlie.
People were standing on the roadside, and on the road, thrusting flowers into cars as they entered the American sector. Others were drinking champagne frmm the bottle, a few plastic cups full of bubbly found their way into open car windows. Every time an East German car drove through a cheer erupted, lots of clapping and snapping of cameras. The mood was electric.
We pushed our way forward, it wasn’t possible for us to fully understand what was going on – we could only guess.

Michael and I stood in front of the wall. The object of so much mistrust and hatred. It was (is) covered in graffiti and very colourful graffiti.
We climbed the platform and looked in the DDR, it looked pretty much the same, but just a little more drab than West Berlin. Back to Checkpoint. The MP’s where trying to keep the way open, but it was nearly impossible. The worlds media was present. TV cameras, tape recorders, cameras, note book and pencils all this added to the confusion. A cameraman took a photo of a group of people standing sipping champagne from plastic cups, other press cameras came from nowhere, so we tried to get our beaks in too.

Michael wanted to get into the middle of the action, so I took his camera bag and he pushed his way through. It seemed like hours that I stood, watching car after car of East Berliners driving through. The crowd were amazing, full of spirit. One small boy raced up to a car and shoved an American dollar into it.
I can’t believe that we saw this happening. A truly historical event was unfolding, and we were in the middle of it. Witnessing history in the making.

Three DDR army men stood just inside the white line dividing East and West. Every now and then they would push people back over the line. We had no idea if we were able to cross into the East, so stood and watched for awhile. People seem to flash passports at the border guards and they allowed them passage. Michael plucked up enough courage to confront the more pleasant looking guard, flashed the passport, and we crossed into Communist territory.

Another guard directed us into a small room, Passport Control. There were oddles of people standing, waiting. The line didn’t seem to be moving very quickly. Our turn arrived, the man asked “Just for the day?” and a visa was issued. Out the door, round the corner to customs – walked right through there and had to change 25dm into 25DDM.
Outside we were greeted by long lines of people waiting to cross the border, perhaps to freedom.
East Berlin has a total lack of, well, anything really. There was no advertising of any sort. No big billboards. The cars were mainly the same model. It was easy to pick Westerners. The shops, however, were a surprise. A lot like our own, full of the latest gizmo’s and fashions.

Down Friedrich Street along rows of dilapidated buildings. Some were being restored. We found Unter den Linden and followed this as far as we could. A crowd was gathered at the end of the street, around the Brandenburg Gate, a huge archway. We could make out the graffiti free wall on the other side, and here we could see people standing on top of it, yelling and cheering. The area was well guarded, so access wasn’t possible. We watched for awhile then headed to the centre of town. Mostly old buildings.
Had lunch in a cafeteria. Ordered the only thing on the menu that we understood – beefsteak, which was merely a meatball. We then found Nikolaikirche, Berlins oldest building from about 1230 CE. It houses some old stuff, but we didn’t understand too much of it. Se we moved around it fairly quickly. Next commie stop was the international clock. We found Australia’s time. As we were walking away, a man said ‘hello’ to us. He instantly sounded Australian, so we spoke with him and his wife for awhile. Discovered they came from Heywood, although they now live in Melbourne. He asked about Noel Gustus, if we knew him. We said he died not too long back and then discovered that he was his Best Man when they got married. Hell of a way to find out.

It was around 17.30 and dark. Had a ‘wurst’ for tea and spent our last DDM on a slice and coffee. As we were walking back to the border, we passed the Altes Museum. There was a lot of activity, the sound of people singing drew us closer. The courtyard was lit with big lights, there were TV cameras around and oodles of people. We pushed our way in, and gathered from the red flags that it was a party gathering. We followed an American TV reporter around for a bit. He was asking East Germans what they thought. He was also a prick. He turned and asked Michael, “Do you speak English” for some reason Michael lied. He doesn’t know what made him say no. I stopped another reporter and asked if he could explain to me what was happening. He said he didn’t really know, but that Egon Krenz, the Premier, would be appearing at 18:30.
This we had to see.
The square was crowded now, and the speakers began. Three quarters of an hour later Mr. Krenz arrived.

We didn’t have a clue what was said, but the crowd gave us some indication of it. Some speakers where cheered, others booed.

Saturday November 11th 1989.
Down to the wall again, and Checkpoint Charlie. There weren’t as many people there today, but still lots. We stopped in the centre of Berlin on the way to change a cheque. There were great hoards of people outside the banks. East Germans changing money we guessed. We pushed our way through mile-long queues to the American Express Office. Here Michael found out that the East Germans were lining up for 100 marks, a welcome gift from the German Government.

We walked along a section of the wall. There seemed to be crowds of people there. We stopped and watched one man chipping at the wall with a small hammer. As bits began to crumble he picked them up and put them in his bag.

Berlin Wall

My bit of the Berlin Wall - taken from the wall the day it came tumbling down

That’s a good idea we thought, so we souvenired parts of the wall as well.

The crowd was thick along the wall. Our normal quick pace was hindered by thousands of people. The ‘anti-fascist barrier’ was covered in graffiti. Every now and then a group of people would be bashing into it with a hammer, in one case a bloody big mallet. In several places small holes had been knocked right through, affording views of the other side. Climbing one platform we could see the guard towers and security fence to keep us out, or them in.

One section had been sealed off by the police, and workmen were paving the old road. We asked about this and were told a a section of the wall was to be moved tomorrow at 8.00 a.m. to allow access to people.

At the Brandenburg gate, there were more people. Yesterday from the East we could see people standing on top of the wall. Today the only people on top were the DDR Army, and lots of them. Every time the guards moved the crowd cheered and clapped. We spent ages just watching. The world’s media was doing the same.

Sunday November 12th 1989
We slept in and missed our train, when trying to rebook we discovered that the next train was also full. This put a hole in our plans, we had no choice but to stay another night. We should have guessed as there must be a heap of people wanting to leave the country.

In the afternoon we went back into Berlin and to the Brandenburg Gate. The situation had changed a little – the area in front of the wall had been fenced off and patrolled by the West Berlin police, the border guard had been halved. The Easterners seemed a lot happier today. Sharing a joke and picking up flowers to which they got cheers. We went along the wall to the place where a new gate was being opened. As we drew closer we could see that it had already been opened. We couldn’t get close but could see the new gap. Heaps of people were making their way through it. Michael jumped on top of a toilet block to get a photo. We were satisfied. An early return to the hostel and bed. A week later I picked up a copy of Time magazine in Italy. It was only then that we knew the full extent of what we had been a part of.

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