Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A French Island Holiday

Imagine spending a sunny afternoon cycling around a French Island. Sounds pleasant. The French Island in question, however, isn’t in the Mediterranean but in Westernport. It doesn’t have wine and croissants but mosquitos and snakes (or so I was told).

The journey started from Cowes on Phillip Island on the ferry, a smallish boat that chugged the thirty minutes across the water to Tankerton. Tankerton is, I thought, French Island’s main centre, and it may be, but there is nothing there. At least there is nothing at the jetty except the three of us who disembarked – my wife and myself with our bikes and a local – and some parked cars. Cars on French Island – generally rusty, unregistered and most probably unroadworthy. There is no local council, no police, no law saying your car has to be registered. Salt air makes sure that only the dregs of the car world remain here. They were the most noticeable thing about getting off the ferry at Tankerton – the line of rusty cars.

The other passenger disembarking was a local farmer. He smiled and asked if we had any mozzie repellent. We didn’t (I’d forgotten). He laughed and said he had some in his car – everyone on French Island has a  stash of insect repellent handy, probably two or three, he informed us. As he rummaged around he also chatted about snakes.

“You’ll see a few, but they’re friendly. Copperheads and Tigers. They’ll just ignore you, they’re pretty lazy really.”

We headed off down Coast Road, which follows the island’s west coast past mangroves and paperbarks, mostly in the national park which covers maybe half the island. It was rather corrugated. Even the corrugations had corrugations.  One of the island’s main roads though apparently. We had about three hours before catching the ferry back to Phillip Island and the plan was to ride to the Pinnacles (good views, I’d heard) and then to Tankerton for a coffee. The Pinnacles are found along Pinnacles Track which leads off from the Coast Road and we were soon peddling inland. Slowly. The track was sand and the going was slow; walking pace at times, but occasionally slowing to  ‘walking while wheeling you bike up a sandy hill’ pace at other times.

The Pinnacles is one of the high points on this rather flat island, rising a staggering couple of hundred of metres above sea level. The views were rather obscured by the surrounding shrubs but there were glimpses of the wetlands further north, Phillip Island across the bay and the industrial port of Hastings to the west. We ate lunch and reapplied sunblock before continuing on our way – more sand until Pinnacle track reaches Chump Road. Much to our relief Chump Road was gravel – eventually – after the sandy bits.

We were soon on Tankerton Road – the island’s main drag – a strip of corrugated gravel that runs across the island to the distant chicory kiln tea rooms and the even further away former prison. Next time – there was coffee in the other direction.

The general store and post office was our next stop; a rather grand building decorated with photos, a cat skin, and shelves of books. The proprietor was busy making choc-top ice-creams – possibly an  island delicacy – but stopped to take our order for coffee. The kettle was then filled up and put on the stove (none of that fancy barista machinery here) and a reasonable coffee was soon sitting in front of us – possibly the best coffee available on the island.

We then continued onto the jetty with time for a walk along the beach checking out the mangroves and wildlife. The ferry back to Phillip Island was a bit more crowded than the trip earlier that day  with a total of four people on board. One of them was dressed in lycra cycling gear and had his bike on board. Noticing our bikes he asked about cycling on the island.

“Would a road bike be okay?”


That’s not just “nope” but “really, no – road bike – no, bad idea, you will cry”.

French Island is another world. Interesting to visit, a throwback to another time – not sure when – but definitely another time. There’s a camping area in the national park and probably a couple of other hidden spots that might make it a worthwhile overnighter. We didn’t see any snakes, which is unusual as the island has a reputation of there being quite a few (shake out your sleeping bag before getting in – just in case). We also weren’t bothered by mozzies, which is also apparently unheard of. And we didn’t see many people (only two actually), which, apparently, is quite normal.

Oh, and the shop did sell wine. Might even sell croissants. Could have a real French Island holiday.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Baw Baw Plateau - snow in October

The Summit.
Early Friday morning in Bairnsdale for work – except someone hasn’t turned up. Great, I can head off … but … nope, we can still have a meeting. Finally, back to Traralgon and … the boss wants to have a coffee.

I had to travel down to the LaTrobe Valley for work and  have always wanted to hike across Baw Baw Plateau so thought I could combine the two. It would be my first overnight hike for some time and my first solo overnighter in years. The plan was to start from Mt St Gwinear carpark and head across to the Alpine Walking track and see how far I could get. My original target was Mushroom Rocks but by the time I get to the trail head at Mt St Gwinear it’s already early afternoon. Plan B is Talbot Hut ruins.
The day was glorious – blue skies, a light breeze, and I’m ready to head off, and my phone rings. Mobile phones are horrendous things.  After a quick couple of calls I’m finally off, climbing the grassy road up to St Gwinear summit. After a few hundred metres I notice small patches of snow by the side of the track – exciting – there should be more up higher.

To help me on the uphill bits I have a new mountaineering and hiking pole. It has a telescopic body, a compass and torch built into the handle, and an inbuilt springy bit to absorb shock. My dad bought it thinking it was a regular walking stick, but it isn’t and so I ended up with it. I have never used a walking pole before and this trip would be the first time. Not being used to using a pole though I actually forgot to grab it when I set off and left it leaning against my car. Standing at the summit, puffing and panting and marvelling at how my 16kg pack has affected my level of fitness, I’m left wondering if it would have been useful.A brief stop, some photos, and back to the track. I soon made Camp Cave and the Alpine Walking Track and headed south across the plateau through snow and mud. The track in this section is often wet, and after a dump of snow earlier in the week, was very wet; wet enough to cover my boots, soak my socks and seep down to my feet. My gaiters were useless (largely because they were in my pack rather than on my legs) and blisters soon started to form. 

I met a hiker heading the other way, hiking the Walhalla to Hotham section of the Alpine walking track. He had gaiters on. I met another party of hikers – two blokes (wearing gaiters) with their dog (not wearing gaiters) – also hiking Walhalla to Hotham. Maybe there is something in this wearing gaiters thing, I think to myself as I squelched on looking for a dry rock to sit on so I could hunt my gaiters out of my pack and wrap them around my ankles. Sadly, by the time I do, it is too late. The wettest  bits of the track are behind me, the blister on my left heel is ready to pop and my boots, socks and feet are saturated.

Walking solo means you only have yourself to talk to. I am climbing a hill thinking I must be near the camp, telling myself that if I trip and fall and knock myself out on a rock ...  I wonder what  the news report would say: “Search on for missing hiker. Police have little concern at this stage because the missing man is an experienced bushwalker”. Or would it be: “Police fear for life of man hiking without gaiters. ‘He even left his walking stick behind’ the SES search leader said.” I am actually getting tired and slowing down to stop myself from stumbling. I check the map and matching landmarks to map marks figure I only  have about 500m to go. I see a green tent through the snowgums and feel relieved that I will soon be at camp. Alas the green tent turns out to be a moss-covered boulder. I check the map again and realise I had misread it earlier; a quick correction and I now know for sure I really do only have about 500m to go. A few hundred metres further on and I use the GPS app on my phone and look at the scrap of map I am carrying (a photocopy of the section of the map that covers where I am hiking; the whole map is in my pack if needed) and kind of guess where I am on the map. I figure it’s a good estimate and that this time I am positively sure that I am absolutely, definitely only 500m from camp, so certain that I don’t bother getting the whole map out to check properly. I have hiked for many years, I am an experienced hiker and know how to read a map. What I should have also learnt by now, however, is that when you are tired and want to be at camp you are always at least twice as far away as you think.

A moss covered rock - obviously. I think it's about 500m from the camping area, but I could be wrong.

Thinking “Where the hell is this camp!”, I almost walk past it. Talbot Hut site is a great camping spot. There isn’t a hut, just the chimney, but there is a running creek for water and plenty of space for tents. I set up camp, cook dinner and relax. I text my wife to let her know I’m still alive, take a few photos with my phone and email them to various people with messages like “Hope you had a nice day at the office” in the hope of making them jealous. Mobile phones are great and an essential tool for the solo walker in case you do need help. It is therefore important not to waste the battery emailing photos or using the GPS app unless  you really, really need to.

My tent, purchased in the 1980s, next to the hut ruins.

The track through the snow.
Sunset was fantastic – I suppose – I was already in the tent and half asleep, but I reckon it would have been a nice one.

Saturday morning came with sunshine, bird song, hot coffee, snow gums and blue skies. It was going to be a fantastic day. I covered my heels with Elastoplast, put on some dry socks, broke camp, and started back. The track seemed drier than yesterday (or maybe it was because I was wearing my gaiters rather than carrying them).  I made good time and was back at the car sooner than I wanted to be. And my dad’s hiking pole was still there, waiting for it’s first road test.

I didn't have any track notes, just  made it up as I went using the Rooftop map, but it isn't a difficult walk. Navigation is easy and there are no big climbs. My pack weighed 16kg plus, but I have old gear - a 3.8kg Macpac Olympus tent from the 1990s and an even older backpack. I cooked on a Trangia (large size) that I bought when I went to Tassie for the Franklin River Blockade. Lightweight hiking? Well I did leave my spare camera and lenses at home. Overall, a great easy hike.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Twenty swoops to coffee

Sunday – a beautiful sunny day – I jumped on my bike and headed off to Yarck and the Giddy Goat Café with a vision of cake and coffee. It’s about 20km and an hour’s riding, but the best way to measure the distance is in “magpie swoops”. Stage one – up the hill out of town – was one magpie swoop. Down the other side to the highway – past the sign saying beware of the magpies – was about four swoops. I warned a rider heading the other way but he just laughed saying  “It’s worse around Yarck”. I didn’t believe him and continued on.
As I approached a large Red Gum by the side of the bike path I could hear young magpie nestlings in a high branch chirruping “Here’s another one Dad, go get ‘im”. Swoop. Onwards I pedalled, stopping only to create an arrangement of leaves poking out of my helmet to try and stop them getting close enough to draw bloood. Three more swoops and I made Cathkin. Only five more k's to Yarck.

I lost count of the swoops along this section. Dismounting, crouching by my bike, seeking a stick to wave around – two swoops. Back on the bike, trying to pick up speed, waving my stick while a pair of magpies tag-teamed  in coordinated and sustained dive-bombing along an uphill stretch. Two riders approached from the other direction, all three of us madly waving sticks over our head as we pedalled.
I was getting tired; my nerves shredded. With one hand on the handlebars, the other on my stick, the ride continued as a mess of stick waving, swooping madness. The café eventually came into sight. A lone magpie gave chase for the last two hundred metres or so, giving a final swoop as I dismounted by the bike rack. Café coffee drinkers watched on from the verandah.
“You got a friend?” one asked.
“No”, I replied.

Inside, things got worse. All the cake was gone.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Goldfish Bottle Blues

This isn't really relevant to anything much, certainly nothing to do with hiking or even being outside. But it's maybe the scariest thing I do - get on stage in front of a real, live audience. Luckily, they were friendly.

Here's a YouTube link.

PS I'm the one on the left with the harmonica

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Five Mile Beach, Wilsons Promontory

I’m going to take a step back in time and recall my first ever overnight walk. In doing so, I would like to acknowledge Hiking Fiasco, who’s blogs about his trip to Five Mile Beach brought back these memories of this hike, negating years of therapy trying to recover from it.

Planning your first overnighter has the innocence (or ignorance) of not knowing what walk to do. It was a decision between Five Mile Beach – a long, dry, unsheltered dirt road – or Sealers Cove – a track winding through fern gullies and rainforest. Being a hot summer’s day, we chose Five Mile Beach, The reason being that it didn’t have any hills where the trek to and from Sealers Cove does. Ignore the fact that is longer, hotter and … well, we didn’t know.  

On your first overnight hike there is also the pleasure of not knowing what you need and so not knowing if you’ve forgotten something important, like water, until you develop the thirst for whatever it is you’ve forgotten, like water. Luckily, we became thirsty not long after setting off, like within a couple of hundred metres of the carpark, and a quick retracing of steps saw me scrounging through the detritus in the boot for any sort of water container. Luckily I owned a fairly clapped out vehicle with a leaky radiator and so had a bottle of water in the boot for topping up the car’s cooling system. This was some time ago now and younger readers may not know this, but once upon a time bottles were made of glass. As such, they were quite heavy. Plastic bottles did exist, and we had one small one with us, but it contained an essential camping requirement known as Tawny Port so emptying the contents to allow it to be used for water was not an option.  And so, with one whole litre of precious water, we headed off.

The track starts off through low heath scrub. The vegetation was interesting, and the way the track just faded into the distant horizon made a spectacular view. This thrill lasted around an hour, after which the vegetation was less interesting and the way the bloody track just faded into the distant horizon ...  Eventually we had some respite as the track wound down to Barry’s Creek and we realised from being in the shade just how hot the sun had become. We stopped for some tucker and briefly considered camping the night but decided against calling it quits so early in our hiking careers. We moved on, back to that bloody track just fading into the distant horizon.

StKilda Junction – eventually – and we would now leave the road and head to the coast. Our spirits rose as we walked across the causeway to what is truly a magnificent beach. Feeling that we were pretty much at the end of our ordeal, we set off along the sand and noticed that the creek – where the campsite and fresh water would be found – was at the end of the beach, near the bloody distant horizon. We also learnt that walking on sand is not fun; probably even less so after a long, long road bash.

The beach was empty and, despite the pain of walking on soft sand, glorious. We made the creek and a campsite was easily found. I wasn’t sure if we were in the right spot – there weren’t any official signs – but a tent peg struck poo and toilet paper  so I figured this must be where people camp. I wandered upstream, found a spot where I could get freshish water, and we ate, drank Port, and considered it a good day.

We awoke early the next morning to strange sounds around the tent but soon realised it was our muscles groaning at the thought of walking back. “Be brave”, we told our weary bodies over breakfast, “there is only a thousand kilometres of beach and a million more of road to hike”. We set off. The tide was out, the sun low and the day’s heat still waiting to pounce (which it did, later, when we were on the road) making the beach walk pleasant. After the beach section, we crossed the causeway to the road where the walking became CENSORED and CENSORED. As the sun rose, the hiking became even more CENSORED, but, I am pleased to say,  there were no tears or blisters, only sulky silence and the trudge of boots on gravel. And the CENSORED track fading into the CENSORED horizon.

Sunday, 1 June 2014


I had driven past the old, run-down asylum many times and noticed it becoming more and more dilapidated. One day I had a bit of time to kill so I thought I’d take a look. I parked nearby and grabbed my camera. A cyclone wire fence had been strung up around the whole place to stop people getting too close, but the fence was, at best, decorative and in places, absent and so didn’t pose any problems. I avoided the main building and entered a secondary building around the back. The rooms were dark, the windows and doors largely boarded over, the internal walls covered in graffiti.

The room I first entered was once a kitchen; steel benches lined one wall. I moved through this into an old dining room. One wall was all windows and would have faced onto a garden at one time but the windows were long broken and the panes covered with boards. The darkness of the room was oppressive and shivers were running down my spine, partly because I knew I was trespassing and partly thinking about the people who once lived and worked here. I made for the exit and the sunshine; somewhat amazed at my own reaction to being inside the building.

Outside I took a few more photos as my time ran out before heading home.

A trawl of the net and I discovered that the asylum had once housed some of the state’s worst insane criminals. It has now been vacant for nearly twenty years and some of the buildings are thought to be haunted. Some people wandering the buildings have reported loud banging on the walls, odd smells and the sound of children crying. One story tells of a young girl wandering the upper floors with a  music box. Wandering around a haunted building seemed like a fun way to spend an afternoon, I thought, so I vowed to return.

My second visit was to the main building. I entered a stairway and ventured to the second floor, wondering if this is where the young girl might be. The main corridor was dark with small rooms off to one side. All were vandalised. One large room had no roof, a fire at some stage having destroyed it. I took a few photos and retreated.

Venturing through the asylum was an interesting experience – atmospheric would be an understatement. There were no other people around but I know the place is visited by many; photographers, graffiti artists and  probably a few others you wouldn’t want to stumble across. Ghosts? Maybe. The darkness, dilapidation and history of lost souls makes it is easy to imagine yourself encountering one.


One of my photos made it onto the Australian Broadcasting Corporation News’ FaceBook page. The resulting comments were interesting, ranging from one person “seeing” spirits in the photo to another person commenting that ghosts need to work on their communication skills – “banging on walls” is ineffective communication and just plain rude.

The Main Building

Walkway along one of the back buildings

The Dining Room (I think)

Dining Room

Stairway to second floor of the main building

Main building, first floor corridor. This photo appeared on the ABC's FaceBook page. Someone commented thayt they could see spirits in the photo.

Upstairs room

Upstairs corridor

The Administration Building.

Friday, 4 April 2014

To Bogong or not to Bogong ....

Having never stood on the summit of Mt Bogong in my many years of hiking and back-country skiing I decided it was about time. I planned a three day excursion – a day to climb up, a day at Cleve Cole Hut to recover and check out the local sights, and a day to clamber back down to the car. The first question my wife asked was “Who are you going with?”. Hmm. the plan was  to walk alone but apparently that wasn’t going to happen so I enlisted the help of my brother.

 When things go wrong on bushwalks you can usually trace a chain of errors that lead to the final problem.

Error number one – telling my wife I was hiking alone. If I didn’t mention this little fact I would have had a lovely walk during great weather.

Error number two – inviting my brother, which immediately changed the timing of the hike, delaying it a day or three while the weather slowly darkened, and also dragged it from three days to two.

Error number three – starting up Mt Bogong with someone who clearly wasn’t going to make it.

 The problem was resolved by letting it be known that we can go somewhere else while we still could. So, after ascending The Staircase for just under an hour or so, and having covered perhaps hundreds of metres of the actual climb, we turned around. Destination number two was Mt Buffalo (you can see Bogong from there), setting up base  camp at Lake Catani and enjoying various day walks and a bottle of red that wasn’t on the original menu.

Chalwell’s Galleries

Not far from the lake camping area is a short walk to a small peak where you clamber in and around granite boulders. As we started to climb amongst the tors, we noticed a hiker in front of us, near the top of a boulder. Beside the path was a jumper, which I figured he had left behind.

“Is this your jumper?” I called out.

“No, I’m not a jumper”, he responded.

“Is this your jumper?” I called out again.

“No, I’m not”, her replied.

The conversation continued in this way until we reached the gentleman, a Californian by the name of Chuck. We then learnt that what we in Australia call a jumper, Americans call a sweater, and what we in Australia refer to as someone attempting suicide by leaping off a cliff, Americans call a jumper.  Chuck was just letting us know that, although it was rather warm, he wasn’t planning on taking his life. He explained he was going to pick up the jumper/sweater on his way back.

“It’s a circuit”, I said.

“No, where does the track go?”, Chuck asked, sounding somewhat disbelieving.

It was a good question as the track seemed to just stop. After a short bit of searching we found a kind of hole in the ground.

“Down there.”



We descended into the hole, which led to a chasm, accessible via a ladder leading to a log with steps cut into it, and generally had a ball clambering around until we found ourselves back at the trail head. Along the way Chuck invited us over to his camp for a wine after dinner.

“What campsite are you on?”, we asked.


“That’s a coincidence, so are we.”

And so we were, though I think a sign saying twelve must have been souvenired.
The way forward ... or down

The Gorge

There are  various tracks around The Gorge to various lookouts. The tracks to the points most distant from the car park were obviously less walked and at the furthermost lookout we were a little baffled as to where the track was. But, being experienced hikers who have made it a hundred or so metres along the track to Mt Bogong, it didn’t present us with too many difficulties. The lookouts are mainly on the north side of the Gorge with views to the Chalet and the ramp where the hang gliders leap off. There are also some interesting bits of history like the remains of a piano.
The piano, or what's left of it.

The Chalet

Closed for a number of years now, The Chalet is a wonderful building that is probably impossible to run at a profit, or to even manage so that it could scrape by with only minimal losses. Maybe one day … with significant dollars thrown at it. A fascinating step back into history to a time when railways were running massive tourism enterprises miles from any railway station.

The Chalet sitting above The Gorge

The Horn

The explorer dudes who named Mt Buffalo Mt Buffalo thought the mountain looked like a buffalo lying on its side. I’m not sure where they were looking from - I’ve never really seen the resemblance myself; but, from the McDonalds on the freeway, it kind of sort of, if you squint, gives a sort of impression of a buffalo. Buffalos have horns and the bit that looked like a horn was therefore called The Horn. It’s the highest spot on the plateau and has fantastic views after a short, easy walk that takes about ten minutes to what was on the day a cold windy lookout. I’ve skied to the Horn but didn’t climb it – too icy and slippery I was warned – but wish I had of; with the plateau under snow the view would have been magnificent.

The Cathedral and The Hump

The Hump (another buffalo the animal feature) and The Cathedral (not found on regular buffalos) are peaks in the central plateau area and the short walk to the top The Hump is well worth the effort. It was here that I was reminded of the dangers of walking alone; jumping between rocks I nearly missed my landing, my foot sliding between two boulders in a way that would have neatly snapped a leg bone if I landed a centimetre of twelve over. The views are, again, fantastic, particularly of the nearby Cathedral. I snapped away, scoring a picture that made it to the ABC news a day or two later. The Cathedral is also accessible, but it takes a bit of off-track walking and to get to the very top requires ropes and climbing gear. Maybe next time.

The Cathedral from The Hump

Climber on The Cathedral

The Monolith

The Monolith is a huge boulder on top of a hill. Once upon a time you could climb a ladder to the top of the boulder but the ladder has been removed as it was considered too risky (I think it gave lawyers cold sweats). You can wander around the peak on which the boulder sits, take in yet more views, and probably, if you tried really hard, fall off and scare the lawyers. The top of The Monolith is still accessible to rock climbers.

Lake Catani

This is where the camping area is, and it’s a pleasant camping area. The first thing you notice when you get there is that most of the campsites have reserved signs on them – not because they are actually reserved but because they might be – while a dozen or so are available for people who just turn up. The lake itself, well, I actually forgot to go and have a look this time, though I have paddled around it before and it is quite pleasant. The lake is the water supply for the camping ground though, for legal reasons, you aren’t supposed to drink the water without adding chemicals or boiling or filtering , none of which I bothered to do (the lawyers, having removed the ladder, have installed signs regarding the danger of the water). Dinner, wine – and Chuck had a campfire – made for a good night’s camping.
Lake Catani from The Monolith. The campground is amongst the trees on the near side of the lake

… and Mt Bogong

Soon …