Monday, 13 April 2015

Cathedral Ranges - quickly!

Facebook – the chance to catch up on stuff you don’t give a stuff about. A friend recently posted about his 150km, 12 hour marathon in the Blue Mountains, with updates every fifty kilometres. That is the antithesis of why I go bush. I want to be as slow as possible, explore ever side track I can.

My most recent  hike was through the Cathedral Ranges. I was part of a hiking group – people I hadn’t met before who were doing the walk as training for the Oxfam Marathon, which requires people to walk a ridiculous distance in less time than 24 hours. The plan was to start at Cooks Mill and hike to Mt Cathedral via Mt Sugarloaf and then back via Neds Saddle – an 18km round trip with climbs and rock-hopping and all sorts of knee and ankle straining stuff.  And the idea was to do it fast. Well, reasonably quickly at least.

We set off along Messmate Track to Sugarloaf Saddle, a breath-taking start to the day (at least, I was having trouble breathing by the time we made Sugarloaf Saddle). A quick pause, long enough for a snack  and to discover my water bottle had leaked half its contents into my pack, and we were off again – Wells Cave to the Sugarloaf summit. Wells Cave posed all the usual problems (Does the track really go up that rock face?).

For the first time in my many ascents of Sugarloaf I tried a new way to overcome the final obstacle, the final climb. For anyone who hasn’t taken this route there is a final ‘test’ after you scramble out of the cave. A slab of rock lies against the main cliff and there is a slot between them that needs to be ascended.  There are three options. The first is staying in THE SLOT between the cliff and the slab, which feels safe but is a pain and near impossible (off-width is the technical climbing description, which means too narrow to climb without it ending in tears). The second, and my usual, is THE CLIFF, which requires some finger hauling but is quite fun and feels safe-ish as you are only ever a metre or three above the ground. The third is to climb THE SLAB. The Slab  is the easiest route up but has the greatest exposure, meaning you are very aware that gravity wants to hurl your body down the twenty metre drop below you and that you’d probably be seriously dead if that happened. After struggling on the cliff, I went for the slab and soon made the summit.
Did I have time to take a photo? Barley, as we were soon on the move again across the Razorback. This has to be one of Victoria’s best walks. Stunning views and  a bit of challenging walking and rock hopping. The distant goals of The Farmyard and Mount Cathedral could be seen in the distance (which is why they are called distant goals – they can be seen in the distance).

The Cathedral Range and the distant Mount Cathedral in the distance

 We made the Farmyard around lunchtime – some two and half hours after setting off from Cooks Mill. I filled up my water bottle and quickly ate a little soggy something. Apparently we weren’t stopping for lunch just yet but continuing on our way.

At about this point I started to lag behind. It wasn’t that I was getting tired but that I started to regress to my own hiking style – slow and with … oh look, a Jacky Lizard, hang on, I’ll just …  Sorry, as I was saying, I started to regress to my own hiking style – slow and with no photo opportunity passed over, except, maybe, the view over the Acheron Valley, no time, gotta keep moving. The rest of the hiking party were waiting patiently at the next track junction so that I wouldn’t get lost. The sun was shining, the day was getting warm, and the bushes were getting prickly. The next stop was for first aid (prickle removal) and then lunch  at the now not so distant Mount Cathedral. Another bit of first aid (I treated some pre-blisters with some tape) and the decision was made to cut the walk a bit short by not including Little Cathedral (except for one extra fast-hiking party member who had already been there and was on his way back!).  

Jacky Lizard

After lunch we all headed on down the track to … hang on a bit, another lizard, Cunninghams Skink, Egernia cunninghami, I’ll just change lenses and then … . Okay, where were we? Ah, that’s right. After lunch we headed down the track to Neds Saddle, downwards, ever downwards, to the Little River valley. The last section was along the river, an easy walk that included the highlight of passing through a logging coupe – the last remnant of the pine plantation that once stood in the middle of the park. (If anyone cares to purchase the land and donate it to the park now is a good time.)

Cunninghams Skink - cute

The end! Eighteen kilometres in five hours, or something like that. It was a great walk (as always), but next time, even though it means carrying more stuff, maybe two days, some time to take photos.

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.