Tag Archives: Sunshine Coast Bushwalkers

Dingo Days . Hiking K’gari’s Southern Lakes Circuit.

K’gari or Fraser Island, is the world’s largest sand island; a huge sandmass of 166 000 hectares in area and 123 kilometres long by 25 kilometres wide. It is a World Heritage listed landscape of high dunes, pristine freshwater lakes, wallum heathlands, extensive active sandblows, reedy swamps, sandy ocean beaches and towering forests. K’gari attracts nearly 300 000 visitors annually. For the bushwalker it offers an unbeatable combination of relative solitude, brilliant scenery, a great interlocking track network and excellent hikers camps tucked away from the hordes of 4X4 campers and tour buses. Our walk would take us on an 70 km circuit through a landscape of forested high dunes and perched lakes loosely known as the Southern Lakes District.

The traditional owners of K’gari are the Butchulla people who have occupied the island for at least 5000 years. Evidence of their occupation is found in middens, scar trees , lithic scatters and placenames of K’gari’s natural features.

Examples of Lithic Scatters on K’gari

Please leave all artefacts where you find them. Do not remove. Quote from Yolngu elder: ‘It ( sliver of quartz ) must be put back in the earth and left to grow… as all things do, men, animals, everything.’

What’s in the name: K’gari or Fraser Island ?
Repatriation of a name.

K’gari is said to mean ‘paradise’ in the local Butchella language. It is pronounced ‘gurri‘. Fraser Island is named after a Scottish woman , Eliza Fraser, who was shipwrecked on K’gari in 1836. After her rescue she spread damaging and increasingly lurid accounts of her treatment by the Butchella people. Her accounts were syndicated as far as the Americas and reinforced the idea that Indigenous people were savages.

Portrait of Eliza Fraser
Source SLQ: Portrait of Eliza Fraser.
The rescue of Eliza Fraser.
Source SLQ: The rescue of Eliza Fraser.

The reversion to K’gari began in 2011 when the Queensland Labor government added K’gari as an alternative name in the Queensland Place Names Register. In 2017 Fraser Island was renamed to K’gari (Fraser Island) National Park. In 2021 , the World Heritage Committee adopted the name K’gari (Fraser Island) World Heritage Area. I believe that it is the intention to give Aboriginal names to K’gari’s natural features, while man-made features may keep current names.

Historical Photos of Butchella on K’gari.
Man holding boomerang, K'gari
Source SLQ: Man holding boomerang K’gari. ca 1900.
Decorated men with shields & spears 1870.
Source SLQ: Group of decorated men with shields and spears. 1870s. Pierson’s Camp. K’gari.
Man showing scarification.
Source SLQ: Man showing scarification.
Shelters at Bogimbah.
Source SLQ: Shelters at Bogimbah.
Source SLQ: Portrait of three women removed from K’gari. Note the Aboriginal tracker in the background.

Brilliant reference material on Aboriginal K’gari / Fraser Island if you can still find a copy or can download the PDF version from UQ eSpace.

Fraser Island: Occasional Papers in Anthropology. No. 8.
Lauer, P. ( ed ) 1977: Fraser Island: Occasional Papers in Anthropology. No. 8. Available as a PDF version from UQ eSpace.
Qld Parks and Wildlife Brochure on K’gari / Fraser Island
K'gari ( Fraser Island ) section Great Sandy National Park. Qld Parks and Wildlife Service.
K’gari ( Fraser Island ) section Great Sandy National Park. Qld Parks and Wildlife Service. https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/parks/kgari-fraser
Other great sources of information about K’gari.
Australia's Wilderness Heritage.
P. Figgis & G. Mosley: Australia’s Wilderness Heritage. Vol 1. ACF and Weldon Publishing. 1988.
App developed by Uni Sunshine Coast.
App developed by University of Sunshine Coast,
Website : FIDO
Website of Fraser Island Defenders Organisation ( FIDO ). This is easily the best and most comprehensive source of information on K’gari.
https://fido.org.au/

Location of K’gari, Fraser Island.
Location map ak'gari
Thursday: Kingfisher Bay Resort to Lake McKenzies Walkers Camp: 8 kms.
Soon after 2.15 pm on a steamy Queensland October afternoon, the Fraser Venture decanted its cargo of 4WDs , resort guests and three ancient bushwalkers onto the wooden jetty of the eco-friendly Kingfisher Bay Resort. Our six day K’gari adventure was under way. My two companions were John and Joe.
Lake Boomanjin
Southern Lakes landscape. Lake Boomanjin.
Map of Southern Lakes Circuit: K’gari.
Map of Stn Lakes Circuit
Southern Lakes Circuit: Kingfisher Resort> Boorangoora> Lake Benaroon> Markwells Break> Central Stn> Boorangoora> McKenzies Jetty> Kingfisher Resort

The escape from the resort compound wasn’t all that obvious. But after we had wandered aimlessly through the resort, we swallowed our pride and asked a guest for exit instructions. He pointed us in the right direction: up a sandy track and through the electrified dingo-proof fence. This was a foretaste of the soupy and sandy conditions for the next six days: hot steamy weather, biggish hills and sandy tracks. We quickly manoeuvered into walking formation. Joe in the lead, trundling along at his steady four kilometres per hour. John sauntering along in the rear, allowing him to indulge his obsession with birdwatching. Your scribe somewhere in the middle.

” Slow Travel is always the Best Travel “.
Fellow travellers
Fellow travellers, ever curious.
Drosera sp. Shores of L. Boomanjin
The object of our attention: Drosera sp. (Sundew). Carnivorous plants which capture and digest insects using sticky leaf surfaces. Often grow in soils with poor mineral content. This specimen found growing on sandy beach of Lake Boomanjin.

Our track headed generally south east, roughly parallelling Dundonga Creek. For much of its way the track snaked through scrubby low woodland, finally arriving at the crest of a high forested dune at 100 metres. Here we were greeted by a distant clap of thunder. From this vantage point we looked down onto the blue waters and the wide sandy beaches of Boorangoora aka Lake McKenzie. Unusually, for a hot afternoon, the beaches were deserted. In pre-Covid times the beach would have been crawling with sunbathers touching up their tans.

Lake McKenzie, K'gari.
Boorangoora / Lake McKenzie, K’gari.
Great Walk Map for K’gari / Fraser Island
Great Walk Fraser Island Topographic Map. Qld Parks and Wildlife Service.
Great Walk Fraser Island Topographic Map. Qld Parks and Wildlife Service.

Click here for link to Parks and Wildlife map of K’gari / Fraser Island.

Aust Geog Map of K’gari / Fraser Island.
Aust Geog Map: Fraser Is. Scale 1 cm to 5 km
Aust Geog Map: Fraser Island: Scale 1 cm to 5 km
Boorangoora / Lake McKenzie: late afternoon and no day trippers !

With the threat of an impending storm we picked up the pace and arrived at the Lake McKenzie Walkers Camp a mere two and a half hours after leaving Kingfisher Resort. The campground was currently home to a clutch of high schoolers, surprisingly very well behaved.

The walkers camp at Lake McKenzie is all you could wish for if hiking luxury is your thing: toilets, water, tent pads that can double up as swimming pools after a shower of rain , wooden tables , metal food/gear lockers to keep out the local fauna and the cool fresh waters of Boorangoora only a stone’s throw away. And, as a bonus, the whole campground comes without 4WDers and has its own dingo-proof fence.

Dingo proof fence at lake McKenzie walkers camp.
Dingo proof fence at Lake McKenzie walkers camp.
Wongari: Fraser Island Dingoes: Canis dingo.

K’gari is rightly famous for its population of pure bred dingoes and visitors are always thrilled with the sighting of a dingo in the wild. More problematic though are the direct interactions between human and dingo. More than 20 years after the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain from a Central Australian campground, dingoes would again hit the headlines with the death of a nine year old boy, Clinton Gage, on K’gari. Bradley Smith’s book The Dingo Debate’ has an excellent chapter written by Rob Appleby which summarises the research on Fraser Island dingoes.

The Dingo Debate. Bradley Smith ( ed ). CSIRO. 2015.
The Dingo Debate. Bradley Smith ( ed ). CSIRO. 2015.
Wongari. K'gari dingo.
The Dingo on K’gari. Wongari

K’gari has a dingo population of approximately 104 to 200 pure bred dingoes. Small mammals and marsuipals as well as fish form an important constitutent of their diets, not, thankfully, Homo sapiens. The dingoes are naturally sleek animals, but they are not, as many visitors assume, hungry. The temptation to feed them, or play with them should be resisted at all costs. It is on K’gari that the most visible efforts have been made to manage the dingo-human interface. Unfortuately, it is the dingo that comes off second best. Since 1992 the Queensland Parks Service (QPS) has culled 135 dingoes, of which only eight were sick or injured. To be fair, ‘ lethal control’ is the measure of last resort.

The QPS has developed a dingo management strategy of the ‘Three Es’: education, engineering and enforcement. TheirBe Dingo Safe’ campaign is considered by international experts as very innovative and world’s best practice. The main engineering solution is the widespread use of high dingo-proof fencing around sources of food such as campgrounds and resorts: Kingfisher Bay, Eurong and Happy Valley. Enforcement usually involves the issuing of Penalty Infringement Notices (PINs). Very few of these go to court. But in one very highly publicised case, a wildlife photographer cum dingo campaigner was fined $ 40 000 for multiple breaches. The general principle is one of visitor education.

Animal proof locker. K'gari.
Animal proof locker in campsite.

With numerous such dingo warning signs everywhere, I deemed it politic to unearth my copy of the Queensland Parks Service brochure: Be Dingo Safe! Did you know that dingoes can open tent zips and failing that, rip open tents, mesh screens, and tarpaulins. They have been known to break into iceboxes ( eskies ) and those ubiquitous cheap plastic bins. I was further warned that dingoes will eat anything: lollies, soap, tents, toothpaste and even hikers boots. Thus, in this era of duty of care bushwalking, the Queensland Parks Service had thoughtfully provided a two metre high dingo-proof fence as well as metal doggy and native mice proof bins to store overnight gear.

Dingo Safety Guide
Safety and Information Guide: Qld Govt.

Meanwhile, back in the walkers camp, hysterical screaming about snakes came from a nearby tent site. This prompted me to check that I had fully closed my tent’s mesh entrance. I’ve never had a guest snake in my tent… marsuipial mice, mosquitoes, leeches, ticks, March flies even a quoll, but never, thankfully, a snake. Further enquiries revealed that it was just a modestly sized carpet python. In due course it slithered off and transferred it’s unwanted affections to the table immediately adjacent to my tent. My reptilian mate hung around most of the night, finally scoffing down a squealing Antichineus in the early hours of Friday morning. Come daybreak it had vanished into the undergrowth.

Carpet Snake. Walkers Camp K'gari
Carpet snake wandering through Lake McKenzie’s Walkers Camp.
Friday: Boorangoora / Lake McKenzie to Lake Benaroon via Tawhan / Basin Lake : 15 kms.

Our early morning routine was immutable. A bit of preliminary in-tent packing, change back into the already putrid hiking gear and finally emerge into the crepuscular dawn. A quick brew, a bowl of porridge, a final pack and we were on our way. Usually by 6.30 am. All the better to beat the humidity.

From Boorangoora a bit of down and up brought us to Tawhan, Basin Lake, a small nearly circular lake nestled into an amphitheatre of heavily vegetated high dunes. We waddled down to check out the lake but given the early hour we passed on the swim bit. And so, a longish downhill canter delivered us to the relative civilisation of Central Station.

Tahwan. Basin Lake K'gari
Tahwan, Basin Lake.
Central Station Day Use Area
Central Station Day Use Area.

Central Station is now the main camping area for southern Fraser Island, so expect heaps of tourists . Elderly hikers and campers be warned: it has a well earned reputation as backpacker party central. That aside, walkers and 4WDers have been spoilt by the Queensland Parks Service with treated water, flushing toilets, hot showers ( $2.00 ), decent tent pads with picnic tables and a day use area with picnic shelters, information boards, phone (old style), and BBQ’s. And, you are safely coralled behind a dingo-proof fence.

Central Stn Walkers Camp. Kgari.
Central Station Walkers Camp on a very damp day in September 2006. A sneaky low pressure cell developed over K’gari making life on the open road a tad wet. These lows are frequent enough to deserve a specific name: a Fraser Island Low.

We sprawled out for our morning tea break on the shady boardwalk of Wanggoolba Creek, flowing crystal clear under a rainforest canopy of palms, tree ferns and huge trees festooned with epiphytes, vines and orchids. A tourist magnet judging by the number of day-trippers who waddled past. Many stopped for a chat, curious about the old fellows lurking on the boardwalk with their voluminous rucksacks propped beside them.

K'gari. Wanggoolba Creek
Littoral rainforest on Wanggoolba Creek, Central Station.

Interlude over, we shouldered our monkeys and headed south, back into the high dunes. Much of K’gari is a maze of vegetated razorback high dunes. When viewed from above many have a characteristic U or V shape. These are parabolic dunes, having long trailing arms aligned parallel to the prevailing south – eastly winds; a real pain in the neck for those of us walking on a north-south trajectory. There were six episodes of parabolic dune building, with the oldest in the west ( 700,000 years old ) and the youngest in the east ( 40,000 years ago ). https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2022-11-15/kgari-fraser-island-age-links-to-great-barrier-reef-formation/101638104 They reach their highest point at Mt Boowarrady at 214 metres.

Satellite image Central Lakes K'gari. Parabolic Dunes.
Satellite image of heavily vegetated high dunes K’gari. Central Lakes district.

Parabolics are relicts of ancient sandblows, which, in the Great Sandy Region have been stabilised by old growth rainforests and eucalypt forests. K’gari also has a large number of non-vegetated, active sandblows: the significent ones in the Southern Lakes District include Dulingbara, Hammerstone and Wongi sandblows.

Wongi Sandblow.
Wongi Sandblow

Often, more frequently than I would like, a day’s walk on K’gari degenerates into long, steep slogs to a dune crest then a brief respite along the dune top, followed by the eagerly anticipated descent into the next swale. Oddly, John preferred these uphill trudges while Joe and I cussed along in his wake.

A Landscape of High Dunes and Lakes: The Bogimbah Dune Land System.

Our route for the remainder of the day took us past more perched lakes: Lake Jennings, Lake Birrabeen, finally coming to roost in the Benaroon Walkers Camp. This high dune and lake landscape is part of the Bogimbah Dune Land System which occupies a considerable part of central K’gari from Lake Bowarrady in the north southwards to the Sandy Strait. It contains the best of the lake scenery as well as the successive waves of huge Pleistocene parabolic dunes which now form the highest part of the island.

The vegetation cover is almost entirely tall forest dominated by Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis), Red Mahogany (E. resinifera), Satinay (Syncarpia hillii), Tallowwood ( E. microcorys) and Brushbox (Lophostemon confertus). The Bogimbah system also encompasses virtually all of K’gari’s rainforest.

Photo: JB. One of the many ‘giant’ trees on K’gari. Tallowwood ( Eucalyptus microcorys ).
Eucalypt  Forest on K'gari. Great Walk
Eucalypt forest on K’gari’s high dune system. Great Walk Track .

The sub-tropical rainforests occupy the swales between dunes and are characterised by tall closed forests with a diversity of species and structural elements. The canopy trees are Satinay (Syncarpia hillii), Brushbox (Lophostemon confertus), Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii), Kauri Pine ( Agathis robusta ), Strangler Figs ( Ficus sp. ) and Piccabeen Palms ( Archhontophoenix cunninghamiana).

Strangler Fig
Strangler Fig.
Kauri Pine
Kauri Pine, Agathis robusta
Piccabeen Palm.
Piccabeen Palm : Archontophoenix cunninghamiana

Understorey plants include Tree ferns ( Cyathea sp. ), Climbing Pandanus ( Freycinetia arborea ), King Ferns ( Todea barbara ) and a variety of epiphytes. One understorey plant which I was pleased to find was Giant Fern ( Angiopteris evecta ), which grows to five metres tall and although uncommon in South East Queensland, it is also found in moist side gorges of Carnarvon Gorge in Central Queensland.

K'gari rainforesAngiopteris evecta
K’gari rainforest: Angiopteris evecta, an ancient fern with a history dating back 300 million years.
Lake Benaroon.

Benaroon Walkers Camp was deserted. No fellow walkers , no dingoes, and alarmingly no dingo fencing. But I did find snarling dingo warning signs on the toilet door. Pretty unkind to dingoes I always think.

Dingo signage

Tent up, I drifted off in search of my well-earned refreshing dip. The shallow tannin-stained waters of Benaroon didn’t oblige. I managed a half-hearted semi-submerged wash down but a decent swim wasn’t on offer.

Lake Benaroon Campsite
Great Walk campsite at Lake Benaroon.
K'gari: Lake Benaroon
Lake Benaroon

With a hazy sun setting in a blood red western sky, our thoughts turned the plumes of smoke we had seen over the north of K’gari on our first day. The bush fire was obviously still burning, hopefully still well to our north. It would burn uncontrolled for several more weeks.

K'gari : Lake Benaroon on sunset.
Clouds building over Lake Benaroon on sunset.
The 2020 summer bushfire on K’gari.

A major bushfire started on the 14th of October, 2020 , when an illegal campfire torched bushland in the island’s north. It was still burning and spreading when we left K’gari .

It went on to incinerate 82,00 hectares, nearly half the island. Add to that another 13,500 hectares of bushfire damage in 2019 and these wildfires have had a major impact on this World Heritage listed estate.

K'gari bushfire Tues 22 Dec 2020
Source: Dept. Ag, Water & Environ, Aust. K’gari bushfires, Tuesday 22/12/2020.

The 2020 fire came close to damaging major infrastructure at Cathedral Beach Campground, the village of Happy Valley and Kingfisher Bay Resort. So serious was the situation that K’gari was placed off-limits to tourists. At its peak a massive response of 87 firefighters, 9 supporting aircraft, a large aerial tanker and 36 vehicles still were unable to get it under control. Given the dangerous cocktail inaccessible terrain, hot, dry northerlies, this was hardly surprising . The fire was finally brought under control by an intense rain event associated with an upper air trough on the 13th of December 2020. Sixty two days after it had ignited.

Aftermath of bushfires in 2021.
Aftermath of 2020 bushfires on K’gari.
Regrowth after 2020 bushfires.
Dense regrowth after 2020 bushfire season.
Saturday: Lake Benaroon to Markwell’s Break via Lake Boomanjin: 8 kms.

Today’s walk would see us exit the Great! Walk system at the northern end of Lake Boomanjin and turn onto a fire trail known as Markwell’s Break, following it north towards Lake Wabby. We planned to collect water at Bridge Creek on Markwells allowing us to camp several more kilometres along the break. Placing us closer to Wabby for tomorrow’s walk. But more of that plan later.

Meanwhile, the seven kilometre track to Boomanjin climbs gradually up a high dune to top out at 150 metres. From here it gently winds down the trailing arms through tall forest to reach the wide sandy beach of Lake Boomanjin.

Lake Boomanjin: the world’s largest ‘perched’ lake.

Most of the freshwater lakes south of Lake Bowarrady are examples of perched lakes. That is, the water in the lakes is held at an elevation in the dune well above the island’s general water table, often 100 metres or more above the water table. Over time, the normally highly permeable sand has been cemented by organic material washed in by feeder creeks and swamps. Eventually the cemented sand becomes an impervious humate rock which captures any inflowing water. There are very few perched dune lakes elsewhere in the world outside Queensland’s Great Sandy Region, so it was a privilege to see them.

Lake Boomanjin
Lake Boomanjin. Storms building by mid morning.

At 200 hectares Boomanjin is reputed to be the largest perched lake in the world. Its deep brown colour comes from the organic tannins leached from the swamps on its northern and western shores. With its Melaleuca-lined shores and white sandy beaches it is easily one of the most photogenic lakes on K’gari.

Other types of lakes on K’gari are water window lakes ( most of the lakes in northern K’gari ) and barrage lakes ( Lake Wabby ).

Lake Wabby. Barrage Lake.
Barrage lake : Lake Wabby. An active sandblow is forming a barrier that backs up any regional water flowing into the lake. The barrage sandblow in this photo is called Dulingbara.
Lake Garawongera. Water Window Lake
Lake Garawongera: a Water Window Lake. Water Window lakes form when the land surface dips below the local water table, creating a window the water table.

But to return to the sands of Boomanjin. We spent a very pleasant hour rattling around on its northern shores; John chasing birds while Joe and I found a shady nook to enjoy morning tea and the cooling breeze wafting off the lake. John reappeared in due course and here we peeled off the Great!Walk track system and lumbered up the 100 metre altitude gain onto the high dunes of Markwells Break. Our destination was Bridge Creek , two kilometres hence, where, in theory, we would collect water for the afternoon and drag it to our overnight camp several more kilometres along Markwell Break.

Bridge Ck on Markwells Break K'gari
Bridge Creek on Markwells Break. Alas, no water.

Naturally there was no water. John volunteered to thrash off into the manky vegetation downstream looking for the precious water. To no avail. Slow learners…Never trust depictions of perennial and non-perennial streams on Australian maps. There was no choice but to return several kilometres to Boomanjin, collect water and climb back up onto the high dunes of Markwells Break. But not before lodging our rucksacks high up in some Allocasuarinas, safe from the predations of any passing dingoes.

K'gari. Stream feeding Lake Boomanjin
Collecting water from stream feeding northern end of Lake Boomanjin.

We carted our watery cargo back up Markwells and set about pitching tents under a threatening sky. This was a great campsite; while lacking the mod cons of the walkers camps it was, by far, my favouite campsite of the trip. High in the dunes set in a Banksia and Scribbly Gum woodland.

The Scribbly Gum: An Australian Icon.

For many years the scribbles on the smoothbark Eucalypts intrigued field naturalists, writers and bushwalkers. It was thought that the scribbles were caused by the larvae of a beetle.

Scribbly Gum, K’gari.

In the 1930’s , Tom Greaves, a CSIRO entomologist, discovered the larvae of a small moth were responsible for the scribbles on Eucalypts in the Brindabella Ranges near Canberra.

Specimen moths were sent to the UK for identification and a new genus was established, Ogmograptis, and the moth was named Ogmograpthis scribula. CSIRO scientists discovered that there are more than one moth responsible for scribbles; currently the number is 14, with many more to come.

Ogmographtis scribula
Source: CSIRO. Photo: Natalie Barnett. Ogmographtis scribula

The larvae bore tunnels in the outside tissue of the tree’s trunk. The caterpillar then eats its way back along the tunnel, leaving the tree to spin a cocoon at its base where it pupates.

Scribbly Gum
Bark of Scribbly Gum: Eucalyptus racemosa.
Closeup of scribble on Scribbly Gum Bark
Close up of scribble made by larvae of Scribbly Gum moth: Ogmograptis sp.

John disappeared on one of his avian missions while Joe and I made short work of our ever dwindling rations. I treated myself to a Back Country pouch of roast beef, mashed potato and veg while Joe savoured one of his delectable home-made dried concoctions: risotto, mushroom, garnished in white wine. Joe is a handy chef, both in the home kitchen and out in the bush.

On dusk a light sprinkle of rain drove us into our tents for the duration.

K'gari. Markwells Break
Overnight camp on Markwells Break
Sunday: Markwells Break to Central Station: 16 kms.

Twelve sweaty hours entombed in small tents encourged us out soon after 4.15 am . We were trackside by 6.15 am. All the better to beat the predicted heat and humidity. A very pleasant stroll follows the shaded tops of the high dunes. There are many special moments in bushwalking when lugging our monkeys around is all made worthwhile.

In this case a trackside scatter of chewed she-oak cones called orts. A good find, as orts signify the presence of Glossy black-cockatoos, listed as a Vulnerable species under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act, 1992. Scientists regard orts as a reliable indicator of the presence of the Glossies.

They feed almost exclusively on the seeds of nine she-oak species, often restricting their diet to two species within their range. They display strong fidelity to specific feed trees, returning to these trees year after year. They are quiet and unobtrusive birds and call infrequently. Hence the fresh orts were an indication that Glossies had been feeding in this tree.

So next time you are out walking in the bush keep an eye open for orts. You never know, there might be a pair of Glossies feeding quietly in the foliage of a she-oak nearby.

Glossy Black Cockatoo
Photo: CSIRO: By Aviceda -CC-BY-SA 3.0

A few kilometres on we popped out of the woodland to the unremarkable Markwells Lookout.

Markwells Break
Markwells Lookout on Markwells Break.

To the east were the sands of Eurong beach with the blue Pacific Ocean stretching off to the horizon. Northwards , our direction of travel, is the lower country of the Markwell Land System. It is demarced from the high dunes where we were standing by an escarpment, sand not rock. Here the Bogimbah high dunes have been eroded into sharply delineated sand cliffs by past higher sea levels. Later erosion has obscured the steep cliffline so that our descent was quite gradual.

The Markwell Dune System is composed of more recent sand deposits forming relatively gentle topography clothed in open forest and some swampy country.

Meanwhile, back at the lookout Joe’s Bureau of Meterology ( known in Australia as the BOM ) app informed us that severe thunderstorms promising heavy rain, hail and lightning were heading our way, encouraging us to divert for the Central Station where we could bunker down. Lake Wabby abandoned.

We followed Markwells northwards for another six kilometres across hot, flat , sandy country. By late morning the humidity was pretty unpleasant so we were happy campers when we swung back into the shady high dunes and re-connected with the Great! Walk track system.

Great Walks Signage
Great Walks Signage.

The final four kilometres of our day edged gently downhill passing through Pile Valley featuring some of the best rainforest on K’gari. It is in Pile Valley that you are guaranteed to see the best specimens of K’gari’s rightly famous Satinay trees.

Vines in the scrubs on K'gari.
Vines on the edge of scrubs , Pile Valley, K’gari.
Satinay or Fraser Island Turpentine

Satinay ( Syncarpia hillii ) was a much prized timber extracted from K’gari’s forests in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The name satinay derives from the satine wood of French Guiana. It had multiple uses : furniture, flooring, heavy construction beams, telegraph poles and most famously as borer resistant marine jetty piles. Its timber graces Australia’s Old Parliament house while the piles were used extensively for the wharves of London and the Suez Canal. Satinay grows to well over 40 metres in height with girths of four metres. It is easily identified by its deeply furrowed bark and fused capsules.

Satinay K'gari
Satinay. K’gari
Fused capsule of Satinay; Syncarpia hilli.
Fused capsule of Satinay; Syncarpia hilli.
Stand of Satinays. K'gari.
A stand of Satinay with deeply furrowed bark.

With rain threatening we hastened through Pile Valley and made a bee-line for a shelter shed in the Central Station Day Use Area. And there we perched for the night only issuing forth for a refreshing cold shower in the campground. PS: bring $ 2.00 coins if you want a hot shower. We had avoided getting wet but the humid, still air in the backblocks of the shelter shed did seem to attact a robust population of mosquitoes and March flies, intent on driving us back out into the rain. Deet took care of the mosquitoes but the March flies are totally oblivious to layers of thick clothing and Deet. If you want a March Fly free experience, go in winter or September at the latest.

Central Station Day Use Shelter Shed
Central Station Day Use Shelter Shed
A History of Central Station.

In its heyday, Central Station was a bustling forestry station. In 1952 it boasted a school, plant nursery, machinery sheds, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, stables, fernery as well as houses, huts, barracks and tents for its considerable workforce.

Steam locos puffed through, carting logs to K’gari’s west coast for transport to Maryborough. Water was pumped from nearby Woongoolba Creek, even now probably the clearest and cleanest water in Australia. On the northern side of the station were extensive plantations of Kauri and Hoop pines. All that remains now are the barracks built in the 1930s , two huge mango trees and the pine plantations. Rangers are currently working on a small museum to showcase the history of Central Station.

Map of Central Station 1952.
Map of Central Station. 1952.
A gallery of historical photos of timber industry on K’gari
Bogimbah Log Dump.
Source SLQ: Bogimbah Log Dump and tramway. These light rail networks worked from 1905 to 1935 and were eventually replaced by logging trucks. There were three main lines built. This one was 13 kilometres long with two spur lines.
Timber Jinker on K'gari
Timber jinker, K’gari.
Timber Cutters, K'gari.
Timber Cutters on springboards, K’gari
Steam Engine pulling logs, K'gari.
Source: SLQ: Steam engine hauling logs in Bogimbah Scrub, K’gari.
Log punt in Bogimbah Ck
Source: SLQ: Log punt in Bogimbah Creek. K’gari. Ca 1911.
Log loading wharf on Great Sandy Strait. K'gari.
Log loading wharf on Great Sandy Strait. K’gari.
Monday: Central Station to McKenzies Jetty: 18 kms.

Out disgustingly early again, hoping to dodge any stray rangers doing their rounds. Our revised plan was to walk through to McKenzies Jetty ( ruins ) where we hoped to prop for the night, leaving only four kilometres to knock off tomorrow morning. Our map showed a perennial stream flowing out into the Sandy Strait, a potential source of water for our overnight camp. Had we learnt our lesson from the Bridge Creek debarcle.

An initial long climb took us up to Tarwan / Basin Lake . John drifted down to the lake again in the vain hope of seeing something avian. Joe and I lurked around in the shade.

And so onto Boonangoora / Lake McKenzie to retreive a sweet treat food stash planted last Friday in a log in the campground. But first came the refreshing dip in the lake and given that it was barely 9.00 am it was, pleasantly, a tourist free zone. Though we could have done without the drone fly-over.

The stash of tinned peaches, rice cream and cream disappeared in a thrice. Fuel for the next ten kilometre stretch to McKenzies. Ten kilometres through low open woodland and health on a stifling humid day. Not much fun. Come midday we were keen to flop down in anything that passed as a patch of shade. Joe produced a trial batch of hommus to spread on our biscuits. This was dried stuff that he reconstituted with water. The trick is get the mixture to a thickish paste for spreading. Pretty damm scrumptious actually. Thanks Joe.

A solitary walker drifted past with a brief nod followed by a small party of day walkers who studiously ignored the old blokes flaked out on the track’s edge. Lunch over we headed west following the easement of the old timber tramway which terminated at the old McKenzies sawmill site and jetty.

Old train line easement.
The present day track follows this old forestrytram ine easement .

With the sky darkening and the wind picking up it was time to find water and an overnight campsite. After a quick scoot around the Mill Circuit ( don’t bother, if you want my honest opinion ), we popped out onto the beach at McKenzies.

Opposite us, on the Fraser Coast storm cells raced northwards. Out on the exposed beach it was windy and wet but no lightning and no hail. Our water resupply came from a small creek trickling across the beach. Once known as Foulmouth Creek, its aboriginal name is the melodious Yeenyargoor Creek, for which I can find no translation.

McKenzies Jetty during timber cutting days
Source: SLQ: McKenzies Jetty, K’gari. The curve in the jetty is thought to be a response to location of harder rock for driving in the jetty piles.
Old timber jetty, McKenzies Beach. K'gari
Present day view of McKenzies Beach and old jetty. Storm cell passing over Great Sandy Strait.

Any thoughts of dossing down in the nearby day use area were torpedoed by unfriendly ‘No Camping‘ signs and a remote security camera peering down from a tree high above us. Possibly planted by the Butchellas. Thwarted, we wandered back to an adjacent headland and found a level section of track where we fussed around setting up for the night.

Campsite near McKenzies Beach, K'gari
Campsite above McKenzies Beach.

An inspired choice for a campsite: views over the Great Sandy Strait, lightning dancing over the mainland in the distance and two dingoes padding towards us. A mother ( lime green tag in right ear ) and a very rotund and furry pup. Once aware of our presence they propped, posed for a photo opportunity, then ambled off. Not a care in their doggy world. My leather boots spent a night in the tent lest some passing dingo fancied a Dubbin flavoured boot to chew on.

Tuesday: McKenzies to Kingfisher Bay Resort: 4 kms.

The final four kilometre leg today was into Kingfisher Bay Resort to catch the ferry back to the mainland. Apart from views across the Great Sandy Strait to Woody Island and Little Woody Island this section is littered with artefacts from the World War Two training camp of Z Force. This secretive commando group trained to attack a variety of Japanese targets in South East Asia including Singapore Harbour.

Z Force, The Fraser Island Commando School.

The WW2 Fraser Island Commando School operated from this site from late 1943 to war’s end in 1945. It provided specialised training for commandos being sent behind Japanese lines in locations as diverse as Vietnam, Timor, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Singapore .

Commandos from Z Force. K'gari
Commandos from Z Force, K’gari.

Fraser Island was considered a good choice as a commando base with its comparative remoteness, extensive and varied shoreline and patches of jungle. Not much is left today: a few concrete slabs, old stumps and a relief map of the local area rendered in concrete. Surprisingly few artefacts to be seen, given that at the end of the war the the camp was a village with cinema, gym, post office, workshops, ammo magazines, and a tent-bed hospital.

Artefacts left at Z Force base , K’gari.

Of particular interest to me was their training in the use of Folboats, 2- person kayaks that could be assembled and disassembled as needed. In the 1970s I built a rigid canvas covered 2- person kayak modelled on the Folboat design which we used for many years.

For training, the commandoes would paddle their Folboats to nearby Woody Island where they would attack the fake enemy Comunications Centre that had been set up . Unsuspecting friendly vessels had dummy limpet mines attached before the commandos silently glided away into the night. As a final exercise they paddled over to the mainland, up the Mary River to Maryborough where their ‘ targets ‘ included Walkers Shipyard and the rail yards . All undetected, of course.

Folboats
Z Force commandos training in Folboats . Great Sandy Strait.

The most well known of the operations was Operation Jaywick, which struck at Japanese shipping in Singapore harbour in September 1943. A former Japanese fishing supply vessel, renamed the Krait, set out from Western Australia in early September and set up a canoe base at Panjang Island, from where six operatives in three Folboats set out and attached limpet mines to six Japanese freighters and one tanker, sinking between 37,000–39,000 tons of shipping.

The men rendezvoused with the Krait in early October, and returned safely to Western Australia. However, another attempted attack on Singapore Harbour a year later, codenamed Operation Rimau, failed with the loss of the whole party of 23 men (10 being captured and executed by the Japanese).

Soon after 8.00 am we too glided in, dropping anchor at Kingfisher Resort’s Sand Bar, dismayed to find the bar and swimming pool closed. No matter, we unearthed the resort guests’ hot showers , had a good soapy scrub down and climbed into whatever we had in the way of clean clothes.

Sand Bar. Kingfisher Island Resort. Closed !

Meanwhile, Joe, being Joe, did, as he so often does for us. He managed to scout out the only open kiosk and came back bearing gifts of fruit juice and apples. Our five day adventure was over. With grateful thanks to my two hiking mates, John and Joe.

Map of one of our previous hikes on the northern section of the K’gari / Fraser Island Great Walk.
Map of one of our hikes on northern section of K'gari / Fraser Island Great Walk.
Map of one of our hikes on northern section of K’gari / Fraser Island Great Walk.

Mt Moffatt Section , Carnarvon National Park.

Mt Moffatt is a remote and relatively pristine section of Carnarvon National Park in Central Queensland. It occupies the headwaters of the western flowing Maranoa River; a diverse landscape of broad valleys, basalt tablelands and isolated outcrops of Precipice sandstone .

This former beef grazing property, was purchased by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service in 1979 to add to their extensive Central Queensland Sandstone park estate.

The Looking Glass.Spire of Precipice Sandstone, Mt Moffatt NP
The Looking Glass. Mt Moffatt.

Mt Moffatt is an elevated sandstone and basalt park averaging about 700 – 800 metres in elevation, rising to 1232 metres on the basalt-capped Consuelo Tableland in the park’s north-east. The park was named after a solitary basalt peak, Mt Moffatt (1097 metres), standing hundreds of metres above the East Branch of the Maranoa River.

Mt Moffatt,.
Mt Moffatt 1097 metres. Basalt overlying Hutton sandstone.

The Consuelo Plateau is known as ‘The Roof of Queensland’ as it forms the headwaters of many Queensland rivers. Carnarvon Creek flows eastwards into the Comet and Dawson thence to the Fitzroy River. Draining westwards across Mt Moffatt is the Maranoa River, ultimately feeding the Murray-Darling system.

Marlong Creek, Mt Moffatt.
Marlong Creek, a tributary of the Maranoa River, West Branch.

Mt Moffatt has a diverse plant community of open woodlands, tall Eucalypt forests and vast open grassy plains.

Open Angophera woodland, Mt Moffatt
Open woodland dominated by Angophera sp. on sandy plains.

Unlike its near neighbour, Carnarvon Gorge, this is an open terrain of sandstone spires, arches and extensive clifflines of Precipice Sandstone.

The Mansions, Mt Moffatt.
The Mansions: an outcrop of coloured, soft Hutton sandstone.

It has a rich human history. Aboriginal stencil art is abundant and their occupation stretches back at least 19,000 years. Reminders of the area’s life as a cattle property are seen in relict stockyards and fencing. For those of you fascinated by bushrangers, Mt Moffatt was site of the grisly murders of Constable George Doyle and station manager Christian Dahlke by the notorious Kenniff brothers.

Old cattle yards, Mt Moffatt.
Old cattle yards, Mt Moffatt.

I have been visiting Mt Moffatt since 1988 and since then have hiked with family and friends many times across Mt Moffatt and the Consuelo; and more latterly have walked the six day Carnarvon Great Walk which incorporates Carnarvon Gorge and Mt Moffatt.

Carnarvon Great Walk soon after its opening. Looking into Carnarvon Gorge from Police Peak.

Sunset at Sundown. Southern Sundown National Park. Qld.

By Glenn Burns

The following account is of a three day bushwalking circuit that I did with two friends in southern Sundown National Park in which we followed up McAllisters Ck, a deeply incised tributary of the Severn River. From McAllisters we ascended  onto the Roberts Range at about 900 metres. After a long hot walk along the high Roberts Range we turned  westwards pushing through dense undergrowth to overnight on Mt Donaldson at 1038 metres. The following day we descended back into the Severn River.

In early October, walking friends Frank Truscott, Don Bell and I completed a three day bushwalking circuit in Sundown National Park taking in some very interesting and challenging landscapes on the way. Although only thirty kilometres from Girraween as the crow flies, Sundown has little in common with the benign rounded tor  landscapes of the Stanthorpe Granites.

Rugged Sundown Landscape
Rugged Sundown Landscape

Sundown offers a terrain of deeply incised creeks, gorges, waterfalls and steep stony ridges rising to 1000 metres. It is an inhospitable environment, dry and rocky. To me, a landscape reminiscent of the MacDonnell Ranges of Central Australia. Early settlers described it as “traprock”, geologically incorrect but an apt descriptor all the same. Traprock is a term applied to basalt landscapes in the UK while Sundown’s surface geology is predominately sedimentary which has been  altered by heat and pressure (termed: metasedimentary).

Photo Gallery

Our trip followed an anticlockwise circuit: from the Broadwater up the gorge-like McAllister’s Creek, to Split Rock Falls; a climb to the Roberts Range at 800 to 1000 metres; a major scrub bash to Mt Donaldson (1038 metres); a steep descent to Mount Donaldson Creek and the spectacular Donaldson Creek Falls and a return down the boulder choked Severn River to the Broadwater Campground.

Sundown National Park

Link to another of my Sundown Walks:

Sundown is a remote and rugged National Park a mere thirty kilometre stone’s throw to the south-west of Queensland’s very popular Girraween National Park. My bushwalking friend Brian and I have, over the years, traipsed many a kilometre along the Severn River in Sundown. This is an account of one of our many expeditions in Sundown.

Geology of Sundown National Park

Sundown’s stony terrain had its origins in the Carboniferous Period (360million – 286 million years ago). Sediments from a volcanic mountain chain on the eastern edge of the Gondwana continent were deposited on the continental shelf and later avalanched onto the deep ocean floor. The sediments formed thick beds of sands, silts and mud. Compression and deformation of the beds resulted in the metasediments of the Texas Beds. The predominate rock types of the Texas Beds are Argillite and Greywacke. Argillite is a dark grey/black mudstone, very fine grained and extremely hard. Greywacke is a coarse grained sedimentary of mixed composition, also very hard. These were later uplifted to a mountain chain, the remnants of which form the tilted hilly ridges of Sundown.

DAY ONE
McAllister Creek Gorge

We left Broadwater mid afternoon and rock hopped up McAllister Creek to Split Rock Falls. Here the creek was deeply entrenched in a narrow red gorge, defying Frank’s GPS to find the requisite number of satellites. Following Don’s confident lead we hung from cracks and crevices, teetered along dubious ledges, finally reaching the barely trickling “split” falls, impassable…. of course. Our bypass was a steep scrabbly climb on the spine of a rocky ridge to our campsite in a cypress pine grove at 800metres. One of the very few open areas in an otherwise very stony terrain. At 6.30pm, on sunset, we downed packs and settled into our campsite, complete with its own comfortable log seats and frug of whining mosquitoes. I soon lost my desire to join the “sleep under the stars” contingent as a full moon rose and the mosquitoes settled in for the duration. Instead I retired in comfort to my insect/moonlight proof “Taj Mahal”.

McAllister Ck Gorge
McAllister Ck Gorge

DAY TWO
Roberts Range

Our traverse along the crest of Roberts Range on the second day followed one of the ancient ridges. The Roberts Range was a roller coaster of elevation gains followed by steep descents. Hot work. Incredibly, we found two small dams high up in the catchment where we could replenish our water supplies and wash. Mid afternoon we swung off the Roberts Range heading for Donaldson.

4WD track on crest of Roberts Range
4WD track on crest of Roberts Range

Mt Donaldson

Progress faltered to about one kilometre an hour and visibility fell to ten metres as we pushed through unpleasantly dense thickets of Peach Bush (Ehretia membranifolia) and Cough Bush (Cassinia laevis). On occasion, one of our trio would disappear into a thicket failing to re-emerge after an appropriate wait. Several cooees usually provided the necessary geographic re-orientation and a bleeding bruised body would come flailing through the undergrowth, in due course.

Rough going near Mt Donaldson
Rough going near Mt Donaldson

On the summit of Mt Donaldson on our second evening we found some younger Permian breccias on top of the Texas beds. Breccias are sedimentaries composed of coarse, angular fragments of older rocks. My guide book implied fossil shellfish aplenty these outcrops. Even Blind Freddy should find one. The breccias were obvious enough but the fossils weren’t. Unfortunately, my conscience wouldn’t allow me to shatter rocks to find them, tempting though the prospect was.

As the sun set we perched on rocky benches above the cliffline and took in the view. This is reputed to be the best vantage point in the park, not an exaggerated claim. A rugged landscape unfolded: Donaldson’s northern summit was fringed by massive cliffs; stretching off to the north east was the Razorback (Berchtesgaden on my map) a ridgeline of numerous 900 and 800 metre hills grading down to the Rats Castle (a granitic dyke) on the Severn River, four kilometres away. Immediately below was the Stony Creek valley, lined with numerous scree slopes of shattered boulders. My track notes advised that walkers should not be

tempted to descend Stony Creek since it is strewn with large boulders.”

On a distant western cliffline a trip of goats skittered along a narrow ledge, intent on finding a night bivouac in the thick brush.

DAY THREE

With the Stony Creek warning in mind, we left Mount Donaldson at 5.30am, chased off the summit by gale force winds and a suspiciously thick cloud bank building to our east over Stanthorpe. We descended steeply into Mount Donaldson Creek. Here we rewatered, dropped packs and headed downstream to inspect Donaldson Creek Falls, developed on resistant strata, with its 100m drop towards the Severn River. The views down a red canyon to the Severn did not disappoint. Saddling up again we bypassed the falls and descended 230 vertical metres to the Severn River Flood Plain. The bed of the Severn is confined to the NNE trending Severn River Fracture Zone. It is interesting that the river has not diverted around the harder Texas Beds but has continued to cut down into the resistant metasediments. Consequently, for such an old land surface the sinuosity of meander looping of the Severn is remarkably undeveloped. The sinuosity ratio for the Severn in Sundown is 1.04; very close to the ratio for straight, younger streams such as the Johnstone River (North Queensland) which has a ratio of 1.00. A stream channel on a flat flood plain will often have a ratio of 3.00 or more (technically described as tortuous). Still, this was all useless palaver as we hoofed the final six long hot steamy kilometres along a rough bouldery river bed to our final destination at Broadwater.

My thanks to Frank and Don for their invitation to join them on the Sundown  trip and for some great navigation and geology

References:

Willmott, W, 2004:   Rocks and Landscapes of the National Parks of Southern Queensland.

Mapsheets:

  Sundown National Park   1:50,000 ( Hema Maps)

Mount Donaldson   1:25,000

Mingoola   1:25,000

 

 

Sundown National Park

By Glenn Burns

Sundown is a remote and rugged National Park a mere thirty kilometre stone’s throw to the south-west of Queensland’s very popular Girraween National Park. My bushwalking friend Brian and I have, over the years, traipsed many a kilometre along the Severn River in Sundown. This is an account of one of our many expeditions in Sundown. 

Brian, ever the expedition genie, had again conjured up yet another ‘exploratory’ trip covering central and northern Sundown. This time we would venture  high up onto the Roberts Range which marks the southern boundary of Sundown and forms the state border between Queensland and New South Wales. The only fly in the ointment was our intended access to the Roberts Range, over Mt Donaldson. Those who have tramped this way before will recall the swathes of dense undergrowth with a certain sense of trepidation.

The Severn River: Sundown National Park
The Severn River: Sundown National Park

Sundown is said have been given its name by old bushmen who thought that its valleys were so deep that it was always ‘sundown’. It is a spectacular landscape. Named after the Severn River in England, this deeply incised antipodean Severn, with its waterholes, cool side gorges and waterfalls makes for relatively benign walking. But away from the river, Sundown can be inhospitable. Dry, stony ridges rise to well over 1000 metres, the so-called ‘traprock’ country. The highest hills are invariably smothered in tangled thickets of Peach Bush, Cough Bush, Hop Bush and other shrubby pleasures like the prickly Dead Finish: all right up there in nuisance value with wait-a-while and lantana.

View from Mt Donaldson overlooking The Razorback
View from Mt Donaldson overlooking The Razorback

The lure for me in all this was that we would be following the old Roberts Range border survey line set out in 1863 by Francis Edward Roberts, Queensland Government Surveyor and Isaiah Rowland, Robert’s counterpart from New South Wales. Although Brian and I had walked a small section to the south-west several years ago, we could now complete another leg over the highest part connecting Mt Donaldson and the old Sundown homestead site. My fellow expeditioners, experienced throughwalkers all, were quick to sign up to four days of the rumoured slacking down the Severn, early finishes, superb high range campsites and heaps of firewood for our evening fires. Buyer Beware.

Photo Gallery: Sundown National Park

Wednesday 25 April: Sundown Homestead site to Red Rock Creek: 5.5 kms.

Eight bushwalkers mustered at the old Sundown Homestead site on a decidedly coolish Granite Belt afternoon: Brian (leader), Alf, Christine, Jenny, Roland, Sally, Samantha and one well rugged-up scribe. Temperatures had dropped to a nippy 14°C as a blustery 40 kph sou’westerly swept in. Hardly unexpected, as this is Queensland’s coldest district, with eight months recording temperatures below 0°C. Sundown’s Park HQ at The Broadwater has recorded a creditable minus 8°C. Fortunately the average minimum for April is a more comfortable 9.5°C.

Walkers @ Rats Castle
Walkers @ Rats Castle

But cool was cool for our five and a half kilometre uphill walk in along the old 4WD track to our Red Rock Falls campsite. For those humping in their supplies of birthday cakes, apples, sourdough rye bread, cheeses, a hogshead of red wine and a hundredweight of juicy Kalbar carrots, the track kindly winds its way ever so gently upward, a modest height gain of only 160 metres from the homestead. At the base of Hill 983 (metres) we shrugged off our well-stocked packs for the short walk into Red Rock Falls Lookout.

Source: Glenn Burns

Red Rock Falls & Sundown’s Geology

From the lookout, the full story of Sundown’s geology and topography could be read in the landscape revealed before us. This rugged terrain had its origins in the Devonian-Carboniferous Period some 370 to 290 million years ago. Sediments from a volcanic mountain chain on the eastern edge of the Gondwananan continent were deposited on the continental shelf and later avalanched into deep ocean trenches. Thick beds of sands, silts and mud were compressed, hardened and deformed, producing the very hard metasedimentaries of the Texas beds. In a later episode of mountain building, the metasediments were uplifted, tilted and fractured to form a mountain chain, the remnants of which are the ridges and hills of Sundown. Later, during the Triassic (248 -213 million years ago) a small body of Ruby Creek Granite was intruded into the Texas Beds and now outcrops at Red Rock Gorge and Jibbinbar Mountain to the north, but also triggered major fracturing of the Texas Beds. It was also responsible for the mineralization of the Texas Beds and the formation of Rats Castle, a granitic dyke. For a detailed explanation of the geology of Sundown NP go to Warwick Willmott’s excellent tome: Rocks and Landscape of National Parks of Southern Queensland.

But our immediate attention was drawn towards the now dry Red Rock Falls. As Alf pointedly remarked to our leader:

“The falls aren’t falling, Brian. Can we get a refund?”

By way of compensation, there were panoramic views along the red cliff lines which plunge a good 50 metres to the Red Rock Creek gorge below. In reality the granite cliffs are sandy in colour when freshly broken, but have been stained red by lichens on undisturbed surfaces.

Red Rock Falls: Sundown National Park.
Red Rock Falls: Sundown National Park.

The touristy bit done, we mooched back to retrieve our packs and strode off to our first overnight campsite. A Sundown Hilton. Grassy, level tent sites, plenty of water and ample firewood. After my 5 am start and the tedious drive to Sundown, a Bex and a good lie down beckoned. I had barely thumped in my last tent peg when Brian, whose largesse never extends to free time, rounded up the lethargic and indolent for some late afternoon exercise down Red Rock Creek to peer over the falls.

Campsite on Red Rock Creek
Campsite on Red Rock Creek

Thankfully the biting sou’westerly gusting up the cliff face quickly dampened any corporate enthusiasm for poking around and the natives were unusually  restless. Brian did manage to steady his now pretty toey charges long enough to point out a brownish smudge on the horizon, which he insisted was the grassy knoll where we would have morning tea on the morrow.

Afternoon stroll down Red Rock Creek
Afternoon stroll down Red Rock Creek

Back at the campsite firewood was scrounged, the fire lit, and cups of soup, tea and coffee brewed. And as the light faded from a sailor’s delight sky, the bush chefs gathered to whip up an epicurean extravaganza. Brian resorted to an old favourite of his, bangers and mash with a side dish of green peas. But for my money, bangers and mash or all those Backcountry Pantry roast lambs and veg didn’t compare with Jenny’s culinary coup, a Scotch Devil. A hard-boiled egg covered with crumbed sausage meat and deep fried. A meal fit for any claymore-wielding Highlander and a kilojoule king-hit capable of propelling Jenny to Jupiter and back.

The Song of Roland

Meal over, we warmed our bottoms over the crackling fire while Roland regaled us with one of his many tall tales, occasionally true. Not Roland and the Midnight Koels’ this time, butClose Encounters of the Dingo Kind’ set in The Valley of Giants, Fraser Island. I recall another of Roland’s dingo dingles in Central Australia when Brian, Bernard, Di Hoopert and I were due to link up with Roland at Furnace Gully near Redbank Gorge on the Larapinta Trail. After two days of cross country travel from Mt Zeil and manyCooees” andRoowlaands” we finally looked down on a disconsolate Roland perched in a baking, bleak and windswept gully, the ultimate Mars landing experience. A black and tan dingo was slowly prowling the perimeter of the campsite, patiently stalking its prey in ever decreasing circles. Back in Sundown it was off to bed for these little puppies, lulled to sleep by friendly frog calls and the distant rush of wind through the trees on the high ridges above.

Thursday 26 April: Red Rock Ck to Burrows Waterhole: 8.5 kms.

5.15 am. Birthday boy Brian was already on the move. The usual clanking of billies and mugs, stirring up the campfire and dispensing cups of tea and coffee to all and sundry. Other bleary-eyed bushwalkers gradually trickled out into a crisp Granite Belt morning, 1°C, grateful for a warming fire. While the others hovered over the fire I waddled off to check out a small mullock heap and mine pit that Brian had found nearby. Sundown was the site of a number of mines producing molybdenite, tungsten, copper, arsenic and tin. In fact, the first tin deposit found in Australia was on the nearby Nundubbermere Run in 1854.

Mining at Sundown

The Sundown Tin Mine opened in 1893 and operated until 1923 when it closed only to re-open in 1953, finally closing in 1956. It was by far the biggest producer in the area but other mines were Carpenters Gully, The Orient, and Beehive. Copper sulphides were worked at The Sundown Copper Mine (1888 to 1908) and nearby Comet Mine. Arsenic was extracted in the early 1900s at Beecroft (1917 to 1927), Sundown Copper (1922 to 1924) and The Orient (1918) mines.

Beecroft Mine
Beecroft Mine

Arsenic was an important constituent in prickly pear poison, cattle dips and a hardener for the lead in bullets. Unfortunately arsenic oxide treatment has contaminated Little Sundown Creek and I have read that walkers are advised not to drink the water in Little Sundown below the mines.

Fortunately small mineral lodes, lack of water and poor access ensured any further exploitation in Sundown Resources Reserve was temporarily off the agenda. But this could all change under any future governments. The Sundown Resources Reserve does not have the same level of protection as its surrounding national park. In fact, during the 1980’s a mineral exploration company had been sniffing around the Severn River Fracture Zone west of the old Sundown mines and discovered bulk low-grade tin. But as Queensland’s former Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen was apt to say to those pesky greenies, bushwalkers and press hacks:

Now, don’t you worry about that.”

0r the even more confusing:

We’ll come to that bridge when we’ve crossed it.”

By 7.45 am the party rolled out, climbing steadily the 100 metre altitude gain to Hill 1032. Strange, this climbing bit, given that Brian had described today’s route as a ‘downhill day’. Alf, ever the agent provocateur, inquired:

Is this another one of your uphill flat bits, Brian?”

But after Hill 1032 we indeed dropped down a long steepish 4WD track that took us through the Sundown Resources Reserve and finally up onto Hill 731, our morning tea spot, as promised. Sally produced a delicious pineapple cake while I unearthed the ginger cake that Judy had baked for Brian’s birthday bushwalking bash. A round of ‘Happy Birthday, Brian’ echoed through the hills while Brian huffed and puffed and finally blew out his three little candles. We wolfed down great slabs of birthday cake, sat back and took in the views back up to Red Rock Falls, three kilometres hence.

The Birthday Boy
The Birthday Boy

Our final descent of the morning was the 250 metre drop to Pump Waterhole on the Severn. This proved to be slowish work, gingerly picking our way down a steep hillside mantled with loose traprock. On the way down Alf called us over to inspect a pile of bleached bones:

Come and have a look at these bones. Hey, Brian. Are these bushwalkers from your last trip?”

Pump Waterhole probably takes its name from the fact that the Severn River was the source of water pumped up to mines or to stock tanks.

Pump Waterhole
Pump Waterhole

An hour later we ambled into Reedy Waterhole, lunch stop. I always take a wolfish interest in other bushwalkers’ food. Roland’s lunch today, for example, was distinctly continental: crusty sourdough rye bread, substantial slabs of cheese and several of those scrumptious carrots that he had carted in.

Burrows Waterhole Campground

After another half hour of rock hopping and two river crossings we strayed into Burrows Waterhole for an early mark. Brian’s fear that this official campground would be infested with squadrons of 4WDers was unfounded. A 2.30 pm finish. Unprecedented in the annals of Manuelian throughwalking. Burrows, a very large waterhole, was named after Fredrick James Burrows, a WW1 veteran who suicided in 1934 and his grave is said to be on the northern side of the river.

Burrows Waterhole
Burrows Waterhole

A grassy campsite, swims all round and an afternoon of unstructured mooching stretched ahead. Ever the wily coyote, I kept stumm about Fredrick Burrow’s nearby gravesite for fear of whetting Brian’s appetite for local history and back to back afternoon rambles. Anyway, the horses had already bolted. Jenny and Christine drifted off to check out the only other inmates of the campground; Samantha was engrossed in platypus watching; Sally sudokued; Roland brewed coffee, while Brian, predictably, kept himself busy rustling up the firewood and on matters navigational.Sunset came with another red sky, Venus and Mars peeking above the western horizon. The dark and cold folded in around us. So like the dingoes of Central Australia, our little pack crept ever closer to the warmth of a blazing campfire. Brian’s birthday bacchanal cranked up again, fuelled by more portions of birthday cake and washed down with a pannican of Alf’s finest vintage red wine. Or so he claimed. But by seven o’clock party pooping types headed for their snuggly sleeping bags. So off we all tottered. Jenny for her nightly Middlemarch fix, Brian to Agatha Christie, a turgid French novelist for Christine, travel stories for me, Alf to play cards, Sally to Sudoku, and Samantha to catalogue, classify, and coordinate her hiking kit in preparation for an early start tomorrow.

Roland relaxing at Burrows Waterhole
Roland relaxing at Burrows Waterhole

Friday 27 April: Burrows Waterhole to Stony Ck Junction via Rats Castle: 9 kms.

Woken at an ungodly 5 am and not by the instantly recognisable “zzzzip” of Brian’s tent. No, the guilty party was Samantha noisily rummaging around in her tent; re-reorganizing her gear so it was all ship-shape in Bristol fashion. I crawled out. Pitch black. An hour and half later, as first light tinged the eastern sky we luxuriated in the balmy 7°C conditions; the cloud and humidity a harbinger of the predicted rain due on Saturday. Today we were off to Stony Creek junction via Rats Castle. Stony was our jumping off point for the climb to Mt Donaldson and the Roberts Range. Rats Castle is a well known Severn River landmark that had evaded three dumb-cluck navigators on our 2011 Sundown walk. But not this time. We approached our elusive quarry from a ridgeline leading up from Little Sundown Creek and half an hour later we scrambled up onto its jumbled red granite boulders. Legend has it that the boulders of Rats Castle have been dynamited by vandals.

Rats Castle

Rats is an interesting geological feature, a ridge of hard fine-grained Ruby Creek granite which has intruded into the surrounding metasediments of the Texas Beds, weakened during major crustal distortions in the Severn River Fracture Zone. Technically it is a dyke, a vertical intrusion.

View over Severn River from Rats Castle
View over Severn River from Rats Castle

Early shepherds called it Rats Castle because when first seen, it was home to small rock wallabies, then commonly called rats. The rats were probably the Brush-tailed rock wallaby, Petrogale penicillata, listed as vulnerable and now found only at Nundubbermere Falls despite extensive surveying in Sundown. This shaggy-coated brownish wallaby has great agility on rock faces and can even scale sloping trees using its powerful legs and strong claws. It is nocturnal but cool weather will see it out basking on ledges in the sunshine. Unfortunately, it has been an easy prey for foxes, a target for shooters and the local population suffers from deleterious in-breeding.

For those bold enough to clamber onto the few summit boulders, Rats commanded great views over the Severn, 80 metres below. Ten minutes later eight pack rats were also below, having slithered and skated down over loose scree to the river bed. A smoko break. Here we bade a fond farewell to Roland who was returning to Burrows and like the proverbial penny would reappear two days hence, at Sundown Homestead. For the rest of us it was ever onward, past a herd of goats, past a fat pig and past a succession of waterholes: The Hell Hole, Turtle, Blue, Channel and Wallaby Rocks. Six kilometres, nine river crossings, one dodgy log crossing and we lobbed into our Stony Creek campsite soon after two o’clock.

Innumerable river crossing
Innumerable river crossing

Stony Creek Campsite

Another excellent campsite: remote, set on a flat alluvial terrace, grassy tent sites shaded by Sheoaks, Forest Red Gums, Cypress Pines and Rough-Barked Apples, ample firewood and a waterhole nearby. Tents went up quickly as the sky had clouded over and the wind had now swung to the east, rain threatening. With full cloud cover our maximum temperature barely reached a miserable 15°C. In fact, it was the coldest day of the month. But around the warmth of the campfire later in the evening Alf stepped up as raconteur-in-residence and entertained with travel stories from wildest Africa. Well, about as wild as you could expect from an Alf on a swanky safari to various South African diamond mines, gold mines and De Beers HQ. Just as we were being winched deep into the bowels of yet another diamond mine, a light shower of rain cut short our virtual tour and chased us off to our tents. But who would complain? Tucked into a toasty sleeping bag, light rain pattering down and a soporific page or two of James Elliot’s:  A Visit to Kanasankatan.

Packing up on a wet morning
Packing up on a wet morning

Saturday 28 April: Stony Ck to Roberts Range via Mt Donaldson: 6 kms.

Climbing up to Mt Donaldson
Climbing up to Mt Donaldson

Despite light rain all night we were all packed, kitted out in wet weather gear and gaiters, and ready to make tracks by 7 o’clock. Today would be our most challenging. Off track, pushing through manky vegetation, with a stiff 200 metre climb to Mt Donaldson Falls, then a second 420 metre climb to Mt Donaldson (1036 m) and onwards to Hill 1024 and Hill 1047 before dropping to our campsite on a spur of the Roberts Range at 960 metres.

Mt Donaldson

Initially navigation would be a cinch, merely following an old rabbit or dingo fence for the one kilometre climb to our old 2008 campsite at Mt Donaldson Falls. Light misty showers dogged us all the way along the fence line and the slimy wet traprock slabs in Mt Donaldson Creek were a disincentive for a walk down to the lip of the falls. For those who risked life and limb skating down, the views down the gorge were standard Manuelian: obscured by wreathes of misting rain.

View down Mt Donaldson Ck
View down Mt Donaldson Ck

Another two and a half kilometres and the 420 metre altitude gain brought us to Mt Donaldson’s western peak. But not before pushing through dense thickets of Peach and Cough Bush; troublesome stuff in that we had left the navigational safety of the rabbit fence and had to resort to the dark arts of map and compass to keep us on the straight and narrow, reaching the summit five and a half hours after leaving our Stony Creek campsite.

The view from Mt Donaldson over The Razorback.
The view from Mt Donaldson over The Razorback.

It being 12.30pm we propped for lunch on the exposed summit rocks. My invitation to check out the rocks, Permian breccias, was politely ignored. My geology book claims the breccias are rich in fossil shellfish. Apart from a couple of two-legged ones I have yet to find these fossils. Anyway, my reluctant field assistants were more intent on hunkering down to stay warm and out of the cold blustery easterly wind than scouring the summit for my fossils. I could see showers scudding all around us but, by the grace of the Gods of Weather, we stayed dry.

Hunkering down out of the cold wind.
Hunkering down out of the cold wind.

The summit is reputed to be the best vantage point in the park. And it is, though most of my companions couldn’t be roused from their hypothermic huddling to appreciate the scenery. The vista across Sundown’s rugged landscape was, quite simply, fantastic. Donaldson’s northern fall is marked by massive cliff line which drops 400 metres into Stony Creek. Its valley is lined with numerous scree slopes of shattered boulders. Stretching off to the north-east was the Razorback, marked as Berchtesgaden on my old Hema map. The Razorback, a spur of the Roberts Range, is a five kilometre ridgeline of 900 and 800 metre hills grading down to our old friend, Rats Castle on the Severn.

The afternoon’s traverse, at a mere three kilometres, was another rib-tickling episode taken from Brian’s barrel of bushwalking laughs. I had walked this section on two previous occasions and I knew what was coming. These high western-facing slopes are covered by what botanists describe as shrubby woodlands. The tree layer is a mixture of Tumbledown Red Gum (Eucalyptus dealbata), Caley’s Ironbark (E. caleyi), Youman’s Stringybark (now E. subtilis) and Black Cypress Pine (Callitris endlicheri). So far so good. But the understorey is dominated by dense groves of Peach Bush (Ehretia membranifolia) and Cough Bush (Cassinia laevis). The leaves of Cough Bush or Wild Rosemary were an old bush remedy. They were the active ingredient in a decoction for the treatment of respiratory ailments, hence, Cough Bush. The almost impenetrable groves of the understorey reduced our forward progress to about one kilometre per hour with visibility often less than 10 metres.

This is why we have Brian on the payroll. Not only does he collect firewood, light our fires, act as a sort of campground Tea Lady and reads maps upside down, but he’s also on call for any untoward bush bashing. As Don Burgher, another of Brian’s ancient bushwalking cronies, is fond of telling me:

“Never get between Brian and a patch of Peach Bush,”

or was that a patch of lantana? Or a pot of Toohey’s Old?

A barrell of laughs.
A barrel of laughs.

Never mind, he had done this sort of thing before. We formed up, line astern. A quick compass call and Brian would slowly reverse his rucksack into the thicket, disappearing from view as the Peach Bush wrapped around him. Six walkers then inched forward following the spoor of blood splats, chunks of human tissue and, in deference to the ladies present, muffled curses. Crafty walkers, like Alf and I, brought up the rear, seemingly busy consulting map and compass. And so on, until just before four o’clock when we emerged from the undergrowth onto the small dam where we would camp for the night and lick our wounds. As we prepared to put up our tents, light rain misted across. Impeccable timing. And just when I was having a few doubts about this bushwalking lark, my tent pole snapped.

Campsite high on the Roberts Range.
Campsite high on the Roberts Range.

Sunday 29 April: Campsite to Sundown Homestead via Roberts Range: 11 kms.

Another dampish morning until the mist dissipated leaving a light cloud cover, making for very pleasant walking conditions. Our final day on the track, which would take us seven kilometres along the spine of the Roberts Range. This 1000 metre divide separates the Severn River to the north from its southern neighbour, Tenterfield Creek; both tributaries of the Dumaresq River, named by the explorer Allan Cunningham after the Dumaresq family who were a prominent Australian colonial family. We would be following a well-maintained 4WD track, a fire management trail that parallels the Queensland-New South Wales border fence, technically a Dog Check Fence.

4WD track on spine of Roberts Range
4WD track on spine of Roberts Range

The walk is the classic high range roller-coaster starting at 1067 metres, dipping and rising: 973 m, 1039 m, 1030m, 1015m, 1087m and reaching 1120m at our final climb before turning off and descending to the Sundown Road. Climbing up to our first high point, Hill 1067 we passed into a special habitat, a high altitude forest, restricted to the very highest parts of Sundown and the Granite Belt. This is open forest, dominated by Silvertop Stringybark (Eucalyptus laevopinia), Yellow Box (E. melliodora) and the best name of all, Tenterfield Woollybutt (E. banksii). Silvertop Stringybark and Tenterfield Woollybutt are interesting in that they are disjunct populations of the same species growing further east at Lamington and Mt Barney. It is likely that they survive here on traprock because of the cooler, misty micro-climate on the highest points of the Roberts Range. Further along the range, on the summits of the highest hills at 1087 metres and 1120 metres, we passed through more small patches of high altitude forest.

Roberts Range
Roberts Range

As we climbed to the final high point at 1120 metres we entered a designated ‘essential’ habitat. These are areas meant for the protection of a species that is endangered or vulnerable. In this particular case the species was the Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) neither seen nor heard by our party. The Superb is the King of Karaoke and is such a good mimic that the bird being copied cannot tell the difference. The male Lyrebird has a repertoire of 20-25 other bird songs as well as mimicking car engines, chain saws and even barking dogs.

The Border Survey 1865

When Queensland was proclaimed a separate colony on 6th June 1859, Surveyors Roberts from Queensland and Rowland from New South Wales were sent to define the boundary between Queensland and New South Wales from Point Danger to the Dumaresq River. They started work in 1865 and worked separately using their own instruments. As their traverse lines were different the defined border appeared in different positions. Ultimately the Roberts survey was accepted and this was the line depicted on our map and that we were following today. I was keen to find any relics of their traverses such as rock cairns or horse-shoe blazes on trees. I found one old blaze, indecipherable, so there is no evidence that it was part of the border survey. It would be interesting to do the entire Roberts Range traverse with data from Robert’s original field book.

An old survey blaze
An old survey blaze

Roberts, an Irishman, trained as an engineer and in 1856 he became surveyor of roads for the Moreton Bay District later gaining a post as a surveyor with Queensland’s Surveyor-General’s Department in 1862. Colonial surveyors were tough, capable bushmen able to endure considerable hardship: life under canvas, poor food, heat, flies, arduous travel and isolation. Unsurprisingly, it was a constant struggle to stay healthy. Queensland colonial surveyors could be struck down by any number of health hazards: Barcoo Rot, Bung Blight, Sandy Blight, Dengue Fever, Malaria, snakes and crocs. Francis Roberts escaped all these only to die prematurely of sunstroke in 1867, aged 41.

The Dog Check Fence

Today, the Border is marked by a Dog Check Fence; an outlier of the mighty 5,412 kilometre Dog Fence that runs from Jimbour in Queensland to the Great Australian Bight in South Australia. The Dog Fence is said to be two and a half times the length of the Great Wall of China and is easily visible from space. Our 1.8 metre high Dog Check Fence or Dingo Fence is a relic of an intricate maze of some 48,000 kilometres of interconnecting vermin fences built to keep dingoes and bunnies at bay.

The Dog Check Fence
The Dog Check Fence

Late in the morning we came off the Roberts Range and exited onto the Sundown Road, only four kilometres from our cars at the old Sundown Homestead. At that very moment a piratical black Defender sailed around the corner and hove to. A dark tinted window slowly descended revealing a grinning Cheshire reclining on the back seat. Bold as brass. It was that rapscallion of road and range, our old friend Roland, looking mighty pleased with himself, and why not. He had cadged a ride out from Burrows Waterhole, saving himself a twenty kilometre walk out.

A boarding party of several rucksacks and bushwalkers made for the remaining spare seat but Roland’s Samaritan was having no unwashed bushwalking riff-raff in his vehicle. He brusquely raised the gang plank and drew off, at pace, for the homestead. Roland returned soon after in his own 4WD. But again I missed a berth for the kilometre drive to the homestead site. Resigned to solo finish I plodded on, comforted by thoughts of our traditional bushwalkers’ banquet in Stanthorpe. A beano of bakery delights. Now what would I have ? A fetta and spinach roll or maybe a curry pie? A mug of piping hot chocolate or a flat white? A vanilla slice or cream horn? In my dreams. Our bakery was closed and the alternative café seemed overwhelmed by our orders for a few burgers and coffees. An hour later we exited said eatery, an underwhelming Granite Belt gourmet experience it must be said. Maybe the pub next time for a ten dollar burger and quick beer.

Stewart Island’s NW Circuit

by Glenn Burns

Thirty kilometres off New Zealand’s southern coast, and separated from it by the stormy waters of the Foveaux Strait, is the island of Rakiura… Land of the Glowing Skies. You may know it as Stewart Island. In 2002 Rakiura became New Zealand’s 14th national park with 83% or 140,000 hectares of the island protected.

Rakiura’s NW Circuit is a challenging ten day, 125 kilometre track that covers some of the island’s best coastal scenery and ecosystems. The Lonely Planet’s Guide to Tramping in New Zealand describes it thus:

 “This is the classic tramp on Stewart; the famous mud and bogs of the island make this track a challenge but, for trampers with time and energy, the isolated beaches and birdlife make it all worthwhile.”

Coastal Scenery on NW Circuit
Coastal Scenery on NW Circuit

While our three person team of Brian (leader), Sally and I found the ten days physically demanding, the compensations were ample: a rugged cliffed coastline, unsurpassed views from Mt Anglem and Rocky Mountain, excellent sightings of the island’s birdlife, and the green abundance of its ancient Gondwanan forests. Plus, we were pretty chuffed at our tenacity in completing the whole walk. No ignominious water taxi exits or food dumps for this trio of aged trampers.

Photo Gallery:

 

Maybe you are thinking of a quick dash around the NW Circuit next tramping season? Here are some tips to get you on your way:

No snakes, spiders, ticks, leeches and not much in the way of other creepy crawlies. Notices in several of the huts informed us that earthquakes and tsunamis were a possibility, albeit long shots. Flooding of creeks and swamps are definite possibilities, while the tides wait for no man. So check your tide times if you don’t want to sit around for hours waiting for that ebbing tide. Those Kiwi midges aka sandflies are an ever present pain in the butt, like their Kiwi owners(Just kidding). The Department of Conservation (DOC) has rigged the huts with insect screens which keep the biting bumble bees in and the midges out. Deer hunters are often stalking around in the brush in their camo gear so you mightn’t see them. You might hear the report of their rifles but by then it’s probably all too late.

The Track:

The NW Circuit follows old deer stalker pads which, unfortunately, have degenerated into long sections of either boggy mud or surfaces matted with tree roots or slippery descents into the

Root bound track on NW Circuit
Root bound track on NW Circuit

innumerable creek crossings. There is an awful lot of tramping up and down over country which DOC brochures describe variously as ‘undulating’…not too bad.  ‘broken’… not good news. But when you read that tomorrow’s section is seven hours over track that is steep and often slippery’ you have hit the Kiwi tramper’s jackpot. Here’s a tip: don’t leave home without your walking poles which are a big plus for negotiating the uneven and slippery surfaces .

Source: DOC
Source: DOC

Walking Times vs Distances:

We quickly realised that the standard Oz three to four kilometres per hour is not a reliable estimate for this terrain. Fortunately each section has a nominal time and our experience was that these were pretty much spot on. Add another hour for lunch stops and rests on the uphill grinds. Younger and fitter walkers should bump an hour off the 6-7 hour sections.

Weather:

Rakiura has a well deserved reputation for rainy weather. It has a cool temperate climate with temperatures ameliorated by the effects of a warmish ocean current. Thus there are  few extreme weather events apart from the nuisance of a near constant westerly wind drift. But it is a wet place with 1000-1600 mm of rainfall and 275 rain days per year. Thus of our eleven days on the track in March we expected seven rain days, but it only rained on three. The precautionary principle dictates a spare set of dry-bagged clothes for use in the hut at night and a good quality long rain jacket.

Huts:

We stayed in DOC huts each night, nine in total. For Australian bushwalkers used to high country cattle huts they are a culture shock: sturdy construction, draught proof, sporting uni-sex bunks, mattresses, stoves for heating, running water, tables, stainless steel sinks, toilets and insect screening. BYO sleeping gear, gas stoves, cooking utensils and earplugs. The bee’s knees.

Burnsie on verandah of Long Harry Hut
Burnsie lurking on verandah of Long Harry Hut

Port William and Mason Bay huts were over-run by all manner of pesky types but other huts provided quiet refuges, some with views to kill for: Yankee River, Long Harry, East Ruggedy and Big Hellfire. The Tasmanian government would do well to emulate the modest design and egalitarian philosophy of these inexpensive but clean and functional tramping huts in preference to the expensive commercial  abominations now visited on the Three Capes Track of the Tasman Peninsula.

Solo Walking:

I personally wouldn’t recommend going solo, though heaps of trampers and backpackers do. Conditions on the track can be treacherous, especially in wet weather. In the previous tramping season four trampers were evacuated with busted limbs. You could sit for many hours before another party came through so take advantage of the PLBs and Mountain Radios hired out by the DOC office in Oban. It is advisable for walkers to file an intentions form with AdventureSmart: ‘Safety is your responsibility. Tell someone your plans…it may save your life.

Link: http://www.adventuresmart.org.nz.

Natural History:

View from Mt Anglem
View from Mt Anglem

Rakiura is a rugged forest-clad island. Walkers get to experience avariety of landscapes ranging from cool shady forests, isolated beaches, quiet inlets, high sand dunes, sub alpine peaks, glacial tarns through to immense windswept tussock lowlands. But much of the walk is spent in Podocarp and mixed hardwood forest dominated by Rimu and Kamahi with sub-dominants of Rata and Miro.

Large Fur Seal sunning on Maori Beach.
Large Fur Seal sunning on Maori Beach.

Birdlife:

Birdlife is more abundant than on the mainland and so with a little luck the observant tramper will glimpse a kiwi of the feathered variety: the large Stewart Island brown kiwi. Ample reward for many hours of slogging along Rakiura’s muddy tracks. And you are lucky to see any bird life because like Australia, NZ has an unenviable record of feral pest invasions. Try deer, rats, stoats and an uniquely Australian contribution, the possum. Fortunately DOC has an ongoing program of trapping and poisoning. Trackside cage traps are a frequent sight along the NW Circuit.

Trackside traps.
Trackside traps.

A final word:

The NW Circuit is well worth the physical demands it makes. But as one DOC publication states:

“The circuit is only suitable for well-equipped and experienced trampers who can handle the adverse weather conditions which are bound to be encountered on such a long trip”.

If you are looking for a more comfortable option then the 32 kilometre, three day Rakiura Great Walk, the so-called Rat Walk, will fit the bill as it provides a gentle introduction to the landscapes of Rakiura and can be walked year round.

Day 1: Monday: Halfmoon Bay to Port William Hut: 4 hrs.

After an unusually leisurely breakfast at our luxury Rakiura Retreat bolthole we tottered off mid-morning, out into intermittent light showers. The predicted rain hadn’t eventuated. The weather prognosis for Rakiura was unusually benign: only two days of showery weather were forecast.

The first day followed the Rakiura Great Walk track, a well constructed gravelled surface with all the accoutrements of side drains, wooden bridges, netted duckboards and… no mud. The like of which we wouldn’t see for another ten days. By and large the NW Circuit is world renowned for its mud… treacly stuff. Squelchy suck your boots off mud. Local trampers describe the mud on the NW circuit as: Ultra bog… sloppy, boggy and happy to admit your entire boot, ankle and calf. Here’s where leather boots and my knee-length Quagmire canvas gaiters were a boon.

As with many Great Walks the Rakiura walk is fitted out with an ‘Entrance Statement’ and accompanying information board. The arched entrance is a stylized anchor chain reminding visitors of the ‘links’ between Rakiura/ Stewart Island and Motu Pohue/ Bluff on the South Island.

Entrance Statement for Great Walk
Entrance Statement for Great Walk

Timbergetting at Maori Beach.

Old Sawmill Boiler, Maori Beach.
Old Sawmill Boiler, Maori Beach.

Our lunch stop, Maori Beach, was occupied by a massive NZ fur seal, sand-coated and in no mood to vacate its warm sunny spot. We tiptoed around the slumbering beast and headed for the nearby campground for lunch. Afterwards we checked out the remains of the old Maori Beach sawmill hidden in nearby coastal scrub. Sawmilling began in 1913 and at its peak Maori Beach sported a large wharf and network of tramways to extract the valuable Rimu or Red Pine. Rimu is a Podocarp with narrow prickly leaves which was sought after for its strength, density and straight grain. Brian recalled that his family home in Melbourne had been panelled with NZ Rimu. At the onset of The Great Depression the mill closed and with it the last of Rakiura’s sawmills.

Port William Hut.

Port William Hut
Port William Hut

By mid-afternoon we pulled into the Port William Hut, the largest of the NW Circuit’s huts. Port William started life as Williams Bay, named after a member of the Australian shipping and trading firm: Lord, Williams and Thompson. As is often the case in NZ’s summer tramping season, the inn was full. Two large bunk rooms occupied, mainly by a commercial tour group from Ruggedy Range Adventure Tours. A local Oban business, so that’s good to see.  Other inhabitants included a couple from Denmark and two Yanks. One trying to wrangle a free night out of the hut wardens and the other grazing on a tucker bag full of breakfast crispies, seemingly her sole source of sustenance for the next three days.

Port William 1867.

Port William & Australian gum trees.
Port William & Australian gum trees.

But way back in 1876 things were quieter. The government, in an attempt to settle Stewart Island, opened up Port William as a ‘utopian settlement’, to be called Shetland. Fifty Scottish families were enticed over, no doubt seduced by offers of free land. But it was always a pretty grim place. It is thought that the Shetlanders lived in boat shelters dug into a bank, rocked and turfed over to make them waterproof. Only a few years later all that remained was a grove of Australian gum trees, still there today.

Day 2: Tuesday: Port William to Christmas Village Hut via Bungaree Hut: 10 hrs.

The spectre of the 10 hour walk ahead had us trackside by 7.15am and arriving at Bungaree Hut in good time… three and a half hours. My notes record the terrain as:

“undulating country in damp forest/muddy track/tree roots”.

Bungaree was occupied by a solitary  backpacker confined to barracks by hooch-induced inertia and a plague of the notorious Kiwi biting midges (sandflies).

Bungaree Hut
Bungaree Hut

Christmas Village Hut.

Christmas Village Hut
Christmas Village Hut

After a short breather at Bungaree we faced up to the six hour walk to Christmas Village. This was really hard going: up and down, up and down. Muddy tracks, creek crossings and tree roots. The tedium relieved by a short two kilometre trot along the golden sands of Murray Beach. Lonely Planet recommends a swim here but cautions against a sunbathe because of the biting midges. About three kilometres from the beach is a hunters hut, the old Christmas Village Hut.  By 5.00pm we were stuffed and thought Christmas Village Hut would never appear. But appear it did. Just on 6.00pm. An eleven hour day. No village of course but a 12 bunk hut built in 1986, unoccupied except for a largish solitary orange Glad bag.

The Glad bag contained a hefty Wilderness Equipment rucksack whose owner, Louise appeared soon after, having climbed Mt Anglem. Louise, we discovered, was a late riser, rarely vacating the premises before 10.00am. But a very fit lady undeterred by her 35 kilogram burden and a regular 6 to 7 hours on those dodgy Kiwi tracks.

Day 3: Wednesday: Mt Anglem or Hananui: 980m: 6 hrs: altitude gain 800m.

Mt Anglem summit in the far distance.
Mt Anglem summit in the far distance.

Another of Brian’s faux ‘rest days’. Sally sensibly applied the description literally and treated herself to a day off. The Mt Anglem track is atrocious: deep gullies flowing with water, muddy and root bound. And this was in fine weather. What it would be like in heavy rain is best left undescribed. After several hours we stood on the highest point of Rakiura. I don’t want to offend my Kiwi tramping friends, but let’s just say that the track was a Park Ranger’s worst nightmare. But all is forgiven, the summit gave expansive views over the whole of the northern part of the island and across Foveaux Strait to the South Island. As a bonus there below was a cirque basin and a small moraine dammed tarn.

Mt Anglem was named for Captain William Andrew Anglem, whaler and son of trader William Robert Anglem and his high born Maori wife Te Anau. The accuracy of Anglem’s 1846 Foveaux Strait sailing chart made a valuable contribution to Captain John Stokes’ survey of southern coastal waters in HMS Acheron. Stokes named the mountain in honour of William Andrew Anglem.

On our return to the hut the population of Christmas Village had exploded to now include three Kiwis and three French backpackers. Fran was a local Bluff woman who was solo walking the track with an out-sized and an unmanageably heavy rucksack bulging with a set of saucepans purloined from her kitchen back home in Bluff. Not quite in the same league, fitness wise, as Louise. But like most Kiwi trampers, Fran wasn’t about to throw in the towel. Yet.

Day 3: Thursday: Christmas Village Hut to Yankee Hut: 6 hrs.

Early start from Christmas Village.
Early start from Christmas Village.

Brilliant weather today. After a steep climb to start, a surprisingly dry track heads NW through Rimu forest for five kilometres before descending onto Lucky Beach. Lucky Beach was boulder strewn and with the tide and biting midges sweeping in we didn’t linger. From Lucky’s the track climbs steeply through the bush and then trends along the 100 metre contour; ‘undulating’ terrain for about 2 hours before descending steeply to Yankee River Hut.

Yankee River Hut

Yankee River Hut
Yankee River Hut

What a spot! A brilliant location at the mouth of Yankee River, though another bouldery beach. We stripped off, much to the delight of the midges, and cleaned up, washed our smelly clothes in the fresh water before finally being carried away by the midges. Yankee River was named for one Yankee Smith.

Rucksack and Fran drifted in eventually, just on dusk. She had decided to call off her walk. If I had been carrying her rucksack I’m pretty sure I would have abandoned ship several days earlier. One tough lady. Fortunately for Fran, Yankee River is one of the few locations on the NW Circuit with mobile phone reception. She contacted her husband at Bluff arranging for her extraction by boat early the next day. A sensible move on Fran’s part.

Yankee Hut estuary.
Yankee Hut estuary.

Day 4: Friday: Yankee Hut to Long Harry Hut: 5 hrs.

It was drizzling lightly as we exited the hut at 8.00am, minus rain gear as it was so humid. Another steep climb over Black Rock Point to the 200 metre contour to start the day.

Kiwis: the feathered variety.

It was here that that I spotted my first kiwi. One of my motivations for tackling the NW Circuit was the possibility of snatching a sighting of a kiwi. The kiwi or Tokoeka (I was told by a Kiwi tramper that it means a Weka with a walking stick), is New Zealand’s faunal symbol. This tubby flightless bird has defunct vestigial wings, feathers as soft as fur, is short-sighted and can sleep for up to 20 hours a day. There’s nothing else to do in NZ. My kiwi was a Stewart Island Brown kiwi (Apteryx australis lawryi), a much larger bird than I imagined. It wasn’t put off by my presence as it went about its business of hoovering up invertebrates using its long bill. Its diet also includes seeds, berries and even the occasional freshwater crayfish. By day they roost in burrows or undergrowth but the Stewart Island kiwis can sometimes be seen out foraging.

Stewart Island Brown Kiwi
Stewart Island Brown Kiwi

 

Habitat destruction and predation by stoats, ferrets, dogs and cats means that the kiwi is under threat over much of its NZ range; except for Rakiura where its population is estimated to be 20,000 and stable.

As we descended towards Long Harry Hut we glimpsed the first of many great vistas along a steeply cliffed coastline with lines of swell rolling in to crash against cliff and boulder beach. Over the next three days we would be treated to many such views. Our early afternoon arrival gave time for washing, beachcombing followed by a nana nap.

Cliffed coastline near Long Harry Hut
Cliffed coastline near Long Harry Hut

Long Harry Hut

Interior of Long Harry Hut
Interior of Long Harry Hut

Long Harry, a twelve bunker replaced in 2002, is perched on a headland overlooking the wild waters of the Foveaux Strait. It was named after Henry Woodman aka Long Harry, an early settler on Smoky Beach. After dark we watched the 12 second flash of Bluff Lighthouse across the Foveaux Strait to the north. The only other occupant for the night was Louise. Our guidebook said that Long Harry is the best spot to see penguins: Fiordland crested and Yellow-eyed Penguins. Not that we saw any after a desultory search along the beach.

Saturday: Day 5: Long Harry Hut to East Ruggedy Hut: 6 hrs

Beach walking Kiwi style.
Beach walking Kiwi style.

Up at 5.30am to heavy cloud cover and trackside by 7.30am leaving Louise still comatose in her bunk. Another day of brilliant views, the experience tempered by those 200 metre ascents. A top lookout, one of the few on the circuit that gave uninterrupted views westward across the Inner Passage to Rugged Islands with the appropriately named Ruggedy Range off to our south. The Ruggedy Range, a saw-toothed line of mountains, rises abruptly from the coastline to 500 metres.   Below was East Ruggedy Beach and the extensive sandy estuary of the Ruggedy Stream. A welcome change from the boulder beaches thus far. A helicopter buzzed around looking for a likely drop-off zone. We found out later that two DOC officers had been dropped off to cut the track back to Long Harry. Long overdue in my opinion.

Ruggedy Stream
Ruggedy Stream

East Ruggedy Hut

The Ritz. East Rugged Hut.
The Ritz. East Rugged Hut.

East Ruggedy, also known as The Ritz, is eminently comfortable. It had a large verandah facing west to soak up the afternoon sun, ideal for drying our washing.

The Hunters

Just on dusk a hunter decked out in serious camo gear stalked in. A bloke all the way  from Perth WA, here for a few weeks of hunting and currently holed up in a rock bivvy with a few mates on West Ruggedy Beach. Overnighting in a rock bivvy is a Kiwi speciality, something that all rugged Kiwi trampers and hunters have to do to earn their stripes.

Sunday: Day 6: East Ruggedy Hut to Hellfire Hut: 7 hrs.

Another early start in ideal walking conditions: cloudy cool. An easy walk through the scrub to West Ruggedy Beach and with the tide just right we scooted around the rock promontory which at high tide forces walkers to leave the beach and take to the inland route. The beach is one of the most scenic on the NW Circuit, framed by the jagged peaks of Ruggedy Range to the south and The Ruggedy Islands off-shore.

Rugged Islands
Rugged Islands

But the euphoria of beach cruising ended all too soon.  At the end of the beach the track goes feral. A climb and sidle around Red Head Peak (510 m), and then another steep climb into Ruggedy Pass before dropping again to another Kiwi speciality, the boulder-strewn beach… Waituna Beach. From the beach we had good views of Whenua Hou, Codfish Island. The entire island is protected as Whenua Hou Nature Reserve. It is famous for its feral animal eradication program and as a breeding refuge for the threatened Stewart Island kakapo population.

Waituna Beach
Waituna Beach

The final section of the Hellfire day is another 200 metre climb up through the brush. A muddy tramp as the track sidles inexorably up the three kilometres to Hellfire Pass Hut. Seven and a half hours on the hop.

And here’s a surprise. Hellfire is set on a 200 metre high sand dune with outstanding views over Rakiura’s swampy interior, our destination two days hence. Hellfire is said to be named for the heavy seas which pound Little Hellfire Beach south of tonight’s hut.

View from Big Hellfire looking inland
View from Big Hellfire looking inland

 Hellfire Hut  

Big Hellfire Hut
Big Hellfire Hut

Our fellow inhabitants that night were a young Czech couple fruit picking their way around NZ. The next hutee to arrive was a gumbooted Kiwi, Danny. Although very quiet, Danny was a fount of information about Rakiura, Oban, the NW Circuit and NZ history. And last but not least, Louise drifted in, fashionably late in the dark but, as always, unperturbed.

Ambergris

Danny showed us a chunk of soft rock. This he explained was ambergris which he had found on a beach. The word ambergris comes from Old French or middle ages Old English, “Ambre Gris” or “Grey Amber”. Ambergris is a secretion of the gut of the sperm whale and can be found floating upon the sea, or lying on the coast. Because the beaks of squid have been found embedded within lumps of ambergris, scientists have theorized that the substance is produced by the whale’s gastrointestinal tract to ease the passage of hard, sharp objects that the whale might have eaten. The sperm whale usually vomits these, but if one travels further down the gut, it will be covered in ambergris.

Ambergris, much like musk, is known for its use in creating perfume and fragrance. Perfumes are still manufactured with ambergris. Ancient Egyptians burned ambergris as incense, while in modern Egypt ambergris is used for scenting cigarettes. During the Black Death in Europe, people believed that carrying a ball of ambergris could help prevent them from getting the plague. This was because the fragrance covered the smell of the air which was believed to be a cause of plague.

In the USA the possession and trading of ambergris is illegal, while in Australia its export and import is banned.  New Zealand, home of the open marketeers, has, of course, a freewheeling attitude toward the collection and trading of ambergris. Possibly $NZ 15.00 a gram. A 1.1 kg piece of ambergris found on a beach in Wales UK was sold for £11,000 at an auction on 25 September 2015 to a French buyer.

Monday: Day 7: Hellfire Hut to Mason Bay Hut: 7 hrs.

Another coolish start with the inevitable climb, a 100 metres ascent onto a 300 metre ridgeline which provided excellent views over Little Hellfire Beach and in the distance, Mason Bay. Mason Beach materialized some five hours later and so did a startled and exceedingly plump Kiwi moggie. Right where we hunkered down out of the wind for our lunch break. Where’s the hunting fraternity when you need them?

Little Hellfire Beach
Little Hellfire Beach

Mason Beach.

Mason Beach
Mason Beach

Mason Beach is touted as,

“one of the most scenic on the island”.

Having read this sort of beat-up many times before I was initially sceptical. But it was truly a great ramble, especially with the ebbing tide exposing a wide, hard, sandy beach; easily a match for the great surf beaches of South-East Queensland minus the hordes of tourists. It is the largest of Rakiura’s beaches, a twelve kilometre sweep of sand extending from Mason Head in the north to Ernest Islands in the south. Mason Bay contains one of the most extensive inland dune systems in the Southern Hemisphere, with dunes extending inland for nearly three kilometres and reaching over 200 metres in height. This is one of New Zealand’s last untouched transgressive dune systems (also known as mobile or migratory dunes and sand drifts). It is backed by the Mason Bay Duneland, a dunefield of national conservation significance principally because of the presence of threatened plant species such as Austrofestuca littoralis, a sand tussock, and the rare creeping herb Gunnera hamiltonii.

For me it was an avian paradise, crawling with shore birds: pied cormorants, plump pacific gulls, herds of sooty oystercatchers, but no pied oystercatchers which usually can be found striding up and down sandy beaches in SE Queensland. But best of all was a sighting of a pair of Stewart Island shags, replete with their distinctive orange legs and feet.

Mason Bay Hut

After an hour on the beach our marker to turn inland appeared at the mouth of Duck Creek. No ducks, but a bevy of sun bathing backpackers braving a watery NZ sky and a sneaky little breeze. Mason Bay Hut (20 inmates) is at the junction of two main track systems – the Northwest Circuit and the Southern Circuit – both nationally and internationally important for their remote nature. But Mason Bay is becoming increasingly popular with slackers who access the area using the Freshwater water taxis and the Mason Bay-Freshwater track. Well–heeled tourists arrive by aircraft, landing on the beach and walk the few kilometres to the hut.  The Mason Bay-Freshwater track is a difficult track to maintain as it is through a wetland.  Encounters with other visitors are common, especially in the Duck Creek–Island Hill area. In the summer months overcrowding has been experienced at the Mason Bay tramping hut. This DOC hut was upgraded in November 2005 to mitigate some of these concerns.

In 2006 visitor monitoring was undertaken to help determine the future management of recreational opportunities in the Mason Bay area. One of the outcomes of this monitoring work was a limit on concessionaire use of the Mason Bay hut and the track system between Mason Bay and Freshwater. The walk from the ferry landing at Freshwater Landing hut to Mason Bay hut is only three hours, a tempting prospect for the summer flood of visitors, many of whom come to Mason Bay to see a Stewart Island brown kiwi in the wild. Just on dusk squads of braying visitors head off into the brush clutching torches all hoping to flush out a tame kiwi or two. Good luck with that one. Danny and Louise drifted in after dark.

Huts are sociable places in the main, but Mason Hut was one of my all time least favourites. It could generously be described as restless on the night of our stay. Overcrowded bunk rooms, young backpackers determined to party well into the wee hours of the morning and an odious loud  yachtie and his daughter parking their bums on the kitchen preparation benches proved too much after the solitude of the  huts thus far. It was one of those times when my one man Macpac tent would have been hiking heaven. Bring on tomorrow.

Tuesday: Day 8: Mason Bay Hut to Freshwater Landing Hut: 3 hrs

Up early and out to the kitchen for breakfast and to pack.  I’m sure the overflow of hutees sleeping in the kitchen weren’t impressed with our crepuscular departure. It was all too much for Danny and he had already fled in the moonlight intending to walk the final 38 kilometres back to Oban.

Fifteen minutes eastwards along an old tractor track is the DOC office. This collection of re-purposed farm buildings was previously the old Island Hill homestead, a lowland sheep run operating from the 1880s. The two pastoral leases in the Mason Bay area were Kilbride and Island Hill, both established on the red tussock grassland and shrublands of the Freshwater River lowlands.

DOC Office
DOC Office

The Island Hill Run

The first run holder was William Walker (1879 to 1893) who ran up to 1600 sheep and worked hard on improvements like drainage ditches and fencing. The last holder was Tim Te Aika who held the run from 1966 to 1986. Tim survived by mixing farming with hunting and possum trapping. His wife Ngaire managed the family chores without electricity, home-schooled two children and had to order stores a couple of months in advance. The last of the sheep were removed in 1987 when DOC took over.

Making do on Island Hill Run

Shearing Shed
Shearing Shed

The logistics of viable sheep farming in this remote corner of the world were daunting. The shearing shed, built in 1953, was made from scavenged beach timbers, mostly dunnage. That is, planks used to hold a ship’s cargo in place. Fencing was virtually non-existent. Sheep roamed free over the grasslands until mustering time. Then improvised fencing of old fish nets and cut brush were used to hold the sheep. At shearing time in summer up to 1600 sheep were shorn by four shearers. By 1966 the hand shears had been replaced by electric shears powered by the tractor and later by an 8 KW generator. No such electric luxury for Ngaire in the homestead.

After the shearing the wool clip had to be transported to Bluff or Invercargill. This was the really hard part of the sheep grazing industry on Rakiura. Early on, the wool was carted to Freshwater Inlet where it was stored in sheds waiting for favourable weather to get it across Paterson Inlet to Oban on Halfmoon Bay. Tim Aika, ever the innovator, tried using a small plane which landed first on the beach and later on a 600 metre airstrip cut into the tussock grassland. Tim’s son-in-law flew the wool packs out returning with bags of superphosphate.

Today was our easiest walk thus far: a mere three hours and fifteen kilometres over the flat swampy terrain of the Freshwater River valley. At 75 sq km Freshwater is the most extensive lowland on Rakiura, occupying a faulted depression which dips gently to the east. Freshwater’s headwaters lie in the Ruggedy Ranges and it flows SW for 25 kilometres across wetlands of peat bogs, ponds, sand ridges, shrubland and tussock grasslands. It formed about 14,000 years ago, after the last ice age. Water flooded Foveaux Strait and Patersons Inlet and created the Freshwater wetland. The track follows the line of an old 16 kilometre government road and drainage system built in the 1930s to link Freshwater Landing with Mason Bay. Deep drains were dug and the spoil thrown up and used for the carriageway embankment. This was topped off with piles of Manuka to make a corduroy road.

Boardwalk over Freshwater wetlands.
Boardwalk over Freshwater wetlands.

We landed at Freshwater Hut in time for midday lunch and time enough for another of Brian’s infernal peak bagging escapades. Freshwater is the site of a swing bridge across the Freshwater River and a landing for the water taxis. It is a pokey little hut with a bunk room, kitchen benches and a table. A tight squeeze for its thirteen overnight inhabitants. But much better than beating off the midges.

Swing bridge over Freshwater Creek
Swing bridge over Freshwater Creek

Freshwater Hut
Freshwater Hut

Rocky Mountain

View from Rocky Mountain over Paterson Inlet
View from Rocky Mountain over Paterson Inlet

After lunch Brian and I took off on the one and a half hour climb to the alpine summit of Rocky Mountain at 549 metres. From here we had magnificent views back along the spine of our walk over the past few days: Ruggedy Mountains, Hellfire Pass and Mason Bay. To our north, about twelve kilometres hence, rose Mt Anglem, the highest point on Rakiura. Off to the south east were the waterways of Patersons Inlet and Whaka a Te Wera and the largest island, Ulva Island. We visited Ulva after we completed the NW Circuit.

Ulva Island: Te Wharawhara.

Ulva Island
Ulva Island

Ulva Island is yet another NZ conservation success story. After rats were eliminated by 1996 it was designated as an ‘open sanctuary’, or as DOC describes it, “a zoo without bars”.  Here the bird life is now as prolific as it must have been in the primeval New Zealand forest. Expect to see Stewart Island wekas (flightless) and a number of re-introduced birds: South Island saddleback, Stewart Island robin, the Rifleman, Tui, Stewart Island  brown kiwi, New Zealand wood pigeon and Yellowhead. This is far from a complete bird list and competent birdwatchers would be very pleased with their time in this avian paradise.

Wednesday: Day 9: Freshwater Landing Hut to North Arm Hut: 8 hrs:

The young backpackers cleared out in the dark, hoping to do the 12 hour walk to Oban in order to catch the 6pm ferry. We left at first light, just on 7.00 am. It was another cloudy morning with the potential for showers or rain. This section of the NW Circuit has a well deserved reputation for being steep and slippery as it passes over Thompson Ridge to the North Arm of Paterson Inlet. Creeks in this section can become impassable after heavy rain, so we didn’t dawdle.

This was a hard day: steep climbs, mud, roots. The track was in atrocious condition. Brian tripped near the top of Thompsons Ridge and required first aid to stem the bleeding. But there was no option but to soldier on. A long tricky descent followed which eventually emerged at Patersons Inlet. But our pain wasn’t over yet. The track then contours around the inlet for several kilometres before releasing exhausted walkers at the picturesque North Arm Hut.

North Arm Hut
North Arm Hut

North Arm Hut

North Arm Hut is one of the three swanky huts built for the Rakiura Great Walk and as such it costs extra to stay there. This is a newish 24 bunk hut with a large open kitchen and dining area overlooking Patersons Inlet. The hut was full on our night there but one certainly couldn’t whinge about the other inmates. These were older walkers: international backpackers tend to avoid the hut as it costs a few dollars more than standard huts.

Thursday: Day 10: North Arm Hut to Oban: 5 hrs.

Departed in cloudy threatening conditions. Nothing unusual about that but with only 12 kilometres left we weren’t concerned about getting our tails wet. The Great Walks standard track made for quick and easy walking.  By midday we were on the outskirts of Oban making a beeline for the pleasures of the South Sea Hotel. Our challenging 125 kilometre adventure was over, celebrated by a schooner of Montheith’s dark ale and a Works Burger. Thanks to my  cheerful walking companions Brian and Sally. and to Brian for leading and organising the walk.

South Seas Hotel

South Seas Hotel


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Surfeit of Serpents

A Surfeit of Serpents

by Glenn Burns

You know where this is going. My friend Brian  and I were out and about over summer doing a recce for one of Brian’s throughwalks.

In this case along the spine of the Mistake Mountains in South East Queensland, across the North West Ranges to Mount Michael, exiting at Junction View.

Rainforest on Mistake Mountains
Rainforest on Mistake Mountains

Our access point was an old winch and timber chute at the end of the of Winder Track. Soon after setting out from the car park it struck us that the Winder was going to be pretty snaky: sunny and overgrown with lanky weeds and long grass. Snake heaven.

Snake Heaven
Snake Heaven

Having tangled with an antsy Eastern Brown a few weeks earlier in the Bunya Mountains I came prepared with leather boots, long canvas gaiters, compression bandages and my Leki walking pole to brush aside any long grass. Ditto Brian. Long trousers would have a good after-thought.

Winch at end of the Winder Track
Winch at end of the Winder Track

Sure enough, only 300 metres into our walk a grand-daddy Python lay comatose in the sun, stomach bulging with recent prey. We stepped around, took a few photos and walked on. The Python barely raised an eyebrow.

Small Carpet Python on Winder Track
Small Carpet Python on Winder Track

By the end of our 16 kilometre recce the snake score was:

  • 4 Pythons
  • 3 Red-bellied Black snakes
  • 1 Eastern Brown snake

At least I thought it was an Eastern Brown. One of my bushwalking friends from my youth was a bit of an amateur herpetologist and he would have grabbed it by the tail for a closer look. With the wisdom of years I realize this is definitely not wise. Unsurprisingly, he came to an untimely death, aged 39. Not from snake bite but in a downed F/A18 Hornet in the Northern Territory.

Making a lot of noise and sweeping the long grass generally does the trick. That said, I came close to standing on a curled up Red-bellied Black, my right boot hovering momentarily over the reptile. But some fancy footwork and an adrenaline rush saw me safely leap over our somnambulant friend.

But that’s not all. Later that afternoon as we drove down into the picnic area, a cute little bunny came bounding across the track, hotly pursued by a huge slavering goanna…fading fast. I’ll put my money on the bunny.

Maybe this snake danger thing is a tad overblown? Definitely when put in the context of other hazards we face every day. But while writing this report, a six year old girl from Walgett died from the bite of Brown snake. The Eastern Brown is the second most venomous terrestrial snake in the world.  Over the past summer the Queensland Ambulance Service has averaged two snake-bite call-outs every day. Eleven call-outs in one 24 hour period.

Evening at our camp ground
Evening at our camp ground

 

 

The Great Ocean Walk …. sun,surf and sleet.

Squeezed into a narrow corridor between the waters of Bass Strait and Victoria’s Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s best known and most picturesque long distance walks: the 104 kilometre Great Ocean Walk. Here is an account of the walk done by one of my bushwalking friends, Sam Rowe, as part of a fund raising challenge for Diabetes  Queensland.

Text and Photos by Sam Rowe.

The Great Ocean Walk (GOW) is an unforgettable eight day, one direction long distance walk. It commences in the small Victorian coastal village of Apollo Bay around three hours west of Melbourne and finishes at the iconic Twelve Apostles.

History of the walk:

The idea to create the Great Ocean Walk was originally rejected in 1974. It was, however, rumoured to have been resurrected by local accommodation providers in the early 1990s, with planning actually beginning in 1994. Development did not begin until 2001; with the trail finally opening in January 2006. Parks Victoria provided an initial investment of $2.3 million for a 91 kilometre trail between Apollo Bay and the Glenample Homestead, near the Twelve Apostles. In 2009, extra funding was allocated to build 10 kilometres of additional walking track from Moonlight Head to the Twelve Apostles Visitor Centre, as well as a viewing point for the Twelve Apostles.

View along Great Ocean coastline.
View along Great Ocean coastline.

Fund raising challenge for Diabetes Queensland:

This trip in May 2015 was a fund raising challenge for Diabetes Queensland. The challenge was to walk the 100 kilometres in five days from a base camp at Cape Otway.

Joining me on the walk was Vanessa (leader), Cassie, Nicky, Julie and Graham. None of my fellow walkers had diabetes, but all were wanting to walk and raise money for others who do have diabetes. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in May 2009.

The Crew
The Crew

Day 1:   Apollo Bay to Blanket Bay: 22 kms:

After all the obligatory photos were taken at the start of the track, we were off walking along the esplanade of Apollo Bay and finally onto the trail itself. Showers came and went as we walked along the coastline and into Shelley Beach. From here the track headed inland through the Otway National Park and along old logging tracks to our highest point of the track, Parker Ridge at 250 metres elevation.

Otway Ranges
Great Ocean Walk track in the Otway Ranges.

Whilst the gums were prolific the koala watch was unsuccessful until closer to Blanket Bay when we came across both  koalas and wallabies.

Day 2: Blanket Bay to Aire River: 23 kms:

More rain showers to start the day but  the coastal forest had nice coastal flora and scrub birds – Wrens, White-breasted Robin, Currawongs ,Crimson Rosellas. We reached Lewis Lookout to view back where we had walked for the first hour and it also had phone reception which made some of the walking party happy. Mobile phone coverage is limited along this coastline. Further along the track great views of the coastline ahead were seen as we made our way down to Parker Inlet. We had been advised to leave the official track here and with the tide right walked the rocky platforms and layered sedimentary cliffs to Point Franklin where we caught our first sight of the Cape Otway Lighthouse.

Cliffs of Point Franklin
Cliffs of Point Franklin

Cape Otway Lighthouse:

We arrived there to enjoy a late morning tea in the cafe (whilst more showers came in).   You do have to pay to enjoy this facility and it does have day trippers which you don’t have on the track, but it is iconic. Pre-paying also gives a saving.

Cape Otway Lighthouse is a lighthouse on Cape Otway in southern Victoria. It is Australia’s oldest working lighthouse. The light was first lit in 1848 using a first order Fresnel lens; it was the second lighthouse completed on mainland Australia and it remains the oldest surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia.It was decommissioned in January 1994 after being the longest continuous operating light on the Australian mainland. It is a great climb up to the tower and of course a 360 degree view.

Cape Otway Lighthouse
Cape Otway Lighthouse

After filling up on the carbs of yummy cakes it was back on the track where the closest koala I have ever seen was on the track sitting in a tree “posing” for photos. I thought Parks Victoria had to plant it here for any tourist, she was just that cute.

Blinky Bill lounging next to track.

Finished this day of walking in the dunes and beaches to Aire River.

Aire River bridge.
Aire River bridge.

Day 3 : Aire River to Johanna Beach: 14 kms:

Best weather day of our hike so far. Clear, sunny day which was perfect for our beach walk. As usual the track where we commenced wound up and around the coastline to a great morning tea spot, with a spectacular view before you reach Castle Cove (and the day trippers). The track continued on a ridge until it descended to Johanna Beach and the two kilometre walk along it.

Johanna Beach
Johanna Beach on a fine sunny day.

Perfect – sunny, little wind and even Hooded Plovers scampering on the beach. We even had time to sit, relax and enjoy this beach.

Hooded Plover: Status is vulnerable.
Hooded Plover: Status is vulnerable.

Day 4 : Johanna Beach to Moonlight Head: 21.5 kms:

This was the toughest walking day for the trip and is written in the guidebooks as such. Where we started the track climbed through farmers fields, through gates and along forest trails. The track in this area was not very well signposted to confirm you were going the right way.

 The boxing kangaroo:

A big kangaroo eyeballed me over one gate. I was on the side it wanted to be on, and it was on the side I wanted. It had the most impressive abs across its chest. Thankfully it decided in one leap to go over the fence and I quickly scampered through the gate. Also Wrens and Yellow-breasted Robins  keep you company along the walk.

The section includes the Milanesia track down to a lovely beach and family owned cottage. The mornings walk had six north – south trending spurs and valleys with steep steps and once we reached Ryan’s Den shelter shed we appreciated the shelter shed’s seats and cover to have a rest in.

Rugged coastline between Milanesia Beach and Ryans Den
Rugged coastline between Milanesia Beach and Ryans Den

Ryan’s Den has a great 180 degree view at the top of it, with two seats perched looking both ways, and a loo with a superb view. Unfortunately the weather was coming in and the gale force winds meant little time at the top to admire. The rest of the up and down hills for the afternoon were made more difficult with the gale winds wanting to take you off the track and several cold fronts coming through. We made it through to Moonlight Head pretty cold and wet and glad to see the transport.

Day 5 : Wreck Bay to Twelve Apostles: 20.5 kms:

Rain, sleet, leaches and trees down along the track was what we had to contend with before lunch. 38 mm of rain fell overnight and due to the conditions we stayed with the high tide trail to Devils Kitchen. With the trees down we had to walk off track and unfortunately I picked up a leach that was one of the largest I have ever had the pleasure of.

Rain, wind and hail:

Rain turned to hail as we walked down to the Gellibrand River and further into Princetown where we enjoyed the warmth and dryness of the cafe to have lunch and a hot drink. Back onto the track and the end was close. The wind tried to stop us reaching our final destination but we would not be stopped.

We reached Brown Hill to look at the view of Apostles and this was where the GOW sign was two years ago when I was last here. I am unsure where it has been relocated to as I couldn’t find it which was disappointing. The final stretch was to the Twelve Apostles and the hundreds of tourists. Even here no one could escape the gale force winds and the circuit walk was very quick, but we had done it. We had walked from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles, raised over $10,000 as a group and introduced another five people to the joys of long distance walking.

I will be returning to do the GOW again in 2016. This time I’ve been asked to be the group leader for Diabetes Queensland. See you there!

Satellite Imagery: Geoscience Australia.
Satellite Imagery: Geoscience Australia.

Paddling Australia’s mighty Murray River.

 

The following  is an account of a  kayaking trip done by my  hiking friend , kayaker and intrepid traveller, Bernhard Weitkuhn….  a 49 day expedition down Australia’s Murray River from the Snowy Mountains to the Southern Ocean. This was  an impressive feat of endurance…. solo and unsupported.  Here is Bernhard’s report:

Text and photos by Bernhard Weitkuhn

Bernard celebrating the half way mark on his Murray River journey.
Photo: B.Weitkuhn: Bernhard celebrating the half way mark on his Murray River journey.

2400 kilometres , one million strokes and 49 days

 After one million paddle strokes, 2400 kilometres and 49 days of continuous paddling, usually 8 hours a day I arrived at the Murray River mouth on 28th of April at 9.30 am. I was lucky with the weather crossing the Lake Alexandrina. It has a reputation of getting very choppy in any kind of wind as it is very shallow and big.

Map: Glenn Burns
Map: Glenn Burns

 

Bernhard’s Photo Gallery:

I had a wonderful time doing this trip and although it was at times quite hard and lonely I am really glad I decided to do it. Living in Australia it has given me a lot of insight of how Australia must have been when the early explorers discovered the Murray and the country. Of course a big part of the river is built up now, but there are lots of stretches where you could think you are the first person to be there.

A quiet reach in Murray Sunset National Park
Photo: B. Weitkuhn: A quiet reach in Murray Sunset National Park

The weather:

The weather was  kind to me. Until the last week I had only one full day of rain and one wet morning. There were  strong winds much of the time, especially during that last week where the Murray does not wind as much. There are long straight stretches towards the west where the wind funnels along and builds up a steep chop. At the notorious Pellaring Reach even Captain Sturt waited for better weather. It was too rough even for him apparently. Well, I did not want any rest days so I kept going on, but at times was actually pushed backwards and had to take shelter in the reeds and willows.

 Scenery:

The scenery along the Murray does not change like on our bushwalks. The banks on both sides were mainly  river red gums.

River Red Gums
Photo: B. Weitkuhn: River Red Gums

On the upper Murray after leaving from Corryong you can see a few distant hills. Later I did not see any until I came into South Australia where there are also the colourful cliffs lining the Murray River.

Cliffs on the Murray River
Photo: B. Weitkuhn: Cliffs on the lower Murray River

Because I had a good full river I was having a better view sitting high, and I could see over the embankments most of the time. That was important to find a suitable campsite.

Bernard's first campsite on the upper Murray
Photo: B. Weitkuhn: First campsite on the upper Murray

Wildlife:
Birdlife was prolific, especially waterbirds. I also saw eagles and other raptors,  kingfishers and other small birds as well as emus.
Other wildlife was a bit disappointing. I only met some kangaroos, a few white-tailed water rats, one brown snake and one platypus as well as turtles and one seal. Then, of course, I encountered the ones I didn’t want to see, like rabbits, foxes and feral pigs.

White-tailed water rat
White-tailed water rat

Duck hunters !!!
There were few other day paddlers and one couple who did it for a week.  Caravan parks right next to the river were the exception,  so it was mainly camping wild along the river.

Caravan Park on the river
Photo: B. Weitkuhn: Caravan Park on the  banks of the Murray  River

Sometimes in New South Wales, other times in Victoria. I tried to avoid Victoria because of the duck shooters. I could hear continuous shooting for some days and it worried me. I don’t think I looked like a duck but they might have had bad eyesight.

Paddlesteamer Emmylou
Photo: B. Weitkuhn: Paddlesteamer Emmylou

Fortunately there were no equipment failures or accidents. I never had a bad day feeling unwell. I was bitten at least 50 times by mosquitoes every day, you just can’t avoid it, but I did not pick up any of those fevers.
Now I will have to build my legs up to their old strength and I hope my fellow bushwalkers will have patience with me… ha!

Sunset at journey's end: Lake Alexandrina
Photo: B. Weitkuhn: Sunset at journey’s end: Lake Alexandrina

Cheers
Bernhard W.

Useful Info:

Website: MurrayRiver.com.au for info on the Murray River Trail.

E.Gill Rivers of History booklet ABC Radio History.

C.R. Twidale Geomorphology Nelson.

A. Hughes: Australia’s Paddling Hit List A.G.Outdoors Jan-Feb 2010.

A. Gregory Kayaking around Australia .  My kayaking  bible. Well worth buying . Has very detailed information on paddling the Murray River: maps, camping, seasons, access supplies etc.

Charts for the Murray River:

  • Maureen Wright: Renmark to Yarrawonga .
  • K. and L. Bentley: Yarrawonga to Hume Dam.
  • Baker – Reschke: Goolwa to Renmark. 

 

 

Australia’s  Murray-Darling Basin

The 2520 kilometre long Murray River forms a natural border between New South Wales and Victoria. It is joined  by many tributaries  including the Darling and Murrumbidgee on its journey from the Australian Alps to the Southern Ocean. The Murray-Darling Basin is the fourth longest river system in the world, exceeded only by the Nile, Amazon and the Mississippi-Missouri systems. In terms of catchment area the Murray-Darling is the sixth largest behind the Amazon, Congo, Mississippi, Yangtze Kiang and the Ganges. But the crucial difference is that the annual discharge is far less than any of the rivers listed. Much of the Murray-Darling  catchment is arid or semi-arid with the average annual rainfall over the whole catchment only 425 mm per annum.

The Murray is an allogenic stream, that is, it rises in the high rainfall Australian Alps and has sufficient discharge to survive passage across extensive semi-arid deserts. In its variability of flow the Murray is typical of most Australia’s inland rivers, experiencing periods of high and low flow but as much of the infrastructure is geared to the usual low flow states any flooding results in significant damage to bridges, buildings, fences and livestock.

Your Comments:

Mt Meharry: WA’s Highest Mountain

 

By Glenn Burns

To climb Mt Meharry in Western Australia’s Pilbara region is easy enough. A ramble of 11 kilometres will take you to its 1253 metre summit and back. A mere day walk for local Pilbara peakbaggers. But for this party of blow-ins from the east coast, the logistics of accessing Meharry were a bit more complicated. For Don Burgher, Brian Manuel, Judy and I, there was the five and a half hour flight to Perth followed by a road trip of four days through the outback of W.A. We touched down at Meharry’s base on a glorious winter’s day in August.

Mt Meharry summit
Mt Meharry summit

After an overnight camp at Dales Gorge in Karijini National Park we left Dales at 7.45am for the final 125 kilometre drive to Meharry. Despite what we had read about the difficulty of access once you leave  the sealed Northern Highway, it was all pretty straightforward. If you stay alert the unsealed Packsaddle Road-Juno Downs has adequate signage to get you close to Meharry’s base.

It wasn’t straightforward in 2002 when Nick and Ben Gough climbed Meharry as part of their ascents of the highest peaks in each state and territory of Australia. They described it thus:

… After  4200 kilometres of driving the final leg into Mt Meharry is along an old mining exploration track, overgrown with spinifex… There were a few washouts to navigate and plenty of spinifex seeds to remove from the radiator as we pushed through the undergrowth; there were also lots of spiders, angry at being removed.” Source: Wild No 87.

But times have changed. Now you can do all this in a 2WD. But if you are feeling lazy and are blessed with a high clearance 4WD having a bit of grunt, you can bump and grind your way all the way to Meharry’s summit.  Cheaters. We didn’t, it wasn’t part of our deal. We parked our borrowed 4WD ( thanks  Joseph Mania) at the first major jump-up, under the shade of a solitary snappy gum. Here we left Judy in charge of birds, bees and botany while Brian, Don and I headed off for the five kilometre walk to the summit, an altitude gain of only 427 metres.

Parked under a shady snappy gum.
Parked under a shady snappy gum.

What’s in a name?

At the top of the first jump-up we had our first clear views of Meharry. The story on how WA’s highest peak was determined is worth recounting. Such is the isolation of the Pilbara region that as late as the 1960s it was thought that nearby Mt Bruce (Bunurrunna) at 1,236 metres was WA’s highest peak. Then, in 1967, an unnamed whaleback prominence 50 kilometres to the south east was checked out by surveyor Trevor Merky and found to be 17 metres higher than Mt Bruce. Meharry was named after William Thomas (Tom) Meharry, Chief Surveyor for WA from 1959 to 1967. After a bit of ferretting around in Native Title documents I found its aboriginal name to be Wirlbiwirlbi.  On Tom Meharry’s death in 1967, the Minister for Lands approved the name ‘Mt Meharry’ on 28 July, 1967. That should have been the end of the matter. The plaque on the summit is dedicated to Tom Meharry and WA’s surveyors and it reads:

Mount Meharry, at 1250 metres, is the highest point in Western Australia. It is named after William Thomas (Tom) Meharry (1912-1967), the states State’s Geodetic Surveyor from 1959 to 1967.
This survey cairn was constructed in September 2013 as a tribute to all surveyors who have explored and mapped the magnificent Western Australian outback.

 

Geoscience Australia gives the height of Meharry as 1253 metres, not 1250 metres as per the plaque or the 1248 metres on the summit signpost. Confused?

Gina Rinehart

Enter Gina Rinehart, daughter of iron ore baron Lang Hancock. In 1999 she applied to the Geographical Names Committee to re-name Meharry to Mt Hancock after her prospector father. They declined but Australia’s wealthiest woman wasn’t so easily put off. In 2002 she went to the top and lobbied then Premier Geoff Gallop for the change. Fortunately, he too rejected the proposal.

Pilbara region WA
Features named by F. T. Gregory or related to his 1858 and 1861 expeditions.

A Spinifex Steppe

From the first jump-up it is an easy two kilometres before the track does any serious climbing. At this point the track winds up an open spinifex (Triodia spp.) covered ridgeline. The spinifex was everywhere, easily the dominant ground cover: it grows in either doughnut shapes or hummocks Some species have long spiny leaves that dig into bare skin so it is a matter of self preservation to wear thick canvas gaiters when going off track. On warm days one of the common hummock species of spinifex (T. pungens) releases volatile oils, producing a very distinctive resinous scent. The resin from T. pungens (in the photo) was used by aboriginals as a glue to bind spear heads to their shafts. The resin is pliable when heated but sets rock hard.

The Spinifex Steppe
The Spinifex Steppe: Trioda pungens

It was mid morning so the temperature was creeping up to its predicted 30°C, but tempered by a light west sou’wester. We pulled in for a water stop under the only shade, a stunted snappy gum (Eucalyptus leucophloia) located fortuitously at one of Brian’s infamous ‘uphill flat bits’. This attractive and robust little gum is a familiar sight on the rocky hills and plateaus of the Pilbara, typically growing to three or four metres. A defining characteristic is its white powdery bark, sometimes pocked with black dimples. Hence the species name leucophloia, meaning white bark.

Brian standing in the shade of a solitary snappy gum on the flanks of Mt Meharry
Brian standing in the shade of a solitary snappy gum on the flanks of Mt Meharry

The only other tree we found on Meharry was the desert bloodwood (Corymbia deserticola). With its multi-stemmed mallee growth form and rough tessellated bark it is another very striking tree of the Pilbara and easily distinguishable from the snappy gum.

Desert Bloodwood
Desert Bloodwood

Another two kilometres of plodding over loose scree took us to the crest of the ridge, a false summit.  Meharry trig station was a further 800 metres on. But there is no mistaking the real summit as it is marked by an elaborate rock cairn. We had left Judy and the 4WD some one hour forty five minutes earlier. Not too shabby a performance by three elderly bushwalking codgers.

Brian & Glenn at Mt Meharry summit cairn
Brian & Glenn at Mt Meharry summit cairn. Don wielding the camera.

Geology and Landscape

The view from the summit revealed a spectacular landscape of red whale-back mountains, razor-back ridges and steep-sided gorges that make up the Hamersley Range, one of the oldest geologic surfaces on the earth. Karijini is the aboriginal name for the Hamersley Range. About 2,690 million years ago the Hamersley Basin began to fill with sediments forming the extensive deposits of banded ironstone formations (BIFs), cherts and metapelites collectively known to geologists as the Brockman Iron Formation.

Banded Ironstone Formation (BIF)
Banded Ironstone Formation (BIF)

Mt Meharry is predominately an outcrop of this ancient Proterozoic banded ironstone. Typically it appears as a very hard brown rock composed of iron oxide and fine grained quartz. Similar iron rich rocks occur in South Africa and Brazil but the best exposures occur in Australia’s Pilbara.

After the obligatory photos, a quick bite to eat and a good guzzle of water we turned tail and headed downhill, back to the 4WD and Judy who was busy dealing with the unwanted attentions of ‘sweat bees’.

It's all downhill from here.
It’s all downhill from here.

Sweat bees.

Sweat bees is a generic term for a range of these inconspicuous little fellows (eg.Family:Halicitdae) who are attracted to perspiration, specifically the salts in sweat and as Judy discovered, can be quite a nuisance, just like Australia’s notorious bush flies.

Birds

And what of Judy’s birding and botanizing? Well, the avians weren’t co-operating. Hardly surprising. We were, after all, in a desert, with no nearby surface water and the ocean five hundred kilometres to the west. The semi-arid tropical climate has a highly variable rainfall of only 250mm to 300mm per annum; the evaporation rate is twelve times greater, hence the minimal surface water. The presence of surface water is very much dependent on incursions of the summer cyclonic rains sweeping in from the Indian Ocean to the west. Back in bird land the meager offerings were a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, a Yellow-throated Miner and the seemingly ubiquitous Galah.

Plants

Royal mulla- mulla
Royal mulla- mulla

However the abundance and showiness of plant life in the Australian outback is often exceptional, especially after rain. Pink Royal mulla-mulla (Ptilotus rotundifolius) covered the rocky Meharry landscape, occupying the interstices between clumps of spinifex. Royal mulla-mulla is a low perennial shrub growing to about one metre tall. The flower spikes are unmistakable: long, cylindrical and a bright pink. More than 35 species of mulla-mulla grow in the Pilbara and make for spectacular displays after good summer rains.

Other ground covers included the purple-flowering Flannel Bush (Solanum lasiophyllum), and the delicate blue pincushion flowers of the Native Cornflower (Brunonia australis). Brunonia australis is the sole species in the genus Brunonia which is the only genus in the endemic family Brunoniaceae. It is named after Robert Brown, naturalist on Matthew Flinders’ Investigator.

Flannel Bush: Solanum lasiophyllum
Flannel Bush: Solanum lasiophyllum

Wattles and sennas dominated the Meharry shrub layer and included the golden-flowering Gregory’s Wattle (Acacia gregorii). This dense spreading shrub grows to only half a metre and has golden ball-like flower heads. The name commemorates Francis Thomas Gregory whose 1861 expedition passed through the Pilbara.

Gregory's Wattle
Gregory’s Wattle. Acacia gregorii

Another wattle found here was Acacia hamersleyensis, the Hamersley Range Wattle. This multi-stemmed wattle grows to about four metres and features bright golden dense cylindrical spikes.
Thomas Francis Gregory: The North-West Australian Exploring Expedition. 1861.

Thomas Gregory was the brother of the outstanding Australian explorer and bushman, Augustus Gregory.  Their 1858 expedition to the Gascoyne River had attracted the attention of English capitalists interested in cotton ventures. The Home Office and Royal Geographical Society proposed a new colony on WA’s  north-west coast with the special objective of  cultivating cotton.

Francis Thomas Gregory; Source State LibQld
Francis Thomas Gregory;
Source State LibQld

Thus F.T. Gregory was contracted by Captain Rowe, Surveyor General of WA to head a scaled back expedition prior to setting up a full colony. On the 23rd of April,1861 Gregory departed on the barque Dolphin with a party of nine, ten horses and supplies of flour, salted pork, dried beef preserved meat, bacon, sugar etc. Enough grub for eight months. If the desert , horses or aborigines didn’t do you in then it was a fair bet that the diet would.

On the 22nd May Gregory had transferred men, supplies and horses ashore at the head of Nickol Bay. By the 25th June he had reached the western edge of what is now Karijini National Park.  On the 3rd of July he climbed Mt Samson and saw a high peak which he named Mt Bruce…

“I named Mt Bruce after the gallant commander of troops who had warmly supported me in carrying out explorations.”

And so, for well over a century, Mt Bruce was thought to be WA’s highest mountain. His journal also mentions  Mt Augustus which he had named on his 1858 expedition into the Gascoyne River District after his brother Augustus Gregory. It was from Mt Augustus that he first saw Mt Bruce.  But that is a story which I will keep for another time.

Mt Bruce:
Mt Bruce ( Bunurrunna): 1236metres.

Such is the isolation of this area, modern day maps of the Pilbara  still retain a plethora of the original names proposed by F.T. Gregory:

  • Mt Turner: J. Turner was second in command of the expedition.
  • Mt Brockman:  E. Brockman was a member of the expedition.
  • Maitland River.
  • Hardy River.
  • Hamersley Range: Hamersley was one of the expedition’s backers.
  • Fortescue River: Fortescue was the British Under-secretary for colonies.
  • Dolphin Island: from their supply vessel Dolphin.
  • Ashburton River: President of the British Royal Geographical Society.
  • Capricorn Range: presumably because it straddles the Tropic of Capricorn.

Readers interested in the expedition journals of the Gregory brothers  should acquaint themselves with an excellent facsimile edition published in 2002 by  Western Australia’s Hesperian Press.

Source: Hesperian Press.
Source: Hesperian Press.

Photo Gallery: Plants of the Pilbara.

Holly GrevillaHolly Grevillea. G. wickhamii. Named after John Wickham. Captain of the Beagle who collected this plant with Charles Darwin during surveys of the north-west coast 1837-1838.

IMG_2933Australian Desert Rose: Gossypium australe.

 

 

 

Sturts Desert PeaSturt’s Desert Pea: Swainsona formosa. Its name honours the explorer Charles Sturt but was first collected by Willim Dampier in 1699 on an island on the Dampier Archipelago.

 

 

Rock FigCommon Rock Fig: Ficus brachypoda. Found growing in cooler moist gorges of the Pilbara. Often clings precariously to ledges and cliff faces.

 

 

 

 

 

Sticky SennaSticky Cassia: Senna glutinosa subsp. pruinosa

 

 

 

Grey Whorled WattleGrey Whorled Wattle: Acacia adoxa.

After reading  this account you will have realised that Mt Meharry is no great challenge. For me,  its interest lies in the opportunity to traverse an arid zone mountain landscape, a walk of outstanding scenic beauty as well as exceptional geologic and botanical interest. And as a bonus you can bag Western Australia’s highest mountain, a remote peak in outback Australia. Mission accomplished.  Then it was back to the comfort of our camp site at Dales Gorge, under the welcome shade of a grove of Mulga trees.

Day's end @ Dales Gorge Campground, Karijini National Park.
A Job Well Done: resting back at Dales Gorge Campground, Karijini National Park.

Good info:

Bush Books series published by WA’s Dept of Conservation and Land management. These are pocket sized field books: Common Plants of the Pilbara, Wattles of the Pilbara, Geology and Landforms of the Pilbara.

P. Moore Plants of Inland Australia (Reed New Holland 2005)

P. Lane Geology of WA’s National Parks (Peter Lane 2007)

A.C. and F.T. Gregory Journals of Australian Explorations 1846-1861 ( Hesperian Press 2002). First published by J.C. Beal Government Printer, Brisbane 1884.

S. Mitchell Exploring WA’s Natural Wonders ( Dept of Environment & Conservation).

Hema Western Australia Road and 4WD Atlas

Aust. Geog. Western Australia State Map 1: 4 000 000

The Walls Of Jerusalem: A Wilderness in Winter.

 By Glenn Burns

The names are drawn from the Old Testament: Lake Salome, the Pool of Bethesda, The Pool of Siloam, Wailing Wall, Mt Jerusalem, and Herods Gate. Irresistible place names to whet the bushwalker’s appetite. The Walls of Jerusalem, originally called China Walls, are located on Tasmania’s Central Plateau, east of, but contiguous to, the famed Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park; both form part of the Tasmanian Wilderness Heritage Area. Access is on foot over a steep, rough track to an alpine plateau at 1200 metres. Unpredictable weather conditions are the norm.

A cold, windy day in the Walls of Jerusalem
A cold, windy day in the Walls of Jerusalem

An Overview of The Walls of Jerusalem National Park:

The Walls of Jerusalem National Park features dolerite peaks, glacial lakes, moraine dumps as well as alpine plant communities including rare pencil pine forests and cushion plants. It is an extremely interesting area for experienced walkers as there are many possible multiday trips in the area. But long before the incursions of the modern day bushwalker, aborigines made seasonal visits to the area as evidenced by artifact scatters found in the national park. The first Europeans to visit The Walls were shepherds with their flocks of sheep in the period from 1820s through to 1920s. Surveyor James Scott explored The Walls in December 1848 and January 1849 and produced the first comprehensive map. On the map are named Wild Dog Creek, Lake Adelaide, Lake Ball (now Lake Salome) and The Walls of Jerusalem. Then came the trappers who hunted pademelons, wallabies aand possums for their fur in the 1920’s. Finally bushwalkers discovered the area. Members of the Launceston Walking Club did much to explore the area and one of their members, Reg Hall, named many of the geographic features: among them Dasmascus Gate, Herods Gate, Jaffa Gate, and Solomons Jewels.

Walls of Jerusalem: Glenn Burns
Walls of Jerusalem: Glenn Burns

At the start of winter youngest son Alex rang asking me to join him on a snowshoeing trip into The Walls of Jerusalem National Park.  And so it came to pass that on an overcast blustery Sunday afternoon in June my Virgin Australia flight crabbed down the runway at Hobart’s airport, straightened and thankfully delivered me safely to the terminal building. Alex was already waiting, sporting a massive Wilderness Equipment rucksack and an even bigger cargo bag of snowshoes and other snow hiking do-dahs.

Alex. Dressed for the conditions.
A muffled- up Alex.

Alex the Providore:

Then it was off to Hobart CBD to stock up. Alex took command of this vital operation, apparently having had some issues with childhood experiences of my hiking menus built around pasta, porridge, packets of wheatmeal biscuits and peanut paste. But ours was to be more substantial and varied fare. Enough to see us through several Tassie blizzards: multiple blocks of chocolate, a brick-sized chunk of cheese, cheesy biscuits, a bag of nuts, bags of Mars bars, rolled oats for hot porridge, a bag of muesli, a tube of sweetened condensed milk, packets of dried soups, tubes of drinking chocolate, and a flat-pack of some hippy spinach and herb mountain bread that Alex lusted after.

Photo Gallery: by Alex Burns

Weather reports you would rather not have:

Onward to Deloraine for a night in comfortable digs at the local motel. I must say that this was an opportune choice given the deteriorating weather. On my last extended snow trip with Alex things were quite different. It was tenting at The Diggings in Kosciuszko National Park before issuing forth to hiking on the Main Range in balmy temperatures and brilliantly sunny skies. This time we drove to Deloraine under threatening skies then finally rain. The TV weather report that night showed a dense cloud band sweeping across Tasmania. A nuisance breakout from something called the Antarctic Vortex, otherwise known as a vigorous low pressure cell and associated cold front. For our neck of the woods: 95% chance of rain, wind gusts to 100 kph, sheep graziers’ weather alert and a strong wind warning.

The Tassie Parks service has this warning about winter trips to the high country:  “Winter days are cold, but can often be crisp and clear, especially in the morning. In the highlands, expect snow. You’ll need all your warm, windproof and waterproof gear. The days are short and deep snow can make walking difficult. Be prepared to be holed up during blizzards, sometimes for days.”

Monday at Cradle Mountain

Come Monday morning I peeked through the curtains. Not good. Alex who is on top of this highland weather stuff sensibly delayed our entry to The Walls for the day. A day of reading and telly watching interspersed with visits to Deloraine’s cafes for hot chocolates and coffees… perhaps? Unfortunately, Alex isn’t much for sitting around. An outing to Cradle Mountain beckoned. We trudged through Cradle’s freezing rain and gale force winds (gusting to 80 kph) for only part of the day but my enthusiasm for this alpine outing was quickly

Cradle Mt on a cold, wet day.
On the way to Cradle Mt on a cold, wet day.

dampened and I was relieved that we hadn’t set out to The Walls in this weather. I’m not sure what the two bedraggled, shivering and unfit middle-aged ‘overland trackers’ made of the conditions. Apparently they were out in all weathers because they were ‘on a schedule’. I guess they made it to Waterfall Hut with a bit of a struggle. But it was back to the delights of Deloraine in a warm car for Alex and me. Hopefully for an early start tomorrow. The evening TV weather report was mildly off-putting for this warm-blooded denizen of the subtropics: sheep graziers’ weather alert, road alert for snow and ice, maximum 0°C, minimum -2°C, snow to 400 metres, 12-20 cm of snowfall, winds to 40 kph and a bushwalker alert. But in Alex’s book it was all systems go.

Tuesday: into The Walls Of Jerusalem

Tuesday pre-dawn. Alex was up and packing. Although we had already lost a day we opted for an ‘overnighter’, a lightning swoop on The Walls of Jerusalem. By mid-morning we had bumped our way into The Walls car park where a lonely signboard informed us that: Thieves are active in this area. I stepped out into snow and wind gusts but was reassured by Alex’s assessment that conditions were ‘pretty benign’.

Walls of Jerusalem car park.
Walls of Jerusalem car park.

Trappers Hut:

We wandered off uphill, still able to pick the general line of the track even under the deepening snow cover. About an hour later we arrived at Trappers Hut, dived inside out of wind and snow, wolfed down a feed of chocolate then paused to examine our surroundings. Trappers Hut, built by Boy Miles, a Changi POW, and Dick and Alistair Walters in 1946, is a two bunker with vertical slab construction with a shingle and corrugated iron roof. The gable at one end, covered with chook wire, was open to the elements, with a light dusting of snow covering the bunk below.

Trappers Hut
Trappers Hut

The hut is a reminder that in bygone days these high alpine zones were exploited for grazing, mining and trapping. Possum trappers built huts, called badger boxes, around the edge of the Central Plateau especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s. They were keen to get the furry winter pelts of the mountain dwelling brush-tailed possums, pademelons and Bennett’s wallabies for which they received about the equivalent of two dollars fifty a skin.

Ten minutes on we were cooling rapidly so it was time to throw on the shoulder monkeys and trundle off, wombat-like, into the deepening drifts. Slow going.

Lake Loane
Lake Loane

Something about Snowshoeing:

It was not deep enough for snowshoeing but was deep enough to obliterate the track and obscure boulders and scrubs. Underfoot was becoming hazardous. I have read that a walker in boots and loaded with rucksack at a combined weight of 80kgs exerts a surface pressure on the snow of 470 g/cm². You can expect to sink about 20-25 cm into the snow. But if you have strapped on your on skis or snowshoes the ground pressure falls to about 67 g/cm². You should sink only a centimetre or two. We were definitely out of luck in this regard. Our snowshoes remained strapped to our rucksacks.

MSR Snowshoes
MSR Snowshoes. Carried strapped to back of rucksack.

After Trappers we breasted the lower plateau at 1100 metres and located the junction of The Walls track and Lake Adelaide track by way of new and very garish sign. Even under a blanket of snow, in poor visibility, the scenery did not disappoint. A monochrome landscape of lakes, massive dolerite cliffs, pencil pine forests and clumps of snow gums. Definitely worth the discomfort of being out in these conditions.

New signage at Walls of Jerusalem
New signage at Walls of Jerusalem

The Walls of Jerusalem: Geology:

The Central Plateau is a surface of horizontal flows of dolerite, some 300 metres thick, formed during the Jurassic. Dolerite is a dark heavy rock, crystallizing as magma cooled beneath the earth’s surface. The present landscape is the result of a small Pleistocene ice-cap scouring this dolerite surface. Thus, the innumerable lakes of the Central Plateau are depressions left by glacial erosion. By and large the ice cap rode over most of the plateau except where it thinned and flowed around high points, gouging steep sided walls like The West Wall and The Wailing Wall.

The West Wall
The West Wall

The Walls of Jerusalem: Plants:

The vegetation highlights of The Walls include magnificent stands of the ancient Pencil Pines, the cushion plants and Tassie’s own snow gum, Eucalyptus coccifera. The very slow growing Pencil Pines (Athrotaxis cupressoides) prefer wet soils, hence are characteristically found on flat ground at the edge of tarns, lakes and watercourses. Athrotaxis usually grows as an isolated plant hence the extensive copses near Lake Salome, Pool of Siloam and in Jaffa Vale are very unusual. Unfortunately, it is highly susceptible to fire and may be under threat if the climate continues to warm. 

Stand of Pencil Pines
Stand of Pencil Pines

Stand of Pencil Pines: Summer
Stand of Pencil Pines: Summer

Cushion plants are alpine species that develop dense, ground-hugging forms. In Tasmania all but one is endemic. They  form narrow ‘rivers’ along drainage lines or be scattered through alpine heath or sedgeland. They are at their most spectacular where they form extensive sheets on thin soils on rocky alpine plateaux like the Walls Of Jerusalem.

Cushion Plant: Walls of Jerusalem
Cushion Plant: Walls of Jerusalem

After the junction sign, minor hick-up ensued as we puzzled over our forward direction. We quickly sorted this with that good old stand-by, a map and compass: Mr Magellan rendered inarticulate under the heavy sky. Alex confidently led off SW towards Herods Gate, breaking ground in the fresh snow. A human track logger. Our line of travel approximating the summer track and our ongoing progress confirmed by an occasional marker, so faded and tatty as to be nearly invisible.

Heading for Herods Gate
Heading for Herods Gate

Ahead were Solomons Jewels, a myriad of small lakes, but a mere handful of the 4000 or so lakes that dot the Central Plateau.

Solomons Jewels
Solomons Jewels

The Lake Country:

Sometimes called the Lake Country, this landscape is a legacy of the Pleistocene Glaciation when a 65 kilometre wide ice cap covered much of the Plateau. This was the only known Pleistocene ice cap in Australia. Glacial ice gouged and scraped numerous rock depressions and dumped piles of moraine. As the ice retreated 10,000 years ago, sheets of water filled the depressions to form the lakes that we see today.

Pool of Bethesda: Summer view
Pool of Bethesda: Summer view

Something about clothing:

By early afternoon the winds had ratcheted up and a coating of snow flurries now permanently covered our jackets and rucksacks. The wind chill temperature stood at about -8°C. Daggy as I may have looked, my old Queensland bushwalking clobber kept me amazingly snug: old woollen balaclava, possum fur gloves from NZ, outer ski gloves, thermal top and pants, Dry Gear long sleeved shirt, heavy duty windproof polar fleece coat, long gortex rain jacket, a pair of cheapskate nylon rain pants and Quagmire gaiters to complete my ensemble. Tucked away in a dry bag were a duplicate set of après ski clothes including down jacket and ski pants. And if you were an Alex, a pair of hut booties would be de rigeur for evening wear.

Rigged for the cold windy weather
Rigged for the cold windy weather

Unable to deploy the snowshoes our forward progress was pretty ordinary. By 2.00pm we were still short of Wild Dog Creek and our ambitious plan to overnight at Dixons Kingdom Hut had all but evaporated. Dixons is only a few hours from Trappers in summer conditions. But we weren’t in the race, so working on the precautionary principle, a night under canvas at Wild Dog Creek was our safest option.

Wild Dog Creek
Wild Dog Creek

Wildlife:

Nary a wild dog in sight, but instead a resident clutch of Tasmanian Bennett’s Wallabies (Macropus rufogriseus) sheltering forlornly under tree branches near the tent platforms. You have to be pretty impressed by the survival these furry little fellows.  A number of factors are in play to ensure their survival in the snow. The snowcover in Tassie is pretty short lived, so food scarcity is only temporary. High  country mammals become torpid in cold conditions when food is scarce. They survive by reducing their metabolic rates by 5-30 percent of their normal basal rate. Finally, the Wild Dog campsite is, no doubt, a favourable feeding site with an abundance of hand-outs. But one lives in  hope that there are not too many walkers feeding the local wildlife.

Pademelon
Bennett’s Wallaby

Wild Dog Creek Campsite:

Parks Tassie has done a sterling job at Wild Dog: wooden tent platforms, outstanding views even in the snow, water taps (currently frozen), a composting toilet (door frozen shut) and our own backyard Australia Zoo. But best of all we found a tent platform that was sheltered from the wind.

Tent Platform: Wild Dog Creek.
Tent Platform: Wild Dog Creek.

We downed rucksacks and extracted my ever faithful two man Salewa Sierra Leone. Wrangling the tubby Salewa on the snow covered platform called for some advanced engineering know-how. Alex’s, not mine. The snow hadn’t packed down so our ice pegs were useless. Instead we resorted to a spider’s web of spare cordage and spare bootlaces to guy out our little abode.

Salewa Sierra Leone.
Salewa Sierra Leone.

A long night:

Then it was into the tent, followed by a long-winded process of changing into warm dry clothes and finally submerging into a snuggly sleeping bag. A long night stretched ahead: 15 hours as sunrise was north of 7.20am. Cooking a meal in the tent annex is never an option that I particularly relish. It is far safer to fire up the stove outside. But with a bit of care we managed the annex and an entrée of Dutch curry and rice soup; for mains Back Country Cuisine’s Spaghetti Bolognese fattened up with Deb Instant Mash; a dessert of Rum and Raisin chocolate finished off with Choc Orange drinking choc fortified with sweetened condensed milk. The night was interminable, spiced up by discussions on things technological and exits to shake snow from the fly sheet and deal with the unwanted attentions of a marauding common brush-tail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula). It is with good reason that their species name is derived from the latin meaning ‘little fox.

Common brush-tail possum
Photo: JJ Harrison in Wikipedia : Common brush-tail possum .

 Wednesday: up to the West Wall and Lake Salome

Come 7am, still in darkness, snow still drifting down, I was drawn out of the Salewa and up to the little house on the hill, the composting toilet: its latch and door frame firmly sealed by ice. Tighter than the zip on a Scotsman’s wallet. Having left the blow torch at home I resorted to desperate pecking with my pocket knife. By a dent of sheer persistence I burst in. A close run thing.

Back at camp we brewed up substantial bowls of porridge laced with handfuls of muesli and swimming in condensed milk and then considered the situation. Outside the wind had eased to 60 kph gusts but had swung to the WSW bringing colder temperatures, -2°C but lighter snowfall.

We opted to leave the tent erected with our gear still dry inside and check out the inner Walls above Herods Gate. Once through Herods Gate at 1200 metres the prospect was, bluntly put, bleak but also beautiful in a monochromatic sort of way. An iced-up Lake Salome was visible. To our right King Davids Peak and the West Wall were intermittently visible but Damascus Gate and The Temple (1446 m), a mere two kilometres away, were shrouded in cloud and snow.

 

Lake Salome and The Temple
Lake Salome and The Temple

After poking around in pretty cold conditions, a wind chill of -8.5°C, it was time to re-trace our route, retrieve the tent and gear at Wild Dog and bump out. We had run out of time, needing to be in Hobart on the morrow.

Descending from Herods Gate
Descending from Herods Gate

By 3pm at the car park the wind had eased back to a lazy 20 kph and the temperature had racked up to a balmy 2°C. Murphy’s Law. But for all the minor discomforts I wouldn’t trade my winter walks  with Alex for anything. Then it was off to collect Judy from Hobart and onward to Adventure Bay on Bruny Island.  A chance to check out an epicentre of Australia’s early maritime history: Abel Tasman(1642) Tobias Furneaux(1773) Captain Cook (1777) and William Bligh with Matthew Flinders in 1792.

More Reading:

Green, K and Osborne, W: Field Guide to Wildlife of Australia’s snow-country. Reed New Holland 1994.

Tasmanian Parks Service: Welcome to Wilderness: Bushwalking Trip Planner.

Map: Walls of Jerusalem 1:25000. Land Info Service.

Phil Collier : Alpine Wildflowers of Tasmania Soc. Growing Aust. Plants 1989.

Carol Booth: Chill Strategies Wildlife Australia Winter 2015 Vol 52 No 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bushwalking on Water: the Upper Noosa River

 

 

Glenn Burns

In early May four of my bushwalking friends and I took to the water; swapping packs for paddles, Leki poles for lifejackets and snakes for sharks. We set out on a four day kayaking trip in the upper Noosa River. My kayaking guidebook, Andrew Gregory’s “Kayaking around Australia” describes the Noosa River as a “paddler’s paradise…black water under a canopy of paperbarks”.

Goog earth Upper Noosa River cropped

As is the custom with many of our trips this year, the weather prognosis was decidedly dodgy. But my companions Ross, Linda, Damien and Eva were unfazed. So our mini flotilla assembled mid morning at Harry Springs Hut.  Built in 1957, the hut has had varied usage, first as a base for many of the region’s timber cutters and then as the weekend fishing retreat of local Cooroy pharmacist Harry Spring, who was rewarded with a lifetime lease on the hut once the land was proclaimed a national park. He passed away  at the age of 94, but Harry’s little piece of history is now a protected cultural heritage site.

Harry Springs Hut May 2015
Harry Springs Hut

Damien did a bit more assembling than the rest of us – he put together his three metre Folbot: think of those fold up commando kayaks from World War II or the collapsible canoe that the writer Paul Theroux used to paddle around the SW Pacific in writing his book “The Happy Isles of Oceania”.

The Folbot
The Folbot

Eva appeared punctually at our launch site after having done some hard yards the previous day, paddling up from Elanda Plains in her little Santee river touring kayak.

Eva's Touring Kayak
Eva’s Touring Kayak

Photo Gallery: Upper Noosa River.

The  three hour paddle to campsite 13 was dampened somewhat by the arrival of the promised rain. But these were mere showers … a minor irritant as we settled into the spacious campsite 13 with our own sandy beach front, private swimming pool and, no doubt, the occasional lurking bull shark. Tarps kept the evening showers at bay, but not the miasma of mossies. Ever prepared for all eventualities we circled up the mossie coils…which did the trick.

Tuesday dawned fine, cool and slightly cloudy. Ideal kayaking conditions. We ventured upstream to check out Teewah Creek and the head of the Noosa River. Teewah Creek rises in the high dunes just south of the Rainbow Beach road and does a lazy meander in a SSW direction to its junction with the upper Noosa. I have occasionally encountered hardened paddlers coming down Teewah Creek, having launched their canoes at Coops Corner about 5 kilometres upstream. Their reports of log jams, fallen trees and portages have not enamoured me of the idea of launching at Coops and paddling downstream. Instead, for us, there was an undemanding but beautiful enfilade paddle up the pristine waterway of Teewah Creek as far as our  craft could go.

Teewah Creek
Teewah Creek

The creek is deeply incised into the swampy sand plains west of the Cooloola High Dunes. Its tannin stained waters ripple over white sands in a kaleidoscope of colours: sometimes clear, sometimes brown but mostly with a reddish tinge. Back at campsite 13 we had a leisurely lunch on our own Costa del Cooloola followed by a lazy afternoon on the beach lounging in our Helinox deck chairs reading and chatting.

Beachfront at Campsite 13
Beachfront at Campsite 13

Wednesday: Today we earn our keep. A one and a half hour paddle back to campsite 4 then the 7 kilometre hoof up to the Cooloola Sand Patch (225m). After lunch on top, reverse the whole process. But what a day for it: sunny, clear blue skies with just a vague whisper of a cool autumnal breeze. And my well rested friends were in fine fettle for the longish paddle on the glassy Noosa waters.

The Cooloola Sand Patch
The Cooloola Sand Patch

The Cooloola Sand Patch dominates the scenery of this part of Cooloola. Migratory white sands of the patch are derived from siliceous oceanic sands blown up into a giant mobile dune by the predominant south-easterlies after the last ice age (about 6,000years ago). During our wanderings over the sand patch I was lucky enough to spot a small aboriginal lithic flake. Not an unusual find for the sand patch. Although I have never found an aboriginal campsite on the sand patch where more artefacts are likely to be found. Minor aboriginal artefacts like these flakes can be photographed but should be left in situ.

Aboriginal Flake
Aboriginal Flake

I have been to the Cooloola Sand Patch innumerable times and views from the sand patch never fail to impress. Don’t forget your map for identifying topographical features (Cooroy 1:50k). Directly below were Lakes Como, Cooloola and Cootharaba. In a sweep from south to our west were volcanic sills and plugs of Mt Tinbeerwah (265m), Mt Cooroora (439m), Mt Cooran (279m) and Mt Pinbareen (346m). Directly west, the Wahpunga Range topping out at Sheppersons Hill(282m), a vantage point known to all walkers on the Kin Kin Trail Network. And so back to our camp with a sighting of Rainbow Bee-eaters to add pleasure to the  haul back.

Thursday. We bade farewell to campsite 13 and commenced our downhill run in perfect conditions: sunny cool and still. Past a pair of resident Sea Eagles, past a jolly armada of pink-skinned paddling backpackers and onward to Harry Springs Hut to retrieve our parked vehicles… wheels still attached. Of course, no Burnsian trip is complete without a post paddle feed and a ginger beer; this time at the Kin Kin watering hole on the way out.

 

 

 

 

Long Plain: Northern Kosciuszko National Park.

One of my favourite places in Australia’s high country is Long Plain in Kosciuszko National Park. The subdued topography of this open grassy plain in Northern Kosciuszko presents a marked contrast to the 2000 metre whaleback mountains and alpine ridges of Southern Kosciuszko. On a recent trip to Northern Kosciuszko we camped at the Long Plain Hut and also hiked in to Hainsworth Hut, an old grazing hut, via the Mosquito Creek Trail.

by Glenn Burns

Long Plain in autumn
Long Plain in autumn: headwaters of the Murrumbidgee River

Long Plain, in Kosciuszko NP, is one of the many high frost plains between the Brindabellas and Kiandra, all mostly above 1300 metres. These are called frost hollows or cold air drainage basins and are naturally occurring treeless plains formed when cold heavy air drains into depressions along the valleys of creeks and rivers. The pooling of frosty air suppresses the growth of tree seedlings and consequently the plains are bereft of trees, even the amazingly hardy snowgums. Instead, the snowgums and black sallees grow on the ridges above the valleys: thus an inverted treeline.

Inverted Treeline: Nth Kosciuszko
Inverted Treeline: Nth Kosciuszko

Long Plain is, as its name implies, a long plain. About 30 kilometres in length between Peppercorn Hill in the north and Bullocks Hill to the south, this is an immense open grassland drained by the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee River or Murrumbeeja. Its European discoverer was Charles Throsby Smith who, in March 1821, followed the Molonglo River to its junction with the Murrumbidgee, close to the present site of Canberra.  Seventy kilometres south-west of Canberra, the Murrumbidgee rises on Long Plain in an amphitheatre formed by the apex of the Fiery Range and the Gurrangorambla Range, near Peppercorn Hill. From here it initially  flows south-south-west following the line of the Long Plain Fault, a major structural feature extending from about 25 kilometres north of Brindabella, through Kiandra to just west of Mt Kosciuszko. The plain is bounded by the Fiery Range to the west and, a few kilometres to the east, a line of 1600 metre peaks: Mt Nattung 1618m, Whites Hill 1597m, and Skaines Mountain 1601m.

Source: Dept. National Dev. Long Plain Geology
Source: Dept. National Dev. Long Plain Geology

  Long Plain’s open grassland vistas, a cultural heritage of grazing huts, interesting bird sightings and the possibility of spotting wombats, dingoes and brumbies make for a great walking and camping experience. Any time between October and May is a good time to visit but access gates are locked in winter as snowfalls blanket these high plains. Other northern frost plains worth investigating include Coolamon, Tantangara, Gooandra, Boggy, Dairymans and Currango.

Long Plain: 1:250K
Long Plain: 1:250K

We had fine warm days and a coolish night for our March overnight trip into Hainsworth Hut. It is an easy walk following the Mosquito Creek Trail which obligingly contours along the lower edge of the sub-alpine woodland for most of the way. The woodland was typical snowgum-black sallee dominant with an understorey of shrubs and snowgrass.

Mosquito Creek Fire Trail
Mosquito Creek Fire Trail

Conveniently placed logs provided opportunities to perch and spy on the local birds. The usual high country customers appeared in due course: Wedgetails, Red Wattlebirds, Crimson Rosellas, Ravens and Flame Robins among the more obvious.

Flame Robin
Flame Robin

Although horse riding and mountain bike riding are permitted on the Mosquito Creek Trail we weren’t bothered by either. But the pyramids of horse poo, hoof marks and tributary brumby pads attested to the presence of horses, wild or otherwise. This was borne out in the number of entries in the hut log book mentioning brumby sightings and horse riders clip-clopping in from Ghost Gully or Cooinbil Hut.

Photo Gallery

The vast majority of visitors come in summer. I found my old entry from a Kiandra to Canberra trip in May 2012: this was the onset of winter and virtually no-one came through after our party until five months later, the spring thaw in October. But our current trip was in early autumn and the weather was brilliantly fine but leavened with a sneaky alpine breeze. We pitched our two-man Salewa on the cropped grass and had a very comfortable night under canvas. The general rule is that huts should only be used for emergencies in bad weather.

Hainsworth Hut
Hainsworth Hut on Dip Creek

 Hainsworth was one of a string of grazing huts built along Long Plain. Others included Long Plain Hut, Millers Hut, Jannets(ruin), Cooinbil, Peppercorn (ruin), Little Peppercorn(ruin) and Pethers (ruin). Klaus Hueneke in his well researched and interesting reference book Huts of the High Country estimates that there could have been up to 20 huts across the plain at the peak of grazing. For the mountain hut afficionados among you I can recommend books or articles written by Klaus Hueneke and the Kosciuszko Huts Association website. Hainsworth or Landrover Hut is a simple two-roomer, a bedroom and a kitchen. It was built in about 1951 by Hainsworth and Corkhill as a summer grazing hut. It is clad in corrugated iron, has two doors and two hatch windows, an open fireplace and solid wooden floor. Like most of the high country huts it is well sited: sheltered from westerly winds, close to a supply of water and timber, with magnificent views over grassy flats and a morning sun aspect allowing the hut’s inhabitants to thaw out. Hainsworth Hut has an excellent location overlooking the grassy flats of Dip Creek.

Dip Creek below Hainsworth Hut
Dip Creek below Hainsworth Hut

Recently I read Miles Franklin’s Childhood at Brindabella which is recommended reading for all high country enthusiasts. Stella (Miles) Franklin was born at Lampe Homestead, a grazing property at Talbingo near Tumut in 1897. She went on to write 21 Australian books. Miles Franklin spent the first ten years of her life at Brindabella only 50 kilometres to the north east from Hainsworth Hut. Childhood at Brindabella is an excellent snapshot of the life and the landscapes of Northern Kosciuszko and the nearby Brindabella Ranges at the turn of the 20th century.

Miles Franklin Memorial, Tabingo, NSW
Miles Franklin Memorial, Tabingo, NSW

Sixty years ago the creek flats below us would have been alive with grazing sheep. A record in the log book by Bill Hainsworth’s daughter noted that up to 3000 sheep would graze around the hut and its environs. But we had to content ourselves with the lone fat and prosperous dingo that cruised along the treeline opposite our vantage point in the doorway of the hut. We watched for quite a while as it went about its doggy business scoping out various burrows and tunnels. Judging by the prevalence of rabbit burrows, our dingo would have no difficulty in getting a decent feed for tonight. In all my walks in the high country I have had only two previous encounters with this splendid apex predator, a subspecies of the grey wolf. My dingo bible, Laurie Corbett’s The Dingo in Australia and Asia, says that the alpine dingoes are a distinct subspecies, one of three in Australia. They feast on rabbit, wallaby, wombat with the occasional brumby foal thrown in as a special treat. They are actually quite lazy hounds, rarely travelling more than two kilometres a day and their territories are small ellipsoids, with the long axis only twelve kilometres in length.

Dingo
Purebred Dingo.

On dusk just as we were drifting off to sleep I heard an ever so light drumming of hooves outside the tent. I peered out through the Salewa’s nifty little plastic window. Below, on the creek’s edge, a mere hundred metres away, a solitary brumby drank from Dip Creek. In Australia, non-domestic horses are generally known as either brumbies or wild horses or feral horses. The term brumby is attributed to  James Brumby, who released his horses to run free on his land in NSW when he was transferred to Tasmania in the 1830’s. There is no doubt that horses have played an important part in Australia’s recent history as they have been involved in exploration, mining, racing, transportation, grazing and droving, and as part of the mounted police and Australian Light Horse Regiments.

Photo: Peter Fowler: Brumbies in Nth Kosciuszko
Photo: Peter Fowler: Brumbies in Nth Kosciuszko

So for most people a brumby sighting is always exciting. Australians have a great emotional attachment to horses, and I can relate to this. But the hard reality is that brumbies are feral horses, with the same status as foxes, cats, goats, deer and pigs. Thus, ecologically, they have no place in these fragile alpine ecosystems. In the Australian Capital Territory, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland they are culled, usually shot from helicopters, but in New South Wales and Victoria herds of these hayburners from hell cavort over the snowgrass plains with seeming impunity: brunching on the juiciest wildflowers, carving out innumerable tracks through the scrub and pugging alpine streams and swamps with their hooves. Numbers in Kosciuszko are currently well over 4000, and escalating each year.  In 2005 the Parks Service consulted with all stakeholders and  prepared a management plan: Horse Management Plan for Kosciuszko National Park :

Click to access KNPHorseManagementPlanFinal08.pdf

The recent approach adopted by the NSW Parks Service has been trapping the brumbies then removal from the park. Not all that effective as I have observed me from my extensive walks in Kosciuszko. It seems to me that trapping is the only workable solution in that it balances conservation of alpine ecosystems and the desire on the part of horse lovers to maintain their high country grazing heritage. A great read about all these issues can be found in Australian Geographic Vol 130. Written by Amanda Burdon with photographs by Jason Edwards, it is the best summary that I have read thus far. Subscribers to Aust Geog can login to the site to read full article but Jason’s photos are available at the following link: Photo Gallery.

Brumby Trap on Cascade Trail
Brumby Trap on Cascade Trail

Saturday dawned fine and cool. Ideal conditions to putter back along the Mosquito Creek Trail to our ute, still standing unmolested under a grove of shady snowgums at Ghost Gully. After a gourmet meal of crusty bread, cheese, cheesy Ched biscuits and lemon barley cordial we made tracks for the Long Plain Campground.

Long Plain Hut
Long Plain Hut

The hut occupies a beautiful spot in a stand of gnarled old snow gums and sallees, overlooking Long Plain. It is accessible by 2WDs and has a day use area and two very pleasant low key campgrounds; one for car camping and one for horse camping. The spacious horse camp, on a small knoll, has its own set of horse yards with a stream nearby. This is where we camp.

Campsite at Long Plain Hut
Campsite at Long Plain Hut

Unregulated grazing started on Long Plain as early as 1830 and by 1900 there were 22 large snow leases in the high country. In 1909 Arthur Triggs of Yass leased a big chunk of the plain, about 28,300 hectares. Later, when the lease was subdivided, a Dr Albert Campbell of Ellerslie Station, Adelong obtained several thousand hectares of the old Long Plain Lease. In 1916 he had this sturdy weatherboard grazing homestead built by Bobby Joyce. The timber was milled at Jack Dunn’s sawmill at nearby Cumberland Mountain and drayed to the site by Peter Quinn of Kiandra.

Like nearby Coolamine Homestead, Pockets Hut and Old Currango it is a far more substantial structure than most of the pokey summer grazing huts. It is a massive 13 metre x 7 metre building consisting of a central hall, four large rooms clad with tongue and groove, four windows, a partly-enclosed back verandah and two fireplaces. During its first winter the shingles on the roof split and were eventually replaced by corrugated iron. It was variously known as Campbell’s, Dr Campbell’s, Oddy’s and Ibbotson’s, depending on who occupied the hut. The final occupants were Jessie and Fred Bridle, fencing workers who lived in the hut in the 1960’s.

Long Plain was also the focus for rabbit trapping and shooting as well as gold mining. Rabbit trappers lived in the Long Plain hut during the depression years of the 1930s when rabbits had reached plague proportions across much of Australia. Rabbiting provided a source of income during the depression.

Source: Phyllis Dowling Collection.Rabbit skins drying on verandah of Long Plain hut. Circa 1939
Source: Phyllis Dowling Collection. Rabbit skins drying on verandah of Long Plain hut. Circa 1939.

 Another activity on Long Plain was gold mining. Joseph York worked a small mine just to the north of Long Plain hut until his death in 1898. Later operators of the mine were Tom Williams ( in the early 1900s), Tom Taylor and Bill Harris in the 1930s. These pioneers are remembered in the naming if two creeks just north of the hut: Yorkies Creek and Taylors Creek.

More Reading:

Australian Alps Liaison Committee: Explore the Australian Alps. 2007

Green, K and Osborne, W: Field Guide to Wildlife of Australia’s snow-country.

Hueneke, Klaus: Closer to Heaven: Aust. Geog.93.

Smith, B: Dingo relationships: Wildlife in Australia.Spring 2009.

Dept. Nat. Dev. Geological Excursions: Canberra District. 1964.

Kiandra to Kosciuszko

Final Title Kiandra to Kossie SCBC WP
Photo: Ross Thompson

By Glenn Burns

The 130 kilometre, 10 day, Kiandra to Kosciuszko walk is the premier alpine walk of mainland Australia. It traverses the highest and most scenic of our subalpine and alpine landscapes, all of it above 1500 metres. While it is, for the most part, a thoroughly enjoyable walk, it is very exposed. Summer conditions are generally benign but even a beautiful summer’s day can change, with storms, sleet and snow sweeping over in the space of a few hours. Being caught out in a summer thunderstorm on the Main Range is an experience I recommend you avoid.

Kiandra to Kosciuszko

Kiandra to Kosciuszko was originally conceived as a ski touring route in July 1927 between the Kiandra gold fields and Perisher Valley’s Kosciuszko Hotel built in 1909. This was accomplished in three days by four members of the Ski Club of Australia. The modern bushwalking route which we followed was, with some off-track variations, basically along the line of the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) and included climbs of some of Australia’s highest peaks:

Jagungal(2061m),Gungartan(2068m),Anderson(1997m),Anton(2010m),Twynam(2196m),Carruthers(2145M),Townsend(2209m) and the highest of all,the mighty Mt Kosciuszko(2228m).

As well, it traverses the very scenic and open alpine ridges of the Kerries and the Rolling Grounds. My long suffering and ever helpful companions on this high country adventure were  Sam, John, Lyn, Joe, Ross and Linda. They may have been disconcerted at the cold, wet and windy conditions at our Kiandra trail head, but if they had any thoughts of abandoning ship and returning to Canberra with my  son Alex, they kept quiet and  wandered off disconsolately into the damp gloom.

Photo: Alex Burns: A cold wet start.
Photo: Alex Burns: A cold wet start.

Photo Gallery: A selection of photos taken by fellow walker Lyn Hewitt:

The Weather:

Overall enjoyment of this extended 10 day walk was always going to depend on the vagaries of the weather. Happily for this leader, we got very lucky. While planning the walk a check of Snowy Mountains online climate statistics suggested eight rain days for November, with average falls up to 150mm along the Main Range. Anticipated average temperatures on the Main Range were maximums of 12°C and minimums of 2.6°C. As it turned out the only difficult day was our first. A salutary awakening for our high country new chums. As we popped out of a cosy people mover, freezing drizzle (6°C) whipped into our faces, propelled along by 40 kph wind gusts. By my reckoning a wind chill temperature of about -8°C. Welcome to high country bushwalking. But hey, no swarms of those infernal biting horse flies, aka Vampire Flies that have plagued us on previous high country walks.

Friends on the Grey Mare Trail
Still friends.. on the Grey Mare Trail

By way of a total contrast, in early December 2006 on an earlier trip, we started at the same Kiandra trail head with temperatures hovering in the low thirties, gusting northerlies and an enveloping smoke haze from bushfires raging south of Kosciuszko. The area has about 100 days annually of high to extreme fire danger and is one of the most fire prone areas in the world.  Vast swathes of Kosciuszko’s sub alpine zone had been burnt out in 2003. Since then the dominant snow gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora spp. niphophila) have been suckering vigorously from their lignotubers forming a dense woodland community that is sometimes difficult to push through.

This time frosts greeted us most mornings followed by superb walking conditions with very pleasant rambling temperatures averaging out at 12°C. A surprising number of large snow banks persisted as we climbed onto the high Kerries Ridge, the Rolling Grounds and Main Range. But these presented no real difficulties to our passage as the surface ice had usually softened by mid morning and was safe to walk over.

Early morning frost on our tent.
Early morning frost on our tent.

Our penultimate day along the crest of the Main Range was a tad problematic. Although conditions were fine and clear, blustery westerlies ripped over the tops gusting up to 75 kph (severe gale). Nowhere to hide in this lot and certainly no possibility of erecting tents. Surprising as it may seem, I had a plan. A drop into Wilkinson Valley for our overnight camp or as a last resort, a long detour to Seamans Hut. The decision made easier for me by four young through walkers who claimed that conditions were infinitely calmer in the Wilkinson. Not quite, but reasonable enough behind some granite boulders.

Clothing:

I was conscious of the reality that even in summer there have been cases of hypothermia or exposure in Australia’s high country. Just in case you think that talk about hypothermia is a bit overblown, read this comment from the Bushwalking Australia website about a ‘summer’ experience:

“I was caught out the first time I camped up on the Main Range (just under the Abbotts, on the Wilkinson Ck side – Christmas morning I woke up to strong winds, thick cloud and heavy snow. By the time I crossed the creek the stuff was six inches deep. By the time I reached Rawson Pass, more than half the walkway was hidden by a foot of snow; much deeper in places. It was snowing on and off all day, even in Thredbo, but even while I was walking out and down, there were people going up on the chairlifts in shorts and t shirts.”

Still not convinced? How about this recent Manly Sea Eagles summer boot camp at Thredbo one month after our trip when a 25 kilometre hike ended with a trainer being shipped off Mt Kosciuszko with a serious dose of hypothermia. A storm generating a wind chill of -10°C swept in and the hike was called off after only seven kilometres. To quote one player:

“If we didn’t leave we would have got smashed and there is no way we would have survived”.

Apparently even designer Manly Sea Eagle footy shorts, socks, skins, caps and rain jackets weren’t up to this job. Perhaps the final word should go to Willie Mason who described the experience as “…6 hours of hell.”

Phoito Bradley Hunter: Manly Sea Eagles on Kosciuszko
Photo: Bradley Hunter: Manly Sea Eagles on Kosciuszko

 Hypothermia is entirely preventable, needing appropriate food and clothing. Members of our party ferried along boat loads of clothing for layering: typically thermal undergarments, rain jackets, rain pants, beanies and gloves. To my mind the jury is out on non-proofed down jackets: I prefer a thick windproof polar fleece jacket if conditions are going to be cold wet rather than cold dry. Add to this a good quality -5°C sleeping bag and you will sleep snug. Mostly. For several nights I bunked down in my sleeping bag with four top layers, a beanie, thermal longs and rain pants to stay snug. But when caught out in the wet cold stuff, my advice is: head for the nearest hut.

Photo: Joe Kirkpatrick: Rugged up walkers on Gungartan.
Photo: Joe Kirkpatrick: Well rugged up walkers on Gungartan

Huts:

Given the potential for bouts of foul weather I arranged overnighters at old grazing/mining huts each night, until the Main Range, where there are only two shelters. Neither of these was on our line of travel. The huts are dingy and basic but all provide a fireplace or cast iron stove and firewood; great bolt holes in an emergency. We always cut our own firewood using bush saws and Joe stepped up as chief stoker to ensure a toasty fire every ‘hut’ night. On some evenings, meals over, fire banked, we settled in for some reading or an evening of TED on the Trail  presented by Sam and Lyn. Health lectures on creepy diseases that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

Gathering firewood was a group imperative and everyone fanned out from the huts bringing back cart loads of firewood.  John even clambered up into dead snow gums, bush saw in free hand to harvest the larger limbs. On our north-south traverse we pulled into Four Mile Hut, Happys Hut, Brooks Hut, Mackeys Hut, O’Keefes Hut, Derschkos Hut, Grey Mare Hut, Valentines Hut, Mawsons Hut and Whites River Hut. Much of the upkeep and restoration of these huts is done by various ski clubs and the Kosciuszko Huts Association whose website has a wealth of information about high country huts.

Whites River Hut
Whites River Hut

Navigation:

Sections of the walk follow marked fire trails (Tabletop, Grey Mare, Valentines and Schlinks) where one would be hard pressed to get lost as long as you have a decent map and a modicum of spatial awareness. Going off track, in poor visibility, is a different proposition. Thus walkers venturing out in mist or sleet/snow must be proficient navigators. A map and compass is a must have and a GPS with preloaded waypoints is invaluable in such conditions. It is worth knowing that your GPS batteries won’t fail in the cold.  In 2006 I got caught out on the Kerries Ridge in dense cold mist. My journal of the time records:

“Unfortunately the mist closed in again and our afternoon was spent slowly compassing in a pea soup mist from rock to rock…Brian and Andy fossicked ahead while Di and I bellowed directions before they vanished from view…By 3.00pm a GPS check located us a disappointing two kilometres short of our objective, Gungartan. Brian made the sensible, inevitable decision to abandon ship and we exited downhill to the Schlink Hilton.”

IMGP0518
The Kerries Ridge in fine weather.

For this trip, as leader, I hauled along ten laminated strip maps at 1:25000 scale as well as a 1:50000 Rooftop Map covering the whole of Kosciuszko. My photocopied notes from the excellent Chapman et el guidebook: “Australian Alps Walking Track”  while being the go-to guidebook, it reads south to north. As this took reverse deciphering  I only dipped into the notes for the historical information and occasional navigation issues. Ross and Joe had GPSs with hut locations as waypoints and, ever cautious,  I had my Android phone preloaded with geo-referenced and detailed 1:25000 map files.

For the GPS geeks among us, help is at hand. Every square centimetre, every pixel of the AAWT has been waypointed, track logged, geocached, and route marked to within a whisker of its digital life and a number of bushwalking websites provide this data free.

 Geeking
Geeking

River crossings:

As anticipated, the spring thaw peak flows had waned by early November. By my reckoning only the Tumut, Tooma and Geehi Rivers and maybe Valentines and Back Creeks would be a challenge. Leaving aside our self inflicted rogue croc circus, the crossings proved a doddle. On arriving at a river Ross, John and Joe would wander thither and yon, upstream and downstream until a potential crossing was located. Then we would scuttle across, one after the other, leaping from boulder to boulder. Hopefully arriving at the opposite bank in mostly dry boots and socks.

Forward scout Joe negotiates the Valentine.
Forward scout Joe negotiates the Valentine.

Landscapes:

Our traverse of the Kosciuszko Plateau took in a major chunk of the Australian Alps Bioregion, the only truly alpine environment in NSW as well as the only part of the Australian mainland to have experienced Pleistocene glaciations. Over our 10 days we started off by crossing the subalpine woodland landscapes of Kiandra, Happy Jacks Plain and the Jagungal Wilderness and then climbed onto the exposed alpine ridges of the Kerries, the Rolling Grounds and finally the Main Range.

The ‘alpine’ landscapes of the Australian Alps are obviously quite different to those of the Himalayas or New Zealand’s Southern Alps in that they are much lower, flatter and rounded. Kosciusko National Park is predominately a rolling plateau surface, the remnants of a low mountain chain resulting from the splitting of the Australian plate from Gondwana and Zealandia.  Splitting is a much more muted tectonic force than the crustal collisions that are, as we speak, thrusting up the Himalayas and the Southern Alps. The lack of significant alpine peaks is also attributable to the small extent of the Kosciuszko ice cap at glacial maximums during the Pleistocene. That said, the winter snow fields of Australia cover an area of 11,500 square kilometres, said to be greater than the combined snowfields of the European Alps.

Main Range landscape
Main Range landscape

Our first four days took us across subalpine woodland interspersed with open grasslands. This zone has a continuous snow cover for one to four months and minimum temperatures below freezing for six months. Typically it lies in a tight zone between 1450 metres and 1850 metres. Here the mainly basaltic ridgelines and slopes are dominated by snow gum re-growth with a dense understorey of prickly shrubs. The snow gums are usually stunted, multi-stemmed and gnarled close to the alpine zone but are taller and straighter lower down where they form an association with another hardy eucalypt, the black sally.

Photo: Lyn Hewitt: Snowgum woodland.
Photo: Lyn Hewitt: Snowgum woodland.

But the most striking feature of the subalpine landscape is the extensive treeless grasslands found in the valley floors. Immense treeless plains form because of the pooling of cold air which rolls off the high ridgelines and ponds in the valleys on cold frosty nights. These low points are known as frost hollows. The valley floors often are also areas of impeded drainage hence can be wet and decidedly boggy. Camping there anytime but high summer is not recommended.

Happy Jacks Plain
Happy Jacks Plain

The second half of our walk was truly alpine in the zone above the treeline, found above 1850 metres. A landscape of frost shattered granite boulders and alpine meadows, technically, tall alpine herbfields. Where special conditions apply there are also small pockets of heath, bog and the windswept feldmarks. The tall alpine herbfields are botanically very rich, rivalling in diversity and showiness similar communities in the European Alps, Southern Alps and Rocky Mountains. It was one of the great pleasures of this walk to amble through vast herbfields of Silver Snow Daisies, yellow Everlastings, Snow Grass, glossy yellow Buttercups and the conspicuous Australian Gentians.

A field of Pale Everlastings
A field of  Pale Everlastings.

Over the last few days I was able to check out the glacial landforms of the Main Range. These are relics of the Pleistocene glaciations when an ice cap and valley glaciers covered a small area of the Main Range of about 20 sq km to a depth of maybe 100 metres.  In the area between Mt Twynam and Mt Kosciuszko it wasn’t difficult to identify obvious landforms like cirques, lateral and terminal moraines, hummocky moraine dumps, U-shaped valleys and glacial lakes. But with the wind flapping our ears around there was no temptation to chase down the more cryptic features like glacial striations, polished rock surfaces, roches moutonnes and boulder erratics.

Photo Ross Thompson: Club Lake
Photo Ross Thompson: Club Lake

Useful Info:

Maps:

CMA: 1:25000: Cabramurra, Denison, Tantangara, Toolong Range, Jagungal, Geehi Dam, Perisher Valley.

Rooftop Maps: 1:50000: Kosciuszko National Park.

Books and Articles:

 J. Chapman et el: Australian Alps Walking Track (Chapman 2009).

Geehi Bushwalking Club: Snowy Mountains Walks (GBC 2001).

J. Child: Australian Alpine Life (Landsowne Press, 1969).

K Hueneke: Kiandra to Kosciuszko (Tabletop Press, 1989).  A great resource!!

K. Hueneke: Closer to Heaven (Aust. Geog. Jan-Mar, 2009).

A. Jamieson: Adventure in the Alps  (Aust. Geog. May-June 2015).

D.G. Moye (ed): Historic Kiandra ( the Cooma-Monaro Historical Soc., 1959).

J.L.Davies: Landforms of Cold Climates (ANU Press, 1969).