Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
Australia and New Zealand - January through March, 2003In 2003, I spent two months in Australia and one in New Zealand. What follows are my journal entries. The comments in square brackets were comments from my emails rather than entries in my journal.
January (mostly mainland Australia)
February (mostly Tasmania)
March (mostly New Zealand)
Monday, January 6 – leaving Boston
I left what seems to be the snowiest winter in years without having once managed to ski or snowshoe. Oh well. No complaints, just somewhat ironic. I’m also going to miss the incredible transformations my niece and nephew will go through over the next few months. But, I’ll be back in April and will be able to catch up with the entire family then.
Of course, it was snowing when I left and though the deicers were working quickly in the windy conditions, half the spray was blowing away from the plane rather than onto it. I had to agree with a fellow passenger who proclaimed that they would hate to have that job.
With the necessary deicing, we took off 30 minutes late. But, our expected airtime was 45 minutes faster than scheduled.
My first flight was great. There were lots of empty seats and I managed to get an exit row seat so I had room to stretch out my legs. I was also right near a small beverage galley and the flight attendant there soon realized that every time he was pouring for someone else, he should pour for me as well. I was going to do my best to stay well hydrated on these long flights.
We landed in San Francisco half an hour earlier than scheduled. I passed a "Lori's Diner" and thought of my sister, Lori. She’s a foodie and would appreciate the name.
It was eerie walking between terminals. I was the only one making that particular trek along those mostly deserted corridors. It was even more strange to encounter a barrier along the way. But there was a guard stationed there who let me through. Apparently they were just preventing the international passengers from entering the domestic terminal. I guess the other direction is OK – you’ll be leaving the country, after all.
It's 9:00pm and feels like midnight. I'm trying to stay awake for a while longer. My next flight is 14.5 hours and arrives on the morning of January 8th. I lose an entire day going to Australia. In a weird twist, on my way home, I leave San Francisco for Boston BEFORE I leave Australia for San Francisco. Temporal disturbance? Time travel? No, just the peculiarities of traveling across the International Date Line.
Tuesday, January 7 – Honolulu, Hawaii
Check the date. There weren't supposed to be any entries today. It's now 9:45am in Boston and I'm sitting in the plane on the tarmac in Honolulu, Hawaii. My flight was not supposed to stop here. We had already passed Hawaii at 32,000’ en route from San Francisco to Sydney but about 45 minutes after we passed Hawaii, we had a medical emergency on board. My seat, located near the galley, was the focal point. We could see a gentleman being fussed over and given oxygen. A couple of other passengers were also fussing and we suspect they had identified themselves as doctors. An announcement was made that we were turning back to Honolulu. They expected us to land, have a medical team take the man off the plane, and then take off again in an hour.
It turns out the man had a stroke. By the time we landed, we ended up having a total of three medical emergencies on board the plane. The stroke victim was the most serious and disembarked. One of the other two was most likely just dehydrated. He stayed on. I'm not sure about the situation with the third emergency.
I have to give credit to everyone on board the aircraft. I didn’t see sign of anyone complaining about the delay in our already long flight. That remained true even as we landed and were told to remain in our seats so the medical teams could move about the plane easily.
Interestingly, because they couldn’t resupply in Hawaii, they announced some reasonable conservation suggestions such as reusing our cups. With the delay, we’re going through more supplies than expected as our time on the plane has been extended rather dramatically. Two hours later, at about 11:00am Boston time, we’re just being pushed back from the terminal. We are about 1/3 the way from San Francisco to Sydney.
Regardless of the fact that I was one of the first people in line and had called well in advance, I'm extremely cramped sitting in a "regular" row in the middle of three seats with no extra leg room. The flight attendant had to get involved when I asked the man in front of me to refrain from putting his seat back during the flight. I literally cannot sit in my seat with the seat in front of me in anything but full upright position. I would be happy to switch seats but there isn’t a single empty seat on the plane. Thankfully, both neighbors in my row are friendly and understanding. When one of us gets up, we all make a point of getting up to move around and take bathroom breaks.
Wednesday, January 8, 2003 – Honolulu to Sydney
We finally arrived in Sydney at 12:30 - FOUR hours later than scheduled. We had spent a total of 19 hours on the airplane from SF to OZ. Many of us missed our connections.
Most of the 30-40 people being rescheduled on flights to Melbourne were leaving that night and arriving at 11:30pm. During the day, they were being put up in a local hotel by the airline. I thought to ask that if they were paying for the hotel anyway, could I stay the night and get to Melbourne the next day. They agreed and scheduled me for my original flight just one day later. That meant I wouldn't have to wander Melbourne late at night looking for a hostel. Plus, I would have the afternoon and evening to explore Sydney.
Lo and behold, I made my way to the baggage claims area only to discover my baggage hadn't made it. Well, I wasn't going to worry about it. I figured it would most likely catch up with me the next day in Melbourne. In the meantime, I had what I needed for the next day or so and could make my way unencumbered to the hotel in the 34 degree heat (90+F).
So, I went to the hotel to get settled. I got there in time for a lunch that I wasn't very hungry for. But, I ate some anyway. It was delicious. Pumpkin soup, Chicken, rice, veggies, and crème broulee for dessert. Most of the other passengers then crashed in their rooms. I got directions for the bus downtown. I was told to take the airport express ($7 each way or $12 return) but when I got to the bus stop, a "local" corrected my ways and got me on the much cheaper regular city bus. She even showed me where to change buses at the Central Railway.
My first destination was the Circular Quay, better know as the place with the Opera House. The first thing that came into view was the bridge - often compared to a coat hanger. I could see the tour groups of people who pay a lot of money to walk over the top of the arch.
As I continued walking along the Quay, I noticed large bronze plaques in the sidewalk. They were part of a writer's walk and each had quotes from a single author relating something about Australia. The first one I read seemed particularly relevant to me so I took a picture. Then I noticed some other smaller plaques embedded in the walk. There were two different styles. They denoted the original shoreline of the area. It reminded me of some artwork in Boston at Fanieul hall that also showed the original shoreline.
Continuing on, I rounded a bend to see the Opera House impressively laid out in front of me. I got up close and could see the impressive tiling of the roof. I believe the tiles were from Italy. I took some pictures of the opera house and the nearby coat hanger bridge which can be climbed for a hefty fee.
The weather had been very hot but the wind was freshening and the clouds were building. It had been 38c (~100f) that morning but was down to 34 and dropping during the day. There were a few raindrops starting to come down but they were intermittent. Looking back over the city, however, I could see lightning. I kept checking the bridge and was really surprised to see the groups were not making any apparent effort to descend. That was certainly a very high exposed place and I wouldn't want to be up there during an electrical storm. Yikes!
I took the walk along the water towards my next stop, the Visitor Center in the Rocks. Along the way, there were ibis on the lawn. The Rocks is an area settled by some of the earliest visitors who built their houses into the rocks. The Info folks gave me the info I needed to find the best bus back to my hotel, as the ones going directly there would be stopping early. A store selling Australian handicrafts sidetracked me.
I started walking the streets and started up Argyle street to go to the bridge only to get "trapped" under the overpass as a deluge let loose from the sky. I was the only one that took refuge there while a few others, soaked to the bone, kept walking. After a while, the storm let up a bit but it was still raining. Thankfully, it had cooled off so I took out my rain jacket and wore that. I seemed to be the only person so attired in the town. Most people with rain protection had umbrellas but with the heat, I couldn't blame them. I tried hanging around a bit longer but the rain had gotten steady and no breaks were in site. I started back to my hotel.
I had no problems getting to the correct bus and the driver was friendly and giving me tips for around town. He let me off and pointed me in the right direction to get back to my hotel. Thankfully it had stopped raining. As I walked, I was passing a house as a van left off two people and was about to keep going. I noticed the lettering on the van said "THE WORD Backpacking Australia". It turns out the driver, Brad, was involved with the local backpacker freebie magazine (editor?). He stopped and gave me one from the back of the van. We chatted for a few minutes and then he offered me a ride to the hotel. I was ready to be off my feet again so that was great.
Back at the hotel, I cleaned up and went down to dinner, a fantastic buffet included in the hotel package. I only wish I had been hungrier. The buffet included a miniature Mongolian barbecue type section, a bunch of preprepared hot foods include T-bone steaks, Tasmanian smoked salmon, oysters on the half shell, crab, peel and eat prawns, a cheese and veggie plate, bread, a dessert bar, and more.
Thursday, January 9 – Sydney to Melbourne
I woke up a bit early, but still managed to get a solid 7 hours of sleep. I thought to grab the extra shampoo and conditioner on the chance I don’t reunite with my luggage today. Breakfast was another "all you can eat" meal. It was extensive with a fruit and yogurt bar, a cereal bar, a hot selection that reminded me of a typical British breakfast, complete with roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, and baked beans in addition to eggs and bacon. Once again, I was wishing I had a better appetite.
I had an uneventful check-in at the airport where they still couldn’t tell me where my backpack was. They were expecting it would make it onto my flight, though. My flight to Melbourne was uneventful and once again, I got the exit row. Much to my relief, my backpack arrived on my flight with me and was intact. Phew!
Getting to the city was a cinch. My first choice hostel was full but the one across the street, The International Backpacker Hostel, had space. It was cheaper, very clean, large, and very secure. All rooms, shared by maybe six people, had card entry, as did the bathrooms. I can't imagine my first choice could be better.
I dumped my stuff and made my way to St. Kilda Beach. I walked along the beach, got my feet wet, and eventually stopped to watch the kiteboarders. They use airfoils for propulsion while riding small surfboard/waterski type boards. The aerobatics they do are amazing!
Swollen ankles and an afternoon spent on my feet walking by the beach, notwithstanding, I freshened up at the hostel, grabbed my dance shoes, skirt, and T-shirt at the hostel before heading out for the evening. Not sure where I was going to end up, I started at the Internet cafe where I typed in my last journal entry. From there, I went in search of any of the small food establishments I had passed all day on the street. It was 7:30pm and they were all closed. Argh! So, I started walking the few remaining blocks to the dance and of all the little restaurants, only McDonald's was open. Argh! Well, my focus for the evening was going to be the dance or a movie so I just grabbed a quick bite, avoiding the local specialty that puts "beet root" (a.k.a. beets) on the burgers. The meal was about the same as anything I could expect in a Boston McDonalds.
So, just down the street from the McDonalds at 12 McKillop Street was the CBD nightclub advertising A$8 martinis. Hmm, not quite the scene I was looking for, but I wasn't going to pass judgment just yet. I got there around 8:00pm and was pleasantly surprised to find a very low-key atmosphere, no cover, and a friendly crowd. An intermediate lesson was in progress. I watched for a few minutes, liked what I saw, and then changed into my T-shirt and dances shoes, but not bothering with the skirt for this casual crowd.
The lesson was going through a set sequence, most of which was "leadable" so I just concentrated on the few moves done individually to try to catch up and managed to mostly do so in just a few minutes.
I managed to dance probably half the dances that evening. More towards the beginning of the evening, but later, I just got too tired. The swing was similar to Boston area styling with just a few regional differences that were easy enough to catch onto in just a dance or two. The level of dancing was quite good with a good mix of fairly new people and instructor types. It was a small crowd compared to the typical Boston scene, but you still had to be careful on the dance floor.
Many of the dancers were asking if I was in Australia for the Stevie Mitchell dance camp. Many of them were going. Small world. While I wasn't going to the camp, I know of similar camps in the US and believe I've been to dances with Stevie Mitchell.
Friday, January 10 – Melbourne
I spent much of this day trying to get my travel plans organized. I spent a lot of time on-line and on the phone. Quite unexpectedly, it costs a lot less to call long-distance from OZ to the US than it does to call long-distance within the US. Phone card rates are generally between 1.5 to 5 cents per minute US to call. I had some fun surprising family with a phone call.
In the evening, I met up with Mark S., a BackpackGearTest lister. We walked and talked for a while. He showed me the street with all of the outfitters in City Centre, conveniently located, mostly on one street. We stopped for coffee/hot chocolate and managed to close the early closing establishment. Back at the hostel, I pulled out some of my lightweight and BackpackGearTest gear to show him. Getting together for coffee quickly turned into five hours of chatting. Perhaps we'll meet again when I'm back in town in February.
Mark managed to confirm something I had observed on the streets. I noticed quite a few cars pulling right to make a left turn, or pulling left to make a right turn. Turns out, they're doing it by LAW. Where the trams run down the street, the cars do this to wait for a safe time to cross. If they don't get across while the light is green, those cars "stuck" in the intersection may then continue with their turn - legally. I can just imagine the first time Americans encounter that particular situation. Yikes!!!
Saturday, January 11, 2003 – Melbourne
I took the free Circular Tram that circles the City Center to give me a better idea of what else was around. Did a bunch of walking around the city. I visited all of the outfitters that Mark had pointed out to me last night. In this area, there are mostly a bunch of small shops rather than the large outfitters I’m used to visiting at home. I visited Federation Square, walked across the Yarra River and then along the Yarra for a short distance.
The highlight of the day was the free concert in Fitzroy Gardens, a large city park complete with stage. It's summer here and they've got a free concert series in the evenings. My hostel roommate, Elizabeth, joined me and we walked on down. The band played quite a mix of latin, jazz, funk, and more. At one point they played a swing tune and a couple of people got up to dance. Knowing that tomorrow’s concert was going to be swing with a lesson beforehand, when they finished, I approached them and asked what to expect. Rather than the free concert, they pointed me to a dance at another nearby establishment, Mayfield’s on Smith Street. There, a 14-piece band would be playing for a $5 cover.
As it got dark, the concertmaster warned us about the possums that would be out and about in the park as darkness fell. He also gave fair warning to those sitting under the trees. By the time the concert ended at 9:30, it was dark.
Sure enough, during the walk out of the park, there were possums everywhere. We first saw one in a small tree munching contentedly on leaves. I stopped and pulled out my camera to take a picture and before I could put the camera to my face, there were two other possums trying to get into my pack. Bold little critters! When I picked up my pack, they investigated my feet looking for goodies.
It was easy to take what I hope will be good pictures. Some even stayed still long enough for red-eye reduction flash. But, I’m sure their eyes will still glow. I even got a shot of a mother with her nearly fully grown baby on her back. Very cute!
These possums are not the same as the ones we have in New England. These are Brushtail Possum and are endangered in Australia. They are cute, with faces rounder and softer than the rat-like faces of the New England possums and tails that are completely fur covered. Also, unlike the possums I routinely see in New England, these possums are very much alive, and I see very little evidence of possum road kill around town. People also seem very surprised to find that we have possum in America. They never realized that we have marsupials here in the US.
While trying to get pictures, another possum came over and tried climbing my leg. It probably thought I was a tree, or maybe it's used to being fed. But, in any case, I was not encouraging it. That being said, I did not get a picture of that one.
Sunday, January 12 – Melbourne
Having posted a notice and responded to notices posted on a board at the hostel, I was so far, unsuccessful in finding a ride out of town towards Adelaide via Great Ocean Road. I gave up and decided to schedule a tour to Adelaide and then on to Darwin. On a whim, I called one more number and found someone still looking for a rider for his station wagon. Cool! I now had a three-day ride to Adelaide. I spent two hours at the travel agency arranging a 10-day tour from Adelaide through central Australia to Darwin, and then flights to Cairns and Sydney.
The rest of my OZ trip seems mostly settled. (Itinerary)
Lunch with Elizabeth, followed by errands for both of us. I needed my watch batteries replaced and there was only one open watch repair shop in town. Thankfully, the proprietor was able to replace the batteries on the spot.
It's very hot today (high 30s), so we took in "Two Weeks Notice" to escape the heat, then grabbed an early dinner of pizza and headed back to the hostel and said good-bye. Elizabeth is headed to Sydney and I was headed for yet another dance. It was hot and with two other swing dance venues in town, there were only a few of us dancing to this great 14-piece band. Cover A$5 (=$2.50US).
Back at the hostel, I was leaving a message for the guy organizing our trip to Adelaide when one of the other riders walked in. I'm all set to go with him but there's some concern about the size of the car. They had intended to rent a wagon but ended up with a sedan. Could be tight. Then, I got another invite in my email. So, I'll be going one way or another to Adelaide tomorrow. Looking forward to the coastal trip and getting out of the city.
My dance wasn’t too far but given the heat, I grabbed a tram. The lesson was ending as I got there and most people did not stay. There were two other dance venues in town and most were going there. There ended up being only about six of us dancing to the 14-piece band for a $5 cover. Cheap!
Michael and Jan had just returned to Australia from five years in the US. Michael was preparing to teach West Coast Swing in Melbourne. Greg and Pat were there, too. Pat had given the earlier lesson and was also learning West Coast Swing to teach with Michael. There was no air conditioning in the building and it was so hot. After a while, we left to go to the park for the rest of the concert there. There were lots of people dancing there but I refrained. I tend to injure my knees when dancing on uneven surfaces.
As it got dark, we watched the huge fruit bats overhead and I could finally make out a few stars. One constellation seemed familiar. It took a second bit I finally identified it. It was Orion – upside down! I can’t wait to get away from city lights.
My newfound friends gave me a ride back to the hostel. It was around 10:00pm when I got back and called my ride to Adelaide to confirm my space in the car. I got no answer so I left a message indicating I left a note for Patrick, the guy in my hostel. As I hung up a guy looks questioning at me and asks, "Mara?" He had just gotten my message. What luck! We talked for a few minutes and he seemed like a really nice guy. Hopefully the others will be as nice. The only concern he had was the reservation changed from a wagon to a sedan. Our luggage may have to travel on our laps.
Then, I checked email and found response to the message I had left on the board. It sounded like one person looking for company. Not knowing if my response would get to him in time, I sent a short message and told him I would see him at the car rental place in the morning where he had proposed meeting. I just wanted to thank him for the response but intended to let him know I had found another ride.
I was hanging out in the dining room when Patrick came in. We talked for a while and I asked him if I should consider the other ride given the space concerns. I had no intentions of backing out of my agreement but if it offered them some relief and worked out for me; it could be a win-win situation. He said to feel free to check it out and if it seemed a good opportunity, I should go for it.
Monday, January 13, Melbourne to Apollo Bay
Up early and had a muffin and fruit cup for breakfast. I packed and caught up on my journal. I met Stuart at the Hertz rental place where he was renting a car whether or not he found another rider. He was definitely keen to have company but given the difference in price from one quarter to one half, I was still heading to the first ride offer. Then Stuart agreed to sweeten the deal so I’m still paying more than the first offer but not quite as much as half. As agreed upon the night before, I left a note for Patrick to tell him of the change in plans.
Getting out of town was pretty easy. It quickly transformed from city to brown fields with green wind windbreaks. The ride to Geelong and Torquay was uneventful. Then, we finally got on Great Ocean Road.
We got to a great overlook (near Angelsea?) and stopped to have lunch with a couple from Denver. They were caravanning from Sydney to Adelaide. Continuing on, we stopped for a sign that said historic arch. Turns out it was a cheesy looking wood arch over the road. We only figured that out after walking out on the beach looking for some sort of natural arch.
The drive around Atway range above Lorne was interesting. It was a eucalypt forest and not at all what I expected from the decorative (and smelly) eucalyptus I had seen in the US. The fern trees were amazing. Wes stopped to look at a wild cockatoo but it flew away when Stuart sneezed, his budding cold getting worse all day.
I finally took a turn at the wheel, something I hadn’t wanted to start doing in town. It’s the first time I had ever driven on the left side of the road in a car with the driver’s seat on the right side. I had to learn to shift a standard shift with my left hand and I was forever signaling my turns with the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal.
We settled into the hostels at Apollo Bay and went in search of koalas at Otway Point. The guide book indicates to not only watch out for koalas, but watch for other cars with occupants looking for koalas. Sure enough, we came across a family by the side of the road pointing into the trees. We stopped and joined them marveling at a mother and baby koala. We were all about to leave when I spotted another. Then we heard this deep pulsating and booming noise. It was yet more koalas in yet another direction though we never spotted those. Driving on, Stuart spotted another. We finally made our way to the lighthouse area only to find that it was closed so we took a walk to an overlook and got to see the lighthouse from a distance. On the way back, the wind started picking up and the clouds looked a bit ominous but things settled down when we got back to the trees. Driving out, Stuart spotted another koala, high up a tree directly overhead of the road. We stopped to gape and take a few more pictures.
Finally we moved on to out last stop of the day, Mait’s Rest, a short walk through a microclimate rainforest with massive trees and flora and fauna much different from what we had been seeing in this primarily dry land. Back in town, I had my first Baramundi fish and chips. The fish places here have you select the fish you want like a fish market and then cook it up for you. Back to the hostel we found the three guys I wasn’t riding with.
Tuesday, January 14, Apollo Bay to Grampians
Great Ocean Road has amazing coastal overlooks. We stopped at almost every one of them and explored. We saw many of the "Twelve Apostles," islands or sea stacks left standing as wave action ate around them along the cliffs. These are similar to the seas stacks I’ve seen off the Olympics in Washington state and New Brunswick in Canada.
We met up with the three guys at many stops. We ate a delicious lunch (dhal) at Rebecca’s in Port Fairy.
A quick stop at Tower Hill was interesting. It’s an old volcano. As usual, the caldera, usually a lake, is completely dry in the Australian drought. We took a bit of a walk to the top of the hill. We spotted some Blue Fairy Wrens along the way. On the drive out, we saw two emus. I got out to take a picture and was thankful to have a decent zoom lens only to discover I could walk to within a few feet of them. I didn’t get too close, though. They can do a job if they get upset and kick. Just as we left Tower Hill, we passed our first emu crossing sign, just a few minutes AFTER we saw the emus.
Heading north, we soon entered the Grampians where, unfortunately but not unexpectedly, my first kangaroo sighting was of a dead one. They are common road kill. Shortly afterwards, I saw my second roo and this time, it was alive. It was near the road and didn’t spook easily.
A quick trip over M________ Gap, once again proving that "gaps" are southern. (Appalachian Trail hikers will appreciate this.) We drove as far as Victoria Valley, known for Merino sheep, and were rewarded with an emu family sighting with two adults and maybe ten, four-foot tall chicks.
One deer sighting and some parrot-like birds rounded out the fauna sightings for the day.
We checked into the environmentally sensitive YHA and met up with the three guys again. We went out for dinner and sampled some local dishes. Both emu and kangaroo tasted like beef but the kangaroo was more like tenderloin while the emu was surprisingly tougher. Could just be the cut or preparation, but it was nice to be able to try both without having to commit to an entire meal.
Wednesday, January 15, Grampians to Namituk (near Mount Aripiles)
We are once again on the same schedule as the guys staying at the hostel down the road. We ran into them at the info booth on the way to the trailheads. The five of us hooked up at the Wonderland trailhead for a walk through the Grand Canyon, past a bunch of paying "tourist" rock climbers, and on to the Pinnacles. The Pinnacles offer fantastic views of the plains around the Grampians. The area reminded me somewhat of the McCaffee’s Knob in Catawba, Virginia. We’ll see if the pictures do it justice. We passed a barefoot hiker on the way down and I thought of my friends who had hiked the Appalachian Trail barefoot. While the "challenging" portions of this trail had railings and boardwalks in deference to the tourists who make the climb, the going was still rough and the treadway reminded me of rocky New Hampshire trail. All in all, it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours.
Stuart and I went back to town for lunch while the guys moved on. They needed to be in Adelaide a day earlier than us. When we finished lunch, we went to the Mackenzie Falls area only to find the guys, yet again, starting a hike. We joined them for the hike to the bottom of the falls, down yet another interminable set of stairs. I can only imagine how many stairs we’ve climbed or descended in the last few days.
We drove around another beautiful 22km highway loop with a stop to walk to Silverband Falls only to find them dry. Not so surprising in the horrible drought the Aussies have been having these last few years. There are a lot of water restrictions going on countrywide. But a kangaroo sighting on the way made the walk worthwhile.
From the Grampians, we made our way to Namituk, a tiny town with a name that even some Aussies think sounds more like an Inuit name than typically Aussie. There, we checked into the Economy Lodge, a home hostel with an unassuming exterior and a beautiful interior. It is not part of a hotel chain. We had a quick dinner at the bar next door (the only food establishment in town) and then made for sunset at Mt. Aripiles.
Mt. Aripiles is considered one of the premier climbing spots in OZ. Sunset there is often fantastic, so we walked around trying to find an optimal spot for viewing. As we walked around, I noticed hundreds and hundreds of tiny white snails crawling over the roadside brush. It was impossible to avoid stepping on them at times. The day had been clear and the night was promising to be clear as well so with no clouds, the sunset colors weren't as spectacular as possible. It was still pretty to see the mountain at sunset and I’m glad I went.
Back at the hostel, we joined the owner, friends, and the one other paying guest in the backyard. They were having a typical Aussie barbie. To us Americans, it seems weird. It’s basically a flat outdoors griddle rather than grill. I was stuffed so didn't partake but I did try a yabbie, a freshwater crawfish. Just eat the big claw.
Thursday, January 16, Namituk to Adelaide
We had cereal at the hostel in the morning. The Kellog’s Nutrigrain cereal there was completely different than the version I’ve had in the US. The owner wasn’t around so as directed, we just left cash and went on our way. We went back to Aripiles and drove to the top, passing a few roos along the way, for wonderful views of the surrounding plains. We could see quite a few completely dried up salt lakes, now looking like white snow pools spread over the landscape.
The areas we were looking at were considered hypersaline wetlands or Extra Salty Wetlands. Many of the plants and animals there have adapted to the incredibly salty conditions. The Dead Sea is six times saltier than the ocean; these inland salt lakes are 10 times saltier.
From our viewpoint, we could see the climbers on the mountain. We checked out another viewpoint and finally a turnoff to Melville’s cave. We followed the trail and came upon a couple of climbers under the cave. The cave was 20 meters up the rock face. There was no way we were going to explore that cave. Driving back down, we watched for the same roos but they were apparently long gone.
Moving along, we made our way to Durambool for lunch and took our final side trip to the Little Sandy Desert, only to find one of the greenest areas I've visited so far in OZ. It was certainly sandy but also full of brush and banksia plants.
The drive to Adelaide after the desert was long and boring with few changes in vistas. I can only imagine what those driving across OZ to Perth must see hour after hour and day after day. Yikes!
In Adelaide, we checked into a hostel that had parking. It wasn’t nearly as nice as the others we've been to and the people running the establishment didn’t seem to care much. After eating Chinese for dinner, we went to check out another hostel for tomorrow night. Along the way, I heard some familiar strains of music. Stuart continued on while I checked out the music. Drawn across the street, I walk into an open door to a dance hall and find a group of men practicing their Morris dancing. Stuart, having unsuccessfully checked out the other hostel, joined me. When the dance finished, we talked with the guys for a while and ended up joining them at the post practice pub around the corner.
It was strange to hear one of them bring up Cecil Sharpe's research done in the Appalachians. Cecil Sharpe stayed at what is now Elmer's B&B in Hot Springs along the Appalachian Trail. The Cecil Sharpe house is one of the places I've been dancing in London.
Friday, January 17, Adelaide
We got up early for the free pancake breakfast offered by the hostel. There was no syrup so it was either do as the locals do with sugar and lemon juice or slather on the jam.
We then returned the car to the Hertz place across the street and walked to Light’s Vision, the place where Light mapped his vision of the city from a hill behind the main portion of the city. We made our way along the river and then through the Botanical Gardens and the Palm House on the way to Tandanya, an aboriginal art gallery for an amazing didgeridoo demo. The player has mastered the circular breathing necessary for playing as well as other techniques. His presentation included a lot of the history of the instrument and the aboriginal people who play it. Afterwards, I got some good tips for picking out a good instrument and shaping the mouthpiece. I also got a cultural tip in that aboriginal women do not play didg in public. I got some lessons but couldn’t stay long as Stuart was waiting. I also found yet another meaning of my name. There’s an aboriginal tribe (or region) named Mara.
I had a light lunch of Vietnamese chicken salad, as it was too hot for a hot meal. Then we grabbed a free bus back to our hostel and got stuff for swimming at the beach. We escaped the heat of the city at the beach. The weather there was cooler but a walk along the pier and then along the waters edge was all I managed.
Saturday, January 18, Adelaide to Parachilna
I got up early enough to grab breakfast before my 6:30am bus tour. The bus holds 46 and we’re about 38. Though legroom is tight, I managed to grab a seat in the front row for the view. I ended up having it all to myself. Most of the people on the tour seem to be in their 20s with a few in their 30s. It is quite possible I’m the oldest in the group but from what I can tell, that’s only in years. When it comes to travel, packing, energy level, and ability not to complain about the heat, I’m more than holding my own.
Our first stop in Clare (I think) had no tourist appeal except for a market and café. I bought more film and a battery for my camera, as I couldn’t count on finding more in the "center."
There are a lot of crumbling buildings along the road from failed station ranches. In the late 1880s and then again in the 1920s, there were multiyear droughts of about seven or eight years. They put a lot of people out of business. We stopped to examine one ghost town, Katanga (I think this should be Kanyaka Station), which had a number of buildings. In the primary buildings, we walked from room to room and then visited the cemetery. In some cases, we would be driving down the road only to see a cemetery, miles from anywhere, the associated buildings having completely crumbled (no rot in this dry climate).
We also visited some Aboriginal rock art in caves at Yourambulla where the art is thought to be anywhere from 50 to 1000 years old. Nobody knows nor have they been able to definitively determine the age.
Our destination for the day was Parachilna, a town with a population of five, down from 1000 in its heyday. It’s now operated as lodging for travelers. We checked in and spent the afternoon at the pool where I found out the hard way that my recently repaired watch leaks like a sieve and is probably ruined. (I’m unlikely to find a watch repair shop until I get to Cairns.) I’ve never seen so many people in such a tiny pool. The town used to serve trains but as trains no longer stop there, Parachilna maintains its destination status by being one of the few places that serves feral food.
Today has redefined the word "hot" to me. I’ve encountered 40 degree weather before but I’ve never had to deal with "cold" tap water that comes out hot because the pipes aren’t buried deep. Nor have I ever had to sit on hot toilet seats inside of buildings.
We enjoyed a dinner of feral food - camel sausage, emu burgers, and kangaroo steak. They all taste like beef. I preferred the emu steak I had in the Grampians but all the selections were good here.
Andrea, one of the other tour participants, and I walked out to the road which was long and straight and had no traffic. We took turns taking pictures of each other sitting in the middle of the road. Sunset over the railroad tracks was pretty. Then we went inside to sit in front of the air conditioner for a while. Then we went to the pub which was cool and mostly free of flies. Our Aussie waves have been perfected. The Aussie wave is what you do when flies are swarming around your head.
The moonrise, nearly full, was spectacular – and upside down. I had already figured out that Orion is "upside down" here, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. What’s weird is that it makes it nearly impossible to see the "man on the moon".
Sunday, January 19, Parachilna to Rownsley Park
The train came through again at 4:30 am. Trains that long take quite a while to pass.
We drove through Brachina (I think) Gorge this morning on the way to Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Range. Wilpeena Pound is a natural formation where a round ridge has formed when mountains got pushed up on all sides leaving it in the shape of a bowl. It was used for grazing animals because it was secure, but the periodic floods that prevented the stock from being able to get out finally forced the abandonment of the pound as a stock grazing area.
To get a view of the Pound, we climbed the 941-meter Mount Ohlssen Bagge, a 500m or so climb in over 4km. to the ridge. In physical effort, it was approximately to Mount Monadnock. In the 40-degree (104 F) weather, it was much worse and I have to wonder how it will compare to my upcoming Pacific Crest Trail effort.
I may have some minor exercise induced asthma; So minor I only had it speculated by the doctor after my Appalachian Trail thruhike when I realized that I was breathing harder than my weekend warrior friends who joined me for a day here and there in New Hampshire. It’s also so minor that I didn’t bother bringing an inhaler. I’m not at all sure it would have helped though but I might have used it on the off chance it would have eased my breathing. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get my breath, it was that I was getting dehydrated very quickly and was having a hard time, or rather, was unable to keep up my water intake. At one point, I sat down to take a break. When I stood up, I got dizzy. So, I sat again and forced more water. I could finally continue but slowly and started taking more breaks where I could either find or manufacture shade by draping my extra shirt over a bush.
At the top, I took in the sites of the pound and the cliffs formed by the uplifted edges. I waited for Lene to come up with Elmo, our bus mascot, but was disappointed to find that she couldn’t make it due to her own asthma problems.
Once again, I’m hoping for some more McCaffee’s Knob type pictures.
By the time I got back to the base, I was dehydrated again. Instead of heading for the group lunch area where the bus was parked, I went straight for the store. I grabbed a 600ml PowerAde and sat down to drink it without even paying first. A raised eyebrow from the proprietor was alleviated as soon as she looked at my face and realized I wasn’t going anywhere until I got my dehydration in check. I even left for a quick run to the bathroom but went right back to grab another PowerAde. When I finally got around to paying, the proprietor suggested I step into her walk-in freezer to cool off. I couldn’t believe it! Mattie, our guide, had just told me about stepping into the freezer (the proprietor was a friend) when he was hot but I hadn’t mentioned anything. In any case, I stepped into the freezer and for a moment, experienced my own personal winter. It felt great!
Back at the lunch site, it was yucky burgers for lunch and having spent so long at the store rehydrating, I missed some of the to go withs. They didn’t look or sound appetizing so I wasn’t too disappointed.
Then it was a short drive to Rownsley Park for a long afternoon in the pool. Delicious dinner of Veggie Korma. Watched fruit bats and some other little bats as well as a lightning storm for the evening's entertainment - no rain though.
Monday, January 20, Rownsley Park to Coober Pedy
A long day on the road.
We started south to drive through "Port Agata" or Port Augusta, a major industrial area and the crossroads of the south where the trains and road trains meet. This is also where we hit the major road heading north. We caught site of our last coastal water until Darwin.
The only sightseeing stop of the day was at Lake Hart, a huge, long-dry, salt lake, formerly used for missile testing. Warning signs about unexploded ordinance prevented our venturing very far out on the lake.
A few hours into our drive north, and just 70km shy of Coober Pedy, our destination for the day, our bus blew a radiator hose. We spent an hour on the side of the road near two road kill roos while the guides Mattie and Chris successfully repaired the bus with the extra hose always kept aboard. Unfortunately, in the process, the air conditioning went as well. After an hour hanging out by the bus waiting for the repair, we spent the last hour to Coober Pedy broiling in the bus with no A/C.
Once in Coober Pedy, home of the world's richest deposit of opals, we had a tour of a nice, cool (25c/77F), opal mine as well as a typical Coober Pedy home. Dug into the rock with the mining tools, these homes have no windows but do maintain a constant and comfortable temperature. They are also otherwise quite modern and functional.
We unloaded the bus into our hostel bunkroom, also dug into the ground and maintaining a steady 25c.
Having recovered from the heat of the bus, we then went back into the sun to go "noodling", or digging about in the piles left from the miners before they restricted mining in town. At least two people in our group found very small opals. Just one week earlier, someone found an A$500 opal while noodling. I found I had no patience in the heat of the day so I failed to make my fortune there and quickly went back to the manageable heat of the bunk room..
Pizza for dinner and gelato for dessert. Yum! It was a wonderful break from the el cheapo tour group food we’ve been eating.
Today, I've been suffering from a large quantity of bug bites. Turns out my bedding in Rownsley Park may have had uninvited guests. Ugh! So, back at the bunkhouse I had to examine my sleeping bag for bugs and I did net one bug so we quarantined it and I'm using a gross borrowed rental bag for now. I now have to try to figure out how to clean or otherwise fix my bag so I can keep using it.
Tuesday, January 21, Coober Pedy to Youlara (Uluru/Ayer's Rock)
This was just a long day on the road. I think we must have done something interesting but I can't remember until the end of the day.
We got to Uluru in time for sunset. All day, though, it had been very windy and we had driven through a number of sandstorms. The air was still filled with sand and we could barely see the rock from the camp. But, when we drove closer we could see it. However, with the air so filled with dust, the colors weren't spectacular. It’s the middle of summer down here and it's just not the best viewing.
Uluru was named Ayer’s Rock by the colonial settlers. With Aboriginal rights coming to the forefront, the area has reverted back to the aboriginal management and the rock was renamed back to its traditional name. It’s surprising how fast the traditional name has caught on. There are almost no references to Uluru left. I saw none on signs, on tour offerings, etc. Tomorrow we go to Kata Tjuta, likewise renamed back to its traditional name after being known by the colonial settlers until recently as the Olgas.
Back at camp, we had a wonderful dinner of stir-fried veggies, Barbied chicken, potatoes, and leftover veggie korma. All were wonderful. While I can’t take credit for the menu or flavor, this was one night when I did much of the cooking.
We were then introduced to our swags, a bivy of sorts used in the outback. It’s a large, heavy canvas "bag" into which a cushy pad or mattress was inserted. The canvas zips like a sleeping bag and we mostly slept on the pad with the swag open. It was wonderful sleeping out in the open, staring up at the stars.
The night sky is spectacular with the Milky Way so bright is interfered with viewing Orion and other familiar constellations. I need to look up some stuff about the southern hemisphere night sky and figure out what the two cloudlike formations are to the west of the Milky Way. They’ve been there on on multiple nights so its neither clouds nor aurora. Two meteors and one satellite later, I was asleep.
Wednesday, January 22, Youlara
Wake up calls at 4:00am are not popular but absolutely necessary for sunrise trips. I’ve got to wonder why people grumble when they should have known what they were signing up for.
We got to the Rock in time for sunrise. We dropped off those who wanted to climb the rock. I elected not to in deference to the aboriginals who prefer that we do not climb. We also dropped off those that wanted to walk all the way around the rock. I wanted to do that, but elected to go to the sunrise viewing area and then do the half walk.
Yesterday’s winds and dust have settled but clouds interfered with the sunrise pictures. Once again, colors not fantastic, but at least we could see the rock.
Walking around half the rock (5k) was interesting. There were areas where there was a $5000 fine for passing through the barriers or even taking pictures. I had no desire to offend and I'm glad I didn't see anyone else breaking those laws. Perhaps the fine was a deterrent but I prefer to think it was plain respect. There were plenty of other areas where we could get up close to the rock.
Recent ground fires had blackened areas near the rock.
It was only 8:30am when we all met again and were off to Kata Tjuta for a 7km walk to "The Saddle." While so much of OZ is flat, it's wonderful to see so much vertical relief. The formations were rather spectacular.
Many of these areas close when the heat goes up so we've been racing to get there early. Sure enough, by the time we returned to the bus, the area we were walking in had already been closed due to extreme heat.
Back at camp, we had lunch and then I was about to go swimming when the other person also afflicted with these bug bites (only worse than me) decided to go to the doctor, I went with her. I wasn't suffering as much as she was, but I needed to find out what the problem was and how to deal with my sleeping bag. For A$40, I talked with a nurse (RN) who identified the bites as Sand Fly (not flea) bites. Ouch! She gave me some Betadine and told me to spray my bag with permethrin and leave it in the sun for a while. I'll do that in Alice Springs.
So, I missed the afternoon swim. Then we headed back to the park for a visit to the Cultural Center (a bit too late and short for me) and the Mala walk, a walk near some interesting points of the rock. Our guide described the different caves where the men, or women, or boys, or young children would stay during the Mala ceremony. All very sacred sites.
Thursday, January 23, Youlara to Alice Springs
Another early morning with a 4:00am wake up call. It’s frustrating when the same people are always late to breakfast and keep everyone else on the bus waiting. Oh well. We left at 5:45 instead of the planned 5:00 for the 3.5-hour drive to King’s Canyon. Normally, our group would have slept near there but we had gotten bumped by some sort of charter group.
At King’s Canyon, we did an 8km hike around the rim. We walked amongst the beehive formations at the top to the Garden of Eden at the head of the canyon. The Garden is the narrow cut at the head of the canyon through which the water (King’s Creek) runs. Going down about halfway to the floor of the canyon, there’s a cool, and incredibly beautiful water hole. So we went swimming. It was a wonderfully refreshing break after the hot hike.
Back at Kings Canyon resort, we stopped for lunch and then had a long drive to Alice. The A/C quit again, not to be repaired with any roadside finagling. The rest of the day was HOT in the bus but with at least a bit of cloud cover, it wasn't as bad as the afternoon the day the radiator broke. We’re able to drive with the two escape roof hatches open. The only other window on the bus is by the driver.
Along the way, we saw feral camels and more roos than you could count. It had rained and the water pools along the impermeable road are irresistible to the roos which come out to drink the water. Rain on the desert surfaces immediately soaks into the ground providing no water for the roos. The roos in the road slowed us down quite a bit and really put a dent in our speed along the road. The roos don't readily leave the road and don't respond to the horn, much, either.
Got to Alice at 8:00pm and had an hour to get ready for dinner. We were "treated" to one last dinner at Melanka’s, our backpackers (hostel) and it was highly disappointing. The food quantities were not planned well. Sigh. It’s an ongoing problem with the tour. I skipped the typical bar/party entertainment that followed and went back to my room only to find my three roommates didn’t want to use the air conditioning. No air conditioning? In the summer in the outback? Crazy!
Friday, January 24, Alice Springs
I woke up at 7:00am due to the heat in the room (remember my roommates didn't want to use A/C ?) I never figured that out and it will be ON tonight - whether they like it or not.
I spent the morning wandering around town, running errands. I stopped at the supermarket for food, fly spray (permethrin), and Stingeze to help numb the pain and itching of the fly bites. Kmart was next on the list for a cheapo watch with an alarm at A$10 and a new shirt. The washing machines here just don’t seem to work and my hiking shirts were getting to be an embarrassment. I spent two hours on-line for A$10.
I finally treated my bag with the vaguely sickly sweet smelling permethrin. While it was baking in the sun, I managed to eat lunch and go for a swim. Then it was time for some sightseeing.
It was 2:00 when I left my motel/hostel and as I headed out, I ran into Lene who after hearing my plans, decided to join me for the afternoon.
We first went to the Reptile Center for a look at the local snakes and lizards that abound in the region. It was fun to have a chance to "pet" a lizard and then hold a python. We then went on a tour of the Royal Flying doctor's service in Alice. From there, they dispatch the planes and doctors that treat the people in the remote outback. Some of the ranches in the outback are as big as some US states. All of these ranches have at least one dirt airstrip for emergencies and postal mail deliveries - usually once every week or two. They also have a medical box on site distributed by the RFMS for the purpose of quicker treatment over the phone while waiting for doctors to arrive in the case of an emergency. This service is provided at NO cost to the recipients. While they try to get donations and aren't a true government organization, they are funded in large part by the government.
Afterwards, we ran into Leigh. I think he and Lene have something going on so she took off with him and I went through town slowly, window shopping on my way to Anzac Hill for a great view of town and also a view of a far off brush fire - not so great.
I did some more shopping when I came down the hill, hung out at the hostel and then met the Swiss and German contingent from the tour for dinner at a good Italian restaurant. It was nice to spend some time with them without the entire tour group. We exchanged email addresses.
Saturday, January 25, Alice to Banka Banka Station
I turned the air conditioning back on at 3:30 to try to get one last gasp of sleep. I had another early wake up at 4:30 to pack, grab something to eat, and meet the bus by 5:30. The bus didn’t leave until 6:15. Argh! Our first stop, not far north of Alice, was at the Tropic of Capricorn. It was made all the more amusing by the presence of a hippie caravan (campervan type vehicle) hanging out there with the occupants also looking like they were left in a '60s time warp.
Our next stop was at a roadside cafe with an aboriginal art house attached. It was amazing to see an aboriginal woman painstaking painting tiny dots on a T-shirt with what looked like a toothpick. Those T-shirts were well worth the A$90 price tag but I'm not yet in the market.
We stopped at this town, established during WWII for lunch. This town is also noted for the UFO sightings there. An Aussie Roswell, perhaps? It was bizarre, the whole place was painted with aliens and spaceships and had fiberglass statues of aliens and spaceships. The bathrooms were for Maliens and Femaliens. They also had some caged birds. I couldn't tell if they were caged because their condition was too bad to survive in the wild or if their being caged caused their situation. I certainly hope the former.
While there, I managed to badly bang my knee. It ended up really bothering me on the bus and made our next stop interesting. Our next stop was at Devil's Marbles, a place with huge round boulders perched on other huge round boulders. These didn't "land" here, rather, erosion caused them to form in these shapes.
Walking with my knee wasn't too bad, but climbing up and down the rocks was a bit more difficult than usual. Our next stop was at a town known for it's gold mining. We toured a "mine" dug by a departing company in the hopes that it would help keep the town open as the mining companies departed. It was worth it to them to spend 1 million dollars just to promote tourism there.
Our final destination was Banka Banka Station where our cubicle like tents had bunk beds and numbered termite mounds for doorposts. The termite mounds were broken off the base of their mounds and cleaned of termites before being adopted as doorposts.
Walking through the kitchen building to the porch, we were rewarded with a great view to the road and a perfect spot from which to take pictures of the huge road trains that ply the road. These road trains 18-wheelers with as many as FOUR full-sized trailers in tow (yeah, yeah, more than 18 wheels, I know). The third and fourth trailer often fish tail quite a bit and it can be dangerous to pass or be passed by one of these monstrosities.
Also off the back porch, is a large enclosure for four young emu and a calf, all of which love to come begging from the people sitting on the porch.
I spent dinner talking with Chang Yuan, a Chinese woman, about Yunnan. After dinner, I could finally get my pack off the bus and get to my ibuprofen. Less than an hour later, the four kicked in and I was able to negotiate stairs, sit down, and get up, and bend my knee without too much pain. Woohoo!!!! What magic! It was only when I recovered my pack that I realized I had managed to leave most of my toiletries in Alice. Sigh.
Sunday, January 26, Banka Banka Station to Katherine
Today is Australia Day. Elsewhere in OZ, the Aussies are getting drunk and taking a day off of work. On our tour, things progress with no difference from the "normal" routine. Our tour guides, Damon and Kate, don't even get to celebrate at all.
Along the roads, the termite mounds are getting higher. Apparently, all termite mounds are the same size once built, but the further north we go, the higher the water table which means more of the mound needs to be above ground rather than below. The mounds are also getting redder with the soil and much more frequent in the forest.
Our only stop of consequence today was at the Matarenka Thermal springs (not hot springs). It was very strange walking into water so close to skin temperature that you could barely feel it at is was neither warmer nor cooler than our skin. Evaporative cooling upon exiting the water made the water seem warm only when reentering the water.
There has been a bit of rain (scattered showers) in the area (summer is the wet season here in the tropics), and some of the roads have some minor flooding. The bus has had to drive through some very minor, non-threatening, flooding to get through some of the side streets where we stop for lunch or other attractions. I don't remember if I had written about this before, but once, when we were driving along a stretch of road that had recently been rained upon and was still wet, we had to slow way down to avoid the kangaroos that come to the road to drink from the pools of water that settle on the road. In a one-hour stretch, there were probably 50 kangaroos that we had to avoid - and they usually come in groups so where there was one, there were more. They also tend to be dumb, so if one roo on one side of the road goes further off the road (a good thing), a roo on the other side might try to join it and bounce across the road directly into our path (a bad thing). Thankfully, our bus driver went slowly enough that he didn't have to make use of the "roo bars" on the front of the bus. These roo bars are sported on most of the vehicles that spend any amount of time on the outback roads. Roos can do big damage to cars and there are so many that it really isn't unusual for vehicles to hit them. The carcasses by the side of the road, unfortunately, attest to that fact.
Monday, January 27, Katherine to Darwin
Up at a reasonable 7:00 after a sticky, humid night where all of our hand wash was wetter in the morning that it had been when we put it out to dry the night before. Argh!
Our one sightseeing stop today was at Katherine Gorge. Given the summer conditions, we could only go as far as the first gorge. We stopped to visit yet more rock art and then stopped once again just across the river for a stop at a swimming hole under a beautiful waterfall. To get to the waterfall, we had to cross a stream twice. It was relatively low but everyone waited in line to cross at a chain strung across the creek - and then seemed to hang on for their lives to cross. I waited on the way there and then had a wonderful swim, swimming under the falls and at one point checking for submerged rocks in one area so some fools could jump off a short cliff. On the way back across the creek, much to the amazement of the folks returning to the boat, I just forded the creek, choosing to walk in the water rather than balance precariously on the dry rocks near the chain. It made my life much easier.
As the bus continued to approach Darwin, it was interesting to note the changes in terrain. It was getting much hillier. Also, the traffic was picking up quite a bit.
After getting dropped off at my hostel, I had just 1.5 hours to see Darwin before I was to meet my group for dinner at "The Vic". I took a quick walk to the Esplanade and found a walkway that went to the beach. While you're not supposed to go in the water during the summer months due to deadly box jellyfish, I couldn’t resist sticking my toe into the Timor Sea.
Then, I continued down the esplanade and marveled at the foliage and bird life before making my way to the main pedestrian zone in the city where I was to have dinner. The Rainbow Lorikeets were making the loudest racket have I ever heard from birds but I tried to ignore them and not get dumped upon as I wound my way down the street reading about the history of Darwin in the inlaid markers along the pedestrian zone. I was sad to see a number of Aboriginal beggars in the area.
My dinner was an excellent cut of Roast beef that I could cut with a fork. To bad it was in another party pub. I didn't stay too long, but said my good-byes to Lene and hope to catch up with her again in Cairns. Then I wound my way back to the hostel, "discovering" New Zealand brand ice cream on my way back. Both the Orange chocolate chip and Hazelnut crunch flavors were quite good - though they were no Toscanini's or even Ben and Jerry's. Sigh.
Tuesday, January 28, Darwin to Cairns
I woke up at 4:40am to Debbie's phone. It was the third time that either hers or Fiona’s had gone off that night. I'm the only person in the room without a cell phone. I’m thankful for the last disruption as my alarm didn't go off at 4:00 as expected and I had just 10 minutes to get to my shuttle to get to the airport. Without the shuttle, I would have ended up taking a taxi - assuming I woke up in time. My flight was at 6:40am.
On the first leg of my flight to Cairns, I sat next to one passenger who was getting off in Gove. He is a soon-to-be-retired man who works in the deaf education system in the Northern Territory (NT). It's the first day of school across the territory and he's headed for Gove to help the school there figure out how to deal with a deaf high school student with a second grade education. It seems OZ and much of the rest of the world deals with some of the same issues with the deaf as in the states. Whether to mainstream the deaf and teach lip reading, or teach sign language and stick to the "deaf" culture.
The airport in Gove was tiny and there was no apparent security there. No X-rays. No searches. We walked off the plane, across the tarmac, into the airport and out the other side. When we reboarded, they just checked our boarding passes. I could have easily brought anything illegal on board from Gove.
On the second leg of my trip to Cairns, my seatmate was a pilot who flies for what seems like a non-profit type airline in the Northern Territory. He makes sure people can get to stores which can be hundreds of miles away, people can get to medical appointments for non-emergency situations, etc. His service is available to "Europeans" and aboriginal alike.
Once in Cairns, I took a shuttle to the Esplanade and as I got out, met Paul and Simon, both also headed for hostels. When I asked if they had any recommendations, they joked they were hoping to follow me. I was headed for the 89, so they came with me. After checking in, we spent the afternoon first getting lunch, and then trying to figure out what else to do with our time in town. I had the least amount of time of the bunch.
They were originally thinking of spending a day snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef and as they looked into it, they became interested in an intro dive. I also started getting interested when I realized how warm the water temp was and knew that wet suit fit wasn't nearly as important on the GBR as it is in the waters off New England. We settled on an outfit that does up to three dives a day. I figured that since I hadn't been diving in years, they might make me do the intro dive before allowing me to do the cert. dives. This was especially true since I didn't have my cert. card and couldn't prove my certification. But with a three-dive option, I would at least be likely to be able to do two cert. dives.
Having figured out what to do the next day, the three of us went for a walk along the Esplanade, a walkway along the shore. There is no beach in Cairns even though it is a coastal town. Rather, there is a large expanse of mud flats that attract a huge variety of shore birds. My first glance netted an Egret, but it seemed too large so when I spotted someone with a scope, I inquired and he indicated that it was a Great Egret and that all three types were present along these shores. There were also a huge variety of terns, gulls, pelicans, sandpipers, plovers, and a bunch more that I just can't remember. I really wanted a field guide and even the chart posted at an info kiosk wasn't enough. Paul and Simon were rather relieved when I started to just walk and tried not to pay too much attention to the birds along the shore.
Eventually, we headed back to town to a pub. After a while, I left for the local Woolworth’s to pick up yet more toiletries I realized I had left behind in Alice. Along the way, I spotted a dive shop and the Peter Lik Gallery. Having talked about Peter Lik with the guys, I went back to the pub to tell them where it was and to let them know I would be hanging out at the local dive shop for a while, trying to refresh my memory about diving. Once back at the dive shop, the proprietor indicated he could look up my certification from the PADI web site and print out a sheet I could give to the boat operator to prove my certification. It was worth A$10.
I met the guys in the Gallery and we marveled at the mastery of photography exhibited there.
The Woolshed for dinner proved to be cheap and fairly good. We had tickets for a free "hostel" dinner, but with them, we upgraded to "real" meals for just A$3.50 - a true bargain for a large plate of food. Of course, they really want you to buy drinks, but in true Aussie pub style, there no pressure whatsoever to do so.
Wednesday, January 29 – Cairns
Up at 6:00 to catch the 6:45 bus to Port Douglas, one hour north of Cairns. From there it's a 1:45 trip to the Agincourt reef of the Great Barrier Reef aboard the Quicksmart, a fast catamaran. As expected, they wanted me to do the intro dive to start with. But, just after I finished going through the intro session, they indicated that since there were only 4 cert. divers aboard, I would be doing the cert. dives buddied with Beth, a member of the crew. Cool!!!
I must admit, on the first dive, I really was wondering if I might have made a mistake. I remembered how I tended to chew air and was forced to return to the surface early on some of my first dives. I was pretty nervous and didn't want to be the one to force the whole group to ascend. But, I quickly relaxed and had a great dive. We went to 18 meters and circumnavigated a big coral head. Both the coral and fish were fantastic. It was only after we all went back to the surface that I realized I was not chewing air anymore and came up with the same amount as the divemaster. We had others in our group, however, who were going through air fairly fast.
Our first dive left a bit of time for a quick snorkel but I didn't take all the time allotted, as I wanted to save my energy for more dives.
Moving on to our next morning dive, I noticed I still get a bit nervous when I feel crowded if there are a bunch of divers in close proximity. This happened this time when we crossed paths with a Japanese charter group also on board our boat. After the second dive, we were rushed through lunch though I managed as much chicken, beef, and peel your own prawns as I wanted. I also enjoyed the fruit which just happens to be marvelous down under. I have yet to have bad melon.
After lunch, the boat did some mooring maintenance and replaced a mooring on the way to the third dive site. The third site, at just 12 meters was our shallowest and we spent very little time that deep as the best fish were closer to the surface. We went snorkeling after this dive, as well. I also can't begin to describe the fish I saw on these dives. I wish I could but there were just too many. Watch a Great Barrier Reef documentary and you'll see what we saw.
Back in Port Douglas, we had a chance to say hello to a carpet python doing some PR work for a local wilderness safari or reptile house, and then it was back to Cairns aboard the Quicksilver boat. One more time to the Woolshed for another good, cheap dinner. I left the guys to party there and made my way back to the hostel, buying an India skirt along the way and another ice cream. Back at the hostel, I booked yet another tour for the next day...
Hmm, some local language...
G'day - needs no translation
How are you going? - The Aussie version of "How are you doing?"
Thursday, January 30 – Cairns (and the Atherton Tablelands)
Taking yet another tour today, this time to the Atherton tablelands to the west of Cairns. This is just an easy one-day tour and left at a nice late hour of 8:00am. We twisted and wound our way up the hills on a road with 267 curves. (No, I did not count.) I must admit I wished I were driving. It would have been a fun.
We first stopped at the Cathedral Fig tree to see a huge strangler fig that long ago choked the original supporting tree. At the parking lot near the tree, we watched a Brush Turkey scratching brush into a mound to provide insulation for its nest. It's a striking black bird with a red head and yellow neck, about the size of a small American wild turkey.
Then, we went swimming at Lake Barrine where I got to actually stretch out and swim for the first time since arriving in Australia. The swim was followed by a rainforest walk at the same lake. There we saw a Musky Kangaroo Rat and a Boyd's Forest Dragon, the later being an iguana-like lizard that I almost leaned against on a tree. Lunch of burgers and chips (fries) and then Yungaburra before a swim at the very cold Zillie Falls. (You've got to love the names around here). We also stopped at Ellinjaa Falls (no swimming) and then Millaa Millaa Falls before a visit to the Curtain Fig, aptly names after the original tree fell but was stopped by another tree. The angle left the fig roots cascading like a beautiful curtain and the tree continues to grow in that formation even now.
Upon my return from the Tablelands, I finally got fed up with the travel agency in my hotel for evading questions and trying to push tours I wasn't interested on me. So, I went next door and found very helpful people at the Bellview. So, I booked my next trip (Cape Tribulation) through them. I also took a look at one of their rooms and told them I would be coming there upon my return from the Cape trip.
Got pizza for dinner, ice cream, wrote in my journal, and then sleep....
Sightings today include: Australia Brush Turkey, White bellied (some sort of eagle), Fruit Doe (Emerald Dove?), Sulfur crested Cockatoo, lewins[sic] or yellow spotted honey eater, magpie lark, cicadas, Musky rat kangaroo, Boyd’s forest dragon, Ulysses butterfly, imperial white(?)..eagle, rainbow lorikeet, laughing kookaburra, red-backed kingfisher, splendid fairy wren.
Friday, January 31 – Cairns to Cow Bay (Cape Tribulation)
This morning, I met the group at 7:40 for a two-day trip to Cape tribulation. Running early, we stopped at a couple of unplanned viewpoints on the way north including a wonderful view of Kimberly Point and Snapper Island. Our next stop was at Mossman Gorge for a guided aboriginal walk. In less than an hour, we learned about quite a few of the plants in the area including some that work well as insect repellants, an important tool in this buggy, tropical rainforest.
Moving north, we crossed the Daintree River on a cable ferry. With normal monsoon rains due this time of year, it's possible this river would be too flooded to cross, but for the last two years, drought has reduced the monsoon to almost nothing and flooding is not much of an issue here right now. A quick stop to look at some bats and then our next stop was at my accommodation for the night, a hostel called Crocodylus. This hostel, unlike the hostels further up on the actual cape, is located a few kilometers inland in the rainforest. Not being much of a beach fanatic, especially when swimming isn't an option, I'm happy to stay in the shaded forest.
Serving no lunch in the off-season, I'm forced to buy a prepackaged sandwich so common in OZ. I sat down for lunch and talked with a local about his perspectives of the land rights issues with the aboriginals who like the native Americans of North America, are trying to have their land returned to them. There are no easy answers. At 1:00, we had orientation and learned of all the options we had while at Crocodylus for a day.
I elected to visit the Daintree Environmental Center to learn about the local flora and fauna. The 20-minute walk around the boardwalk was for me a 40-minute walk as I matched the numbered entries on the boardwalk with my tour pamphlet. Then I climbed the tower to visit the rainforest from all levels, rather than just ground level. It was great to see the forest at intermediate levels as well as be able to view the canopy at eye level.
I stayed on the shuttle for a quick beach visit and managed to stick a finger in the bathwater warm surf. There’s no swimming here during the summer months, as the risk of being stung by a deadly box jellyfish is much too high. Even so, the beach had the ubiquitous gallon of vinegar colored blue by food coloring. Vinegar counteracts the jellyfish poison but authorities found it necessary to put food coloring in to prevent picnickers from using it on their fish instead of leaving it for emergencies.
Dinner at Crocodylus was quite reasonable and then it was time for the night walk. Our walk was dominated by insects and spiders with a few birds and Boyd's Forest Dragons (iguana-like lizards) thrown in for good measure. It was well after 11:00 when we got back to camp.
Sightings: Boyd’s Forest dragon (lizard), pile[sic]-yellow robin, katydid, waitia white cricket, cane toad, bandicoot, huntsman (spider), golden orb spider, orange footed sunbher[sic], brush-footed spider (in hole in ground), blue Argus butterfly, green argus butterfly, Melamy
Saturday, February 1 – Cairns
A Melamy (mouse-like marsupial) disrupted sleep last night. When I determined it was just rustling about in the trash can, I just turned over and went back to sleep as if it were a mouse when I was backpacking. I'm glad none of my tent mates woke up, as they probably would have felt the need to "do" something about it. Instead, we left it alone, and it, not finding anything worthwhile, eventually left us alone.
I woke up at 5:30 when the power came back on and wished for a blanket, as it was just a bit chilly, especially with the fans blowing again. This shows how warm it generally is, as they don't even bother with blankets in the summer in this region. I managed to go back to sleep twice and finally got up at 7:30.
It took forever to get breakfast of fried eggs, toast, and grilled tomato (very English). Then, I went for the 3km orange ropewalk, a walk delineated by an orange rope, not on the rope. I quickly discovered that my just applied insect repellant didn't seem to help and I was the first person of the day on the walk so had web duty. Only these webs made anything I encountered on the Appalachian Trail look microscopic. Some were quite large and the spiders looked quite ferocious. The worst part was how tired I got at waving the pamphlet I had describing the walk in front of me for an hour trying to get the webs out of the way.
Also, the walk wasn't in good repair and needed quite a bit of trimming. I made it through but there were places I had to deal with Hairy Mary (thorny vines) that should have been kept clear of the track. At least I didn't run into any stinging plants.
Back at the lodge, I took a swim and talked with another guest and Possum, our guide from the night before to balance out the morning.
On the way back to Cairns, we stopped for a river cruise on the Daintree River and managed to see one two-meter long crocodile. It was a medium sized crocodile, as they can get as big as 5 meters or longer. But, many are smaller and given the time of the year, we considered ourselves lucky to see one.
A stop at a tropical fruit stand netted some interesting ice cream (almost more like sorbet), and some dried mango and pear for snacks over the next days. The drive around Port Douglas on our way back showed just how rich that community is. Back in town, I checked into the Bellview, collected my gear from the 89. Pizza, ice cream, and vegging in front of the TV (Diamonds are Forever) while updating my journal rounded out the day.
Sunday, February 2 – Cairns
Knowing I had given myself the day off, I took my time in the morning and slept late and then did a few personal maintenance things. I started with my toenails where I got a bit of a surprise.
[Vaguely gross toenail story follows - skip this paragraph if you don't want to hear it.]
Last July, I had injured a toenail. My podiatrist indicated it would fall off within a couple of months. It didn't fall off and still seemed to be growing so I just forgot about it. But, this morning, part of the nail decided it was time to come off. So, I ended up having to give my nail a rather awkward trim. I hope the remaining portion of nail doesn't cause me any grief and snag on socks when I try to hike.
I also took some time to go shopping for a new pair of shorts, a bathing suit, and cheapo sandals to replace my current pair. I didn't manage to find a thing. Argh! But, I did get to Woolworths for some groceries to get me through three days worth of breakfasts. I also stumbled upon a bakery with some good looking breads and bought a roll to go with my lunch of a yummy smoked salmon pizza - YUM! (Both the roll and the pizza were delicious).
I then spent the afternoon taking a nap, getting on-line for a couple of hours, and talking with both my roommates at the hostel as well as a group of men also staying at the hostel who are traveling together from England.
At dinnertime, I was walking exploring a bit trying to find someplace good to eat when I wandered past the library, just a block from the hostel. As I walked, I noticed a bunch of Egrets landing in the trees at the library and it dawned on me what a comment one of the men I had been talking with meant... He mentioned that in the morning, he could watch the egrets taking off from the trees near the library. Of course, that meant that they had to land there at some point, too. It was 6:45ish and dusk, and a good many of the shore birds were finding places to roost for the night.
As I watched, I saw hundreds, if not thousands of shorebirds coming to roost in the few trees near the library. First, it was the Egrets (Greater, Intermediate, and Lesser) in the trees next to the library. Then it was the Ibis in the trees across the street - but also in the trees next to the library. The Ibis fly in flocks in loose V formation. The first time I saw them, I thought geese. The cormorants were not ones to miss out on the scene, either. Then some Sulfur-crested Cockatoos settled in a different tree on the corner. Then the raucous Rainbow Lorikeets settled just around the corner. And, all the while, the huge fruit bats were streaming out of the day roosts into the area - flying overhead in huge groups (flocks? swarms?) that stretched for miles and went on unendingly it seemed. If not millions, there were likely hundreds of thousands of them.
Occasionally, a passerby would notice me with my head craned back and get a clue what I was looking at, but most people passed by without at all realizing what was happening just a few feet over their heads. For the few who were interested, I was able to pass along what little information I did know. One couple did end up joining me for the show for a while. As we watched, a beautiful Egret feather floated down and the man in the couple caught it and gave it to me. I held onto it to bring back to the man who had told me about the birds.
Dinner ended up being an uninspired tribute to America. McDonalds followed by Baskin Robins (New Zealand brand is better). Then I got sucked into watching "The Rock" on TV. The guy who told me about the birds eventually joined the group watching TV so I had a chance to pass along the feather and tell him how I got it.
Monday, February 3 – Cairns (Kuranda)
[Sorry about the multiple messages today. I'm still averaging much less than one message a day but it just happens that I've had some easy access the last few days and I've been tired so taking it a bit easier and hanging around town a bit more than usual.
The news of the Columbia disaster finally filtered its way to me this afternoon. I'm not generally paying much attention to news outlets (papers or TV) and I hadn't been hanging around anyone who knew about the disaster and who knows I am American so it just hadn't come up for a while. It's 16 hours ahead here so it's already Feb 3. I guess I'm a day and a half behind in the news world.
Don't know what to say. I had been thinking about my Dad who lost his battle with cancer a year ago and then to hear about the loss of the shuttle. I imagine the whole nation is mourning.
It'll be interesting to see how it filters through down here. Perhaps I'll pick up a local paper. Then again, perhaps I won't. Not yet sure how I feel about reading about it right now.
Anyway, here's another day in the life of Mara - down under.]
Grabbed the 8:30 John's bus for the long trip to Kuranda on the Tablelands for only A$1 intending to take the Skyrail over the rainforest down to the base of the mountain in time to see the Jakupai Cultural Center in the afternoon. The bus driver gave us an idea for a walk through the rainforest to Barron Falls that should take about one hour round trip. I thought I could fit that in, too. It was a beautiful walk though with my stopping to examine cool looking caterpillars and empty cicada pupa shells, it was one hour each way for me. Even though the falls were rather meager, just a ribbon due to the lack of rain in this "wet" season, it was worth seeing them. With the cascading pools, it was easy to see how they could be booming. So, I ended up getting a ride back to Kuranda with some French tourists.
It was running late so I gave up on the Skyrail idea and decided to just grab lunch and take the bus down to Jakupai. I ordered a Salmon Pie for lunch only to realize that I didn't have my wallet with me. Yikes! I had it this morning! I could only hope I left it on the bus and that John had found it. The proprietor was very helpful and called John for me. My fears were allayed immediately when she found out that John had my wallet. It had fallen on the floor of the bus that morning and I hadn't needed it until then. I had other cash on me so ate my lunch and waited for the 12:30 bus to get my wallet and take the bus down to Jakupai. On the bus, I found myself falling asleep even as we drove down the twists and turns of the road from the coast. I ended up telling John to just take me back to Cairns. I didn't think I could stay awake for the shows at the center. It was too bad to miss the center, but I needed rest.
I spent the afternoon, first at an Internet cafe, then swimming back at the hotel/hostel, reading poolside, and talking with roommates and those same gentlemen who've been hanging around for a few days. It was just while in the pool that one of them asked me about the Columbia shuttle disaster when I found out about it. I've been so far removed from news outlets that it took me 1.5 days before hearing about the crash.
So, one of my roommates, Helena, who was interested in seeing where the A$1/hour internet access was, and I wanted to get back on-line to find out a bit about the shuttle, so back we went to the internet cafe for an hour before going to see the shorebirds again. I sent yet another message out to the TravelsAndTrails group then to let my friends know I had finally heard about the news. Then Helena and I met Dave, the guy who knew about the birds, at the library and we watched the goings on for the better part of an hour. Finally, Helena and I went for dinner at Barnacle Bill's, a relatively expensive restaurant, but a treat for my last night in town. We both ended up having the Coral Trout which was excellent. It was served with rice, fries, and the signature flamboyant fruit bowl, arranged beautifully. The service was spectacular and I wished I had brought my camera to dinner. It was late by the time we finished dinner so once again, when we got back to the hostel, it was just time to go to sleep.
Tuesday, February 4 – Cairns to Sydney
Yet another nice leisurely morning. I ate the last of my breakfast stuffs (generic cocoa crispies, milk, juice) and then mailed a bunch of stuff home including my first ten rolls of film by the slow boat. It should get there about when I do. No need to carry it any longer. A quick stop at an Internet cafe netted no emails from my contact, Max, in Hobart, but no need to worry. If he's there, great! If not, I'll just head for a hostel like I've done in all other towns.
I checked out of the Bellview hotel but left my bag there for an hour or two while I wandered the town before catching my shuttle to the airport. I ended up going into the Waranda Art Gallery and history center and wished I had gone days ago. The exhibit was down to earth and the proprietors sold the beautiful art for the aboriginals and at reasonable prices, too. It was sort of like a cooperative. Sigh. I’m still doing too much traveling to start collecting stuff now. I’m just waiting until I get back to Sydney. Before leaving Cairns, I had one last smoked salmon pizza.
Uneventful shuttle and flight to Sydney with no interesting seatmates to talk with.
The shuttle to the Central Railway area netted a woman and her father heading for a new, nearby hostel. I followed them to the Wake Up hostel to find a new, secure, and clean hostel. Sydney is expensive though. Not wanting to waste the evening, I grabbed a bus downtown and got tickets for that evening's harbour cruise. I grabbed a quick bite and lucked into some aboriginal and white buskers playing didj on the pier. I watched while waiting for the cruise to leave and dumped some change into the kitty when it was finally time to board the boat.
The cruise was on one of the harbour ferries that have two bows so I asked which would be the bow as I got on board. I headed straight in that direction and found a forward facing seat. People traveling alone on the night cruise are few and far between so I was pleasantly surprised when the man who came up and took the seat next to me also seemed unattached. We struck up a conversation and found we were both from the States. Believe it or not, US citizens are a fairly rare find here in OZ. There are many more Canadians than US citizens traveling here and US citizens are also outnumbered by more of the more northern European country’s' citizens traveling here.
Anyway, my seatmate, Mike, was about to start a job in Perth and would also be moonlighting as an improv actor. He was great company with a wonderfully wry sense of humor that suited the canned recorded narrative that accompanied our tour.
Along the way, an obviously drunk American girl made our acquaintance. I couldn’t help note the irony as she complained about the way she had been hit upon by a guy the night before. She described him as "pawing" her and yet she, while not realizing it, was "pawing" me as some people are wont to do. I was glad when she moved on.
Sydney Harbor is huge compared to Boston. It is a city of 4 million, but perhaps it's more concentrated along the large shoreline rather than spreading inland as much as Boston does.
Wednesday, February 5 – Sydney to Hobart, Tasmania
Up early - too early - at 6:00am to catch a 7:30 airport shuttle. Took my time finding breakfast and had a lunch made to go for my bare bones Virgin Blue flights where they charge for water or anything else you might want.
One uneventful shuttle later, I was back at the domestic terminal. (Sydney, by the way, has got to be the only airport I know of where passengers transferring from an international flight to a domestic flight must pay for a shuttle bus.)
Then, two uneventful flights later, with no interesting seatmates, I landed in Hobart to a wonderful greeting by Al Loidl (Alf AT1993, PCT19??...) and Max McDonald (Mad Max, AT19?? and Stuart's (AT19??) Dad). It just served to remind me that the AT trail family extends wherever there are thruhikers, regardless of when and with whom they hiked.
It was raining lightly but wasn't expected to last. We had a bit of a tour of a residential area of Hobart while Al attended to some business, then lunch at the casino, and then a walk in the Botanic Garden where we saw the well protected Wollemi Pine tree kept safe behind locked bars. This plant is endangered and was only discovered in 1994. It's a small plant and could otherwise be easily taken from the garden, hence the protection. We also visited an exhibit where conditions are kept as if on Macquarie Island, hundreds of miles to the south. Powerful fans, air conditioning, and a mist system kept the environment similar to the Antarctic conditions on the island. It reminded me quite a bit of the alpine summit conditions on Mount Washington.
After a quick stop at Kmart, I got dropped off at Max's place and left there. Max would be staying with a friend. I didn't even know the address here. Feeling a bit lost, I did the familiar first and checked my email. As I did so, I saw the Swing Dance flyer that Max had mentioned to me earlier in the day. There was to be some sort of dancing tonight but it was unclear whether I could get there or if it was even appropriate for me or just a beginner's lesson.
It was 6:00 or so by the time I got in touch with the swing dance contact. The dance was really just a beginner's lesson, but got some great ideas for other places to dance both tonight and on other nights. I finally went outside to figure out the address where I was staying. When I came back in, I found a road atlas and figured out which section of town I was in - New Town. That rang a bell so I looked at the notes I had taken about the other dance venues and realized there was a ballroom dance tonight, just 1km down the road. I then knew what I would be doing for the evening.
I quickly grabbed a skirt, my dance shoes, and Max's road atlas and headed out the door. The first person I saw confirmed my location on the map and the location of the Polish Club, where the dance was to take place. She also told me where I could find food for dinner.
In short time I found myself at the club. I poked my head in to see a very young crowd getting what seemed to be an easy lesson so I kept going and found dinner in North Hobart, a wonderful section of town with lots of restaurants to choose from at reasonable prices. I found a little food store and had then heat a slice of frittata for me which I ate as I walked back to the club. (It was interesting for me to note that while I had never ordered a frittata before, I make something remarkably similar occasionally when I'm at home.)
I made it back to the dance in time for the end of the lesson. My first night there was free so I quickly changed into my skirt and shoes, brushed my teeth, and joined the lesson. Then I was in for a bit of a surprise.
The lesson was a sequence of steps for a progressive dance. I caught on quickly though and had no problems learning the dance. But, the surprise came when I realized that there was something called "nouveau ballroom" being taught and practiced here in Australia. It turns out, almost all dances at a ballroom dance are taught with proscribed sequences. It reminded me very much of the Round dancing I had done in the Modern Western Square Dancing community. For the most part, they were simple sequences that repeated, but some were a bit more complex.
The frustrating part was that I couldn't tell in advance if they were "leadable" and if so, who would know how to "lead" them. It was obvious that many knew the sequence but not how to lead the steps. Occasionally, there would be a dance without steps and I found partners for those, but it was frustrating to sit out so much for the others.
I was also surprised to find the age of the crowd to be so young. About 2/3 of the crowd was in the high school/college range with the rest ranging from 5 to 80. I was definitely not part of the young crowd. At 9:30, "dinner" was served of sandwiches, watermelon, cake, donuts, and more in an adjoining room.
After the dance, I was invited to join a crowd headed for Dave's, a local coffee shop that I had passed on my way to dinner. Ann, the woman who invited me, also indicated she would be happy to drop me off back at home afterwards. Sounded good to me. As expected, it was mostly the older crowd out for the late night but it was nice to meet people away from the pressures of the dance floor. I got a lead on a similar dance for Friday with mostly an older crowd.
Thursday, February 6 – Hobart
I was awake, but not yet up when Stuart, Max's son, called. We talked for a bit but he had to get to work. Then, as I couldn't get on-line, I just typed in a few days worth of journal entries so they would be ready for when I did get on-line. As I was doing that, Max came by and cleared out his laundry sink and got me back on-line. He also encouraged me to call the local walking club about a four-day hike that was offered for the next day.
So, I loaded up some journal pages and almost got my web site updated but lost the connection when the computer crashed. I'll have to wait until Max gets me back on-line again or I can find a cafe that allows me to use my own floppy to download a single text file.
So, I did laundry and got in touch with Rob McGregor about the Truchanas Huon Pine Reserve hike he is leading tomorrow. A good bit of the hike is off track but I'm joining them anyway for four days in the reserve looking for old growth trees perhaps.
It was after 3:00 when I finally got out of the house to shop for my backpack. I was a bit frustrated at the store as they had some of the stuff I was looking for, but not other stuff and I ended up leaving without enough food for the hike.
I rushed back to the apartment, dropped the groceries, and grabbed a bus downtown - just in time to meet Alf and Maggie who were bringing me to the barbie that Max pulled together. There, I met Hazel, Max's friend, and her three Korean boarders in town for 6 months to learn English. The food was great, the park beautiful and the rabbits plentiful. A stop at Hazel's place on the way back and a quick walk to look for the Korean girls rounded out the evening.
Friday, February 7 – Hamilton Range, Southwest National Park
[This next set of four days is about one hike I did. I wouldn't ever do it again, but I do not regret having done it... if any of the participants reads this and would like to make corrections or additions, I know I've forgotten to include a lot.]
Up early for my 7:05 ride to the trailhead. Can't believe how clockwork this group is. Two cars headed about three hours to the trailhead at the Gordon Dam where we would meet the eighth person. There, at a Visitor’s Center of sorts, we were to pick up the key to the gate at the far end of the dam so we could start our hike. Arrangements had been made in advance.
Well, this time there was no key and eight of us were chomping at the bit to get going. [Information excluded to prevent anyone from getting into legal trouble. ;-) ] Anyway, we got to the top of the ladders at the far end of the dam...
Then the fun began…
I knew some of this was meant to be off track and scrubby, but both Alf and Max assured me that I would enjoy it like the Appalachian Trail. WRONG! While there was a vague track, it was completely overgrown and the majority of the day was spent in knee to shoulder to above prickly scrub. It didn't take me long to realize there had been a bit of miscommunication when I had spoken with Rob, the leader, the day before. I had asked about thorny bushes, and to be honest, there were no thorns, but I was looking for the crux of the question to find out how scratchy the walk would be. I certainly expected some scrub here and there, but not hours upon hours of it.
Also, it was apparent that either Rob's memory of the hike was wrong, or, much more likely, it had just been a while since he had been there and the conditions had changed in that time, and rather dramatically. In any case, I soon realized I had gotten myself into a bit more than I had intended to. But, as I had told Rob on the phone, I would persevere and fully intended to continue as originally planned.
At lunch, it was getting cooler and I finally put on my bike tights and long sleeved shirt to help protect my already scratched up arms and legs. I had left my gaiters at home and was sorry I didn't have them with me. The extra clothes helped quite a bit but it was frustrating not to be able to use my poles effectively. Even collapsed, I couldn't carry them on my pack as they constantly got in the way. Eventually, Rob carried one for me and I carried the other. I talked about stashing them somewhere but it's a good thing I didn’t as I need them to pitch my tent.
I was also concerned about the descent I would have to do on the way out without the poles.
As usual, on my first day out, I wasn't eating enough. Then, it started raining and we donned rain gear and pack covers. At the next stop, I grabbed some snacks for my pockets in the hopes of increasing my caloric intake.
Over the course of the day, it became apparent that there were at least two others who would not have come had they known of the conditions in advance. One was almost as slow as me.
So, while the actual hiking experience wasn't exactly meeting my expectations, the mountains and views were far exceeding my expectations. Who would have expected this island, the smallest state in Australia, to have such mountains? Range after range of them and once out of sight of the reservoir created by the Gordon dam, not a single man made structure in sight. Wow!
So, I spent the day slipping, sliding, stumbling, tripping, and falling. It was a bit too much for my own sense of fun. I marveled though, at the speed and stability of some of the other hikers. At one point, I took one quite spectacular slip and slid about 2 meters down the mountain. Thankfully, I gave a bit of warning and Blane, directly below me, managed to brace a foot and provide a nice easy landing for me. (Thanks Blane!) Good thing he stopped me as there were two others directly behind him and I really do not enjoy doing my rendition of a human bowling ball. Amazingly, I was totally uninjured or even scratched by that particular slide.
It got to be a joke between us… Every time Rob said it would get harder, it got easier. Of course, every time he said it would get easier, it got harder. Can't blame him though. Scrub grows and over the years, conditions changed.
I had my introduction to a number of plants, including button grass, so named for the one long stick with a button-like "flower" coming out the top. The tufts of buttongrass, however, are a menace. If you step squarely on top, they'll hold you up, but if you step off center, you crash or slide to the ground between the tufts. These tufts can be a couple of feet high, easily.
In any case, this was a demoralizing hike.
When we finally got to our night's destination, I still had enough water so I stayed behind to talk to Rob, the leader, as other went to get water. I didn't in any way, want to affect the progress of the group and I was also concerned about the health of my knees. I told him that since they were coming back the same way, I would be happy to stay at the high camp and await their return in a couple of days. I don't mind having time on my own in a spectacular setting, and it would allow the group to go at their own pace, a bit faster than me. I also told him that I wouldn't do anything to stop the group and would continue if he preferred that. Rob indicated that I should join the group as far as the river and then while they explored more, I was welcome to relax and do nothing.
Dinner was a Lipton-like Curry Chicken noodles – quite tasty – then bed at 9:00. At 11:00, we had a rainstorm that lasted 1.5 hours. I was concerned about the blowing wind and my tent, but my tent held just fine and I didn't even have to lower my awning at all. The rain ended at 12:30, but the wind continued. I slept fitfully.
Saturday, February 8 – Hamilton Range to Dennison River, near the Trachanas Huon Pine Reserve
A 6:00am wakeup call seemed excessively early for an 8:00am departure. I was ready early and got some journaling in while I waited.
Our descent did not please me. The going was rough and my poles were a bit useful but not for long enough to be worthwhile. I'm feeling very negative today and I fear it shows to the others in the group. I'm spending way too much time on my butt – whether on purpose or out of my control, and I'm just not having a good time.
While the terrain is spectacular, I would never knowingly opt for a trip like this – and to be perfectly honest, there are a couple of others on the trip who were also a bit surprised at the nature of the hiking. But, I guess misery loves a bit of company and I was thankful to have a couple of others with me as I slowly descended.
As we descended, the scrub got a bit higher and we entered forest. Theoretically, we were following a ridgeline trail. In reality, we were following the ridge, over blowdowns, rotted trunks, down slippery grades, and finally along a cliff of sorts with no good footing. It was in this forest that we could first hear, then finally see, our destination, the Dennison River. We got there at 12:15, having taken 4 hours to descend 4km. SLOW!
We ate lunch at the beautiful pool below the falls alongside the river and at the mouth of the gorge. We were accompanied by some small leaches. But carefully positioning ourselves on dry rocks eliminated the problem.
The plan was for the group to continue upstream and cross the river and camp in the Huon Pine Reserve. Rob gave me the option of staying where I was until the group returned the next day. I eventually decided to stay and immediately, my mood improved. As the group was about to continue, both Rob and Blane gave me the books they had been carrying.
After they got on their way, I quickly started doing some housekeeping… I dried my tent and aired my sleeping bag. I also took the opportunity to rinse my socks, etc.
Quick glances up the river and it took the group 45 minutes to finally cross the river and head up into the hill on the other side. But, another hour later, they were back at the river still working their way upstream again. They finally ended up where they had first crossed, just 50-100 meters upstream from where I was.
Rob walked back along the bank and was looking in my direction but by the time I got where he could see me, he had stopped looking in my direction. But, my waving must have seemed strange to the other person at the river, taking a bath somewhat further upstream. He will probably now think of me as a voyeur. C’est la vie.
I eventually set up my tent on this spectacular rock just over where I was hanging out.
It was still too early to eat, so I started writing more in my journal. I was interrupted with a visit by a very cute animal. It was about a meter long from nose to tail and moved like a cross between a fox and cat. It was reddish brown and had white spots along the whole length of the animal. I had no idea what it was – wombat, maybe, but I don't remember wombats being so tall or spotted. [It turned out to be an endangered Spotted Quoll.]
I think I managed to get a picture of it but then it disappeared behind the rock with my tent on it. I didn't think anything of it right away, but then I realized my shoes were up there. In the states, you have to worry about animals taking or chewing on the shoes for the salts from your sweat. I quickly got up and made my way to the other side of the big rock where I could see my tent and shoes. Surprise, surprise! I almost came face to face with the animal as it was sniffing my stuff. It skedaddled right away. I think we both had a bit of a shock. :-)
Who knows? Maybe I'll be lucky enough to see a platypus – or better yet, a Tasmanian Devil.
While preparing dinner, I frustratingly dropped a fruit bar down a narrow hole. It was too small for me to reach down. I had kind of given up on getting it out and was frustrated at having "spoiled" this pristine area but then, with a stick, I successfully maneuvered the bar into a bigger hole that I could reach. In other parts of Australia, there’s no way I would reach into a blind hole but here, in the frequent flood plain along the river, and having banged around with the stick quite a bit, it seemed safe.
Dinner was another Lipton-like meal of Mac and cheese – only this time, I added an "Aussie slice" of what would be known as "American cheese" in the United States to it. Yum! Again I managed to drop something else from my food bag down a hole but this time, retrieval was somewhat easier. I would have hated to have to left that blatant a sign of my having been there.
I got to page 88 of Blane's, Agatha Christie Book, "And then There Were None" before nodding off to sleep. No rain and clear skies so my fly stayed up all night. I was much warmer that the previous night. My legs and body are extremely sore and stiff. Given a choice, I would not hike tomorrow, but I have no choice.
Sunday, February 9 – Dennison River to Hamilton Range
I awoke to a very sore and stiff body. It was a vitamin I (ibuprofen) morning. I had a long slow, morning and was still surprised that the others were making their way back as early as 9:00am. I spotted them crossing the river but still had to finish packing as they arrived.
Today's climb, reversing yesterday's, was almost pleasant to me. The climb though the forest wasn't so bad – even with the blowdowns, and the grass had dried and I could use my poles effectively. I found the going quite pleasant and I was able to follow the small track much better going up than I could going down and had to spend much less time crashing through undisturbed grass than during the descent. The sun was warm and the breeze refreshing.
We took a few long and languorous breaks on the way up and I discovered the pleasure of laying back and disappearing into the buttongrass. With my hood up against the wind and sun, I could shut my eyes and nap or open them to the spectacular scenery of the Tasmania that has completely surprised me. As far as I look in any direction, there is range after range of rough and rugged mountains, many of which have no trails. We are in the heart of the southwest of Tasmania. There are no roads or other man made object visible and some of the areas we've visited were only "just" discovered in the 1960s.
We had started our hike at the dam and that was the last man made evidence we saw except some tiny pieces of old tape marking the trail every now and then.
I do have very mixed feeling about this hike. I would certainly never do it again, but yet having done it, I've seen parts of Tasmania most Tasmanians will never see. This is one of those adventures – or should I say, misadventures – that ends up making the best of stories because of its unexpected hardships.
Even my tent, designed for the protected ridges of the Appalachian Trail, has been holding up well. The fabric has stretched more than the tape has and so the material flaps loudly and ominously in the wind, but yet, it holds together and causes no grief other than noise and the sides pushing in rather dramatically under these stiff and steady winds.
It's only 8:00pm, but the wind makes it cold once the sun set behind a cloud so the warm place to be is in our tents.
OK – here's the roster for the hike:
In addition to Rob, the leader; I’ve been hiking with six others: In my carpool was Midj, an no-nonsense past-president of the Tasmanian Walking Club who was a wealth of knowledge and the only one willing to talk in the carpool; Cathy, sitting next to me in the back seat said almost nothing for the drive up but today, I was walking a bit faster and took a few breaks with her and finally broke the ice. She shared a few tips about unemployment here in Australia and about group dynamics issues with our hiking group; Gill and Blane, a great couple (married?) who are the most willing to stay with me when I go slow, mostly because Blane is slow and Gill doesn’t go far ahead. Both of them feel this hike was more than they bargained for. They taught me quite a bit about the flora on the trail – both tongue in cheek, and not. Gill and Blane were not in our carpool; Jeff, our carpool driver spoke a bit on the way up and was quite interesting to speak with. He knew quite a bit about the history of the area and the mountains in the area. He had developed some sort of peak bagging point system that incorporated not only the height of a mountain, but the difficulty in getting to them and climbing them; Kent, the man in zinc, is the guy we met at the dam. He’s always ahead of me (and just about everyone else, too) and I suspect only puts up with me and is vaguely bemused by my presence on this trip. He and Midj took off yesterday to tackle Mt. Olegas and will catch up with the rest of the group tonight or tomorrow.
It's now 8:30. It's 10 degrees inside the tent and a bit colder outside. There's still plenty of light but I'm bored stiff. I'm hoping the front associated with this wind brings no rain. A dry descent tomorrow might be just the thing to end this trip on a positive note.
In the meantime, Cathy's protected spot is still windy though none is coming in through the mesh. But, there's a huge lump in the middle of the floor and I can't figure out how to sleep around or on top of it. Argh!!
Monday, February 10 – Southwest National Park to Hobart(Regatta Day)
Awoke to pea soup fog and managed to get out of my tent, do some personal business, and get back in just before wake-up. That means, I probably didn't go far enough away, but in the fog, I didn't want to get lost.
Our wake up call was at 6:00 but since we don't leave until 8:00, I'm just sitting here, writing this, killing time while staying warm under my half packed sleeping bag, in my blowing but still in one piece tent. Not sure if or how much I slept last night, but it wasn't much - between the blowing and the uneven ground, not to mention the slow leak in my pad (same leak I repaired this past fall, maybe?)
I am looking forward to getting back to the car, but I am not looking forward to the process of getting there. Oh well. The day would be so much better is the weather would clear out and dry up, but this being Tasmania, that's not likely to happen. To be perfectly honest, I've been fantastically "lucky" with the weather I've had all through Australia. But, that's to the detriment of Australia as they've been in a two-year drought.
Even as we went to sleep last night, one of our group was listening to the radio to get the latest reports of bush fires near Hobart.
As planned, we pushed off at 8:00 and shortly thereafter, the fog changed to rain, thankfully light rain. But the going was rough and we started the day with an uphill climb that warmed us right up. Moving along, we were using GPS to pinpoint our location in the fog. We had quite a drop to negotiate at one point and I managed to dislodge the bite valve to my hydration system along the way but didn't realize it until I had lost quite a bit of water, maybe a liter or more, and got completely drenched from the waist down and into my shoes.
On most other days in Australia, the cooling effect would have been welcome. But when it’s only 11 degrees, it was an invitation to hypothermia. Sure enough, I started getting chilled. As long as we were moving, I stayed warm enough but at the next two stops, I put on my Pertex pants and filled sweater and felt better immediately. I could stay warm and ward off the chills while hiking and not get too overheated.
I had feared the descent back to the car thinking it would be like the descent to the river, but as Cathy said the night before, it was much more gradual. While there were certainly some steep sections, they were thankfully, few and far between and mostly manageable.
There was the one point where my pack got completely caught and I could neither go forwards or backwards. I had to undo the pack straps, free myself, and then flip the pack over my head to get untangled. Next time I'll remember to let my poles go first. ;-) I then rejoined the group at the dam access road no longer in use and knew we had just two relatively short stretches before arriving back at the dam.
Midj and Kent, who had taken off during the second day to go a bit further and climb Mt. Olegas, caught up with us shortly after the road. It was also during that stretch where Gill, who had been great about teaching me about the flora along the way, taught me about the "foot trap tree." I, in turn, named the "ribbon flower" that appeared just when you started wondering where you were.
The rain had also stopped sometime earlier after we descended below the clouds and we even had a bit of sun here and there. Thankfully, we were able to descend the ladders in good, dry weather. Kent, who had hauled our packs up on the way in, was the one lowering them on the way out and we were quickly making our way back across the dam only to face a long set of stairs to get us back to our cars.
We stopped for a beer or whatever on our way out was the only sustenance for the three-hour trip back to Hobart where we were just lucky enough to avoid being caught in a sobriety check. They have "bays" along the road that hold seven cars and they pull over seven at a time. The car in front of us was number seven so we just got waved on.
It was about 7:30 when I got dropped off at Max's place. My first predicament was what to do with my wet and muddy stuff. I ended up spreading it out all over Max's front garden. My tent got hung up on the clotheslines. Most stuff was emptied out of the pack and left outside to dry overnight. My clothes got put straight into the wash tub and rinsed and rerinsed. My shoes were so gross; I used the garden spigot to rinse them off – inside and out. They stayed outside for almost two days to dry. My bag was only slightly damp so that came inside to be draped over a chair to dry.
Once I had my gear set, it was after 8:00 and I had a decision to make. Shower first or food. FOOD! Bowing to the power of suggestion, I grabbed the coupons Max had left on the table and headed out for the 1km walk to the Pizza Hut. For A$6.60, I got a large pizza to go which would be plenty for two meals. I got two slices into me before stopping at Woolworth’s for some breakfast supplies and then finished my meal as I walked back to the apartment. I was just a little but hungry. :-) The rest went right into the fridge.
Tuesday, February 11 – Hobart
Got up and pulled all of my now, mostly dry, gear together. Gave up on my laundry and found a North Hobart launderette listed in the yellow pages. Finally headed out around 10:00 to do laundry. Wish the buses ran more frequently. I probably got to the bus stop a minute after the last one had gone by, but with heavy, dirty, wet laundry in my pack, I didn't want to walk. I probably waited a good 20 minutes. Sigh!
Doing laundry was a straightforward affair, not unlike the States. It gave me a chance to peruse an old newspaper with an article about how the quolls, a threatened species, may have prevented a dam from being built in the north. While the quolls were certainly a factor, there were other contributors to the decision not to build.
(Oh, it turns out the animal in my camp a few nights previously, was a quoll.)
I took the wrong bus back and found myself on Newtown Road near the Woolworth’s and Pizza Hut so walked back from there. With dry laundry, it wasn’t so bad. I had lunch of leftover pizza and a couple of little treats from the bakery on Newtown road. Then, I made my way back to the bus stop only to have a long wait – again.
I spent the afternoon wandering Elizabeth Street, buying shorts and gaitors but failing to find sandals. My knees have been in horrible shape all day. I've been taking ibuprofen just to keep going. Sitting down is an abrupt and painful affair. Getting up is even more painful but much less abrupt. When possible, I sit in chairs with arms to push against when I stand up. Walking around isn't too bad as long as I'm moving, but standing still is a bother.
Unable to get in touch with Hazel and Max, I stop in N. Hobart on the way back for some cheap but good eats at one of the many food places there. At Saigon, for $7, I got a plate completely filled with lemongrass chicken, noodles, and Thai spicy beef. It was all good and a great bargain. I grabbed a ChocWork Orange Magnum ice cream bar after dinner while waiting for my bus.
Wednesday, February 12, 2003 – Hobart
I started the day by figuring out what I would do with the rest of my time on Tasmania. It was apparent when talking with Max the night before, that some of our plans to hike together weren't going to pan out. I wasn’t going to be able to wait until the following weekend when both he and Alf would be available. While that was disappointing, I still had to plan the rest of my time.
So, upon calling one of the backpacker travel agencies, I realized that the bus options where I could get on and off at will were expensive ($300). So, I booked a rental car ($35/day) for the next morning that I could keep for as much as five days. I could also drop it off in Devonport rather than Hobart. Perfect! I would use the car to go up the east coast.
That being decided, I made my way downtown, had lunch on the pier, stopped by a hostel to unsuccessfully try to find anyone who might like to join me, and stopped by the museum to look at the taxidermied animals – specifically, the quoll. The quolls there were much smaller than the one I saw and all were depicted in a more weasel-like crouch than up on all fours like the one I saw. This was also true of the ones depicted in the field guide type books I also looked at.
I spent the balance of the afternoon killing time trying to find sandals, buying a thickshake, and finally going to an Internet café. I got back to Max's place at 4:00, an hour earlier than I expected and just a couple of minutes too late to meet Stuart, Max's son, and the guy that put me in touch with Max. Argh! How frustrating!
Max brought me up Mt. Nelson for the great view of the city and to see the semaphore station there. He dropped me at Al's place and went to get Hazel. Hazel, Al, Max, and I all walked along the beach to a nearby restaurant. I treated the crowd to some smoked salmon pizza. I doubt I’ll ever see that in the US. Back at Al’s place, we hung out and got to see Al's AT and PCT slides. We hung out a bit with Maggie, too.
Thursday, February 13, 2003 – Hobart to Bicheno
My 7:00am car drop-off finally called at 7:40 – lost. Once they found me, it was a more beat up car than I expected. It was an ancient Nissan Pulsar with 380,000km on it. The things that mattered most worked but one door handle was broken and another works but just barely. There were plenty of other problems, too, but if nothing else, they won’t charge me for any problems that happen while I have it. Besides, if it gets me there, it'll be worth it.
It was too cloudy to bother driving up Mt. Wellington so that's one Hobart experience I missed that I would have like to have done. So, I headed straight for the Tasman Peninsula and rather than take the highway the whole way, I got off early and took some dirt roads that more closely followed the coast. It was a beautiful drive. I stopped at every roadside attraction on the Peninsula and felt like I was traveling along the Great Ocean Road again. Funny that because I had just heard from Stuart who is now traveling in New Zealand. Some of the sights on the Pennisula were so familiar. Blowholes, arches, signs indicating how far and how long, etc. Some of the sights include: The Tessellated Pavement, a bizarre natural phenomena; the Blowhole; the Devil's Kitchen; Palmer's lookout, more notable for the gnome and parrot statuary garden near the lookout; and Remarkable Cave. I stopped for lunch at Port Arthur.
Then, I made my way north and took the horrible Wielangta Forest Reserve Road instead of the highway. The gravel they used for that logging road was so big, I was mostly reduced to 25-35kph. The rainforest walk and associated bridge were notable, as was the view towards Freycinet from the Thumbs lookout – which I got to after not hitting a bunch of roos.
I ended up getting to Triabunna 50 minutes after the last ferry left for the day so I gave up on Maria Island and headed for Swansea only to discover that the hostel there had closed so I kept going towards Freycinet. But, I was tired so I went to Bicheno instead of Coles Bay. It wouldn't be a big backtrack the next morning.
It was a nice hostel that had just changed hands two weeks earlier. The hostel had good services and was close to the town center. The people staying there were great and it was really nice to just hang out for a while. One person there came with me as I ordered dinner at Porkies, the local café. Then, it was back to the hostel to just hang out some more.
Friday, February 14 – Bicheno to Cooks Campsite, Freycinet National Park
Up and out by 8:00 with a stop at a bakery for a piece of banana sour cream cake and a croissant. Got to Coles Bay only to be told that there was no water along my intended two-day route. Not wanting to carry water for two days (HEAVY!), I gave up on the overnight and decided to just do a day walk so I got a one-day pass for the car. Then I stopped at the visitor center only to be told that there was definitely water at the campsite. I then had 30 minutes, to get dressed, repack my backpack, move my car back out of the park, change my permit from a one day car permit to a 2 month backpacker permit, buy a map, and catch the bus back into the park. Somehow, I made it. It helped that the bus was running late. Of course, when the bus dropped me off, I had to repack my backpack, which I did in front of the toilets. It was only later that I realized I had left my sunglasses in the car.
While repacking my pack, I met a woman hiking alone for the first time. She was a bit nervous about it but truly prepared. If out plans had coincided, we would have hiked together, but I told her where I was planning on ending up in case she wanted to end up in the same place anyway.
The hiking was remarkably easy. It was a nice, sandy path with steps where necessary. It wound in and around a few gullies before arriving at Lenana point for a great view of Hazard beach. I stopped here for a bit of lunch rather than waiting for the beach. On to Hazard Beach for a 3km beach walk along the calm, shallow, and mostly pristine beach. A quick look up on the 3-meter high bluff showed roos hopping along. I never really expected to see them so close to the beach.
I saw two jellyfish, one huge, and one Portuguese man-o-war washed up along the shore. There were tons of scallop shells, oyster shells, and purplish long spiral shells.
At the end of the beach was a waterless campsite that I bypassed and walked another 1.5 hours to the Cook site, which has water. This is a wonderful site, high on a 3-meter bluff along the beach. There was an on-shore breeze so rather than set up my tent facing the water, I set up in the protection of the trees where there was no breeze whatsoever. Everyone camped here is quite friendly and sociable. Anje, the woman I had met this morning, also showed up having felt that her intended site was too short a walk for the day.
The sunset brought everyone and their cameras out. I not only took a couple of sunset pictures, but also pictures of the others taking pictures of the sunset. It was pretty funny.
Then, it was time for bed and journal writing. While writing this entry, though, I keep getting interrupted by the pesky bushy tailed possums that only get more curious when/if you shine a light on them. There is no possum bagging, so I just hope my tent stays intact tonight and no possum decides to chew through in search of food. We'll see…
Saturday, February 15 – Freycinet to St. Helens
Birds seen today: Pied Oystercatchers; Sooty Oystercatchers; Hooded dotterel, Pacific Gull, Australian Pelican, Black Swan, Black-faced cormorant (two days ago), silver gull, black cormorant.
Up after a great night's sleep and thankfully, my tent was in one piece with no possum holes. As usual, I'm the first one up and about so I pack quietly and eat breakfast. By the time I leave everyone else is mostly up and about so I'm able to say good-bye. I start off down the beach after a group that had camped further up the beach and a lone hiker that had camped an hour or so further at Bryant Beach. But, when I get back in the trees, it's apparent that I've somehow gotten web clearing duty again. Chances are the rest of the people went over the mountain and I've decided to go around and across the isthmus to Wineglass bay. So, I walk along "blessing" the beach with my hiking poles and manage not to get too many webs in my face. Blech! Ptooey!
When I got to Hazard Beach campsite, I almost got that perfect picture of a roo with the beach and water behind it, but it spooked. Then, Ray, one of the guys I had been talking with last night, caught up with me and we walked and talked for a while. The weather was threatening and actually sprinkling every now and then. Many of the summits were in the clouds. We walked back by crossing the isthmus to Wineglass bay where we stopped for a quick photo session and snack break before heading up to the lookout on the way back to the car park. The surf at Wineglass is much rougher than at Hazard and Cooks beach.
At the lookout, Ray, who had been there many times, just hung out while I went out to the lookout. The bay was quite impressive from that vantage point. When I got back to the junction, I found Ray lounging around in what is most likely the coolest, and most comfortable, bench I've ever seen on a trail. It's out of wood, but it's a large sideways S shape and reminded me very much of an orange chair my parents used to have that my sister now has in her house. It wasn't cushioned but the shape was similar.
Ray went ahead on the downhill, but waited for me at the base to give me a ride back to my car. I have a return bus fare but would have had to wait another 3.5 hours for the bus.
With just one snooze stop, I beat a hasty retreat to Bichena, only to find no bank or other establishment where I could get cash from either an ATM machine or my US$ traveler's checks. So, I stopped at the local scenic beach to look at the blowhole, and then made my way north, to St. Helens. There, I couldn't get my head together so I ended up traversing the town a gazillion times in the search for the bank, the toilets, the internet access (closed), the hostel, the dinner place, and the ice cream shop.
I ended up having a great dinner of curry on the beach with a few gulls hanging around and a whole flock of galahs (pink headed gray parrots). There were plovers on the beach below and black swans on the water.
I got myself organized and managed to connect by phone with the rental car company to tell them I would only need the car for four days, and Jim, a friend of a friend to tell him I would be in Devonport a day early. We chatted for quite a while and made plans for me to get to his place the next evening in time for dinner.
Once again, I found the gang at the hostel to be very friendly and social. We even ended up playing a party type game together. (By asking yes/no questions, figure out the name on the tag taped to your forehead.)
Then, it was time for a shower and journal.
Random observation (this was actually from weeks ago on the mainland)
On all my other travels, the young folks are all trying to get tanned and spend as much time in the sun as possible. Here, I'm impressed that almost everyone uses sunscreen without fail. While I'm not usually good at remembering myself, when everyone else around you is using it, it's hard to forget. After five weeks or so, I have not gotten burned at all though I am somewhat tanned at this point.
Sunday, February 16 – St. Helens to Devonport
Not wanting to disturb a roomful of sleeping people at the backpackers when I woke up at my usual early hour, I just grabbed a few things and left knowing I had until 10:00am to check out. I found a place to grab some breakfast and then took it to Peron dunes.
There had been a bit of rain overnight so the top layer of sand was slightly wet and dark. As soon as I stepped on it though, I "wrecked" that top layer and broke through to the white fine sand below. Should there be a question of my finding the way back to the car, I would easily be able to follow my own footprints.
My footprints weren't the only ones in the sand. Roos, snakes, loping paw prints, raccoon–like prints (five clawed "fingers"), etc. I wonder if the animals have as many problems climbing the dunes as I have.
I had a bit of a surprise when I got near the water. There was a ridge of sand, and it was only as I approached the ridge, that the waves started making their way over the ridge and down the depression on the other side. I decided I didn't need to get any closer to the water's edge.
I got a peek at the rest of the spit of land but turned around to go pack my bags to get out of the hostel by 10:00. I got out by 9:45 and found the Internet access point was open at 9:45, 15 minutes earlier than posted on their door.
Then I made my way to Binalong Bay only to realize that I'm beached out and they are all starting to look the same to me. But, I did get a picture of the statue of the bikini clad women and on my way back to St. Helens, a picture of a dock with a row of pied (or some sort of white throated/bellied) cormorants.
I then left St. Helens for good.
My first stop out of St. Helens was at the Pyengana cheese factory where I sampled some cheeses and bought a few to go. Further up the road was St. Columbo Falls, at 90m, thought to be the tallest falls on Tasmania. They were flowing and beautiful and in one of the rainforest gullies I've gotten so used to seeing.
Just before entering Derby, I stopped to get a picture of the rockfish, a huge fish painted on some rocks that itself looked fishlike. In town, I ran into Max, a guy from the hostel last night who is bicycling around Tasmania. We sort of had lunch together outside the general store.
The roads through here are surprisingly twisty and hilly. Though distances are short, it takes a lot of time to get from one place to another. I spent most of my time switching between 3rd and 4th gear.
I arrived at Jim's house just a few minutes late. We relaxed a bit, ate dinner with his son, and then stopped at the tourist office to book my Overland Track bus rides on the way to the penguin viewing area. Jim gave me quite a tour of Devonport in our spare time while waiting for darkness to fall before the penguins come out of the water. And then again, afterwards to see the lights of the town from a hill.
The penguins are very cute though a bit hard to see as there are no lights allowed. I'm just glad we had a full moon to see by and the guide used a red light every now and then so we could see the birds a bit better. They are very cute.
Monday, February 17 – Devonport
Spent the morning typing in journal entries and catching up with the friends with whom I needed to make fairly immediate plans: How to meet Robin in Auckland; How to get the bus to Paihia to meet Jack; If and when I would catch up with Stuart in Auckland; Etc.
Jim came home for lunch and I went into town with him when he returned to work. A stop at the Backpacker's Barn yielded no solid fuel. A stop at the other place in town also yielded no solid fuel. A stop in the local Target, however, finally found me some cheapo, lightweight reef sandals to replace my paper thin ones. On the off chance I found a hot knife in town, I also managed to have the straps sewn shorter so that I could trim them back.
I grabbed a chicken sandwich and chips (fries) for lunch followed by a stop in a Milk Bar for the smallest bottle I could find that also had a reliable screw top. It was a children's fruit juice drink.
I found a place to sit along the pedestrian promenade and drank that juice drink with a good piece of chocolate cheesecake. Then, I found the public toilet (bathroom) so I could rinse the juice out of the bottle. Returning to Backpacker's Barn, I bought 100ml (~3.5oz.) of methyl alcohol to supplement my remaining Esbit tablets. I also bought a pair of hiking socks to replace my missing Bridgedales. Believe it or not, in looking for the thickest socks with the least amount of wool, I ended up with a pair of (Wigwam?) socks that had 50% polypro, 30% merino wool, and 20% possum. Yes, these socks are imported from New Zealand and contain possum fur. [While possum are endangered in Australia, in New Zealand, they are an invasive species.]
I stopped and chatted with the proprietor for a while and then made my way to the supermarket to buy food for eight days on the trail. Then, I met up with Jim who was once again, so patient as I made my last few stops to pick up just the few more items I needed before I left.
Tuesday, February 18 – Devonport to Waterfall Hut, Overland Track
[I'll be incommunicado for the next week or so. I'm planning an eight-day traverse of the Overland Track. It's an 80km trail but I'm giving myself plenty of extra time as there are quite a few side trails and the best parts are off the main trail.
There are reports of snow in the hills and perhaps a bit more to be expected. Snow in the summer is extremely unusual, but this is, perhaps, Tasmania's most similar area to the Mt. Washington area in New Hampshire.
Unlike New England where we always say that if you don't like the weather, to wait five minutes, here on Tassy, they say wait ten minutes. :-)]
This morning, I luxuriated in the last shower I was to have for a week. Then I called home to attend to some business and found out that Boston was in the midst of a snowstorm expected to dump as much as 60cm of snow in places. One stop on the way to the bus for some extra breakfast goodies for my pack and then Jim dropped me off at the Visitor’s Center on his way to work. I had a few extra minutes so I went to McDonalds for a quick breakfast but hadn’t quite managed to finish before the bus pulled up. Of course, it was only after I got on the bus that I realized that I had left all of my cheese for the trip in Jim's fridge. Sigh. I can't imagine anyone else eating processed "Aussie Slices" (American cheese), so I fully expect them to be there when I get back.
The bus trip was uneventful and wound along the twisty, narrow, windy roads so prevalent in Tasmania. We drove through Sheffield but did not stop so I got no pictures of the murals that town is so well known for. The town of murals has quite a few incredibly detailed murals that depict life in the town and surrounding areas, including Cradle Mountain. They are both beautiful and detailed.
Once I got to Cradle Mountain, I didn't have nearly as much time at the Visitor's Center as I would have liked but managed to catch the Maxwell's shuttle for the last stretch into the trailhead. It was surprisingly cold, windy, and misty so some rearranging was done, more clothes added and raingear kept at the ready if not worn.
The walk started with a long boardwalk across open moorland. Then it climbed past some waterfalls in a rainforest ravine before emerging in the open again for the vast majority of the day's hike. There were many viewpoints of the lake and the parking area where we started our hike. Eventually, we got a view of Cradle Mountain – in the fog. Occasionally, it seemed like it might clear a bit as we could see the summit in and out of the clouds. But, it never cleared enough to justify going up to the summit.
We hung out a Kitchen Hut, an old hut now used only for emergency shelter. It was nice to get out of the incessant wind for a while. It was a good place to eat "lunch". Then it was just a two-hour walk to Waterfall hut.
I caught up with a group moving surprisingly fast for a guided group and talked with one of their guides for a while (networking!). I quickly found myself at the hut.
This hut is new, holds 24, and is quite amazing by White Mountains standards. There is a gas heater, both counters and tables with stainless steel tops on which cooking can be done safely, a 4 seater composting toilet with absolutely no odor (!?!) a short boardwalk away, a boardwalked helicopter pad, drying racks, separate lodging for the caretaker, and three huge water storage tanks holding water collected off the roof of the hut.
There's a nice crowd here including two women, Theresa and Doreen, that I had spent some part of the day walking with, Zev, an Israeli, and a bunch of others familiar as faces from the track and bus into the park. Dinner, journaling, and socializing with the others rounded out the evening.
Wednesday, February 19 – Waterfall Hut to New Pelion Hut
Awoke to find the woman next to me packing up very early, but it was late enough for me – ever the early bird. Feeling like I just wanted to walk, I decided against joining the two women who were backtracking to go up Barn Bluff. By 7:30, I was walking.
I took a short break at the turnoff for Wells Lake and had a very interesting experience. At one point, I sat and listened and quite strangely, I heard absolutely nothing. No bugs buzzing, no birds chirping, no wind in the trees or through the bush, nothing. It was very bizarre. Admittedly, there are few sounds here, but there usually is something and for there to be an absolute absence of sound for nearly a minute was quite strange.
It was at this point that it occurred to me how little plane traffic there is here. The only major airport south of here is Hobart and most planes going there do not fly over the western part of Tasmania. Other than that, during the day, there are scenic flights in small planes that pass overhead, but nothing really more than that. Of course, when the huts are being resupplied, there is some helicopter traffic, but in the week I spent there, I neither saw, nor heard, any helicopters.
It took just 2.5 hours to get to the next hut, Windemere, supposedly a three-hour walk away. I spent an hour there and then continued on.
A short time later, while walking with Zev, I met a northbound man. We stopped to chat and Zev soon moved on, bored. It turns out this guy was also an Appalachian Trail thruhiker named El Chasqui. How cool is that? We stood there and talked for 45 minutes and finally exchanged email addresses.
My next stop was at a beautiful lookout over a hanging valley. There was a friendly group there and it was a great spot to strip off extra layers and apply sunscreen before taking another lunch break.
Moving along, I stopped again to chat with a couple of men doing trail maintenance. Ever thinking about job options, I had a few questions for them. I also made it clear that I appreciated the work they were doing. I suspect that most of the people along the trail have no idea how easy they have it on this incredibly well maintained trail. I finally arrived at new Pelion Hut 6 hours after I had left Windemere. It was supposed to take 5 hours of walking time, but for me, it was 4 hours as I took lots of long break here and there.
It felt kind of strange. This was a 24km day. Everyone else who did it was totally wiped out and I got the feeling many had no idea what they were really doing. But, I felt fresh at the end of the day. I could have easily walked a couple more hours. After my experience last week in the Southwest National Park, today's hike made me feel somehow very competent. But, this trail is ridiculously easy with miles of boardwalk and the rest no more difficult than some of the easy trails in the Middlesex Fells where I walk at home. There are a few rocks and roots, but barely any steps higher or lower than a standard staircase.
I think it was this sense of competence that made me connect with the other AT thruhiker. He was one of the few people I've met along the track with a relatively small backpack with nothing dangling from the outside. Like me, he was moving quickly, easily, and wasn't laboring under his load. He also didn't find it a problem to stand there talking with someone while carrying his backpack. We had both commented in some way on this.
The trail maintainers also had an interesting take on the backpackers. They could tell at a glance the "hikers" from the "tourists." I'm guessing I fell into the "hiker" category.
The maintainers had mentioned it would take about two hours to get to New Pelion from their work site. I think they might have looked at Zev's awkward load when they said that, but, thankfully for Zev, it was more like one hour.
New Pelion Hut is huge, and new. It holds 60 people, and like the other huts, it's on a first come, first served basis. But, 60 is only the number of people it would hold in bunks. There would be plenty of other floor space if people wanted to use the kitchen area, or sleep on the veranda. There was also plenty of tenting around the hut.
I settled into a "double" bunk, knowing that I was taking a chance if the hut filled up and someone wanted to share the bunk space. But, the hut had plenty of room and it was nice to spread out my gear. My roommates, all guys, are an "older" lot than the typical college crowd. They were a fun crowd but I was warned by their friends in the adjacent room about their snoring. I figured after the AT, I can still sleep through almost anything.
Dinner was a typical noodle dish followed by good conversation and journaling. Just as I was about to crawl into bed, I realized there were people sleeping on the veranda. What a great idea. So, I brought my sleeping bag out and joined them.
Just as we were all dropping off to sleep, a bushy tailed possum started running laps between those of us on the veranda. We all tried to ignore it until it started into my toilet paper bag that I had near my head. I scared it away but I think it ran into someone else who also scared it away. Then there was this scurry of footsteps, followed by a huge THUD! It must have gone of the edge of the veranda and fallen about 1.5 meters. All of us stopped pretending to ignore the possum and burst out laughing. That was the last of that problem.
Thursday, February 20 – New Pelion Hut, Overland Track
An easy day climbing Mt. Oakley today. The mountain is directly "behind" the hut so I left my stuff on my bunk and packed light for the two-hour ascent. I walked up with Doug, a Canadian ex-pat now living in Tassy. We walked through about 5 distinct environments on the way up – moorland, gum trees, tea trees, "pineapple" trees, more forest, and then scrub the rest of the way to the summit.
Typically, the moorland would be knee deep in mud and water, but with this two-year drought, we were able to walk through and stay dry.
The view from the summit was spectacular. We could see all the way back to Barn Bluff and on to Mt. Ossa and beyond.
I walked down slowly on my own and Doug caught up with me just at the bottom of the descent. We walked back across the moor. I spent a pleasant afternoon on the porch. I ate my "special" dinner of noodles and salmon with custard for dessert.
Thankfully, my knees feel fine and that bodes well for ascending Mt. Ossa, Tasmania's highest mountain, tomorrow.
I ended up sharing a room with Doug, Theresa, and Doreen. While winding down, we were chatting and they ended up giving me a lesson in Aussie:
Spanner – wrench (confused with wench)
Friday, February 21 – New Pelion Hut to Kia Ora Hut
Cloudy skies greeting me as I got up early – as usual. Not the best setting for getting a picture of Mt. Oakley or the hut.
Startled a pademelon on the way to the toilet. Then had an interesting show when I got to watch three kookaburras sitting on a single gum tree branch (yes, Kookaburras do sit in gum trees), laughing their heads off, beaks and heads thrown back, beaks open, shoulders and chests heaving. Then, other nearby birds joined in, as did a nearby Currawong. What a racket for 6:30 in the morning.
Given the low cloud ceiling, climbing Mt. Ossa was in doubt. Without being able to see the views, I wasn't going to "bother" climbing. I didn't leave New Pelion Hut until 8:15 and got to Pelion Gap just 1:15 minutes later. It took quite a bit less time than I had expected. I sat there for another 1:15 before the clouds started lifting enough for me to feel like I would have a good chance on getting a view from the summit.
There were two people who told me the climb was easier than Mt. Oakley, just longer. They were WRONG! The track under Mt. Doris (Hi Mom!) was nice enough, but then there was a boulder filled chute that needed climbing. Some of it reminded me of the climb up the Hunt Trail on Katahdin in Maine, but the reality was that I did manage to get up on my own (I had needed help on Katahdin). However, there were a couple of places on the way up that I really worried about getting down. Basically, there were drops of about 2 meters and I knew my knees couldn't handle a jump.
But, the top was interesting. It had a fairly large flat area with section of the protruding rocks sticking straight up. I climbed up one section and that was enough for me. The clouds hadn't lifted quite as much as expected but the views were still spectacular. I still can't get over the rugged nature of these mountains. They look like the vertical buttes of the US desert, southwest, but surrounded by greenery instead of desert. And there are range after range of them. I do have to wonder that "this" is Tasmania. Mainland Australia kind of met my expectations, but the hills and mountains of Tasmania have been a big surprise. I knew there would be some, but not this vast amount.
Getting down the mountain was tough, but not as trying as I expected. With the current state of my knees, I just go really slow on the steep stuff and I'm not afraid to use my butt. :-) On the tricky parts, there were places I could lean to take some of the pressure off my knees as I descended. So, it was no real problem, after all.
I took a quick stop at the gap to rehydrate and then it was a quick 1:15 to the Kia Ora Hut. Kia Ora is a Maori greeting. The hut got the name from the New Zealander who named it. I was "greeted" at the hut by a kangaroo that was feeding next to the path and saw no reason to move as I stepped over its tail. This is the unfortunate equivalent to the deer in the Shenandoah and Grand Canyon. These animals have no fear of people when a bit of fear would be quite a bit healthier for the animals. This roo even had a joey (baby) feeding 10 meters away and felt no need to be at all protective regardless of all the hikers milling around the hut and campsites.
As we go further south, the huts are somewhat older and have a more tired feel. They are still perfectly functional though and provide the same amenities as the huts further north along the trail.
Saturday, February 22 – Kia Ora Hut to Narcissus Hut
After going to sleep earlier than ever (8:30pm), I was up and hiking by 7:00 today. I had a very quick walk to DuCane where swallows, nesting in the rafters of the old hunters cabin, came and went through the door after I had opened it. This hut is for emergency use only but tenting is allowed in the area.
I found one person sleeping inside the hut and I'm assuming the tent I saw tucked away in the forest was Doug's. But, it was still early and there was no sign of life coming from the tent, just a few other early risers coming up behind me from the Kia Ora Hut.
I did stop at the DuCane "toilet" only to find it was a true "open air" model. They even had a flag system on the way up – move the flag to one position to let others know that the toilet was occupied and to wait there. Move it back to let others know the toilet is free. It was a squat over a pit type toilet with a lid. Quite pleasant actually, given the beautiful forest around you.
Continuing on to the falls, I found the trail work may have been done by someone with too much time on their hands. There was one puncheon with a wire pattern stapled to it for traction that was spirals alternating directions. It was much more complex than the typical serpentine pattern. Then, there were the herringbone wooden steps. Marvelous!
The falls were all beautiful. The first stop had two falls and the second stop had one very tall and thin falls.
I had a nice lunch stop, albeit with the flies, at the Windy Ridge Hut. Moving along, I saw my second snake, this time, a smaller (20cm), brownish black, White Lipped Whip snake. It’s the smallest venomous snake on Tasmania and not considered too dangerous given its small size.
The huts keep getting older as we go further south and neither Windy Ridge nor Narcissus, my destination for the night, were any exception. But these huts are still better than any of the shelters and most of the huts I'm used to seeing on the AT or in the Whites.
At 8:30, just when some people started crawling into their bags, two women, Melody and Tania wander into the hut. It's quickly established that they had come from Romney Creek that day. Romney Creek is the Cradle Mountain trailhead where most of us started our hikes days ago. They had just walked 73km in 13 hours and change. The record for the entire 80.5km route is about 8 hours, plus or minus a few minutes. Each year, in the Jan/Feb time frame, there is an official race through the park.
Sunday, February 23 – Narcissus Hut to Queenstown
In an attempt not to disturb the sleeping hikers, I've been keeping my stuff in the kitchen area so that when I get up in the morning, I can pack there, away from the sleeping hikers. That sort of backfired today as the two women who came in late were sleeping in the kitchen in their very crinkly Mylar space blankets. Oh well. They would soon be up and about anyway.
I got packed and made one last trip down to the jetty for a view of the lake and nearby mountains. The dragon's breath (mist on the water) was beautiful in the morning light.
By 7:30, I was on my way. For the most part, the trail between Narcissus Hut and Echo Point hugged the shore and made frequent dips down for some good beach access. From one of these points, I got some good pictures back towards Narcissus with the mountainous backdrop. I could see a tent or something in the foreground on the point of land. By the time I got to the next beach, I waved to a passing kayaker who came over to say "hello". Turns out he was the one camping on that point of land. Lake St. Clare is huge and this morning, the water was dead calm. Quite a treat for the kayaker.
Continuing to the Echo Point Hut, the walking through the rolling headwalls in the rainforest was beautiful. At the hut, I ran into the kayaker again who was taking a break there. There was still too much fog on the lake further south and he wanted to wait until it cleared before continuing south. The other reason why he would stop was to make sure he wasn't run down by the morning ferry in the fog. While we were at the hut, the ferry finally made an appearance, late though because of the fog. The passengers the ferry disgorged quickly disbanded into the woods for their walks – either north or south.
I was happy to continue south now that there were people ahead of me on the trail. All morning, I had web-clearing duty and I was sick of the spiders and silk on my face and in my mouth. Blech! Ptooey!
The trail from here to the visitor center moved quite a bit higher and only had a few more beach access points. It was apparent why as there were huge trees that had tumbled into the water forming a barrier of beach logs that would not be fun to climb over and around. It was much easier going contouring around the lake a bit above the lake.
The day was a hot one and I was glad to be in the relative shade of the forest. Getting closer to the visitor center, I started running into day hikers off on a little wander a ways up the trail. They still stared at me though as I passed. I probably smelled really bad… ;-)
I had a bit of a culture shock as I got to the Visitor’s Center. But there, I got my bearings and some info from the center. Then I headed for the restaurant for some chicken schnitzel and chips which, surprisingly, I couldn't finish. I finally tried some Dim Sim [sic] which I found disappointing. After lunch, I did laundry at the campground. Nothing like wearing full raingear on a hot sunny day while washing every other last stitch of clothing in my pack. I got a few looks and felt very much like I was back on the AT and had just come into town. Good practice for the PCT, I suppose? ;-) After my laundry dried, I took a shower. It was so nice to put clean clothes on afterwards.
While I was waiting for my laundry to finish, Doug showed up. It was nice to see him again so we exchanged emails as he was headed south on the bus towards Hobart.
I hung out at the Visitor’s Center for the remainder of the afternoon waiting for the bus to Queenstown. I didn't even bother calling the bus company, and instead assumed there would be room. Not surprisingly, there was plenty of room. We had a huge coach and there were just about 10 of us on it. It was while I was waiting, however, that I heard about the Rhode Island Nightclub fire. No details, of course.
The bus ride, as usual, was beautiful and along more twisting and winding roads. We stopped to let a group hiking to Frenchman's Cap off. I saw that mountain from the Southwest National Park so it was nice to see it a bit more up close from the north. We passed yet another reservoir with exposed shores showing once again, how dry it was.
It was obvious as we approached Queenstown. Queenstown was a mining town and the smelting process denuded the hills around town for miles. It is somewhat reminiscent of the Lehigh Gap/Palmerton, PA area of the AT. But, the vegetation here has taken hold with a vengeance and the only completely "naked" hills are the current tailings from the ongoing mining operations. These hills are still being mined for copper, silver, and gold though the smelting operations were shut down a few decades ago.
This is not a huge tourist town and the main street has a no-nonsense appeal to it. I checked into the Imperial Hotel figuring to "splurge" on a $25 hotel room rather than walk the 15 minutes to the hostel. They were out of the cheap rooms but I was hungry so I went for the $40 double. It would be nice to have a room to myself. It took them three tries before they got me a key to a room that didn't already have someone else in it. Of course, this room didn't even have the number on the door.
I dumped my stuff and ordered a pizza for dinner. While waiting, I went to the local milk bar for a diet Fanta. It was too hot in the shop to eat there so I went to the corner and used the picnic tables there to eat. Back in the hotel, I stopped in the TV room to watch a Hornblower movie before turning in for the night.
It was after 11:00pm when I got to my room. I was sorely disappointed when I got there. The big double bed had bugs in it and the little twin bed had the dustiest pillow. I switched pillows with one from the big bed, hoping I didn't bring bugs with it and went to sleep. It was too late to complain tonight.
Monday, February 24 – Queenstown to Devonport
Up early so hung out in the TV room watching news but just a little info on the Rhode Island fire. Not even sure when it happened so it might be "ancient history" by international news standards.
I checked out of the hotel and complained about the room situation. They gave me half my money back. Nothing else they could do, I suppose. I checked out but left my bag there for them to hold while I wandered the town waiting for the bus to come
Cheese and apple from a grocery store, and a couple of rolls from a bakery made my breakfast. I then took a short walk up a steep hill to the Spion Kopf lookout for a bird's eye view of the town, surrounding hills, and the gravel playing field. Imagine playing football (soccer) or Aussie rules football, on gravel. Ouch!
I spent an hour catching up with email at the local access center, wondering why this one is so cheap ($2.50/30 minutes) when elsewhere in Tasmania, it's so expensive.
The Miner's Siding display was fantastic. It depicts the history of the town over the years in rough copper slabs formed over stone.
I had yucky Chinese and a marginal smoothie for lunch. Then caught the 2:00 bus to Devonport. This bus was met by the bus heading to Strahan. Good thing, too. I had left my poles on the bus the day before and hadn't even realized it until the driver handed them back to me. Well, at least I didn't need to deal with them around town. ;-) I realized my throat was sore before I got on the bus so managed to get out my throat lozenges and sucked on three of them before getting to Devonport. I think I'm getting sick.
The road back was along yet more twisty and windy road. Got a mural picture but not in Sheffield where they are fantastic.
Had I known the Tassie link bus went right by Jim’s place, I would have gotten off there, but it was too late by the time we went by.
Jim keeps cooking these great dinners. Robbie and Des stopped by and we al had a nice chat.
Tuesday, February 25 – Devonport
[I'm back from one of the easiest hikes I've ever done. The Overland Track has so many miles of boardwalk I don't know whether to really count them in the mileage...
I managed to finish the track before picking up a nasty cold/flu thing. So now, I'm back here at Jim's place, taking it really easy, trying to recover as much as possible. I'll be traveling back to the mainland tonight by way of an overnight ferry, and on Friday, I'm flying to New Zealand. I'm really not looking forward to flying if I'm this congested...]
Woke up sick as a dog. Sore throat and sniffles now, but I know it'll get worse before it gets better.
I spent the morning catching up on email and doing some PCT planning and applying for my permits. The permits can't wait until I get home.
In the afternoon, I went to town with Jim to get moisturizer for my dry neck. Not sure why it's so dry as it got just as much sunscreen as the rest of me and I've avoided sunburn to date. I found a new pen for my journal and it matches my old one. But, I need a new journal type book and the choices here in Devonport are limited. I may need to find a more art type store in Melbourne or Auckland but I should still have a week or so of space in my current journal.
It's hot and I'm not feeling well so we had Subway salads for a light dinner and an evening of documentary TV and reading.
Wednesday, February 26 – Devonport to Bass Straight aboard the Spirit of Tasmania ferry
Still sick. Stayed in all day but gave Jim my Canada Entry Application to fax to Canada so I can cross the border into Canada legally at the end of my PCT thruhike. Did laundry, dishes, caught up on more email, finished typing in and mailing my journal entries for the Overland Track, had lunch with Jim, had a lazy afternoon finishing Bryson's "In a Sunburned Country" and left it as an early birthday gift for Jim who laughed every time he picked it up to peruse a few pages. Had dinner in town with Jim and then got one last little tour to the mouth of the Don River and Jim's childhood home. Finally, we said goodbye when Jim dropped me off at the Spirit of Tasmania Ferry terminal for my overnight ferry back to Melbourne across the Bass Straight.
I quickly found my seat in the "cruise seat" section, positioned right next to both the door and the garbage, and knew it would likely be a long night. Also, I think the preponderance of barf, err, motion sickness, bags in the seat pocket in front of me also attests to the usual state of the crossing of the Bass Straight. There must have been at least twenty in the pocket in front of me and a quick glance at the neighboring seats found just as many tucked in those pockets, as well. Thankfully, the weather and waters were extremely calm tonight and those bags would be left right where they started.
I joined a few others on the deck while the ship pushed away from the dock and marveled at it as it turned on a dime in the narrow river to head forward out to sea. Once the ship got underway, I was able to switch seats to one with a bit more legroom, near a wall, and away from the immediate vicinity of both the garbage and door. Things were looking up. But, that was only because the two people occupying those seats upgraded to a cabin. Otherwise, it was supposedly a full house.
At Jim's suggestion, I asked about viewing the entry into Melbourne from the bridge in the morning, but was told that was no longer allowed since 9/11. No surprise but still a bit disappointing.
This ferry is quite large, has 11 decks, including quite a few for cars and trucks, and a pool on the top deck. Almost all of the services were on deck seven, my deck, so I ended up sticking to deck 7 all night. The Cruise seats were supposedly like airline seats, but while they did give you a bit more legroom, they were quite a bit firmer than most airline seats and quite a bit less comfortable. Sigh.
When the lights were dimmed in the cruise seats room at 10:30, I grabbed my pillow and blanket and went back out to the lounge area. While technically, we weren't supposed to be sleeping on the lounge couches, they stop kicking people off after 11:00 or 12:00, so I just read a paper for a while and then stretched out. Didn't really sleep well, but it was better than not sleeping well in the cruise seats. In any case, I'm sure my fellow cruise seat passengers appreciated the fact that I wasn't sniffling, sneezing, and coughing in there the entire night.
Thursday, February 27 – Bass Straight to Melbourne
It was 6:50am when the ferry pulled into the town where people pull left to make a right turn. The sun rising over the horizon almost made the city look special - almost. For what it’s worth, I've been assured by the rest of Australia that the Melbourne way of driving is unusual and not representative of the rest of the country. Sure enough, I saw nothing even vaguely resembling that Melbourne way of driving unless you count the fact that most people drive UNDER the speed limit as strange.
I almost felt at home here in Melbourne. Getting to the City Centre on a tram was a breeze. I didn't even need a map to know where I was or how to get to the hostel from the tram. I checked in just before 8:00am, made my way to my room, quietly made my bed so as not to disturb my sleeping roommates, and went to sleep for an hour or so.
I then spent the morning wandering around Victoria Market, a huge market filled with mostly temporary stalls selling everything from food, to clothing, to toys, and more. As I was wandering, I spotted "New York Boiled Bagels" on a sign. Bagels, being hard to find in Australia, were a treat and having just passed another stall selling Tasmanian Smoked Salmon, I knew exactly what I was going to have for breakfast the next day. Some fresh strawberries and a banana rounded were my fruit purchases and a couple of fresh croissants finalized my shopping at the market. Then, I added a trip to Cole’s supermarket for cream cheese to my list of things to do this afternoon.
I wandered down Elizabeth Street unsuccessfully looking for a replacement journal, but at least I had success in getting the cream cheese at Cole’s. Had a croissant and a small slice of pizza while wandering through town. Ate the second croissant back at the hostel and then took another nap. Chatted with my roommates for a bit and then had a late afternoon meal of bagel, cream cheese, and lox, and then wandered Swanston Street looking, unsuccessfully, for a journal (yes, I'm being picky). Since I had already eaten half of my breakfast, I bought some yogurt and then took the free city circle tram to get most of the way back to the hostel. The tram had changed since January. They expanded the circle to go around the Telstra Dome and the tram no longer goes down Spencer Street. It still went two blocks from my hostel, but it just now takes longer to get there.
At the hostel, I ate a yogurt with some strawberries only to discover the strawberries were mostly mushy and gross. Blech! I ran into one of the Israeli girls from the Overland Track that I had talked to a bunch and we chatted for a couple of hours. A quick trip across the street for an ice cream and then I journaled before bed. My intention of reading some of Leon Uris' "QBVII" was for naught as I fell right to sleep.
Friday, February 28 – Melbourne, Australia to Paihia, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
A long day of travel started at 6:00. I enjoyed my last bagel with cream cheese and lox and then walked to the Skybus in time to get the shuttle to get to the airport two hours in advance of my international flight. Managed to spend A$3.10 of my last A$3.15 so I wouldn't have to carry around heavy change for a month.
Uneventful flight except maybe for the fact that the salmon tart/pie they served with lunch was not just OK, but actually delicious. Huh!
I did not lie on my customs declaration and declared my camping equipment and dried fruit. They didn't care about the mango but did want to see my tent, poles, and pegs. I got the impression they were surprised at its compact size. They took it to the decontamination room anyway and when the inspector brought it back, she really had been surprised to find it clean. I don’t think they had to do anything to the tent.
I was surprised at how long it took to get into the city on the bus. A full hour given traffic and stops. I'm glad I had three hours from landing to catch my bus north. I had just enough time to grab dinner before the bus came.
On the bus, I sat next to a Maori woman who confirmed what I had seen on the streets. The Maori are much better integrated into the western culture in New Zealand than the aboriginals are in Australia. In OZ, with a few exceptions of course, the aboriginals mostly stayed on the fringe, avoided eye contact, and are mostly just plain absent from city culture altogether.
So, on the bus I learned a few Maori words and more importantly, how to pronounce them. "Wh" pronounced with an "f" sounds, etc.
The weather was rainy, but only while the bus was moving. The rain didn't start until the bus pulled out of the Auckland station and it had stopped by the time we pulled into Whangarei where I had to change buses. It rained again for some of the way to Paihia, but the skies finally cleared and we could see the Milky Way... until we got to Paihia and then it clouded over again - but no rain.
Jack (Archaeopteryx), a hiker from the AT in 1999 met me at the bus. It was a quick ride to his house near the top of a hill at the end of a cul-de-sac, and behind a locked gate. With the position of his house, and the number of BIG windows he has, I can't wait to see the view during daylight hours.
Having done no research before coming to New Zealand, I was surprised to find a thriving beach culture in Paihia. There were campfires on the beach, and some of the most highly rated backpackers (hostels) in NZ are located here.
We took another quick trip to town, but came back quickly when it was apparent that I was in no pub mood. We hung out for a while then Jack went back to town and I got on-line to discover that my hiking partner was delayed leaving the states as she is sick and was advised by her doctors to wait a few days to fly. Not a problem... we will figure things out. And we both know that things always seem to work out.
Saturday, March 1 – Paihia
[It seems strange to be typing in yesterday's entry but knowing that it is still yesterday in the states and on the server where I'm typing.
It is 18 hours ahead of the eastern US here which means it's more like just 6 hours behind, but tomorrow instead of today. So, at 10am on Sunday here, it's 4pm on Saturday there. We're relatively close to the date line here.
Anyway, here's what happened yesterday - it was a slow day.
P.S. The things that I didn't do were: hiking, parasailing, taking an extremely fast boat to a hole in a rock, swimming with dolphins, fishing, whale watching, seeing Maori dance, taking a ferry to an apparently charming little town called Russell which used to be considered the hell hole of the Pacific, taking a tour to 90 mile beach where even the buses drive on the beach, seeing Kauri trees, hanging out on the beach, going to Waitangi where the original treaty between the British and the Maori was signed, and more.]
Slow morning in the house still fighting this cold. Felt no need to rush though while having breakfast looking through huge windows out over the bay. Absolutely beautiful! Caught up with email and typed a journal entry.
Went to town with Jack when he came back in late morning. Saw his fruit and veggie store in the process of shutting for renovations over the next three weeks. In this fishing village on the shore, there are absolutely no places to buy fresh, uncooked, fish. Jack's going to be opening the "Fresh Chef" and will be selling fish in addition to the fruits and veggies.
I met a bunch of his friends as we wandered around for just a few minutes before he went back to work.
I spent the day not doing much. I ate at New Zealand's "best" fish and chips place, spent a lot of time in the information center gathering info on what to do and where to go, and how to get there. Took a nap on a bench in the shade, ate an ice cream, and when the women's fishing contest ended, I was there as the boats came in and the first fish, all striped marlin, were weighed. The 126.2kg fish was the likely winner but I didn't stay to see them all.
I caught up with Jack and finally met his niece, Meghan, who was visiting for a couple of weeks. They were just getting out of church. Hung out at the house for a while and then back to town for dinner. Jack came back to the house for a nap before a party and I came back and ended up watching "Philadelphia" before getting on-line one more time and going to sleep.
Sunday, March 2 – Paihia
Woke up still coughing a bit. I can tell I'm on the mend but still don't feel up for being very active yet. Not sniffing or sneezing nearly as much.
Lazy morning at home, emailing and typing.
Meghan, Jack's niece who's been here for two weeks, and I hitched a ride into town with Jack. He gave us a short tour of Bledesloe Mountain which afforded us great views of Waitangi and Paihia. Waitiangi is where the British signed the peace treaty with the Maori.
Then while Jack went off to work, Meghan and I had some pretty good chicken quesadillas (more like burritos) at a second floor cafe overlooking the wharf and beach. Nice views.
Then, Meghan and I did some research and signed up for the 3:00 parasailing boat. They didn't have room for two separate sails so we decided to go then and go tandem.
With Meghan about to leave town to go back to the States, we did a bit of shopping and grabbed an ice cream before heading back to the pier to watch the last couple of parasailors before the boat came in to pick us up.
This boat was designed for parasailing and they make it really easy on you. You wear a sling-like harness attached to the parasail, which for some strange reason was the Stars and Stripes, and sit on the back deck of the boat until the sail lifts you off the boat. No getting wet, no running, no scraping along, just a lift straight up.
I'm not sure how much line they let out - either 600 or 1000 feet, but you don't go up that high as the angle from the boat to the sail is quite low. We could see all the way from Jack's house in the hills to Paihia and over Russell. My favorite part was the bit of a "freefall" they let us experience. They stop pulling you and you dip towards the water, but they didn't actually let us go in. They have enough control to just dip your toes - or give you a good pull through the water. You tell them what you want and on a hot day, a dip would be very refreshing.
Landing was easy. As we approached the boat, he said - just stand up - so we did.
We couldn’t find Jack afterwards so we grabbed a taxi back to the house. Jack soon called and with a friend, Woody, we all went for pizza at a pub and stayed to play a group trivia quiz game. Back at Jack’s place, we had Pavlova for dessert. I managed to get in a load of laundry. I went to bed knowing I would have to get up early tomorrow.
Monday, March 3 – Paihia to Auckland
After a quick stop at a halfway decent bakery for breakfast, I caught the 8:00 bus from Paihia to Auckland. I couldn’t stay awake and dozed on and off for much of the way. I arrived just after noon and walked to the hostel from the Skytower. It was a hilly walk to the hostel but not too far. I passed a number of other hostels along the way.
I had no problems checking in but found that the YHA hostels don’t automatically allow you to stay additional nights and they were booked for tomorrow night. So, I settled in, and headed out to grab lunch and do the round of nearby hostels only to find that they don't book ahead and always give preference to the hostelers already there. I'll have to go back in the morning and see which hostels have people who leave, opening up beds for new backpackers.
So, I did some research about car rentals and got on-line for a while to do research about hiking routes and get in touch with Robin, my hiking partner, now due here on Friday.
I took a couple of hours off in the afternoon to hang out at the hostel, work on a jigsaw puzzle, and read my book. At 7:00, Stu, one of the many people I know from the on-line hiking community, picked me up. It was great putting a face with a name. I had dinner with him and his wife Lynley and got to meet their four kids. Lynley’s homemade Pavlova redeemed the dessert from the marginal frozen one I had at Jack’s. It was delicious. Lynley also had an interesting take on brownies, complete with marzipan.
Stu and I talked about the gear-testing group a bit, NZ hiking a lot, and finally got to see his Nepal pictures from his recent trip. I WANT TO GO BACK TO NEPAL!!!
Tuesday, March 4 – Auckland
[It's not at all unusual to have a bunch of mail in my in-box when I log on, but when only one piece it junk mail and the rest is from friends, that's so cool! I had a great time catching up with people this morning.
Going to get a rental car this morning and head out from the city for a couple of days. I'll be back Friday, but only to pick up Robin, a friend who'll be joining me for the rest of the NZ portion of the trip, and then we'll be heading out of the city almost immediately.]
Dunkin Donuts bagel for breakfast, email, the travel agency at the hostel to reserve a rental car for TOMORROW, then checked out and made my way to the Auckland City Backpackers (ACB), a nice hostel even closer to town where I hung out for 1.5 hours waiting to see if I could get a bed there. But, it was a nice place to hang out. I read and talked with a Swiss couple for a while. We traded stories about our travels to each other’s areas.
Finally got a room, dropped my stuff, grabbed lunch, and then did the most obviously touristy thing you can do in this city. I made my way to the SkyTower and paid my NZ$10 to go up and get a bird's eye view of the city. The marina was still huge from the tower. You could see both the Tasman Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east - clear across the country from up there. Didn't see anyone jump off the tower while I was up there, but did see someone prepping for it as I came down so I hung out outside for a while and managed to get a picture of the tower with the jumper when he came down. This is a cable-guided jump of 192m that people pay to do. But, not many as far as I can tell. Actually, I watched him come down and it didn't seem so bad. But, I'm not doing it.
If I decided to jump from something high, it's most likely going to be a perfectly good airplane, but I have issues with that, too. ;-)
It turns out I can get Coughlan's solid fuel tablets here, but will likely go with alcohol for my stove. On the recommendation from the guy at the store when I told him I didn't need a liter, he suggested looking at the freebie shelf at the hostel and I scored the better part of a liter there. Cool! I'm sure I'll be leaving the leftovers when I get out of the city, too - except Robin will probably be able to use it up.
I bought a road map of the country and another map of the Tongariro Crossing, a highly recommended day hike.
I've been enjoying the art exhibit in town of the CowParade... Moo suede shoes, Cowch, Team Moo Zealand's Secret Udder, Jafa, Cash cow, and more. The secret udder is the Cowparade tribute to the radical keel design introduced by Australia II at the 1983 America’s Cup.
I just missed the America’s Cup but many of the boats are still here. I walked around the harbor and gaped at the huge yachts and sailing vessels, one stripped completely of all rigging. I got a shot of the Swiss flag in front of the Skytower with the America’s Cup logo. The Swiss team being Team Switzerland ironically in reference to all the Kiwis on board the craft. Indian for dinner followed by a slow evening of email, reading, journaling, and finally sleep.
Wednesday, March 5 – Auckland to Waitomo
Another Dunkin Donuts bagel from breakfast followed by an internet session to check on last minute details from Robin. I finally printed a southern hemisphere start chart but it’ll be too faint to read at night. My 9:00 car rental pickup came at almost 9:30 to bring us to the agency. My not-yet-a-member-of-YHA card was honored so we got the cheap rate.
I was so tired of town, I just took the time to figure out how to go south and left town. I had no problems getting on the highway. It felt good to be driving again, mostly because I knew I was in control and could stop when and where I wanted to – or not stop where I didn’t want to.
As I followed route 1 south, it changed from three lanes to two, to one, and became more and more rural. Construction slowed things down a bit, too.
I made my way to Waitomo by way of Otorohanga where I stopped at a great café for lunch. At Waitomo, I got hooked up with a Black Water Rafting trip through the caves in the area. These caves are known for the glowworms that inhabit them. Black doesn’t imply rough water like white water, it implies the underground rivers that run through the caves in complete darkness. Rafting is just tubing in truck inner tubes as I’ve done on surface water rivers in the past.
The outfits loan us wetsuits, tubes, and helmets with lights. We drove to the parking lot, and took a short walk across a cow field to the cave where we put in. We walked a bit in the cave before we got to the water. For the most part, we floated backwards with our feet on the tube of the next person, and our arms holding onto our tubes and onto the legs of the person resting their legs on our tubes. We could lean our heads back on the legs of the person behind us. For the most part, we had our lights off and just marveled at the preponderance of glowworms. Sometimes we would bump or scrape against the wall or sometimes we would hit our helmet on the ceiling but for the most part, it was smooth going. We would use our lights when there was something interesting to see such as formations. There was a foot, an elephant head, some bones, and more.
We had a couple of waterfalls to negotiate – one with a fall backwards to land on our tubes – the other by way of a swimming pool slide. I lost a boot at one point and had to finish the trip with my right foot just in one neoprene sock. Ouch!
Afterwards, we sat around sipping soup and eating toast for a while. This was part of the rafting trip. It was from here that we could see a working dog herding a bunch of cattle through a gate in a nearby field. I got to know a couple of the others from our five person group and ended up going back to the hostel to look at a guide book they had. Upon seeing the hostel, though, I decided to stay. It was a new hostel and had no bunk beds – sweet!
Eva, Louis and I from the rafting trip, and Jeanette from the hostel all took the advice of the hostel receptionist and planned an evening trip to R__________ just a few minutes down the road for a night time hike. We borrowed torches (flashlights) for the hike.
Having time to kill first, we stopped for ice cream. Wanting two flavors, I got a double scoop and got one of the biggest cones I’ve ever seen. It ended up being a big joke especially since Eva had bought a prepacked cone from the freezer for just $.50 less. She was disappointed that she hadn’t considered the hand-dipped. I had no problems finishing my cone.
It was mostly dark by the time we started our hike. It seemed like a temperate rainforest. We quickly made our way up the track and found ourselves going through little tunnels and then entering sizable caves that had glowworm populations to rival what we had seen earlier in the day. We completed the figure eight hike in complete darkness and further marveled at the glowworms in the bushes and wondered if they glowed in daylight but just couldn’t be seen in the light.
The glowworms which glow a bright turquoise seem look like bright specks of light and when looking up at them inside the caves, seem like constellations.
Thursday, March 6 – Waitomo to Ramarama/Drury (by way of Coromandel Peninsula)
I had a delicious breakfast of French Toast at the hostel café and then hit the road for the Coromandel Peninsula. A stop at the Paeroa information booth netted me the fortunate news that low tide at Hot Water Beach would be at 4:40pm. So, I continued on my way heading for the beach. Catching sight of the Twin Kauri Tree Reserve along the way, I stopped to walk the trail there (15 minutes) and got to gape at the twin giant trees. Moving on to the beach, I got there at 2:40, a bit early but still good timing to visit the Hot Water Beach. I changed into my bathing suit and made my way to the beach. It was obvious where to go. On this huge beach, there was one section packed with people and the rest was deserted.
The tide was mostly out so people were busy digging in the sand – first with their toes to find a hot spot, then with their hands or shovels.
At this beach, there are hot water springs under the beach. The water coming up is quite hot at 60-64c. When the tide is in, you can’t feel them as the hot water gets swept out in the cold ocean water. Two hours on either side of low tide, you can dig a "hot tub" in the sand and have your own personal hot tub. The vents are easy to find once the tide goes out so I found a spot and started digging. I ended up collaborating with the folks next to me, a grandmother and grandson. We eventually built a good tub with enough of a berm to keep out the occasional waves. We settled in to enjoy our sandy hot tub. Ah!
After searching for a while, I moved along to Cathedral Cove, a 1.5-hour return walk on a beautiful beach to an incredible natural arch. There was also a small cavern to explore but I only got a minute or so in the cave before the first wave of the incoming tide went past the entrance. It was no problem for me to get out but I'm glad I didn't get there any later when the mouth might be blocked.
Then it was time to beat a hasty retreat back towards Auckland. That trip netted me an incredible sunset and then a trip along some very dark roads, passing through completely closed and dark towns until I hit route 1 again. My lack of planning ended up costing me an extra hour or two of running around looking for a place to lay my very weary head. At 11:00pm, I pulled into a caravan park. The office was closed but a sign indicated to grab a spot and check in in the morning. I grabbed the spot next to the only other tent in the place. I quickly set up my tent and went to sleep, not having any idea how much these sites cost.
Friday, March 7 – Ramarama/Drury to Turangi
I awoke a bit before my alarm and was packed and leaving the site shortly after 6:00am. The office still wasn’t open and with no rates posted, I just left. I didn’t know what else to do. I got to the airport too early so I found a place with a viewing platform, bathrooms, playground, etc. to clean out the car and kill time. Then, it was easy to park and I had no problems meeting Robin. Rather than go back into the city, we immediately headed south.
We made a quick breakfast stop in a small town and then made for Hamilton where Robin activated her cell phone. We both stopped to check email and did a bunch of other errands including some food shopping. Continuing on, we stopped at a fruit stand for some fabulous strawberries and we stayed for lunch. Then Robin directed us on a long and indirect route to Turangi, the gateway to the Tongariro Crossing. We saw lots of cows, sheep, deer (there are deer farms here), forest (both natural and managed in grid formation), open land, limestone karst outcroppings, a huge swing bridge, a small waterfall, and Lake Taupo (bigger than Singapore).
Saturday, March 8 – Turangi
We were up at 6:30 and got the positive weather report at 7:00am. We would be hiking the Tongariro Crossing today. The Tongariro Crossing goes over and around volcanoes, still venting steam and sulfur. Our bus picked us up at 7:30, collected others from other area hostels and hotels and we were at the trailhead and hiking by 9:00am. It was apparent that I was in a situation like Mount Monadnock on Columbus Day weekend. There were hundreds of people on the crossing and 99% take the same route. Going your own pace wasn’t an option. Just going the pace of the crowd made things easier so we relaxed and didn’t worry about rushing.
We passed through fields of "lava bombs," climbed crater rims, and crossed large flat calderas. We saw Red Crater, Emerald Pools, Blue pools, and colorful rocks, colored reds, yellows, oranges, blues, and grays by all the volcanic minerals. We passed vent holes of plain steam, and those with the noxious scent of sulfur. We could feel the heat of the steam on our legs in the cool air.
We passed by Ngauruhee, a very symmetric volcanic cone which last erupted in 1975. Mount Ruapehu, snow covered in the near distance, last erupted as recently as 1996 and ruined the ski season that year.
On the way down, I peeked in a hut and saw nice mattresses and stoves were provided to the hikers that stay there. Passing a stream on the way down, we could see the mineral deposits and knew this came directly from the private hot springs we could see venting directly above us.
Even the beautiful stream was passed on the way down was clearly marked as "not fit to drink." We had to literally descend the mountain in a line. Even if you wanted to go fast, there were too many people to pass so patience prevailed and we got down in time to join the zoo of people waiting for their shuttle buses back to their respective lodging.
Sunday, March 9 – Turangi to Otaki Beach
We did a small hike around a lake, stopped at the Whakapapa visitor center, and drove up the road to visit the ski area on the flanks of Mount Ruapehu which was the site of Mordor, from the Lord of the Rings movie. Maybe I'll see the movie one of these years. It rained quite a bit as we drove south but cleared as we got away from the area. For the most part, we had an easy drive after that for a few hours except for the one New Zealand traffic jam we encountered. Yes. We had to drive through a flock of sheep being herded along the road. It took a few minutes and mostly left us in hysterics. Nirvana hostel - a home hostel - was a pleasant break from institutional hostels.
Monday, March 10 – Otaki Beach to the ferry from Wellington to the South Island
[Just a quick note to give you a heads up about a movie called Whale Rider. It was filmed in NZ and won the People's Choice award at the Toronto Film festival. I doubt it will ever make it to the mainstream theaters, but if it comes to an art house near you, it's well worth seeing.
I can't really say what the movie is about, except that it shows a fair bit of the traditional Maori culture as it stands now. The Maori are the original settlers of NZ before the Europeans came.
You do not have to be traveling in NZ to appreciate the movie.
We had an incredible drive to the Otaki Forks trailheads and then took a short loop hike. Then we drove to Wellington where we've been able to accomplish all sorts of necessary errands today. We saw a small, well ordered demonstration against Howard, marching through town accompanied by police - before and aft. Now, just killing a bit of time now while waiting for our 1:30am ferry to the South Island - ugh.
Tuesday, March 11 – Mt. Arthur Hut, Arthur Range, Kahurangi National Park
Robin and I took the car on the InterIsland ferry from Wellington on the North Island to Picton on the South Island. It's a three-hour crossing and for the most part, I managed to sleep almost all the way. Robin, however, didn't manage to sleep on the ferry. But, I was awake when we drove off at 4:30 so decided to drive as far as I could before stopping for a nap, if necessary. For the most part, the long line of cars getting off the ferry just followed one another to Blenheim. Then traffic thinned out from there. Even though it was raining, the traffic was so thin, it didn’t make driving any harder. The rain eventually lessened and stopped before we got to Nelson.
We got to Nelson well before the Info and Department of Conservation (DOC) office opened so we parked by the side of the road and napped some more in the car. Robin was still sleeping when they opened so I went in and got information about the Heaphy Track, one of the Great Walks, and shuttles to and from. We needed to get the permits and shuttles together before we could start hiking.
The info office opened and it was only then that we realized we needed our hiking permits before we arranged shuttles but the DOC office hadn’t opened yet. So we went for breakfast at a nice little cafe where we sat outside in a garden shop (or at least the plants around us were for sale). My chocolate chip banana muffin was superb. We went back to the DOC desk when they opened at 10:15 and in talking with the DOC worker, we changed our plans completely and found a loop hike to do in the Arthur’s Range (not Pass) area. This area of the park has few tourists and is beautiful. Plus, with a loop hike, we don’t lose a day or two to shuttling.
We had a crazy day of running errands: stopping at an outfitter to pick up a southern hemisphere compass and bug dope; we took the time for a nice lunch at a Thai restaurant; showered at the invitingly clean public shower facility in the middle of the town parking lot; did a load of laundry; figured food issues for the backpack and went shopping for food; packed our backpacks; got gas; and finally made our way to Motueka, the last town before we got to the trailhead. We stopped for an early dinner of greasy fish and chips so we wouldn’t have to cook dinner at the hut tonight, did our last organizing, and I grabbed an ice cream, my last for THREE days. Finally, we made for the trailhead.
Sometimes you really do have to wonder at the signage on the roads here... going to the trailhead, there was a sign: "Experienced drivers only, grades of up to 1 in 5 ahead." So, considering myself an experienced driver, we continued on to the trailhead. Admittedly, while the road was steep and I'm sure hit a grade of 20%, as with all New Zealand roads, it was incredibly well kept and presented no problems for the driver save downshifting for some portions. I am glad we had no traffic going in the other direction for the steep section.
With the trailhead at 900m, we only had a 220m elevation gain in 4.5k to the Mt. Arthur hut where we were staying the night. Amazingly, with a 7:00pm start, we were motivated to get to the hut while there was still light and managed to do the hike in an hour.
This hut is weather-tight, well equipped with mattresses, a heater, a supposedly empty water tank with plenty of water, and wonderful views. With no chores required save getting our sleeping bags out for the night, we just spent some time writing our journal entries and went to sleep. We had the eight-person hut to ourselves.
Wednesday, March 12 – Mt. Arthur Hut to Balloon Hut, Tablelands
I woke up at 4:30 for a bathroom break and slept fitfully after that. Woke Robin up at 7:20. There were clouds above and below us at the hut, but not at the hut itself. Of course, our hike took us up into the fog a bit but the way was always apparent. We had hoped to climb Mt. Arthur, but with the peaks in the fog, we waited at the trail junction for 15 minutes and saw no improvement so we skipped the peak and started across Horseshoe Basin. It was on this section of trail that the DOC worker had emphatically warned us to stay on the trail. We could easily see why. It was there that we started seeing the limestone karst potholes the DOC worker had warned us about.
The potholes are funnel shaped depressions, usually leading to a hole in the ground which could be a foot deep or a huge cave. At one point, Robin made here way through a cave or cavern tall enough to stand up in, with two obvious outlets. I could her as she walked to the other outlet and then see a rock she threw in the air.
We continued across Gordon’s Pyramid having been above treeline from the hut to the far side of the pyramid. We ran into a group of ten and then two more going in the other direction. From the summit, we could see Salisbury Hut, an intermediate stop. We descended and went through primeval scrub and forest on the way to the hut. It seemed strange to run into more potholes in the forest. There was another group at the amazing Salisbury hut where we stopped for a break. This hut had a composting toilet with solar powered lights. Lighting? In the backcountry toilets? I’m glad we were moving on even though the group was a friendly and interesting lot.
We stopped to climb through Bishops Cave and then walked through the "Enchanted Forest" on the way to Balloon Hut rounded out our hiking for the day. We had great company from a British couple we had met earlier at the Salisbury hut. Bed at 8:30 and journaling by light.
Thursday, March 13 – Balloon Hut to Asbestos Cottage
Another day with some morning fog but it burnt off before we got to Mt. Peel. We were going to bush bash to the ridge and attain the summit but I wimped out on a steep climb and headed back down. Robin attained the ridge before descending. A break at Lake Peel was nice and then another quick hike to the end of the other ridge down from the summit of Mt. Peel. There, Robin went up that side of the ridge a bit only to find out from that vantage point that we had missed a more well-defined trail that would have made the climb up and down a relatively easy climb. Sigh. While she was on that ridge, I went to the lake lookout and met a couple hiking in the other direction.
Our descent was along a route marked with poles which for the first time on our hike, was not a well trodden trail. Along the high ridge with the short grass, it was easy to follow. Moving lower and skirting the forests, we were in high tussock grass and the poles were lost or hard to find at times but as we moved forward, we always managed to find the markers. There was one steep descent towards the reservoir (Cobb?) before we turned and went through yet more varied types of forest, this one birch-like but open. Most of the rest of the day was spent descending except for the last section where a 30-minute climb felt more like an hour.
We finally arrived at the Asbestos Cottage, not knowing what to expect. The DOC worker who sent us in that direction seemed rather cryptic about it. Upon arrival at Asbestos Hut, so named for the nearby mining, I think we were both a little dismayed. This "hut" was a tiny, little, grungy, two-room shack. It was nothing like the well-appointed huts we had been at the previous two nights. But, given our usual haunts in the Whites and along the AT, we just settled in.
It was then that we found the "book" and started reading about the history of the Cottage. It didn't take long for both of us to appreciate the history of the cottage and be glad we had been directed there for the night.
Henry Chaffey had built this cottage in the 19-teens as a hideaway for him and Annie, a married woman with two sons who escaped from her abusive husband with Henry into the hills. They ran away to the hills not only to escape the husband, but to escape the stigma of such actions in Victorian society. They did eventually marry, after Annie's first husband died - 17 years after they had first retreated to the hills.
They spent 37 years together until Henry’s death at the age of 83. While she saw a fair number of men - hunters and miners - she did go through one seven year period where she saw not a single other woman. There were, however, other miners and prospectors in the hills. She spent a lot of time there alone as Henry was off prospecting and hunting but she always maintained her proper Victorian attitude in dress, demeanor, and how she entertained.
She came out just twice in that period, once for a three-month hospital stay, and again, only after Henry died. Two years after leaving the hills, she committed suicide having been unable to make the transition to modern life which now included electricity, automobiles, and more. It occurred to me that their 37-year stint made Thoreau’s stint at Walden Pond seem like a day away from the office.
Robin and I sat in the original burlap clad chairs that Henry made and marveled at the life they had led. We talked well past dark and plenty long enough to determine that we needed to hang everything (not just food, but packs, too) away from the mice that were completely absent from the previous huts. The mouse that forced us to bag all of our food and backpacks, was a cute, though mildly annoying reminder of the mice along the AT. Other than the mouse, we had the cottage to ourselves.
Friday, March 14 – Asbestos Cottage to Westport
We awoke in the Chaffey’s now cozy, not ramshackle, hut. We attempted to fix the water pipe drawing water to the hut from the stream above. We failed. We got water from a good stream on the way out, walked on the unbroken "Broken Bridge" and then continued our walk. We walked out of the woods this morning along multiple rivers and creeks. It was all uphill, though gentle, once we reached the bottom of the hill the Chaffey's had lived on. The bridges we crossed this morning were one person only and built like wire baskets that just swung and swayed as we walked across. They were fun.
We marveled at the Gridiron Rock Shelter, a huge shelter built under the massive boulders that formed a natural shelter. DOC made a few improvements by adding mattresses, a picnic table, a fire ring, running water, a better overhang to keep the elements out, and more.
We had an opportunity to thank a trail maintainer as they came by, one with a chainsaw, and one with a rifle. Not sure how you maintain trail with a rifle, but I guess the maintainers do have to eat. The rest of our walk out was primarily along roads still in use by maintainers. We were back at the car by 1:00.
We drove to Westport, saw some seals, did laundry, and found the aptly named Robyn's Nest hostel. Of course, "Robyn" was spelled "wrong" there. :-) This hostel was in a huge beautiful house. We had dinner with a couple also just arriving at the hostel. We ate very basic meals at "The Workingmen's Club".
Saturday, March 15 – Westport to Wanaka
A long day of driving. Wanting to get south, we bypassed glaciers though we could see them occasionally through the clouds. We stopped for French food for lunch which was a nice break, and then took another break and stopped to talk with a couple of cyclists in a little town along the way. Picked up a single woman hitchhiking from Franz Josef Glacier and made her day when we were going all the way to her destination, Wanaka, and managed to drop her right at her hostel - 400k or so. Note to self: If anyone ever gives me that long a ride, offer gas money. She didn’t. We probably would have refused it, but it would have been nice to have been asked.
With no available hostel space, we set up camp at the local Holiday Park and made out way to Amigos for a great Mexican dinner. Mexican is unusual down here and we were surprised how good the food was. It turns out the food was imported from the States.
Sunday, March 16 – Wanaka to Milford Sound
Disappointing breakfast of two different baked goods from two different bakeries. The Raspberry chocolate muffin was almost inedible and I only ate the top. The rest, though it seemed baked, tasted under baked to me. Yuck!
The second bakery had a yummy looking tray of goodies but inquiries as to what I was looking at yielded an inadequate description of the "pastries." I finally got a peach and custard Danish but realized I had seen this pattern whereby people in the bakeries couldn’t describe what they were selling and didn’t seem able to find out. Weird.
Spent the morning planning the rest of my New Zealand portion of the trip and getting our permits in order for an upcoming 5-day hike. Then, we hit the road for the 5.5-hour drive to Milford Sound. Just as we were leaving town, we picked up a Spanish hitchhiker trying to get as far as Queenstown. He was quite the character and if I’m ever in Valencia in Spain, his family will put up either Robin or myself in their best hotel room. We went a bit out of our way to bring him right to town.
Then we got back on the road towards Milford Sound. We had heard amazing things about the drive and the terrain did not disappoint us. The valleys were beautiful and the mountains amazing. We could see snow and glaciers as we approached the sound and finally, we drove through the 2km long tunnel that was built over the 20 years around World War II with a delay during the war years. It was paved just a couple of years ago and until then, had no markings save a wide white stripe down the side. I was surprised at the grade of the tunnel but less so once we emerged and found ourselves switchbacking wildly to get to the valley floor. Much of the driving was a combination of lakeside twisting roads, straight through broad, flat, valleys, and winding down the hanging valley cirques to the next hanging valley. Once we got to the sound, we checked out the end of the road and then checked into the backpackers.
At the Milford Lodge hostel, I got a dorm room and Robin tented. When we went to cook our dinner, the kitchen was incredibly busy and very hot. I'm so glad Robin likes to cook. She did the bulk when I just couldn't deal with the crowds. While she finished cooking, I went to claim a couple of seats in the packed "lounge" area.
We happened upon two other independent travelers and the four of us had a wonderful evening of just talking. Donna, a bicyclist from Boulder, and Allan, a teacher from California who had just happened to go to school at Tufts, just a few short blocks from where I live now. The four of us spent the evening chatting away.
Monday, March 17 – Milford Sound to Manapouri
Robin and I joined Alan on a guided sea kayaking trip in Milford Sound on one of the only 60 days per year without rain. It was a beautifully sunny day and the waters were amazingly calm for where we were. Our trip, though hours long, ended up being short on paddling though we spent plenty of time sitting in the kayaks. Our guide would have us stop to look at the falls, a seal (a male from the Cape Foulwind colony, most likely), a tree avalanche (kind of like a fir wave), etc. We stopped on a rocky beach for lunch and Robin was the only one who went for a swim. Brr!!
I had intended to ask Robin to switch positions for the paddle back but forgot. It didn’t matter much though. On our way back, we mostly just rafted up and literally sailed back to the other end of the sound.
Once back, after much hemming and hawing, we finally decided to leave Milford Sound and get some miles under our belts. We drove back south and stopped at the roadside lot after the tunnel to see if we could find any keas, known to congregate there. Sure enough, we found not one or two, but half a dozen or more. They were garrulous birds and true to form, they were being destructive. Then tend to peck at vehicles and they were pulling the rubber parts off a couple of RVs off the vehicles. There wasn’t much we could do though so we just kept an eye on our rental car.
Moving along, we stopped for pictures at the 45 degree south latitude sign before making our way to our evening’s destination, a motel with backpacker accommodations. Turns out, our dorm lodgings ended up being a 1960s style motel room with private bath. The only thing that made it more dorm like was the lack of linens. It was nice having the privacy for once but we both missed the social aspect of the typical hostel.
Yummy dinner of stir fry with Robin once again driving the kitchen - but this time, we had the kitchen to ourselves and I managed to be of a bit of help here and there (I got onion and garlic duty). A quick drive through town found everything closed but we managed to get ice creams back at the motel restaurant. The showers were great, then reading, then bed.
Tuesday, March 18 – Manapouri to Glenorchy
[Sounds like Bush has presented quite a serious ultimatum. We haven't been trying much to keep up with the news, but did see some headlines on-line and in a local paper today. As we are about to go on yet another backpack, we have to wonder what the world is going to be like when we get out of the backcountry. It may be a very different place.
Once again, I don't have time to enter my entire journal on-line, but wanted to give you some idea what I've been up to and where I've been. An abbreviated journal follows.
In the meantime, I can't believe I'll be at home in less than two weeks. Time has flown on this trip and I could have easily used double the time - or maybe a couple of years - to do everything I would have really like to have done both here in New Zealand and on Australia. Starting tomorrow, I'll be hiking the Greenstone Track from east to west and then the Routeburn track back to our car. We expect to be out of the woods on the 23rd with plenty of time for me to get to Christchurch on the 25th and then back to Sydney, OZ, on the 26th. I'll have 5 days to make my way from Sydney to Melbourne (mostly on a 3.5-day tour) and then I'll be returning to Boston on April 1.
So... Here's the abbreviated journal...
We finished a lot of leftovers and other foodstuffs for breakfast. Hope there’s now more room in the car. Got gas and checked tires on the way back to Queenstown. We spent the day in Queenstown running errands, food shopping, making phone calls, getting internet access, etc. It got a bit late for our intended plan of getting to Glenorchy for dinner so we stopped at a food court in a local "mall" for dinner. Then we did the drive to Glenorchy to find the office there had closed at 5:30. Ooops! But the bell brought the owner who checked us in. Our little two-person cabin was great for organizing and packing. It didn’t take me long so I spent a couple of hours reading before bed. I even packed salad for the hike.
Wednesday, March 19 – Glenorchy to Mid Greenstone Hut, Greenstone Track
I got my last shower for a while this morning and then packed for a five day hike. In the kitchen, it was once again eating yet more stuff we don’t want sitting in the car for five days.
The TV was on and it was disturbing to catch just a few minutes of news this morning as we ate breakfast. It sounds like an ultimatum is going to force the war in just a couple of days. It'll be interesting to see what happens by the time we get off the track. In one sense, I’m glad to be headed back out onto the trail. It’s probably "healthier" both physically and psychologically to be here with no ready access to news than in town, where I might be more likely to try to seek out such "important" news.
We confirmed our shuttle in the office and left for the trailhead. We got there 50 minutes early but our shuttle arrived 20 minutes late so we had quite the wait. The Routeburn trailhead was bustling so we took it all in and finally realized it was just going to be the two of us heading for the Greenstone Track. With the three fords, we were glad we hadn’t tried to take the rental car.
The hiking along the Greenstone River is easy. Mostly flat with a gentle uphill here and there. We passed a bunch of beautiful waterfalls and dubbed them various names (Two-tiered falls, Balanced boulder falls, Grassy falls, etc.) We stopped for lunch at the cascade falls with the bridge. We had great sandwiches of salad that we hadn’t eaten the previous night, with cheese and bread. Delicious! Our next stop was a pack-off, boots-off (POBO) break to soaked our feet in the cold but refreshing river.
We had a great time talking and joking with a guided group as we passed them. We took a little break at the Sly Hut trail junction and then went ahead for the final hour to our hut. Even with all of our breaks, we got to the hut in "map" time and could enjoy the spectacular view from first the porch, and then from the dining room's huge picture window. Fantastic! This hut has a sink with a faucet for the rainwater tank. Sat on the porch until the sun went behind the mountains, then dinner, then twenty questions with a Kiwi couple. Journaling by candlelight now.
[PS. I'm butchering some place names here and there... Sorry 'bout that, but when many of the place names are things like Pukemoremore, sometimes, I got to wonder if misspelling them is an improvement. ;-)]
I’m not always good at describing my surroundings but right now, the nearly full moon is rising behind the mountains behind me. The shadow of those mountains is slowly creeping down the face of the mountains across the river. The water can be heard rushing through the river and the cows can be heard lowing in the fields. This area is private land and trampers have rights to trails and huts, etc. The river is meandering through the flat fields between mountain ranges. During the day, the winds had been raging head on. Winds have calmed a bit in the night but the hut still creaks and pops in the winds.
Traveling with Robin has been fun, interesting, and a bit trying at times. Sometimes I can’t tell whether I’m the problem with her or other stuff. She was in some sort of mood yesterday but after finally connecting with all of her friends, the dark cloud lifted and she was fun to be with again. I’m sure I have similar times, too, and I know my weird pickiness with food gets to her at times. I’m also a bit more conservative in the backcountry than she is and I know that can frustrate her.
I have mixed feelings about or travels together. With her, I could afford the rental car but sometimes I feel rushed or skipped things I might have otherwise done if I had been traveling with someone who had never been here before. All in all, I think it’s been a positive experience though I’m not sure if either one of us would choose to travel together again. Who knows? Time will tell…
Thursday, March 20 – Mid Greenstone Hut to McKellar Hut, Greenstone Track
I woke up to the Israeli’s alarm but got up because of the beautiful sunrise dawning on the mountains visible through the windows from my bunk. Another easy day that started with me eating breakfast on the porch while a little NZ Robin (smaller than American robins and black with a cream belly) hopped up and down my legs. I thought it was going after my crumbs but it was happily eating all the sand flies that were biting me right through my tights. I was happy to have him there and I was not feeding him my food. It was fun, amusing, and ticklish to have this little bird jumping back and forth between my legs and I’m just glad he was able to eat lots of those horrible bugs. I even managed to get a picture of it sitting on my toe. The increased activity of the hut waking up chased the bird away.
With only four hours of hiking today, we were in no rush to get going. Hiking in the forest was a bit cool so we wanted to keep walking until the sun got high enough to keep us warm as we stopped. We could see and hear keas as we munched so weren’t surprised to see the kea much closer as we resumed our hike. We were also happy to be out of the apparent blasting zone as markers along the trail had indicated. It was apparently associated with building some new trail. We took another POBO foot soak today just an hour shy of the hut.
We got to the packed hut at 1:30 but still too late to claim a regular bunk but managed to claim the fully padded benches at the dining room table for our beds. We hung out all day talking with a mixed bag of Kiwis, Irish, and others from all over the world. Dinner was cooked very slowly on the coal stove. We had fun playing charades after dinner.
Friday, March 21 – McKellar Hut to McKenzie Campsite, Routeburn Track, Fiordland National Park
Our very fun charades hosts of last night were amazingly inconsiderate this morning. They got up at 6:15, started making a lot of unnecessary noise, and when told people were still trying to sleep, showed complete disdain and made no effort to keep the noise down. Ugh! Robin woke up, sat up, and stewed quietly for a while. But, eventually she burst and let them have it. I was kind of surprised. As a NOLS graduate, I would have expected her to try to handle the situation with a bit more tact. Eventually, she lit into a couple of the other men who just laughed at her.
In a calm tone, I quieted them by indicating that it really was not funny. I told them we had enjoyed their company the previous evening but were surprised at their lack of common consideration this morning. When they insisted that it was time to get up for everyone in the hut, I pointed out that not everyone wakes on their schedule. When I pointed out it was not yet 7:00am, being only 6:50, they actually seemed surprised though it was obviously too late for this morning.
Robin packed up without having had breakfast in a record ten minutes or so. I took a different tack and spreading my stuff out on the table bench and packed at my regular speed but knowing that at least they wouldn’t be able to sit down and eat until MY schedule allowed for it.
We were out hiking by 7:10, our earliest start ever.
Great walk today. Dropped our packs at the Howden Hut near the junction of the Greenstone and Routeburn tracks and took a short side trip up Key summit and then farther to a view of Lake Marion, a tarn above a hanging valley. It was there that I ran into Zev, the Israeli I had spent some time hiking with on the Overland Track. Small world. He’s on the same schedule but staying in the huts instead of tenting so we expect to be seeing him along the trail. Our hike brought us past a falls we had dubbed Bridal Veil Falls only to realize later that they were the Earl________ Falls, just about the only named falls we had passed on the hike. Robin dunked her head but got mostly wet while I talked with Bob, a Massachusetts native with ties to Somerville, where I had lived for ten years. Bob was also working on his lightweight backpacking technique and was carrying a Golite Speed pack.
We took a break where we could see the mus__[sic] in the valley below us and the airstrip in the same valley. A short time later, we found our cushy campsite, complete with running water, sheltered picnic table, cooking surfaces, and stoter[sic] covered tent pads. The outhouse even had toilet paper in it so now I wonder why I’m carrying the better part of a roll. Sigh.
At the campsite, I gave a quick demo as I set up the tent so Bob could see what the Nomad was like. I hadn’t intended to leave it up but with the clear skies, I left it up for the extra warmth it might provide.
After dinner, Robin, stargazing, thought she saw the flare of the space station. But it wasn’t moving relative to the other stars so I’m not sure. A quick look at my star chart showed a comet in that area though. Maybe that’s what she saw.
Saturday, March 22 – McKenzie Campsite to Routeburn Flats Campsite, Routeburn Track, Mt. Aspiring National Park
I was up at midnight to find a big spider in my tent just inches from my face. I dealt with the spider and then made for the toilet. The moon was starting to rise and the glacial moraine in the field across from where we were camped under the mountains made a fantastic moonscape. Unfortunately, I think "home" has started to invade my thoughts. I spent the night nervously thinking about my unemployment checks knowing I couldn’t do anything about them until I got home, anyway.
I awoke to a very dewy morning. Sad to find out Robin really not enjoying herself on these "too easy" tracks." It’s too bad she can’t enjoy the scenery, micro and macro, without the need for difficult trail. Today’s hike was great. Lot’s of great climbing and spectacular scenery. Yet another POBO break complete with soak in cold rushing stream. We listened to, but couldn’t see, an avalanche as we approached the junction to Conical Peak. We dropped our packs at the emergency hut at the junction, dried our tents and bags, and climbed to the peak for a wonderful 360-degree view of the surrounding snow and glacier-covered mountains.
We picked up our packs and then found the descent through a hanging valley to the spectacularly located Routeburn Hut was quick and easy. We camped at the nearby Routeburn Flats campsite. We spent the evening talking with Bob and then two guys from Arkansas. We’re hoping the clouds that moved in today amount to nothing. I was glad to still see a few stars as I went to sleep even though clouds dominated. With the cloud cover, perhaps it will stay warm tonight.
Sunday, March 23 – Routeburn Flats Campsite to Killermont sheep station
At 3:00am when I got up for a nature call, I found the night relatively warm and my tent surprisingly dry. At 4:00am, the light drizzle started and went on and off all morning. No complaints though. This was our first rain on the South Island. I got up at 6:45 and packed most of my stuff while in the tent. Bob, Robin and I had breakfast together. Finished packing. The 2.5-hour map time walk out only took us one hour and forty minutes.
Bob joined us for the walk out, a quick trip to Paradise (a Lord of the Rings site used for the Mordor scene), a stop at Glenorchy where Robin and I showered, and then into Queenstown where he caught a bus out. Robin and I had lunch, checked email, and then left town. We stopped to watch bungee jumping (Hackett’s), then took a tour of a vineyard, and stopped at a fruit stand. We continued on our way and eventually made our way through Lindis Pass, a gentle pass through the soft looking rolling hills of the region. Our first attempt at stopping for a backpackers was a failure. Our next attempt, after a bit of searching, was a success. We found a BBH hostel in the middle of nowhere, miles from any services, and on a sheep station. After passing station after station while wandering New Zealand, it’s fun to stay on one although there’s no sign of sheep nearby.
There’s a couple staying here for a couple of days. They have no car.
The proprietor is out so we’ve made ourselves at home. We had dinner stuffs in the car from before our hike. Interesting conversation to follow. Also interesting is to be without TV during our first evening off the trail. We thought we would catch up on some world news. It’ll wait.
Monday, March 24 – Killermont sheep station to Christchurch
[Snippets of information about the hostilities reached Robin and me on the trail over the past week but to be perfectly honest, I think we both preferred being on the trail to being in town where the news might otherwise just keep bombarding us with the horrible images of war.
Anyway, after five days on the trail, I'm now in Christchurch and have less than two days left here in New Zealand. I'll spend just a few more days in Australia after that. It's hard to believe that I'll be back in Boston in just one short week's time.]
Today was a long day of driving. We got great views of Mt. Cook as we passed Lake Pukaki. We had lunch at the Farm Barn Café which provided unexpectedly upscale and tasty food in the middle of nowhere but quite close to the town of Beautiful Valley. As we got closer to Christchurch, the radio started getting a few stations.
Our first hostel choice was full but they called a place with parking just a few blocks away. We settled in and I spent some time packing for my upcoming flights to Auckland and Sydney. In the evening, we went to the Orana Wildlife Park to see kiwis at a kiwi house as well as looking at some other not so exotic animals. The Kiwi house made it worthwhile though. Seeing the feathered basketballs with long beaks wandering around was special. Robin and I had a great dinner at Coyote for our last night traveling together. We walked round town looking for a dessert restaurant that no longer exists. Back at the hostel, I read a bit before bed.
Tuesday, March 25 – Christchurch to Auckland
Up early to do a load of laundry that took forever. Afterwards, just time to grab an early lunch before heading for the airport. That drive to the airport would be the last driving I do on the "wrong" side of the road. The next time I get behind the wheel of a car, I expect to do so when I'm back in Boston where not only will I be on the right side of the road, but it’ll be on sandy, pothole plagued roads with inconsistent signage. It's hard to tell if that's going to feel normal or weird. I guess time will tell.
It was only as I tried to check in that I realized there was a problem with my eticket. I had bought a ticket to Auckland, but the eticket was for Wellington. If nothing else, it would get me to the North Island, but Wellington is still a many hours long drive to Auckland and this problem should be resolved by the travel agency that got me into the mess.
The airline couldn’t do anything for me except to offer to sell me another ticket. So, after talking with the travel agency once, they did some research and when I called them again, they were going to suggest that I take the flight to Wellington and "I" could buy an ongoing ticket to Auckland from there. I wasn't having any of that especially when I remembered discussing Auckland with her but I suspect she let herself get distracted by the demonstrations happening outside her office that day when I was there. When the agent asked if I had my credit card receipt, I don’t think she expected me to have it but thankfully, I had it handy and it clearly said Christchurch to Auckland. At that, the agent apologized, accepted responsibility for the mix-up and told me to take that Wellington flight and that when I got there, I should just check in and get my ongoing boarding pass. Well, I lost a few hours of travel time, but that wasn't too bad.
While I was waiting for my flight, I managed to call ahead and book a hostel room. Between my flights, I managed to call Lynley in Auckland to let her know I would be a lot later than expected. She was great and said she would just pick me up at the airport instead of Stuart coming into town to pick me up at the hostel. Fantastic!!!
On my first flight, I sat next to an Event horse racer and trainer who had just gotten back from six months of racing and training in Japan. Very interesting. It was great talking with someone who was doing something they loved and making a living at it. That's something for me to aspire to as I try to figure out what to do next in my life. No neighbor on my second flight so I got some reading done.
So, for the first time in my life, my pack was the very first item off the plane when I got to Auckland. I grabbed it, went outside, and Lynley drove up just a minute later. What timing! I hung out talking with Lynley as she fed the kids. Then Stu came home and we ordered a couple of pizzas for dinner.
After dinner, Stu and I had a lightweight gear show and tell session. The Bibler winter bivy looks like a fantastic addition to my winter daypack. So we compared more gear stuffs, talked about the geartesting group we're both involved with, and finally Stu brought me back to my hostel, downtown.
Wednesday, March 26 – Auckland to Sydney, Australia
I had leftover cold pizza for breakfast. It took over an hour for the shuttle to get to the airport from town. Thankfully, there were no problems checking in today. I spent the last of my Kiwi change on chocolate bars, one of which was bought at a duty free shop. A short while later, as I was waiting for my flight, I was approached to participate in a survey about duty free. I'm quite certain I'm not your typical duty free shopper and that was evident by the types of questions that were being asked, but the survey taker didn't care as long as I had bought something there. She probably had some sort of quota to fill, but gave me a token as thanks for participating in the survey.
As New Zealand had already gone off daylight savings time while I was there, there was now only one hours difference between Auckland and Sydney time. Checked into the Wake Up hostel, had dinner there, and just walked around the neighborhood a bit before turning in to read.
Thursday, March 27 – Sydney to Katoomba
Up early for the $3 breakfast at the hostel. Locked my pack in a locker and headed downtown. I spent most of the morning in one shop where I finally convinced myself not to buy a didgeridoo. I hope I don't regret that decision when I get home. I did buy some other stuff though and then went back to the hostel.
Munched a kebab sandwich before catching my Autopia tours bus, which will take me on a 3.5-day tour to Melbourne. Bernie, our driver, promises to be a character. With his long gray hair and braided beard, his beer belly bespoke of an interesting lifestyle driving a tour bus for the past 24 years.
Bernie and the eight of us on the tour, left Sydney headed for the Blue Mountains. There we took the world's steepest train, a funicular, at 52 degrees, down the mountain. While waiting for the train, we got to watch some Crimson Rosellas and some Rainbow Lorikeets. The train was certainly steep but was very similar to the funiculars I've been on in Bergen, Norway, and Hong Kong.
From the base of the railway, we had a nice walk to the base of the Three Sisters mountain formation and then a grunt of a climb up the 900 or so steps of the Giant Staircase to the top of the sisters. Eric, one of the Norwegians, took off. Then, Dan, the Canadian, Gunnar, the other Norwegian and myself, climbed mostly together. Andreas, a German, showed up next, and finally, Julie and Alison, Brits, and Annie, another German, brought up the rear.
We took the Cliff Drive to town and shortly thereafter, we pulled into the YHA hostel, dropped our stuff off, and then walked to the Coles supermarket for meatstuffs for a barbie. Alison and I shared a shrimp ring and got some Thai chicken kebabs to go with the potato and salad stuffs. I think we had the best dinner of the bunch. Talk, read, then bed.
Friday, March 28 – Katoomba to Canberra, ACT (Australia Capitol Territory)
A foggy morning could have led to disappointment except the primary activity today was a cave tour. We revisited the Three Sisters in the morning light, which was only partially obscured by the remnants of the fog. Then we headed back along the cliff drive.
Finally made our way down the road to the Janolan Caves for a tour of what I would consider fairly typical limestone formations, complete with stalactites, stalagmites, columns, sheets, crystals, evidence of river layers, and a trip down to the current level of the river. This cave was evidently the first cave to have electric lighting, which may or may not really be a bragging point. The cave's entrance itself was worthy of mention. It was, itself, a huge cavern-like tunnel that in one area, just the snake-like middle section, appeared to have been enlarged to let the cars and buses through - albeit, one at a time. I was huge and quite spectacular. There were even toilets built into the formation and they had open ceilings and the view of the cavern ceiling was amazing and worth the trip. :-)
We had fish and chips for lunch. The road to and from the caves was incredibly mountainous and narrow.
Our lodging tonight was in the dorm room of a hotel/motel. Our room had nine beds though five weren't bunk beds so all of us could take one of those and not worry about climbing up or having others climb up. There were also two more rooms in the same locked area with two and four beds each and all of us had just one bathroom to share. Thankfully, there were more bathrooms in the hallway.
Saturday, March 29 – Canberra to Khancobin (and the first of my Seven Summits)
Today, most of our driving went through massive areas of recent brush fires. It took most of the morning to get to Thredbo where were to start our hike today. The weather wasn't great but the lift was operating so we could go...
We ate a quick lunch at the base and headed up. It was mostly foggy with occasional breaks that promised good views if the clouds cleared. The "trail" was a raised metal walkway. The first two km were quick and easy and most of the rest of us pushed on to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia and considered by many to be one of the seven continental high points.
We knew the lift stopped operations at 4:00 so we walked very quickly and got the top around 1:45, having started out 6.5 km earlier at just 12:30. We got the obligatory summit shots. There was a rumble of thunder and we didn't hang out long.
On the way back, the storms started to intensify so we walked even quicker and covered the 6.5 km back in just over an hour. Something about walking on a raised metal walkway with no trees nearby didn't inspire confidence during a storm.
Dan, Eric, and Gunnar got back just before me and were the last allowed on the lift before they shut down for a while to let the storm pass. I passed the time until the lift reopened with Julie, Brendan, and a Brit who joined us this morning in Canberra, and Andreas in the cafe at the top of the lift. Shortly before 4:00, the lift restarted and we could go down.
The next 75 km or so took over 2.5 hours of driving, once again, on mountainous roads. We also made a couple of kangaroo stops to see "herds" or roos in areas where they were known to congregate. Our accommodations tonight were in a cheap motel. Julie and I shared a room. Dinner was in the pub.
Sunday, March 30 - Melbourne
Long drive this morning with just one stop to look at a roadside, but alive, echidna. This spiky, porcupine-like critter is very cute. When scared, it tucks its limbs in, digs down, and just presents the spikes. Given enough time, it poked its cute nose out and we could see its tongue, searching for insects.
Moving on, we got to Ned Kelly territory. We stopped in Beechwood for an early lunch. This was a happening town with an arty community and some excellent lunch options. I ended up with Thai Pumpkin soup followed by an ice cream. A bakery netted a portion of "Death by Chocolate" for later. Then we had a stop at a vineyard for a free wine tasting. Then, it was off to Glenrowan for a stop at the hokey, but inexpensive ($2), Ned Kelly museum. Ned Kelly was an Australian Robinhood-like character, decried by the authorities but adored by the masses.
I finished "The First Horseman" by John Case on the van today. It wasn't the best book in the world but the timing was rather interesting as it was about terrorist usage of the 1918 Spanish Flu virus.
In Melbourne, I checked back into the Melbourne International Backpackers (MIB) where I had stayed during my previous visits. I got to talking with a Welshman, Leon, in my hostel room, and we ended up going for Indonesian for dinner, Greek for dessert, and then went to see the new Ned Kelly movie. Leon also suggested I check out the Kelly exhibition in the State Library.
The movie itself was a bit on the bloody side for my taste, but given the day's events, was worthwhile to get an understanding of the events of Ned Kelly's life. Back at the hostel, our roommate was already asleep so we just went to sleep, too.
Monday, March 31 – Khancobin to Melbourne
Victoria Market is closed on Monday's. ARGH!!!
I grabbed breakfast of croissant, made some phone calls using up some remaining minutes on my phone card, and then took a nap to try to shake a migraine headache that threatened this morning.
Spent the rest of the morning taking in the Kelly Exhibition at the State Library. This beat the museum I had been to the day before. It showed in much more detail how much Ned Kelly has become part of the folk culture of Australia.
Sushi for lunch, more shopping, and then this Internet session...
I finished up the day by heading back to the hostel where I ran into Leon again. We ended up doing a bit of grocery shopping on Lygon Street, the Italian district, and then stopped for dinner. We avoided the places with the overly eager hawkers (I can't stand that), and found a great place with wonderful woodfired pizzas. For dessert, we stopped at a gelateri for the best ice cream I've had on my entire trip. Figures I would "find" it on my last night of travel. Sigh. ;-)
Tuesday, April 1 – Melbourne to Boston, MA, USA
I got up early for my last visit to Victoria market. I knew it opened at 6:00am on Tuesday but I wasn't expecting it to be bustling at that hour. I was there around 6:30 and things were very much bustling even as the stalls were just being opened. I grabbed bagels, cream cheese, and Tasmanian Smoked Salmon for my last breakfast. The salmon in Australia is great and it's so much less expensive than in the states.
I took my last walk in Melbourne on the way to the airport shuttle and ended up at the airport plenty early to get fairly good seats on all of my flights. I had exit rows on both my short Melbourne to Sydney hop as well as my San Francisco to Boston segment. I wasn't quite so lucky on my long Sydney to San Francisco, 12 hour segment, but it wasn't so bad in that she put me in the Economy Plus seats with 5" extra leg room and nobody in the middle seat next to me and the guy at the window. That 5" extra meant that I could sit comfortably unless the guy in front of me put his seat back. But, given that he had three seats to himself, he never bothered and I was relatively comfortable for the whole trip. Sometime as we crossed the Pacific, we crossed the international dateline and the date switched back so I relived April 1 all over again. My flight from San Francisco left for Boston before I left Australia for the States. Weird! But, I guess only fair as I had lost a day going in the other direction.
We would have pulled into Boston 20 minutes early except that the snow limited the airport to one runway and we had to circle for 15 minutes before landing.
It was wonderful to be met at the airport by my sister, Lori, and my adorable three-year-old nephew, Rowan, who was up a bit past his bedtime to come welcome me home. Can't thank them enough.
Believe it or not, driving on the right hand side of the road in a car with left hand drive steering, did, in fact, seem weird. Not weird enough that I would have a hard time getting behind the wheel of my car and driving safely, but just different as it's been three months since I've been in cars and on roads with that configuration.
That's all for now... If I have any further wrapping up messages, I'll be sure to forward them. In the meantime, stay tuned for news as to what to expect in terms of my PCT hike journal.
Let me know if you have any questions I can answer about my travels, Australia, New Zealand, or even the upcoming PCT hike.
Last updated, November 20, 2011.
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