Sunday, May 20, 2018

Attempting the Great Ocean Walk (pt 4)

The Honeymoon is over
Friday morning I got up at first light, sorted out the wet from the dry, packed as much stuff as I could, ate some breakfast and some ABC instant mocha coffee (from Indonesia, very sweet) then attempted to dry and clean the mud off my tent.

Tent half collapsed... a somewhat messy affair
Dawn at Blanket Bay with rain on the horizon

Sunlight pressing though
A friendly farewell

Once everything was stowed away I set out on the 11km hike to the Lighthouse. Although I was now carrying quite a bit of excess weight in unwanted water, I was still able to enjoy the walk and found this part of the trail absolutely stunning! It wove through a series of landscapes, including a little bit of Ash Forest full of tree ferns and tall tall trees, then some beautiful stunted eucalypt groves with a ground cover of bracken and shrubs, and in the valleys were dense rain forest trees with ferns, mosses and lots of tiny birds. Between Blanket Bay and Point Franklin I saw 6 wallabies in the valleys and undergrowth. Also two deer on the open path.

Boot Cleaning Bay protection against spread of Phytophthora a parasitic fungas that kills plants

Wild views along the shipwreck coast (Point Lewis I think)

Bracken undergrowth

These forests are so special providing great protection from the wind, life beneath the canopy is far more comfortable than the bald hills we have created for agriculture.

Of course the New Moon is accompanied by Spring Tides so it was important to make river crossings and beach walks during the low tide. I arrived at Parker Inlet at a good time to cross the water was quite low and I could see the ocean bubbling and frothing at the creek mouth. I would not want to be there when the tide comes in. After crossing the creek I looked down and noticed blood on my boot. I felt no pain and knew straight away it must have been a leach. It must have been there a long time because it had gone of it's own accord and all that remained was a sock totally soaked in blood! 

Parker Inlet at low tide

Creek at Parker Inlet

The less gruesome view of leach meal time

Immediately after Parker Inlet was a very pretty but long stone stairway, it was a steady walk to the top but quite stable footing. Regardless of the quality of the track I still felt stuffed by the time I reached the top. My hips and toes were struggling under the weight of my pack. I had bruised toes from the downhill tramping and sore muscles in the hips and feet from unfamiliar exertion, but generally, I was able to keep the pace and continue. 

Hard slog up a pretty hill
Looking back

The next section was coastal heath and totally different from all the other sections I'd done. I was walking along the edge of a shear cliff face and the wind from the southern ocean was blowing hard against me. At some points there is a clear view along the coast and the lighthouse can be seen in the distance. Absolutely wild, raw power! It energized me but at my core I felt I was beginning to flag. By the time I reached the Light station I was knackered. I plonked on the grass and rested.

Windswept coastal heath

Board Walk and stairs

Cape Otway Lighthouse... Just over there... another 2 km to walk

(To be continued...)

Attempting the Great Ocean Walk (pt 3)

Great Ocean Walk - The Walk

OK Yes... What happened

I arrived in Melbourne, it was cold and dark.

Went to my folks place and prepared my gear, spent too much money on stuff I really would need if I were to survive this walk. 
Thermals, water containers (bladders that fit into my new pack... actually quite awesome and practical), the food, my boots etc...
(Mum had my boots repaired by one of Melbourne's last cobblers, a story in itself). 

Found out there's no bus on the day I intended to leave the trail so changed my bookings and shoved everything ahead by one day so I could catch the Wednesday bus. V/Line busses only run Mon, Wednesday and Friday. 
Got a ride with Mum and Dad out to Ballarat where we met my Uncle and Aunty who drove me all the way down to Apollo Bay. To the beginning of the trail and to help me search for a place to drop food. 
After all my searching I could not find a scrap of help when it came to finding acceptable places to drop food. It is mentioned in the FAQ but there appears to be no practical or official means of doing so.

We visited the Aire River camp site and were shocked to find it completely submerged in water, coots and ducks were swimming where I thought my tent was booked to be. not a great sign.

Aire River GOW camp (fire pit)
At about 4pm I was dropped at the Shelly Beach picnic area and walked about 1.5 km into the Eliot Ridge campsite. 
From the moment I got out of the car I could smell that sweetness of the Mountain Ash forest. The Otway Ranges are a blessing and a relic of Victoria's great forests. 

When I arrived at the camp I found a school group of about 10 students and three teachers were settling in to cook their dinner. I was the only independent hiker. 

The camp site was well equipped with a three walled shelter, fresh rain water tanks (full) and composting toilets (including toilet paper)

Elliot Ridge Shelter

Elliot Ridge composting toilets

I set my camp beneath the giant Ash, cooked my dinner, took a deep breath of the fresh sweet cool air around me and got into my cozy sleeping bag, it was 6:00pm and completely Dark. The night of the New Moon. 
First time use of tent. It's great!
Mountain Ash - Precious!

A great nights sleep as the wind blew across the canopy above me, with only a slight concern of falling limbs.  
At dawn I woke and ate my porridge, stowed my gear took down my tent and loaded my pack. At 7:35 I was on my way, while the other campers were organizing their activities for the day. 

The walk from Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay was about 12 km mostly following fairly wide access tracks through the Ash Forests inland away from the coast. The track made a loop around thick sections of forest before returning to the coast at Blanket Bay. An easy walk even with over 30kg on my back. In the cool weather I found I could just keep walking, so I did, I walked straight through with only a ten minute break. Arrived at camp within three and a half hours. 

Blanket Bay was a beautiful spot. I found a tent pad and by 12:00 pm I had set up my camp and eaten lunch. I did the 45 minute loop walk which joined the alternate inland rout with the coastal route. (The inland route is the high tide option to get to camp) Felt a bit dozy, collapsed into my tent and slept for two hours! Maybe the unfamiliar exertion and weight of my pack was a bit of a shock to the system.

Blanket Bay from GOW camp

Toes up time
When the drizzle slowed I got up and cooked my dinner then went straight back to bed. 

360 Furno doing dinner.
Then it rained... and rained... and the water did flow and eventually it did rise through the floor of the tent... and that changed everything.

I spent most of the night shuffling things around to keep them dry, packed away my down sleeping bag (they're useless when wet) and hoping the rain would stop. It wasn't a heavy rain but the damage was done.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Attempting the Great Ocean Walk (pt 2)

Finding out about the walk

Prior to starting the Great Ocean Walk (GOW) I did my best to find accurate and current information online. 
Unfortunately a simple Google search can lead you up the garden path and chasing your tail. There are several fairly slick websites belonging to tour operators that look somewhat like official sites of the Great Ocean Walk, there are also marketing sites for Victorian tourism that will equally leave you feeling like you've been trapped in an automated phone survey loop! 

If you're just an ordinary walker and are looking for first hand information from other hikers I can't make any recommendations, I found a couple of blogs that describe people's experience but I failed to find anything like a current up to date forum for discussing track conditions or aspects of planning this 8 day hike.

Ultimately the best resource is the Official Parks Victoria Great Ocean Walk 
See Link (HERE)
Parks Victoria GOW webpage

In order to hike through I had to book all camp sites in advance. This can be done via the Parks Victoria Website (HERE) ($32.30 per night on the barrel head in advance!) But before you start booking you need to be sure that sites are available all the way through as people can join the track at various points along the way. 

You are not permitted to camp in the walk in camp sites without a permit. You must continue along the walk as scheduled. 

After reading all the conditions of the walk I presumed camp sites were in high demand and there was very little room for deviation from the scheduled, pre-booked plan. I booked in January to walk in May because I had the impression I'd miss out if I didn't book early. "PFFFFFT!"

The GOW web page has a FAQ document which I thought would answer my questions about food drops transport etc... Well the information was rudimentary and read more like a sales brochure than a document that considered the actual needs of real hikers. (Sorry Parks Vic but I was left a bit bewildered)

As a solo traveler away from my home state and relying on public transport I found it extremely difficult to find any information about Food drops or how I could get home after finishing the trail. Apparently food drops can be negotiated with local tour operators for a price... well that didn't really work out on my budget! It's also possible to get a ride back from the end of the trail for "$140"!!! FFS!
I prefer to use the public transport system anyway which meant one bus three times a week Monday, Wednesday and Friday leaving from the 12 Apostles car park after 3pm. (bear that in mind when booking your tent sites or you may be hitching home)

This is not a comprehensive review of the booking process or the information that is available, just a warning. Be very discerning with your research check the sources, you may think you are looking at a community information message but discover you have been sucked into a commercial marketing trap. ;)

Even the official sites lack important information for low budget independent travellers. Once you are out there you're pretty much on your own.

(To be continued...)

Attempting the Great Ocean Walk (pt 1)

(GOW Prep)

Some time last year when I was not coping with the work/life balance, fed up with work and the the rut I had been sucked into I contemplated the fact that I would soon be reaching my 10 years employment mark. I would soon be eligible for long service leave. I considered my lifestyle and what would I like to add or subtract in the search for happiness... or at least not miserableness.

One thing I have always liked and wanted to do is bushwalking.  Until the age of 18 I was like a mountain goat, tracking through the local bushland for hours, camping, fishing rabbiting etc... I used to walk (and cycle) everywhere until I turned 18 and got my drivers license. After that I did manage a few actual hikes in places like Wilson's Prom, Cradle Mountain and a Kings Canyon but that was years ago. Since settling in Darwin over 20 years ago I have not done any serious hiking.

In this latest calling to the wilds while researching the Jatbula trail near Katherine I came across references to the Great Ocean Walk (GOW). I have been missing the forests of Victoria so much I decided I had to try and do that walk. I researched the walk and finally decided to book my camp sites and make travel arrangements for May 2018. May seemed a good choice, it was outside of bushfire and snake season and allowed enough time to improve my fitness by doing some preparatory hikes. I figured that over the next 6 moths in Darwin I would join the Darwin Bush Walking Club and build up my experience, strength and stamina...
This did not happen. Work commitments got crazy, I had a stupid study schedule and had already taken time away from family. In reality, with less than a week to go I hadn't even prepared a kit suitable for the walk. Just a few days before leaving Darwin I started preparing an inventory, checked my gear, read weather reports and began to realize that I'd missed Autumn and was headed straight into winter conditions! Temperatures ranging between 7 and 11 degrees C. 

$5 50L pack, $15 Ferrino 2man lightweight tent, hand-me-down sleeping pad, $2 ultra light sleeping bag, + $50 360 Furno cooker.

In the two days before leaving Darwin I sourced a more suitable backpack and sought out various other additional accessories to help cope with the cold wet weather I was about to head into. With the change in weather my cheap and light plan went out the window, I had to spend money! I managed to find a really nice second hand pack for $150, and swapped sleeping bags for my ultra warm down bag, the rest would have to be sorted out when I arrived in Melbourne.

Deuter Aircontact 65+10  (A very nice pack)
When the plane landed very early at Tullamarine, Melbourne was cloaked in a thick fog, the air was bitterly cold and I knew I would need to be better prepared than I was. Catching the 901 to Broadmeadows was like being on a ferry across the river Styx... Through the thick mist bodies disposed of their spirits would appear and then fade away as the 901 rolled on, their skin a deathly white pallor. I shivered at the sight of those dark and sunken eyes of commuters waiting for their passage to nothing better. 

The next two days were spent getting hold of gear that would be essential for the walk.

By the time I'd completed my inventory of necessary items and crammed it all into my pack I reckon I had over 30kg! This was not ideal, not for an experienced hiker and definitely not for me.
One of the big problems was that this is an 8 day (7 night) hike. I needed to carry enough food for over a week.

Some of the food for the trail... there was more. TOO MUCH MORE especially scroggin

To Be continued....

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A post about a storm

Damn! I'm such a lazy blogger! I really can't be fagged writing anything but I know I'll be interested to look back and remember the day we took a direct hit from a Cat 2 cyclone...

So here it is.

BOM weather radar
On Friday 16th March I saw somewhere online that the low pressure system that was somewhere east of Darwin was developing into a cyclone. 
Sometime through the day I heard it could be headed toward Darwin... Could become a cat 2.
Pretty much paid no attention. The sky was clear there was barely any wind. Big deal! 

By Saturday night we were on a Warning that a cat 2 cyclone was headed for us, to tell the truth that didn't sound too scary and it would likely just pass by like all the others, with a bit of rain some wind gusts and a lot of BS headlines in the paper the next day.

It was scheduled to hit at dawn on Saturday at 5 am everything seemed quiet.

By six there was some rain and wind...

Then the rain and wind increased.... Sam suggested I bring the budgies inside. I, in my wisdom decided to turn their cage around so the tarp that hangs down one side of the cage was facing the windward side so they wouldn't get wet, and I left them outside...

By 9 am I decided that I should probably have listened to my wife, who is quite a novice meteorologist...

At 10 am we were watching the PawPaw trees snapping like twigs and the neighbor's trampoline smashing against our fence... Then I decided I should go outside and tie ours down just in case this storm got serious...

Sometime after that I was becoming worried that the neighbors dogs, chairs and unrestrained children might come flying through the windows!

As the core passed over our home, my cynicism about the impact of this cyclone was well and truly stowed away not to be revisited! This was heavy!

Once the storm had passed I went out to survey the damage. Wow! Was there some damage! Our neighborhood is built around a network of parkland. About 40 years ago the council planted 1,000s of African Mahogany trees. These trees are huge and provide great shade... unfortunately they are also prone to falling over in high winds!

Our neighborhood looked like a nuclear bomb had hit it. In some places there was not a tree left standing. These are trees with trunks and some limbs the diameter of an average car! 

It is impossible to describe the scene and photos don't really do it justice. Amazingly no one was killed or even hurt, from what I've heard. At home we never lost power or water but friends in other areas have gone four days without electricity, some are still waiting for it to be re-connected.

Soon after the cyclone had passed we cleaned up the mess of our yard and went back to our lives. As I looked at the destroyed pawpaw trees and was slightly sad about the loss of my fruit trees and the crop I would miss out on I was prompted to think of those people who live in less developed countries where they are reliant on their food crops for survival. How devastating even a small cyclone like this could be for them, how many times we've heard of far larger cyclones or hurricanes hitting communities in the Pacific Islands, the Philippines, the West Indies, India and Sri Lanka. How the people of those countries must be affected.

We will miss our tall trees but for most of us this storm was little more than an exciting diversion from our mundane lives, a glimpse at the power that nature has to disrupt our plans for BBQs and skittles.

Thursday, March 01, 2018