Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Across The Bogong High Plains

The first time I saw the Bogong High Plains, we were on top of Mount Bogong. All that rolling, open alpine country - rare in Australia - is obviously ideal bush-walking country. It seemed, from a distance, as if you could walk for days across those open meadows. In reality, unless you are an exceptionally slow walker, traversing the high plains won't take that long, but, the country is still very scenic and provides delightful walking.

The Bogong High Plains are part of the larger Alpine National Park which is criss-crossed with tracks so an almost endless number of trips are possible - through walks and loop walks, easy rambles and multi-day adventures. It's a real shame, but also characteristic of Australia, that a paved road has been built right across the high plains. There really needs to be some areas in the world where the infernal combustion engine, with all its attendant problems, just doesn't go. Unfortunately, the Bogong High Plains is not one of them, at least in summer (the road is closed in winter). 

 Doug on the Bogong High Plains

We planned a three day walk starting and finishing at Bogong which would take us in a big loop along a series of ridges and across the Bogong High Plains. This was one of those walks where I thought most people might consider us rather daft. After all, when you can drive to 1700 metres on a paved road, why would you start walking at 640 metres? I'm not sure if "because you can" is a good enough answer for most people, but, "because you can" is important. If you don't keep doing things, "because you can," pretty soon, you cannot. 

 Feathertop from Mount Jaimathang

Day One: Bogong Village to Salt Camp Creek

Our first day was all about going up - about 1400 metres in all. We parked right at the bottom of the village near Lake Guy and walked up through the town and south along the highway to the start of Spring Saddle Fire Track. Bogong's water treatment facilities are right at the start of this fire track so it is gated, but, when we arrived, a worker had left both the entrance and exit gates open and we simply walked through. Just outside the exit gate, we did notice a flagged track going down to the highway which you could use if the gates were locked - probably most of the time.

Once on the fire track, we just started plodding uphill. Luckily, the views start pretty quickly and we began to see the ridges we would walk along later in the trip. At The Springs Saddle, we had a quick break, but decided to walk on to Bogong Jack Saddle for lunch. Just before Bald Hill the track splits, we took the uphill (right) track, contoured past another couple of bumps along the ridge, and soon arrived at Bogong Jack Saddle. 

Bogong Jack Saddle

This is a lovely spot. An open meadow with a somewhat dilapidated hut on the west side of the saddle and fine views across to the high country of Spion Kopje Spur. You could camp here, but, be warned it is popular with the horse people (which means flies), and, we did not find any water close by. Better campsites abound if you continue on towards, or even past, the Fainters.

The walking got better and better as we ambled along a single track just below Mount Fainter North. This is all lovely open alpine country, perfect for rambling on a sunny day. We wandered up to the top of Mount Fainter South where we could see The Jaimathangs (Niggerheads) and the whole Bogong High Plains spreading across the vista. Mount Feathertop looks, and is, quite close by to the southwest. Descending easily off Mount Fainter South, we found a lovely campsite by a creek and stopped for the day. We were looking over Terrible Hollow and Mount McKay, past Falls Creek Village and across to the ridges that run north to Mount Bogong. 

Camp by Salt Pan Creek

Day Two: Salt Pan Creek to Langfords Gap via Mount Jaimathang

Next morning we strolled along the track as it contoured just below the Jaimathangs to Tawonga Huts where there are plenty of great campsites. This is another spot that is popular with the horse crowd, but, escaping the horsey people and their attendant flies would be fairly easily achieved by simply walking up the creek a short distance. We dropped our packs and followed the track up to Mount Jaimathang where we could see both Mount Feathertop and Mount Bogong, in almost opposite directions. Apparently, it is also quite easy from Little Plain to walk off-track along the Jaimathangs to reach Tawonga Huts.

The flies were pretty intense around Tawonga Huts, so we walked up to the Bogong High Plains and found a shady spot under a lonely snow gum where we could have a break without being tortured by flies. Tracks branch off in all directions from the Bogong High Plains. You can walk out to Hotham, over to Mount Feathertop, down to Falls Creek, or, continue on around the high country as we did.

Doug approaching the top of Mount Jaimathang

We joined the Australian Alpine Walking Track (AAWT) which took us past Mount Bundara and down to the Cope Saddle Hut by Cope aqueduct. I had a dip in the creek before lunch which helped wash away the grimy sweat from the last two days. About an hour from the hut, the track meets the paved road. Again, there are a few options here, we took the track past Cope Hut and Rover Lodge and then followed the track along the aqueduct. This is the least scenic part of the walk but you still have views down Middle Creek towards the Mitta Mitta River.

Just past Langfords Gap, we got tired of walking and there was a big pool for swimming so we made camp, enjoyed a second peaceful night of camping and had a cool swim in the pool. 

The Jaimathangs from Mount Fainter South

Day Three: Langfords Gap to Bogong via Spion Kopje Spur and the Grey Hills

We only had one more kilometre along the aqueduct to walk before the AAWT heads north to The Park and Heathy Spur. Heathy Spur is a popular track to access these alpine plateaus as the track start is at 1600 metres. Ambling along on a good track we passed Mount Nelse and Mount Nelse North - really just rounded hills that rise 20 metres above the plateau.

At Warby Corner, where the AAWT heads north along Timms Spur, we turned west and followed Spion Kopje Spur to the headwaters of Big River where we had a break. There is more good camping here and it does not seem as if many people come this way. 

Pretty Valley from Warby Corner

Just before Spion Kopje, the Grey Hills "track" branches north. Actually, at the junction of the two tracks, there is only one track, the one that continues west along Spion Kopje. If there ever was a track along to The Crowsnest, it has long since disappeared. At this junction, Doug and I headed off in different directions. I took the longer route with more elevation gain and loss, out via the Grey Hills, while Doug returned to Bogong via the more direct route down Spion Kopje Fire Track.

I was actually a little nervous walking out over The Grey Hills as I would be traversing seven kilometres of ridge with potentially no track. It is not uncommon in Australia for tracks marked on topographic maps to simply not exist. After our Budawangs mini-epic a couple of years previously we had vowed not to plan walks on tracks for which we had no independent collaboration (i.e. some report other than the topographic map). Looking ahead along the Grey Hills, there was, however, a hint of track here and there, so I headed off down to The Crowsnest while Doug continued down Spion Kopje Fire Track. 

The Grey Hills and Spion Kopje

By the time I had wandered down to The Crownest I had picked up a scanty footpad which became much more obvious as I descended down to the first col on the ridge. Most of the snow gums along The Grey Hills have been burnt in a fire, and, in some places, the vegetation is growing back quite thickly. Without the unmarked track along this ridge, progress would be very slow. There is quite a bit of up and down (around 300 metres) along the ridge before you finally get to Mount Arthur but it is really good walking on a decent track. I had to look around for the track in a couple of places, but mostly it is easy to follow. There are a series of creeks that cascade off Timms Spur down into Big River that reminded me a lot of walking the moors in Scotland. Mount Bogong looks quite close from Mount Arthur and the track continues along to Bogong Creek Saddle and up Quartz Knob to Mount Bogong. 

Small creeks running off Timms Spur

At Mount Arthur, I turned and followed a track down the southwest ridge towards Black Possum Spur. On the map, this track drops off the ridge to the south to join Arthur Fire Track but the map is wrong. The track continues down the ridge and makes a T intersection with Black Possum Spur Fire Track. This section of track is steep and had been recently brushed out. There is no real footpad, just a slash cut through the undergrowth. If you are coming up Black Possum Spur, the track to Mount Arthur has a small hand made sign nailed to a tree.

Once on Black Possum Spur, it was a simple matter of plodding downhill until I reached the East Branch of the Kiewa River where I was happy to dive into the cool water as it was a hot day. 

 Doug pondering where we will go next

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Corner Inlet Sea Kayaking

Way, way back in 2013, soon after we had moved to Australia, we did a six day sea kayak trip around the eastern islands of Nooramunga Marine Park getting as far west as Snake Island. It was a grand trip, protected waters to paddle in, very little power boat traffic, amazing bird and ocean life, pleasant campsites and easy access to the wild 90 Mile Beach. Our memories of the trip were so good we wanted to go back again and paddle the area to the west of Snake Island, the Corner Inlet area. 

 Pied Oystercatcher Eggs

Day One: Port Welshpool to Biddies Cove

Without much of a plan in mind - every thing seemed to depend on the winds - we set off from Port Welshpool on a cloudy day with light winds blowing. There is a $10 per day fee to park at and use the boat ramp, but the beach to the east, near the old jetty is free to use and to park, so that is where we launched. At low tides, this could be a bit problematic as you might have a long carry, but we managed to pack up near high tide and, while we had breakfast in the caravan, we secured the boats to the old jetty. Although we thought they were in deep enough water, both were high and dry on rocks when we came to launch.

We were paddling against the tide which did not seem to slow us down too much. Then again, I might be just used to going very slow. Paddling out through Lewis Channel past Little Snake Island we had to stay a fair way off-shore due to low water, but, were able to pull in to Snake Island pretty easily where a channel comes close into shore. You could camp anywhere along this west side of Snake Island all the way down to Townsend Point without difficulty. There were a ton of powerboats of all sizes out fishing in Singapore Deep but luckily not driving around constantly as power boaters sometimes (frequently) seem to do.


From Snake Island we crossed Singapore Deep - some small standing waves - using Mount Singapore on Wilsons Promontory as a reference point and landed at the lovely Biddies Cove. While we had lunch, we debated whether or not to camp where we were or carry on. It was a stellar camp. Some granite slabs to sit and cook on, a really long beach to walk - you can walk all the way to John Souey Cove - even bouldering slabs behind camp (wish I had brought my rock shoes). We weren't really tired, however, as we had only paddled about 16 km.

But, we really had no plan. The weather forecast was for a mix of strong easterlies and westerlies, so it was hard to plan a trip that did not involve a lot of slogging into headwinds. Any one way trip - the premier trip is a paddle right around Wilsons Promontory - requires two vehicles as there is no public transit available. In the end, we just decided to camp and walk down the beach for the afternoon. Hindsight always brings clarity and, were I in this situation again, I would probably paddle down to John Souey Cove for the night then return the next day, although I much prefer either a one way through trip or a circle route. Sunset from camp was spectacular, the most vibrant mix of reds and oranges I have ever seen, worth camping at Biddies Cove to see.

Now that's a sunset

Day Two: Biddies Cove to Tin Mine Cove to Swashway Jetty

Tin Mine Cove is supposed to be a really nice place to camp, at least all the sea kayak tours go there, so we wanted to paddle around and have a look. Once again, we were against the tide but it was a nice paddle and we had no where to go in a hurry. Even with virtually no wind, there were a lot of standing waves off the unnamed point to the north of Freshwater Cove where the deep water comes close in to shore. In windy conditions this spot could get bumpy fast.

You pass a couple of small beaches and coves before you reach Tin Mine Cove. I remember Freshwater Cove in particular as it has a prominent "no camping" sign. We had breakfast at Tin Mine Cove and noted that the track that heads south to Chinaman Long Beach had been freshly brushed out. The beach is nice, but I did not think as nice as Biddies Cove. At high tide there would be very little beach left and the camping area is a bit tight. Although there are a couple more spots hacked out of dense brush up the hill, those sites are sloping and not convenient for kayakers.

Tin Mine Cove

The forecast was for 20 knot westerlies in the afternoon followed by 20 knot easterlies the next day, so we decided to head east up Nooramunga, then come back west the following day. We paddled back across Singapore Deep and with the tide rising were able to paddle into the channel between Little Snake and Snake Islands. There is a channel marked all the way through but at low tide the water gets pretty shallow. Good for kayaks, not good for power boats.

We stopped on Little Snake Island for lunch as Victoria Parks shows a campsite on their Nooramunga brochure which we wanted to check out. After walking up and down the beach we finally found a little fairly overgrown spot in long grass behind the beach which is completely covered at high tide (the beach, not the camp). Not really a great camp. 

Camp at Biddies Cove

With the wind behind us we seemed to speed east along the channel to Swashway Jetty which has a nice campsite. The water in channel is pretty clear and it is a favourite spot with rays. I saw about a dozen, some quite large. We had covered about 25 km by now, enough for a couple of old out-of-shape paddlers, but, for some reason, we decided to go on to The Gulf campsite, about five kilometres away. We arrived quickly as we had both wind and current with us, but, as we rounded the point we saw a big bogan camp with a smoky campfire billowing toxic fumes out. I hate these camps where there are too many men - there are never any women - and too much beer. They make me very uncomfortable, fearful even, so, I persuaded Doug to turn around and paddle back to Swashway Jetty to camp.

It was going on for 3.30 pm and we were both feeling a wee bit tired as we had started paddling soon after 7.30 am so plugging back the way we had come into a headwind was a bit confronting, but, sea kayaking in Victoria seems to almost always mean paddling into the wind so we are, at least a little bit, inured to it. Paddling steadily, we made it back in just under an hour and were soon having some afternoon tea and enjoying a really nice campsite. I went for a wander on the tracks around camp and saw a couple of Hogg Deer and there was a Pied Oystercatcher nest on the jetty. At sunset, all the kangaroos came out and went down to the rapidly receding channel and drank sea water. It was pretty interesting as I have never seen kangaroos drink sea water before but perhaps that is how they get salt.

Apparently, kangaroos drink sea water

Day Three: Swashway Jetty to Port Welshpool

We had a lazy morning enjoying a couple of cups of coffee while our tent dried out from the previous nights heavy due. It was a gorgeous sunny day and it felt foolish to paddle back to Port Welshpool but the forecast was for a series of strong westerlies, and, the truth is, we had paddled to the east, and we'd paddled to the west. There really was not anywhere new to go and, as we are all about novelty, we packed up and lazily paddled back to Port Welshpool.

It was interesting to reflect on our previous trip when we just getting back into sea kayaking and the area to paddle in Nooramunga/Corner Inlet seemed huge. Three years later, I realised that a complete loop around Nooramunga/Corner Inlet is about 200 km and that is possible in five or six days. Still a beautiful place to paddle but suddenly not so large seeming anymore. 

 Doug leaving Biddies Cove

Friday, December 25, 2015

Silly Season

As usual, we are holed up indoors for the silly season in Australia's outdoors, which, has given us time to produce our annual Christmas letter.  If you've grown tired - already - of that latest Christmas consumer gadget and want to pass some time, give it a read here

Thursday, December 24, 2015

E Is For Unendurable: Flies On The George Bass Coastal Walk

Yowza, almost a month since my last blog post. What can I blame but some general busyness of late coupled with an even more generalized lack of inspiration. The busyness is declining, but I can't say much for the inspiration so the next few blog posts, catching up on recent trips may not be my most inspired.

The George Bass Coastal Walk is only a short jaunt - seven kilometres one way - from Shelley Beach near Kilcunda to Punchbowl Reserve to the west. It was a hot and fly blown day when I dropped Doug off at Punchbowl Reserve and drove down to Shelley Beach to park. As is usual on these "through" walks, I started from one end, Doug from the other and we would, hopefully, cross paths in the middle. In all the times we have done this, there has only been one time when we did not meet somewhere along the walk. 

 Views along the track

The first thing I noticed strolling west along a good track from Shelley Beach was just how many flies there were. The little blighters did not number in the hundreds, more like the thousands, possibly the millions. There was a plague of flies, crawling up your nose, into your ears, worming under your sun-glasses to soak in the wetness of your eye-balls, and settling in enormous numbers all over your body giving you that creepy crawly sensation associated with narcotic drug withdrawal. It's the sort of thing that could drive you crazy.

Perhaps it is my Aussie heritage, but, I actually find flies relatively easy to ignore. Maybe all the summer barbeques with my family where we ate charred sausages with towels over our heads to keep the buggars at bay developed some mediocre ability to disregard them unless they get in my eyes or ears. No-one can stand flies in their eyes or ears.

Deserted, apart from the flies

Anyway, I strolled along. It was quite windy, a hot wind, and somehow not strong enough to blow the flies away so I moved along the track with the drone of flies like a small but incessant motor accompanying me. The track is very pleasant, and, if you are in the area, I'd recommend it. You amble up and down small hills always looking out over the ocean. There are small cliffs, caves, arches, and tiny little deserted coves tucked away between headlands. The only vehicle access is to either end of the track (Shelley Beach or Punchbowl Road) and, as the average Australian can barely stagger from the couch to fridge to crack another tinny, you will undoubtedly be alone. 

All the flies must make good eating for stumpy
 the lizard seen on the track

About three kilometres from Punchbowl Road I met Doug, wide eyed and delirious from fly exposure. Doug grew up in Canada where flies are not so numerous and he has not developed the thick skin required to tolerate these creeping, crawling, flying instruments of torture. I'm not exaggerating when I say that his eyes were rolling back in his head. He looked like some kind of male, heavily aged version of Regan in The Exorcist. Unfortunately, I had no crosses and no garlic, in fact, nothing with which to offer relief from the flies. We passed, he stumbled off muttering and plucking at his skin while I ambled nonchalantly towards Punchbowl Road.

Before I close this blog post, I'll describe the walk in Doug's words: "The north winds to 20 knots were of no help, only blowing all the flies between here and Mildura into my eyes. I would rate this experience an E; truly unbearable." A walk best done, perhaps, when the flies are less numerous. 

 Arch along the coast