Monthly Archives: May 2013

An outdoorsy lifestyle in Adelaide

When I moved to Adelaide from Hobart to be closer to family I was a bit worried that I’d lose my outdoorsy lifestyle.  The City of Churches is often mocked as boring  and  had never been on my radar as a place for outdoorsy stuff.  But when I got there, I was in for a surprise. Adelaide has plenty of things to do and all within a short distance from the city.

One of my first discoveries were the Adelaide Hills that flank the city’s eastern suburbs. They’re a low range of hills that run roughly north-south,  mostly forested, cut by gullies and criss-crossed by walking and fire trails perfect for day walks.

On top of Mount Lofty with Adelaide below

On top of Mount Lofty with Adelaide below

Probably the most popular walking trail is the one from Waterfall Gully to the top of the grandly named Mount Lofty. So many people walk it that it can be a bit of a procession sometimes. But it’s a good walk through the bush on a well formed track, past some waterfalls, with some steep sections that get the heart pumping and comes out at a visitor centre/café/restaurant where there are great views of the city and coastline.

The hills are also great for koala spotting. They are the only place in Australia I know of where you can go for a walk and be guaranteed to see koalas in the wild. I loved that I could wake up in the morning, think “I’d like to see some koalas today” and know exactly which tracks to walk to see some. There was plenty of other wildlife to spot too like kangaroos and echidnas. And snakes, unfortunately.

Koala

Koala

Adelaide was also where I realised I needed two bikes – a mountain bike and a road bike. The mountain bike to go bouncing around the mountain bike parks that were only short drives from my front door and the road bike for pedalling up into the hills and exploring narrow country roads that wind through small towns, forests, farms and vineyards, or along the coast following an almost unbroken line of beaches.

View down to Adelaide from the highest point at Cudlee Creek

View down to Adelaide from the highest point at Cudlee Creek

Eagle on the Hill was my closest mountain bike park, only about 20 minutes from home. It was an old quarry and had fantastic single trail that twisted and turned, up and down, through bushland. Another was Cudlee Creek, about 35 minutes away with longer trails.  Its other attraction was that, after a day of pumping pedals and thrashing around with friends, we’d reward ourselves with wine tasting at some cellar doors on the way home. I’m not sure there are many places in Australia where you can do that.

I also took up rock climbing in Adelaide. There’s a place called Morialta, again in the hills and only about a 30 minute drive from the city, with fantastic climbing. There were plenty of routes of various grades of difficulty up the quartzite rock. Rock climbing is a relatively small scene in Adelaide so Morialta never felt crowded and it was unusual if you had to wait to climb a route you wanted to try.

Rock climbing at Morialta

Rock climbing at Morialta

Adelaide gets a bad rap from the rest of Australia, which seems to think it’s a boring place. I find that most people who sneer at Adelaide generally have never been there. I lived there for four years and was never bored. For outdoorsy types, it’s brilliant.

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Five useful things I take camping

Whenever I go on an overnight bushwalk I have a mental check list I tick off to ensure I have everything I need for a safe, comfortable walk. Other than the obvious items, such as tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, boots, backpack etc, here are five useful things I always take with me camping:

An EPIRB = peace of mind

An EPIRB = peace of mind

1. EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon) I do a lot of solo walking and this is a must pack. If something goes wrong on a walk that I can’t get myself out of, the aerial goes up, the unit activates, the distress signal gets sent and I wait for a helicopter to come and get me. It’s the first thing my partner will make sure I’ve packed before I set off for a walk. The Australian bush can be pretty unforgiving and there are plenty of news stories about walkers being injured or going missing and huge search efforts being launched to find them.  A lost or injured walker with an EPIRB will save themselves and rescuers a lot of time and effort by providing their location. And possibly save their life. The handheld unit cost me around $300 and is the most expensive piece of gear I have that I hope I never have to use.

2. Book. Camping is when I seem to do most of my reading. After setting up my tent and settling down after a long day of walking I like nothing more than making a cup of tea or hot chocolate and then relaxing with a book . A book is also imperative for those days when the weather goes pear shaped and you’re tent bound. Snuggling down into a sleeping bag, in a tent, with a book, while the rain hammers down outside is one of life’s little pleasures.

 

Tarp and tent

l Tarp and tent

3. Tarp. This is a recently acquired piece of gear which I now can’t work out why it took me so long to buy. It’s a great secondary shelter. I use it at lunch time to keep off the sun or rain. It’s also great to put up over my tent. If it rains it keeps the tent mostly dry and lets me pack my backpack under cover. One of my least favourite things is packing up in the rain, especially a wet tent. The tarp also lets me cook, eat and sit outside while it’s raining.

 

Snap lock bags are handy

Snap lock bags are handy

4. Snap-lock plastic bags. I carry lots of these. They make great rubbish bags. They’re also  excellent waterproof bags for things like books – to keep water out – and sunscreen and toothpaste tubes – to keep their contents in. I also find snap lock bags I’ve packed food into invariably split or break during a trip, so spares are necessary.

 

 

5. Spare boot laces. I’ve always thought it would be horrible to be part way through a walk and your boot laces break. Loose boots are not a good idea for your feet, especially if you’re walking through rugged country.  I’m glad I‘ve had this foresight as I’ve been on a couple of walks in Tasmania where my laces broke and was able to replace them. The laces, which are usually quite long, can also be handy for other things, like a makeshift clothes line or anything else that might need tying.

Happiness is a cosy tent

I love my tent. It’s a pretty little thing. A tunnel-shaped blue Macpac Minaret. We’ve been together for a long time and, as you can probably guess, I’ve grown rather attached to it. I’ve had it now for more than 10 years and it’s never let me down.  It’s kept the weather, insects and furry creatures that want to eat my food out, and me cosy and comfy in. It’s also given me the chance to see some of Australia’s most spectacular wilderness.

My tent on Fraser Island, Queensland

My tent on Fraser Island, Queensland

I bought it for my first, non-guided walk. My friend Matt and I were doing the Overland Track in Tasmania. It’s a two-man tent, but when it came time to sleep in it, he decided he’d sleep in the walkers’ huts instead. That was okay by me. More room to spread out. Didn’t work out so well for Matt though. The huts were crowded with other walkers, walkers who were snorers. Matt didn’t get a decent night of sleep for the entire walk. But I slept very well, crawling out every morning to meet Matt with a cheery hello to which he’d gumpily reply.

One of the things I love about having a tent is that it gives you options. In the outdoors you can set it up just about anywhere. In the shade, in the sun, next to a stream, overlooking a view, away from snorers – wherever.

The coldest night of my life. In Victoria's alpine country

The coldest night of my life. In Victoria’s alpine country

But as well as bushwalking, I also use it to car camp in caravan parks, giving me cheap accommodation and allowing me to spend money on something else, like a fancy meal or another great love – wine.  My partner and I would use it on wine tasting weekends when we lived in Adelaide.

The Minaret has been a great bushwalking tent. It’s probably a bit heavy (a bit over 2kg) and big for solo walking, but its reliability and ability to endure the elements has made it worth the space and weight it adds to my pack. I’ve only seam sealed the outer fly once and it’s continued to keep some pretty heavy rain out. The only time rain has gotten in has been when the bottom of the fly flaps around in the wind and water drips onto where the floor meets the material of the inner tent. Once I worked that out I just put some water bottles in the space between the fly and inner and that sorted it out.

One day I might consider getting a single person tent for solo bushwalking, but at the moment, that just sounds too much like being unfaithful to my old faithful. What’s your favourite piece of gear?

Tasmania’s South West Circuit (Part 2)

So there I was. On top of a mountain range in Tasmania’s south west, in a white out, with no track or landmarks and a GPS in my hand. I’d tapped in the coordinates for a spot on the map I should be aiming for suggested in Chapman’s track notes and the arrow was pointing northwards. It was now time to place my faith in the unit and keep walking.

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The view for much of the day crossing the South West Cape Range

I set off into the button grass, picked up the track but it quickly faded again.  Reaching the coordinates I’d tapped in, the cloud was still thick and low so I entered the next set of coordinates to aim for and set off again. At one point I felt like I was walking along the spine of a ridge with steep drops on either side. But of course I couldn’t see it. Eventually I came across Michael and Davina, a couple in their 60s from Queensland who were doing the circuit as well. It was their third or fourth time they’d done the walk and they lamented the weather with me, saying that the views were usually amazing. We met up again later at a flat, rocky area where they were using their GPS and compass and we compared notes on which direction to go.

I got a real sense of how walking in cloud can mess with your bearings when we set our courses, aiming for a point where metal stakes marking an old track join the circuit track from the east. The GPS arrow was pointing north, the compass was telling me to go in the same direction, but for some reason in my head it felt like I was heading back the way I’d come. Weird.

Window Pane Bay

Window Pane Bay

At this point I was heading down off the range towards Window Pane Bay. I’d thought the walk down would be less strenuous as it was, well, downhill. How wrong I was! Downhill, yes, but very steeply downhill. Each step was a knee-jarring stretch. And then, after thinking there’d be no more uphill, that was wrong too. The track dropped into several forest gullies which required a steep climb out of them on the other side. This was after about eight hours of walking and it was getting just a bit frustrating.

Finally, after hearing the ocean getting closer and closer, the track broke through the bush and I was in the open – at the top of a huge sand dune. I dropped my pack onto it and then watched with despair as it started rolling towards the waves below. Thankfully it was stopped by a dead tree and I jumped down after it and dragged it down the rest of the dune to the beach. Further down the beach I saw a spot above me I could have kept walking to and where the drop wasn’t as high.

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The pack drop and drag

Getting to the campsite was a relief after nine-and-a-half hours of walking. I set the tent up, got into some dry clothes, hung out my sweat soaked pants and shirt and sat down for a blissful rest and a cup of tea.

The next day the weather was clear, except for the clouds that  still sat on top of the South West Cape Range. The track to Noyhener Beach was pretty simple to follow, although the bush was making an effort to reclaim it, leading to my pack getting snagged a couple of times. It also went into a few gullies so it was a bit of an up and down slog again.

I nearly stepped on a black snake in some forest, which had me leaping backwards and then picking my way through scrub around it. Later, while I was having a wash in a shallow creek at the beach, I looked up just in time to see a snake, barely three metres away, swimming straight for me. I think I nearly walked on water I leapt and stepped away so quickly. Snakes freak me out.

Noyhener Beach

Noyhener Beach

The track to Noyhener came out of the scrub and the notes suggested climbing down to rocks and then walking along them to reach the sand. But Michael had said it was actually easier to bash through the scrub above the rocks until you reach a point where you can walk down onto the sand. While doing this I came across a new-looking Camelback in the scrub. It surprised me as the bush didn’t look like anyone had walked this way. Anyway, finders keepers, and I strapped it onto my pack.

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Aboriginal midden at Stephens Bay

The next day I did a day walk to Spain Bay, via Stephens Beach. Chapman’s notes suggested walking to the end of Noyhener and climbing over a headland to reach Stephens Beach. But there were no signs this was possible. As I walked back along the beach to camp I saw a white bucket and some flotsam and jetsam and, upon having a closer look, realised it marked the start of a path through sand dunes behind the beach to Stephens and a massive Aboriginal midden of sea shells and animal bones.

The following day was time to leave the coast and start the return to Melaleuca. It was another challenging day, climbing up and over two mountain ranges along a footpad heading for Horseshoe Inlet. The track disappeared again at the bottom of the long ridge off the Pasco Range that leads to the inlet. I spent a while looking for a route, following a few animal tracks that led nowhere. Finally I just bit the bullet and plunged into dense scrub surrounding the inlet, aiming for the shore. When I got to the campsite, I realised the Camelback I’d found and strapped to the outside of my pack had fallen and been reclaimed by the bush.

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Looking down to Horseshoe Inlet from Posco Range

Walking along the shore, there’s a few creeks that enter the inlet that have to be crossed. The notes suggest Horseshoe Creek may have to be swum across but that some people avoid this by wading out into the inlet, which I did, and where the water was only about thigh deep. I was lucky as the depth depends on tides and rainfall. Other creeks were the same.

The next morning I awoke to flashes of lightning and the crack and grumble of thunder rolling around the surrounding mountains but thankfully no storm hit. The weather actually cleared and by the time I reached Melaleuca the sky was blue again.

Some planes came in during the afternoon but I was in no hurry to get back to Hobart so I settled into one of the walkers’ huts for a couple of extra days. Hardly anyone else was around and I had a hut to myself for two out of the three nights I stayed. One night was unplanned as on the day I’d intended flying out, the weather turned bad with showers and strong winds, meaning no planes would be coming that day. By then I’d finished the book I’d brought and had to ask the rangers if I could borrow one of theirs. I picked the thickest I could find – the Rumpole omnibus. I also got the chance to see some Orange-bellied parrots, some of the most endangered birds in the world, and which migrate to Tasmania’s south-west to breed.

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The view from the walkers’ hut on a wet, windy, no planes today day

The weather cleared again, the planes arrived and another Tassie adventure ended. But I’m seriously thinking of doing the circuit walk again. It was a great challenge and I’m keen to see the views I missed during that clouded-in day going over the South West Cape Range.