Tag Archives: Australia

Major Mitchell Plateau hike

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I did the Major Mitchell Plateau three day circuit walk in the Grampians National Park recently.

A three hour drive west of Melbourne, The Grampians have been a destination I’ve been wanting to visit for a while.

An unexpected week off from work gave me the opportunity to throw on the backpack and see somewhere new. After more than a year since my last overnight hike (a new baby don’t give you much opportunity for camping) I wondered whether I still knew what to do.

I started out at Sheep Hills Carpark and quickly fell into the steady rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other.

The track was obvious and rose steadily to Mt William. Unfortunately the day I set out was grey and rainy and the views of bush and surrounding mountain ranges were intermittent.

The final climb along the road to the top of Mt William was steep and hard on the feet. There was no reward at the summit as it was completely clouded in. It was cold and windy so I didn’t bother spending much time up there and set out for the First Wannon campsite.

The track got rougher but was still easy to follow. It descended steeply into Boundary Gap and then climbed just as steeply again up and onto the plateau. There was a bit of careful rock scrambling near the top which I wasn’t ready for. After about five hours of hiking up and down through the rain I was feeling pretty shagged and keen to set up camp and get dry and warm.

It was a nice campsite with a drop toilet and a small creek running through it.

Day two for the walk across the plateau dawned much nicer, with puffy white clouds and plenty of blue sky. This was the day I got all the views across the Grampians and the surrounding farmland below.

It made enduring the weather of the day before worthwhile.

The walk off the plateau is steep, followed by a long steady descent to Jimmy Creek Campground.

Again, I was pretty happy to get to the campsite so I could relax, even though it meant leaving behind the feeling of being remote and away from everything.

The third day back to the car was pretty boring – an undulating fire trail with little in the way of views.

Back at the car I headed to Halls Gap, the tourist town in the middle of the Grampians, where I stayed at one of the caravan parks for the night before heading home. I liked Halls Gap; a pleasant spot where you could base yourself for day walks around the area.

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Alpine National Park – Victoria

How following my nose and a bit of controlled falling got me home

It was my last day of five days’ hiking in the Mt Howitt region of the Alpine National Park in Victoria, about four hours drive north-east of Melbourne, near Mansfield, when I reached what ended up being the hardest part of the walk.

I’d started by walking up the Howqua River, then up North Range to the Crosscut Saw, camped at Vallejo Gantner Hut, done a day walk out to Mt Speculation and back and then over Mt Howitt to Bluff Hut and then across and down The Bluff.

 

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It was now day five, I’d reached Refrigerator Gap, and the car was just six kilometres away, according to the map, down Eight Mile Spur.

Here is where it got tricky. I’d noticed on a later edition of the map I was using (Buller-Howitt Alpine Area Outdoor Recreation Guide 1st Edition) that the section of track I was about to follow, across Rocky Ridge, was marked “can be difficult to follow”.

This had given me pause to think about alternative routes back to the car following four-wheel drive tracks. That would add another eight kilometres of walking, which wasn’t appealing. Plus I’d walked this track once before a few years ago when it was partly covered in snow and had managed to find my way so figured I still could.

But since then there’s been plenty of bush regrowth and old, burnt trees have fallen across the track, obscuring the way.

I then noticed some old horse manure on the ground and remembered reading online about horseback tours along Eight Mile Spur. I assumed the dung was from the horses and whenever the path became very faint along rocky patches or through overgrown grass, I smelt for and looked out for the dung.

It’s not the most ideal method of navigation, and I did have my GPS with me, although the batteries were very low, but it worked for me this time.

I followed the dung and the faint track left by, I assume, the horses, until the track became more obvious at the point where the spur turned downhill, towards the Howqua River.

From here I thought it would be an easy amble down all the way back to the car at Eight Mile Flat.

However, again, bush regrowth made the track hard to follow and the dung disappeared. There was also a lot of leaf and bark litter on the ground that masked signs of a path.

I lost the track. Thankfully I was far enough down that I could hear the river and knew it was pretty much straight in front of me. All I had to do was keep going straight down, bash through a bit of bush, and I’d reach the river and the track I’d started out on.

It was harder than I thought. The ground got really steep and it was a struggle to stay on two feet. I grabbed at grass and trees to try and control my descent but I still fell over a few times. Thankfully on my backside and not forwards. The temperature was also in the mid 30s Celsius.

Anyway, after what felt like forever I finally reached the track above the river, stopped to gulp the rest of my water as sweat pored from me, and plod my way back to the car, where I rewarded myself with a wash in the river to clean off. Looking at the map I was about a kilometre off course. It looks like I’d veered to the right and followed a different spur down to the river instead of veering left and continuing down a less steep section of Eight Mile Spur.

I’ll write a fuller trip report soon.

My route

Day 1 – Eight Mile Plain to a bush campsite along the upper part of the Howqua River. About 6 hours walking

Day 2 – River campsite to Vallejo Gantner Hut, via Thorn Range using Queen Spur and Stanleys Tracks. About 6.5 hours.

Day 3 – Day walk to Mt Speculation from Vallejo Gantner Hut. About 7 hours.

Day 4 – Vallejo Gantner Hut to Bluff Hut, via Mt Howitt, Mt Magdala and Lovicks Hut. About 7.5 hours.

Day 5 – Bluff Hut to Eight Mile Flat, via The Bluff, Rocky Ridge and Eight Mile Spur. About 7 hours.

 

A beech walk in the hills

It wasn’t a sandy beach walk for us when we went up to explore some trails around Marysville, a country town around two hours drive east of Melbourne.

Instead, it was a beech walk of the tree variety that drew us out into the crisp, clean mountain air.

The Beeches is a nice, easy rainforest circuit walk that takes you along the swiftly flowing Taggerty River and its roaring waterfalls and cascades.

Cascades on the Taggerty River

Cascades on the Taggerty River

It was a sunny day the day we went but we still ended up getting pretty damp as overgrown sections of the track were still wet from rain the day before.

It’s amazing how quickly your pants become soaked when pushing through high grass that looks as if it’s got just a few droplets of water on it. All those droplets add up.

Overgrown section of the trail

Overgrown section of the trail

Ah well, first world problems.

Bushfires went through the area five years ago and the bush is still regrowing. Dead tree trunks loom over the regrowth, a sad reminder of what was once there.

Thankfully the rainforest around the river was obviously too damp for the fires to take hold there and the trees and ferns around it were spared.

The town of Marysville was almost wiped out by the fires but the community is steadily rebuilding.

The bakery is a reliable place for lunch and there are cafes in town too.

New discoveries

With all the riding I’m doing training for the Around the Bay ride next weekend, I haven’t had much time to spare for other outdoorsy stuff.

My training rides generally take at least half a day, leaving me too tired to do much for the other half and leaving the rest of the weekend for chores.

But the last couple of weekends my fiancé and I have managed to do a couple of short, half day trips to explore some places not normally on our radar – the National Rhododendron Garden near Olinda in the Dandenong Ranges and Werribee Park, west of Melbourne, on the way to Geelong.

Both places exceeded our expectations and are now on our list for future picnics with friends.

The rhododendrons were flowering when we were at the Rhododendron Gardens on a showery and windy day. But the dull light of overcast skies were unable to dim the bright colours of the thousands of flowers in bloom. Who knew there were so many kinds of rhododendron? Plus a wide wide wide range of other flowers.

The garden’s paths took us down into native forest where we saw a lyre bird scratching amongst the undergrowth. On the way back up we passed a large, flat grassy area that’d be perfect for picnicking and kicking the footy on. There were also great views across a valley to nearby ranges I couldn’t identify.

Werribee Park was another pleasant discovery. As well as being home to Werribee Mansion, which was built in the 1800s by wealthy Scottish pastoralists the Chirnsides, it’s also home to the Victoria State Rose Garden.

We picnicked in the rose garden but the mansion’s grounds also have plenty of places to throw down a rug in the shade of a towering tree.

While the grounds and gardens are free, it costs $8.50 for adults to go into the mansion. But it’s totally worth it. The mansion has been beautifully restored and gives an amazing insight into what life was like for the wealthy in Australia’s colonial days.

So, just in time for the warmer months, we’ve discovered two great places to picnic with friends. And kick the footy.

 

 

An introduction …

I can still remember the moment when bushwalking and the outdoors became a big part of my life. A friend had given me a subscription to Australian Geographic magazine for my birthday. The first edition I received had a feature by the magazine’s founder, Dick Smith, about walking the Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia’s southern island state. The photographs of the track’s scenery – from the start at Cradle Mountain to its end at Lake St Clair – were stunning . The article talked of rugged mountains, clear rushing streams and waterfalls and mossy forests. I was so inspired that I wanted to see these sights for myself.  I had never undertaken a multi-day trek before by myself, so joined a guided tour. The trip was spectacular. I did the walk in summer – December – and yet there was still snow on the ground. It was the first time I had seen snow. It was so utterly foreign to me (not much snow in tropical North Queensland) that I kept reaching down to touch it, scooping up handfuls to eat (making sure it wasn’t yellow of course!) The weather was sunny and warm and I walked the track in tshirt and shorts. Brilliant.

Cradle Mountain with Dove Lake in the foreground

Cradle Mountain with Dove Lake in the foreground

The wilderness, bushwalking and camping has had a profound hold on me ever since. I was so impressed by the Overland Track and Tasmania’s wilderness that I got a job in the state so I could keep bushwalking and explore more.

I later moved to Sydney for work but the draw of the bush continued, leading me to join the Sydney Bushwalking Club and walking the national parks on the city’s fringes. It was while in Sydney that I also discovered mountain biking and rock climbing, with the Blue Mountains, just over an hour from the city by train, providing plenty of opportunities for play.

My love of camping and the outdoors has come as a surprise to my family. As a child I hated the outdoors. I hated getting dirty. I got homesick on school camps and cried. Now I love throwing on a heavy backpack, lacing up my boots and setting out on a track, leaving behind showers and the comforts of home. Now I sometimes feel like crying when it’s time to go back to the city.

So why do I love the outdoors so much? Some of the easy reasons are fresh air, stunning scenery and exercise. But the harder to explain ones go to the sense of peace I get when I can leave behind my worries for a few hours or days while I’m immersed in nature’s bigger picture. There’s also that sense of adventure you get, that anything could happen, that can sometimes feel missing from today’s city lifestyle.

This blog is a bit of a vanity project. But it’s also an outlet for me to share my trips and advice and, perhaps, inspire others contemplating exploring the outdoors.