I’m just back from my second winter ramble across the Overland Track in Tasmania. It was as equally fantastic as last year’s, and although this time I walked it the ‘proper’ way (as in north to south), I did most of the trip solo in very wintery conditions. At the moment I’m going through many hundreds of photos, and catching up on my thesis (of which a book about the Overland is the major part).
I’ll eventually get around to writing a blog post about the trip, although most of it will end up in the book, which is coming along very nicely. I also have another Lamington post to write when I get a minute. So much writing to be done…
Oh, and I’ll be doing a reading from the new book next Tuesday, the 18th July here in Brisbane at the Wild Readings get together at the Mu-ooz Eritrean Restaurant in West End (54 Mollison Street, just along from the Three Monkeys). It’s a great little monthly reading session.
Until then, here are a few photos I twiddled with on the iPad. I’ll post the full set to my 500px account when I get time. Always time….
It’s been a couple of months since I lasted walked Lamington. Mostly, I’ve been absent simply because of the hot summer. It’s been a stinker this year, and even in the shelter of the rainforest, it still gets very hot and humid; not exactly the best conditions for my poor English temperament. But now Autumn has broken (albeit slightly) so it’s time to hitch on the boots and pack and get back in there.
Half way up the mountains, I was reminded quite suddenly of cyclone Debbie that stomped its way through here a month or so ago. By the time Debbie came slowly down past Brisbane and the Hinterland, it was more a severe low pressure system, rather than a cyclone, but over the course of a couple of days, it dumped a phenomenal amount of rain on the area. Something in the region of 800mm in 24 hours. So the road up is scarred with the red soil gashes of landslides, the debris of fallen trees and a few boulders the size of small cars. It’s about then I start to wonder if any of the paths will be closed. I’m heading up to Binna Burra again; like the last trip, because I think there’ll still be a lot of people around the Green Mountains, as the holidays are only just a few days over. My thoughts were confirmed when I reached the ranger station, about 2km shy of the end of the road in. Initially, I was planning on doing a couple of short routes, but my first choice of the Cave Circuit, was barricaded with a tangle of bright orange temporary fencing, forbidding trespass and warning of on the spot fines. The closure of the Caves also shuts me off from the Illinbah Circuit as they share a common start. I assume it’s to do with the steep descent at the beginning of the walks. Landslides tend to knock out a lot of the paths. Fallen trees can be chainsawed quite easily, but if the path has actually been turned to slurry, that takes a lot more work. In the car park at the end of the road in I have another momentary flash of concern; there looks like there’s a warning barrier stretched across the actual park entrance, but it’s not the same yellow mesh, it’s simply a No Parking warning.
Barring a couple of the bigger walks like Aracaria and Mt Hobwee, I’ve done most of ones heading out from here, so I settle on the Upper Ballunjui Falls walk, which is a pleasant 12km with a few side trips to waterfalls. I figure with the weather we’ve been having lately, there’s a good chance they’ll be flowing. The forecast is for possible showers. As I was only planning on doing short walks today, I only have a light fleece and a rainjacket, just in case. It’s a very pleasant 17c, so it’s probably overkill, but as I’m walking solo it’s best to have a bit of security. I think there’s still a person missing in here somewhere from the time of the cyclone; more proof that despite a lot of these tracks being graded, they’re not to be underestimated.
As usual, the Border Track is a gentle, familiar descent. Past the twisted vine at head height that I’m always surprised hasn’t been ripped down by the sheer number of people that swing on it.
I’m not far in before the extent of the winds and rain become evident. Trees are down, and in the green elbows of the ridges, where the creeks run, great strips of brush have been flattened, the soil around their roots softened by water and making them susceptible to the huge winds that were channeled through. But it’s not all doom. The soil is damp, and the forest smells greener than usual. Pademelons torpedo off into the brush from where they’d been feeding, and I’m lucky enough to spot Noisy Pitta in the undergrowth. These beautifully coloured ground-feeding birds remind me of the Green Woodpeckers from the UK. Alas it was too far in the undergrowth for me to get a decent photo. Whip Birds battle each other away in the bushes, and the finches are just little flecks of movement surrounded by continuous joyful song. The fungi are out in force too, not so much the brilliant sprays of red and orange of a couple of months ago, but more of the larger, paler ones, feeding on the deadfalls.
I stop to take a photo of the fungi, twisting myself into a strange shape so I could catch the light through the gills (the ant was a bonus!). I’m concentrating so hard I almost miss the rustle of dry leaves off to my right. As I look, I get one of those frights that sets the heart hammering and the adrenaline coursing almost instantly. Nothing quite wakes up a walker like a one metre Red-bellied Black Snake casually gliding over his boot. I think I let out a tiny ‘oh’, but I didn’t move, didn’t even think to lower the camera and take a shot, and within moments it’s gone. I stay for a bit to calm myself (and hope it might reappear), but I’m alone again. A few moments later, I walk on. The falls are flowing nicely, though some are pretty chocked with debris.
More than usual, there’s junk around the base of the falls. Packaging, bottles, and of course the obligatory white mush of used toilet paper. In one spot, the smell of urine is really strong. It gets me thinking on the walk. People are obviously reluctant to carry out their used toilet paper —and I’m not talking about the heavily soiled stuff that needs to be buried properly, that’s a whole other problem—more the stuff that is used to wipe up after peeing. It’s the revulsion of packing away and carrying your own waste rather than the ease of just ditching it. Perhaps we could take an idea from the way we managed to remove most of the dog shit from our urban parks.
We need a big sign at the entrance, and a zip-lock bag dispenser. The sign simply requests people to carry everything out (and I reckon some silhouette ‘human’ versions of the dog pooping and peeing signs would be nice and visual, along with some crossed out bottles, apple cores, chip packets etc) then give them the bag, the same way there are little black dog poop bag dispensers all around parks these days. The sign could provide some detail about the problems, for those that want to educate themselves, but they should be places right at the entrance to the track, and be lurid and unmissable. If people can bend down and pick up a warm dog turd in an inverted bag, surely they can learn to put a used tissue (or a stinking nappy) in a clean bag. Of course there’d need to be a bin at the exit too…
Enough ranting. The track zigzags down through the bush, steeply in sections, but nothing too hard. There are little side trips to the numerous falls along the way, and some interesting-looking climbs down to what look like fantastic swimming holes. Once again, I wish I had the courage of Roger Deakin to wild swim at a moment’s notice. There are patches of mud in the sheltered areas of the path, and some of the creek crossings are a bit slippery with moss, but the waters are running clear and quick, and I spot a few crayfish in the creeks. I always wonder how many are washed away during the big storms.
I have lunch at the end of the track, at Ballunjui Falls. The path finishes here in a rather abrupt cliff, and though the Ship Stern Circuit is only a few hundred metres away, there’s no way down, something I had to explain to the rather odd Frenchman I met on my way out. He was wearing shorts, thongs (flip flops for those of you from outside Aus) and had a sleeping bag in his hands. An old pole tent stuck out of a tiny daypack that looked to contain little else. He seemed rather insistent on trying to get through. I explained as best I could, stressing the cliff is pretty steep, but I received a shrug and we parted ways. I wondered about him the whole way back out.
The walk out was much warmer. The sun heated up the trees, releasing that summery tea tree smell that is so familiar to me now. It got warm enough that by the time I reached the top of the Ballunjui Falls Track and was back on the Border, I was sweating quite a bit. Autumn has not so much broken, as just found a small crack to look in through.
Walking back, I met quite a few people heading in. I stopped to chat with a lovely couple about the Daves Creek Circuit (which was still open) and a photographer with a lens the size of a bazooka. We watched a pair of massive Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos feeding in a gum not far from the track, and I exchanged nods with groups walking in thongs, shorts and sleeveless tops drinking from beer bottles. It’s hard not to feel like an old fart sometimes.
Oh and while I was sipping my flask of coffee, I saw the Frenchman come back out. He looked a little frustrated, but at least he’d not tried climbing in thongs.
So. Walk 1 of about 24. Originally, I’d planned to hike the Ships Stern Circuit, which is one of my favourites, but I was a bit late in getting down the coast so I settled for a half-dayer. Turns out the Ship’s Stern was closed because of back burning anyway (a process here in Australia where sections of nationals parks are stripped of potentially dangerous underbrush by the process of burning it back. It helps to protect houses from bushfires in the dry months, but it’s a pretty horrible for people like me with asthma and air pollution in general. There are a lot of pros and cons). It was the tail end of the school holidays so there were quite a few cars up at Binna Burra. That was pretty much why I’d stayed away from the Green Mountains this time. It just gets too busy up there. As it was I encountered one group on the trip at a breath-taking lookout, standing around playing Pokemon Go. I just don’t get that.
The Lower Bellbird actually shares the first few kilometres with Ship’s Stern. It’s an easy walk, following the ridgeline mostly, and passing the beautiful Yangahla Lookout (there’s a photo from there in the previous post) before finally beginning to descend. The path draws a wavy down through the elbow of the valley then out away to the north. I find myself crossing the same trickle of a creek a number of times. It’s been dry, but sometimes I can clearly hear water running somewhere under the debris of the dead, moss-sprayed trees and rockfalls. It’s a lovely temperature, but I’m sweating, mostly because this is my first big walk since the Overland Track in June, and I’m quite unfit (the perils of sitting behind a desk writing). I’m also slightly nervous about my boots. Well, not my boots as such, my ankles that are in the boots. During the last couple of days on the Overland, my ankles took a beating, mostly from my boots being frozen solid each night (the story of my Overland adventures will be in a series of stories and a book next year) but also from the continual dropping down large sofa-sized slabs of quartzite whilst carrying a 25kg backpack (we walked the track in reverse, so we ending up in the mountains). Oh, and also I’m much older than I used to be. Anyway, I’ve not worn my Scarpas since, and because they’re heavy leather Deltas, there’s not much call for them up here in Queensland, short of a very wet, muddy Lamington. But not today. It’s dry and hard, but the boots feel fine. I’m still going to look into a lighter pair though. I really don’t need the Deltas here.
I was trying to recall if I’d walked this track before, but I remembered I had as soon as I hit Wojigumai Cave. Not so much a cave as an eroded fault line, it’s still really impressive. The texture of the contrasting rocks is wonderful, and with the rock face rising above, it acts as a scoop for the breeze. I’ve always loved the hiss of the wind through the canopy. It sounds like something is alive up there, restless. It’s the quality of breath, the way the forest inhales and exhales on a scale far grander than us. Occasionally, as I walk, the wind will pick up fragments of other walkers talking, or a bark of laughter, on the ridge opposite and carry them across the valley like leaves so that is sounds like they are right behind me. Other times the sound of the leaves is like distant traffic, but never it is silent.
There are a few open patches of damaged forest, and I seem to recall hearing about a very big and isolated storm out this way maybe a year ago. Where the trees have fallen it hasn’t taken long for the understory to erupt into the new light, and the small cluttered clearing is dotted with flowers and the low, gentle hum of insects.
The track is easy, nothing even remotely tricky, which is kind of nice as it frees me up to look for opportunities to test the new camera. Problem with shooting in a rainforest though is that unless you focus on something specific like a bird, a snake or flower, it’s really hard to convey the sense of depth through the lens.
It’s also tricky to capture the quality of the light with a snapshot of a moment in time when it’s so fluid and alive.
A couple of hours in and I clear the rainforest, out into an area of cut brush that I assume is for a helicopter. Perfect spot for a cup of tea. Clear of the forest it’s surprisingly blowy. Probably too windy for the back burning, which would explain why I’ve not smelled any burning. The final 3 or so miles are a bit dull -following the road back past the ranger station to where I left the car, but I come across a sullen-looking bowerbird sitting on the verge (I actually saw it sitting there driving in). I can almost hear its bothered sigh as it lifts off into the trees. For a moment I consider following it, so see if I can find its bower, but the day is getting on and its a very scrubby drop.
One last treat awaits me at the car. The bush I’m next to must be giving off some sort of aroma, as its dusted in confetti of little butterflies.
Right, coffee at Beechmont, then time to hit the traffic home.
While I’m away on tour I generally get up at dawn, stealth a quick coffee then slip out the hotel door. It’s a habit born of restless legs and a somewhat frustrating ability not to be able to sleep late in a strange bed. Today, I’m in George Town. Here with Sarah to perform at the lovely little Tamar Valley Festival right up at the top of the little island of Tasmania off southern Australia. I love Tasmania, it’s like coming home. Even more so at the moment as the difference in temperature between here and Brisbane is over 25 degrees and a swimming pool of humidity less. It reminds me a lot of England.
It’s five am and blowing a gale outside. The sun is shining but it’s only about 7 degrees. I don’t have a coat, only a fleece and a long sleeved shirt (we left Brisbane at 38 degrees, 95% humidity and expected the same temperatures -sans humidity- here so we packed quite light). A friend once told me I have nails for blood because I rarely feel the cold. The heat is another thing altogether.
There’s an oddly ceremonial feel about pulling on an old pair of walking boots.
They don’t so much fit as encase; they’re more foot casts than boots. Laces seem almost an afterthought. My boots can all tell stories. I walk them to death then very reluctantly buy a new pair. There’s a lovely synchronicity about the newish Scarpas I’m wearing. The pair they replaced (a mere 10 year old pair of Caterpillars that somehow far exceeded my expectations) are actually resting in Launceston, 30 miles from here, having suddenly arrested during my last trip to the Tamar. They’re planted out in a friend’s garden with herbs, slowly returning to the earth. Very fitting. These new ones were broken in on Cradle Mountain, as much of a baptism of mud, water and rock as they could have. I have urban boots and mountain boots. My mountain boots (a pair of full-leather Scarpas) are over twenty five years old. The idea of being buried standing at some wilderness spot, anchored by them is very appealing.
The main street is deserted. I can hear the distant rumble of a car somewhere but it’s the wind that snatches me. It’s not cold enough to be a slap in the face, more like a stiff shove from a chilled oven mitt, and straight away I’m leaning into it, zipping the fleece up over my neck and my hands are quickly nested in my pockets.
Low Head is my aim this morning, a lighthouse further up the estuary, along a river track greened by gorse, blackberry and button grass. The sun is coming up slowly, and I’m sharing the path with Silver Gulls, necks turtled into their bodies the same way mine is in my fleece. They stomp away from me like grumpy old men, occasionally lifting into flight that more often than not sees them carried backwards on the wind. The larger Pacific Gulls are more stoic, standing in conferring groups on the little islands exposed by the tide. The river has been coaxed by a stiff brush into stippled life. The Tamar is wide here, estuarine, taking a long exhaling breath after the rushing adventures of Cataract Gorge upstream in Launceston
Fingers guiltily stained with blackberry juice, I leave the path for the shoreline and as usual my eyes follow by moving from the sky to the stones under my feet. Cuttlebones litter the shore like pale spear blades, featherweight, they’re blown east by the wind like jellyfish. I’m searching for a talisman stone, something to pick up and hold as I walk. It’s an old habit I have trouble explaining. It’s not so much souveniring as having some sort of connection to where I am, something to carry, to warm in my hand as I explore. Stooped and searching, I find a bird’s egg quite by chance. Breathtakingly camouflaged against the muted myriad of stone browns and quartz. I nearly pick it up as my stone, so perfect is the pattern and position, but I leave it be. There’s no sign of the owner, but I’m sure I’m being watched from the gorse, so I move along.
When I break free of the shelter of the tall gorse, the sun on my back is earnest, almost apologetically eager. The wind is still insistent, but at least now there is warmth. My rambling along the shoreline away from the track has proven to be my undoing, and after a series of leaps and some tracking inland through the scrub, I realise I’ve reached the point where I can go no further without getting either wet or suddenly learning flight. But I’ve found a small inlet, almost a bay, isolated from the prescribed path. The resignation of having to backtrack a fair way is almost immediately offset by the thought of a swim. I’ve not long finished reading Roger Deakin’s wonderful book, Waterlog, where the noble narrator would shed his clothes at some remote location and wild swim with the enthusiasm of a fox cub. Alas I have neither the courage nor the fortitude for such actions, but for a short while it’s a very appealing thought.
Doubling back, I chance across some more blackberries within a sunsplashed tangle. It’s really too early in the summer for them, but a few have ripened to little glassy raven-bead clusters (with just enough youth in them to make my mouth tingle). I remember blackberrying expeditions back in Kent, England, during the long dog days of the August school holidays. Daring ourselves to go deeper into the living (and often seemingly sentient) thorn to try and find the most perfect berry. I have memories, no doubt magnified by time and age, of finding blackberries the size of golf balls that would explode like ink bombs. These are tiny, but no less appealing, and I wrap them carefully in a handkerchief to take back to Sarah. I didn’t make it to Low Head. As usual, my wanderings have eaten away the early morning, and with the sun very much risen but the wind no less insistent, I head back to the hotel and the promise of another coffee.