2007-02 (FEBRUARY, 2007)

Louise & Suzanne Come Out To Play - Wellington, New Zealand

Lou, Suzanne & Chris on the Eastern WalkwayLouise and Suzanne spent 2 days and nights of their Grand Tour of Australia and New Zealand with us in Wellington.

We collected them from the airport on a grey morning and took them to a nearby café for a leisurely breakfast. Grand plans for outdoor play collapsed before the weather gods. Instead we spent the afternoon in Te Papa, our national museum. The evening was spent in our local Belgian Beer Café where we drank one of everything on the menu and thus qualified for a free Beer Appreciation Pack worth NZ$50. Nice!

The next day was much more pleasant weatherwise. The morning was spent exploring the Wellington Botanic Gardens. During the afternoon Lou, Suzanne and I hiked along the coastal track near our old house. We rendezvoused with Andy, Bobby and Holly for a picnic tea overlooking the sea. That night was a quiet affair, to better prepare the ladies for an early start and a long drive to Napier - we must be getting old!

A most pleasant visit!

Overland Track - Tasmania, Australia

Dave and I decided to escape our respective domestic situations and head to Tasmania for a week of hiking on the famous Overland Track.

Day 0, Fri - Today began with a 03:30 taxi pick-up to take my backpack and me to the airport. I arrived in Melbourne just after 08:00 local time. I had 5½ hours to kill before my flight to Launceston, but I didn't want to buy a book, or anything that would add to the weight of my pack. Melbourne airport is not that interesting and 5½ hours was a loooong time to be there with no entertainment. I got into Launceston just before 15:00 and caught a shuttle bus to Tamar Backpackers. Dave was not due to arrive from Sydney for several hours, so my first solo mission was to obtain some gas for our camping stove. A local camping store had the goods, but the sales guy was sceptical that a single 270g cylinder would do 2 people for 6 days. I took the risk - we wanted to carry extra wine, not an extra gas cylinder! My next mission was to get some food to add to the stash Dave was bringing in - mostly fresh stuff for the first day. Dave arrived shortly after I got back to the hostel and, after a brief spell of repacking and divvying up supplies, we were off to the pub for a pint and a catch up. Unfortunately we had five more pints after that, before knocking it on the head for the evening. The extra beer probably contributed to the decision to double our wine stash to four litres, which required a late-night mission to find a bottlestore, too. Boys will be boys...

The start of the trackDay 1, Sat - Another early start in order to catch our bus from Launceston to the Cradle Mountain Visitors Centre & Ranger Station, the northern entrance to the park we were about to traverse. After 'checking in' for the track, another shuttle bus took us to Ronny Creek carpark and the start of the route. At midday, after a few last minute adjustments and a photo, we were off. By 12:05 I was regretting the four litres of wine in my pack. Dave suggested ditching it, but we prayed to Erica, Patron Saint of Alcohol-Related Folly, and found the strength to carry on. Our first stop was at picturesque Crater Lake and it's lakeside hut. It was here we had our first close encounter with some of the other people on the track, our 'neighbours' for the coming week. My favourite expression from the whole trip was uttered by Dave at this point when he referred to one lady as looking like "a bull dog licking piss off a nettle". Brilliant!. From there we climbed the steepest section on the whole Overland Track up to Marion's Lookout. Once more our excess-load-bearing resolve was tested, but once more Erica, PSARF, saw us through. The view from Marion's Lookout was spectacular and took in both Dove Lake, at our feet, and Cradle Mountain above us. We stayed with the main track until Kitchen Hut, but there Dave and I decided to go a little 'off piste' with a detour along the Face Track, under Little Horn, and on down to Lake Rodway. Our stop for the night was the Scott Kilvert Memorial Hut, just past the lake. When we arrived, just after 17:00, we had the place to ourselves, but by nightfall there were nine of us in the hut - we were lucky we got our skinny-dip in the lake over before the others arrived! I retired early, but Dave stayed up chatting to the Spanish and German backpackers out on an overnight trip in the park (who, in hindsight, may have been welcome at the skinny-dipping earlier ;-) ). Total distance walked today was 9km.

Barn Bluff summitDay 2, Sun - Our first mission of the day was to climb back up to the Cradle Mountain ridgeway and rejoin the main Overland Track route. We'd been warned that this was a tough ascent, and had prepared ourselves for the worst, but it wasn't as bad as the ascent to Marion's Lookout. Within 1km of rejoining the main track we came to the head of our first 'side track'. The main Overland Track route is joined by many, many side tracks that can be enjoyed by leaving one's pack at the junction, and taking only a day-pack for an hour or three's diversion. Our first side track was the ascent of Barn Bluff. The final section of the ascent was quite challenging and we felt rather proud of ourselves when we got to the top. The view from the top took in Lake Will, to the south, and a 'contained' bushfire 10km to the west. After descending, and collecting our packs, we continued south. We got to Waterfall Valley Hut, the 'official first night hut', in time for a late lunch. We elected to press on instead of having a short day. Our next side track took us down to the beautiful Lake Will. We had a swim and decided that we'd camp for the night beside the lake. We returned to the main track to collect our packs and retraced our steps to the lake. By the time we'd arrived back the conditions had changed significantly. Hot temperatures and high winds had whipped up the bushfire burning north-west of our position. The air was thick with smoke, reducing visibility and making breathing a little difficult. We elected to press on south to Windermere Hut, just in case an evacuation of the track was ordered - we didn't want to be the two hikers that were unaccounted for because they were out camping instead of being at an official overnight spot. By making it to Windermere Hut we caught up with the people we had started the track with, but as it was lateish when we got in we were forced to camp instead of stay in the hut. It rained during the night, but the new (super lightweight) tent held up well. Total distance walked today was 25km.

View from New Pelion HutDay 3, Mon - Today involved a stroll across a broad river valley with no side tracks, so we dillydallied in the morning to let the tent dry in the sun. A pair of our fellow hikers had had their tent raided by possums during the night (a combination of heavy sleeping and ear plugs allowed the beasties to rip a hole in their tent, open a food sack and make off with their entire supply of porridge). Victim of possum attack: "our tent was totally covered in porridge!" Callum, a Scottish hiker, under his breath "sounds like a good night." Another pair had been kept awake all night defending themselves from another raider. Dave followed several sets of animal tracks into a nearby copse which bore evidence of the raiders' collected spoils, past and present. Our first stop for the day was a cliff-top lookout over the Forth Valley and River. A little further on we chanced upon a Siren/Nymph in the shape of a Park Ranger - she was sauntering through the bush with no pack, despite being 50km from civilisation. It turned out she'd grown up in a commune in the Forth Valley and knew this land like the back of her lovely hand. Our route then took us around the skirts of Mount Pelion West to Frog Flats. We arrived at the (relatively) luxurious New Pelion Hut in good time and decided to walk the 1km back to Old Pelion Hut in order to find the swimming hole nearby. We had a most pleasant swim under an old bridge that had once provided access for prospectors and miners to the hills beyond the creek. The view from the hut's veranda as evening drew in was idyllic. Total distance walked today was 19km.

On top of Mount OssaDay 4, Tue - Today involved a climb over the Pelion Gap to Kia Ora Hut. Pelion Gap marks the saddle between Mount Pelion East and Mount Ossa, Tasmania's highest mountain. A well-trodden side track leads to the 1617m summit of Mount Ossa. We ditched our packs at the junction and had lunch before we embarked on our climb. Whilst lunching we observed a mother Currawong (a large native bird, similar to a crow) teaching her offspring how to open backpacks. We'd been warned about this, but seeing it happen impressed upon us the necessity of laying out one's pack with all zips facing the ground. A circle of debris near the junction marked the place of a pack who's owner would be going hungry that night. The climb to the summit was as heavy going as Barn Bluff, but twice as long to boot. We were knackered by the time we got to the summit. In fact one section, which involved a good 6m of real rock-climbing, almost beat us. On the return from the summit we realised that we'd taken a wrong turn on our ascent and that the rock-climbing bit was not part of the official route. Doh! This was especially embarrassing as our mistake was made despite at least six large arrows indicating the correct route at the spot where we had taken our wrong turn. Ah well. We returned to the main track and collected our (still intact) packs (the plastic sack Dave had placed over his pack had gained a few new holes where an investigating beak had been busy, however). Marching on we made Kia Ora Hut in good time. After ditching our packs we found the most picturesque (and coldest) swimming hole on the walk so far, in amongst a stand of leatherwood. Kia Ora is a bit basic compared to New Pelion, and it has 58% of Tasmania's entire mosquito population. Dave elected to sleep outside on the veranda, but was forced back inside due to a diminishing blood supply. Total distance walked today was 15km.

D'Alton FallsDay 5, Wed - Today's walk took us through a stretch of gorgeous myrtle-beech rain-forest. The side tracks today were all about waterfalls - D'Alton Falls, Fergusson Falls, and Hartnett Falls, where we lunched. The highest point today was Du Cane Gap, before a short, steep decent to Windy Ridge Hut. Today was the only day we couldn't have a swim and we had to make do with a quick wash in a spring near the hut. With no swim in the offing we had to invent some new pastimes. These included a serious attempt to wipe out the local mosquito population by sitting on the helipad and swatting anything that came within reach. We killed almost two hours, and many hundreds of mossies, playing this game. It also almost involved hiding out near the toilets in order to pretend to be frogs and spring out at passers-by. Fortunately sense - and laziness - prevailed. The tent got another airing tonight (Dave was a bit sick of all the snorers in the huts) and we were visited by the largest possum I've ever seen - one well-feed on stolen hiking food, I suspect. Total distance walked today was 12.5km.

View from Echo Point HutDay 6, Thu - Day 6 is most people's last day on the track. The normal agenda for the day involves a 9km hike to Narcissus Hut and the head of Lake St Clair, before catching the ferry to the end of the track at the far end of the lake. Dave and I decided to spend an extra day on the track and had two choices to decide between - an extended side trip up Pine Valley to see such edifices as The Parthenon and The Acropolis, or the lakeside track to the foot of the lake. After getting a tad tired of walking on the tree-root-covered path on this section of the track we decided on option two (the Pine Valley track being infamous for tree roots). We lunched at the head of the lake and waved our fellow hikers off on their ferry ride. After a swim in the lake, we donned our packs for the 6.5km hike down the lakeside to Echo Point Hut. We got under way just as a thunderstorm was rolling in. The lakeside track was the most stunning section of the whole track (picture walking through a Tolkein-esque forest) - made all the more exciting by peals of thunder and the threat of rain. Heavy, fat, warm rain finally rolled in a half-an-hour before our destination. We arrived invigorated and only slightly damp. Three other hikers had decided to emulate our choice to walk instead of catch the ferry, so the small hut was pleasantly full. I went for a delightful swim in the rain-churned lake and watched the surrounding forest exhale great huffs of cloud. Long after retiring for the night, we were joined by three more hikers that had got a very late start from the bottom of the lake. Fortunately they all squished in together into the last remaining bunk. Total distance walked today was 15.5km.

The end of the trackDay 7, Fri - We arose earlyish today and ate the last of our food for breakfast (extra strong Laksa for me - "burning ring of fire"). The rain had departed and the sun was back. The rest of the lakeside track was almost as good as the afternoon before - an interesting mix of Australian and NZ bush. Sailors returning from great sea voyages speak of the sighting of seagulls which precedes the sighting of land and home. Our 'seagulls' were a bevy of Japanese tourists that suddenly appeared around a bend and asked us where the restaurant was - we were near the end of our Walk in the Woods. We hobbled (both of our bodies fell apart with 500m to go, as if they knew their job was done) into the Lake St Clair Park Centre in time for lunch. Burgers and beers were soon ordered and dispatched. We met another hiker, Richard, that had just completed another hike in the area, and he joined us for a beer or three. We boarded the bus to Hobart at 19:00 and were at our destination by 22:00. Our accommodation, at the Central City Backpackers, was a short walk away and we each enjoyed a long shower before sleeping in the first real bed we'd seen in a week. Total distance walked today was 11km. Total distance walked over the past week was 107km.

Day 8, Sat - Today was Explore Hobart Day. We began with a slap up breakfast at a nearby café, where Richard joined us. Suitably fortified, our explorations took in the harbour and Salamanca market. The latter provided a magnificent haul of foodstuffs (Heidi Farm Cheese being the highlight) for an al fresco lunch in the park. After more wandering we went in search of a supermarket so I could buy some cleaning products - I had a need to scrub up my gear in preparation for returning to NZ (NZ border control takes a dim view of muddy hiking gear). Dinner that night was forewent in favour of beer. We were joined by Richard and another hiker from the US of A (South Carolina), who had to endure a lot of questioning about US foreign policy, etc., the poor bugger. The Victoria Tavern has the best Guinness I've tasted outside of Ireland/England and we supped quite a lot of it. And Sambucca. And Jack Daniels and Coke. The pub also had a cracking covers band who belted out all my favourite songs from the last five years. Dave and I knocked it on the head sometime after 03:00.

Day 9, Sun - Dave was up at stupid'o'clock to catch his red-eye flight back to Sydney and home - I did not envy his early start after our late evening. I was up and out just after 09:00, and departed Hobart some time after 11:00. I was forced to spend another 5½ hours in Melbourne airport, this time unable to buy a book due to lack of funds, rather than lack of weight allowance. I arrived back into Wellington just after midnight and cabbed it home.

A cracking week away in the wilderness - roll on the next one!