Jatbula Trail

I would highly recommend any bushwalkers persist through the booking woes and walk the Jatbula Trail. Every campsite is paradise. It has been on my wish list for a long time and when we knew we were heading up the centre I tried to book. Only 15 walkers are allowed to depart each day and when I tried in April it was full until September. When I looked at the websites of the guided walks I found they only had one or two people booked when they had up to eight spaces. There seems to be an unfair advantage for the guided companies as against individual walkers, especially ones who don’t jump on when bookings open. However they have devised a fallback system where you put your name on a reserve list and they let you know when there are vacancies. We were pleased to be offered spaces when we had been on the road for a couple of weeks. It meant we had to leave Alice Springs sooner than we would have otherwise but we didn’t want to miss out.

We caught the boat across the Katherine River early on the morning of June 6 and pushed our way through the tall spear grass. When we were unsure of the route we looked for the trusty blue triangles and we needed to search a few times in the trip. The Northern Rockhole was the first attraction but we were advised not to swim as they weren’t 99.5% sure it was free of crocodiles. We then had the biggest climb of the whole trip as we ascended to the escarpment but it was done very gently on a four wheel drive track. Soon we were at camp where we quickly met the other walkers as we set up tents and then made for the water. Pools above and below the Biddlecombe Cascades were suitable and refreshing. Another couple of walkers arrived in camp late having left at 1.00pm and walking in the heat of the day after taking up a vacancy at very short notice. The eating of dinner with a view was popular.

Due to temperatures in the high 20’s to low 30’s we were advised to start early so we were up before the sun and walking by 7 each day which meant we were in camp by lunchtime. The 2nd day meandered amongst the rocks and we spotted some of the rock art. Another pool was admired but we waited to camp for our swim. We had to cross the wide Crystal creek to see the impressive falls and used it as a rehearsal for the next day with packs. Luckily an easier crossing place was found and one of our new friends helped us across. We all bonded over shared stories and experiences.

More easy walking across the plateau dodging termite mounds and following blue triangles. A highlight of the walk is to visit the Amphitheatre, an enclosed gorge with rock paintings. It was made easy with a staircase leading us down. A view across to 17 Mile Ck Falls and we knew that camp was near. We spent the afternoon exploring up and down the creek and invading the Gecko (guided group) camp. We had the best views over the falls and down the valley watching the sun set and the full moon rising.

The next day was the big 17km day and we were all up super early with some of us leaving by torchlight. The problem with that is we found ourselves following the triangles to the helipad. Clouds had come over in the night and provided a glorious sunrise. They also hung around and blocked the sun making for a much cooler day. We enjoyed the walking as we left the plateau and walked through greener countryside as we approached Edith River. We were surprised when we arrived at the crossing at 10.30. Some had an early lunch and we continued on downstream. We finished walking through boggy grass but it was only half way up the boots and never bottomless holes like Tasmania. We had to cross the river above Sandy Pool on a rock bar which quickly became notorious claiming three of the walkers slipping while crossing. A huge pool beckoned for swimming while the rock pools at the crossing were also popular.

Our group that started as five groups of walkers and had become a group of 11 was starting to break up the next day as two had to leave and miss the last camp. More grass, scrub and bogs led us to Sweetwater Pool, another huge pool by rocks. We had to share it with day walkers and people who had walked in to stay the night. We were farewelled with an amazing sunset and then a very easy last day before final goodbyes at Edith Falls.

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Light to Light

When I heard the bushwalking club was walking the Light to Light track in Ben Boyd NP as day walks I knew we had to join them. Walking with a day pack is so much more enjoyable than a full pack if there is a choice. We set off for the long drive to the coast taking a new route for us through the small town of Dalgety located on the Snowy River. The autumn colours of the poplars over the dammed river had us breaking our journey. Another stop to enjoy the lookout over Disaster Bay and we pulled in to camp at Bittangabee Bay in time to set up and look around before dark.

The night brought a thunderstorm but luckily it was all out at sea. We dropped off cars ready for the end of the walk before heading to Boyd’s Tower at the beginning. The red cliffs contrasted with the blue waters as we meandered along the cliff path, stopping often to enjoy the views. We crossed a rocky bay before climbing up to a grassy headland that was once a farm. It enabled great views in both directions and down to the sandy beach below, an excellent campsite but water needed to be carried from Saltwater Creek. A stretch along the rocky shelf above the cliffs added to the everchanging environment that the track passed through. We needed the help of locals to find the arch made by the collapse of a sea cave before completing our day’s walk at Saltwater Creek.

A cool, clear night meant clear skies for the sun to light up the cliffs after rising.

We began the second day at the southern end of the walk and visited Green Cape lighthouse. It was too early for a tour so we set off across the heathland. It had been burnt in past years and was a mass of flowers which slowed the walk down as we admired and took photographs. We took a side trip to Pulpit Rock before heading through more heathland on the way to Bittagabee Bay where we could stop for a morning cuppa. The track continued around the bay before emerging onto the cliffs again. A spell through the forest had us admiring fungi and Hegarty Bay would have been a delightful overnight stop. All too soon we were back at Saltwater Creek and heading home the next day before the rain.

Off to the Pigsty

What a name for a place that we found quite delightful! Though I must admit reading about other peoples walks to this area the weather is not always as good as we had it – though the walkers after us had it even better.

We were walking in to the Southern Ranges in Tasmania and aiming for Pigsty Ponds. We had a warm up walk on Mt Wellington first, completing a circuit from Ferntree via the Organ Pipes and returning via O’Grady Falls. The forecast was looking more promising than it had been for the rest of our time in Tasmania so we decided to head off on the walk. After reading the track notes we decided to turn it into a 5 day walk rather than push in in one day. As we climbed Marble Hill on the first day we decided that was a good decision. The track heads straight up the hill side and luckily was well marked with tape as we were a bit bamboozled at times. We finally made the top of the hill and enjoyed the next flat bit along the ridge before it was once again straight up a hillside. We passed a dry campsite in the trees before climbing on to Moonlight Ridge where a fire had killed off the scrub and left sharp, pointed sticks to catch unwary legs. We reached our destination on Moonlight creek and found the only dry camp site in a bog surrounded by dead trees. They did look good in the late light.

Next morning we climbed up Hill One from where we could start to really appreciate the mountains around. First we had to traverse a garden of cushion plants that Parks had put stepping stones across – it wouldn’t look out of place in a Japanese garden. We later met the ranger in charge and he said they hadn’t been trying to make it beautiful, just protect the vegetation. Hill Two gave us a muddy ditch guarded by prickly scoparia and we realised we should have brought gaiters. Once we were through that and up onto Hills Three and Four the views were just fantastic under blue skies. We looked across to Federation Peak, ahead to Precipitous Bluff and not be outdone – the nearby Hippo. We were passed by a walker who had left that morning and would easily keep up with Chapman’s fast times in his guide book (whereas we were slower than his slow times!) After lunch was taken sheltering between rocks from the relentless wind but overlooking the impressive scenery, we headed down to Pigsty Ponds. The whole area was one giant soak so you need a tent with a good floor but we managed to get an almost dry site situated between two ponds and mostly sheltered from the wind. From our campsite we admired the changing light as the sun lit up the Cockscomb (jagged tail end of La Perouse) and surroundings.

The weather was quite different the next day with overcast skies but not too bad to put us off climbing La Perouse. We followed the closely spaced cairns to the top where we were pushed to the top by gale force winds and cloud obscured the views. We caught our breath behind the huge not quite on the summit cairn before breaks in the cloud had us making for the edge to enjoy glimpses of the coast. We didn’t linger and pushed back across the rocky summit using the now fortuitously spaced cairns to find the route back down and escape the blasting winds. Pindars Peak peeped out from the cloud and made us think we would perhaps need to return. A side trip down to Reservoir Lakes showed alternative sheltered campsites.

The sun came out to farewell us as we headed back over the now familiar route. It didn’t seem nearly as hard on the way out as we knew all the worst bits. We gathered water at Bullfrog Tarns to ensure we could camp in the forest where it was dry underfoot for a change. As we headed out on the Saturday we were astounded by the number of people coming in. They had all studied the forecast and knew they were in for something special – blue skies and  little wind in the notorious Southern Ranges.

Return to Bruny

Our now annual trip to Tasmania began with the trip on the Spirit of Tasmania – in a cabin this time as we feel we are past using the recliners for the overnight trip. We headed through the Central Highlands with our usual stop at Liffey Falls, our favourite waterfall in Tasmania. We also scrambled up the scree at Quamby Bluff for a hard climb but little reward due to cloud cover.

We timed our visit to Hobart with the bi-annual Wooden Boat Festival though it was entirely unintentional. The handiwork is amazing and the boats seem too beautiful to put in the water. The sail past was a great display of sail.

The weather was against our plans for walks in the mountains so we retreated to the much more pleasant climate of Bruny Island to complete some of the walks we had missed last time. We began at Cloudy Bay with a walk to East Cloudy Head where we found we could have easily driven along the beach to the very nice Cosy Corner camping are instead of making do with the more accessible Pines. The walk gave views back on Cloudy Bay but unfortunately not the impressive cliffs of the headland. We then moved to the lovely camp at Jetty Beach where a new water tank has been added. We visited the lighthouse where I took the tour to the top between showers and appreciated the magnificent views. We walked the Labillardiere Peninsula the next day, an easy walk showing the contrasting sides of the peninsula.

We headed for Adventure Bay where we revisited the best views of Fluted Cape.  I took the Bruny Island cruise while Ray went to set up camp at the Neck. The views of the cliffs from sea level were even more dramatic and many more features were revealed. We spotted caves, zoomed between rock monuments and were wet by spray from an undersea spout. At the Friars we watched the fur seals basking in the sun and frolicking in the water while a pod of dolphins joined us for part of the trip back.

The Neck campground gives views from both sides of the isthmus and turned on a spectacular sunrise. We returned to Hobart via pretty Snug Falls.

Howitt Plains

We returned to one of our favourite parts of Victoria’s high country with two fellow walkers. The Howitt high plains are reached via Licola, a long way from home. Along the way we pulled into Mansfield to refuel and it was pointed out that one of the trailer wheels was running on the rim – as the driver I had noticed nothing. We managed to change it and get a new tyre and were back on our way over Mt Skene, a road not well used. After meeting the others at Licola we headed up to camp. Trevor had to stop for an overheating engine but he had a map and knew where we were camping (we thought). A couple of hours later Iris headed out to see why he hadn’t arrived and discovered he had headed down to the Moroka River thinking that was where we were camping and had then retreated to Arbuckle Junction when we weren’t there. The camp on Holmes Plain is in a lovely setting but has no facilities.

Bryces Gorge was on the agenda for the first day. We had to stop to admire the wildflower display before heading down to Guy’s Hut, a genuine bush-crafted hut. From there it was across the hill to the top end of Bryces Gorge where Conglomerate Creek tumbled down the mossy cliff face. I scrambled down to the bottom for a different view. We then followed the path around the gorge edge before admiring the much smaller flow of Pieman’s Falls.

Waking to a sunny morning we had high hopes of a fine day at Mt Howitt. We stopped off at Howitt Hut to witness the work of refurbishment taking place. All the vertical poles had been replaced and the walls needed to be put back up. It was a lovely, undulating walk to Vallejo Gantner Hut through a garden of flowers, snowgrass and snow gums. We had to make use of the new toilet with its amazing view and check out the hut. As we climbed the ridge the views became more expansive as the Viking, Razor and Crosscut Saw appeared. The flowers carpeted the ground and I took so many photos the others disappeared into the distance. We made the peak of Howitt as clouds built up and rain squalls approached so we quickly admired the views and retreated. The clouds closed in and the rain started ten minutes before we reached the hut. We had lunch and waited for the weather to break – it would ease and then start up again. We eventually headed off and walked back in the rain.

We drove to Horseyard Flat and walked to the first fall on Moroka River where the river plunges over a wide ledge creating a beautiful pool. It was too good to pass up so I went for a swim in the refreshing water. We dropped into Moroka Hut on the way back, a rustic hut in a nice riverside setting.

We were back to three walkers and had a gentle stroll the next day along the road to visit the nearby Kelly and McMichael huts. We had time to explore the plains and the minibeasts as well as make use of our own mini spa pool. The plains created a good back drop for the sunset.

We had one more day so moved down to the different surroundings of the Wellington river. Red Bluff provided us with a swimming hole but lukewarm water. I spent the day chasing dragonflies.

 

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Wombeyan Caves and Bungonia

When I saw that the Murray Valley bushwalkers were heading to Wombeyan Caves I knew we had to go along as it was a fascinating looking place. We took the van and met up with the others who had arrived ahead of us. Our first outing was a walk to Wombeyan Falls which were pretty and returning via an old marble quarry. The rocks here were used in the original Parliament House in Canberra though they certainly didn’t look worthy in their natural state. The flowers were out and the alpacas next door were very curious as we walked past.

After lunch we headed up the hill to join a tour. The honeyeaters were very active in the grevilleas and entertained us as we waited.

We had the guide all to ourselves for our tour through the cave which was lit up as we slowly wandered through. Afterwards we headed to the canyon where we could climb through another cave for a better view.

We were camped next to a large grassy area that the kangaroos loved. We saw mothers and joeys as well as some males having a punch up. They were still eating as the stars came out. We had two trips through the self guided cave as our group had received two tokens. This gave the photographers the opportunity to go through again and improve their shots. It was a very impressive cave for a self guided one and we emerged through a huge archway.

We said farewell to the others in the morning as they headed home and we set off for Bungonia NP on the other side of Goulburn. We headed out on the northern road which was much more wild than our route in from Goulburn. We wound up and down the hill with signs telling us to sound our horn on all the blind corners. Luckily the few vehicles we met were not on the corners. We crossed the Wollondilly river and enjoyed lovely views down the valley. Nattai NP gave us a tunnel to pass through the sandstone cliff. Back into civilisation at Mittagong and then a return to the wilderness at Bungonia. There were few of us at the well appointed camping area. After setting up we headed off on the yellow track which circled around past all the major lookouts with a couple of cave entrances as well. The quarry across the creek had grown a lot since we were last here 17 years ago but we no longer had to worry about dynamiting and consequent rain of rocks into the creek.

We headed off on the next day to repeat the walk we had taken the children on when they were small. Signs told us it was not suitable for young families but our 5,7 and 9 year olds loved it. We were not as agile as we used to be and descended down the steep track very gingerly as it proceeded down a scree slope. The knees got a rest as we arrived at the bottom and enjoyed the amazing views of the the towering, narrow canyon. The easy walk did not last as the exit to the canyon was crowded with huge white boulders. There was no marked route and it was like a bewildering maze. We had to back track a number of times as we ended at tall drops. We spent more time crawling through holes under boulders than climbing across the top. Finally we reached the other side and enjoyed an easy walk down the creek before the hot, steep climb back up to the car.

 

 

Gariwerd (The Grampians)

Spring is a good time to visit the Grampians with its floral display. With the wet spring it was a bit of a lottery weatherwise and we had a bit of everything – fog, drizzle, sunshine and rain. We started by climbing the Chimney Pots but could barely see the rock formations and certainly no views. We walked to Billaminna shelter with its ochre marks and then headed for waterfalls as it was the right weather. Mackenzie Falls could only be admired from a distance but Burrong Falls was lovely.

We were joined by our friend Dave as the sun came out and we set off to climb the Fortress. It was a steep climb up to the ridge from where we could see our destination as it loomed closer. We had to drop down to a creek where there was a spacious overhang creating a nice campsite. We climbed up and along the side of the rugged formation before returning the same way.

Mt Rosea was our next destination and this was an easier walk. We wound our way up the rock platforms admiring the formations and crossing the deep chasm named ‘Gate of the East Wind’ on a bridge. We sat and enjoyed lunch with many other walkers on the summit. We followed a school group down the other side and returned to the cars by a circular route but I would recommend going down and up the same way as it was more interesting.

The drive through the Victoria Valley is very pretty with farmlands backed by the rugged ranges. A dam by the road created a very scenic foreground and we made a number of stops including a visit for sunset with a visit from some curious emus.

The weather changed again and the winds blew. We set off to climb Mt Abrupt and had to be careful not to get blown off. The view along the range was worth it.

Rain was predicted so we opted for a short walk the next day and it was mostly dry.  We did a short circuit including Venus Baths, Chataqua Peak and Clematis Falls. The afternoon was spent holed up in the tent and car.

I wanted to see the Major Mitchell plateau and without a 2nd car we had to do an out and back. It didn’t look promising as we drove up into the clouds but it gradually lifted as we walked off the edge of Mt William. When Ray saw the drop down to Boundary Gap he decided not to proceed. I headed down on my own and found it wasn’t as far to climb up the other side. There were a few short rock scrambles through the cliff line and then easy walking to the attractive campsite. I continued across the plateau admiring the floral display to the cliff edge and a view back down to the plains. At that point I turned around and was surprised to find Ray waiting for me as I thought he would have retreated to the car. But I was pleased to get my delayed lunch.

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