A Trio of New Australian Walking Trails

Like a gift to the person who’s walked everywhere, Australia is on the cusp of launching three new long-distance hiking trails. Before the end of next year, bushwalkers will be able to hike not just the old faithfuls – the Overland Track, the Larapinta Trail, the Prom – but also the following new trails in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia. Continue reading

The Caped Crusaders

South Cape2 You know a hike is going well when a nine-year-old boy turns to you in camp in the evening and announces, “I just realised, I haven’t complained once today.” Last weekend I took my two children for an overnight hike to South Cape Rivulet on Tasmania’s south coast. Near to the southernmost tip of Tasmania – and thus Australia – it’s part of the famed South Coast Track, though we were only walking the equivalent of the first or last day of that track. The longer version – a challenging 86-kilometre mud and beach slog – is something I’ve told them they might be ready for when they’re about 15 years of age. For now, we were just getting a taster. It was to be our first overnight hike together – the three of us – which is my way of saying, the first time I was prepared to carry two tents, and food for three, on my back. We drove to the southernmost road end in the country – Cockle Creek – and continued south on foot. Continue reading

Friday Foto: Tiptoeing through the Speargrass

Speargrass

The Northern Territory has been my second home this winter. I’ve just returned from my third visit to the Top End, including two walking trips into Kakadu, Australia’s largest terrestrial national park, covering an area just a tad smaller than Israel or Slovenia.

It’s a land that doesn’t run to typical timeframes. Here, the Aboriginal people recognise six seasons and you can’t tear a sheet from a calendar to find the changes of season. Instead, it’s nature that tells you when things are on the turn. Continue reading

Long Walk, Little Legs

Andrew Bain with daughter Kiri on the Overland Track

For all the dozens of hiking trails and thousands of kilometres I’ve hiked, one experience stands high above all others. It was the week I spent walking Tasmania’s Overland Track in the company of my then nine-year-old daughter. It was probably the heaviest pack I’ve ever carried, and the slowest I’ve ever walked, but there was something entirely refreshing and revealing about seeing the world through young eyes again. Over the course of 65 kilometres and one week, I watched a child absorb the wilderness and come to feel at one with it. Continue reading

Friday Foto: 17 Mile Falls

Jatbula1

Another recent moment from the Jatbula Trail in the Northern Territory’s Nitmiluk National Park, where once again a hot day of walking ended with the welcome relief of water.

This is 17 Mile Falls, base camp for our third night on the 65-kilometre-long trail along the edge of the Arnhem Land escarpment. In the heat, we’d pushed hard through the day and arrived into camp, which is at the head of this waterfall, by lunchtime. With an afternoon to play, I set out to find a way to the base of the falls, eventually following a couple of ledges down through the cliffs to the pool at the bottom. A quick and happily fruitless search for crocodile slides or other evidence of biting handbags told us we had the place to ourselves.

Towards sunset we returned again to the base of the falls in an effort to get this photograph with the sun gone from the cliffs. What appeared to be a thin stream of water at the top fell like a storm at the bottom. Water sprayed through the valley and slowly the last light of the day drained from the world.

I was reminded of more celebrated waterfalls in nearby Kakadu National Park, except that we shared this one with nobody and it took three days to walk here. It was worth every step.

* Adventure before Avarice travelled courtesy of Tourism NT and World Expeditions, which operates a six-day Jatbula Trail guided hike ($1895).

Friday Foto: Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park

Lawn Hill

There are places that sit larger in the mind than they do in reality. For me, Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park is one such spot.

When I cycled around Australia, seemingly several lifetimes ago, I always had the intention of detouring into this remote north Queensland national park – it was only 280 kilometres off the road, after all – but after the toughest stretch of the journey – 10 days and 1000 kilometres of gale-force headwinds across the Barkly Tableland – I could barely muster the energy to turn the corner. Instead, I holed up in a Mt Isa motel for three days, barely stepping out the door.

A few weeks ago, I finally made it to Boodjamulla and the gorge I’ve so long admired from afar. So much time had passed that, in my mind, it had come to be the size of the Grand Canyon. But it’s really quite a small gorge, its cliffs suddenly rising like an overbite above the river and then gone again a few kilometres later. And yet there’s great beauty in this compact, scale-model version of the place I imagined: calm mornings where you have to blow on the water to ruffle it, freshwater crocodiles sailing about, archerfish shooting down insects with gobs of water, and one of the outback’s best swimming holes at Indarri Falls.

To kayak to Indarri, I imagined spending a day on the water. Instead I was at the base of the falls within about 40 minutes. Portage through and the navigable river pretty much peters out after another kilometre. So I kept portaging, towing the kayak through blockages, over pebble beds and through calf-high rapids, until finally I realised I could probably do with that swim at Indarri, after all.

Turning back, I made the same portages until I spied a small run of rapids running off to one side. I climbed onto the kayak and bobbled through. What I hadn’t counted on was that nobody had been through here before me and an army of golden orb spiders had strung their webs low across the narrow channel. I popped out the other end covered in spiders. Perhaps I should have just contented myself with the swim.

* Adventure before Avarice travelled courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland.

Friday Foto: Storming the Drought

Drought rain2

Australia and New Zealand are today commemorating Anzac Day. In Australia, at least, it’s our unofficial national day and an ideal that’s come to be embodied by the concepts of mateship and hardship.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been travelling in outback Queensland, a part of the country that might easily be described as the most Australian part of Australia. It’s a place also where, right now, mateship and hardship are on full display. Continue reading

Friday Foto: Carnarvon Gorge

Carnarvon

In the vast yellow sweep that is western Queensland, grand natural features are few and far between. Cattle stations disappear across the horizon and black-soil plains struggle to hold trees, let alone mountains or other defining characteristics.

Among the few exceptions, Carnarvon Gorge is probably the most striking. A deep gash through sandstone hills, it’s a canvas of ancient Aboriginal art. Cycads and fan palms cover its banks, and white cliffs tower up to 200 metres above Carnarvon Creek. The gorge itself is stunning, but most of its key attractions – the Moss Garden, Amphitheatre, the Art Gallery and Ward’s Canyon – are squirrelled away in side gorges. Explore them all and it requires about 22 kilometres of walking. But even if you do explore them all, you won’t have seen everything. Continue reading

Friday Foto: Three Hummock Island

Three Hummock

Every adventure deserves a cosy cave in which to recuperate at the end, and few places stand more enticingly off the modern grid than Three Hummock Island.

Pinched between King Island and the northwest tip of Tasmania, in the wild waters of Bass Strait, it plays to the notion of the deserted island that sits deep in the travel psyche. Only its two managers, John and Beverley O’Brien, live on the 70-square-kilometre island, surrounded by dense mobs of kangaroos and squadrons of Cape Barren geese. One night I bumped – literally – into a little penguin wandering past my room. Planes land in a propeller-churned flurry of feathers and roo poo in a former paddock, and 30 empty beaches ring its edge, all lined with bouldery headlands.

It’s a place that inspired a rather famous Italian named Guiseppe Garibaldi to quixotically write: ‘O desert island of the Hunter Group – how many times have you pleasantly excited my imagination. When tired of this civilized society, so full of tyrants and gendarmes, I have often transported myself in my imagination into your gracious bosom.’

Last week I spent a few days on the island and, to me, you can keep the likes of Bermuda, Boracay or the Maldives. I’ll take the wildlife, vast night skies and utter solitude of Three Hummock Island any time.

Friday Foto: Mt Anne, a great Abel

Anne2

Far-reaching mountain quests – aka peak bagging – are universal. Scotland famously has its Munros (mountains above 3000 metres in height), Colorado has its 14ers (peaks above 14,000 feet) and Japan has its 100 Famous Mountains. Even tiny Tasmania has a stake in this world of mountain missions, with its own list of chart-topping peaks known as the Abels. Continue reading