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
Walking on a trail can be like threading a line between words in a book – you only see part of the story. Move off the line – read the entire page – and a place expands and changes, developing new shapes, angles and experiences as you step through untracked land.
In a forest or in heavily mountainous country, you quickly sense the possibility of this change if you were to step away from the trail. On my recent visit to New Zealand, however, I discovered there can be just as much shift in an open, barren landscape such as that around the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park. Continue reading
How long is a piece of string? How large is a canyon?
Visit almost any great or grand canyon in the world and there’ll be some kind of chest-beating claim about its size. It’ll be the largest in the world, or on the continent, or its depth will be compared to the Grand Canyon since we’re all desperate to know how it measures up against the most famous slot of all. Continue reading
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.
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
Narawntapu National Park is rather fancifully known as the ‘Serengeti of Tasmania’ for the profusion of its wildlife. The critters in this park on Tasmania’s north coast, once known less romantically as Asbestos Range National Park, aren’t lions or elephants, but most commonly wallabies and wombats that browse each dawn and dusk through its open, grassy plains.
A few days ago, approaching dusk, I lay in the grass and flowers observing this wombat, one of around half-a-dozen that were in sight. I lay still for so long that the wombat eventually forgot I was there. As it grazed, it moved to within a metre of where I lay, the sound of the tearing grass growing louder as it came. Something happened, something outside of the wombat and me – a twitch in the wind? the distant movement of a wallaby? – and the wombat bolted. It did so without looking up and, before I had a chance to move, it ran headlong into my camera and my shoulder.
I’d been attacked (of sorts) in the Serengeti and I lived to tell the tale…
It seems suitable to wrap up the year with the final, and top, pick in my selection of the 10 finest mountain trails I’ve had the privilege to trek. My favourite trek over the many pairs of boots I’ve worn out is in Ethiopia, atop the mountain range known as the Roof of Africa.
The Simien Mountains aren’t the highest peaks in Africa, though at 4550m Ras Dashen is often claimed as the fourth-highest on the continent (which conveniently overlooks a few unnamed peaks in the Ruwenzori). But it’s not the head-spinning glory of altitude that elevates the Simiens to the head of my list. It’s the headiness of its escarpment, combined with the life – both human and animal – that’s scratched out on its plateau. Continue reading
I’m getting towards the pointy end of my list of favourite mountain treks…and quite literally with this entry. Chile’s multi-pronged Torres del Paine are one of South America’s pin-up images, with the massif’s sharp peaks rising as bent and broken as a fisherman’s fingers. Continue reading
The Tour du Mont Blanc – No 5 in the list of my 10 favourite mountain treks – takes me back to my origins, to my first real extended hike. It was an accidental kind of journey that sprang from the desperation of the ABC – Another Bloody City – of my European backpacking days. This walk truly cured all, introducing me to one of the world’s classic mountain hikes and seeding my passion for mountains and the outdoors. Continue reading
The journey through my favourite mountain trails continues, closer to home now, on New Zealand’s South Island. But not among the usual roll calls of famous tramps. Continue reading