Category Archives: Hiking

Fields of flowers


Fields of flowers


Short Wednesday walk – Tuggeranong Hill. 8km. 2 ¼ hours.

What do retired people do? People who are lucky – healthy, active, sociable? Folk who want to get some exercise, enjoy being in nature or in the outdoors? People who are time rich? Some walk once or twice or three times a week. Some hike with clubs and some with their own networks of buddies.IMG_0128Tuggeranong Hill, almost our back yard, was abloom. Fields of spring flowers coloured our short trek with white, yellow, mauve, pink, purple, blue. Some were weeds but still beautiful and colourful. Some were clustered in isolated groups and others cascaded across the grasslands or lit up the woodland floor. Tiny daisies sprinkled themselves in clumps of lichened rocks. Vanilla lilies danced in the breeze. On the north western sunny side of the hill the wattles brought a pale yellow blush to the greens of the grasses and tree foliage. Yellow everlastings seemed to shine with their own brightness against the overcast, darker blue of the distant Brindabella Ranges. I enjoyed the job of “tail-end-Charlie”, keeping an eye on the slower members of the group, supporting the uphill strugglers and dashing round taking as many flower photos as I could during the walk. Ah. Pleasure indeed.

Cath had planned a varied route that wove around and up and over one part of “our” hill. She had walked it half a dozen times to get it just right. The views through the flower fields across to the mountains going down the far side were wonderful. A brief morning tea on a bike path beside some delightfully flowered feral species then the uphill return. This brought out the puff and some complaints that maybe it was too hard. One fellow, almost 80 with knees and hips that show the wear of marathons and epic walks from younger days, never blanched as we chatted our way slowly upwards. Inspiration. I noticed some at the back of the group who were taking time to appreciate the views and “smell the flowers” while they caught their breath back.This was Cath’s first contribution as walk leader to this community group.IMG_0149Back down on the flat near the back of our house I photographed some of the walkers foregrounded by a large spray of small white everlastings. The gum tree above had been home to a pair of tawny frogmouths who had now gone.IMG_0108


Snakes and Lizards


Snakes and Lizards


Western Foreshores Walk – Googong Dam carpark to Tin Hut return – 21 km



Like a reptile on a cold morning I awoke stiff and slow. Hands took time to loosen up and feet were still sore from a walk the day before round the lake. Motivation lacked for the day’s walk. Fire trail, mostly flat with the occasional drop into and climb out of creek gullies. Walked and talked like the day before when I had been out with retired work buddies – round Lake Burleigh Griffin – past the High Court and Kingston Foreshores. Then we had lunched like never before while we had been too busy working. Now time rich we had time to walk, to exercise properly, to chat, to be buddies.

Walk and talk. Mostly I’m a “bushwalker”. It takes me time to ease into this slightly more mundane style of walking. Talk. With a fellow who had actively walked many of the classic long trails in Europe with his wife until she had been injured in a cycling accident. Now he’s the full time carer as she is wheelchair bound. His walk today is a fortnightly treasure.

Black snake beside the path sunned itself, alert to our passing, head raised.


There was not a house in sight. 40 minutes from Canberra. Pleasant ex-farming land now water catchment for the water supply dam.

Talk and walk. A bioscience man who had worked for CSIRO for most of his working life then worked voluntarily with them for another decade after retiring. Another guy who had led more than 100 walks for the group.

Spiky dragon lizard on a post watches on as we slowly edge by.

Walk. And talk. The “marathon lady” related how she was training for the London Marathon. She had completed countless marathons around the world – walking! Apparently overseas it is popular for people to walk in the events. She does around 7 hours. This opened anew my desire to complete my number 9 and 10 Canberra Marathons – perhaps with some walking as required. Inspiring talk.

I finish enlivened by the stories.

Larapinta Trail – Part 2 – Ellery Creek to Simpsons Gap


Larapinta Part 2 Ellery Creek to Simpsons Gap 9 days

8/7 – 15/7/15

Western Macdonnell Ranges – Northern Territory – Central Australia


Larapinta logistics

The logistics for the Larapinta are complex however you do it. Fantastic written resources are available

National Park package

Trek Larapinta website

John Chapman guidebook

The simplest way is to walk the whole 220 km in one push. This requires from 12 to 18 days hiking for most people. On the sections we completed we saw lots of people doing this – some more experienced and better prepared than others. It’s a hard walk – long days, tough terrain, water carrying, hard on boots, feet, legs and shoulders. And sensational scenery in one of the most spectacular parts of arid Australia. In parts it’s more of a mountain walk than desert flatlands. You can either walk east to west (Alice Springs to Mount Sonder) or west to east. At Alice the walk starts or finishes in town so you only need to arrange transport to or from Mount Sonder (Redbank Gorge) – there are several transfer options. There are 3 regular food drop locations – you may be able to arrange transport of your food drops without you going out yourself.

A commercial trip is a good option for people wanting to do it as a series of day walks with transport, food and comfortable basecamping support. This will necessitate some long days and a fair bit of time in vehicles. You can do the whole trek or just the “highlights” (selected by the company). Reputedly fires each night and nice food.

Our trip

The Larapinta had beckoned for many years but sorting the best logistics was a challenge. In the end we did 121km in a 9 day continuous section that took in the commonly agreed best parts from Ellery Creek to Simpson’s Gap with an additional daywalk up Mount Sonder. In planning this route and itinerary some of the considerations were;

  • We wanted to camp along the way and be self-supported so we could be fully immersed in the landscape
  • Some of the best days are very long and have water logistics issues so we broke these long days into a series of shorter days where we would be able to carry enough water for overnight camps
  • We scheduled the hardest days to be when our packs would be lighter due to having consumed most of the food prior to the food drops
  • We would hire a 4WD to take in and bury an extra food drop in the middle of the hardest section – this was necessary as we could carry a maximum of 4 days food in addition to the water requirements day by day. We carried water for overnight camps on two occasions – Hugh Gorge to Birthday Waterhole (camping at Fringe Lily Creek) and Birthday Waterhole to Standley Chasm (camping on top of Brinkley Bluff)
  • We would go as lightweight as possible to ease the load on knees, hips and feet (ages of walkers 58, 58, 60, 54, 52, 25)
  • The overall cost for Cath and I was about $1250 each which included flights between Canberra and Alice Springs, accom in Alice, transfers, camp fees and our share of the 4WD
  • 4WD cost $640 overall for the two days – we drove it from Alice Springs to Birthday Waterhole (to bury food drop) and then to Redbank Gorge for the Mount Sonder daywalk. Then the car was driven to Ellery Creek where the main party was dropped off. I continued on back to Alice where the car was returned. Next morning I got a transfer back to Ellery Creek where we started the main walk together.

Day 1 Ellery Creek to Rocky Creek 15 km (9.30 am 4.00 pm)

Eastwards under the Heavitree Range we tramped weighed down by heavy packs – 4 days food and water for the day. We climbed up through a saddle that broke the range. IMG_5433The scene that spread out before us as we descended on the other side was reminiscent of the great African rift valley. Same landscape and ancient atmosphere. Dry acacia scrub and grasses covered a huge open plain that stretched to a distant range of blue hills. We crossed dry, sandy creek beds and walked up and over small hills then along low ridge lines. Out in the flat lands it was hot and dry.

We settled in to a slow rhythm. Walking in chatting pairs or off in our own worlds. I’d known Sue for a long time and had some snippet insights into her past, the sort you piece together from fragments over years of working and doing things together. But as we walked together it was like the journey into this land paralleled my journey deeper into her story. She had studied anthropology, indigenous studies and sociology at ANU then worked in the public service for a year. With itchy feet she then travelled and worked in Europe and Asia for 2 years. Following this she worked as a curator in the indigenous section of the Australian Museum then for a time with the Canberra land management agency TAMS. From there she became a ranger at Kakadu for 3 years and Uluru for 2 years. A teaching qualification through Uni of Northern Territory enabled her to then work for 3 years as a teacher of little kids at Ramingining in a remote part of Arnhem Land. At this point her Mum got sick so she moved to Canberra and worked in the indigenous education unit and preschool. The next stage was 13 years at the Birrigai Outdoor School where I got to work alongside her for about 5 years. Everyone knew her as a wondrous, lively, treasure of a person. Then she was off to the UK for two years at another outdoor centre before returning to Canberra to work with refugee and migrant children at an Introductory English Centre. I had thought my own life and career had been interesting but marvelled at Sue’s career and life jam packed with wonderful adventures and meaning. How fabulous can one life be?


We reached camp tired but ok. This was one of the two less exciting days that were necessary for us to gain access to the best parts of the Trail. The night was filled with stars and milder than the frigid cold we expected. No fires so bed was a good prospect by 8.00 pm and sleep by 8.05.

Day 2  Rocky Creek to Hugh Gorge  16 km (8.30 am 3.30 pm)

This was a long day across the undulating open plain. Rocky ridges provided great views of the gap in the range we were heading for. Slowly it got closer. Horse (?) droppings. Nice campsite next to a creek bed. Wash in a rock pool. Late in the day I scrambled high up on the side of the gorge for enticing glimpses into the rugged country we would walk through the following day. Our creaky knees and feet were sore but still under control. We were at a point where recue would be very limited for the next few days. Cath’s exercises were working a treat.

Over dinner we talked about refugees and asylum seekers. Sue regaled us with tales of the young students she worked with. These were heart-warming, gut wrenching and delightful. I could have listened to her all night.

Day 3 Hugh Gorge to Fringe Lilly Creek  10 km (8.30 am 3.30 pm) *****

This was part of one of the long days we had broken into two. We carried double water as we were unsure of water supplies for the next night’s camp.IMG_5477

The gorge lived up to every part of its 5 star reputation. Pools reflected glowing orange walls that framed brilliant blue skies with dazzling white clouds. The white bark of gum trees seemed to shine with inner light. Over boulders. A side trip up a gorge, whose entrance was guarded on one side by a massive pinnacle buttress and on the other by a huge bluff, without packs, took us to the towering V shaped cliffs and an impassable pool. We collected some water here. More boulders.

IMG_5479At Fringe Lilly Creek we camped on the sandy creek bed. Lots of flat stones were arranged and balanced in a cooking circle. A kilometre downstream we located the water hole that we had been told about. This meant we could have plenty for dinner, breakfast and the next day rather than scraping by with just enough.

Day 4 Fringe Lilly Creek to Birthday Waterhole  7.5 km (8.30 am 3.00 pm) *****

IMG_5506Uphill. Steep, zig zag track then a razorback ridge. Huge drop-offs each side. William and I scrambled some of the more spectacular narrow rocky ribs. Lookouts every 100 meters or so. Stupendous vistas all around stretching to far horizons. We were there. We were doing it.

This was better than the dreams and visions we had been picturing over years of anticipation. Like mountain walking in the French alps but with desert lowlands and no snow. Skirt the rocky outcrops. It was hard to believe we were climbing up this trail.


Cath was overwhelmed for the second time. Tears in her eyes, her heart exploded with gratitude that she could do it, that she could be in this country.

There was a top up there somewhere. But it was no better than the rest. Spinifex slopes led up to cliffed peaks. Stunted white gums clung to rocky slopes. My favourite arid country. A narrow foot track wound down and across steep slopes back to the other side of the range. Down Spencer Gorge and eventually to Birthday Waterhole.

IMG_5528We excavated our food drop – sealed tins buried in the sand bed of the creek. Camp on the sand near the main waterhole. Later a couple of cars drove in and stopped nearby. IMG_5530One got bogged in the sand. I did them a favour, possibly saving a life, by using all my interpersonal skills to convince them to recover the car safely rather than the quick way they were planning. 4WD recovery training paid off. They were so pleased about getting sorted out that they happily took out our several kilograms of rubbish including the squashed tins. We would enjoy the benefits of this the next day.

Birthday Waterhole to Brinkley Bluff  8 km, (9.00 am 2.00 pm)  *****

IMG_5531Cattle skulls and sun bleached bones had been collected and placed on trees on part of the track I called Death Valley. I lost concentration on this easiest part of the track which was flat and smooth underfoot leading up towards Stuarts Pass. My foot caught on a low termite mound and I tripped and landed face first on the hard ground. The pack, heavy with 2 days water and a new supply of food, pole drove my head into the dirt. It could have been curtains or at least a rescue but I was fine, just bleeding a little and with a growing egg on the forehead. Shaken up and reminded of the need to watch every step in this isolated place.

Stuarts Pass was named after the explorer John McDouall Stuart who had completed multiple epic feats of desert survival in attempts to cross through the centre of the continent from Adelaide to Darwin. He spent months at a time trudging in the heat with nowhere near enough food and water, half blinded by sandy blight. We morning tea-ed at his gap in the range. At home in the bush he was the hero of the colony when successful but his life ended poor and alone in the city.

IMG_5533The climb up Brinkley Bluff was the biggest of the hike (500m ascent). With two days water! Slowly we inched our way up to a saddle then down to Rocky Cleft. It looked like the weather was going to hold so we kept on towards the top. Reputation had it that the top had few campsites and was very exposed. To camp on top was key to a lot of our planning. More zig zags tracked back and forth across the steep face of the mountain threading a route between rocky shelves. Up. Fabulous steep walking. More up. And then without the usual false summits we were on top. Whooping and hugging. A narrow track led through low scrub to the large cairn which was adorned with Himalayan prayer flags. They seemed strangely appropriate on this desert mountain top. The peak stood out proudly on its own affording amazing views in every direction. Amazing as well were the myriad of campsites that had been scraped out on top. Flat areas bordered with stones. Alone on the top, like the mountain, we found superb tent sites sheltered completely from the icy southerly wind in little sun traps just north of the summit ridge. It all had the feel of a high altitude mountaineering camp.


The afternoon was a heavenly treat. Perched above a million square miles of desert. Cups of tea on the mountain top. Exploring, photographing, doing exercises, relaxing. We felt on top of the world. IMG_5574As the sun slowly set the light changed a thousand hills and directions to look and be transfixed.

In awe.

Colours changed on rocks, ranges, small eucalypts, spinifex and our multi-coloured tents. Rocky ridges plunged to the plains way below.


Stars appeared slowly at first then eventually lit up the whole sky. You could almost dip your hand into the Milky Way. I pondered the Aboriginal dreaming story of their elders who had died. The stars of the Milky Way were the campfires of their spirits which they sat beside as they kept watch over the people living below. It was a powerful image and spiritually comforting. Unknown to me at the time I was to come back to this story twice in the months that followed.

Day 6 Brinkley Bluff to Standley Chasm  10 km (8.30 am 3.00pm)   *****


The tent fly had been left off so we could lie in bed and see the stars. The morning star was still up when we awoke before dawn to an orange glow in the east below a deep blue canopy of sky. The night had been cold. Frost.

An extremely cold wind still blew on the southern side. Fully jacketed and thermaled we descended. The track twisted over narrow ridges, crossed through saddles and then traversed steep scree slopes. This reminded us of walking in the Dolomites. We had departed early and walked towards the light – peaks were shadowed, tussocks of spinifex shadow textured stoney hills. Rocky spines and ribs rose and fell away into crags dropping into the depths below.

DSCN0165Downhill with packs mercifully lighter. Only half a day’s water and virtually no food. In the long gully below Reveal Saddle we passed through gardens of coloured flowers – pink, yellow, purple, white, red. Scramble over boulders.

Standley Chasm was an extremely welcome home away from home. Hot showers! We did the “hikers pamper package” – scones with jam and cream and coffee, sumptuous three course dinner and cooked breakfast – bliss! Clothes wash. Two of our group departed from here having completed their 6 day “best of the Larapinta” walk. Our daughter joined us for the next 3 days, starting off with the pamper package. She brought out some fresh tomatoes and lettuce and fruit to supplement our last food drop which was collected from the café.

Day 7 Standley Chasm to Jay Creek  13.6km (9.00am 4.00pm)

IMG_5525Up steeply with food filled packs. Tortured rocky peaks and pinnacles split by narrow gorges. Up and steeply down then up and down again. Stunning scenery yet again. DSCN0150

Scramble down a small crag that would have been a waterfall in the creek in the wet. Stony underfoot for kilometres. Hard work in the creek bed.

William and Elouise hiked up and down over the alternative high route as we made our way slowly along the flat. The last section was through deep sand.

Wearied we reached the shelter shed and water tank at Jay Creek.

Day 8 Jay Creek to Mulga Camp 11km (9.00am 2.30pm)

IMG_5493An easier day. Flatter terrain. We wound along the plain beside the range then passed through a gap and lunched “by a billabong under the shade of a coolabah tree”. We made camp early. Rest. This was another long day that we had decided to break into two. Relax. Snooze. Drink tea and soup. William was awarded the masterchef award. He broke out his Everest cake then showed us an extraordinary hook seeded bush he’d found. DSCN0209In the late afternoon together we scramble traversed the narrow ridge line between two gaps nearby.

At least once every day William exclaimed that this was the best walk he had ever been on.

Day 9 Mulga Camp to Simpsons Gap 14km (8.00am 2.30pm)

A long day for us. Gently undulating. The vegetation was always interesting and varied. Packs were light, only lunch and snacks for one day. Arenge Bluff reared up majestic beside the path. Up and down over small rises, along creek beds and through flat mulga country. Chatting then quiet. One foot then the other. Count some steps. Adjust the shoulder straps. Check the map. Look at the everchanging view. Life was simple. We moved in comfort with each other. Treading gently through the country. Nearing our finish we started counting down the trail signs with their distance markers. One at a time. 4km. 3km. I must have missed one. At 1km our spirits soared. We did the last 50m again for the video camera.

What a route. What amazing scenery. Every detail had gone smoothly. Our bodies were sore now but that was ok. We had done it. The privilege of being there and being able to complete our journey was wonderful. For us it had been one of the hardest and longest walks we had done. And by far it had been the very best. A mountainous, gorge-ous walk through the desert ranges and plains of central Aus.

Notes on the walk

  1. All water (from tanks and pools) was purified using micropur tablets or a ceramic filter – we had no upset tummies (some others did).
  2. I would recommend walking west to east for aesthetic reasons. In walking towards the sun the ridges and hills are shadowed which gives the landscape much contrast and texture. If walking the other way the shadows would not be seen ahead so the landscape would constantly appear with a flat light without contrast and texture.
  3. We found water in Hugh Gorge and at Fringe Lilly Creek – this may not be reliable. We did not find water between Birthday Waterhole and Standley Chasm although we had heard there may be some at Stuarts Pass further down the creek line (we didn’t look).
  4. On the hard days the distance doesn’t indicate the difficulties and time necessary. With a light daypack and smaller amounts of water to be carried longer distances could be achieved but there would be less time to immerse and savour the landscape.

Larapinta Trail – Part 1 – Mount Sonder


Larapinta Trail Part 1 Mount Sonder Day walk


Western Macdonnell Ranges – Northern Territory – Central Australia


3.45 am. I stumbled out of the tent and put the stove on. Dark. Stars like a glittering carpet overhead, milky way rivered across the heavens.

4.30 am.  We set off from the carpark. Having checked the first section of the route the previous afternoon we knew how to pick a way across the stony river bed and up onto the beginning of the long ridge track.

The mountain was a dark mass. Groups of tiny torchlights like fireflies in the middle and far distance showed where earlier groups were making their way up. We climbed towards orion which hung above the far away mountain top. We bore witness to the approaching dawn as slowly the light, like alpenglow, suffused the ripples of hills and valleys below.

6.00 am. As we summited the sun blazed across the landscape. White rocks shone. Ranges spread out in all directions. Red cliffs dropped away from the double peak. 40 others shared the solitude of this desert wilderness peak – all wanted to experience this simplest and most basic life force – the flow of sunlight energy into the land, the plants, us, life.


The higher summit stood aloof and untrodden. We were separated from it by a treacherous narrow spine of rock that dropped away sharply on both sides. The local aboriginal people discouraged anyone from attempting to climb it.

The hike up seemed easy, cool. Being focussed in the darkness on only a small pool of light from the headtorch enabled me to concentrate on the few steps ahead rather than the overall climb. Downwards took longer and was hotter.  Maybe we spent more time taking in the vistas and wondering how much longer it would take.

11.00 am. Returned to the carpark.


This would have to be one of the best day walks in Australia.

15 km return from Redbank Gorge carpark. 600m ascent. The first or last section of the 220 km Larapinta Trail depending on which direction you are heading.

Outlaws, bushrangers and hidden treasure


Outlaws, bushrangers and hidden treasure

12 June

Canberra Nature Park – Rob Roy



Out the front door, like Bilbo Baggins on his big adventure to tangle with dragon, we walked around the side of our hill. A management track then snaked us up and down and around about into Rob Roy Nature Reserve and eventually to the high summit of Rob Roy itself. So close to home we were immersed in the bush.

Vistas from high on the range over the suburbs and grassy fields to the blue Brindabella Mountains in the distance. Mt. Tennant, named after our local bushranger, lay proud and tall in the south. Legend has it that his treasure of gold is still hidden on the mountain.

Wombat, kangaroos, feral pigs, eagles.

The outlook from Big Monks sensational.

16 km “there and back again”.

Canberra Nature Park is a series of bushland reserves close to or within the urban area of Canberra. The hilltops are part of the reserve system. Most of the suburbs have easy access to one of these areas. The reserves and the proximity to the mountains help to make the city the Bush Capital of Australia.

Robert Roy MacGregor (Scottish GaelicRaibeart Ruadh MacGriogair; baptised 7 March 1671 – 28 December 1734), usually known simply as Rob Roy, was a famous Scottish folk hero and outlaw of the early 18th century, who is sometimes known as the Scottish Robin Hood.Rob Roy is anglicised from the Gaelic Raibeart Ruadh, meaning essentially “Robert the Red-Haired”.     From:

Mt Tennant on the left
Mt Tennant on the left
Suburbs and nature park hilltops
Suburbs and nature park hilltops

Today our treasure is to have these areas preserved so when we make time to visit them on a beautiful winter’s day like this one we can feel like we’ve struck gold.

A walk in the old country – Gibraltar Peak


A walk in the old country Gibraltar Peak

26 June

Gibraltar Peak – Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve


Lyre bird calling Tidbinbilla

Note to Australian Aboriginal people this post includes reference to deceased Aboriginal people.

The Time Trail led us from the visitors’ centre at Tidbinbilla across grassy kangaroo fields to the Birrigai Rock Shelter. Over many years I had visited this place many times, occasionally in the company of Aboriginal People – Paul and Matilda House, Don Bell, Eugene Vincent, Laddie Timbery, Jonnie Huckle, Dale Huddleston and Bobby Jabbanunga. As staff at the Birrigai Outdoor School we had made great efforts to highlight the people with connections to this country. Josephine Flood had excavated the site and found dramatic evidence that confirmed that people had lived in this shelter for at least 18,000 years. Since the last ice age.  We attempted to convey a sense of respect, awe and ongoing connection to Canberra students about the significance of the site and the living continuous culture.

On top of the grassy hill above I recalled lying on the grass in a circle with young students under the glittering night sky looking deep into the universe at light from stars so far away that it would have left when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. In winter we drew attention to the emu in the sky, a stunning feature of the cosmos visible in the southern hemisphere. Unlike the ancient Greeks the Aboriginal people of Australia storied the dark parts of the night sky, the areas between the stars. Beneath the southern cross is a dark section, the emu’s head, that links to a giant swathe of blackness across 2/3 of the Milky Way, the body, which then trails out in bent lines, the legs. Once appreciated it is impossible not to miss noticing it in future. Intriguingly its appearance seems to match the incubation of the emu eggs as the father sits on them for 8 to 10 weeks leading into spring.

We descended into an intimate glade, “Front Hollow”. Here we played hundreds of “web of life” games – kids having the time of their lives as carnivores chasing herbivores trying to hide out in the scrub or as higher order canivores chasing them all – learning about food chains as they dashed about. We had camp outs and cooked possum stew in camp ovens and spotted dick on sticks. As part of a cutting edge Earth Education program, Sunship III, we held one night a week an endangered species ceremony. Death sought out the troubled tales of the species, peregrine falcons and others then counselled the humans present. All very late at night. As staff we applied every bit of our creative educational energies to introducing, interpreting and building student relationships with the earth.

We followed a narrow trail up Bunyip Gully. The Birrigai Bunyip, a staff person in a fabulous costume with a tree stump head, was coaxed out of the woods here for special school kids with disabilities. They loved her to bits, sometimes hugging rather too hard. In a small clearing was the site “Cradles to Coffins” where students followed the cycles of a leaf growing, dying and decomposing. It’s nutrients to be used over and over again in the forest. Across a gully I spied Bunyip Castle. We had taken thousands of kids abseiling here.

As I walked on this ground and along trails that blindfold I could still pick out memories came tumbling in like a cascading river. Each small place deeply etched in memory.

Over Schoolhouse Hill I imagined how the grass trees would look in summer as their tall flower stalks fringed with white honeyed blooms.

On the trail up the ridge towards the back gate I kept an eye on the ground looking for the chert flakes from Aboriginal tool making left here over millennia. There were no remains of the site of the emus nest where we had watched a father and then the gorgeous striped hatchlings.

I had learnt how to manage groups moving through the bush up this trail to “The Peak”.  Pacing was the key to keeping balance between the fit and the strugglers. These skills I learnt leading bushwalks I later transferred to leading snorkelling, canoeing, xc skiing, back country snowboarding, mountain biking, kayaking, caving, SCUBA diving, canyoning – wherever there is a journey of people in a “remote” landscape.

We rested at Eliza Saddle. Nearby the dramatic rock formation, Lizards Tongue, was the place where I had taken my own children to hold their teddy bears in outstretched arms like in the Lion King.

In a bushy gully high on the mountain a cacophony of birds all calling loudly from the same place turned out to be a lyre bird trying to attract a mate. We picked out at least 10 different bird songs.

The final section of the ascent is a narrow winding staircase of granite steps leading upwards. In spring yellow grevilleas line the sides making a “stairway to heaven”.

The summit is a very special place. There is a sense of presence on the smooth slab among rounded tors. The view is truly spectacular. You get a different perspective on the city and The Bush. The city is a distant smudge among the rolling hills. Namadgi is a rugged wilderness to the south.

This is where we had spread Shirley’s ashes. She had been a teacher at the outdoor school who had felt a deep spiritual connection to the place.

The Birrigai camp was visible below – rebuilt after the fires. Sounds of happy voices drifted up from way below. I could pick out the ropes course and the gold village near the creek where we buried gold painted pobbles for the students to pan for and relive the experiences of the early gold diggers. Memories of conferences and Earthkeepers programs flooded back. These were days of magical learning experiences. I was reminded  of the thousands of students that we worked with. Bushdances at night in the hall. Memories and deep emotion flowed in like in the latest Pixar movie Inside Out – lots of joy but also sadness. Sadness that we were not there facilitating all that fun and learning and being in the bush, working in the most wonderful team, spending days and weeks then years in a single bush landscape that slowly etched itself into our beings.

We had established a garden, Gael’s wood, near a massive pine that must’ve disappeared in the fire. She had died too young while teaching with us.

In the middle distance I could make out the road to the deep space tracking station where the first footage of Armstrong stepping onto the moon were beamed. Gladdie had dinked me there on her new Harley. Life is short and death random. She had passed away after falling down some stairs holding her big dog shortly after.

I walked down quietly. Through the wetter forest where we used to read about diprotodons, giant megafauna, as we “walked the boundaries” and helped students adventure into the past. To the new viewing platform.

We lunched on the way back down into the Nature Reserve within a mob of kangaroos. I felt calm and at peace. I made a pact to walk this old country and feel it regularly.

Gibraltar Peak circuit. 12 km from Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve via the Birrigai Time Trail and Eliza Saddle.


If we could read this landscape?


If we could read this landscape?

6 – 8 June

Budawang Range – Morton National Park


Five Blunts hit the trail. Father, aunt, son, brother, wife, husband, uncle. First overnight hike for one and others with hundreds under their belt.


Banksias are adapted to fires. Some species are killed by bushfires but the heat also makes the seed pods open to enable germination in the soil.


IMG_5282 IMG_5286

If we could read the stories written in the land around us what might we learn? Of the slow movement of the country northwards, riding on an ocean of magma? Of the ancient megafauna, diprotodon and the giant emu ranging across these hills? Of the passing ice age when the coastline was many kilometers further out than today? Of the lives of the Wandandian and Walbanga tribes that lived in these forests for 6,000 generations and more before the arrival of the modern boat people from Europe 200 years ago? Of the platypus in the pool nearby? Might we be able to read the future, where all things being “equal”, this bit of the crust will likely be 2,000 km north in 40 million years and a coral reef might have grown up in sight of Pidgeon House Mountain?

Old scribbly gum

(The writers here are the larva from the scribblly gum moth which burrow into the new bark of this species of eucalypt. as the old bark is shed the “scribbles” are revealed.)

3 day hike. Wog Wog to cascades camp on the Corang River – 8 km. Cascades camp east along the Corang River to more cascades at “Many Rock Ribs” at the junction with Canowie Brook then along Canowie Brook trail to Burrumbeet Brook camp caves and side trip up to Yurnga Lookout – 8km. Burrumbeet Brook camp caves over Corang Peak past Kora Hill and back to Wo Wog 14km.

Bucket List


Bucket List

4 June



Remnants of snow lay on the track up the first hill. Shade, still, cool. As we paced into step with each other conversations blew through me like a strong breeze in a downwind spinnaker.

Stories in the landscape
Stories in the landscape

Information shared on a 4WD trip I had etched in mind from hours poring over HEMA maps of deserts. Len Beadell’s Gary Junction Road linking with part of the Canning Stock Route then going west on through Rudall River to the Pilbara. Sounds perfect.

Koala surveys in the Tinderry area nearby.IMG_5271

Christmas Island Nature Week where people pay to volunteer with researchers looking into red tailed tropic birds and other wildlife. The volunteer fees fund the studies. Wow.

The track followed a high ridge crest most of the way. The sun warmed.

Rail trails for cycling suggested – Seymour to Mansfield, Orbost to Bairnsdale. I tucked these away in the mental archives adding them to the list.

My mouth gaped and my head spun with delight as I was related the intricacies of cross country ski routes in Norway. Villages linked by hundreds of kilometres of groomed trails. The Peer Gynt Trail. The Troll route.

We lunched by the still waters of the river into Googong Dam. Two swans ski landed nearby.

My bucket list was already overflowing.IMG_5259How to narrow it down? That was the trouble. Balancing the desire for full adventure with funds and loved ones and time and the planet.

In retrospect walking on that track on that day with those people was like being in the bucket itself.

Walking for Pleasure hike from Urilla to London Bridge Woolshed. 12 km

Karst country - London Bridge

Karst country – London Bridge

Walking with Dad

Bellbirds in the forest soundscape


Walking with Dad

9 – 10/5/15

Blue Mountains – Blue Gum Forest


As part of the younger generation we like to think we are doing new things, pushing new boundaries, making new discoveries. When I started rockclimbing and cross country skiing and whitewater kayaking and hiking in Tasmania I felt bold and adventurous. This hike was a shake down and acclimatisation for 10 days on the Larapinta Trail a few months later.

My brother, William, and I walked out along the ridge crest from The Pinnacles to Lockley Pylon. I could make out the route of Fortress canyon below where I had taken lots of college groups as part of my work as an outdoor education teacher. The views down the Grose River Valley stretched past lines of blue hills towards Sydney in the distant east. The ground fell away in a huge sucking drop close by in the west. Fortress Creek spewed out over orange sandstone verticality. We talked about Dad. His war record. How his boat had blown up in New Guinea and he’d narrowly escaped the tragic fate of some of the crew. PTSD had never been diagnosed or even mentioned. I had wanted to do this walk for a long time. I knew from family legend that it was a favourite place of Dad in his early years.IMG_4953

Charles is a climber, “It looks like Yosemite”, from the edge at Du Faur Head. A steep track led us zig zagging down among cliffs. We then followed a ridge down and down and down to the Grose River where it met Govett’s Creek.

In the late afternoon light we found an enormous log forming a bridge over the stream. I crossed with William and had a photo taken of us in the middle. It was like we were entering some special kingdom. The blue gums towered everywhere. Massive trunks disappearing skywards to small pleading canopies. Scrubby undergrowth. Impossibly difficult to photograph and capture the grandeur. I explored on my own for a while between the trees and could almost feel Dad’s presence in the stillness. At 16 he had left school to be a message boy man with the GPO. 1936. He joined the Sydney Bushwalkers who would meet on Saturday lunchtimes at Central Station for the train trip to the Blue Mountains for the weekend bushwalking. Often Dad would have to work Saturday afternoons so caught the night train and then hiked down to Bluegum and other places to meet up with his mates by torchlight. He was apparently a “tiger” of a walker accomplishing feats like Katoomba to Kanangra and return in an Easter weekend. His father helped him construct his own frame and rucksack. The only tale we got direct from him was told at the Three Sister Lookout from where he pointed out Mount Solitary as the place where he had put his rucksack down on a ledge which gave way. Two weekends were spent then searching for it. I rejoined the others and we walked the short distance to Acacia Flat to camp among the gums in a grassy clearing. IMG_4993IMG_4986

Collecting water from the creek which was noisily cascading I was reminded that Dad had taken up canoeing and became an active member of the River Canoe Club. In rereading his memoir for the first time in the 30 years since his death the night before the walk I’d found that he had built his own canoe, bending the spotted gum timbers with steam and covering the deck and hull with stretched canvas. He’d described a an epic trip down the Kangaroo and Shoalhaven Rivers in 1938 from Hampden Bridge to Burrier. Part of this trip, now on the backwaters of Tallowa Dam I had also taken numerous college groups on.

Bluegum Forest had been rescued in the early 1930s from a commercial leaseholder who was about to clear the land for farming and transport out the timber. A group of bushwalkers, just prior to Dad’s time, got together and raised enough money to purchase the lease to protect the area. They, and a little later our father, and then us 85 years later would camp under these same trees. The night was cold without a fire.

In the tent it was cosy and warm and still but all hell had broken loose in the tops of the trees. Rushing air like a freight train built up speed and momentum down from the cliffs before hurtling across the forest canopy above then rushing off down valley. Gusts built up and crashed past every half minute or so for hours. I thought again of Dad during the windstorm. He had taken up sailing just before and after WW2. In the second Sydney to Hobart race he had encountered “a force South West blow as we rounded Tasman Island and Storm Bay certainly lived up to its name”. Apparently his father too had done some sailing.

IMG_4992By morning the wind had blown itself out. We had a last wander through the blue gums. William and I found a massive old ancient eucalypt. It stood tall like Dad as I remember him. Strong, dependable, gnarled, firmly rooted to the earth. Standing quiet among its kin. Was there a twinkle in the sun’s reflection on the leaves above?

My three brothers and I have all had adventurous lives in different ways. Between us William, David and I have ascents of aspiring, the Matterhorn, Mt Blanc, Big Ben, Balls Pyramid, new routs at Point Perpendicular, descents of many of the canyons of the Blue Mountains, expeditions to Antarctic, trekked in Nepal. Following time with the army John has worked in Aceh, Pakistan, Swaziland, PNG, Gambia and Botswana. Dad never talked about the war that gave him “bad nerves” that made him “physically unfit for Naval service”. PTSD? He didn’t talk about his adventuring much either. He wasn’t comfortable being the centre of attention. He worked hard. Became Chief of Naval Supply. And when we were around only had time for family and work.


The track wound beside the creek. At Junction Rock we rested. Then a little more along the flat until we branched up hill on a wrong path towards Evans Lookout. The un maintained trail was a ripper, rising steadily and then surprisingly through the cliff band. Among the calling bellbirds I considered the things in addition to family that sustain and mean so much to me – the natural world, adventure, making a contribution to the world – that I’ve been lucky enough to forge a career out of. My father’s been gone for nearly thirty years now but in coming to this place and rereading his story and talking to William and my wife Cath its only now becoming clear that he’s been the source of all these things that I cherish. Without even speaking about it.  I remember him so diligently involving us in Scouts, building a big white two ended canoe that took the whole family, with Mum taking us on family camping trips, supporting all our interests.

From a high rock shelf at the head of the valley we look across at the huge orange cliffs of Carn wall. There’s a terrifying roofed corner that I’m sure has been climbed. Charles and I have our eye on another easier long route near Mount Hay further down the Grose. It occurs to me that what we are doing isn’t new at all. Maybe now I can accept this easier because I’m not part of the younger generation anymore. Dad’s own adventuring was cut short by the war. We haven’t had a war, we’ve had different opportunities.

IMG_5016We’d come up the unmaintained horse track instead of the intended Rodriguez Pass Track and ended up high on the ridge below Evans Lookout. So we headed down the steps to pick up the Grand Canyon Track. It’s an old trail built in the Depression, hewn out of rock in some sections. Along the creek was sublime. Waterfalls tumbledover green walls past perched tree ferns to the black canyon floor. Cold. Moist. Water bubbling over smooth rocks. In his book Dad wrote about his first trip to the Blue Mountains. His father had taken him on a hike with borrowed pack, sleeping bag and swag. The trekked through Wentworth Falls, camped in a picnic shelter, Laura, Katoomba, Medlow Baths. They stayed a night in Wall’s Cave which left a great impression him. “Firelight and shadows on the roof of the cave many feet above”. From there they went through the Grand Canyon and down Beauchamp Falls which was our intended route up. They finished going up Govetts Leap and back to the train station. Quite a walk. On the track above the canyon I tell Bob and Sue, friends from work at the outdoor school years ago, about the abseil and canyon trip I have guided lots of times for students in the depths below.

The final walk up from Neates Glen to the car is tough. Sore knees, tired muscles, packs that seem heavy. I’ve felt very close to Dad. Like we’ve been walking together almost. I wonder about what I’d say to him if we could connect across the divide somehow. Maybe just “thanks”. And him to me and us? If he could talk, father to son, or his father to him and me to my daughter and son? “Look after Mum? Love each other? Take care of the family? Keep adventuring? Do something good in the world? Look after the special places? Live life to the max! See you in the blue gums?”

For all of us the walk has been a cracker. Classic. Wonderful. Great to share it with a bro and our Dad. A confidence booster for our big walk later.


Day 1. The Pinnacles on Mt Hay Rd, Lockley Pilon, Du Faur Head, Bluegum Forest, Acacia Flat. Approx 6 km with 600m descent.

Day 2. Acacia flat, Junction Rock, Evans Head Lookout Track, Grand Canyon Track, Neates Glen, Evans Lookout Rd. Approx 9 km with approx 800m ascent.

Conversations while Walking for Pleasure


Conversations while Walking for Pleasure


Canberra Centenary Trail


Cross stitch

Air force

Learning the keyboard

The Larapinta


On the river I was the oldest by at least 25 years. A week later hiking the best section of the Centenary Trail I was the youngest at 57. The pace was spritely.

Travelling the USA

Walking in NZ

The Coast to Coast




Walking lends itself to chatting. It passes the time, develops friendships. Some psychologists even carry on therapy sessions with clients as they pace together. Only some of the conversation topics were predictable.



Marathon running


The West Highland Way

One fellow was planning a walking trip to UK. His itinerary involved two long walks linking some of the best long distance trails. 497 miles over 42 days. Solo. The day’s trek had been a little slow for him.

Dodgy hips and knees


The Milford Track


The walk was led from the front. Making her contribution to the group. Some like her walk nearly every day of the week.


Changes in the Budget to pensions

Walking Britain

The Routeburn

Leading walks

Ray had a bit of a limp and had a slightly slower but no less determined gait. He asserted that his imminent op was due to his 13 marathons run in years past. He deserves to be on “Australian Story”. 79.


Hall to Forde. 17.2 km. 420 m of ascent. 9.00 am – 1.50pm.

Walking With The ACT WFP (Walking For Pleasure)