Tag Archives: Hiking





Budawang Ranges



Grass tree flower spikes were covered with white, honeyed bloom brushes. As we walked gently uphill through forest the pace settled into a steady rhythm. Chat. Walk. Talk. At a conglomerate rock we morning teaed. Then downhill to the turnoff from the main path into the Budawang Ranges from our starting point at Wog Wog carpark. The superb vistas from Corang Peak, prehistoric landscape of Burrumbeet Brook, the towering sandstone massifs of Mount Owen and The Castle that lay beyond the other worldly Monolith Valley were all down that main path. Our less visible trail headed off left.


This was my first time leading a walk for the group. “Corang Cascades, 15km, mostly on bushwalking tracks with some stony sections.” Cath especially and I had done quite a few walks with this group over the year. Coordinated by Andrew, who had led morIMG_0214e than a hundred over the years and Ray who must have done way more than this even. It was a trail we had done recently and I’d done several times before. It was remote but had a decent track and was a good distance. The route led us down a rocky spine into a delightfully cool, moist creekbed.

In my “retired” life of less than a year I was still working through how best to use my time. Being time rich is such a treat, a source of wealth. With gratefulness I feel lucky to be able to afford to finish full time work. So now the balance includes having lots of time with Cath, doing some personal adventures, writing, extended family time and trying to spend some time having a positive impact on the world. Contributing. Like leading this walk for others, for the club that has provided enjoyment for us. Once a month I help out with landcare in the catchment – planting trees, erosion control etc. Vinies Night Patrol enables me to make coffees and chat with the homeless and downtrodden and lonely of Canberra also once a month. Next year we will do two weeks on a conservation property at Lake Eyre. And I coach and mentor a niece with her high school academics every Monday afternoon. I’m still looking for a way to assist with refugees and the environment in more meaningful ways but am not quite ready to jump in deeper just yet.

Another descent into a creek and ascent out of the gully. Into the heath. Hot. Scratchy. Hard to see above it. Awkward. This was the tough bit. It seemed to go on for ages.

Volunteering. Being of service to others in some way. It feels right. To balance our comfortable lifestyle. To assuage guilt for our life of “luxury” in Australia perhaps. In Australia about 30% of the population (6 million) do some kind of voluntary work, caring or contribution to society. Some stats from Volunteering Australia give a powerful picture of the generosity and commitment of Australians.


In 2010, the volunteer rates for adults by age group were:

  • 18-24 years – 27%
  • 25-34 years – 30%
  • 35-44 years – 42%
  • 45-54 years– 44%
  • 55-64 years – 43%
  • 65+ years – 31%
  • Overall – 36.2% of the adult population.

Labour force status

In 2010, the volunteer rates for adults by labour force status were:

  • Employed full time – 38%
  • Employed part-time – 44%
  • Unemployed – 20%
  • Retired – 31%
  • Others not in the labour force – 30%.


In 2010, the frequency of work done by volunteers was:

  • At least once a week – 35%
  • At least once a fortnight – 11%
  • At least once a month – 16%
  • Several times per year – 24%
  • Less regularly – 14%

In 2006, Australian volunteers worked a total of 713 million hours. The median number of hours worked by each volunteer, broken down by age and gender was:

  • 18-24 years – 48 hours per year
  • 25-34 years – 38 hours per year
  • 35-44 years – 48 hours per year
  • 45-54 years – 64 hours per year
  • 55-64 years – 80 hours per year
  • 65-74 years – 104 hours per year
  • 75-84 years – 104 hours per year
  • 85 + years – figure considered unreliable
  • Total for men – 52 hours per year
  • Total for women – 60 hours per year
  • Total for all people – 56 hours per year (or 1.1 hours per week).

Why people volunteer

In 2006, the reasons why people volunteered were:

  • Help others/community – 57%
  • Personal satisfaction – 44%
  • Personal/family involvement – 37%
  • To do something worthwhile – 36%
  • Social contact – 22%
  • Use skills/experience – 16%
  • To be active – 16%
  • Religious beliefs – 15%
  • Other – 20%

The Real Economic Value of Volunteering

Dr Lisel O’Dwyer (University of Adelaide) estimated the dollar value of the contributions made by Australian volunteers in 2010, based on the average annual number of hours worked multiplied by the average wage rate. She estimated that in 2010, formal volunteering (excluding travel) was worth $25.4 billion to the Australian economy.

Notes on adjusted value: Dr O’Dwyer also argued that because the value of volunteering is attached to a multiplicity of outcomes, one hour of a volunteer’s time should be valued not just once, but several times (to account for other entities that benefit from the volunteer’s time). Based on this reasoning, she estimated an adjusted total value of volunteering in 2010 at around $200 billion (using a multiplier of 25% of the average hourly rate multiplied by four entities).

Volunteering and happiness

Volunteering Australia has compiled the following facts about volunteering and happiness:xli

  • Volunteers are happier, healthier and sleep better than those who don’t volunteer – doctors should recommend it.xlii
  • 96% of volunteers say that it “makes people happier.” xliii
  • 95% of volunteers say that volunteering is related to feelings of wellbeing. xliv
  • Volunteering results in a “helper’s high,” a powerful physical and emotional feeling experienced when directly helping others.xlv
  • Just a few hours of volunteer work makes a difference in happiness and mood. xlvi
  • Sustained volunteering is associated with better mental health. xlvii
  • Altruistic emotions and behaviours are associated with greater well-being, health, and longevity. xlviii
  • A strong correlation exists between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who are emotionally kind and compassionate in their charitable helping activities. xlix
  • The experience of helping others provides meaning, a sense of self-worth, a social role and health enhancement. l
  • Volunteering is highly associated with greater health and happiness. Li


Eventually we cleared the heath and made our way more easily through scribbly gum woodland. Descending in the heat of the day the sound of water tumbling over rocks slowly built. We broke out of the bush onto the river. Upstream was the large platypus pool and downstream the cascades. Shoes off. Relax. Cool feet. Photos. Lunch. A dip for a few that braved the cold. A check with Andrew’s gps confirmed that the walk was going to be longer than advertised.




Back through the heath seemed shorter on the return trek.

In the forest at the 15km mark I announced, “Since you have all been such a good walking group for no extra cost you are all eligible for the special bonus prize of an extra 3km!”

Afternoon tea back at the cars. “Thanks for leading the walk.” One small part of crafting a meaningful life falls into place.

Wog Wog carpark on the Mongarlowe Road to Corang Cascades 18km return


The section of the Morton National Park we had been walking in had been purchased with funds from the volunteer efforts of the Budawang Committee.


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


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 www.nt.gov.au/parks

Trek Larapinta website www.treklarapinta.com.au

John Chapman guidebook http://www.john.chapman.name/pub-lara.html

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.

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)



Test of the toughest


Test of the toughest

Freycinet – east coast Tasmania

March 26 – 28



It got underway badly. We were well prepared and packed all ready to walk leisurely up to the lookout and then down to camp at Wineglass Bay with plenty of time after the morning’s drive.

“No. You have to do the circuit walk anticlockwise”. Visitor Center ranger guy. Ugh! Rules and regulations in National Parks that were different to the “Great Walks of Australia” book were annoying. Now we had to throw all our last minute gear together and dash off to give ourselves a chance at completing the extra 9 km to the recommended campsite. Only being a 3 day hike Cath had cooked a yummy chicken dinner that was left in the car. I raced back a few km and retrieved it then raced back to catch her up. Weather conditions were perfect and views were great but we were still agitated about the longer distance and changing well laid plans.


We eventually made Hazards Beach and a subsidiary campsite at its southern end. Cath was tired. There was ample water. The site was fabulous. We stopped early adding thereby a few extra km to the already long day’s walk the next day. Our good feelings resurfaced in the sunset over a glassy sea sitting on stunning orange and pink granite boulders. The cameras went wild.


Later Cath got the clever camper award by putting all our food in a big dry bag to seal in the smells and then tying this up in a back pack. Her master stroke to prevent possum extraction was to coat the pack rain cover with aeroguard to confuse and scare away their snouts. Before bed I fashioned a walloping stick just in case. In the middle of the night we came under attack so I yelled and bashed the backpack outside leaning against the tent. Unzipping the door I thrashed the ground with the stick. Then I heard rustling on Cath’s side, ripped her door open and brandished the club wildly. Then I heard it in her sleeping bag! She was wide awake by now and shouted at me not to strike. The rustling was her knee changing position on the blown up silver wine skin she was using for a pillow. Close call.

Now Cath is a very keen walker. She has been training hard for an upcoming extended hike on the Larapinta Trail in central Australia in July. These walks in Tassie were to be a lead up. About five years ago she had a resurfaced right hip (pretty much a hip replacement) and then three years ago an upper tibial osteotomy on her left knee. Both for osteoarthritis. She also spends many hours each week walking in the pool and doing physio exercises. The climb up and down from Pine Valley Hut to the Labyrinth had caused grief to her knee so she was not in her best shape at this moment in time and had been very tired reaching the “early” camp.

I am a recently retired outdoor education teacher and have had a different sort of knee arthritis issue that recently has seemed to resolve itself. I was back running and training for an upcoming half marathon. So I was in good shape. In my work and in other personal adventure trips I am accustomed to carrying big packs and heavy loads. I looked at our current hiking exploits as team affairs where the aim was for us both to enjoy ourselves, achieve our goals and finish in reasonable nick. To this end I carry more stuff and Cath carries enough to make a difference. On a 3 day hike I carry about the same as I would on a 6 day trip which is quite achievable. We’ve worked out our limit is about 4 days. Any more than this or the necessity to carry lots of water and I will start to lose the ability to enjoy myself. I’ve spent 30 years of my professional life assessing people’s capabilities and supporting them to work towards achieving worthwhile adventure outcomes. I have a conservative approach to the mountains. Getting out of depth or overextended is not a place to be in a situation where the weather can change, people get exhausted or injured and rescue or backup may be difficult. On work trips I had got in trouble a couple of times with students injured, exhausted and cold with the weather closing in. Both required rescue. One of these was challenging. Sometimes difficult decisions need to be made with much gentle negotiation to minimise the possibility of sticky situations developing. I thought I had some good skills in this.

Our next day’s walk would be long and we had added another 4 km by camping early.

Canberra Bushwalking Club have an excellent grading and length calculation guide to their hikes. For every 100 m of ascent or descent you add a kilometre to the route length to give an estimate of the effort required and the length of the day.

The estimated route distance of our planned day 2 was about 16 km. When we took into account the 580m climb and descent that added about 11 km of effort making a total of approximately 27 km. The route went over the top of Mt Graham and it didn’t appear that there were any escape routes if things went pear shaped. The weather was forecast to seriously deteriorate later in the evening. I thought we were biting off more than we could chew and suggested we could reverse part of our previous day’s walk and go the easy way to our planned destination, camp and then hike up the mountain without packs as far as we wanted – safe, easy, lots of options. Cath was having none of it. We were up at 7.00 and walking by 8.15. The easy way out just didn’t cut it for her. I didn’t want to see her weepy and in pain. She had determinedly struggled through so much rehab already.

The first part went well. 4 km. Drink. Rest. Turn uphill. Cath’s knee was going well. We were slow and steady and rested regularly. On the steeper sections to the major saddle she placed her feet carefully and followed the mantra for going up and down with dodgy legs – “good go to heaven, bad go to hell”. This puts the effort and weigh on the correct leg to reduce strain on troublesome knees. Her walking poles got a workout. Lunch 1.00 pm. The final 180 m ascent to the summit involved some scrambling up slabs and large steps. Small bushes made good handholds.

Approaching the summit

The view 360 degrees on the summit was magnificent. Schouten Island and coastline stretching south. Rugged cliffed coast to the north. In the foreground beautiful Wineglass Bay and the dramatic granite peaks of the Hazards. Inland to the west some weather was building slowly. The sea out east was still, calm, flat, perfect.

View from atop Mt Graham

The route down looked long. 3.00pm we departed the top of the mountain. Most mountaineering accidents occur on the way down. Descending was harder for Cath. We slowed but plodded on. I tried to navigate our position accurately on the map but it seemed to take an age to get anywhere. Steep down. Slow. A flat section through button grass fields. More steeps. Another flat. Now she was really tired. I figured we were still only half way down. 4.30pm. The track threaded through cliffs with a few steep drops below narrow foot ledges. Eventually we started the long ridge to the bay still way below. The last few jelly beans. Cath started getting angry. At the track mainly as the steepness and length didn’t match the description she had read. At the terrain. At every small uphill. At the down climbing over boulders. At my navigation which had us about 2 km away for ages. Very weary. I wanted to carry her pack too which she reluctantly agreed to for only a ten minute section. Angry we were still not there yet. I hadn’t seen her negative like this before.

Afterwards she said that she always knew she could make it down. Long distant deep memory of having done things harder in the past gave her this knowledge.

6.15 finally we made it down. Cath was utterly spent. Admiration.

Wineglass Bay lived up to its reputation as one of the ten best beaches on the planet. A sculpture of whalebones stood beautifully on the beach in the sunset. We risked the exposed campsite with the terrific view. Over dinner possums and a Bennets Wallaby attacked our camp unafraid. Bravely I fought them off with a walking pole. The aeroguard trick worked again. About 5.00am rain pelted down, thunder rolled around the bay and lightning rent the air outside our cosy tent. Grimy, sweaty, stinky, warm we breakfasted in bed in hilarious jocularity as the storm blew itself slowly away.


Champagne waves broke perfectly on the sand as we walked along the beach. The sun returned by the time we made the lookout. Water flowed everywhere, down runnels in the steep slabs and the creek in the gully below.

Chanpagne in the wineglass

Hot shower. Comfy bed. At the bistro Cath celebrated her winning of the Toughest Camper Award with a champagne dinner. The walk had been a real test and challenge. It was a great confidence booster for the Larapinta. A new benchmark had been set. Nothing could be as hard as “Mount Graham”!

Enchanted Landscape – Pine Valley

7 and 8

Pine Valley

March 17 – 20

Tasmania – Lake St Clair area



The small transport boat took us up Lake St Clair in the opposite direction to our journey 35 years previously at the end of an Overland Track trek. We hiked in to Pine Valley Hut. Deep forests covered in verdant green mosses, boggy areas clothed in miniature landscapes of ferns and coral plants, eucalypt stands. The walking alternated between wondrous and a trudge as the track stretched further than anticipated and our 5 day packs seemed to gain weight. We expected the hut to be empty as it sits off the main through route but found it jammed full of exuberant overlanders who were all in high spirits as they would finish the following day. We had come in to make a base camp and spend time exploring the area.

The Labyrinth

Uphill through more mossed forest of towering gums and King Billy pines. Stillness. An ent bade us farewell as we passed. Damp. I have images of elves, fairy tales, trolls, goblins, Robin Hoods and ninjas. It’s hard to photograph and capture the almost luminescent green that blankets everything. Close up the moss covering is made up of multiple species, each with its own intricate shape and shade of jade. Up an almost vertical creek. Drizzle. Up some more. Twisted roots.

The cloud lifts a little as we break out onto the saddle. Valleys drop away on both sides. Mist blows up over a sharp ridge to the south, Lake St Clair appears in the cloud gap, crags show for moments. The smooth rocks are covered in wildly coloured lichens. The sun pokes out briefly and lights it all up. It feels like everything is happening at once and I gallivant around trying to see it all and capture it all on camera and generally revel in the drama and wild beauty of the scene.

As we walk across the plateau I try to photograph the lichens green, blue, orange, white, pink, black. Fiery barked snowgums made brilliant by the wet contrast with the rocks. Cresting a shelf a sublime scene is revealed. The rock is glaciated and has left depressions that have become small tarns edged with the coloured stone and cushion plants. King Billy pines bonsaid by the prevailing wild weather stand in the mist. This is a magical alpine landscape. Further on a part of the shelf juts out. From this outlook we can see a string of larger tarns spread over a lower shelf. Beautiful. Mist then clearing. The sharp peak of Mt Geryon appears then the crags of the Acropolis. Inspiring.

Cath and I shelter from wind and driving rain behind a small bluff for lunch. An information and warning board in the hut stated that 4 people had died in the Labyrinth area. Weather can change quickly, navigation in mist could be very tricky, time can get away while exploring, it’s a strenuous walk up and down, once off the track a walker may not easily find it again.

On the way back across the tops the rain alternates with clearing mist. We strike good conditions through special parts of the landscape. We take our time with the downward climb/scramble/hike. Several years ago Cath wouldn’t have thought this possible, carrying a pack into a semi remote wilderness. This has got to be one of the best day’s walking anywhere – equal to some of the classic days we had hiked in the French Alps years ago.

Cephissus Falls

Stars blazed the whole sky at 3 am so I looked forward to a break from the rain and some sunshine to relieve the overcast next day. A little later the downpour continued, hammering on the hut roof as dawn light filtered grey into the dingy recesses where we woke cosy and warm. Intrepid overlanders breakfasted, packed then left in full wet weather kit. Showers became heavier and then cleared a little. We ventured out into the forest. Immediately we entered the deep green silence. The ground became a cushion carpet of mosses and lichens with a narrow winding path reminiscent of the best fairy tales. The falls cascaded then streamed and wound through the carpet. Small pandanus stood like sentinels keeping watch on the flow of water. Cath stood motionless in a zen like garden. Some type of nameless ancient spirit seemed to dwell here between the creek, the mosses, the tiny lichens and the massive trees. It may have been part of a long hidden genetic memory from when we hunted and gathered in forests like this aeons past or more recently from my early childhood exploring the forested creek down the hill from my house, similarly dark and green however the brown water there was not from natural tannins in the plants but from pollutants from upstream factories. The wind picked up. We watched the tree giants sway. Water was everywhere – in the stream, sitting in puddles, absorbed by the spongy mosses, droplets hanging from every leaf and frond, falling steadily as rain, rising up inside my goretex sleeves and squelching in my boots.

This third day of rain we spent hours in the hut playing cards, drinking tea, keeping warm and trying to piece together Asian geography to put into understanding our conversations with a Taiwanese hiker we had shared tea with. She had been on the “track” for eight days with a small pack, no tent and no sleeping mat, relying on the huts, walking in rain. She had enjoyed two fine weather days and was loving her first hike. She had trudged off in the morning on her seventh day of rain. I felt better prepared but also a little luxuriant with my down mat and hearty food. A part of me envied her quiet, tough resilience and positivity.

A clear sky on dusk raised our hopes for an ascent of the Acropolis the following day. Then more showers that led into rain in the the night and at dawn so we packed early and headed back out to the boat down Lake St Clair. At Narcissus Hut where the boat departs we joined a large group of overlanders jockeying for a place on the 2 boats scheduled. There were too many of us so a hectic and stressful interpersonal hassle played out in the arranging of an extra boat, the ranger washing his hands of rescheduling punters, more people waiting on the jetty than there were seats available – all this in cold, wet, windy conditions. People were already strung out and tired. It was a contrast to the simplicity of a few days life in the hut and exploring the enchanted forest.


Around 8,000 people walk the Overland Track every year making it Australia’s most popular multi day hike. A booking system regulates numbers starting the trek between October and April. Walkers are required to go from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair (north to south) – this evens out numbers at huts and the lack of need for people to pass each other going in opposite directions means the track width is maintained at a minimum.

While Cath and I were walking out a “Canberra man fell off a mountain and died in Tasmania” (Mount Ossa).

Rocky Cape


Rocky Cape

March 16

Tasmania north coast

Day walk


The track led up through coastal scrub to the base of a quartzite cliff. At its base a slot cave led deep into the rock. Higher up another cave entrance was visible. An interpretative sign told about the early Aboriginal people who used the shelter and the shell midden, artefact and charcoal evidence of their occupation. On the other side of the bluff was another cave. We followed the instruction not to enter out of respect. The stories were made and presented by indigenous people of another area. The locals were all gone.

Coastline stretched east and west in the distance. Small villages perched in the inlet bays on the beaches, colourful across the turquoise water. White stone on the headlands covered with bright orange lichen. A sea eagle glides overhead. Huge pacific gulls mix it with the sea gulls on the beach. The ocean is calm, smooth.

My daughter works for a community development arts company and lived in one of the small coastal towns. She had spent 4 years in the “desert” working with Aboriginal communities in Northern Territory and WA. Now in the lush green and wet south she has embarked on a quest to immerse herself in the Tasmanian environment and completing all the 60 short walks in a brochure she picked up. She guided our tour of her favourite nearby places.