Not sure how, but dreams of sailing found their way int the small talk. ‘Yeah I’ve always wanted to do that too’. Maybe one day.
So what time does the supermarket close?
The ferry doesn’t usually get in this late and the shops close at 6.30 Tiana told us. They actually closed at 6.00. Khia and Emma dumped their bags and headed for the shops. They arrived at 5.05. ‘You start that side, I’ll start this side and we’ll meet in the middle.’ About 500 decisions and $700 later we were set.
Is that the first reef or the second?
‘So ahhh… Mike… that’s called a sail, is that right? And if I pull the blue one it does what? And we shouldn’t ‘jibe’ the boat. Got it. Captain Paul, First Mate Khia – what do we do now?’
‘So Gary, 100 Magic Miles’ says that Nara Inlet is a nursery for hammerhead sharks – is it safe to swim?’
‘Yeah my daughter read that too and she hasn’t swum there since’.
But, what can you do. Last one in’s a rotten egg!
Dana goes native
The shore party set off on a expedition to explore the unknown continent. Just six intrepid explorers. Oliver and Dana wasted no time finding spears to catch our dinner.
The Mooring dance
We danced a merry jig we did, a jig that went like this. We cheered, we’d found a mooring ball to ensure continued bliss!
Look at all the tourists
We pulled our heads up from the wonders of the coral at the sound of a propeller. ‘Time to go’ the young fellow on board called. ‘Think we’ll stay’, we replied. ‘Thats our yacht over there.’
Surfing the swell
Razzle Dazzle was rising and falling under our feet. Dana, Amy, Evie and Oliver were surfing the swell. Khia was right where she wanted to be – at the helm. Luncheon Bay, another beautiful snorkelling spot, was round the corner. We dreamt of keeping Razzle Dazzle and pondered how we got so lucky.
‘How deep is the water?’ Khia asked as we considered dropping anchor. ‘Plenty’, was the reply from Paul.
One morning at Whitehaven
‘Come on time to go’. We raced to gather up our things. Storm clouds were brewing on the horizon and it was clear they were headed out way. Dana, Amy, Evie and Oliver reluctantly tore themselves away from their drip castles. As we walked back over the point to our dinghy a little competition broke out to see who could get the stream of backpackers flowing the opposite way to acknowledge us. We headed over the water Razzle Dazzle as the rain started to pour. ‘Suckers!’, Paul muttered at the backpackers, to guffaws of laughter from the rest of us.
Can we do this forever?
‘I know Mum! We could sell our house buy a boat and just keep doing this forever.’
‘Goodnight Oliver. Have a lovely sleep. I love you.’
Cats and Dogs and Cats and Dogs and Cats and Dogs
And a… Batfish? Lama, Lama, Lama, Lama, Lama, Lama, Lama, Lama, Lama, Lama. How many weet-bix can a Batfish eat?
Out the back of Canberra is a great, big wilderness. I often look at it from the top of Narrabundah hill on Juno’s (our dog) morning walk. Its huge! 1.6-million-hectares of public land in eleven national parks and nature reserves all the way from the back of our place (or close enough) to Victoria. How is it that having managed to spend a year wandering around the world I’ve spent so little time so close to home? Too close to home perhaps. Not exotic enough… unless you live further away. Funny how that works.
I also don’t like getting lost. It freaks me out (one of a long list of things) and this wilderness lacks major trails, has rounded undefined hills and ridges, thickly wooded slopes and short sight lines, all of which means there is a very high chance where I think I am, is not where I am and that by the time I’ve worked that out, where I want to be is almost certainly not where I am going!
Which is a shame, because my limited experience in the wilderness on my doorstep suggests I am likely to like it. Anyway, one day, carried away in conversation amongst friends about places we’ve been and places we’d like to go, I said to Hugh and Paul (fathers of Amy’s friends Juliet and Evie) something like, I’d like to walk the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT), all 655 kilometres of it from Walhalla in Victoria to Tharwa (which you can almost see on Juno’s morning walk).
Clearly the idea resonated with Hugh because each time we got together after that it would find its way into the conversation. I liked the idea of starting in spring, when it was warmer but Hugh liked the idea of starting as soon as possible and before I could pull my head out of the rest of life long enough to mount an argument to the contrary a weekend had been set, a plan made and hiking provisions procured.
Sure it would be cold… but that’s what thermal underwear is for. Having done all the prep work, while I struggled to free even one neuron to think of anything other than work, Hugh waited nervously for me to pull out. Which I did contemplate. On a Friday night after a week of waking up tired, feeling like your running late before you’ve even finished sleeping and working everyday but still not feeling like you’ve accomplished what you set out to each morning – it does seem easier to opt out and sleep-in. If not for visions of tall eucalypt woodlands, grassy frost hollows and snow gums I may have done just that. But I didn’t.
Instead, Emma dropped us off at the old tracking station in the Ororral Valley as early as we could muster on a Sunday morning. It was cold. Three degrees according to the car but the sun was shining and the air was still. Hugh almost locked himself in the loo before we set off (don’t ask) while I had a last-minute rethink of my packing list. I pulled everything out of my pack only to put it all back minus sandals. Too cold for sandals.
We set off up the fire trails on the side of the Orroral Valley before hanging left onto the Cotter Gap Track, a pleasant pathway through a forest thick with regrowth triggered by the huge fires back in 2003. Up and over the Cotter Gap we went and then down into the Bimberri wilderness. Turns out navigating here is not nearly as challenging as I had envisaged and where we thought we were was exactly where we wanted to be. Navigation? No problemo! The track could be followed with your eyes closed. Not that I tried. That would be silly.
After 15 kilometres, we paused for lunch in the Cotter Valley and debated camping versus pushing on. Pushing on won because it meant camping 400 metres higher, on the saddle at Murray’s Gap between Mount Murray and Bimberri Peak (1913 metres), the tallest peak in the ACT. The saddle at Murray’s Gap is gorgeous, an open grassland emerging out of the tall grey forest with views to the peaks to the east.
We arrived shortly before the sun departed and just as it began to do that lovely golden glow thing that it does at the end of each day. This kept me glued to my camera and left Hugh to deal with the campsite. It was cold that night with a full moon and clear skies. Two pairs of thermals, a sleeping bag and a beanie kept the chilly air at bay, except for my nose, which woke me up every now and then because it was cold. Never been woken up by a cold nose? It was a first for me too.
As I lay there, awake in our moonlit tent with a cold nose and a niggling feeling that I needed to go to the loo, I pondered whether my head wear was a beanie or a toque. I blame our friend Andrea from Canada, who counselled me before departure as she is wont to do…
‘…a toque and a beanie are not the same thing. True snow dwellers know this. You don’t seem to. I’ve noticed that you use them interchangeably assuming they are equal, same-same. That’s a rookie move. What you need for the snow is a toque. A toque fully covers both ears and the forehead and is fashionably questionable. The beanie, on the other hand, is as the name suggests, rather cute but functionally rather inadequate. We Canadians wear beanies in Springtime while lolling through daffodils on crisp, dewy mornings. We also wear them on autumn evenings when the leaves are falling and the romance of a night out with your heartthrob is worth the chill. Pink cheeks are an asset in such circumstances. But in winter, when there is snow on the ground… we wear toques.’
So what did I have on my head? Aw bugger it, I thought as my bladder got the better of me. I gotta go. So I climbed out of my warm sleeping bag, fortunately nearly fully dressed (including beanie or toque), unzipped the tent and staggered out into the nigh on freezing air where I watered an unsuspecting tussock of grass before cupping my hands over my nose (to warm it up), climbed back into the tent and promptly fell back to sleep.
The following morning all thought of beanies and toques was gone. Hugh and I abandoned the tent in situ and started following rock cairns up a poorly defined track towards the summit of Bimberri Peak. As we got higher thick forest gave way to open snow gum woodlands with an understorey of grasses. Dappled grey, green, red and pink bark, along with lichens and mosses, curiously shaped flowers and ever more expansive views kept us enthralled as we walked and talked and solved the problems of the world.
Bimberri Peak stands nearly a kilometre above the Cotter Valley, where we had lunch the day before, and from its blunted summit we could see all the way to the snow covered main range way down south where we hoped to be passing on journeys to come. A visitor book stashed at the top made it apparent our summit attempt was unusually lucky with more than one entry indicating snow and weather had forced many to try two, three and four times before succeeding.
After lingering for 30 minutes we headed back the way we had come, paused at Murray’s Gap to pack the tent before descending a further four kilometres for lunch at the picturesque Oldfield’s Hut – a typical graziers slab hut built in 1925 and exactly the sort of thing that springs to mind when I think of Banjo Patterson and the Man from Snowy River.
I would have been happy to camp right there, with views of Bimberri and Mount Murray, but Hugh had other ideas and we pushed on up over a short but steep climb and into the valley on the other side. Here we found a random patch of ground on which to set up camp. The sun lit up the woodland we perched upon until it fell below the horizon whereupon it turned its attention to lighting up the sky, all of which led me to ignore my responsibilities for the establishment of camp and cooking of food in favour of photography. Hugh didn’t seem to mind.
A cold nose and the need to pee woke me again in the wee small hours of the following morning. I began to ponder the beanie versus toque debate again but decided it wasn’t worth it. Australians wear beanies, probably because our winters approximate a Canadian spring, and that’s all there is to it. Instead I reflected on what I already know to be true. Getting out into the world is always worth the effort and this applies to everything from small things, like getting out of your tent in the freezing cold to pee (so you sleep better), to bigger things, like hiking in your backyard or travelling the world.
The car we had stashed at the end of Pocket Saddle Road the day before setting out was only a kilometre from where we camped and so on day three we took a stroll, sans heavy packs, in squally rain out past Pocket’s Hut and as far along the AAWT as time would permit. All just to whet the appetite, for next time.
‘Beached Az’ is an ABC cartoon where a whale washes up on the shore and declares himself ‘beached az’ to a seagull. Humorous conversations ensue in thick New Zeland accents. Check out this link if you have no idea what I was on about.
We were on a plane from Sydney to New Zealand at the time. I was in a good mood and whatever silly Kiwi thing I thought of was tumbling out of my mouth. Oliver meanwhile was teaching himself how to solve the Rubik’s cube by studying a book on speed cubing and had no idea what I was talking about. He had no interest in my silly Kiwi ramblings.
I thought of telling the customs officer in Queenstown that I was ‘beached ez’ too, but before I could he asked why we were visiting New Zealand. ‘We’re here for a bungee jumping conference’, I told him proudly and then I demonstrated my technique for taking the plunge, flinging my arms back and my chest forward as I had planned in my mind. Emma, Amy and Oliver tried to look as if they didn’t know me but I didn’t care. The customs man chuckled and stamped our passports but I don’t think he thought I was there for a bungee conference.
We had two weeks in New Zealand. Two weeks. Last time we went travelling it was for 52 weeks! How can you see everything in two weeks? You can’t. Not even in little New Zealand and so we were forced to limit our ambitions to Wanaka, Mount Cook, Lake Tekapo, Queenstown, Te-Anau and the Milford Track. And somewhere along the way I was determined to jump off a bridge…
On the shores of Lake Wanaka I got jumped on by a wet dog two seconds after pulling into a carpark and opening the door of the car. It was a skittish kelpie scared witless by a paraglider and desperately seeking refuge… on my lap.
We rode bikes around the lake, beneath the beautiful mountains, stopping to picnic and then swim in the lovely but cool water. As we went we pondered how to pronounce Te-Anau. Is it Te-ah-no? Or Te-oh-no? Or Te-ah-noo?
We spent way too much time at the local supermarket because the effort of thinking ahead to the next meal was too much for us and this meant we kept retuning every three hours. This is not a good thing because supermarkets are not very exciting and this one was not big enough to cater for all the tourists.
We visited Puzzle World, which is a fun tourist trap with a huge maze, a wall of faces that follow you when you move around and a room built on a 30-degree angle but which looks normal. It made me feel sick.
I got a speeding ticket, which isn’t as bad as it sounds because New Zealand charges about two thirds less than Australia for speeding. I know this because I got another one just recently less than a kilometre from home.
We hung out at the Wanaka Tree. It’s one of New Zealand’s most photographed sites, because it’s pretty, which is an odd thing to say because most of New Zealand is pretty. So many people visit the Wanaka tree that there is a fellow who wheels in a piano on a mobile platform to entertain the crowd and sell CDs.
We took a drive (at the speed limit – for the most part) for an hour and a half out of town because I wanted to visit the Blue Pools. The Wanaka visitors guide said, ‘An easy short walk through mature beech and podocarp forest leads to these natural wonders of pure glacial water gathered from the mountains’. But when we got there, the Blue Pools were thick, muddy and grey because it had rained the night before and that’s what happens to New Zealand’s rivers when it rains. Still, what a great Podocarp forest. Yep, you’ve got to love a Podocarp forest. Emma and I thought it was a nice drive even though Amy and Oliver thought it was too long.
At Aoraki/Mount Cook:
The weather was fine. So fine, the summit of Mount Cook was in view and so we took a walk up the Hooker Valley to the mountain’s base. The valley was huge, there were hanging glaciers, moraine fields and a glacially fed, boulder strewn river in which we held competitions to see who could keep their feet submerged in the icy water the longest. Amy won, but I think she cheated, because otherwise I would have won.
We watched the hogs back cloud sit above the summit – a peculiar formation that sat there all day, sometimes blocking our clear view.
Instagram’ers carted ball gowns and dinner suits up the 10-kilometre track, stripped down and put them on and took glamorous selfies with Mount Cook as a backdrop. It’s a thing. I don’t get it, but it’s a thing.
A decade ago there used to be a massive glacier, over a kilometre long, where now there is a long muddy glacial lake with bergy bits floating around in it.
Emma, Amy and I proved that all three of us could shower in less than 5 minutes. We did this because we only had one, one dollar coin to pay for a shower at the campground and that only brought us 5 minutes of water.
Oliver didn’t have a shower… so business as usual.
Emma teased me for pronouncing Te-Anau differently every time I said it. I couldn’t even get it consistently wrong. Te-Anoh, Te-Anoo, Te-Anow.
At Lake Tekapo:
We found a caravan park on the edge of the lake, pitched our tent because the cabins were full and Amy and I went swimming.
The water was cold and clear and did I mention cold? It was also that beautiful cobalt blue colour, like the Blue Pools were supposed to be, and for reasons unknown to me (because I am generally a wuss when it comes to cold water) I just couldn’t get enough of it. Amy will swim anytime, anywhere and so the two of us spent a lot of time in the water.
Emma and Oliver read books on the shore while Amy and I pretended to be fish.
Lake Tekapo was as far north as we made it and on the way back into Queenstown we stumbled across the Kawarau Bridge bungee jump. I was excited, but couldn’t help pondering why paying $180 for 2 minutes’ worth of entertainment (at best), and possible death (at worst), seemed like a reasonable proposition. As we watched I imagined myself on the platform. ‘I got this’, I thought and in my mind I practiced how I would leap gracefully upward when it came my time to jump, throwing my arms back as I went and screaming like a fool. I went to book a jump, but there were no places left that day, which was a major anti-climax.
We booked into an overpriced campsite by the Shotover River. Kiwi’s can spot a tourist from 12,000 miles and have refined and fine-tuned the art of milking them for all their worth. Queenstown, and to a slightly lesser extent Wanaka, have an amazingly diverse range of crazy things to climb up, slip down, fly through, paddle on, jump off and ride across, none of which are cheap. They even have a speed boat shaped like a shark that whips along, dives under the water and leaps into the air!
We contemplated going on a jet boat ride but I was put off by the photos of William and Kate (of the Royal variety) plastered all over the shop front. Privilege by hereditary birthright gets up my nose. Emma was put off by the thought of moving through spectacular scenery at a pace which meant you would not see any of it and Amy and Oliver weren’t sure what they would have been signing up for or missing out on – so we didn’t go on a jet boat ride.
We did sign up for a zipline tour through the forests on Bob’s Peak, the mountain behind Queenstown. While this wasn’t cheap either, when you combined it with a hike up the mountain and a morning tea at the top with spectacular views over Lake Wakatipu, it constituted nearly a full day’s entertainment – making it much better value than 20 minutes in a jet boat for the same number of hundreds of dollars. I enjoyed the zipline tour so much the guides offered me a job. They said I had just the kind of enthusiasm they were looking for. I think it was my rendition of ‘Take On Me’ while zipping through the trees upside down that did it.
We went for lots more swims in the beautiful, refreshing, cool, waters of Lake Wakatipu and then sat around for hours building stone inukshuks (Inuit stacked stone cairn) before sitting back and taking pot shots to see who could knock them over the fastest. Oliver won most of the time, but I think he cheated, otherwise I would have won. A little post trip research suggests this was very poor form because in Inuit tradition, it’s forbidden to destroy an inukshuk!!
After Queenstown, we drove to Te-Anau where we picked up our tickets for the Milford Track and I asked the lady at the National Parks centre how to pronounce Te-Anau. She looked at me like I was weird but explained that it was Te-A-no. I walked out repeating it over and over again and then had to go back because I forgot to buy sand-fly repellent.
The Milford Track was the reason we came to New Zealand. It’s the finest walk in the world, just ask a local, if you can find one. Other than the guy at the customs counter I think everyone else we met was either a tourist or a European backpacker.
The Milford Track is 55 kilometres tackled over four days and is subject to a strict apartheid regime. On the Milford Track you are either an ‘Independent walker’ or a ‘Guided walker’. Independent walkers are discernible by their large packs, progressively deteriorating odour and fatter wallets. Guided walkers are discernible by their well-groomed, well rested and slightly superior airs and graces. Evening accommodation is well separated to ensure there is no cross contamination.
It was unseasonably hot the day we set off across Lake Te Anau to the start of the walk and by the time we had covered five kilometres to the first hut we were cooking. Fortunately the hut was but a short walk from a stunning bend in the Clinton River. Glassy, clear, aqua and green water tumbled over rapids, between boulders, beneath over hanging beech trees (and podocarp trees probably but I’m still not sure what they look like) and into a large still pool. It was even colder than Lake Tekapo, but so idyllic. We were in and out all afternoon (except Oliver… too cold for Oliver).
It was clear and hot the next day too, but the day after that a massive dump of rain was forecast. It was looking increasingly likely that this weather would arrive the day we were scheduled to climb out of the Clinton Valley, over the McKinnon Pass and down into the Arthur Valley. Fjordland receives a whopping 9 to 12 metres of rain every year. 9 to 12 metres! Canberra gets 600mm. The McKinnon Pass is nearly 1200 metres above sea level and that meant that the forecast rain was more likely to be a snow storm.
This was not my preference, because we had been looking forward to the spectacular alpine vistas for which the Milford Track and McKinnon Pass is known for. Hiking the Milford Track however is like riding a conveyor belt. You must move each day just the prescribed distance from one shelter to the next, and whether the weather coincided with our passing the Pass was up to the weather.
The Milford Track is a stunningly beautiful combination of temperate rainforest, rivers, lakes, plunge pools, water falls, glaciers, alpine meadows and sand-flies and if you go into it expecting to follow a groomed trail (for the most part) and sleep in bunk houses along with forty strangers snoring like chainsaws, it’s a very enjoyable outing. Previous experience told me that this track was well within our collective capability and so I didn’t even suffer from my usual pre-outdoor adventure nervous breakdown.
The same could not be said for all of those who set out on the track the same day we did. Not everyone who hikes the Milford Track should hike the Milford Track. Just because the track is smooth, flat and unmissable does not mean you don’t need a degree of fitness. Still, in two of the parties keeping the same schedule as us, one member of the group ended up carrying another’s pack just to get them to the other end. Tempers flared and bodies hurt, but fortunately not in our little group. We happily skipped along taking in the scenery, reflecting on group dynamics and trying to work out which of the other groups were least likely to snore.
We cleared the McKinnon Pass in swirling cloud punctuated by clear breaks which provided stunning views from a vantage point high in the alpine range. The rain was late and I wasn’t upset about that. It was the next day, our last day, that the heavens opened and for 18 kilometres it rained and it rained and it rained. Amy and Oliver ate lunch that day walking in circles to avoid the sand-flies which swarmed in inconceivable numbers every time you stopped moving.
A few days back in Queenstown followed during which we just hung out. We ate very large pizzas followed by ice-cream while while marvelling at people with their feet strapped to jets of water on Lake Wakitipu. We also took a mildly scenic drive out to Glenorchy where we ate a picnic on a jetty and took a walk on the end of the Routeburn Track.
With all of this behind us time was running short and I still hadn’t leapt from a bridge. I made a booking online for the next day, still wrestling with the eye watering price tag. I figured that a bungee jump constituted approximately 2 minutes’ worth of entertainment, from the time you are strapped in to the time you are set loose. To experience those 2 minutes costs $180 which when converted to an hourly rate means you are paying $5,400 an hour!
Still, I figured, you either paid and jumped or left New Zealand without jumping and spending the next 30 years wondering what it would have been like. $180 over thirty years means that the daily cost of knowing what it’s like to jump off a bridge, instead of wondering, is just 1.6 cents per day. Bargain!
Come my turn, a towel was folded and wrapped carefully around my ankles after which the bungee cord was strapped to the towel. Then came the interesting part, the bungee people help you to your feet and shuffle you to the edge of the platform. Standing upon the edge of the platform I felt a lot less brave than I did moments earlier. Emma, Amy and Oliver however were watching. There was no going back and I rationalised that there was no risk, only the illusion of risk. I paused, waved and then leapt up and out. I threw my arms back just like I showed the man at the airport and hoped I had pulled off a stylish jump.
The world rushed up at me and adrenaline surged because all of a sudden I was falling in a most unnatural way. Clichéd though it may sound, time slowed down a little and then accelerated to catch-up and then it was all over. Six months later here I am sitting on my couch at home after work one evening, writing a blog and thinking… $180 was cheap.