Author Archives: rachel

Bashed by the Blue Breaks (2016-09-30 to 2016-10-03)

A long weekend is always a highlight on a bushwalker’s calendar – the opportunity to get to places which are prohibitive for a normal weekend. Tom and I tossed up various options and finally settled on the Blue Breaks with an extra day of leave to make the long drive to Yerranderie worthwhile.

After my only other trip to Yerranderie I had no desire to do the drive again but the road was in good condition and nowhere near as bad as I remembered. The first major decision of the trip was whether to run it on pre or post daylight savings times. After considerable discussion we agreed to move to Daylight Savings Time as of Friday morning and so OTT (Official Trip Time) was set on all time-keeping pieces before we set off. This meant we had a very late start of 11am! The first couple of hours we followed an old fire trail down to the Tonalli River where we had morning tea around midday OTT. Time for those not familiar with Alex’s twig stove to have their first experience with it – much amusement for all along with the requisite plumes of smoke.

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The twig stove gets a workout

From the river we followed the remains of another fire trail, though this one was full of kangaroo thorn.

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On the way to Tonalli Pass

It was quite windy so we opted for lunch in the saddle between Tonalli Pass/Lacys Gap and the detached section on the end. During our post-lunch exploration of the detached section no one could be tempted to make the jump across to the final detached block.

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Tom not making the leap across to the final detached black

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Smiffy & views of Lacys Tableland

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Lots of wildflowers were out

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Scramble down off the end of Tonalli Pass

From there the walk to our camp was straight-forward and we were glad our camp cave was out of the howling wind. We visited Terni Head and enjoyed the views.

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Smiffy on the final scramble up to Terni Head

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Smiffy & Alex scrambling Terni Head

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Magnificent views

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Tom enjoying the solitude at Terni Head

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Fields of flowers to navigate back to camp

Somewhat optimistically we headed up to the cliffs for happy hour but once on them we concluded we’d enjoy the views for a few minutes and then retreat out of the wind to eat. Amusement was had throwing things into the wind and watching them sail back over our heads – until Alex started throwing large branches that didn’t go over us…

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Camp cave on night 1

After a relatively leisurely start the next morning we set off along Lacys Tableland. The topography of the plateau means that most of the walking is inland away from the cliff edge and views. The walking wasn’t particularly quick as it was quite scrubby though thankfully we had left the kangaroo thorn behind after ascending the pass. It was another overcast, windy day but the cloud cleared occasionally to give us a bit of sun.

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A rare moment on the cliff edge on Lacys Tableland

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Views

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Recognising features in the distance from an unfamiliar viewpoint

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Umm, do you know what you’re standing on?

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Tom came off second best with a flicking plant. Also note the singed eyelashes.

A squally shower came over as we were starting lunch so we retreated to an overhang. Alex was looking for a visitors book when he spotted an unusual pile of rocks stuck into a hole and behind them was a sealed glass bottle full of notes. It looked like some sort of time capsule project, it said the jar was placed in 2003, we left it as we found it.

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Alex with his buried treasure

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The sealed jar of messages

A small canyon on the plateau provided post-lunch exploration and we checked out quite a few overhangs in the creek before continuing north.

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Tom in his element

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Choose your own adventure!

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More cliff edges and views

A flat spot not far from our intended pass was camp for the night. Fortunately we found water in the nearest side creek – though I’m not sure that you would rely on it being there if winter hadn’t been so wet.

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Nicole happy to have running water tonight

We managed to survive happy hour on the cliff edge without getting blown away. The wind was still blowing strongly but Tom had, much to Alex’s disgust, checked the weather forecast on his phone and he assured us that the wind was scheduled to die down about 10pm (not OTT).

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Happy hour views out to Lake Burragarong

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Happy hour

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Happy hour!

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Happy hour

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Smiffy’s not happy with his hair length and has an impromptu haircut

The next morning dawned clear and still – a pleasant change from the overcast windy conditions of the previous two days. We almost made an 8am start – somewhat apprehensive of what was to come after some scouting of our intended pass by Toni, Smiffy and Alex the previous evening.

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Breakfast on Day 2

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Descending the well vegetated gully

The gully was healthily vegetated but we managed to follow some pig (?) tracks initially, and avoid the head-high nettles. The promised lawyer vine was fairly sparse but nonetheless we were glad for a break from the vegetation under a strangler fig. From there the vegetation changed to more traditional ridge scrub and we headed down. Our intention was to navigate across a number of ridges & gullies to avoid spending too much time in Green Wattle Creek. Our initial foray put us into fairly impenetrable scrub so we headed further down the ridge. This meant the gullies were deeper and more effort to cross; at our last one faced with a bluff we decided we’d take our chances with the creek. Relieved to reach the creek after 3 hours of fairly hard slog we sunk into the ground where we could… until Smiffy realised he’d put his pack on a jumping jack nest.

Moving again up the creek we wished we’d walked upstream a few hundred metres before taking morning tea as there were some pleasant rocky slabs but with still a lot of hard territory to get through there was no time to enjoy them. The merciless leader pressed the group on past pools that may have just been deep enough for a swim much to Alex’s disappointment. After what seemed like an age we reached the bend of Green Wattle Creek where we intended to leave it. Lunch was had and we guzzled water knowing we wouldn’t have easy access to it again for a few hours. We were so happy to find the ridge had normal levels of vegetation!

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Happy to finally be on an open ridge!

The climb seemed to go on forever – probably contributed to by some optimistic map reading and the warm, still day. Eventually we all made it to the top of Broken Rock Range. We had a break to recover and take in the views before we set off on our traverse. The walking was lovely and the views excellent. We enjoyed afternoon tea near the high point of the ridge. We debated whether the ‘broken rock’ marked on the map actually existed – once in the vicinity we couldn’t see anything resembling the map feature.

Then it was a steep descent and some tricky navigation to try and pick up the southern spur. Alex’s disappointment with the party continued when it was revealed one party member used a GPS for navigation!!! The GPS showed we were on the spur next to the one we had hoped for but it didn’t really matter so we continued to descend. Amazingly the tributary we descended into was flat and grassy and we made quick time down it to the junction with Green Wattle Creek.

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Easy walking in the side tributary

Toni & Alex had generously given the leader an extra 15 minutes before it was happy hour because we’d started 15 minutes after the designated departure time in the morning. The leader delivered deciding on a campsite just before 6:15pm (OTT). Though with firewood collection, setting up camp and general faffing it was closer to the 7pm before we settled down for some very well deserved happy hour around the fire. At this point Nicole pulled 4 oranges out of her bag – which we will all more than happy to eat though very glad we hadn’t been carrying them. Nicole’s happy hour part 2 was after dinner where she whipped up a cake batter (complete with an egg that she’d managed to carry without breaking for 3 days) that then was poured into the orange skins and baked in the fire. Amazing!

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Beautiful eucalypt looming over our campsite on night 3

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Tom happy (?) to be at camp after our hard slog 10-hour day.

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Tom looking slightly chirpier the next morning

Given we hadn’t made it to the planned campsite for the day we knew day 4 could be long. Just over a km of Green Wattle Creek took us more than an hour in very thick scrub. We were glad we hadn’t decided to push on the night before! We filled up water at the junction of Butchers Shop Creek and Green Wattle Creek, de-leeched and started up the ridge to Vengeance Peninsula. The sun was out though the wind was back – the views from Vengeance Peninsula were outstanding.

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Many excellent views from Vegeance Peninsula

Tom & I had been somewhat apprehensive about the “thin bit” especially given the wind – fortunately it was nowhere near as exposed/difficult as we’d been anticipating with only the one exposed downclimb. We stayed there a while taking lots of photos. Alex took the direct scrambling route up the nose with the rest of us opting for the easier route to the left.

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Tom spotting Nicole on the exposed downclimb

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The “thin bit” on Vengeance Peninsula

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Window under the “thin bit” on Vengeance Peninsula

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Nicole happy to be across

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Smiffy much more comfortable with exposure than I am!

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Looking down on the others on the “thin bit”

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Looking down at the others on the “thin bit”

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Views back to our walking from the previous 2 days

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More wildflowers

We had been aiming for lunch on Axehead Mountain but Alex’s protests on Bull Island were heeded given it was 1pm. The twig stove was in action again! Smiffy lost his hat over the edge in the wind, but fortunately was able to retrieve it.

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Lunch on Day 4

We were supposedly in familiar territory for most of the party now – with Smiffy & Toni having done this section on a trip in 2013 and Rachel & Tom had traversed the Axeheads from the north in 2011. Our collective memories were not particularly helpful as we had to do a bit of route finding.

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Scrambling off Bull Island

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Scrambling onto Axehead Mountain

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Scrambling on the Axehead Range

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A familiar position for Alex…

A brown snake was keenly photographed. The wind was continuing to pick up and by the time we got to Gander Head it was a struggle to stand up in it. Not a time to linger on the tops. We soon found the route down and had a short afternoon tea when we got to the fire trail. Then it was just a few km of along the fire trail. Despite most of the party’s aversion to fire trail walking it was quite pleasant after the amount of scrub bashing we’d done in the previous 4 days.

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Walking back to Yerranderie

Back at the cars just before 6pm, a quick change and then the start of a long drive home.

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Finally back at the cars

Six Foot Track in a day (2016-08-13)

I think anyone who is vaguely interested in bushwalking in NSW has heard of the Six Foot Track. It is an iconic walk and when I started bushwalking back in 2004 I wanted to walk it. Tom talked me out of the idea, telling me it was predominantly fire trail and I would find it boring.

Some time later I heard you could mountain bike it. “Perfect”, I thought. “That wouldn’t be boring”. Then we walked the section between Megalong Valley Rd and Coxs River – I couldn’t mountain bike that! I’d spend most of the time carrying my bike, so that was the end of that idea.

Then we joined Sydney Bush Walkers and I heard about the annual Six Foot Track in a day walk. Great! I could walk the track without getting bored.

In 2013 I was doing Oxfam Trailwalker. “Perfect”, I thought, “it’ll be a great training walk”. But they were scheduled for the same weekend so that was the end of that idea. In 2014 we were inconveniently swanning around the Dolomites. And in 2015 I had signed up but then had to withdraw as the try-outs for the Australian Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team were the same weekend. Drat.

Six Foot Track

Finally, we get to 2016, surely I can knock it off! Yet I had done very little walking in 2016 as I had been training for the World Ultimate Frisbee Championships that were held in June. Returning from the World Champs I threw myself into a few training walks to try and get some walking endurance fitness. I was filled with apprehension that the day approached.  I was pretty sure I’d make it but I didn’t think my body was going to be very happy with me by the end. I spent a lot of time thinking about nutrition and not really being sure if I had the right food plan. I photocopied the many sections of different maps so I had the route identified.

 

The day finally dawned… well actually I was up well before it dawned as we were meeting at the Explorers Tree at 6am. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was still going to be dark. I had my torch ready in case of a late finish, not because we were up before the sun! There were 25 walkers this year, along with 7 support crew. It was a little like herding cats with everyone milling about in the dark, trying to work out which car to put their bag in and what layers to have on to start walking. After a briefing by Robert and the traditional round of names (though I doubt anyone was going to remember 31 names, especially given it was dark!) we were off by 6:15am. The group spread out fairly quickly with the descent down Nellies Glen.

start of the day

It wasn’t long before we were all together again at our first support stop at the Megalong Valley Road enjoying a cup of tea or coffee.

first support stop at Megalong Valley Road

The next section through to our morning tea stop (unsupported) at the Coxs River Campground was one of the most picturesque.

beautiful walking conditions

It was a beautiful day, perfect walking weather and the time passed quickly until we got to Bowtells Bridge. As the Coxs River was flowing strongly from a lot of rain in the preceding weeks we were crossing using the bridge. Only one person can use the bridge at the time, so there was a small wait as we got everyone across.

crossing bowtells bridge

Leaving our morning tea (270m) spot at 9:55am we set off on the fire trail up to Mini Mini Saddle (730m), then down to Little River (550m), before another big ascent to the Pluviometer on the Black Range (980m).

on the way up to minimini saddle

I’d been vaguely thinking if this walk went well I would try K2K in a day so I used the ascent to push myself. This meant I was third to the top at 11:50am and soon tucking into more coffee from our wonderful support team and inhaling lunch.

support party at lunch

I’d not eaten (or drunk!) much so far on the walk so it was good to get some food in. It was not great to see there was only about 0.5litres of my 2l bladder gone. I made myself drink half a litre of water before I could start the next section. As I’d got to the Pluviometer earlier than many people I was ready to set off before most. I was hoping some others might join me but I was the keenest so off I went.

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The fire trail along the Black Range passed quickly. I enjoyed using my map and compass to work out which bend I was on and estimating the time it would take to get to various landmarks. The support crew drove past me just as I got to the 15km to go marker.

Two thirds of the way there

It was good to know I was two-thirds of the way there and my body was feeling good. I got a bit of shuffle on in some of the downhill sections and before I knew it I was at the Black Range Campground at 1:50pm. My fluid intake hadn’t improved so I gladly downed a couple of glasses of orange juice from the support crew. The temperature had plunged and it was quite chilly sitting round and stretching at the rest stop. I needed to either put a bunch more clothes on or get walking again. I decided on the latter.

refreshments

I’d been told it was all downhill in the final section so it was a rude surprise to find a couple of short, sharp uphill sections but at least I warmed up pretty quickly! I was also pleased to find that the 4km from the Black Range Campground didn’t parallel the main road – which is what the NPA notes had implied. I had a brief chat with a couple who had been playing the ukulele and singing at our rest stop before passing them. I was now on a mission to get to the end.

eucalypt forest

Apparently in previous years some of the group would run this section so I tried to jog where the terrain allowed. Not so fast that I didn’t see this lovely echidna on the side of the track.

echidna

The fire trail turned quite rocky near the turnoff to Mt George and I couldn’t safely run, but further on the foot track turned to smaller gravel and I was able to jog again. Not having done the route before I was surprised and impressed when I got to Carlotta Arch. I started meeting tourists walking up from Jenolan Caves. I must have looked like a bit of mad woman with my map around my neck, holding my walking poles, jogging down the hill. It was 3:40pm when I stepped into the reception at Caves House feeling pretty good… so that means I might have to contemplate K2K in three weeks time. The other walkers arrived over the next hour or so all pleased to have made it.

 

Having now done the Six Foot Track after so many years of contemplating it I can say it was far more enjoyable that I was expecting it to be. Yes, there is a lot of fire trail but it is pleasant surrounds and nice views. It was a great day, big thanks to Robert Carter for organising everything and to our support crew for making sure we were well looked after.

Kumano Kodo – Japan (March 2016) – Part 2

Continuing from Part 1… From Yunomine Onsen the next morning I caught the bus to Ukegawa to start the Kogumotori-goe section of the walk. I initially got on the wrong bus. Fortunately I realised my error and was able to get off while still on the same route as my intended bus so there was little harm done other than my embarrassment. I was fortunate that a couple who had stayed at the same minshuku as me the night before were able to communicate with the bus driver for me – many thanks to them.

Today was the easiest day of the trip, and also the best weather. It was blue skies and quite warm (18°C+).  There were so many people waiting at the bus stop in Yunomine Onsen I was sure there would be a few of us on the track but I was the only one who got off at my bus stop. Consistent with previous days I only saw 2 or 3 people all day.

The day started with a pleasant ascent of 400m on a very gradual incline, and then followed the ridge for most of the day. The track had less formed stairs/cobblestones then other days so it was pleasant underfoot. Additionally there appeared to more sections of natural forest rather than the frequent planted cedar forests in other sections.

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Beautiful ridge walking on Day 3

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In shorts & t-shirt for the first time of the trip!

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Morning tea views of the “3600 peaks of Kumano”

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Oooh, what’s for lunch today?

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Looks pretty good!

I had a leisurely morning tea break at the Hyakken-gura lookout, and an even more leisurely lunch at the rest stop at the Sakura-jaya teahouse remains. Even with that I got to Koguchi around 2pm.

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A vending machine for every need in Japan (yes, those are cigarettes in the right-hand one)

Of course there was a vending machine in this small village, so I had an ice coffee and sat in the sun until 3pm which I figured was an acceptable time to check-in. Most of the minshukus had published check-in times between 3-6pm on the Tanabe Tourism website, but I hadn’t been able to find a check-in time for Minshuku Momofuku – as it turned out it was 2pm.

Today’s section had reminded me of walking a section of the Great North Walk in Sydney – short and pleasant, with views somewhat like the Wild Dogs in the Blue Mountains. I was surprised it was rated a 4/5 in the difficulty stakes as the ascent and descent were both very gradual, and the section was reasonably short. I concluded a large weighting must be given to the inaccessibility of the track – as there were no facilities or easy opt-out options during this section.

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The closest I got to a topo map of the trip

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Most minshukus provided tea / or tea making facilities in your room

The last day was rated as a 5/5 in difficulty and I was intrigued to see what it was like. I’d been keeping a close eye on the forecast and my fine weather window was closing – rain was due that afternoon and I was keen to avoid descending cobble stone/rocky stairs in a downpour. With that in mind I headed off immediately after breakfast just after 7:30am.

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An early start on Day 4

The Ogumotori-goe route starts with an 800m ascent in 5km, going up continuously the entire time.

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Stairs

I’d guess over half of the ascent is on stairs, and there are a number of false summits which raise your hopes along the way.

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I was sure the pass was going to be at the top of this section of stairs. Wrong! Another 30 minutes later I made it to the top.

I had been a bit lazy with my stretching the previous night after such a cruisy day and my knees were paying for it.

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Marker at the top of the pass (870m)

After 2 hours of solid climbing I made it to the pass, from which there was an immediate 140m descent.

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More stairs.. just going down now

It was during this descent I encountered the only real wildlife I saw in the four days – two deer grazing.

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1 of 2 deer, and the only wildlife I saw besides a lone squirrel

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Lots of small shrines along the route – often with piles of coins (normally 1 yen = 1c)

The route then meandered up and down a number of 100-200m ascents/descents along the ridge before getting to a great lunch spot. There were fine views of the Eastern coastline though the weather had started to turn and by the end of lunch I was wrapped up in many layers.

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Views of the Pacific Ocean from lunch at Funami-Toge Pass

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Another mystery lunch box

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My favourite lunch of the trip

A final 500m descent (more stairs!) got me to Nachi around 1:30pm.

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There were 500m markers along the entire route.

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part of the 500m descent

My knees were stuffed. Little did I know how many more stairs still lay ahead in my day. Somewhat foolishly I wandered directly to see the three-tiered pagoda and Nachi-no-Otaki falls, not realising that the area is fairly vertical. I would have been much better to explore the top section where I had arrived first. By heading down immediately I was later compelled to walk back up the stairs to the top. Nachi-no-Otaki falls are the highest waterfall in Japan at 133m, it is also 13m wide but when I arrived it didn’t appear to have much volume.

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Early views of Nachi-no-Otaki falls and the 3-tiered pagoda

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Three-tiered pagoda, looking out towards the ocean

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At the tourist-trap area of Nachi-no-Otaki

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Sadly I didn’t try to extend my life…

The final (optional) section of the Nakahechi route was Daimon-Zaka which is a 600m cobblestone staircase at Nachi surrounded by some seriously big Cedar trees. After dropping my pack off at my accommodation for the night I set off to walk Daimon-Zaka for completion’s sake.

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Looking down Daimon-Zaka

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The start of Daimon-Zaka and the end of my Nakahechi Adventure!

The forecasters were spot on as the rain moved in just before 3pm. After walking stairs for another hour I decided that was enough and it was time to call the end of my Kumano Kodo adventure.

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Back up to Kumano Nachi Taisha grand shrine (in the rain)

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Another view of the 3-tiered pagoda and Nachi-no-Otaki falls

 

Bathing time didn’t start until 4:30pm so the moment it was 4:30pm I was down at the baths looking forward to a long soak to ease my body after the hardest day of walking of the trip. Unfortunately my soak was interrupted. When I went to bathe I see a sign saying “women” I was about to walk in but then noticed the blue curtain with a man on it, so I turn around and there’s another door which also says “women” but this one has a red curtain with a lady on it. Figure the red curtain is the one to go… Have my wash and I’m soaking in the bath when I hear someone else changing, always a bit nervous in case I’m doing something wrong. As the person is coming into the bath room I am slightly horrified that it is an elderly Japanese man. He doesn’t appear to immediately notice that I am not a man. He speaks no English and I speak no Japanese (or certainly none for this situation!). Eventually he retreats, presumably having just read the first women sign and not noticing the curtains. That would be well and good except it turns out we are the only two people staying at our lodging and we have to eat dinner together. I think he apologised a number of times…

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Another excellent dinner!

The only time I used my Goretex in the trip was walking to the bus stop the next morning. It had rained constantly all night and was still bucketing down when I left. I was really glad I wasn’t going walking that day. Nachi-no-Otaki falls looked far more impressive after a full night of rain.

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Nachi-san after a full night of rain

 

Key Stats

Day Section Distance Vertical Accommodation
0 Travel to Tanabe (train from Shin-Osaka) Hotel Altier
1 (bus Tanabe to Takajiri-oji)
Takajiri-oji to Chikatsuyu
14km +600m
-400m
Minshuku Chikatsuyu
2 Chikatsuyu to Hongu
Hongu to Yunomine Onsen (Dainichi-goe)
25km
3.5km
+850m
-1000m
Minshuku Teruteya
3 (bus Yunomine Onsen to Ukegawa)Ukegawa to Koguchi  (Kogumotori-goe) 13km +400m
-390m
Minshuku Momofuku
4 Koguchi to Nachisan (Ogumotori-goe)
Daimon-zaka
14.5km
1km
+980m
-630m
Mitaki Sanso
5 Bus to Kii-Kaatsura, then train to Nagoya

Kumano Kodo – Japan (March 2016) – Part 1

March in Japan is early Spring and depending on location there is potentially still a lot of snow on higher peaks – not a time where there is a lot of choice for hiking sans crampons. I was going to be in Japan anyway and I’d already booked additional days to go hiking so I was searching for a snow-free hiking location.

Initially I’d considered doing day walks around the Tokyo / Fuji area but I struggled to come up with a cohesive plan that wasn’t going to involve negotiating public transport every day. I was thrilled when I discovered a multi-day hike option on the Kii Peninsula – along with the excellent English-language website of the Tanabe Tourist Board (http://www.tb-kumano.jp/en/). The website allows you to pick accommodation, book a luggage shuttle (if desired), order lunch boxes and provides model itineraries alongside information on how to ride a local bus and Japanese bath etiquette. In short it makes the planning easy for an area where there’s not much English spoken.

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Signboard at the bus stop. Hikers are singers!

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The track is well-marked, with signs like this frequently.

I settled on the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Route which is a 66-70km (depending on exactly which sections you walk) route normally done over 4 days (though fit people could condense to 3). The Kumano Kodo is a pilgrimage route – used since the 10th Century leading to several major shrines. It’s definitely not wilderness walking but it is a great way to experience Japanese culture and food while getting some walking in. The Kii Peninsula is a very wet area – with annual rainfall of 2,887mm (about twice Sydney’s average rainfall). The wettest time of the year is June – Sept but March still averages 157mm. I got a lucky weather window – no rain at all while I was walking.

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Beach in Tanabe

The day after Dream Cup I got the train to Kii-Tanabe and had a night there before taking a bus to the start of the route at Takijiri-oji.

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The start of the Nakahechi Route at Takijiri-Oji

My first day of walking was from Takijiri-Oji to Chikatsuyu – 14km, with 600m ascent and 400m descent. There was a steep ascent from the get-go.

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Ascent from the beginning of Day 1

I only saw 3 other people on the route all day. It was a beautiful blue sky day but bitterly cold despite the sun. My down jacket was out at morning tea to try and keep the chill wind out.

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Views from a lookout

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Colourful scarecrows lined the road into the small village of Takahara

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Views leading into Takahara

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The only pool I saw along the entire route

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Lovely spot for lunch at the Jujo-oji clearing

I had arranged to stay at minshukus, family run guesthouses, each night. My first night was spent at Minshuku Chikatsuyu. One of the great things about Japan is their bathing culture – and along this route there are several hot springs. The onsen at Minshuku Chikatsuyu was lovely and an excellent way to end a day of walking. The minshukus generally provide full board i.e. dinner and breakfast, and optionally a lunch box for the next day. The meals at every place I stayed were delicious and substantial.

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My room at Minshuku Chikatsuyu

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Lunchbox for Day 2

After dinner on the first night my host sat me down and talked me through the seriousness of my next day’s walk. It was a significantly longer day – 25km compared to the 14km, and he wanted to make sure I understood the timing I needed to hit in order to get to my next destination on time (being late for dinner which is normally served at 6pm is a big no, no). I was well aware of the route but I’m guessing a lot of people turn up without having done that much research and get in over their heads. Normally I wouldn’t be worried but I had a few niggles so I was concerned about how my body was going to hold up. An advantage of walking in this area is the bus network which allows you to skip sections / modify your route depending on weather/fitness/inclination. Given the fine weather forecast I was reluctant to use a bus so I just crossed my fingers and spent a lot of time with my lacrosse ball trying to loosen up my muscles that night!

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Leaving Chikatsuyu at 7:30am on Day 2

As it turned out Day 2 wasn’t that bad – yes, there was 25km to cover (850m ascent / 1000 descent), but the first 7km was largely flat and on rural (asphalt) roads, likewise the final 7km. This left 11km in the middle which was on bush tracks and went over 3 passes.

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Overnight frost along with some playful hedge trimming

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The gardens along the rural roads were entertaining

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The impressive cedars at Tsugizakura-oji

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Permanent detour due to “a major crack in the mountain”!

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About to cross the highest pass on Day 2 (Iwagami-Toge 671m)

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Beautiful clear streams are features of the area

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There were some fairly serious land stabilisation works along the way.

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Typical rural scene – on the approach into Hongu

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Along the route there were many oji (minor shrines)

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Looking towards Hongu

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Sadly (?) this was closest I got to seeing any snakes

I made it to Hongu by 2:30pm, having left Chikatsuyu at 7:40am. This left me a good amount of time for checking out the shrine in Hongu, and Oyunohara the largest Torii gate in Japan.

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Kumano Hongu Taisha grand shrine

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Some cherry blossoms had started to bloom

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Love the Japanese signs!

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Stairs leading up to the shrine

I had one of the best coffees of my trip at the café at the shrine entrance.

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Coffee at Cafe Alma at the shrine entrance

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Oyunohara, the largest Torii gate in Japan (33.9 tall / 42m wide)

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Lots of signs of spring

From Hongu I needed to get to Yunomine Onsen where I was booked to stay for the night. I could either get a bus for 10 minutes, or walk an additional 3.4km (including a 300m ascent and 200m descent!) to get there. I had been sure I would get the bus, but my coffee re-invigorated me and having walking to the Torii gate I realised I’d already covered 1 km of the 3.4km so I decided to do the Danichi-Goe section of the route.

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The start of the optional Danichi-Goe section (300m ascent/200m descent)

Yunomine Onsen is a small village famous for its hot springs. All of the accommodation in the village has hot spring fed baths. It was wonderful to soak in the batch at Minshuku Teruteya after almost 30km of walking.

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The main street of Yunomine Onsen village. The lady in the middle of the photo is cooking eggs in the communal cooking hot spring.

 

 Continue to Part 2

Mt Wilson Canyoning (2016-02-13 & 14)

So far this season has been a dud so it was good to be able to get out and do some, albeit pretty tame, canyons for a weekend. We were unsure how Tom’s, now hopefully not broken, toe would go so we went for a short day on Saturday. The only previous time I’d done Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? Canyon was also as a recovery canyon for one of Tom’s injuries back in March 2007. With almost 9 years between visits it was nothing like what I remembered!

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Despite only putting out the call for other participants late on Thursday night Jon joined us for the day. We started the canyon about midday, and caught another group at the start of the abseils in the canyon proper. Having lunch seemed a good option at that stage while we quizzed Jon on questions we didn’t know from the SMH Good Weekend quiz.

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We caught the group again at the second abseil just as their last person was finishing up, and then properly at the final abseil. They had a couple of kids who’d both grated their hands on the previous abseil and were not having a great time of it. We didn’t have to wait long and before we knew it were at the Wollangambe.

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Tom’s toe elected for the short exit. It was peak hour! We found a party of 17 (the group that we had caught up to in the canyon), plus a large commercial party. We squeezed into a spot to get changed and then set off keen not to be at the back on the walk out! On the way up we also bumped into another commercial party that had been down the Wollangambe who we chatted to briefly. We bumped into a couple of people that Tom knew in the various parties.

Cathedral Reserve was packed. We were pleasantly surprised to bump into a group of friends who we weren’t expecting. And also pleased that the group of friends we were expecting turned up after their day down Twister and Rocky. It was a convivial evening and lengthy breakfast. Not unsurprisingly despite not having a plan when we got up we left to do Horseshoe Canyon before our friends set off on their planned canyon!

Tom decided his toe was up for a 5-6 hour day and since I hadn’t done Horseshoe Canyon we set that as our target. It was a hot walk in, but despite the hordes at Cathedral Reserve we didn’t see anyone. We made it into the canyon efficiently and soon were enjoying the cool, deep chutes of Horseshoe.

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The canyon is quite impressive if also short. After exiting we headed down the Wollangambe before finding a shady spot for a leisurely lunch. It seemed incredible we could have this gorgeous spot to ourselves when not far downstream it was likely to be filled with people.

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We did see a few people on our walk out, heading down to the ‘Gambe for a swim. On our return we detoured via De Faurs Rocks. It was great to get out canyoning!

Bungleboori Canyoning (2016-01-09)

As much as I enjoy exploratory canyoning sometimes it’s nice just to go and do a canyon that you know is going to be good! Many canyons of the Bungleboori have that exploratory feel to them with no tracks once you get off the old firetrail/main ridge, and given it was 7 years since my only previous visit to Luna Park it was almost like doing a new canyon.

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Scatters Canyon

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Swim/jump in Scatters Canyon (though we climbed around it)

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Views from the ridge above Luna Park

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James on our first (probably unnecessary) abseil

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James about to jump

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James trying to get his descender over the lip of this tricky abseil

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There were some interesting patterns/currents in the water following a week of heavy rain.

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James checking if the ropes reach! Fortunately for Tom his 20m recommendation was adequate…

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Beautiful Dingo Creek

Tabletop Traverse, Deua NP – October 2015

 

Just 5 days after getting back from our Africa trip was the October long weekend. Of course I needed to get away bushwalking! The trip was in the Deua NP 4-5 hours south of Sydney. After some fairly ordinary traffic getting out of town on Friday afternoon Caro & I got to camp at Snowball around 9:30pm. We had an early start Saturday with a big day ahead of us. The morning was spent descending to Woila clearing – it was fairly slow going with lots of undergrowth.
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Lunch at the creek was most pleasant, if you ignored the evidence of cows. We hydrated as best we could, loaded up the water before starting on the ascent for the afternoon.

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The afternoon was a constant slog up – and we were unfortunate that summer had arrived early – temperatures were around 30C.

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We got some fantastic views of our route – Scout Hat (right) and Tabletop (left) shown here.

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We ended up making camp well-short of our original goal. Camping in a saddle, our party of 8 found flat-ish spots where we could lie down for the night. It was very windy during the night which led to a mostly sleepless night.

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Another early start – with the immediate challenge of ascending Scout Hat.

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There was exposed scrambling on narrow ridges. The wind hadn’t really let up so it all felt a little precarious!

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Still a long way to Tabletop.

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A particularly exposed section of the descent off Scout Hat.

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Once past Scout Hat it wasn’t completely straight-forward…

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Four hours after leaving camp we made it to Tabletop – the first flat ground we’d encountered in that time! We enjoyed a cup of tea and a long break here.

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Then we pushed onto Horseshoe Point, our camp for night 2 and where John had cached 18l of water. It was a lovely spot.

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Vivien and I collected some water from a nearby (40 mins walk) spring. We had split groups earlier in the day – with the advance party making an attempt on Mother Woila. They had collected water during dusk on their way back and clearly hadn’t managed to find the nice clear sump we filled up from.

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Day 3 was potentially going to be a boring fire-trail bash but our fearless leader decided on a cross-country short cut. It ended up being lovely walking. Good call.

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The final push back to the cars. A fantastic long weekend in rarely visited country.

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Southern Africa – Botswana (Part II)

From Namibia we headed to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The goal of this part of the trip was seeing animals. This page doesn’t feature pictures of many animals as most of the photos were taken on Tom’s cameras. It’s too hard to work out who took which shot, so they’ll all just end up on Tom’s website eventually.  IMG_7890

Transport around the Okavango Delta is fastest by small aircraft – you get great views too!

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Our first “tented camp” at Kanana was a bit rough…

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Being a far less active holiday than our usual fare I was trying to keep up some sort of exercise regime.

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Our first camp had a number of water activities on offer. This is not one of them! This is a road and we are in a car not a boat.

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Our guide told us we were going to see a dead lion. We pulled up, and I was just about to ask “how long has he been dead?”… when the lion shook his head! Ha, ha. This was the pose most lions seemed to adopt during daylight hours.

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Elephant company at sunset on Day 1.

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Day 2 we headed out onto the water. This morning was in the mokoro, the traditional canoe – though made of fibreglass rather than tree trunks. It was very peaceful and a really good way to feel like you were really “in” nature.

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The mokoro were powered by the poler standing at the back – good balance required!

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Water lily

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Being on the mokoro meant we were very quiet which gave us the opportunity to see the very shy Sitatunga antelope. We hadn’t taken the DLSRs with us as we were worried (probably unnecessarily) about them getting wet, so this is my best shot of it!

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Returning to the camp after our morning out. The water channels at Kanana were narrow and relatively shallow – perfect for hippos. The general approach seemed to be to drive the boats “James Bond style” i.e. as fast as possible so that if there were any submerged hippos they didn’t have time to cause any damage.

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Sunset on the delta.

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After two nights we moved onto our next “tented camp”, Okuti, in Moremi Game Reserve. It was really hot (high 30Cs) while we were here. And the siesta time in the afternoon could really only be used to pass out on the bed and feel the sweat roll off you.

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Okuti also offered boat trips, so we headed out on the water on our first afternoon. The waterways were much wider and deeper compared to Kanana so less hippos to worry about!

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Though we did get to see a few elephants in the water. This was after we’d backed off a bit – we had been parked on the right-hand side of the grassy patch when the elephant decided it wanted to be there!

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Okuti at dusk.

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Quality bridge construction in Moremi Game Reserve.

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During the afternoon activities our guides would find somewhere pleasant to have our chosen sundowners. Here is Tom hanging out with some hippos and a G&T.

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To get between the different camps we took small aircraft – using bush airstrips. This is the airstrip used for Okuti.

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Our third camp was the most ‘tent-like’ (or rustic) of the camps… it was tough but we struggled through.

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The first afternoon at Linyanti Bush Camp we relaxed by the pool and watched this fire race across the horizon. We were slightly concerned as it was large and moving quickly, though the wind was in our favour. The camp staff were not worried as the Linyanti marshes and river are between us and the fire.

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Sundowners after watching a large pack of African wild dogs.

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Southern Africa – Victoria Falls / Johannesburg (Part III)

From Botswana we travelled to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe where we spent 3 nights. On our first night I found this little intruder in our accommodation.

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The restaurant which was located at our lodge was also a major tourist destination. Boma is known for serving up local African meats (warthog, eland, crocodile, guinea fowl etc) and traditional dancing. We all got ‘dressed’ as we entered as well. We just booked in because it was about 2 minutes walk from our lodge!

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After white-water rafting the Zambezi 19 years ago I was really keen to do again. After much cajoling I convinced Tom… View of the gorge from the cafe where we had the safety briefing.

 

 

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Our group (Tom & I on the left) about to get into the rafts.

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Tom and I got chosen to sit at the front of our raft for most of the day – which is good cause we’re in more photos!

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Rafting video action can be seen at https://youtu.be/vK8iWvso5cI

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The following day we signed up for a helicopter trip above the falls. We were lucky to be upgraded to the 26 minute trip instead of the 12 minute one, as the other couple we were going with had paid for the 26 minute trip. (Though we were strictly informed to not mention our upgrade to them)

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This was our first view of the falls as we’d been rafting the previous day. It was the dry season but it was way drier than I was expecting. Apparently the previous rainy season had been poor.

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The almost non-existent flow on the Zambian side.

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From Vic Falls we flew to Johannesburg and were hosted magnificently by Zig & Dave. We visited a local reserve and enjoyed a walk.

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Then visited the Johannesburg Botanic Gardens for lunch and eagle viewing.

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Southern Africa – Namibia (Sept 2015)

In September 2015 we headed to Southern Africa for 3 weeks. Our time was split into 3 distinct sections:

  • The first 12 days were in Namibia, where we hired a 4WD and hit the road
  • The middle 6 days were in Botswana, staying at lodges in the Okavango Delta
  • The last 4 days were at Victoria Falls and Johannesburg

————–

In September 2015 Tom & I headed to Southern Africa for 3 weeks. Our first 12 days were spent in Namibia. We hired a 4WD with a roof tent and hit the road. We learnt our lesson from Utah a couple of years earlier, and enjoyed having a night in a bed in Windhoek rather than trying to drive anywhere after 24+ hours of travel and a 9 hour time change. Confusingly Namibia is the only country in Southern Africa to observe daylight savings and the time changed the first night we were there to put us back to an 8 hour difference. Bonus.

The next morning we headed for Sossusvlei via the scenic Spreetshoogte Pass.

Tom with Spreetshoogte Pass

Tom with Spreetshoogte Pass

We had about half an hour of tarmac before we hit the dirt. The roads were generally well-graded and we could comfortably cruise along at 80km/h. At Sesriem we bedded down early as we planned to get out to the dunes for sunrise (or as early as we could given the internal park gate opened at 6am).

Campsite at Sesriem

Campsite at Sesriem

As it was our first time packing up the roof tent, and it was going to be in the dark, we left ourselves plenty of time. So much so that we were ready at 5:40am so we figured we’d head to the gate and wait… except the gate was already open. Off we headed into the thick soupy fog which made driving very tricky! The fog also put paid to any visible sunrise, though we did get to share whatever it was with about 50 other people at Dune 45. We soon continued on to Sossusvlei where I bravely decided to tackle the ‘4WD only’ section from the 2WD car park. Fortunately Tom had insisted we put the car into 4WD mode before I started driving as I had badly misjudged how thick the sand was going to be. We got through the 5km but not without a few nervous moments for both the driver and passenger. We enjoyed a solitary breakfast but just as we finished up the hordes began arriving.

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Dunes

A foggy, solitary breakfast at the 4WD car park at Sossusvlei

A foggy, solitary breakfast at the 4WD car park at Sossusvlei

Deadvlei was pretty cool – a clay pan studded with blackened dead trees, surrounded by huge sand dunes. It was still clouded over which made it feel extra surreal. Taking advantage of the cool temperatures I decided to climb the massive dune (“Big Daddy”) at the head of the pan. Over 300m high – though of course when climbing sand you’re mainly going 2 steps up 1 step back – it was pretty hard work. In the steepest section I was reduced to doing 30 steps, 30 seconds rest, repeat. Interval training? The views at the top were great, and then I proceeded to bum slide back to the bottom.

Deadvlei

Deadvlei

Looking back at Deadvlei from the top of "Big Daddy"

Looking back at Deadvlei from the top of “Big Daddy”

The sun eventually poked out and changed the colours completely. It is such incredible landscape.

Deadvlei with some blue sky

Deadvlei with some blue sky

Dune landscape

Dune landscape

Both driver and passenger were much happier with Tom taking the wheel for the drive back to the 2WD carpark where we hung out in the shade for a few hours. Later in the afternoon we walked to Hidden Vlei and took in some more of the desert landscape before a late afternoon stop at Dune 45.

en route to Hidden Vlei

en route to Hidden Vlei

Not quite so early the following morning we visited Sesriem Canyon. I wasn’t expecting much, so was pleasantly surprised it was actually a slot canyon. We meandered through it for a while before starting the long drive to Swakopmund.

Tom in Sesriem Canyon

Tom in Sesriem Canyon

The drive was broken in Solitaire where there was supposedly amazing Apple Strudel sold. I was sceptical that it was one of these things that all the tourists get told to do but it was actually pretty good.

The aptly named Solitaire

The aptly named Solitaire

Walvis Bay was a detour, where we found the flamingos and spent the best part of an hour photographing them. After all the sand in the Namib Desert we were happy that we’d been booked into a lovely B&B for the night.

Flamingos at Walvis Bay

Flamingos at Walvis Bay

Photographing flamingos

Photographing flamingos

The morning was spent restocking, getting permits and buying bird/mammal field guides. We finally got away around midday and headed for the Welwitschia Plains. The Welwitschia plant is quite curious and the surrounding moonscape was spectacular.

Namib Desert Moonscape

Namib Desert Moonscape

Welwitschia Plant - estimated to be 1,500 years old

Welwitschia Plant – estimated to be 1,500 years old

Then on to Spitzkoppe our destination for the night. Spitzkoppe is a dramatic granite peak which rises distinctly out of the flat plains. Next to it are the Pontok Mountains which are also spectacular. The camping areas were well spread out nestled into the rock outcrops around the area. We arrived in time for plenty of photo-taking, which extended well into the evening as Tom wanted to play around with his flashes and some star photography… Yes, the results are probably worth it but I got bored halfway through and went and had a cup of tea.

Spitzkoppe (left) and Pondoks (right)

On approach to Spitzkoppe (left) and Pontoks (right)

Natural rock arch

Natural rock arch

Sunset and Spitzkoppe

Sunset and Spitzkoppe

Scenic campsite

Scenic campsite

The next day we took a guided walk to ‘Bushman Paradise’ – unfortunately the rock art wasn’t in great condition but the views from the walk were excellent.

Euphorbia

Euphorbia

I was keen to get as far up Spitzkoppe as I could (to get to the summit requires proper rock climbing) but Tom decided his foot wasn’t up for it, so I left him trying (in vain?) to photograph dassies (hyrax). My first attempt ended up being a climbing approach route and I got funnelled to the base of a climb (complete with shiny new bolts) rather than the saddle. We moved around to the other side of the peak where there was a much easier approach, though by this point it was around midday and fairly warm. I made it up to the saddle, with what seemed enormous effort towards the end, took in the views and a few photographs before heading back to Tom.

View from Spitzkoppe Saddle

View from Spitzkoppe Saddle – the little outcrop where we camped is the barely visible bumps centre right

Views from Spitzkoppe

Views from Spitzkoppe

With the exploring at Spitzkoppe we didn’t get to The Brandberg, home of the “White Lady” until 4pm. We hadn’t realised the walk to the “White Lady” was ~2 hours return – sunset was around 7pm and we still an hour of driving to get to camp. We ummed and ahhed and when pushed our guide said 5km so we figured we could probably do it in less than 2 hours so off we went. The “White Lady” is in fact a drawing of a male witch doctor surrounded by plenty of other rock art in far better condition than the Bushman Paradise collection. Quite incredible.

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The “White Lady” (more faded image bottom centre) and other rock art

From there it was an increasingly dark/anxious drive to get to Madisa Campsite without hitting any wildlife. We arrived just as it was getting properly dark and we felt guilty that Wayne our host had likely just been sitting around waiting for us. We soon had the roof tent set up, and I enjoyed the open air, cold (by choice) shower. No sign of the desert-adapted elephants which sometimes pass through camp.

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Camp at Madisa Campsite

The next day was meant to be a short day. But with visiting the Organ Pipes/Burnt Mountain (the only thing we visited and paid for that felt like complete tourist gouging), Twyfelfontein, the (official) Petrified Forest and having to detour into Khorixas to re-fuel and get cash we found ourselves yet again chasing sunset on our way to Hoada Campsite.

Organ Pipes

Organ Pipes

Rock etchings at Twyfelfontein

Rock etchings at Twyfelfontein

Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest

We arrived a little earlier than the previous day – maybe 20 minutes before sunset. Just enough time to park the car and walk back to reception and the amazing bar they’ve built up in a granite outcrop with wonderful views. A cold cider went down very well! And it was good to chat with some of the other guests who were staying there.

Sundowners at Hoada Campsite

Sundowners at Hoada Campsite

Sunrise at Hoada Campsite

Sunrise at Hoada Campsite

We were then on to the final stage of the road trip – Etosha National Park.

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Early wildlife sightings

We were heading into the Western Gate which is a less common approach and staying on the Western side for 2 nights. The campground itself was not signposted and we drove past it initially. It was largely treeless and somewhat desolate. But I guess if you’re going to put a campground in the middle of a national park you’re not necessarily going to get a picturesque spot. The camp had a hide next to the (man-made) waterhole and when we arrived there were 2 elephants in having a bath.

Elephants visit the waterhole next to the hide at Olifanstrus Camp.

Elephants visit the waterhole next to the hide at Olifantsrus Camp.

 

Olifantstrus Camp

Olifantsrus Camp from the walkway out to the hide. Our car is the ute closest to the fence.

Our time at Etosha was spent looking at (or looking for) animals. Etosha has many man-made waterholes which means finding animals is relatively easily. Basically drive to waterhole, chances are there’ll be something there. There were two main highlights from Etosha. The second night that we stayed at Olifantsrus Camp we decided to head out to the hide later in the evening. The waterhole is floodlit, we had been out the previous evening and seen nothing so weren’t expecting much. We’d been sitting there in the dark for half an hour with nothing showing up. I was just about to call time and head for bed when a hyena appeared, with a cub. Kind of interesting as we hadn’t seen any hyenas up to that point. Then another hyena appeared. Cool. Then a rhino ambles out of the bushes. About the same time the hyenas start having a fight (out of the lit area but they made plenty of noise). That freaked out the rhino, bugger. Hyena fight moves ‘on stage’ and then peters out when one concedes defeat. The rhino reappears, awesome. Hang on, here’s 3 more rhinos from stage left (including mum & baby)! Oh wait another rhino stage right. We spent the next hour or more watching the rhinos drink, huff & puff a lot, have mud baths (baby still getting the hang of that one), scratch up against trees and scare off anything else that thinks getting drink about now is a good idea.

Impressive Weaver Bird nest

Impressive Weaver Bird nest

The other highlight was from our third day, on the Eastern side of the park. We’d only seen one lion (at quite a distance) up to that point. Checking the sightings at Okaukuejo we saw one of the closer waterholes had lion sightings that morning. We decided to head there in the late afternoon and see if they were still about. Initially when we turned up there was nothing at the waterhole – kind of unusual normally there were at least some zebra or springbok around. We decided to stay for a while given we were on a quest for lions and this was where they were last seen. Using the binoculars and the zoom lens (and noticing the people in the car next door point at something) we managed to spot a pride of lions on the far side of the water hole. Over the next 2 hours they eventually moved from basically out of sight to the naked eye to ending up about 10m away from the car. The pride consisted of 1 male, 7 lionesses, a young male and 2 cubs. The lion might be ‘king of the jungle’ but when these elephants came racing in the whole pride moved pretty quick…

Elephants show who is really boss out there

Elephants show who is really boss out there

Back at the car depot - all in one piece but pretty dusty!

Back at the car depot – all in one piece but pretty dusty!

We had thought we were being a bit ‘different’ going to Namibia… not if you’re German! It seemed half of Germany was doing the same thing as us – our route was, as it turns out, a fairly unoriginal loop south to Sossusvlei, up the coast to Swakopmund, through Damaraland to Etosha National Park and then back to Windhoek.

Namibia_route

All up we covered 2,650km over 11 days.

Windhoek – Sesriem 319
Sesriem – Sossusvlei – Sesriem 126
Sesriem – Swakopmund 356
Swakopmund – Welwitschia Drive – Spitzkoppe 245
Spitzkoppe – Madisa Camp 232
Madisa Camp – Khorixas – Hoada Camp 354
Hoada Camp – Olifantsrus 242
Etosha game drives 148
Olifantsrus – Okaukuejo 202
Okaukeujo – Windhoek 426
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