Category Archives: Bushwalking

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

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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Kimberley exploring (June 2015) – Part II

In our second week we headed to Emma Gorge and the Cockburn ranges. Despite being only a couple of hundred kilometres apart the landscapes were quite different.

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We got an exciting preview of our week to come as we got a helicopter to drop us off at the other end of the range.

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We got very excited by the Boab trees.

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And had a most delightful morning tea stop swimming at this waterhole.

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But soon we were into the narrow gorges…

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and more packfloats!

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Our campsite on the first night was the worst of the trip. I don’t have any photos of the crocodile eyes gleaming out at us, the numerous cane toads hopping around us or the 2.5m python which decided Caro’s bed was pretty comfy. On the positive side there was this amazing bower (made by a bower bird to woo his lady).

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Relaxing in the close quarters of camp.

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First thing next morning we had a pack float (one of the reasons we’d stopped where we were the night before).

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There was a lot of water weed in the waterways in the Cockburns.

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Morning tea views.

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Camp night 2 was far more spacious – and also featured a bower (on right behind the tree). This one had little skulls in it (amongst other bones), as the bower birds in the north of Australia collect white objects rather than blue.

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We explored the amazing ‘bat cave’. This photo can not portray the sulphuric smell which encompassed us as we swam through guano-filled waters with our mouths firmly shut!

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Amazing slot canyon.

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Emerging from the sulphuric corridor.

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We had hoped to explore a little further afield but found some of the tributaries dry.

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So we continued up the main gorge where there was plenty of running water.

 

 

 

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Another amazing slot near our third campsite.

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The best campsite of the week.

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Dryfall – this creek system would have been amazing had there been flowing water.

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Many of the tops had been recently burnt which made for pleasant walking.

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We saw a lot of snakes in the creeks – we think they were mainly tree snakes.

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We tried to descend the ‘bat cave’ canyon from the top (as we’d got to a drop we couldn’t get up when ascending it). Unfortunately we were confronted with a 12m overhanging drop and we only had a 6mm handline.

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So had to be happy with a lunchtime swim instead.

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The top of the dryfall we’d visited earlier.

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Tom all tuckered out.

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Not many campsites come with existing washing lines (& carabiners)!

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Beautiful spot for our last campsite of the trip.

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Emma Gorge with the hoardes (out of shot).

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Kimberley exploring (June 2015) – Part I

In June 2015 we visited the Southern Carr Boyd Range in the magnificent Kimberley region of Western Australia. Our trip started with an early morning boat trip on Lake Argyle to our drop off point.

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With the boat departing we are truly isolated for the next seven days.

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Many of our campsites were on gravel river beds where we managed to find just enough space for 5 spots.

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Some of the walking was true bush-bashing through long grass and my nemesis – pandanus!

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But the bush bashing is all worth it when you unexpectedly come across waterhole gems like this one.

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We had a couple of steep climbs on our walk but generally we were on flattish ground.

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The views were great.

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The colours amazing.

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This was a stand-out campsite. An afternoon of entertainment with jumping opportunities from three sides of this amazing pool.

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Our food group delivered some amazing meals. Later that evening we had butter chicken with pappadums, and chocolate mousse with smashed raspberries and chocolate shards. MasterChef eat your heart out.

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There were days of awesome gorge walking on flat rocky platforms.

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With more swimming holes and jumping opportunities

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The route had its challenges from climbing down waterfalls…

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to compulsory pack floats…

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to large amounts of rock-hopping

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and more pack floats!

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And then we were amazed to discover slot canyons!

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No, this is not Karijini but it sure looks like it.

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The flora was incredible.

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Oh and did I mention slot canyons :)

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Stunning vistas

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And a really long packfloat! (and a large freshwater crocodile which was fortunately spotted after we’d all made it to the other end)

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Fortunately the helicopter found us at the end. Otherwise it would have been a really long walk!

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