QLD 2017 Fitzroy Island Mt Fitzroy.

Queensland 2017 Fitzroy Island: a perfect family bushwalk.

Gussy and I on the summit boulder clump.
It’s hard to find good mountains for a three-generational bushwalk. Toddlers  get heavy and it’s tiring lugging them up mountains. Meanwhile, the older sibling shouldn’t do anything too taxing. The normal rule of thumb is a kilometre for each age in years, which helps let growing bones develop well. And then, if one or other of the grandparents is starting to run into difficulties, this has to be considered. Our family found that a walk to the summit of Fitzroy Island was just perfect for our needs, given that we had Abby aged one, Gussy just turned six, and a poppa with Parkinson’s Disease with us. In addition, Abby’s dad was back at home,  so her mum had to do all the carrying; on a mountain of this size, that was perfectly doable.

Kirsten scaling the real summit.
We began our climb out the back of the lodge where we were based, with a gorgeous view of the ocean and a wonderful tropical feel. Abby was not so violently interested in the view, but found the couches to be perfect for her ambition to later join the circus as a tightrope walker, and practised on the upper extremities of the backs. Abby really loves climbing anything, but this mountain was a bit high for her tiny legs.

I put in my usual request to be allowed to take the climb at workout pace and be sociable for the rest; my family understands this need. I set out running. Little Gussy took off running after me. Now, without boring you about my places at IAAF World Championships, can you just take it from me that although many years have gone by since then, I found it pretty amazing that this courageous little fellow was still in sight not far behind me after five minutes. It takes a lot of inner strength to run up mountains. Mountain Running can sometimes be seen as a battle of wills, and Gussy wanted to exercise his. But this is about a family bushwalk, and while we two were running, the others were having a lovely time walking up the slope, and looking out at the ever-increasing views over the bay, now far below, and back to mainland Australia. Gussy, red-faced and puffed, stopped sometime after I pulled away from him, and sat with a great view to wait for the others. A safe track like that provides opportunities for groups to spread out if they wish.

Kirsten and me.
I ran back down to meet the others after I’d been to the summit, and joined in the remainder of their climb, with Gussy leading the family for the remainder of the route to the top. He and I went as high on the slippery granite final boulder as he dared before joining the others for a VERY IMPORTANT part of a bushwalk for infants: namely, chocolate and snacks on the summit. On this summit, there is a lookout (with other fun rocks to climb beyond), and seats. Everyone except me feasted on M and Ms. I’m more fussy, and wasn’t hungry anyway.

Snack time.
We elected to descend via the lighthouse track, which added distance to our walk. The first part is dry and quite open, and then, after the lighthouse, the rainforest coolness returned. It was great to see other families using this track. We were back in time for everyone to have a swim before lunch, but not before we’d visited the turtle hospital, and seen turtles damaged by careless human plastic and nets, now recovering in tanks before they could be released back into nature. Next day, we would have huge excitement, as we got to swim with wild turtles.

A fitting reward at the end. Abby afloat in the pool. Possibly cuter than a turtle, and at least as wild. Hopefully not damaged by plastic.

Dawn next day. I climbed up in the dark, power walking rather than running this time, lugging my many kilos of photographic gear.

Yelena watching out for more turtles

QLD 2017 Mt Sorrow, Thornton Beach, Mission Beach

Queensland 2017 Mt Sorrow, Thornton Beach, Mission Beach.

First night after arrival: Thornton Beach, an old favourite.
Yes, here we go again, a repeat of every other year, in which I am reluctant to go to the tropics as my friends are having fun in the snow in Tasmania, and spring is looking beautiful, and I am equally unwilling to leave it at the end, as I have become spoiled by balmy weather suitable for swimming, by al fresco dining, by running up fabulous mountains in the rainforest each day and by beach walking and photography – to mention just a few of the delights of the Tropical Far North.

We land in Cairns, and I usually run the Blue Arrow track before we leave. This year, I ran it until it forked into a blue-green junction, the blue going off to Mt Lumney, my usual, and the green to Mt Whitfield. I had never tried this option, so took it this year for a change. Residents of Cairns are so lucky to have these beautiful trails through lush rainforest right on their doorstep. The track is very steep indeed: a great introduction to my diet of mt-in-your-face style inclines of this region.

Cape Tribulation, sunset.
Perhaps you find it odd that one of my highlights of being up north is always running up mountains rather than lying on beaches under palm trees, or taking fancy tours like a good tourist, but that’s just how I am. Odd. (Actually, in the case of Mt Sorrow, I have  found I do a faster overall time if I power walk the lot rather than if I run for an hour and then die towards the end. It is rather steep, and the final half kilometre is a killer if you’ve gone lactic. I took 66 minutes to the top, so thought that was OK for a tropical workout. I don’t carry a camera, as in workout mode, this is  cumbersome. If you want photos, you will find them in the 2013 version. This year was fun for me, as my friend Monika from Tassie, who is doing a locum in Cairns, joined me on the Mt Sorrow day. As it was a workout rather than a bushwalk, we each took it at our own pace, but both enjoyed the sense that the other was on the mountain, happily exercising.

Me, playing on Mission Beach.
And perhaps it is even odder that I love Mission Beach, not primarily because of its beautiful beach, but because there I can do a double run up Bicton Hill in Clump Mountain National Park each day. This, too, is a solid workout for me. Once I’ve had my running binge, I’m ready to swim and walk along beaches , photograph and play with children for the rest of the day. Everyone’s happy at Mission. If there were only flat beach runs, I wouldn’t be quarter as satisfied, as I actually hate flat running. It bores me.

Well, we did visit one tourist haunt: the Babinda Boulders. The clarity of the water and the colour of the green are wonderful here.
And then we moved on to the fabulous Fitzroy Island, but I will give it its own post, as there we had a family bushwalk, so that can ‘stand alone’.

And here are two photos of @thebraidedlena of husskie fame, posing for a few shots at Mission Beach. We love doing photo shoots up here at sunset.


Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail 2016 Oct

A thrilling start to day one.

What a welcome addition the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail (KIWT) is to our nation’s list of possibilities for long distance walking – and what better than a primarily coastal path. As any follower of my blog knows, I love getting out into “Type A” wilderness (no paths, no infrastructure: just pristine nature), but that does NOT mean I spurn paths and trails; what I especially love is a track where everyone is doing the same route and so shares a common pilgrimage.

The scenery on day two was my favourite

I once walked a long distance trail of my own design in Grand Paradiso National Park (Italy), where there were abundant paths and possibilities, but not one person I met shared my destiny. The instantaneous camaraderie of a set route was never there, and this track holds no place in my emotional psyche. A route like KIWT offers the chance to meet fellow travellers of shared interest.

I just don’t tire of colours like this (Day two cont)

I could almost be called a multi-day coastal path junkie, having walked the South Coast Track (TAS), the South West Cape Track (TAS), the Thorsborne Trail (QLD), the Coast Track of the Royal National Park (NSW), the old version of the Three Capes (TAS), the South West Coast Path (ENG), the Pembrokeshire Coast Path (Wales), Wilson’s Prom (VIC) and the Abel Tasman Track (NZ). I feel I’m thus qualified to place a judgement on this track, and my verdict is that it can hold its head high. I have adored all these trails. There is something special about wild cliff tops overlooking vast expanses of ocean with the wind in your face and a proper pack on your back. The presence of seals on this track as you gaze south gives a very exotic feel. Beaches that you have taken a few days to walk to and that are inaccessible to the madding crowds are also very special places. Note, I said a “proper pack”, by which I mean a full-sized, laden one. Daypacks just don’t do it for me. A real pack is a symbol of freedom and adventure, heavy though it may be. I think the weight is part of what bonds walkers when they meet each other. Here is another person willing to endure this kind of burden in order to have this kind of encounter with nature.

Beach walking, day two

So, why do I find this particular track such a welcome addition?
First, it provides a possibility to walk a distance trail in the driest state on the driest continent on earth, yet with the guarantee of water at the end of the day. Kangaroo Island is a very special place, but it would be a very uncomfortable walk without the provision of a campsite with water at the end of each day. This is not something to take for granted.

I arrived here in time for sunset at the end of the day 2 section. 

Second, the diversity of scenery is thrilling, from scrubland of taller eucalypts to coastal mallee sections, a fabulous river mouth as the Rocky River enters the sea, the brilliant cliff and beach sections, the spellbinding rock formations, the lagoons, and finally, the sinkholes near the end.

And here is the highlight for me of day three: The Remarkable Rocks

Third, the diversity of plants adds to this already stimulating variety. See the blog I have already published (below) for a full list of the wildflowers I identified in the first two days on the track. You will find about 45 listed. Even if you grouped them into colours – mauve, yellow, pink, white, red, orange – you would then need to discuss size, colour intensity, shape and all the other factors that make each one different and a pleasure to look at.

On day three I also enjoyed my side trip to Sanderson Beach

Fourth (but not in fourth position by any means), how can one not mention the animals? On the first and final days, I had the extreme privilege of seeing wild koalas doing their thing in the trees above me (so, sleeping or eating). I saw big KI Roos on all days except the second, with some putting on a boxing display during dinner on the fourth night. Goannas were plentiful on the first day, and I saw an echidna or two. Equal in pleasure for me with the koalas were the seals at the end of day 2 at Admirals Arch. I especially loved the pups who looked up at me with their endearing, huge eyes. I spent ages watching seals.

On the afternoon, and again in the evening of day 3, I also walked out to the cliffs 15 mins from the campsite to enjoy their drama.

There were a lot of cliffs on the journey (days 2, 3 and 4). Maybe you think that one cliff line is like another, but cliffs are like people, and each one is different – in rock type, or formation, in the aspect or the particular way it drops into the ocean or the way its rocks catch the light or in the view along the coast each provides. There’s always something to entertain.

Sanderson cliffs. LOVE them.

The beauty of this path is not weather dependent. I should know, as I experienced everything other than snow. I began rugged up from the cold, but had stripped down to singlet and shorts by the first afternoon. Day 3 brought a literal gale, where I was blown off the path several times. Days 4 and 5 had rain – sometimes heavy – and hail, along with very high winds at times, but nothing detracted from the fun of the journey, even though at a theoretical level I would have preferred to have been warmer. The communal cooking areas (with sheltering roof, windbreak and guarantee of water) made a huge difference, as you could socialise there with other walkers, and not be confined to the prison of your tent in the presence of rain. You can sit at table and chat to others, and you can even, as the girls I met and I did, play games under the shelter.

Day 4. Here are Helen, Kirsty, Jules and Mary walking along the cliffs. Being and to the left is a unique view of the Remarkable Rocks, not offered to car drivers.

I had connected with the four others who had started the track when I did – the first to do the track following the Premier’s official launch the day before – by the third night when I returned from a sunset photoshoot on the nearby cliff line. It was cold enough for some of us to cocoon ourselves in our sleeping bags while we sat at the table, but we had great fun meeting each other and talking and laughing our way through the evening.

Hanson Bay Day four.
The worst part about doing this trail is finishing. As I hugged farewell to Kirsty, Helen, Mary and Jules, and later, to Alison, the wilderness trail manager, I was filled already with a terrible nostalgia for the walk and all it represented. I would have happily begun it all over again straight away.

Great Walks magazine is publishing an article I have written on this walk in its December-January edition, where I give a day by day description of my walk. I have deliberately kept this blog different, and more general, to provide two alternative approaches to the story of the trail. I have also tried to provide different photos to give you variety. For a day by day account, please buy this great magazine. Buy it anyway, not just that issue. We need to keep bushwalking magazines alive. I hate the way airports offer you motoring and cycling and fishing, but no walking. Give me bushwalking pictures and stories, please.

Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail Wildflowers

Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail, wildflowers.

Pig face (carpobrotus) and hibbertia sp along the coast, day 2

Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail abounds in wildflowers. Here are the names of some I have been able to identify that I saw as I walked along the trail. The length of the list speaks volumes for the fabulous diversity to be found. Thanks to the fabulous Alison Buck for checking and helping me with the list. Any errors are mine, not hers. (On Monday I will post my account of walking the trail).

acacia paradoxa (this filled the scenery for several early sections of day 1)

boronia edwardsii (broder leaf than the one below)
boronia filifolia (fine leaf, sandy section)

calytrix smeatoniana (a paler calytrix than the one below)
calytrix tetrogona (wonderful pale pink)

carpobrotus rossii (pigface; bright pink)

chamaescilla corymbosa (blue squill, or blue stars; wonderful delicate mauve flowers. A tuberous herb with grasslike leaves)

cheiranthera alternifolia in early forested section – another delicate mauve flower

Calytrix tetrogona, seen on most of the days.

correa decumbens

dampiera lanceolata

daviesia asperula (one of many ‘eggs and bacon’ pea flowers)

euphrasia collina (mauve pea family; eye bright)

goodenia blackiana
goodenia ovata

grevillea quinquenervis (pink spider plant)
grevillea halmaturina (white spider flower)
grevillea rogersii (just two spider legs in kind of pairs, darker red)

hakea rostrata (delicate white spider flower with needle leaves)
hakea vittata (hooked needle wood; low growing)

hibbertia riparia
hibbertia acicularis
hibbertia virgata

Orthrosanthos multiflorus 

lasiopetalum discolour (velvety leaves, mauve) (sorry, refuse to spell colour the american way, especially when it is an Aussie flower)
lasiopetalum schulzenii (hanging bells of cream)

leucopogon parviflorus (divine smell. How I wish I could preserve it. It filled the air with its delicacy at times on day 1).

olearia taretifolia (tiny white daisy flowers on a bush)

orthrosanthus multiflorus (mauve morning iris)

pimelia sp (there are several species of pimelea on the island)

pomaderris obcordata (small [20 cm high mostly] clumped pant covered in with tiny white or pinkish flowers)

prasophylium elatum (snake orchid – near campsite at the end of day 2)

prostanthera spinosa (dark mauve; prickly leaves)

pultenaea daphnoides  (large leaf pea flower; egg and bacon colouring; beautiful perfume)
pultenaea scabra (a different egg and bacon flower

More calytrix lining the path
scaevola linearis

senecio lautus (yellow daisy flower)

stackhousia aspericocca

swainsona lessertiifolia – a small mauve pea flower with many erect stems

Tetratheca halmaturina (see below)

thelymitra epipactoides (delicate mauve sun orchids)

wahlenbergia multicaulis

xanthorrhoea semiplana

Tetratheca halmaturina with grass-like stem and leaves, crawling here up a Petrophile multisecta.

(My favourite of the several ‘koala trees’ was eucalyptus viminalis cygnetensis – great for humans to climb, too – which not many eucies are). I also enjoyed the huge eucy camaldulensis exemplars, especially those on the last day growing by the river, and, to a lesser degree, the cup gums, sugar gums and coastal mallee gums that decorated our walk.

QLD 2016 Mission Beach, Mt Sorrow, Daintree

Queensland: Tropical Far North, Mission Beach, Cape Tribulation, Daintree

 Every September, our family coalesces in the tropical far north of Queensland for our annual warm-up and beach fest. We count ourselves as excessively lucky parents to be granted this time from our daughters’ busy lives. Family is, and always has been, of paramount importance to us, yet even so, we don’t take this event for granted, and treasure each year of its reoccurrence.

And how do we spend our days in this balmy environment? Do we go on fancy tours, or seek out commercially made activities? No. Mainly, we eat lots, swim heaps and do quite a bit of mountain running and beach walking. To let the children dry out for maybe an hour a day, we toss in some reading and puzzles or games. At dusk, it’s time to build another sand fortress.

Just can’t resist a bit of baby porn. Count yourselves lucky that landscape gets a look in here at all.
Every dawn, some of us (changing cast, but I always have a part in this little drama) rise in the dark to photograph the emerging dawn. The evening meal is subordinate to shooting sunset. Mostly, we play with the two centres of attention: young Gussy and Miss Abigail Grace, who, at the tender age of eleven months, seems to know exactly what she wants.
I am happy in this location (Mission Beach), as there is a nice, steep and challenging rising in Clump Mountain National Park, just near to where we stay, so I run this rising twice each day after breakfast, ignoring the injunctions to take water, and wear a hat and suncream. Sadly, I accidentally obey the one that says not to do it in the midday heat. I can assure you that taking this 2 x 4km circuit with its pant-inducing climb at the fastest speed I can manage every day generates quite a good deal of sweat, so maybe it is equivalent to doing it at midday when done at my pace. I come back feeling very hot and bothered, and most definitely ready to dive in the pool and play endless, wet ballgames until lunchtime. This year, Lena did some of the circuits with me; others were solo. A mixture of solo and chatties is nice, and that’s what I had.

Lena (@thebraidedlena and editor of Husskie) posing for me, Mission Beach.

On the sixth day, we had Act I, scene II, which meant a change of dramatis personae and of location. One new character arrived, and, sadly, three left. We did have a span of everyone together before the grand exit. Melted and rapidly melting ice-cream seems to dominate my recollection of this part.

Lena again

Scene II was to take place further north, in the Daintree, firstly at Thornton Beach, and then at Cape Tribulation itself. We arrived at Thornton on dusk, and Lena and Johnny raced to get their swimmers on and have a dip before the sun completely set. “No, no”, cried the people from the cafe seeing their cosies. “Don’t swim there.” What? We’ve always swum here. We were told perhaps in the middle of day, knee-deep or so, and maybe a bit further north than usual this year. I dismissed this as more wolf crying. Everyone howls wolf these days: it’s lost its impact. I got a bit of a shock to learn that someone had actually been eaten on this very beach where we come each year not so long ago. However, once I learned that she had been taken at 10.30 on a very dark night, I reassumed my habitual pleasure, and went in, as ever, thigh deep and watchful; I did not abstain.

Is this a new kind of tree frog? Colourful. Oh no. It’s me, about to dive off this log: such fun.
The following late afternoon, I was off exploring by myself while the others dozed. I climbed around rocky headlands to the north of Nora Creek, searching for (and finding) cute little unnamed beaches. Suddenly, a young angler (from Melbourne, as it turned out) hurried towards me to point out the crocodile swimming a mere 50 metres from the rocks he had just left. It was about 4.5 metres long. Wow. I was very excited to see a real live crocodile swimming in the sea, and close enough to kind of observe it. We hurried over to tell a family with young children playing on a beach to the south. The parents, with more my kind of attitude, sat with the kids to watch rather than shepherding their offspring away. They were in no danger there as long as they didn’t go down to the sand to give the croc a smell of young, tender flesh. The children obediently sat beside their parents, viewing this spectacle, aware of its importance.

Lena posing for me before she, too, dives in.

The last full day was spent climbing Mt Sorrow, another annual event for me. This is a mountain I do regularly, and like to take at threshold speed. For me, there are few pleasures greater than just being allowed to climb a mountain perched on my aerobic threshold, monitoring my body and my surrounds, working my way at the summit. I love a good workout, and what better place to have one than in the jungle? I saw an amazing number of people this day – it seemed to be de rigueur to climb Mt Sorrow that Saturday – and made friends with many of them whilst waiting for my family up the top, and more on the way down. One guy knew some people from the Tassie bushwalking community. Hardly surprisingly, I knew these people too. I counted 32 people on the mountain, just in the time it took me to do the up and down (less than two hours for the return journey). But don’t be turned off by the crowds. It never felt crowded – but perhaps it is an indication that the local tourist authorities should provide another track up one of the many other mountains on tap. It would keep people like me in the area an extra day. Twelve of the people I met were en route to Mt Pieter Botte, which has just lurched up my bucket list to near the top for next time.

On the final day, we were up again in the dark ready for our last shoot – this time at the northern end of Myall Beach, just south of the Cape (Tribulation) itself. We entered a beach with its features hardly visible, making our way along in the quarter light to the spot we’d chosen the evening before. Contentedly, we shot away while Johnny explored a bit. He came back with the news that there were fresh crocodile prints in the sand about twenty metres from where we were standing. The croc must have left this location only a very short time before we arrived. I learned from Instagram that Cape Tribulation Beach was closed that day due to a crocodile that had decided to swim there. I guess that was “our guy”, who had moved up one beach to avoid the approaching paparazzi.

Up on the headland of Cape Tribulation