Thursday, 7 February 2013

A Month in Australia 2 --- Bush Walk

My Cousin's eco-home in Tassie.
1/24 Sydney  My Sister Jan drove me 76 km up the coast to a beach town called Terrigal. The country north of Sydney was beautiful, often very hilly with green bush covering the slopes and vistas of the Hawkesbury River. We had lunch on the beautiful beach, full of families on vacation, then we climbed out on rocks at one end. It looked like low tide, and a large plateau of sandstone lay exposed to the sun, with only a few deep pools still full of water. I had a marvelous time photographing the soft rock, which water had sculpted into fascinating shapes, often given interesting variation by veins of harder rock or rows of small white limpets hiding in the shade.
1/25 Nephew David and I visited the Sydney Bridge, first underneath the North end at Bradfield Park, then along the harbour in both directions to get a view, then back and up and over the bridge. An amazing structure, at 3770 ft long and 440 ft high at the apex. Afterward we walk into the Rocks, the “old town” with narrow streets full of old buildings now shops cafes and very elegant. I take the double decker computer train back to Artarmon, noticing how the stops look like English train stations. Australia seems like a young, extroverted country, with lots of innovation going on. I learn one of the train station in the downtown has been kept in its Victorian décor, even to the extent of the advertisements.
I find Australians very friendly, architecture and design seems very bold and inventive, and I see some high tech solutions unknown in Toronto. At the same time there is a sense of the past being cherished, both pioneer origins and British origins, that seems more evident than any in Canada I've seen at least. Australians seem to love good food (I mean really good food), festivals, sports, outside activities, the arts (especially music and sculpture), and social events.
1/26 Train to Melbourne, 12 hour ride
1/27 day in Melbourne, meet Cousin Lou at Airport, flight to Launceston, Tasmania
1/28 At Lou and Jo's place in Beauty Point, a day in Launceston, meet Cousin Robyn, headache
1/29 Shopping for sleeping bag in Launceston, Tasmania
1/30 Bush Walk      Cousin Lou and I drive several hours up onto the central highlands. Lou has equipped us with a lot of fine gear, and I realize that you can have five thousands dollars easy on your back as you hike.
We reach The Lake St Clair national park center as it rains. and book a boat. This twin outboard, 15 seater takes us up the lake (one of the deepest in Aus) to the other end and a dock where we find a hut. Many of the surrounding peaks have received names from an early explorer who was an enthusiast of Ancient Greece, so there is Mount Olympus, Narcissus Point, etc.
From there we hike inland for four and a half hours. The trail is nicely laid out and includes boardwalks over swamp areas and suspension bridges over larger streams, but still involves constant stepping around rocks, puddles and snarls of tree roots. The rain comes and goes. We pass through several meadows of button grass ringed by gum (Eucalypt) trees that remind me of some of the terrain in The Hunter. An old injury on my left shoulder causes me considerable discomfort because of the pack load. We pass into an area of forest called a Myrtle forest, with huge old trees, mostly not gum, thickets of striking Pandani (Giant Grass Tree, a palm-like rainforest plant endemic to Tasmania (like countless other things)) and lots of green moss on everything. A few Pademelons (small Kangaroo-like Wallabies) peer at us from the bushes. We arrive at the hikers hut and Lou decides not to pitch a tent because of the wet so we claim the lower teir of one of the sleeping shelfs and cook our dinner and try to dry some gear. I am exhausted. There are perhaps ten other hikers in the hut.
The next morning we leave most of our gear in the hut and head up the Pine Valley trail around nine, its cold and I thankfully wear the gloves that seemed overkill as we packed two days before. We get a lovely view down Lake St Clair at one point with some blue sky patches, then some rain starts again The track up is steep, at one point we are climbing up an old rocky stream bed. I find having a hiking pole very handy to maintain balance. As we get higher the Gum trees reappear with some alpine flowers. We finally come out close to the top, with huge lichen covered boulders in an endless field and short gum trees shrouded in a fog. This is The Labyrinth and as we move around to the back the weather clears up and we can see mountain peaks with dramatic pillars of basalt, and two tarns below. Then as we stop for lunch it begins to snow, followed not long after by sun again. A pair of Wedge Tail Eagles fly high overhead and a Skink basks on a rock. By the time we get back to the hut, it is six and we repeat the routine of the day before and end the day.
The next morning we head back to the boat pickup point, the load is lighter and Lou has taken some of my camera gear, so my shoulder suffers less. Then into the boat and down the lake for a cappucino at the Park Center and the drive home. Lou points out an Echidna by the side of the road and we get out and investigate, it looks like a cross between an anteater and a hedgehog or small porcupine, but is actually from a unique order of mammals, Monotremes, that it shares with only the Platypus. We finally approach it, it digs its front into the bottom of a bush, and we touch it briefly. On the way back Lou pulls over across from an area burnt-out by fires a month before and I spend an hour stumbling around in the black debris taking photos.
I feel fine the next day and am amazed at the amount of rough terrain I have covered with a pack, it seems far beyond what I thought I could do, and the only explanation seems to be that I was enjoying myself and surrounded by beauty. The three days are a thrill and I feel very grateful to my Sister and Cousins.

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