Australia

Hiking the Three Capes Track

tct2_munroellenSo, I went hiking a couple of weeks ago. (Yep.) And, despite apprehension about my general fitness, I survived four days of schlepping around the Tasman Peninsula with only a few blisters and a mild case of sunburn.

(I did wonder a few times — muscles burning, lungs wheezing — what the hell I was doing, but that’s enough said about that.)

The Three Capes Track in Tasmania is one of those new hiking ‘experiences’, where you pay some money for the privilege of using a well-constructed track and staying in beautiful new eco huts with kitchen facilities, dorm beds, and other, er, facilities. (Let’s just say, this was a far cry from toileting Mongolian style… They might have been long drop toilets, but there were stalls with doors and everything.)

It had been a while since I’d gone hiking. The last time I carried a full pack was January 1999 for Tasmania’s Overland Track. Then in around 2005 I spent eight days trekking in Nepal — but that time I had porters to carry my gear (thank the stars).

For the Three Capes Track we didn’t need to carry tents or stoves, but we did need to carry other gear and food — and we ate (and drank) extremely well — so it was kind of a halfway deal. I just gritted my teeth and told myself it was yet more research and, as I went up and down more steps than I cared to count, realised that Zillah (my kick-ass Dungeons and Dragons character) I am most definitely not…


Three Capes Track – Day 1

The first day is just 4km, starting from Denmans Cove near the historic Port Arthur site. We took the later scenic boat ride (sea eagles perched in the trees!) from Port Arthur, to arrive at the cove at around 3pm. We then took our time and climbed up through coastal forests to arrive at Surveyors Hut in time for a pre-dinner cup of tea.

The walk is somewhat up and down (and up) to the top of the cliff, but not difficult. It was a good length just to get me into the mood of carrying my pack. And the first sight of Surveyors Hut, as we came around a bend out of the bush, took my breath away. That thing is so huge! It’s beautifully designed, with broad decks and lots of space — not to mention a gorgeous view.

tct1_surveyors-hut

Surveyors Hut

That night we dined in impressive style, thanks to one of my hiking companions: chicken curry with rice, steamed greens and poppadoms. And red wine (decanted into a bladder for carrying). And brownies for dessert. As I said, we ate well!

Day 2

We began the second day in leisurely fashion, taking our breakfast (instant oats with dried blueberries and sweetened condensed milk) and coffee (one of my companions carried a stove-top espresso maker!) with easy conversation. It was so nice to hang out with fellow hikers. We headed off walking at about 10am.

The second day’s walk is 11km, undulating along clifftops towards Cape Pillar, including up and over Arthur’s Peak and Crescent Mountain. The views are staggering — back towards Cape Raoul and Crescent Bay, where dune-surfing takes place, and to Cape Pillar in the other direction.

We again took our time, stopping at each of the marked “Encounters” to read from the guide book about some aspect of history, or geology, or vegetation, or wildlife etc of the place we had stopped at. These encounters are one of the great aspects of the hike — and they are the thing that makes it an “experience”, rather than a simple hike. They are marked most often by some form of creatively designed bench seat, offering a good excuse to rest for a few moments.

More than that, though, the encounters really made us stop and look and think about where we were. They made me notice the changing vegetation and look out for things I might not have noticed otherwise. The little book containing all the information is a really fabulous initiative.

We arrived at Munro Hut late afternoon, and spent the hours leading up to dinner relaxing on the deck and admiring the view (see photo with me at the top). More wine that night, and some whisky I’d been carrying. Plus a Thai vegetable curry with tofu. And Lindor balls. Yum.

Day 3

Lots of good things about day 3 (17km) — including the fact that most of it involved leaving our packs at Munro Hut and taking day packs out to the tip of Cape Pillar, where there is a rocky feature known as The Blade.

You can see from the above photos that we had glorious weather — in fact, it was hot hot hot. Again, it’s not a difficult walk, although there is plenty of up and down (and steps). We clambered up to the tip of the Blade, which overlooks Tasman Island, just to say we’d done it, but the views are better from elsewhere. There’s a lighthouse on Tasman Island and a weather station. And seals frolic in the rockpools at its feet.

The Blade and Tasman Island

The Blade and Tasman Island

After the return trip from Cape Pillar, it took less than an hour carrying our packs to reach Retakunna Hut, which sprawls and nestles in a bushland setting. It’s serene and beautiful there. Finally it was time to eat the dinner food in my pack, and I was glad to get rid of the potato, carrots, snow peas and half a dozen fresh eggs I’d been carrying! This was combined with tuna and couscous and other bits and pieces to form a hiking version of nicoise salad.

Day 4

We rose early on Day 4 (dawn! I swear it’s true!), because although only 14km it’s actually the longest day from a time point of view and walkers need to be finished by a certain time to catch a bus back to Port Arthur at the end. We were on our way by 8am and reached the top of Mount Fortescue by 9am, once the morning drizzle cleared and before the clouds had burnt off.

Once the clouds did burn off, the day turned scorching hot. Day 4 is only 14km, but I admit to being generally fatigued by the final day (unfit, remember?) and this was the hardest day for me without doubt. It’s a gorgeous walk, though. The first climb of Mount Fortescue and its descent is through beautiful rainforest. Then we came out onto the clifftops on the other side, where the views are again stupendous. The geology of this part of the world is certainly striking.

tct4_cliffs

Towards the end of the walk, we all downed packs for a side trip to the tip of Cape Hauy. This was not really too far, but it was hot, I was tired, and there were steps. Steps up and steps down. More steps.

Steps.

And hot.

This was definitely the hardest section of the entire walk for me, most likely a combination of the heat and fatigue. But it was all over in a couple of hours, and then it was time for the final descent to Fortescue Bay, where the bus was picking us up at 4pm. We arrived by about 3pm, which gave us time to relax before getting transported back to Port Arthur.

3CT Map


Overall, the Three Capes Track was a fabulous experience and it was a privilege to see such a beautiful and remote part of the world. We did have some discussions about the model for the hike — the section from the start to Munro Hut can now only be done as part of the Three Capes Track Experience, meaning independent hikers are excluded. However, they can still get to the tip of Cape Pillar, and Cape Hauy is a day hike from Fortescue Bay.

I’m not sure I’m on board with excluding independent hikers, but I do feel that these facilities make it possible for a greater breadth of people to participate. It certainly suited me at this stage of my life. I absolutely love trekking and adventure, but I do not absolutely love carrying a full pack. Moreover, sleeping on memory foam mattresses certainly beats my old and very thin thermorest. (Interestingly, the most popular demographics for the Three Capes Track are 1) over 50s, 2) women, 3) families.)

It was fabulous to explore another corner of my country, but there are still many many walks around the world I want to do. Some of them wilderness hikes, others through more civilised areas. On my radar at the moment are: the Mont Blanc circuit in Europe, the Appalachian Trail in the USA, the South West Coast path in the UK (plus many others), and the pilgrims way through southern Europe.

Which one shall I do next?

Book review: Red Dirt Heart sequence by N.R. Walker

aww-badge-2015-200x300Once again celebrating Australian Women Writers, today’s review is focused on the Red Dirt Heart sequence from N.R. Walker. It comprises four m/m romance novels set on a massive cattle station in the Northern Territory (north-east of Alice Springs), and deals primarily with themes of ‘being gay in outback Australia’ and family.

I love this series, warts and all. It’s a marvellous depiction of what life on a cattle station might be like — the heat, the dust, the animals, the isolation. There’s plenty of horseriding, cattle droving, bore-fixing, akubras (hats) and RM Williams riding boots. And lots and lots of love — of various kinds.

Charlie Sutton is the 25 yo owner of Sutton Station, having inherited on the death of his father a few years earlier. He loves his station and excels at running it, but he doesn’t realise how lonely he is until Travis rocks up from Texas for a four-week stint of work experience.

The first three books are all told in Charlie’s engaging and very distinct voice, as he tries to find love and hold himself and everyone around him together. He’s an over-thinker and a worrier when it comes to relationships, and tends to bottle things up and convince himself the worst is going to happen. Travis, who is even-tempered, positive, and communicative, balances him out beautifully.

Red Dirt Heart (the first book) takes place over the four weeks of Travis’s original placement. Charlie knows right away he’s in trouble, and he has no idea how to handle it. But love for these two happens swiftly (once Charlie gets his act together) and powerfully. There are plenty of issues to work through, but the actions of both men speak volumes. It will come as no surprise to know that at the end Travis stays on in Australia.

Red Dirt Heart 2 picks up the crew at Sutton Station about six months later. There’s Charlie and Travis of course, but also Charlie’s substitute parents George (his foreman) and Ma (cook and general mother figure), and his various station hands. There’s also a pet baby kangaroo called Matilda. In this installment, Charlie still needs to deal with his inner angsting, much of which is derived from the fear of people outside the station finding out he’s gay. And then there’s the Australian immigration officials threatening to deport Travis for overstaying his temporary working visa… Overall it’s a worthy followup to the first, with Charlie learning how to verbalise his feelings and growing to accept himself.

In Red Dirt Heart 3, Charlie has to deal with a host of new issues — including a loved one’s illness, a family bombshell and an attention-demanding baby wombat… Not to mention he is running for the board of the beef farmers association, and trying to finish his degree by correspondence. And then Travis needs to go home to Texas for his own personal reasons, and Charlie isn’t sure how to do any of that without him. This installment once again puts Charlie and Travis through the ringer, and they emerge stronger than ever.

Despite all Charlie’s hapless attempts to tear him and Travis apart through these three books, they are the real forever deal, and I just want to hug them. Travis, always the steadying influence, tempers Charlie’s strong emotions, and his quiet unconditional support gives Charlie extra confidence to shine.

When it comes to Red Dirt Heart 4, I have mixed feelings. It’s told from Travis’s perspective, and although I adore Travis, this book just lacks narrative drive. It’s more a series of anecdotes with some dramatic moments, but ultimately there is no overall story arc. It’s interesting to see Charlie through Travis’s eyes, but it comes at a time when their relationship is solid as a rock. There’s little conflict between them, and thus ultimately no drama. Nor does Travis have any agency. He just floats along with his world revolving around Charlie.

BUT after reading (and hopefully loving) the first three, you kinda still have to read this one, because it does take them further in terms of their commitment to each other, and Travis takes Charlie home to meet his parents in Texas. You can’t just miss this. And then there’s the rather lengthy epilogue, which sketches in their life afterwards for years and years… And you can’t miss that either. After three books, my investment in Charlie and Travis was sufficient to pull me through the fourth.

I also mentioned family is a strong theme across all books. Travis is close to his large family, and has to deal with being far away. Charlie, on the other hand, starts off with serious issues surrounding his relationship with his dead father, which Travis helps him work through. Later, he is confronted with other family members hitherto absent, and finds happiness in forging new relationships. The books also explore the differences between blood relatives and the ‘family’ at Sutton Station.

There’s so much more I could mention: Charlie’s wonderful relationship with his horse Shelby, the antics of Nugget the baby wombat, banter on Australian v American colloquialisms, nights in a swag under the Australian night sky… but I guess I’d better stop.

Finally, I need to point out that these books (which are self-published) could have done with a good edit and proof-read. There are careless timing issues on occasion, which pulled me out on occasion. And there are numerous words either extraneous or missing. The prose is rather rough around the edges, but that’s Charlie’s voice and I can buy that. But an experienced nip and tuck would not have gone astray.

Nonetheless, I do love the emotion and heart infused in these books. And they feel really Australian — even if it’s not a part of Australia I’m very familiar with. But they make me want to go and visit our red centre again. And I’ve never been to a cattle station.

Here’s the link to Red Dirt Heart on Amazon or check out the books on the author’s website here.

When I was 12 – family road trip with dead kangaroos

I’ve been sorting through old storage boxes today, and I came across my first ever travel journal — it’s illustrated and everything. I was 12 years old, and our family was going on a camping road trip to South Australia’s Flinders Ranges in our brand new 8-seater Mitsubishi van…

***

Sunday 15 August — Spent about an hour packing but at last we are on the road. We left the house at 9:53 and we stopped at a petrol station. When we left home the gauge was 1910km. Stopped at Ballarat for lunch two hours after we had left. We walked a little way and saw many birds. Arrived at camping ground at 3:25. We got a caravan with two bunks. We went to Little Desert for about an hour and I saw the first kangaroo hopping into the scrub. The camping ground was at Dimboola. S, M and I found a little cubby looking onto the river and we went there with torches to show daddy. It was my turn to dry the dishes tonight.

FlindersRanges_van

Monday 16 August — Before breakfast we went for an interesting walk. Then we had breakfast. After breakfast we packed, then we all went for a short walk before we went. We left Dimboola at 8:41. [ed: hahahaha] In the car we amused ourselves by giving each other squiggles but I got sick of that. We stopped to look at some funny looking melons in a sheep paddock. S and M got one; we smashed it open with a rock, it was awful. Another interesting thing was that we found hundreds of shells, some with animals in them! So our melon stop turned out to be a shell stop! We were miles away from the sea.

We had lunch at Menigie on the Prince Albert Lake. Then we looked at the Coorong, then we crossed the joining point between Lake Alexandrina and the Prince Albert Lake. We stopped at the Murray Bridge Cheese factory where we were shown around the factory. We had to wear funny hats and when we were finished we got lots of stickers and project things and we bought some cheese. At last we have arrived in Adelaide.

Thursday 19 August — We left [Adelaide] at 9:16. We stopped at a salt co. and dad took a bit of film. (The map nearly flew away.) Daddy went to ask at the office and we got some salt off the salt pile. We had lunch in Snowtown and we bought some lovely country bread, it was so nice mum bought some more for breakfast. Although it is winter, the day is lovely, just like spring and the town was dusty and dry. We stopped at Port Pirie where the main road was Ellen St. Mummy took a photo of me standing under a sign. We went to the museum which was really interesting. We have arrived at this camping ground in Quorn and we had a camp fire, and sausages and bread for tea.

FlindersRanges_salt

Friday 20 August — We left the camping ground at 9:22 after a cold morning and a hot breakfast around the camp fire. We stopped to get some bread and mum went round to a Mother’s stall and bought some caramels and other sweets. We left Quorn at 9:35. We went to Warren Gorge and us girls climbed up one side. Then we went to Bukaringa Gorge and saw a dead kangaroo (Yuk!). Then we stopped to look at a windmill and for dad to change his socks [ed: ??!!] and we went fossil looking (we didn’t find any) and M got ant bites on her hand.

We stopped for lunch at one point where the creek met the road and we had a paddle as it is very hot. Then we stopped at an old ruin to look at it and saw a stumpy tailed lizard and a littler lizard. We stopped at the ruins of Kanyaka, an old town and there was one, if it had a roof, that would have been good enough to sleep in.

On the way to Hawker we saw 26 dead kangaroos, including the one I said before. We stopped at Hawker for a few minutes to get petrol. From Hawker we saw 18 dead kangaroos and that makes 44 all together. We arrived at the camping ground where we are going to stay for 9 nights at 3:00 and I let the grasshopper, which had travelled with us from Hawker, go. (he was quite a cutie.) We had tea around the open fire. S was bitten by the caretaker’s dog.

FlindersRanges_deadkangaroos

***

And so it goes on for 3 weeks. I find it very amusing to read now (and the illustrations are priceless), but won’t bore you with the rest of it. We became quite fixated with counting dead kangaroos, as I recall. (Mostly lying at the edge of the road after being hit by traffic.)

As it happens, this was the same trip from which I shared last week’s campfire memory — only (according to my newly discovered journal) it turns out it was Fellowship of the Ring we were listening to around the camp fire. The Hobbit must have come earlier. Not long after this, I wrestled LOTR off my father and read the rest for myself.

Today’s post is a response to this week’s wanafriday theme (yes, I know it’s Saturday — oops), which was to ‘write about a long drive you took’. Here are some of the other responses:

Kim Griffin — An unexpected trip

Liv Rancourt — The road trip from hell

Did anyone else keep a travel diary at aged 12? I must admit I had completely forgotten about this one! What’s the most memorable road trip or family holiday you ever took?