Tuesday, November 13, 2012

SEPTEMBER 9-23, 2012 – EXCHANGE IN PNW (Seattle area)

11 Australian “Bushies” from YHA in Brisbane thoroughly enjoyed their 2 week hiking exchange trip in Washington State, especially the beaches near La Push and the alpine meadows at Mt Rainier.  Because of the wildfires in Eastern Washington, the Leavenworth segment had to be canceled and other hikes were added in the Seattle area.  A very special thanks to the CAI - PNW leadership team of gracious hosts, dependable drivers and expert hike leaders:  Bev Dahlin & Steve Johnson, Rosalie & George Whyel, Clarence Elstad, Norizan & Frank Paterra, Linda & Sean Sheehan, Flo & John Burnett, Sheri & Joe Rowe and Bev & Ron Riter.  
 
Sunday, Sept 9 – Arrival and Welcome Dinner.  One Aussie became 4 Aussies with 3 more arriving from Yellowstone National Park.  Then 4 became 11 when another 7 arrived via Canada and Glacier National Park.  So we all made it, safe and sound and ready for a wonderful CAI-PNW welcome dinner at the Riter residence.  There was a bit of concern that the 40 odd days of “drought” were going to be broken as the dark clouds gathered overhead, but there was just a little sprinkle and the party got underway without a hitch.  The rain stayed away until people started to leave at the end of the night.  There were many introductions, lots of talking, laughter and wonderful food.  The Aussies had arrived and we were given a terrific reception from all our old and new CAI-PNW friends.   Thanks to everyone concerned for such a great start to our trip.  (By Sandra Godsell)

 
Monday, Sept 10 – Seattle Walk.  Steve was kind enough to take us to see the many sights of Seattle city. Amidst the splendour of a modern city and its tourist appeal, the many homeless people seen on the streets are a reminder that some people live in very different circumstances. At the ice cream shop in Pike Place Market the staff told the story of a homeless man, and how the majority of their proceeds go to support this person. That they care for the environment and the people in it is a side of the Seattle people and in particular CAI-PNW members that I really appreciate. Thank you for your generosity!  (By Heydi van Mourik) 

Tues, Sept 11 – Seattle to Beach at La Push. Great to see all the crew in the ferry line-up and Flo’s fab embroidered name badges were very handy as we got to know each other on the crossing to Kingston. Such a gorgeous day, so we stopped to wander around Port Gamble and took a minute when we realized the flags were at half mast to remember the tragedies of 9/11. After lunch at Lake Crescent some hiked to Marymere Falls and others to the Lodge to check out the Roosevelt Lounge, complete with an elk head mounted over the fireplace. Before long we were on vampire alert, but had little to fear on such a bright, sunny day. Outside Forks we noticed a sign “NO Vampires beyond this point – Treaty Line” so knew that we were in Quileute territory. The deep, dark forests are perfect for the werewolves. We oohed and aahed at the amazing coastal rock formations and enjoyed Bev’s fabulous sunset dinner overlooking the Pacific Ocean – this is rare for Aussies, who normally enjoy a Pacific sunrise. (By Maria Bowdler)
 
Wed, Sept 12Rialto Beach. Thanks to Clarence, who suggested we leave at 9 am rather than 8 am, we all had an unhurried morning before setting off for our beach walk at Rialto Beach. “Wear your walking boots”, said Bev when I asked.  "Why on earth would you wear walking boots on a beach walk?" I thought. But I dutifully complied. And I soon saw why. We arrived at a beautiful beach, covered with shiny, smooth round pebbles of various sizes. It was like no beach I’d ever seen in Australia.  Huge cast rocks coming out of the ocean, with small trees and vegetation growing on them – a magnificent sight. It was hard walking on the soft pebbly beach though. As the tail end group rounded a headland, we saw our group gathered on a tree trunk for a break. And someone was swimming in the ocean! "No it couldn’t possibly be one of our Aussie mob" I said. "We’re from Queensland where the water is warm, so we are big sooks when it comes to cold water. It must be one of the Seattle crowd." But blow me down, as we approached, it turned out to be our Aussie Ian, languishing in the water as if he was off Surfers Paradise beach back home. No-one else joined him in the water though! Checking all the rock pools near the hole-in-the-wall was a highlight of the walk, with sea stars and brightly coloured anemones to catch our attention. A great day of walking. (By Toni Strozkiy)

Thurs, Sept 13 Hoh Rain Forest. 
Story 1:  Last night, sitting by the fire on the beach, Sarah was enjoying the party so much and not aware that fire sparks had burnt two holes on each leg of her pants until she was back at the cabin.

Story 2:  Today, we are going to walk in the Hoh Rain Forest and I am very excited about it because Elks live in that area. As we drove along, I looked very hard into the forest through the car window for Elks. I saw 2 whitetail deer but no Elks. When we arrived at the ranger station, to my surprise an Elk's hoof suddenly appeared in front of my eyes. My eyes followed the hoof moving upwards. I then found myself looking at a person. It was Ranger Jon holding an Elk's hoof to welcome us to the special rain forest tour and talk. What a special moment! I quickly shook the hand (hoof) of our guide and had a photo taken with the 'Elk' by our crew. You can get copies of this photo from a couple of Australian participants.

Story 3:  Some interesting stories from Ranger Jon of Hoh River Station:
Twilight Saga at Hoh River Valley. Jon's daughter was recovering from her appendicitis operation. As a teenager, she was bored from not being able to go out and have fun, so wanted an iPod. To raise funds, Jon suggested she run a lemonade stand in front of their house. So she did. In one day, four Twilight bus tours stopped at the stall and made her quite a substantial profit. Three days later, she had enough funds to get herself a very wanted IPOD. (By Jiaorong Li)


Fri, Sept 14 -  Hurricane Ridge. Our last day at La Push started earlier and colder than the previous couple of days with news that the temperature at 6.30am was 37 degrees F- a bit nippy for the Australian visitors from the sub-tropics of Brisbane! We had quick visits to the Olympic Visitor Centre at Port Angeles (some lucky people spotted a few deer),and the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Centre. Magnificent views from Hurricane Ridge of rolling, partially snow-covered mountain ranges to the south, including the mighty Mount Olympus, were admired despite the smoke haze from the Leavenworth fires.  After these injections of National Park information, maps, photos and retail therapy, we headed for our substantial walk of the day from Hurricane Ridge. There were 2 walks on offer: a smaller group of 7 people walked to Mt Angeles reveling in an 1800' gain over 6 miles and some serious rock scrambling at the top. Their efforts were rewarded by sightings of deer. The others walked along Klahhane Ridge with a more modest gain of 950' enjoying splendid flowers such as lupines, paintbrush and aster across the meadows, many marmot holes and a very plump rabbit! We all returned to Seattle late in the evening after a splendid day savouring a taste of the magnificent Olympic Mountains.  (By Sarah Lejeune)
Sat, Sept 15Northwest Trek & Mt Rainier.  It was another beautiful, sunny, warm day in the NW as we set off on the Mt Rainier section of our trip.  We met at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park and joined the tram tour.  We were able to photograph all the wildlife we had been searching for on our travels – elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, and bison, although, as Steve said the moose did not cooperate.  It posed beside the fence so we will not be able to claim that photo as a “wildlife shot”.  Other creatures we saw were raccoons, smelly porcupines, beavers, owls, eagles and lots more.  Our afternoon hike was cut short due to track closure of the first section, but enjoyable all the same. The Dancing Bear Lodge is very comfy.  Maria and Sarah relaxed in the hot tub, and we all enjoyed the great meal prepared by Bev and her crew.  Thank you for another great day.  (By Jackie Wilson)
 
Mon, Sept 17 - Skyline Trail and Panorama Point. The day started out as usual with Paul and I last up and a mad rush over to the Dancing Bear Lodge for breakfast. The weather was warm (soon to get hot) and sunny with the ever present forest fire haze. We drove up to an area called Paradise through lush forests along a winding road that offered good views at times. Paradise was a surprise not only for its stunningly close view of Mt Rainier, but also for the style and scale of the lodge and visitor centre buildings. Once all had arrived and got organized we were led off by Joe. The highlight for me occurred before our lunch break at Panorama Point. This was how close the group was able to get to several hoary marmots that were not in the least worried about our presence. Mention must be made here about a certain young lady from Italy who, having a snowball thrown at her by an Australian member of the group concerned that she may be overheating, received repeated snowball attacks on his person.

Just prior to lunch Steve led a small splinter group on a higher track to avoid a climb over a field of snow. They had their lunch looking down on us. Strange music-like noises also emanated from their general direction but nobody could identify what sort of animal was making the sounds. Special mention must be made of Heydi who overcame her fear of heights and falling to cross the snow. The track here was narrow and slippery, and there was the potential to have a long sliding fall. Because of the smoke Panorama Point did not live up to its name, but a lot of people went and admired the elaborate stone restroom. By the time lunch was finished the day had turned quite hot making it a relief to finish the walk and retire to the visitor centre.  (By Ian Murdoch)
 
Tues, Sept 18 – Indian Henry's Cabin. Joe led a longer walk starting at the Kautz Creek Trail head with the destination, Indian Henry’s Patrol Cabin, 5.7 miles away. Ron, Paul, Ian, David and Jiaorong joined Joe for the walk. With an elevation gain of 3200 feet, the “Up” came quickly, the trail rising through old growth forest. Eventually the forest gave way to spectacular rocky outcrops, low shrubs and lots of huckleberries. Over a ridge, Mt Rainier blazed into view providing a great reward for the climb, but a further unexpected treat was in store. The next bend revealed a steep, grassy valley with a female black bear and cub staring up at the uninvited visitors above. Interrupted from their foraging, they made a leisurely retreat to the bushes at the valley bottom.  The verandah of Indian Henry’s Patrol Cabin, seemingly at the foot of Mt Rainier itself, provided a shady lunch venue. Soon we were on our way to Mirror Lake for photos of mountain reflections, a further mile away. Weighing up the choice of the route back, we decided to head for Longmire, 7 miles from the Ranger’s hut with little in the way of “Ups”. The changing scenery was again rewarding. With Joe walking rapidly ahead so as to retrieve the car from the Kautz Creek Trail head Car park (3 miles down the road from Longmire), the rest of the party emerged from the forest to await collection, having walked some 15 miles. After consuming 2 Gatorades from the General Store at Longmire, Joe sprinted to get the car, and was soon back, so with the sun going down, all had experienced a great day.  (By David Jackson)
 

Wed, Sept 19 – Grove of Patriarchs, Lake Tipsoo, Sunrise & Burroughs. We headed to the Grove of the Patriarchs and saw 1000 year old trees such as Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, Hemlock and Alder along the banks of the Ohanapecosh River (try saying this after a few beers). Walked across the first suspension bridge of the trip. Departed Grove of the Patriarchs and drove to Tipsoo Lake. Hiked around the lake looking for the perfect reflections of Mt Rainier. From Tipsoo Lake we drove to the Sunrise Visitor Centre for lunch. The day had really heated up so we all scattered to find picnic tables with good shade from the bright sun.
After lunch we set off on a hike to Frozen Lake and the first and second Burroughs near Mt Rainier. In my opinion this was the most spectacularly beautiful hike of the entire trip so far (including Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming). Mt Rainier appeared so close, I felt I could just reach out and touch it. The weather was simply perfect and the views incredible. Many thanks to Steve for leading this hike.  A fantastic three days in the Mt Rainier National Park. (By Paul Cridland)
 
Thurs, Sept 20 – Mt Pilchuck. It was an exciting day. Mum brought the car around and after a long trip we stopped at Mt Pilchuck trail head. There were lots of new people to greet and get acquainted with. They spoke a bit funny. Mum said they came from a land far away. We set off on the hike through forest and granite slabs - lots of good smells there. The guests puffed going up the hill - you could tell they weren't much used to climbing. I made sure to move them on when they took too much time. They sure talked a lot and I had to keep on rounding them up and be at their heels. They made a big fuss about climbing the rocks to the lookout but I showed them the easy way to jump up and use all fours. On the way back we met some gorgeous looking boys who made me feel all hot and bothered. Luckily my friend David had some extra water to cool me off. At the end of the hike I got spoiled with lots of pats and hugs. It was a wonderful day. (By Nora - the dog - Sheehan, aka Heydi van Mourik)

Fri, Sept 21Free Day. Today was a free day for us to do whatever might take our fancy.  Some of us braved going into the city without the safety of a “local” showing us around.  However, we found that Seattle is not all that big after all, as Aussies kept “bumping” into Aussies all day!!  There were visits to EMP museum, the Klondike centre, the Aquarium and the Underground Tour, as well as many other fabulous attractions that Seattle offers.  Not to mention the excitement and experience of catching the local buses – no one was lost in the process, just a little later than planned!!  Surprisingly, the Aussie men took out the title as the biggest shoppers this trip! Then there was a small group of us, led by Steve, who went to the Arboretum to enjoy a casual stroll around the beautiful trees.  We even found some old friends from home – Snow gums, that were featured in a special Australian plot!!!  To top it off, we saw something that we’d never heard of in Australia.  The ISA (International Society of Arborists) were setting up for the Tree Climbing Championships being held the next day.  As we looked skywards, we saw a climber up in one of trees, swinging from branch to branch, as nimble as a monkey!!  It was fascinating to watch.  Another great day spent in Seattle!  (By Sandra Godsell)

Sat, Sept 22 – Lake 22 and Farewell Dinner. Most of the group met at 9:30am at the Verlot Ranger Sta. for the hike of Lake 22 and then on to the TH to start the hike about 10am. Sean, Maria, Linda and dog Nora arrived about an hour later at the TH allowing a little more sack time for our lovely guest Maria. The late group met up with the lunch eating earlier group at the lake. On the walk around the fog infused lake, Nora and another dog, Tia played wildly and exuberantly on the icy snow patches. There were some autumn flowers and even some huckleberries along the trail. We started down to the cars after the lake walk, a jolly talkative energetic bunch consisting of Francesco and Maria Luce, his lovely granddaughter, Maria and her son Francis, Flo and her engaging grandson, Ian and of course the Aussies and the hosts (Norizan and her husband Frank, Steve, Ron, Glen, John (our intrepid leader for the day), Linda, Sean and the dog Nora. Everyone enjoyed the magnificent old growth cedars, the waterfalls and camaraderie. The farewell party at the Riter's was a lovely and fitting denouement of our time with the Australian friends. (We even surprised Sarah with a birthday cake!) Good food and conversation were followed by presentations and thanks for all the hard work and fun that make these exchanges worthwhile and successful. Thanks Bev, thanks CAI-PNW. (By Linda Sheehan)
 
Note:  Several individuals on previous exchanges to Australia, to the PNW and to Italy, including Penny, met up again and reminisced during our Farewell Dinner!
 

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Mt Bartle Frere traverse as a day walk.

Now the 2 Fat Blokes adventure tour company has dissolved (literally as 1 fat bloke has become too skinny to help maintain the good name) the one remaining fat bloke was looking to maintain his shape while visiting the Atherton Tablelands recently.

He knew there was a fellow beer loving bushwalker also visiting the tablelands so gave him a ring expecting an invite to drop in for a beer or two. Much to his surprise he was instead invited on a walk to traverse Mt Bartle Frere as a through walk.  This bloke, we’ll call him Don, had done this walk about 10 years ago with is daughter in less than ideal conditions, which is pretty standard for the tropics of NQ and also the highest point in Qld.  The fat bloke had also summited the mountain back in about 1978 as a through walk for Josephine Falls to the headwaters of the Mulgrave River so he thought a re-visit would be a reasonable idea.

Don did an excellent job organising permits and drop off and pick up transport (it is a very long car shuffle so drop off & pick-up is the best thing), but didn’t do all that well with the weather. The previous couple of days were a bit overcast with occasional drizzle on the Tableland and up in the mountains looking pretty miserable.

The first day of our walk the morning weather was pretty miserable with the forecast for improving conditions and the 2nd day good weather.

Don and his wife Maureen picked me up from my camp and we headed to the start of the walk on the western side of the mountain in dampish weather. I have never been much into walking in wet and cold conditions so I raised the option with Don of converting our 2 day walk into a day walk, after all it is only an advised 15km with a 900m ascent and 1500m descent. Now those amongst you who are perspective might seem that is a bit odd 900m up but 1500 down. That is the advantage of starting on the Tablelands side, you are already at 700m for the start to the summit of Queensland’s highest mountain at 1622m and then finish near sea-level at Josephine’s Falls.

After a short walk to Bobbin Bobbin Falls in not all that good conditions Don agreed that a day walk was a reasonable thing as it saved him carrying a through walking pack (Don is know for his largish and weighty packs). The only down side with this idea for the fat bloke was that he doesn’t like early rises and this was going to entailed a dawn start, but the good thing was the now free afternoon was available for having a couple of beers.

A very relaxing and convivial night was had with an early night as 0430 alarm was set for a 0500 departure from base so that we were at the start by 0600, just after first light.

Walking commenced at 0615, with a downward trending track which is not good when you have 900m to ascend. Shortly the upward starts and other than a couple of flattish bits and a couple of short down bits it is all up for the next 7 kms.
 

After some scrambling over, though and under large granite boulders, and occasionally searching for the footpad, we came to the western campsite at 1140 which has some flat open areas and a nice water supply so we elected for a lunch break, breakfast being some 61/2 hours earlier. During lunch a light shower passed so we were losing hope of any clear times on top, another 150m vertical and 580m in walking distance. It took us 50 minutes to cover that 580m, arriving on the summit at 1315 to mostly fine weather with just the occasional cloud whipping past or below.


Arriving on the summit it was so different to 1978. There was sign telling us that we were on top of Queensland.  We pulled out our mobile phones (Dick Tracy/Maxwell smart stuff in 1978) and got perfect reception so rang friends took photos on the phones and forwarded them off to others, took multiple photos on digital cameras rather than the big heavy SLR of 1978 and departed the top at 1350 after some 50 minutes enjoying the good weather, views and the occasion.

Now for the 1500m descent over 7.5km with about 1100 m of that descent occurring over the first 4 km. Not far from the summit there is field of large exposed granite boulders. When these boulders are wet, which is most of the time, these can be very slippery. The Parks service has located large and secure hand/foot holds to assist the walker through this area, a wonderful thing for Queensland to have such aids.
 
I thought we might just make it back to the car park before last light, we were close but required our torches to light the way over the last 20 minutes or so, not much use having an injury that close to home.

We arrived at Josephine Falls car park after 121/2 hours on the track to the welcome sight of Maureen with our transport which also contained a fridge with some welcome cold beers for the trip back to our accommodation for the night.
 
All that remained for the day was a good meal, hot shower to clean off the mud, the dried blood from many leach bites and then early to bed.

Thanks to Don and Maureen for helping me to maintain the good standards of the recently defunct 2 Fat Blokes Adventure Touring Company.

 
  

Bartle Frere GPS track profile
 












Monday, April 30, 2012


Lance’s Ramblings.

Ruahine Ranges

This is a story about a trip to New Zealand. We stayed at a sheep, cattle property owned by friends of mine ( Or they were) Alastair and Kay who have turned it into a B and B called the AK Ranch. It is situated near Kimbolton about  a half hour drive north of Palmerston North. The AK Ranch lies beside the Oroua River near the mighty Ruahine Forest Park and it was here we did our walking.
People on the trip were Annette and Greg Neill, Ann Tracey, Bernadette Smith, Anne Kemp ,Ted Wassenberg.  And me.  There are five people that are sixty and over and one teeny bopper just under fifty. She could be recognised as the one flitting around in ballet shoes and pink tutu.
While the story has a few exaggerations , it is basically true.  Well some bits are.
Monday 27th February 2012
Well, we made it -Sunrise Hut.  On the east side of the Ruahine Ranges, south east corner of the North Island of NZ. It has taken a bit of planning but we are doing the Sunrise Hut, Top Maropea Hut, Te Atuaoparapara Peak, Waipawa Saddle, Waikamaka Hut, Waipawa River Circuit. Try typing that with your mouth full.
We left the cars at the North Block Road carpark at 12am and had our lunch at the nearby Triplex Hut and started our walk at 12.45pm. Seven people with packs ranging from 15 kg up to 20 kg. We do not know how Ann managed 15 kg.  We think it comprised of a very heavy sleeping bag and 4 noodles for 4 days. We do not mean 4 packets of noodles. Just 4 noodles.
Up the track we went. We had to gain 700m in height. Now I know that school groups walk up to Sunrise Hut and parents take their young  kids up there on family outings. Probably kindergarten kids walking 2 or 3 abreast, holding hands, skipping and singing ‘’ Kookaburra sits in the old Gum Tree” or in NZ’s case. ‘Kiwi sits in the old Rimu Tree” which is kind of silly because Kiwis can not fly so how the hell did it get a great big Rimu tree. Bloody lying New Zealanders. Even though it is such an easy place to access, we still thought it was a flaming big up.
Much to our surprise, even though there were some awfully unfit people amongst us, we managed it in 2hrs 30min which was the recommended time. We normally have great trouble matching NZ times.
The great thing about Sunrise Hut is that it sits on a ridge with a beautiful view facing east where the sun rises on fine days. On other days I am not quite sure where it comes from.
But …….. if you pick up your camera and climb a little hill just to the south of the hut and look west then the majestic  Ruahine Range unfolds. You can see Armstrong Saddle and Waipawa Saddle and the top section of the rocky Waipawa River  and the diamond shaped Te Atuaoparapara Peak , 300m above you. This is what it is all about and this is why we are here.
Might  think  about  tea.   “Bernadette!”
Tuesday 28th .
Woke up about 6am.  Looked out the hut window to the east awaiting the sunrise and saw a figure walking around outside.
THINKS. “Ted is up awfully early walking around outside and I did not even hear him get up”.  Then something very strange happened as another figure walked past and another and another.
THINKS AGAIN.  “ Nobody else in our party would even consider getting up that early”.
And then it happened. We were overrun by a thousand NZ Commandos. Barking orders and waving their firearms around, their faces hidden by balaclavas, beanies and sun hats.  Well it felt like it, anyway.  Nineteen school students and their instructors had left Triplex Hut, 700m below at 3am and walked up to Sunrise Hut for the sunrise at 7am.
Glad I only did woodwork at High School.
Lovely sunrise, lots of photos.
Today we walk over Armstrong Saddle and down the ridge 200m to Top Maropea Hut which is down in the valley to the west. A little four-bed hut with lots of character which means some are going to tent because four does not go into seven very well.
I now know how Captain Bligh must have felt because we had a rebellion. Not unusual in a DMP (Democratic walking party).  It seems some of the party become overawed with the opulence of Sunrise Hut and wanted to stay another night there instead of the small, cramped, drafty Top Maropea  Hut way down the opposite valley in the predicted rain.  Whingers.  It was not so bad an idea except one of them was Bernadette, my designated cook.
So we all left for Top Maropea Hut at 9.30am. Three of us to stay there and the rest to return to Sunrise Hut for the night. We lunched at the Top Maropea Hut and then the others set off back to Sunrise Hut while we rolled out our swags to the sprinkle of predicted showers.
The three in Top Maropea had an exciting afternoon. We slept and read and slept and talked and slept. Then at 2 o’clock in the afternoon , down came the rain. Not heavy, just constant showers. You do all sorts of things to fill in a afternoon when you’re confined to a 4-metre square hut. It had a table, a fire place, a seat at the table and one chair, wooden, sitting for the use of. That’s my Army training for you.
“Going out in to the rain to check the water tank” stated Ted.  “ Yep, it’s a water tank”
“Going out in the rain to see if there are any clouds”.  Ted again.
I think the pressure was getting to him.
Be damned if I know what one party did that spent 3 days there.
“Bernadette, what’s for tea?”  Even though Bernadette was not with us, because she is a clever little ballet dancer, she cooked up my tea before she left at lunch time, now all I have to do is con someone to heat it up for me at tea time.  “ Anne, are you busy at present?”
Even the night passed slowly. We all had our tea then off to bed.   Again.
Woke up at some ungodly hour and looked out the window and all I could see was stars.  Thought to myself, “Tomorrow is going to be a very special day”.
I do a lot of thoughting.
Wednesday 29th.
Awoke at 6am with a covering of frost on the grass. Packed up quickly and climbed the 200m back up on to the ridge top by 8 and waited for the others turn up from Sunrise at the designated 9am meeting time.  It was a glorious day.
Off we went and slowly plodded up on to the top of the world at Te Atuaoparapara, getting there at 11.30 for an early lunch. Our times may seem a lot slower than the NZ trampers but as I am a Past President of the Nullarbor Plains Walking Club I have yet to appreciate big hills.  Or any hills for that matter.
Had our lunch looking out over a magnificent view.  Ruapehu in all her glory.
Then we headed down the scree slope for the Waipawa Saddle at 2.15 and then a rock hop down the creek to Waikamaka Hut which is privately owned by the Heretaunga Tramping Club. Our donation will be in the mail.
Great little Hut, 8 bunks and there were 7 of us. You just have to take turns to cook. Some went for a wash.  I had to remind them that only dirty people wash.
“Bernadette! Is my tea ready yet?”
That night at some hour I was lying awake and then I heard it. It was something I dreaded.  Rain.
I rolled over to face Ann who was also awake and quietly let fly with a string of foul mouthed obscenities. “ Bugger,bugger,bugger.”                                                                                                             Rain meant that the lovely creek we rock hopped down yesterday would now become a swiftly flowing torrent.  Rain had been forecast for the next day. I just did not want it to start so soon. What I did not know was that the wind was going to blow, and blow it did. It did not just blow.  It howled.
Thursday 1st March.
Arose at 6.30am, still dark, wind blowing. We breakfasted, packed, and were away before 8am. Once we got into the creek I knew we were in for a fun day. There was an air of purpose in the party, not a lot was said, the joking stopped, everybody was rugged up and I could tell everyone meant business when, instead of trying to keep their feet dry  crossing the creek, they just waded straight through. It does not normally happen in Queensland.  Wet feet.
Ann T had a badly swollen knee held together by my knee brace that I always carry.  The creek was up, flowing and dirty.  And the wind was howling with scuds of rain constantly driving through. I had read trip reports of trampers crossing Armstrong Saddle on their hands and knees because of the wind. We were about to find out.
Ted being the fittest and most experienced was out front finding a suitable route around the various challengers, then Annette. Greg was next as he could keep an eye on Annette in front of him and also help AnnT behind. Anne K was next who is an experienced walker and she could help AnnT  in front  and keep an eye on Bernadette behind. Bernadette was very fit but not very experienced in this type of situation. Boy did she learn fast and I must say performed beautifully. I as leader stayed down the back and just watched it all unfold.  And I must say a very clever leader.  Giggle, giggle.
We slowly waded our way up the creek and where we were rock hopping yesterday, we were wading today.  And all the while the wind howled. The further up the creek we went, the stronger the wind.
I bet everybody was happy they had $400 parkas instead of $50 specials. You may not need your good gear very often but when you do….
As we neared the saddle there was one section where the track went along a small ridge, one track wide with a drop on either side. Normally it would be nothing but I could see where people had to crouch and wait for a lull in the wind and then dash forward to a more secure position. At one stage there was a waterfall off to our right --- the water was pouring over the lip of the rock and promptly being blown back up and over itself.  A waterfall truly flowing uphill.
Bernadette, who was just in front of me, was sitting down on an exposed section of track because she just could not stand up. And the look on her face! It was not fear, she did not appear frightened. It looked like a face of amazement. It was a “what do I do now and get me out of here” look.
Must confess. I was loving it. It was man against the elements. The rain, the howling wind and me.
People who run Marathons. Most do not expect to win or even get in the top 100. They are competing against themselves or their personal best time. Some do not even care what times they do. They just want to finish.
Walking is sometimes like that. Yourself competing against the elements and your own mindset.
Getting over the crest of Waipawa Saddle was very interesting. With packs on , Ted had to crawl over the top and find the start of the track on the other side, some crabbed their way over. Bernadette got to the brink and that is where she stayed. Crouched, head down, legs braced and supported by her one remaining walking pole. The other pole had disappeared down the creek a little earlier.
She stayed there for an eternity, which was possibly only a minute. When you think you are going to get blown off the face of the earth, it seems like an eternity. We ended up linking arms and supported each other as we inched over the top. Or if you are very young, centimetred over the top.
Eventually at 9.30am we were all over the crest of Waipawa Saddle and we slowly worked our way down the track in the scrub to the creek which is the head waters of the Waipawa River. The wind was still blowing but the ferocity was gone. The further down the river we went, the stronger the flow and the muddier it got.
People were starting to tire, Annette crossed the river below a small rapid, lost her footing and the only thing above water level was a head and top of a pack. She quickly dragged herself out. AnnT limped on. People were tiring from constantly concentrating. There was no respite.
We arrived at Waipawa Forks Hut which is at the bottom of the steep section of the river at 12.45pm after four and a half hours constantly on the go. People stripped off their wet parkas, overpants, clothes ,boots, socks and shuffled into the hut for a brew up and a long lunch.
After everybody had suitably recovered, we put our wet gear back on, saddled up and proceeded down the river again. Here it is wide, rocky and flat and 2km and 13 creek crossings later we reached the road that led us back to our vehicles.
We had intended to spend the night in Triplex Hut before driving home the next day but as a large contingent of high school students were camping there we gave it a big miss and to keep our Bernadette happy, we drove on to the YHA hostel in Napier, the Art Deco Capital of the World.
There are going to be lots of stories at the next Bushwalking Club meeting.
Monday 5th.
We have just spent a few days at our base, the AK Ranch. Resting,reading,eating and drinking and now we are off to our next walk. This is a circuit on the west side of the Ruahines. Another long, steep walk up to Rangiwahia Hut, across the open grassy tops of the Range and down into the headwaters of the Orowa  River at Triangle Hut and then down stream to Iron Gate Hut and still further downstream past the Alice Nash Memorial Heritage Lodge and out to our transport. This entailed a car shuffle and while at the lower car park had a yarn to 3 people waiting there. It seems that they were being flown in to Triangle Hut to paint it, with 2 DOC ( Department of Conservation) fellows. This meant our plans to stay in the 6 man hut had to be changed so we decided not to stay there and do a long day from Rangiwahia right through to Iron Gate so making our trip one day shorter.
Walking up the track to Rangiwahia Hut was a 500m climb and it eventually levelled out once we stepped on to the hut verandah. It took us two and a half hours to get up to the hut with a detour around a recent large land slip. We soon grabbed our bunks which to those not familiar with NZ are fitted with mattresses and we were soon drinking tea and nibbling bickies while we waited for sunset and more pictures. From this hut the snow covered Mt Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe are clearly visible and way off in the distance on the west coast is Mt Taranaki or Egmont to the English-speaking  gentry.
It was not a special sunset but still got some good photos and then inside for “ Bernadette, is my tea ready yet?”
Tuesday 6th.
AnnT was not on this section as her knee was a mess and we were leaving Greg and Annette behind here as they were both suffering from the lurgi. (Did you know this word, also spelled “lurgy”, was coined by Spike Milligan?)  In retrospect I wish I had been ill also.
Rangiwahia Hut is a modern hut sleeping 12 and is at 1327m. The walk from the hut to the top of the range took a couple of hours to cover 3km and we left our packs and wandered up to high point of Mangahuia at 1583mt. The track now had to drop 800m down to Triangle Hut on the Orowa River. It was steep,washed out and grown over with long grass. You could not tell if your next step was going to be 10cm or 1metre which I found a little disconcerting for one who no longer has any shock absorbers in my knees. It was a long, slow painful journey. It improved once we got into the forest which I was told was very pretty as all I was watching was the next step in front of me.
Arrived at Triangle Hut at 1.30pm, had a late lunch and a yak with the painters and the DOC fellows and then off to Iron Gate Hut, 3km down the Oroua River. The water level was higher than usual due to the recent rain but with Ted in front we crisscrossed our way down the river. But there was a small catch. Just a little bit before Iron Gate Hut it is necessary to swim or wade through the Iron Gate Gorge. We did not get to see that bit because as the water was high we opted to take the safer wet weather route which entails climbing 5,000m up on to the top of a ridge and then 5,000m all the way down the other side.
Well it felt like it. In reality only a 200m haul up but when you are stuffed to start with, a steep 200m is a long way up.
Eventually we reached Iron Gate Hut at 6pm and was I glad to see that hut. A few months previously, a party had to be air-lifted out due to the swollen river.
“Bernadette! Is tea ready yet?”
I slept like a log that night.
Wednesday 7th.
Up and away around 8 and on the home run now. The track from here follows the river, though well above it, contouring around the ridges. The other option was to walk down the river. We followed the track which was very pretty and not all that hard going as there was no major change in elevation. Not quite as flat as my Nullarbor stomping ground though.
We were supposed to take 4hrs and we did. Had lunch at the fairly new Alice Nash Hut and then it was a half hour stroll out to Pattersons Car Park. It would be a most enjoyable walk given fine weather and a bit more fitness. We had the fine weather.
Over all, by New Zealand standards we have had really good weather as it has been wet for the last 3 months. On the way home back to the B and B, which was only a hour away, we stopped in at the Apiti Pub for a couple to celebrate.. Bloke at the counter said, “Are you the mob that came down the Oroua?”  Word sure travels fast.
Back to the B and B.   “Kay! What’s for tea?”
It really was an unforgettable 2 weeks’ walking, made better by the hospitality of Kay and Alastair.
I thank everybody for their effort and company. Ted for his leadership qualities up front when we were walking. Truth is he cannot walk as slowly as some of us manage to do.  From me a special thank you to Bernadette for solving my lack of enthusiasm for cooking and persisting with some miserable walking conditions without even a whimper. The rest are all old stagers and I expected them to show the qualities that they did.
Love Lance.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Wangapeka Track. 3rd -10th November 2011

There is a track winding back to an old fashioned shack called the Wanga-peka Track.

And so five Australian Bushwalkers set out on a walk in the Kahurangi National Park at the top end of the South Island of New Zealand. Almost due West of Nelson, starting near Matariki and finishing at Little Wanganui on the coast north of Westport.

The weather forecast did not look good but you have to take what you are given. Any other time I would have sat in town and played tourist but this time I was a guest in the party and the others were keen walkers ruthlessly led by Captain Wassenberg. Even the name sends shivers down my spine. Guess I just got a little slack in my old age and expanding girth.

The shuttle bus left Nelson at 7.30. That’s 7.30 in the morning. I must have looked silly climbing in the bus in my jim jams. At least I could change on the bus. Peter, the driver was a very knowledgeable tramper himself with reams of information on the area we were to visit. He was taking us in to the start of the Mt Owen Track and the Wangapeka Track but 8km before the end of the road the Dart River causeway was flooded and a little risky too drive across so we disembarked and had a extra 8km to hoof before the trip actually started. As the weather forecast was lousy and Mt Owen was the highest peak in the northern sector and in theory we were 2hrs late because of the extra walk we decided to leave Mt Owen for another day or should I say 3 days.

We started the Wangapeka Track at Rolling Junction at 11.15 am and reached the Kings Creek Hut at 3.15 pm. The walk follows the Wangapeka River and me assuming the river was flat with just a little downhill to make it flow envisaged a easy walk in to the hut like walking into Aspiring Hut.

Silly me. The track does follow the river but there were lots of little ups and downs. The track not the river. And me being as unfit as I was, then those littlies turned into bigs. Most of the walk in was in rain, not enough to justify rain gear but either way you would have got wet. Rain from the outside or sweat from the inside. Never the less when I got to the Kings Creek Hut I was buggered and my wonky knees were screaming.

The party consisted of 3 Redlands Bushies, Captain (Super fit) Wassenberg or if you were game enough Sir or just plain Ted. Russell who was also very fit and it helped that all he carried was a handkerchief cut in half for equipment. And Rob, who thankfully also had deteriorating knees. Two YHA Bushies, Kerry, who was a little new to this game, could walk fast but had not yet learnt to pace himself and old blubber guts me, could pace myself but it did not seem to help with enough food on board to feed a regiment for a month in case it was necessary.

Kings Creek Hut. 4th November

Late yesterday afternoon was fine but the rain started about 4am this morning. Our plan was to walk up to Kiwi Saddle Hut which was an off shoot off the main track and was up on the tops of the ranges. But there was a creek to cross and that would have been flooded. On our walk in yesterday we met a tramper walking out who was stuck in Kiwi Saddle Hut on the other side of the stream for 2 days waiting for it to go down. The catch was he had to walk down from the hut for 3hrs to find the stream was flooded and then had to walk back up to the hut again for the night.

So here we sit in Kings Creek Hut waiting for the weather to clear. We could not move on to Stone Hut as there is a very large party of American Outdoor Education people camping there for the night and the hut only holds 10. Here we have a 20 bed hut all to ourselves. We just sat around with “I remember the time” and “back in the good old days” stories.

1.30pm and all's well. I never realised how much fun you can have sitting in a hut with no library. Kerry for instance is not noted for his powers of observation but came up with a profound statement “The rains coming down now.” He meant the rain is a little heavier than 5hrs ago. Rob was measuring the angle of inclination of the falling rain. Mainly down. But at different times it was at different angles. I decided to have some lunch as my pack was too heavy because of the excess food. So for lunch I had a charming little combination of cheese slices, Swedish salami and dried tomato in pesto in a wholegrain tortilla wrap. Not much reading matter, only two magazines. One of them I never got to read as it was very popular. I think it was a porn magazine called “Forest and Bird”. The other was a South Island accommodation listing. In these conditions King Creek Hut seems pretty good and a hive of exciting activity.

Captain Wassenberg just kept pacing.

Kings Creek Hut. 5TH November.

6.30am and alls well. Except it’s snowing. Not really heavy snow but enough to leave frozen clumps of snow on the grass. We are at 480 metres elevation here.

We started walking at 8.30 am heading for Stone Hut, had a quick look at the historical Cecil King’s Hut and then onwards crossing Luna Stream on the slippery ice covered swing bridge and then another swing bridge over the Wangapeka River arriving at Stone Hut at 11.30am in sunshine. We were walking alongside a lovely stretch of river with its deep gorges and waterfalls but becoming flat as we approached Stone Hut.

There was 4 DOC track clearing fellas staying there and our 5 made it quite cosy in the 10 bed hut. Two young Czech girls just passed through going the other way stopping long enough to have a cuppa and some soup, they had just walked up the Karamea Valley and then stayed in the Trevor Carter Hut for a day to dodge the weather that had us idle. Trevor Carter Hut being a day and a half further up the track that we were following. These little lassies were in a hurry to get out as they had work lined up so they took a short cut over the Biggs Tops which at this stage was covered in snow and another700 metres higher than we were. They seemed to know what they were doing but their plastic shopping bag gaiters had me wondering. They were certainly braver than me.

Stone Hut is in a lovely position, the river just in front with a Blue Duck preening itself just opposite.

I fell in the creek while trying to cross it for a photo. With the sun out it was not a big problem. And all of a sudden it started to snow again. Talk about Melbourne weather. All the while the DOC blokes were out there somewhere clearing the tracks. They sure do earn their money.

Stone Hut. 6th November

Left Stone Hut at 8.40am heading for Helicopter Flat Hut at 730metres high but we had to walk over the Wangapeka Saddle at 1020 metres high. We got to the saddle at 10.20am. The weather looked sort of reasonable so we altered our plans and decided to go over the Biggs Tops to the Trevor Carter Hut knowing full well the Tops had a good covering of snow from the previous two nights of snow. This was the way the two Czech girls had come the previous day.

Walking up to the Wangapeka Saddle the track had snow beside it all the way. To get to the Biggs Tops you leave the Wangapeka Track at the saddle and head up another 300metres to the treeline, walking in snow all the way.

We geared up and started following the snow poles sidling around a ridge in snow 300 to 600mls deep. Going was slow with one of the party not familiar with these kind of conditions, and the weather appeared to be changing so we bailed out and retraced our steps back to Wangapeka Saddle. It was good fun and a little different to what we would have expected. We stopped beside a creek at 1pm and had our customary 15min. lunch hour.

Captain Wassenberg had a heart after all.

We then headed down to Helicopter Flat Hut following the Karamea River. It was good going initially except for a detour around a big land slip and when we got down to the river there is a couple of wet boot crossings and then slow going due to little ups and downs to get around rocky bluffs bordering the river. We arrived at Helicopter at a tired 5pm. The 10 bunk hut all to ourselves as the American Adventure group which were there were camped in 3 and 4 man tents. I do not know where the women in the party camped.

Kerry had a bath in the creek this evening as he thought he could smell something while the others had bucket baths. I was always told that only dirty people bathe. So that was that.

Helicopter Flat Hut. 7th November.

As per usual Ted was up at 5.30am stuffing around but the rest of us did not move a muscle till 7.30am. It takes will power. Today is a easy day, time and distance wise.

Left Helicopter at 9 for the Trevor Carter Hut via the Lost Valley. A very pretty walk, made better by the fact we had sun and blue sky. Arrived at 11am. Beautiful modern hut and a excellent situation. The crystal clear Karamea River out the front door and a great view up the Taipo Valley where we head tomorrow. The more intellectual minds in the party spent the afternoon throwing rocks in the side creek so they could cross without getting their tootsies wet. They could have walked upstream a couple of hundred metres and stepped across, it would have been a lot faster.

The dumb ones, Kerry and myself, sat in the hut looking at the view.

Then the tranquillity was pleasantly disturbed by a visit of an angel. A female angel, albeit grubby. The advance scout of a group of 5 angels. This was a party of local young mothers who abandon their partners and off spring once a year to do their head clearing exercise. They had arrived at the hut via the Biggs Tops. That was the way we attempted the previous day and backed off. They had a lovely sunny day but melting snow to contend with. They breed them tough in NZ. (Except one was a pom but she has been forgiven.) Great night, great company.

Trevor Carter Hut. 8th November

The long range weather forecast did not mention yesterdays beautiful day but they did say today was going to be rain. Not to be confused with showers which is a different proposition altogether. Rain means you are going to get wet.

We left the Trevor Carter Hut at 8.10am which is early by our standards and headed for Taipo Hut up the Taipo Valley. If Captain Ted had his way it would be 6.10 but 4 against 1 are strong odds. The reason for leaving early was to try and dodge the rain and it was only a 2 ½ hrs walk if you read the signs. Unfortunately, most walkers are pretty dumb and can not read as we took 3hrs like most people who do this walk.

We just got in to the Taipo Hut and out of our wet gear from the showers when it started to bucket down.

There was 5 soggy ladies out there somewhere on our tails. By the time they arrived we had the fire going, clothes line strung up and water boiling for a cuppa. We all took over the hut, which sleeps 16, and ate, drank and talked for the rest of the afternoon. Walking does not have to be painful. Tomorrow is a big day. Taipo Hut is at 700metres and to get to Bell Town Mananui Hut at 250metres we have to go over the Little Wanganui Saddle at 1100metres.

I am glad we did not have to go over the Big Wanganui Saddle wherever that is.

Taipo Hut. 9th November.

5am. Heard a Kiwi call at Taipo Hut. Set off at 7.40am for Little Wanganui Saddle in fine weather with mist on the mountains and down below the saddle, but with little sun. Arrived at the saddle at 9.15am. Very pretty spot with a large tarn and good picture opportunities. Headed down into the valley towards Bell Town Mananui Hut, a steep down and hard on the knees through some lovely moss forest. Morning tea just before Wangapeka Bivouac at 11 and lunch at 12.30 just before the Tangent Ck. Bridge. Captain Ted relented and allowed us 16min. for lunch.

The track on this side of the range is much rougher and the flora lush. Slow slog over tree roots and rocks arriving at the Bell Town Mananui Hut at 3.20pm. Starting to rain and a little worried about the 5 girls behind us. Sigh of relief when they arrived 2hrs behind us, wet as shags and all smiles. A good night. Five blokes and five girls in a 10 bed hut. Drinks, jokes and tall tales. Great company.

Bell Town Mananui Hut. 10th November.

Last day. 7.40am left the hut for a 3hr. walk out to the trail end. Followed the river most of the way along a very wet track from all of last night’s rain and just before the end of the track I stopped. Imagine when one dies and you go to your version of heaven, you would hear angels singing. Well I was standing on the side of the track and even with my hearing difficulties and imagination I could hear singing. A lady with a beautiful voice was singing some form of opera. I did not think I was dead although I probably felt like it but off in the distance somebody was playing music and it was opera. Wonderful experience for the end of the walk. Civilisation.

Thanks as always to Ted for doing all the work organising the Wangapeka Track walk and to the company of Kerry, Russell and Rob and to the 5 Takaka ladies for a memorable trip.

Love Lance.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tongariro Northern Circuit

The two fat blokes and their entourage (minus a couple from GBI plus an extra picked up along the way) departed at 7:15am on a misty moisty morning from the hostel at National Park along with about 20 others who had all stayed at the Hostel the previous night. After a short drive we were deposited at the trail head at Mangatepopo. There was already a steady steam of walkers that had been deposited by other buses heading off. There was only our group and one or two others with large packs doing the 3 or 4 day circuit, all the others were doing the Tongariro Crossing regarded as the best day walk in New Zealand.

Most of our group have walked in a wide range of weather conditions over many years and we were more than a little surprised by the lack of equipment and water that most of the day walkers were carrying or not carrying. The weather for the day itself did not look all that fine but still there was an apparent lack of gear.

The landscape reminded me of Scotland (not that I, as the poor member of the two fat blokes team, have ever visited that exotic land) and, as it turned out later, the purple flowers scattered amongst the rocks and coming and going from view with the cloud whipping past was heather, Calluna vulgaris, imported to remind the poor British souls of their beautiful homes that they had left behind. It is now a rampant weed within the National Park

After a short walk we came to the turn off to Soda Springs which we all visited. It was then up and more up as the track climbs up the saddles where for those keen walkers you can detour to the summits of Tongariro and/or Ngauruhoe. Two of our group, with too much energy, decided to peak bag Tongariro. We more sensible people headed over the crest of the ridge, about 1860m, to get out of the cold wind and to the great views of the red crater and for a spot of lunch. To sit there for a 30-40 minutes and watch the changing views of red crater and Ngauruhoe with the wind whipping the clouds past was a wonderful thing for a person who has no active volcanoes, and their barren landscapes, anywhere close to their home.

The descent down the loose volcanic scree slope was quick and easy. A stop at the Emerald Lakes with the earth close by emitting a constant stream of sulphurous gases was interesting. The others headed along the track to Blue Lake while I cut across the valley floor to admire the parallel runs of solidified lava flows. Very interesting photography. After getting back on the track and meeting up with the others at a high point over looking Blue Lake we headed down the never ending ziz zag track to our accommodation for the night, Ketetahi Hut.

A good night with an interesting mix of people from around the world and informative DOC Ranger/Hut Warden.

The next morning, we had to climb some 300ms meters back to Blue Lake which was a bit disappointing after losing that height the previous day the day. Lance, the other half of the two fat blokes’ famous team, had organised the itinerary and did a fantastic job. Due to the completely different weather conditions we had the opportunity to see the Red Crater with a backdrop of Ngauruhoe which we had only seen fleeting glimpses of the previous day. I headed back up the loose scree slope, the others thought that was pretty strange after already going up some 300m from the hut but it was a once a life time chance to see the different two faces in two days.

After sitting up there for half an hour or so I descended back to the track junction at Emerald Lakes to find the group had headed of to Oturere Hut for lunch. It is a very interesting walk though lava flows before descending a nose of one flow to a valley floor. You must stop regularly on your descent and take in the changing views of Red Crater and Ngauruhoe. Wonderful constantly changing vista.

I arrived at the hut at 13:00 for a welcome cup of tea and some rejuvenating food. We departed the hut at about 14:00 and headed for our night’s accommodation at Waihohonu Hut. We arrived at this very large and brand new hut after another varied and interesting walk at about 5:00 pm, enough time to set up our bunks, brew up a cup of tea and have a wander around outside to take in the new vistas of the mountains.

Waihohonu Hut reminded me a little of the new Windy ridge hut on Tasmania’s Overland track, large, modern well built with too much space. Both huts have very large kitchen dining areas that lack the crowded intimacy and group conversations that the older smaller and consequently crowded huts seem to generate.

Last day’s walk passed the original Waihohonu Hut which is a lovely historical hut. After that it really was a bit of a trudge all the way back to Whakapapa Village, particularly the last 2 hours along the newly “hardened” track from the turn off to Tama Lakes.

A quick bus ride back to the Hostel at National Park and then an easy 2 day drive back to Auckland completed another varied and interesting walking trip to New Zealand’s North Island.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Two Fat Blokes and Friends - NZ revisited

We have reached the stage now where Greg and myself are fairly well known in the celebrity world. Our travel writing career is booming though our royalties from our books and CD's have not started rolling in yet so we are still short of funds and unable to pay off our credit cards from our last excursion.

People jealous of our fame keep suggesting we should put something back into the industry in view of the large amount of money we will make out of our travels. To this end we decided to help some less talented individuals and run a course teaching others about eating, travel, eating, photography, eating and journalism. And eating.

As we have not received our financial windfall that we so richly deserve, we decided to again visit the land of our recent success. New Zealand. Because it is cheap.

Besides Greg and myself, the class consisted of six others. Three gentleman and three ladies. It was quite obvious the three gentlemen had done some early training for the trip as they too were of ample girth. But the ladies were like rake handles, to use a phrase from my dear old Dad. Talk about skinny. Boy did they have lots to learn about the gourmet culture.

On the flight home from our last trip, I was reading articles to Greg out of the New Zealand paper to entertain him. One was about Great Barrier Island and I thought, beauty, Great Barrier Reef, which can be our next trip. But it turns out Great Barrier Island is a part of New Zealand. First it was Russell Crowe, then Kiwi Fruit and now one of our islands in the Great Barrier Reef. Next thing you know they will be sending apples to Australia.

It seems Great Barrier Island or "The Barrier" to the locals is eighty kilometres north east of Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf and is like New Zealand used to be before we snuck our soft, furry, cuddly little possums over there. Teach them for pinching our Kiwi Fruit.

We did our homework on the Island and then planned our adventures. Our chosen place to stay was a small house on a rural property in the vast metropolis of Okiwi which is in the northern part of the island and central to the tramping area and the pub. The house was called "Island Stay". Three bedrooms, kitchen, dining come lounge area and a lovely verandah to sit and chat. And eat. It even had a toilet and the best shower. Plenty of steaming hot water, gravity fed from a tank way up in the hills. It had so much pressure you could not even think while in the shower. Wasn’t fancy, but quiet and relaxing. Could even hear the booming surf at night. Nine out of ten for the house, eleven out of ten for the shower.

Monday.

For our first lesson, Greg was going to teach the class about Tramping. This is imperative for travel writers with no money.

Our first trip was the Harataonga Coastal Track 21. The locals said we made a great first up choice as it was flat. Number one rule to our class was never believe a local. The Barkly Highway is flat, the Nullarbor Plain is flat. The Harataonga Coastal Track is not flat. Although after doing numerous other walks on Great Barrier Is (GBI), in retrospect, the Harataonga Coastal Track might just be a little bit flat.

Because the walk was over twelve kilometres long and following the coast we had to do a car shuffle and started walking early at 9am. Lovely walk on a formed but not necessarily cleared track, similar to some of the Lamington tracks only the trees have these real funny names which most educated Australian people could not pronounce. It did help having three plant people in the party. What is wrong with plain old fashioned “Gum Tree."

Beautiful ocean views and not many ups and downs as the track was an old bridle trail. Bet the women made a mess of their wedding dresses on that trail. Bugger if I know what they would be doing there in the first place. The end of the trail which was the southern end took us over a flat topped hill called a "Pa" which is a old Maori defensive fort. The trail ends at a camping area called Harataonga which is set on a large grassy area near some Mahoe trees, like big Moreton Bay Figs. To get back to the house we then had to do a reverse car shuffle. With twist, for extra points.

Every tramp in the wilderness centres around making correct decisions. You have to know the skills of the mountains and make decisions. You have to work with the rest of your party, experienced and new comers, and then make decisions. And so it was when we had to decide where we were going for dinner that evening. We had sent out an advance party to Cafe Motu, just a short walk up the road. The cafe does not open at night, serving breakfast, brunch or lunch but as soon as our members mentioned Greg and Lance, they willingly agreed to open up for dinner for us that evening. It was obvious our reputation as food connoisseurs had preceded us. Halema and David said they were low on supplies as the barge, with their order from Auckland, had not yet arrived but they would whip something up. Man, is she good with the whip and get your minds out of the gutter. We started with Mussel chowder as entree. Mains were Roast Lamb with potatoes, pumpkin, peas, and beans and as Greg and I were special, to soothe the welts on our backs we were given as desert, Raspberry Shortcake with ice cream and cream using her Grandmothers recipe. Cafe Motu Thurs to Sunday 9am to 4pm. Okiwi. Phone 4290002. If you want a group booking at night. Just inquire and mention Greg and Lance. Five Star.

Tuesday.

Was to be our most challenging day, walking wise. The summit of Mt Hobson via the Kaiaraara Track. The party split into two leaving a car at either end of the track with Mt Hobson in the middle. The first party consisted of Ted, a friend of mine from the old bushwalking days and a member of the Redlands Bushies and Anne K from the BBW and QLD Bushies adding the beauty to the party. I joined in with this party to make sure they did not break into a run. We approached Mt Hobson from the Port Fitzroy end. I hope you are taking notes or all this information is available from the DOC Website, Great Barrier Island. NZ.

Absolutely beautiful walk following the creek up under a Manuka canopy in temperate rainforest and then a million formed steps to the summit. Dept. of Conservation ( DOC ) has done a tremendous job and must be congratulated.

The riff raff (other party) approached the peak from Aotea Rd via Windy Canyon, a much easier route but in the early morning light, very spectacular. Taking 2.5 hrs to do the 3.3 km. Both parties met on the summit for lunch and swapped keys and route for the return. A great days walk.

That evening we frequented the Port Fitzroy Boat Club with the classier people having champers and the standard slowly dropping to beer and then Coke. I had to drive otherwise I would have had double Sars. Deary, deary me.

By now the group was getting in the swing of things and you could see they were learning the things that they were being taught. The married couple, Ray and Jill were especially attentive to the extent they often practiced the sleeping in segment of the course that the master Greg had taught. Jill was our quiet one she would just sit and study our notes on eating and do her crosswords.

Ray. Well Ray you could hardly say was a quiet one. He was our walking encyclopaedia . Did you know that Norway gained independence from Sweden in 1905 or that the Spangled Mugwump only had two offspring, because the male would kick any others out of the nest because it practised zero population growth? Fascinating.

Wednesday.

After a very strenuous two nights of eating, the team opted for a quiet day. It was not necessary to get up early at 8am like previous days as we were off to Glen Fern Sanctuary.

One of the class was Ann T. For somebody who wanted to learn about the culinary delights she just did not seem to fit in. She was into plants and birds and wet bath mats. If you want a vigorous discussion, ask her what she has against wet bath mats. Then step back, cower on the ground and protect you head. No suits or evening dresses for our Ann, she wore cheesecloth and kaftans and she had this constant rainbow glowing over her head. But she did try, while everybody was eating exotic cereals and mueslis for breakfast, she was cooking omelettes. Poor kid, she will eventually learn.

The trip to Glen Fern Sanctuary was special. It is on a peninsula of GBI that one resident and his neighbours have spent a fortune fencing off from the rest of the island and proceeded to eradicate all the pests. No rats, cats, pigs, stoats, possums and any thing else that the mainlanders so successfully breed.

This has the native wildlife to multiply and a large number of birds to return to the revegetated property. The tour costs $40 each for a 2hr tour, starting with a short explanation in a lecture room and then a drive in a Unimog to the top of the property near a lookout and then a guided walk back through the forest with a walking discussion on all the plant and bird life on the property. Our 2hr tour wandered into 3hrs and Helena our guide was very knowledgeable about all aspects of the property. Recommended.

The afternoon was my choice of the activities and was spent strolling down Whangapoua Beach. Sand hills on one side, surf on the other. No navigation problems, no worries, camera in hand. Needless to say, some of the cretins in the party were at the far end of the beach while Greg and myself were still only half way. At the end of the beach is a creek flowing out of a vast lagoon area full of bird life. Next trip to the island I intend to hire a canoe and have a leisurely paddle. To get back to the house it is necessary to wade across the shallow section and walk back along the road.

Somebody, in a Ray of hope, decided to wade across the deepest section at the mouth of the creek on a run out tide. Upon hearing this I rang information from my mobile for the phone number of the life savers. Did you know the life savers in Chile, South America do not have a phone connection.

Needless to say Ray and Jill survived.

That night some of the galloping gourmets were back at the Boat Club while Greg instructed the others in cooking spaghetti. Then much to his disgust was expected to eat it.

Another of our party was Kerry. While a very good walker and real easy to get along with, Kerry has a problem with heights. He even gets worried reading Playboy because of the exposure. Unfortunately, just prior to the trip he had a pushbike accident, shattered collarbone, bruised ribs and the biggest haematoma on his hip that you would ever want to see. It kind of looks like some of the desserts that Greg creates. As Kerry was walking along the track you would see him wince as he had to take a big step up or down. Just stretching the body past the comfortable. A real trouper. His cooking skills were nonexistent, although he excelled at eating. A very valuable member.

Thursday.

To compensate for yesterdays quiet day we decided to have a even quieter day. Our walk started from the Whangapara Road ( kindly refer to your maps that I know you all have in front of you as this gets complicated ) up the Forest Road, hooked a right into the Tramline Track and then another right down the Hot Springs Track. Or, if you’re technically minded North, East and then South. This took about 3hrs and was Ray and Jill’s choice as they wanted to visit the Hot Springs. Now I know most people think I tell a few fibs but something very strange happened. Greg went into the water. Remember Greg, he is the bloke who did not want to go to Kakadu in the Top End of the Northern Territory in July as the water is too cold. He is the bloke who did not want to walk along the Larapinta Trail near Alice Springs in case it rained and he got wet. And, if he was there, he would not have sunk with the Titanic because he does not like water. He even makes his cup of tea with dehydrated water.

Here he was wading into the hot springs and sitting in the water. I could not get to my camera fast enough. Now I don’t think anyone has ever seen Greg in water. It has just never happened.

So a group of stunned mullet silently walked the hour back to the other car on Whangapara Road. Admittedly the springs were hot water but still. Greg in water?.

That afternoon we visited one of the small settlements called Claris. Claris has two claims to fame. The Airport and the Claris Texas Cafe. There were hamburgers, pies, coffee and all sorts of things that the group gormandised on. While at the cafe, things were even better. (That was a joke. You know, airport, cafe.) Never mind. While the more discerning in the party, namely Greg and myself, satisfied ourselves with Lemon Syrup Coconut Cake and ice cream. Pure class.

Dinner again was at the Boat Club while others practiced their cooking skills under Greg's tuition.

Friday.

From our house at Okiwi we could see a rocky outcrop high on the range behind us and Ted had a bee in his bonnet that it had to be visited. So just to stop his complaining that was our next trip. Coopers Castle.

And a good thing we listened as it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable walks of our trip. The track to Coopers Castle starts from the road over the saddle between Okiwi (pronounced O - Kiwi ) and Port Fitzroy. Leaving at 8.45am you walk up a ridge on what seems like a Lamington Track (often used but poorly maintained) through the rainforest out to this rocky outcrop called Coopers Castle. A beautiful view with a big drop below us. That was morning tea at eleven. From there we followed a track south to the Mt Hobson - Port Fitzroy track. Lunch was in a lovely rocky creek with flowing, crystal clear water and then back to Port Fitzroy car park at 2.15pm.

Once again we had a beautiful dinner at the Boat Club.

Something very profound was said on that trip. Now consider that after this trip we were off to do the Tongariro Circuit, which is a walk around a supposedly extinct volcano where all there is to look at is barren scree slopes of lava and rock, crater lakes, barren mountain peaks and not a tree, bush or blade of grass in sight.

Also consider that we had a group of greenie, tree hugging birdos who were always wandering along behind comparing leaves and bark "This leaf has rolled stipules and is alternate, is the domatia convex and the stipules opposite?"

You can imagine the conversation.

Well after walking along for days and putting up with this inane chatter. One of our fitter and more walking oriented made a comment.

"One good thing about the Tongariro Circuit". That was all that was said and I understood perfectly.

I promised I would not reveal who said that in case that person got busTED.

Saturday.

This was our final walking day. We decided to do the Kiwiriki Track. Once again we start from Port Fitzroy and walk past the turnoff to Kaiaraara Hut and on to Bush’s Beach and then following the west coast only slightly inland, up and over several ridges and crossing a couple of rocky creeks with crystal clear water. After 4hrs the track comes out at Maungapiko on the Forestry access road we were on during the Hot Springs walk. A short trip up to the Maungapiko Lookout and a late lunch at the turnoff. From here it is a vehicle track walk of 2km back to Port Fitzroy. Very similar to some of the forestry roads on Mt Glorious, crossing streams in beautiful rainforest.

Sunday

As per usual, we were up bright and early. Well this day we were. One out of seven isn’t bad. Greg wanted to get more photos of Windy Canyon in the early morning light and we wanted to show Kerry the area as he was ailing on the day of that trip.

Having done that, some of us retired to the Cafe Motu for breakfast. As you do.

We had coffee and pancakes and berries and cream and - - - - - - - . Sorry, I got carried away.

On a trip like this it is the characters on the Island that makes it so interesting. Like the lady who sells the fuel at Claris carrying out a running discussion with her customers as they flit in and out. Like Kerstin and David of Island Stay . David goes for a surf when he feels like it but like in other small towns holds down four different jobs to keep busy. There is the lovely couple running Cafe Motu, Halema was helping DOC on various projects as well as being the a'la carte chef at the Cafe while Alan runs a small nursery supplying and planting trees for other rehabilitation projects and is the chief waiter and bottle was here at the cafe. One of my never to be forgotten memories is being served my pancakes by this gentleman dressed in his T-shirt, tartan board shorts and full length gum boots and the wild and woolliest hair do you will ever see. Looked like Einstein on valium. But nevertheless, highly entertaining and very knowledgeable about the Island and its flora and fauna. A real bushie.

You just have to slow down and talk to whoever takes your fancy. They all have a story.

The rest of the morning was pack and catch the ferry back to Auckland. Leaving the Island amongst a few light showers. The first rain of the trip.

The interesting thing about travelling in a group is their various outlooks on life. Jill and Ann for instance were always doing their crosswords when back at the house. Personally I find crosswords boring, but all the others joined in so it says something about the intelligence of the people in the party. I felt like a leprechaun in amongst a group of intellectual giants. Greg likes to read the paper. Ted was always looking at maps. Ray was discussing things with anyone who would discuss things back. Kerry just sat there and groaned from pain from his bike accident. Anne was the quiet one, she would toss in her two bobs worth and then blend in with the group and keep a low profile.

Me, I would just sit there and pretend I was asleep (except for when he was really asleep ed note) and take mental notes about everybody else.

The thing is everybody got along fine and I think they all had a great time.

Greg and I would like to thank everybody for your company and input to a most successful visit to Great Barrier Island.

There is something else. As a few of you know I have not been well, I visited a Surgeon before I left to go on this trip and I have to go into hospital to have a double operation. The Surgeon said he must first operate to remove my foot from my mouth so that he can get access to see why my tongue is stuck in my cheek.

Love Lance.