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Alpine hiking and camping at Victoria’s remote Macalister Springs – The Crosscut Saw and The Terrible Hollow – part III

Monday, March 27th, 2017

See Part I for an introduction to Macalister Springs region.

See Part II for Mt Howitt in the clouds.

ps. click on images to see a larger view.

Friday morning, it was clear skies overhead with the valleys and The Terrible Hollow below filled with low cloud.

Although my sleeping bag discouraged me from waking for sunrise, I did manage to scramble up to the lookout area soon thereafter and enjoyed the magical views:


The Crosscut Saw

The Crosscut Saw and to far right, Mt Buggary, with the cloud hiding the depths of The Terrible Hollow.

After breakfast we decided to head up to The Crosscut Saw before we head home.


The Crosscut Saw

Cloud still hiding The Terrible Hollow with The Crosscut Saw on the left.


The Crosscut Saw


The Crosscut Saw

Yep, no back pack for this short trip, my light rain jacket had pockets large enough for a water bottle, and my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with 12mm lens, while I was also able to borrow my friend’s 75mm lens.


The Crosscut Saw


The Crosscut Saw

Hikers walking the start of the Crosscut Saw – Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.


The Crosscut Saw

Looking back eastwards towards The Devil’s Staircase – Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.


Mt Spec

East aspect of Mt Speculation with Mt Buffalo in the background – Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.


Mt Howitt

Looking south east to Mt Howitt on the left and Mt Buller on the right – Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens.

What a difference a day makes with the sun out:

  • everlasting daisies and other flowers opened
  • insects buzzing around – including small butterflies and those flies
  • the aggressive alpine ants were active
  • it became hot walking even in tee shirt and shorts with sun hat on
  • eyes became sunburnt – so busy taking photos I forgot about my sunglasses – at end of the day my eyes were red!
  • you have to drink more – that means carry more water
  • the copperhead snakes are out – we almost stepped on two basking in the sun on the walking path near Mac Springs

Alpine hiking and camping at Victoria’s remote Macalister Springs – Mt Howitt and the Crosscut Saw – part II

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

See Part I for an introduction to Macalister Springs region.

We left our home in the Melbourne burbs around 10am to avoid peak hour traffic (in retrospect 1hr earlier may have been wiser!), reached Traralgon a little after noon and had a lovely gourmet lunch at Momos (highly recommend it!).

We then headed to Heyfield and up the Macalister River valley past Lake Glanmaggie and up and over the range to Licola, where we made a mistake from lack of concentration and kept driving through the little one shop town and up into the mountains on gravel roads until luckily we realised we were on the wrong road – the road to Jamieson is very long and winding one but doesn’t take you to Mt Howitt!! We back tracked to Licola and took the correct turn, but by then had wasted valuable daylight hours.

We arrived at the Mt Howitt carpark shrouded in thick cloud with misty rain at dusk around 6.30pm – the last half of our 5km 1.5hr walk to the Mac Springs camp area would be in complete darkness with fog and light rain, guided by our LED head lamps and aided by our walking poles to save us from the many uneven rocks and surfaces that characterize these tracks. Thankfully, navigation was not problematic.

There had been only one other car at the car park and so we were looking forward to a quiet time, and selection of a nice tent site, albeit in the dark.

Alas, as we arrived, we discovered a tent city – Geelong Grammar Timbertop students – all 60 of them and their 15 teachers had already set up camp after hiking up the Howitt Spur – thankfully we found a couple of vacant tent sites and the school group were quiet overnight and left after sunrise to head back across the Crosscut Saw to their return descent down Stanleys Name Spur.

Once our tents were up, we cooked up our pasta dinner on a Whisperlite stove, supplemented by some red wine and blue vein cheese before heading off to bed around 10pm.

That night there was the constant dripping of water onto our tents from the overhanging tree branches, but little wind to bother us, and the temperatures dropped to around 7degC – my compact, light, Sea to Summit Micro II sleeping bag with silk liner kept me toasty all night.

We awoke to a foggy morning which persisted throughout the day, dampening any prospects of heading over the Crosscut Saw for nice views. The school kids had left and we made use of the hut to prepare breakfast and work out what we should do for the day.


MacSprings

Foggy morning amongst the snow gums at Mac Springs – Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens at f/5.6 – a great combo to keep in your jacket pocket, and the lens filter thread is the same size as the Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens and the Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 weathersealed very light macro lens – not a bad threesome to take on alpine hikes when weight and size are critical.

Having your head in the clouds has its pros and cons:

  • great for photography as you can take in the ambiance of the fog, while the low contrast lighting makes the forests, boulders and mosses easier to photograph in an aesthetic manner without the complexity of harsh shadows
  • you don’t get so hot and thus don’t need to carry as much drinking water
  • there are almost no active insects – no flies to annoy you
  • the probability of stepping on a potentially deadly snake is much reduced
  • BUT you do miss out on the amazing alpine views, the flowers (which only open in the sun),  and the summits are likely to be very cold and windy with no sun to warm you up

We decided on a walk to the summit of nearby Mt Howitt with option to proceed past Big Hill and onto Mt Magdala then return.

It was a lovely ascent to the Mt Howitt – Crosscut Saw junction along a rugged snowgum lined track with views to the north over The Terrible Hollow, The Devil’s Staircase and the CrossCut Saw – if you could see them through the ever changing fog. The sheltered microclimate of this region at 10-13degC with minimal wind meant that you just needed boots, gaiters, thin pants with waterproof overpants, teeshirt, long sleeved shirt and thin waterproof jacket for comfort. For someone lacking hiking fitness, this was the perfect amount of interval training that I needed – and carrying my water and lenses in my jacket pockets without need for a backpack made a big difference to my enjoyment levels. My colleague kindly brought his backpack to carry snacks and extra layers as well as the mandatory EPIRB radio beacon.


near the junction


snowgums in fog


snowgums in fog

Both the above were taken with the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens.

 

From that junction, you are essentially above the treeline and the ascent to Mt Howitt is over meadows with fascinating lichen covered rocks and fields of flower buds.


lichen


lichen


lichen


lichen

 

The final ascent to Mt Howitt though was a very different climate – 25-40kph southerly winds on the exposed summit made the wind chill factor considerable and required additional layering up – feather down vest on, gloves on, beanie on (perhaps balaclava would have been better!)


Mt Howitt summit

The Mt Howitt summit and a short break for snacks and drink behind the shelter of a large rock – unfortunately we failed to layer up before snacking resulting in us feeling cold and not too keen to continue on in the fog and wind to Mt Magdala – so we layered up and headed back to the comfortable microclimate of Mac Springs.


the walk back to Mac Springs

Back down in Mac Springs, we decided to explore the area and get some more imagery:


the Devil's Staircase

The Devil’s Staircase – Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens


the narrow hiking ridge of the Crosscut Saw

The narrow hiking ridge of the Crosscut Saw – not so much fun to hike in the cloud! Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 macro lens as a short telephoto lens

That night we were joined by 7 university students and their leader who camped near the hut, while we remained in our tents near the spring.

We cooked up a nice chicken noodle stir fry for dinner and finished off with a hot chocolate, marshmallows and a couple of shots of Bailey’s as a night cap.

The night was much colder than the first night, and despite pre-emptively replacing my silk sleeping bag liner with a Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Plus liner and closing the foot end of the sleeping bag, the night felt less comfortable with the cooler conditions which were probably around 2-6 degC. Perhaps the alcohol was not a good idea!

See Part III for The Crosscut Saw and clear skies at last.

Alpine hiking and camping at Victoria’s remote Macalister Springs – Mt Howitt and the Crosscut Saw – part I

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

One of the favourite overnight hiking treks in the Victorian Alps is the hike across the narrow, steeply sided ridge line that is The Crosscut Saw which is a ridge 20km east of Mt Buller, with options of camping at Macalister Springs at the southern end or at Mt Speculation at the northern end.

The walk from Mac Springs to Mt Howitt is a 2km moderate grade ascent to 1742m at the very exposed and often windy bare peak well above the tree line, easily done with a day pack with water, snack, gloves, beanie, wet weather gear, and warm vest.

The optional hike across The Crosscut Saw (1705m elevation at its highest peak) to Mt Spec (1668m elevation) is not one for those afraid of heights, and does require a good degree of preparation and fitness – it is very exposed and requires some 600m of ascents and 600m of descents one way, plus if you wish to get up to Mt Spec, it does require a bit of heart stopping rock clambering which is best done with a small pack, or, if a big pack, then passing the pack up to your colleagues. The only reliable water source on this hike is at Camp Creek which is 45min return hike, 1.2km north-east, down from the Mt Spec camp areas which give a nice view but are very exposed – be warned! Mt Spec to Mt Howitt is 7.5km 2.5-3hrs with about 700m ascents and 700m descents.

There is also an optional 2.5hr 8km circuit walk of Bryce Gorge with waterfalls (in season) about 10-20min drive before the Mt Howitt car park.

Another optional hike from the Licola approach is from McFarlane Saddle 14km past the Arbuckle Junction which allows a 2 day 33.5km circuit walk down to the hidden Lake Tali Karng, although the descent and return steep ascent from the lake can be skipped.


map

Macalister Springs

Macalister Springs is a lovely camp site at around 1600m elevation surrounded by snow gums and relatively protected from prevailing winds, and it has a small water source that runs most of the year (although people do recommend boiling it to make it potable as there is potential risk of Giardia but the myth of the nematodes has been dispelled).

The site also features a “4 star” hut and pump out toilet which makes it that much more pleasant – the toilet even has an expansive window looking out over the valley to the south!

The Vallejo Gantner hut was built by volunteers in difficult access conditions over two year period 1970-71 by the Gantner family in memory of their 19 year old son Vallejo (grandson of wealthy Melbourne retailer Sidney Myer) who died in an accident. It boasts a central stone fireplace, although this, as well as the sleeping area should only be used in extreme circumstances – hikers are expected to be self-sufficient and bring their own tents, warm clothing and cooking gear. Outdoor wood fires are not permitted, especially within a 1km radius.

Fortunately, the hut, toilet and camp region were spared the alpine bushfires which devastated the region last decade.

Hut


Hut

Interior taken with the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens.

The region does have potentially deadly although relatively good natured, highland copperhead snakes (Austrelaps ramsayi, colour can vary from brown form to black form, thankfully bites from this species are quite rare as they tend to avoid biting unless they are grumpy on a really hot day or you antagonise them severely – we did encounter 2 within 20m of the camp, basking in the midday sun on our walking path and neither seemed too keen to move out of our way! They become quiescent late April-Nov, mate in Spring,  and are mainly diurnal except for very warm nights, and tend to be active earlier in the day in Autumn compared to Spring and Summer, rest under fallen logs and amongst tussocks of grass,  prefer to be near water, feed mainly on the multitude of skinks in the area).

Bring a snake bite bandage, know the first aid for snake bites and bring an EPIRB radio beacon – otherwise you will need a companion to walk to top of Mt Howitt area to get mobile reception and call for help. Even then you may need to be carried 5km to the car park then either driven to the air strip or a 3hr drive to the hospital at Traralgon – I am guessing a chopper evacuation would be needed to save your life this far from medical support and anti-venom! Don’t play with snakes, don’t step on them, wear boots and gaiters on any tracks!

The camp is extremely popular with school and uni groups – the night we arrived there were 60 Geelong Grammar Timbertop high school students and 15 teachers camping there – having hiked up 1000m ascent to get there!


camp ground

Our tents in one of the several camp areas – this one is adjacent the spring itself – about 100m downhill from the hut and toilet. Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens at f/5.6 on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark I Micro Four Thirds camera – makes a great compact combo to have handy in your jacket pocket!

Getting to Macalister Springs from Melbourne

It is a long way by car – allow 6-6.5hrs drive plus a 1.5hr 5km mildly downhill hike to the camp site – that is an all day proposition – hence one should aim for a two night camp rather than just overnight to make the long drive worthwhile.

The gravel access road is seasonally closed from Queen’s birthday in June to Melbourne Cup in November!

The drive from Melbourne to Traralgon will take about 2hrs depending upon traffic conditions – try a meal at Momos – it was delicious and great coffee to boot.

Traralgon to Licola will take around 90 minutes, the last half is through winding alpine roads, much of it along the Macalister river valley.

Take the right fork in the road BEFORE the bridge at Licola (there is a general store with petrol and diesel), and from there it will take around 20 minutes on bitumen, passing numerous river-side camp grounds to get to the bridge over the Wellington River and from their it is all uphill, winding, alpine gravel roads – 30 minutes to Arbuckle Junction, then a further 45 minutes to Mt Howitt Car park. That is a total of 3hrs drive from Traralgon to Mt Howitt car park then the 1.5hr walk.

From the car park, it is a 1.5hr, 5km mildly undulating walk to the camp (might take you 2hrs back up on a warm, sunny day!)

Getting to Macalister Springs from Mt Stirling or Mt Buller

Shorter drive from Mebourne with much less gravel roads, but a much harder hiking route – several options – all require > 1000m strenuous ascent with a heavy pack to the very exposed Mt Howitt or the Crosscut Saw – with only a few areas to collect water once you leave the Howqua River.

1 hr gravel road drive from TBJ at Mt Stirling (seasonally closed!) will get you to Upper Howqua Camping area (elevation 800m) which can be used as the start point for your hike. The Helicopter Spur hike departs the camp to the south-east, while the other 3 routes have a shared initial 3.5km hike criss-crossing the Howqua River in a easterly direction from the camp.

See my wiki page for hikes.

Hike maps  have been posted by someone on the net here.

Via Helicopter Spur:

  • Helicopter Spur is graded difficult -steep, often difficult, scrambling over rocks, total ascent ~800m to AAWT over 6km, then 150m descent before climbing 200m gain at Mt Magdala then descending 200m to Hellfire Creek campsite (creek may be dry!) for a total of 10km hike taking fit, experienced walkers 4-5hrs, this walk does take you past Picture Point and Hell’s Window.
  • Upper Howqua Camping area to Picture Point 5.5km, 2.5-3hrs, 700m ascent
  • Picture Point to  Hellfire Creek campsite 4.5km, 1.5-2hrs, 320m ascents plus 290m descents
  • Hellfire Creek campsite to Mt Howitt, 3km, 1hr, 260m ascents, 80m descents from Big Hill
  • “exhilarating but potentially dangerous”
  • seems you need knee protectors, march fly swat and perhaps climbing gloves to get you over the 3 rock bands intact, and one to avoid in wet windy conditions
  • next day hike to Mt Howitt (3km, 1hr ~200m total gain), then down to Mac Springs

Via Mt Howitt Spur:

  • perhaps the most popular spur to hike up
  • 8.5km, 900m ascent  to West Peak (1725m elevation) and then Mt Howitt (1742m elevation)
  • requires crossing the Howqua River a number of times, then crossing the South Branch of the Howqua River at the 3.5km mark from Upper Howqua Camping area
  • avoids The CrossCut Saw
  • descent takes 2.5-3hrs

Via Stanleys Name Spur (SNS)

  • Upper Howqua Camping area to SNS via the Queen Spur Road disused logging track  crossing the Howqua River a number of times, 7km, 2-2.5hrs and 450m ascent
  • SNS to The Crosscut Saw
  • you may need to battle some blackberry bushes on the way up
  • you get to walk a section of the Crosscut Saw but avoid the more difficult Mt Buggery and Mt Spec sections as well as the tallest peak of the Crosscut Saw

Via Queen Spur:

  • 7.5hr 15km ascent via Queens Spur to camp at Mt Spec
  • Upper Howqua Camping area to SNS as above for SNS – 7km, 2-2.5hrs and 450m ascent
  • SNS to Mt Spec via Queen Spur and Mt Buggary (1605m) 8km, 2.5-3hrs with initial 100m descent to cross the headwater of the King River South Branch (last chance for water unlesss it is dry in summer or droughts) then 420m ascent requiring rock scrambling and following a faint track to Mt Buggery then 200m steep descent into Horrible Gap before the final 250m ascent to Mt Spec with rock scrambling
  • then need to walk across The CrossCut Saw to Mac Springs

Getting to Macalister Springs from Lake Cobbler

This is a rather long 5-5.5hr 330km+ drive from Melbourne via Whitfield  (either via Mansfield or via Milawa) and really needs a 4WD to get to Lake Cobbler where there is a camp ground and nearby waterfalls and option to climb Mt Cobbler.

The hike up to Mt Spec from Lake Cobbler is more gentle than the ascents from Upper Howqua camp site.

One then continues over the CrossCut Saw to Mac Springs.

See Part II – hike to Mt Howitt in the clouds.

 

Wilsons Prom – the beaches revisited

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Once you have had your quick explore of the main areas of the Prom, you really need to go back and take your time to feel the places and use your photographic mindfulness to see what others don’t see – because there is much to see if you take your time and look and wait.
These were shot on Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and follow on from my previous posts on Wilsons Prom:

Squeaky Beach in the morning sun:

Squeaky beach has to be one of my favorite remote beaches at low tide – the lovely white squeaky sand due to the rounded granules, the lovely clear stream you must cross with bare feet, the coloured plum pudding granite boulder maze at the north end while the south end has more massive rock formations with beautiful wild flowers in October – just don’t get too close to the edge – extra large rogue waves are common and will sweep you from the slippery granite into the ocean.
Squeaky Beach

How can you not like this stunning beach in the more gentle morning Spring sun before the school kids arrive?

Squeaky Beach

Down at the other end in the south, it has a different beauty as you watch in awe of the Bass Strait waves crashing on the rocks.

Squeaky Beach

It is so nice, the tourists are just happy doing selfie shots with the sea behind them – without regard for the beauties they have not discovered.

Squeaky Beach

The beach is not regarded as being a safe one for swimming but surfers don’t worry too much about strong under tows and the like.

Squeaky Beach

Young ladies taking in the sun watching the surf.

Squeaky Beach

Faces in the rocks and more wild flowers on the beach attracting native bees.

Whisky Bay:

Much less popular with the kids than is Squeaky Bay – makes it a nice spot to escape at low tide.

The are massive granite boulders at each end and a stream at the southern end.

Whisky Bay Beach

Whisky Bay Beach

Southern end as seen from the northern end boulders.

Whisky Bay Beach

A solitary surfer tackles the waves and boulders.

Darby Beach:

Darby Beach

Darby Beach is a 1.1km walk from the car park through some nice Spring wild flowers which are different to those at the other beaches.

Darby Beach

The beach is fairly desolate so a great place if you just want to walk to a quiet spot away from the crowds.

Darby Beach

 

The remote, desolate, Cotters Beach:

This is really only for the naturalists – there is unlikely to be anyone there on this rather expansive but non-descript beach but you do pass in the middle of Cotter’s lake to get there and with wetlands either side, I am sure the patient bird watcher will find what they want.

When I was there, at the start of the walk amongst the paperbarks were a group of blue superb fairy wrens flying around, while at the beach end it felt like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds – lots of large black birds perched on the bushes.

The 1.2km 20min walk is a pleasant one along an exposed gravel road but with enough grass that one can comfortably do the 1km road part with barefeet but some foot wear is need for the last bit of gravel – just watch out for the sloppy emu droppings.

On either side is swampy wetlands.

Cotters Beach

The track to the beach through the swamp.

Cotters Beach

As I said, a fairly average beach – but it is remote and unlikely to have anyone else spending time there so if you like to be alone, this is the beach.

There are many other beaches, but access is via overnight camping hike trips.

If you are pushed for time, the must do areas are Tidal River, Mt Oberon Summit walk at sunset if possible, Squeaky beach and Whisky Bay (and don’t forget sunset at Big Drift if you have time on the way home). I would skip Darby and Cotters Beach unless you are looking for a more remote experience.

Wilsons Prom – you really need to stay overnight!

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Following on in my series of Victoria’s beautiful, remote Wilsons Promontory National Park, here is a blog to encourage you to stay in the park overnight rather than just do a day trip.

For a start, a day trip from Melbourne is a good 2.5-3hrs drive each way and in the southern parts, there are risks if driving around sunrise and sunset of hitting wildlife – although this risk is extremely high within the park – although the speed limit is 80kph, you probably should do 40kph once the sun is setting and well into the night. On one short drive of 2km at night I saw several wombats, several wallabies, and a young deer – and all of these are liable to suddenly run in front of you.

Vic Parks who run the park advises all day visitors to vacate the park by sunset – this means if you want great sunrises and sunsets within the park you really need to stay overnight.

But be warned, in Tidal River camping ground whilst there is plenty of space off season with over 400 sites it is usually full in peak season – but even off season there are about a dozen wombats who will destroy your tent if they smell food or shampoo, etc inside – they do have nasty sharp claws and can open eskies!

I heard a wombat gnawing on grass near my head while I slept but thankfully he ignored my tent.

tent

My tent with Mt Oberon in the background – see how nice the camp ground is when it’s empty off-season!

The showers in Tidal River have lovely hot water and are cleaned daily but I checked out the other main camp site at the entrance – Stockyards and whilst it is fitted with a nice shower, the hot water was not running.

Climb to Mt Oberon summit for sunset:

You can drive or catch a shuttle to the Mt Oberon carpark, and thence there is a 3.4km 1hr steady ascent of 359m along a shaded gravel road which meanders up on the south-east aspect to the rocky, windy and chilly summit which culminates in the last part being steep steps which can be slippery – bring warm clothes, gloves, jacket and torch as well as your camera with ND gradient filter and your tripod – unless you own Micro Four Thirds and then you could probably get away without a tripod thanks to the image stabiliser but your hands will be cold and tremulous so  a tripod is a better idea for serious work – even then the wind will make longer exposures problematic.

I thought I was going to be greeted with a really nice sunset however distant cloud on the horizon blocked it – nevertheless I did get a couple of nice shots.

Mt Oberon

Looking north-west over Tidal River camping ground and to Squeaky Beach and Whisky Bay.

Mt Oberon

Looking south – one could walk to this knoll and have a great sunset portrait opportunity – but being solo, this was not going to work for me – and anyway I was recovering from the ascent!

The descent is much quicker and can be done without a torch if you don’t stay too long after sunset, but take care walking down the initial steps, the rocks and wood are slippery when wet – hold onto the railing!

Get out at night and capture a cool astroscape on the beach

Wilsons Prom is a long way from city lights and has lovely dark skies – if it is not cloudy which is a high probability down there!

I timed this visit to ensure there was no moon in the sky at 2hrs after sunset then I could head to a beach – Tidal River is easiest and avoids any need to drive on the roads with the wildlife risks – check the tides though – high tide can be more problematic.

October is a great time as the core of the Milky Way arches over in the west from the Southern Cross and to Scorpio which, along with Venus (the really bright star) is setting later in the evening. Cape Liptrap lighthouse is visible across the bay.

Milky Way

This is a cropped version taken as a single shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the unique Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens at ISO 1600, f/1.8 30secs but with a touch of dew on the lens as I discovered later.

Early morning sun on the boulders and sand:

I was really tired and missed sunrise but still, the early morning sun provides a better direction on the Tidal river boulders, especially better if it times with the tide having just gone out as it had done for me, leaving newly formed pristine textures in the sand.

Tidal River

Tidal River

Tidal River

Tidal River

Tidal River

Plus, it is a great time for a stroll around and opportunistic capture of some birds such as this superb fairy wren while you are at it before you go and have breakfast and that lovely 4 minute hot shower before heading out for some more morning walks along other beaches - see next post here – the beaches re-visited.

No where else in the world offers beautiful remote beaches with lovely colored granite boulders to photograph, explore or just sunbake on (oops that’s bad for you!), nice sunsets, beautiful Milky Way winter-spring astroscapes without sub zero temperatures and unique Australian wildlife all around – emus, wombats, kangaroos, wallabies (thankfully the snakes seem to be not too plentiful but I hear they are around on the overnight hikes such as down to Waterloo Bay).

I would avoid the Stockyard Camp ground to camp in if possible though – seems to have much more mosquitoes, lots of noisy cockatoos, no hot shower (at least when I visited), is 30minutes drive to Tidal River and 20 minutes drive to the closest nice beach, and no cafe – but it would be great if you want sunrise or sunset shots on the Big Drift sand dunes.

 

 

Wilsons Prom and the Big Drift

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

My previous post documented nearly everything you need to know to plan your trip to Victoria’s famous Wilsons Promontory coastal wilderness national park as well as photos of some of the main reasons tourists from all over the world head there (as well as locals in school holidays).

This post is about the lesser known and experienced massive sand dune system known as the Big Drift which is accessible from the Stockyard Camp ground at the park entrance. Unlike Uluru, there is no entry fee for day visitors to the park.

Parks Victoria who runs the park advises all who are not staying in paid accommodation (such as huts, cabins, or camp sites), that they must vacate the park before sunset – this is largely to minimise road kill of native animals which are active around dusk, but also allows the rangers an easier way of policing “illegal” overnight freebie campers.

As the Big Drift is at the park entrance, it is the only part where those not staying overnight can watch the sunset, walk back the 2km 30-40min walk to the car in the dark with your torch and then head home or to your local accommodation outside of the park such as in nearby Yanakie, Fish Creek, Yarram or Sandy Point (I would skip Walkerville as there are no local shops). Sandy Point is 25 minutes drive to the park entrance and does have a nice beach and shallow inlet as well as a general store and petrol and some Telstra mobile phone and internet access.

The closest beaches in the park such as Darby Beach and Whisky Bay, are about 20 minutes by car.

The sand dune system is so large one could easily be lost in windy weather as your foot prints are rapidly covered over so you need to take this into consideration.

One should avoid this dune system on hot, sunny summer days as it is very exposed and the sand gets very hot.

The best time to go is 2-3 hours before sunset to give you plenty of time to walk to it then explore it and capture the textures and shadows of the low sun playing out on the dunes.

At the end of the 2km trail on which you should see wallabies and perhaps a wombat, you will be confronted with a steep 10m sand dune to climb, and be warned – if a south-westerly is blowing, you may lose your cap as you reach the top and your camera equipment will cop a major sand blasting!

I took my Micro Four Thirds cameras – the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and E-M5 and all images here were taken with the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens unless specified.

Big Drift

The sand streaming over the steep leeward bank with the Prom in the background

Big Drift

Awesome natural textures

Big Drift

Moon over the dunes

Big Drift

Big Drift

Moody dunes

Big Drift

River of sand

Big Drift

This gives some idea how big each dune is – there is another hiker at the rim of this dune following the duck cloud.

Big Drift

Big Drift

I did take the risk in the sand blasting winds to change my lens over to the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 lens to capture these wonderful clouds over the Prom but it was worth it.

Don’t forget to wait until sunset:

Big Drift

Taken with the beautiful Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens showing South Walkerville in the distance.

and even well after sunset, there are some nice photo opportunities:

Big Drift

Big Drift

 

It is a very quiet, isolated place with few other people off season – take your time and let your imagination run wild and get creative with your imagery – remember that things will look different when you start boosting contrast so you need to pre-visualise compositions taking this into account – for example, the river of sand was not that obvious to the naked eye amongst all the other patterns.

Victoria’s famous Wilsons Promontory – the Prom – a mecca for nature tourists

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Victoria has several main tourist destinations which are must see for many who come to Australia such as:

  • the fairy penguin parade at nearby Philip Island
  • the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road along with the rainforests and beaches of the Otway Ranges
  • Wilsons Promontory with its unspoilt beaches, lovely orange moss covered granite boulders and plenty of Australian wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies, emus, wombats, echidnas and perhaps you may see koalas and other animals.

This week I had the luxury of a few days off by myself to explore the Prom – it’s been a long 30 years since I was last there, and is only now recovering from devastating bush fires, storms and floods from just a few years ago – but none of these have adversely affected the lovely beaches which are just as I remembered them.

The following photos were taken with my Micro Four Thirds cameras – the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and E-M5.

The Prom is around 2.5-3 hrs drive from Melbourne (including the 30 minute drive from the entrance gates to the main camp ground at Tidal River).

Before you go, check the 7 day forecast here.

Note that the Prom is regarded as THE most windy place on mainland Australia thanks to the exposure to the south-easterly winds coming across Bass Strait from the Antarctic, and note that October is generally the most windy month of the year. Hold onto your hat when you climb the Big Drift!

October is a great time to visit the Prom because:

  • there are not too many people down there, especially mid week when you can often have the beach to yourself and accommodation is not an issue (accommodation needs to be booked months in advance for school holidays and public holiday peak periods)
  • the weather is not too hot given that most of the walks and the beaches as well as the very exposed Big Drift dune system have little sun protection
  • the weather is not too sunny – October is generally a rather cloudy month but that makes for more pleasant walking and more interesting photography
  • the weather is not too cold, although it did struggle to get to 21 deg C, the overnight lows though were only down to around 9 deg C so not too harsh for overnight campers
  • it is Spring and the multitude of wild flowers including native orchids are in bloom, along with the swarms of native bees (which don’t attack you!) and other flying insects including butterflies – a downside is that your car will need the multitude of dead insects removed from windscreen and bonnet!
  • in Summer and Autumn, there is not only far more people to contend with but sand flies with their delayed onset severe itching, and biting march flies are more problematic.

Facilities at the Prom:

The prom is managed by Parks Victoria who run the bookings for accommodation – which includes cabins, huts, powered and unpowered camp sites including the various unpowered remote overnight walk camp sites  (there is no free camping within the park).

An overview map of the park can be downloaded here and the Parks Visitor’s Guide can be downloaded here.

The last petrol is just before the park entrance at Yanakie where there is also a general store and a bakery cafe (although the cafe is not open every day!).

There is a general store and take away food cafe at Tidal River and they make nice hamburgers, although obviously, prices at such a remote place are not on the cheap side. Note that this cafe closes at 4.30pm in daylight saving time and 4pm at other times (winter). This means you MUST provide for your own evening meals in the park – but they do offer free gas BBQs to use.

There is a general store in Yanakie and Sandy Point but like most rural shops close around 5-6pm, so after this time you will need to go to the pub in Fish Creek or a restaurant further afield such as Meeniyan or Foster.

A map of Tidal River can be downloaded on this link.

At most of the camp sites the tank water probably should be treated to ensure it is potable, or bring your own water.

An information pamphlet on the many walks can be downloaded from this link.

The lovely beaches that require only a short walk from your car:

Tidal River and Norman Beach:

This is an incredibly beautiful pristine beach with a lovely tannin-colored but clear freshwater stream flowing alongside uniquely coloured granite boulders to the sea.

On warmer days, the beach will be filled with kids playing beach cricket or football, while others surf or just enjoy the sand, river and exploring the boulders.

tidal river

Squeaky Beach:

A favorite of mine – the sand grains are fine which results in a lovely squeaky noise as you walk – you will need to get your toes wet as you need to cross the shallow stream to get to the beach – but it is well worth it.

The north end has a maze of large “plum pudding” type granite boulders in which to explore at low tide with a back drop of Mt Bishop whilst one looks out to small islands.

squeaky beach

squeaky beach

Whisky Bay:

Another photographer’s favorite beach with its large boulders at each end which can be explored at low tide.

whisky bay beach

whisky bay beach

whisky bay beach

Hand held long exposure using a ND400 filter and the Olympus OM-D cameras with their amazing image stabilisation.

The regenerating forests make for relaxing walks:

An easily accessible nature walk is the Lilly Pilly Gully Nature Walk which not only takes you through some nice eucalypt forest regenerating after the bushfires but is abundant with wild flowers and wild life such as these which were all taken with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens:

echidna

An echidna quickly crossed the path ahead of me – it pays to have your telephoto lens always ready to shoot!

native orchid

Native orchid

butterfly on a flowering native grass tree

Butterfly on a flowering native grass tree

forest

Forest

forest

Fire affected forest

At the end of the day you may be blessed with a lovely sunset:

forest

This image was taken with the brilliant Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens giving hand held 600mm telephoto reach allowing good views of the peninsula at South Walkerville in the distance which in itself is a nice area to explore with its historic limestone kilns on the beach.

My next post, is my favorite area at the Prom – the massive, remote and very eerie sand dunes that are the Big Drift.

Camping with brumbies, dingoes and roos on Long Plain, Snowy Mountains and limestone gorge walk

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

Following on from my explorations of Yangobilly caves I headed up the remote, desolate, gravel Long Plain Road which winds its way north across Long Plain to take you to the wilderness areas including Bimberi Wilderness and Blue Waterholes where I had planned to camp for the night.

Long Plain is a plateau at 1200m elevation but is relatively treeless as it is a frost hollow landscape with cold air subsiding into it from the surrounding elevated areas creating a Cold Air Drainage grassland with an inverted tree line. This plateau is the start of various rivers such as the Murrumbidgee River and is dominated by mobs of wild brumbies roaming freely. Huts can be found on the peripheries of the plateau, mostly facing the north-east to catch the morning sun. Some of these huts are now locations of camping grounds although as is the case in most alpine areas, the huts are not for sleeping in except in emergency conditions.

The first hut and camp ground is on the left, Long Plain Hut, a former homestead, is in great condition and the camp ground appears to have some nice flat areas amongst trees.

The next hut is on the right, Cooinda Hut and also has a nice campground.

But my destination was to take the Blue Waterholes Road, which takes you past Cooliman Homestead where you cannot camp and then onto Magpie Flats Camp Ground and then to Blue Waterholes camp ground. The road is steep in places and after rains even 4WD vehicles will have difficulty getting back out on the slippery steep track. It is not suitable for caravans.

After exploring Cooliman Homestead I parked at Blue Waterholes in late afternoon to embark on my 1.5-2hr 5km return  through Clarkes Gorge and hopefully to the Caves Creek waterfall which was said to be “when you think you have got to the end, keep walking a little bit further” – sounds a lot like some Irish directions and which proved to be not that helpful as I got deeper and deeper into long grass with minimal tracks and the ever present risk of a fatal snake bite.

There are 3 main species of snakes in this region – the generally docile Copperhead, the dangerous Eastern Brown and a local species the White-lipped snake of which I know not a lot but it is a small, rarely seen, elapid snake of south-eastern Australia and Australia’s most cold-tolerant snake and which grows to only 16 inches long and feeds almost exclusively on skinks of which I saw many. The first two species can give a fatal bite if you cannot get to medical help with antivenom in a timely manner – and out here, even if one called for help via the radio beacon, it could take many hours before help arrived and delivered you to a hospital – so the key is DON’T GET BITTEN! Hence enclosed shoes and gaiters and the use of my trekking pole to further alert any snake to my presence – the main risk for being bitten is accidentally stepping on a sleeping snake. Most snakes on detecting your presence will slither away to safety. Some people get bitten by being stupid and trying to harass , capture or kill them. That is not me, and killing snakes is against the law as they are protected species.

The gorge is narrow with steep tall limestone cliffs on either side and a crystal clear cold stream at its base – a stream which I ended up having to cross a dozen times and giving my runners and gaiters a thorough soaking, but my trekking pole saved me on many occasions slipping on the very slippery rocks and giving my camera gear an unexpected dunking, or worse, fracturing my ankle – of course I took along my radio beacon EPIRB as there was no way to send for help otherwise and many ways to have a misadventure.

entrance to the gorge

The many dangers and time pressures of night coming and possible storms nearby made the walk an adrenaline pumping affair.

In parts one had to cross the cliff face high above the water with only the occasional foot holes – and on this occasion, a frill necked lizard had decided he was going to block my progress and stand on the only foot hole that would allow me to pass – I had to give him some encouragement to leave his favored position – perhaps a game he plays with every hiker!

the cliff face and the lizard

Above is the section of cliff I had to negotiate and if one looks closely, one can see the lizard blocking my way.

the obstinate lizard

Frill necked lizard – this family lives at the highest elevation in Australia for such a lizard as it can escape into the limestone caves during winter snows.

Cave creek past the gorge

Cave creek past the gorge.

I continued on and when I came to this lovely cascade with no evidence of the waterfall and minimal evidence of further tracks I decided to end my trek before it became dark or storms let loose:

cascades

After safely returning back and a short drive, I set up my camp site at Magpie Flat and made some dinner with kangaroos watching on. Then as darkness fell had just boiled up a nice mug of tea which promptly spilled onto my lap when a black stallion brumby suddenly announced his entrance to my camp site. Even with my powerful LED head torch, he was hard to see at 30m in the dark – just his eyes occasionally staring back at me … after munching on some grass he was gone.

I hit the sack and quickly fell asleep after my exhausting hike and long day of activities and some 30 minutes later in deep sleep I was suddenly awoken by something breathing on my neck – it was the black stallion back, this time poking his head under my tent fly and inches from my head separated only by the tent insect mesh. When I rolled over to see who is breathing hard on my neck, the stallion was spooked and ran off thankfully not dragging my tent with him. For the next hour as I tried to return to sleep I could hear the brumby mob all around me chewing on grasses.

Finally, I was asleep… only to be awoken at midnight when the moon was setting by howls of dingoes through the night air. This did not help my sleep at all as I felt quite vulnerable in my little tent. Nevertheless with the long day’s drive ahead I forced myself to a broken sleep… broken by the descending cold on a star filled night requiring repeated layering of clothes to keep warm.

Next morning I awoke to the swooping noise of kookaburras flying over my tent, and after a much needed breakfast, again accompanied by kangaroos, I packed my thoroughly wet tent up in the cold fog and headed back up to Cooliman Homestead for some shots before the fog lifted:

Cooliman Homestead

Cooliman Homestead given the vintage sepia look.

brumbies on Long Plain

Brumbies on Long Plain.

All images shot with Olympus OM-D Micro Four Thirds cameras.

And then it was the long 7+ hours drive back to Melbourne via Tumbarumba.

More information about the snowy Mountains and helpful links on my wiki page

 

 

 

 

Early autumn road trip and camping holiday to the Australian Snowy Mountains

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

It has been over 30 years since I last drove north across the Victorian border to the Tumbarumba region west of the Snowy Mountains, and the last time I went I drove the long trek on mostly gravel rural roads from Tumut to Canberra via Wee Jasper (according to Google, this part of the trip now takes around 3hrs not sure how much is bitumen).

This week of annual leave I decided to embark on a solo road trip to Tumbarumba region, but this time explore the Snowy Mountains where I had never previously visited.

Tumbarumba is some 450km or 4.5hrs drive from Melbourne along the quite boring Hume Freeway, so on my way up I decided at the last minute to divert from Wodonga on the border and head through the more interesting but much longer back roads.

This took me through lovely hilly rural country sides, initially along the Hume Reservoir which is currently suffering from a massive toxic blue-green algae bloom which stretches from there down stream some 700km down the Murray River thanks to low water flows and the hot summer, early autumn weather over over 30degC on most days.

This is quite a nice drive and takes one through Tallangatta township and past the old now submerged Tallangatta township then onwards to Corryong some 1.5hrs drive from Wodonga. Just before Corryong there is a nice looking caravan park at Colac Colac adjacent to the highway on an open farmland region.

Between Tallangatta and Corryong there are opportunities for the nature lovers to further explore either:

  • Omeo Highway south to:
    • Lake Dartmouth
    • Mitta Mitta River valley
    • Mount Benambra
    • gold and tin mining relics at Mt Wills (granite summit, snow gums, and great scenery), Mt Murphy, Cassilis Historic Areas such as the Green Creek historic battery,Pioneer Mine at Mitta Mitta,
    • Harrington’s track historic bridle trail along Murray River from Tom Groggin to Bunroy Station, 20km one way
  • Bethanga Historic area and Wallaces Smelting Works to the north
  • The Plateau to the north
  • Mount Granya State Park to the north – steep slopes rising above Lake Hume, 870m elevation, Granya Falls are seasonal.
  • Tallangatta Valley to the south
  • Mount Lawson State Park to the north – steep slopes, rocky bluffs, 1041m
  • Burrowa-Pine National Park to its north
    • Bluff Falls and walk to Ross Lookout (not suitable for caravans, nearby Blue Gums camp ground)
    • steep sided Mt Burrowa (1300m) which sits atop a sub-alpine plateau accessible by walking tracks
    • Pine Mountain (1062m) – a gigantic granite rock monolith 1.5x bigger than Uluru – walking track to summit
  • Thowgla Upper to the south
  • the Benambra-Corryong Rd valley which takes one southwards to:
    • Wabba Wilderness
    • Pinnibar Pendergast State Forest
    • Benambra and nearby Alpine National Park, Tambo State Forest and the Mitta Mitta River valley
    • further south to Omeo and then through the Alps down to Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance on the southern Victorian coast

From Corryong I decided to head to the southern parts of the Snowy Mountains via the tiny town of Khancoban where I would have to pay my day access fees (these are only required for the southern areas – I accidentally paid for 3 days of fees but only used 1 day in the southern area).

Khancoban is also the last stop for fuel, food, public toilets that are not drop toilets, internet and mobile phone access, but as I was to find out, no car repair services.

After an early dinner, I proceeded up into the windy bitumen Alpine Highway past the Murray 1 and 2 hydro-electric power stations and to Scammel’s Lookout which looks southeast towards Mt Kosciuszko (Australia’s highest peak at 2228m) which is hidden behind the steep barren western fall of the Main Range and Mt Abbott.

View from Scammel's lookout

View from Scammel’s lookout.

From there it was a short drive down to popular Geehi Flats camping ground along the banks of the lovely shallow but fast flowing Swampy Plains Creek. I had intended to continue on to Tom Groggin camp ground on the banks of the upper reaches of the Murray River for the night then next day tackle the steep drive up to Thredbo, but as I pulled into Geehi Flats, I noticed a very loud noise coming from my front brakes highly suggestive of a lost brake pad from the mountain driving although I try to use my gears to brake downhill as much as possible.

Geehi Flats camp ground

Bridge at Geehi Flats camp ground.

Nevertheless, this meant an uneasy night sleeping in my tent at Geehi Flats wondering if this was the end of my holiday plans.

Milky Way from Geehi Flats

Milky Way and my tent at Geehi Flats taken with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera and Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens at ISO 3200.

Although Geehi Flats camp ground is a lovely spot it is a LONG way for Victorians (perhaps 7.5 hrs from Melbourne) and does not offer any more than any camp site along a river such as around the Bright region, but for those traveling through the southern parts of the Snowy Mtns it does offer a more protected and warmer camp ground to rest at given it is around only 400m elevation and is accessible by caravans (caravans cannot get from here to Thredbo though as the Alpine Highway is too steep).

forest

Next day I drove back to Corryong (where they were getting ready for the Man From Snowy River festival over Easter) and after a wait of a few hours for the mechanics, had the welcome news that a stone and become stuck in the brake calipers and all is well.

So on early afternoon on day two, with storms, rain and strong winds forecast for the Snowy Mountains that night I decided to cut my losses, and head to Tumbarumba and get a better night’s sleep in a cabin out of harm’s way from the storms.

En route to Tumbarumba is a lovely drive through hilly rural countrysides reminiscent of Victoria’s Mansfield region, and past the Southern Cloud Memorial Lookout and on to lovely Paddys River Falls.

The Southern Cloud Memorial Lookout is a very exposed, but nice spot on a hill alongside the highway looking east at the western part of central Snowy Mountains and is a memorial for a historic Southern Cloud plane crash in the 1930′s, the wreckage of which was not found until 3 decades later – there is now a walking trail to the wreckage site. This plane crash was to change the safety of Australian aviation in profound ways.

Southern Cloud Lookout view

View south-eastwards from Southern Cloud Lookout.

Paddys River Falls is easily accessible at the end of a 2km gravel road and can be seen from the car park or a short easy walk down to the falls – although walking down to the stream itself can be a touch slippery!

There is no camping at the falls but just before you get to the turn off to the falls, there is a free camp ground on the river near the main highway which is popular for caravans.

Paddys River Falls vintage style

Paddys River Falls vintage style hand held long exposure.

Tumbarumba itself is a small town with little to attract a photographer but is a nice central location from which to base activities in the region. It was great to have a shower in the cabin and then steak dinner at the Tumba Hotel and a good night’s sleep.

See Day 3 next….

Solo overnight hike to summit of Mt Stirling

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

Following on from my overnight camping hike up Mt Feathertop, I decided it was time to do one solo.

I thus decided upon Mt Stirling as it was relatively close to Melbourne (some 3hrs drive via Mansfield) and the hike up the mountain is only half as long as the Mt Feathertop hike (4.5km at 500m altitude gain vs 10.5km at 1100m altitude gain), and with the extra weight of cooking gear and food, I felt this would be a good hike to start as a solo endeavour, given I did struggle with the ascent of Mt Feathertop given my lack of fitness.

I had considered extending the hike across The Monument saddle to camp near Craig’s Hut of The Man from Snowy River movie fame but wisely considered this might be a touch too much and perhaps best done another time as the walk from there back up Mt Stirling is on a very steep, severely eroded 4WD track and not much fun with a heavy backpack.

Mt Stirling is in the Victorian Alps and rises to 1749m which is similar to nearby alpine resort of Mt Buller.

Unlike commercialised Mt Buller, Mt Stirling offers camping and is a relatively “remote” camp site – I was the only person camping up there the night I went.

That said, as I soon discovered 2/3rds of my way up the mountain, you are not really isolated from people – I met 3 teams of commercial horse trail riders each with about a dozen horses, and leaving plenty of fresh presents for me to step in while attracting a multitude of flies, and then around 9.30am on a Monday morning, a 4WD enthusiast decided to pit his car and his skills against the treacherous 4WD ascent track to Mt Stirling, presumably not for the views nor to experience the ambience of Mt Stirling but just as a challenge to himself and his colleague, and to further erode the already severely eroded track.

Having left my car at the Telephone Box Junction (TBJ) and placed a note of intention of my trip in the ranger’s post slot, I again mounted my new Aarn Peak Aspiration Body Pack which weighed around 16-17kg with 1.5kg of water.

To reduce weight given that this trip I needed to carry cooking gear and food for dinner, I decided to leave my lovely Olympus mZD 40-140mm f/2.8 lens at home as this would save nearly 1kg, but given the forecast was for the clouds to clear by midnight, and there was hope of Geminid meteor shower being visible (I was 24hrs early for the peak of the shower), I decided to bring a small tripod and the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens as well as my only other lens for the trip – the small, light, Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens. Of course, I also brought along my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera. I feel sorry for those hikers who have to cart big heavy dSLRs such as Canon or Nikon with their big, heavy lenses and big, heavy tripods to match.

Despite the weight of my backpack which again performed beautifully for me, the walk up Mt Stirling was pleasant amongst the tall eucalypts and the overcast skies kept the summer temperatures to a comfortable level for strenuous uphill hiking, made all the more enjoyable by knowing that it is only a 2.5hr walk and then I would be able to relax and take in the awesome ambience of being the only person on top of the mountain overnight.

The enjoyment was somewhat reduced with the horse manure and flies, and then, once at the top, by the small but aggressive Australian native alpine ants, Iridomyrmex alpinus, which insisted on swarming over my feet and giving me a few friendly nips whenever I had inadvertently encroached near their ground nests hidden amongst the low foliage on top of the mountain. I thus took some time to plan where I would pitch the tent, even though it was insect proof.

There are a number of emergency huts along the way to the top of Mt Stirling should the weather become extreme, and near the camp area at the base of the summit, there is the Geelong Grammar School hut with a rain tank which unlike at Mt Feathertop, this one had water, although not potable and required treating. To save weight I did not bring the Camelbak All Clear UV water sterilisation kit, but instead brought along a 10 micro water filter kit, which although slower to process the water is considerably lighter.

After pitching my Big Sky Revolution 2P tent and boiling water for tea and for my dehydrated beef pasta dinner, I became excited by a very unexpected sunset as the sun managed to find its way under the big blanket of cloud to light up Mt Speculation and the Cross Saw ridge:


Mt Speculation

I tried to get some sleep and wake up after midnight when the forecast for the cloud to disappear came to fruition and allow me access to the summer Milky Way and the Geminid meteors, but alas, sleep did not come easy, but I was rewarded with beautiful dark skies full of stars, but very few meteors (I was after all 24hrs too early for the peak meteor shower).

Looking south to the Southern Cross, Centaurus and the Magellanic Clouds whilst I boiled water at 2am for a hot chocolate and marshmallow – a meteor came shooting down from the Small Magellanic Cloud aiming straight for my tent (Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens at f/1.8, 30secs):

Meteor

and at last a Geminid meteor sweeping from Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twin stars at lower right and across to the left upper between Orion and Taurus with the lights of the alpine tourist town of Bright in the distant north-east horizon:

Geminid

Next day, after earlier moving my tent into the shade of a tree, I was awoken at the unearthly hour of 11.30am by female voices warning me that there were women around and perhaps extracting myself from the tent naked would not be a good idea – I suspect they were secretly hoping for a Hugh Jackman pouring a bucket of water over himself, but instead, they got a bleary eyed George Clooney asking where the Nespresso machine was and discovering instead, a dozen women on horseback!

The heat of the midday sun meant it was well and truly time to eat the remains of my cheeses and “twiggy stick” salami before it went off, and then to go exploring the summit of Mt Stirling and the ridge across towards Stanley Bowl.

The summit (at left) from the east ridge looking towards the prominent Mt Cobbler:

summit

and another view along the more gentle parts of the 4WD track – the camp ground is the small clearing to the right of the base of the road:

Mt Cobbler

View of Mt Buller from the eastern ridge:

Mt Buller

The hike back down to the car was hot and sunny (it was 34degC at the base of the mountain, although I suspect it was only around 20-24deg air temperature for most of the hike but the direct summer sun made up for the difference!). I decided to go a different route down which was longer but supposedly more picturesque. I took the first of several possible short cuts, this one was to Wombat Drop but after some 400m the path which had been notable for the grass becoming longer and more difficult to see snakes in, suddenly was terminated by a sign indicated it was under revegetation and thus I returned back up the path to the gravel track and continued on my merry way.

Somehow, perhaps because of this experience, I missed the last of the shortcuts and ended up walking far further than I needed to, down to King Saddle Hut, and a very boring 4km or so walk along the Summit Circuit Road (had I bothered to put my reading glasses on and consult a map, I could have walked instead to Razorback Hut instead of along the circuit road) back to the TBJ where fortunately, my car still had all four wheels and the windows were even intact!

The drive back to Melbourne was broken by a hamburger in the township of Yea, but I did miss not being able to allow myself extra time to photograph the beautiful late afternoon light coming through onto the hillsides in this lovely region. I was concerned that the boring drive down the Hume Freeway would put me to sleep and to further delay my trip home would only create a greater risk. I thus regrettably gave up on enjoying the beauty of an uncommon light that was truly inspirational.