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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 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 copperhead snakes (although bites from these species are quite rare – we did encounter 2 within 20m of the camp on our walking path and neither seemed too keen to move out of our way!) and thus, one does need to be mindful of this, especially on warmer sunny days – wear boots and gaiters even near the camp – snakes like the water springs! Bring a snake bite bandage, know the first aid for snake bites and bring an EPIRB radio beacon!

The camp is extremely popular with school 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.

From the car park, it is a 1.5hr, 5km steadily descending 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 at [[http://imgur.com/6ykTUvc]]

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.

 

Texture and bokeh imagery from the Grampians

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Here are a selection of mainly texture and bokeh studies from Victoria’s Grampians mountain range in Spring taken with the Olympus OM-D Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

For more pics from the Grampians, see my earlier blog post.

Tarra Bulga National Park and Aussie wildlife in the wild

Monday, November 28th, 2016

Tarra Bulga National Park is a mountainous region of cool temperate rainforest which once covered most of Gippsland until European settlers cleared most of it in the mid 19th century.

Access is via Traralgon from the north (2.5hr drive from Melbourne)  or via a windy narrow two-way bitumen road from the south along the Tarra Valley which is not suitable for caravans, but which takes you to other picnic areas en route such as Tarra Falls (not an easy photograph) and Cyathea Falls (a short circuit loop walk accesses this small waterfall), the remote Tarra Valley Caravan Park (this is as far north on the Tara Valley road that caravans can access – they can’t go further north to the NP), and then access to coastal Gippsland including historic Port Albert (Gippsland’s first port, established c 1850) and Wilsons Promontory  (The Prom).

If you are coming from the south then a short detour to Victoria’s tallest waterfall, Agnes Falls is well worth it:

Agnes Falls

Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens at 17mm.

Tarra Bulga NP has a nice open picnic ground and nearby tea rooms. The picnic ground has a variety of birds including the very friendly crimson rosellas which you may find end up sitting on your shoulder while you try to eat:

rosella

The flighty wrens and robins are much harder to catch such as this flame robin which was about 10-15m away and required cropping:

wren

and even the Laughing Kookaburra likes you to keep your distance of about 10-15m:

kookaburra

on the road near the picnic ground was this poor wombat who appeared to be coping well despite a limp from past trauma:

wombat

The main attraction though at Tarra Bulga NP is the historic suspension bridge within the majestic Eucalpytus regnans rainforest (the tallest flowering plants in the world) – if you walk the full circuit “scenic track” it is a pleasant largely shaded 2.8km circuit walk with total ascent of 129m (mainly up graded path rather than steps) which will take just under 1hr allowing for time to get a few pics.

suspension bridge

suspension bridge

If you have the time to also visit Wilsons Prom you can complete your Aussie wildlife in the wild experience with a few more such as this cute kangaroo joey feeding at dusk:

joey

or these emus:

emus

and if the prevailing winds have been westerlies, you may find the beaches covered in these small beautiful but painful Blue Bottle Portugese Man’O'War jellyfish which will give you a painful sting if your skin touches the tentacles which can measure some 1m in length:

blue bottle

and nearby, this Sooty Oyster Catcher was taking a bath:

oystercatcher

I hope this has inspired you to get out and go for a drive, or better still stay for a couple of nights or more and explore the region.

We had an amazingly tasty and healthy lunch at the Port Albert Cafe and Wine Bar – the owner is a brilliant chef who obviously loves her cooking, the crispy duck with mango and cashew salad was awesome and the many cake options for dessert (or take with you for your NP walk) make it well worth the visit – unfortunately she has the business up for sale so make sure you get there before she has moved on.

Most of the above photos were taken with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens, or for the birds, the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens using a Micro Four Thirds Olympus OM-D E-M1 or E-M5 camera.

Road trip to Victoria’s wonderland – the Grampians

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

The Grampians is a group of mountain ranges formed from uplifted resistant Palaeozoic sandstone bed making it one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world and the beautiful sandstone boulders, epic views and with access to native flora and Australian wildlife make it an iconic bushwalking destination for tourists from around the world.

You will see kangaroos, black wallabies, emus,  Australian birds such as tiny robins and wrens, parrot species, New Holland honeyeater, laughing kookaburra, wedge tailed eagles and the really noisy white sulfur crested cockatoos. While walking on a sunny day you are likely to see a range of small to medium sized lizards – mainly skinks (and hopefully not a snake – these are generally very shy and avoid tourist areas but are deadly if you step on one and it bites you – a great reason to stick to the paths where you can see where you are stepping!). If you are lucky you may see an echidna (a  monotreme) looking for ants on the side of the road at dusk. If that is not enough wildlife, or you want to get up close to a snake or other animal, you can visit the nearby Halls Gap Zoo – the largest zoo in Victoria outside of the urban districts around Melbourne.

This Australian National Park is the biggest national park in Victoria and covers 167,219-hectare (413,210-acre) and is situated in western Victoria and to the north of the volcanic plains which formed most of south-western Victoria. The forest is mainly dry sclerophyll eucalypt forest with an understory of tea trees with their white flowers dominating in spring.

The sandstone was laid down from sediments from rivers during the Devonian period 380 million years ago which forms a 7km thick layer of sandstone which then became uplifted, tilted and then eroded. When sea levels rose 40 million years ago, the sea lapped at the north-western area which now has become the Little Desert National Park. The Devonian period was a time of wooded plants, insects and amphibia but before spiders, reptiles, dinosaurs and conifers had evolved.

Aboriginal occupation of Gariwerd (their name for the Grampians) dates back more than 20,000 years and they had six seasons for the region – check out the Brambuk Cultural Centre for more information.

The highest peak is Mount William at 1167 metres creates the Grampian Wave – a weather phenomenon at certain times of the year when strong westerly winds create a large scale standing mountain lee wave enabling glider pilots to reach extreme altitudes above 28,000 ft (8,500 m).

Towards the end of a decade of drought, a massive bushfire in Jan 2006 devastated 50% of the forest, but this allowed Parks Victoria to re-discover places such as Fish Creek Falls and design and create new bush walks such as the Grampians Peak Trail which so far is at Stage 1 and allows for 3 days / 2 nights walk with overnight remote camping.

Major flooding in Jan 2011 and heavy rain events again in Sept 2016, forced parts of the park to close for several months. Before you go, check the park’s website to ascertain which areas and remote camp grounds are closed.

I am pleased to report that the park now looks even better than before the fires and is an absolute pleasure to explore as long as you take the usual precautions of sun protection, wind and rain protection for those sudden late afternoon thunderstorms, plenty of water (2L per person for 2-3hr walks on warmer sunny days), and sturdy shoes. On hotter days, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the extreme heat conditions which may prevail.

It is a two and three quarter hour easy drive from Melbourne, mainly along freeway and highways which allow for a nice coffee break half way in the small town of Beaufort. The more adventuresome with time on their hands might like to return via a longer and more interesting route either to the north through winery and historic gold field towns of Avoca, Maryborough, Maldon, and Castlemaine, or to the south to Dunkeld with its highly regarded Royal Mail Hotel restaurant, then the volcanic park of Mt Eccles, then to Port Fairy, the volcanic Tower Hill park and then along the Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles and Otway Ranges.

The main tourist town in the Grampians is Halls Gap which lies in the valley and the shops and main camp ground are within a short walk to the beautiful Wonderland region. There are plenty of accommodation options but these can get booked out in peak seasons. There are dozens of kangaroos and maybe a few emus grazing in the camp ground and at the cricket ground, and as you sit and eat your dinner outside at the Harvest Cafe, you are likely to see a few of them hopping down the road at dusk.

Best time to go is in Oct-Nov when the spring wildflowers are at their best, the weather is not too hot and, to avoid the crowds, avoid school holidays, public holidays and weekends – although your choice of restaurants becomes severely limited, but your accommodation options increase and there are less people on the narrow winding roads and at the walks.

November can also be noisy cicada time – cicadas live most of their life underground (several years) as a nymph in burrows along a tree root from which it feeds on the sap. After spring rains and when the weather warms up, they climb a tree, latch on with their two big front claws,  and emerge from their nymph shell through the dorsum, leaving their dried shell and becoming green with transparent wings as adults. The rest for a while then for a few short weeks they join their mates in the trees, eating and creating a piercingly loud noise and mate before the females lay eggs and then die.

While I was there, a cicada had mistaken my car tyre for a tree and the nymph shell was on one side and the new adult cicada on the other:

cicada

Nymph shell – note the large front claws and the dorsal exit. Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens at 150mm f/5.6.

cicada

The newly emerged adult cicada – Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 macro lens at f/7.1 with some mild cropping as I didn’t want to get too close in case it flew away but in retrospect I probably could have got a close up of just its eye!

pinnacles

Perhaps the number one walk to do is the walk to the Pinnacles which gives a great expansive view over Halls Gap and the valley looking eastwards and if, as with this young lady, you wish to partake in some daredevil mindlessness you can sit and enjoy the view from the adjacent protuberant cliff face edge. The actual Pinnacle is a protuberance which has fences to reduce risk taking behaviours.

There are several options to walk to the Pinnacle, all of which require rock hopping, rock steps and sun exposure, but are well worth it, and within the capability of most people – even sedentary ones as long as they can walk up steps and negotiate rocks:

  • a longer ascent from Halls Gap camp ground for the fitter walkers with good knees
  • a shorter ascent from Wonderland Carpark which can optionally include the Grand Canyon loop
  • an easier ascent from the Sundial carpark – 4km return, allow 2hrs, total ascent 180m

pinnacles

On a hot sunny day with cirrus clouds and blue skies, drink plenty of water, wear a hat and sunscreen, but don’t forget to look for contrasty dramatic rock formations such as this one, but make sure you watch where you walk as it is easy to miss a deep ravine, step on a poor skink, or sprain your ankle!

sundial peak

When there is a strong, hot, north wind blowing, a better option may be the walk to Sundial Peak which is more sheltered from the wind and provides more coverage of trees in the event of lightning which tends to come on such days. The Sundial Peak also looks out over Halls Gap but being more south than the Pinnacle, it overlooks Lake Bellfield, although the Pinnacle cannot be seen from this lookout. The walk from Sundial carpark to the lookout is 4km return, allow 1.5-2hrs and ascent is only 115m making it more friendly than the Pinnacle walk.

sundial peak

You do also get lovely views to the south down the valley from the Sundial Peak.

sundial peak walk

The Sundial Peak walk early in the morning when no one was around – but I did get caught in a thunderstorm!

reeds Lookout

After your walks and you have had dinner, head up to Reed’s Lookout and The Balconies for an epic sunset view looking south across Victoria Valley. Be warned though – even mid-week, you will not be alone!

Boroka Lookout

If you are enthusiastic get up well before sunrise, drive the 20 minutes or so in the dark to Boroka lookout which faces east overlooking Halls Gap, for some shots BEFORE the sun comes up – I was lazy and couldn’t be bothered using a tripod and just relied upon the Olympus OM-D E-M1′s awesome image stabiliser plus used a Reverse ND gradient filter to help reduce the contrast at the horizon.

Grand Canyon

The “Grand Canyon” short circuit within the Wonderland on a cloudy day with the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 lens at 7mm and f/8.

This is a first post on the Grampians and I have only touched the surface – the main tourist attractions – although I didn’t get to go to the Zumsteins and Mackenzie Falls on this trip.

 

 

 

Wilsons Prom – don’t forget the Big Drift on the way home

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Concluding my posts on Wilsons Prom, I again ventured up to the massive sand dune system again just before sunset, this time as a last hoorah before I drove home.

It’s great exercise and you will need a jacket on a mild afternoon if the wind is up as it usually is there.

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:

The Big Drift

The Big Drift

The Big Drift

The Big Drift

The Big Drift

The Big Drift

The emu walked up to the top of this steep dune, had a look then walked back down again.

The Big Drift

I had the dunes all to myself – just how I like it!

More details of The Prom on my wikipedia.

 

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.

 

 

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.