Gunung Angsi

A relatively short (but steep) hike through the jungle to the third highest peak in Negeri Sembilan state, about an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur.

Another trip to catch-up with the team in Malaysia, means the opportunity for another mountain hike… A work colleague suggested Gunung Angsi, which could be done in a morning and is not too far from KL. I’ve booked my trusty local guide, Eddie Yap, who took me to Bukit Kutu on my last Malaysia trip as and as well as Medang Falls with my local marketing team before that.

It’s about an hour from my hotel in KL to Seremban, about 60km to the south, and then another 20min drive to the start of one of the trails to the peak. We are taking the Bukit Putus route up, which is the shorter and more direct route, starting at an altitude of 285m. The trail from the large parking area is impossible to miss – it’s not the most picturesque starting point, with what seems to be a very new trail cut into the side of the hill. (Older blog posts show a more solid set of concrete steps marking the start of the walk, rather than the makeshift steps shown below.)

The trail immediately climbs steeply up the hill (or mountain!), with ropes helping on some of the more vertical sections. The track is well marked, with both regular small arrows as well as a series of numbers in preparation for an event in a couple of days time.

It’s a fairly relentless, steady climb through typical Malaysian jungle – lots of exposed roots – until a fairly flat section is reached after about 2km. At the end of this section is a rest area, where we chat briefly to the only other hikers we’ve seen on the trail. This area seems to have been cleaned up, as I’ve seen photos where there are a heap of multi-coloured chairs, cooking utensils and other junk left here.

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From here it’s uphill again, with the first views over the area from “Waterfall View”. Being a fairly overcast, the view wasn’t great – but better than nothing!

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Another half an hour or so and the summit is reached: it’s taken exactly 1:30min to climb the 540m up to the 824m/825m summit. (The height is described as both 824m and 825m.) I’m not sure why at 825m Angsi is a mountain (gunung), while Kutu at 1,053m is a hill (bukit)?

There’s a covered shelter on the large, open summit area and very little rubbish lying around.  Despite the poor weather, there are some views over the surrounding wooded hills towards the east, and almost below us to the west are some glimpses  through the trees of the outskirts of Seremban.

After a brief stop on the summit, where the elevation and slight breeze is a relief from the humidity of the jungle, we continue our journey down the other side of the summit. After passing by an old, abandoned trig marker we enjoy the last views over from the mountain before we re-enter the jungle.

The descent we are taking is the longer Ulu Bendul trail. It’s narrower and seems less trafficked than the Bukit Putus route we took up (although other trip reports suggest this longer route is more popular) – and descends even more steeply. In a number of places there are sections of rope in place to help descend the slippery track.

After about 20min, there’s a fun section of the track that feels like a combination of obstacle course, abseil and bouldering! We enter a narrow section of track, following a deep channel caused by water carving a channel through the jungle landcsape.

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Then we follow the top of the large “sand boulders”.

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Finally, a steep section that involves carefully reversing down an 8m wall of red rock to the bottom of the boulder section! There’s a couple of routes down (or up), both with rope to assist the descent (or ascent).

After this section, the trail continues fairly steeply down the mountain for another 20min (1.5km).

About 3km from the summit, we cross a small stream, which marks the end of the steep descent! From here the trail is fairly flat, although not being used to the Malaysian climate I find the last section the toughest due to the humidity and lack of breeze in the valley.

Soon after the crossing this small stream we can hear the sound of rushing water, as we meet the river (Sungai Batang Terachi) that we’ll now follow back to the Ulu Bendul finish point. Soon after the track joins the river, a short side-track leads to a small set of cascades.

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After only another five minutes we cross the river for the first time. Despite having rained the last few days, the river level is low enough that we can cross without getting wet feet. Next to the river crossing is a clear pool with a waterfall – it would be a perfect lunch or swimming spot if we had time!

Just after the crossing is Kem Tangga Batu, a large camping area with a covered hut and a set of concrete steps (as well as a dilapidated and overgrown building that looks like it might have been a toilet in a previous life).

There’s remarkably no rubbish and it looks like a great place to camp by the river… it feels like we must be close to the end of the track! A few minutes on and there’s another steep but short side-track to a set of cascades. A nice photo-stop, but not as nice as the previous spot for a break.

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The track descends again as it follows the river, with a couple of steeper sections.

Another half an hour, and we each a small shelter and some plastic pipes that follow the river. It’s now been two hours since we left the summit: it’s taken longer than we expected, although there have been a few photos stops (tip: bring a small tripod to get some great cascade/waterfall shots)!

The narrow track seems to go on forever, as it follows the river. The track is narrow and eroded in sections – I’m not sure how they managed to construct the huts and shelters we saw previously! There are some calm sections of river and I have a quick swim to cool off.

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Finally, after passing a small dam, there’s a last river crossing. This time it’s impossible to avoid wet feet, and the crossing might be tricky if the river was higher (but if you’re starting from Ulu Bendul and you’re able to cross, the other river crossings will be fine).

A few minutes later and we’re at the Ulu Bendol Recreational Forest. There’s a ranger station here, and a water slide park. We only see a couple of people here, but it looks like it might be busy on a weekend.

After crossing the picnic ground, there’s a restaurant by the highway. We buy some cold drinks, and while I need to get back to the office the food looks very tempting! It’s taken just under three hours to get down, which is longer than we’d thought. Our car is 3km up the highway at the other trackhead, so one of our group of three hitches a lift to avoid a hot and boring walk up the road – it would be ideal to have to two cars if going up one route and back on the other! Total distance about 12km based on my GPS, although other trip reports suggest it’s 10km.

It’s been a great walk, combining some views from the peak with cascades and river crossings. I’d definitely recommend the Ulu Bendul route, or going up one way and back the other for variety.

Location Starts/ends at either Bukit Putus trackhead (2.7275351,102.0553951) or Ulu Bendul trackhead (2.727418N ,102.0758E) near Seremban, about an hour south of Kuala Lumpur.
Distance 12km open loop (4.6km via Bukit Putus / 7.4km via Ulu Bendul)
Grade Moderate (very steep/slippery in sections with some ropes)
Season/s All year, but best to avoid hiking after/during heavy rain
Map N/A
GPS route Google Maps GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources Track notes – Malaysia Traveller / The Star Online

Map-GunungAngsi

Flinders Island

In search of somewhere new to visit in the school holidays, we’ve booked a week on Flinders Island, which lies between the Australian mainland and Tasmania. It seems to offer both hiking opportunities and less strenuous sightseeing by car – as well as lots of beaches for the kids to swim at!

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About Flinders Island

Flinders Island is the largest of the 52 islands in the Furneaux Group, which are dotted across Bass Strait to the north-east of Tasmania (between Tasmania and the mainland). The island is closer to Tasmania than the mainland, and is located right on the 40° south latitude – also known as the Roaring Forties (although we didn’t experience any of the wild weather for which the island is renowned).

The island is about 62km in length and 37km across with a total land area of 1,333 square kilometres.  About a third of the island is mountainous, with ridges of granite running the length of the island. The coastal areas are predominantly covered in thick scrub, with a wide strip of sandy dunes along the shoreline (although there are large areas of cleared land that support over 50 lamb and beef farmers).

Some of the Furneaux Group islands were recorded in 1773 by British navigator Tobias Furneaux, who commanded one of the support boats James Cook’s second voyage, and the southern islands were charted by Matthew Flinders in February 1798. (James Cook named the group of islands after Tobias Furneaux, and Phillip Parker King – also an explorer – later named the largest island Flinders Island after Matthew Flinders.)

Flinders Island was frequented by sealers and Aboriginal women (who had been taken from mainland tribes) in the late 18th century; when seal stocks collapsed in the late 1820s many sealing families stayed in the Furneaux Group, subsisting on cattle grazing and mutton-birding. It wasn’t until the 1950s that a proper settlement scheme was initiated, drawing settlers from mainland Tasmania and central NSW to Flinders Island’s eastern shore. Sixty years later, in the 2011, the population of Flinders Islands was 700 people with a median age of 45. [Source: Wikipedia]

When to go (and for how long)

There’s not really a “bad” time to visit Flinders Island – although the climate is surprisingly varied for an island, with recorded extremes of -3.5 degrees in winter to 41.5 degrees in summer. Initially I’d planned to visit in early January, before discovering the flights were at their most expensive and accommodation options limited. I was more successful in booking our family trip in the April school holidays – which in hindsight was a good result. While summer would have been ideal for swimming in the many beaches and coves, it would have been less pleasant for hiking. Autumn was ideal – just warm enough for the kids to have a quick swim (definitely too cold for the adults!) and perfect for exploring the island on foot.

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Source: Bureau of Metereology via Wikipedia

As for how long to stay? We had eight days on the island and could easily have spent up to a couple of weeks. There’s lots to see, and had we stayed longer we could have enjoyed a few “quiet days” at our well-appointed beach house, or ventured out to one of the neighbouring islands (by chartering a boat). A week was needed to really explore all corners of the island, especially if you’re planning a few weeks.

Getting there and around

There’s really only one option for getting here (unless you own your own boat!), which is flying with Sharp Airlines from either Launceston (Tasmania) or Essendon (Victoria). The 19-seat turboprop plane takes about 30min from Tassie and an hour from Victoria – every seat is a window seat (except for one, which I’m assigned on both flights!), so you get nice views coming into Flinders Island.

There is a ferry from Bridport in Tasmania that is operated weekly by Furneaux Freight, allowing you to bring your own vehicle. It’s an 8-hour trip with a schedule that is dependent on tides and weather conditions… we had considered this option before realising our trip out would have meant a departure time of 1am!

Once on the island, a car is essential unless you’re on an organised tour. There is one option – Flinders Island Car Hire – which is located at the airport. Despite having a ground transportation monopoly, the prices are reasonable ($75-$80 per day), albeit the the cars are up to ten years old. The staff at the car hire desk are very friendly, meeting each flight and providing local advice and maps before sending you on your way. Although most roads are unsealed, we found them all to be in good condition and easily navigated in our 2WD rental car.

Food & Accommodation

There’s many places to stay – even in my initial attempt to book a trip in January, there was still availability a month or so prior. In April, a few places were booked a couple of months prior but we had a lot of choices: we ended up booking West End Beach House, towards the northern end of Flinders Island. A great choice – the house was well appointed, and in a very private location overlooking the ocean (the beach being  a 5-10min walk away through the sand dunes, behind the house). Sawyers Bay Shacks is another option that looked appealing.

Other than the type of accommodation, the main decision you’ll need to make is how close to “civilisation” you want to be… There are dining-out options at Whitemark and Lady Barron, and a supermarket at Whitemark (and a much smaller one at Lady Barron). And that’s about it. We were a good 45min drive away, so we had planned to stock-up every few days and cook our own dinners. It would have been pretty tedious driving at dusk/night every day to eat out for dinner.

As far as dining out goes, we met some friends for lunch at the Furneaux Tavern (Lady Barron) at the end of our stay, which wasn’t bad. Although the seafood options on the menu weren’t caught locally, there was a decent range of food and prices were reasonable. It seemed almost impossible to buy locally caught fish (there were rumours of a local who sold fresh seafood out of the back of his truck at the local pub once a week – but he hadn’t been seen for a few weeks). I  did manage to track down a purveyor of crayfish – and bought a freshly caught and cooked cray that made a delicious evening meal. We even got a tour of the crayfish and abalone holding tanks that are located at the Lady Barron wharves.

What we found consistently impressive: the local meat, which we bought at the butcher in Whitemark. While the Flinders Island (human) population represents only 0.02% of Tasmania, Flinders Island farmers produce approximately 15% of Tasmanian beef production and 9% of Tasmanian lamb production. (The chicken schnitzels were also fantastic, although they were “imported” as there’s no commercial poultry operations on the island). For a coffee fix or pre-prepared meals, A Taste of Flinders (next door to the butcher) was a regular stop.

The Itinerary

The general plan was to see as much of the island as possible in ten days (we do manage to cover a lot of ground), and I wanted to fit in a few hikes. The “highlights” of our trip:

  • Best beaches – Trousers Point was the stand-out (it just missed out on the The Mercury’s Tasmania’s Top 10 Beaches list) and has a picnic area with free BBQ. Also very picturesque are Killiecrankie Bay, Sawyers Bay and the bays and beaches around North East Rock.
  • Best hikesMt Strzelecki is worth the effort, but you need a very clear day. I found Mt Killiecrankie even more rewarding, but tougher than than Strzelecki (as it’s partly off-track). For coastal walks, Castle Rock deserves it’s place as one of Tasmania’s Great Short Walks.
  • Best Lookouts – For vantage points that can be reached by car, Mount Tanner to the north offers good views and is good spot to catch the sun rising or setting. Walkers Lookout is the one to visit, for the best views of the island.

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Getting to West End (Day 1)

Due to flight scheduling challenges (we’re coming from Sydney), it wasn’t feasible or cost-effective to get to Flinders Island in one day. So, we flew to Launceston on the previous day, arriving late afternoon. Today we had time for a visit to Platypus World in the Tamar Valley before our flight from Launceston Airport. Check-in was very quick and straightforward, and after a half hour wait we took off on our fairly short flight to Whitemark, where we picked up our car around midday.

Having picked up our car, we set off northwards on Palana Road. The road is initially sealed and passes through open farmlands, with views over the coast from Emita. After about 20min, at the junction to the C801 to Memana, the sealed road turns to gravel and it starts to feel like we’re the only ones on the island!

Another 20min or so further, and we turn left onto West End Road. The light is starting to fade, so we take it fairly slowly as there’s a lot of wildlife around. I later read in one of the guides at the house that due to ideal conditions and lack of predators, there’s about 400% more wildlife on Flinders Island compared to mainland Tasmania. Which explain the huge amount of roadkill, considering the relatively light traffic on the island. We spot a wombat by the side of the road, and a little further on a rather pale (and shy) echidna. We discover later that Flinders Island has an echidna population that includes an uncommon subset of pale or ‘albino’ echidnas.

We finally make it to our West End Beach House, just in time for a fantastic sunset and a quick swim on the beach (well, not for me, it’s way too cold but my son is part-seal!).

It feels like we’re on holiday!

North West Coast (Day 2)

We commence our island exploration with a tour of the west and north-west, continuing along West End Road and up to Mount Tanner, which is far as we can go with a 2WD car. We’d been told to avoid this road, but it seemed to have been recently graded, and was no problem for our car as it wound up the hill to the 332m summit of Mount Tanner. At the top is a microwave communications tower built to connect the island to Victoria and mainland Tasmania in 1967. The views from here stretch in all directions: to the north (below) is Killiecrankie Bay and Mount Killiecrankie.

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On the way back down, we spot a tiny frog that’s almost blended into the gravel, which the kids helpfully shepherd off the road…

Having descended back the same way, we head south, past our house and toward Whitemark. Our next stop is Long Point and the Arthur Bay Conservation Area (off Palana Road, on the west coast). One one side of the narrow road is the ocean, and on the other side a sheltered bay that has a viewing hide to observe the many sea birds.

While the kids and Mum have lunch and observe the bird life from the hide (I don’t have the patience required for bird-watching), I walk back along Long Point Beach and around to Sawyers Bay. Between Long Point Beach and the start of Arthur Bay is Blue Rocks, an outcrop of lichen-covered boulders, with the Mt Strzelecki ranges in the distance.

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Our last stop for the day is just a bit further north, where there’s a short walk from Emita along the coast to the imposing Castle Rock. (I did the 4km one-way walk; after dropping me off the rest of the family parked near the rock, which you can also get to via a short 4WD track from the car park – it’s well worth it, especially at sunset.)

Castle Rock walk (4km one-way)
One of the Tasmanian “Great Short Walks”. The trail traverses secluded beaches, weathered sandstone formations and grassland before reaching Castle Rock, an imposing, monolithic boulder on the end of the headland.
Full hike details
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Patriarch Wildlife Sanctuary (Day 3)

Another clear and sunny day awaits us… today we’re driving to the Patriarch Conservation Area, on the eastern side of the island. On the way, we make a small diversion to Tobias Furneaux Lookout.

The views aren’t spectacular, but they do give you a view over the interior of the island.

Continuing along the well-graded Memana Road (C803), we stop a couple of times to photograph the Cape Barren Geese.  They are “a most peculiar goose of uncertain affiliations, which may either belong into the “true geese” and swan subfamily Anserinae or into the shelduck subfamily” [Wikipedia], and are one of the unique birds that live around the Furneaux Group. Considered an endangered species only about 40 years ago, a breeding program to increase their numbers of geese was so successful that in recent years the numbers of geese have grown to plague proportions. As a result they are now allowed to be hunted in certain times of the year – which is probably why they take flight as soon you get too close.

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We arrive at the Patriarch Wildlife Sanctuary mid-morning, which is a habitat for abundant wildlife and bird life including wombats, wallabies and Cape Barren Geese. There’s an an A-frame building with bunk beds and cooking facilities inside, and a shaded (free) gas barbecue area outside. A big container of wallaby feed ensures that a large population of almost “tame” wallabies around the building!

Unfortunately, the relaxed vibe is broken when my wife goes searching for some birds to photograph in the nearby pond… and a snake rears it head out of the water and makes a beeline for her!

The area is named after the “Patriarchs” – three granite mountains that were named after Matthew Flinders, as they stand out on the low plains. I had allowed time to hike to the summit of one of them, the South Patriarch (the route is described in “Walks of Flinders Island”). It’s an untracked walk, and after a brief attempt to traverse the thick scrub (particularly heavy due to a bushfire a few years ago that resulted in heavy re-growth) I give up. I’m discovering that off-track walking on Flinders Island requires a certain level of long clothing and commitment!

Being now mid-afternoon, we head back to our house at West End.

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After a brief stop at the house, it’s back in the car for the 15min back up to Mount Tanner to take some sunset photos. The late afternoon light is fantastic!

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To the east are clear views of Killiecrankie Bay, and on the other side of the telecom tower the sun is setting over the ocean.

After dinner back at the house, I make a final trip for the day back to Mount Tanner, to take advantage of the clear skies and watch the moon, which is rising just after 10pm. The photos don’t really do justice to the amazingly clear views of the milky way, and the orange glow of the rising moon. I could stay here a long time. But it’s getting late chilly!

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Mt Strzelecki (Day 4)

Today’s plan is to start relatively early, and take advantage of the continuing fine weather for an ascent of Mt Strzelecki, the highest peak on Flinders Island at 756m.

Mt Strzelecki (6.6km return)
Another of the three Tasmanian “Great Short Walks” on Flinders Island. The well-marked track climbs steadily and relentlessly to the peak, through a variety of different environments.
Full hike details
 

It’s well worth the effort, despite the potentially spectacular views in all direction being partly obscured by cloud. The general recommendation is to go early (which we did) – the mountain seems to attract clouds and create its own weather at the top.

We cool off afterwards at the nearby Trousers Point Beach, with Mt Strzelecki reminding us of its presence in the background. Frustratingly, the top now looks clear of cloud!

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After driving back to West End there’s time for a swim at West End Beach, followed by a short circular walk along West End Beach and back up West End Road to our house. The sunsets haven’t disappointed so far!

It’s pretty chilly outside… but not too cold for the kids to enjoy some marshmallows over the firepit before going to bed.

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Killiecrankie (Day 5)

Another long walk – and some fossicking – is planned for today. It’s the warmest day so far, and there’s not a cloud in the sky.

We drive to Killiecrankie Beach, a little to the north. It’s one of the places to search for the Killiecrankie Diamond, and we have our shovels and sieves that we hired a few days ago in Whitemark.  The “Killiecrankie Diamond” is a type of clear topaz that has been washed down from the granite mountains.

Leaving the rest of the group to (hopefully) pay for our holiday** with their fossicking efforts, I head off around Killiecrankie Bay with my sights set on reaching the top of Mt Killiecrankie. It ends up being the most rewarding, but also the longest and toughest walk I do on the island.

Killiecrankie Circuit (18km)
A partly off-track circuit to the summit of Mt Killiecrankie summit, which offers
360-degrees over the island. The circular route back follows the rugged coast from The Dock and around Old Man’s Head.
Full hike details
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I don’t finish the hike until just after dark, walking back around Killiecrankie Bay as the sun sets over the ocean. (It’s another great sunset vantage point, which we re-visit a couple of days later).

** After collecting many small and shiny rocks, the helpful lady at Killiecrankie Enterprises (where we’v hired our fossicking equipment) explains that we have a nice collection of quartz. But not a single Killiecrankie Diamond.

Trousers Point (Day 6)

Disappointed by the less than perfect view from the summit of Mt Strzelecki two days prior due to cloud around the peak, I set the alarm clock super-early. I’m up at 3:30am and back on the summit track by 4:30am. I plan to catch the sunrise from the summit and get some clear shots from the highest vantage point on the island!

Alas, my second summit attempt is a complete disaster, with not just heavy cloud but rain falling near the peak. After returning to the car, I drive to Walkers Lookout, which is also mist-bound. Looking at Mt Strzelecki from Whitemark, the entire mountain range is shrouded in thick cloud. (I’m increasingly less convinced by the “climb early in the morning before the clouds form” school of thought. And slightly paranoid that the Strzelecki mountain gods have taken a dislike to me.)

I head to Trousers Point: the plan is to meet the rest of the family here for lunch after they’ve purchased some local beef sausages for lunch. The weather is quickly improving, and the clear water is very inviting, despite the temperature being in the low twenties.

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It’s never too cold for the kids to swim, of course… and in a clear case of the mountain gods mocking me, the top now seems completely free of cloud. I don’t have the energy for a third ascent.

This a great spot for a BBQ – like a few other places on the island, the BBQ facilities are free and spotless. This would be one of the top picks on the island for a BBQ or picnic – and yet in our three hours here we see only one other group of visitors.

After lunch, I undertake the Trousers Point Walk, the third and last of the “Great Short Walks” on Flinders Island. The return walk is just over 4.5km in length and takes me about 45min of brisk walking. It’s the shortest of the Great Short Walks, which follows the coastline along the Trousers Point headland. It’s also the least great of the Great Short Walks. It’s a nice walk along the rocky shore, with some interesting rock formations, but there’s far less variety than the other two Great Short Walks.

On the way home, we detour past Walkers Lookout again – this time it’s a far more impressive vista than the 20m visibility I had earlier in the morning. There are clear views in every direction, with signage that points out the major features in every direction. The Strzelecki ranges can be seen in the distance to the south and the Patriarchs to the east. For lookouts accessible by car, this is definitely the best one.

There’s still a few hours left in the day, but we head back to our house to avoid driving at dusk. It’s been another great day on Flinders Island.

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Palana and the North East (Day 7)

We haven’t explored the north east corner of Flinders Island yet, so we head off in this direction, taking the North East River Road all the way to the north-east tip of the island (Holloway Point).

For the last few kilometres the road follows the North East River, which resembles a tidal estuary more than a river. There’s thousands of tiny crabs swarming on the mud flats of the river, and it’s teeming with birdlife.

At the end of the road, there’s a few parking spots and a toilet block. Although my guide book says the road can get busy in summer, there is no-one here today, so we can have the place to ourselves to explore and look for shells.

On the south side of Holloway Point, a long and rocky promontory, the North East River flows into Bass Strait. There’s a small sheltered bay and a nice, long stretch of sand along the mouth of the river. It would be a great spot to swim on a warm day – today, it’s too cold even for the kids!

A short walk away, over the rocky promontory, there’s another north-facing beach that’s more exposed.

It’s a great spot for photography, especially today with the weather and light constantly changing.

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We spend a couple of hours here, before heading to Palana, on the western side of the island. Palana Beach is the most northern beach on Flinders Island; there’s a number of beach houses you can rent here, but (like our house at West End) it’s a long drive to the nearest restaurant or grocery store.

At the end of Palana Road is a very sheltered harbour or bay with a jetty. There’s also a very solid concrete bunker. There’s no explanation or signage  – and it’s the only one of it’s type I’ve seen on the entire island. Later research indicates it’s a World War II bunker.

Access to Palana Beach (which is poorly signposted) is a few hundred metres back along the road. The very last section is a bit eroded and we fear our 2WD car won’t make it, so so we leave the near the turn-off to the beach and walk down the last 250m.

It’s a nice beach, but not as nice as Trousers Point or even our last stop at North East River Inlet. I walk down the beach to the end – there are some steep sand dunes toward the far end, and a mini-lagoon where the water is a bit warmer.

At the end of the beach, there’s a good view of Inner Sister Island directly ahead (there’s also an Outer Sister Island). One of the largest of the approximately one hundred outer islands in the Furneaux Group, Inner Sister Island is a granite and dolerite island, that supports seabirds and waders and is grazed by sheep.

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No more stops are planned after our very late lunch and stroll along Palana Beach… but… as we near the turn-off to Killiecrankie the sunset seems to be another nice one. Not what we’re expecting, as it’s been a fairly overcast day. We make an impromptu diversion to Killiecrankie Bay.

The colour of the sky is getting more orange as we arrive and scope out the best spot for photos.

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It gets more spectacular as the sun emerges from the clouds, bathing the surrounding rocks and Mt Killiecrankie on the other side of the bay in a warm glow. We stay until the sun has fully set, and finally head back to the house.

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Around West End (Day 8)

It’s a quiet day today… the weather is overcast and rain threatens. The kids and I set off for a beach stroll and Killiecrankie Diamond fossicking attempt in the morning. This time we go to Tanners Bay, just south of West End Beach. While Tanners Bay can be accessed by foot from West End Beach, we drive a short way up West End Road, where our map indicates that there is a roads leading down to the beach. We leave our car on main road and walk down one of these side-tracks… which seems to be a private road leading to a house. No-one is around, so we’re quickly on the beach, but a bit confused as to which of the tracks down to the beach are public and which are private driveways.

We’re now looking for a creek bed that would have carried the “diamonds” down from Mt Tanner, but we’re really not sure if we are anywhere near the right spot. Nevertheless, we dig and sieve away with diminishing enthusiasm: there’s not a lot of reward for our effort!

Having  tried a few different spots and not far from giving up, I spot what seems to be a seal resting on the beach. Walking a bit closer, it turns out it IS a seal, which is a pleasant surprise – it’s the only seal we see on the island.

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It gives us a baleful look, and (rather inelegantly) waddles into the ocean

As the sky darkens, we head back to the car – there a brief downpour on the way back, which is the first rain we’ve had in eight days (so we can’t really complain).

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By late afternoon, the weather has significantly improved so I take the opportunity to do one more walk… from our beach house at West End I’m walking to Egg Beach. I start behind our house, walking over the sand dunes and following West End Beach north.

Egg Beach (8km)
From West End Beach, the untracked route follows the coastline, crossing secluded coves and beaches as well as rocky sections of the shore before reaching the peculiar Egg Beach. The return journey is via an old 4WD track.
Full hike details
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Lady Barron (Day 9)

Our last full day on Flinders Island… After meeting friends (who are circumnavigating Tasmania by yacht) for lunch at the Furneaux Tavern in Lady Barron, we have a look around the jetty area. In the distance, across Petrifaction Bay are the Strzelecki Ranges, and directly in front of us is Cape Barren Island.

Driving back to West End, we spot another echidna near the road.

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Leaving Flinders Island (Day 10)

We wake to the first wet and miserable day we’ve had in ten days, as we finish packing and make our way to Whitemark for our flight to Essendon (Victoria) and connecting flight to Sydney. We’ve seen a lot of the island, and it’s definitely somewhere I’d visit again.

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More Information

For general information the Visit Flinders Island Web site is helpful and lists the many accommodation options (many places are not listed on Stayz or other booking sites that I’d normally use).

For hiking, a copy of “Walks of Flinders Island” (Ken Martin) which I bought at the general store in Whitemark was really helpful, providing details and maps of over 50 walks from well-marked trails to off-track routes. The 1:100,000 Flinders Island topographical map was also useful for planning walks and drives (purchase on-line at the TASMAP eShop or available on the island).

Mt Killiecrankie circuit (Flinders Is)

A partly off-track circuit on Flinders Island to the Mt Killiecrankie summit and back along the rugged coast from The Dock.

Described as “one of the most majestic islands in the Furneaux Group” and “arguably the most majestic mountain and bay combination in Bass Strait”, Mt Killiecrankie (316m) is the highest peak at the northern end of Flinders Island. While significantly less high than Mt Strzelecki, it’s a tougher walk and offers equally impressive views from the top.

There’s a few different approaches to the summit, all of them at least partly off-track… I’m taking what seems to be the “easiest” route to the top. The intended route follows Killiecrankie beach around to the northern end, where there is a 4WD track for part of the ascent.

After walking along the beach for about 2.6km (slightly easier and quicker at low tide), I pick up a signposted 4WD track that starts just above the beach (Quion Road). It’s a private road; my “Walks of Flinders Island” book suggests this as one of the summit approaches, and recommends seeking approval from the manager of the Quion cattle farm (access via this route may change if the development of a $5 million premium tourist resort goes ahead). Being on my own and not sure how to contact the manager, I set-off up the track which climbs steadily up the hill. After about 1.2km, I reach a gate, where I turn left and follow the fence line for a few hundred metres. There’s now a short section of off-tracking walking through fairly thick forest, before I reach another 4WD track.

The next section of (disused) 4WD track continues heading up towards the summit, and offers a bit of shade on a clear and fairly warm April day.  Not long after reaching this upper 4WD trail (at Palana 735917) , there’s the first views over the coast for the first time from a rock platform, and a memorial plaque to Peter Grant Hay and his wife Margaret Maisie. Hay was an Australian brewer, landowner, pastoralist and thoroughbred racehorse breeder who founded the Richmond N.S. Brewing Co. Ltd (now Carlton & United Breweries) and owned land on Flinders Island. Interestingly, there’s no mention of the plaque in my hiking guide or on-line.

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Another 200m and there’s a fork in the track; after consulting the map, I take the left-hand option. The rough track continues ascending directly towards the peak, which soon becomes visible directly ahead.

While the summit is clearly visible in the distance, there’s no obvious track to the summit from the 4WD track which continues around the base of the mountain. I find a very narrow and indistinct foot track through fairly thick scrub (Palana 737925 or 39°48’51.4″S 147°51’40.4″E) which seems the best option. This trail winds through the scrub, before emerging at a large, exposed rock platform.  In front of me are views of the coast, and behind me looms the large rock outcrop of the summit,

The notes in my guide book, while fairly accurate for the initial part of the walk, seem to bear little resemblance to the tracks I’ve found as I near the summit. I’m at the southern end of Mt Killiecrankie, which is the steeper ascent, and I can’t find any track that allows an easier approach from the northern end. While parts of the ascent appear a little daunting (in terms of height and exposure), the alternate requires navigating through some pretty thick scrub to the northern end of the granite outcrop. I manage to find a route up the last 50m of rock face, finally reaching the Killiecrankie summit after 6.2km and just over two hours walking.

The views are fantastic in all directions, with an almost cloudless sky. To the south is Killiecrankie Bay, with farmland adjacent and further inland, the Wingaroo Nature Reserve.

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To the north is Blyth Point and Palana, and in the far distance the Inner Sister and Outer Sister islands.

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After a well-earned break on the top, it’s time to figure out how to get back… I’m reluctant to descend the same way as I came up, being very steep and exposed. Heading down the “back” of Mt Killiecrankie (the northern approach) is much easier. I follow a long series of rock slabs; just before the last boulder is a short drop on the left into a gully. From here my intent was to navigate back to the southern end of the summit outcrop, and re-trace my steps…

…but, with thick scrub all the way up the base of the rock, I follow a faint trail that leads further north. I figure it’s heading downhill, it must go somewhere and it’s a hell of a lot easier than “bush bashing” through dense scrub! The trail is marked by cairns, taking me under large boulders, across exposed rock platforms and traversing some interesting granite formations!

After about half an hour, there’s a sign pointing to “The White Eyed Man” (map reference Palana 738934). It’s a little surreal, being the only sign I’ve encountered on the entire walk, so I make the 80m detour. I’m not quite sure to expect! The White Eyed Man is an imposing rock formation, which does look a little like a pointy-nosed person looking over the coast. There’s no mention of this formation in my guide, or checking later, anywhere on-line.

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From here the track is fairly easy to follow through medium-thick scrub, as it gets closer to The Dock Road which I can see below. I’d avoided this route up as the guide book described it as being un-tracked and through thick scrub, so it was a pleasant surprise to find it the easiest route down as it meant I could return to Killiecrankie via a circuitous route!

It takes less than an hour to reach The Dock Road, emerging from the scrub next to a “4WD only” sign (although locals assure me the road is 2WD suitable and it is in good condition). From the road, there is almost no sign of the track – it’s the little gap in the bushes in the picture below right.

From here, it’s a quick 15min down the unsealed road to The Dock, which consists of a number of small sandy beaches set in a kilometre of rocky coastline. It’s a pleasant spot and I have a quick swim before continuing on my way along the coast.

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The well-marked track follows the rocky coast fairly closely, with the Mt Killiecrankie mountain range not very far inland.

I’m making fairly good progress until I reach the climbers camping area, which is near the coast (Palana 725936). There’s a path that leads up to the base of the cliffs, where it abruptly stops – the guide book suggests continuing off-track but with the time getting late and the shrub fairly thick, I eventually re-trace my steps to the climbers camping area. Here I quickly find the main track that follows the coast and resume my journey back to Killiecrankie. The going is a bit slower from here, even after I’m back on the correct trail, with the setting sun almost directly ahead and the terrain consisting of rock formations and patches of soft sand.

It’s a relief to reach the granite slabs on the headland below Old Man’s Head, where the walking is a bit easier.

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Soon after, with Old Man’s Head jutting into the sky behind me, I meet the only other hikers I’ve seen all day, heading toward The Dock.

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It’s a bit slower again for the next section to Stacky’s Bight, with the track heading inland and skirting around some steep sections of shoreline. Stacky’s Bight is a sheltered cove featuring a couple of sea arches, and would make a worthwhile destination for a shorter day-trip.

It’s now almost 5pm, and great light for photography as I navigate the last sections of rocky coastline before reaching Killiecrankie Bay, the rocks almost glowing in the afternoon sun.

I’m back at the (far) end of Killiecrankie Bay with the sun just over the horizon.

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There’s just 2km (or so) of easy beach walking before I’m back at the car; in the distance is Mt Killiecrankie. It’s been a tough walk but my favourite Flinders Island walk so far, combining a small mountain peak with some varied coastal walking.

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Location Start at Killiecrankie beach car park.
Distance 18km circuit
Grade Hard. 370m total scent
Season/s All year round.
Map TasMap Flinders 1:100K or Palana 1:25K
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Walks of Flinders Island” book by Ken Martin (walks 6, 12, 13 & 18).
Book available in Whitemark or via Amazon

Map-KilliecrankieCircuit

Mt Strzelecki (Flinders Island)

A steep walk to the highest peak on Flinders Island (756m), which is frequently shrouded by cloud.

Mt Strzelecki is another of the three Tasmanian “60 Great Short Walks” that’s located on Flinders Island – and it’s the highest point on the island – so it’s a “must do” hike on our stay. I’m joined by Luke and our “local” (Launceston) friend Linda, who’s staying with us for a few days.

We head out from our house at the opposite end of the island (near West End Beach) around 9am, with the granite peaks of the Strzelecki ranges appearing closer as we turn onto Trousers Point Road almost an hour later.

(The Devonian-age granite peaks are part of a larger series of granite bodies that extend from north-eastern Tasmania to Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, and were formed approximately 370 million years ago. Just in case you have an interest in geology!)

The start of the walk is very clearly marked, with the Strzelecki peaks directly ahead of us, as we set off around 10am. It’s a beautiful, clear day, so I’m looking forward to the view from the summit.

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The track crosses a small clearing to a walker registration “booth” where’s there a battered log-book, before it enters the low (but dense) forest.

The first “stage” of the track is not steep, but climbs relentlessly up through forest consisting mostly of casuarina trees.

After about a kilometre (and 180m of altitude gain), there’s a glimpse of our destination in the distance, and the first views from the track of Whitemark Beach to the north.

About half an hour further, and the landscape has completely changed to more open eucalypt forest with a few patches of ferns. In this second “stage” (starting at about the 1.8km mark and and 320m altitude), you can see why the rainfall on Flinders Island is highest around the Strzelecki Peaks.

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The track starts to get steeper, but rewards our progress with improving views; Mt Chappell Island can be seen off the coast, beyond Trousers Point.

This second stage of our walk is about a kilometre in length and we’ve gained another 300m altitude, as we reach the foot of the granite peak that towers above us. As we follow the base of the Strzelecki Peaks, the “third stage” of our journey is damp and shaded. We’re mostly in Sassafras-musk rainforest, occasionally emerging onto granite outcrops.

While we started our walk in full sun, there’s now swirling mist around us and views to the north are of… cloud. At the 3km mark (700m altitude) there’s a large rock platform and with limited visibility, a few groups end their hike here.

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We continue – we’re now only 60m from the summit – although it’s clear (no pun intended) that with the clouds sweeping over the peak we won’t be “rewarded with views of mainland Tasmania” as my guidebook promised!

After the last few hundred metres through thick scrub and then along a broad ridge of granite, we’re on the rocky peak!

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The thickest cloud is to the north, and doesn’t look like abating anytime soon… although once we’re back at the the bottom I can’t see any clouds around the peak. I don’t know if we’re just unlucky with timing: the general advice is to go early as the cloud builds over the day. [I go back a few days later, starting at 4am both to avoid the cloud and catch sunrise from the peak – but the cloud is even thicker, to the point it’s raining when I get to the last section – and when I’m back at the bottom it looks clear at the top!]

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You could argue that the mist adds to the atmosphere. Maybe. And there are still some nice views, with the Strzelecki Peaks to the south and Fotherington Beach below, with Big Green Island in the distance and East Kangaroo Island barely visible behind it. But definitely can’t see mainland Tasmania in the distance!

We hang around on the summit for about half an hour, before deciding that it’s highly unlikely that the clouds will dissipate anytime soon and we head back down. It’s taken us about 2.5 hours up, with frequent rest breaks, and 1.5 hours to go back down.

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Location From Whitemark, travel south (towards Lady Barron) on B85 and turn into C806 (well sign-posted) to Trousers Point. The track to the peaks is marked on the left-hand side of the road.
Distance 6.6km return
Grade Moderate. 755m ascent
Season/s All year round.
Map TasMap Flinders 1:100K or Loccota 1:25K
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Walks of Flinders Island” book by Ken Martin (p.10). Available in Whitemark or via Amazon
Tas Parks “60 Great Short Walks

 

Freycinet Peninsula

A rewarding hike that combines picturesque bays, turquoise water and majestic views of the Tasmanian coast.

The Freycinet Peninsula Circuit has been on my “to do” list for a long time. It was originally intended as a long one-day hike, but with my 8-year son (Luke) showing increasing enthusiasm for hiking and camping it became a 2-night/3-day adventure. It’s been many years since I’ve walked with a 20kg pack and the first time Luke’s been on an overnight walk. So this could be a great experience… or the chance to see how effective my emergency beacon is!

We arrive in Launceston the evening before our walk and stay with a Taswegian friend overnight, so we can make a relatively early start the following day for the 2.5-hour drive to Coles Bay. There’s time for an egg and bacon roll before we hit the track – the last palatable food for the next 48 hours.

Day 1

At 11am we’re on the track from Wineglass Bay car park to Hazzards Beach. It’s a slow start, with a friendly wallaby posing for photos at the trackhead. Despite signs saying “don’t feed the wildlife”, this wallaby was very tame and was obviously used to receiving food from tourists. At least it had been fed fruit, and not bread which is bad for them. I was happy it was a friendly one; the signs along the road to Freycinet were rather ominous and warned of kangaroos that would flip your vehicle with a single paw. It’s not surprising that international visitors are scared of our wildlife!

The first 5km is relatively flat, following the coast from the car park to Hazards Beach (said to be named after local whaler, African-American Captain Richard Hazard). It’s pleasant walking, despite being a warm day and carrying having a heavy pack, which I’m not used to. There are views out to the west over Promise Bay towards Swansea and the Eastern Tiers.

After about 1.5 hours we’ve almost reached Hazards Beach; just before we get there we spot an idyllic bay. Across the (almost warm) turquoise water is Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham, which we climb tomorrow. Unlike the exposed beach, it has plenty of shade. And another friendly wallaby. We stop here for lunch and a swim.

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Reluctantly, we leave the bay around 2:30pm, continuing our walk along Hazards Beach. This doesn’t disappoint either, and we could easily spend a few hours lingering here. Except that we have a campsite to get to.

There’s a campsite at the end of the beach, which is shaded and fairly empty. From here the track follows the coast through low scrub and casuarina trees, but while there is some shade this section of track feels much longer than the 4km that it is. We’re glad to reach Cooks Beach.

A short walk along Cooks Beach brings us to our camp site, and the end of Day 1. We’ve covered about 17km, but it’s been easy walking. We set up camp a stone’s throw from the ocean, on a small hill just before the entrance to the official campground. There’s water here from a tank at Cooks Hut a stroll away, where we chat to the friendly Park volunteers before enjoying a hot chocolate and tea as the sun sets. Apart from my lamentable attempt at cooking sausages on my camp stove, it’s been a fantastic day.

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Day 2

We awaken early the next day. To be specific, Luke wakes up early and tells me I need to get up. I’d be happy to snooze another couple of hours. We’re underway around 7am, heading back along Cooks Beach to the turn-off up to Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham. Today will be a big day.

From the northern end of Cooks beach, the track ascends steadily up to and then along the East Freycinet saddle, gaining about 375m over 5km. It’s tough going after a very “flat” first day and carrying a heavy pack, but we’re walking through dry sclerophyll forest and in shade. It takes us just over two hours to reach the side-track to Mt Freycinet. I feel slightly bad telling Luke that climbing the highest peak in Freycinet is not optional, and we leave our packs at the bottom.

The climb is steep: only 750m in distance, but climbing from 375m up to the top at 620m. There are cairns and orange markers designating the rough track that goes directly up the side of the mountain, with some boulder-scrambling at the top. The views towards Wineglass Bay as  you reach the summit suggest it’s worth the effort. Luke doesn’t share my opinion. I am currently the Worst Dad in the World.

The view from the top is incredible (although I am not yet forgiven). You can see the main track continuing up over Mt Graham to the north-east. Directly north is a magnificent vista that takes in Hazards Beach and Wineglass Bay, with Hazards Lagoon in the middle and “The Hazards” in the background. If you’re doing the Freycinet Peninsula circuit, it’s worth making the effort.

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The view north over Hazards Beach and Wineglass Bay

The descent is much quicker. We re-shoulder our packs at the bottom, and start our second ascent up Mt Graham (579m). The track is now in full sun as it climbs steadily up through low heath to our second summit of the day.

Mt Graham is not really a peak – there’s a 100m pad up to the “summit” from the main track, with views of Mt Freycinet to the south and Wineglass Bay to the north. The views are not as dramatic as Mt Freycinet, but being a “flat” peak (Mt Freycinet is more a collection of large boulders) you get uninterrupted 360-degree views. Strong winds and some cool mist suggests how quickly the Tasmanian weather can change.

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From here the track descends to Wineglass Bay, but remains exposed and it’s another section that feels much longer than it it really is. Wineglass Bay still looks far away…

I’m unsure whether there is water at Wineglass Bay, so I’m hoping that we can replenish our water supplies on the way down. We find a few unappealing, brackish streams before eventually striking a clear stream that crosses the track (Graham Creek) and we refill our three 1.5L water bottles. I explained to Luke that, worst case, we could suck the nectar out of banksia flowers (although most were pretty dry).

Finally, we reach our camp for the second night, after 16km and over 1000m of climbing. Wineglass Bay is rated one of the best beaches in the world (by Traveller.com, UK Telegraph and Lonely Planet to mention just a few publications) and it is just spectacular. Clear, blue water and white sand with the peaks of The Hazards forming the background.

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The only downside is the number of mosquitoes. The large campground, which is right on the water, is not full despite it being a summer weekend. But as all the premium water-front plots are taken, we find a nice secluded camp site toward the back of the campground. Big mistake. I feel as we are the guests of honour at the Tasmanian National Mosquito Conference. I’ve never seen so many mozzies. We quickly cook our dinner (another culinary miss, with Luke declaring my expensive Back Country Honey Soy Chicken packet a bunch of inedible vegetables), watch the sun set and climb into our tents. Despite this, we sleep well and are ready for the final hike out the next morning.

Day 3

Another early-ish (7:30am) start – we are both ready for an egg and bacon roll and a cold drink at Coles Bay, after our last few meals… It should be pretty easy as as we’re walking around Wineglass Bay along the beach, although the sand is soft and we can feel our muscles! Wineglass Bay looks pretty impressive from this angle too, this time with Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham in the background.

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The track ascends from the the north end of Wineglass Bay. Being a popular day-walk, the track is now of a considerably higher standard, but we’ve got a 200m climb up to the Wineglass Bay lookout. We start seeing a lot more people, for the first time in three days.

It’s not a bad view over Wineglass Bay… but we’ve been spoilt by the last two days and the weather is a bit overcast for the first time (although it soon clears). There’s many people here, with the lookout rated as one of the “most photogenic destinations” in the world, according to Traveller.

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It’s now all down-hill for the last two or so kilometres, on a well-graded track that feels more like a highway than a trail after the rest of our hike. We’re welcomed by another friendly wallaby, as we make our way back to the car-park (and our well-earned egg and bacon roll). It’s been exactly 40km in 48 hours. We’ve both had a great time on our first overnight hike, and thinking about where we might go next…

Lessons and Suggestions

It’s been many years since I’ve done an overnight walk… and we’ve done pretty well with our preparation and gear. Next time, I’ll definitely be packing insect repellent. Some light-weight thongs or “slippers” would have been helpful around camp. And you can never bring too much wine…

If you’re not up for overnight-camping, there are are a few companies that offer Freycinet trips, often using boats to avoid sections of hiking and including accommodation in a lodge near Coles Bay:

Hike details and map

Location Starts at the Wineglass Bay carpark, near Coles Bay. About 2.5-hours from Hobart or Launceston airports.
Distance 40km circuit. 1180m total ascent. 1-3 days.
Grade Moderate
Season/s All year round
Map TasMap Frecyinet National Park 1:50,000
GPS route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources  Parks and Wildlife “Freycinet Peninsula Circuit” overview
Photos Google photos albums – Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3
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Map showing Freycinet Peninsula Circuit route and elevation gain.

Mt Dromedary (Gulaga)

A solid half-day walk to the top of an extinct volcano and Aboriginal cultural site.

It’s almost a year since my last trip to the south coast. Last time I hiked with the kids and Grandpa to the top of “Little Dromedary“; this time we tackle Mt Dromedary, or Mt Guluga, a 797m extinct volcano and significant Aboriginal site near the coast at Narooma.

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The walk starts next to Pam’s Store in Tilba Tilba – the start is well-marked and you can purchase water or snacks from the store. (As I was hiking with my 8-year old son, we made a short detour to the “Tilba Sweet Spot” in Central Tilba for some essential chocolate supplies.) We hit the trail at 10:30am: the first 1.5km or so is along an unsealed road though open farmland. Little Dromedary can be seen clearly from here, looking back along the trail. There’s a gradual ascent, from the start of the walk at 3om above sea level to 150m where you enter Gulaga National Park.

After entering park, the track gets a bit steeper and rougher – but remains a 4WD track that is mostly in shade, with pockets of rain forest. After about 3.5km there’s a good view through the trees towards Wallaga Lake and the coast (photo below): this is the best view you’ll get on the entire walk. Many birds can be seen and heard  – binoculars and/or a telephoto lens would be useful (I had to leave behind my long lens to make space for my son’s chocolate supply…)

After a couple of hours walking we reach the saddle at the 5km mark; there’s a table here, some signage and a toilet. There’s also a short and unmarked path that leads to some spectacular rock formations that have been recognised by Geoscience Australia as one of seven significant rock formations in Australia. This site is also a place of cultural origin for the Yuin people, with the mountain regarded as a symbolic mother-figure providing the basis for the Aboriginal people’s spiritual identity [source: Wikipedia]. All visitors are welcome to climb Mount Gulaga but the Aboriginal elders ask that you stay on the track as some places should not be visited without a Yuin custodian. I’m not sure, having done some research, if this area is deliberately not sign-posted to discourage people visiting?

From the saddle, there should be two options to reach the summit: the Rainforest track, which is longer and follows a ridge up to the summit, and the very steep Summit track. Encouraged by the possibility of chains and danger, my 8-year-old son chooses the Summit track. We find what appears to be the (unmarked) Summit track leading directly up the side of the mountain about 5oom past the saddle. However, the track has no signage or markings and we quickly give up – it looks like the use of this track is being discouraged. We stick to the Rainforest Track, which descends a little (not happy about this!) before the final steep and slightly slippery ascent through rain forest to the summit at 797m.

We’ve taken 3.5 hours, 17 breaks and 47 M&Ms to reach the summit… There’s almost no view from the summit, so we enjoy a short break before a much quicker 1.5 hour descent. All up, we’ve taken just over the recommended five hours.

Location Starts in Central Tilba (about 5 hours south of Sydney)
Distance 14.5km return journey. 750m climb.
Grade Easy.
Season/s All year round
Map Central Tilba 1:25,000 (89253N)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources  Nil

map-gulaga

Dragon’s Back

An easy walk on Hong Kong’s main island, offering great views for relatively low effort and very easy access.

‘Dragon’s Back’ refers to a hiking trail along the ridge between Shek O Peak and Wan Cham Shan, with the highest point at 284 metres. It forms part of the 5okm-long Hong Kong trail (Section 8) and has been named “best urban hike in Asia” by TIME magazine in 2004. It’s very quick and easy to get to the trailhead. It was the ideal choice for a half-day hike with a work colleague, before our flights back to Australia in the evening.

After leaving our bags at Hong Kong station, we take the MTR to Shau Kei Wan station and then Bus 9 from the bus terminus to the start of the track on Shek O Road. Any concerns about which bus stop to alight from are quickly allayed by the fact the entire (fairly full) double-decker bus consists of Dragon’s Back hikers. This is not a hike to do if you’re seeking solitude.

We set off up the path from the windy and scenic road to Shek O around 11am; the trail rises steadily from the bus-stop and is well-marked. It’s a warm day (I suppose every day in HK is either a warm day or a hot day!), and the shade at the start of the walk is appreciated.

It doesn’t take long for the trail to reach the undulating ridge. We’re now in full sun, sweating profusely and glad we’ve brought a decent amount of water with us. But no umbrellas, which some hikers are carrying! The views start to open up as the trail follows the ridge.

From Shek O peak (284m) which is about a kilometre from the start, the views are magnificent: Shek O village and beach is below us, and in the distance to the east you can see Clear Water Bay Peninsula and islands in the eastern sea (below).

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To the west (below) is Stanley Peninsula across the other side of Tai Tam Bay, with Lamma Island in the distance.

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The trail now follows the spinal ridge of the Dragon’s Back for about three kilometres, through thick vegetation that’s rarely high enough to provide any shade from the midday sun. There’s a few more vantage points, including Wan Cham Shan peak (265m).

Towards the end of the ridge we get tantalising views of Tai Long Wan village and Big Wave Bay below us at the end of the trail. Contrasting with the greenery of the hills are the dense urban developments on Kowloon in the distance.

Eventually the trail descends from the ridge, and it’s possible to leave the walk after about five kilometres. We continue to Tai Long village, exchanging what was a dirt trail to a paved road (closed to traffic) for the final three or so kilometres. We are in shade again, and it’s easy walking down to the end of Hong Kong Trail Section 8 at Tai Long village. Where we enjoy a well-deserved beer on the beach, discovering the very appropriately-named Dragon’s Back Beer from Hong Kong’s first micro brewery.

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Tai Long Beach and village seen from track on the opposite side to Dragons Back trail

A couple of beers later, we are ready for the final stage of our journey… the walk from  Tai Long village to Shek O. There are options to get a bus or taxi for this last bit but, but that’s not for hard-core hikers like us 🙂 Regretting our decision half an hour later as we trudge along Big Wave Bay Road, we arrive at Shek O village at around 3pm for a late lunch, before catching a very full Bus 9 back to Shau Kei Wan MTR station and onto the airport.

Location MTR to Shau Kei Wan station; then Bus 9 to start of walk (20min).
Distance 10.5km with approx 250m ascent. Allow 3-4 hours.
Grade Easy.
Season/s All year round. Avoid hiking after heavy monsoon rains.
Map  HM20C2 1:20,000 Map 15
Resources Hong Kong Trail official Web site
Photos Google Photos album

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Senja and the Lofoten Islands

After an amazing week in Svalbard, we travel south in search of the Northern Lights with a trip around Lyngen, Senja and the Lofoten Islands. We’ve hired a car from Tromsø (having flown into here from Longyearbyen in Svalbard), and cover about 1,500km over ten days, finishing at Svolvaer where we leave the car and take the Hurtigruten down to Bergen.

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About Lofoten

Lofoten is a chain of islands to the north-west of Norway in the county of Nordland. Known for its distinctive terrain of dramatic mountains and peaks that form a backdrop to the fjords, the scenery lives up to it’s reputation!

Also in Nordland, at the start of our drive to the Lofoten Islands, is Lyngen. The Lyngen peninsula (also known as the Lyngen Alps) is a scenic and mountainous area, and contains many of the highest peaks in Troms county (the highest being Jiekkevarre at 1,833 metres).

South-west of Lyngen and just north of the Lofoten Islands is Senja,  the second largest island in Norway which is connected to the mainland by the 1,147 metre long Gisund Bridge. A popular tourist destination known for its scenery (a mix of sea, mountains, fishing villages and beaches), Senja has been described as “Norway in miniature” with the island’s diverse scenery reflecting almost the entire span of Norwegian nature.

(Nordland extends about 500 km from Nord-Trøndelag to Troms, or 800km by road, and is one of the least polluted areas in Europe. So it’s also great for watching the northern lights!)

Nordland has a long history of fishing, with the Lofoten Islands being a centre of of cod fisheries for over 1,000 years. Fish became Norway’s first significant export commodity in the Middle Ages, addressing a market for dried fish in England and on the continent (stockfish being the term for air-dried cod). For centuries, stockfish was the country’s biggest export. The fishing season is in February/March, with the fish then hung on hjell from February to May to dry.

The famous Moskstraumen (Malstrøm), a system of tidal eddies, is located in western Lofoten and the the root of the term maelstrom. It’s the second strongest whirlpool in the world with flow currents reaching speeds as high as 32 km/h [Wikipedia].

When to go (and for how long)

While the Lofoten Islands lie within the Arctic Circle, they have one of the world’s largest elevated temperature anomalies relative to their high latitude [Wikipedia]. We visited in September, where we were still able to enjoy relatively long days, amazing displays of northern lights and great hiking (all hiking trails being snow-free and accessible). In hindsight, this was a great time to visit – although our timing was somewhat dictated by Australian school holidays – given our objective of seeing as much as we could by car while fitting in as much hiking as possible.

The only caveat at this time of year is that many restaurants are closed or facilities are not fully operational. For example, while almost everywhere we stayed had a hot tub, all (except one) had closed these for the season. Many fishing tours or “summer activities” were no longer offered, or had to be booked well in advance. Conversely, we enjoyed staying in many fishing villages where we were just about the only guests! It felt to us that tourism in the Lofoten Islands “shuts down” at the end of summer.

Personally, travelling in the middle of summer – despite the attraction of the midnight sun – is not so appealing, as I enjoyed the relative solitude of all but the most-popular walks. I think our experience would have been very different a few months earlier (August would be a good time, though).

Around April/May would also be appealing, as the mountains would be snow-covered and look even more spectacular… but without skis and/or snow-shoes and a lot of alpine hiking experience, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the hikes that I enjoyed so much. If you’re not into hiking (or prefer skiing), I think March-May would be a great time to visit.

For the pros & cons of when to go, 69North has a useful When to Visit Lofoten page on their Web site that explains what to expect at different times of the year.

We spent a week in the Lofoten Islands, staying 1-2 nights at each location – plus three days getting there (from Tromsø). The scenery around Lyngen and Senja was as spectacular as Lofoten, so I’d recommend adding a few extra days if you’re driving. We could easily have spent a few more days in Lofoten: there are many more hikes I could have done, and having 2-3 days at each location would have provided a bit more flexibility to pick the best weather for the higher-altitude walks. If you’re just driving and not doing outdoor activities, 5-7 days would enable to cover all the major attractions. For fishing tours or wildlife tours, book (at least) a week in advance,

Getting there

We flew into Tromsø from Svalbard, and then drove via Alta, Lyngen and Senja – a most enjoyable drive of about 900km over a number of days as we initially went north, before heading to the Lofoten Islands. (It would have been an easy and shorter 300km drive if we’d gone directly to the Lofoten Islands!) We then returned the car at Svolvaer, taking the Hurtigruten from there (which cost about USD$400 extra for a one-way rental).

There are flights into Leknes and Svolvær, these are generally not direct flights from either Tromsø or Oslo. It would be a long (1,300km) drive from Oslo, so flying into Leknes (one direct flight per week with Wideroe or via an intermediate stop with SAS or Wideroe would be an option).

The Hurtigruten (coastal passenger ferry) stops at Stamsund and Svolvær in the Lofoten Islands, and can take you from Bergen (which is a 450m drive from Oslo or a short 50min flight).

Travelling though the Lofoten Islands by public transport is not something I’d recommend: the scenery is amazing and having a car allows you to stop or take scenic detours. We were travelling off-season, so almost everywhere that we stayed the restaurant was closed, meaning a drive to the nearest large town or picking up something to eat on the way. Finally, many of the hiking trails start a short distance from any towns, so having a car makes it much easier to get off the beaten track.

Food & Accommodation

Expensive! While no more expensive than anywhere else in Norway, food and dining out is not cheap. We would have easily spent NOK 1,500 (AUD$230) per day on food for a family of four, eating at mid-range restaurants or cafes. Most of the cabins we stayed at were self-catering, and we did get take-away pizzas and other meals a few times, that we could easily re-heat. Being off-season, finding somewhere to eat was often the challenge, with nothing open outside the major towns. Local cuisine – especially reindeer and fish – were a pretty staple menu item, and most of the restaurants had a slightly cheaper kids menu.

By comparison, accommodation was reasonably good value, with an average cost of NOK 2,000 (AUD $300) per night for the four of us, generally in 2-bedroom cabins. We were really happy with the quality of accommodation, with all of our cabins being clean (with the exception of one place that appeared to have been used for a cigar-smoking competition) and in great locations. As we were booking out of peak season, we had no problems with availability.

Northern Lights

There are many experienced aurora photographers providing advice on how to get great photos of the northern lights, so I’ll just add a few suggestions that might be useful:

  • Forget auto-focus – you need to set the focus manually. If you’re using an SLR, it can be useful to note on the lens where the “infinity” focus point is during the day, or find somewhere bright enough on the horizon for the autofocus to lock onto, then switch to manual focus.
  • Set the exposure manually – I found ISO 2000-3200 with an aperture of F4 and shutter speed of around 2sec was a good starting point. Some articles I read suggest using higher ISO and faster shutter speed to avoid “blurring” of the lights; the downside is the images can be a bit noisy/grainy. I was happy with the results I got with shutter speeds up to 5sec.
  • Pick your spots before sunset – unless it’s polar night and dark all the time, scope a few places during the day where there are mountains in the background or water in the foreground (or both), so you can quickly move between different locations.
  • Don’t get too excited – I failed rather miserably on this one, and ended up with a few bruises from running around excitedly with camera in one hand, tripod in the other while looking at the sky, only to trip over a large boulder that was in front of me. Miraculously, I managed to never actually fall into a fjord…

The Itinerary

Alta to Lyngen

We leave our accommodation (Ongajok Mountain Lodge, located at the end of a forest road in the Norwegian Lapland, about 28km south of Alta) around 10am, having a full day for the relatively short drive to Rotsund in Lyngen.

After a slow start down a narrow forest road back to the E6 highway, we follow the E6 along the Alta fjord (Altafjorden) and then the narrower Lang Fjord (Langfjorden). It’s a pleasant and easy drive, with not much traffic, and a backdrop of steep mountains and autumn colours.

After a few hours driving, the road rises up from the coast, with views over Badderfjorden. There’s some roadwork along this winding section of the E6, and we maneuver around the large trucks that are re-surfacing the road.

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It’s now mid-afternoon and we are all pretty hungry… there’s been nowhere to eat along the way so far, and by luck we find the På Taket Kafé in Sørkjosen. Half-expecting it to be closed, we happily discover that it’s not only open, but has an extensive menu (pizzas, burgers, sandwiches) and a balcony with views over the fjord. And very good coffee.

After our late lunch, we have just over an hour’s driving before reaching our destination. The Lyngen Alps, still seeming far away, form an impressive backdrop. We reach our self-contained house at Lyngen North (in the small town of Spåkenes, near Rotsund) around 3pm, and are welcomed by the very friendly owners. The property is right on the water, a spectacular setting with the impressive Lyngen Alps on the other side of the fjord. There’s even two “glass igloos” for couples, so you can watch the northern lights from your bed!

Having a few hours of daylight left, the kids – for reasons that only they can (possibly) explain – think that going for a swim in the arctic waters of the fjord is a good idea, followed by a session in the sauna. Meanwhile, with helpful instructions from the property owners, I tackle the mountain just behind our house.

Storhaugen hike (1,1,42m)
A steep climb up to Dalberget and Storhaugen, with increasingly spectacular views of Lyngenfjord and the snow-covered Lyngen Alps as you gain altitude. Near the foot of the mountain and not far from the E6 road are the ruins of the Spåkenes fort, built in 1941 by the German army.
Full hike details
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After a successful swim and a slightly less successful hike (my enthusiasm was not quite matched by my navigation skills) we have dinner at the house. There’s no restaurant anywhere nearby that’s open, so we’ve bought some things to heat up in the oven.

Later that evening we experience our first Norwegian light show. The aurora lasts about an hour, as it slowly moves from the east (over the Lyngen alps) to the west.

From Alta to Lyngen
Driving distance: 200km (total 5 hours, with 3.5 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Lyngen North (formerly known as Spåkenes Sjøbuer). Self-contained two-bedroom house. (1 night)

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Route from near Alta to our accommodation in Lyngen (Spåkenes, near Rotsund)

Lyngen to Senja

We continue along the E6 the following day as it follows the Lyngen fjord, passing the Route 81 ferry that goes to Tromsø and skirting around the narrow Kafjorden, with views of the Lyngen Alps in the distance. After an hour of half of driving, we spot a “Visit Lyngenfjord” tourist office in Skibotn, which we think may contain food. It sort of does: we get some hot chocolates for the kids and biscuits to keep us going. With very few places to eat and many of those places closed in September, we’ve started to adopt a “sea food” diet – when see anything resembling a cafe or restaurant, we stop and eat!

Following our brunch stop, we continue along the E6, following Storfjorden and the southern end of Balsfjorden as we head west towards Finnsnes.

It’s a great drive, with the forests reflecting the onset of autumn as the leaves change colour.

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We have a very late lunch in in the town of Finnsnes at Senjastua, which serves traditional Norwegian food and has a children’s menu. With a population of only 4,371 people in 2013, the village of Finnsnes was granted town status in 2000. Despite this somewhat small population, there’s a traffic jam over the the Gisund Bridge, which connects Finnsnes to the villages of Silsand and Laukhella on the island of Senja.

Nearing our destination, we cross the suspension bridge at Straumnes, on the island of Senja. In the background are are the mountains of Skaland, across the Bergsfjorden on the northwest side of the island of Senja.

We reach Hamn around 4pm, where we have a self-contained apartment in a holiday resort for one night. Hamn i Senja is located in an old fishing village dating back to the 1880s; the word “hamn” means harbour. We explore the sea-side property, which includes a lighthouse with panoramic views over Bergsfjorden, before borrowing some fishing rods that the kids cast into the harbour (they somehow manage to catch two small fish, that we throw back in). Being September the restaurant is closed (there’s also no fishing trips or fjord cruises unless booked well in advance), but we have bought some food to cook in the well-appointed kitchen.

We’re hopeful to see the northern lights again tonight after a very clear day, with the lighthouse being a great vantage point. Unfortunately, the sky starts to cloud over in the evening and there’s no auroral activity tonight (at least, none that we can see!). Just some impressive cloud formations with the moon occasionally peeking through.

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The next morning, I’m up early to hike Sukertoppen (Sugar Peak), the 456m peak that rises up behind Hamn, before we continue on our trip.

Sukkertoppen hike (456m)
The views from the top of Sukkertoppen are impressive – whilst not a particularly high peak it feels like you’re perched almost vertically about the coastline. Looking to the north, you can see the town of Hamn and its protected harbour, and across Bergsfjorden to the mountains of Skaland.
Full hike details
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From Lyngen to Senja
Driving distance: 255km (total 7 hours, with 4.45 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Hamn i Senja in Senja (1 night)

Senja to Sjøvegan

We’re on the road by 10am, taking the Rv 862 which is a National Tourist Route; while we have less distance to cover than yesterday, there are many sights on the way.  The first (brief) stop is at Senjatrollet (Senja Troll) about 10min away. The world’s biggest troll at 18m high and 125,000kg according by the Guinness Book of Records, the Senja Troll can be clearly seen from the carpark. Which is as close we get, as Senjatrollet, like many other attractions, is closed from early September.

We reach Bergsbotn after another 20min and one tunnel later: this 1,894m long tunnel, Skalandtunellen, has two reviews on Google. One of which translates to “Very badly illuminated tunnel by bicycle”. It’s a 4.5-star-rated tunnel, if you’re interested.  I’m not sure if I was cycling through a country with over 900 road tunnels I’d stop and write a review of a road tunnel, but each to their own.

Bergsbotn (7 Google reviews and 4.8 stars) is a vantage point off the National Tourist Route, with panoramic views from a 44-metre long platform over Bergsfjord and the surrounding peaks. Designed by Code Arkitektur and installed in 2010, it’s located at the first place where you can once again see the ocean when travelling across Senja.

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The road winds steeply down to the Bergsfjord, which it then follows for a while before entering another tunnel at Steinfjord. There’s more roadwork, so we’re escorted through the tunnel by a “Ledebil”, which we guess must mean”leader vehicle”. Disappointingly, this tunnel has no Google reviews or ratings.

As a result of waiting for our Ledebil to escort us, it takes another half an hour or so (rather than 15min) to reach the Tungeneset viewing point. The Tungeneset rest area is on the end a promontory that separates two fjords, the Steinsfjord and Ersfjord. A walkway designed by Code Arkitektur in Siberian larch leads out over the rocks, providing a view of the razor-sharp Okshornan peaks to the east, Husfjellet to the west and the Arctic Ocean to the north.

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We don’t make very far until our next stop at Ersfjord Beach, which is “perhaps the finest beach in north Norway”. With rugged mountains towering above the sandy beach and village it’s very photogenic – though a little too chilly for swimming in late September!

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From here we continue eastwards, with the road following the coast and going through many more (unreviewed) tunnels, the landscape still very dramatic.

Our next photo-stop, where we hope to fund lunch (but the best we can do is some packets of chips from the general store) is Husøy, a village in the municipality of Lenvik. The picturesque village covers the entire island of Husøy and is connected to the mainland by a 300m long causeway. It’s an active fishing community with a few hundred permanent inhabitants.

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With everyone now a little hungry, we make a small detour to the village of Botnhamn (on the west side of the fjord of Stønnesbotn) and then stop in Finnsnes for a late afternoon tea before turning off the Rv 86 and onto Rv 84. After another couple of hours drive we arrive at Garsnes Brygge, where we’re staying the next two nights. A resort and retreat with restaurant and cabins, the complex is situated on Sagfjorden near Sjøvegan. Not all the cabins are full, but it’s one of the busiest places we’ve stayed, and the restaurant is open and has a decent range of really good food using local ingredients, including a few options to keep the (fussy) kids happy!

The following day I’ve got time in the morning for a hike before we drive to the Polar Park in the afternoon, and head off by foot from Garsnes Brygge for the hike to Sommarset-vatnet, which starts nearby.

Sommarsetvatnet hike
Ascending from the fjord near Sommerset up to an alpine lake, the walk starts in the forest before rising above the tree-line to a more alpine landscape. The trail stops at the picturesque Sommarsetvatnet (lake) surrounded by mountiaims, but it’s possible to climb up to the adjacent peak.
Full hike details
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We head to the Polar Park Arctic Wildlife Center in Narvik at 11am, which is the world’s northernmost animal park. Polar Park is home to Norway’s large predators such as bears, wolves, lynx, wolverines and foxes, as well as their prey such as deer, elk, reindeer and musk ox. The animals are all in large enclosures (so it doesn’t feel like a zoo), and the guided tour, which includes predator feeding, was educational and entertaining for the adults – and the kids. Watching the lynxes being fed and hearing the wolves howling was pretty amazing.

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A great day hiking and animal-watching is topped off by our second Norwegian aurora, which went for almost two hours before the clouds started to obscure the lights.

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From Senja to Sjøvegan
Driving distance: 195km (total 7 hours, with 5 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Garsnes Brygges (2 nights)

Sjøvegan to Kabelvåg

It’s a bit of a miserable day as we leave Senja around 10am, heading further south on Fv 84 to the Lofoten Islands. Although when it’s not actually raining, the clouds and mist enhance the mountainous landscape. By the side of the road on the shore of Lavangsfjorden is lonely war memorial that pays tribute to the Norwegian and allied forces that fought the Germans in World War II. The Sjøvegan-Tennevoll road that we’ve just driven down was the marching ground two battalions, and the battle of Gratangsbotn (which is a little further south) was the biggest single attack against German forces on Norwegian soil.

Another hour of driving and we reach Tjeldsund Bridge (Tjeldsundbrua), a 1,007 metre long, 32-span suspension road bridge that crosses the Tjeldsundet strait between the mainland and the island of Hinnøya.

About half-way between the Tjeldsund Bridge and our destination in Storvågan, we pass Valbukta bay and a small side road off the E10 that leads across a narrow spit to Holdøya, and few minutes later there’s a nice view over Sløverfjorden with the mountains in the background.

We arrive at Nyvågar Rorbuhotell in Storvåganveien (1km west of Kabelvåg and 6km  west of Svolvær)  at 3:30pm, where we are staying for in a fisherman’s shack or “rorbu” for one night. It’s a great location, with our cosy cottage looking out over the fjord to the small hills of Hopen on the other side.

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We seem to be about the only guests staying at the (reception is closed and our key has been left in the door of our cottage), and the restaurant has no sign of life. After unpacking we drive to Svolvaer, 10 minutes away, where there is a wide range of restaurants.

After a cloudy day when the sun has never come out, we’re pleasantly surprised in the evening when the sky clears and we’re treated to a light show for many hours. The long deck that runs in front of all the cabins and and jetty provide many vantage points for photographing the aurora.

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From Sjøvegan to Kabelvåg
Driving distance: 255km (total 6 hours, with 5 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Nyvågar Rorbuhotell (1 night)

Kabelvåg to Nusfjord

The next day is looking much nicer, as we take a few last photos from our cabin of the mountains that were covered in cloud only 12 hours ago, and resume our journey south, further into the Lofoten Islands.

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First stop is a “quick” ascent of Glomtinden, just off the E10, as the rest of the family seek breakfast and explore the active fishing village of Henningsvaer (nicknamed the “Venice of Lofoten”).

Glomtinden hike (419m)
A relatively short walk, starting on an old gravel road and ending with a steep scramble to the summit. The rocky peak offers 360-degree views, from Rørvikvatnet lake to the west, the lakes of Hopsvatnet and Hopspollen to the north-east,  and Kabelvag and Svolvaer to the east.
Full hike details
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After my hike, the scenery from the E10 doesn’t disappoint, as we travel along the Rorvik valley, surrounded by jagged mountain peaks, and then follow the foot of the mountains around the coast.

We’re soon crossing the Gimsøystraumen Bridge (Gimsøybrua), a cantilever road bridge that crosses the Gimsøystraumen strait between the islands of Austvågøya and Gimsøya – one of the many bridges connecting the islands of Lofoten as part of the E10 highway.

Having crossed the Gimsøystraumen strait, we make a little detour around the 46.4-square-kilometre island of Gimsøya. At the “top” of the island is Hov, where Lofoten Links is located – one of the few courses in the world where you can play golf in the sun for 24 hours! Beside the golf course is a horse farm with friendly Icelandic horses, which we stop and say hello to.

We continue through the mountainous terrain on the E10, stopping along the way at the Torvdalshalsen rest area (Torvdalshalsen rasteplass), which is one of the National Tourist Route attractions. Located on a hilltop south of Torvdalsvatnet lake and featuring a long screen with benches, it’s incredibly windy but offers a great view of Vestvågøy island.

About 3km after this rest stop, we make another detour to Eggum via the Eggum Tourist route, to the remains of a World War II German radar station. Built on a small hill overlooking the ocean, it’s surrounded by towering cliffs. With an architecturally-designed visitor centre and a huge car park, it looks capable of handling hundreds of visitors in summer… in late September, we are the only people visiting…

There’s another hour of driving through more spectacular countryside before we reach today’s destination. We pause briefly at Lofotr Vikingmuseum (we’re coming back here for dinner) and stop at the major town of Leknes, where we have a late lunch.

We arrive at Nusfjord in the late afternoon, one of the oldest and best-preserved fishing villages with long Lofoten fishery traditions, about 6km off the E10 highway. We’re staying in one of the 46 traditional fishing huts or rorbu in the village – it feels like the other 45 are village feels very quiet.

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After a few moments of panic when the reception is closed and there’s no-one around, we find someone who helps us find our our key and the directions to our cabin, which is perched over the water. There’s nowhere to eat in the village, but we’ve booked dinner at Lofotr Viking Museum, a historical museum based on the reconstruction and archaeological excavation of a Viking chieftain’s village on the island of Vestvågøya.

It should be only a 45min drive back up the E10 to the museum, but much to our kids’ consternation (they are getting hungry and inpatient!) we stop every five minutes to take photos of the fantastic sunset and evening light.

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We arrive a little late for our 7pm Viking feast, which is held in the longhouse. Before dinner we have some time to explore the museum, which includes a full reconstruction of the 83m long chieftain’s house, a blacksmith’s forge and two Viking ships. The Viking feast includes a leg of lamb from Lofoten and honeywine-mead, and is accompanied by an explanation of how the Vikings lived (and ate), role-playing and traditional Viking songs and dances. It’s great fun, and despite being a late night the kids really enjoy it. Especially the bit where they play with the swords and shields!

A great day is completed with an aurora show as we drive back to our cabin – probably the most intense lights we’ve seen so far!

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From Kabelvåg to Nusfjord
Driving distance: 215km (total 7:30 hours, with 4 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Nusfjord Rorbuer (1 night)

Nusfjord to Reine

Leaving late the following morning – it’s a very short drive today – we skirt around the Storvatnet on a narrow road before re-joining the E10.

It’s not far to our first stop at Skagsanden beach near Flakstad, one of Norway’s most-photographed beaches. In the distance are the mountains of Moskenesøya. There’s no-one at the campground. Or on the beach. Or anywhere…

A little further in the quaint, small town of Ramberg we find a small restaurant in a historic building, Kafe Friisgarden. Even more surprisingly, it’s actually open! We’re the only customers for lunch, but they serve a great soup for the adults and chicken nuggets for the kids.

From here it’s a short drive to Reine, a fishing village (and the administrative centre of the municipality of Moskenes) located situated on a promontory just off the E10.

It’s a very picturesque village, selected as “the most beautiful village in Norway” by the Norwegian Allers magazine in the 1970s. We’re staying in one of the 32 “rorbu” or fishing huts in Reine Rorbuer – it’s surprisingly busy compared to most of the other places we’ve stayed, and the resort/hotel has a couple of restaurants and a sports and outdoor shop that are all open.

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Having arrived in the early afternoon, there’s time for an afternoon hike. I’m joined by my son for our walk, which starts a short drive away in the small fishing town of Å to the south of Reine.

Stokkvikskaret hike
A very muddy walk along Lake Ågvatnet, with chains assisting on the steeper parts. We stop near the end of the lake; the track continues up to the Stokkvikskaret Pass and then onto the town of Stokkvika on the other side of the ridge.
Full hike details
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We have dinner at the on-site restaurant, Gammelbua (once the old general store in Reine) – the food is good with a focus on local cuisine, but it’s a limited menu with not many kid-friendly options. Later in the evening we enjoy some more northern lights, with many great spots to take photos around the hotel.

We have two days in Reine, so on the following day we wander around the village in the morning, before Luke and I tackle the nearby mountain peak.

Reinebringen (448m)
A fairly short but challenging trail, starting near the town of Reine. Initially wet, muddy and slippery, the trail soon gets very steep and slippery. It’s well worth the effort, with breathtaking views over Reine and the surrounding mountain peaks.
Full hike details
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Out second (and last) night in Reine is also our last Lofoten aurora, with the weather deteriorating. Of all the places we’ve stayed, Reine is probably the best location for aurora photography, with many different vantage points.

As we prepare to leave Reine and head back north to catch the Hurtigruten from Svolvaer, we’re farewelled with a rainbow over Reinevagen Bay.

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From Nusfjord to Reine
Driving distance: 50km (total 3 hours, with 1 hour driving time)
Accommodation: Reine Rorbuer (2 nights)

Reine to Ballstad

We’re headed for Ballstad today, a bit over half-way to Svolvaer where we swap our rented car for a ferry… It’s a little overcast, but not raining.

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We are more or less re-tracing the route we took south a few days ago, with a quick stop at Skagsanden Beach.

We make a short detour to Vikten, situated on the coast and surrounded by steep mountains. It’s also the site of Glasshytta Vikten, Northern Norway’s first glass studio which was founded in 1976. The ex-fisherman and now glass-blower Åsvar Tangrand creates his art here – you can watch glass being blown and there’s many pieces for sale.

Rather than going directly to Ballstad, we head to Leknes for lunch at the Frk. Lillemor Cafe, and then toward Stamsund. There’s time for quick walk in the afternoon…

Justadtinden (738m)
A 12km round trip to one of Vestvågøy’s highest peaks, on an easy-to-follow path. After about two hours walking there’s a final scramble up some steep rocks to the top of Justadtinden. Unfortunately there’s no view due to the weather – but the rocky peak would yield some impressive photos in clear weather.
Full hike details
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After my hike, we continue to Stamsund,  a fishing village on the southern side of the island of Vestvågøy. Overlooking the coast in Stamsund is a statue called “The Tourist” which looks “like a mixture of David Livingstone and Donald Duck”. It was created in eastern Norway based on an African design and brought to Stamsund by Baktruppen (an artist collective) in 2003. The intent was to lower the statue onto the seabed where it could only be viewed by underwater cameras… but there was an outcry and a poll conducted where 95% of respondents wanted the sculpture kept on land!

We follow the 817 road around the scenic Stamsund coast, before heading back toward Ballstad.

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We reach our accommodation, Hattvika Lodge, around 5pm where we have a modern and recently renovated self-contained apartment in a fishing village opposite the harbour of Hattvika.

I think we’re the only people staying here and there’s no local dining, so after unpacking we drive to Leknes (only 15min away) where we enjoy what must be the most expensive pizza we’ve ever eaten at Peppes Pizza.

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From Reine to Ballstad
Driving distance: 130km (total 7 hours, with 3 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Hattvika Lodge (1 night)

Ballstad to Svolvaer

It’s a miserable and wet last day in the Lofotens for us as we drive back to Svolvaer, where we need to drop off our car and take the Hurtigruten ferry south to Bergen.

We arrive just before lunch, and taking advantage of what I hope is a break in the weather, I walk up to the northern end of the town. Overshadowing Svolvaer, Fløya is popular with hikers and climbers (although in today’s miserable weather I only see three other people on the hike).

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Fløya (590m)
A very steep and sometimes slippery trail up to the 590m peak of Fløya, with great views from the saddle despite the wet and misty conditions. There are clear views of Svolværgeita or “The Svolvær Goat” – Lofoten’s most famous mountain formation, on the way up.
Full hike details
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I’m completely drenched and rather cold when I get back to the Svolvaer town centre; after changing clothes we have a few hours before the Hurtigruten docks. Luke and I have a quick visit to Magic Ice, an ice sculpture gallery near the wharf. They give you a warm overcoat and cold drink in an ice cup, and there’s a lot of ice sculptures to look at.

We watch the Hurtigruten ferry arriving into Svolvaer. My wife boards here with our luggage; I have drawn the short straw and am taking the two kids on a pre-booked “Lofoten by horse” excursion. We take a mini-bus from Svolvaer for the horse-riding at Hoy on Gimsøya (the same place we visited a few days ago).

I’d like to describe this a graceful ride along the beach under the northern lights… it would be more accurate to say I was clinging on to my horse as it plodded up various tracks hoping I wouldn’t fall off.

The horse ride lasts a good hour before we thankfully dismount, and our mini-bus takes us to Stamsund where we board the Hurtigruten.

It’s been an amazing ten-day journey with even more spectacular scenery than we had expected, and many hiking opportunities each with an equally fantastic view over the mountainous landscape.

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From Ballstad to Svolvaer
Driving distance: 80km (1:45min driving time)
Accommodation: We leave on the Hurtigruten ferry in the evening.

More Information

For general information the Visit Norway Web site is always helpful; we used TripAdvisor for research and Booking.com for all of our accommodation bookings. As well as an olde-fashioned print copy of Lonely Planet Norway.

To help work out when to go and how much sunlight you’ll have (outside the polar summer), try Time and Date, and 68 North has useful information on the different seasons.

For hiking, Switchback Travel has an overview of their Top 10 hikes, and 68 North has some general information on hiking in the Lofoten Islands. The book  “Explore Lofoten” by Kristin Folsland Olsen is really good – it doesn’t seem to be readily available for purchase on-line, but you should find it bookshops or outdoor shops in the Lofoten Islands.

If you’re into GPS mapping or just want an alternative to Google Maps for looking at where to go or where you’ve been, GodTur.no provides a free, on-line and interactive topographical map. This is particuarly useful if you’re hiking, to check exactly where the hike starts.

Fløya (Svolvaer)

A very steep and sometimes slippery trail up to the 590m peak of Fløya – great views from the saddle despite the wet and misty conditions.

My last walk in the Lofoten Islands, before boarding the Hurtigruten (coastal cruise liner) for our trip back south to Bergen.  Fløya is directly to the north of Svolvaer, overshadowing the town and attracting hikers and climbers.

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Floya, the peak at the far right, to the north of Svolvaer

It was one of the rare days during our stay in Norway where the weather was pretty miserable. We’d returned our hire car, so my hike started with a 2km walk from the centre of town; it’s overcast but not raining. I reach the church graveyard at the north end of Svolvaer on Blåtindveien after less than half an hour, and quickly find the start of the walk, which is after the last house on Blåtindveien.

The trails ascends fairly rapidly, with some short and steep sections aided by chains, and a bit of boulder-climbing or hopping required. It’s not difficult, but it is a bit slow-going on a wet and slippery track, with the rain having now started.

The trail is always well-marked as it rises through the birch forest, and within half an hour views of Svolvaer start to emerge. I’ve only seen one person so far, making a haste descent as the rain threatens to intensify.

As the route continues above the tree-line, it gets muddier and steeper. The track often traverses broad sections of mud and goes up slippery and steep slabs of rock that require care. There are clear views of Svolværgeita or “The Svolvær Goat” – Lofoten’s most famous mountain formation. Climbers leap 1.5 metres between the two goat “horns” – you can see these at the top-left corner of the photo below.

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The weather deteriorates as I climb the last – and steepest – section of the trail to the saddle below the summit (540m). To the left is the Fløya summit (590m), another 50m or so higher. (Somewhere below me and to the left is Djevelporten or “Devil’s gate”, a stone block wedged horizontally between two cliffs, that’s a popular photo stop. I meet a trio of hikers just before the summit who also missed this landmark. I’m not sure if there was another track up the mountain I overlooked, but the poor weather precludes further exploration.)

With the rain getting heavier and the wind picking up, it’s too dangerous to find a safe route up the last, very steep, slabs of rock that are now also very slippery to the true Fløya peak.

Instead I turn right (south-west) and follow the very narrow ridge. It’s about a metre in width with a vertical drop of hundreds of metres on both sides.  A little hair-raising but the views in both directions are impressive. Some short breaks in the rain allow me to take a few more photos – on a clear day it would be an awe-inspiring view!

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After waiting on the saddle for about half an hour for the rain to ease, I give up and make my way down the mountain. It’s easier going down than up – but still very slow-going as the track is even more slippery than before.

As I reach the foot of the mountain, the rain stops and the sun starts to come out again…

Location Look for sign on Blåtindveien (road), to the north of Svolvaer (on Austvågøya Island)
Distance 4km round-trip with 55om ascent. Allow 2-3 hours.
Grade Moderate-hard (steep and slippery track)
Season/s June-October
Map Topographical maps on-line at GotTur.no
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Explore Lofoten” (book) by Kristin Folsland Olsen (p.46)
Trip report with track notes on fjordpeaks.com
Photos Google Photos album
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Map showing Floya (Svolvaer) hiking route and elevation gain.

Justadtinden

A 12km round trip to one of Vestvågøy’s highest peaks at 738m, on an easy-to-follow path.

According to my otherwise-helpful and accurate guidebook (Explore Lofoten), this Lofoten Islands hike can be done by bike. By the end of the walk, as I’m hauling myself up vertical slabs of rock with some difficulty, I am thinking either I’m on the wrong trail – or these Norwegians are very hard-core bikers…

The walk starts of as a gravel road from the carpark on Hagskaret, and heads towards a high telecommunications tower a few hundred metres to the north. After the turn-off to the telecoms tower (don’t take this), the path becomes a narrow hiking trail with sections of boardwalk over the muddiest sections. After my last few weeks, I enjoy the feeling of dry feet and not having to plot paths through knee-deep mud! The day is overcast, but the rain is holding off.

It’s a very gradual ascent through rolling hills, with views of Leknes and the surrounding mountains to the south. After about 2km there’s a bifurcation: one trail heads off to the left (west) and goes up to Blåtinden further north. I keep to the right.

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Just over 3km from the start, the trail reaches a rocky plateau surrounded by tarns, and the trail descends briefly through a boggy marsh. My feet remain dry thanks to an elevated boardwalk. This is very civilized walking!

The trail starts ascending again fairly quickly, and the top of Justadtinden can be seen in the distance.

The weather is deteriorating, but through the occasional gaps in the mist there are some nice views back towards Stamsund and the sea.  It’s a shame it’s not a clear day.

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After a bit less than two hours walking there’s a final scramble up some steep rocks, before the top of Justadtinden is reached. There’s really no view – visibility is a few hundred metres – so I don’t linger very long. Two rocky peaks separated by a narrow gap would yield some impressive photos in clear weather. But not today.

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Location Hagskaret, on country road 815, 4km east of Leknes
There is fairly large car park just off the main road.
Distance 12km round-trip with 600m ascent. Allow 3-4 hours.
Grade Easy-Moderate
Season/s June-October
Map Topographical maps on-line at GotTur.no
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Explore Lofoten” (book) by Kristin Folsland Olsen (p.104)
One of the Top 10 Lofoten Islands hike on Switchback travel
Photos Google Photos album
Map-Justadtinden.PNG
Map showing Justadtinden hiking route and elevation gain.