Olive Trail in Naukluft Mountains (Namibia)

A challenging circular walk that starts with sweeping views from a high ridge before following a riverbed down through a narrow gorge back to the start.

Finally, my first “real” walk in Namibia, in the Namib-Naukluft Park. The park was originally created as a sanctuary for the Hartmann’s mountain zebra in 1968 and expanded over the following decades. It’s now 49,768 square kilometres in size, making it the largest conservation area in Namibia and one of the largest in Africa. The section I’m walking in is the Naukluft Mountains, which a mountainous region with large, varied rock formations that supports five different vegetation communities.

Unfortunately, with all the other activities we’re doing, I only have one afternoon free to tackle a walk in the area. The shortest walk is the Olive Trail, a 10km circuit. It’s a 126km drive on dirt roads from Kulala Desert Lodge, where we’re staying, to the start of the walk. Leaving a little after midday, it takes almost two hours to get to the Naukluft park office – longer than I had anticipated (the roads aren’t great!). Paying my fee at the office, I was given a rather sceptical look at my late starting time for the walk, as I start out around 2:30pm up the well-marked track.

 

Starting near the Kudusrus Campsite, the trail is named after the wild olive trees that populate the area. The trail starts immediately to climb up the slope – it’s a constant but gradual ascent, and fairly easy walking despite it still being fairly warm.

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The views also get better as I gain altitude, looking back down the trail to the valley below and the mountain range beyond.

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After about 2km, the trail leaves the edge of the escarpment and continues to climb, a little less steeply, along a dry riverbed towards the top of the ridge.

Finally, after 2.4km (and a modest ascent of 320m) I reach the plateau. From here there are some great views again down onto the other side of the ridge. Below me is the valley that I’ll follow back to the car, and I can see the trail winding down the other side of the valley to the creek bed.

It’s easy walking for the next kilometre or so, along the top of the ridge, and then down into the valley. The track gets rocky and uneven as it descends, but it always well marked by white arrows or markings on the rocks.

Having reached the valley, I follow the dry riverbed “downstream”. Its fairly rocky underfoot but not difficult walking, and the valley is still fairly wide.

The vegetation changes along the valley floor, with plants such as the quiver tree growing out of the rocks. Named the national plant of Namibia, the quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma) is a member of a group of succulent plants known as ‘Aloes’ that grows to tree-like proportions.

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The valley starts to get narrower, and the cliffs taller and more dramatic as I continue down the riverbed.

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As it narrows, the valley becomes more canyon-like, with towering cliffs on both sides. The ground is increasingly uneven underfoot and there are bigger rocks to navigate: my speed is slower that anticipated and I have a nasty fall in my attempt to maintain a quick pace back to the car.

I push on as quickly as I can: I’m attempting to appreciate the beauty of the valley/gorge, while conscious that I’m supposed to get back to the camp before dinner…  What’s not really helping is that the valley, now feeling more like a canyon, has massive boulders blocking the entire width of the narrow gorge. Careful clambering is required to get past these obstacles.

Finally, I reach a section that’s less than two metres wide, with a vertical drop of a few metres and sheer cliffs on both sides. I have a brief moment of panic, as I try and work out if I should give up and return the way I’ve come from.

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I then realise there is a chain attached to the left-hand side… I’ve reached the section described as:  “A ‘slight difficulty’ but nonetheless highlight of the trail, is at the end of the gorge where you have to use a ‘chain’ bridge to cross rock ledges”. Trusting this rather slim chain, which seems to take my weight, I slowly make my way across the section, arriving at the other end with some relief. (My bruised toe and sore ribs from my earlier fall is not helping!)

It’s a spectacular sight in the late afternoon light, as I make my way through the last, narrow section of the gorge before it opens again.

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Shortly after this narrow section, there are a few more pools with water. There are many butterflies around, but I don’t see any another animals – with more time, this would be a good spot to wait and look for some of the larger animals that inhabit the Naukluft area.

I then manage to take a wrong turn, following a wide track that continues straight ahead. I soon realise my error and turn back – the Olive Trail veers south-west down a different valley. (There are arrows confirming the way, but this spot – about 7.1km from the start – is a bit confusing as it intersects with another, unmarked, 4WD track that seems the obvious choice. But it would have taken me a long, long way in the wrong direction!)

Once I’m on the correct route, the last section (about 2.5km) is quick and easy walking. I make good time back to the car, finishing in exactly 2.5 hours.

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With the sun getting low in the sky, I’ve now got a two hour drive back to Kulala Desert Camp for dinner. It’s been worth the long drive though – a fantastic walk with a huge variety of terrain, vegetation and scenery.

Location Namib Naukluft Park, 3km from park office. Google Maps ref.
Distance 9.7km circuit (some notes state it as being 11km)
Grade Moderate/hard (some uneven and steep sections with chains)
Season/s All year round
Maps Basic map from park station
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.

Map-OliveTrail-Naukluft

Damaraland desert hiking (Namibia)

A couple of short, evening hikes to some of the Damaraland peaks around Camp Kipwe, with stunning views over the desert landscape.

Camp Kipwe Circuit

We arrive at Camp Kipwe, in the Damaraland area of Namibia, at around 3pm. The rest of the family is keen to have a swim and enjoy a quiet afternoon, so I take advantage of my “free afternoon” to explore the area on foot. I’d found some information on-line that states: “This region is ideal for walking and guests are encouraged to explore the area surrounding Camp Kipwe”. So I set-off in the direction of the nearest small hill. It looks a reasonable height, but in reality is less than 50m – and it seems to be a pretty straightforward “climb”.

The top is quickly reached, and even the relatively low elevation gain provides 360-degrees over the Damaraland desert. The vegetation is very sparse, with the dry landscape broken up by a number of rocky outcrops and mountains.

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To the south, the Aba-Huab River is marked by the denser and greener vegetation; while the riverbed is dry and water rarely flows down the watercourse, the deep roots of the trees are able to reach the underground water table.

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Sending up the drone yields an even better view of the arid landscape, with the taller mountains to the north-west, and the long line of trees to the east marking the path of the dry Aba-Huab River.

From here, it seems logical to head down the other side of my mini-mountain, and complete a small circuit around our camp up and over the next three outcrops.

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The next mini-peak is directly opposite Camp Kipwe, and you can see from here how the huts are nestled into the boulders.

From the end of this outcrop I’m right at the edge of the Aba-Huab valley.

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Ahead of me is the last mini-peak of my circuit…

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This one proves the trickiest to climb, although it too is only about 30m high, consisting of larger boulder than the previous outcrops. It takes a few attempts to find a viable route to the top!

There’s another great view from the top over the Damaraland desert: looking east there’s Camp Kipwe down below (the smallest outcrop in the middle) with some of the higher peaks beyond.

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Descending on the other side proves a bit quicker. I make a slight detour to have a closer look at a tree that stands out by it’s whiteness against the red landscape. I learn later from one of the guides that it’s a Star Chestnut Tree, which grows mostly on rocky outcrops and hill slopes. The trunk is smooth and appears very white due to a powdery white substance (bloom) that rubs off – this white bloom only occurs on trees growing in the arid western parts of Namibia.

From here it’s quick walk around the Camp Kipwe outcrop, and back to the camp in time for sundowners. I don’t know it (yet), but in the distance is a larger mountain that’s the target of tomorrow’s evening walk…

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Mountain Climb with Stanley

During sundowners, at the top of Camp Kipwe which overlooks the desert with peaks all around us, I ask one of the staff “have you climbed any of the peaks?”. To my surprise, Stanley points very definitively at one of the higher mountains and replies “I’ve always wanted to climb that one”. “How about tomorrow”, I suggest, half-jokingly… and his immediate response is: “I’ll be ready at 6pm”.

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The following day, after our afternoon drive, I grab a water bottle and head-torch, and we set-off. Although the very top looks attainable, our plan is to reach the top of the odd-shaped boulders at the front of the mountain.

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We look for a way up to the left of the “funny boulders” – there are some steep sections initially, but the going is not too difficult. There’s another Star Chestnut Tree on the steep slope, standing out starkly against the red desert.

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As we get closer to the boulders, we pick a path around the back of the boulders – they are enormous, and the only way up is to find a way through the gaps!

Finally we find a suitable rock ledge at the front of the outcrop, with 180 degrees over the desert below us, as we wait for the sun set to set. (Unfortunately, poor planning on my part means we don’t have a Gin & Tonic in the backpack!).

An aerial photos shows where we are, at the top of the first few boulders. Well below the mountain peak, but with more time it looks feasible to reach the top of the mountain. Next time!

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To the east the desert and rock outcrops continue well into the distance. The Aba-Huab valley is clearly visible, marked by the ribbon of trees through the desert.

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To the west, the sun is setting over an equally vast stretch of desert.

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It’s not a bad spot to end the day… Once the sun has set, we head back down, finding an easier path down the western side of the mountain. There’s a few large bounds between boulders, and we make the bottom of the mountain by nightfall.

From here, it’s a short walk back to the camp. Thanks Stanley 🙂

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Location Around Camp Kipwe, in Damaraland (western Namibia)
Distance Camp Kipwe circuit – 3.6km (70m total ascent)
Mountain climb – 4km (130m ascent)
Grade Easy/moderate (rock scrambling; minimal exposure)
Season/s All year round
Maps None available
GPS Route Camp Kipwe circuit and mountain climb Routie GPS trails.
View route and export to KML format.

SatelliteMap-KipweWalks

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.

Map-Flinders-Island

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).

Egg Beach (Flinders Island)

An easy coastal walk on the north-west part of Flinders Island, with secluded coves, interesting rock formations and the peculiar “Egg Beach” at the end

This is my last walk on Flinders Island, and it’s not really planned… with a few hours of daylight left and the clouds clearing, I look at what nearby hikes are possible. As I’m staying on West End Beach, the walk to Egg Beach (also referred to as Egg Rock Beach) is one I can do from the back door!

I start directly behind our rented house, walking over the sand dunes and following West End Beach north.

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Being late afternoon, the light is great for photography and while the weather has been improving, there’s some dramatic cloud formations in the sky.

It doesn’t take too long of very easy walking to reach the northern end of West End Beach. Normally the walk would start here, with the beach being accessed via the track that starts next to the West End homestead, on West End Road. From here there is a short rocky section to traverse, interspersed with some small sheltered bays.

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In the distance is Roydon Island – we’ve seen smoke from a small fire on the island over the last couple of days, which I suspect has been deliberately lit as part of a strategy by volunteers to tackle the spread of boxthorn weed.

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Sooner after this headland there’s a secluded and beautiful beach, followed by another rocky section that’s characterized by odd-shaped stones. Despite the very rocky shoreline, there are many unbroken shells to be found along this section of the walk.

This last section is rather slow going due to the uneven and rocky terrain – I’m not sure if I’ll be able to reach my destination before it gets dark. But I press on around the last rocky headland, with the rocks are starting to look distinctly more “eggy”!

Almost out of nowhere, I’m confronted by Egg Beach. It’s pretty obvious how it got it’s name, and looks quite odd – like each grain of sand has been magnified 1000%! In the distance is Twelve Hour Point, the headland at the far end of the beach.

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It’s getting too late to return the same way – the untracked coastal route has taken me longer than I thought, with some easy beach walking, but also many slow sections of boulder hopping and rocky ground. There is supposed to be an alternate 4WD track that runs parallel to the shore, so I head directly up the hill behind Egg Beach, through low grass. It doesn’t take long before I reach a rough but very distinct vehicular track.

This is much easier walking, and I make quick progress back towards my starting point. I could stay on this 4WD track all the way back to West End Road – but with the potential of another beautiful sunset, just before West End Beach I retrace my steps along the shore.

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I soon reach West End Beach, with its collection of boulders and deep piles of seaweed welcoming me back to my “home beach”!

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I reach the track up through the sand dunes and back to the house just before dark. It’s been a satisfying final Flinders Island walk!

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Location Start at West End Beach, near the north-western end of Flinders Island (track to the beach next to the West End homestead)
Distance Approx 5km return (8.6km as walked from West End Beach House)
Grade Easy. <50m total ascent
Season/s All year round. Easier at low tide / outgoing tide.
Map TasMap Flinders 1:100K. No signage.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Walks of Flinders Island” book by Ken Martin (p.73). Available in Whitemark or via Amazon

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 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

Hamilton Pool

An impressive waterfall cascades over a semi-circular cave, into a turquoise pool ringed by trees.

My last stop on the way to the airport – I wasn’t expecting anything much, but Hamilton Pool seemed to warrant a short detour from Enchanted Rock.

I arrive around 2pm – I’ve read that there may be a queue and people may be turned away during busy periods, but I have no problems. The situation may be different at peak times, so worth checking if reservations are required – or arrive early! In any case, I quickly pay the entry fee and park; the carpark is perhaps 60% full, but it’s not too busy.

Heading down the steep path to Hamilton Creek, it’s only 10min before I reach the creek (it’s only a 1/2-mile or 800m round-trip from the carpark to the pool) and turn right toward Hamilton Pool.

The pool is breathtaking. One of those spots where you know the photos won’t do justice to the scene. I try anyway, and spend some time walking around the cave and behind the waterfall. Part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, the pool and grotto were formed when the dome of an underground river collapsed due to massive erosion thousands of years ago.

There’s an inviting beach and the pool has been used as a swimming hole; a number of signs prohibit swimming due to high bacteria level. (On questioning the very friendly and helpful park ranger on my way out, it appears that there have been a couple of swimming deaths in recent years, and the swimming ban is less about bacteria and more about preventing any further drownings.)

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I’ve got a bit more time before I need to leave, so I continue down the trail towards the Pedernales River. There’s few people on this section, which is about 1.5 miles (2.4km) to the river and back to the car park. The trail closely follows the creek and it’s a pleasant and shaded walk, with very clear turquoise water. I don’t quite make it the whole way as I’m getting short of time, but I’ve really enjoyed this walk – it greatly exceeded expectations and is somewhere I’d definitely visit again.

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Location About 30 miles west of Austin on FM 3238
Distance 800m round-trip to pool. 2.4km to Pedernales River and back.
Grade Easy.
Season/s All year round. Can get very busy on weekends and public holidays
Map USGS Topo Map Quad: Hammetts Crossing
Resources County Parks web site

Enchanted Rock

A massive pink granite dome rising above Central Texas, with a short climb offering views across the surrounding basin

Texas is not really known for mountains (or hiking)… so with a spare day after my conference in Austin, I set-off in search for a hill to climb. About 95 miles from Austin is Enchanted Rock, a prominent granite dome (technically, an “enormous pink granite pluton batholith” and “the largest such pink granite monadnock in the United States” according to Wikipedia). I figure it’s as as close to a mountain peak as I’ll get in Texas.

I arrive early – just before the park office opens at 8am – and pay my entry fee after a short wait. There are already a few people out and about, and it’s obviously a popular place for camping. A few sites suggest arriving early on weekends and especially on public holidays, as entry is closed once the carpark is full. With limited time, I plan to do the Summit Trail and part of the Loop Trail. It’s a chilly morning as I set-off up the hill.

It quickly warms up as the sun rises – but it’s a short and quick climb of just over 100m to the top of the dome. There’s not much of a track or signage once you’re on the side of the dome – but you really can’t go wrong. There’s already a few people on the top, including a small group that seems to have completed a session of Sunrise Yoga. I’ve no interest in yoga, but if I was going to do it this wouldn’t be a bad spot. The views in all directions are pretty good, despite the relatively low elevation.

After wandering around the top of the dome for a while – it’s a big area  – it appears possible to descend the back of the dome , rather than re-tracing my steps down the Summit Trail. I head down a natural gully between Enchanted Rock and the neighbouring Little Rock; it’s steep but with no exposure or danger. I soon reach the Echo Canyon Trail, and follow this north up to Moss Lake. Moss Lake is a very beautiful, reflective place – would have been a nice spot for a snack, except that I hadn’t brought any food…

I was about half-way now, having walked just over two miles (3.7km), and from here I join the Loop Trail, heading west (I could also have returned via the Loop Trail in an eastward direction – there seemed to be more more to see going west.) I detour slightly to check out the Scenic View Trail. There’s really nothing to see from here. It’s easy walking for the two miles (3.4km) back to the carpark, but a pretty monotonous landscape.

The top of Enchanted Rock was worth a visit, and Moss Lake was nice (would have been ideal in the late afternoon with the sun setting on the granite dome), but the rest of the walk was fairly ordinary.

Location 95 miles from Austin, Texas (18m north of Fredericksburg on Ranch Road 965)
Distance 7.3km (2 hours)
Grade Easy.
Season/s All year round. Can get very busy on weekends and public holidays
Map Trails Map (PDF)
Resources State Parks Enchanted Rock State Natural Area Web site
Photos

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Trolltunga

A long but rewarding day-walk, culminating in stunning views at the “troll’s tongue” that juts out 700m above a lake.

The last walk I had planned at the end of our four-week family holiday in Norway: I hoped the weather gods would look after me for one last time. Being early October, I was prepared for some cold weather but hoping it would be a dry day. Which it was – chilly but not a cloud to be seen!

Leaving Bergen in the late afternoon, I allowed three hours to reach my accommodation at Odda, the closest town to the start of the Trolltunga hike. Unfortunately, the “direct” route I chose involved two ferries… and I hadn’t allowed for a couple of long waits. My three hours became about five hours, and I arrived close to midnight at the aptly-named Trolltunga Hotel (which was very accommodating of my late arrival and efficiently checked me in with a cold beer…!). The quickest route, with the benefit of hindsight, is via the Tørvikbygd-Jondal ferry. There are public transport options, but you’d need allow full day to get there.

From Odda, it was an early morning start to reach Skjeggedal, a 17km drive via a very winding (and scenic) road. I was happy I’d started early (around 6am) and didn’t have to deal with other traffic on a road that was mostly the width of one car. From the car park at the end of the road, it’s a steep climb for the first kilometre as you ascend from 425m above sea level to about 1100m, on a well-defined track. (There used to be a disused funicular that provided alternative access, by walking up the old railway tracks – this is no longer possible as the funicular tracks have been largely removed to make way for a road that is being constructed up to the plateau.)

From the end of this initial climb, a well marked trail continues through a mostly open alpine landscape, passing by a number of lakes and crossing glacial streams. There is one more, shorter climb of 200m or so, partly on a winding, marked trail and partly up a rock face that’s marked by a series of cairns.

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Water is plentiful, and in early October there were still a lot of snow on the ground. One short section of the track that is in the shade for most of the day was very icy, and having a set of spikes or crampons would have come in very useful. After about 8km of walking there are the first views into the spectacular Ringedalsvatnet fjord, and a few kilometres further (at around the 11km) mark an artificial lake is reached.

Finally, Trolltunga is reached – a narrow piece of rock jutting out 700m above Lake Ringedalsvatnet. Some metal rings aid access down to the rock, which affords spectacular views – and was rated “the most stunning place in the world to take selfie” by Internet news and entertainment site Buzzfeed.

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The walk to here took just under five hours including breaks; the entire hike to Trolltunga and back being 8 hours (six hours of walking + breaks). This is at a fairly decent pace; I’d recommend an early start, both to give you enough time to get back in daylight and to avoid the crowds. There was one other couple that arrived just after me, and no queue to get photos from the rock! On the walk back, I encountered a number of groups making their way to the rock, and that was outside peak hiking season.

Location Odda, Norway (about 3 hours drive from Bergen)
Distance 23km (8-9 hours). 1,088m ascent.
Grade Moderate. Easy navigation.
Season/s Summer/Autumn
Map  Topographical maps on-line at GotTur.no
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources I found Time Travel Turtle’s blog post useful in planning my trip
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Map of Trolltunga hike showing route and elevation.