Category Archives: mountains

Wordless Wednesday #21: Hiking into the Unknown

Hiking from the Tarn Shelf down across a rocky, ghost gum landscape towards Lake Newdegate in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania.

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June 25, 2014 · 7:51 AM

Could This Be the Most Unexpected Landscape in Australia? Hiking The Tarn Shelf Circuit in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania

Views over a mountaintop tarn with rising mountains in the background

Mountaintop tarn

Can you imagine the feeling of every cell in your body waking up out of a sleepy state? Of a bubble of awe and appreciation for all around you building in your body, rising up through your feet right to the top of your head with each and every step that you take? Of a great, great sense of peace and contentment?

This was how it started.

With light feet D-man and I descended down and across the tarn shelf and through a green, rocky landscape dotted with clear water mountaintop lakes. It was still early morning and other than another hiker who had taken the turn off for the extended trek to K Col, we hadn’t seen a soul. This world – a place so different to the expected, stereotypical scenes one has come to expect of Australia – was ours for the enjoying. Mount Field National Park was showing itself to be a place full of visual surprises.

The air was crisp and drinkable yet the sun packed some punch, even at this time of the day. We juggled layers, sunhats, woolen hats. Finding the right balance was an impossible act.

Green, rocky landscape at over 1000m altitude

At the Tarn Shelf (over 1,000m altitude)

Rocks and blue sky at the Tarn Shelf in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Hiking across the Tarn Shelf, Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Leafless snow gums at Mt Field National Park

The strange sight of snow gums

Spindly leafless ghost gum trees on the Tarn Shelf Circuit walk, Tasmania

Intriguing scenery on the Tarn Shelf Circuit walk

Snow gums with reflection at Lake Newdegate, Mt Field National Park

Double strange at Lake Newdegate

The stretch before Lake Newdegate is scattered with naked snow gums, a scene from a fairytale or a fantasy film, spikes of ghostly pale sticking out at all angles against a green brown scrubland.

We shared our lunch space with another solo walker. He perched himself outside the hut while D-man and I sat of the boardwalk at the edge of the lake, looking out over the water and those spikes of ghostly pale, and observing wisps of low hanging mist.

Lake Newdegate with some low hanging morning mist in the background

Lunch on the shores of Lake Newdegate

Scrubland and water views over Twisted Tarn in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

The Twisted Tarn

Looking through trees and bushes at Twisted Tarn in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia.

Twisted Tarn: straight out of a movie set?

Old skis and fireplace at Twilight Tarn in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Inside the 1920s ski hut at Twilight Tarn

By the time we arrived at our next stop of the Twilight Tarn hut, we had made our way from a somewhat mystical landscape, past the Twisted Tarn and on into the eerie. Preserved in a state of sepia were old battered boots and wooden skis, creaky floorboards and ageing photos. Onwards.

A small black snake stopped me in my tracks – my first encounter since I arrived in Australia nearly two years ago. Dragonflies danced in front of our faces before landing on the edge of puddles and pools of crystal clear water that glistened in the sunshine. We, humans, felt the indelicacy and invasiveness of our increasingly heavy footfall. There was still some way to go.

Mating dragonflies at Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Dragonflies at Mt Field National Park

And the way to go was downhill over a loosely defined path of rocks, heavy on the knees and demanding of concentration. Surrounded by spindly trees and moving away from the higher alpine wonder of the tarn shelf and surrounding areas, my focus shifted to the finish line.

Barely glancing Lake Webster through the trees, we pushed on along boardwalks and a straighter pathway, across marshy spots and into dryer, enclosed bush land through which a good slither of blue sky could still be seen.

Spindly trees in a woodland walk at the end of the Tarn Shelf Circuit trek in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Heading towards the finishing line along a steadier stretch

Soft, hairy green foliage hanging off tree twigs

One last bit of tree magic before the trek finishes

Sign post for various treks around Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Back to the near beginning

Views down towards Lake Dobson carpark in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania.

The end – and the camper van – in sight

As we drove back down to the main entrance and visitor centre of Mt Field National Park some six hours after we first strapped into our walking shoes that morning, I observed how the imagined cliffs of last night’s drive up were in fact fairly, well, imagined. Mind at rest and body tired from a thorough trek, tonight’s sleep, I realised, could only match that of the night before. Bring it on.

The Tarn Shelf Circuit walk via Lake Newdegate/Twilight Tarn and Lake Webster is approximately 12km of mixed terrain. In places it is very exposed and at times it can be challenging. It took us 6 hours to complete the circuit, which factored in three stops plus regular pauses to take photographs.

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Filed under activity & sport, australia, forests, hikes, lakes, mountains, national parks, nature, oceania, wildlife

Wordless Wednesday #20: A Moment in Time at a Mountaintop Tarn

A tarn on top of the Tarn Shelf in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

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June 11, 2014 · 6:50 AM

Discovering the Most Stunning Scenery on the Tarn Shelf Circuit in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania

I must have slept well. Having completed a drive up to Lake Dobson long after sunset that had me gripping the passenger seat with fear of what appeared to be precarious cliff drops off narrow dirt tracks, the relief of arriving must have taken hold, and – together with recent memories of glow worm magic – my body and mind shut down the moment that my head hit the pillow.

Because now I was wide awake, the sun was burning through the last of the dawn haze and I was ready to stretch my legs. It had been too long since my last proper trek. Surely it wasn’t way back in in 2012 during a stint travelling in South America? I love trekking. What happened?

Map showing detail of the Tarn Shelf Circuit hike in Tasmania

Planned and ready for the Tarn Shelf Circuit hike in Tasmania

Laced up in hiking shoes and carrying a backpack stuffed full of water and snacks, D-man and me stepped out into a brisk day full of early morning light and signed in at the check hut at the southern side of Lake Dobson before skirting clockwise around the water and onwards along an easy path through a forest full of pandanis.

Lake Dobson with reflection (Mt Field National Park)

Let’s get this started! Lake Dobson early morning.

Walk through the forest and pandani by Lake Dobson, Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Forest walk by Lake Dobson

And then started the upward hike. ‘Best to get this climb out of the way at the start of the day,’ I said, but by the time we reached the huts and sagging lifts of the Mt Field ski village we had to stop for the first break of the day, legs burning. I took off a layer, one of many. Be prepared for all weather eventualities on these hikes, I’d been told.

Constant uphill makes for a good way to get the legs working

Constant uphill makes for a good way to get the legs working

Views back down over Lake Dobson

Views back down over Lake Dobson

Ski huts and lifts in less glourious times

Ski huts and lifts in less glourious times

The next stretch was easier; flats and gentle inclines along solidly built boardwalks. This was a place to make up some time and to take in views down over a craggy landscape, Lake Seal and the Tarn Shelf.

Walking the paths across the scrubland of Mt Field National Park

Walking the paths across the scrubland of Mt Field National Park

Views down to Lake Seal, Mt Field National Park

Views down to Lake Seal

Three linked mini lakes at The Tarn Shelf

That’s where we’re heading next: The Tarn Shelf

We reached some signposts and the first decision of our day: the option to branch off to K Col and the Mt Field West area, a highly recommended extra 6km scramble. It tempted me momentarily, but we stuck to the plan. Months (and months) without a decent full day hike might not put us in the best state of fitness for a 18km walk. No, stick to the plan.

It was possibly the best decision we made that day.

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Does It Really Get Cold in Australia?

View from plane window on descent into Hobart. Grey skies and rain streaking across the window.

Welcome to Tasmania

I had been warned: it will be cold. Wanting to keep my luggage to a minimum I partially ignored the warnings. February in Australia, the end of summer, would surely still feel like summer, at least a little bit, right?

But this wasn’t just anywhere in Australia, this was Tasmania, located over 2,000km south of my departing airport in the Gold Coast and 42° south of the equator (only a 9° difference in distance that my home country, England, sits north of the equator).  Surely, then, I could expect some chills?

I wasn’t totally naïve. Tasmania is rumored to be a little unpredictable and so I had dug out some woolens, base layers and trek socks and shoved them into a little carry-on suitcase. Wearing closed shoes and jeans for the first time in months, I felt well enough equipped. What more would I need?

D-man and I arrived into Tasmania with a bumpy landing and rainy downpour. Our weeklong holiday looked threatened by grey cover and a pessimistic weather forecast but we were undeterred, filled with excitement for wilderness treks and time together.

Except it wasn’t looking good, at all. ‘You’ve arrived to the worst weather in a long time,’ said my friend Becky as we looked at the incoming storm on the charts, predicted to hang around for most of our time in Tasmania.

Becky’s partner, Hugo, mapped out options for our week that might match the weather movements. A trip to Bruny Island didn’t look like the go as the storm was heading straight for that section of coastline, and the near on plague of mosquitos on the south coast ruled that out as an option. Cradle Mountain was predicted to be swathed in a layer of clouds with the additional threat of hail storms, and the west coast looked as though it wouldn’t be any better weatherwise than the east coast, often cited as a safe option when all else was rained out.

Really, though, Hugo’s advice was simple: follow the weather. Head wherever makes sense on any given day. Over planning? Bleurgh. Unrealistic.

Realising we were ill equipped, he proceeded to dig out everything we might possibly need for a week camping out and about in Tasmania: stoves and five season sleeping bags, head torches and fishing gear and surfboards, double layered hats and down filled jackets. Oh, those last editions were the most welcome of the lot.

And so we left Hugo and Becky behind in Hobart and headed inland for Mt Field National Park to get our first taste of the highlands, fresh air and vastly fluctuating temperatures of Tasmania.

And believe me, Australia really does get cold. Oh yeah.

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Filed under activity & sport, australia, camping, forests, hikes, mountains, nature, oceania, travel

Wordless Wednesday #14: Tasty Tasmanian Mountain Pinkberry

Tasmanian mountain pinkberry speciality - Leptecophylla juniperina subsp. parvifolia

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Filed under australia, food & drink, mountains, nature, oceania, travel

Wordless Wednesday #13: Up in the Clouds

Two guys sitting on a rock up Mount Wellington overlooking the area surrounding Hobart.

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That’s Moorea like it

Moorea, as seen from Papeete in Tahiti

Moorea, as seen from Papeete in Tahiti, French Polynesia

Above deck, Matt and Joel look on to the next stage of the adventure

Above deck, Matt and Joel look on to the next stage of the adventure

Below deck I check the route and computers as we set off for Moorea

Below deck I check the route and computers as we set off for Moorea

Moorea looks full of promise

Moorea looks full of promise

Approaching paradise?

Approaching paradise?

All action on board as we get closer to Cook's Bay

All action on board as we get closer to Cook’s Bay

Sailing into Cook's Bay

Sailing into Cook’s Bay

Cook's Bay surroundings, as seen through the window in my onboard bathroom

Cook’s Bay surroundings, as seen through the window in my porthole

Readyto leave the boat that's been my home for a month. How is there now so much stuff? Didn't I downsize?!

Ready to leave the boat that’s been my home for a month. How is there now so much stuff? Didn’t I downsize not that long ago?! Blame the South American markets, I reckon. Nothing to do with me.

The car hire place with plenty of flexibility

The car hire place with one car  and plenty of flexibility on timings

A Polynesian experience would be incomplete without sighting the hibiscus (or the frangipani)

A Polynesian experience would be incomplete without sighting the hibiscus (or the frangipani)

This one road goes right around the island of Moorea

This one road goes right around the island of Moorea

Camping Nelson. Home for a few days.

Camping Nelson, Papetoai (ish). Home for a few days.

Finally! White sand beaches. That's Moorea like it.

Finally! White sand beaches. That’s Moorea like it.

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Filed under activity & sport, moorea, mountains, nature, pacific, sailing, sea

Day trippin’ Tahiti

Having picked up some maps at the tourist information by the docks, planned a few desired stop-offs and hired a car for the day, we were ready to drive the coast road that wraps around Tahiti Nui and smaller Tahiti to the south-east. The constructed concrete and development of Papeete slowly faded into the background as we sped south down the smooth roads of the west side of the island into a scene framed by thick, dark green trees and mountains that raised up from the roadside.

Enter the lushness

Enter the lushness

Our first stop was at Grotte de Maraa caves barely 30km south of Papeete, a public garden bursting with every tone of lush green imaginable, despite being but a machete strike away from the main road. The detail of fanned leaves, the variation in plant patterns and the odd splash of water and other colour created a world in which I wanted nothing more than to walk alone and once again get lost in the thicket of nature whilst Joel and Matt headed up into the jungle, following an overgrown path.

Plants and water and happiness

Plants and water and happiness

...and more...

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Beautiful, right?

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Yep.

The caves themselves gave cover to pools of water on which lilies clustered, some white petals on display. To the side of the main cave was a sign hidden behind foliage that stated No lifeguard on duty, surely a joke of sorts. Matt went for a paddle and the water barely reached his knees (although apparently further into the belly of the cave it drops away).

Really?

Lost girl? Nah, not really.

Lost girl? Nah, not really.

Back behind the wheel and we drove on down to Teahupo’o on Tahiti Iti, Tahit Nui’s little sister joined to the main bulk of the island by a slim stretch of land over which passed two roads. A few young teens body boarded on little waves on the edge of the village whilst the infamous Teahupo’o break smashed about a couple of kilometres out to sea. We walked by empty houses and quiet air, accompanied by a stray dog.

Arriving to the village of Teahupo'o

Arriving to the village of Teahupo’o

Hanging out on the wire looking out towards the famous break

Hanging out on the wire looking out towards the famous break

Shall we just borrow it?

Shall we just borrow it?

On the way back up north we decided to head to the Taravao Plateau, stopping first at a little spot off the beaten track by a river where we dunked in cool waters and got nibbled by creatures in a murky river bed. At least I did. Joel and Matt, my crew mates from the Pacific crossing, swam against the river flow, then let themselves get carried for a little while. I guess it had been a long time at sea without exercise.

Taking a river rest

Taking a river rest

Capturing the creature who had a good nibble on my toes

Capturing the creature who had a good nibble on my toes

The boys think about stretching their legs again

The boys think about stretching their legs again

The viewpoint of Taravao Plateau itself took us out of the jungly lowlands, high enough to get a wide look over both parts of the island. A little hut shaded us and the gentle yet constant trickle of tourists who pulled in for a quick glance. Beer tops, a few empty bottles and a smattering of graffiti hinted at a place that went beyond that of a lookout. This place saw it all. Or some variation, at least.

Views one way... down to Tahiti Nui

Views one way… down to Tahiti Nui

Views from the same spot

Views from the same spot

Our last stop-off was driven by the need to get to the water’s edge once again. Whilst the west coast beaches seemed unreachable and – where visible – chunked up with rocky entries, the east coast offered up a good dose of sandy beaches. Finding an unmarked place to pull in, the boys were quick to the water whilst I lay down, full stretch, and the warmth of the sand against the length of my body made me sleepy.

Getting drowsy

Getting drowsy

I dozed through all the fun – the body surfing, the local kids playing up to the Go-Pro camera, the refreshing splashing around – and roused only for the homeward stretch, a half hour drive with a red dusk sky backdrop

Nearly there

Nearly there

And we were back. In Papeete, at the pontoon, within the rock of the boat. Home.

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I’m just off to climb a volcano

‘What are you up to tomorrow?’ asked a friend during a Skype call. ‘Ah, I think I’m going to go and climb a volcano’, I told him, ‘an active volcano’. The island of Isabela is, after all, made up of six volcanoes (five of which are active) and to visit the Galapagos and not take in some volcanic splendour would surely be a half-hearted effort. As with many activities on the islands, local laws require you to be accompanied by a guide so doing it totally off my own back wasn’t going to be an option. I booked in for the $35 tour.

Tomorrow had arrived and here I was with a group of unknowns sheltering from the damp air, drizzle and grey skies, waiting to start the great ascent to Volcán Sierra Negra, one of the largest active volcanos in the world. But with this turn of bad weather and such poor visibility, would the trek go ahead?

It hadn’t started like this. Oh no.

Less than an hour earlier I had ran through sun soaked streets and arrived, in a sweat and seven minutes late, to an empty Tropical Adventures shop. No cars were waiting. No tour guides around to tell me off. They had left without me. Oh, crap.

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Running through the streets of Puerto Vilamil on Isabela, Galapagos

I started to walk back towards the main square in search of breakfast. A jeep drove by, five, maybe six people crammed inside. Someone waved. Was that one of the guys from yesterday’s Los Tuneles tour? Another car beeped and pulled up alongside me. “Quick! Get in! You’re late!”

No rucksack, no breakfast and late. It was shameful. I made my apologies. People were gracious, on the surface at least, but maybe their tolerance was tested when half an hour later we were still driving through the streets of Puerto Vilamil doing random pick-ups and drop-offs and who-knows-whats.

And so, having driven north east from Puerto Vilamil upwards into an increasingly hostile weather front, here I was standing snuggled in with a bunch of about twenty strangers, and all those efforts to get here seemed to be in vain. It was surely a no go. This weather encouraged thoughts of duvet days and movie sessions, of chatting and playing music by the fireplace with friends.

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The starting point

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Some of the group before the hike began

Stop. Doubt not. This weather was, apparently, totally normal. ‘English speaking with me’, said our young guide who later told me how much he loved doing this job in between surfing the islands various breaks. The variety in landscape and climate, he told me, made Galapagos the best place to live.

And what about city fun? Wild, chaotic moments? Didn’t he crave a bit of breaking loose at times?  ‘The mainland’, he said, ‘sometimes’. I found out from a few people that Guayaquil and Quito (on the mainland of Ecuador) offer them an escape at times, but do nothing in trying to tempt them away from the tranquillity of the Galapagos Islands.

For an hour we climbed along muddy, cracked pathways. The drive up must have dealt with a good chunk of the 1,124m altitude because the physical climb was the gentlest I could have imagined. As we ambled along, I chatted with French tourists and a young German couple, with an Argentinian wanderer and a chatty entrepreneur who had left his entire family and cultural sensibilities behind in India for a new life in Australia. As travelling often allows, I saw way beyond what was right in front of me, leant more about the world in a broader sense.

www.travelola.org

Grassy, gentle paths

At the main lookout I realised my expectations of what a volcano might look like were limited to glossy photos in magazines that showed spewing lava flow and an excess of red and orange hues tipped with flashes of bright white heat.

This expanse of flat, cracked blackness that stretched off into the far distance was strikingly different to the volcano images in my mind. The drop off into the crater, although steep, was not as dramatic or as deep as I might have imagined, and swaths of clouds were swept along the surface by a moody breeze.

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Sierra Negra to my left…

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…and to my right

It was, undoubtedly, a unique landscape, all 10 kilometres of parched rockiness. We stood for a little while and looked out over this section of Sierra Negra. As recently as 2005 she had belched up a load of lava, and before that, 1979. There was a good chance that she might erupt again, right now. A sign stated ‘since the magma chambers are approximately two kilometres deep, there are cracks where every so often the fumes vent or lava erupts’. It could happen.

Onwards we walked, skirting along the eastern side of Sierra Negra, our grassy path contrasting with the bleak gravel of her belly spread out below us. The landscape started to change. More rocks, more slip, more hostility.

www.travelola.org

Landscape change

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North east side of Sierra Negra crater, heading towards Chico

Those in the group who didn’t have boats to catch back to Santa Cruz continued on over shale and scatter towards Volcán Chico whilst the rest of us turned around and backtracked through ferns and hairy trees, walking and talking and stopping for a quick picnic lunch. Within two hours we were back at a still drizzly starting point, ready to descend back down to Puerto Vilamil.

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Ferns and hairy trees

One of the most active places for volcanic activity? Pah. Really? It all seemed very gentle and relaxed, dreamy even. Today, in any case.

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