Great Ocean Walk: A rendezvous with an old friend

3 November 2017 | Day 1:

Apollo Bay-Blanket Bay 22 kms

Hello again, my friend.

I step onto the welcoming trailhead of the Great Ocean Walk at the visitor centre and am sent on my way by an uplifting timber and stone monument; it is public art which celebrates the trail’s passage across a variety of land- and seascapes. Some say it mimicks the ocean, others the profile of the hills of the hinterland. To me it appears as though it is tilting the hiker to commence moving forward against its slope. And so I do.

GOW TRAILHEAD SCULPTURE

The track out of Apollo Bay shares its space with the myriad of visitors to the town, their cars and buses and housing. While people meander seemingly without purpose, my strides develop a rhythm which see these temporary distractions drop away into the background, muffled by the relentless sounds of the ocean.

The sky holds a prospect of rain; as I approach roadworks I feel some drops fall so I promptly offload my pack, throw on my jacket and put on my pack’s raincover. No sooner done, a squall descends on my position and pelts me with horizontal hail. The opportunity to pull on my overpants passes very quickly indeed and I am unceremoniously saturated from the waist down, all in a matter of seconds. “Welcome to Apollo Bay,” shouts a bemused nearby road worker holding a “slow” sign while fully covered for any weather contingency. Relaxed despite my early immersion, I laugh and shoot back, “Yep. I’m not surprised; I’ve been here before!”

Pants soaked by water do eventually dry. The trail passes Mounts Bay parallel to the Great Ocean Road and then diverts through a caravan park; exposed rock platforms appear and before too long the signs of human occupation diminish and a sense of wildness begins to emerge. A brief crossing of one platform takes me to a small beach with an inland route which ascends Bald Hill. Once elevated I marvel at what I can see ahead and realise the breathtaking scenic landscapes that lay in wait. It is good to be back.

DAY 1 MOUNTS BAY

A short sand walk along Three Creeks Beach takes me to Elliot River, which is heavily punctuated by scatterings of large boulders, providing a stable surface on which to cross without needing to remove my boots. Making good progress, the track ascends and I arrive at the Elliot Ridge Campground for a lunch break. Others who start their travel later in the day might choose to stay here for the night, but it is still early and I am keen to put more track behind me.

DAY 1 ELLIOT RIVER CROSSING

After Elliot, I pass inland through the Great Otway National Park. The landscape is now one of an homogenous eucalypt forest—still appealing in its own way but the sounds of the ocean are absent and, after the rain earlier in the day, clay underfoot becomes water-logged and muddy. I’m aware that I am far from the coast. The challenge now is not to slip over, nor to allow my feet to sink too deeply into deceptively shallow puddles.

This is one of the times when my trekking poles prove their worth—once deployed they become a third and forth leg to aid stability (crucial when carrying an extra 20 kgs!) and a means by which I can test the ground ahead to see if it is firm enough to accept my weight.

Progress slows under these conditions and I find myself yearning again for those coastal views. Signs appear and guide my direction; pretty soon I notice the clay surface changes to a sandy loam and, in apparent sympathy, the sound of the ocean re-emerges into the background.

The descent into the beautiful Blanket Bay is complete and I set my tent up for the night. There is a nearby site for car-based campers at which the shared toilet facilities are located, but the separation is adequate; everyone seems to be taking advantage of the opportunity for relative silence.

‘Thunderclap headache’ is what it’s called and that’s exactly how it feels. One of the hallmark signs of a ‘sub-arachnoid’ (brain) haemorrhage, which one source says has a 43% immediate death rate and a 57% mortality rate for survivors after 6 months. A visit to the local emergency department wins me the door prize: a CT scan of my brain and a lumbar puncture (a needle placed into my spinal cavity to draw off some fluid to test for the presence of blood) to conclusively determine whether the haemorrhage has occurred. After a few days, the news was that it hadn’t–the pain had been associated with some degenerative changes in my neck–but that didn’t stop the realisation of my sudden vulnerability to illness.

It’s 2013 and here I am, 20 kg overweight with my cardiac risk factors ramping up with each subsequent blood test. What would be my next encounter with ill-health and when?

4 November 2017 | Day 2:

Blanket Bay-Aire River – 21 kms

DAY 2 BLANKET BAY MORNING

The morning is dry and progress is strong. The next river crossing is Parker Inlet. It isn’t sufficiently shallow to be crossed using stepping stones in conjunction with my poles, so it’s pack off, shoes and socks off, pack on, wade through, pack off, dry feet, socks and shoes on, pack on, and continue. There is a steep ascent thereafter assisted by a well-built stone staircase; once clear of this the next landmark is the Cape Otway Lightstation.

DAY 2 PARKER INLET

For the Great Ocean Walker the Lighthouse serves as a practical reference point against which one can check progress, as its prominent location can be sighted a couple of days further along the coast. There is a campsite here as well, but I only stop at it for lunch as there are many more daylight hours available.

DAY 2 CAPE OTWAY LIGHTSTATION

A ten kilometre clifftop track above Station Beach is a welcome choice; despite the option, I am not enamoured of a beach crossing of that magnitude, especially in soft sand. A full pack most certainly becomes an anchor to any forward progress.

Soon, the Aire River looms large in the distance with it’s outflow and valley visible in one complete panorama. The track leads across a timber bridge and then a dedicated walker campground above a vehicle-based camping area. This looks a very popular site due to the long weekend and public holiday and I wince at the thought of overnight disturbance.

DAY 2 AIRE RIVER

I look to low-impact exercise–walking–as a way to reduce my weight. It doesn’t take long for disappointment to set in as my morning ‘weigh ins’ keep increasing despite the effort I’m putting in.

Then, as with many serendipitous events, I stumble across a lecture by a US endocrinologist discussing factors contributing to an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. It is ninety minutes of hard-hitting information about the ubiquity of sugar in our food and the epidemic of ill-health that accompanies it.

It’s an arrow in flight that strikes a bullseye. I look in everything I’m eating to identify added, hidden sugar and make a conscious decision to avoid it and processed food where possible. The other part of the message that rings true is ‘Just eat real food; as it comes out of the ground, just as nature intended.’ I increase my intake of plant-based food—-to benefit from fibre and micronutrients–and, over time, turn this dial up as far as it will go. My scales respond in sympathy and show a halt to weight gain, followed by a steady decline. Food is indeed medicine.

My regular cardiovascular risk blood tests reverse their trends and begin a trajectory back into healthy ranges. Overall, I’m feeling energised and dust-off an old back pack and start putting weights in it to increase the amount of resistence work I do while walking. Next, I’m walking up hills. I’m walking five kilometres, then ten. 

5 November 2017 | Day 3:

Aire River-Johanna Beach – 14 kms

The morning is cool and damp but I awaken refreshed and cheerful having had the best night’s sleep in recent memory. Despite only a couple of brief showers overnight rain my tent is wet, outside and in; I do my best to shake it dry before packing it up, but am resolved to the fact that I won’t be able to dry it until pitching it at the next camp. I don’t know what it is about carrying wet tents; perhaps it’s just discomfort in the knowledge that a necessary task hasn’t been completed. Or perhaps it’s just a meme developed by and passed between hikers that a dry tent is a happy tent.

DAY 3 AIRE RIVER DEPARTURE

Mindful of my last visit’s shortcomings, my attention turns to the next destination, Johanna Beach, where I will be staying overnight. With a modest 14 km distance to traverse, the pace is easy and the track proffers no particular difficulties.

The craggy cliffs of Castle Cove are invisible to those who arrive at the visitor lookout that intersects with the Great Ocean Road. But as a walker, I stare up at its revealed limestone layers towering above which tell of an ocean level once much higher and whose erosive power has prevailed over many millennia. It’s a vantage point at which I feel very small and insignificant in a constant theatre of grand sculpting, proceeding at an imperceptibly slow rate.

DAY 3 CASTLE COVE APPROACH
DAY 3 CASTLE COVE ROCK STRATA

The track winds inland a short distance and I am reminded of the considerable effort made by Parks Victoria staff to maintain this magnificent environment: a simple boot cleaning station alerts the walker to the presence of cinnamon fungus that threatens the health of the flora of this region. A quick scrub of my footwear and an immersion in solution is all that is required.

DAY 3 XANTHORROEA

A long descent heralds my arrival at Johanna Beach; a near two kilometre walk along its sands at a leisurely pace arrives at the inevitable crossing of the outflow of the Johanna River. There is no workaround on this one; boots and socks come off and a wade across knee-deep, cool running water is a surprisingly pleasant interlude.

DAY 3 JOHANNA APPROACH

The trail intersects with an area established for vehicle-based visitors; I pass by SUVs, caravans and gleeful holiday-makers until I find the track which ascends the adjacent cliff which takes me to the hiker’s campsite. It’s now midday and the location and altitude provide a stunning vista to enjoy a look back at the distance traversed. This is what I missed out on last time.

DAY 3 JOHANNA ARRIVAL

Once pitched, my tent dries quickly in the caress of onshore wind and warm sun which sporadically breaks cloud cover. I sit on a nearby packing bench and take in as much of this as I can for as long as possible.

The afternoon is long and languid and evening falls with an increase in the onshore wind. I peg out an extra guy line for stability and make a mental note: no sleepwalking tonight; it’s a quick, long drop to the beach in darkness.

It’s early 2014 and I’m fossicking around for a promotional DVD that was distributed in one of the Saturday newspapers some weeks earlier. I had put it aside for a rainy day as the scenery in it looked nice. I find ‘The Art of Walking’ and sit down to watch a 45 minute documentary on the Great Ocean Walk and the experience of three people who undertake various legs of it. “Right, then,” I muse. “I’ll do that.”

April arrives and I am as prepared as I can be–both in physical condition and appropriate equipment–for my first multi-day, solo walk. One hundred kilometres in total, I am ready to walk away from the self-imposed ‘comfort zone’ in which I exist and submit to the vagaries of the wild. It is a liberating moment.

6 November 2017 | Day 4:

Johanna Beach-Ryans Den – 14 kms

The sun rises over Cape Otway in the distance and I am invigorated by the freshness of the morning breeze. On the ascent path out of camp, I note two timber, contemporary design chairs which would have been ideal had I been carrying a novel and seeking some quiet solitude. I will remember them for next visit.

DAY 4 JOHANNA DEPARTURE

The path clears and, as I follow the Old Coach Road, I am afforded a sweeping view over the Johanna River and adjacent farmland. The ascent continues for some time before joining an unsealed road which passes by a number of secluded properties.

The descent to Milanesia Beach is interrupted by a mannikin with the appearance of a jolly mariner, standing within a shelter constructed in the likeness of a boat: no, I haven’t administered any hallucinagenics in the last few hours. This wonderfully eccentric display is a free water station, established by a nearby resident to support hikers on the Great Ocean Walk. Drink up and be hydrated, land-lubbers.

DAY 4 WATER STATION

I am soon back on a short stretch of sand and am able to cross the outflow of the Milanesia Creek by scrambling across large boulders which oppose its intention of meeting the sea in an apparent act of futility.

DAY 4 MILANESIA BEACH
DAY 4 MILANESIA TRACK

A glance behind reveals the spectacular Lion Headland before I commence ascending a grassy track which takes an erratic path across contours before reaching Ryans Den.

DAY 4 RYANS DEN VIEW 2

A first arrival at this campsite, I manage to claim an elevated site close to a lookout which captures the fading light of the day and the overnight pulsations of the Cape Otway Lightstation in the far distance.

My plan has revealed one major mistake: I have joined the two legs from Aire River through to Ryans Den–28 kilometres in total across a number of strenuous climbs–in one day. My energy is pushed to my limit of collapse. I sit down on the rising track from Milanesia Beach and think that I won’t be able to continue. The sun is low in the sky at this time of year and I am losing daylight rapidly. I take in water, an energy bar and flog my leg muscles and joints, now screaming for respite,  for a further 45 minutes before reaching camp at last light.

Lesson learned; I won’t do that again.

7 November 2017 | Day 5:

Ryans Den-Devils Kitchen – 13 kms

DAY 5 RYANS DEN SUNRISE

After another night of dry conditions, I depart and cross Moonlight Head, clambering over a fence crossing and venture straight back into forest. In an area that is flanked on both sides by low vegetation, the track narrows.

DAY 5 MOONLIGHT HEAD FOREST

I hear on my left side the sound of a large animal scampering away in the undergrowth, presumably startled by the noise of my passage.

Within two seconds an adult wallaby bounds down the track ahead, travelling at speed toward me. Seeing me, it brakes but momentum causes it to slide for a meter or so along the dirt before coming to a halt.

It then turns and starts to retreat. But it stops again within a few hops, turning back toward me and advances a few steps, before stopping again. It retreats again and turns back to face me again.

Then it dawns on me: this is mum, and I had startled her joey in the undergrowth.

Like any panicked parent separated from their child in a department store, this mother’s goal is to rescue her young. But I am in the way and blocking her path.

It seems that she is having an internal conflict between her maternal instincts and her survival instincts.

There is only one thing I can do to resolve this. I move off the track to the left, and lean back into the bushes trying not to lose my pack-weighted balance. This is the only cue she needs from me; she immediately bounds past me to find her youngster. Kind deed to animals for the day: tick.

I am soon at the curiously named Devils Kitchen campsite, half expecting to be hounded and abused by a potty-mouthed English TV chef over my culinary ineptitude with dehydrated meals. Fortunately though, he is not to be found.

As the camp is not yet occupied I again stake my claim on a tent site right next to a scenic view across the cliff of a bay with a toilet room perched above it, boasting panoramic views across Bass Strait. Certainly not devilish, nor hellish, but eccentricity is alive and well for those who visit the throne-room.

DAY 5 DEVILS KITCHEN TOILET

Despite being clouded over, our nearest star still manages to cast its golden rays onto the ocean in a most dramatic scene through a small aperture; a harbinger that all is good in this part of the world.

DAY 5 DEVILS KITCHEN SUNBURST 2

8 November 2017 | Day 6:

Devils Kitchen-Twelve Apostles Visitors Centre – 16 kms

It is the final day of the Walk which I estimate to complete just after lunchtime. The path is undulating but not strenous, and weaves through low heath alongside the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park as it approaches the small settlement of Princetown.

DAY 6 GELLIBRAND RIVER

The outflow of the Gellibrand River is visible from a distance and the track intersects with an area used for car-based camping, complete with picnic tables alongside the river.

DAY 6 PRINCETOWN

Here I meet a couple of my co-walkers and we stop for a coffee, available from the nearby general store. A young family on their way out of the area stops and conversations commence. One is a marine archaeologist; my attention is focussed on a subject in which I have been fascinated for some years.

We collectively note the appearance of a late model Mercedes station wagon which becomes lodged on a swale after attempting a U-turn on an entrance road. Three of us walk over to help the two occupants push the car off the swale but it doesn’t budge. Then, as luck would have it, some staff from the Shire of Corangamite arrive and add four extra pairs of hands to the three and the car lurches forward.

No longer fretting over their predicament, the grateful visitors shake our seven pairs of hands, take a team photo, and drive away. The Earth continues to spin at 1674 kilometers per hour.

DAY 6 RED BELLIED BLACK

A slumbering red-bellied black snake isn’t disturbed in the least by my footfall as I walk past it; docile and recumbent, its priority is to soak up as much of the morning warmth as possible.

The Twelve Apostles–although reduced in number due to erosion–slip into view and before long I am walking through a car park and under a roadway toward the Visitor Centre where I will meet my transport back to Apollo Bay.

DAY 6 APPROACHING END

I smile as I step off the trail and sense that my friend is smiling back. She has been marvellous company over the past six days and we now understand each other so much better. With 100 kilometres behind me, I am bestowed with a feeling of invigoration, health, happiness and strength.

Until we next spend some time together, farewell my friend.

As I approach the end of the Great Ocean Walk, I pass car- and bus-based visitors swarming to capture a photo of themselves in this well-known coastal landscape, marking their brief moment in time amidst the grandeur of these ancient limestone cliffs.

I suddenly find myself strangely overcome with emotion; tears are released during a few moments of self-reflection. I have actually emerged from the end of this totally new experience, unscathed and strengthened by the knowledge that I can push myself to new limits.

What have I learned? That comfort is not properly appreciated until one confronts discomfort and uncertainty. And that life seems so much better–and happier—when it is simple. 

What could be more simple than to walk through Nature? It’s only taken me until 2014 to realise this.

At some time in the future, I will need to return to this very special place.

DAY 6 GRAZING WALLABY
Advertisements

A funny thing happened on my way through the wilderness: I stopped for a TV interview.

Having been described by various commentators as having “the perfect head for radio—CB radio,” or as having “a head like a bucketful of squashed crabs” the invitation for me to provide an opinion of the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail for South Australian TV seemed like ‘punching well above my weight’ but a ratings risk to which the good folk requesting it seemed blissfully unaware.

Despite my warnings of inducing an epidemic of either catatonia or madness across the South Australian viewing demographic, thereafter attracting the scorn of the Chief Health Officer or worse, the Centre for Disease Control or even the World Health Organisation, the team from Prime7’s SALife seemed unperturbed by the possible catastrophes arising from what might normally have been considered an innocuous interview.

So, with some trepidation I took part and the evidence of my debut to help promote the Trail finally went to air. I am bracing myself for the fallout.

Don’t be fooled by the apparent brevity of the interaction: the pressure to get this ‘in the can’ was gruelling. Highly scripted, it took me 23 soul-destroying takes without an auto-cue to “get my inflection right.” I think a session being directed by Tarantino might have been easier. Oh, and the use of the word ‘penchant’ was a cross-cultural reference to the influence of 19th Century French explorer, Nicholas Baudin. Just in case you were wondering.

Well done to Briony and the SALife team for showcasing the Trail in all it’s splendour; hopefully many South Australians will now be inspired to step outside and explore this magnificent location and benefit from its trove of natural wonders.

Needless to say, I will forever be mindful of my inflections, but especially when hiking through the wilderness.

SA Life Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail Story (used with permission)

POSTSCRIPT

Unfortunately, the program ‘SALife’ ceased production a few months after it went to air. Contrary to my comments above, I was told that it had nothing to do with my appearance and was an internal management decision at Channel 7 Adelaide.

In all seriousness, I was saddened by the news having had such a positive and jovial experience with some members of the production team.

I can only wish them well for their future endeavours and hope that their creative skills are put to good use in the not-too-distant future.

Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail: A remarkable journey on a unique ecological lifeboat

Preamble

One of the delights of serendipity is that it happens when least expected. And so when I was looking for another hiking trail to undertake back in August, what popped up on my social media feed was the announcement of a new track opening on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, on the 1st of October. I admit, the posting could have been the result of a search engine algorithm, probing the transparency of my preferences, but either way, my ‘apparent’ choice was made very simple.

Aside from its relatively unknown location, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail is consistent with the structure of a conventional bush walk or ‘thru-hike’: it’s segmented into discrete days, with dedicated campsites for tents, communal shelters and water tanks to store captured rain water. There’s no memory foam to be found on this one, folks.

However, there is an app for it. Once downloaded from the App Store one is afforded an intimate introduction to the trail with its images, stories of heritage, details of biological diversity and geological history accompanied by an audio commentary throughout. The schedule is laid out along with preliminary maps. It has been meticulously planned so that the hiker, irrespective of fitness level, is afforded plenty of time to appreciate the complexity of the space outside the trail.

I was able to start a week after its opening, which turned out to be fortuitous.

In the week prior, South Australia was pounded by extreme weather, with extensive power failures, flooding and damage from fallen trees across the State. My hope was that the week’s gap before starting would have provided some opportunity for the track to drain and fallen trees to be cleared.

10 October 2016 | Day 1:

Step on: Flinders Chase National Park Visitor Centre-Cup Gum Campsite (Rocky River) – 12 km 

National Parks South Australia staff were welcoming and extremely helpful. They are the hiker’s first point of contact with the Trail and are a valuable resource of local knowledge and updates.

Those undertaking the Trail are issued with a 1:35,000 scale map and a guide book, which is an excellent resource for understanding the environment–fauna, flora, geology, history and heritage–of Flinders Chase NP and surrounds. I won’t replicate any of its lessons in this blog, merely to say it does open one’s eyes and ears to what is happening in the surrounding bush and what has happened in the past.

The hiker is also required to view a video safety briefing. This area was ravaged by bushfires in 2007 and so a focus on safety, as well as the awareness of an evacuation plan is reassuring. Even though it was not yet the fire season, it was a valuable drill.

Apparently I was the only booking for this day, which meant that I would have the whole track to myself for the five days, or so I thought.

The step on point to the Trail is as simple as walking through a gate outside the Centre. However, Mother Nature had left her mark on its opening leg: the previous storms had caused the closure of a westward limb away from the platypus watering holes, so a diversion track had been established to avoid the area. I would imagine this to be only a temporary measure and so by the time of publishing, this should be recovered.

The track leads through low woodlands through a variety of flora. Pardalot Lookout is the first feature, followed by a nexus with the Rock River and its rapids. It was a great spot to take off the pack, sit down and take in the sounds. This is a half day segment and it isn’t long before one reaches the first campsite, aptly named after the predominant eucalypts of the area: Cup Gum.

kiwt_pardalot lookout_d1
Pardalot Lookout.
kiwt_rocky river cascades_d1
Rocky River cascades.

While nature clearly is the draw card for undertaking this trail, I must confess to being enamoured of the recently-completed hiker facilities. My prior experiences were trampled by stunning twenty-first century-designs that met my gaze. Curved lines of stainless steel and laser-chamfered hardwood attested to the ‘just dry’ appearance of the communal shelter and toilet areas. Not only these features, but boxed tent pads and even (for this site only) raised timber tent platforms. Photo-voltaic panels on the roof of the shelter also charged batteries underground that powered lighting which activates as darkness falls.

kiwt_cupgum sign_d1
kiwt_cupgum shelter_d1
kiwt_cupgum tentsites_d1
It would be fair to say that I was spoiled for choice.
kiwt_roos at cupgum_d1
kiwt_flying roos at cupgum_day1
Curious and skittish neighbours.
kiwt_cupgum at night_d1
A great feature for after-dark gatherings or nocturnal card games.

11 October 2016 | Day 2:

Cup Gum Campsite-Hakea Campsite (Cape Du Couedic) – 14 km

(NB: As yet, the Google Map-linked locations do not reveal the new constructions around the nominated campsites–satellite/aerial photos are not up-to-date.)

Soon after leaving camp, and traversing a boardwalk across the Rocky River, the Trail leads toward its outflow to Maupertuis Bay. Ascending gently, one is rewarded with a spectacular view from clifftop stretching all the way down to Cape Du Couedic.

kiwt_rocky river crossing_d2
kiwt_rocky river outflow_d2
kiwt_maupertuis bay start_d2

It’s worth noting that many of the French names of locations on Kangaroo Island date back to the turn of the nineteenth century when explorer Nicholas Baudin was plying the seas off South Australia and mapping the coastline. During the height of the Napoleonic Wars, he happened to meet up with Matthew Flinders in 1802, also exploring and mapping. It was a genial convergence from all accounts, conducted in a civil and collegiate manner at which they shared notes of each other’s work. For some reason an image is conjured of an afternoon-tea tray piled with scones and croissants.

kiwt_maupertuis beach walk_d2

There’s a beach walk of approximately one kilometre that is part of the Trail, provided that the tide permits; if not, you’ll have to take the dunes above. The sand is on the soft-side and makes for slower progress when carrying a full pack. But as the pace is of the Trail is gracious, it wasn’t a problem on the moderate day on which I found myself. The track back up to the clifftop is marked with a pole with a vivid pink ribbon visible from the beach for one hundred metres or so.

kiwt_loch sloy cairn_d2

Back on its cliffs a simple cairn commemorating the wreck of the Loch Sloy (1899), along with a harrowing tale of survival for four from thirty-four who emerged from it, was a poignant reminder of the enormous risk to life and hardship that many from the UK faced during nineteenth century immigration.

kiwt_maupertuis bay pano_d2
kiwt_wildflowers 1_day2
kiwt_spring wildflowers 2_day2

After a few hours of ‘hard-to-take’ views of the Southern Ocean, and the little explosions of colour from spring bloomings of various plants in defiance of the harsh growing conditions, it wasn’t long before I arrived at Hakea Campsite. It was a similar contemporary design to its predecessor but didn’t have elevated tent platforms.

kiwt_pied oystercatcher_d2
A pair of Pied Oystercatchers nesting on the cliffs of Maupertuis Bay.
kiwt_maupertuis cape du couedic_d2
kiwt_hakea campsite_d2

A funny thing happened on my way through the wilderness. The local weather changes were both rapid and transient–a comfortable 15 ºC would drop 8º with an incoming squall, of which Mother was throwing a number at me that day. At times it felt positively theatrical; pack-off, pack-on, performing a number of urgent costume changes by layering clothing up and down to thermoregulate against the changing conditions. Had I not been alone on the Trail, an observer may well have found these antics quite entertaining.

Soon after arriving into camp, I noticed the sound of a car approaching from a nearby fire-access track. Thereafter followed doors closing and voices chattering which seemed to be getting closer. Then appeared three people in the presence of an authorised Parks escort who asked me how I was enjoying the Trail. ‘Very well,’ was my reply which prompted a disclosure that they were from the South Australian Prime7 TV network’s SA Life program and wondered if I would consider an interview for a story they were recording. It was a surreal moment but, mindful that the Trail was brand new and still being actively promoted, I thought I’d throw my support behind it and let South Australians hear an endorsement of a visiting ‘happy hiker’ from interstate.

So, ‘the media’ had found me; I wondered what was to come next. Religious missionaries knocking on my tent flap? Salespeople asking me to change my electricity provider at the toilet block? An ABS officer chasing me for my completed census form? (No, hang on a minute: I did get that back in to them on time.) The Red Cross asking for a blood donation?

kiwt_hakea plaque_d2

To make matters worse, I then noticed a plaque in place on the shelter–dated two days hence–marking the official opening of the Trail by the South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill.

I put in my earbuds and played ‘Let’s Do The Time Warp Again‘ from ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ Suddenly, all the costume changes from earlier in the day seemed make sense.

But seriously, there is something good to be said about a government of any persuasion willing to invest $5.8 million in a nature-based activity, and I think Theordore Roosevelt said it:

kiwt-roosevelt-nature-quote

Thankfully, the remainder of the day was uneventful, the evening peaceful and thoughts of parallel universes drifted into the night.

12 October 2016 | Day 3:

Hakea Campsite-Banksia Campsite (Sanderson) – 13 km

I started this day with a southward 9 kilometre return leg to the Cape Du Couedic Lightstation and Admirals Arch. Leaving my main pack at a track junction, I detached my lighter day pack and carried through water, my outer shell and camera. It wasn’t a hard track and the gradient was gradual over the distance. The locations were great to visit and I’m glad I included them.

kiwt_side track admirals_d3
The side track to Admirals Arch.
kiwt_weirs cove_d3
Weirs Cove
kiwt_cape du couedic_d3
kiwt_cape du couedic lightstation_d3
kiwt_admirals arch_d3
Admirals Arch
kiwt_admirals seals play_d3
In conditions that would kill the average human primate in minutes, these little guys were having a ball.

A large proportion of the next section was inland through low woodlands, protected from the ocean breezes. Even with the mild climate of the day, it wasn’t hard to warm up considerably, as there wasn’t much ambient air movement in the Trail’s ‘corridor.’ This section is challenging due to exposed rock that punctuates its surface for a large proportion of the distance. There is certainly potential to injure an ankle or to take a tumble with the constantly changing angles of contact under foot, so the use of trekking poles were a sensible adjunct (if I may say so) under these conditions.

kiwt_sanderson track_d3
This is a smooth section of the Trail before the rocky surface dominates.

Despite this, I did begin to notice the extra effort that the earlier side track imposed on the day (what would be 21 kilometres in total), so I was inclined to avoid the additional side track of few hundred metres to the Remarkable Rocks (I, instead, would catch them upon completion of the Trail) and an additional 3 kilometre side track to the Sanderson Beach and headed straight for the Banksia Campsite.

kiwt_sanderson track remarkable_d3
Leaving the side track to Remarkable Rocks in the distance.
kiwt_banksia campsite_d3

Again, a similar style of shelter had been constructed but it had an east-facing viewing platform built into the design which provided sweeping views over the surrounding woodlands. This turned out to be very useful in the morning when I discovered that it was effective as a quick-drying area for my tent; held up to the morning sun along with a gentle breeze it only took a few minutes.

The evening’s chorus of gentle bird song accompanied by the ocean’s mezzo-piano pulses in the distance proved to be the perfect formula for a restful sleep.

13 October 2016 | Day 4:

Banksia Campsite-Tea Tree Campsite (Grassdale) – 13 km 

Despite travelling alone and not encountering any other hikers, I could not help but be aware that wildlife was everywhere around me. I discovered kangaroos frequently grazing on the Trail and, more often than not, they would wander into camp during the early morning. They were just as surprised to see me as I them. But without the need for any startling gestures, they would always move off on cue, by slowly inching a couple of steps toward where I wished to go.

kiwt_goanna on track_d1
kiwt_echidna sanderson_d3

Goannas were surprisingly prevalent. I did anticipate snakes–the island’s own unique variations of the tiger snake to be precise–particularly on open sections of track in the morning sun, but didn’t end up seeing any at all. But always at hand are compression bandages and a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) as my ‘get-out-of-jail-cards.’

kiwt_sanderson past rocks_d3
It’s always good to cast a glance behind to appreciate the distance covered.
kiwt_cape younghusband_d3

The next section took in a continuing clifftop route passing by Cape Younghusband before tracking inland again through a variety of woodlands. This is also where the Trail enters private land and proceeds along its perimeter.

kiwt_cape bouguer distance_d4
Just before the trail heads back inland, the Cape Bouguer Wilderness Protection Area is seen in the distance.
kiwt_southest river crossing_d3

A crossing of the South West River is the next surprise of the trail and achieved with a polypropylene dinghy that is attached to a pulley system between the two banks. It is just a little bit of fun and an extremely effective way of crossing without having to do a re-route further south to the river’s shallows where one can cross by foot.

kiwt_hanson bay 1_d3
kiwt_hanson bay pano 2_d4

Once on the other bank, the option of another side trail is offered; it’s about a 300 metre stroll to Hanson Bay. Drop your pack and do not miss this. You will walk up a sand dune and the Bay’s expanse will knock you over. On the day I visited, it was the sight of breath-taking natural beauty; an artistic seascape.

Eventually I had to drag myself away from the hold this place exerted on me in order to continue. Once reunited with my pack it was only a brief time before the Trail proceeded into open grasslands. The area into which one heads–Grassdale–was part of an earlier settlement, a farming property, which now has heritage value as nature slowly reclaims its open fields.

kiwt_southwest river track to grassdale_d4
The South West River and its northward track.
kiwt_grassdale track_d4
kiwt_grassdale roo_d4
kiwt_grassdale campsite_d4

Tea-Tree Campsite is reached after crossing a walkway over a stream. The shelter, water and toilet blocks are on one side of the River, and the tent sites are across a small bridge. This site has a communal fire pit and is the only one of the Trail that allows an open fire to be lit outside of the fire season.

kiwt_edwards cottage grassdale_d4
kiwt_edwards cottage grassdale 2_d4

A short stroll along the track that runs through the campsite will provide a personal encounter with a small cottage which was home to a local pioneer, Lucy Edwards, who single-handedly farmed this area while raising her three year old son after her husband unexpectedly died. It is a monument to her inner strength and resilience. 

14 October 2016 | Day 5:

Tea Tree Campsite-Step off: Kelly Hill Caves – 7 kms

kiwt_sunrise over grassdale_d5

A gorgeous sunrise over the camp made for a memorable breakfast and was my final send off to the last short leg of an extraordinary five days.

kiwt_grassdale lagoon_d5
kiwt_grassdale lagoon pano_d5
kiwt_celebration sign_d5

The rest of the Trail skirts the inland Wilderness and Grassdale Lagoons before heading back into woodlands before emerging at the Kelly Hill Caves Visitor Centre. Again, there’s no need to rush this.

At the time of booking I had requested a shuttle pick up from here to return me to the Flinders Chase Visitor Centre car park.

Postamble

I was very pleased to have undertaken this Trail; it was a fantastic experience, brimming with the sights, sounds and forces of Nature that so vividly and lastingly impress themselves into one’s senses. I would recommend the Trail to anyone who has hiked before and enjoys a tent-based experience. I would also recommend remaining on the island for at least another day as there are other attractions worth visiting.

kiwt_remarkable rocks 1_d6
Remarkable Rocks: a jaw-dropping landscape of coastal erosion on 500 million year old granite. It gives the impression of being a massive, organic sculpture.
kiwt_remarkable rocks 5_d6
kiwt_remarkable rocks view out_d6
A window on Sanderson Bay.
kiwt_seal bay snoozer_d6
Snoozing at Seal Bay while visitors do all the footwork.
kiwt_lucy at kingscote cemetary_d6
Having visited her property and cottage it seemed only fitting to visit Lucy Edwards’ final resting place and pay my respect at Kingscote Cemetary.

Outside of the campsites, this is a minimal-impact Trail with only a few structures along the way–a couple of board walks, regular trail marking posts, a couple of bench seats–to make it continuous and to support the hiker.

I was privileged to find solitude for the entire journey, but would imagine that it would be equally enjoyable if undertaken with friends or with those of similar levels of fitness. It’s physical demands are not huge but comfort with regular distance hiking, while carrying a full pack, would be a sensible way to approach it.

While I found the cost of booking the actual Trail most reasonable and comparable to the cost of other high-profile, unsupported hikes, the logistics of getting onto and off Kangaroo Island, as well as to its step-on and -off points, do impose additional costs that may require some further consideration by the authorities if it is to be successfully promoted to local, interstate and overseas self-guided hikers whose budgets may be quite variable.

Once again, I owe a debt of gratitude to the National Parks South Australia staff at the Flinders Chase Visitor Centre for their welcome, their expert guidance and their support. Much of their work is background and invisible, but it makes a world of difference to the visitor’s experience of Flinders Chase. They are great people doing a great job.

Tips and Thoughts

Mobile phones: Reception on the western flank of Kangaroo Island is not good for people whose carriers use the Optus’ network. Even Telstra’s coverage is sporadic. So unless you want to remain uncontactable for five days–which is not such a bad thing–a pre-paid Testra SIM might be useful. But it’s certainly not necessary for the sake of enjoying the Trail!

Day 2 decisions: If you arrive at Hakea at around 2:00-3:00pm, it would be worthwhile considering taking on the 9 kilometre return side trail to Admirals Arch after setting up your tent site and taking a break. Sunset at Admirals is pretty special too; just make sure you have a headlamp for the return leg. Doing this side trail on Day 2 it will allow some overnight recovery which will make the next day’s leg and side trails to Remarkable Rocks and Sanderson Beach somewhat easier to accommodate. That’s what I’ll be doing next time.

Travel: Apart from Rex flights into the airport on KI from Adelaide, Sealink is the only option for those in cars or on foot. Sealink also operates a bus service from the ferry terminal at Penneshaw. The ferry has the advantage of allowing you to take a vehicle; the drive to the Flinders Chase National Park Visitor Centre is about an hour and a half. If you have a vehicle, a long-term parking space is allocated to you that has nearby drinking water to fill a hydration bladder prior to setting off.

Fuel for Cooking: For those flying from interstate who use butane gas for cooking, 230 gram cartridges compatible with Jetboil stoves can be purchased on arrival at the Flinders Chase Visitor Centre (FCVC) or at at Ingrams Home Hardware in Kingscote (a 15 minute diversion by road from the ferry service at Penneshaw). I am advised that 100 gram cartridges are to soon be stocked at the FCVC–a phone call ahead would help inform your planning.

Seasonal Conditions: Do take heed of the recommended ‘best times’ of year to undertake the Trail. During the extremes of summer the inland legs would most certainly expose the hiker to the risk of heat stress as they are shielded from the cooling southerly breezes.

Personal Safety: I carry trekking poles always but do not routinely use them unless needed. There are certain sections of the Trail that have long stretches of exposed rock under foot; it’s not a loose surface but it is uneven. Poles will definitely reduce the risk of an accidental fall from foot snagging or rolling. As mentioned above, the only things that will stop me from walking are a musculo-skeletal injury, ie. a fracture or ligament tear, or a snake-bite. PLBs, therefore, are essential insurance for the solo walker.

Current Controversies: There is an impending plan by BP to place an oil rig in the middle of the Great Australian Bight. Apart from encroaching upon the established nursery waters of Southern Right Whales, any accidental oil spill–as has been known to occur in recent times–will have catastrophic consequences for the ecology of the Bight’s coastline and those of the South Australian mainland and Kangaroo Island. If such a spill occurred would any of us be provoked into 17 years of silence, as it did for Dr. John Francis, the ‘Planet Walker’? In this age of moving away from dependence on fossil fuels, we can’t afford not to be concerned about the risks and costs of this scale of activity.

Additional Resources

sa_life_-_kangaroo_island_wilderness_trail

SA LIFE: Prime7 Adelaide’s weekly series featuring places to explore around South Australia. This episode has a terrific segment on the KI Wilderness Trail.

coastaustralias2

Coast Australia: Series 2: Episode 3 In this episode South Australia is covered with a sizeable part dedicated to Kangaroo Island. Neil Oliver, Tim Flannery and Brendan Moar feature the stories of Nicholas Baudin’s peaceful encounter with Matthew Flinders, the archaeological evidence of the lives of the early sealers of the island, the sea lions of Seal Bay which are slowly recovering from the point of extinction and the Remarkable Rocks.

Three Capes Track: A walk to captivate and enthral

Preamble

The Three Capes Track is, in my view, a masterpiece of public infrastructure. As someone who had only responded to its marketing and read some of its press it took me little time to arrive at that conclusion once my hike along it commenced.

From an earlier ministerial press release I stumbled upon, planning for it extended back to 2007, revealing a project that has at least been eight years in development. Now, a state asset publicly funded to the tune of $25.3 million, the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service (TPWS) has created something that is unique and extraordinary that will last for generations to come.

It is not, in my experience to date, a hugely demanding walk, but is one that is accessible to non-hiking people who may have previously thought something like it beyond their capabilities. That families and people of all ages can now undertake a wilderness experience in relative safety and comfort is a grand achievement in itself.

Prior to opening the new track the area had only been traversed by just over six hundred people per year. Since 23 December 2015–four and a half months–it has had a incredible number of visitors–I was number 4,123. This is an amazing result and an unequivocal measure of success for the project.

To my untrained eyes, I saw no evidence of an environment under stress or, for that matter, adversely affected. Wildlife was abundant, plants were thriving and drainage channels to prevent erosion were doing their job. The earth track itself was well-delineated with rock borders, immensely long sections of board walks (‘duck boards’) were suspended above sensitive terrain and magnificently constructed rock steps were stable and almost organic in their design and flow. Hidden beneath the subtlety of these structures under foot lay a gargantuan human effort and hours of labour almost unfathomable to the transient walker whose gaze would be firmly fixed upon the landscape.

Unlike some well-patronised tracks whose origins may be as small day sections, eventually joined up with huts or shelters added in an ad hoc fashion, it became apparent to me that the whole Three Capes Track, including its cabins, is a single, unified structure.

The links provided at each heading will take you to the location using Google Maps. From there it is obvious how small the footprint for this Track actually is. The bar for a sustainable environmental experience has now been set very high indeed.

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
― Edward Abbey

19 April 2016 | Day 1:

Port Arthur Sea Tour to the Step-On Point

Curiously, before the walk even commences, there is a wilderness sea tour that departs from the jetty at Port Arthur, taking a snaking course around the capes and bays that characterise the area, and most of which will be experienced from altitude back on land.

Day 1 Port Arthur Jetty
The jetty at Port Arthur with the historical site in the background.
Wilderness Sea Tourer
A sturdy boat will get us to the step-on point but not before a spectacular tour of the nearby coastline.

It is an overview of the landscape and its ecosystem by sea which affords a unique perspective and impresses an internal note of its history and geology. Our introduction to the spectacular rock-type dolerite occurred at sea level.

Nature is full of hidden delights for the unsuspecting observer. We happened upon the flight of an endangered sea eagle carrying a branch to its mate in the process of rebuilding a nest on one of the towering eucalypts. A safe distance from the water’s edge they were unperturbed by the arrival of strange onlookers and went about their business.

Sea Eagles Nest 01
Sea Eagles Nest 02

The tour lasted well-over an hour for our small group of twelve; our skipper and guide was a young gentle-man named Tim who had a hint of ‘wild’ in his eyes. His intelligent and thoughtful commentary, and enthusiasm for his role, was the perfect way to start our exploration.

Step-On: Denman’s Cove to Surveyors Hut – 4 kms

Denman's Cove Step On
Three Capes Start Marker

This was a simple stretch of track up to the first hut where we were greeted by the first of our Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Services (TPWS) Rangers, Ailsa. The Track employs resident rangers at the huts which is a great innovation, ensuring both expert knowledge and guidance are close at hand.

Surveyors Hut 01

A group had arrived earlier in the day and had been enjoying the fine sunshine of the afternoon. The total visitors for this booking was twenty-five, although a maximum of forty-eight can be accommodated at a time.

At each hut location, a group briefing is conducted before nightfall as an orientation to the site, its safety drill and a description of what to expect the next day. Ailsa’s presence was most welcome and her advice invaluable. For those new to a multi-day walk this would be, no doubt, a useful and reassuring feature to accompany the experience. Leave no trace is still the guiding principle so that people carry out any waste for which they are responsible.

“Live simply so that others may simply live.” – Gandhi

Another striking part of this introduction to the Track was the hut complex. These energy-efficient constructions capture huge volumes of rainwater and utilise banks of photo-voltaic collectors to charge batteries needed for lighting in communal dining and sitting areas. Gas is used for cooking, electric-wood pellet heating provides ample warmth against the cold and hikers are able to charge portable devices simultaneously through USB stations. The sleeping cabins are passively ventilated and have no internal lighting. Mattresses supplied in the bunk beds use ‘memory foam’ and are very comfortable. And unlike camping in tents, they provide a useful drying-out space should inclement weather arise.

Hut Interior Kitchen
Hut Interior Dining

This is a tangible example of what living simply alongside nature while still embracing technology might look like.

I generally enjoy walking solo and plan for it to be that way, but invariably my path intersects with that of others and so company is never far away. Given the scheduling of this track, meeting up with others at the huts is inevitable.

After eating and some initial socialising with other walkers, and with Cape Raoul in the distance, all that remained was to hit the sack and prepare for the next day’s adventure.

20 April 2016 | Day 2:

Surveyors Hut to Munro Hut – 11 kms

Surveyors Sunrise
Sunrise at Surveyor’s Hut

One of my Tasmanian-born correspondents recommended that I should ‘be prepared for the Apocalypse’ when it came to allowing for variations in the weather in Tasmania. It’s great imagery and I think most hikers do this intuitively wherever and whenever they venture into the wild. So, with a couple of clothing layers, jacket and over pants at the ready and waterproof boots donned, I felt pretty comfortable for whatever nature was going to serve up.

As it turned out, the day was mild and dry and the ascent was gentle over the distance to Munro. Arriving well-ahead of schedule, there was little else to do but spend time reading–there are libraries pertaining to the area’s history, fauna and flora on each site–and looking for memorable photographic opportunities with the changing light of the afternoon.

Cape Pillar Track 01
Cape PIllar Track 02

Rob was our TPWS Ranger and was also up for a chat on all manner of subject, but was clearly enamoured of this environment.

Opportunities for education strike at the most unexpected moments. Displayed in the toilet was information that some of the local marsupials are copraphages–that is, they eat their own faeces for its nutrient value as external sources are scarce. It’s both a kind of recycling and a second-pass metabolism by my understanding of it.

While probably not the type of information that one might care to read just before dinner, under the light of one’s headlamp in the wee-small hours (no pun intended) is a fine time to contemplate it. I extrapolated the idea and compared that particular biological function with the behaviour of some of the high-profile people in media who seem to think that the public may also be copraphages, with a variation: that they think we will consume a verbal facsimile of their excrement. It’s funny how the world begins to make sense at 3:30 am.

21 April 2016 | Day 3:

Munro Hut to Retakunna Hut – 17 kms

“There’s no such thing as ‘bad weather’, only the wrong clothes. Get yersel’ a sexy raincoat and live a little!” – Billy Connolly

The day began with the sound of rain on the roof and a cover of cloud overhead. Some might premise their enjoyment of the outdoors to the likelihood of sunshine but I think this is a self-limiting perspective when one steps onto a track.

The drizzle did nothing to dampen our collective spirits as people ventured out on this day to see ‘The Blade’, one of the showcase features of the track.

It was a 14 km-return side track from Munro passing through expanses of heath, mostly along a boardwalk frequently embedded with some form of creative expression. We left our full packs at Munro in a shed and only needed a small day pack for the trip out and back.

The reason for the shed was threefold: to allow unobstructed cleaning, to allow the next group of incoming hikers to occupy their allocated cabins and to prevent the cunning Currawongs of the neighbourhood from flying in and open zips on packs to search for food. Upon return we would pick them up and travel on a further 3 kms to the next hut complex.

The track was peppered with artful seating and mosaic panels, design features that suggest that there is a reason behind their placement. And indeed there is. A supplied guidebook invites the walker to pause and read the story behind that particular location.

Duckboard mosaic
Snaking track to Blade
Wildflower Seating
In Spring, this area is alive with wildflowers, the inspiration behind the seating sculpture.

The size and grandeur of ‘The Blade’ is hard to capture in words or pictures; it marks an area which has the highest sea cliffs in Australia–around 270 metres (885 feet) above sea level–which for me evoked a mix of both terror and utter exhilaration when peering from a prone position over the edge of the sheer vertical drop. It’s a ‘close shave’ that no-one should avoid experiencing.

The Blade & Tasman Island 02
The Blade in the distance with Tasman Island only a swim away.

Characterised by tightly clustered columns of dolorite these cliffs are a unique and imposing site; at around 185 million years old and at this altitude, this carbon-based, bipedal arthropod could not help but feel a wee-bit insignificant in the overall scheme of things.

View from The Blade 01
View from The Blade 02
View from The Blade 03

After reuniting with our packs on the return leg, we took a brief stop back at Munro for a spot of lunch before walking out into the mist and rain for another 3 kilometres to reach Retakunna.

Again, hikers more familiar with longer days and bigger distances on the track might find themselves with a bit of free time on their hands. Be prepared: bring a book or a lightweight tablet, or read from the library.

22 April 2016 | Day 4

Retakunna Hut to Fortescue Bay – 14 kms

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
-John Muir

For me, this was a very special day with many surprises along the way.

Our TPWS Ranger, Jess, had briefed us the night before with all the infectious and animated enthusiasm of (the late) Steve Irwin. The first part of the track was an ascent up Mount Fortescue. We were told that this was a ‘long day’ and should depart early in order to fit in another side track to Cape Hauy before getting to the end in time for the pick-up and return to Port Arthur by bus. We were also told that the forecast gave a 70% chance of rain.

The walk up became strenuous until it unexpectedly levelled out; at this point I had crossed an invisible threshold and wandered into rainforest with trunks of all visible eucalypts covered in a furry moss. Bright orange-coloured funghi stood out from the forest floor like discarded shards of plastic from some fluorescent toy.

Fortescue rainforest 02
Fortescue rainforest 03
Fortescue rainforest 04
Fortescue Once Upon A Time
Fortescue rainforest 05
Fortescue blue skies

With blue sky appearing at eye-level, I emerged from the forest and had a clear view back to Cape Pillar. In the distance ahead lay visible the next tantalising morsel: Cape Hauy. The prospect of rain was nowhere to be seen and, despite my earlier acceptance of its inevitability, there was something to be said about being able to keep the clothing light and single-layered.

Cape Pillar distace

Access to the third and final Cape was via another side track where full-packs were left in-situ on a bench at a junction point (there were no ambitious Currawongs up this way apparently) and only a day pack (if that) was needed for the excursion. This was fortunate as the track followed a well-paved but long descent followed by a similar ascent, to be repeated on the way back.

Track to Cape Hauy
Track to Cape Hauy 02
Cape Hauy Nudge
Would someone just sneeze and get this over with?

Cape Hauy I found to be somewhat more terrifying and breathtaking than The Blade. This time, there was a handrail permitting a look-over the sheer drop from the standing position; a little lower in altitude than its predecessor, but it didn’t seem like it from the edge.

Cape Hauy Totem Pole

Below, was a single, free-standing dolorite shaft known as ‘The Totem Pole’, a 160 metre spire very popular amongst the rock-climbing community. No one was visible on it this day although I had been told that not long before I arrived a climber had descended over the edge of the viewing platform and was now out of sight. How good it would have been to witness that supremely decisive act, confident in their own skill, experience and equipment.

Cape Hauy peak

Thereafter the track descended down into Fortescue Bay, a serene and well-loved local holiday camping location. On the way to it the dolorite columns appeared to have retracted back into the earth from which they were extruded, scaled down to smaller versions of themselves, to rocks running parallel to the track approaching the beach.

Track End Bay 01
Track End Bay 02

Well ahead of the scheduled bus to take us by road back to our start at Port Arthur, there was little to do but to sit and talk to others in the group, some of whom were finishing not far behind. I found myself staring back out to the ocean trying to digest some of the things I had seen over the past few days, the memories of which still seemed so visceral.

Postamble

The presence of artwork is a welcome addition to such a track and demonstrates that many have contributed to it in one way or another. ‘Seating’ is perhaps understating the work of the crafts-men and -women who who are responsible for the fascinating open space furniture along the way, courtesy of the University of Tasmania’s Furniture Design Department.

Thanks go to the Rangers who look after the visitors, themselves spending upward of a week-at-a-time away from home. Ailsa, Rob and Jess are great people and the track is in good hands. The world needs less politicians and more rangers like them.

The Three Capes Track is an exhilaring experience and certainly worth the pennies. If you’re more accustomed to spending $30 a night for the use of a camping area in a tent, then the extra cost for this is obvious in its features and well-justified. But it’s also worth pointing out that cost is not a barrier to accessing the path, or the actual views. Those who wish can still walk in via Fortescue Bay; there is a public campsite for tents at Wughalee Falls; all one needs is a TPWS Parks Pass.

As a publicly-funded project this stands out as both responsible and progressive, one that invites people into the Park, but deliberately limits human presence–through actively managing demand–so as to minimise the risk to the ecosystem. I think it is reasonable for the TPWS to expect some form of return on its sizeable investment so that future planning of projects remains viable.

Additional Resources

New Note

Off Track: The Three Capes Track A most informative podcast episode from ABC RN on the background to and construction of the Track prior to its December 2015 opening.

Off Track: Are National Parks the future or the past? This is a great discussion examining the notions of development and preservation in our wilderness areas.

Coast Australia S1 DVD Cover

Coast Australia: Series 1: Episode 4 This is a great episode featuring Neil Oliver, Professor Emma Johnson, Dr. Xanthe Mallett and Brendan Moar exploring the east coast of Tasmania and the Tasman Peninsula. In particular, it showcases Port Arthur, Tasman Island and the dolorite cliffs of the Three Capes Track in fantastic light.

Prelude to the Three Capes Track: A reflection

Three

The Face of Things to Come

The words came at me with the ferocity of a cannonball. Encapsulated by the simple music provided by a voice and guitar I was transfixed in my seat, and for a few moments, the coffee in front of me and all else around receded from my consciousness.

“It’s not just a river, it’s one of a kind. It’s freedom you’re killing here, in the waters that you bind.” 

Hearing this message for the first time was to awaken me to issues of conservation and its relationship to politics. The year was around 1982 and I was at my favourite music cafe at the time, the legendary The Green Man in High Street, Malvern.

And here I was, listening to a young Tasmanian musician and activist named Ian Paulin, fire his political views across my largely ignorant bow. The song found its mark; I bought Ian’s cassette tape that was on sale at the end of the gig and played it relentlessly over the next few days and weeks. This person had a lot to say–about the environment, racism, relationships, injustice–and his messages, based on personal experience, deeply resonated with me.

His song, ‘The Face of Things to Come’, was a war cry, raging in defiance against the conservative Tasmanian government of the day. And here he was, carrying his fury and that of a population immersed in this protracted battle of values and ideas, across Bass Strait, onto the mainland and right into the heart of Melbourne.

The intended damming of the Franklin River caught the attention of a nation.  An act that would otherwise have largely gone unnoticed by the rest of the mainland population, the sight of environmental protestors so frequently on the front page of many newspapers and on television at the time indicated a new depth of commitment by ordinary people to the protection of a pristine wilderness. It also served as the ‘death of a thousand cuts’ to an intransigent government motivated by expedient solutions to perceived problems.

The result of the protests was that after several long years, the issue was taken to the High Court of Australia and the Tasmanian government’s plan to dam the Franklin was comprehensively quashed.

It was a watershed for this country and the era gave birth to a new environmental movement.

Suddenly the natural environment had become a valuable asset and something that should be protected for the enjoyment of future generations. And perhaps business could still flourish alongside that goal.

Up to that point, a public expression assigning value to Australia’s national parks as a national agenda seemed lacking. Naturalist and founding father of the US National Parks, John Muir, was courting political heavyweights back in the early part of last century to protect its natural assets. And he did so–by inviting them to accompany him into the wild–with great success.

“The Nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.
Conservation means development as much as it does protection.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

Thirty-odd years after I first heard that song, I am about to embark on a journey that now strikes me as inextricably linked to the events of the Franklin dam era.

A leisurely walk of forty-six kilometers around the newly-opened Three Capes Track of the Tasman Peninsula seems to be its latest unlikely offspring–it’s the face of something that did come.

Elaborate and well-considered cabins are provided as sensitive accommodation in lieu of needing to carry tents, having minimal impact on their surrounds. Is this development? It appears to be. Do I pay for this? Certainly. Are people’s livelihoods being supported? Absolutely. Is the environment at risk? I don’t know for sure but I would like to think not, given the planning of and investment in the project. But I am also aware that others in the local community have expressed concerns over it, and so it’s a discussion that should continue.

I’m anticipating that this will not only be a journey into the Tasmanian wilderness but one that exemplifies how human activity can co-exist with it while leaving it untouched for others to experience.

Of course, there are current and future environmental battles still to be fought, but at least there is an inspiring history–and some great music–on which to reflect and give cause for hope.