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Strahan, Franklin Wild River, and back to Hobart

Continuing on our round the island journey, we stopped at Strahan on the west coast of Tasmania. Now a tourist town, it was the site of one of the strictest and remote penal colonies in all of Australia. Most things happen around the dock, including the cruise up the Gordon River. The day we had considered going was overcast and rainy, and in the end we decided not to take the expensive ride.

We were on the lookout for lobsters however, but unfortunately the lobster boat had just unloaded its catch and we were about an hour too late. We did however find a great camping spot in a forest a few miles out of town.

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After a day of hanging, we went on to Franklin Rivers National Park, a huge and lightly visited place of wild rivers and mountains. Our camping spot was near one of the rivers and it was just a pull off the main road. Interesting mushrooms there.

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Later that day we found a place to hike.

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It was overcast, but still some beautiful flowers.

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About an hour out of Hobart we camped in Mt. Field National Park. A nice spot, but more crowded than we were used to. Next morning we discovered a flat tire which took up some of our valuable time that we planned to spend in Mona, an unusual art museum in Hobart. We had about an hour and a half there, not nearly enough, before dropping our van off near the airport for the flight back to Melbourne.

One of the more unusual pieces.
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All in all, I enjoyed our two weeks in Tasmania a great deal. It was much less crowded than New Zealand despite its proximity to mainland Australia.
Very few foreign tourists seems to get there, and while the scenery is somewhat less spectacular, the lack of crowds and wildness of the place more than makes up for it.

Posted by jonshapiro 11:13 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes trees postcards Comments (1)

Cradle Mountain National Park

From Walls of Jerusalem we went on to its sister park, Cradle Mountain, which adjoins it. Cradle Mountain is home to the famous Overland Track. Similar in fame to the Milford Track, it is longer and harder. We opted not to do it because it required reservations made almost a year in advance. Instead we took what is probably my favorite day hike of the entire trip. For lack of a better description I'll call it the Crade Lake Traverse.

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Most day trippers stopped here on a rock outcropping with a nice view of the lake.

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Others, mostly "the young ones," decided to try the climb up Cradle Mountain.

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I actually considered it, but it would have been a long day with lot of vert. Instead Bill and I opted to walk around Cradle Lake along the top of a big plateau above tree line.

Bill with Cradle Mountain in background
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Top of the plateau
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Other small lakes visible on the plateau
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Another view of Cradle Lake from above
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Parakeets above the lake
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The great thing about this hike, aside from the expansive views, was that there was practically no one there. I think we saw one other couple the entire day. It took about 5 hours with plenty of stops on a picture perfect day, unusual in these parts.

Posted by jonshapiro 08:20 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes mountains postcards foot Comments (0)

Walls of Jerusalem National Park

From the Bay of Fires we made the rather long drive to the edge of Walls of Jerusalem. Continuing on to Lake Rowallan, we drove down a remote dirt track following a river until the road ended at the edge of the lake. There we found a secluded camping spot with only one other set of campers a hundred yards or more away.

The lake had a ghostly feel to it because of the hundreds of tree trunks that stuck up above the water line, presumably because the lake was damned at some point flooding the area.

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The sunset was beautiful.

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The next day we found the marked track that led up to trappers cabin and then to Herod's Gate and Dixon's Kingdom. It was a long slog up to the alpine wilderness.

Forest view on the way up
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One of many alpine lakes.
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On the way to Herod's Gate
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Passing into Dixon's Kingdom
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Another shot of Dixon's
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Unfortunately I didn't quite make it all the way to the Wall of Jerusalem. It was a long way back and it was getting late. I was however, rewarded with the softest moss you can imagine, and hung out there eating a bit of lunch.

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With these views:
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We spent another night at Lake Rowalllan, but unfortunately someone had seen fit to take our camping chairs and our previous spot. The new folks claimed they had seen nothing and perhaps someone else had come along and assumed we had left for good. At least, that is the most positive spin. At any rate we found another decent place to camp and luckily we hadn't left much of value other than the chairs.

Next day we looked for another place to hike. As there were no other marked trails we headed up a steep logging road which eventually petered out. We continued bushwhacking higher and then came upon another road, very steep which appeared to lead somewhere. Eventuallly we got to the top of something, and to a cell tower. Looking down we could see the river that we had followed on the way to Lake Rowallan.

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We decided to take advantage of the tower and make calls to our respective wives after being incommunicado for several days. Ironic that we had just wandered up there by accident to a tower in the middle of the wilderness.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:48 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes mountains postcards foot Comments (2)

On the Road to Queenstown and the Milford Trek

After leaving the Cedar Flats hut tramp, our plan was to spend a couple of days in Franz Joseph town. This on the west side of Mt. Cook and also has impressive mountains, glaciers, hiking, etc. Once again however, the weather interfered. We stopped at the ranger station in the center of town, and he informed us that a cyclone was on its way, and that it might be necessary to close the coast road. Not only that, the town was packed and there was no place to stay. And so we decided to push on. The road ran directly near the water and in places it was already washing over the rocks and approaching the pavement. In fact there had been another storm a week or so before and the road was partially washed away in a few spots. We got through without any issues however, and stopped for the night in another resort town, Wanaka. By then it was pouring and so we figured we'd spring for motel and a hot shower. Unfortunately the place was also fully booked, and the only room available was in a so called resort for $300. Resort was not exactly the name I would give to a rather basic, albeit clean room, but we felt we didn't have much choice. At that point we just couldn't face another night in our tiny van.

The next day was still rainy, windy and quite cold, and we spent it wandering around the crowded streets. Everything was overpriced, but we happened into a Subway, whose cuisine I had never appreciated as much as I did on that day. We must have spent a couple of hours there trying to stay warm and out of the weather. Nobody chased us which was a good thing. Given that the weather was still pretty dreadful, we didn't have much incentive to push on to Queenstown, where we had a reservation for the following night. Neither did we want to blow another $300, and so we ended up in a campsite by a river at the edge of town. Not wanting to cook dinner, and feeling relieved about saving the money, we managed to find a pretty decent Indian restaurant , and so the evening was not a total loss.

The weather finally did clear the next day and we drove on to Queenstown. We figured on a couple of days of R and R before our final trek to Milford. For those of you who don't know ,this is probably the most famous tramp of all in New Zealand, and Bill had to reserve it almost a year in advance. It is a four day, three night excursion staying in simple huts along the way.

Queenstown is now the premier extreme sports capital of New Zealand. It was full of young people into bungee jumping, white water rafting, mountaineering, parasailing, hiking etc. And it was overflowing with people in what was peak season. We dropped our van off at the airport and were practically giddy to unload it. I should mention that we had a bit of trepidation on turning it in, because Bill had dinged the back of it trying to cross one of the many narrow, one way bridges of the south island. Each of these bridges entails a game of chicken because although someone is supposed to have the right of way, it is often difficult to see them on the other side. Oh, and did I mention that there are no speed limits on these narrow roads. Every road says 100K. I guess they figure the terrain itself will slow you down, and if it doesn't, you'll likely fly off the road and no longer be a problem. At any rate, on one of those bridges Bill had to back up the van in a hurry, and managed to dent the rear slightly on a post. This was not the first dent by any means. It was apparent that others had done the same thing. He got a can of black spray paint and covered it so it was barely noticeable.

Of course the Wicked folk didn't see it. We got an Uber back to our motel in town, and it must have taken close to 40 minutes because of the traffic. This is a town of 10,000 people, but at least at this time of year, the end of February, it felt about 10 times that. After a couple of days of wandering and eating in expensive restaurants, we were more than ready to leave.

Main Street, Queenstown with Remarkables in background
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Gondola in town center with delta wing kites
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Harbor on lake in town
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The big picture
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Posted by jonshapiro 17:40 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes people postcards Comments (1)

Hokitika and Surrounds

After a couple of days in Craigieburn we went back over Arthur's pass to a small town on the west coast, Hokitika. After searching around for a proper camping spot we found this unique place on a bluff over looking the ocean. It certainly was not wilderness, but as it turned out, it was an ex-mental hospital complete with extensive grounds, staff housing, and of course, the main wing of the hospital. It was bought on the cheap by a New Zealand couple who had the idea of turning it into a resort. Well, resort would be a stretch, but they did turn it into a backpackers hangout. The place was fairly run down, but no matter, it was full of young people from all over. Some were staying inside in small rooms that had been part of the hospital, while others were camped out on the main lawn. A few had campers like ours which were spread throughout the grounds.

A portion of the main hospital building
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Campers on the lawn overlooking the ocean
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There was a large kitchen where we cooked our dinner, and yes, hot showers to our everlasting delight. Shortly after we arrived a cold rain had already started and it got harder as the night wore on.

It was still raining the next morning, but seemed to be letting up as we ate breakfast in the main dining hall. The forecast was for improving weather so we decided to head on to our next hike, maybe an hour away. This was the Toaroha Valley Tramp as they say in Kiwi. We were told about it by the ranger at Arthur's pass as a place with possible hot springs and very few people. When we arrived at the trail head it was still drizzling, so we sat in the van for a while hoping for the best. Eventually the sun did come out. This was to be two day venture into the Cedar Flats hut, a 3 or 4 hour hike, or so we thought. Because of all the rain, sections of the trail were flooded and we had to ford numerous streams. Not wanting to get our boots wet, we stopped often to take them off and wade across in our sandals. All of this took a lot of time. After an hour or so, we came to a juncture that indicated a high water trail that went up higher in the forest. Since it was so wet down below, we figured this to be our best bet. It turned out to be a highly rugged path that was poorly marked, but slowly we persevered, seeing no one. In spots it was also damn slippery and muddy as it went up and down the steep hillsides of the canyon, staying away from to Kokataki River down below us. In the late afternoon we got to a spot where the trail just seemed to disappear. No markers could be seen, although there was a small cliff leading down from where we stood. Bill got out his gps app and we tried to figure it out. Surely it couldn't lead down that cliff. We must have been there 10 or 15 minutes when a family came by. There were two teenage boys and a couple that looked to be in their 40's. We chatted with them as they seemed to know what they were doing, especially George who was a helicopter pilot with the conservation department. He laughed when we told him that it seemed much more than 3 or 4 hours to the hut especially because of all the time we wasted taking off our boots.

"You don't take them off. Just wade on through. They're going to get wet anyway."

He seemed to think the trail did indeed lead down the cliff, and scrambled down to take a look. Sure enough, there was a marker down below hidden in the trees. We helped each other down with some difficulty, and then hiked together for a while until it became apparent that Bill and I couldn't keep up. We said we'd meet them in the hut in a couple of hours. Unfortunately that was not to be.

Despite not taking off our boots again, we made slow progress through the steep and dense terrain where route finding was a continual issue. True, we didn't start hiking until about 1:30 PM, but figured that gave us plenty of time because it didn't get dark until close to 9. Well now the light was already beginning to fade in the dense forest and we seemed to be nowhere near the hut, but we plodded along. There were more streams to cross despite being on the high route, and we didn't stop to take our boots off. As the light continued to fade we both wondered where the hell the hut could be. How much further? And then, suddenly, or so it seemed, the light went out entirely. We had already put on our headlamps, but unfortunately I had lost my good one on Mt. Cook, and only had a very small one that was practically useless. Bill would go ahead 10 or 20 yards and shine his lamp back towards me so I didn't slip on the boulders and wet ground. Once again the trail seemed to disappear into one of the numerous streams. We got out the gps to try and figure out the way, but that slowed us down even more. Both of us began to think we might have to spend the night out. Yes, we would probably survive without a tent, but it was starting to get cold and it would be damned uncomfortable. Every time Bill got out the gps I worried that we were wasting more time since it was still very difficult to find the trail, but I kept my mouth shut. Whatever we had to do, we certainly had to stick together. By now it was close to 10:30 and we were both feeling somewhat desperate. Above all, we didn't want George to have to come out looking for us as he probably would if we didn't show up. Finally, wading down another stream, we saw a trail marker, and then in he distance a narrow suspension bridge leading across the river to Cedar Flats and the hut. Crossing the bridge was the coup de grace. It was a one person bridge, extremely narrow and shaky, dangling some 20 or 20 feet across the raging river. Bill went first and then shined his light back so I could cross. And just so you know, I am actually afraid of heights so this was not an easy crossing for me and I had to take it slow because of how shaky and slippery the bridge was. Obviously, I did eventually make it ,and the hut was right there as we stumbled in, exhausted. Our 3 to 4 hour hike was more like 8 or 9, almost two hours of which was in the dark. George and his family seemed quite relieved to see us.

Just another Bill and Jon adventure.

Bill crossing back over the bridge the next morning. It doesn't look particularly threatening in the light of day
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The water levels looked to be much lower the next day, and so we decided to take the low route back. Route finding was still quite difficult, as was all the boulder hopping we had to do to stay out of the water. It didn't take quite as long as the previous day, but it still wasn't easy.

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[i]An example of the rugged terrain[i]
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Posted by jonshapiro 11:08 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes mountains postcards foot Comments (3)

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