Sunday, August 29, 2010

Water at home

Having just returned from four months travelling around Western Australia and the Northern Territory - hiking over 600km of trail through gorges with waterfalls - I was a little surprised by how much water we saw in Mt Remarkable National Park, and, by how much I enjoyed this hike near home.

Mt Remarkable National Park

I have hiked here three or four times over the past five years. I was impressed. Green was everywhere, the creeks flowing, even large waterfalls. Lots of roos munching on green grass. A winter wonderland.

A great weekend hiking a track I had wanted to do for a number of years. We hiked from Mambray Creek campground along Mambray Creek Track, over Black Range - climbing up 500 metres - through to the Racecourse Track in the shadow of Mt Remarkable summit. We walked along Spring Creek, strongly flowing, we crossed the creek more than a dozen times. In all, we did water crossings over twenty times, far more than I had done in the entire 1,200 kilometre Heysen Trail.

We spent the night at the very nice Grays Hut, in the Racecourse clearing. A modern hut built around the ruins of an old dairy farmer's hut.

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit


Black Range Trek, Mt Remarkable National Park
Saturday Sunday
28/08/2010 29/08/2010
Mambray Creek campground to Grays Hut via Sping Creek Grays Hut to Mambray Creek campground
Distance 22.1km 16.1km
Start Time 8.15am 8.20am
End Time 3.30pm 12.25pm
Moving Duration 4h50m 3h24m
Stationary Duration 2h30m 41m
Moving Average 4.2km/h 4.5km/h
Overall Average 2.8km/h 3.7km/h
Oodometer 22.1km 38.2km

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park

It's an image every Australian has been overexposed to. Uluru. The Rock. I didn't have high expectations, but when I first saw it on the horizon, I was still left breathless. It really is awe insprining.

Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park, NT

The rock climb. I'd be interested to know, how many Australians who visit the park do the climb. Is it mostly internationals? The climb is not noted on the map amongst the other walks, the distances and times are not mentioned. There is no information on how to access the walk, only a request not to climb it, and safety advice should you wish to, including listing the symptoms of a heart attack.

The national park was created in the 1950s, the land excised from the adjoining Aboriginal reserves created in the early 1920s. In 1983 the federal government agreed to close the climb. In 1985 the park was returned to the local indig people, on the condition the land be leased to the government - to be jointly managed as a national park - and they reneged on the climb - it was to remain open. There is no longer any real discussion as to whether the climb should be open or not, it now a matter of when it will be permanently closed. Last year, in a draft of the next 10 year management plan, it was recommended that the climb should be permanently closed.

Uluru or Ayers Rock? Well, since dual naming was officially adopted in Australia in 1993, either, both. So in December 1993 Ayers Rock was renamed Ayers Rock / Uluru. Then, in 2002, the order was reversed, Uluru / Ayers Rock. Most Australians though simply refer to it as Uluru. The road signs are a real mixture, near Alice, Uluru or the dual name. Closer to the rock, they revert to using Ayers Rock. In the national park, exclusively Uluru.

Then there is Yulara, the town created in 1984 some 20 kilometres from the rock. When it opened, all the existing motels, airstrip and other buildings at the base of the rock were demolished and the land remediated. The road signs point to Yulara, but when you get there, you are left wondering if you are about to turn off into the town or not. There is no mention of the Yulara name, it is called Ayers Rock Resort. The town was created by the NT government - hotels, motels, caravan park, supermarket, all the hallmarks of a designer town. When the town in it's enterity was divested of by the government to a private company in 1997, that company adpoted the name Ayers Rock Resort. No Uluru, no Yulara.

Modelling the socks and sandals look, my feet were too injured for those hiking boots, I hiked the short circuits of Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta / The Olgas, and a walk I was particularly looking forward to, the base walk around Uluru.

The Valley of the Winds walk, through Kata Tjuta / The Olgas, is pretty special. We are not overexposed to images of the Kata Tjuta, so it is all a pleasant surprise. Just 30 kilometres from Uluru, each visible from the other, they are similar, yet very distinct from each other. Uluru is an inselberg, the term monolith now frowned upon. Contrary to popular belief, it is not Australia's largest inselberg. Just down the road, it number three, Mt Cromer. Think western movie, Utah, the granite plug look. Over in WA, Mt Augustus claims the first prize. 1,000 kilometres inland from the coast, it looks every part a mountain, covered in trees and plants, and nothing like a single rock. Uluru, the second biggest, but every bit rock. Kata Tjuta is a different type of rock to Uluru, Uluru being granite, Kata Tjuta being conglomerate. It is a a series of 36 steep-sided domes, plenty of trees and grasses spread throughout it. Pretty special walking.

I saved the best till last for my four month holiday. I had been looking forward to this, the 10 kilometre base walk around Uluru. To see it close up, to see the waterfalls and vegetation that benefits from the rainfall running off the steep sides.

Uluru Base Walk map

Download kml file of the Uluru Base Walk to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit

The Valley of the Winds Walk, Kata Tjuta

Download kml file of the Valley of the Winds Walk in Kata Tjuta to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit

Sunday, August 15, 2010

An abrupt end at Ellery Creek

Like I said, my hike of the Larapinta Trail (see earlier blog post) came to rather an abrupt end midway along it, at Ellery Creek. I'm at pains to describe exactly what happened, but one moment I was excitingly opening my food drop package, and moments later it seemed to game over.

Larapinta Trail, West Macdonnell Ranges, Alice Springs

I didn't want to taint my previous post about the Larapinta Trail with this ending. It was with great reluctance and disappointment that I decided to exit the trail here, at Ellery Creek. I had hiked five days and 100 kilometres, six days and 120 kilometres remained.

At the campsite, the open food drop box beside me, I removed all my various foot bandages, some merely for protection, others for injuries. What I saw had me a little gob smacked, for I knew this could only mean the end of my hike. As some of you know, my immune system conspires against me. One author of a novel I read when talking of a similar condition, described the double edged sword that medication treatment held, "it was not so much pain relief with side effects, but effects with side relief."

Ellery Creek was a good spot to exit the trail, the main bitumen road lay just one and half kilometres to the south. The following morning, I bid farewell to my new trail friends, as they continued on eastwards. I plugged in my iPod, I hate it when I see hikers walking with iPods, but my hike was over and I needed cheering up. If anything, it helped me remove myself from the natural world, an attempt to pull me back to our world of cars and cold supermarkets. I walked slowly, hiking boots carefully attached to my pack, crocs on my feet, out to the bitumen road. I stopped by the emergency phone, checking out the criteria for it's use. On the road I hitched a ride into Alice Springs with a local retired butcher doing some plumbing work for his son. He had spent almost his whole life in Alice, he had seen it transformed from a town of 1,500 people with an unreliable railway to the south, and a hastily constructed world war two single lane bitumen road to the north, to a town with 25,000 people. He recalled from his childhood how the train came almost to the main street, how there was just one house on the other side of the Todd River, now there is urban sprawl.

In Alice I phoned each of the four medical clinics in town. None could fit me in for a further five days. One rather hopefully offered me an appointment on August 26, some 14 days away. In terms of infections, five days was an eternity, 14, well, at least four times an eternity. So I had no choice but to wait four hours in Emergency, simply to get some antibiotics.

The following day I decided I would pay a little visit to the Old Telegraph Station, which is where I would have finished hiking the Larapinta Trail. The trailhead stood some distance from, and well out of sight, of the Old Telegraph Station. Shunned to a obscure corner of the carpark, the trail's presence was left unmentioned amongst the short walks trailhead in the Old Telegraph Station's grounds.

On that sunny afternoon I gave up the idea of completing the trail. When I exited the trail, I thought I would spend a week recovering, checking out some Alice sights and the distant Uluru and Kings Canyon, but having partook of the convenience of the supermarket with it's boundless food choices, and realistically assessing the health of my feet, I realised returning to the trail in seven days time was impossible. I tallied up my time spent on hiking trails in the previous four months of travel, and it rather neatly totalled 600 kilometres. It had been, in anyone's book, an excellent hiking season.

Hopefully a few kilometres remain in my feet, I want to walk around Uluru and Kings Canyon, but we shall see. What else could anyone do. The Larapinta Trail will wait for me.

The Larapinta Trail

This is my first trip to the Red Centre Green Centre. Yup, very green Centre. This has been an excellent season for rainfall in central Australia, the infamously dry Todd River in Alice Springs has flowed five times already. Everywhere is green, and desert wildflowers are in bloom.

Larapinta Trail, West Macdonnell Ranges, Alice Springs

On the second day of the Larapinta Trail hike I met two girls from Alice. They were hiking the Trail because it had been such an excellent season. They assured me the landscape was covered in green plants, normally it was dominated by dry spinifex and red rock. One had lived in Alice for 20 years and knew her flowers well, some of the ones we were seeing are so rare she did not know what they were. They only flower after consistent rains, and that hasn't happened in twenty years. In the first four months of this year, it rained 372mm, last year only 116mm of rain fell, 302mm the year before that.

Almost every day I saw flowers I did not recall seeing previously. Some on mountain tops - many, some in open country, some only in sheltered gorges. They came in every colour: red, purple, yellow, pink, blue.

The Larapinta Trail took me somewhat by surprise, not least because of how green it was and the flowers, but also how magnificent the landscape was. It struck me as a kind of mixture between the Flinders Ranges and New Zealand. Dramatic red parallel mountain ranges, rocky outcrops, gum lined creeks - some with large pools of water, some dry. New Zealand? The mountain tops, vast windswept valleys with small, almost alpine like plants.

The weather in the desert winter is perfect for hiking. Warm, sunny days, between 18 and 20 degrees. Cold nights, about zero to five degrees. Nice for a small campfire, although, of course, we didn't have any, the collection of firewood is not permitted in national parks.

There are a few curiosities along the trail. Firstly, the debacle of Mt Sonder. All the literature and signage suggests you climb to the summit, when you do not. The cairn, marking the alleged summit, even states it is Mt Sonder summit, 1380m above sea level. You can't miss the Mt Sonder proper summit, laying immediately in front of you, across a small gully some 750m or so to the north east. The false summit is about 30 metres lower than the proper summit. This theme is continued, between Serpentine Gorge and Ellery Creek lies a trig, with a somewhat homemade look about it, which it would have, since it doesn't even mark the highest point of the low rocky outcrop, surrounded by larger mountains.

One website describes this section as "This is arguably the most boring section of the entire trail." Going further, "prepare to tear your hair out in frustration," referring to the constant hills and ridges the track follows, when there is a seemingly good route a few hundred metres to the south over flat land. "If you are a bird watcher or bushwalker this section may not be too bad," they state. Too right. Didn't mind a bit.

The trail regularly went up to the top of a hill or mountain, providing wonderfully scenic spots for breaks. From many of these Mt Sonder, and further beyond it, Mt Zeil, Northern Territory's highest peak, dominated the distant west.

I started from the western end of the trail, the alleged end of the trail. The trail starts just four kilometres north of Alice Springs at the Old Telegraph Station, running 223km westwards along the West Macdonnell Ranges to Mt Sonder. It made more logistical sense for me to start from the western end. I paid Alice Wanderer, a local bus company, $400 to transfer me from Alice Springs to the western end, which included two food drops along the way. The food drops are securely stowed in locked rooms, and they provided me with a plastic tub for each drop. If I hiked the trail out from Alice Springs, I would have to pay for the food drops to be driven out, and pay to be collected from the end. This would have cost something like $580, and I would have a schedule to meet.

I met several parties of hikers on the first day and night. The Mt Sonder summit (read false summit) hike is popular amongst day hikers. As it is a return hike, the campsite near the trailhead often has more people camping there: those starting out on the trail and about to undertake the summit hike, those just completed the summit hike, and those completing the trail and waiting for a lift back to Alice Springs. The campsite is not marked on the 2006 map edition, but is located just 200 metres from the trailhead, on the banks of Redbank Creek.

On the second night, at the excellent Finke River campsite, I was enjoying the free gas hotplates in the evening light, the sun having set just moments before, when a solitary hiker stumbled in. Cutting it fine, he had only left Redbank Gorge to hike the 26 kilometres at 11am. He had to catch up with his son, who had started out three days previously. I met the son the following day as i passed through a campsite, and the pair of them stumbled into a my campsite further down the trail just moments after the sun sunk over the horizon. We had similar hiking schedules, so hiked and camped together for the following days.

The trail is well marked with blue arrows, and generally well formed. Only on the rocky mountain tops did I ever stray from the trail, and usually it was just a matter of looking for the rocks crushed underfoot, or the white dust from within the crushed rocks.

Trail facilities are generally good. The shelter at Finke River was particularly impressive, of a similar standard to the Bibblimun Track and Munda Biddi Tracks in Western Australia. It included ample roofing, sleeping platforms, a vermin proof cupboard for food, multiple water tanks, a picnic table and benches, and, yes wait for it, a couple of gas hotplates. This shelter isn't shown on the 2006 edition maps, so a little research pays off. A good website for that would be the website, look at the Sections page for details of camp facilities and an honest, if not brutal, appraisal of the trail terrain. A little overwhelming perhaps to sort through before hiking any of the trail, but regardless a good supplement to the maps.

Water seems readily available at water tanks, and we had to drink none of the bore water that was about. Naturally, with so much rain, there was ample flowing water in the creeks. Many of the larger rivers required detours of several hundred metres to skirt around the widest, muddiest sections of the large pools.

I wasn't sure how long the trail would take me. The trail is divided into 12 sections, but some of these are defined as two day sections, with campsite options midway. That said, they didn't seem to be uncheckable far apart for a hiker like myself, so I used that as my template. So the trail could be hiked in as little as 11 or 12 days, but many hikers take their time, using up to 19 or 20 days. I had food for 16 days, and a few options to spread that food further, and there was kiosk near the end with a few basic supplies.

That said, my hike came to rather an abrupt end at Ellery Creek. I had hiked five days and 100 kilometres, six days and 120 kilometres remained.

There are two albums this time, one general album, and one devoted to all the desert wildflowers I saw.

General album:

Desert wildflowers album:

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit.
Download file in GPX format to directly upload to most GPS units.

Tracks and waypoints sourced from two sources. Source 1: Sections 7 through to 11 (excluding the last 6km of Section 11) - handheld GPS device. Source 2:- sections 1 through to 6 and Section 12 - from


The Larapinta Trail
Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday
07/08/2010 08/08/2010 09/08/2010 10/08/2010 11/08/2010
Redbank Gorge to Mt Sonder and

Redbank Gorge to Finke River Finke River to Waterfall Gorge Waterfall Gorge to Counts

Counts Point to Ellery Creek
Distance 14.55km 25.91km 22.86km 17.68km 18.97km
Start Time 10.36am 7.41am 7.51am 8.11am 7.10am
End Time 3.15pm 3.27pm 3.56pm 5.46pm 2.57pm
Moving Duration 3h14m 5h21m 5h35m 5h38m 5h24m
Stationary Duration 1h25m 2h27m 2h38m 3h57m 2h23m
Moving Average 4.5km/h 4.8km/h 4.1km/h 3.1km/h 3.5km/h
Overall Average 3.1km/h 3.3km/h 2.8km/h 1.8km/h 2.4km/h
Oodometer 14.5km 40.5km 63.3km 81.0km 100.0km
Overnight Low -0.2C 1.1C 0.9C 2.6C -0.4C

Thursday, August 12, 2010


It is with great relunctance and dissapointment that I have been forced to exit the Larapinta Trail early. I have walked five days and 100km, six days and 120km remain.

Larapinta Trail, West Macdonnell Ranges, Alice Springs

A blog post of those five days to come...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Jatbula Trail

"It's a tough track ya know." The ranger was scrutinizing my walking plan for the 58 kilometre Jatbula Trail. Four days seemed reasonable to me, but the Jatbula Trail is a trail that demands that you take your time. This is what I, like many others who have walked it, have learnt on the trail.

Jatbula Trail, Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge), Northern Territory

The comments book at the kiosk at the end of the walk reads the same, again and again - "It took a couple of days before we worked it out." Rising early - before first light, walking - preferably slowly - in the morning, swimming and relaxing in the shade of a tree in the afternoons. I even got up at 6am once or twice, Graham you would be proud. The terrain is not difficult, it is the tropical heat that beats you into submission. Venturing into the sun, away from the water's edge, you suddenly realise just how hot the afternoon has become.

The Jatbula Trail starts from the Katherine River in the Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park, 30 kilometres east of Katherine, in the Northern Territory. It follows the escarpment across the park to Leliyn (Edith Falls). The campsites are ideally spread about 10 kilometres apart, each beside a picturesque waterfall, creek or rockhole.

In the queue for the ferry at Katherine Gorge, I met two fellow walkers, two women who had escaped their partners and children in Melbourne for a week walking. We looked around for the other seven hikers who would be beginning on the same day, only to see none of them. How odd, we thought. The trail, or so we thought, was limited to 10 hikers starting out per day. We soon learnt though, that this was not the case. We saw no-one else on the trail until the fifth and final night, at Sweetwater Pool, where anyone can hike the four kilometres in from the end of the trail at Leliyn. Perhaps it was limited to 10 hikers on the trail. We had both had trouble booking a place on the trail months beforehand, it certainly seemed to be fully booked.

My four day hike turned into a six day hike. It was so relaxing just to take it easy and relax each afternoon. I spent six days - six hilarious days - with Kris and Kristen, who I had met on that first day, hiking, swimming, relaxing and playing cards on our makeshift picnic rug. We exchanged tales of our hiking adventures, all of us becoming converts to hiking in the previous five to ten years.

Our first campsite, at Biddlecombe Cascades, was the entree of what the Jatbula Trail held in store for us. Water flowed from the escarpment over the terraces into large rock pools. Being swamp fed the water was deliciously cool, warmer than other nearby pools.

Crystal Falls is on a river, seemingly unnamed, so much water is there. Flowing over rocks creating eddies in the many rock pools. The shady trees on the bank offered numerous choices to set-up camp. Glorious riverside camping, the afternoon spent dipping ourselves in the rockpools or relaxing in the shade, as we pleased. The Crystal Falls themselves remained hidden down the valley, the following day we saw the falls plunging far off the escarpment into a narrow chasm below.

The falls weren't hidden at our third campsite, 17 Mile Falls. Walking in, we were treated to a clifftop view of the falls, the water dropping into a large plunge pool below. The campsite was bright and overpowering in the midday sun, but relaxed into the afternoon as the shade crept across it. We spent the afternoon, once again, at the water's edge.

The photos do no justice to Sandy Pool camp. The shaded campsite, set on the sandy banks of a large, deep pool. The Edith River enters over rocks upstream, dissapearing into reeds at the other. The edge, with it's lily pads, hiding the near vertical rocky sides.

It's not all picturesque creeks and falls though. The Amphitheatre is a little oasis on the escarpment edge. A narrow track leads down into the deep, steep sided valley. The sheer cliffs on the three sides, adorned with the ancient of the Jawoyn People. A stream, seemingly emerging from no-where, meanders through the landscape. If it were not for the tropical humidity, cool as the Amphitheatre was, one could mistake this for Tasmania - the tall myrtle trees dropping their leaves to cover the forest floor, dappled sunlight coming through the thick canopy.

The landscape is diverse: savannah, swamps, melaleuca stands, rocky escarpment outcrops. The wind whips through the trees on the turbulent escarpment edge, providing welcome relief to the tropical heat. At 17 Mile Falls, rain and lightning rolled around us, lighting the night sky. It did not rain on us, much to the relief of Kris and Kristen with their mosquito net, their Forcefield against the night's bugs but somewhat ineffective against rainfall.

Now, how much do you think such an exclusive hike would cost. Well, there's the six dollar ferry fare. Then, the three dollar nightly camping fee. Seriously, there are limited options on how to return from the end of the trail at Leliyn (Edith Falls) to Katherine, or to Katherine Gorge. The only services provided are by the several taxi services from Katherine, putting the cost at about $150 to Katherine. There are some rumours that as of 2010 Dysons buses are providing a service for about $100 but I haven't been able to confirm this. Nitmiluk Tours, via Dysons buses, provide an affordable shuttle service between Katherine and Katherine Gorge.

The Jatbula Trail, a unique and seemingly exclusive trail. I have two pieces of for you. Take it easy, get up early, walk slowly. And to ensure you can enjoy what this trail offers, book early.

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit


Jatbula Trail
Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday
29/7/2010 30/7/2010 31/7/2010 1/8/2010 2/8/2010 3/8/2010
Nitmiluk Visitor Centre to Biddlecombe Cascades Biddlecombe Cascades to Crystal Falls Crystal Falls to 17 Mile Falls 17 Mile Falls to Sandy Camp Pool Sandy Camp Pool to Sweetwater Pool Sweetwater Pool to Leliyn (Edith Falls)
Distance 7.9km 10.5km 9.8km 16.8km 11.2km 4.1km
Start Time 9.08am 7.49am 7.19am 7.20am 7.57am 6.41am
End Time 12.18pm 11.39am 10.48am 12.00pm 10.19am 8.05am
Moving Duration 2h04m 2h45m 2h16m 3h31m 2h11m 1h03m
Stationary Duration 1h13m 1h04m 1h12m 1h04m 10m 21m
Moving Average 3.8km/h 3.8km/h 4.3km/h 4.8km/h 5.1km/h 3.9km/h
Overall Average 2.4km/h 2.7km/h 2.8km/h 3.7km/h 4.8km/h 2.9km/h
Oodometer 7.9km 18.5km 28.3km 45.3km 56.6km 60.7km