Sunday, September 29, 2019

Still in the Dial Range - Day 4 Mt. Gnomon and Mt. Dial

Up before the sun
The sun hadn’t come up yet when I started on the track to the Gnomon lookout - 1 hour return, before breakfast. It was still misty too, but the clouds lifted by the time I reached the summit and allowed me some splendid views over Mt.Duncan, the Western Tiers and some lush looking farmland to the west.  

I start with the easiest one, though both go straight uphill

The mists begin to clear as I reach the first lookout point which overlooks Mt. Duncan

Better and better
At the top the sun finally comes up with perfect timing

On top of  Old Gnomon
After a hearty breakfast, I set off again to Mt. Dial. This was a pleasant walk with a few greenhood orchids along the way and lots of birds. Although it was very early, I encountered a clutch of young men who had walked from Mt. Montgomery four hours away. At the base of the last uphill before the summit, I came upon what was the other end of the Gnomon Trail which I had seen at Ferndene, but again there was no indication of its length. I could also have saved myself another trip uphill, if I had seen the Mt. Dial track from the top of the Gnomon as it passed underneath, but although I could see a bit of a scrambly way down, you couldn’t actually see that track from there.
 I was a bit worried that if I slid down the rock face for a look, I wouldn’t be able to get back up if it didn’t lead anywhere.  It was very windy at the top of both peaks so I didn’t linger long. From Mt. Dial being further north, you could see the sea as well as the Western Tiers. Note that there are no barriers here to stop you falling a long way down, so do watch children carefully if you bring them here.  Apart from the tracks and that bit of signage, there are no facilities here either, though there are some at the Ferndene Picnic Area.

Back up the hill

Looking up at Mt. Gnomon from the Dial track - wish I'd known there was a way to it as I would have saved myself a second slog up the hill

A little family of Greenhood orchids cheers me on
Wow, two summits before lunch! I’ll have to watch out or my reputation as slothbagger will be in tatters. I also saw one raptor – possibly a brown falcon, near the top - another bonus.  Then, as I was walking back down, the clouds suddenly dumped a light hail storm on me -not long – ten minutes perhaps, with tiny hailstones. It was about the last thing I expected. True, throughout this trip the weather bureau had been promising dire things – winds and storms, snow to 700m, but so far I had been extremely lucky – cold yes, and with loud but dry thunder the night before, but with fair weather for most walks except for a few moments at the Ferndene Picnic Area.  

View to the east from the top of Mt. Dial , with the Western Tiers in the background

Looking north east you can see the sea
(Alas, only phone pics from now on)

Just as well I had worn a light raincoat and also brought sunblock, water and a hat. You need all four on any given day. The UV is quite intense in that clear air and especially so on the West Coast. On a lighter note,  I tried to charge the camera batteries with the inverter while I was walking because it makes such a horrible loud screeching noise. There were quite a few cars in the carpark when I got back, but none, absolutely none, anywhere near my car. I think I may have found the perfect anti -theft device. Too bad the battery charging didn't work.

I tootled around a bit after that, staying in the same place at Riana that I did last year, enjoying the drive over Gunn’s Plains with its lovely rustic scenery, its waterfall and wild daffodils all around. Then, on the basis of a brochure I had found, decided that I should take another look at Leven Canyon which, being a little off the beaten track as well, I hadn’t seen for many years either. There had certainly been some changes – better facilities, a lovely barbecue area, more walks, a second lookout and the most amazing stairs.

You know you are in the country when this happens. It must have taken a full 20 minutes for this long line of cows to cross

This was pretty much the first time I had had a good signal since Queenstown and a German friend had texted me about the international climate change protests which had been on that day. It made me feel really guilty. Here I was contributing to the problem and using loads of fuel, driving up and down over all those mountains. However, at this stage there didn't seem to be much point in simply turning around and going home. I may as well finish what I planned to do in this area so I wouldn’t need to drive all this way again. Still it puts a bit of a damper on things and gnaws at me all the way home.

The Dial Range – Day 3

Fern forest in the valley on the Leven River Walk, Dial Range

The Dial Range lies about 13 Km south of the quaint coastal town of Penguin. Overshadowed by the scenic splendours of Cradle Mountain, the Dial Range is easily overlooked by tourists and visitors like me who are hurrying on to somewhere else, but it seems well known to locals who pass me on most of the tracks. Only around 500 metres above sea level, it stretches in a southerly direction for about 14 Km and gets its name from one of the peaks, Mt. Gnomon, which apparently looks like an ancient sundial from the air.

noun: gnomon; plural noun: gnomons
1. The projecting piece on a sundial that shows the time by the position of its shadow.

A quiet walk by the Leven River. It's tame here, unlike at Leven Canyon a day or two later

I was hoping to get a few interesting fungi snaps here, but like the summits of the mountains in the West, they all seemed rather dry and there were very few fungi to be seen.  The last part of this road is unsealed and rather rough. In fact, until I saw the signs, I wasn’t sure I was going to get anywhere at all, except lost on some nameless forestry road. My first walk took me down to the Leven River  (officially 45 minutes return) where it straggled along the bank for an indeterminate distance, but through some pleasant tree fern gullies and tall blackwood trees, very different to the dry scrubby sclerophyll forest on top.  I’m intrigued by the sign about the Penguin to Cradle Trail. Apparently this 6-7 multiday walk promises to be as scenic as the much too popular Overland Track. While no doubt less regimented, it requires you to pack everything in and have navigation skills. To find out more about it, contact the North West Walking Club.

The Penguin to Cradle Mountain Trail has me intrigued

 I then went to the western side of the forest via a very pretty picnic spot at Ferdene which has a 30 minute walk to two old mine shafts and the option of walking from here to Mt. Gnomon. Unfortunately there wasn’t any indication of how long this would take and being unfamiliar with the area and only geared up for a short walk, I didn’t want to take the chance. My GPS disagreed with the location of the picnic spot, showing Ferndene Reserve as being further on, so I turned south again to see what lay ahead further down the Ironcliffe Road. Until then I was on a narrow and windy sealed road, but for the last part, this too was unsealed, but in much better condition than the previous one.

Ferndene Picnic Area
There's a very pretty 30 minute walking track here with lots of tree ferns and some old mine shafts
Thorsby's Tunnel
Browning's Tunnel

A bit of Sassafrass in flower - the leaves give off a delightful spearmint scent when crushed. The flowers are more aromatic, almost pungent and nutmeg -like
 There was in fact quite a big three way junction there, though two branches looked more like four –wheel drive tracks. It also had directions to several walks. As it was now fairly late I opted for the one hour return Tall Trees Walk which went downhill for what seemed like an eternity, though tall trees and tree ferns, even a couple of small fungi, were definitely in evidence. At the bottom of the hill, as at Ferndene, there was another option - that is, going on to Mt. Duncan. The sign at the top had said Mt. Duncan (654m) was four hours return and I knew I just didn’t have that much daylight left. The evening birds had already started their slightly mournful call and the valley was getting dark quickly. Had I come to the end of the Tall Trees Track? I really didn’t know. I pressed on for a while in a northerly direction alongside a gurgling creek, but when it came to crossing this creek and starting on the uphill climb to Mt. Duncan, I thought I should quit while I was ahead and start the long climb back to the carpark.  Stars twinkled overhead as I climbed into my Doona sandwich bed – one on top, one on the bottom and my down sleeping bag on top of that. Tonight was going to be another cold one. 

Spring foliage on a myrtle

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Ghosts, Legends and a Beautiful Waterfall – Day 2 Queenstown to Rosebery

Early morning at Lake Burbury - there's still snow on some of the peaks

There’s a new walking track at Karlson’s Gap, the top of the hill before the 99 – the series of bends before you land in Queenstown itself. I didn’t notice it this time but there used to be a sign here warning drivers of campervans, articulated vehicles and the towers of caravans and boats, to beware of the wind gusts that blast up through the valley on the other side and lead you to lose control of your vehicle. I’m still careful. You don’t know either at this point if there’s frost on the road.

The new walking track starts opposite the road to the Iron Blow lookout

 The new 30 minute track to Horsetail Falls which you can see from the highway, is a marvellous bit of engineering, yet as it happens, you  don’t see much more of the falls than you could before. They aren’t running so well today and are tucked into the groin of a valley on Mt. Owen. Still, it does give you a chance to pause and admire the scenery. You are surrounded by the mountains named after geological giants of the late C19th.  I was always told that they were named after three supporters of Darwin’s theory of evolution and even -handedly, also three detractors. 

Superb engineering

Though you can't see much more of the falls  - they are in the cleft of the mountain, the track gives you somewhere safe to pull over and admire the mountains. This is Mount Owen ( (1146m).

Mt. Lyell, (917m)  opposite, stripped bare while providing much of Tasmania's mineral wealth for over 100 years. Behind it is Mt. Huxley (926m) named after another of Darwin's supporters.
That’s not strictly true. At least one, Mt. Sorrell (1144 m), was named after Lieutenant Governor of the day, William Sorrell. It does hold true for Mt. Owen named by Government Geologist Charles Gould, after Sir Richard Owen an English anatomist and paleontologist who opposed Darwin's views. Gould also named Mount Lyell after Scottish geologist and author of “Principles of Geology,” Charles Lyell who was a close friend and supporter of Darwin. On the peak which lies to the South East, Gould bestowed the name Mt. Jukes (1168m) after Joseph Jukes an English geologist, who gathered physical evidence in support of Darwin’s theories and he named the one to the north Mt. Huxley in honour of Professor Thomas Henry Huxley, an English biologist and anthropologist, who also supported Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.
Mount Darwin (1033m and to the South  West) on the other hand was named by Thomas Bather Moore, home-grown geologist, explorer,  naturalist, prospector and a collector of plants for Sir Ferdinand von Mueller. He was said to have been the greatest bushman the region had ever known.  He cut the first useful tracks into the Western Wilderness and traced the outlines of glaciation in the west.  He is also credited with establishing the route of the present day Lyell Highway from Lake St. Clair to Queenstown and named a number of other peaks such as Mt. Murchison, Mt. Sedgwick and Mt. Geikie, following the tradition of naming them after important geologists of the day.  Mt. Geikie for example, was named after Sir Archibald Geikie another Scottish geologist and Director General of the British Geological Survey in 1893. His own name and work is commemorated in a more modest peak,  Moore’s Pimple (515m) and a bend on the Gordon River. 
When I stand here on this divide and look around, I see not only layer upon layer of mountains, but ghosts and legends of the west. Apart from our rather depressing convict history, I think this region represents not only some of Tasmania’s most stunning landscapes – but the most exciting chapters in its short life (not counting Aboriginal history for the moment).
My next stop is at the Henty Glacial Erratics Reserve on the A10 about 13.8 Km north of Queenstown. This marks the Western edge of the last glaciation, around 74,000 years ago. There are huge boulders here carved, carried and dumped on the edge of the ice sheet as the glaciers melted. Deep in the rainforest, well about 10 minutes in, a perched erratic (one boulder balanced on top of the other) is dedicated to Clive Loftus –Hills who was Tasmania’s Government Geologist from 1919 to 1923 and became the first doctor of Science at the University of Tasmania. As well as contributing to knowledge about glaciation, he also pinpointed the ore bodies in the region, which not only brought great wealth to Tasmania, but led to the establishment of the various towns

At the Henty Glacial Erratics Reserve, North of Queenstown, there's a perched erratic dedicated  to Clive Loftus- Hills, Tasmania's Government Geologist and it's first Doctor of Science. Apologies for poor picture quality. It's a bit dark in the rainforest! 

Plucked out and grooved by ice, then dumped as the glaciers retreat - that's an erratic - a boulder carried where it shouldn't be

All that remains of the township of Dundas, which was a thriving township of 1000 people in 1891, but was practically deserted by 1895
 I poke about the Dundas region for a bit looking for another way in to Montezuma Falls. A map I had showed it to be only 45 minutes’ walk from here, not the three hours it used to take from Rosebery. This mission is thwarted by a gate at the most likely road and a steep muddy drop on the Moore’s Pimple track, both of which entail a significantly longer walk than the one from Rosebery. Reluctantly, I choose the latter and expect the worst, as the road was in very bad shape the last time I called. To my amazement, the whole area has been greatly improved. Not only is the Williamsford Road passable, but a nice little picnic spot has been created below the old mine workings.  The walk  which follows the route of the old North East Dundas Tram, has been taken over by Parks and Wildlife, and is now nicely graded and has cute bridges over the old river crossings, especially the one at Montezuma itself.  It’s a bit late to start the walk when I get there and there’s a “No Camping” sign so I park near the old Williamsford mine workings. Williamsford is another, but much more recent ghost town which only shut down in 1986 when the Hercules Mine closed.

A glimpse of the Ring River in passing

Suspension Bridge - one of the truly excellent bridges
 After a while a businesslike four wheel drive vehicle roars past and doesn’t return. I assume it’s a ranger and feel smug because I haven’t parked in the picnic area. However, at around 2 am I am seized with a great urge to inspect the new toilet. As I approach with my head torch on, there is a great flurry of activity, a tent is hastily packed up, people jump into the 4WD and hurriedly take off. I get it. They think I am the ranger. Oh well, they scared me too. Didn’t see them the next day either, but both walk and weather are delightful.

 Montezuma falls -a truly excellent waterfall. At 104 metres, one of the highest in Tasmania and an easy level 3 hour walk

Friday, September 27, 2019

Out the Door at Last! - Over the Central Highlands to Queenstown

Crossing the Nive River as you come down from the Central Plateau

Finally made it out of the house and had some lovely walks in the bush. The destinations, beautiful as they were, weren’t half as important as just being out in the fresh air, being awoken by bird song, wandering amid mosses and tree ferns, or breathing in the scent of wattle and eucalyptus. I love the early spring, when everything is fresh and clean and full of promise.

I drove a different way to the West this time – over the Central Highlands, despite a section of unpaved road. That’s the interesting thing about Tasmania. Even though I’ve now lived here for forty years, it reveals itself to you very slowly and just when you think you have seen it all, there’s always something new to discover. This time I wanted to refresh my memory regarding the location of the proposed windfarm and to see how badly last summer’s bush fires had affected this area. Given the way the van was being jostled around, perhaps a windfarm here wasn’t such a bad idea, so long as the eagles were adequately protected. On reaching Miena I turned left and proceeded south west down the aspirationally named Marlborough Highway. 

Here you could clearly see where the fires had left their mark - narrowly missing the pub, burning out what looked like it might have been a nice picnic spot near Little Pine Lake, a spot much loved by fishermen. I wonder how the animals are going. Are people still taking up drums of carrots for the injured ones? I should have asked. Being a creature of hills and forests, I’d always found the Central Highlands somewhat bleak and lonely, even before the fires, but this is boys’ own country  - big skies, big utes, 4X4 ‘s towing boats -a place to get away from it all and engage in piscatorial pursuits in one of its reputed 3000 lakes. Women fish too, but it’s the sort of place where practical skills count. You are judged not by how much money you make, but how many fish you catch, how well you can make a fire when the wood’s all wet, whether you can fix the carbie on the boat or know how to tie a decent fly.

Still, my son says the fishing community has its own stratification. There are the gentleman anglers, some of whom fly in, the more rough -edged fish whisperers, the quietly well –prepared, those with all the right gear, but not much of a clue, but all of whom appreciate the space and the solitude.  For all the appearance of freedom though, fishing is a tightly controlled activity – licences are required for all inland fisheries, there’s a limit on your catch, you must be able to identify your fish and know the size limits, the season and so on – this year it begins the first weekend in October, and you can bet that even here, the long arm of the law will find you, if you do the wrong thing.

Here are just some of the rules as posted for Lake Burbury, although they vary from place to place e.g.  Lake Burbury is open to fishers all year, whereas for most other inland waters the season doesn't begin until the first weekend in October.
NB: Note that no bait is used, only lures  (Use the slider to see more)

Snow still glints on distant mountains and lies in in little pillows by the roadside as I turn onto the Lyell Highway to continue my journey.  I’m glad it’s later in the day because by now there should have been enough traffic through to clear the road of ice. I still proceed carefully on the shady spots because I have been caught like that before. It is also better for our wildlife which tends to feed at dusk. I touch down briefly at the Franklin River, sacred ground for those who fought against more dams in the 1980s and helped to have this region declared a World Heritage Area. For me it's about being the start of temperate rainforest, the lush greenery, that lured me to Tasmania, all those years ago, then I hurry on without stopping at other favourite places such as the Nelson Falls.

The sun starts to slip behind the mountains as I reach Lake Burbury and that seems as good a place as any to call it a day.  It’s a cold night, with a stiff breeze that whips up whitecaps on the lake, but the drama of the mountains beyond it and the stars above make it OK. It also gets you up early in the morning.

The mountains are limned with gold as I head downhill towards Lake Burbury

PS:  Small update : The Germans it seems, are not so perfect after all. I heard from one friend where the garbage was being weighed when I was there in 2014. However, she says that had to be abandoned as it led to a lot of illegal dumping and people sneaking around at night and putting their rubbish into their neighbour's bins.