Friday, March 31, 2017

Biddlecombe Cascades to Crystal Falls, Jatbula Trail, Nitmiluk National Park - May 2004

We awoke on our second day on the Jatbula Trail to clear blue skies again, something that we would wake up to on every day on this walk. Seeing as we had ticked the relaxed option for this walk we didn't have far to go again today, 11 kilometres would see the walking part of the day over. We still were packed up fairly early though and headed off while the early morning temperatures were in the reasonable range.

There was plenty of the Jawolyn Art to be found today if you explored a little.
Once again today we faithfully followed the blue markers that were hanging from the local flora, most of today's walk followed a bushwalking pad at best, with the verdant regrowth after the wet season crowding the pad for the most part. The route today passed through a fair bit of sandstone country, where if you looked carefully enough you could find many examples of the local Jawoyn People's art work. In between the rocky outcrops we walked across swampy shallow valleys, a lot of which provided water, as well as wetting our boots.
In between the sandstone outcrops the route crossed a few swampy gullies.
Before lunch we started down towards a large creek, this is the creek that feeds Crystal Falls. Once down beside the creek we headed upstream for awhile past a lone long drop until we got to the Crystal Falls campsite. The camp at Crystal Falls is situated on a large water hole in the creek meaning the afternoon was spent floating up and down the water hole with our goggles on, well in between basking on the rocks drip drying anyway. 
The waterhole at Crystal Falls is spectacular.
The Dirt.
We walked 11 kilometres today and didn't do much climbing on this easy days walk. Plenty of time should be left today for exploring the sandstone outcrops looking for indigenous art sites, there are (were?) no signs so you need to explore a little to find them. The waterhole at Crystal Falls makes for great swimming as well, so make sure you get there early enough to chill out there for awhile. In the two days since leaving Nitmiluk we had walked 19.3 kilometres so we weren't really pushing it on this walk.
Relevant Posts.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Nitmiluk to Biddlecombe Cascades, Jatbula Trail, Nitmiluk National Park - May 2004

Biddlecombe Cascades
The Jatbula Trail stretches from Nitmiluk to Leliyn in the Northern Territory and has grown into one of Australia's premier walks, but back in May 2004 it was still largely off the radar of most walkers. Now days it can be a little hard to get permits for this walk as commercial walking operators tend to snap them all up fairly early, but back then we had the whole track to ourselves, actually we were only the second party to go through since the track re-opened after the wet. With us having done this walk 13 years ago these Jatbula Trail posts will be a bit more anorexic than some of my usual verbose waffle, but that's probably a good thing, hey!

After paying our good behaviour bond, which we would get back when we arrived at Edith Falls in a few days time, we headed down to grab a spot on the first tourist cruise boat heading up into Katherine Gorge. We weren't actually going on a scenic trip into the gorge today though, we needed the boat to transport us across the still swollen Katherine River where we would pick up the trail, the usual crossing point still being under water. It's a little expensive to get across the river this way but the only other option is to swim the fifty metre wide river and while I have swum it before, I wouldn't go near it until the river goes down after the wet season and all the saltwater crocodiles are removed. 

Once Sam and I had safely scrambled up the muddy bank and waved good-bye to all the tourists on the boat we headed off in the direction of Northern Rockhole. Now back in the day this wet season track was a little hard to locate in the light open tropical savannah, although with the escarpment running in the same direction as the trail over our right shoulder it was just a matter of following the cliff line and eventually we'd pick up the overgrown pad. Arriving at Northern Rockhole was our first opportunity to strip off and go for a cooling swim, the waterfall here was still flowing strongly early in the dry season. 
The waterfall at the Northern Rockhole was flowing well on this visit.
The first of many swims, this time at the Northern Rockhole.
Leaving Northern Rockhole the track began it's climb up onto the escarpment, being early afternoon now we made use of the sparse shade provided by any trees that happened to be over shadowing the track and it wasn't long and we'd made it up to the higher ground. Being out of Seventeen Mile Valley and on the escarpment is fairly important as it means that the waterholes should be saltwater crocodile free from now on, always a good thing considering I generally like to sample anything resembling a swimming spot. Once up on top of the escarpment the country doesn't really change much, we were generally walking far enough away from the edge that we didn't get any long range views and the open tropical savannah forest was still the order of the day, although from (a somewhat hazy) memory I seem to remember passing through a few more sandstone outcrops once we were out of Seventeen Mile Valley.
Climbing up onto the escarpment was hot work this afternoon.
Arriving at Biddlecombe Cascades by mid afternoon signalled the end of todays walking. After setting up the tent, well the inner anyway as there wasn't really any need for the fly, we spent the rest of the day sampling the many and varied swimming spots before heading up to a high point near camp to enjoy a million star dinner after sunset. The good news was that even though the wet season had just finished the mosquitoes had largely gone so we were able to linger into the night without being eaten alive.
The gorge downstream from Biddlecombe Cascades.

Biddlecombe Cascades
The Dirt.
We walked around 8.3 kilometres today and I've got no idea how much we climbed - but it wasn't much! Today was an easy day although being very early in the walking season meant that we had to keep an eye out for the frequent track markers that were sometimes covered by the encroaching scrub. We didn't have walking notes for this walk back in 2004 but since then Lonely Planets Walking in Australia and John and Lyn Daly's Take a Walk in Northern Territory's National Parks have both covered the walk. 
Relevant Posts.

Luckily most of the mosquitoes had disappeared with the wet season.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Kitty Miller Bay to Pyramid Rock, Phillip Island - March 2017

Rock hoping around Helens Head.
With our great summer weather lingering on well into Autumn I was looking to make the most of it today. After last weekends expedition down to Wilsons Promontory this week I was hoping for something a little closer to home, so with the weather in mind I decided to take the short drive down to Phillip Island and revisit the Kitty Miller Bay to Pyramid Rock walk. This walk is written up by Mr Chapman as a one way stroll but seeing as I was walking with only my shadow for company I decided to do it as a there and back job. Normally retraces are not my favourite type of walk but I consoled myself today with the fact that the rising tide would probably force me to take slightly different routes on each leg of the journey.
The tide was well and truly out at Kitty Miller Bay this morning.
Being fairly close to home I was parked at Kitty Miller Bay and setting off by around 8:30am this morning, this was good for a couple of reasons, the first being that the temperature was predicted to hit 30˚ today so an early start would knock off a bit of the heat, the second reason was that low tide was predicted for 10am and I'd need a dead low tide if I wanted to make it around Helens Head at sea level. Dropping down the staircase onto the sand at Kitty Miller Bay I turned left and started my journey to Pyramid Rock, with the tide right out Kitty Miller Bay wasn't looking her best this morning although the red rocky reefs that were now exposed gave me something to photograph as I made my way towards Watt Point.

Rounding Watt Point my destination, Pyramid Rock came into view in the distance through the sea mist. In the foreground though my eyes were drawn to the wreck of the 'S.S.Speke', the remains of the rusting hulk resting on the rocky reef thirty metres away. The 'S.S.Speke' came aground here way back in 1906 when the ships captain bought the vessel to close to shore after mistaking bush fires for a navigation beacon. After exploring the old ship wreck for awhile I once again resumed my journey east towards the distant Pyramid Rock. The walking after rounding Watt Point is fairly easy, well at least it was today with a low tide, I either walked the small round rocks that littered the coast or along the narrow sandy area between the high tide line and the cliffs.
Watt Point
Rounding Watt Point I could see my whole days walking laid out in front of me, Pyramid Rock is visible in the distance.
S.S. Speke
After crossing the wild and lonely Thorny Beach I arrive at the crux of this walk, the sea level traverse of Helens Head. As I mentioned earlier I've done this walk before but I've never managed to get around the base of Helens Head, I've always been thwarted by the surging water of Bass Strait pounding the cliffs. With the tide at almost dead low I figured that if I didn't make it today then I never would. Initially the rock shelf made for fairly easy walking but rounding the headland my route  across the rocks got a little harder, first up I had to scramble down into a bit of a gulch which even at low tide was getting inundated by the waves. Once down in the gulch I had about five metres of a sea weed covered negative sloping ledge to traverse to get out of the wave zone. Waiting for the swell to flatten out a bit eventually I picked my time and moved as quickly as I could along the dodgy ledge, luckily making it to higher ground before the next set rolled in.
Thorny Beach
Starting the crux of todays stroll, the scramble around Helens Head.
The waves are breaking over my narrow ledge.
Looks like its time to go...

I was now below a steep grassed covered gully which looked climbable, something that I was interested in as I didn't fancy my chances of getting back around Helens Head at sea level in another couple of hours. Now though I stayed down and sea level band headed around the second part of Helens Head, this shorter and smaller second headland was a little easier to get around, only requiring a little scrambling and thankfully not requiring me to dodge the in coming waves.  The good news was that after this second little headland I broke out onto another beautiful deserted beach, Hutchison Beach. These beaches not only look good but were a welcome respite from the rock hoping on the points, the firm sand at low tide making things even easier.
Making it past the dodgiest section below Helens Head I got to this grassy gully, I figured this gully might come in handy later in the day when I returned and the tide was a bit higher.
My first look at Hutchison Beach.
There is a great rock pool at the western end of Hutchison Beach.
Hutchison Beach
If you ever visit Hutchison Beach near low tide make sure you check out the beautiful rock pools at each end of the beach, both these rock pools deserve exploration and would be great spots for people who aren't competent swimmers to cool off in. While swimming was on my mind today I figured that a cooling dip could wait for a bit longer. Next up I had another headland to get around, this time Wild Dog Bluff, thankfully for my old bones though this headland is pretty easy to negotiate only requiring a bit of basic rock hopping and before long I arrived at my last stretch of sand before I'd get to Pyramid Rock, Berrys Beach. 
Heading towards Wild Dog Bluff, this beautiful little rock pool is at the eastern end of Hutchison Beach.
Looking back across Hutchison Beach towards Helens Head.
The traverse of Wild Dog Bluff is an interesting walk.
Wild Dog Bluff
Berrys Beach was the first spot that I'd got to with car access since leaving Kitty Miller Bay four kilometres ago so it was no surprise that for the first time on the walk I had human company. My notes suggested that I climb the access steps here and follow the Pyramid Rock Track but to be honest the start of this track is a little underwhelming I think, it winds in and out of some private beach houses and it's a while before you get any coastal views. So instead I decided to walk the length of the beach to just before Red Bluff, when I got to the end of the sand I climbed up through through the tussocks of grass to meet the Pyramid Rock Track. Actually it's a little dodgy climbing up this short off piste section, as in between the tufts of grass the ground is littered with old mutton bird burrows and from prior experience I know that these old burrows are the home to their fair share of snakes. Thankfully today I didn't disturb any snakes on my short climb though, although I did disturb quite a few of the resident wallabies.
Berrys Beach with Red Bluff in the distance.
Approaching Red Bluff I headed off piste to intersect with the Pyramid Rock Track.
I was a little concerned with snakes climbing up through all the old mutton bird burrows hidden in the grass, but in reality all I disturbed were the local wallabies.
Once I was up on the Pyramid Rock Track the rest of my amble to Pyramid Rock was pretty cruisey really, the track traversing the cliff tops past paddocks toasted golden brown by our long dry spell. With the sound of historic race cars at the nearby Phillip Island Raceway serenading me I finally arrived at the Pyramid Rock lookout, my halfway point today. Somehow with all my procrastinating today it was almost mid day by the time I sat down at the lookout, by now the sun had worked it's magic and it was getting fairly hot so it wasn't much of a hardship to stop for awhile and have a break. With views down to Cape Woolamai in one direction and along the rugged south coast of Phillip Island in the other direction, the seat at the end of the Pyramid Rock lookout is quite a pleasant spot to sit for awhile.
Looking back over Berrys Beach towards Helens Head.
Pyramid Rock is getting closer now.
Pyramid Rock
Cape Woolamai from Pyramid Rock lookout.
Eventually I was re-fuelled and rested up enough that I started my return journey. Now up until I got back to Helens Head it was a pretty straight forward retrace and having already taken most of my photos on the outward journey I made pretty good time. Powering along like a sloth on speed I passed back across the still deserted Hutchison Beach and started around the first smaller headland. Now while I managed to fairly easily get around the first part of Helens Head it quickly became apparent that the ledge that I'd traversed a few hours earlier wasn't going to be a viable option now, with the swell pounding the cliff wall above the ledge. Not to worry, I decided that my steep grass covered gully that I'd sussed out earlier in the day was going to be my best option to get up and over Helens Head. Slowly climbing the steep slope, keeping one eye out for snakes I was soon up on the open cliff top, my route along here was the narrow no mans land between the paddocks and the cliff edge. The good thing about climbing over the top of Helens Head was that it gave me one last grandstand view, I was able to trace out my whole walk from up here.
Heading back towards Berrys Beach, we have been going through a fairly long dry spell so things were looking a bit parched away from the coast.

Climbing up to the top of Helens Head.
Looking back over Hutchison Beach towards Pyramid Rock from the top of Helens Head.

Dropping down off Helens Head I had one thing on my mind now - a swim, and with Thorny Beach spread out in panorama form below me it looked like a pretty good option. The descent off Helens Head is pretty easy, even picking up a farm track near the bottom that took me back out to the beach. Hitting the sand I turned west and headed along the still deserted stretch of sand, for such a busy tourist spot close to Melbourne it is great to know that you can still pass over two deserted beaches on the weekend in the middle of a 30˚ day. Wandering along I got to a spot that looked reasonably safe for a swim, although to be honest I wasn't really concerned with the rips and the waves today, being relatively close to the seal colony at The Nobbies my biggest concern today was sharks. Stripping off my sweaty clothes I gingerly made my way through the shore break on the gently sloping sand, when I got out to the chest deep water I decided that was far enough today and just laid back and enjoyed floating over the relentless sets coming in off Bass Strait. A cool swim on a long walk on a hot day, what could be better hey? 
Heading down to Thorny Beach, the descent off Helens Head is pretty easy going this way.
My own private beach, sweet!
Helens Head and Red Bluff from sea level....literally!
Returning to my clothes I pulled on my now dry clothes and powered off on the last short section of todays stroll, after passing back past my shipwreck and around Watt Point the end was in sight. Rock hoping back towards the sand of Kitty Miller Bay I was greeted with a completely different sight now. With the tide fairly well in now the reefs that had been exposed on my outward journey were now covered with water and in my eyes at least, Kitty Miller Bay looked better for it. Trudging past a couple of girls and a family out enjoying the beach, I climbed up the steps back to the car park and after taking one last photo, I jumped into the ute and headed off home.
Kitty Miller Bay looks a lot different when the tide is in.
The Dirt.
On my out and back walk I did 14.7 kilometres today and climbed 358 metres. I'd rate this as a medium walk, the scramble around Helens Head is a little dodgy though so it might be better heading over the top if you're worried about scrambling on sharp slippery rocks with the waters of Bass Strait lapping at your feet. At anything but dead low tide there really isn't a choice but to go over the top anyway. I used the notes out of the Chapman's Day Walks Victoria book on this stroll. All the beaches that I passed over on today's stroll are un-patrolled so use caution if going for a swim. 
Relevant Posts.
Point Leo to Balnarring, 2015.

Thorny Beach

Yep, life's hard:)

Mushroom Rocks, Baw Baw National Park - June 2016

I mentioned in my last post that I was heading out and doing a snow walk next and indeed that's how it turned out. The weather in Me...