Thursday, January 31, 2019

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia - December 2018

Sailing into Kota Kinabalu this afternoon was nice change after a couple of days sailing the South China Sea.

Back in the middle of December 2018 Sam and I set off on another cruise, this time instead of leaving from Australia we decided to head off from Singapore. The theory being that of all the regions of the world that we’d travelled to, South-East Asia was one of the spots that we’d hardly scratched the surface. Jumping on a cruise ship may not be everybody's idea of a good time but it does tend to allow you to check out a few places in quick succession. I look at it a bit like tapas, if I find something that I like then I can come back and hook in later on. After a couple of days at sea we docked at Kota Kinabalu, the first spot that we’d visited since leaving Singapore and my first taste of tapas on this trip.
The ocean had that still, oily, dead calm look about it....obviously you can't tell from the photo but it was bloody hot as well.
We sailed past a traditional water village on the way into Kota Kinabalu.
We only had an afternoon and evening in Kota Kinabalu so there wasn’t really any time to get too far out of town. Kota Kinabalu has been on my Feral radar for a long time, not because I’d heard great things about the city but more for the fact that it acts as the jumping off point for the climb of Mt Kina Balu, the 4000 metres plus mountain that Sabah is famous for. Most of the stuff I’ve read over the years has suggested getting out of Kuta Kinabalu as quick as possible and to be honest that advice probably isn’t far off the mark I don’t think.
Pusat Pentadbiran Negeri Sabahis a rather flash state government office. As you can see I'm struggling a bit with this post!
We jumped on a tour this afternoon that took us around to the highlights of the city and then dropped as at the Museum to check things out for awhile. After checking out the unique architecture of the Tun Mustapha building, a cylindrical tube of steel and glass reaching skywards 30 stories that definitely draws your eye when you gaze on the skyline of Kota Kinabalu, we continue onto to what in hindsight was probably the highlight of our visit, the Floating Mosque. This mosque is surrounded by a large moat that gives the appearance of having the mosque floating on the still, mirror like water. With our visit corresponding with the call to Friday prayers the place was heaving this afternoon and unfortunately I didn’t really get much of a chance to check things out properly. When I do inevitably return to Kota Kinabalu the Floating Mosque will be the first place I return too, I’m thinking sunset and sun rise would be particularly good.
Tun Mustapha building tends to draw the eye a bit. This unique building is home to a gallery among other things.
Next to the Tun Mustapha building is the Tun Mustapha Gallery. I'm thinking this Tun Mustapha bloke must of been fairly important?
The Floating Mosque.
We now headed to what seems the obligatory attraction on these tours, a market. This time we were visiting Wisma Merdeka. This large market is spread out along the coast for a few hundred metres and from my very limited Feral observations it seems to have a few distinct sections. Unfortunately, with our visit being late in the afternoon the more interesting fish and vegetable sections had more or less shut down for the day, so we were left with the tourist section to explore. I’m not one to buy cheap knock off crap even when I’m at home so I’m not overly keen on these places, so needless to say a few minutes after entering the claustrophobic maze I was ready to call it a day.
Sam was pretty happy with the air conditioned bus.
The Atkinson Clock Tower was one of only a few structures to survive the bombing during WW2.
Wisma Markets, too hot and claustrophobic for me! 
The waterfront behind the markets was an interesting, if not a slightly rough around the edges spot.
After Wisma Merdeka we jumped back on the bus and headed through the busy traffic though town, passing the somewhat diminutive Atkinson Clocktower, I’d seen photos of this historic clock tower before and had always imagined something a little more substantial. The old wooden clock tower was apparently one of only three structures that survived largely unscathed in Kota Kinabalu after the bombings of WW2. Crawling our way through the Friday afternoon traffic we arrived at our next stop, the Sabah State Mosque. Once again with Friday prayers on the mosque was fairly busy so we only explored the grounds and the outside of the mosque. To be honest I generally don’t feel overly comfortable taking photos inside places of worship, whatever the religion is. I have taken a few photos inside churches, temples and mosques over the years but I’m thinking I should be more respectful even though (or maybe because) I’m not a believer. The Sabah State Mosque is surrounded by nice gardens though and there was plenty of room to wander around the grounds checking out the large gold minarets crowning the mosque (apparently the gold is real gold), the mosque itself looks like its more your 1970’s style architecture to my eyes so I didn’t think it was a aesthetically pleasing as the Floating Mosque.
Heading out to the State Mosque we passed an floating village, while the shacks look a bit decrepit it appears that hey did have satellite TV.  The plumbing left a bit to be desired though.
The State Mosque.
The State Mosque. We visited at around the same time as Friday Prayers so it was a fairly busy spot this afternoon.
Jumping back on the bus we headed off to the nearby Sabah State Museum. The museum is designed to resemble a large longhouse and in the extensive grounds of the museum there is a large collection of replica huts and longhouses used by some of the local tribes. After climbing in and out of the wooden huts for awhile it was time to head into the museum and check things out. While the exhibits in the Sabah State Museum feel a bit dated it was still a good spot to get a bit of an overview of Kota Kinabalu and Sabah, it was a little sad though to make our way through the environmental section of the museum and see all the animals that were either critically endangered or extinct. This region of the world is under intense environmental pressure unfortunately. If you find yourself at the museum and have a bit of time up your sleeve, the grounds of the museum are worth wandering around for awhile as there are a lot of interesting odds and ends scattered around and the building itself looks quite modern.
Practising my blow dart technique at the Heritage Village in the gardens of Sabah Museum.
The Skull Hut. During the headhunting days it was thought that hanging skulls from the roof would bring good luck.
The fairly modern Sabah Museum.
Sabah Museum
Sabah Museum 
Who knew that Sabah had it's own history of Crap Elvises?
The Dirt.
To view the Wisma Tun Tower, the Floating Mosque and the Sabah State Mosque is free, so it could be possible to hire a taxi and do things a little cheaper than our bus tour. Entry to the Sabah State Museum was included in our tour price but I’m thinking the entry price was around 5 Aussie dollars. Like I mentioned earlier, apart from being a jumping off point for places further afield, Kota Kinabalu is a little underwhelming I’m thinking. Next time I pass through I’ll probably stay in town somewhere which will give me a bit more of a chance to explore on foot and explore a little more so I might change my mind then…we’ll see.

Relevant Posts.
Gardens by the Bay, Singapore, 2017.
Little India & Kampong Glam, Singapore, 2017.
Sentosa Island, Singapore, 2018.

Apart from the Heritage Village there is plenty to check out in the extensive grounds of the Sabah Museum.
Sabah Museum
The Sabah Museum is only a few kilometres from town but I'm thinking catching a taxi or a bus is the best way to get out here.
Sailing back out into the South China Sea as the lights of Kota Kinabalu recede into the night.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Fisher Loop Walking Track, Yarra State Forest - January 2019

By midday it was starting to warm up a bit.
I was look for something a little more challenging this week, maybe a ‘type 2 fun’ kind of walk. I remember this walk from the last time I walked it, probably around 13 years ago and even back then it was a bit of a tough slog up the Bunyip River, so with the walk now removed from a lot of maps and no mention of it on the Yarra State Forest information sheet I was guessing things could be interesting on the ground. The other thing I vaguely remember about this walk is it’s tough to actually find the start of the track, the names of the dirt roads up here seem to only bare a passing resemblance to what my various maps say. Thankfully this morning though, after a couple of head scratching stops, I managed to located the walk start at Tomahawk Gap without too much drama.
The walk starts at Tomahawk Gap, although this spot can be a little tricky to find.
Finding Tomahawk Gap was one thing but finding the start of my track was another thing altogether (my ageing memory isn’t that good). Jumping out of the ute I wandered around Tomahawk Gap in my thongs, there are tracks and roads spearing off in all directions here but none of them quite felt right for me. Eventually I decided that what looked like an impenetrable wall of green vegetation must be my route, ‘yeah of course it was’! As it would turn out there would be absolutely zero in the way of signposting or official or unofficial track marking on this stroll, in fact for 90% of the stroll there would only be the vaguest hints that people had actually ventured in here before.
That wall of green, yep that's my route, Bunyip Valley Road.
Mildly confident that I’d identified my route I pulled on my boots, grabbed my pack, re-set the GPS and set off. Sure enough, buried in the scrub, was an old road barrier so I was indeed on an old closed track, I was following grandly named Bunyip Valley Road. Initially my old track sidled around the side of high point on the Blue Range before starting to drop a bit and head for the Bunyip River. Bunyip Valley Road started of almost indistinguishable from the surrounding scrub, I had to push my way through and weave my way around a forest of saplings, thankfully after the initial scrub bash the old road got a little more obvious as the vegetation dried out a bit with the road crossing some north facing slopes.
This old barrier buried in the scrub was the first clue that I was actually heading the right way.
The go along here was to keep an eye on the benching, these roads are generally benched into the hillsides to some extent and while the vegetation grows over the track you can generally see where there was a bit of earthwork done, the other tell that I was indeed still on the old track was that the trees that I was pushing through weren’t quite as mature as some of the surrounding scrub. All that sounds pretty easy but there are a few issues, the main one being that when the vegetation gets too thick you sometimes can’t actually see far enough to notice benching, or if the trees that I was pushing through were slightly less mature than some of the others….like I said, type 2 fun!
Strap yourself in for a lot of these shots, I was pushing through scrub for the next 4 hours and only the scratchiness changed. Oh yeah, this is Bunyip Valley Road.
If you look really closely you might notice a bit of benching, that and the height of the trees were about the only tells that I was still heading the right way.
I got a few glimpses through the trees over the Bunyip River Valley this morning.
How easy is this walking caper hey?
It was where Bunyip Valley Road crossed small gullies that it was the toughest along here, the well watered and more fertile soils in the gullies promoting verdant growth that sometimes blocked vision to only a metre or two around me. I was looking for a spot now where Bunyip Valley Road doubled back on itself and zig zagged down towards the Bunyip River. Thankfully I picked the change of direction ok, even managing to find a sign the someone had been down here before in the shape of a dropped beanie. There might not be a lot of human activity down here but there was lots of fauna to be seen and heard, everything from Lyrebirds, Rosellas to deer and wallabies were making themselves obvious, but do you think I could get a photo through the scrub?
My biggest concern was pushing through this Sword Grass without cutting myself to ribbons, well that and not getting lost.
Hours later, when I eventually emerged from the scrub, the count was two leach bites along with a handful of other unidentified bites, you can use your imagination.
Bunyip Valley Road was toughest when I crossed over these lush gullies.
This old beanie was the only sign that anyone had actually been down here before.
I was still getting a few glimpses through the trees.
With Bunyip Valley Road levelling off again and heading east I was now looking for my next navigational conundrum, I was looking for the un-signposted spot that I had to leave the old road and drop the remainder of the way down to the Bunyip River and hopefully find Fisher Track. Even back in the day this spot wasn’t marked so I knew there was no hope today, instead I watched the map looking for a pad heading off just after Bunyip Valley Road crossed a gully. After clambering over a succession of huge fallen trees I did indeed cross a gully and noticed a pad dropping steeply off the side. In the name of honesty in blogging I have to say that I don’t really think this was the alignment of the old track, I’m thinking that I was probably dropping down some deer tracks but whatever the case I was heading in the right direction and I was slowly making progress through the scrub so all was pretty good.
The Tree Ferns were a bit of a feature on the damper parts of today's stroll.
Apart from the scratchy scrub there was also a lot of big trees that I needed clamber over, like I said 'type 2 fun'!
Eventually I noticed what I convinced myself was a rough pad heading down the hill, Geronimo...down I went!
Now I knew that it was important that I stayed on the broad spur and didn't drop into a gully.....which makes you wonder why I found myself in this gully after a couple of minutes??
When the sound of the cascading headwaters of the Bunyip River reached me I knew that I should be getting close to stumbling onto Fisher Track. Now when I walked down here 13 years ago Fisher Track was already getting fairly hard to follow so I was pretty sure things wouldn’t be any easier now, and to make recognising Fisher Track even harder it was heading up stream along small river flats along here so there would be bugger all benching to look for. After a couple of false leads though I eventually located the old track around 10 metres above the Bunyip River. Once on Fisher Track I was able to more or less follow the route with a lot of concentration and a few scouting around expeditions. Just after I arrived at the Bunyip River and had found my elusive track I had my days (years?) most notable wildlife encounter too. Whilst I was stopped, gazing ahead into the forest trying to pick my route, I noticed some movement. When my eyes focussed I found myself in a staring contest with a Dingo, now I see quite a few wild dogs and foxes around but this bloke was you real skinny, honey coloured Dingo…..sweet. Now I’m not sure who was more surprised to see who, as my Dingo mate stood looking at me around 10 metres away in the scrub for at least a minute, I was even able to get the camera out and take a couple of photos, although you’ll need to look very closely (and use a bit of imagination) to see the Dingo in the bushes in my photo.
Thankfully I successfully located Fisher Track, although it was pretty obvious that nobody had been along here for a long time......this photo is taken looking along the track.
Here's another shot looking along Fisher Track, this time I'm being stared down by a Dingo. Here's a hint if you want to see the Dingo, you'll have to blow the photo up and you might see his ear and part of his head almost in the centre of the photo....or you could just take my word for it. 
The headwaters of the Bunyip River.
After my Dingo encounter I started heading up Fisher Track again, as I’ve mentioned the old track crossed some river flats along here and this section of the walk was very boggy, even in the middle of our very dry and hot summer I was still sinking boot deep into the mud along here. Heading up stream beside the infant Bunyip River Fishers Track was the hardest walking of the day, down here in the valley the lush forest had almost totally reclaimed the old track so I had to be very careful, I was now looking for the spot where the old alignment of Fisher Track would veer away from the river and start climbing back up towards Basan Corner. I lost the old track a few times along here, a situation not helped by my GPS struggling under the dense canopy of trees down in this valley.
Bunyip River
Considering that we are in the middle of a very hot and dry summer things were a little damp along the river flats on Fisher Track.
Bunyip River Valley
The track had gone completely back to nature in a lot of spots along the river.
Eventually, with the track I was following starting to climb away from the river a little more seriously, I was again confident that I was on Fisher Track, although my GPS had me tracking west 50 metres below the alignment on my old map. Things on the ground though were matching up with my notes and I was heading in the right direction so everything was pretty sweet really. Up until now I’d been pretty careful with the scrub, I’d been particularly concerned bulldozing through the Sword Grass that was sometimes head high, getting sliced and diced with this stuff is guaranteed to put a dampener on the day. So with the Sword Grass worrying me it was somewhat ironic that it was after I’d managed to emerge largely unscathed through all the Sword Grass and I was pushing through more saplings that I got my bloodiest injury for the day, bloody Blackberries, grrr.
Eventually I started to climb away from the river.....
....and Fisher Track got a little more obvious, it was bloody tough walking though!
It really makes me wonder why I was still looking so happy?
Some sections were still a bit vague.
This old pipe was a hint that I was still on Fisher Track.
It was about now on my climb up Fisher Track that I started to come across Blackberries....I wasn't quite so happy now!
Pushing on, now with blood trickling into my gaiters, I continued on today’s adventure. Fisher Track was now getting fairly high up on the side of the Blue Range and for the most part the vegetation had dried out a bit making things a little easier. It was while I was stopped here, in the middle of one of the tough sections of bush bashing, that I grabbed my GPS out to check that progress towards Basan Corner was still being made and I wasn’t walking around in circles. Happy to see that the major Beenak East Road (and Basan Corner) was now on the scale of my map and the end of my days scrub bash was insight I even took a photo of the GPS before resuming my walk. Ten minutes later, with the day heating up I stopped for a quick drink and went to once again check my progress only to find…..nothing! My GPS was gone, fuck!
Big Rocks were mentioned in my notes so things were looking good again.
Fisher Track, at least I wasn't pushing through Blackberries here.
I forgot to mention the March Flies.
It was about now that I started to think that I should be getting close to Basan Corner.
I couldn't see much so I broke out the GPS....things were looking good!
I knew that I’d had it around ten minutes ago as I had the photographic evidence, so in theory that meant I just had to backtrack ten minutes to find it, what concerned me today though was there was no certainty that I could retrace my exact route back through the thick scrub. I did have one thing going for me though, I normally keep my GPS in a small dry bag in my pocket to stop too much perspiration getting onto it, with bright orange dry bag also missing I figured if I found the dry bag I’d find the GPS. Well, to cut a long melodramatic story short I successfully relocated my missing GPS and dry bag, in hindsight that was probably the highlight of my day, although the Dingo encounter was a close second. Returning to my pack I set off once again with all my gear onboard.
Ten minutes or so after checking my GPS I thought that I'd check again, no GPS....fuuuuuck!!
Thankfully I was able to more or less backtrack along the same route, this was a very welcome sight.
Continuing up Fisher Track I had a few more trees to negotiate.
The March Flies were taking a liking to my blood now.
Fishers Track was now more or less level as I made my way the last few hundred metres to the open spaces of Beenak East Road under the warm early afternoon sun. After a couple more thick belts of scrub and a few more downed trees to climb I sensed an opening ahead, sure enough a couple of minutes later I emerged from the wall of green onto Beenak East Road a few metres from Basan Corner, happy days. Unlike all the other tracks and roads that I’d been allegedly following today Beenak East Road was actually a road in the traditional sense of the word in that you could actually drive on it. I now followed Beenak East Road for around 1.5 kilometres as it contoured around a high point and very gently dropped down to Tomahawk Gap and my waiting ute.
Beenak East Road has just appeared through the scrub.
Beenak East Road, the only easy section for the whole walk.
The forest to the west of Beenak East Road is actually in Kurth Kiln Regional Park.
The Dirt.
First up this is a very hard walk now (actually it was pretty hard back in the day too). According to my GPS I walked 11.8 kilometres and climbed 351 metres today, but I think these figures may be a little optimistic though as the GPS struggled a little in the deep valley beneath the thick canopy, I did have to scout around a fair bit to find the path (of least resistance) though so maybe the figures aren’t that much over the odds? Don’t even think about doing this walk unless you are confident in thick, steep, trackless forest, there are no sign posts, track markers, cairns, tapes and the ‘tracks’ have totally returned to nature in a lot of spots. Even in the spots where there are clues to the old alignment you will be pushing through a lot of anti social scrub. On hot day it would be stifling pushing through the scrub and in winter the section along the Bunyip River will be extremely soft and muddy, and then there are the Leaches, I picked up two today. The only information that I know of for this stroll is out of Glenn Tempest’s 2005 edition of ‘Daywalks Around Melbourne’. Getting to the start of the walk can be a bit of an ordeal too, you need to turn east along Beenak Road off Launching Place - Gembrook Road around halfway between Launching Place and Gembrook. Follow the dirt Beenak Road (some maps call this West Beenak Road?) for around 6.8 kilometres up to Basan Corner (un-signposted) and take the signposted East Beenak Road south for 1.4 kilometres, gently descending into Tomahawk Gap (un-signposted), you’ll know you’re in Tomahawk Gap when you see the fairly substantial and signposted Blue Range Road branching off to the left near a couple of fire dams.

Relevant Posts.
Buttongrass Walk, Bunyip State Park, 2016.
Tree Fern Walk, Bunyip State Park, 2017.
Reids Tramline, 2015.

Arriving back at Tomahawk Gap.
On the off chance that anyone else is crazy enough to want to do this walk then the track your looking for is the one that looks like a dead end on the left, that's Bunyip Valley Road.