Posts Tagged With: hiking

A Cape to Cape Christmas

Christmas holidays?  What are they again?  Yep, the festive season passed so quickly this year that their existence feels like a dream.  Perhaps that’s why it has taken me so long to write this blog.

Our original plan for Christmas this year was to head off to sunny Ireland for a castle wedding of the gorgeous Clare and Mairtin.  Unfortunately, leave and languishing bank accounts forced us to abandon that idea so, instead, I took just the three days between Christmas and New Year and we headed down South for some hiking.

The Cape to Cape Track runs for 135 kilometres along the Leewin-Naturalist Ridge, between the lighthouses of Cape Naturaliste (near Dunsborough) and Cape Leeuwin (near Augusta) in the far South West of Western Australia.  You can do the track in stages, or in one big block.

If you had the funds, you can also do it in relative luxury, with tour operators and hotels arranging courtesy pick-ups and drop-offs along the way and overnight stays in a real bed.  Because we relish a challenge (and don’t have the funds), we chose to spend 8 days doing the whole hike sans the frills.

Thanks to a tip-off from one of our friends, we decided to take the road less travelled and walk the track from South to North (rather than North to South).  This helped us avoid any strong Southerly headwinds which, by the looks of hikers coming the other way, was a good decision.

Our other game plan was to start hiking in the early hours while it was still cool, reach a shady spot for lunch where we could eat and rest, and then knock off another couple of hours in the late afternoon as cooled down again.

Setting out

Day 1 (23 December) – Cape Leeuwin to Deepdene (18km)

With that in mind, we headed off to Cape Leeuwin at 6am on 23 December, replete with enthusiasm.  It only took about 15 minutes for the weight of the packs (mostly water) convinced us that stopping to smell the tea trees was over-rated. However, the repetitive sound of Manyoni’s drum hitting one of the backpack’s straps, served as a metronome to help us get into our stride.

As the lighthouse slowly disappeared from view, the track took us into shrub where we glimpsed our first wildlife – black cockatoos.  Further along, the ocean came back into view, and with it a huge pod of dolphins playing around.  The final stretch of the day was along Deepdene beach: first scrambling over shale, and then onto the beach proper for a good 4km until we reached the Deepdene campsite by midday.  I was knackered.  Already.  We had our heat-of-the-day rest, then decided to just enjoy an early dinner and sleep rather than do anything stupid like walk some more.

Long walks along the beach…

Day 2 – Deepdene to North end of Boranup Beach (19 km)

Just to be clear – hiking tents are not designed for comfort, especially when there are two of you and one likes to spread out.  Needless to say, I awoke rather sleep-deprived with the summer warmth already casting its hand at 6am.

We had a short beach walk, before heading back onto the cliff tops where we were greeted with superb views of a crystal clear ocean from Foul Bay Lighthouse.  Our morning stop was Hamelin Bay, where we frolicked with the sting rays, and whiled away the hottest part of the day boiling drinking water, sneaking in an illegal shower, and rolling out the camping mat under a tree in the carpark.  Classy.

A ray of sunshine

As afternoon came, we pushed on further along the beach.  It was then that I realized that people who say they like “long walks along the beach” have no idea what they’re talking about.  Beach walking is hard.  Stupidly hard.  I dare say it’s even harder with 15kg of luggage on your back.  And with each sinking step, the blisters under the toes, on top of the toes, and on the side of the feet just grew bigger and bigger.

By the end of this 6.5km this stretch on Boranup beach, I was utterly exhausted and couldn’t even walk enough to scout out a suitable camping spot.  So, we pitched our tent on the top of the small dune where I had collapsed, and watched the sun set over the ocean as the wind swept sand into our hair and dinner.

The road from which we came

Day 3 (Christmas Day) – North end of Boranup Beach to Bob’s Hollow (20 km)

We must have picked a good camping spot. After all, 5,428 mosquitos can’t be wrong, can they?   Yep, when we woke our tent was covered in the little vampires.  Fortunately, the net had managed to keep most but a few out, and I had a few moments of fun taunting them with the smell of my finger against the netting – just far enough to prevent their proboscis from getting a taste.  They would get their own back, though, as we inevitably had to exit the tent and pack it up.   Thank goodness for industrial-strength DEET.

Our hike started with a steep climb up the sand dune and, eventually, into towering karri forest.  While we lacked the ocean breeze, the shadow cast by the great canopy was welcomed, not just by us, but by the 2m dugite (venomous snake) and large bangarra (goanna) we almost stepped on along the way.

Trees!

Our midday rest spot was Conto’s campsite, where we replenished our water supplies and tried in vain to communicate with the outside world.  We set off again in the late afternoon and hiked along the stunning clifftop, almost stepping on a giant rat thing (the technical name), and passing popular rockclimbing areas with caves that looked like great camping spots to me, and death traps to Manyoni.

Heading out of Conto’s campground

We eventually headed back down to the coast where we agreed to pitch our tent on an awesome and protected flat spot of ground nestled among tea trees.  We had made it in time to cook up a hearty Christmas dinner of miso and noodles, which we devoured while sitting on the rocks watching the sun go down into the sea.

Merry Christmas!

Day 4 – Bob’s Hollow to Prevelly (16 km)

Our Boxing Day hike started by slogging it out in more sand along Redgate beach, before following Boodjidup Brook inland.  I am usually relieved when we turn inland and off the beach, except this time the track continued with more sand, only dryer (read: more sinky) and steeper.

Heading inland at Boodjidup Brook

Still, I should have been grateful, as the next stage of the hike was a mere 355 steps straight up (not 300 as the book suggests!).  Apparently, we can thank a dedicated crew of Green Corps for this, after they carried all the materials in by hand to assemble the steps in 1999.

Back on top of the hills, we continued along fire breaks, smiling at the fringed lilies along the way, before reaching civilization in the form of poached eggs and avocado on sourdough bread, washed down with iced coffee, at the White Elephant Café in Prevelly.

That afternoon we took a break and rested at a friend’s place in Prevelly.  We had a real shower, restocked our food supplies, futilely attempted a jigsaw puzzle, checked out Margaret River’s surf spots, enjoyed some Christmas leftovers AND slept in a real bed.  Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Day 5 – Prevelly to North of Gracetown (24 km)

We were up again at the crack of dawn and heading North across Margaret River mouth or, in the case of Manyoni, sinking suddenly into Margaret River mouth.  Fortunately, he managed to clamour out before the pack got soaked, no thanks to me.  We continued along Kilcarnup Beach, before heading into some thicket and a couple of kangaroos who were as equally startled to see us as we were to see them.

Who’s that?

By lunchtime, we had made it to the Ellenbrook camp where we chilled under a tree, before leisurely wandering to the beautiful, but largely dry, Meekadarabee Cave and Waterfall.  From there, it was along the paved path to the historic Ellenbrook House that was, unfortunately, closed for renovation.

With no reason to hang around, we continued on through the scrub, before reaching civilization again in the form of Gracetown by mid-afternoon.  I relished the opportunity to break up my daily diet of noodles with a home-made meat pie and milkshake, also giving us a welcome rest.  With light fading fast, we had to make camp so clamoured up the rocks at North Point and found another hidden camp among tea trees about 2km North of Gracetown.  This time – after our biggest day of walking yet – we didn’t even make it to sunset before hitting the sack.

Refreshing Biljedup Brook

Day 6 – North of Gracetown to somewhere just South of Injidup (22 km)

We started out again walking through shrubbery but, this time, our hike involved spectacular views of perfect, yet deserted, surf breaks right along the coast, coupled with colourful boulders, a cool foot wash in Biljedup brook, and a lazy carpet python that really didn’t want to move off the track.

Outta my way!

Despite being one of the prettiest days of hiking so far, it was also one of the mentally toughest for me.  Thanks to all the scrambling over boulders, I had started to develop a muscle tear in my left quad and, by mid-morning, I had also begun to develop incredible pain around my right achilles.  Fearing a premature end to my hike, I may have shed a wee tear as we walked into Moses Rock campsite for our lunchbreak.

The rest helped a bit, and in the early afternoon we decided to set off again, albeit very slowly.  We managed to cover another 8km, which included coming into the vicinity of a huge mob of at least 50 kangaroos, and hiking past a waterfall-less Quinninup Brook.

Just north of Quininup, Manyoni found a fantastic campsite nestled, once again, among tea trees.  However, stubborn Isabel felt it was still too early to camp so insisted we carry on.  That was the last campsite we came across for miles and, as we worked our way back to the cliff top, our chances of finding a suitable site became slimmer and slimmer.  Exhausted and in pain (me, not Manyoni), we eventually just set up the tent by the side of a 4WD track.  With no desire to wait until nightfall, we had a quick dinner then retired to the tent where my beloved put his magic massaging hands to work on my ankle.

Day 7 – Somewhere just South of Injidup to Mt Duckworth campsite (19 km)

Wow!  Did I mentioned Manyoni’s magic massaging hands?  I woke up with barely any pain around my achilles, and a sense of hope that, perhaps, I could finish this thing.

Not really sure of where we were on the map, we were happy to discover that we were not far from Cape Clairault.  It quickly became clear that we were also heading closer to civilization, with more people on the track, more surfers in the water, and more carparks and toilets along the way.

Buoyed by the prospect of what was to come, we crossed over Wyadup Brook, took in the sights at the Rotary Lookout, and scrambled over rocks.  By 10am, we were feeling rather unwashed and out of place among the Smith Beach Resort’s residents, but still managed to enjoy brunch, coffee and a replenishing of water.

The “road” to Smith’s Beach

From there, it was less about the hiking and more about the food.  After just another hour of beach walking we had made it Yallingup, and quickly settled into the Shaana Café where we enjoyed lunch and coffee, and even checked out a photography exhibition.

Then it was just another hour to the Mt Duckworth campsite.  Arriving early and well-fed, we were able to relax completely and make our commemorative bracelets – the achilles disaster being a distant memory.

Nothing to see here

Day 8 – Mt Duckworth Campsite to Cape Naturaliste (11 km)

Our last, and shortest, day of hiking.  The walk to Kabbijgup, and then to Sugarloaf passed by with the usual beautiful cliff-top views.  Knowing we were close to the end, we even took slight detours along the way into nooks and crannies between giant boulders.

By 9am, we had reached Sugarloaf rock and, from there, the track was paved the whole 3km to the lighthouse.  We were so close we could smell it.  In fact, we even decided to change out of our sweaty 4-day old clothes into something fresher, so that we didn’t scare away any tourists at the lighthouse.  However, it seems we had jumped the gun.

Paved or not, 3km is still 3km, and in the hot morning sun, with no breeze and a million flies, it seemed like it took forever.  Needless to say, our “fresh” clothes were covered in sweat by the time we reached the lighthouse, but we felt triumphant and super deserving of our ice-cream and sugary drinks.

We made it!

After catching a taxi back to a friend’s house in Busselton, we spent the rest of the afternoon massaging oversized blisters and walking as little as possible.  We then spent the next three days, leisurely making our way back to Geraldton after checking out the Busso markets and jetty, bringing in the New Year by walking around Thrombolites at Lake Clifton and sharing cheese and drinks with friends in Mandurah while watching the sunset, and stopping at the Pinnacles near Cervantes.

I returned to work the following day exhausted, but in awe of this country’s beautiful South West.

Pinnacles

 

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Kolombangara

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The lady is sleeping

It was a bad week of immigration nightmares and a cancelled Shaggy concert.  Clearly, I needed to get away.  What better place than to Kolombangara?

 

Kolombangara is a volcanic island in Western Solomon Islands that last released a fiery furnace 10,000 years ago. Now it is home to Solomon Islands’ 2nd, 3rd, and 4th highest peaks (the highest peak in SI is Mt Popomanaseu in Guadalcanal at 2,335m – higher than Kosciusko). It is also known as the sleeping lady because, if you look closely and a little cross-eyed, the island resembles a sleeping woman.

Being volcanic, the island is able to grow lots of good stuff and has naturally become a popular site for forestry and logging. In 2008, the indigenous people of the island formed the Kolombangara Island Biodiversity Conservation Authority (KIBCA) and established rules to protect all wildlife and vegetation above 400m altitude. This makes it the largest conservation area in the country covering 19,400ha.

A month earlier, I had emailed KIBCA and was assured that all preparations were in place for our 3-day hike. On Friday, we arrived at the island, but no-one was there to meet us. So we asked the only person we saw: “KIBCA?” He responded by stretching out his arm, pointing in a random direction and saying “Up top.”  With only one other building that we could see, we headed in that direction until he stopped us:  “Not there. Up top.”

With that handy bit of advice we had no option but to head in the direction of his directionless pointing.  After 10 minutes of walking in the hot sun with 4 days’ worth of camping equipment and food on our backs, a car passed that we were able to flag down. We asked the driver where KIBCA was, and his response: “Up top.”  This was gonna be tough.

“Up top” turns out to be Ringgi town, about 2km from the “Marine base” where we started walking. The driver first took us to Ferguson, the coordinator of KIBCA who expressed that he was unaware of our booking. So then we sought out Mayson, the person I had been conversing with through email. Fortunately Mayson was aware of our booking, but had done nothing about it.

“So do you want a guide?”

“Um…yes…your rules say we have to have a guide. Remember, we asked for Moffat?”

“There are lots of guides”.  Turns out there aren’t. After a recent recruitment attempt the 12 potential guides all pulled out after trying to summit Mt Veve, vowing never to do it again. Moffat remains the only one crazy enough to scale Veve more than once.

“Moffat doesn’t have a phone. He may not be around”  In walks a lady with Moffat’s phone number. Moffat answers. He is around, and he’ll be here soon – just needs to paddle from his village.

“And a porter, please”

“Yes, yes, we’ll find you one”. Except that, like guides, there is no-one willing to do the climb more than once.  More on that later.

“Oh, and how do visitors normally get from the marine base to here?”

“The man at the marine base has a radio to tell us to pick you up.”  So you mean he isn’t meant to just point and say “up top”? Apparently not.

While waiting for Moffat, we took a walk through the one-horse town of Ringgi, before jumping in the truck and heading to Imbu Rano. Meaning “mist from Rano”, this beautiful and basic wooden ecolodge is set among the rainforest and has views to Mt Tepalamenggutu and Mt Rano, the island’s 2nd and 3rd highest peaks, respectively. Here we would spend the night before commencing our hike the next morning. At least that was the plan.

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View of Mt Rano and Mt Tepa from Imbu Rano lodge

After reaching the lodge, I thought it best to confirm Mayson’s other helpful advice.

“Just to confirm, you said there are sleeping huts along the way?”

“Yes, yes” says Mayson.  “No no” says Moffat, “They all broke down over a year ago.”

“Okay. Is there a tent here we can use?”

“Yes, yes” says Mayson. “No”, says Moffat. “I tried to use it two weeks ago and it was broken”.

“Never mind”, says Mayson. “The weather looks good, you won’t need one.”

“You definitely need one”, says Moffat.  After all, Kolombangara has its own weather system, where it rains more often than not.  Not to mention, it’s also wet season.

So we sent Mayson off with the task of finding a tent and a porter in time for a 7am departure.  In the meantime we waited, relaxed, slept, and storied about the (we hoped) upcoming adventure.

We waited beyond 7am the next morning. Finally, around 8am, Mayson arrived. Francis, a Malaitan employed by the logging company, had been roped into the role of porter at the last minute and, having never climbed the mountain before, clearly had no idea what he was in for. Sadly, we still had no tent, which threatened the entire trip.  Moffat quickly managed to pull together bits and pieces from several tents to form one vaguely functioning one.  By 9am we were off.

We started the walk at a cracking speed, I assume to make up the 2 hours already lost that morning. However, only 30 minutes in, our poor, reluctant porter admitted that he could no longer carry the bag. Quickly, we did a reshuffle and Manyoni shouldered the heaviest pack, while Francis was bestowed with the lightest. We continued on, and as we walked, my mind became wonderfully lost in the lush green rainforest and soft, mossy, decomposing ground that felt like we were walking on cushions.  We also came across one of Manyoni’s wantok: a rasta grasshopper!

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Bob Marley’s reincarnation

Those tranquil thoughts didn’t last long. Soon, we started climbing…up a mountain. Up a very, very steep mountain. Up. Mountain. Up. Mountain. Up. Up. Up. Mountain. Mountain. Mountain.

After 2 hours we made it to Camp 1, where we stopped to refill our water. Francis, the porter, was already lagging behind. Then I was handed the heavy bag, which I bore for the next two hours to Camp 2. By this stage, I was utterly exhausted. Not as exhausted as Francis, though, who was so behind that we all thought he had done a runner. After a light lunch of crackers and tuna, a refill of water, and some psychological counselling, I was almost prepared for 4 hours of hiking yet to come.

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Manyoni & Moffat among the fluffy trees

What I wasn’t prepared for was the change in terrain.  Where I had once felt like I was walking on cushions, I was now walking on a flying carpet. Everywhere we stepped, underneath was a big cavernous space (ie. a volcanic crater) overlayed with a thin network of roots, and leaf litter forming a false floor. Should you step anywhere without a solid root, you would fall into the crater.

As if that wasn’t enough, the “trail” (in inverted commas because we were pretty much just bush bashing) just seemed to get steeper and steeper. Steps were now leaps, requiring us to haul ourselves (and our packs) up using whatever exposed roots or branches we could find.

By mid-afternoon we had reached the summit of Mt Tepalamenggutu, the second highest peak in Kolombangara at 1,708m. In other words, we had just climbed over 1,330m. Here, we took in the amazing view of the crater, for we were among the lucky ones that had dry weather and no clouds.

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View into the crater from Tepa

However, we didn’t linger long, for we still had 2 hours to go until we reached our camp for the night. As everyone knows, what goes up must come down, so the ensuing 2 hours involved stupidly steep descents, sliding on our bums from root to root, holding ourselves up with nearby trees: like Tarzan but with much less finesse.

We finally reached Camp 3 at 6:15 pm, 9 hours after we had started. Suzanne and I collapsed, but with light fading fast, Moffat and Francis quickly set up the tents. Then they took off further down the hill to fetch water.

Each campsite along the route was carefully chosen for its close proximity to water. Walking along the rim of the crater meant that there were no streams or springs to take advantage of. So when Moffat and Francis returned an hour later, empty handed with “bad news, the pool is dry”, we knew we had a slight issue on our hands.  Despite the recent rain, this was the first time the pool had dried up since Moffat had started walking this route 10 years ago.

The good news for us was that Moffat is the Solomon Islands’ version of Bear Grylls. He immediately started looking for nearby bamboo stalks filled with fresh water.  Unfortunately, they were all dry too.  With not a drop of water in our possession, he did what any crazy, non-human robot who had just hiked 8 hours would do, and ventured back towards Camp 2. Three hours later, at 11pm he returned to camp carrying five 3-metre lengths of bamboo filled with water. How he had managed to carry that, in that terrain, in the dark, I will never know, but I will be eternally grateful.

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Filling the waterbottles with bamboo water…the next big thing in boutique water

The following morning we filled our bottles with whatever water remained, and headed off towards the summit of Mt Veve – Kolombangara’s highest peak. Being the first people to attempt the summit since November last year, the thicket had refilled any spare space and a new path had to be cut as we went. The steepness remained abhorrent and it took 2 hours to go a mere 1.5 kilometres.

As we reached the top, the pain was briefly forgotten as we celebrated our feat (despite trees blocking all views). Even poor Francis, the unknowing porter, seemed bolstered by his achievement.

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With the oldest woman, and first African, ever to summit Mt Veve

On the way back down, we made an executive decision to remain at Camp 3 that night, based on our inability to comprehend an additional 4 hour walk to the next campsite. To overcome the water issue, we would, instead, have to carry bamboo from the heights of Mt Veve to our campsite.  It was only then that I had a true appreciation of what Moffat had achieved the previous night. By the time we made it back to camp, after 3 hours carrying heavy bamboo, I was utterly spent and ready to cry.

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Carrying life-saving bamboo… down.. down.. down.. down

We spent the afternoon napping and cooking all the food in our possession to lighten the load home. Slightly revived, I was able to enjoy the crater’s silhouette in the evening’s sunset, and after dark, I was enraptured by the plethora of stars in the night sky. All of this was thanks to yet another unusually clear day on Kolombangara.

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Crater rim at sunset

We awoke before sunrise in an attempt to give us plenty of time to complete the hike’s third, and final, day. We filled up on bamboo water and made good time to the summit of Mt Tepa, and to Camp 2. It was only after departing Camp 2 that we experienced our first bit of serious rain, giving us a cooling shower while also adding an extra element of slipperiness, and danger. We persisted, and despite exhaustion, dehydration and blister-filled feet we arrived back at the lodge around 4pm.

We enjoyed our last evening surrounded by the rainforest, with our last views of Kolombangara. That night, the heavens opened and remained that way for the next two days.

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Kakabona

Kahove Falls

Kahove Falls

Of all the hikes in and around Honiara, Kakobona seems to be the one least mentioned among the expat crowd.  So when a friend of mine got around to organising a hike there, Manyoni and I dragged our two visitors into the Solomon outdoors.

The little that I did know about hiking Kakobona was that you walk inland alongside the Kakobona river (just West of Honiara), and that it’s flat and easy.  This small amount of information left me envisaging a flat hike along a muddy track, through tall and thick itchy grass, with the sun beating down from above and a wide, raging, river beside us.

In actual fact, it was anything but.

We met at Godfrey’s place, and were escorted by Benjamin and Austin along a muddy single track through the bush.  This track opened up onto the wide, dry Kakobona riverbed.  So far the hike was exactly as expected.

From there, we followed the riverbed upstream, with the bed becoming narrower and narrower until, very soon, we found ourselves in a cool chasm surrounded by rock walls and enough foliage to prevent the sun from sizzling our skin.  This was not at all expected, and it was such a welcome surprise that my normal heat-zapped energy rapidly returned.

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As we continued walking upstream, we commenced climbing over rocky boulders that paved the way for a never-ending series of crystal clear cascades.  Every so often, we would plunge ourselves into a natural swimming pool amidst the falls, letting the uncharacteristic coolness of the Solomon Islands reinvigorate and reenergise our minds and souls.

The boulders became gradually bigger the closer we got to the falls, and a stack of gigantic fallen trees made for some adventure-filled scrambling, climbing, wading, and new path-setting.  It was not uncommon to need a pull up from above, accompanied by a push up from behind.

After 3 hours of walking (okay, make that 2 hours of walking and 1 hour of splashing around in the water) we reached Kahove Falls.  After the beauty of the previous three hours, the falls were a little underwhelming (perhaps due to very little recent rain), but beautiful none-the-less.  The best part of the falls was standing under them and letting the water provide an all-over body massage as it dropped from 40m above.

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A quick snack and rest was in order before making our way back in reverse: sliding down the same boulders we had climbed up, plunging ourselves in fresh pools whenever we got a little hot, and exiting the cover of foliage and rocks right as the clouds in the sky opened their arms and gave us a parting drench.

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