Monday 15th February Home

We are at the beginning of a two week holiday, up here in Castlemaine. And we are locked down – in the middle of a five-day covid breakout lockdown, which is state-wide, despite all the problem being in metropolitan Melbourne. Presumably so to avoid a major exodus from Melbourne to the country when people got wind of what was going to happen.

So today I had the sad task of un-booking everything I'd booked for our trip to Tasmania to walk the Penguin-Cradle Trail. We'd been looking forward to doing this for months and everything was set to go, leaving in four days' time. But naturally Tasmania has closed its borders now to Victorians. I think all the other states have too.

And we don't even know what we can do instead, because of uncertainty about whether the lockdown will be extended. As it stands, we can't travel more than 5km from home; but if it lifts, we may be able to do something. Within the state, obviously.

But we cannot complain really, because we are well and we are so fortunate to live in this country well isolated from the virus ravaging most of the rest of the world. And being forced to have a “staycation” here means things get done; we are in the final stages of fixing Finsbury's garage (the last thing needing doing from the whole huge renovation job) and Alison has even got around to pressure washing the outside of the house. (I initially thought that doing this was a bit “over the top”, but the parts she's done look so much better!)

Being away from work for two weeks is nice anyway. Gives us a little taste of how life will be come October, when we will both have retired and not re-registered ourselves as medical practitioners. It's interesting how a couple of years ago I didn't really contemplate retirement, but now I feel that the time is absolutely right. I'll keep puddling along, with time off here and there, but I can't get as enthused about working as I used to be. And being retired will make our third attempt to go and walk the Penguin Cradle Trail a bit simpler to arrange.

Saturday 20th February Ulverstone

The third attempt came more quickly than I had dreamed of hoping for. On Wednesday, the end of the 5-day lockdown was announced; and I looked it up and found that Tasmania would open its border again on Saturday morning, provided there were no more instances of community transmission. So I got back on the phone, and the computer, and re-booked everything; not quite as before, but very similar. One night only in Ulverstone, but that made easier by flying direct to Devonport, instead of to Launceston and then having to take the bus.

So the next couple of nights we watched the news with butterflies in our stomachs, fearing that I have to cancel it all, yet again. But our luck was in. And our luck was in even more as we are being picked up at the airport by Kathy (Helen Dooley's sister) and her husband Bruce – who are also going to drive us to the start of the walk, in Penguin, tomorrow.

So yesterday, we spent most of the day getting out all our gear – tent, sleeping bags, stove, poncho, etc., etc. and sorting out the food we need to carry for the next week. I am very thankful that Alison is so good at organising all this! So by the end of the day our packs were all loaded and down by the front door.

Alice had agreed to drive us to the airport. A nice way to start. She turned up at 9.15, and off we went. To the airport. The deserted airport. I have never seen it anything like this! It reminded us of apocalyptic films. Instead of the fighting to get a spot to drop us off at departures, she could park wherever she wanted to. There was hardly anyone there, and I had the feeling that we'd walk inside the terminal and find it was abandoned and empty.

But there were people there; more staff than passengers, though. We dropped off our packs and went for a walk through the terminals. About eight international departures on the board, and no arrivals. The only one, from Auckland, cancelled.

Through the un-crowded security screening and a sit in the departure lounge. Everything so much quieter.

The flight to Devonport, in a little Dash-8, was pleasant. We were even given a coffee and cake! That's what happens on a full-service airline. The cake was delicious, so much so that I went down to the back and asked the cabin crew for more. They were happy to do so, and now we have extra supplies for the walk. Devonport Airport was small and friendly; our bags (and everyone else's) appeared very promptly. We went outside and Kathy and Bruce soon appeared. They told us they were “hijacking us for the afternoon”. We didn't object at all!

We drove to the Anvers cafe / chocolate shop, where we sat at a table outside and shared a large platter of yummy food, and talked. For quite a long time. A quick visit to the chocolate shop, and they took us on a scenic drive to Hawley, where they have their beach house – where they spend a lot of time. It's ~ ½ hour drive from their “main” house, in Ulverstone. Helen and Michael now own a block there as well.

It was a pleasant warm afternoon and we went for a walk around the town and along the beachfront. A warm Saturday afternoon, and the beach was popular; usually, it's much quieter. Back to their house for a cup of tea, and then we drove back past Devonport to Ulverstone, and to Beachway Motel where we were booked in. After arranging to pick us up at 7.30 tomorrow morning, they said goodbye.

A little unpack, and we walked into town – a 10 minute or so walk. We walked along the river front; a sunny, warm evening; and decided on fish and chips in the park for tea. The wait, at Pedro's, was 45 minutes! Did this mean good fish and chips? Yes it did! We filled in the time by going for a walk around town and to the supermarket for some fresh food for tomorrow, then ate on a bench in the park watching families playing together.

Then a walk back along the beach to our motel and our home for the night. It has been a very good day and a very easy way to set off on this adventure.

Sunday 21st February Wings Wildlife Park

Kathy and Bruce picked us up at 7.30 am and drove us the short distance to the start of the walk above Penguin. We said goodbye and set off at 8am. It was nice to start off with; the tack went up over the Dial Range and then down to Dial Road. Here, the tack ent down to, and then along,the Leven River; but our notes had a “suggested alternative” route which was 10 minutes shorter. We took this, and I think it was the wrong decision. We walked up; and up; and up; a 4WD track to a disused boom gate, where Alison adjsted the back of my pack because the big water bottle was swinging around. Then it was steep downhill, needing to overuse our brake muscles a lot, till it rejoined the main track and flattened out near Hardstaff Creek. We got here soon after midday and stopped for some lunch; I discovered that one of my crocs, brought for walking around the campsite, was no longer there. Alison left me making coffee and walked back along the track to find it, but didn't find it; and we were not prepared to walk all the way back up the steep track to look further.

We spent the best part of an hour here, then continued, on the track which “skirted the slopes of Mt. Lorymer”. In fact, I think it skirts the summit of Mt. Lorymer; the track went up, and up, and up, eventually coming out on a 4WD track which continued with ups and downs; and then back to a footpad, through shoulder-high bracken in places, beside creeks; it went on and on with no landmarks we could reliably make out. After a last steep descent followed by steep ascent, we got to the final 4WD track which went down, and down, thorough a tree plantation and finally ended meeting a bitumen road at Gunn's Plains.

This had been a hard walk; much more up and down than we had expected, very little in the way of views, lots of big tree trunks to climb over, steep descents with slippery leaves underfoot, and little idea about how far along we were. Alison had a lot of trouble with leg cramps and changed into crocs halfway along because her feet were sore.

So: when we got to the ended, at Wings Wildlife Park, it was nearly 7pm. It had taken 11 hours to walk, including an hour at lunch time and other briefer breaks. But at least we got there.

There was a large grassy paddock to put out tent up in; we did this, and made it ready for bed, then walked over to a table to cook dinner. It was getting dark by the time we'd finished this; we went and had a long hot shower and went to bed.

Monday 22nd February Mountain Valley

Despite more leg cramps on going to bed, we slept quite well. And slept in, sort of. After yesterday, and knowing that today's walk section started with three hours walking along a road; and then there was the section through Leven Canyon which I'd heard was the hardest section; we had decided to skip it and somehow get down to Taylor's Flats, at the far end of Leven Canyon, where we had planned to arrive tomorrow. We had a cabin booked there for tomorrow night, so I rang and managed to get it for tonight as well.

Then, the only problem was how to get there. We went for a walk around the campground talking to others in the hope that someone would give us a lift, with no success. Alison though of walking up to the cabins near the cafe / reception; here she found a couple in a Britz camper who were from SA, travelling around, who said they would. After they'd had some wildlife contact here, which was fine with us. So we went and packed up the tent, and came over and had a coffee with them. (Steve and Leisha).

And then had some time to write journal, etc. It has become quite windy, and it is threatening rain, and we have no reservations about our decision to skip the next section.

At 1.30 we set off in their Britz campervan. Iwas a very comfortable trip; we were sitting in the very back with metres of legroom. We chatted the whole way; after ~ 30 minutes we got to Leven Canyon lookout, but we didn't get out; we were going to Mountain Valley Cabins, which I had thought was just after the lookout turnoff. But no! It was at least another ten minutes down the road. They dropped us at the entrance and we said goodbye, feeling very fortunate that they had given us a lift.

And into our cabin. We had booked a “Standard Fauna” cabin, but were upgraded to “Native Pepper”. It is very comfortable, and we even have use of a washing machine! So when we set off on Wednesday, up to the Black Bluff range which we can see from our balcony, We should have all our clothes clean and dry. A good way to start.

And we've done little since. Unloaded the packs, had a (plunger!) coffee, some lunch, did some washing in the machine; and walked down to the Leven River. It is a very nice place to be.

It was very windy this afternoon, and sun and rain came and went; no regrets at all at not spending it walking up Leven Canyon. I will enjoy spending tomorrow here. Perhaps moreso because it has become quite cold outside, and we have the heater on inside and an electric blanket on the bed! It's hard to remember that a week ago it was 35º temperatures.

Len, the very pleasant proprietor, came in the evening and took us down to the river to see the platypus there; there were at least two, though unfortunately on the far side of the river. Later he returned and spread some grain and meat on the grass in front of our cabin. We left the outside light on and saw pademelons, possums, and Tasmanian Devils – but no spotted-tail quolls, which also live around here.

Tuesday 23rd February Mountain Valley

We slept well in a warm bed; it was quite cold and we were in no hurry to get up. But the power was going off from 9am to 3pm, so we got up in time to make a cup of tea. Then – what to do, on this extra day? We asked Len, who suggested walking back along the Penguin-Cradle Trail to the steel bridge, and then on to the canyon floor. This was good advice. We walked back – with another bit of up and down, but no problem not carrying our full packs. It was a good walk, and we arrived at the steel bridge in a little over 1½ hours – not the 2 hours the walk notes quoted.

It was a good area to see; high canyon walls, lots of large rocks in the river, and a narrow course for the water to flow through. We met a couple on the bridge coming from the other direction, which I had thought just went up hundreds of metres to a lookout; but no, before doing that it goes around the corner to the “Devil's Elbow”, where the river does a tighter than 90 degree bend and the track goes down to water level. So we went there; quite a spectacular spot. And then retraced our steps back home, picking some blackberries on the way, to get back just as the power went on again.

We had a hot shower, did some washing again, played cards while we had a coffee; Alison sorted and re-packed the food while we had a table to do it on. We took a short walk on the “Forest Walk” Len has made on his land across the road; a good little interpretive walk which ends at a creek disappearing into a cave.

By now, after 6pm. Write journals and then Alison is cooking dinner in our nice warm cabin. Tomorrow? It will not be the same! And Alison made herself colder by going outside to photograph devils – but didn't get to see a quoll, as she'd hoped.

Wednesday 24th February Paddy's Lake

It was indeed a cold night, and a cold morning; we were in no hurry to get up. But we did, checked out (Pat telling us that rain is expected tomorrow). On with packs for the 3½ hour uphill walk to Paddy's Lake. It was mostly quite steep uphill, but this was not as bad as Monday's uphills because you knew that: 1. there was a point to it today, and 2. it was not being following by a steep downhill to overheat one's braking muscles.

We had a stop every hour, but then got to the lake in a little over 3 hours – including ½ hour of rest stops! This made us very happy. We were also happy that the clouds which had moved in while we were walking up cleared to a mostly sunny blue sky.

The small “exposed” campsite at Paddy's Lake was not as exposed as I'd feared, was empty, right beside the lake, and very pretty. After a chat to a lady from NSW doing a day walk up Black Bluff, we went and unpacked – putting up the shade tent as well, to give us extra shelter if tomorrow's rain has arrived before we can pack everything up.

And then, after a relaxed set up (so much easier when you arrive early in the day, not at 7pm!) we set off up Black Bluff as well. A lovely walk, getting up into the altitudes where cushion plant grows; blue sky, and views! Down to our campsite; Leven Canyon; the noth coast and Bass Strait; and then Cradle Mountain, Barn Bluff, Mt Ossa.....

It was a 2-hour return walk. Back home, time for a quick wash, a cup of tea; now the sun is sinking behing Black Bluff and the temperature is going to drop. But we'll be out watching for platypus in the lake; I've already seen the “V” wave on one.

What an idyllic campsite! So I shared a photo with family and with work.

Thursday 25th February Cradle Mountain – Discovery Park

It turned out not to be idyllic. Rain was predicted for the next day; it came at night, accompanied by strong gusty winds. We'd put the shade tent over our tent before we went to bed, so that we had some hope of packing our tent up dry in the morning. It did partially achieve this aim, but it also meant a lot of flapping in the wind throughout the night – so much so that Alison, then I, had to get up to repeg it. So we had a lousy night's sleep.

We got up at 6.30 am to find everything in cloud, and everything damp. We packed up as best we could to keep things dry, but still everything had at least a touch of dampness – and we broke a tent pole. The result of cold numb fingers not doing as they should.. We did manage to make a cup of tea under the little stand of trees, which provided some shelter. And with everything packed, we set off at 8.30 am.

To where? Our walk notes said “the Black Range is not the place to be in bad weather. I had wondered whether we should return back down rather than continue over the Black Range, but of course hadn't mentioned this to Alison. And it would be much more convenient to be on the Cradle Mountain side of the range. The notes said 4 hours to Bare Mountain campsite, 2 more to the Belvoir road (the main road between Cradle and the West Coast), then 2 more to Four Ways campsite.

Off we went up the Black Range. It was the worst day's walking we've ever done; for the first time ever I thought we were at significant risk of dying of hypothermia if something went wrong, and we both think it has ended our intentions of further long-distance wilderness walking. We left wearing appropriate clothing; I had fibrepile vest, down parka, and pack poncho over everything. But the weather became colder, windier, and wetter; we became colder and wetter, and our fingers got too cold to work properly. After an hour my good boots were full of water, and stayed that way all day. Changing clothing was impossible in these weather conditions, and we just had to walk on. The track notes said there was only one reliable water source in the first four hours; we saw water every step. We both got blown off the track a few times; we both fell over sometimes as a result; the rain was at times nearly horizontal; and we were not going to see another person till we got to the road. I've never seen Alison fall so many times.

Despite having minimal breaks (there was no great attraction in these weather conditions) it took us 4½ hours to Bare Mountain campsite. It would be a lovely spot for the night in other conditions.... We kept on going, finally getting to the road 7 hours after leaving Paddy's Lake. The weather tempted us now at times with no wind, and no rain, and patches of blue in the sky; but then would go back to its old ways.

Here, we didn't really know how far it was to Cradle. But we needed to hitch a ride. So we tried, for 10 minutes, but were getting too cold. So we set off walking along the road, chatting en route to a lady whose husband was fly fishing, who said she'd give us a lift if we were still on the road when he finished. But finally, after 45 minutes, a young bloke stopped and drove us all the way into Cradle Visitors Centre – though it was out of his way. We got there 15 minutes before it closed. Thank you thank you thank you!

A helpful lady in the shop gave us phone numbers of accommodation options, and I started ringing. (I had thought of doing this on the road, but my fingers were too cold to operate the phone.) So we are staying in a room in the Discovery Park tonight; shared facilities, but... a roof! A double bed with sheets! Clean dry towels! And heating!

We are so happy.

We unpacked our packs. Everything damp. It we'd had to use the tent tonight we would have survived, but would not be happy. Had a hot shower. Put on clean clothes. We don't need anything else. Our legs have fared well after their training earlier in the week, but tonight we both have sore shoulders / backs – presumably from all the effort involved in try not to be blown over.

Tomorrow, we move to Highlanders, where we have been able to get our cabin for an extra night.

Friday 26th February Cradle Mountain Highlanders

We both slept like logs. Not a surprise. Packed up our room – a lot of our gear completely dry, but still quite wet still – put on my wet boots, which were remarkably comfortable - damp, not squelchy - checked out, and walked over to Highlanders. Here, we found our cabin (“Telopea”) was already ready; we went in to find it warm, with the wood heater on. Conveniently, the bed has tall posts at each corner which were ideal to hang the tent fly on, to dry it.

We had planned to go over to the cafe for a coffee, so off we went there. A disappointment; no tables (covid rules, I think); disposable cups..... all a bit so-so. We walked back home (it is all very close) and put on a load of washing and then vaguely thought about what to do next.

The answer came from a comment Dianne, the manager here, had made; I looked up the internet and found seniors discounts on Tasmanian National Park entry were considerable. So we walked over and bought a yearly pass, for little more than the cost of a day pass here.

Then, equipped with a ticket to use the shuttle bus, we took the bus to the Rangers Station / Information Centre, and went on a 3 hour walk to the Dove Creek Canyon. It was a very good varied walk taking you to the edge of a very deep gorge we had no idea was there! The 3 hour walk took us 2¼ hours, which meant we were just in time to catch the last shuttle bus home – otherwise it would have been a 2km walk along the road.

We ate dinner in our nice warm cabin, and now all our wet gear is dry.

Saturday 27th November Cradle Mountain Highlanders

We had a very good sleep, in our high bed here which is very easy to get out of. We packed our lunch and set off, with the intention of walking to the top of Cradle Mountain – which we've walked past at least five times, but never gone up.

So we took the shuttle bus to Ronny Creek, and walked up past Crater Lake to Marion's Lookout. Much easier now, as we're not carrying a full pack as we mostly have been before. Then on to Kitchen Hut before turning left and heading on the steep path up the mountain.

The path went straight up before turning right and becoming rockier.The rocks got bigger as we went further up, and we got to the point were our walking poles were becoming a hindrance rather than an asset, so we left them hanging on one of the marker poles; then we were able to use both hands to climb the very big rocks. A lot of others were climbing too, some having quite a lot of difficulty; Alison gave one girl a lot of moral support and I gave her a hand up one of the bigger climbs. Near the top we had to go down and then up again, but then we were at the top!

I had wondered if Cradle Mountain was better to look at, rather than to look out from. I was wrong. It was a clear day; the views were excellent. Apart from seeing the Black Range, from where we'd come, and Dove Lake, you could see the Overland Track winding around the mountain before going into Waterfall Valley; Barn Bluff; Lake Windemere; Mts. Oakleigh, Pelion West, Ossa, Pelion East; Cathedral Mountain beyond......

We spent quite a while up on the summit, as did many others, before beginning on the clamber back down. It was quite hard on the knees despite using the bum stop a lot. We got down to the bottom, and decided to take the Face Track across, and then down via Lake Wills to the Dove Lake circuit track. We'd not been on these before; the Face Track was fine, but the descent via Lake Wills was very steep. More knee workout.

Then it was around the lake to the bus stop. We got there at 5.10pm – a lot later than I had anticipated. We'd eaten all our food and were both a bit hungry; so we got off the bus at the Ranger Station and walked over to the bistro at Peppers' Lodge; where, at 5.30, we had a very good coffee followed by excellent chicken parmigana, chatting to the couple at the next table. And we walked home to our cabin, a 15 minute walk, and lit the fire. And then capped off the day with a hot bath to help our bodies recover.

It has been a very good day.

Sunday 28th February Cradle Mountain Highlanders

Our last full day in this lovely spot. We began with a walk to the north, where there was the Wilderness Village and the Cradle Mountain Hotel – and maybe, we thought, the gallery which Alison had read about years ago but had never got to see. We walked through the Wilderness Village, feeling happy that we were staying down at Highlanders instead; then up to the hotel, where we found the Wilderness Gallery. And it was open. It was very well worth visiting; especially seeing the film about Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis, and their photography, and the effects of their photography.

We found a walking track back to the Discovery Park, bought some food for dinner, and came home. By now it was lunchtime; we had a coffee and some food, then took the bus down to the bistro at the Lodge. The shuttle bus driver recognised us because we have been here a few days! We again had a good coffee there, then walked around some of their walking tracks – seeing a wombat asleep in a hollow log, and finding the end of the Penguin-Cradle Trail.