Thursday, 14 June 2018

Alps2Ocean 3: Ohau We Rode!

For the first two days of our ride we’d persisted with the “it’s all downhill from Aoraki/Mt Cook to the ocean” story. And that’s because it had, as far as Lake Ohau Lodge, been largely downhill. Day 3 was to tell a different tale.

[The innocent-looking start of the track on Day 3] 
It wasn’t as if we hadn’t been warned. Joh, our guide, had always briefed us well on what lay ahead of us. Our third day was to be our longest day, and also the toughest in terms of track surface and gradient. She’d said it would take about two hours of riding, quite steeply uphill, before we reached the day’s high point at Tarnbrae. She added that, from her experience, most riders got off and walked at least part of that section. That sounded to me like a challenge in two parts! Firstly could I beat 2 hours? And secondly would I need to get off and walk at any stage?

[On the long climb from Lake Ohau] 
Pride, ego, willpower, stubbornness – I could never settle on what to call it – can be strong motivators. Part way up the nearly 500m climb I had that theory reinforced. Riding alone, I was pushing steadily upwards, negotiating the odd rough bit of track – and occasional urges to stop and rest – as best I could. I sipped from my water bottle, adjusted my position on the bike, searched hard for the most efficient gear, and generally felt I was going well. Then I heard a group coming up behind me. They were clearly going faster than me, and politely asked to overtake. I watched as the three women and three men – all a bit younger than me – slid past and cycled on ahead. Slightly stung by this, I upped my tempo, deciding I would do all I could to keep up with these upstarts! But then I noticed the tell-tale battery packs on the rear racks of their bikes. I laughed at myself, and left them to try their luck at catching Lynne, who had already used her e-bike advantage to power ahead of me.

Then the reality of using only leg and lung power started to bite. And based on Joh’s description, the slope was only going to get more severe. But just as I was beginning to mentally wilt, the track passed through the first of a series of pretty forested areas that clustered along three cascading creeks. A photo opportunity! What better way to earn a break while fooling myself that I haven’t really stopped?

[A creek-side stop on the ascent] 
And so, through a series of tricks, evasions, and sheer bloody-mindedness, I was surprised to round a bend and find the “Tarnbrae High Point” sign. I was further delighted to find that I’d taken 1 hour and 40 minutes, and hadn’t had to walk the bike at any stage. I celebrated the moment with a couple of cyclists from Canberra. We took high point photos for each other and compared notes on the ride thus far. We were all very glad that it really WAS all downhill from here.

[At the 900m high point above Lake Ohau] 
As I had been slowly catching up to the Canberrans on the ascent, they suggested I lead off on the descent. I quickly checked my front shocks, which hadn’t been working very convincingly, and set off at speed. This was going to be the fun pay-back for that 100 minutes of grunty ascent! For the first time on the trip I felt as though I was doing “proper” mountain biking. It was steeply downhill, with some sharp turns, plenty of bumps and a lot of rough gravel. I thought I must be powering ahead of the Canberra couple, but on one curve I noticed they were quite close behind. Time to put the foot on the accelerator!

It became a wild and very bumpy ride, but I gripped the handle bars, leaned forward and pedalled as hard as I could, braking only when I really needed to. Towards the toe of the scrubby slope there were a couple of rocky creeks that I ploughed through a little too fast. My arms took quite a bit of the shock, and my feet ended up sodden, but I was exhilarated. Finally the downhill levelled off, and the track closed in on Quailburn Woolshed. Joh had arranged to meet us there in Morrison for a late morning tea break.

Lynne had been waiting there for quite a while, and had some cake and a cuppa ready. Joh had been in phone contact with the rest of the group, and thought they were probably well behind. So after a good break, Lynne and I decided to push on together. We’d put in a lot of effort so far, and were a little disheartened to realise we weren’t even a third of the way to our day’s end destination at Otematata. Although the Quailburn Road wasn’t all sealed, at least it was both easy and quiet. With heads down and legs pushing, we eventually reached the pleasant banks of the Ahuriri River, and the short ride into the town of Omarama. That’s where we would all gather together for a late lunch before the final push to Otematata.

[Lynne taking a break beside the Ahuriri River] 
Of course there was one more twist to the day’s ride. Tim, Lynne and I were the ones silly enough to ride the final section. The other two had succumbed to the comforts of Morrison, and a ride in the van to our accommodation. We imagined that the downhill section from Otematata Saddle into the town itself would be a gentle free-wheeling cruise. The weather decided otherwise. Cloud had been building up all afternoon, and now a biting wind was blowing. As we rode those final kilometres, cold, sleety rain lashed us. We were supposed to meet Joh at the Benmore Dam, a few kilometres after Otematata. 

[Sheltering from the sleet at Otematata] 
But all the pride in the world wasn’t going to keep us out in that weather any longer. Instead, having reached the bottom of the hill and the town boundary, we rode just a hundred metres further to the town pub. After a 65km day, we had the energy to order drinks, call Joh to let her know where to find us, and slump down beside the fire. Sometimes enough is enough!

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Alps2Ocean 2: Cracker of a Day

We started our 2nd day with a substantial breakfast, fuel for the 50km day ahead. A quick walk outside told us we should supplement that inner fuel with a layer of warmer outer clothing. A stiff breeze was blowing, it was colder than yesterday, and showers were forecast.

[Set to start day 2 near Lake Pukaki] 
Then we clambered back onboard Morrison (our van). A certain amount of van shuttling was necessary some days, as our accommodation wasn’t always at the end of the day’s ride. So today that snakes and ladders element of the trip saw us snaking from Twizel back to Lake Pukaki. There we got back on our bikes in a stark gravelled area, a remnant from the vast hydro-electric development that has strongly marked this region.

The Pukaki Flats section was a pleasant, easy off-road ride, and it felt good to be riding again. That ladder soon took us back to Twizel, where Joh had arranged to meet us for coffee. Apparently Twizel was to be a temporary hydro-electric construction village, but it defied its use-by date. It has now become a thriving tourism hub, not least because of cycling. The coffee shop had a dozen bikes parked outside, and more lycra-clad patrons inside than most city coffee spots on a Sunday.

[Lynne, Tim and Dave nearing Twizel] 
After Twizel we rode a longish backroad section towards the Ohau Canal. Our beautiful backdrop was the Ben Ohau mountains, a range that stretches south and west from near Aoraki/Mt Cook. If we sometimes felt we were riding through a filmset, there was a moment for me where that “film” switched from The Lord of the Rings to Footrot Flats. Having stopped for a photograph, I was riding alone as I came towards a man, his young daughter and a dog. As I got closer I could see – and hear – that the man was showing the pig-tailed girl how to handle a border collie dog. He whistled loudly and called out to the dog in a gruff, commanding voice. As I puffed up alongside, the broad-hatted gentleman abruptly paused from his work, tilted his head towards me, and said through a broad grin “Gudday. Cracker of a day!”. I puffed out a “Sure is” in response, then cycled on, smiling as I left Wal, The Dog and Pongo to their work.

[A contented merino ram outside Twizel] 
The cracker of a day changed on the long, flat section beside the Ohau Canal. It should have been easy, but soon showers were battering us, and the wind became strong and gusty. The climatologist in me debated whether this was a katabatic wind draining cold air off the range, or merely a strengthening of the underlying westerly. I came to two conclusions. Firstly, whatever you called it, it was bloody hard work to cycle into! And secondly I was now officially envious of Lynne, who was out of sight ahead of us thanks to her e-bike.

[Tim riding beside the Ohau Canal] 
Eventually the squalls lessened in the lee of Ben Ohau, and we re-gathered near the Ohau Weir for lunch. The winding Lake Ohau Track took us around the shores of the beautiful lake, eliciting a few “woo hoo”s from Tim. He was clearly in his mountain biking element on this single track section. And just as patently, I was in landscape heaven. Across the startlingly blue lake skeins of loose scree slid the flanks of Ben Ohau, some right to the lake shore.

[Panorama of Lake Ohau - click to enlarge] 
We had a brief and windy afternoon tea stop beside the lake. Wind squalls were kicking up waves, which crashed noisily onto the shingle shore. We huddled behind Morrison for a while, then resumed riding, this time on the blacktop. We had “only” 10km more to ride to our overnight stop at Lake Ohau Lodge, and the countryside around us was stunning. But it proved hard going, with the wind still tearing straight into our faces.

[Wind squalls, showers and waves, Lake Ohau] 
We had one final steep push from the lakeshore up to Lake Ohau Lodge, which had a commanding position overlooking the lake and the Ben Ohau Range behind that. It was a while before I fully appreciated its position. A cold drink and a hot shower were my immediate needs.

[Lynne waits for me on the winding road to Lake Ohau Lodge] 
Walking into the lodge was like entering a mid-20th century time capsule. The pine-lined walls were covered in black and white ski photos, trophies and huge maps. Dozen of guests gathered around a generous fireplace, lounged on old sofas, or chatted around the bar. That evening the hospitality extended to a wonderfully reviving meal served by happy and engaging staff. Our cracker of a day had become a cracker of a night.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Alps2Ocean 1: Cycling in Camelot

But in Camelot … The rain may never fall till after sundown. By eight, the morning fog must disappear. In short, there's simply not a more congenial spot for happily-ever-aftering than here in Camelot. - Alan Jay Lerner

It was not a promising beginning. After a summer as long, warm and dry as most people in the South Island could remember, the morning of our 5 day cycle trip from Aoraki/Mt Cook to Oamaru dawned darkly cloudy. And as we completed our briefing and boarded the mini-bus/van that would take us from Christchurch to the start, the rain began.

[A little better than expected! The cloud-free Alps across Lake Pukaki] 
To my simple Tasmanian mind, heading west towards mountains in weather like this meant it would be even wetter by the time we reached the hills and started the afternoon’s cycling. The weather forecast promised the same. As the van shoosshed through the wet outskirts of Christchurch, we exchanged gloomy glances and settled down for a long drive. At least the driving was being done by someone else, namely our German-born guide Johanna (who preferred we call her Joh). Her cheerful chatter and nonchalance about the weather even managed to lift the gloom a little.

By our first stop for coffee in Geraldine, the clouds had miraculously parted, even if the air still had a chill to it. Over coffee we got to know our fellow cyclists. We were a small – we prefer to say “select” – group of five, plus Joh our guide. Our long-time friend Tim was the reason Lynne and I were here. He’d booked to do the Alps2Ocean ride a little over a year ago, but had had to cancel the trip because of a shoulder injury. So when the chance came for him to come back, Lynne and I put up our hands to join him. The other two riders were a Canadian/New Zealand couple, Dave and Jackie. She was originally from New Zealand, but had married Dave, a Canadian, and they’d moved to Ontario decades ago. We were intrigued to learn that now they’re in retirement, they spend six months a year in each country. What would it be like to never experience winter?

[Five at the start beside Lake Pukaki]
After Geraldine the road began winding a little more, and our progress towards the Alps was slow but steady. By our lunch stop at Lake Tekapo, the clouds had cleared enough for us to gain glimpses of New Zealand’s giant 3 754m mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook, across the milky blue lake.

At Tekapo we also picked up our bikes. After a local technician had fitted and adjusted them for us, we took a few spins around the carpark. Tim and I had opted for straight mountain bikes, vibrant yellow Avanti branded bikes with front shocks and rear racks fitted with bags. Cannily Lynne had opted for the Avanti e-mountain bike, in gun-metal grey, with a Shimano motor. The three of us ride e-bikes at home, and had all considered this option. But Tim and I had decided we’d cope with the 260km ride just fine under our own steam. After all, wasn’t it practically all downhill from the Alps to the Ocean? What could be hard about that?

As we drove on to Lake Pukaki, the weather just kept getting better. Welcome to Camelot! By the time we’d taken the dirt road up to our starting point at Braemar Station, our  views of the “cloud piercer”, as Aoraki translates into English, were the best I’d ever seen in 40+ years of coming to New Zealand. There, seemingly just at the end of the lake, stood this commanding snow-clad peak, as classic a pyramid shaped mountain as the Matterhorn or Mt Aspiring. It easily shouldered aside the wisps of clouds that smothered some of its less lofty neighbours.

[View to Aoraki/Mt Cook from near Braemar Station] 
I was tipsy on what the Psalmist called “the wine of astonishment”, and could have stayed and gazed at the mountain all afternoon. But we did have a “token” amount of riding to do on that first afternoon, “just” 30km or so along a quiet gravel road to the Lake Pukaki Visitor Centre. So we climbed into our saddles, and set off down the shore of the glittering lake with a gentle breeze and astonishing views at our backs.

[Tim explores the lake at the tea break]  
It was a shake-down ride in more ways than one. The road, while gentle of gradient, proved to have fierce corrugations at regular intervals. Wherever we pointed our bikes, we couldn’t avoid these bone-shaking corrugations. Joh had warned us we’d strike some of this, but had distracted us with the “carrot” of afternoon tea just a little down the road, served from “Morrison” (as we dubbed our van). Between that and our frequent photographic stops – in settings we had to blink to believe – we gladly made it to the bottom end of Pukaki. There Joh met us, wearing her accustomed beaming smile, and chauffeured us off to our first night’s accommodation, with its showers, soft beds and hot food! One day in Camelot down, four days to go.

[Astonishing views across Lake Pukaki at day's end]

Thursday, 17 May 2018

The Marvels of Moeraki

I like fish and chips. I’m far from alone in that, of course. But for really serious fans of fish, Moeraki in New Zealand should sooner or later come up on the radar. It’s a snug coastal town between Dunedin and Oamaru, and home to “Fleur’s Place”. Famous foodie, Rick Stein, pronounced that restaurant his favourite place to eat in the whole of New Zealand.

[2-storeyed Fleur's Place across Moeraki Harbour] 
Having a few days to make our way from Dunedin to Christchurch, we’ve chosen to spend a couple of nights in Moeraki. While we like slow travel, I do wonder whether staying that long in a town whose name translates “sleepy sky”, and whose population is around 60, might see us run out of things to see and do quite quickly. There’s only so much fish you can eat! But of course Moeraki is also renowned for its nearby boulders, so we can at least add that to our list.

We arrive in the town mid afternoon, and decide we’ll cook for ourselves the first night. But we still wander down to Fleur’s Place, just across the road from our apartment, to book a table for our second night. We’ve been here a few times on previous trips, but only for a coffee or a quick lunch. However we once experienced an amazing dinner in Fleur’s short-lived Oamaru restaurant, “Loan and Merc”. So we’re keen to have a full, relaxed seafood dinner in Moeraki, knowing we only have to amble home across the road afterwards.

[Some of the Moeraki Boulders] 
The next morning the boulders are first on the menu. As with fish and chips, there are plenty of boulders in the world, but there are not many like those at Moeraki. We park a few hundred metres south of the main viewing area, and walk along the glistening beach towards what looks like quite a crowd of sightseers. As we draw near the throng we start to see dozens of boulders. They’re scattered along the shore as artfully as marbles abandoned by children. But what children they must have been! Some of these “marbles” are nearly human height.

[Wandering among the Moeraki Boulders] 
According to Māori tradition, the boulders are the food baskets and water gourds that washed overboard after the legendary canoe Arai Te Uru was wrecked along this coast. Geologists take a different tack, saying that rather than being washed up on the shore, they are being revealed at the shore as the cliffs in which they were formed erode. We find one half-born boulder in the soft cliff at the back of the beach, and are amazed to think that many more are “in utero” in the swollen sedimentary band behind us.

[The cliff about to give birth to a fresh boulder] 
Their “gestation period” is anything up to a few million years. They start small as an organic nucleus in sediments: perhaps a shell fragment, or a piece of rotting vegetation. The cementing mineral calcite gradually – and sometimes uniformly – grows around the nucleus to form a spherical concretion. These can grow in the sediment until revealed as huge marble-like boulders. They sometimes take on less uniform shapes as they are eroded, with veins of brown or cream-coloured calcite better resisting the weathering.

[Coloured layers of calcite resist erosion better] 
Of course we don’t have to understand any of this to be bowled over by the boulders, as I’m sure are the school group we chat with about their visit here. Eventually students, teachers and carers troop off towards a promised ice cream up the beach. We turn back to continue our wander among the boulders, enjoying their warmly alien presence for a further half hour. Even the Instagramming antics of some visitors – and the intrusion of a drone – fail to spoil our enjoyment of these marvellous “marbles”.

After lunch back at the apartment we download our photos, catch up on social media and generally loll about. But soon we overcome our inertia and decide to go for a short wander on the nearby beach. It turns out to be far more adventurous than we anticipated. During the wee hours of our first night I’d heard a sound that could have been a cow, but sounded more seal-like. I’d promptly forgotten about it, but as we reach a boat ramp in the harbour, there’s a ruckus in the water.

[What's that in the water??] 
Lynne and I simultaneously call out “seal!” And we’re both wrong. It’s far bigger than a normal seal, and I guess it’s a New Zealand sea lion, aka a Hooker’s sea lion, or whakahao in Māori. It surfaces several times, and appears to be playing with something. At first I wonder if it’s tossing sea weed, but then I see that the “weed” has suckers. It’s got an octopus, and far from playing with it, it’s tearing the hapless cephalopod apart. While sea gulls wheel around hopefully, the sea lion thrashes its head from side to side.

[The sea lion tearing apart an octopus] 
We each take up a different vantage point to watch and photograph the cow-sized marine mammal. At one stage it comes into the shallows and momentarily eye-balls Lynne, who is on the beach. I’m watching from the nearby jetty, snapping almost as quickly as the sea lion is eating. Eventually it swims further up the beach before hauling out onto the sand for a post-snack rest.

[Lynne face-to-face with the Hooker's Sea Lion] 
It’s at least 3m long, and has dark fur, both indications that this is a male. We learn that they can weigh up to 450kg. We feel incredibly privileged to be able to watch this huge creature over an extended period. These are the rarest sea lions on earth, and are officially endangered owing to their low population levels.

After the excitement of the afternoon, we decide to head to Fleur’s Place early. Over pre-dinner drinks, and with sea lions still in mind, we discover that Fleur aims for “fresh food sustainably produced”. It’s fresh alright, supplied by the handful of fishing boats that we can see bobbing at anchor in the harbour. We chat with one staff member who tells us that populations of fish and other species on offer here are constantly monitored to guard against over-fishing.

It turns into a long and very enjoyable meal. We’re attended to with great care by the staff, and we end the evening having a good chat with Fleur herself. We marvel at the energy of this 70-something year old woman, who has run this place day and night for the last 17 years. It almost comes as a relief to hear her admit that she’s looking forward to her days off.

[With Fleur Sullivan (centre) after dinner] 
And for the record, “Mr Hooker” needn’t have worried about our meal. Octopus was not on the menu.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Finding Fangorn

I’ve long been a Tolkien tragic. Since my teenage years I have probably read Tolkien’s trilogy more than ten times. Even though a few characters may have a dated, even stilted, feel to them, some of them still feel as real as people in my life. Heck, I even agreed to have “Gaffer” as my grandfather name!

So while my enthusiasm for The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) long pre-dates the films, and New Zealand’s rebirth as Middle Earth, when we lived for a few months in New Zealand, I couldn’t resist buying a New Zealand atlas that had the locations of many scenes featured in Peter Jackson’s film version of the trilogy.

[Welcome to "Middle Earth", near Mavora Lakes] 
That’s all background to a recent episode from our autumn 2018 visit to the South Island of New Zealand. And it’s part explanation for how we came to find ourselves at Mavora Lakes. You’d be forgiven for asking “Where?”, as even many Kiwis we spoke to didn’t know much about the place. If I said it was somewhere between the Thomson and Livingstone Mountains, a valley or two east of Te Anau, that might not help much either. But given that we were spending Easter at Kingston, on the far southern shore of Lake Wakatipu, and less than two hours from the lakes, we were keen to explore them.

[On the shores of North Mavora Lake] 

Mavora Lakes – there’s a South Mavora Lake and a North Mavora Lake – fill part of the glacier-carved Mararoa River valley, which runs roughly north/south out of the Livingstone Mountains. The lakes are not obscure to South Island trampers, campers and hunters, given the range of activities they have to offer. And since the area became a hotspot for crucial LOTR scenes, they have also become part of the fabric of Middle Earth.

A certain amount of determination was required to reach our destination. With 40km of gravel road to traverse – after a longish drive on sealed roads – there would have been cries of “when are we gonna get there?” had there been any children in the car. As we got closer the valley tightened, and we started to see swathes of deep green beech forest. Our trusty atlas had forewarned us that some of the scenes of Fangorn Forest had been filmed here. This included one in which Aragorn and some of the hobbits had come to the place where the Riders of Rohan had slaughtered and burned a band of orcs.

The landscape, with open, buff-coloured tussock butting up against closed beech forest, looked so familiar that it was more like visiting an historic battlefield than a film location. Lynne and I were caught up in imagining two of the hobbits, Merry and Pippin, crawling away from the battle and into the dubious safety of the forest. 

[A deadly fly agaric mushroom might not be all that lurks in this forest!] 
Not for the first time I reflected on the peculiar genius of New Zealand to take something wholly borrowed, and turn it into something that seems entirely native to it. Think of kiwi fruit, merino wool, even the Australian possum (whose fur is blended with merino - originally Spanish – to become “merino mink”).

We parked our car and put on our day-packs for a wander up the shore of North Mavora Lake. A keen breeze blew across the lake making wavelets that shushed on the shingle shore. It also shushed the sand flies, which only made an appearance any time the wind drew breath. Being more relaxed about the bities left us free to lift our eyes to the hills. And what hills! Bush-clad near the shore; steeply rising to the tree line, tussock-covered above that, except where rain, snow and incline had conspired to bring the slope down: the classic land slip that Kiwis deal with all the time, and the rest of us seldom see.

We had no particular plan, except to stretch our legs and to take in the wonders of a beautiful place. Although there was a track north through the forest, we chose to walk along the shingle shore, the better to take in the wider scene. A little over 6km later we were at the end of the forest, and well up the lake on what some call the Mavora Walkway. We’d seen the other end of that multi-day track some years back when we stayed at Greenstone Hut, on the Greenstone/Caples Track. As we stopped for lunch on a convenient log, I looked wistfully up lake towards where I guessed Carey’s Hut – one of four huts along the track – must be located. There’s always next time, I thought, with the time-honoured optimism of the ageing tramper/bushwalker. Right now there was justice to be done to the lunch that Lynne had somehow conjured from leftovers.

[Lunching by North Mavora Lake] 
We were near the place which had become Nen Hithoel in the film. This was the lake into which the Anduin River flowed, and marked the location of the breaking of the “fellowship” after Boromir’s attempt to take the ring. Frodo – and eventually Sam – had taken a boat across the lake to make their own way towards Mount Doom.

But today any chance of long, reflective tranquility was broken, not by a troop of orcs, but a convoy of dirt bikes, which buzzed by on both beach and track. The group was friendly, and perfectly within their rights, and we were reminded that such places are shared and enjoyed by widely diverse groups of people. For all its beauty, this place is not wilderness.

Returning to the car we reflected on what the place itself had seen over recent millennia. Its Gondwanan forests had survived numerous ice ages, at times huddling precariously above the glaciers that carved out the lakes; at others taking advantage of warmer, wetter eras to clothe whole swathes of the valley. They’d seen the Maori come, passing through here in search of food and their precious pounamu/greenstone; and the pakeha/white settlers chasing gold, clearing and burning vast areas of forest, and bringing sheep and cattle to graze the opened land.

[Beech forest, Mavora Lakes] 
 All of this is a vastly more complex, and often more marvellous story than the fictional one that drew us here over Easter. In part it is a tragedy, given how much forest has gone, and how many birds have succumbed to introduced pests. But it’s also a story that continues. And given how long “Fangorn” has lasted, it’s a story that’s still filled with hope.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Crossing the Plateau 3: Touching the Walls

During the night the rain taps and whispers on the tent fly, but I’m not keen to let it in. I’m snug in my revised sleeping “system”, which comprises a new down quilt and a new, thicker sleeping mat. The mat may rustle a little more than my previous one, but that just matches the wind in the pines. The whole percussive ensemble soon has me asleep.

The next morning is very cool, and the wind is still fresh, though the rain has cleared. We pack up and leave promptly, keen to make up time after our unscheduled delay. We’re aiming first for Long Tarns. It’s an apt name for a series of interconnected linear tarns that run almost 3km from north-west to south-east. They create an effective barrier to anyone walking from our direction.

[The group departs Long Tarns (click to enlarge)] 
I’ve been to Long Tarns before, but my memory of that trip – back in the early 1980s – is not only faded, it’s geographically irrelevant. It was winter, and I’d come only to the northern edge of Long Tarns after an ascent of Mersey Bluff. An old photo has me standing at the edge of the tarn, as if pondering the possibility of skating on its thin ice. Looking back it’s dizzying to think of something like 36 years of personal familiarity with this country. It feels akin to a songline for me.

[A young Peter at Long Tarns, ca. 1982. photo by KM] 
On this occasion we’ve gone around the southern edge of Long Tarns, though only after seeing whether the summer “low tide” would allow us to cross a little further north. It wouldn’t. But we do find a couple of large rock cairns, which we guess are associated with the long-disused drove route known as Ritters Track. “Track” is now a misnomer, as there’s no clear sign of it on the ground, and we find it much easier to simply go cross-country.

After a short break at the southernmost of the tarns, we strike our first bit of scrubby country. And now we have to lift our legs higher, land them a little less certainly, and take longer in finding a way through or around the scrub. Walking poles briefly become a nuisance as they get caught in the bauera, cutting grass and teatree that sometimes block our route. The going soon becomes easier, but when we find an open meadow near a shallow lake, we’re more than ready for a lunch break. Rocks allow us to recline, the sun obliges by starting to shine, and we have a decent rest. 

[Libby enjoying the lunch break (photo by Mick Adams)] 
But just after we get walking again, trouble strikes. There’s a muffled shout from the rear of the group, and I turn to find Mick on the ground. He’s wincing and oohing, and appears to have twisted his ankle quite badly. But after a short recline, Mick convinces us it’s okay. He gets to his feet, and starts testing whether his ankle will hold his weight. It does, but some of us have experienced Mick’s “man-of-steel” stubbornness before. We strap the ankle, slow our pace, and watch him carefully for the next few hours.

[One of the slow sections approaching the Walls] 
By mid afternoon we’re drawing close to Mt Jerusalem, the first mountain on our side of the Walls of Jerusalem. There are also lakes and pools aplenty – as there have been the entire walk – but we’re on the lookout for one in particular. We’ve decided Lake Tyre, being just inside the “official” Walls, is our first potential camping spot. Again my memory of it from a 1980s trip is useless, as I didn’t camp there, and have no recollection of its potential as an overnight stop.

[Yes, we also used paper maps] 
Soon enough, as we approach the lake’s eastern edge, we have an answer of sorts. There’s a large open area near the shore, although it’s not well sheltered, and is somewhat lumpy. Everyone is tired, but a few of us decide to leave our packs and scout around on the other side of the lake. We can see pencil pine stands on both the western and northern shores, and think they might offer better shelter. It turns out that west is best, and we hoist packs and spend another 20 minutes scrambling around to the far shore. Our decision is met with some grumpiness from one (nameless) member of our party. He’s already found the perfect nook for his tent on the eastern side, and is not happy with being uprooted.

[Late afternoon at Lake Tyre] 
After a certain amount of chiding – in the gentle spirit that has pervaded our walk thus far – our grumpy friend settles into his new (inferior!) site, and eventually joins us in enjoying what turns out to be a spectacularly beautiful evening. The sun stays with us, the wind eases, and under clear blue skies the lake’s surface turns a glassy deep blue.

I had always thought this lake was named after the biblical city of Tyre – an ancient Mediterranean port – given that so many other place names in the Walls follow biblical themes. If I was puzzled that nearby Lake Thor bore a name from Norse mythology, I figured that might have been some kind of early ecumenical gesture. I have since heard that pioneer Walls of Jerusalem bushwalker, Reg Hall, had cheekily named these two lakes after two women he often walked with in the mid part of the 1900s. So it seems that Lake Tyre is named for Peggy McInTYRE, and Lake Thor for Joan THORold.

[TimO at sunset, Lake Tyre] 
The next day is relatively short. We’re keen to avoid the crowds that we know will be in the central Walls area, so we’re heading for Tiger Lake by dropping down beside Zion Gate and into Officers Creek. Along the way we sadly farewell Tim and Merran, who have to walk all the way out today.

Our destination reminds a few of us that there’s a kind of anniversary to mark at the lake. It’s five years since we first met Libby in this very park. Then new to Tasmania, she was walking solo, but happily tagged along with us when she heard we were going in search of Solitary Hut on the side of Tiger Lake. She’s been walking with us ever since, an arrangement that suits us all very well.

[Reflections: Tiger Lake] 
Five years ago, we had to watch our path to the lake very carefully, as it was far from distinct. Disappointingly it’s now impossible to miss, as someone has sprayed fluoro orange paint all along the route, on rocks, trees and even on the ground. In a wilderness zone this is a very ugly and thoughtless intrusion, and something that causes more grumpiness in our group than yesterday’s campsite shift.

Just before Solitary Hut, and a little above Tiger Lake, we find an open area in a eucalypt woodland in which to set our tents. But for Jim any hut is irresistible, and he decides to set up inside the hut. We visit him, though only briefly, and one at a time. The hut is both spartan and tiny, and turns out to have a healthy population of mosquitoes.

[Jim looking proprietorial at Solitary Hut] 
The man who built the hut back in the 1980s was an amateur weight-lifter, and incorporated a chin-up bar into the hut. He also arranged some rocks in what is now our campsite to serve as a bench press. There’s more of his story here

[Looking from Solitary Hut towards Tiger Lake] 
One unexpected feature of the hut is that it houses a spade. Unless you’ve spent 6 days in the bush, digging toilet holes with small trowels, you may have difficulty understanding what a magnificent luxury this is. As we depart the lake early the next morning, there seems to be a special spring in our steps. While the spade may be partly responsible, it’s also that this is to be our last day. The walk to our cars is both short and downhill, and we have the even greater luxury of a hot lunch at the Mole Creek pub to look forward to.

But while a hot meal is a standout in the short term, this walk has given us much more than that to digest. Without climbing one single mountain, we’ve seemed on top of the world – or at least of Tasmania – for much of our walk. We’ve met challenges ranging from off-track navigation and large group decision making; to injury and occasionally harsh weather. For me, although it jostles alongside 36 years of other walks in this region, it will remain one of the most memorable walks I’ve ever done.