Nightly Reflections – South Coast Track III

Longer Form (Est. Reading Time 12 Minutes)

For six nights along the South Coast Track I jotted down vibes from the trail. Nothing really here about the track conditions or distances between camps, mostly focused on how I was feeling returning to this wilderness coastline. Some short, some lengthy, all sweet. Here they are.

Day One.

Today I feel comfortable returning to the south west, my third time on the trail in as many years. 

The track is familiar, and I feel that I’m becoming seasoned in traversing the region. I think that there’s no reason I couldn’t do this every year, spending a week (or more) and adding on new side trips each time, revisiting but embellishing my knowledge and bringing others along for the journey.

I’m alert and excited about the year ahead of me and the personal challenges involved. I’m well rested from summer, now into my third week, time spent mostly eating and laying about. So I’m ready for bush time and especially eager if the weather is going to be good…

Day Two.

Today I hardly thought about anything. My mind could get stuck on a song (never a good song I’ll add), or be on repeat for a moment from the past, usually within the past week, the upcoming house move and subsequent search for our new place. Then after a while and a few dozen steps, something else would be on rotation. Classic day two vibes, when the city speeds and expectations are slowing down to a more fitting pace, one that is closer to the rhythm of heavy footsteps and the rustle of a backpack as it slowly reduces in weight with each meal.

The sun continued to beat down solid, and we can’t believe we forgot sunscreen. Mostly the exposed skin is alright, save my neck. It’s pretty red, hammered from hanging out too long on the beach over summer already. Eventually it sets into the ocean out west, a bulk of cloud fragmenting the light into oranges, yellows and pinks. It can’t penetrate through it all, and a mass of grey hovers slowly above the Ironbounds, the ranges tumbling into the Louisa valley below. Tomorrows ascent. 

I fell asleep for an hour on the beach, head on my runners, mini hiking towel flung over my legs fending of the March flies. I dreamt deeply into the soft sand, flashes of a memory reel reflecting in my mind. Pub hangs, silent strolls in town, or leaving the house to go to the shops. Simple everyday events that aren’t necessarily spectacular yet all add up. When I role from my snooze, I dig my toes in deeply to find the harder compressed sand, and massaged their tired ends into submission for another days hiking, tomorrow sending it steeply up and down in what will be my biggest trail day (in kilometres) on the south coast track yet. 

Last year on day two I was reflecting on returning, being back in this place with a swathe of new experiences. That’s still the case, and I’m still chipping away at trail time and wilderness readings. It’s part of our backyard that I want to see protected and adored. But I’m really not thinking about it. I just am. I feel like I’m home, and content…

Day Three.

Today was another perfect patch of hiking on the south coast track. Full blue skies and minimal wind, the ranges to the west, north and east squeezed in together, only separated in the faintest changes of silhouetted blue. Truely fantastic and beyond impressive. Catching our eyes was the massif of the Arthurs and the prominent Federation Peak, the plateau of Mt.Bobs, and those out west towards the harbour that sit lower than Able height and avoid my knowledge, for now. While up is an exposed tramp, down to Deadman’s Bay is a secluded steep send through my favourite forest of dense green. Here the forest is warm, the canopy alight with brilliant blue. Hidden in its density are the birds calling, the insects beating their wings en mass, and the frogs calling back and forth.

Sun disappears and my mind vacates the scene. I’m spent, heel aching, hips rubbed raw, fatigued for sleep. Tomorrow I might find the time to reflect on the roots and branches on the push down hill, avoiding the falls and trips, occasionally pushing myself a little too quickly and slipping into tree trunks.

Sleep tight whenever we are hey…

Day Four.

Today was divine, a near perfect day for hiking, pushing us on for a double day. There was a chance we could lag behind, or take the effort of yesterday to meaning today would just happen. Yet alarms rang and sleeping bags rustled early. Bacon and eggs danced in the last of the butter. Tea brewed on the cliff edge, a little dusting of powdered milk sat on the cup handle.

The infamous Precipitous Bluff appeared from the grotto on Prion Beach and joined us intermittently throughout the day. A fantastic mass of dolerite rock, nestled up against the major fault line that divides the states dolerite and quartz, it soaked up the sun from its 1100m+ in height a seeming stones throw from the ocean. As we rowed across the New River Lagoon, with a slight breeze from the east, the bluff loomed behind ultra impressive, making  a classy crossing photo opportunity.

The near permanent un-cross-ability of the lagoon means there’s a shuttle system of row boats on either side of the water body, that’s a few hundred meters wide. Naturally you can’t cross and leave a row boat behind as well, so in the case there’s only one boat on your bank, you need to do three trips – row across, hitch up a second boat, row back to where you came, drop it off, then row back across. In doing the crossing we risked taking all three boats back across as we knew there was a big mob of hikers coming down the beach just behind us, and sure enough as we were readying to leave they rounded the sand dunes, stoked with the extra boat! Given the heavy bias for people travelling west to east, you usually have to do the triple trip from this direction. What’s ace is the next group did the same thing, and paying it forward happened for a few successive hiking groups.

Retiring for a session in a fishing net hammock, I resisted the flies somewhat to get in a little rest and reading, delve into some deeper down time beyond cooking and making camp. The book I’m reading teaches teachers about teaching – by exploring the learning cycle and how we sense information, give it context in our lives, and (to complete the cycle) churn it into action. For a while I floated in the hammock, reflecting on how this applied to my hiking, either on this trip or over the years. There’s things sensed – maybe the tightening of skin being burnt, or a certain hunger in your gut longing for the flavour of fat/sugar. It could also be the sensation of being lost, being afraid, being fatigued. Each experience layers itself in your mind, allowing comparison of how and why each happened, and naturally how one would approach the situation into the future. With hiking, the resulting actions (or inactions) usually take form after the trip back at home. To try ensure minimal fuss before the next trip, I store and pre pack my gear once I get home. To try avoid confusion over meals, I have a pre-written shopping list of food.

We kick off again, out of the hammock and on to the warm, dry trail, undulating across the old sand dunes and under some difficult to negotiate wattle tree carcasses impeding the trail. It’s a challenge, squeezing under a branch or three, pushing uphill on a slope made of sand, as your pack inevitably catches a rouge piece of branch, dragging what minimal momentum you had to a halt.  Fortunately (as I’m not the biggest fan of this wattle stretch), it’s not long before we’re across the Rocky Plains and into my favourite patch on the trail. Truly ginormous gum trees, stunted in height like most coastal trees owing to the relentless barrage of winds of the Southern Ocean, for what they lack in height they make up in girth – with diameters at your chest height of five humans arm spans end to end: huge!

It’s right now I get to be so glad we pushed through to make it to Surprise beach, and to see this forest and the evening, golden sunlight filtering through the canopy.

We arrive. Set up. Find water and guzzle it down. We’re parched as. A fantastic days hiking along the premiere wilderness track in the land. No place like it, facing away south across spectacular cliffs and beaches that have felt the barrage of time like few others. Curtains for the day were burning red and pink, a sunset for a lifetime, jagged rock enveloped in ocean and silhouetted on a pink-blood January sky…

Day Five.

Today I’m in love with our surroundings. Well, I am every other day, but today’s a special day for all the right, simple reasons. Woke up late without an alarm, body clock delayed in calling the shots, ended up just catching the end of the morning feeding session of the local birdlife. Made a cuppa in the vestibule, the sunlight warming my tent through the slowly moving tea tree. Gazed into the middle distance as the tea brewed, waking up to a gorgeous coastal morning, cracking a massive smile across my face. It’s a different vibe waking up next to the coast – everything has reset itself according to the waves relentless frequency, wiping away our footsteps on a high tide in the process.

Eventually we packed up, and after a cruisey breakie, remembered it was time to walk. I laughed straight into a hill, immediately burning the energy through my calves, and draining my water supply. Still, while the light washed out the landscape above the trees in overcast white, below a few rays managed to penetrate the forest and parried with the understory of ferns. Ferns grow in the most stunning soft greens, delicate yet hardy, controlling and covering the landscape from below.

We got through to Granite Bay in no time, dodging a basking snake on the final ascent to the campsite. At this time it was empty bar one other hiker, and we set up shop and yarned about hiking along the eastern seaboard, following our verbal trails as we listed hikes from Cairns to Cradle to Canterbury over the ditch, and how Covid changed our hopes for so many more. I love sharing our trail stories, carefully crafted and chockers with chance occurrences we use to share values and connect – conversations and kindness of those on trail or offering a ride, the mental hurdle of solo wilderness hiking, and more.

After a waterfall shower, located under the stream that falls onto the beach below camp, my body feels stiff and sore, time to rest it and not stretch it, a sage recovery session for tomorrow’s send over the South Cape Range. So I retired to tent bed for an arvo kip and to finish my book. I’ve been chipping away at The art of changing the brain for a couple of months now, made easier by the short and punchy paragraphs and blend of advice, research, and personal experience. I’ve relished reading and learning about learning.

It’s all part of perfect afternoon in, jogging the mind and resting my overloaded muscles.

Later, I woke up to a near howling wind and a packed campsite, maybe the potential rain on the horizon has accordion-ed everyone to this camp either side of the range, prepping ourselves for the up and over tomorrow.

Again I find myself reflecting on the special loving nature of our surroundings today. I love it’s quiet, even in the howling wind. I love how it welcomes us to the landscape, even when offering up impenetrable three-metre high vegetation across the trail. I love the sensation of coming across a snake, and love even more the distance we keep from each other…

Day Six.

Today is our second last day on the south coast track. Many kilometres, views, and beads of sweat later, we’re almost there. Woke up to a rapidly emptying campsite and a superheavy seabreeze slowly clearing at Granite Bay. Waves were pumping hard, the white caps and the deep blue water surfing in together.

Straight into sending it up and over the South Cape Range, into the mud mission, featuring the sloppiest and most consistent stretch of mud for the trip. I took a few falls, ended up with mud up to the ankle, and came so close to mud near to the waist. Elliott wasn’t as lucky. Super slippery navigating across delicate and exposed branches offering minimal purchase. The mud demands your focus, keeps you heavily in tune with your footsteps, draining all your energy as it is directed to ensuring you don’t slip. Every footprint is important, because a lapse could mean mud up to your knee, could mean falling face first into the mud, or of course for a more serious injury.

But it makes for a very entertaining hiking especially under the gorgeous canopy. Stunning eucalypt woodlands, some areas with amazingly huge leatherwoods, sassafrass, or places where a tree’s come down and the resulting exposure to the sun creates an amazing fern grove of green against the encroaching shadows. And of course the open areas of swampy heathland, where the scrub is at eye level as your meandering through the flowering landscape.

The stretch down into South Cape Bay is divine. From Trackcutters camp it’s mostly down hill with just a couple little elevation gains. Amazing views span out across the cliffs, down in to the wonderfully perfect opening up onto the sandy beach and rivulet to wrap up the days hiking.

Now that I’m here I’m ready to go home. I can sense it’s just a day away now. A bed, sleep and familiar smiles is that which I’ve been missing. I think on every second last day there’s a blend of reflection of the time spent on trail blended with the possibility of tomorrow and returning to friends and family.

I have loved this trip incredibly. The lucky weather will be in the records forever, so too gawking at the unbelievable views and summiting the challenge of starting with 28kg condensed into my backpack. Layering of experiences over the years, even the ability to give expertise to hikers, and reflect on three years running. The noticeable changes and the seasonal shifts – for example water availability or condition of the campsites. 

It’s exciting be in a position where I am learning about this beautiful part of the world. I’m familiar with it, and excited to think that over the many years to come how well I’ll get to know it as 3 trips becomes 10, maybe 20 or even 30. 

It’s exciting to know that tomorrow the adventure continues, and that means beginning to find a new place to live and begin building more settled and longer term future with in this beautiful island wilderness I love that I get to call home.

Happy trails my friends,

Jimmy Nails

During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign with the Wilderness Society, and on days off I hike in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. You could say I’m a wilderness tragic. Outside of wilderness I’m a sucker for melody, cook a mean pasta, and need a third dot point.

Follow Making Tracks on Instagram, here, or on Facebook, here.

The South Coast Track – where these photos were taken – is the traditional lands of the Lyluequonny & Needwonnee people. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.

Bibliography / Suggested reads: 

  • James Zull ‘The Art of Changing the Brain’
  • Daniel Kahneman ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’

Back Home… Te Araroa (SoBo) Reflections

Longer Form (Est. Reading Time 6 Minutes)

Be back in a couple months.

Lost in a network of coves on the far north-eastern point of Aotearoa’s Te Waipounamu/South Island. The island here has being consumed by ocean over millennia, valleys filling with water and creating a myriad of jutting points and hidden bays. Loosing my bearings a little, my neck cranes left to right searching for what I think could be Meretoto/Ship Cove, the starting point for the southern leg of the countries national trail, the Te Araroa (the ‘TA’).

I was pumping with energy, excited and hanging to get hiking. The boat pulled up to the jetty, and so did I, grabbing my loaded pack from the legend of a captain as I did so. A quick smile, thanks, and beginning the 1500 kilometre stretch down to the southern tip! The cool weather rainforest here is gorgeous, the sun shining through the dense, brilliant green canopy and a path lined by tree ferns and nikau palms. Following the contour over a spur, I caught a glimpse of the ocean below, stunning blue and gently washing against an undisturbed shoreline below me.

Another TA hiker and I strolled into camp together an hour or so from the jetty, meeting a third TA hiker in the process. At this stage, our earliest of expectations were totally fresh, and I truely had no idea what the terrain and challenge ahead was going to be. I knew there’d be heavy packs, and lengthy week long stretches between towns. But these were just shallow, inexperienced expectations of a thru-hike. Over a dehydrated meal and spoons of peanut butter, we delved into the details of the trail ahead and what food we had packed in. The other hiker had hiked the Te Ika-a-Māui/North Island too, and I begun to learn a bit of the lingo (‘most people walk SoBo’ that is, ‘South Bound’), hear of other people ahead/behind us (we’d started between two ‘pulses’ of hikers, about three days apart), and what else I could expect from walking for months on end (podcasts, podcasts, podcasts).

From fresh faced beginnings the distance unraveled underneath my feet as the scale of the undertaking hit me. I can tell you the exact location it began. For those playing at home it was in the Richmond Ranges, on the ridge line between Slaty and Old Man huts, staring south west to Mount Rintoul. After a lunch in the shade I stood there, staring at peaks innumerable in every direction, snow capped in the direction I was heading. Here’s an excerpt from my diary that day: ‘[the view] was humbling.. I felt alone for the first time in a while.. The scale was just huge, and my mind started to put it all together and went into shut down mode.

Here it hit that I was only on day eight of an expected seventy, and the vastness of the challenge sunk in. The sensation reminds me heavily of my time on Frenchman’s Cap, staring out over the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area, overwhelmed as I yet again reassessed my interpretation of the grandness of the outdoors.

Throughout the TA on the Te Waipounamu/South Island, you pass from one area to the next mostly surrounded by spectacular mountains on the eastern flank of the Kā Tiritiri o te Moana/Southern Alps. Mt Rintol in the Richmonds, Wiauo Pass in Nelson Lakes, Avalanche Peak in Arthurs Pass, the Two Thumb range and more. In evenings the sun sets behind the mountains, striking brilliant silhouettes and casting crisp shadows, even in February.

The shock of distance and the remote nature of my time on trail meant I had to reprogram my attitude to the hike. I realised that I was undertaking a mental marathon, not a sprint. The wild and remote backcountry of Aotearoa is what drew me here, and it provided the challenge I was seeking.

Feeling this remoteness is a crucial element to the wilderness experience. Some of the challenging moments of a lengthy, backcountry hike are tied to remoteness – the challenge of trails exposed to the elements with lengthy distances without water, of traversing free flowing rivers, or interactions with wildlife. In A Life on Our Planet, our favourite, David Attenborough, shares his changing experience with nature whilst the wild places of the earth have dwindled rapidly over the past sixty years.

Hiking through the remote places on the TA shines a light on how motorised transport can impact the nature of wild-ness. When your choice is purely by foot, the size and scale is almost incomprehensible; the challenge totally different. Yet you can drive the length of the south island in a day, or fly it in under three hours. Doing so the surroundings might ‘look’ wild (and well worth seeing none-the-less), but they really ‘feel’ and ‘act’ as wild by traversing them powered by your own energy. If a place retains a disconnection from transportation intrusion, the more remote and wild it can remain, and the richer the experience for those on trail.

We felt the tainting of the challenge when, after a serious and difficult day of hiking, a helicopter flew in people to the valley. Not only did the helicopter shatter the quiet completely, but it reduced our remoteness completely. The pilot even offered to take our rubbish out – a nice offer, but dropping 50 grams of scraps from my pack will never be worth it. Another element to this example is that we were hiking with speed to avoid the cyclonic weather pushing from the north east over the alps – whilst those in the chopper had a lift out with the chopper regardless. The extended consequences of introducing motorised access are broad and permanent – and I’ll delve in to some of the elements of this in future parts of Back Home..

The extent of wilderness – remote, challenging, and typically iconic areas – has a unique ability to humble. As we hiked/tramped on the TA, I relished sharing this experience with others. Our skill levels were different, so too our expectations of ourselves. But rolling into camp with pals and sharing a yarn from the trail – totally enriched the value of a wilder experience. I reflect on these moments a lot. Not a day passes where I don’t think about the TA and trail, and no week passes by where my pals from the TA don’t reflect on the experience with me.

Returning home was a whirl wind of adrenaline. Crossing the Te Waipounamu/South Island from north to south on foot was an emotional stretch. The pain and changes of twenty-nineteen being trampled into the path, or more poetically, set to rest in my mind in exchange for burning through kilojoules like they’re going out of style. Come a week into trail a was able to power through multiple burgers, pizzas, litres of milk, and keep operating, still retaining room for more food!

We were drawn together for a variety of reasons, but most common was the allure of the scenery and interaction with the islands wild and remote landscapes. How we share, care for and nurture these landscapes into the future will determine the quality of experience for those that follow in our footsteps.

Though ‘Back Home..‘ I’m going to delve into what wilderness is a little more.

If wilderness is ‘out there’, then what’s here at home? What does our future of wilderness look like? How do we protect wilderness areas at threat from human activity? Does a true wilderness include people, or not? There’s so many questions, and given the number of trails and making up for lost time we’re teeing up for 2021, plenty of time to mull over the topic in more refined nature.

So, here’s to turning a bit of home thinking time into home writing time, and looking forward to sharing this over the coming summer with you all.

What does wilderness mean to you?? Comment below and join me on Instagram here!

Happy trails my friends,

Jimmy Nails

During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign on wilderness protection with the Wilderness Society, and on days off I hike in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. You could say I’m a wilderness tragic. Outside of this I’m a sucker for melody, cook a mean pasta, and need a third dot point.

Hiking, tramping, trekking – whatever you call making your way across the land by foot – is an ancient activity. The original inhabitants of Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Maori, have travelled across the land by foot for aeons. Pathways have been trodden into song-lines and stories that are, in some cases, millennia’s old. Many modern-day paths, including portions of long distance trails such as the Te Araroa, incorporate these routes as part of the journey.

I pay my respects to the many and varied iwi and hapū whose land I was able to traverse and appreciate on my journey across Te Waipounamu/South Island. The land was my inspiration for this piece and where these photos were taken.

Back Home… Exploring for Protection

Longer Form (Est. Reading Time 5 Minutes)

A takayna/Tarkine Wilderness BioBlitz

NOTE: On March 20th, 2021, I’m running the the takayna trail run – 25km half marathon through the wilderness. I’m dedicated to raising donations for the Bob Brown Foundation that works tirelessly to protect this area of the world. You can help protect this special place by donating to my running effort here.

It’s nine o’clock on a Friday night. I’m prone in my tent, where the mix of last nights and this mornings rain has left the floor and lower ceiling sodden, absorbing and sharing the moisture of the rainforest floor wonderfully. My sleeping bag is twisted, and damp. My pulse beats loudly in my ears. It beats against my makeshift pillow, a trusty down jacket stuffed into a thermal shirt. Beyond the beat drifts in the finest mist of rain, struggling through the dense, ancient rainforest canopy and finally settling on my cheap, portable, thin walled home. It’s a soothing rain, almost dreamy.

The day wraps up and my eyes droop heavily to this pitta-patta, a few currawongs touch base with each other across an otherwise quiet canopy. They call a few rapid ‘good nights’ and one of ‘surprise’, a different call separate from their usual chatter. A call I hadn’t heard before. Today we put in a solid, lengthy days hiking. Pushing through and across a land dense and scarred by forestry, by fire, and by wind. The vegetation became thicker and thicker with confused regrowth. The ground undulating and torn by machinery. Further we pushed, deeper into takayna.

We established our camp on the slopes of a ridgeline that’s wonderfully remote. It’s one of the few, if only, times I would get close to using the word pristine. With a human-changed climate, pristine no longer exists. But a slip, trip, fall or bite – and our only option out is emergency helicopter. That, or being hauled for hours through the density, which is not ideal. We scattered our tents through the forest, beneath ginormous trees that allow such little light in that hardly a plant can grow beneath them. This is old forest. Very, very old. 

From above, the ridge line is an array of different greens. Some glossy, some matte. A total canopy carpet. Survival of the fittest is always at play. Here, every species around us is competing within a crammed forest. Those that can survive the longest – damp, dark loving species like the myrtle beech – grow slowly and gnarly, twisting through time for hundreds of years.

In the morning, the sun fights through cloud and wins but for a moment. We’re setting ourselves up for another day in the forest with a cold musli and lukewarm cuppa. Today we’ll be surveying and documenting whatever species we find – animal, plant or fungi. I’m balancing tea on one knee and book on the other, getting my eye in by scouring through pages of identification books, flipping from tree to shrub to orchid.

Traversing the Bertha ridgeline from north to south, we hug the eastern flank to avoid the dense fire instigated wall of life dense with batwing ferns and stink bush. The vegetation, although consistently rainforest, changes frequently, as the plants adjust to the lay of the ridgeline. We bio blitzed the whole ridge.

In one moment I’m photographing ferns cloaking a tree whose crown towers forty metres above. Next moment, I’ve discovered two tiny jet black beetles under the leaf litter. Moments later, a minute mantis fly (scientific name Calomantispa venusta for those taking notes) with wicked black and yellow forearms and antennae. Then, calling out to a mate, having found another special shaped fungi breaking down a fallen giant log. Find. Document. Repeat.

After a while, the groups rate of discovering new species drops off. Naturally, considering we’re bound to one form of vegetation. Everything has its limits. It’s at this stage I get to concentrate on my presence in this fantastic forest. A place where not many – if any – humans have traversed given it’s remoteness, and the preferable travel routes at lower altitudes where river and creek flow. I’m thinking about the future, and what it holds for this place…

One way I like to connect with new places is by finding commonalities – through similar species, shared climates, and familiar communities of plants, animals, and fungi. Here, a fern grows on the drier flanks of the ridgeline, and also grows at my favourite beach two hundred kilometres away as the cockie flies. How are they surviving in two totally different regions? What role in their surroundings are they creating that makes them the species best suited to grow there? Likewise is by finding new (to me) species, and trying to ID them and interpret where they sit in the ecosystem; again, all about what role do they play in the whole.

Another way is through experience, principally through hiking. My emotions and behaviours within a place are altered, or adjusted by, my surrounds. How this goes down solo is different from with a group. Not better or worse, just different. There’s plenty of laughs and reflection time either way, and I prefer both. In takayna, I felt extremely comfortable with my surroundings, owing much to our capable team. I felt calm. As opposed to other hikes, there was a defined task to locate and document species – to continue to build our case that this region deserves protection.

This region deserves world heritage listing, to join the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The fact that areas as internationally significant as this are being clear felled, bulldozed and burnt for wood chips is disgusting. Utterly disgusting. A truely outdated and unacceptable way of interacting with our surroundings. The darker, hidden side to wilderness protection is the actions that destroy it. That’s for another piece.

For now, you can enjoy a selection of photos from the BioBlitz here, or find out how you can be involved in future BioBlitz and help protect it through the Bob Brown Foundation, here.

Though ‘Back Home..‘ I’m going to delve into what wilderness is a little more.

If wilderness is ‘out there’, then what’s here at home? What does our future of wilderness look like? How do we protect wilderness areas at threat from human activity? Does a true wilderness include people, or not? There’s so many questions, and given the number of trails and making up for lost time we’re teeing up for 2021, plenty of time to mull over the topic in more refined nature.

So, here’s to turning a bit of home thinking time into home writing time, and looking forward to sharing this over the coming summer with you all.

And I want to hear what you think. What does wilderness mean to you?? Let’s chat below!

Happy summer trails my friends,

Jimmy Nails

During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign for wilderness protection with the Wilderness Society, and on days off I hike in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. You could say I’m a wilderness tragic. Outside of this I’m a sucker for melody, cook a mean pasta, and need a third dot point. You can follow my more erratic self on Instagram.

The takanya/Tarkine region of lutruwita/Tasmania – the inspiration for this piece and where these photos were taken – is the traditional lands of the tarkiner people. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.

Back Home… Fresh from Frenchman’s Cap

Longer Form (Est. Reading Time 6 Minutes)

Re-wilding my thinking

This piece was brewed from the kilometres and sweat of being out on the Frenchman’s Cap trail, where the wilderness put me in a mind primed for writing after the time on trail was done. I opened the piece with ‘Back Home:…‘, as it’s not only written in the comfort of my home and shelter from the relentless summer heat, but home is my favourite flip side to wilderness. It’s where our experiences and memories of being out bush are allowed the time to solidify and take on meaning of their own. And I’m not going to pretend I don’t prefer my bed, clean clothes and fridge full of food.

After being on the west side of the island, I was hanging to share some post-hike thoughts with you. But first step was to figure out what it was I was feeling perched up on that quartz peak deep in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. At the time I was overwhelmed. Physically not so much. Mentally, wiped out. Staring out for hours over a horizon filled with ridge lines and valleys. Every moment spent in the vast, vast, vast outdoors – especially these places void of almost any physical alteration or addition to the landscape by humans – adds to the complexity and scale of the area. I feel increasingly small, with a growing desire to hike further and deeper into the place.

“Should we hit up sunset up top?!”
“Yeah, I reckon!”

Not a cloud in the mid-December sky. Southern sun beating down on our dusty hats and patchy shirts, my exposed upper knee, between gaiters and shorts, holds an experienced and sturdy tan from previous weeks. My neck, freshly exposed from a haircut the same day, not so much. From the trailhead we yarned about how we’d approach the peak, and we decided on trying sunset. Pretty easy decision given the weather, and its unique calmness on offer up top.

I won’t bore you with a break down of the peaks, but from up on ‘Frenchies’ you’re over 1400 meters above sea level, and in the right conditions it’s a three-sixty delight of geological activity stretching as far as your eye can see. Shards, crescents and walls carved into rock by glaciers in previous ice ages compose your skyline. In the shadows below, rivers like the Franklin flow free from its headwaters through to the harbour, this river famously protected thanks to tireless campaigning by those before us. People that loved wilderness and natural areas shaped the conservation movement in Australia forever. Folk who’s footsteps I’ve literally followed, right up to working with the Wilderness Society.

Strolling into camp on night one, we’d left town later and arrived with headlights and star filled skies lighting our path, after negotiating our way over tree roots and muddy segments after sunset. In the quiet of the night we muffled our enthusiasm and excitement a little easier given our tiredness, to the benefit of our fellow hikers already well asleep. Satellites and shooting stars kept eyes focused above, and after a few failed late-night exposures (photographs), I bunked down on my newly acquired sleeping mat and sleeping bag liner, vaguely listening to resident frogs. My little tent is home. My sleeping system and pack all have their place, the pack contents too – exploding over the floor, food sealed and away from the tent walls, save a repeat of the possums breaking in. It’s extremely rare that I don’t fall asleep within five minutes. The combination of relaxation and exhaustion guarantee a solid nights sleep. Beside me as I sleep, my morning musli soaks in a red, trail beaten, metallic cup.

As the sun dimmed on night two, three of us walked around the massive bulge in the earth, laughing or stuck for words with how amazing our backyard is. A truely special place, that we’re fortunate to be able to climb and experience. The mountain highs saturate your thoughts and senses. In the past few days I’ve drifted through the hours, chipping away at work, at planning the next four weeks of hikes, and snagging the last few xmas presents for the festive break on the coast – but always returning to this moment up top.

For day three, we powered out to the trailhead through the first real heat of the summer, and cut a path back to Hobart and a burger and chips. Being on trail and returning home with mates is a totally different experience to hiking solo. Yarns, laughs, advice, support – all you’d expect from sharing a memory. Be it in the morning over breakie and a tea-leaf filled cuppa (or for the prepared, a pressed coffee!), spreading out a map beside our gear, or pointing to landmarks and sharing our gathered intel as the day progresses. We all gravitate towards sharing, and making memories together. It’s one thing humans can do really well.

Now in the settled, post-hike respite, I’m preparing for next weeks trip, and building a stockpile of food for two weeks wilderness hiking in the new year. My thoughts have settled and they’ve settled as this: Sharing wilderness is really important to me. Sharing the quiet. The remoteness. The quality of the experience on hand. I’m fascinated with these places and what it means to people. How it inspires them. How we all have our different interpretations of it. I love hearing these different takes on the special landscape around us.

And every time I return home from a sojourn out bush, the experience shapes my relationship between home and wilderness, it changes and continues to take on new, exciting, and even challenging forms.

Though ‘Back Home..‘ I’m going to delve into what wilderness is a little more.

If wilderness is ‘out there’, then what’s that mean for our home? What does our future of wilderness look like? How do we protect wilderness areas under threat? Does a true wilderness include people, or not? There’s so many questions, and given the number of trails and making up for lost time we’re teeing up for next year, plenty of time to mull over the topic in more refined ways.

So, here’s to turning a bit of home thinking time into home writing time. I’m looking forward to sharing this over the coming summer with you all.

And I want to hear what you think and what does wilderness mean to you! Comment below!!

Happy summer trails my friends,

Jimmy Nails

During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign for wilderness protection with the Wilderness Society, and on days off I hike in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. You could say I’m a wilderness tragic. Outside of wilderness I’m a sucker for melody, cook a mean pasta, and need a third dot point.

The Frenchman’s Cap Trail, and the Wild Rivers National Park – the inspiration for this piece and where these photos were taken – is the traditional lands of the Toogee nation. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.

Previous photos from Frenchman’s Cap, here.

Trail Notes – Overland Track, Tas

Trail Snapshot:

The Overland is a truely iconic trail – and for good reason. The variety of scenery is world class, with every turn of your head granting a different vista as rock, plant and climate combine to in spectacularly unique fashion. Glacier carved dolerite rises near vertically out of the plateau, shapes like Cradle Mountain, Barn Bluff, and the tallest mountain in lutruwita / Tasmania Mt Ossa carving amazing silhouettes.

Like nowhere else in the land can you walk the paths of ancient, now receded glaciers, between evolutionarily young eucalyptus or ancient nothofagus beech – and enjoy a cosy hut at the end of your days hiking.

Trail Stats:

Length: ~77 Kms // 5-7 Days on average to complete.
Camping: The Overland is divided into seven sections, with each section concluding with a hut and camping areas.
Map: The Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair NP Map (Scale 1:100,000) should suffice. If you’re going off trail, suggest a higher detail TASMAP. You can purchase online or at various camping stores around Tassie/interstate.
Distance to capital city: 150 km from Cradle Mountain to Launceston, ~ 2.5 hour drive. Or 180 km from Lake St Clair to Hobart, ~ 2.5 hour drive.
Areas of interest: Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.

You can view our full collection of images from the Overland Track, here.

Special Mountain Love: 

Tassie is the home to glaciation in the country, with the exception being the Kosciuszko region of the Snowy Mountains in NSW. Thousands and millions of years ago ice sheets covered the land, and as the weight of the ice increased and gravity dragged it ever downwards, it carved away land beneath it. Eventually the ice retreated, leaving behind the fantastic peaks along the Overland. 

When the ice recedes it leaves behind sharp isolated peaks, sheer ice walls, and lonely boulders scattered throughout the landscape. 

Highlight: Some of these fantastic peaks are photographed here. If the weather’s in your favour, at each peak you’ll be treated to new and unique angles of the surrounding gems of Ossa, Pelion, Acropolis, and Olympus (just to name a few). Picking a favourite is impossible, but you’ll forever have the gnarly dolerite skyline etched into memory no matter what angle.

Glad Trail:

The comfort of the trail is the highest you can experience in Australia, with the exception of private ran (and catered) hikes. There’s a hut at the end of every day, some of them glamped up with gas heaters and cathedral ceilings filled with mountain views. It’s pretty classy.

If you’re new to hiking, prepare well and have your gear in order before hitting trail. It’s glampy, but a challenging hike and one to be respected. If you’re used to off trail, backcountry roughing it, do your best to relinquish control and enjoy treating yourself. It’s easy to be on the holier-than-thou when it comes to pulling up camp at the end of the day, but it’s a worthy experience and treat.

Highlight: For total luxury, walking into the new Waterfall Hut is tough to beat. The clear window views of Barns Bluff is unreal, a total end of day treat, whilst the end of day inscriptions on each bunk adds a touch of design flare.

You can follow Making Tracks on Instagram, here, or Facebook, here.

The Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park – where these photos were taken – is the traditional lands of the Lairmairrener nation. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.

Trail Notes – Great Ocean Walk, Vic

Trail Snapshot:

The Great Ocean Walk is abound with stunning coastal scenery – sandy coves and beaches, rugged rocky platforms, and iconic towering sandstone cliffs and apostles. The hike traverses some of the spectacular coastal scapes Victoria is renowned for, whilst winding in and out of coastal scrub and lush mountain ash rainforest.

Trail Stats:

Length: ~100km, taking 6-8 days on average to complete.
Camping: The hike is divided into 8 parts, each consisting of a suggested days walk. There are serviced campsites awaiting you at the end of each day, each with shelter, toilets, tank water, and picnic table. These campsites are listed below.
Map: The Great Ocean Walk Walk Victoria’s Icons booklet/map, by Parks Victoria (Scale 1:25,000). These can be purchased online or at info centres near the trailhead. More info online at the Parks Victoria website, here.
Distance to capital city: 200 km south-west Melbourne, ~3 hours drive.
Areas of interest: Great Otway National Park, Port Campbell National Park.

View our full collection of images from the Great Ocean Walk, here.

Storm across the ocean means an extended lunch.

Alive with activity:

A breath of fresh ocean air trails through the forest. The understory is dense, there’s a thick collection of ferns a dark green in the afternoon, a chorus of fine sounds. The coastal eucalypts warp inland, relenting to the relentless battering each receives from the moment a seed escapes the soil and begins its journey upwards. On a quiet day the sound of variety of birds is heard, terns and oyster catchers on the shoreline, a silhouetted sea eagle glides above the canopy, wrens darting in and out of the understorey.

At night, owls are silently present throughout the landscape although a chance to spot with a torch at night, you might also be fortunate enough to see the flash of a potoroo or bandicoot racing off into the vegetation.

Highlight: Reaching the end of the penultimate day, hiking into Devils Kitchen through brilliant stringy bark forest, as yellow tailed black cockatoos shatter the afternoon quiet, calling to one another as a lone hiker strolls beneath them.

Afternoon view of a powerful force, Day Four.

A forest, protected:

National Parks grant areas of land and water the chance to recuperate, to recover some of the biomass that humans have extracted or flattened. Stretching along most of the coast from Torquay to Port Campbell, our Great Otway National Park features a unique blend of habitats – moist foothill forests, with tall stands of mountain ash and messmate, temperate rainforest dense with tree ferns, already mentioned coastal scrub, and expanses of biodiverse heathland.

Much of the forest – in particular the tallest flowering trees in the world (the mountain ash) were removed by the forestry industry from colonising times onwards. Trees of the like we’ll never see in our lifetime – due to their 400+ year lifespan. Only a handful of original individuals of this truely humbling species exist in the region. The park gives them the protection they deserve.

Conservation of note: The regions spatial protection is particularly important for the conservation of the endangered Spot-tailed Quoll, Rufous Bristlebird, and Hooded Plover. When we’re hiking through them, leaving no trace is the least we can do.

You can follow Making Tracks on Instagram, here, or Facebook, here.

The Great Ocean Walk, and the national, state and coastal Parks from where these photos were taken, is on the traditional lands of the Easter Maar people. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.

Trail Notes – Lerderderg Trail, Vic

Trail Snapshot:

The Lerderderg Trail (LT) is a feeder track to the Great Divide Trail, winding between Daylesford and Bacchus Marsh through a variety of landscapes across the Central Victorian Uplands. In completing this hike, you’ll traverse through dry woodland and wet forests, along often sharp ridge lines and through denser vegetated gullies, with various side trips available to the Lerderderg Gorge and River. Six major headwaters begin in the park – including the Werribee, Lerderderg, Maribyrnong and Campaspe – whilst the surrounding bush is home to threatened and endangered species including the Powerful Owl and the Greater Glider, along with internationally rare plants including the Wombat Leafless Bossiaea.

Trail Stats:

Length: ~90km, taking 3+ days to complete.
Camping: There are camping options including the Lerderderg Campground and dispersed camping. The hike is approximately split 50/50 distance wise between Daylesford/ Blackwood/ Bacchus Marsh, with each town having private camping and other accommodation options.
Map: The LT is a feeder track of the Great Divide Trail, which has had maps for sale in the past as well as .gps files to download. There is the Wombat State Forest map, by Meridian Maps  (Scale 1:50,000). This covers most of Lerderderg State Park as well. Maps are available online, and at the Daylesford Information Centre (as of November 2019).
Distance to capital city: ~60 km north-west of Melbourne, ~1 hour drive.
Areas of interest: (The Proposed) Wombat Lerderderg National Park.

The Canopy Shade: 

Forest walking is special, and so unlike coastal or alpine treks. When the track and your footsteps are 20-40+ meters below the canopy for days on end, and there’s minimal ‘vistas’, you’re inclined to interact with the landscape around you on a completely different platform. Does the bush close in around us? Or is it our opportunity to look closer at the lower stories – those area’s usually blocked by the canopy when viewed from a lookout – to see what they’re all about??

The Wombat and Lerderderg patches the LT stretches through are diverse. The scenery shifts from dry ridge-line forests of stunted eucalypts growing in the lime or yellow coloured rocky soil, to relatively dense lines of bush within a chains distance of water courses, with ever taller mountain ash and juxtaposing blackwoods putting on bulk in their post-logging respite.

Once the cooler and wetter portion of the year has passed, the wildflowers explode in exceptional ways – especially on the Whiskey Track leg of the hike. Heaths, orchids, and grass trees paint the bush with new growth that comes in a whole spectrum of native colours. Along the creeks and rivers that flow freely through the forest, ferns shoot up brilliant crisp green fronds to power them through the summer.

Highlight: Excepting at Mt Blackwood and towards the LT’s southern terminus in the Lerderderg State Park, you’re in the scattered shade of the forest. Watch for changes in the vegetation, and the shifts in species that call these different areas home. Wetter gullies are home to energetic robins and fantails (some of them migrating from interstate), the blackwoods are preferred roosting sites for vulnerable powerful owls (the largest Australian owl), whilst the open river areas are alive with various honeyeater species darting amongst the foliage.

Future Proofing:

“The central western forests have incredible natural value”. But what does their future look like?

Our hiking community values the foresight of national park protection in our backyard. These areas of evolutionary variety, high biodiversity, and nationally spectacular landscapes deserve a strong legacy of protection. Places where we enjoy extensive hiking and long distance trails – the Prom, the Alps, the Otways – all have a strong history of protection and Victorian foresight, that have allowed the bush the sanctuary it needs to thrive, in turn creating the renowned hiking we know and love!

Yet as biodiversity continues to decline, habitats become more stressed, species become more threatened and the climate crisis escalates, action is needed. It has been almost a decade since the last major additions to our national parks system in Victoria. The areas of high biodiversity are best prepared to face future threats, and national park protection offers them sanctuary to do so.

National parks are great for people and nature. Whilst those reading this won’t see massive trees in Wombat Lerderderg National Park as grand as they were pre-colonisation, future generations will be able to. It is a legacy for future generations, and a sign of real leadership on nature conservation.

Take Action: For years the Victorian National Parks Association, along with local community, has been calling for these important areas of central western forest to be protected within new national parks. They, along with folk from all around the state, are calling on the Victorian Government to step up in protection for nature across Victoria – our National Parks, forests, grasslands, rivers, beaches, oceans, native plants and animals deserve it. RSVP to the “Nature for Life Rally” on Thursday November 28th today!

On the Trail:

It’s so special having a multi-day hike within such close vicinity to Melbourne, and one that’s easily accessible by public transport too (train and coach to Daylesford; train to Bacchus Marsh). Weekends do welcome more day hikers, but it’s not a very well known trail so far as multi-day hikes go, and during the week it isn’t frequented by many people at all.

The LT experience is different from other multi-day hikes in Victoria. The trail on the Wombat State Forest side is shared almost exclusively with 4WDs and motorbikes, and what trail is dedicated to walking only is used by motorbikes anyway. As such, it’s in poor condition through this section which deducts from walking experience (although it is very well marked by signposts). The Lerderderg section features more walking only sections, which do traverse some of the ‘wilder’ bush so close to Melbourne. There’s areas of the Lerderderg valley which look and, owing to the lack of water on the top of ridge lines, feel super wild and remote!

Existing trail notes and maps exist (physical and online) that follow the ‘old’ route of the LT, which travels through the western portion of Lerderderg, rather than the present marked route which leaves the park and follows the Greendale Trentham Road (November ’19). The ‘old’ route is far more enjoyable, although not as well sign posted – be sure to take appropriate navigational steps.

View the full collection of images from the proposed Wombat Lerderderg National Park, here.

Follow Making Tracks on Instagram, here, or on Facebook, here.

The Lerderderg Trail, and the potential National/State Parks & Forests from where these photos were taken, is the traditional country of the Wurundjeri and Wathaurung people. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.


Trail Notes – Great South West Walk, Vic

Trail Snapshot:

The Great South West Walk (GSWW) makes its way through a variety of landscapes across the Glenelg and Bridgewater bioregions. In completing this hike, you’ll traverse along sweeping, powerful beaches, atop some of the tallest coastal cliffs in the state, through forests alive with birdlife and the colour of seasonal wildflowers, and besides/down a winding river carving its way through limestone.

Trail Stats:

Length: ~260km, taking 12-14 days on average to complete.
Camping: The hike is divided into 14 parts, each consisting of a suggested days walk. There are serviced campsites awaiting you at the end of each day, each with shelter, toilets, tank/bore water, and picnic table. These campsites are listed below.
Map: The Great South West Walk and Lower Glenelg map, by Carto Graphics (Scale 1:50,000). You can purchase online or at RACV Portland (as of October 2019).
Distance to capital city: 360 km west of Melbourne, 4-5 hours drive.
Areas of interest: Mt. Richmond National Park, Lower Glenelg National Park, Cobboboonee National Park, Discovery Bay Marine National Park.
Socials: Follow Jimmy on Instagram, or Making Tracks here. Likewise, you can view our full collection of images from the Great South West Walk, here


Beach Portion:

From Nelson to Cape Bridgewater you’re on the beach, behind the dunes, or (if you take the inland detour) a stones throw away from the beach at Mt. Richmond National Park. The four campsites along this portion of the GSWW are: Lake Monibeong, Swan Lake, Taragal and The Springs.

Reaching the brink of the final sand dune the oceans sound greats you raw and unmuffled. Your eyes shift from near-white sand to crisp blue waves forever pulsing off the Southern Ocean. A stunning colour, the translucent ocean owes its gorgeous and inviting colour to the limestone coastline you’re traversing – the one that stretches from SW Victoria to SW Western Australia.

Heading east, rocky protrusions escape the dunes and divide the lengthy stretches of coast – these are your targets along an otherwise ‘featureless’ pathway. Beach hiking is a mental game – one foot then the other, and don’t look towards your target too often or it’ll appear to be moving steadily away from you! That or you’ll think you’re sinking slowly into the sand as your sense of distance warps!

Behind the beach in the dunes, you pass over exposed dense layers of seashells, pockets of ancient forests turned to brittle stone, and truely gnarly, battered, tough vegetation struggling under the oceans relentless squall. In the warming weather, scurrying reptiles disturb dry fallen debris as your footsteps approach. Whether they have legs or not, you don’t linger to investigate further. And calmly sitting behind the dunes with nowhere to run or drain, crystal clear sand-filtered lakes that are home to an array of life after a drop of fresh water to drink.

Highlight: Since colonisation so much of the land has been cleared and altered forever. Yet places remain where solid chunks of the natural environment have been given sanctuary and they are able to thrive. The Mt Richmond / Benwerrin ‘long hill’ rises modestly to meet you, an ancient volcano long ago covered by drifting sand pushed from the south-west. It is the home of an excellent array of bush and, in the right season, wildflowers. Over 450 species of plant have been recorded here, around 15% of the species found in Victoria. High quality vegetation – the kind you’d write home about! Life shifts from shiny-leaved peppermints to stands of smooth manna gums and brown stringybarks, all the while a lush-green landscape of grass trees grows under the canopy, shimmering in the breeze.

Here at Benwerrin, spare a moment for the foresight people had in the past to campaign for its protection that we benefit from today. Then continue back to the coastline, and on to some cliff top hiking!


Clifftop Portion:

From Cape Bridgewater to Portland you’re mostly hiking high above the ocean on clifftops, making your way from cape to cape to point. The two campsites on this stretch are Trewalla, Mallee, and of course there’s Portland.

The first point the vast and ever powerful Southern Ocean smashes into the Victorian coastline is at Discovery Bay and Cape Bridgewater. Year round the undisturbed swell drives itself into the layered cliffs and pounds away at the black volcanic granite and softer creamy sand and lime stones, ending in a hysterical white wash known (at times) to soak those taking in the spectacle from high above. On a calm day from the rock platforms below, you can view the special blend of geological layering unique to Cape Bridgewater.

There are many ace vantage points along the cliffs – including the tallest cliffs in the state looking out over Bridgewater Bay. Come this leg of the walk, you’re likely adjusting to the lack of reception or drained phone battery, now shifting to visually interpreting what weather the south-west special is going to offer you and the cape region. When storms are coming in, you’re well placed to keep track of its movement from the horizon, watching where the haze meets the seas surface and observing its direction – and knowing how long you have to seek cover!

Beyond the cliffs humpbacks and endangered southern right whales visit seasonally, likewise from above you can see the separate seal colonies of both the New Zealand and Australian fur seals. Although similar animals, they don’t socially interact and each occupies its own slab of exposed rock territory.  Under the waves lays another world, protected here in parts by the Discovery Bay Marine National Park. In Victoria’s waters, you’ll find more endemic species than anywhere else, including the Great Barrier Reef. The continents southern facing coastline has sat geographically isolated for many millions of years, allowing a fascinating and diverse array of marine life to evolve like nowhere else on earth!

Highlight: Rounding the final point of the clifftop portion of the GSWW, you’re at Point Danger. From a distance the point will be a moving white mass during spring and summer, with the activity of the only mainland colony of Australasian Gannets. There’s an obviously marked road down to the area from the GSWW, which is fenced off to keep unwanteds out of the nesting area. If you’re lucky a gannet volunteer will be on hand and eager to share their knowledge and show you close-up what there birds are up to. They’re a spectacular animal – with a 1.5 meter wingspan and concord-shaped head designed for feeding at sea, with each bird diving into the water at speeds in excess of 100kmh!


Forest Portion:

From Portland to Moleside you’re hiking through tall eucalypt forests and stunted open heathlands that thrive in the sandier soils. The campsites on this portion include Cubby’s Camp, Cut-Out, Cobboboonee, and Fitzroy.

Here the sound of rolling and never ending waves is replaced by the conversations of the treetops of gums and stringybarks caught in the breeze, and birdsong hiding in the forest. Wrens, treecreepers, whistlers and robins seemingly follow you up the trail and populate each campsite around its edge. As the path pushes west into sandier countryside, the various undergrowths shift too, from bracken, to goodenia, to tea tree – even to tree ferns!

Celebrating its tenth anniversary of national park protection in November 2019, the Cobboboonee National Park includes excellent lengthy stands of Messmate. We won’t see the giant Messmate trees return to their pre-colonisation sizes in our lifetime, but the foresight of local folk protecting this patch will ensure that future generations will!

Highlight: Similar to big stretches of coast, the lengthy expanses of trail under the canopy offer minimal vistas given the flat lay of the land, but it brings a different hiking experience. Most hiking is based around a destination or view point, and these are usually expected to be reached within the days hiking. Whereas here your view for four days is restricted to those trees surrounding you. In the Cobboboonee stretch of the GSWW, the changes in scenery are a lot subtler. But they’re there!

As the ground undulates and changes its composition and elevation – albeit slightly – the species and densities of the plants that call these soils home alter. And so the animals you’ll encounter are different too. Maybe the understory is flowering white tea tree, or the ground is open enough for the lengthy stride of an emu. In parts the stringybarks give way to smooth gums, the tree of choice for local koalas. Then in depressions and creek lines, stands of Blackwoods grow and make shelter for powerful and southern booboos owls that you may be lucky to spot. In other areas, the soil is super sandy and can’t support large tall trees, so the heathland dominates and bursts into colour come spring. Whatever these changes, and however subtle they might be, each gradual shift makes the Cobboboonee section a special delight in grand contrast to the coast.


River Portion:

From Moleside to Nelson you’re winding beside the grand Glenelg River / Bochara as it heads towards the ocean. The campsites on this portion include Moleside, Battersby’s, Pattersons, and Simpsons. Note: for this portion of the GSWW, I travelled by canoe (thanks to Chris at Nelson Canoe Hire). If you can rest your feet in exchange for a paddle, I highly recommend it! Canoe/Kayak only campsites along the river include (but are not limited to) Skipworth Springs, Bowds, and Lasletts.

Again, in wonderful contrast to the other portions of the GSWW, the ‘north-western’ leg of the trail follows the river through the spectacular Lower Glenelg National Park. The river begins 350km upstream on the western range of the Grampians/Gariwerd National Park, and as the water twists and turns close to the coast its banks gradually gain some height.

Stunning, tangled gums dangle over the brackish water on the lower banks and brilliant azure kingfishers dart in-and-out of view, their short piercing call giving their location away. Whilst higher up on the banks stands of sheoak and stringybarks mix with black wattles and big mobs of native cherry. The river eventually eroded enough into the limestone to expose brilliant cliffs of creamy layered rock, with your third and forth days canoeing (third day hiking) coinciding with the most impressive faces of stone.

Highlight: The cliffs. Each as impressive as the last. The river route is fantastic, and with campsites dedicated to quiet water vessels, it makes for a truely special way to make your journey into the hamlet of Nelson.

The Friends of the GSWW website is a top resource to get you started, here.

The Great South West Walk, and the National, State and Coastal Parks from where these photos were taken, is the traditional lands of the Gunditjmara people. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.

Bundjalung NP – November ’18

This is where I belong. On the edge. The active, crashing, ever powerful and changing boundary of wet and dry. Where I cling to the rock around me like the species adapted to do so at my feet. The waves rush over the platform, running out of momentum and receding back into the ocean. On a lower tide and a full moon, only one in eight waves might make it beyond the exposed rocky ledge. The noise doesn’t stop – it keeps your ears full; keeps you craning your neck frequently to check you’re not going to get drenched or worse, swept away by a rouge rush of water. Despite this, today is pretty cruisey, and the entire rockpool is open for enquiry. It’s ready for inspection.


Here, in the intertidal zone, a totally fascinating mix of animals and plants hangs on for their lives, living through the drought of low tide and flood of high tide – multiple times a day. Come summer, the sun beats down unashamedly, scorching seaweed and bleaching the shells of barnacles and sea snails into a coastal cream colour. As low tide exposes the flats, most hide away and wait for the time to pass. Seabirds drop by for easy pickings, and you might even catch an octopus exploring for stranded fish. At high tide and the flood returns, with a wash of activity. Anemones, barnacles, and other filter feeding creatures emerge in the tide, taking in a feast.

We’re totally immersed in the abundance of life offered by these Bundjalung rock pools, and are some of the highest quality temperate (cold) water pools I’ve ever visually dissected. We loose count of the number of different sea snails and limpets, the hurried crabs, anemones, and different types of fish swimming under ledges. One unfortunate blenny, a type of fish, we found isolated in a divot in the rock, a hole smaller than a clenched fist, and almost empty. The look in its eyes said it all.


It’s a super special place, yet one we’ve seen multiple groups of people miss out on. Approaching the platform, they gaze out over the storm black coloured rock, then up to the storm grey coloured clouds approaching and filled with rain. They shrug, unsure of what to make of the scene, and head back to the beach or carpark. Yet if variety really is the spice of life, one must immerse themselves in a rock pool to know where it’s at!

Rockpools are the inspiration that directed me into marine conservation. Their abundance humbled my knowledge not once, but always.

Most folk haven’t realised how unique and well adapted life is to live in these conditions. Pete and I came across a stunningly minute nudibranch – a devilishly ornate sea slug. From head to tip of tail it’s a centimetre long, with gnarly, soft spine needles, each a shade of light purple. Its body was ghostly grey, with fluorescent blue streaks glistening like the universe was embedded into its skin. Defining gorgeous.


Someone had the foresight to protect this beautiful and ecologically abundant pocket of the north coast of NSW. National Parks like Bundjalung are cultural and ecological nirvanas – incredible, special places we can come and learn by glimpsing into the past and wondering about the future. Right here, we have an amazingly healthy system of creatures and plants coexisting in every nook and cranny. Our Parks are places every generation can visit to share near identical experiences with nature, knowing the balance of life is left to its evolutionarily proven ways.

Sadly, the NSW government is very out of touch with quality policy and attitudes to ensuring a healthy environment will exist for emerging generations. Everyone wants those up next to experience a wealth of life in our special places, like these rock pools of Bundjalung. I want the life in our National Parks to continue to thrive and inspire intrigue among everyone who is fortunate to see them.


With a changing climate and warming oceans altering the range of where the intertidal life can survive – the best chance rockpools or any other habitat has at long term survival lies in its strength. Each habitat needs to be healthy. It needs to thrive, in order to survive.

Over two hours later we’re rambled out, as we pack up for the day and venture north only slightly wind-burnt but completely invigorated by this ultimate ecosystem.

Our National Parks provide the much needed protection our habitats require. Our job now is to protect our National Parks, to learn from them, and to treat them with the  respect they deserve. For now, and for the future beyond our years.

The Bunjalung NP is on the traditional lands of the Bundjalung people.

Act now: The National Parks Association of NSW is dedicated to helping the public stand up for the protection of our special natural places.

Out Of My Depth, At Depth

Snapshot: “My first dive into Victoria’s cool underwater wonderland”

Twenty metres below the surface, I’m resting on my knees on the sandy sea floor of Port Phillip, waiting for my instructor to join me. I’ve descended to depth, whilst the rest are slowly falling from above, their new silhouettes taking a while for me to recognise who is who. At twenty metres below (well, 17.5 to be exact) I’m at this dives deepest depth, and this becomes the deepest I’d ever plunged into the underwater/marine world.

I let it all sink in and catch up to my excited self, letting myself be consumed by the new world around me.

It’s not every day you just drop into a new world for the first time – a new house, building, football field, vehicle – maybe. But dropping from terrestrial being into the marine world of our very distant evolutionary ancestors is as big a contrast in environmental composition as a human can experience on this planet.

Breathing, reliant on cylinders of compressed gas; vision, reliant on perspex windows suctioned over your face; speech impossible, only simple hand gestures remain; smell limited to the faint idea of the plastic of your mask; taste, the dry sensation of canned air infused with saliva and the remnant salt water I consumed upon entering the ocean.

Like nowhere else are the human senses under such abnormal conditions. Surrounded by our aquatic origins, we are uselessly versatile, at the complete mercy of whatever we interact with – and this is oddly liberating!

You’re totally overwhelmed by your immersion.

Much like the iconic inhabitants of our much more familiar above sea level landscapes, the life underwater in southern Australia is just as strongly beautiful and unique. Here, knees on the sandy floor, I explored the graveyard of shells and discarded lives at arms reach – limpets, barnacle particles, bivalves, even fragments of sea star – all bleached white from an age of absorbing the sun in the shallower water, before finding their way to deeper depths. Nearby a soaked underwater escarpment composed of the sharp sedimentary rock identical to the Port Phillip Heads is swaying in synchronisation in the slack tide. Smaller creatures – a fascinating array of colours and shapes – sea stars, sponges and the like, grip hard and some permanently to the rock. I venture over to peer closer, still waiting for my instructor, like a child exploring while waiting for their parents to stop talking. There is enough going on just in front of me to last an entire dive of exploration – or more!

I’m fascinated by the density of life, each square inch of rock is home to sometimes multiple creatures and species. It’s so true that the closer you look, the richer your landscapes become, and you can begin to construct the scene before you not visually but mentally, on the basis of experience and strong understanding. Since this first dive I always begin each drop to depth by aquatinting myself with the community of the small and colourful, those usually ignored and clinging to the rocks.

There’s beauty in the most simplest of things.

Aesthetic beauty and the fact that these are simple creatures living simple lives, of which some, like the barnacle, never move after fastening themselves to the rock. The little and erroneously dubbed ‘insignificant’ creatures.

Loosing my sense of direction in the defused underwater light, I am a complete visitor. Out of my depth at depth. Two thirds of the worlds surface is water. The deepest trench on earth delves to twelve kilometres below the surface. In our oceans there are volcanos, cliffs and desserts, from the shallows to utter darkness under many atmospheres worth of pressure. There are creatures great and small, some existing beyond light and warmth, or next to volcanic vents intruding into the darkness at many hundreds of degrees Celsius. Whale song can be heard hundreds of kilometres away. Octopuses have three brains. Camouflaging cuttlefish are colourblind. Male seahorses give birth to young.

It blows my mind..