Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mt Meharry - WA's highest peak

Mt Meharry is a relatively recent newcomer to the State 8 - the highest peak in each of Australia's states and territories. Mt Bruce was discovered by Europeans in 1861. Over a hundred years later, in 1967, detailed surveys were done of the area. A surveyor discovered a strange anomaly, 20 kilometres south east of Mt Bruce, the tallest mountain in Western Australia, lay an unnamed somewhat indistinct mountain which was 13 metres taller.

I have set myself the goal of climbing the State 8, although in no particular rush or timeline. So far the only peak I have climbed is Mt Ossa in Tasmania. South Australia's Mt Woodrooffe could arguably be the most logistically difficult, as I need to be Very Best Friends with Vicki, who in turn needs to be Very Best Friends with someone working in Ernabella, or that person being Very Best Friends with someone working there, and that person being Very Best Friends with a local, who is Very Best Friends with an elder. It quite isolated, some 300 kilometres off the bitumen road in a remote Aboriginal community in the state's north, near the border of the Northern Territory. From Uluru one can see Mt Woodroofe.

Mt Meharry is a strange one to access. Although in Karijini National Park, it can only be accessed from roads outside the park. I had read some magazine articles and online forums, it seemed an easy enough climb. Access was via some dirt roads off the Great Northern Highway. As a matter of courtesy, I asked at the national park visitor centre for the best way to access the peak. Contact the nearby pastoral station, they said, as you will need to cross their property. Armed with their phone number, but with limited phone reception, I managed to get their answering machine. At my chosen campsite, a rest area off the Great Northern Highway, I overhead some other campers talking about Mt Meharry. I sidled over to question them. They had already been up there today, having driven their 4WDs to the very top. They had asked no permission, they had followed the trip notes in a 4WD magazine. Having copied some of the details down, I could rest easy confident I was still able to do the climb the following day.

The road leading off the Great Northern Highway is a public road, but it is gated. There are no signs indicating Mt Meharry lies down this road. Hidden in the dry grass is a discarded sign stating that the road was only for access to the pastoral station, yet a sign beyond the gate had been erected by the local council warning of the road's poor condition. Deflating my tyres for dirt road driving, a mine worker pulled up. Yep, no worries, just don't get caught beyond the railway line. Rio Tinto's land, my advice, just don't get caught there.

Some 16 kilometres down this well made dirt road, shared by road trains and mine workers, is a simple sign indicating the track to Mt Meharry, to be tackled by 4WDs only. Carefully following the trip notes I had copied the previous night from the magazine, I proceeded down a series of roads. All 4WD but pretty easy going. I had no intention of driving to the summit, I am a bushwalker, not a four wheel driver. I drove to the base of the mountain, perhaps some two kilometres closer than what a 2WD vehicle could brave. I climbed the steep 4WD track, a 380 metre ascent, but an easy one. 45 minutes to the peak, a cairn marking the summit. Littered with trophies so easily brought here by 4WD, and a logbook buried in the stone cairn. Not much mention of people walking up here, but it was a lovely walk. The 4WD track immediately after the plain gets nasty quick, perhaps only negotiable by raised 4WDs.

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit

Karijini National Park

Jaw dropping. Gob smacking. This park is simply stunning: it's deep gorges, it's cool permanent swimming holes, it's coloured shaped rock.

My introduction to Karijini National Park was Hammersley Gorge. "Going to a swim at the bottom, " asked a woman in the car park as I was getting ready for the short hike. Oh my goodness yes I am! The pools are refreshingly cool in the heat of the day, nestled in a gorge lined with the most beautiful rock.

The park really is a series of jaw dropping, gob smacking moments as one sets eyes on each gorge or it's cool swimming hole. Deep gorges, maybe over a hundred metres deep. The day I hiked up Mt Meharry, I was able to come into the park in the afternoon and have not one but two gorgeous swims in pools, each at opposite ends of a gorge. A short half hour walk along the gorge between them. A peak climb, a gorge walk and refreshingly cool swims! The best day ever!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Travelling around WA and the NT

I'm travelling around Western Australia and the Northern Territory at the moment. Hiking some trails such as the Cape to Cape Track, and doing some riding as well. Visit my Magnetic North blog.

Kalbarri National Park

The Murchison River finishes it's long journey at Kalbarri. In the national park, the river winds it's way through deep gorges, seemingly in a series of straight lines.

Kalbarri National Park

The red Tumblagooda Sandstone that makes up much of this area has a series of straight fractures running through it. These straight, vertical joints allowed the Murchison River to deeply incise the rock layers and form straight river segments. At times the river is up to 170 metres below the cliff tops. Wherever the joints intersected the river could change it's course.

It was here that I could do a short 10 kilometre circuit hike, aptly named The Loop. The river here loops back on itself, separated by a narrow cliffline. The walk starts from a place called Natures Window, a high cliff featuring a prominent arch within the cliff, and follows the clifftop east before descending down into the sandy riverbed to loop back to Natures Window. The layers of rock within the cliffs form striking bands of stone in contrasting brownish reds, purples and whites.

I drove down the road to access The Loop and the Z Bend - a road to rival any of Kangaroo Island's dirt roads. I thought I had set out early, but when I arrived in the carpark I found half a dozen cars already there. Doh. When I completed the hike though, I discovered that it had been an early start, the day was getting hot by now but the carpark was full. This was no time to set out on a hike!

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rottnest Island

Listen up class, repeat after me. "Tourists, where ever they may be, do not rise before nine, and do not leave their accommodation until after 10. Therefore, tourist crowds will only be seen sometime after 11."

Rottnest Island, 30km west of Fremantle port

I thought I had the island to myself, until after eleven when other tourists arrived on the beaches by bike or by bus. I, of course, as are my ways, had started cycling the 30 kilometre circuit around the island at eight am. In that time time I saw almost no-one, beach after beach was all mine.

Little Salmon Bay was the pick of the beaches, small, white sand, light blue water, contained by limestone headlands. Complete with a snorkeling trail. Perfect. As I pulled up on my bike, a guy rode in from the opposite direction, my first sighting of anyone else today. He had his snorkeling gear out in no time and was prepping up in the water. It was all the encouragement I needed, I'm not always the keenest to set out snorkeling. Thankful for my wetsuit, I headed out, the other guy still messing about in the shallows. Following the underwater snorkeling trail, I saw many different fish, including salmon of course. Lots of colours and stripes, this area of Western Australia attracts tropical fish due to the southerly currents. Glancing back at the shore, the guy was still messing around on the shore, next time I glanced back he was back on his bike, the water must have been too cold for him. Having talked to him on the beach he seemed pretty keen, perhaps in him encouraging me into the water I discouraged him out of it.

Sitting back on the beach in the warm sun, the bikes and busloads soon turned up. Alas, it had been all mine for awhile there. Later in the day I found myself another deserted beach to call my own, up near the World War II ruins.

Rottnest Island is a curious one. For one thing, it must have little less than 1,000 holiday units, most seemingly identical built over a couple of generations. Almost all empty, indeed, the island is pretty deserted overall. It's not tourist season here anymore, in the unpredictable winter weather. For me though it was nothing but three days of beautiful clear sunny skies.

In amongst the holiday units are some much older buildings, some from the time of either of the prisons built here, others from later tourist development or war use. Many fascinating historical buildings. The general store and mall form part of the original prison. Much of the complex has been destroyed by fire or demolished so it is hardly recognisable as one. The second prison remains, although is a hotel now so cant be toured.

The original cottages are fascinating. Built of local limestone, they were rendered in the early 1900s and painted a cream colour to reduce the sun glare. The colour and building material theme has been maintained throughout the two major accommodation areas. The cottages originally had near-flat roofs, limestone supported by timber trusses. The timber trusses were each made from a single piece of timber, ingenious. Tiles were too expensive to bring in from Fremantle, but in time corrugated iron replaced the roofs as they were difficult to keep watertight.

The museum was interesting, detailing the many shipwrecks and the dark history of the island. The two prisons were built by and detained Aboriginal people, many of whom were sent here for the European laws that had been imposed upon them. Many prisoners came from the far north of the state, the cold weather must have been quite a shock. The conditions were cramped and the inmates mistreated. One prison governor though allowed them to leave the prison each Sunday between nine am and four pm. They were provided with no lunch or dinner, but instead could roam the island and catch their dinner, quokkas, snakes or whatever.

After my cycling tour of the island it occurred to me that this island was missing a cemetery. I found a reference to one on the map, but could find little sign of it in reality. The cemetery was only used for the Aboriginal prisoners, and none of the graves is marked. Buildings and houses have been built over some of it, worse still, some of the cemetery has been used as the main camping ground. I had wondered why the camping ground, often called a Tent City, could only consist of 20 marked sites. No tent city that one. But it isn't the original camping ground, but a new one constructed in the last few years. I found the original sprawling camping ground, much of it on the cemetery. The only sign it is a burial ground is two signs near the township end, noting the site's importance and the future plans for removing all buildings and creating a memorial garden and marking the known burial areas.

Around the turn of the century the island started being used for tourism, with a few interludes during war time. During the Second World War several artillery guns were installed, and monitoring towers. 2,500 soldiers were housed here, protecting Fremantle Harbour from invasion by the Japanese.

I cant finish this entry about Rottnest Island though without mentioning the quokkas. I saw my first ones within a two of minutes of landing, and by the end of the third minute I had seen some copulating. Cute as they are they don't seem to sleep, constantly poking around my tent despite my food all being well sealed and isolated.

Download kml file of Rottnest Island circuit to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit


Rottnest Island circuit
Distance 31km
Moving Duration 2h30m