That New Zealand is better than Australia

Friday, 12 May 2017

During my recent trip to New Zealand, at a barbeque on the shores of Blue Lake, Rotorua, Cathy put it to us that New Zealand was actually better than Australia. Purely on the basis of fun activities, it’s pretty hard to argue with that proposition. But our friend Alexa, a geologist who travelled to New Zealand as an undergraduate to study stuff like volcanos and pillow lava, quickly dashed Cathy’s statement to the ground (or rather, blew it out the top of an active volcano). ‘Australia is much more geologically stable,’ she said. ‘My vulcanology professor was convinced that half of the north island of New Zealand was going to be wiped out in a volcanic eruption.’ Aside from making me want to become a vulcanologist (‘I answer to no one but Vulcan, god of fire and really destructive stuff!’), it did make me a little less enthusiastic about moving to Auckland. Well that, and the crazy house prices.

Instability aside, New Zealand is a pretty great place. But then again, so is Australia. So we decided that we should have a debate on the topic: That New Zealand is better than Australia. Cathy would be first speaker affirmative, Alexa would be first speaker negative, and I would be third speaker negative (my old debating position in high school. I was the master of having the last word on a topic – something that my friends and family probably won’t find surprising). Cathy’s brother Paul was more in the ‘New Zealand is better’ camp, while Alexa’s husband Andy was in favour of Australia. And our friend Tracy cited NZ’s poor environmental legislation.

While we never organised a formal debate (much to my disappointment), the subject had a lot of discussion over the next few weeks. Here are some of the pros and cons:

New Zealand

Pros: Cheap beer, no snakes, better hiking*, impossible to get sunburned (at least in April), smaller and therefore easier to get around, better skiing, better adventure activities, better camping/camper van facilities, better orienteering terrain, better ice cream, better apples, better film industry, hot springs, generally prettier, lovely birdlife, single centralised government, more critical of USA, less crowded, more independent, friendlier.  

Cons: Obsession with rugby, obsession with beating Australia at sport, obsession with feijoas, shit TV and radio, generally expensive, sand flies, 90c premium on decaf, incredibly over-priced honey, unaffordable real estate in Auckland, active volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, no native mammals, poor environmental record.

Australia

Pros: Generally cheaper, more varied terrain, better beaches and islands, better football code, better environmental policies, closer to Europe, better native animals (except for snakes and sharks), geologically stable.

Cons: Snakes, sharks, hole in ozone layer, shit skiing, federal system of government, unaffordable real estate in Melbourne and Sydney (and probably Brisbane and Perth), expensive beer (compared to NZ but admittedly not compared to Norway).

*There was much debate over this factor. Personally I think the hiking is better in Australia – at least in Tasmania, although we did have to remind ourselves that we were comparing NZ to the whole of Australia, not just Tasmania. The two hikes that I did in NZ – the Queen Charlotte Track and the Milford Track – are both very famous hikes. And they were pretty nice. But a lot of the hiking was quite boring and flat, with average views. I guess it didn’t help that we missed out on THE view on the Milford track…but that’s kind of my point. If there’s only one spectacular view, then it’s not really such a great hike. I mean, it was still pretty good, and there were lots of things I really loved about it, but compared to, say, the Overland Track, it was a poor cousin, and I’d only give it three and a half stars. Still, I’ve only done a couple of hikes in NZ and I guess I need to do all nine of the ‘great walks’ to make a comparison. I’d still put money on the fact that there’s nothing as pretty as the Walls of Jerusalem though.

What IS a lot better in NZ is the track maintenance and planning. There was a section of the Milford Track, coming down from the non-existent view at McKinnon Pass, where the track descended through some pretty inhospitable terrain. In Australian (or at least Tasmanian) hands, it would have been a nightmare. It was still pretty tough with my terrible toes, but the number of bridges, steps and even concrete-reinforced sections meant that instead of scrambling, pack-hauling and fearing for your life, you could walk down in relative safety and comfort. If only the Frenchman’s Cap track has that kind of thought and effort invested in it (at least on the steep sections – I’ll admit that Dick’s Highway is pretty good!)

So, as you can see, New Zealand pretty much craps all over Australia in most categories. And if the whole country wasn’t about to be covered in volcanic ash and/or slide into the sea, I’d probably move there.


Thank you, New Zealand

Monday, 1 May 2017

I've just returned from my three-and-a-half week NZ adventure and am now (sigh) back at work.

Due to logistical reasons I couldn't take my laptop and my plan to blog on my tablet didn’t really work out. So, as usual, for better photos and stories refer to Cathy’s blog.

Speaking of Cathy’s, one of the highlights of my trip was Cathy’s second place in the World Masters Orienteering sprint distance final. After qualifying in fifth place, Cathy had a fast and smooth run, with the exception of a small mistake after what became known as the ‘tunnel of disappointment’. My friend and arch rival (actually she’s not really my arch rival because she’s so much better than me – she just happens to be my virtual twin, age-wise!) Tash won by a wide margin, as expected, but Cathy’s unexpected second place cheered me up considerably after my three minute mistake on the T.O.D.

In the long distance, I again ran a lot better in the first qualifying race, finishing second (I’d also qualified third in the sprint) but was a little disappointed in my race in the final. Winsplits (a website that lists individual control split times and highlights in pink where you’ve fucked up) had me in second place after control 7, only a minute behind (in the forest) the Finnish girl who started two minuted ahead of me and who would eventually catch the third, fourth and fifth place getters, forming a mega-train through the forest, with all of them finishing at the same time! Oh well. After rushing out of control 7 in the wrong direction, I proceeded to make a three minute mistake on number 8, and again on number 10, and again on number 14! Whoops. I was definitely running faster than the speed at which I could navigate, which wasn’t actually that fast, but was faster than my fitness would allow. At any rate I really enjoyed the race, despite mistakes, the forest was beautiful and it has inspired me to train harder and build on my NZ-acquired fitness.

Here are some more of my highlights:

Hanging out with my niece and nephew...sometimes literally!

 

Some Milford Track photos

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Thanks to Dad's laptop and a WiFi connection, I can finally add some photos of our Milford Track hike.

In approximate order:

 

Dani and Paul (with his kiddie pack)

 

Andy and Jono

 

Cathy and Zali (spot the taller of the two)

 

Dani at the start of the climb...it was still dark!

 

McKinnon pass...a 'spectacular viewing highlight' of the trip (so we hear)

 

Rainbow on the descent.

 

The mountains emerge.

 

Sutherland falls from a distance.

 

Jett and Cathy in the typically verdant* forest.

 

Me looking at my favourite falls.

 

Jono goes in for the smooch.

 

The cutaway...which took five years, a lot of dynamite and a lot of blokes with pick-axes.

 

Our pretty lunch spot by the river on the last day.

 

One last waterfall for luck.

 

...and finally, some mud, just in case we were disappointed by the lack of it.

*Dani told me she wouldn't know how to describe just how green the forest was to someone who had never seen it. I advised her to use the word 'verdant' a lot.  

Milford Sound

Saturday, 15 April 2017

I am just back in civilization after a four day hike along the Milford Track in the Fiordland National Park. It was great - not even especially wet despite the forecast. The one disappointment was the complete whiteout at McKinnon Pass, which is the highest point on the track. "The views are well worth the effort of the climb" said every article, guidebook and brochure. Ah, not so much. But after the steep descent from the pass, we walked into sunshine and rainbows. A fantastic side trip to McKinnon Falls (it was all about McKinnon in those parts) topped off a long but rewarding day.

In fact the only real lowlight of the trip was my big toes, which got a little trashed on the Queen Charlotte, and became progressively worse every day. Even DIY surgery to reduce the giant blood blisters didn't really help. When I dropped a 10c coin on one toe at Milford Lodge this morning, and yelled out in agony, I knew I was in trouble. Let's hope they improve before next week.

As always, for decent photos see Cathy's blog.

Portage to Anakiwa - 24km

Monday, 10 April 2017

It was a fairly steep walk back up the road from my accommodation to the start of the track, which set the tone for the next hour and a half. At the track and road junction, I met a cyclist who had just ridden from Punga Cove - amazingly good going considering that it was about 9.30am (I deliberately started late, knowing I'd have a long wait for the 4pm boat). We both looked at the sign on the track indicating there were 24km to go. 'That's a bit disappointing,' said MTB girl, 'I'm sure the sign 5 minutes back said 21km.' Indeed it did - I remembered it from the day before, when my toes were aching and I was nearing the 5 hour mark.

Oh well. However far we had to go, there was only one direction - UP.

Pretty soon I realized that I'd overdressed. For some reason I had decided to wear a thermal top; my only spare clothing was another long sleeve top and my puffy. Not that it was particularly hot, it was just sunny - and sun + hills + me = sweat.

So I sweated buckets after I passed false summit after false summit, hikers and bikers. Finally I reached the tete de la cours. Needless to say, the views were spectacular.  

From there it was gently undulating to the next camping and accommodation spot, where I stopped for a drink and a snack. It was (allegedly) 12.5 km from there to the finish, so I set myself the goal of running the whole way, even through there was a long gradual uphill ahead of me before the lovely downhill home (the rules of jog-hikes are that you don't have to run uphill if you don't want to).

Anyway, I made it - with a short loo stop at a pretty beach camp ground with 3km to go. My legs really didn't want to start running again, but I made them, and we finished the day's jog-hike in just under 3 hours.

I was pretty tired and my big toes were sore (uh oh) but the long wait for the boat went really quickly as I sat around in the sun, drank chain and pear & feijoa juice and more and more hikers and bikers finished their journeys.

All in all, a lovely hike but I think next time I will throw some MTB riding and kayaking in the mix - and bring some friends with me!  

Punga Cove to Portage Bay

Sunday, 9 April 2017

After a relaxing night at Punga Cove resort (which has a range of accommodation, including the 'el cheapo' variety within my budget), I woke up feeling slightly less stiff and sore than I'd felt immediately after my jog-a-hike (thanks, in part, to the penthouse hot tub, that anyone can use). However I was still a bit apprehensive about the amount of climb that my elevation guide predicted for the next day. Factoring in my general overall fatigue levels, and the amount I had slipped a slid on the slopes in my sneakers, I decided to wear my hiking boots and walk briskly instead of jog-hike.

I needn't have worried - the track was generally a lot better than Day 1 (at least on the steeper sections) and there was plenty I could have run. However I think my legs needed the break and I managed the fairly steep 25km in around 5 hours.

Views weren't quite as good as the first day - a lot of sections were densely wooded, even when traversing ridge lines. It was less sunny today too, which generally meant less sweatiness, particularly with the more relaxed pace. 

I saw more cyclists today - and on reflection I think this would be the best section to ride. There were hills, sure, but the track was good and they were rideable. And there were many, many sections of lovely tramway type tracks that would have been brilliant to speed along on a mountain bike.

One of the features of the Queen Charlotte track is that you have to walk a little bit 'off piste' to get to your accommodation. This adds a few kilometres to the overall distance, which is somewhere between 70 and 75 km), depending on which map or  sign you consult.

Speaking of maps, I couldn't get a decent one. There are plenty of crappy A4 maps around, provided by various tourist establishments, but when I tried to find a proper topographical map, I failed.

It was also pretty amazing the number of people hiking without any map at all - who gratefully poured over the shit maps I offered to show them at various points along the way. Despite being generally crappy, they did at least have an elevation profile, which was useful in terms of figuring out where you where you were, and how much pain you had yet to endure.

After 5 hours I was pretty buggered, but I headed down to the Portage Resort Hotel (where I wasn't staying) while it was still light for an overpriced burger and a reasonably priced (and delicious) NZ craft beer. This seems to have been my dining pattern so far - one expensive meal per day, and various bars and fruit and nuts the rest of the time, supplemented with an evening beef. The burger was average, the beer was delicious, and after a bit if reading and a handful of fruit and nuts I went to bed and slept like a log for 9 hours.

Photos @veronica.thorne on Instagram.

Day 3 - Ship Cove to Punga Cove - 27km

Friday, 7 April 2017

After a night in a slight Fawlty Towers-esque hotel in Picton, I headed out at about 7.30 am to catch the boat to the start of the Queen Charlotte track, about an hour away through her eponymous Sound. I felt slightly apprehensive about leaving some of my stuff with the hotel owner ('It will be very safe with us') until my return in three days time. I couldn't figure out whether he was an alien or Liberace's long lost (and inexplicably married) brother. I guess it will either still be there or it won't!

The majority of my stuff however was coming with me - but not on my back. Thanks to Cougar Line (are they trying to tell me something?) it would waiting for me at Punga Cove Resort. Indeed it was - and when I picked it up after my 3.5 hour jog-hike, I reflected on just how much easier it is to walk without a pack.* 

Despite feeling very weary now, I absolutely loved the hike. So much of it was just beautifully runnable (or jog-hikeable) and the scenery was some of the prettiest coastal scenery I've ever seen (possibly too many scene/seens in that sentence). I did see a couple of European kiddies pushing their mud-caked fat tire bikes up one of the more un-runnable (and horrendously un-rideable) bits, which looked like my idea of hell. But most of the track was much nicer (and surprisingly empty).

I will write and add pictures when I have a better/faster internet connection - Sweden it ain't, despite the Scandi-like vegetation and forest smells.

*i.e fucken. 

NZ Day 1 - Wellington

Thursday, 6 April 2017

I arrived in Wellington last night and made my way to my Air B'n'B accommodation on the airport bus. Being the disorganized traveller that I am, I didn't have any cash, so the bus driver let me on for free as it was cash only, it was pissing with rain and she was about to leave. Wouldn't happen in Melbourne!

Unfortunately it has been pissing with rain ever since. I did venture out from my accommodation last night to get some food and NZD, but got soaked in the process. It's a bit disappointing as Wellington looks like a lovely city and the apartment I am staying in is right on the waterfront (highly recommended - hosted by Sebastian and Angus who were great). 

Here's a view from the window:  

I guess I should head out in search of a (decaf) coffee - which Sebastian assures me won't disappoint. I'm catching a 2pm ferry to Picton and the Weather Channel informs me that the rain is only getting heavier. Hard to imagine but I will take their word for it Luckily it looks like a fine day tomorrow when I start my long jog-hike along the Quuen Charlotte track. 

Oops

Saturday, 1 April 2017

A couple of days ago, I was thinking about my upcoming trip to New Zealand. Specifically I was thinking about uploading a photo to the World Masters Games site. The organisers asked for a passport-style photo. I didn't have a digital image like that handy, which was a shame because my actual passport photo is quite nice (I thought to myself).

And your passport is where? said a little voice in my head.

Ah yes, that would be in Hobart. While I am in Melbourne.

I really should have written a list.  

Consumer advocacy

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

I've been riding to work from Elwood via Port Melbourne lately, which is a really nice ride apart from the crazy pedestrian crap-shoot along Southbank and the ferocious sea breeze headwinds. A small detour on the way home takes me to Acland St, where there are a couple of supermarkets and a million arty types without jobs drinking beer in the sun (like me when I'm in LA).

I locked up my bike and headed to the Acland St Woolworths, where I wandered around aimlessly for a while, as is my inefficient habit when in an unfamiliar supermarket environment. Finally I settled on a few items for dinner and was heading towards the checkouts when I spotted one of the eye grabbing 'specials' which you would never buy otherwise.

On this occasions it was two packets of 'Nice and Natural' museli bars for $5. I'm not usually a museli bar eater but I thought I might buy some on the basis that I keep forgetting to bring anything to work for breakfast, and also I was anticipating wandering around the pine forest all day Friday and Saturday setting up for an orienteering event back in Tasmania. A handy snack, I thought to myself, would be nice.

I wasn't paying much attention as the checkout chick* (who was actually a bloke) scanned my groceries; but then again, neither was he. However, I did notice that the total seemed to be a lot for my relatively few items. So as I moved away from the checkout, I checked my receipt and sure enough I had been charged $4 each for the boxes of museli bars, rather than $5 for two.

Channeling my inner Susannah (a dietician friend who extremely vigilant when it comes to food), I walked back to the counter to point out the error.

"I'll go and check," said check-out-bloke. And off he went.

An inordinate amount of time later, he returned with two boxes of muesli bars, my receipt and the pricing sticker. He then proceeded to give me a lesson in Woolworth's dodgy pricing policies. "It says 180 - 192 grams,' he said. 'Which means that if you choose two of the 180 gram boxes, it's $5. Or it you choose two 192 boxes, it's $5. But if you mix and match, you get charged the full price.'

'What The Actual Fuck?' I said. OK, I didn't really say that. I said: 'That's totally misleading.' In fact, I was so annoyed my the dodginess that I took a photo of the price tag.

 

The check-out-bloke then proceeded to outline my options, which were totally incomprehensible. At first I thought he was just going to refund me the $3 - since it was obviously their fault/dodgy policy that had caused the problem. Eventually it transpired that what he wanted me to do was choose ONE of the flavours, at which point he would refund me the $3 then go and get me an identical box so that it would satisfy the 'must weigh exactly the same' criterion (evidently getting another flavour of the same weight was not an option).

'Fine,' I said, sounding like someone who writes into the newspaper and signs herself (Mrs) Clare Hawkins-Smythe. 'But you'll have to go and get me the other box because you already took my boxes from me.'

Keen to get rid of me, check-out-bloke readily agreed to this, refunding my $3 then returning soon after with another box of Nice and Natural.

'Fuck you Woolworths,' I whispered under my breath as I left their establishment.

After retrieving my bike, I rode home slowly via the canal with the groceries hanging over one handlebar. Of course, the flimsy bag broke, forcing me to practically nurse the bag as I rode one-handed the rest of the way home. Finally home, I realised I couldn't carry the groceries AND the bike up the stairs, so I left the groceries by the door, carried my bike up, walked down the two flights and then carried the groceries up. Standing in a pool of sweat, I finally had the energy to unpack the (strangely heavy) bag of groceries. Whereupon I discovered that I'd accidentally stolen the original two boxes of Nice and Natural, which had been in my bag all along. 

 

Oops.

*neither the Coles nor the Woollies in Acland St has a self checkout, presumably (and ironically) because it makes it too for the backpackers to shoplift.

Fun holidays

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

This morning I was looking something up on World Clock and noticed a drop down menu for fun holidays. That looks interesting, I thought to myself, I need a fun holiday. Sadly, I was forgetting one of the fundamental differences between Australian and American English - 'holiday' means 'commemorative day' (like 'public holiday') in American, whereas 'vacation' means an actual holiday.

So, I was not treated to list of fun places to go on my next vacation (although I don't really need one, since my next official vacation is to NZ, land of really fun stuff). I did, however, discover that yesterday was not, in fact, Valentine's Day (OK it was bloody Valentine's Day) but Library Lovers Day. And since I love libraries, I will be celebrating retrospectively by returning my overdue library books. Tomorrow is Do a Grouch a Favor Day, while February 17 is Random Act of Kindness Day (meh). But I think my reader(s) will all agree that the one we have all been waiting for is February 18 - Battery Day. Suggested ways to celebrate Battery Day include:

- swapping out old, dead batteries from your [90s] household items [such as your Sony Walkman and your Rabbit vibrator]

- take all the old batteries to the recycling centre [assuming you have a lot of household items that haven't been working for a while]

- check your fire alarm and smoke alarm batteries and replace them if needed [and finally stop them from beeping]

- learn the history and science behind batteries.

I'm certainly looking forwarded to Googling 'batteries' and reading the Wikipedia entries. Then, when I'm done with that, I'll start preparing myself (and my tastebuds) for February 19th - Chocolate Mint Day. Except that, sadly, I have given up chocolate until Easter. So I'll just have to content myself with 'taking a day to relax my brain and stop over-analyzing problems' on February 27 - No Brainer Day.

Instarant

Sunday, 5 February 2017

I have recently joined Instagram. It was late, I'd had two margaritas, I was in Palm Springs, and my friend Maree made me (kind of). I have a fake name and 10 followers, so I'm not exactly liking up a storm, but I have noticed (or technically, had pointed out to me) an alarming piece of social media etiquette: never 'like' a photo in which your ex-partner is visible. You can still follow them, of course, however you can only 'like' a photo that they have posted if they themselves do not feature in it. This includes photos of your kids alongside your ex - your disdain for your ex automatically cancels out the 'like' you had for you kids (I guess this is why people get divorced).

Apparently if you don't follow this rule, the social media police automatically block your account. In fact I'm told that 'liking' your ex is a worse crime than posting a picture of yourself breastfeeding or wearing a bikini with an un-waxed map of Tassie.

This strikes me as exceptionally lame. By all means, if you don't want to follow someone (or like any of their photos), don't. But to like ONLY those in which they don't feature...what exactly is your point? Are you saying: 'I like your social media presence in general, but I specifically don't like you'; or are you saying: 'Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah.' Or perhaps the idea is to encourage potential partners who are stalking your ex, by saying: 'I'm still a friendly cool person, I still follow my ex because I'm over it and all, but I really don't LIKE him/her any more, I'm a swingin' single, what's your star sign?'

Maybe it's just my social media naivety but I would be infinitely less inclined to want a relationship with someone who indulges in this type of behavior. It doesn't exactly augur well for when WE break up. And what a lot of effort it must involve, carefully screening every post in case an errant 'like' accidentally captures the back of our ex-partner's head.

It's right up there with excessive hastagging for social media crimes I reckon. And if I was the social media police, I'd be stamping #petty #mean #bitter on any offenders I found. 

Frenchmans Cap - Day 4

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

It was so nice to wake up on Sunday morning with no pressing need to be up and packed and on our way. Well, nice for me anyway. I woke up at about 6am and listened to music for a while, so I'm confident that Cathy got at least one hour's good sleep - aside from all my wriggling around of course. 

As we sat around finishing our breakfast at the leisurely hour of 8.45, we noticed the Devonport boys crossing the bride some 100m to the south. This was some impressive effort - we figured that they must have left Lake Vera at about 6am, after quickly scoffing down 'Breakfast - Day 4'. So much for us finishing the walk early!

In the end it took us about 2 hours to get back to the cars. There was one fairly decent hill, which took us to the 'lookout' - which we'd entirely missed on the way into Lake Vera due to the rain and mist. Frenchman's Cap was easily visible from this vantage point, but unfortunately not so visible in photos due to the disparity of light. Here's my best attempt:


When we got back to the cars, the boys from Devonport were just about to leave. They offered us a cold beer, but we declined as Tom was driving, I just needed water and Cathy doesn't drink beer. Unfortunately for Dad, he'd stopped for a toilet break so when he returned to the car, spied Cathy's post-walk chips and asked, jokingly, if we had a cold beer to go with them, we were forced to confess that we'd just turned one down!

Overall, the walk was really enjoyable and I'd happily do it again*. Leo was fantastic (and excellent company - he's very funny and chatty and really observant), completing the walk with barely a grumble (that didn't relate to food - he did try to send a couple of meals back to the kitchen, much to his dad's annoyance!) Cathy was a machine and Tom was super strong and very patient with both Leo and Dad on the tougher parts. I'd probably do it a little differently next time but the way we did it, in the conditions we did it in, gave everyone a real sense of achievement. And whatever hike Leo does from now on will seem easy in comparison!

For an alternative blogging viewpoint (with lots of great photos) check out Cathy's blog

 

*This isn't the case with the Western Arthurs, which I did with dad in 2004. I was trying to pinpoint a date when Dad reminded me that the day we finished, which happened to be New Years Day, I was calling Cathy to see whether she'd had her baby. That baby was Zali, who was born on January 1st and is now 13 years old. Anyway, back to the walk - it was tough - loads of pack hauling and treacherous traverses. After finishing that walk I filed it under 'never again'. And that was carrying a reasonably light pack (the same pack Leo carried this time in fact) because Dad took all the heavy stuff! By contrast, Dad claimed that Frenchman's Cap was much harder. What a difference 13 years makes.

Frenchmans Cap - Day 3

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Originally, Cathy and I had planned a 10km/1000m climb side trip to Irenabyss on the Franklin River on our third day, but after our arduous Day 2, which included views of the track we planning to take, the verdict on that one was an avowal in the negative and a deposit in the swear jar. At any rate, it started raining quite heavily at about 6am, which joyfully meant a wet tent for Cathy to pack up (I was busy with the much more fun task of preparing breakfast). I also offered to take dad's tent for him, a MacPac Microlight I had borrowed from Paul. 'Microlight' is a bit of an exaggeration - it weighed about two kilograms, and by the time I had relieved dad of some food as well, I was carrying about an extra 2.5kg for the return journey - coincidentally the same weight as Bricky, so it was lucky I did that training. Tom also relieved Leo of a bit of gear, and we set off in a light drizzle back to Barron Pass.

 

If anything, it was muddier than the previous day but at least we knew where we had to get to and were under no illusion as to the time it was going to take. Thus relieved of unrealistic expectations, we were able to enjoy the lovely misty views as we made our way slowly around the mountain range.

Here's Cathy with her 'No way am I going into that creepy cave' face. The second image is of the heart-shaped lake.



The hike down from Barron Pass was similarly slow, but not unpleasant...although it did drag a bit as we approached the end of Lake Vera. Cathy and I waited for the others for about half an hour (turned out they'd taken a break at a waterfall a little further up). I'm not sure what Leo ate on the break, but he was so full of energy on the return trip around Lake Vera that Cathy and I could hardly keep up. 20 mins later we were back in the hut, ready for our Cup-o-soups and salami.


 

While at the hut we got chatting to three guys from Devonport (the seat hoggers from the top of Frenchmans Cap), who were tucking into a delicious meal of Spam and Nutella (not together). Leo later told us that he had spied their food list, which was organised along the lines of: Afternoon snack, day one; Lunch, Day 2; Snack, summit, etc. I guess it's better than running out of food! We had a brief discussion with them about some of the other hikers we encountered, whose eccentricities/crimes included:

- taking uncooked eggs into Lake Vera, some of which smashed. Then, instead of learning from their mistake and hardboiling and/or eating them, taking the remaining raw eggs up to Lake Tahune.

- doing their washing up in the lake (instead of at the water tank) with a family sized bottle of Palmolive, a third full.

- wearing sneakers, tracksuit pants and t-shirts and not carrying a tent, on the assumption that there would be room at the huts.

The Spam and Nutella boys were still contemplating their next move when we headed off after lunch. Our destination was a camping spot by the Loddon River that we'd spotted on the way in - a genius suggestion by Cathy. Although the camp site was still three hours away, it was easy walking and it would give us only a short walk out to the highway on Day 4 - something we were all looking forward too.

After a pleasant stroll along Dick's bike track, we made it to the camp site at about 5pm. It was lovely! By this stage the weather had cleared and after setting up our tents, we went for a brief 'swim' then settled down to a delicious marakesh curry.


 

Unfortunately the day didn't quite have a fairytale ending, because I subsequently kept Cathy awake all night with my snoring. I'm not normally a snorer, but for some reason I had a really blocked nose (possibly due to damaged nasal passages caused by my incredibly stinky hiking boots) and my head kept falling back off my puffy new hiking mat. Believing that sleeping on my back was the culprit, I tried to sleep on my side all night (which was less comfortable), but Cathy informs me that I was snoring on my side too. Too bad we didn't have some of Eddie-the-Scottish-doctor's morphine to knock us both out (although I'm not sure that's a legitimate clinical use of Schedule 8 drugs). 

The Summit

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Dad and Tom made it to the hut about 20 minutes after us, and we settled in for our staple salami-based sustenance. As mentioned, the hut was on the dingy side - small and dark, with not much room to cook or sit around. Cathy and I had already decided that we would camp that night, as there were a number of new-ish camping platforms dotted around the place. It was a bit of a shock just how closed in and uninviting the hut sites were on this walk - on the Overland Track, every hut is situated in a really lovely spot, with plenty of space to spread out and just generally enjoy the magnificent surroundings. Not so with Frenchman's Cap - despite both huts being located next to lakes, access to the water is overgrown and difficult, with no well maintained tracks, let alone boardwalks between the campsites. Thus everything pretty soon gets covered with mud. Oh well, I guess you can't have everything.*

We'd arbitrarily planned to head to the summit about about 3pm, but at 2.30, a French guy strolled into the hut and announced that he'd brought the good weather with him. We peaked outside and sure enough, the weather was clearing, revealing Frenchman's Cap (hitherto invisible) towering above us. 

Along with every other hiker in the hut, we quickly mobilised and headed up the summit with our teeny-tiny day packs. What a relief it was not to be lugging almost 20kg! As is always the case, even the steep climb up seemed relatively simply so unencumbered.

 

Having said that, I do remember the climb to the top being extremely straightforward in 2000-whaterver - straight up the gully to the saddle then straight up the spur to the top. In this case I don't only have memory to rely on  - Tom's (infinitely clearer) map from 22 years ago also shows this simpler route. Now the route is somewhat convoluted, which was kind of annoying as it added a good half an hour to the ascent, which now includes a particularly tricky pinch which, in my opinion, should include some steps, or at the very least, a chain. Why this isn't so is somewhat baffling - there seems to be a pervasive view at PWS that routes to summits shouldn't include any sort of safety measure or assistance, whereas routes to the base of summits may include as many steps, ladders or cutaways as deemed necessary.

That said, the climb wasn't too bad. My main concern was that Leo would struggle with it but he later proclaimed it 'easy', and that 'Dad had to hold me back.' Ah, there's nothing like youthful overconfidence, but luckily Tom was there to teach him to 'respect the mountain.' Also luckily for me, I reached the summit about ten minutes ahead of Tom, dad and Leo, so I was able to run away before I had to confront my greatest fear: kids near cliff edges. Snapping a quick selfie with Cathy, I headed back down the mountain, passing the boys just before the final climb. I guess I probably should have accompanied them back up for a family photo, but there were three guys up there already who had taken over the 'seat', a kind of elongated rock cairn in which nervous climbers like me could snuggle.

 

Instead, I took my time going down, taking a lot of photos on the way, including some of the amazing wildflowers which seemed to proliferate in the inhospitable environment.

 

As I descended from the summit, I ran into the French weather god, who told me that the French for cap was 'la toque', so he was off to climb 'la toque'. He seemed very happy about this.

And so was I. As mentioned, last time I did the walk, we had blue skies all the way, so I naturally assumed it was always like that (this is known as a one trial generalisation). For the unfortunate people arriving at Lake Tahune the day before us, this was most definitely not the case - one had even waited there an extra day in order to summit in fair weather. Another guy was on his second (failed) attempt. So I was super lucky - again!

*Cathy has since discovered these plans for a new hut. Note to PWS - a nice little track down to the lake and a jetty would be nice too!

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