The Overland Track

Overland Track: 4 January – 10 January 2019

Many people have asked what our motivation for doing the Overland Track was. I don’t think there was any one motivating factor – it certainly hadn’t been on our bucket list for hiking for any time. We knew we wanted to spend a month in Tassie and when we started looking at what there was to do, the Overland came up and we recalled this from watching a DVD series before our lap around Oz. When we looked on the website for the track we were promised over 65kms of hiking through the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and world heritage area for Australia’s premier alpine walk.

While it had been just over 2 years since our multiple class 5 hikes throughout gorges and ranges in WA and SA when we did our lap, we felt confident that our resilience and love of the outdoors would get us through the hike, even if our fitness had dropped off a bit since coming back. I also realised that with my back injury and quirky feet, that there were limited years left for me to do something like this with the kids.

There was months of planning to be done and a lot of shopping at Anaconda for all of the gear we needed to get through the hike (the staff at Anaconda know me by name now!). Slowly but surely, piece by piece and sale by sale, we had everything we needed (possibly a few additional things that we didn’t thanks to a camping and hiking sale at Aldi).

Though we had plans to prepare well beforehand with multiple overnight hikes and other practice runs to get us ‘match fit’ for the Overland – none of these eventuated. Our one attempt at an overnight hike in the Mount Buangor State forest was an epic failure but taught us a lot about what we didn’t need to pack and the value of walking poles!

With our packs ready and weighed, a few additional snacks and meals taken out (there’s a cafe at Lake St Clair end so I removed breakfast and lunch for our final day and packed the credit card instead!), we got settled into our first night in a hotel for our last night’s sleep in a real bed with access to hot showers and electricity for a week!

Day 1: Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley (10.7km, 27 degrees forecast)

We decided on a hearty brekki to prepare us so Master 17 and I opted for scrambled eggs while Miss 9 had cereal and pancakes (breakfast of champions?!). Bushfires had broken out just south of the national park and the weather was predicted to hit 27 degrees for what is supposed to be the toughest day of the hike so I was a tad nervous and beginning to question this crazy idea! While the kids heartily ate, I struggled to get anything down before we jumped in the car and headed to the visitor information centre to grab the first shuttle bus to Ronny Creek.

At Ronnie Creek, I registered our party and we headed off along the flat duckboard start to the track after a quick selfie and Facebook post advising friends of our expected completion date should anything go wrong!

While we were likely the first public hikers to get started for the day, we soon found others joining, and passing us, along the walk as we made our way to Crater Lake. Despite the relatively early start (8.45am start), it was already pretty warm so we took off our boots and socks and enjoyed the cool refreshing water at the lake before heading off to face the steep ascent to Marions Lookout. By now the day had gotten pretty windy so we took 10 steps up the steep hill at a time to break up the steep climb ahead of us. Once at the top, we stopped for lunch trying to shelter from the extreme winds behind a rock. We took this opportunity to take off the shoes and socks and elevate them a little to avoid any swelling of feet in the heat. We reapplied sunscreen, cleaned up our lunch stuff, put our boots back on and left the day-hikers to enjoy the stunning views and shorter walk back to the car park.

We began walking along the long and exposed rocky alpine plains grateful for the wind in the heat to help cool us a little while we enjoyed great views of Cradle Mountain. Stopping at Kitchen Hut for some respite from the sun and to enjoy some of the unique history of the hut. Miss 9 was fascinated by the idea that in winter the snow can get so bad that the second story window of the hut was in fact a door and that the shovel hanging from high on the wall is used to help shovel your way out of the hut – a stark contrast to the sweltering day we were having!

We eventually got to enjoy some bush land hiking and some shaded parts of the track though we were still hot and tired and could see smoke off in the distance so when the rescue helicopter flew over, it was tempting to flag it down! Instead, I started looking for potential spots to pitch the tent as it was getting later in the afternoon and we were still a way off our first hut.

We hit the emergency ‘hut’ at nearly 5pm (though it looked more like some futuristic rounded shelter designed in the 70’s) and a sign advising that we only had an hour to go (which was lucky as we’d run out of water by that time). My feedback to Tasmania Parks and Wildlife is that they should have some indication of the kms you’ve travelled on their path markers along the way to help you to know how far you’ve come (or how far you’ve still got to go).

After 15 minutes, we hit another sign advising that we only had 30 minutes to go. The kids and I were ecstatic to know that we were nearly there! I’m not sure who timed that final 30 minutes but my guess is either their watch was broken, they had no pack on their back and ran the whole way there, or they were a sadistic soul preying on the tired hikers attempting day 1 of the Overland! Well over an hour later, and with what I could feel was the onset of a blister, we finally made it to Waterfall Valley Hut (noting that there were in fact no waterfalls to be seen). We were greeted by the friendly face of Judy the volunteer ranger who advised that despite being some of the last hikers to arrive, there were still plenty of beds available in the hut. She also advised that it got to at least 32 degrees today – no wonder we were bloody hot!

We met some other lovely Overlanders while cooking our spaghetti bolognaise for dinner and were tucked up in bed by 9pm on our wooden bunks. The hut has windows but no power so despite it still being light outside, it gets fairly dark inside and the sun rising at around 5.30am makes it fairly light by morning.

Despite it taking us 9.5 hours from start to finish (with multiple 10-30 minute breaks along the way), I was so proud of the kids for their efforts and making it through a pretty tough start to a week of more of the same.

Day 2: Waterfall Valley to Lake Windermere (7.8kms, 22 degrees forecast)

Sunrise at 5.30am after not too much sleep for me (kids seemed to have slept well even with Miss 9 sleep talking a few times). I dozed heavily between snoring from fellow campers and some late night arrivals and early morning departures.

After the first day, we were promised easier days following so we took advantage of a shorter second day by sleeping in a little to rest and recuperate. A hearty brekki of porridge with some chia seeds, cinnamon and milk powder (so yummy we might start making it like that when we get home) and we eventually set off at 12noon. (Not before Miss 9 managed to squeeze in a few games with some dice that Judy our friendly volunteer ranger had taught her – she even loaned Miss 9 the bag of die to take to the next hut for entertainment).

My feet were still pretty sore from the last part of day one so day two, while a lot shorter and flatter in terms of terrain, was still quite difficult. We stopped at Lake Will for a 30 minute lunch break but decided not to do the additional side walk to the lake itself.

Today was much colder than yesterday and we even got our gloves and hats and an extra layer on for parts of the day. With my feet being quite sore, we made an additional two stops along the way to take off our shoes and packs which the kids were grateful for too. Miss 9 was still pretty tired after a big first day.

If it weren’t for the logistical nightmare of trying to find transport from the end of the hike at Lake St Clair to our car back at Cradle Mountain (I’ve got more suggestions for Tasmanian PWS on some much-needed updates to the information on their website), I might’ve taken today as a rest day to allow the kids (and my feet) some rest time before attempting the rest of the track.

We made some additional adjustments to the packs along the way to get them right and my pack actually felt quite comfortable on my back (despite it being so heavy at 21kgs that I needed Master 17 to help lift it onto my back each day). Miss 9’s pack was slightly big for her (they don’t make hiking packs for children) so she liked to have fairly frequent breaks to take the weight off and lean forward on her hiking poles.

After 4.5 hours (including the 30 minute lunch break) through buttongrass plains, heathlands, alpine lakes and tarns (small mountain lakes), we made it to Windermere Hut and set up again inside the hut. I noted with some disappointment that our loudest snorer from the night before was also in the hut while others had opted for their tents.

We gratefully took off our hiking boots and walked down to the lake for a quick dip (this would have been the best hut to make it to on the previous day to enjoy a swim in the lake on such a hot day). While other hikers took a full swim, Master 17 went in up to his waist and I went in as far as my knees (the water was actually very mild as it is fairly shallow and warmed easily by the sun).

With some yummy cottage pie and mash potato for dinner we were off to bed as early as we could to get an early start for the longest day on the track.

Day 3: Lake Windermere to Pelion (16.8kms, 20 degrees forecast)

We were off by 9am ahead of a few of the other hikers, knowing that they would eventually catch up.

It was a cold and drizzly morning so we started the day in our raincoats, wet weather pants, and warmer clothes with Miss 9 setting a cracking pace in the light rain and wind. We traversed up over some beautiful areas, stopping briefly for a quick selfie with another hiker who was amazed that a 9 year old was doing the track (it was to inspire his own children, who were older, to do the track with him next time) before making it to the Forth Valley Lookout side track. Here we stopped for lunch while enjoying the views before getting back to the track for the last 13kms of the day.

Coming down through some of the rocky and windy areas was torture on my feet (not only had I developed blisters but my less than attractive crooked toes were very painful and I was starting to understand why others with similar conditions, had their toenails removed or toes broken to straighten!). Miss 9 flew down these areas though and I had to frequently yell out to her to check that she was still within ear shot and on the track. She’s actually very good at following a track and spotting hard to find wayfinding markers so veering off track wasn’t really a concern.

At Pelion Creek we decided that the cold weather was behind us now and removed all of our cold weather gear and took the opportunity to give our feet and backs a rest for a bit. As we entered the myrtle-beech rainforest on the Easter flanks of Mt Pelion West, we sand ‘99 bottles of beer on the wall’ to help distract us from the lengthy and windy descent under the canopy of trees into Frog Flats.

At one stage, we had thought that we surely weren’t far from the hut (it was around 5pm and we’d been walking since 9am with breaks in between) as we stopped for a final rest and contemplated a bush wee or holding out until the hut. I’m glad we opted for the bush wee as it turned out to be another 2 hours before we made it to the hut!

The last 1.5 hours were relentless – while the terrain was fairly flat and picturesque – fatigue had set in and my feet were in a great deal of pain. By this stage Miss 9 was so exhausted and I, unable to help reduce her burden, told her she could cry if she needed. So she did. For the entire final 90 minutes of our walk and it was heart breaking (and exhausting as I tried not to do the same). While the kids were asking ‘are we there yet?’ and ‘can you see that side track that’s near the hut?’ every so often, I was muttering expletives under my breath about how ‘F’ing’ far away the damn hut was. The later it got, the more I was resigned to setting up the tent when we got to camp.

Our feet were aching and we were exhausted but we kept encouraging each other and eventually, at 7pm, we stumbled into the hut where I’m sure that Veronica and Andrew (a lovely couple we’d met on the track from Sydney), had saved us the last two bunks in the entire hut. Miss 9 and I shared a top bunk while Master 17 had the other top bunk and slept alongside some of our belongings to save some space.

My feet were so sore I nearly burst into tears when I saw Veronica waiting to show us our bunks on arrival. Miss 9 recovered so quickly after dropping her pack on the bunk and couldn’t understand why mummy just needed to put her feet up before heading outside to look at the pademelons and other wildlife outside the hut.

The hut was bigger than the first two nights but was packed with a lot of additional hikers who had ventured in from other tracks to base themselves at Pelion and climb the likes of Mt Oakley and Mt Ossa.

We ate just as it was getting rather dark and then went to bed as did most other campers. There was a loud group of hikers playing cards in the common area until rather late and I was almost at the stage of getting out of bed and going out with my mum voice to tell them to pipe down, when they too, decided to head to bed.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so grateful to lay down on a wooden bed and close my eyes as I was that night.

Day 4: Pelion to Kia Ora (8.6kms, 22 degrees forecast)

By now, we had met quite a few of the other track hikers as we all started on the same day and finished at the same hut each night (there were the odd extras along the way that doubled up doing multiple days in one – my definition of madness!). While we only saw a few of them out on the track each day (usually overtaking us at some point), we saw many of them in the huts as we cooked dinner or refilled water at the tanks.

One of the other groups included a dad in his 60’s hiking with his three adult daughters (Jen, Kim and Fiona). They had noticed how bad my feet were so Kim gave me some soft lambs wool to wrap around my toes to help with my blisters and quirky toes. The ranger also had a big roll of tape that I grabbed to secure my new toe rescue and I soon had very comfy feet. Until I put them into my boots and realised that they wouldn’t fit! I had to remove a lot of the padding and just put up with sore feet (with the help of some ibuprofen, airing of my feet enroute and the odd expletive when the kids were out of earshot).

Being a shorter day than the one before, we didn’t head off until 11am after a rigorous routine of stretching led largely by Miss 9 drawing on her dance class experience to prepare us for the day.

Today was a bright and sunny day and we headed off with some tired sooky hikers who got into the rhythm of the day soon enough with a stop to take of the boots and rest the feet before continuing on to Pelion Gap. We even saw two of the yellow tailed black cockatoos along the way. After about 3.5 hours we thought we’d be very close to Pelion Gap (the halfway mark and resting spot for those doing the Mt Ossa or Mt Pelion East climbs) when we stopped for a rest in the shade and met Steven from Sydney who was hiking on his own and had started the day with a hike to Mt Oakley and was now about to lap us on his way to climb Mt Ossa! He told us that he thought he’d be at Pelion Gap within an hour which was heartbreaking for us as we thought we only had about 20 minutes until we were there (if it took him an hour, it would no doubt take us 2!). Soon after he left us, we saw him walking back towards us to advise that he was actually very wrong and that the gap was just ahead but that we should take a moment in the shade to reapply sunscreen as the next part of the track was very exposed. After all of us got sunburnt on day 1, we were most grateful for this advice!

After stopping for lunch at the Gap (where we found some shade a little way up the hill) and taking the opportunity to take our shoes off for half an hour or so, we were ready to continue on our walk wishing Steven all the best for his ascent to Mt Ossa. The currawongs are very clever on the track and renowned for opening zips and stealing food. We noticed a bag of nuts opened and spread on the boards and realised that it belonged to Veronica and Andrew so we packed them up and secured them back in their packs and rezipped their bags and laid them so the birds couldn’t get to their food again (they were off climbing Mt Ossa and had left their packs like so many others at the Gap).

After our break we put the boots back on (reluctantly) to head along the gradual descent from Pelion Gap to Kia Ora hut through the beautiful Pinestone Valley with views of the Cathedral Mountain. While this part of the track is apparently a favourite for many, my feet and blisters were awful on the way down and I found myself muttering ‘left, left, left, right, left’ just to be sure my feet kept moving!

Kim, Fiona and Jen (with their dad already ahead earlier in the day) went past us and Miss 9 suddenly gained more energy and latched onto them and flew ahead of Master 17 and I. While I wasn’t too worried about Miss 9 losing her way, I wasn’t exactly sure that she’d stuck with the girls so when she didn’t respond to Master 17 and I calling out to her, suddenly the pain in my feet was (not entirely) forgotten, and I walked as fast as I could just to ensure she was safely within eye or earshot.

We soon caught up with them all (largely due to Jen, also a mother, thinking that they should stop and allow me to catch up in case I was worried about my daughter) as they were stopped to admire an echidna next to the track.

When we arrived at the hut at 5.30pm another family that we’d met along the way with a mum plus four grown boys and teenage daughter, gave us some leftover Chilli Concarne as a ‘snack’ before we headed to Kia Ora creek and the little waterfall for a dip to cool off in the glacial waters! While I had every intention of diving into the icy waters, I only managed to get in up to my knees to help with the pain and swelling in knees, feet and ankles. Master 17 dove right in. And then jumped straight back out again – confirmation for me that it was far too cold for me to swim.

Back in the hut we met the loud group from the night before who had started the Overland the day before us and who were also the group that Judy had told us about that had one hiker with a 35kg pack (which included a 5kg keg that they drank on the first night!). Matt and Kara were very friendly and one of their party was running out of food so we gave them some of ours as we couldn’t fit in all that I’d packed for dinner that night after our rather substantial ‘snack’ prior to our swim.

We also left our second gas canister in the hut for other walkers as we had completely overestimated just how much fuel we would need to cook each day (especially since we didn’t need to boil our water, filtration tablets were enough to treat the water from the tanks each day and even then, we’d only started treating the water after day 3). We’ll start day 5 1/2 kg lighter!

Day 5: Kia Ora to Windy Ridge (Burt Nichols Hut), (9.6kms, 20 degrees forecast)

We were the last to leave the hut in the morning at around 10am to start the day with my feet already sore. We made it to the Du Cane Hut (aka Windsor Castle as it was once nicknamed – built in 1910 by Paddy Hartnett, a snorer, minor and bushman) where Miss 9 left a message in the visitor book while we enjoyed a short break.

Today we did our first ‘side hike’ – only 1km down to D’Alton Falls. We left our bags at the main track and I swapped my hiking boots and socks for my crocs (yes, I bought crocs for this hike and walking down to the falls in them was absolute bliss!). We took our lunch to the waterfall where we sat and enjoyed the view of a rainbow crossing the falls as we ate.

I was tempted to keep the crocs on for the remainder of the track (in hindsight I probably could’ve). We were enjoying the gradual climb to Du Cane Gap, using the A-Z game to keep us distracted and entertained throughout the day helped (we each had to think of something starting with each letter of the alphabet – we went through movies, animals, songs and musicians, adjectives, celebrities etc. throughout the day and I was pretty impressed with some of the songs and musicians the kids came up with).

Starting the deep descent into the bowl-like cirque of the Du Cane Range, sculpted by glaciers thousands of years ago, was tiring and painful on my feet (some glacial ice at about this time would’ve been a welcome relief). Miss 9 however, got her second wind and was off like a rocket again. Just as I was telling her that we should have no more than about half an hour to go, we spotted our first tent a short walk before reaching the Burt Nicholls Hut – a 5 star hut compared to the rest we’d stayed in! Managed to get a large top bunk space to ourselves where we set up beds, got changes and headed to the kitchen to prepare dinner.

Jen (one of the daughters) was a doctor so Master 17 asked her about popping my blisters. She happily advised that yes I should given they were all intact and giving me so much grief. She sterilised a needle for me but I was happy for her to do the popping for me (she was a paediatrician which was a lot closer to podiatrist than I was going to get!).

Dr Jen burst my blister for me (it covered the entire base of my pinky toe on the right foot) in the hopes that our final day hike might be less painful. In hindsight, I should’ve got her to burst my other one too but the pain getting the bandages off was excruciating & brought more expletives and even tears to my eyes (even after soaking in the collapsible sink we’d brought for 20 minutes).

Many of our Overland companions were leaving very early the next morning to walk to Narcissus and get straight on the ferry the next day so most were in bed very early. We were walking to Narcisuss to camp for the night as our transport wasn’t booked until the following day so we got to enjoy a bit of extra sleep and avoid the busy morning rush in the common areas.

Day 6: Windy Ridge (Burt Nicholls) to Narcissus (9kms, 15 degrees & snow forecast)

Our early morning hikers set off in the rain and it was still lightly raining by the time we set off at noon.

The final day’s hike for us as we were getting the ferry from Narcissus Hut rather than walking the final 17.5kms to Cynthia Bay. Today has no more uphill walking, just a gentle walk down the glacier’s path to the hut situated beside Lake St Clair.

The weather was a little varied today – one minute we needed the raincoats on and the next we were sweating in the sun. We bumped into our first Park Ranger – Melody – as we walked along the track (the others we had all met at each of the huts). She mentioned that the weather changing and blowing in and out like it was, was perfect for the snow on the mountain predicted for today. They do say to prepare for all kinds of weather on the Overland – starting in heatwave and bushfire conditions and finishing with snow with a bit of everything else in between is certainly ‘all kinds of weather’!

Miss 9 happily told Melody of the fresh Tasmanian Devil poo and all the wombat poo we’d been seeing along the track as well as the echidna, wombat and yellow tailed black cockatoo – all logged in her junior Overland Track guidebook.

We finally made it to the Narcissus River where Miss 9 finally got to cross the only suspension bridge on the Overland Track. It was a single person at a time cross and we were all reminded of the scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – which Master 17 enthusiastically recreated using his hiking poles as sword as he crossed.

Arriving at Narcissus Hut Master 17 and I were keen to pitch the tent for our final night (I was tempted to pitch it at Windy Ridge but got outvoted). I had carried nearly 3kgs of tent the entire track and was keen for that burden not to have been for nothing. Miss 9 was not keen on the tent however, so we slept in the hut where we met a lovely family with two young girls. Miss 9 was so excited to see other children (there were no others doing the Overland) that she happily played and chatted to them until bedtime.

Day 7: Narcissus Hut to Lake St Clair

Leaving the next morning on the ferry, we exchanged phone numbers with the family who live just outside of Hobart on a small farm and were happy to have us camp there for a few nights when we got to Hobart for some exploring. We always seem to meet the most lovely people in the most remote areas!

We got off the ferry and took our final celebratory photo at the end of the Overland Track marker before signing us out of the registration book as home safe where we happily saw the names of a few of our other fellow hikers (many others were doing the additional hikes to Pine Valley and continuing on foot to Cynthia Bay).

Breakfast at the cafe and returning our EPIRB to the visitor centre and boarding the Overland Track mini bus with 7 others who were about to start the track for the 3.5 hour bus ride back to Cradle Mountain. We stopped off at Queenstown for a yummy lunch and enjoyed some breathtaking views as we drove – including those that we had seen up close and personal during our hike.

We gratefully checked into our upgrade deluxe spa room at the hotel and ordered room service dinner after some nice hot showers. Feeling refreshed we drove to Dove Lake to watch the sunset and reflect on the remarkable achievement we had just made. I am so incredibly proud of the kids and the resilience, compassion, humour and grace they displayed throughout our latest adventure!

Swamp tales

While our big adventure in 2016 was as much a trip of a lifetime with my kids as it was a time of healing for me, I’m thinking that this latest adventure might be a journey of self discovery.

We spent the first day of the New Year on a day trip to the North West of Tasmania to Tarkine and the dismal swamp. Not sure what I thought I’d discover in a swamp about myself but I was reminded just how much the mozzies love me!

To get into the ‘swamp’ (aka the largest draining sinkhole in the Southern Hemisphere) you get to don a helmet and hair net, lay down on a mat and slide down a 110 metre slide in just 15 seconds! The ride did advise that those with neck or back injuries shouldn’t go down the slide but I loathe the idea that the action of one aggressive drunk have left me with a lifelong injury and chronic pain so I ignored this and followed the kids down the slide (it was just a slide after all – what could be the harm?). Needless to say, I paid the price (and I’m not just talking about the rather exorbitant entry fee to walk around 1.2km of swamp pathways).

After some cursing, deep breathing and stretching, the kids and I meandered around a series of pathways learning ore about the sinkhole, and now state forest, and meeting the very cute pademelon – a small wallaby-looking native.

Being stuck in a sinkhole and surviving ‘off the land’ might not be so bad though – there were a lot of crayfish holes dotted all throughout the forest – I could think of worse to have to dine on to survive.

After a bite to eat we headed back via Stanley – a picturesque seaside town. As we approached we could see a giant sized lego looking block looming large in the distance. This turned out to be the ‘Nut’ (owing to a one time attempt to drill through the ancient volcano core only to find it was a ‘hard nut to crack’).

We drove to the base of the Nut and took a chairlift to the top to take in some of the 360 degrees views from the top. I think Melbourne might have some competition for the title of ‘four seasons in one day’ – we went from freezing winds that made your eyes water, to balmy breezes and then blazing hot sun as we walked the 2km track taking in multiple viewing platforms.

Other than the breathtaking views of the town, Bass Strait and surrounding national park, the Nut seemed to have a very large and very friendly population of beautiful butterflies and the odd unique tree for hiding under or climbing along the way.

Back to camp for a swim in the pool after dinner – not a bad first day of the year.

To help prepare us for our pending Overland Track hike, I’d booked Master 17 and I into massages the next day to help loosen any tight muscles.

We took advantage of these appointments to grab a few things from the shops and check out the Information Centre and Makers Workshops where we got to try our hand at making some denim paper with subtle Tasmanian icon animals embossed into the paper.

Fish Frenzy was recommended for lunch so we headed there for a yummy lunch overlooking the foreshore before the kids enjoyed a swim in the ocean and I got my calves wet – despite it being a pretty hot 25 degree day, it felt more like a 35 degree day in Melbourne).

After a few hours we headed back to camp for some chill time and dinner. After dinner, we headed back to the Makers Workshop car park to join some lovely volunteers for a talk on little penguins (formerly fairy penguins) and some penguin spotting after dark. The fluffy babies looked very cute until mum or dad arrive back from a day at sea eating and they pounced on their parents for dinner. It was pretty amazing to see a colony of penguins so close to the CBD – something I thought only Melbourne/St Kilda had to offer.

Off to bed for our final night in Burnie drifting off to the sounds of the ocean.

Mermaids in Burnie

Despite some noisy ‘C’mon kids we need to have an early night cos I’ve got lots of driving to do tomorrow’ camp neighbours kicking on late into the night, we all got a good night sleep and woke to the melodic tunes of neighbouring roosters harmonising with the local kookaburras (at 5am!).

It was a sunny 22 degrees in Burnie so we walked from the caravan park across the road to the beach for some lunch and afternoon in the sun (after a morning hitting the shops for some essential – and not so essential – items, including an inflatable mermaid tail).

The water seemed freezing to me but Miss 9 and Master 17 were happy splashing around while I got on with the job of blowing up the mermaid tail. I quickly grew disinterested in using my yoga breath for inflation purposes so Master 17 volunteered to walk back to the van to blow it up with the air compressor while Miss 9 and I played in the sand.

We soon heard Master 17 returning (from the distinct tooting of passing cars) before seeing him emerge from the Bass Hwy draped in a giant teal coloured inflatable mermaid tail. The kids were quickly in the water leaving me with the novel I’d planned on finishing on the sail over from Melbourne. The kids eventually retreated to the sand where they got stuck into their favourite beach pastime of burying Master 17 in the sand and digging holes, building moats and sand castles and eventually burying Miss 9 all the way up to her neck (my little girl is growing up?!). After hours at the beach, we all had a little bit too much sun (I could never imagine going to a beach in Melbourne if the weather was only 22 degrees – being closer to the hole in the ozone sure makes for some different heat).

We headed to the foreshore for some food and New Year’s Eve festivities. Miss 9 carefully chose her face painter based solely on their ability to paint an animal face and left happy with her new tiger looks. The two thrill seekers then boarded the Lethal Weapon ride on full stomachs before we headed to the beach.

On the beach was a giant bonfire with some mega logs giving off great flames and heat – enough to be the envy of any campfire loving traveller!

Young circus performers played with fire as they juggled, swung hoola hoops and jumped skipping ropes to the beat of a live drum performance. Soon after a spectacular fireworks display went off while we stood on the beach watching.

Despite the great weather, music, bonfire, some wild glowing hair and front row seats among a growing crowd, team kickarse were anything but, and retreated back to camp around 11pm to see in the rest of the New Year from the camper.

Heads eventually drifted off at midnight to the sounds of the pops and bursts from the final fireworks display. And so 2019 and the next chapter in our adventures begin…

Sail away

After a massive year in 2018 (including parenting largely on my own with the patience and help of Master 17 and Miss 9) I was exhausted and feeling a lot older than I actually recall being!

I decided to chop all of my hair off and soon realised that I was my mum! My mum is an incredibly resilient and youthful woman but it was a shock to see her reflection in the mirror – especially since we’re so vastly different in so many other ways. I really want my own identity – seperate to my mum and to my role as mum (though that is a role I cherish and find incredibly important, rewarding and challenging).

I’ve been looking forward to the end of the year and the start of four weeks leave to get on the road and into nature again with the kids to discover a bit of Tasmania and rediscover myself and my family.

After a fairly solid day of packing and getting the final preparations underway, we were up at 5.30am (at least I was) to head off to Port Melbourne to board the Spirit of Tasmania for a day of sailing. We woke to some fairly dismal weather after a preceding week of heatwave but grabbed some hot drinks on the way and boarded the ship by 8am. I had booked us some recliners for the trip so that the kids could chill and rest if they needed so after dropping some stuff at our chairs, we went for a walk.

The ship has a cinema so I booked us three of the final six tickets to see ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ at 4pm and was looking forward to seeing with my Queen loving kids.

After a brief walk around the boat, we headed to our chairs to settle and I decided to take a natural ginger travacalm tablet (just in case) and settle back for a quick nap before getting stuck into my novel, taking Miss 9 to get her face painted, walking the deck, enjoying lunch in the cafe and then our movie.

I dozed for about an hour before receiving a surprise phone call (the teens seated next to us were providing running commentary throughout the trip on the availability of the 4G network!) and then grabbed some snacks to keep us going until lunchtime (it seems in my packing regime and attempts to empty the food in the fridge at home before we left, I neglected to pack any snacks for our sail!).

And that’s about where my plans took a sharp detour. I quickly went from feeling old and tired and ready for a relaxing read, to feeling 21 and hungover as hell! Reclining at the tail end (boat lingo is clearly not my thing) of the boat sailing the Bass Strait was a queezy ride indeed! Our daytime cruise consisted of me dozing between regular ginger tablets and deep yoga breathing (a handy skill learned while pregnant 18 years ago and etched in memory), I tried to join the kids for lunch and the movie but couldn’t manage it and Master 17 ended up watching the movie solo while Miss 9 kept me company until we reached Davenport.

Down on the car deck, Miss 9 was most pleased that all of the dogs were being reunited with their owners (she’d burst into tears when we parked and could hear some of them barking all alone). We were off the ship fairly quickly and on our way to Burnie to make camp for a few days.

Thank goodness for daylight savings – we arrived at camp at 8pm and quickly set up before heading into town to grab some food to rustle up dinner, Turns out 8.30pm on a Sunday isn’t ideal for food service so we ended up at a drive through before heading back to camp for a good nights sleep in the trusty Dove and the first night of our next instalment of 2 kids a camper and a kick arse mum adventures.

Pioneering fun in Swan Hill

The drive from Morgan to Swan Hill was fairly long and included some interesting town names along the way. Markaranka made me think of Mataranka though I’m certain taking a dip here would’ve been a tad icy compared to the tropical delights of Bitter Springs! Chinkapook I think was Miss7’s favourite name though.

After a couple of long driving days I was keen not to have to cook and as we’d run out of meat, was looking forward to a non-vegetarian meal for the night. Once we’d set up camp at the Big4 along the river in Swan Hill (almost required taking out a second mortgage to stay here! Note to self: get full quote over the phone before booking, not just the minimum price), we did some grocery shopping to stock us up for dinner tomorrow and another couple of breakfasts then it was off to the pub for tea.

The next morning we got ourselves a pass to the nearby Pioneer Precinct, paddle steamer and sound and light show. We spent the entire day wondering around the Pioneer Settlement and the kids had a great time learning how to make rope, taking a buggy ride with the gorgeous Clydesdale Gemma (Miss7 was a little disappointed she couldn’t pat the horse I think). We got our own personal guided tour of the paddlesteamer Gem – the original piece marking the start of the Pioneer Precinct, before playing ‘schools’ in the local Pioneer school, touring replica shops and homesteads.

The kids got to help make butter churning it the old fashioned way before enjoying it on some fresh and hot damper for a delicious morning tea. Miss7 made herself a peg doll with wooden peg and scraps of material before we watched the wood turner transform a square block of pine into a patterned ball for Miss7 to keep for herself. It was fairly quiet at the precinct despite it being the school holidays so we were spoilt by attention and one-on-one displays.

We decided to visit the blacksmith next, a quirky young man who’d learnt the trade from his grandfather as a twenty year old and been smithing at the Pioneer precinct for the past five years. He was a great story teller and kept us entertained as he made a small horseshoe in front of us. Miss7 was very excited when he told her that he could stamp her name onto it for her if she would like – the horseshoe is now among the treasured momentoes from the trip.

We headed back to camp late in the afternoon to get dinner started so that we could eat and return to the Pioneer Precinct at 7pm for the evening sound and light show. It was pretty cold by evening so we rugged up before heading back and we’re pretty happy when staff greeted us with some blankets to keep us warm during the show too.

The show used lights, water and fire to tell the story of the Murray River and Mallee region over time. Projections onto the sprays of water, along with bubbles and snow brought the prehistoric, indigenous and Pioneer settlement stories to life. It was a spectacular show and incredibly creative use of water and light to tell a story. The kids loved it and so did we.

Our pass entitled us to two days at the precinct so after we’d packed up camp the next morning, we headed back for some last minute activities before the drive home to Melbourne.

The precinct had a 100year + old Dodge Brothers car on site and I think mum was as excited as the kids to be given a ride around the precinct. We went and checked out the indigenous display and I think Miss7 was a little baffled at how Aboriginal people could use the bark of a giant red gum to build a canoe – she was most impressed. 

We made our way to the drapery shop where the day before we’d had a great showcase of the pianola and other ‘old fashioned’ musical contraptions including an old record player that the kid’s great grandmother would’ve listened and danced to. We headed out the back to try on some ‘olden days’ outfits for some family portraits in the studio before making our way outside for some more pics. Miss7 is now excited at the idea of getting her own ‘olden days’ clothes from the op shop to add to her dress ups box!

Back in the car for the final drive home. Though we’ve only been gone two weeks, it feels like we’ve been away much longer yet not long enough! Lots of new places to add to our growing list of places to either visit or revisit for more. 

Arriving back in Melbourne it was thankfully not raining and the sun was even promising to make an appearance before we need to acclimatise to the icy cold of Melbourne’s winter.

Where the bloody hell is Morgan?

Our final night at Brachina wasn’t as cold as the previous night so I managed to sleep without socks and beanie and woke to a less frosty camper.

We could hear our 5yr old neighbour scuffing his feet in the dirt patiently waiting for Miss7 to come out and play with him. The two of them played together while we started to pack up the site and they even managed to put on a few new cute little musical performances for us in the process.

Our neighbours were on their way up to Darwin through the centre and I’d offered to share my experiences and any hints I’d learnt along the way. After they’d finished their pack up they came over with their maps and we looked through some of the great sites they were about to embark on. It was so lovely reminiscing on our travels up the centre and time spent previously in Darwin visiting my sister.

We headed off by mid morning meandering our way slowly out of Brachina Gorge admiring the views and lookouts on the way. I think the Flinders Ranges are definitely a future holiday destination to pull up camp for at least a week to get out and explore.

We stopped in Orroroo at the Giant Gum Tree and then a picturesque park by the water for lunch. From there we drove through Peterborough and the kids and I reminisced about our visit here last year (had no excuse to visit the cute Dr at the hospital this time around – I’ve successfully avoided cockatoos at close range this time!). 

The plan was to make it to a Murray port town called Morgan (my brothers namesake) for the night. The drive was picturesque and changed from the rugged ranges of the national park to a gentler rolling landscape – different again to the flat vastness of far north of SA after leaving Birdsville.

The landscape was littered with countless abandoned ruins the entire trip – it seems such a shame to see so many old homesteads and drovers huts just left to crumble in the countryside. I daydreamed of restoring them and making homes for people or little day-stops for travellers.

We arrived at Morgan in the late afternoon and were greeted with a gorgeous port and familiar scenery of River Red Gums along the mighty Murray River. We were also greeted by phone service as our phones all started going off with missed calls and messages – seems it had been a while since we had contact with the outside world! 

It rained overnight at Morgan and it started to feel a little more like coming home. The kids played on the playground down at the port area while mum and I admired the view and mum grabbed a few souvenirs with my brothers name on them. The town was small (though still had two pubs) with a lovely Main Street overlooking the Murray and a ferry service to get across the river.

From here we were heading to Swan Hill for two nights before the final drive home to chilly Melbourne.

Farina to Flinders Ranges National Park

From Marree we headed to Farina for a morning exploring the old ruins of the former town. The town was slowly being restored by volunteers after a group of 30 Victorian travellers decided to try to bring back some of its former beauty. They now have around 220 volunteers over a nine week period each year working on restoration and running the bakery using the original, in tact underground bakers oven.

We explored for a few hours and checked out the campsite while we were there – definitely another site to pull up and camp when I next make the trip with some avid ‘free camp’ fans. 

Lunch at the bakery included a second helping of their pasties – the pastry was so delicious I couldn’t help myself! In Marree one of our fellow travellers recommended Brachina Gorge at Flinders Ranges National Park so we decided that would be our next stop.

I couldn’t resist taking mum to the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna where we’d enjoyed our feral antipasto platter last year. We were still too full from our stop at Farina for the platter so we opted for some wedges and a cold drink. Though I’d remembered the food I’d forgotten just how beautiful the hotel itself was. I would love to come back here and stay in the hotel among the artworks and gorgeous building.

We arrived at Brachina Gorge and planned to put money in envelopes for our campsite at the gate as the signage instructed us however, there were no envelopes or money box so we simply drove through with intentions of sticking a note on our camp for the rangers informing them that we’d drive to the office or pay online if possible.

It turns out that bookings must be made now for campsites and can only be done online (tricky when we’d had no service since leaving Birdsville and certainly had none here at Brachina). I found this out of course when a lovely young couple turned up at 5pm to let us know we were in their spot. They were really lovely about it though, and went off to another site they remembered was vacant when they booked.

As it got dark and we’d had our fire going, the young couple drove back to let us know that 3 other campers had turned up to the site they’d moved to but as it was so big, were happy for them to stay tonight and move back the next morning. They had also booked another backup site so we could move to that the next day. By this stage I was a bit teary and exhausted so was grateful not to have to pack up and move in the dark.

It got VERY cold by nightfall – the coldest night we’ve had so far in the camper. I went to bed with the hot water bottle, socks, flannelette pj’s, singlet, thermo long sleeve top, beanie and my dressing gown and slept under 2 blankets! Master15 doesn’t feel the cold and slept in jocks and socks (that he eventually removed as his feet got too hot?!).

We woke to a wet doona and canvas and water in a bucket outside had frozen solid on top during the night. We reluctantly did a rough pack up so we could move and let the young couple have their site back. I drove to where they were camped to offer them their camp fees back (they refused the money) and a bottle of wine for their trouble (they accepted this thankfully). They’d all also decided the area they were in was big enough for all of them so we could stay where we were!

Miss7 was pretty happy with this as she’d made friends with the 5 year old boy next door and the 2 of them were happily climbing trees and playing make believe. 

We went on a lovely long hike with Miss7’s new friend and his mum while Nanna stayed back to read. We followed the river bed up for ages admiring the views, climbing over rocks and water and playing with slime. On the way back we played Eye Spy when Miss7 turned around for a hint only to find a mob of Emus had walked up behind us! We couldn’t believe how close they were to us and didn’t seem phased by us at all. We walked quietly alongside them before they ran ahead of us and eventually into the trees. This has certainly been the trip for Emu watching.

Leaving Miss7 with our neighbours for some afternoon animal spotting, I took Master15 and mum for a drive to Wilpena Pound. While we were there were got some supplies for us and our neighbours and a few sweet treats to enjoy later (a sweet tooth is genetic in this family!). 

Master15 decided he couldn’t wait to get back to camp to enjoy his chocolate delight so he ate it in the car as I logged on to try and book us a 3rd night at our site. Midst booking he told me his tongue was itching and the back of his throat… luckily we had the epipen in the car with us but I didn’t want to use it if it could be avoided (neither did Master15!) I had antihistamine in my bag so I gave him one of those and we waited 5 minutes to see the effects. His lips began to tingle but no hives came up and his breathing remained fine so I gave him another antihistamine and waited 5 more minutes. Our anaphylaxis plan always includes antihistamine first, wait 10 minutes (unless symptoms worsen of course and breathing becomes an issue – then its straight to epipen) then reassess. After 10 minutes his symptoms had resolved themselves and he felt fine. 

During the drama I’d forgotten to finalise my booking and when I went to hit confirm, someone else had snuck in and booked the site from under me. Looks like we’re only staying 2 nights at Brachina. 

We headed back to camp via an old gravestone of a 2yr old girl who’d lost her life in 1860, some old ruins from a former drovers hut and about 30 odd kangaroos.

We ate dinner by the fire again after Miss7 and her new friend performed a musical concert for us. I added an extra layer to the bedtime wardrobe in the hopes of staying warm and not waking cold during the night tonight. If only I had some sort of 12v electric blanket to help keep me warm!

Familiar faces on the Birdsville Track

We could hear plenty of campers leaving to queue at the gates before dawn to be the first offsite when they opened at 7am. I was fairly confident that their plan to have all 7,000 campers offsite by 12noon was an ambitious one so we took our time to pack up and joined the queue a little later.

The drive back to Birdsville while less than 40km, took over 3hours and at one point we all turned off our cars and Miss7 and I pulled out the hot pink footy to have a kick on the side of the road. This prompted another little girl from a car in the line behind us to jump out of her car excitedly yelling “I do Auskick too!” and join in the fun.

As the trip back to town took so long, we stayed overnight before hitting the Birdsville Track the following day. For some reason our gas stove stopped working when we got back to town so I stopped in at the ‘more than a hardware store’ for some butane gas before making one last stop at the Birdsville Bakery.

The track was something I’d wanted to do for the past two years yet in 2015 and 2016 when I’d come through this part of the world it had been under water and open only to 4WD. I was determined this year to make the trek – even going so far as to get myself a new car that was 4WD with a 50mm lift kit.

The irony of having a solid 4WD with off-road camper and the track being in such good condition that the trusty RAV4 could’ve made it easily wasn’t lost on me! To think the track had been closed only a week earlier and we were now averaging around the 80-90km/hr speed slowing for some rocky spots and passing cars. I’d go so far to say that the Birdsville Development Track on the way into Birdsville was rougher than this.

We arrived at the Mungeranie Hotel, fuelled up and set up camp. After some hot showers and dinner we headed to the pub for a drink and bowl of chips. The pub reminded me a little of the Daly Waters hotel with its Akubra hats, thongs, shirts and ID cards pinned to the walls and ceiling. The quirky distinction here however, was the fairly large collection of people’s ‘rats tails’ nailed to the ceiling… I’m surprised at how many people happily cut these off and left them behind – there were a few there that had clearly been growing proudly for decades before their untimely end at the Mungeranie Hotel!

When we sat down I noticed a woman looking at me and thought I’d sat in her seat. She approached us and I immediately recognised her face but couldn’t think from where until she asked if we’d been at Home Valley last year. It turns out that we’d both been travelling the Gibb River Road last year on our respective family laps around Oz and now, both families had made the trek out to BRB2017. We’d managed to camp only two bays away from them at the festival and even stayed the same nights in the caravan park before finally crossing paths on the Birdsville Track! 

We spent the night by the fire with them enjoying some drinks and reminiscing on our stories from the Kimberley and travels around Oz. As footy fans and with family in Melbourne it’s likely they’ll make the trek over from Kalgoorlie to Victoria in the future so we exchanged details and farewelled each other the following morning with plans to stay in touch. I’m still blown away at the fact we managed to find each other again in the middle of nowhere after both having gone back to ‘real life’ and taken time off for a quick holiday to Birdsville.

The second half of the track was in great condition too so we made good time getting along it and stopped for lunch at Clayton’s Bore just after noon. I’d hoped to camp here the night but I was met with a few ‘there’s nothing here’, ‘I’m not interested in another hot spring’ and ‘the flies are so bad’ comments that I decided the troups wouldn’t be happy with this plan (besides, you’ve always got to leave something for next time). Miss7 had a dip and I soaked my feet in the hot spring tub while we ate lunch.

After stopping off at the Lake Harry ruins where Miss7 managed to score a $2 coin from an older guy using his metal detector and we got some photos, we got to Marree and checked into the Oasis caravan park.  

We took a look around town at some of the Ghan railway remnants before making a stop at the old pub with its beautiful stonework and museum of Tom Kruse the Birdsville Track mailman. Sitting outside enjoying a cold beer in the afternoon sun we started chatting to some fellow travellers. A couple of ladies had their daughters playing in a makeshift treehouse that they’d put together up the road so Miss7 joined them while we enjoyed a chat over some cold drinks. When Miss7 came back I asked if she’d had fun – she was happy talking of her new friends and when I asked about the cubby she replied ‘I wee’d in it!’. Apparently this was a good thing, all the girls had done it and it was just part of making it their home!

As the sun set with its red and orange hues, it set off the pinks and purples in the clouds and sky in the north and east. The full moon started its rise over the horizon in the east as a bright yellow in a cloudless sky. It’s moments like this I wish I had a better camera. It cooled rapidly after this so we farewelled our companions and headed back to camp.

We’d booked a powered site and were looking forward to a hot shower. Turns out a fellow camper had a faulty appliance that kept tripping the power out across the entire park! Whenever the power went out, the water would turn off and what was left was cold. We could easily have been staying at the Mirage Caravan Park where we had the illusion of a hot shower but where you were instead left standing naked in a dark shower block with no water just hoping for warmth and a wash.

Whip cracking and country music

Final day of BRB2017 today with a country flavour to keep us entertained. Miss7 and I started our morning with a special performance from festival hosts ‘The Crackup Sisters’ S.T.Ruth and Twiggy were a very funny and talented duo who put on an hysterical show with hoopla hoops, creative whip cracking, some magic, humour and even a pet cow (dog in cowhide). Now that Miss7 knows they live at 100 Main Street Winton QLD, she’s determined to visit and help the, out with their dream of creating an arts studio for outback kids.

We followed up the morning entertainment with some line dancing lessons that eventually included the Nutbush, Busstop and a range of other dances I was impressed I could remember in daylight and sober!

Once we headed to the concert area Miss7 had to ensure she was right in front of the stage whenever the Crackup Sisters were on stage. Today we managed to have a great slide down Big Red and Nanna and Master15 had full view of our exploits. I even managed a go and was surprised and just how much speed you could pick up going down the hill.

Today seemed like a lot of fairly short performances before Troy Cassar-Daley came on for a great set. He’s a genuine performer with some great stories to tell. He was followed by the McClymonts who started their set as it was dark and really got the crowd going – I couldn’t believe their bass player was 38 weeks pregnant! Lucky the excitement of the gig didn’t end up in a BRB baby.

The headline act got tonight was Lee Kernaghan celebrating 25 years of his outback club. His opening song showcased a video clip on the big screen and we thought it was just part of the opening of his big show. It turned out that most of his songs were accompanied by a video clip and for quite a while there we thought he was miming. The dance floor area seemed to fill as quickly as many families seemed to pack up their chairs and leave.

His video clips were a little MA15+ with plenty of bikini clad women pole dancing in the back of utes or with bare chested men laying on top of them. I’ve enjoyed some of his songs in the past but as a live performer I thought this was a pretty disappointing end to BRB2017. 

Rockin the Simpson Desert

After falling asleep to the sounds of ‘Party rock anthem’ and ‘Footloose’, I was awoken by the sounds of the first morning helicopter ride over the Simpson Desert for day 2 of BRB2017. 

The evening had been quite mild and today promised to be pretty warm with plenty of dappled cloud cover in the otherwise clear blue sky.

The festival was kick started today by the Big Red Bash Drag race – even in the middle of the desert there’s a fair contingent of blokes keen to dress up in women’s clothing – Priscilla Queen of the Desert style. Miss7 and her new friend Brissy11 thought it quite the spectacle – I was impressed at some of the costumes and that they’d not only made it to the top of Big Red to start the race but ran at a fair pace to raise funds for the Royal Flying Doctors Service.

I’d prepped some afternoon snacks and dinner ready for later and packed up our chairs to take down to the concert area. Although we got there not long after gates opened, the crowd was already thick with camp chairs and akubra adorned music lovers.

KFC decided to ‘bring the bird to Birdsville’ with a huge dining area, truck, slide and art activities. While we weren’t interested in their food – the kids and I did have a go on their Big Red slide before waiting for ages so that Miss7 could get her face painted. The young girl doing face painting had made the rookie mistake of starting the queue with full face paint and so had to offer the same to every kid that lined up afterwards – and she was doing it all with only a tiny brush – no sponge in sight! 

When we got back to our seats, Nanna was happily rocking along to Russell Morris so Miss7 and I headed up Big Red with the boogie board and some solid shoes and socks. I happily sat on top of Big Red to take in the view while Miss7 practised her sand dune surfing now to the sounds of Kate Cebrano.

We waited on Big Red until sunset to take in the view and snap a few pics. The cloud cover had remained and the clouds formed many small patches all seemingly making a run for the sun and creating lovely patterns in the sky. The colours of Big Red changed as the sun got closer to touching the dunes. From deep red to blue tones when you got close.

After grabbing some quick pre prepared dinner and a sneaky couple of beers, we were back to the concert for the final set with James Reyne and Mark Seymour. It was lovely watching Nanna having a good time and even lovelier to see Master15 so happy that she was having such fun.

The clouds seemed to have chased the sunset all the way past the horizon and though the moon was bright, it wasn’t enough to keep it warm. 

After a great day of music it was off to bed to the sound of Dolly Parton ‘9 to 5’ followed by ‘knocking on heaven’s door’. Our camp neighbours certainly have eclectic tastes in music.