Whether to Whinge or Whistle

Greenstone River
The Beautiful Greenstone River, troche NZ

[Greenstone/Caples Walk, Day 4]

Somewhere towards the end of multi-day walks, I usually find fatigue and fitness intersecting. They are uneasy acquaintences, eyeing each other with ill-disguised suspicion. Each perches on a shoulder, leans into an ear, makes its case.

Fatigue is a whinger, whining at me to simply stop walking; to take off my pack, get myself clean, eat some yummy food, sleep in a comfy bed. The whinger, in short, is telling me it’s time to be a normal, sensible human again. And walking for several hours a day, through rugged terrain in all weathers, carrying everything on your back, is neither normal nor sensible.

Fitness whistles a happier tune, telling me how great I feel, willing me to ignore minor aches and pains, suggesting I consider other wondrous things I can do now that my body is attuned to hard work. The whistler wants to show me that it’s possible to transcend the ordinary; that mere walking can take me to great heights, literally as well as metaphorically.

At the start of our final day on the Greenstone/Caples Track, the whinger was well and truly on the back foot. We’d had a brilliant time in the Greenstone Hut, literally basking in the glow of the afternoon and evening sun. And then the stars – one, a few, a multitude – had come out to remind us we’re not alone. And when the morning began fine and clear, and our packs went on lighter and more easily than on any other day, we were close to whistling.

Continue reading

Blissfully Bored

[Greenstone/Caples Walk, Day 3]

Leaving a hut is very different from arriving at one. Huts, like summits, rarely sneak up on you. The road to a hut is more often marked by long anticipation, false hopes, spurious sightings and even the odd tear.

It had certainly been like that with McKellar Hut. We’d arrived tired and sore in body and mind, ready to raise a hallelujah, if only a faint one. But leaving the hut next morning we had no equivalent sense of occasion. A couple of dozen steps, across the bridge, turn right, and we were out of sight, back into beech forest, back into our walking rhythm.

But McKellar Hut had done its job. We’d been refreshed by food and wine, good company and a welcome rest. We’d traded stories and laughter, exchanged track information, and then gone our separate ways. Oddly (to us) we were the only ones headed for Greenstone Hut, the others scattering in various directions. Opinion on the day’s walk ahead of us was divided. On the positive side we heard “easy”; on the negative “long”. The opinion we found odd was from a Kiwi tramper, who thought it “boring”.

Crossing scree, Greenstone Valley

Continue reading

Of Long Days and Mattresses

[Greenstone/Caples Walk, stomach Day 2]

We learned years ago that for Australians bushwalking in New Zealand, link overnighting in huts is the easiest option. Certainly you can take a tent – thousands do – but why would you bother? Even in remote areas, there are often huts. Most of them are wonderful homes away from home, cosy, comfortable, and great for meeting people from all over the world. They add a special feel and flavour to New Zealand tramping.

View from Mid Caples Hut

View from Mid Caples Hut

Exactly why huts are so plentiful in New Zealand is a long story. Let’s just say that it’s down to Kiwi history: a response over time to the needs of trampers, foresters and hunters in remote places. We could also add that the often fierce weather and terrain make safe and solid shelters a sensible option. What we should NEVER say is that it has anything to do with New Zealanders being a softer breed. That suggestion from an Australian would be taken as an underarm delivery*, even if we could point out that there are such fripperies as mattresses, inside taps and sinks, and even flushing toilets in some tramping huts!

Continue reading

Against the Flow

[Greenstone/Caples Walk, New Zealand - Day 1]

The walking life is a pared down life. Major issues are few, and usually surround necessities like navigation, food, weather, shelter, bodily fitness and function, and the avoidance of hazards. When most of those are humming along, then you can begin to take in the beauty. You might even get philosophical about walking. For instance, whether you prefer to walk upstream or downstream.

Idyllic walking beside the Caples River, New Zealand

On day one of New Zealand’s Greenstone/Caples Track, things are going well enough for us to make that a topic of discussion. We’ve got away in a leisurely fashion, and are happily easing our way upstream along the beautiful Caples River towards Mid Caples Hut, only three or so hours away.

Continue reading

David’s Franklin River Expedition Review

After reading through the blog articles that I’d written about our Franklin River expedition, David wrote the following comments about the trip which I’ve published here with his permission.

When thinking about who to invite on this, my third Franklin trip I cast my thoughts back to 1979 and 1980.

My companions from that era were all around 25 to 30 years old and each had at least five solid years experience in the Tasmanian wilderness. We were all “bushies” although none of us had any rafting experience. Each of my “old” rafting buddies turned down the invitation. One was approaching his 65th birthday and claimed “old age” another sadly passed away only a few months before. It seemed unlikely that I could make up a balanced group. I would be a 30 year old guy stuck in a 60 year old body on departure day. One of my good friends put it this way. “David, you were young and dumb in those days and it seems like only one thing has changed”. Continue reading

14 Days on the Franklin River – Epilogue

Franklin River Junction (photo David Tasker)

It is usual, while away out in the wilderness, for thoughts about issues from home or work come to mind periodically, particularly during the first few days.  However, I didn’t anticipate how much this would happen the other way around back at home.  For the first few days after returning home I found that my subconscious was frequently considering how to tackle the next rapid, or manage the gear in my raft, or various other issues that I might face on a Franklin River rafting expedition.

On the first night back in my own bed I had a rather bizarre dream.  My eyes must have been half open, as the dream was derived from what I could see and hear in the bedroom around me, combined with my ongoing subconscious thoughts about rafting the Franklin River.  It was a warm night and the bedroom window and blind were open, with the moonlight making shadows on the walls and the floor.  I was lying with my face looking over the edge of the bed.

Irenabyss (photo David Tasker)

Continue reading

Franklin River Day 15 – Sir John Falls to Strahan

With our excursion on the Franklin River over, we had most of Saturday to wait until the boat came to pick us up at 4:30pm.  The weather was excellent and the location was fantastic, so it was a pleasant and relaxing rest day to end our trip.

For breakfast, we each chose the best of whatever suitable food we had left, and also shared fresh toast and butter.  The yachties on the other side of the river had given us a loaf of fresh bread they’d made yesterday!

Tiger Snake outside the old Hydro Hut

There were several resident tiger snakes under and around the hut, including three spotted in one patch of grass.  One of them favoured sitting right next to the water tank, making using the tap a somewhat more delicate exercise that it ought to be.  Another one enjoyed sun baking in the middle of the track to the toilet block.  As if this wasn’t enough, there was a nest of Jack Jumpers under the step right at the hut door.  Jack Jumper ants are pure evil – far worse than tiger snakes in my opinion (and more deadly according to statistics).

Relaxing on the Gordon River beach near the hydro hut (photo David Tasker)

We spent most of the morning lazing around the hut and the beach.  I spent a lot of time sitting in my raft reading the final pages of my novel in the sunshine down on the beach.  A float plane from Strahan landed on the river near the Sir John Falls jetty a couple of times during the day, carrying tourists wanting to see the South West from the air.

Float plane takes off from Gordon River over yachts moored at Warners Landing

Continue reading

Franklin River Day 14 – Holey Cliff to Sir John Falls

It felt very odd to sleep by a quiet part of the river where I could not hear the loud noise of nearby rapids all night.

Breakfast at Holey Cliff camp site (photo David Tasker)

This was to be our last day on the Franklin River.  It would include few rapids and was mostly flat water, meaning constant paddling with less help from the current.  More brawn and less brain.

Setting off from Holey Cliff camp – as for the previous several days, Jess had to re-inflate her leaky boat every half hour during the day (photo David Tasker)

Continue reading

Franklin River Day 13 – Newland Cascades to Holey Cliff

It was great to find that most of the gear we’d hung over rocks and trees overnight was now completely dry for the first time in several days.  It had been hard to keep things dry during the recent rainy days, especially the two days at Hobbit Hole.

Early morning Newland Cascades camp site (photo David Tasker)

My sore hip was starting to feel better, but the cut hand was beginning to get painful.  It required re-dressing and disinfectant.  The rib cage was still quite painful as well.

A satellite phone call last night had finalised the arrangements for our boat pickup on Saturday afternoon in two days time.  We planned to get to the pick up point at Sir John Falls on Friday (the next day).  This would give us an extra half a day in case there were problems along the way.  Or we could use any spare time to relax if everything went smoothly.

We had two days of paddling to complete the journey.  There was still a substantial distance to travel so we knew that we had to make today count.

Sean leading the way from Newland Cascades (photo David Tasker)

Continue reading

Franklin River Day 12 – Hobbit Hole to Newland Cascades

We woke this morning to find that the water level was down quite a lot more than when we arrived at the Hobbit Hole.  Everybody agreed that the rapid looked relatively easy and should be fun.  There were two stoppers visible in this rather long rapid, but they both looked small and therefore should not be a problem.  Finally, we were all very excited that we would get rafting again.  The water level now looked ideal for us.

As if the severe pain in my left hip and lower-right ribs wasn’t enough, I fell on the rocks again this morning.  This time I sliced the palm of my hand open.  It wasn’t terribly painful, but it was quite a deep cut that would require some care to avoid infection and to heal properly in this environment.  Thankfully, it was lower down on the palm than where I grip the paddle.  I gave it a quick dressing with band-aid and elastoplast.  I knew that I’ll need to give it some better treatment later on.

Water level still a little higher than normal on day 12 (photo David Tasker)

After breaking camp and packing our gear we had to begin by paddling through the rapid that had stopped us in our tracks when in flood.  All of us now considered the rapid looked quite easy.  It was right next to our make shift camp site and had been under observation for the better part of two days.  However, this apparently ‘easy’ rapid proved to be yet another disaster and I am thankful that we did not attempt to do it when we arrived and the water level was 1.5 metres higher. Continue reading