Hiking the Six Foot Track

In some email correspondence with a friend I mentioned that I intended to walk the Six Foot Track.  He did his research, then responded that I must be “seriously fit”.

Seriously fit?  Me?  Never, don’t think I have ever attained that status in my life.  Seriously daft, yes; seriously tenacious, yes.  Feeling the need for some soul-searching, I decided to walk the track solo, and did it over three days and two nights: Tuesday 19-Thursday 21 April.

Despite my inherent lack of fitness, and an over-heavy pack (all camping supplies were required), I completed the track with a smile on my face.  It took 47km of pure hardship and gruel (I had started in Katoomba, rather than at the Explorers Tree).  Luckily the sun shone, the moon glowed, the shooting star shot, the snake snuck away, the fellow track walkers were fine folk and I ended it all with an overstay at Jenolan Caves House and a venture into two of the many amazing caves there.  I bused it back to Katoomba and drove down the mountains as the skyscape turned beautiful reds, then headed due east on the M4 straight into the rise of the full moon …  a wonderful adventure!

The track starts with a steep descent into Nellies Glen, a damp and downward section through dripping rainforest between the sandstone cliffs of the escarpment.  Continuing along dirt roads, this is not a get-away-from-it-all type of walk.  I passed the occasional car, day trippers, horse trekkers, a vineyard and a number of privately owned properties with open paddocks.  The dampness was quickly left behind and, with dry weather, I walked along dusty trails and tracks.  The rainforest becomes dry gum forests, with sections of granite boulders.

Crossing the Coxs River via the Bowtells swing bridge, I held tightly to my focus, listening to my breathing, not wishing to risk an overbalance against the sides of the bridge.  Reaching the campsite at the end of Day One was a joy.  Toilets, picnic tables, a water tank, metal bench for unpacking my backpack and the river for reviving my weary feet.

Despite walking alone, I never felt scared or concerned.  I knew there were other groups along the track, I was never far from civilisation, the track is highly accessible and I carried suitable safety gear (whistle, phone, first aid kit, locator beacon).  The three other groups and I became campsite buddies, wandering around to each other’s areas, chatting over cups of tea about the experiences of the day.

Day Two is notorious: 20km with much of it up and up and up along dirt road, very little let-up in the up-ness of the track.  I took it one step at a time, lied to Harry in a phone message (“All going well”), had plenty of breaks (though getting the pack onto my back after each stop became harder and harder), swore profusely at the up sections, and thanked the track marker effusively and at great length when only 5km was left for the day.  I was last into the campsite that afternoon.

Day Three was 10km, a lot of it downhill but with one steep up-hill that must have had the steepest gradient of the track.  The scenery was lovely: open forest, tall trees and a steep-sided valley down into the Jenolan Caves area.  I earned cheers from my trackmates when I joined them at the bistro – Six Foot Track finished!

My intent to soul-search was lost in the effort of taking each step forward; my focus turned to sole-searching as I gazed at the footprints left in the dust.  Spotting a spider imprint on one, I later found out that I was following the footsteps of a fellow hiker; it cheered me no end to realise I had literally been walking in his footsteps; a warm, open and friendly man, his trail had pulled me onwards to the day’s end.

TRACK NOTES: there was water in both the Coxs River and Black Range campsite water tanks.  A new toilet has been installed at the Alum Creek campsite.  Mobile phone coverage is very patchy along with track.

 

STATISTICS

DAY ONE: Bathurst Street, Katoomba to Coxs River Campsite

  • 17.7km (6 hours, 30 minutes)
  • Ascent 430m
  • Descent 1210m

DAY TWO: Coxs River Campsite to Black Range Campsite

  • 20km (8 hours)
  • Ascent 1310m
  • Descent 400m

DAY THREE: Black Range Campsite to Jenolan Caves

  • 10km (3 hours, 20 minutes)
  • Ascent 330m
  • Descent 720m

TOTALS

  • 47km
  • Ascent 2,070m
  • Descent 2,330m
  • 17 hours, 50 minutes
  • Highest point 1212m
  • Lowest point 273m
  • Quote

The north-east coastline of Tasmania

Sunday 12 – Thursday 16 January 2014

Back at the beach the following morning, we load up for the next part of our adventure, along the coast to Devonport.  Jeff joins us for a while providing some welcome on-water company.

I hadn’t heard much about this part of the Tasmanian coast, though I do remember the battle Justine Curgenven and her group had into the constant headwinds along this stretch of coast.  Harry has previously ferried into Devonport on the Spirit of Tasmania, unloaded his kayak and headed west with Guy, John and Keith until they arrived at Cockle Creek.  His first crossing of east Bass Strait had continued from Little Musselroe along the Tasmanian east coast to Hobart.  So he was keen to experience one of the remaining stretches of Tasmanian coastline unknown to him.

We have four days of incredibly pleasant paddling along coastline that felt remote, but really wasn’t. We pass small townships and hear, then see, beach buggies and four-wheel vehicles on the long, deserted beaches.  On our first day we cover a respectable 31km.  For our first campsite, Harry finds a gap in the trees at the back of a small beach just west of Weymouth.  The quiet edge of a paddock protects us from the onshore winds.  Launching from rocky shore next morning requires us to gather beds of seaweed for under our boats.

One highlight of this stretch of coast is Tenth Island, the one that comes after Ninth Island.  This small rocky outcrop, five kilometres off the coast, is covered with seals.  Seals of all ages and shapes, making an incredible variety of sounds.  We sit in our kayaks, downwind so as not to disturb them too much with our presence, and watch entranced for almost an hour.

On turning back towards the coastline, I immediately spot the lighthouse at Low Head, 20 km away on the eastern shore of the mouth of the Tamar River.  I wonder if the many days spent at sea, looking into the far distance along with far fewer hours spent looking at close-range screens and pages, have sharpened up my vision.

Jeff has made the trip to the Low Head lighthouse to greet us.  He takes photos from the shore.  Sweet, finally some great photos of Harry.  A stop to chat to Jeff, then we cross the mouth of the Tamar, observing its flows and incredible depths of seaweed.  The campsite on the other side is perfect: a glade under the trees to set up the tent, rock ledges on the beach where we enjoy some nibbles, wine, the evening light and the sense of achievement and enjoyment our trip has brought.

Most Bass Strait kayakers finish at Little Musselroe and get whisked away, racing back to the ferry.  We are blessed to have settled weather, time, and a wonderful piece of coastline to paddle – all of which allows us to reflect on everything we have done since departing Sydney on 20 December 2013.

Our next stop is only 11km away, a place a friend mentioned.  We could reach Devonport and finish the trip that day, but instead choose to do a short paddle, and once we find a wonderful campsite, decide to have a compete rest day.  A day chosen to stop and simply be.  We have the time to spare and the weather is great.

One day of complete leisure and then we load and launch for our final paddle into the mouth of the Mersey River.  Finding an unrocky piece of the beach with safe passage to deep water is a challenge.  The winds rise and provide us sailing delights.  Egg Island, and its many birds, is briefly visited.  Then its into the Mersey, narrowly avoiding a beaching east of the channel wall.  The Spirit of Tasmania is docked on one bank while we complete our 505km journey on the other.

PHOTOS TO FOLLOW

 

 

Two kayaks in our baggage

I’ve been asked by a few friends about our return Bass Strait crossing, on the Spirit of Tasmania, from Devonport to Melbourne.

HUGE disclaimer: everything went smoothly for us; this is no guarantee your experience will be the same.

Way back I rang and enquired about getting two kayaks onto the ferry.  The friendly lady assumed we had a car and wanted to know its length.  Finally I convinced her there would be no car; just us, our luggage, and two sea kayaks.  Off she went to consult.  On return she explained that the kayaks would be classed as “extra luggage”.  Walk-on passengers are entitled to two pieces of checked-in luggage.  Anything over that limit is charged at $10 per piece.  $10 per sea kayak.  Later, on booking the tickets, I reconfirmed that the kayaks would be “extra luggage” and asked to have them noted in our booking.

We took tie-down straps across Bass Strait, buried deep inside Harry’s Mirage 580.  In Launceston we  purchased two pool noodles.  Our new-found Devonport friends, Dave and Jennie, are angels.  On the day of departure, Dave drops us, two kayaks and six Ikea bags to the ferry terminal in Devonport.  We discover that a trailer, towed by a ute, is parked dockside, and walk-on passengers are asked to load their luggage onto this trailer, which will be driven onto the ferry, and then off at the other end (Melbourne).

I’m waiting just outside the building, the ute gets parked inside, just behind where I stand.  The kayaks have been tagged.

The trailer

So here’s the trailer, our trusty Ikea bags stashed, not many other walk-on passengers with luggage.

Here you can see the detail of how the kayaks were positioned and lashed down.

The ute is driven onto the ferry, we walk on, cheered that we’ve succeeded, and bid Tasmania fond farewell as the daylight dwindles.

Dockside, Melbourne

At the other end, early in the morning, things continue smoothly for us.  The ute drives the trailer off the ferry, our family drive our car (which had been in Melbourne all the while we were kayaking) right up beside the ferry, we unload from the trailer and reload onto the car.  Simple.

More words of caution: we knew we would have a calm crossing of Bass Strait.  Had it been a rough crossing, our tying down may not have been secure enough.  While dockside in Melbourne we saw the trailer that was used for the second Spirit of Tasmania.  It had extra rods along the four edges of the top – which could have made the positioning of the kayaks trickier.  Also, it is almost two years since we did this, things change.

In The Bag

Friday 10, Saturday 11 January 2014

We start slowly, the weather couldn’t be more perfect, the distance a mere 30km.  Retracing our steps back to the kayaks, we laugh as we load.

This is IT… the day we “cross” Bass Strait, our time to land on the mainland of Tasmania.

Our launch spot couldn’t be more heaven-sent, such a pristine place.  We follow the lines of the island for as long as we can, once we leave it there is little until we reach our destination, Bridport.  Wide open blue sky, flat wide blue sea – this is Bass Strait in another mood.  We spy a kayak and divert to have a chat with a local kayaker out on a fishing trip for the day.  I insist on a silly photo and video shoot, just to prove that Bass Strait isn’t all about life-threatening waves and intimidating winds.

The Furneaux Explorer tracks slighter closer to us to check us out as she heads to her home port of Bridport.

With such you-beaut conditions we head directly across Anderson Bay to Bridport, a long dune-backed beach to our left, Bass Strait shining to our right.  Finally, the gap closes and I spend those last ten kilometres reflecting on the past few weeks: the crossings, the challenges, the discoveries.  It has been quite an adventure.

We reach the busy beaches of Bridport and cruise along, hoping to find one without too many holiday-goers.  We choose one, luckily it turns out to be the beach closest to our contact’s home.

Driving the bow onto the wet sands, I cheer – Bass Strait crossed.

Bass Strait - crossed!

Bass Strait – crossed!

Jeff finds us, gathers us up along with all our gear, brings us to his home, shows us the hose and the clothesline, leaves us to unpack, sort and clean while he orders pizza and opens a bottle of chilled white – this is a man who truly knows sea kayakers and their needs!  Not surprising this, given Jeff is a Tasmanian sea kayaking legend who combines his love of photography with the ability to reach some remote and stunning locations.

We take a rest day with Jeff and are treated to a tour of north-east Tasmania – a local art gallery-cafe, a scenic lavender farm and the local club.

Waterhouse Island to Bridport

Waterhouse Island to Bridport

Paddling 30km to Bridport

Paddling 30km to Bridport

Crossing Bass Strait

Trip Days 18 & 19

Paddling Day 8

Friday 10 January 2014

Distance covered: 30km

Launched:

Landed:

Rest day: Saturday 11 January 2014

Westward Ho!

Thursday 9 January 2014

From Clarke most sea kayakers cross the notorious currents of Banks Strait, finishing at Little Musselroe Bay in remote north-east Tasmania.  We had set Devonport as our goal.  Despite the extended stay on Flinders, we still had plenty of time to head that direction.  Instead of coming out of Spike Cove and continuing south, we pointed our bows to the west and took aim for an island 50km away.

Madness!

I did consider this plan totally daft.  Why volunteer for yet another long open water crossing with no possible landing when we could reach Tasmania in half that distance?  There’s no logical answer to this, other than it was there, and we could do it.  Weather conditions allowed it, we had sought and received permission to land on the island ahead, and personally, I knew I was up for it.  After everything I had already done, I was confident in my ability to sit in the kayak seat for a 50km crossing.

Calculations had determined that 11 o’clock was the best time to depart, the tide turning our way.  Yet we were ready and eager to leave by 10 o’clock so off we set.  The GPS reveals a slight bow in our path, caused by the tides sucking us back in the wrong direction.  It didn’t matter, the winds were blowing from behind and we let loose our sails.  The waters of Banks Strait proved an interesting place to kayak, occasional tidal races appearing with white caps offering more challenging moments.

There’s not a lot to see out there.  The wind farms on Cape Portland provided a marker against which to note our passage, then the land disappears further into Ringarooma Bay and we continue, ever onwards until we arrive on the only beach on the island.  Harry strips all off and dives into the wind-blown waves in a mad moment of delight while I wander looking for a campsite, observing the resident Cape Barren geese.

This place is a special slice of heaven and we are most grateful to the owner for sharing it with us.

Clarke to Waterhouse

Onwards from Clarke Island

Onwards from Clarke Island

Crossing Bass Strait

Trip Day 17

Paddling Day 7

Thursday 9 January 2014

Distance covered:

Launched:

Landed: