Sealers Cove walk, Wilsons Promontory National Park

Last weekend I was finally able to badger Luke into coming with me on an overnight hike as we both had a few week days free –  he from editing contracts, me from school as I have taken leave this year.

I have also recently bought a set of ultralight camping gear – a two man (barely!) tent, quilt, mat and cooking gear. I wanted to try it all out away from home. I did spend one night in the backyard, much to our dog’s confusion, and everything seemed to be in working order. Now it was time to take it out for real!

I had picked Sealers Cove at Wilsons Prom as it looked to be a doable 10km walk. I read the park notes and found a few other blog accounts of walk too. The pictures all looked very inviting.

We left Melbourne at 10am on Monday, stopping for an early lunch in Leongatha.

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We reached the Prom in about three hours, listening to podcasts most of the way. We only saw one wombat on the side of the road as we drove in. Last time we saw dozens, but then it was early evening.

I hadn’t booked our campsite ahead of time as I’d phoned the day before and been assured there would be space. The website is a bit confusing, It seems to say there is camping for 12, but it means 12 campsites and the number of campers can be up to 60. We bought our permit to camp ($13.10 pp/pn) and then drove back to Telegraph Saddle, where the walk to Sealers Cove starts.

I had divided our things into two backpacks – the lighter but bulkier stuff went into my big travel pack and the water and food went into my day pack. I took the bigger pack and Luke carried the water to start with. We weren’t really sure what the water situation along the trail was going to be so we took about 7 litres to last us the 24 hours.

1907c430-2bc7-4d63-905f-133569cc1f9cAlthough the car park was full, we had plenty of time on the trail by ourselves. The first 2km of the walk in on a fairly exposed and dry north facing path that has some ups and downs but nothing exhausting. I was very glad I’d brought a hat and sunscreen. Eventually trees start to cover the path and then after about 3km we reached Windy Saddle. This is the only point on the trail where any distances are marked by a sign.

After this point the landscape changes to a damp and shady south-facing path that winds down to the coast. There were still some up hill parts and lots of short flat sections. Nothing tortuous.

The walk through the forest was beautiful. Luke wasn’t so impressed, but then he’d started feeling a pain in his knee. We swapped bags and that sorted out some of our discomfort. For some reason, carrying a smaller, heavier bag suited me much better, and Luke liked the bigger bag that had better support.

The forest section made up about 5 or 6 km of the walk but after a while it felt more like 10 as there were lots of roots and rocks to negotiate. We also started to notice the huge March flies that circled us every time we stopped moving. We weren’t sure if they would bite us but they looked nasty and wouldn’t leave us alone. I’d brought my walking poles so we had one each to swish around our arms and legs while we took the occasional break.

2df60315-cb00-47fa-8c03-302616179cc7Although there weren’t many places where the trees opened up, when they did it was beautiful. There was one stream, about half way, where we definitely could’ve filled up our water bottles, and another running pipe at the camp site too. All that weight we didn’t need to carry!

The last two or so km of the walk was boardwalk through Sealers Marsh/Swamp. Some of it is very wet but as it gets closer to the beach it become quite dry.

There are lots of interesting plants to see, particularly epiphytes. We also spotted a few little lizards sun baking on the boardwalk. I was surprised at how overgrown the boardwalk was considering the amount of traffic – dozens of people pass through here most days. At some points the boardwalk was almost invisible beneath ferns.

After the boardwalk the path immediately opens out to the beach.

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And what a beach it is! Over a kilometre of golden sand in a perfect crescent. The signs at this point are a bit tricky to understand, but some people in the water pointed us to the campsite further down the beach. It’s not at all obvious from this point which way to go.

The sand was easy walking up to Sealers Creek. Although it was low tide the water was still calf-deep, so we took off our shoes then left them off as we walked up into the forest and to the camp.

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The cool creek was a welcome treat for our slightly sore feet.

The campsite is up a small incline and each camping area is surrounded by ferns. It’s very cool and pleasant… apart from the enormous flies. We set up our tent then took a short walk along the beach, where we spotted a small group of black cockatoos with yellow under their tails. I couldn’t get a decent photo but they were quite magnificent. They were doing the same thing they do when they visit my backyard in Heathmont – shredding the seed pods and branch-tips of the tree they were sitting in.

The flies continued to annoy, so we made dinner (inadvertently burning pasta to the bottom of my new jetboil, sigh) then, as the sun was going down we lay in the tent and read an interactive, graphic novel-style Sherlock Holmes book that Luke had downloaded onto his phone.

img_5324Feeling tired, we tried to get to sleep early but neither of us slept very well. A lot of screeching birds during the night, plus my noisy mat, were not conducive to a great rest. I also had a series of strange and disturbing nightmares, which didn’t help.

In the morning we cleaned the jet boil as best we could then had porridge before packing up the tent and heading out at about 9. I think there were maybe 30 other people camped at Sealers Cove that night and we were the first ones to be up and out. With the weather predicted to the high 20s I wanted to get as far as possible before the day properly warmed up.

The information for the walk says that it takes 3 hours one way. We took 3.5 coming in and at least 5 on the way out. Partly due to carrying packs (lots of people walk in and back in one day), and partly because Luke had a sore knee. Also partly because the walk back is about 80% uphill, although few parts are very steep. There were also a few boggy sections that required careful navigation.

When we got back to the car we were both quite tired and dirty, but I felt proud that we’d walked the distance carrying our loads and the weight hadn’t felt too onerous. I think I could manage one night carrying all my own gear – although I might start with shorter distances, or give myself more time.

We made it back to Telegraph Saddle by 2, and were home before rush hour started in the city. Not bad going!

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Highs: perfect weather, great views, estimating the food pretty accurately, spending time together off the couch!

Lows: Luke’s injury, the flies, discovering my legs were covered in red, itchy bites when I got home, bad sleep.

Next time: long sleeves and pants and a head net just in case. Eventually buy a proper hiking backpack. Bring less extra clothing.

Here Comes The Planet 46 – Tanzania 03

In this episode of Here Comes The Planet we make our way through Tanzania towards the Serengeti. On the way we discuss our Dragoman truck jobs and what we hope to see once we’re on safari. We set up camp at the Meserani Snake Park after checking out feeding time.

Also, tortoises! If, like Amanda, you’re not a fan of watching snakes eat stuff.

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Progress on the blog has, predictably, slowed down considerably now that we’re not traveling. I still have many videos to edit and upload, and intend to continue with the process slowly but surely.

The first few months of my return has seen me focus on finding new work and a new place to live. Although my previous employer had promised to hold my job for me until I got back, for reasons unknown they contacted me during our holiday (when we were in Bologna to be precise) to let me know they would not be able to do as they’d promised. So this year I have gone freelance for the first time; something I had intended to do eventually, but gradually, instead of throwing myself in the deep end. However the deep end seems to be working out just fine so far, with my contacts yielding good sources of work, and promising prospects.

Now that I’ve moved in to new digs and the work is steady, I have more free time for working on HCTP videos for all of you. It may take a while, but I promise I’ll get them all done eventually! Hopefully when they’re out you’ll still want to watch them. 🙂

Here Comes The Planet 34 – England 08

Our UK camping and road trip special! We buy a whole heap of camping gear and take Van Failen through the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District and all manner of places in between.

Also, BABY WEASELS! 😀 😀

(Baby Weasels… baby weasels… hiding in a wall, baby weasels…)

Kenya: Lake Mburo and Naivasha

Zebra skull.

At Lake Mburo we camped fairly wild. There was a big expanse of dirt by the lake and a small shelter for cooking in. Some warthogs came by to investigate and Mash (our cook) had to chase them off with a camp chair. While I was washing up I kept thinking there was one right behind me. Warthogs are one of the few animals that are simultaneously kinda cute and scary. When we were in the Masai Mara we saw one chase a cheetah, so while they might be a friendly character from the Lion King, they’re also capable of killing a big cat. ‘Pumba’, btw, is Swahili for ‘warthog’. See? This blog is entertaining *and* educational.

Snuffling around the tents.

We got up pretty early in the morning and the tent was muddy when we packed it up. We did a walking tour the next morning but didn’t see much, although I did spot (and identify – I’m like the African equivalent of Crocodile Dundee) a lion print. Mainly we looked at animal spore, insects and plants.

Zebra bits.

I quite liked seeing the smaller detail stuff that you don’t see from a jeep. I would’ve liked to do a bush food walk. We did see a baby warthog that had been left behind in a burrow by its parents.

Everyone gathers to take a photo.

It nearly ran under Luke’s feet when it tried to escape and it was about the size of a guinea pig. Unfortunately female warthogs don’t have much in the way of protective instincts towards their children and, faced with danger, will just run as fast as they can and not go back to look so there’s a fair chance this little one might not find its parent again.

Poor little thing!

Other than the warthogs, Lake Mburu wasn’t terribly exciting. We heard the hippos but they were mostly submerged and there wasn’t much else to see there. Our next stop was at Naivasha, a campsite not far from Nairobi and by a lake. There was an electric fence around the lake to keep the tourists away from the hippos. Apparently a lady had been squashed by one a few years back.

This campsite was close to Elsamere, Joy Adamson’s home. She was the author of ‘Born Free’ and raised lions, cheetahs and a leopard, as well as being an accomplished painter. Having read the Wikipedia article on her life, it has a lot more information about the way she died than was given when we visited the house. She seems to have been one of those people whose strong will and determination allow them to accomplish much but also makes them difficult to get along with.

Part of the visit to the house and museum was an afternoon tea in the garden. While I was taking a photo for Scott and Michelle a Colobus Monkey ran up behind me and made a grab for my food! I kind of grabbed it by the shoulder (they’re medium-sized monkeys) and pushed it away. It felt a bit like my dog Penny – rough haired. It managed to take a biscuit with it then sat up the nearest tree munching away, A bit exciting, really.  My first hands-on brush with nature.

Tea in the garden where lions were raised.

Camping in Africa.

I’ve never done much camping, except for at music festivals, which is less like camping and more like moving half the contents of my house into a field for a short period of time. So doing the relatively rough and ready camping that we’ve done with Dragoman has been an interesting experience.

The tents we’re using are super heavy canvas dome tents that have metal poles and a heavy waterproof fly – a far cry from the cheap $80 tents that I used to buy and which would last maybe two weekends if I didn’t forget to unpack them before they went mouldy. In some ways they’re great – more waterproof, windproof and heat-retaining than any other tent I’ve ever used. On the other hand they’re heavy, hard to roll up small enough and have no awning so when it’s raining they’re not much fun.

Most mornings we’re up between 5 and 6:30am, although this morning (we’ve got two nights in one place) we slept in til 8am. It was magnificent.

We have a cook with our group – the cook for the first leg was Charles, a 50 year old man from Kenya. His catch cry was ‘Please guys, don’t wait!’ when the food was ready. Always smiling, helpful and relaxed, Charles was great fun to be with and we were all sorry to see him go. Now we have Mash, who is younger but also super laid back, makes amazing food and is teaching me some Swahili too.

Saying goodbye to Charles.

Every day for breakfast the cook makes toast and eggs, sometimes bacon, and we have a range of fruit and cereal. When we’ve finished eating we have to wash our plates and then flap them dry – this means standing around waving them like we’re signalling to aircraft. Everything gets air-dried to avoid unhygenic tea towels and is a good chance to stand around chatting with people. Everyone pitches in to help with meals and cleaning, although two or three people are rostered on to turn up early and help with preparation and then finishing clean up.

Lunch prep.

Lunches are usually sandwiches, sometimes pasta salad. If we’re on a game drive during the day we pack our own lunches at breakfast. I bought Luke and I plastic lidded containers at the supermarket the other day to keep salads or sandwiches in as I’d rather not be throwing away cling wrap every day. Plus then our food doesn’t get squashed in our bags.

If we stop for lunch on the road we get out our little camp chairs and get food ready. We’re so quick now that everything can be made, eaten and packed up in 40 minutes. Not a bad effort for about 25 people!

At lunch yesterday we’d stopped at a petrol station that had a nice shady tree and some grass for us to sit on and we’d just about got everything ready when we heard music booming down the road. A small truck came into view with a banner across the front and lots of people standing in the back.

Unexpected lunchtime entertainment.

They pulled over, possibly because of the big group of muzungu staring at them, and disgorged a man with a megaphone who told everyone about Breast Feeding Awareness Week. Then a group of guys in matching outfits got off the truck and performed a dance routine Beyonce would’ve been proud of. Then they got back into the truck, to much clapping and cheering, and drove off down the road. Don’t worry, we got footage.

Dinner on the trip is usually served in whatever campsite we’re staying at and most have an area set aside for groups like ours to use – some benches or tables and, if we’re lucky, a sink and tap. We’ve had something different for dinner almost every night of the trip and there’s almost always enough for seconds. The dishes and the style of cooking are very reminiscent of the New Year’s holidays my friends go on – there’s about 40 of us who go away for a week and self cater in school-camp-style accommodation. Having run a kitchen like that, and also worked in festival camp kitchens where we fed over 100 people but have no running water, I really appreciate the way Dragoman cooks run a pretty tight ship and get everything done so quickly.

About half the time we’ve camped we’ve had upgrades available. These range from quite dingy rooms to whole houses for quite reasonable prices. The other night it was raining so 6 of us chipped in for a house that was $12 each. Not bad when you get a four poster bed, lounge and equipped kitchen to yourselves. We’ve upgraded a few times and did so last night, with Kat, Lucas, Luke and I sharing a four bed dorm. When we woke up to the sound a rain on the roof we were glad we did!

Some of the upgrades have been tented campsites, where the tents are set up permanently under thatched roofs. Although there’s no ensuite there’s lots more room, proper beds (well, foam mattresses, I’m yet to encounter a sprung mattress in Africa) and sometimes even a powerpoint.

Tented campsite at the Maasai Mara.

The biggest frustration of our traveling and the way we move around so much has been getting laundry done. We can’t dry stuff on the truck and at night it’s not enough time. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to come across a native African Laundry Tree, which helps.

A Laundry Tree in full flower.

If anyone has heard about the Nairobi airport fire and wondered whether we’re affected, well – yes, we’re supposed to be flying out of there in about 10 day’s time, but hopefully everything will be ok, as they seem to have already started reorganising the terminals so that people can arrive and leave. Fingers crossed! If you don’t know what I’m talking about google it – the flames are visible above the roof of the building. It’s pretty impressive… or depressing, depending how you look at it.