One of my regrets when leaving New Zealand after my working holiday last year is that there were so many amazing hikes I only found out about once I was already in the country, and I didn’t have enough time to plan all the tramps I wanted to do. When we left Australia at the end of our visa there, Steve and I agreed our first stop would be back to NZ for a few more walks. We decided that apart from Queenstown, which we’d fly into and stay long enough for a Fergburger, and Wellington, where we wanted to catch up with friends, we would focus our itinerary on places we hadn’t yet been. After all, who knows how long it’ll be until we get to come back to this side of the world again?
Our route looked like this: Queenstown – Dunedin – the Catlins – Stewart Island (Rakiura track) – up through the Haast pass to the West Coast – Glaciers – Greymouth – Picton – Marlborough Sounds (Queen Charlotte track) – Wellington.
I know that the weather in Tasmania, especially in its many wilderness areas, is famously unpredictable, but when I saw “snow” on the forecast for Steve and my recent hike on the Overland Track that runs between Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Clair in the island’s centre, I imagined we might be encountering a few flurries, maybe even walking through a dusting of settled snow along the path.
One of the things I love most about hiking is the solitude. For the most part, give me a peaceful trail with nobody else on it over a crowd any day. However, there is one big plus to doing a hike at the same time as a bunch of other people, and it’s that you’ll always find out about more hikes. When we hiked the Milford Track last year, a group of Australians in the huts at the same time as us offered heaps of recommendations when we said our next stop would be Melbourne. It’s because of them that we hiked Mount Kosciuszko, and it’s because of them that a hike I had never even heard of shot to the top of my hiking bucket list.
The Overland Track is a 65-km, 6-7 day trek through the heart of the Tasmanian wilderness. While there are basic huts along the way, you have to carry everything from food to fuel to camping gear, meaning it’s a strenuous but rewarding undertaking. Steve and I have booked in to do it in early November just before we wrap up our time in Australia. Thanks to a Jetstar sale, we scored a great deal on our flights last week, and since then I’ve been both eagerly anticipating the hike just a few months away, and also thinking about other “dream hikes” I’d like to do in the future.
I love to hike in the shoulder season. The temperature is cooler, so you’re not dripping with sweat while you tote around your pack. There are fewer people, so it’s less likely that you’ll be stuck 10 feet behind some asshole who thinks everyone else on the trail wants to listen their shitty EDM playlist. And there’s just something about the misty, transitional weather that accompanies spring and autumn that makes hiking during that time feel like an otherworldly adventure.
Of course, sometimes that adventure is more like a walk through Mordor than a trip into fairyland. A few weeks ago Steve and I went hiking in the Grampians, a national park about three hours’ drive from Melbourne. The weather during the week was decent but as the weekend approached the forecast looked worse and worse. 80%+ chance of rain is never what you want to see when you’re preparing to spend a few days in the great outdoors. Moreover, this would be our first time tent camping during a hike, spoiled as we’ve been with New Zealand’s amazing hut system.
The Seven Summits comprise the highest peak on each of the continents—Mount Everest, obviously, Denali in Alaska, Mount Kilimanjaro, and so on. For many, ascending each of these seven mountains is a lifelong dream. However, not all seven peaks are created equal. Obviously, Everest is the hardest not only for its technical difficulty but also for the tens of thousands of dollars cost of its permit, while Kilimanjaro is a multi-day but non-technical hike that can be accomplished by hikers without mountaineering experience.
Then there’s Mount Kosciuszko. At 2,228 metres, it is only a quarter of the height of Everest, and can be summited in a single day—or less, if you take the route that includes a chairlift ride most of the way to the top. Some rankings of the Seven Summits don’t even include Kosci, replacing it with Puncak Jaya in Indonesia by considering Australasia the continent rather than Australia. But since I don’t have any desire to ascend all seven summits (I’d like to do Kilimanjaro in a few years, but I don’t see myself ever tackling the others), I’m happy to consider Kosci among the peaks.
Last week, Steve and I rented a car and drove seven hours from Melbourne to Mount Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales to hike to the highest point in Australia. We stayed overnight in Jindabyne, about half an hour away, and got up bright and early on Friday morning to head up the mountain. In order to make it more of a hike, we forewent the Threadbo trail with its chairlift and headed around the other side to Charlotte Pass for a 22km loop trail that connected the Summit Road and the Main Range Track.
The first thing that surprised me was how beautiful it was. I was expecting a dry, sparse range based on the endless stretches of red dirt and leafless trees we had passed on the Hume Highway on the way up, but the views were actually mountainous and lovely. The track was also wonderfully peaceful. On our way up, we only encountered one other group—a pack of older folks kitted out with tramping poles and wide-brimmed hats, who kept up a solid pace even on the steeper sections. There was no one blasting shitty EDM off their cell phones for all to hear, thank christ.
The top was a bit busier because the three trails—Summit, Main Range, and Chairlift—converged (I’d guess most folks came up on the chairlift based on the lack of daypacks or hiking boots) but it was still very quiet compared to some of the hikes I’ve done in New Zealand and elsewhere. A surveying trig and elevation sign mark the summit, where we took a break for lunch before following the mild downward grade of the Summit Road back to our car.
The hike took us just over six hours in total, lunch included, and was only strenuous in its length, but it was still a fun way to spend a few days (on the trip, we also drove up to Canberra to visit the NASA Deep Space Communications Centre and the National Gallery and Museum), and it’s fun to be able to say we’ve climbed one of the Seven Summits, no matter how small.
Whenever someone I meet in my travels asks me the best thing about the United States, the National Parks system is always the first thing that immediately comes to mind. There are plenty of places in the world that have incredible national parks, but the National Parks of the USA are special in their breadth and scope. Rock formations and rainforests, caves and canyons, islands and geysers and volcanoes and mountains… there’s something for everyone, representing the most incredible of Mother Nature’s offerings and welcoming over 300 million visitors per year.
Like everyone who love the National Parks system, I am heartbroken to read about the damage being caused to the parks by unsupervised visitors during the government shutdown. Trash overflows the rubbish bins, and let’s not even mention the toilets. Worse, there have been reports of vandals cutting the endangered namesake trees of Joshua Tree National Park in order to create access for their 4WD vehicles. Even during normal operating, there are many instances of graffiti and carved rocks from people who are too inconsiderate to follow Leave No Trace principles, so I can only imagine how much worse it is at the moment.
If you are also devastated by the destruction these thoughtless visitors are doing to some of the world’s most stunning sites, here are some ways you can help: