As a photographer and avid hiker there are many places that are dear to my heart. Places I’ve returned to time and time again just to breath the air, taste the cold mountain streams and basically drink in the natural beauty of the landscape. The feeling of being revitalized by these splendid natural environments sadly leaves all to quickly upon returning to the mundane world. The photos shown below hold for me an emotional significance somehow prolonging that energy and overcoming mortal realities…
Ayers Rock (Uluru) & The Olgas (Kata Tjuta)
Ayers Rock, or “Uluru” has an iconic association with the Australian outback. So much so that the image of the red rock blazing in the sunset or sunrise (pictured right) is is probably the most well recognized Australian landscape from an international perspective. Residing pretty much in the centre of the country it’s surrounded on all sides by hundreds of kilometers of flat desert. It rises out of this barren plain, a massive single hunk of rock that dominates the senses and leaves the hundreds of tourists that visit it daily awestruck.
Yulara is small tourist town and exists 20kms from the rock. It has an airport, shops (including a small supermaket) and caters to the needs of the many world travelers with accommodation ranging from camping to luxury resort hotels. Australians also visit in their flocks, many preferring to use camper vans to tour the country. Melbourne to Ayres takes 2 days driving, 12 hrs per day.
The Olgas (Kata Tjuta), pictured below right, is only 50kms from Yulara and definitely worth a visit. It has two good walks, including a 3 hr trek that takes you through “The Valley of the Winds”, winding between the massive mounds of the Olgas themselves.
Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania
Ever since I was a small boy, growing up in a keen bush walking family Cradle Mountain was heralded as the Holy Grail, the oasis, a land of such sweeping grandeur it would bring tears to the eyes of all who beheld it. Having visited many times over the years I must say that the reality still lives up to those childhood dreams and expectations. The park is without a doubt the most beautiful in Australia that I have seen.
Though the weather can be temperamental and there are now such large queues flocking to hike “The Overland Trail” that bookings and trail fees are essential during peak times, the park remains full of that deeply penetrating wonderland feel. Reflections abound with many a “tarn” dappling the landscape. Unique Pencil Pines and Pandanis grow amongst towering cliffs and deep valleys filled with crystal clear blue lakes. It is truly a spectacular place just to stand, breath and exist.
For day walkers access to Dove Lake (pictured left) is easy, with a sealed road right to the lake shore. More serious hikers wanting to strike out for the likes of Barn Bluff, Mt Ossa (Tasmania’s highest peak), and on to Lake St. Claire will need to allow three or four days walking in a good climate. While there are huts, a tent must still be taken in case of crowding or weather issues. For those who like their nature experience less bold or lack the fitness I’m told private companies offer guided treks with more up market accommodation along the trial, hot meals, your packs carried for you, etc.
Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain National Park would have to be the cream of the crop for hikers who visit from all over the world. For a less crowed alternative, try the Walls Of Jerusalem National Park, an equally picturesque trek.
Craig’s Hut, Mt Stirling, Victoria
First built purely for the classic Australia drama film “The Man From Snowy River”, Craig’s Hut resides high in Victoria’s Alpine regions on Mt Stirling. Inaccessible during winter due to harsh conditions and gates locked by the National Parks authority, it represents a worthy challenge for hikers used to donning snow shoes or X-country skis and big packs. Lugging heavy camera gear in there also adds to the adventure!
Summer sees four wheel drive enthusiasts teeming to the poplar locale, but so far winter retains the remote and isolated high country cattle-man feel of the place which hopefully is captured in these images. The hut itself has burned down on several occasions owing to Australia’s rigorous bush fire season. It was lost again in late 2006 a few short months after the shots shown here were taken, perhaps adding to their uniqueness.
It used to be a common occurrence to see cattle grazing the alpine meadow right beside the hut (as seen here), greatly adding to the authenticity of the scene. With a little imagination one could almost hear the bull-whip crack as sturdy legged horses carried weathered cattle-men, a scent of leather, the creak of saddle packs. Now I believe the cattle have be banned with new alpine grazing laws and you’re more likely to hear the rev of motorbikes, and the smell of diesel as a bus load of tourists departs. However the solution to this is winter which removes the crowds and returns to the land its mystic presence.
Falls Creek, Victoria
Falls Creek is a popular skiing destination for both downhill and X-country enthusiasts. For hiking (or snow shoeing in winter) an adventure not for the faint at heart can be had, by using the trails that run from Mt Beauty village, up the murderously steep Mt Bogong staircase, down the opposite side, through the icy river, up again to Falls Creek alpine plateau, and all the way across to Mt Feathertop and Mt Hotham – a journey of several long days even in good weather.
One highlight of the Falls Creek area and accessible by car in summer is Wallace’s Hut (pictured left). It is the oldest still standing alpine hut in the Alpine National Park. Accessibility drops in winter requiring a snowshoe or X-country ski trip, though the distance isn’t that far from Falls Creek Village.
Twisted snow gums shadow the hut surrounding it with a mythical quality and enhance it’s historic appeal. The interior of the hut doesn’t lend itself to a means of accommodation even for weary hikers, but the locale is a poplar campsite for the tent bound and sports toilets and a nearby fresh water stream.
Mt Kosciusko, NSW
Australia’s tallest mountain isn’t exactly comparable in height the mountains of Europe or even New Zealand, but it does offer some very pretty terrain in a very accessible fashion. An easily navigable tourist track made from metal boarding leads from the top of the Thredbo chair lifts right to the summit and will keep your feet dry while protecting the delicate alpine grasses. Even in the snow season the track is a breeze to walk (assuming good weather) making the summit something to which most can aspire. Curiously however, the summit sunset (pictured right) is something often missed by day walkers who wish to depart while the light remains strong.
In early summer the place comes alive with alpine flowers, an in winter the snow capped neighboring peaks offer a grand vista. Aside from the usual hiking and skiing, mountain biking is also a popular recreation at Thredbo. Even ice climbing is possible, albeit on extremely short routes at the nearby Blue Lake, while the approach to Thredbo offers many quiet campsites for car campers and families such as GeeHe Hut pictured right.
Philip Island, Victoria
Philip Island is an easy day trip from South-East Melbourne offering the city dwellers “a quick trip down the coast” with a chance to commune with nature. The Island boasts some of the best waves for surfing as well as the popular wildlife reserves where creatures such as native Australian penguins roam wild in the surf at night (pictured left). The windy Isle is also home to seals and kolas.
An easy three quarters of a hour walk along Cape Woolami will get you to The Pinnacles (pictured left), with its impressive red rocks and thundering waves. Native birds nest all long the point literally turning the sky black with their numbers at certain times of the year, as they dart every which way somehow avoiding head on collisions.
The Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Victoria’s “Great Ocean Road” encompasses a vast breath of coastline taking up much of the south-west of the state. All along the windy road motorists are spoilt for choice when it comes to great coastal views with the most popular attractions being “The Twelve Apostles” (pictured right) and other various formations such as London Bridge and Loch Ard Gorge. Many of the rock formations have sunk into the sea over the years with the famous “12” now being several less than a dozen. Never-the-less the spectacular scenery is a paradise for photographers.
An anchor is all that remains of the Marie Gabrielle which was shipwrecked many years ago, but now offers a fun short beach walk for those willing to brave the tides, while places such as Port Fairy offer historic charm and windswept beach treks. Further inland the Otways provide extensive forest walks and waterfalls.
Mungo National Park, NSW
Mungo National Park resides several kms well north of the Victorian-NSW border in a remote and desert landscape called the Willandra Lakes World Heritage area. Access is not recommended without a 4 Wheel Drive, particularly after any rain, which causes the great many km’s of rough sandy tracks to become almost impassable for a sedan. You will need to put some thought and preparation into this drive.
Having said that, the eventual goal, Mungo National Park, is home to some pretty amazing scenery, with the 33 kilometer “Walls Of China”, made of eroded sand formations (pictured left) and the endless sand dunes surrounding it making for some interesting exploration. The Mungo Woolshed (pictured left) offers a glimpse of life on the land in some pretty harsh and arid conditions.
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