Friday, December 9, 2016

Mount Cobbler, Alpine National Park - December 2016

This is my mate Eddy, he lives with me in my office at work. I like Eddy because not only do we share a love of fine metal but we also look the same, especially after I've worked another 12 hour day at this time of the year!
It's been a bit quiet on the blogging front at the Feral household this week. I've been looking at these photos for a week but haven't found the time or the mojo to actually write anything up. Coming up to Christmas work is going crazy and I'm finding myself with barely enough time to work, eat and sleep, blogging has been put on hold for a few days. Luckily I did manage to head out last weekend for a stroll, this was another of those walks that I wanted to do to check out the feasibility of me doing a food drop in the area next year in preparation for my Australian Alps Walking Track stroll. My plan next year is to drive to Lake Cobbler before most of the Alpine roads are open and then ride my mountain bike up to Mount Speculation to place my food drop. So apart from climbing Mount Cobbler today I was also interested in sussing out the likelihood of me getting up to Lake Cobbler in the ute in early spring next year, the good news is that it looks feasible but I reckon I'll be carrying a chainsaw.

Today turned into a bit of an epic, starting at 6am and ending 16 hours later illuminated by flashing blue lights, the Feral charm seeming to have run out....hmmm. The drive from my house to Lake Cobbler, which was the start point for this stroll, is a long one. Almost 5 hours after walking out the door I pulled up in a cloud of dust into the car park beside the lake, happy to climb out into the warm sunshine and stretch my legs. Lake Cobbler was almost deserted this morning, there was only one other 4wd drive parked there, the occupants heading up the walking track to Mount Cobbler just as I pulled up. 
The beautiful Lake Cobbler.
Having never been here before my first objective today, well after pulling on my boots, was to find the start of the walking track to Dandongadale Falls. It didn't take me long to find an un-signposted pad heading in the general direction that I needed to go and after pushing through a little further my pad joined a few other faint pads all heading down from the lake shore. With the track now fairly obvious I just had to follow the creek down stream for awhile and soon enough I arrived onto the open slabs on top of the falls. Now if I'd bothered to actually read my notes I would of known that these falls were actually not the main falls, yep and if my aunty had balls she'd be my uncle. Yeah right, so after scrambling around the falls for awhile and taking a couple of photos I was soon on my way back to the car park, satisfied that I'd now checked out Dandongadale Falls, although they were strangely smaller than I'd imagined. Arriving back at the car park I had a closer look at my notes and map as I was now looking for the track up to Mount Cobbler, it was now that I realised that I'd only visited the smaller waterfall, the main Dandongadale Falls need a bit of a scrub bash west before picking up another track. Now in moments like these the dilemma is always, do I retrace my route to check out what I've missed or do I chalk it down to experience and tell myself I'll check them out next time, apathy won today.
It was only after having left these falls that I read my notes that described the route to the bigger Dandongadale Falls.
So having reconciled myself to the fact that I wouldn't be visiting the falls today I set off up the track to Mount Cobbler. All was good in the Feral world as I started my climb up the wide sign posted track, after 15 minutes though things once again took an unexpected turn. Climbing up through the regrowth I heard what sound like shouting behind me, now that was a little odd as the only other people in the remote car park were already at least an hour ahead of me up the track. After another minute I couldn't ignore the shouting any longer, turning around I noticed a young bloke bounding up the track behind me waving his hands and asking if I could help him. It turns out that my new mate was over in Australia from Italy working and doing a bit of back packing, like any red blooded young Italian bloke he'd got himself a V8 Dunnydoor to get around in during his time in Oz. Unfortunately the Dunnydoor was now wedged hard up against a rock somewhere back on the access road, apparently the rock was preventing forward progress and gravity was prevent backwards progress. Oh well, with my finally tuned Feral physique I needed a bit of a warm up anyway! So back down the track I trudged following along behind my new Italian mate as he bounded down the hill. Arriving back at the ute we headed up to his stranded car, with no tow bar on the Dunnydoor the only option to tow him backwards was to tie off onto his diff, this is where being a fat f*#ker has its advantages as there was no way my generous circumference was going to be able to crawl underneath his car, only one option there so it wasn't me shimmying around on my back in the dust. The good news is that after a couple of goes we managed to extract the car from its perilous position and get it safely parked on some level ground. Heading back down to the car park again I once again set off on what was becoming a somewhat elusive Mount Cobbler, as it would turn out the 90 minute delay would have some ramifications for me later that night.
Heading up to Mount Cobbler.
I had to back track a little today to help my new Italian mate out, my little diversion would have a painful effect on my hip pocket later that night!
All was good this time though and I quickly (well quickly by my sloth like standards) made my way up towards Cobbler Plateau. The walk up here was a little bit of a surprise for me, the track was actually pretty clear of scrub and I wasn't hurdling fallen trees all the way like I seem to be on a lot of walks in the Victorian Alps nowadays. To top it off the climb was even broken by the crossing of a small gorge, the creek being the source of the main Dandongadale Falls, an off track excursion from here to the falls being filed away in the deep dark recesses of my brain as a future adventure. After leaving the creek I climbed through regrowth before arriving at a track junction on Cobbler Plateau, the track on my left would be my later return route. Now I was on the open plateau I started to pick up views ahead of me of the summit of Mount Cobbler through the Snowgums, everything appearing pretty strait forward.
The climb to Cobbler Plateau crosses over this creek, incidentally this is the last water for the day.
The climb passed through areas of regrowth but there were still enough mature trees to make it interesting.
My first look at Mount Cobbler.

After a beautiful walk along the plateau, the route started to climb a bare rocky area, it was here that I got my first close up look at the summit of Mount Cobbler, it was now obvious that the climb had a bit of a sting in it's tail though. Climbing up over the rock I got to a cairn marking the spot that I had to descend very steeply into a narrow saddle that joined the part of the mountain that I was standing on and the actual summit. Now the climb in and out of this saddle wasn't anywhere near the hardest climb you can read about on my blog but it still required the use of hands for a couple of easy scrambles, and at the same time there was quite a bit of exposure in a couple of spots, all in all a pleasant surprise really.
The ground got pretty rocky as I approached the top.
This is the final scramble to the summit of Mount Cobbler.
The summit complex of Mount Cobbler is a rugged spot.
Once on the summit it was time to drop the pack for awhile and take in the grandstand views. The mountains spread out before me included Mount Buller, Mount Howitt, Mount Speculation, Mt Despair, The Razor, The Viking and Mount Buffalo. I haven't mentioned it already but today was a beautiful blue sky kind of day, and with the bush still being a bit wet after our wet spring there wasn't any prescribed burns going on, so that meant the atmosphere was super clear today which wasn't a bad thing for checking out the view. All good things eventually come to an end though, so after having a bite to eat and giving Sam a call to let her know that I'd be a little later than planned I shouldered the pack and retraced my steps back to the track junction on Cobbler Plateau.
That's Mount Buller in the distance.
Looking over towards Mount Speculation and The Razor.
Mount Buffalo in the distance.
And that's Lake Cobbler down in the valley, the start point of todays adventure.
To make this walk into a circuit I was heading along Cobbler Plateau in the direction of Mount Speculation until I met up with Cobbler Lake Track coming up from the lake on my left. The walk along the plateau was a very enjoyable section of today's outing, the track along the plateau had been cleared of regrowth since the last fires went through so the walking was easy and at the same time there were quite a few trees that had survived the last fire. Arriving at a large grassy clearing I sat under a tree for awhile and checked out one of the Timbertop Logbooks that I often find scattered around this area of the alps. Timbertop is the Alpine campus of Geelong Grammar and it's not unusual to come across groups of teenagers wandering around the bush up here, even more common is coming across the small plastic lunch boxes that the school use to house their log books. After sitting under the tree on the soft grass it was a bit of an effort to clamber back on to my feet, I would of been pretty happy to pitch a tent and spend the night in this beautiful spot.

Climbing out of the small saddle that connects the top of the mountain.
The walk along the Cobbler Plateau was very pleasant.
Yeah, I'd be happy to call it a day here.
Meeting up with the 4wd track that is the Cobbler Lake Track I started the long, fairly gentle descent back to the lake. This is the track that I'd wanted to check out for next years food drop, and while it wasn't particularly steep for a high country track, it looks like it's still going to be fairly tough riding my mountain bike up here weighed down with a 5 or 6 days food. Heading down on foot today though was a pretty easy finish to the walk, the deserted track allowing me to divert my gaze from my feet and take in the view through the trees, the soft late afternoon sun adding to the atmosphere. Eventually I started to get glimpses of Cobbler Lake to my left through the trees and a couple of minutes later I met the access track down to the lake. 
Cobbler Lake Track above the lake.

After taking my boots off I settled back in for the long drive home, stopping on the drive down the mountain to get a photo of the sun lighting up Dandongadale Falls across the valley which looked almost like a Blue Mountains scene to my eyes. Now we get to the flashing blue lights bit, yeah due to me mucking around doing my good Samaritan act I was a lot later than I had planned and being the tool that I am I was pushing it a bit on the way home. Yep, one minute I was floating down a hill on the Maroondah Highway pretty content with life, the next minute the cab of the ute resembled a blue light disco as constable plod did his job. Oh well, I may be a tool but at least I'm a tool with a big heart!
Cobbler Lake in the late afternoon.
Wandering back down the access road to the lake.
Looking across the valley to Dandongadale Falls from the road.
The Dirt.
I used some old notes out of Glenn van der Knijff's book, Bushwalks in the Victorian Alps. The book I was using is out of print I think but Mr van der Knijff has written a new edition that is published by Glenn Tempest at OSP. Mr van der Knijff rates this as an easy stroll, but for me it was probably a medium grade walk, walking 15.3 kilometres and climbing 754 metres with a bit of easy scrambling it was a solid day out. Actually I've used a few of Mr van der Knijff's notes over the years, he used to write a lot of track notes for Wild magazine back in the day, and like Mr Chapman I reckon I've got to multiply by the fat bastard factor when working out how long it will take to complete one of his walks. This walk is a long way from Melbourne, it took  me the best part of 5 hours to get there, the good news is that there is some great camping around this beautiful alpine lake, the bad news (for some) is that you won't get lakeside in a 2wd car. 
Relevant Posts.

The road up to the Cobbler Lake is just ok for a 2wd car, but don't drive the last bit down to the lake shore unless you have a 4wd.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Luganville, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu - September 2016

Over the years I’ve been to Vanuatu numerous times, but I’d never actually been to its largest island Espiritu Santo and its capital Luganville so today we were keen to get off the ship and check things out. When arriving in Vanuatu via Fiji or New Caladonia, Vanuatu can seem a bit rough and ready, but arriving via New Guinea and the Solomon Islands had us feeling that Vanuatu was very civilised indeed. We docked at the main wharf today and while at the moment it's a building site, when it’s finished I reckon a lot more cruise ships will make Luganville a regular stop. Interestingly this is another South Pacific country that the Chinese government is pouring money into, in this case rebuilding the wharf among other things.

We were happy to be able to disembark at a wharf rather than the dreaded tender so the noise and dust of the extensive rebuild didn’t worry us too much. Occupational health and safety is obviously a little different over here though and it was slightly disconcerting to see some of our elder compatriots making their way through the chaos and dust of the construction site, sometimes using their zimmer frames, I reckon the CFMEU would have something to say about that back home. Once off the ship we jumped on to a tour that was heading up to the northern beaches before heading to The Blue Hole.
The beach looked pretty but the dead coral was hard on our feet.
The first thing we noticed about getting around Espiritu Santo was that the roads were a step up from what we had been experiencing so far on this trip, it was nice to be able to sit in the back of the small mini van without feeling like the rear wheels were going to pop through the floor at any minute. Like I mentioned early on, the second obvious thing that we noticed in Vanuatu was that it was a bit more developed than PNG and the Solomon Islands which makes it a little easier to get around. To be honest today though our swim at Oyster Bay was fairly underwhelming, we’d bought the snorkelling gear but all the coral was pretty well rooted, the swimming was ok but you had too brave the dead coral to get into the water. Now with a bit more time I may of been able to find some decent snorkelling here but with less than an hour on the beach allowed on this tour we were just happy enough to chill out in the warm water taking in the perfect tropical view.

There were a couple of these sorry looking brain corals but in the limited time we had I didn't find any other living corals.
The water was nice though:)

Leaving the beach we headed for something called The Blue Hole, now I suspected The Blue Hole was a spring but to be honest I wasn’t 100% sure. Arriving at said 'Blue Hole' though it was soon apparent that I was right, it was not just a spring though, this was a massive watery grotto in the surrounding limestone rock. The Blue Hole was a pretty special place, the cobalt blue water surrounded by old native forest, my limited vocabulary is struggling to describe the beauty of this place so you’ll have to check out the photos. There are a couple of things to consider at the Blue Hole though, the first one is that the limestone on the entry and exit is a bit hard on the feet so maybe reef shoes may be the go. The second thing to consider is that being a fresh water spring the water is a bit colder than you would normally get in the tropics, so if you want to stay in for awhile then maybe bring a lilo or something to float on and get you out of the cold water for awhile. After half an hour or so the water was getting a bit too cold for me so it was time to jump out for awhile, the Blue Hole is well set up with a little cafe so we thawed out for awhile in the sun while having a drink.
The beautiful Blue Hole.
The Feral swimmer.
The Blue Hole is surrounded by native bush.

After the Blue Hole we returned to the ship in Luganville to drop off the snorkelling gear, have a shower and grab something to eat, yeah there was no chance of scurvy or malnutrition setting in on this ocean voyage. This afternoon we headed out again this time to what promised to be another swimming spot called the Hibiscus Lagoon, like the Blue Hole the Hibiscus Lagoon was another large fresh water spring. The Hibiscus Lagoon was home to a school of what looked like Jungle Perch, these tame fish will come and nibble on your dead skin if you sit still enough in the water. Like the Blue Hole the water was fairly cool in the Hibiscus Lagoon so we didn’t stay in for too long, Sam lasted around two minutes while I stuck it out for probably twenty minutes. The entry and exit were a little easier on the feet at the Hibiscus Lagoon and the water was deep, in the few spots that you could touch the bottom the ground was sharp and not really friendly to bare feet. I spent some time checking out the big lagoon before getting to a no swimming past here sign, I think that certain villages each own a section of the lagoon so you aren’t allowed to swim in the section that isn’t in the village that you paid to enter. I suspect that the Hibiscus Lagoon is open to the sea somewhere downstream as when I moved away from the spring there was a definite currant pulling my along, unfortunately the no trespass signs stopped my going any further down stream.
Hibiscus Lagoon
There a quite a few fish in the Hibiscus Lagoon, they look like what we call Jungle Perch.
Floating down the lagoon I came to this sign.....looks like I won't be swimming any further.....
So I decided to muck around with my waterproof camera going for what is known in blogger terms as the arty wanker shot.

Climbing out of the water our guide then took us for a bit of a tour around the villages gardens, explaining the medicinal properties of all the native flora. While we were wandering around the extensive garden the cloud really started to roll in, by the time we had finished our garden walk and jumped back on the bus to return to Luganville it was pissing down, not that it seemed to worry our driver too much as he just ploughed on with even more speed. Arriving back at the ship safely, the rain now gone as quick as it arrived, we braved the construction site on the wharf for the last time before returning to the air conditioned sanctuary that is a cruise ship.

The Dirt.
Well I called this post Luganville but really we spent the day checking out the coastline to the the north of town so I can’t really talk about Luganville with any authority. The coastline that we did visit was your typical South Pacific postcard variety, white palm fringed beaches, azure water…you get the idea. The one beach that we did visit though was a little under whelming, the picture perfect beach looked good from a distance but the crushed coral was a bitch to walk on so entry and exits from the water weren’t the most elegant affairs, not that a fat, old dim dim can really be that elegant anyway! (I think I’m going to keep using a few pidgin words on my blog, the language seems to agree with me:). The Blue Hole is probably a must see if you’re in town for any length of time, the easiest way to get there would probably be to hire a car and driver in town as its a good 30 minutes from Luganville, the same goes for the Hibiscus Lagoon as well as its another a little further out of town. Both these attractions have a modest entry fee but are still worth checking out. A word of warning though, the fresh water that gushes up from the depths makes both these places an invigorating experience, you want be spending languid hours luxuriating in tepid tropical water that’s for sure.
Relevant Posts.
Mele Cascades, Port Vila, 2013
Sailing away from Luganville on a grey evening, the wharf was in the middle of a big rebuild.