Sunday, October 23, 2016

Doini Island, Milne Bay Provence, Papua New Guinea - September 2016

Our second port of call on our Papua New Guinea trip was the tiny speck of land that is Doini Island. Doini Island is in the Milne Bay Provence of PNG and is a privately owned island. Now all these facts have been thoroughly researched by the feral traveller, yeah in between snorkling I practised my pidgin with some of the locals and this is what I came up with. It appears that Doini Island is owned by an Australian bloke and he is trying to develop a bit of a low key resort on the island, now that sounds a little dodgy but apparently he is doing good things and the locals seem happy that he has bought work to their little island, and consequently some money has flowed in for schools, medicine and other assorted necessities that us fat dim dims take for granted. Now having a huge cruise ship suddenly lob up in front of your village one morning must be fairly daunting for the locals, but talking to them it appears that they still think its a positive thing. The influx of a 1000 or so pasty white people seems to give them much to laugh about, and at the same time they satisfy the cruise punters fascination for wood carvings and shells (I’m buggered if I know how they get them through border security?). I don’t want to bag the cruise passengers too much because their hearts are generally in the right place, a lot of them bringing school supplies over, and more still leaving donations for the local schools or medical centre.
Things are decidedly low key on Doini Island (sorry about the water on the lens, I was using my waterproof camera after we had finished snorkelling).
Our day on Doini Island started with the usual tender ride off the ship, now normally these tender trips are tedious to say the least, you only get a day in these amazing places so you want to get off the ship as quick as possible and not sit in the Marquis dining room waiting for your tender number to come up. With the average age of the punters on this cruise approaching three figures it was always going to be a slow process getting them safely on and off the bucking tenders, so the cunning plan was for us to head off first thing in the morning, the theory being that most of the zimmer frames would still be securely parked up at the breakfast buffet and we would get a clear run at the tenders, and bugger me if it didn’t work! We were on the island before most of the punters had started their third helping of breakfast.
Like all children the locals kids love the camera, and the camera seems to like them too.
On Doini Island we disembarked from the tenders at the wooden jetty that services the resort, and then walked straight into a singing, dancing, extravaganza. All the locals as well as a large collection from nearby islands were here to greet us, the children in particular showing boundless energy and enthusiasm with their singing and dancing. If any one reads this waffle and is considering heading over on a cruise them make sure you bring some supplies for the children, books, pencils, pens, balls, and my favourite the frisbee. Most things we take for granted are like gold over here, and another tip is to change a bit of money into kina, the PNG currency, as these small islands have got nowhere to change Aussie to kina then our money is almost worthless to them, oh yeah give your money exchange outlet a bit of time to get some kina in as its not exactly in high demand. Anyway, after passing through the singing and dancing we headed off to find somewhere to go snorkelling.
My highly scientific method of finding the best place to snorkel consists of finding somewhere safe for our gear while checking out the water to see if I can spot any reefs.....and if that doesn't work I ask a local:)

Now this information is compiled from a feral sample size of one, so take it or leave it but we found the best snorkelling few hundred metres to the right of the jetty, I can’t give you a north or south as I’m not in the habit of carrying my compass around on snorkelling excursions on tropical islands. The snorkelling here was good, there had been a lot of rain around but the visibility was still fairly good and the coral was within easy reach of the beach. The other good thing about Doini Island was that the water was not too warm so it was actually refreshing to jump in and not like submerging myself into a hot bath as it sometimes is in the tropics. Now I could wax lyrically about all the tropical fish that we saw but I’d be making it up, I’ve got no idea about our piscatorial mates real names so we’ll just leave it at colourful fish, anyway you get the idea.
The coral was very good on Doini Island, this is plate coral.

After a great morning spent snorkelling I decided to take the track that circumnavigates the island. Now I’d come prepared for a hike, I was wearing my hiking havaianas along with my Bear Grills boardies. So leaving Sam on the beach to have an afternoon nanna nap under the tropical trees I set off towards my first destination, The Rock Pool. The good thing is that once I left the beach in front of the resort the rest of the punters dropped right off, infact I hardly saw any other dim dims for the remainder of the walk, although initially I wasn’t alone as I bumped into Kez, an English girl who worked for the cruise company doing information presentations on the ship. So anyway with Kez never having checked out this part of the island and me being a newcomer we didn’t really know what The Rock Pools actually were, it turns out that The Rock Pools are a series of gulches cut into a rocky headland. Gingerly climbing over the sharp black rocks in my thongs I spied a spot where I figured that I could enter the water without being cut to ribbons on the sharp rocks, there’s never a bad time for a swim in the tropics and this crystal clear swimming here didn’t break my theory.
No high tech GPS navigation aids today, I took a photo of the map at the jetty to help me navigate my way around the island.

Heading out towards the Rock Pool, there are plenty of spots that you can get down to the pristine beach.

My little swimming spot at the Rock Pool, you need to be a little careful here with the sharp rocks  and the waves surging in and out of the pool, but the water makes it all worth while.
Leaving The Rock Pool we continued on our afternoons journey, Kez knew some of the locals from previous visits so was sometimes stopping for a chat, I was keen to get to the next stunning spot, the Love Beach (I’m not making this up). The Love Beach was the prettiest beach that I saw on the island, the waves crashing onto the pristine white sand are what I think when I close my eyes an think tropical island, Kez turned up a couple of minutes after me with a couple of coconuts (no that’s not a ephenisium!) that she’d bought off one of the locals. How cool was this, drinking from a coconut on a beautiful tropical beach. After drinking our coconuts and having a swim it was time to head off again (we had to get back by 4:30pm to catch the last tender). After climbing back up to the circuit track we continued on through the beautiful tropical forest, arriving at a junction on the back side of the island I said goodbye to my new friend Kez and headed off up to the Skull Cave.
The track around the island is easy to follow and well sign posted.

Love Beach (no I'm not making this up), only self love for the feral beachcomber today though!
After a short but reasonably steep ten minute climb I got to one of the strangest spots that I’ve ever experienced. As the name suggest the Skull Cave houses a collection of human skulls, its a fairly macabre sight to have a collection of human skulls peering out of the cave at you, it was even more freaky to see that one of the skulls was that new that it still had some of its beetle nut stained teeth in it! Apparently people of significance in the local village are buried standing up with their heads covered with a pot, as the body rots the head eventually drops off the body and is then removed and placed into the Skull Cave.

The last bit of the track up to the Skull Cave involves a few steps.
The Skull Cave.

Hmmm....there was still some beetle nut stained teeth in this one.
I was now getting a little short of time so I headed off on the rest of my island circumnavigation with a little more urgency, the only thing I had that resembled a map was a photo on my camera that I’d taken before I left the resort area, it had taken a couple hours to get here and my rudimentary map appeared to show that I was about halfway around the circuit. With the last tender leaving in less than two hours I decided that now would be a good time to crank up the pace, I had visions of me negotiating with one of the locals to take me in their banana boat to our next stop in Kirawina. Luckily for me I’d taken in most of the main points of interest on the circuit so, shuffling along like a sloth on beetle nut, I was soon back on the resort side of the island comforted to see the ship still at anchor off the bay. Since saying goodbye to Kez I’d only bumped into a couple of other dim dims so I was a little surprised as I beach combed my way back to the resort to meet up with Carol, one of the ladies that Sam and I had been dining with on the ship, so once again I had great company as we finished the walk back together. I actually got back with around an hour to a spare and after locating Sam there was still time for another swim before we packed up all our sandy gear, we were a little bit burnt, a little gritty, a little sweaty and a little thirsty but it had been a great day on a beautiful island well off the normal tourist radar.
The track along the back of the island is a little further away from the coast.

The Dirt.
This was another of our cruises with Princess Cruises, they definitely aren’t for serious adventurers but they do allow you to get a little off the beaten track occasionally while at the same time making the experience very comfortable. Doini Island is a magic spot, if everything aligns in the future I can see Sam and I coming back here to stay for awhile at the resort. The island has a real low key vibe and the snorkelling was great, with a bit more time I’m sure that there would be plenty more hidden spots to discover. Oh yeah, dim dim is the pidgin term for white man, in case you were wondering:)
Relevant Posts.

Heading back towards the resort.Alotau, 2016

Dioni Island receding from view at the end of a great day.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Mt Stirling Circuit, Alpine National Park - October 2016

With the weather looking good for this Saturday I found myself trawling through my collection of guide books looking for a high country ramble. Normally the choices would be almost endless but I had a couple of caveats today. I wanted a walk that wasn't going to be overly taxing, I haven't completed a hard walk for months due to a leg operation, made even worse by three weeks on a ship floating around the South Pacific, so you might say that I'm not really match fit at the moment. The other consideration on this Saturday was that it was still two weeks before Parks Vic open up most of the tracks that have been closed for winter, so I had to find a walk that I could actually get to. To cut a long boring story short, I decided to head up to Telephone Box Junction and do a circuit walk around and over Mt Stirling.
Telephone Box Junction was a little on the quiet side today.
I was on the road early this morning which meant that I was booted up and walking out of the deserted Telephone Box Junction before 10am. For this walk I'd grabbed Glenn van der Knijff's book Bushwalks in the Victorian Alps, now this book dates back to 2004, so I wasn't exactly sure how accurate the notes would be. Heading up the closed Circuit Road though I soon arrived at my first track junction to find that it was marked not only with a signpost but with a map, I was happy to see that it appeared that most of my described route seemed to be still walkable. Leaving the Circuit Road here I headed up Bluff Spur Trail all the way to Bluff Spur Hut, being a cross country ski trail in winter meant that the climb up Bluff Spur Trail was never overly steep. 
Most of the junctions today were marked with these maps.
There were plenty of these Alpine Ash today.
Interestingly the climb up Bluff Spur also passed through forests of mostly un-burnt Alpine Ash and Snowgum trees, as I've mentioned before a lot of the Victorian High Country has been severely burnt in the last ten or so years so its nice to walk through a forest of mature trees. It wasn't long today that I started to encounter lingering drifts of snow, the good news was that it was very icy and compacted so it didn't make the walking any harder, but a bit of snow around always adds a bit to a walk I reckon. By the time I passed from the Mountain Ash zone to the Snow Gum zone I was more or less walking on a continuous covering of snow. After an hour and a bit of climbing I arrived at Bluff Spur Hut, this comfortable hut was built as a memorial hut to two skiers that died near this spot in 1985. Today though I was happy enough to just utilise the verandah to get out of the snow for a minute  while I had a drink and a look at the map.
Bluff Spur Trail.

It didn't take long today to start passing through some residual snow drifts.
The summit trig is just visible.

Leaving Bluff Spur Hut I headed up towards the summit of Mt Stirling, after only a few minutes of climbing I'd already passed out the Snow Gums and was climbing through alpine grassland. Most of the snow cover disappeared once I was out from under the tree canopy and at the same time the views became fairly extensive, which was another excuse for me to stop and take it all in. I'd never actually been up to the summit of Mt Stirling before so this was all new territory for me, I was enjoying the grandstand views that allowed me to pick out the surrounding mountains, the sites of many adventures over the years.
Bluff Spur Hut.
It was only a couple of minutes after leaving Bluff Spur Hut that I came out above the tree line.
That's The Bluff in the distance.
Once near the top I wandered over to check out a very photogenic lone Snow Gum, this beautiful tree was at least 100 metres from any other tree of any significance on the mountain, it kind of makes you wonder how it got itself established in such a inhospitable spot. After crawling around in the snow grass for awhile getting some photos of my Snow Gum I meandered my way over to a rocky outcrop to the south east of the main summit. This rocky peak gave me a grandstand view to the east with Mt Howitt, Mt Speculation and The Cross-Cut Saw clearly visible today, in the distance I could even make out the Bogong High Plains still with a fair covering of snow on them. What drew my eyes the most though was the rocky ramparts of The Bluff to the south across the deep valley that the Howqua River flows through. The movie of The Man From Snowy River was filmed in these hills years ago, in-fact the hut from the movie, Craigs Hut, is now somewhat of a tourist attraction off the Circuit Road on Mt Stirling.

There were a couple of reasonably sized snow drifts near the summit.
Is this the smallest bivy in Australia?
Crossing over a large residual snow drift I meandered over to the trig point on the summit, well meandered as well as I could while being buffeted by very strong winds. Finding myself a bit of shelter behind a rock I dropped my pack for a few minutes and had a break, the scars on Mt Buller looking very ugly now they were un covered by their winter coat. To the north I could see plenty of snow in the rocky chutes dropping down from the Mt Buffalo Plateau, it certainly has been a good snow year. Shouldering my pack I dropped off the summit and headed down Stirling Trail for a couple of minutes until I came to the Geelong Grammar School Hut.
Mt Buller doesn't look so flash without its mantle of snow.
The Mt Stirling trig.

The Geelong Grammar School Hut is a very comfortable hut that is open for the public when the kids aren't using it, with its big fire place and a loft for sleeping it would make a nice spot to sit out bad weather. There was no bad weather today though, only wind, so I closed up the hut and headed off on my long descent down the undulating spur towards King Saddle. Like my climb up, as soon as I reached the cover of the snow gums I was once again walking on snow covered tracks, the snow definitely adding a little bit more interest to what was already a good walk. One thing I noticed on my descent was the amount of infrastructure, first I got to a newish looking hut (I think it may have been called Kings Spur Hut), a little further on I arrived at an open area that housed numerous permanent tents as well as a big teepee, a shelter and a couple of toilets. I suspect these set ups are for commercial horse riding trips judging by the slip rails, but I may be wrong.
The very comfortable Geelong Grammar School Hut.
Heading down Stirling Trail.
I think this newish hut is called Kings Spur Hut.
The snow cover lasted for a fair while as I descended Stirling Trail.

Just before arriving at Kings Saddle the track got a little rougher and steeper, I was actually on a black diamond track according to a helpfully placed signpost, now if I was on skis I would of officially been shitting myself on a black diamond run, but it was amazing how much easier the black diamond run was without snow! Soon the open grassy spaces of Kings Saddle came into view through the arrow straight trunks of the Alpine Ash. Kings Saddle is actually on the Circuit Road and it would make a nice spot for a picnic or a bbq once they open up the road after winter, with the road still closed though it was quiet today. Passing by the large King Saddle Shelter I set off on the last stage of today's ramble.

Not sure what the go is here, I suspect it maybe for horse riding tours in the warmer months.
Fork Creek.

I was now heading towards yet another hut, Razorback Hut. To get there I followed the beautiful contouring Hut Track, while only short this was a very enjoyable part of the walk, the easy walking being appreciated by my tired muscles (remember I haven't done a lot of walking for the last three months). Razorback Hut is actually a couple of huts and they would supply good shelter in winter when the roads are closed, in the warmer weather I suspect that they'd be over run with 4 wheel drivers though as you can easily drive to them. Leaving Razorback Hut I was faced with a choice of 3 tracks, to cut a long story short I reckon you should take the middle one, I took the faint southern most one and it disappeared after passing through a very damp patch of tee-tree, which left me with a short off track excursion to meet up with my intended route. Once back on track I had an easy descent back down to Telegraph Saddle, crossing one of the rushing tributaries of the Delatite River on the way, before arriving back at the ute which somewhat surprisingly was still the only vehicle in the car park on this beautiful day.

King Saddle.
Hut Track was a nice walk.
Razorback Hut.
The Dirt.
I walked 14.9 kilometres today and climbed 651 metres on this walk. I'd rate this walk as a medium grade walk I suppose, the tracks are generally well defined and sign-posted but there is a couple of spots to watch out for. Having said that though I was using notes that were over 10 years old, my map, the Vicmap Buller-Stirling 1:25,000 sheet dated back even further to 1993. Like I mentioned earlier I was using Glenn van der Knijff notes out of Bushwalks in the Victorian Alps, in the book the walk is titled High Mountain Ramble and its walk number 17 in the book. I enjoyed my day up on Mt Stirling, I found the walking fairly strait forward even accounting for my very dated information and I think timing my visit for just before they open the Circuit Road was probably a good idea as the place was more or less deserted.
Relevant Posts.
The walk still passed through some sections of burnt forest.

Wandering into Telephone Box Junction along the closed Circuit Road.