I knew very little about this walk when I put it on the Pandani program, and very little about it on the morning of the walk! I’d chosen it because I’d done Bradys LO, Blackwood Bluff and Sandbanks Tier, all of which are nearby, and I wanted to tie up the loose end. I assumed the terrain would be similar: possible scrub and rock. All I’d found on the internet was a few questions on the bush walk forum, and a friends blog. A brief chat had ascertained that the route she’d taken had been from the east, and required permission from landowners and access to keys. That was a bit much effort, and I knew I’d be going with a plan B if the weather was no good and didn’t want to be stuffing around a landowner at the last minute, so I opted to go in from the north. It looked like a decent bit of road (I didn’t know for sure but assumed there’d be a gate), a solid climb, then a bit of a walk along the top of the plateau.
Apparently, a walk is all about the people you have along, and it certainly was in this case. Murphy, a long standing walk organiser, arrived at our meeting point in Granton armed with maps and a route which he’d found online when looking for information on the trip he led out to Bradys, Blackwood and Sandbanks. It had been produced by Poatina village, and gave route descriptions to climb Bradys and Billopp. It can be found here: http://www.poatina.com/photos/phpjCH2Tk.pdf. So the route I’d selected was ditched (I’d had us leaving the road earlier, and climbing for the plateau earlier, at the least steepest part, to avoid the possibility of any cliffs) and we went with this. To add insult to injury (:p), the guys decided we were going to drive a different way too. I’d decided on going via Bothwell to Poatina road, because it was straightforward and meant I didn’t have to memorise any turns, but that was changed for a route via Campbelltown. Longer, but better and straighter roads. Hmmm.. surely not the sign of a good organiser!! Oh well, another embarrassing lesson learned (and reinforced with some colourful language from Shaz 😉 ) – always do more research.
Our new route advisor turned navigator got us to the start of the road safely, and without fault. It’s easy enough to find, the yellow gate easy enough to spot amongst the trees from a little way up the main road. Our two cars fitted easily alongside the hydro road, leaving room should it be needed for anyone to get through the gate (unlikely as it was on a Sunday).
Gear on, and we settled in to the road walk shortly after 9.30. Usually road walks are boring, if not detested. They most certainly are if you’re walking solo. But despite one or two remarks, I think the road walk was generally enjoyed. It provided opportunity for everyone to catch up with one another, to chat in larger groups than is possible when you’re walking single file on a narrow track or pad, and gave a freer range of movement, so you could talk to a few people for a bit, then move up or back and talk to others.
It wasn’t a completely dull walk either, we pondered how a decent sized bridge could just disappear, leaving only two great big rusted pipes that would have allowed water to flow under it, we wondered what the hoofed prints we saw were (and concluded they were deer), and were amazed at the number of scats containing fur (and, as we discovered on the way back, echidna quills – we wondered if that had been painful). The time seemed to fly, and we were near the end of the road where the cairn marking the track start was much sooner than I’d expected. It’s always a relief to find the start of a track, though I’d noted on the walk that the terrain was more open than I’d expected, and one could depart from the road at any point and find a relatively good route up.
But we had cairns to follow, and initially a bit of faded blue grey packing tape, so follow we did. They were sparse in points, and we wondered off course, but weren’t really fussed. Every now and again we’d have a bit of a hunt around and someone would find where the cairns had gone, and we’d be back on track. As we got higher they were easier to follow, the green stuff was even thinner and we were mostly on rock. Not particularly trustworthy rock (a fair bit of it moved under foot) but rock all the same.
With the thinning of the trees came the start of the views, and that always boosts excitement levels. We paused from time to time to regroup, and often extended these pauses to keep on chatting and joking around, or take delight in examining anything ranging from green long leeches, to red and blue spiders, and of course, the views.
As we climbed higher the terrain changed again, the final little push onto the plateau quite a nice and different atmosphere, and Ben and Graham pointed out a wedge tailed eagle some distance away. And then we were up and heading for the first ‘summit’. There was a decent rock cairn and stake, and a pad leading towards it… but it wasn’t the true high point! That was further south. Never mind, that was just more of an excuse to go for a bit more of a walk. But first, it was 1pm and a bite of lunch was in order. Jackets were donned, as the breeze that we had all been wanting on the hot road walk and climb up had arrived, and was particularly cool when the clouds covered the sun. We munched on salads, sandwiches, nut bars, and egg and bacon pies, and even a coffee infused apple (!), as we took in the views.
Our hunger for food satiated, it was time to satisfy another, slightly more intense desire. So off we wandered to the second ‘summit’ a few hundred metres away. We arrived to find an even taller, less stable, cairn, with another stake wired to its side. I had actually expected it to be further away, having checked the GPS part way to it, but didn’t even think to question whether it was the summit, the cairn provided enough fake reassurance.
I wandered further along to a point just to see what the view south was like from it, took a photo or two, then headed back to the others. It was here that Murphy came to the rescue again, saying he didn’t think this was the summit either. A check of the GPS revealed he was quite right, and somewhere out near the point that I’d been to was the true high point.
You can imagine the flak I copped for that, so off we all went, to the third, and true, high point. There was no cairn, no obvious ‘high’ point, but it was where we had the summit marked on our gps’. Instead we made our own fun by perching on a pointy rock and taking photos, Shaz and Graham both taking what I hope will turn out to be an awesome photo of me leaping between the pointy rock and another. It was just shy of 2pm by this stage, and time to head back.
The mood was relaxed and happy, with more playful teasing and snide remarks over bad leads. It was a little less relaxed when Graham went to pick up a little whip snake, but he was (fortunately!) unsuccessful. The snake incident put aside, so relaxed was the mood that we even had time for a nanna nap on a perfectly accommodating rock, which also gave us the opportunity to spot a yellow throated honey eater, listen to their calls, and be amused when Graham’s attempt at imitating an olive whistler was responded to by a currawong.
When we got to the scree, Ben’s rock dance became contagious and a few of us followed suit. It’s something you do on your own, but there’s an added dimension to it when there’s more than one of you doing it. It could be likened to dancing alone, and dancing in time with others (even though I don’t dance). It was fun, I was happy :).
A little way into the down, Jess, who was on her first walk with Pandani but fitted in perfectly, took the lead. Bravely, I thought, in light of all the insults that had been flying around over bad leads! But she knew what she was doing, and for the first time all day we stayed on the cairned pad, and encountered no scrub. We were back on the road 1.5 hours after having left the summit, much faster than the way up.
And so began the walk home. I hung back for a comfort stop, and as I walked to catch up all I could hear was the sound of feet on leaves and twigs and of chatter interrupted by bursts of happy laughter, and I smiled. Graham and Jess were striding out front. Ben, Rachel and Shaz were a little distance behind, and Urszula and Murphy brought up the rear. I thought again how lucky I was to be able to share their company, how warming it was to see and hear them talk and laugh, and that while I might not be the best walk organiser, the day had been pretty good for all the reasons outside of my control. I was cool with that :)!
We regrouped at one point, over the scats that contained the echidna quills, then set off walking again. The rest of us laughed at Ben and Rachel as they played some kind of game, which was interrupted when Rachel found a cocoon/nest made of gum leaves, about the size that would fit nicely in a palm. Graham thought it was an ant’s nest.
Some time afterwards a challenge was set, I’m not sure what prompted it, but it started a race between three of us to get back to the cars. Running in boots with packs on a gravel road is not the easiest, or most comfortable thing, and after a bit Graham decided he’d stop, and Ben thought he’d be sociable. I felt like a little jog so I kept going.
Unbeknownst to me, shortly after Ben decided he couldn’t let that happen, so he set off again, and Graham thought bugger it, and did the same. After testing the gravel road for hardness (gravel road 1, Graham’s knee and hand 0), he still continued on. I was oblivious, only finding out when Ben caught up to me. We arrived back at the cars (yes, Ben won, I’d known that would be the case from the start though!), and we sat on the gate looking at the last bit of sun on Billopp Bluff as Graham hobbled/jogged up. Silly bugger!! He washed the cuts, applied antiseptic, and was fed Starburst babies to cheer him up. Everyone else arrived in due course, unharmed, 7 hours after having set out. We drove home, enjoying the evening colours on the northeast mountains, beautiful clouds lit by sun, and a rising full moon.
All up 17.8km, 7.09 hours, 1025m ascent.