Day 1 on the Great Ocean Walk – Apollo Bay to Blanket Bay

A huge day involving a 23km hike and we’ve got to get the tides right – there’s a river crossing to take into account. It’s a beautiful day – 24oC and perfect for hiking/tramping. 

We’re supposed to start the hike around 9am. In reality, by the time we all get up, do the ablution thing, have breakfast, sort equipment and backpacks, drop a car off at the end point and get coffees for the addicted, we finally start hiking around 10.30am.

GETTING GOING

Departing from the Apollo Bay Information Centre, we soon reach the Marengo camping ground – to the amusement of a camper lounging outside her caravan.

“Wow” she says “how long have you been hiking”. “Oh, about half an hour” I reply.

She was quite deflated – obviously hasn’t come across five women in their 50s trying to get going in the morning.

Around this area, the scenery is incredibly beautiful. You walk along flat beaches and rocky outcrops rich in seashells. If you hunt hard enough, there’s also sea glass to be found.

We all love the morning – climbing, jumping and clambering over rocks, hunting for beach treasure, marvelling at weird and wonderful rock formations, admiring (OK, maybe a little envying) the stunning homes dotted around, enjoying the sunshine and blue skies.

However, despite the attractions, we had to keep going because of that river crossing at Elliot Ridge. It has to be crossed at low tide. We imagine taking off our boots, holding our backpacks above our heads, struggling against the tide, sinking into the sand, stepping on a stingray or toadfish, possibly falling and getting everything wet. Soggy crackers and cheese for lunch are not an option. I even took my swimsuit in case the water is deep, and debated finding a rope to help ferry backpacks from one side to the other.

We arrive at Elliot Ridge. Oops, there’s a drought in progress so there’s no water at all flowing down the river to the sea. It’s merely a huge pile of rocks – not a skerrick of sand, stingrays or toadfish. Not even a hope of high tide even reaching up that far.

What a non-event. We climbed over the rocks to the other side and that was that. Pah!

WHO’S HAVING TROUBLE?

Her backpack was donated by a kind male friend and it’s a good size. However, males don’t tend to have breasts (OK, I know a few males with breasts but this is because they’re overweight). A male backpack has a breast strap right across where the nipples are located (female straps are located higher up the chest). If you’ve got breasts, a man’s backpack just plain doesn’t work.

So while Kim can get the backpack to sit on her hips, she can’t do up the breast strap to pull the backpack away from her shoulders. If she tries, she ends up with her breasts cut in half. As a result, her shoulders are aching.

As for me, my boots are giving the toes some serious pain.  I’ve laced the boots up nice and tight to prevent movement and strapped up my toes for a cushioning effect, but it’s not working.  I tolerate the pain because I’m not sure how to resolve, other than buying another pair of expensive hiking boots.  (In case you’re not aware, shops of the useful kind are in exceedingly short supply on the Great Ocean Road).

AFTER THE RIVER CROSSING …

Once our epic river crossing has been made, we begin a 200m climb up a steep path.  It’s REALLY steep.  My backpack is proving to be a dream (brand new Osprey) and I bounce up the path, as do Jen, Aileen and Daryle.

However Kim, with her painful backpack and lacking the strength and fitness the rest of us have, struggles with the climb.  She and I stop, sit on the side of the path, eat liquorice allsorts to get the sugars up for energy, then continue a slow straggle to the top where a superb picnic area awaits, billy on to boil and lunch.

Lunching on a hike

For those who’d like to know what we devour for lunches when hiking:

* Boiled egg
* Laughing Cow cheese wedges (lasts well out of a fridge)
* Small tin or sachet of salmon, sardines or tuna (personally very fond of sardines)
* Carrot sticks with hommus dip
* Fresh fruit
* Dried fruit and nuts (mostly eaten en route for energy)
* Sweet biscuits

THE IRISH WAY

Back in Apollo Bay, we noticed a young couple walking the other way heaving ENORMOUS packs on their backs, and carrying day backpacks along with pots and pans and other miscellaneous equipment.  She looks distressed and hot.  They both have lean and tiny frames, and we comment the load is much too big for them.

After lunch, these two suddenly catch up with us.  James and Aoife (pron. ee-fa) are from Ireland, and they’re now carrying day backpacks and bounce along as a result.

They’ve dropped their large backpacks off at a place which hold your luggage for you, then deliver it to a destination of your choice along the Great Ocean Road on a given date.  The price charged for this service seems massive and it reiterates our experience that anything touristy along this stretch is hugely overpriced – accommodation and transport in particular.  It doesn’t seem to be understood there’s a huge backpacker market along this stretch, and they need to provide cheaper and more reliable options.  In particular, there’s bugger all to no public transport stopping at major hiking exit and entry points that work for backpackers (and us, which is why it worked out cheaper to hire two cars).  The buses that do operate only run three days a week.  Unbelievably pathetic, makes me embarrassed to be a Victorian.

James and Aoife arrived from Ireland a few days ago and their plan is to hike some of the Great Ocean Walk and camp along the way.  They have a tent and sleeping bags but no sleeping mats, no cooking equipment, no stove and their water supplies seem inadequate.  They’ve packed a heap of tinned food (very heavy) and THREE jars of manuka honey.

James is wearing ankle socks and consequently he’s reaping the reward of blisters on the back of his feet.  Aoife already has a heap of blisters.  Neither have hats, and don’t seem to understand how vicious the Australian sun can be.  Consequently they were given a bucketload of free advice from us all, whether they wanted it or not.

Of course we regale them with stories about all the poisonous reptiles, spiders and other creatures abounding in the Australian bush.  In reality, snakes have actually been abounding in plenty this year.  On Phillip Island where we live during summer, we’ve seen a surprising and that’s very unusual.  The drought is driving odd behaviours from many creatures.

ARRIVAL AT LAST

James and Aoife stick with us through the long hours to Blanket Bay campground.  It’s a huge walk.  Conversation helps pass the time and enable you to not think about all the bits that are getting sore.  My right hip and knee are playing up from a slip with my bike a few days before, Kim continues her struggle with feet and backpack, others have also discovered sore feet and exhaustion.

We arrive at Blanket Bay at 6.30pm and leave our newfound Irish friends to sort out a camping spot.  Because we have to return to Apollo Bay to pick up a car, we bought them good quality bandaids (no Compeed or blister packs available at that time of night thank you) and Daryle found an old pair of socks for James which we dropped off to them the next day.

You can imagine how well we slept that night – comatose in minutes.  Can’t say the same for our Irish compatriots …

Tramping the Great Ocean Walk

Take five women in their 50s, throw them a 100km hike, then stand back and see what they’ll do.  The outcome rather surprised us too!

Collectively known as the Tramping Sisters, five pals from the Sunshine Coast (Kim, Jennifer, Daryle and Aileen and myself), figured a long hike would be just the ticket on our annual February hiking pilgrimage.

So we picked the Great Ocean Walk – a 100km trek along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria.  We’d tramp it in stages over six days.

great-ocean-walk-map-1030x406

Because hiking with camping gear is an art a few of the Tramping Sisters have yet to master, we elected to stay at Bimbi Park in Cape Otway for the duration and use the hire cars to get us to/from the entry and exit points.

ABOUT THE ACCOMMODATION

Bimbi Park was cheap – a teeny tiny cabin to (allegedly) sleep 9, which is great provided you’re all children, don’t have any luggage whatsoever, and the temperature never goes above over 18oC at night.  Summing up:

  • There’s limited ventilation in the cabin, which is great if you’re 10 year old boys who view farting as serious fun, and consider breathing fresh air to be an optional extra. When the temperature starts to climb (as it did for 2-3 days of our trip), air flow becomes an important factor.
  • No space at all to store luggage or foodstuffs. We had a couple of spare beds to put things, but it was messy and awkward.  Recommend they ditch a bunk bed and add cupboards – that would make it worthwhile staying again in the future.  However, it was cheap – you get what you pay for.
  • Kitchen facilities fairly good, providing no morons are staying with the expectation their mothers will miraculously turn up and clean up after them (surprising number of young folk who act this way).  TIP: Clean up after yourselves and do your dishes.  Kitchen did need more bench space to prepare food, and to wash and dry dishes.  Plus a freezer would’ve been mega useful.  Also like to see management put in fly-screens – the flies were dreadful.
  • Bathroom facilities spacious and very clean. Showers cost $1 for 3 mins (they’re on tank water so this helps limit overuse). However, no benches available to place gear after exiting the shower. And what’s with women who fling toilet paper and sanitary bags around the cubicle?  Why?  Clean up after yourselves please.

ONWARDS WE GO

After hiring two cars at the airport and a big grocery shop in Geelong (yes, we bought far too much), we arrive quite late at the campground.  Hence a mad dash to sort out backpacks, buy shower tokens, locate the kitchen and toilets, put away groceries, and chow down on a 10pm dinner while swatting flies.

Through the night we hear koalas grunting – they sound like snorting grunting pigs.  If you haven’t heard it before, it’s a very startling and possibly terrifying noise … particularly if you’re in a tent.  Between the koalas and various noises inside the cabin, no one slept terribly well.

To cap it off, Bimbi Park have a chicken run.  I actually like chickens – they’re fun to draw – but roosters crowing at some ungodly hour before dawn saw me fervently dreaming of a shotgun.  Those foul would’ve been roasting with sweet potatoes the next night if I’d had access to something lethal.

See next post for Day 1 of the Great Ocean Walk.

Possum wallaby woes

With the big dry affecting many parts of Gippsland in Victoria (Australia), the amount of feed for wallabies, possums and other wildlife has diminished.  So what do they do when there’s no fresh grass?

With drought affecting Phillip Island and no sign of rain on the long term weather forecast, it’s looking a bit grim for the hungry hordes of animals on the reserve out the back of our place.  When they run out of green grass, what do they do? Why, they come checking out nearby properties for any titbit that’s green and edible.

Here the wildlife can choose to browse any number of properties and farms.  However, many are fully fenced, located in suburbia, or don’t have gardens because they’re only occupied for a few months each year.  That leaves places where humans reside during summer, and who plant and tend juicy horticultural things in our gardens.

ONCE UPON A TIME …

Our house backs onto a reserve.  Once upon a time it contained mangroves, shrubs and tall native grasses.  Seawater flooded much of it at high tide.  Of course, it would’ve been loved and used by many animals and hundreds of different birds.

Then a moron came along and turned it into a farm, building a land bridge to stop the tide, and whacking in cows so they could stroll along eating what little grass they could find and trampling on the native grasses, plants and mangroves.

One day about 6-8 years ago (can’t recall exactly when), the moron removed the cows and allowed the land to go back to its natural state.  And wow, has it flourished without that constant trampling.  Unfortunately rabbits and foxes moved in.  The Council undertook a baiting program to remove foxes from the island, but you’ll all know what happens to rabbit numbers when there’s no longer any predators.

MARCH OF THE MULTITUDES

Rabbits aside, the wallabies moved in.  Then the Cape Barren geese built nests in the swaying grasses, along with ducks and purple swamp hens (affectionally called pukekos in our household, because that’s what I knew them as growing up in NZ).

A plethora of other smaller birds also became common, and the possums think life is akin to nirvana.  We’ve even got snakes, echidnas and blue tongued lizards.  It’s helped enormously that a few neighbours added a permanent supply of water in troughs along the boundary fence.

So a multitude of critters great and small now have water, edible food, and places to hide and sleep.  The price they pay for that is competition for food and having to tolerate annoying human beings on one side of the fence.  They get their own back, as you will see.

SUMMER TIME AND THE LIVING IS …

In early summer, the animals and birds are very well behaved.  They eat their grass, wild fruits and seeds, they drink the water, they blink at us from a distance, and in the late afternoon they may visit a human’s property for a sticky beak.

Come late summer, with no decent rain for a few months and grasses effectively dried up, many creatures are struggling to find enough to eat.  So they come a-calling.  Every last single one of them.

WHO’S BAD …

  1. Possums

Possums are by far the worst.  Scungy fluffy cute little critters they may be, but they’re incredibly effective at knocking off everything.

Last week, in one night, they ate the ENTIRE crop of the neighbour’s flourishing and massive passionfruit crop.  That was hard to bear.

You cannot grow herbs or fruits without them being decimated.  Same deal for any vegetables at all – including hot chillies – because they’ll be munched by rats, rabbits, wallabies, possums, pukekos and a few other lurking creatures I’m probably not aware of.

Possums also love flower seedlings, and any plant with pelagonium or geranium in its title.  They pull them out by the roots, leaving nothing to continue growing.

Normally wildlife don’t touch succulents.  But when possums get peckish, the succulent collection is prey to a horror story.  Mine sit on a table above wallaby height, and the possums have to get through a barrage of spikey yukka plants to reach them.  So at this stage, they’re relatively untouched.  The neighbour, however, has suffered a posse of possums having a late night party and knocking the pots off their shelf, followed by the indignity of being trodden on and nibbled.

ALL my geraniums have suffered badly.  The larger ones planted in the garden have been jumped on and squashed flat during a myriad of night time possum parties.  Then they chow down on any juicy new growth, leaving a few bare stalks.  If the geranium is in a pot, it finds itself upside down on the ground and pulled out by its roots.

  1. Wallabies

Next up on the Bad List are the wallabies.  Anything they can reach is subject to a taste test, then nibbled at until destroyed.  Even caught a baby wallaby on my back verandah chewing at a spiny spikey succulent.

When really hungry, they chow down on succulents of all kinds including our huge jade bushes, shrubs (irrelevant whether they’re native or not), pelargoniums, herbs and climbers.

I’ve double fenced many areas, which the weeds have taken advantage of because it’s that much harder to reach over and pull them out.

baby-wallaby-drinking
Baby wallaby drinking from our dilapidated birdbath
wallaby-who-me
Young wallaby in the reserve – “it wasn’t me …”
  1. Pukekos

Don’t actually mind pukekos.  They just mosey around and mind their own business, pecking the tripes out of the lawn to find juicy bugs.  They’re murder on water sources though –  dig up plants and poop into the water rendering it undrinkable for anything.

  1. Pheasants

Yes you’re correct, pheasants aren’t native to Australia.  Neither are dogs, cats, rabbits, foxes and a squillion other creatures the Brits left us with (yes, I’m from English/Scottish stock so this failure to think things through might’ve had something to do with my ancestors, but I like to think they were smarter than that).

Two pheasants escaped from a (now defunct) local pheasant farm some years ago (see my previous post).  Ferdinand was the original escapee and somehow Felicity has done a runner as well.  We’re very grateful – he was a lonely boy without her.  Figured a snake would’ve got them in the intervening years, but they’re actually alive and well.

They like to scratch through the soil, digging up grass and plants and leaving bare dry earth in its place.  It’s a nuisance, but at least they’re not eating my remaining precious plants or stealing lemons from the neighbour’s lemon tree.

pheasant-bkyard-sml
Ferdinand pecking in the backyard

END OF GARDEN CAPERS

So there you go.  We love the wildlife deeply, even have a possum box on the back verandah, but I really wish they’d go visit someone else’s property.

In the meantime, I continue to learn the lesson to only plant things they hate to eat, and buy all my fruit and vegetables from the supermarket.

Smoking in Japan

If you exclude beautiful manners, outstanding courtesy and magnificent cuisine, one of the other things I love most about Japan is the lack of smoking.

Before our first visit to Japan in 2010, the Cute Fellow and I were under the impression that smokers lurked everywhere – flicking ash as they walked, blowing smoke in your direction, assaulting your sense of smell in every public arena.

We had strong mental images of Japanese men smoking non-stop in every available corner. We envisaged smokers in restaurants, cafes, on the street, in shops, shopping centres, public transport, clubs, outside office buildings, inside office buildings and everywhere you could imagine wanting to be.

Consequently a serious discussion ensued about how we’d handle this impending trauma … particularly me as I’ve been a vocal non-smoker from a very early age.  I recall when, at about 7 years old, I was chased around the house by my furious uncle after I stuck a carnation in the end of his dreadful (and hopefully expensive) cigar. Even then I thought the smell was appalling.  He died quite young … suspect all that smoking had something to do with it.

Over to Japan we go and what a surprise! The reality is you can wander anywhere without being poisoned by noxious cigarette fumes.  Such a revelation.  We walked around in wonder and amazement during our entire six week visit.

tokyo-smoking-by-meguro-river-june-2016-dwoodley
Smokers gathered beside the Meguro River in an allotted spot (June 2016)

On our June 2016 trip, we found the oddity of seemingly really nice restaurants which allowed smoking while dining – the “eat and die from lung cancer at the same time” regime.  We avoided those like the plague and only stumbled into one in the back streets around Tokyo Station because we were starving and it was getting late.  That turned out well because most smokers had gone back to work by then.

In reality, the only places where smoking is truly disgusting are pachinko parlours.

Pachinko is a slot machine lover’s paradise. The walls are lined with vertical pinball machines. Players (and there’s a lot of them – all the parlours we visited were packed) fire metal-sounding balls which hit a forest of pins as they cascade down. The noise is phenomenal – mindblowingly deafening.

To add to the misery, a thick haze of pungent cigarette smoke drifts around. It defies logic that players and staff don’t end up with a serious dose of lung cancer after 15 minutes of exposure.

I’ve since discovered that smoking in Japan had changed quite significantly in recent years, in that it’s been declining in popularity over the last decade or two.

In 2014, the adult smoking rate was just under 20% in Japan which is still very high. Compare that with Australia at 13.3% (2013), 19.3% in the UK and 16.8% in the USA. However France, bless their great wine and fresh baguettes, sits around 30% – an amazing figure given they have the most restrictions on smokers (but do the least to enforce them).

Notice painted on footpath in a Tokyo Street

Japan don’t have much enforceable legislation as such, but they do seem to have enforced non-smoking in public places using entertaining signage and fining recalcitrant smokers.

On our recent trip to Tokyo, there were frequent signs posted on footpaths and buildings prohibiting smoking.  Smoking areas have also long been specially designated in offices, restaurants, fast-food eateries, restaurants and public areas.

Smoking’s not actually illegal, but it’s become socially unacceptable.  Whenever I saw someone walking along the street with a lit cigarette, I actually felt shocked.

So all you non-smokers out there, head off to Japan for a wonderful (almost) smoke-free experience.  It’s well worth it!