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Australia's Great Ocean (and other) Walks?

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Australia's Great Ocean (and other) Walks?

Postby Nelson » Tue May 08, 2007 4:49 pm

My wife and I are considering a first visit to Australia in February '08. While surfing around I found this organization that offers inn-to-inn walking holidays.

http://www.auswalk.com.au/inn-to-inn-wa ... idays.html

The inn-to-inn concept has a lot of appeal, as does the Great Ocean Walk, since we don't have an ocean within 1000 miles of where we live. Has anyone done that walk, or sections of it? Worth doing?

Also, we would spend 3 weeks there so would have time to do another walk. Options offered by that company include the Blue Mountains, and the "Great Alpine Walk" which is in the Australian Alps National Park. Both of those sound great.

Opinions or advice on any of these walks would be appreciated. Thanks.
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Postby Damien Gildea » Tue May 08, 2007 11:57 pm

Nelson,

I no longer do any bushwalking really, but I used to when I was younger. Australia is pretty good for it, really. The thought of commercially guided walking trips in Australia is funny (funny strange:-) to me, but in some cases, esp. for overseas visitors with limited time, I guess it's a good idea.

I have not done the ocean walk, but it looks nice. The drive along the Great Ocean Road is itself quite famous. Note that it would be quite hot there at that time of year, but being by the sea would be nice.

As for the Alpine walk, you would certainly get more impressive high-country in the US. The Aust high country is nice, esp. in winter under snow, but in summer is a bit boring to be honest. You could get a feel for it with just a one or two day walk out of places like Thredbo, incl. an ascent of Mt Kosciuszko.

The Blue Mountains are great, though of course they're not moutains, just escarpments above valleys. Great rockclimbing. Lots of nice walks, though again you don't need to do a multi-day trip to see a lot of it. You can see a lot in shorter day trips, though of course long trips are better in other ways. It's more urban and close to transport/access than the Alpine walk and of a totally different nature.

Also, if you do the ocean walk, getting to the Alpine walk will be quicker and you will be in and out of Melbourne. If you go to the Blueys then you will need to fly (1hr) or drive (10hrs) up to Sydney after the ocean walk.

Had you considered Tasmania ? Best bushwalking in Australia, esp. with your experience and if you have a week or more.

D
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Postby Nelson » Wed May 09, 2007 2:55 am

Damien,

Thanks much for the informative reply.

First I'll mention that this would not be a real guided trip in the normal sense, but a "self-guided" one. We walk on our own every day, at our own pace. They have booked the inns we stay in each night, plus they transfer our baggage between them. You might still consider that a guided trip, but it has two big advantages to me:

1) We don't have to carry a heavy load, just a day pack. (I realize this could be a disadvantage to some on SP!)
2) We don't have to make many decisions each day. At this stage of life part of being on holiday is freedom from making constant decisions.

Based on your response I'd probably drop the Alpine walk in favor of the Blue Mountains. They are probably more unlike anything we have in Colorado. Also, flying to Sydney for a few days to see that city sounds agreeable.

But Tasmania: yes, I have considered that and am very interested in it. In fact, I started to add that to my original post then stopped because the woman at Auswalk had mentioned the other two for starters. I will investigate Tasmania some more, though and in fact will make some inquires right now. My wife can no longer carry a heavy pack due to a femur replacement so anything we do there would have to be day hikes from a base, or assisted baggage transfers as above.

Finally, I confess to a woeful ignorance of Australian history. Any books you would recommend that we read prior to the trip? The only one I have seen much of is “The Fatal Shore” due to its prominent place in bookstores. We’ll no doubt read that one, but any other suggestions would be welcome.

Thanks again.
- Nelson
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Postby bgriffs » Wed May 09, 2007 4:42 am

Australia is a beautiful place! The Fatal Shore is great if you have time, otherwise check out: 'A Little History of Australia' by Mark Peel. It's much easier to tackle. Stuart McIntyre wrote a 'Concise History of Australia', which is good but more like a textbook.

To camp and walk in a distinctly Australian locale, check out their Kakadu National Park (near Darwin). It is a ways from the major cities, but well worth the trip. It is a World Heritage Site and offers a lot of beauty. You can take safaris their and learn/see a lot. I believe we went with a company called Gondwana? Their are plenty of operators, and it's good to travel with knowledgable people in the most densely populated crocodile/poisonous snake habitat in the world. There are quite a few boats in Cairns too for the Great Barrier Reef (another Heritage site). I would recommend an overnight trip out there, you can do Discover Scuba and get provisionally certified to dive on the reef- you can even do a night dive if you feel comfortable (they keep a close eye on you).

All of Australia's cities offer great historic tours and museums. Canbera is home to the official national museum and memorials (but it is sort of a strange town to spend a lot of time in), there are others in Sydney of course (old convict barracks, etc.). There are a lot of great Australian movies too: Rabbit Proof Fence, Gallipoli, The Dish, and others that show off their really excellent film industry and pivotal historic moments for the country (the first two in particular).
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Postby dadndave » Wed May 09, 2007 12:43 pm

I wouldn't agree that the Australian Alps are boring, but Damien is right in saying there are very accessible experiences in the way of day walks in the area, which sounds like it would suit your wife. You can drive up to Charlottes Pass walk the main range to the summit of Kosciusko and then back to your car along the old road (or you can take the "quad chair to the top of Crackenback from Thredbo and access the area by walking over the Etheridge range to Mt K.

Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney and Royal National Park to the south (both around an hour's drive) offer numerous bushwalks of various grades. If you are interested in history, there is a good walk in the Wisemans Ferry area just north of Sydney which, in places, follows the route of an old convict-built road, with culverts made from hand made bricks etc.

The Overland Track in Tassie is great but probably won't suit your wife as heavy backpacking is involved. A good scenic day walk would be the Freycinet Peninsula on the east coast.
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Postby Nelson » Wed May 09, 2007 2:17 pm

Thanks very much for the replies guys. Darwin, Alice Springs, and places in Western Australia do look fascinating, but on a 3-week budget we'll tend to concentrate our activities in a smaller region to avoid spending too much time in transit. At the moment we are focusing on Vic and NSW, but that could change, and I have filed Kakadu Park information off for reference, it does look impressive.

dadndave, yes I think the overland track is too rugged for my wife, but it really does look like a premier walk. Maybe some day I can round up some friends and give it a shot while she hangs out in a nice lodge. I just searched Freycinet and found some nice lodges there, so one option would be to use one of those as a base for day hikes for this trip. Thanks for the Wisemans Ferry tip as well - just found some websites on that.

You have mentioned the Blue Mountains also, it does seem like there is a lot to offer there. At the moment we are leaning towards the 9 day Great Ocean Walk, then a week at either Blue Mountains or Tasmania. Throw in a few days in Melbourne and/or Sydney. This could all change as we read more. I'm using frequent flyer miles and need to book flights sooner rather than later.

Here's a good thought: I should be able to find Sheaf Stout on tap!

Thanks again for the suggestions - I'm off to do some more reading.
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Postby Nelson » Fri May 11, 2007 1:58 pm

I have posted a similar question at the Lonely Planet and Fodors forums, and am pretty much getting universal votes for Tasmania. So I think this will be it: the Great Ocean Walk, a 3-day camel trek in the Snowy Mountains about 3 hours from Melbourne (my wife has riding a camel on her "before I die" list), and more than a week on Taz.

It has even been suggested that we can go with an outfitter, stay in private huts to reduce the load, and pull off the Overland Track or Bay of Fire walks. I've not heard of the latter before.

I'll start researching outfitters and lodges, but am open to recommendations.

Thanks!
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Postby Goldie_Oz » Mon May 14, 2007 3:19 pm

Nelson - a coupla suggestions.

Vic Alps: Might be worth checking out where the camel trip goes... two horrendous summers both this year and four years ago resulted in most of the Alpine National Park in Victoria having been burned out (www.dse.vic.gov.au/CA256F310024B628/0/A ... 7_0900.pdf). Particularly those areas of the Great Divide closer (and I mean within a 4-5 hour distance) of Melbourne all burned just this last summer and may not be particularly nice to go through given how scarred they are. Basically Falls Creek and north and east of there weren't burned this year, but I'm not an authority on camel trips either. The other consideration is that Feb is still fire season so be prepared to be flexible, but 1800m is a certainly nice place to be when it's 45°C at sea level.

Great Ocean Walk: Just lovely, was hiking there over easter (sadly I'm back in her majesty's mucky kingdom now), really just a series of little tracks that have been linked up into a longer walk. You could pick and choose bits and skip others if you like. Apollo Bay through to Johanna beach going around Cape Otway is lovely. Make sure you check out some of the waterfalls in the Otways while you're there. Very green area relative to the rest of Vic.

Overland vs. Bay of Fires: The Overland Track is absolutely a must and the terrain is not difficult in any sense (90% of it is on wooden board walks these days anyway and you skip the last 14km of dull walking by catching the ferry across Lake St Clair). If you want to do harder stuff, you can do all of the side trips off the main track, but the main route itself is not hard. If you're worried about carrying weight, Cradle Huts (www.cradlehuts.com.au) do a guided version that stays in very well appointed huts and you carry a max of 11kg (wet weather gear and lunch) - side trips optional but they give you time to do them. I would definitely do this over Bay of Fires if you have limited time. But you should also definitely leave time for a day or two in Freycinet, another world-beater. Also very very worthwhile are Mt Field West/Tarn Shelf and, further south, Hartz Mountains for a day walk each. Plus Tassie is a much more pleasant place to be in Feb when the mainland is sweltering.

Last: a shameless plug, Melbourne might not be the most beautiful place, but it IS the greatest city on earth so spend a day wandering the little alleyways of the CBD and going down to St Kilda... great food and the best coffee outside of Italy, no joke. Also the Feb is melbourne symphony orchesta's outdoor season, plus there's chinese new year etc etc etc
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Postby Nelson » Mon May 14, 2007 6:30 pm

Goldie,

Thanks very much for your suggestions. As it turns out the camel operator is no longer in business. I learned this from the Mansfield tourist office as the camel website, which is still active, did not provide an E-mail contact. Perhaps they lost the business due to the fires?. In any case that part of the trip is off.

For the Great Ocean Walk we are planning to take the 9 day trip and do the full length from Apollo Bay to Loch Ard Gorge. I think the walking distances are such that we'll have plenty of time to explore the waterfalls and other side trips.

And, coincidentally, this weekend I have been in contact with the Cradle Hut folks, and we are, in fact, going to do the Overland Track with them! They are expensive (even very expensive), but this is the only way my wife could pull this trek off. Even so I'll carry some of her gear so she can get down to 7-8kg, and I'll still only be at 12kg or so. This is managable. In this case I'm willing to pay the money to do something this unique that would otherwise be impossible.

After those two activities we still have more than a week of time left. I have also been looking into Freycinet and it does look fantastic. Some nice photos here:
http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Oceani ... onal_Park/

And, from the couple of guidebooks I checked out of the library Melbourne does look like a great city. I can see us spending days and days there without getting bored. In fact we'll have to decide if it's worth packing our dance shoes to make use of the salsa lessons we have been taking lately! There are the wine country tours also. My wife gets to chose this part of the trip.

So, you have pretty much nailed our currently planned itinerary. I hope to be booking flights with frequent flyer miles in the next couple of days.

Thanks again.
- Nelson
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Postby Nelson » Mon May 14, 2007 6:30 pm

Duplicate post.
Last edited by Nelson on Mon May 14, 2007 6:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Rick B » Mon May 14, 2007 8:58 pm

Hey Nelson, that's looking good! (I'm jealous)

Just some random thoughts:

Just north of Melbourne there's the Yarra valley, which is a great wining region (at least, that's what my wino buddies told me)..

I actually didn't like the CBD as much as for instance Lygon street and Brunswick street.. Too much concrete in the CBD, although I did enjoy the observation deck on the Rialto towers.

And as for the fires: I hiked Wilson's Prom (the southern tip of Victoria) a year after a big fire, and I actually found it very interesting to see nature recovering. The Australian ecosystem is quite used to fires... Some pictures of it
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Postby Nelson » Tue May 15, 2007 4:55 am

Wow, amazing photos Rick. Very impressive. Thanks for sharing. Were those seed pods that broke open due to the heat, kind of like lodgepole pines in the States that require fire to germinate?

The big news is flights are booked! As taking shape right now the trip looks like:
A few days in Melbourne
Self-guided Great Ocean Walk, 9 days
Back to Melbourne for a couple days.
Fly to Tazmania and do the Cradle Hut trek, 6 days
Several more days on Taz (my wife saw the Freycinet photos, so we'll probably go there!)
Couple more days in Melbourne
Fly home.

Should be great! Thanks all for your suggestions, that did influence our decisions and we are happy how this is shaping up.
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Postby Damien Gildea » Tue May 15, 2007 5:46 am

That's good to see, Nelson. Tassie is definitely a better bet for walking than either our alps or the Blue Mts. Hobart is a nice town too, good pubs, seafood etc. I lived there for a year back in 1990 when studying. Worth a day or two looking around, in addition to Freycinet (never went there). I didn't suggest the Cradle-StClaire guided option before because I didn't know your budget, but it's a popular option, with the huts and all. Just take good rain gear - Tassie gets wet :wink: Strahan is a nice place to visit too if you have time. Queenstown, not so much !

Couple years ago I went out the Yarra valley with a girlfriend and had lunch at the Chandon winery, which was nice (as far as those things go :lol: ). I'm from Sydney, therefore genetically programmed to dislike Melbourne, but there's certainly some nice little bars, cafes and shops around the place and St Kilda is good too (try the cake shops in Acland St). Melbourne has quite a reputation for good shopping, but you may want to keep that from your wife.

D
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Postby Rick B » Tue May 15, 2007 11:37 am

Nelson wrote:Were those seed pods that broke open due to the heat, kind of like lodgepole pines in the States that require fire to germinate?


Yes, they only drop their seeds after a fire. At first, I thought that this burnt stretch of the track would be boring, but it turned out to be the most interesting bit!

Anyway, looks like a great trip you've booked, have fun and be sure to bring back some great photos for us 8)
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Postby Nelson » Tue May 15, 2007 1:43 pm

Thanks guys, should be a great walking trip, not to mention all the new beer and wine that will pass our lips!

Damien, yes the Cradle Hut option is definitely a budget breaker, significantly more than I have ever paid on a per deim basis for any other trip - even more than an African safari. But somehow I'm rationalizing it with a "what the hell" attitude, Mallory's we work and make money to live, not the other way around.

My wife is better than many women with regards to shopping, but there is clearly a gender factor here! Several years ago in the Cotswolds we were walking out of a charming little tea shop after having afternoon tea and cake. I was laden with shopping bags. As we left I announced that we were "on our tour of Great English Country Giftshops". It produced a good laugh.
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