Dingos, Turkeys and Eagles

Uyetsga and I have a small property in the hills behind Port Macquarie and this is our home in Australia. The hills here are not like the hills in Colorado. The tallest mountain near our Australian home is 4,127 ft and is located about 30 miles away. Our property is at about 300ft and sits in a beautiful quiet valley.

Just because the hills are not high does not mean that you don’t climb when you hike. Today I went on a 15 mile loop and had 3,500 ft of climbing. After living in Colorado at 9000ft breathing seems a lot easier here but your legs still feel the climbing.

Our property is surround by state forestry and I planned on hiking on the logging roads. I was a bit apprehensive about the hike because last time I was on these roads they were so overgrown by trees and Lantana it was almost impossible to get through but I went anyway. Always the optimist. To my great surprise the roads were clear.  They had been freshly graded and rebuilt, Yeh!.

The forest here is sub-tropical with small patches of rainforest. There are soaring white trunked Gum trees with massive girths that seem to reach up into the sky forever. There are ferns that have thick sharp edged leaves and stand about as tall as a man, reaching their fingers out to grab you as you walk past. The forest floor is covered with a deep decaying layer of leaf matter that is home to lots of small ferns, vines and creepers. Some of these creepers have small thorns that will snag you as you try to push through. Others are thin but tough and can easily trip you if you catch one with your foot.

Anywhere the sunlight gets through the Lantana takes over. Lantana was brought to Australia by the English because of its pretty flower.  If only the English knew how easily it would dominate here I wonder if they would have reconsidered. It is hated by most Australia Bush Walkers because of its woody stems that are covered in small thorns. It grows in thick bushes and if you attempt to go through, sneak around, or otherwise get anywhere in its vicinity,  the thorns grab at your clothes, rake small scratches on any bare skin and you usually emerge from the other side with hundreds of small cuts stinging and trickling blood.

Without a defined trail to follow getting through this bush is almost impossible so you can imagine why I was happy to have a trail.

My plan was to hike up the ridge from behind our property, join onto Hastings Forest Way at the top of the hill, hike along it for a few miles and then take another side trail back down the ridge, joining back onto the dirt road that leads to the front of our property. It was to be about a 12 mile loop.

With the road being cleared it meant my hiking was a lot quieter than it would have normally been and so I got to get close to a lot more wildlife. The first inhabitant I encountered was a Bush Turkey. It was in the middle of the road scratching around for food and I got to within about 15 feet of it before it noticed me. Even then it just stopped and looked. I walked towards it and it turned and walked up the road matching my speed. Every now and then it would stop and look at me then scuttle off up the road again. This went on for about 3 minutes before it finally got sick of the game.

The next wildlife I came across were two Dingos. Dingos are a lot more wary of people so these guys noticed me about 25 feet away, took one look and sprinted off into the bush. Their visit was way to quick for me to even consider getting my camera out.

The most spectacular animal encounter was with a Wedge-Tailed Eagle. It was down on the road when I walked around a corner and surprised it. It took off quickly, spreading its massive wings, with a wing span of over 9 feet, only about 15ft from me. Because of the thickness of the trees it was not a fast getaway so I got to get a good look at it flying away. They are majestic birds that you mostly see from a distance, either gliding high in the sky or perched at the top of tall trees. I have seen them in zoos but this is the closest I have ever seen one in the wild.

After my good luck at having a newly cleared and graded road up the ridge I got to the turn off I was planning on taking down the ridge only to find that it did not exist. The sign was there, the first 20ft of the road was there but then it just ended in thick vines, ferns and young trees. It does not take long for the bush to reclaim any open space  and my trail was now gone. I looked at it for a while considering the possibilities but in the end decided it was just not an option.

I hiked on hoping the next road leading down the side of the mountain would be clear. There are some amazing views down the valley from the road I was walking on and the extra miles did not seem like a burden.

The next road was indeed clear and I headed down it thinking that the hardest part was over. These forest trails get made when the Forestry log an area. Sometimes they will be cleared again for fire trails but most will be left to the bush to reclaim until the Forestry want to go back into an area to log again. I walked down my trail for a couple of miles and then came to a dead end with log off cuts scattered on the ground and thick bush in front of me. It was still several miles down the hill before I hit the main road and I could see it was either going to be bush bashing or a long walk back the way I had came.

Using my GPS I could see where the road was supposed to go and I could see signs of there once being a road here but the road itself was just bush. Every now and then you would see where the road had been cut deeper into the ground and had left a scar but most of the way down it was a battle with the undergrowth and following the line on the map. I emerged at the bottom into the bright, hot sunshine.  My legs were stinging and bleeding from the hundreds of small scratches but I was out and only had a road walk to get home.

Most of the walk I would have loved to have Uyetsga along with me and show her the spectacular bush scenery but maybe not for the last part. I once took Uyetsga into the bush at the back of our property and we ended up doing about 300 yards of bush bashing through thick Lantana undergrowth. I think that experience left her scarred in more ways than one :). She is a good sport about these things though and I know she would have enjoyed the day as much as I did.

UYETSGA here.  Just a comment about the above paragraph……

It was more like a half mile, sliding down ravines, battling Lantana so thick you couldn’t see through it and fending off leaches.  Walkabout has a little habit of minimizing challenges.  We emerged, as he claims, scratched and bloody.  He isn’t exaggerating however about the beauty of the Australian bush.  It is spectacular in ways found no where else in the world.  Well worth the extra effort it takes to sometimes navigate it.

Back to Walkabout….

One thing I know I am going to miss on the CDT is being able to take a nice shower at the end of a hot hike. Washing the sweat off at the end of the day, relaxing with a cool beer and good food certainly make a hard days hike easier.