Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The West Part One

WARNING MONSTER POST, grab a cuppa and a biscuit for this one. A map of both the East and the West to help you see where we went on our trip. We were originally going to take Fergus with us but since he wasn't allowed to stay in any of the accomodation we found him a temporary home here at MPA with a lovely family.

On Thursday 15th April we got up nice and earlier and headed out past Darwin and Goose Green on the road to Newhaven. It takes about an hour not factoring in any blown tyres or mishaps. Here we caught the 10am ferry across to the west. During the summer it generally runs from a Wednesday to Sunday with around two crossings per day. It can be slightly unreliable due to weather, tides and sea states. Today we were lucky and the water was relatively calm. It carries around 12 cars and can get rather busy during the farming season as it is one of the main forms of transport between the two islands.
The crossing is around 15miles and takes about 1hr 10mins. It was slightly nippy up on the deck so we bundled up with hats and scarves but after about 20mins we headed up to the bridge to warm up and chat with the Captain. We had a very interesting conversation as he was here during the war. The kids got to sit up in the driving seat and he very kindly explained all the radars and gadgets.

It was slightly odd to see our car from this angle as I don't think I have ever seen the roof from above.
As we headed out of port there were alot of penguins diving in and out of the water heading up to their colonies and out to sea to feed. We were accompanied most of the way by these chaps. I think they are Cormorants but I am not sure what breed. I am used to seeing the King, Imperial and Rock Cormorants but this one didn't seem to fit the bill as he had no colour on his face.

We kept a look out for the whales that many people see and although there were lots of water spouts in the distance we weren't fortunate enough to see them up close.

As we came closer to Newhaven we started to look out for dolphins, we had been told that they follow the boat in and there could be up to 50 at time. With only seeing two further off shore we were starting to feel pretty let down. It was obviously an off day for them!

We were treated to a wonderful cloud formation though. The clouds here seem to blanket the mountains, wrapping themselves around their contours like a veil. I have seen it lots of times on Mount Pleasant but haven't either had the camera or a clear day to shot the picture.

As we arrived at Newhaven we understood how docking could become difficult in higher winds and currents. It is literally a slope sticking out of the valley side where the boat has to try and dock with. There is no protection or shelter at all from the wind. Port Howard itself is rather picturesque, it has lots of buildings that are all painted white with green roofs bar what is at the docks.
Once off loaded we started to make our way out of the port and start our 3-4 hour journey to Port Stephens at the south of the island. We saw this wonderful bird on the way out which is a Red Back Buzzard and this particular one was a male.

John had spent the night before we left marking out some of the plane wrecks that litter the island. He got rather excited when we came across the first signs of a Dagger which was shot down during the war. I am going to have him compose a seperate post for the subject. After we had stopped for some lunch, taken Euan's very soggy shoes and socks off him (he stepped in a ditch looking at the wreck with J) we headed back onto the road. The road surfaces in places are probably in better condition than the Mount Pleasant to Stanley road. It may be in part as it is a newer road and also that there is only a population of 100 total on the island. The road goes on and on, you come over one brow and you can see nothing but straight track for miles on end with no other visible characteristics to break the view. Sometimes it is a bit of white knuckle ride as you come over blind summits and plunge down to S bends and cattle grids. The Landrover is wonderful to drive but it does get away with itself as you head down hills, breaking on the gravel is slightly scary so you do need all your wits about you.

As we pulled into Port Stephens this chap greeted us at the gate. He is a juvenile Straited Caracara also known as a Johnny Rook. The juveniles are very curious about man and are not worried at all about coming to within a foot of you while out walking.

We arrived just as the sun was starting to set and we were treated to this wonderful view. The settlement is rather large but only one of the houses is actually inhabited. It used to be the main farm where everyone lived but some time in the mid 80's the land was split up and seperated into individual farms. It has a slight ghost town feel about it. We were escorted down the track by the farmers dogs that rushed about our wheels terrifying me that I was going to run them over.

Peter the farmer greeted us as his wife was away for the evening and showed us to the Cadet Quarters which was to be our accomodation for that night. If you think 1970's meet 1980's decoration that is completely stuck in a time warp you will not be far off what it looked like inside. We were told not to us to much of the electricity and to turn out lights at night please, I think they are not to keen on MPA types!! It was however clean and warm with a lovely welcome pack of fresh eggs, milk and potatoes.

As the sun started to go down I shot this picture of Indian Village in the distance which we planned to visit the next day. It is the most amazing sight. Made of sand stone that has been carved by the weather, the rocks look like Teepees and simply glowed in the evening sun.

We hadn't brought any DVD's with us this time so we played a bit Jenga, chequers and did rather alot of drawing of Daggers taken off J's laptop. I spent the evening trying to trim down the mound of pictures that have built up on my laptops external harddrive.

The next morning we got up lazily and had breakfast. I attempted to have a shower with an attachment that fitted to the bath taps. I almost fell out of the bath laughing so much as they were so old and corroded that they sprayed water out of every single crease and orifice. I had to balance all the sponges and cloths I could find on them just to rinse my hair out. J wondered what they were all for when he took his shower and thought I had gone mad until he turned on the taps!!
We headed out the door around 10am after packing up the car and clearing the accomodation. It was a stunning day with bright sunshine but a slight chill and a mild breeze. Perfect walking weather. I had been told about a beach around there that was covered in drift wood and wanted to head out that direction to see if I could collect some small bits for my driftwood heart project. We had a slight detour to what we thought was the beach only to find it was the farmers dumping ground for all his pallets and old bits of machinery. Back on the trail again we came across this fellow sat on our path.

As I said before they don't seem threatened by us at all. He let us get to within a foot of him before he took flight. While I was taking photos I noticed that he had what I thought was a large growth on the front of his chest. We later learnt from the farmer at Port Edgar that this is their gullet and it usually means they have just fed when it sticks out. Apparently it is more prominent in the older birds as their feathers get thinner.

We steadily plodded on with the help of some fruit pastels and water for about another 40 minutes or so. Just as the young natives were getting restless and whining about being hungry we came to Wood Cove, this is the beach that I had been looking for. It is one of the most stunning bays I have seen. I cannot explain it but it had such a wonderful vibe, I could have spent all day there.

There were two gentoo penguins colonies, one on each side of the mountain and intermingled with them were the local cattle which was a bizarre sight. It was obvious that these colonies were not so used to seeing humans and ran away from us as we headed down the middle of the valley.

We stopped and had our slightly stale ham sandwiches, a welcome hot orange and fruit.

As we sat eating lunch we could see the Gentoo Penguins diving in and out of the water heading in and out to sea. It is such a funny sight which I never tire of. I have only one very blurry photo of this phenomenon, so I spent a good twenty minutes trying to track them and photograph them as they jumped out. We also had a few friends pop out of the water directly infront of us and their coats glimmered as the sun hit their wet chests

The kids meanwhile were busy collecting up all the washed up buoys that littered the beach and trying to build a pyramid with them. There was a few tears and temper tantrums from the middle one as the others didn't want to build the same shape as her.

This was the best photo I could get of the penguins and it is still rather blurry! They move like grease lightening and can stay under the water for long periods of time.

The beach was a real mix of soft smooth sand on the shore line going into rocky bolder style terrain further up.

A look at the clock told us that it was time to make a move if we wanted to get to Indian Village and back before the sun started to set. J was having hill withdrawal and decided to take the camera and head over the nearest mountain while the kids and I went around its base.

I did have to take one last parting shot before I left though as the scene was really talking to me. I mean look at those blue seas and washed out colours of the buoys.

This is looking back down on the cove from the top of the mountain. I would love to go back in the summer when the weather was warmer and spend some time there possibly camping. I really must be feeling sick, did I just say camping?!.......

This is the view down the other side of the mountain looking onto Indian Village. I don't think a picture does it justice to be honest with you. There is something really enchanting about the place.
I need to spend some time researching it more and find out how these wonderful formations came into being. The photo below hasn't been stretched this is what they are actually like.

The kids and I reached the village first and climbed up the first available stack. It was really easy to climb up as the rock is almost made up of layered ridges. As we sat having a snack and drink I decided to climb the highest pinnacle. J did take a picture of me standing on the top and as I started to climb down this fellow paid me a visit. He sat for ages not bothered about me just staring. I thought it might be the same bird we had seen before as he had the large bulging gullet on his chest, that was of course before I had been told what it really was.

We climbed down and had a look around the base of the rock which has also been weathered away and formed an overhang. The kids found lots of nooks and crannies to hide in and peek through.
J at this stage still hadn't quashed his inner hunger for climbing so he headed on further to try and climb the ridge line in the distance. The kids and I explored around the local vicinity and then started to make our way back to Port Stephens.

Ellie thought these dips looked like throwns and liked the idea that they each had one.

About half way back the kids really started to flag. Euan was whinging about being hungry (that boy can eat) and the girls were starting to get sore legs.

They did really well though, we worked out that they had walked over 8.7 miles most of which wasn't the easiest of terrain for little legs. We finally walked back into port at around 3:10pm. J joined us about half an hour later with rather sore stiff legs too.

Once rehydrated we headed back out on the road to Port Edgar our next evening stop. Stay tuned for the next enthralling installment!!

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