From Here To Antipodes

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Winter Travel Guide 1996

From Here To Antipodes

On the other side of the world are other worldly sights-Tasmanian Devils, spirit houses, and the greates reef of them all

High summer kicks off here in December. But when the Christmas picnic hampers are being rolled out under pearly skies on Sydney's Bondi Beach, the Outback is shimmering in a blistering heat and the tropical north of the country is soaking in monsoonal rains. Try to climb Ayers Rock and you'll collapse from heat exhaustion; sign up for a day trip on the northern reef and you may never see clear sky. The solution? Stick to the temperate southern portion of the continent, which is at its most welcoming during the dark American winter.

The Blue Mountains
Once you've gotten over your trans-Pacific jetlag at one of Sydney's 40 urban beaches, cast an eye inland: Just 90 minutes west of the city lies one of Australia's most famous landscapes. Strings of golden sandstone cliffs loom over some 540,930 acres of Blue Mountains National Park--the centerpiece of 2.5 million acres of classic Aussie bushland, all swathed in the eerie eucalyptus haze that gave the mountains their name. (Most Americans first saw this park as the backdrop for Elle Macpherson in the art-house flick Sirens.)

In the park are a string of sedate, 1920s-era hamlets geared toward romantic weekend getaways for Sydneysiders. Katoomba is the most popular, and Lilianfels its most genteel hotel (doubles, $200; 011-61-47-801-200). But for a more dramatic taste of "the Blueys," pack a tent and hike into the campground at Acacia Flats. To get there, drive via the village of Blackheath to the trailhead at Victoria Falls Lookout, then follow the six-hour zigzag track past the maze of thin, ghostly eucalypts known as the Blue Gum Forest (no permit or reservations are required for camping). The next day, follow the 12-mile loop to Govetts Leap through more bird-filled, creek-riddled ravines. On the third day, hike back on the steep trail via Evans Lookout and catch a taxi back to your car. (For park information, call 47-87-8877.)

For the most intense burst of local color, take a guided day trip to Claustral Canyon near Mount Tomah, about ten miles farther north: You can rappel down the chasm's three underground waterfalls, a cascade of icy water pounding you in the face all the while; later, you'll have to swim through various pitch-dark tunnels to emerge at the canyon's other end. For rock climbers there's the sheer 600-foot middle finger of the famous local landmark, the Three Sisters; if you make it to the top, you can wave at the hundreds of tourists snapping your photo over at Echo Point. Blue Mountains Adventure Company (47-821-271) arranges these and other trips: One-day trips cost $67-$80; a five-day sampler of canyoning, rappelling, mountain biking, spelunking, and climbing will run you about $415.

Although the outside world has yet to catch on, any Aussie will tell you that for the most extreme wilderness fix, you should head down to Tasmania. This island's mountainous expanse contains the finest bushwalking in the country, the fiercest rivers, the most dramatic alpine scenery. More than one-fifth of its territory has been listed as World Heritage areas.

The premier bushwalk is the Overland Track in the northwest of the central highlands. Running through Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, this tough, muddy trail crosses 54 miles of exposed, windswept moorland, its mountain panoramas interspersed with lakes and gnarled, twisted forests--all inhabited by wallabies, wombats, and Tasmanian Devils (unlike the Bugs Bunny version, they're like big-headed rodents, but the surprisingly loud roar is accurate). The track can be covered in five days, but most people prefer to take at least eight to explore the side trails. No permits are needed for camping, but all hikers must register on departure (for park information, call 04-92-1133). The Australian outfitter Peregrine (in the U.S.: 800-889-1464) runs guided seven-day camping treks for $780 per person, including all equipment and transfers from Hobart. Cradle Mountain Huts (03-312-006) offers a cushier six-day trek on the Overland Track, with overnight stays in comfortable, heated cabins ($1,138 per person). And there's no shame in staying at the sprawling chalet-style Cradle Mountain Lodge (cabins with kitchenettes, $125; 800-225-9849) at the entrance to the national park. The place is almost the size of a small village, but it's a good base for day hikes. Your best bet: Take the six-hour loop around Dove Lake via the Twisted Lakes.

For fly fishermen, the thousands of lakes and pristine streams riddling the central highlands are hopping with brown trout; stay at the eccentric Bronte Park Highland Village (doubles, $50-$63; 02-89-1126), a converted hydroelectric camp from the 1950s, each of its cottages named after a different foreign country. Meals are extra, served in a family-style dining room.

Beyond Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair, the whole southwest of Tasmania is a network of World Heritage-listed national parks, a barely mapped expanse of mountains and temperate rainforest where many are convinced the Tasmanian Tiger, or thylacine, still lurks. At the area's northern fringe lies the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, which enjoys talismanic status among Aussie environmentalists: In the early 1980s, hundreds of Tasmanian "greenies" threw themselves in front of bulldozers to save the Franklin's raging rapids from a dam. Whitewater rafters can only give thanks: As you weave through some of the world's most inaccessible country, overhung by greenery and 170-million-year-old sheer quartzite gorge walls, the Franklin seems like a crevice in geological time. Class IV rapids follow in quick succession, with portages required in several sections. Peregrine runs rafting expeditions, from the more moderate five-day trip along the Upper Franklin ($860 per person) to a 13-day wilderness extravaganza along the entire river ($1,490 per person) climaxing with 600 yards of the Class IV Newland Cascades and including a day climbing Frenchmans Cap, the tallest peak in the park.

For coastal drama, head for the South Coast Track, a six-day journey along uninhabited beaches flanked by huge headlands; it's like a larger-scale Big Sur (next stop south: Antarctica). To tackle this sodden, mist-shrouded, leech-filled trail alone, take a light plane from Strahan into the airstrip at Melaleuca--a camp almost lost in the middle of the wilderness--then hike about 45 miles out to Cockle Creek, where daily buses operate (no permits are needed, but hikers should be experienced; for park information, call 011-61-02-88-1283; flights cost $463 with Wilderness Air, 04-71-7280). Down Under Answers (in the U.S.: 800-788-6685) operates nine-day guided camping trips for $870 per person, including equipment and transfers from Hobart.

On the east coast of the island, the Freycinet Lodge (cabins, $110; 02-57-0101) is a new, minimally designed wilderness hotel at the gateway to the sand-fringed Freycinet Peninsula National Park. You can take day hikes over the pink granite mountains into clear, green Wineglass Bay. Peregrine offers a three-day sea-kayak trip for $390 per person (including gear, meals, and transfers from Hobart). You'll paddle three and a half hours south of the lodge to a remote beach camp on the western shore of the peninsula where you can kayak, hike, snorkel, and fish.

Heron Island
In FNQ (Far North Queensland), the most popular jumping-off point for the Great Barrier Reef, the holiday season is hot, sticky, slow, and wracked with rains. Which is why you need to head to the reef's southernmost reaches for more temperate climes--well, 90-degree days with the occasional tropical sprinkle for relief.

At the southern tip of the coral expanse lies Heron Island, regarded as one of the world's top ten diving spots. Seen from the air, Heron is a green dot at the tip of an immense triangle of coral. Swim out a short way with your snorkel and you'll be surrounded by a fluorescent parade of 800 species of fish, and more white-tip reef sharks than you can poke a fin at (luckily, they're too well fed to bother with swimmers). For experienced divers, a dozen major sites are within 15 minutes, and as a Christmas bonus, December and January are hatching months for green turtles.

Heron is reached by helicopter or catamaran from Gladstone. Room rates start with the budget Turtle Cabins ($125 per person, including all meals) to $230 per person for a deluxe Beach House, but the best deal is the Heron Suites ($185 per person, all-inclusive), from which you stroll straight out onto the white sands and into the water. For all three, book through P&O Resort Holidays (in the U.S.: 800-255-9849).

The Whitsundays
Only slightly farther north of Heron lies the Whitsunday Archipelago, a string of 74 islands in the Cumberland group encrusted with sand and coral. For an independent reef experience, hire a bareboat at a fraction of Caribbean prices. A skipper is free for the first day, and $100 a day thereafter until you're confident enough to strike out alone. Of the islands, 66 are entirely national park (the only developed ones to avoid are Hamilton, Daydream, and Hayman). There are hundreds of protected anchorages to choose from, most with solitary beaches, fine snorkeling, and hiking. Fishing is permitted in designated areas.

A dozen or so boat-hire companies operate out of Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour, just beyond Proserpine, but a good start is Rent-A-Yacht (in the U.S.: 800-788-6685). Rates start at $200 a day, with a five-night minimum. Catamarans and motor cruisers are also available (the latter, an obvious choice for more lubberly skippers, start at $250 a day).

If that's all too pricey, hop a ferry to one of the 20 or so campgrounds on the islands. For $40, take the regular service out to large, lush Whitsunday Island and camp at the southern end of blindingly pure Whitehaven beach, one of Australia's finest; alternatively, the privately run campground on Hook Island has excellent hiking and snorkeling. (You can book all of these services via the travel agency Destination Whitsundays, 79-466-848.)

Fraser Island
Off the Queensland coast between Brisbane and Heron, Fraser may be the world's largest sand island, but it's far from barren desert. Every corner overflows with greenery--200-foot satinay trees, banksias, even tropical rainforest--all growing on nutrients gathered in the top three or so feet of sand. The weather is steamy at this time of year, but there's water everywhere. At the ends of hiking trails you'll find sand-bottomed lakes for swimming (in some, like Lake McKenzie, the water is Caribbean blue; others are the color of tea). You can float on your belly down clear Eli Creek through the rainforest, or climb the giant dunes that drift across the island like mini-Saharas--only to bolt back down and crash straight into another lake. And Fraser's entire eastern coast is taken up by 75 Mile Beach, upon whose hard-packed shores four-wheel-drive vehicles race up and down at low tide.

On the west coast, the wilderness lodge Kingfisher Bay (doubles, $185; 71-203-333) is a study in eco-chic. Almost hidden by the surrounding bush, its glass-walled lobby is a postmodern cathedral. Kingfisher makes a fine base for the first few days, but to get the most out of Fraser, head "out bush" with your own tent and four-wheel-drive vehicle. It's easiest to rent a car in Brisbane and drive the three and a half hours to meet the barge from River Heads, just south of Hervey Bay; the fare is about $50, and reservations must be made with Kingfisher Bay. A four-wheel-drive permit is also required: It costs about $12 from the general store at River Heads. Free-range camping is permitted up and down the east coast of Fraser, but Dundubara campsite, with showers and barbecue grills, is just back from the beach in the northeast; it's the shadiest spot to pitch a tent. (Camping permits cost $6-$10 a night; obtain them on the island at the Eurong information center, 71-27-9128.) Pick up supplies and beer from the tiny island community at Happy Valley, fish straight off the beach, and presto--you're an honorary local.

By Tony Perrottet

New zealand may be smaller than Colorado, but it sure crams a lot of outdoor superlatives into a tiny space--mountains rivaling Europe's Alps, fjords to match Norway's, and beaches, forests, and hiking trails as beautiful as any in the world. If you have limited time to see it all, head straight for the more rugged South Island.

Queen Charlotte Walkway
Some of New Zealand's so-called "great walks" are getting a little overcrowded these days. The popular Abel Tasman Coastal Walk is great only if you think staring at a succession of wide-eyed hikers deserves such an appellation. The Milford and Routeburn walks are strangled in their own popularity by bureaucratic measures--numbers are now limited during peak walking season. A new, hassle-free walk is the 36-mile Queen Charlotte Walkway, based on a system of bridle paths in the Marlborough Sounds in the northeast of the South Island.

You'll start from Ship Cove at the north of the sounds (where the explorer Captain Cook stopped four times between 1770 and 1777) and hike through rainforest with intermittent views of the islands of Queen Charlotte Sound. After four hours you'll come to the very English Furneaux Lodge--some people stop here and never leave. The determined hiker will push on, paralleling the water's edge, for another four hours to Punga Cove; here you'll have the choice of camping or resort accommodations. (If you camp, be sure to sneak from your tent site to the resort's fine restaurant to sample scallops, oysters, the delectable green-lipped mussel, and Mac's beer.)

The next day is a bit of a grind, about eight hours, but the views down into the sounds (Kenepuru and Queen Charlotte) compensate for the trudge through regenerating scrub. Drop down from Torea Saddle (across which Maori warriors once dragged their war canoes) and stop overnight at The Portage--the camping here is better than the hotels. The last day you'll pass through magnificent primeval beech forest before reaching Anakiwa.

To get to Ship Cove, take a water taxi (about $20 one-way; Couger Line, 011-64-3-573-7925) from Picton, terminus for the Cook Strait ferry. You'll also need transport from Anakiwa back to Picton (contact Barry's Bus, 3-577-9696). You can arrange to sea kayak a section of the walk; call Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company, 3-573-6078, to arrange rentals. Accommodations en route range from $52 to $85. For more information call The Villa (3-573-6598), a popular backpackers' place in Picton, or the Department of Conservation office (3-573-7582).

Fishing the Nelson Lakes
Alaska for salmon, New Zealand's Westland for brown trout (Salmo trutta). From Christchurch it's about a three-hour drive to Lake Brunner and Lake Rotoroa (in the Nelson Lakes region), where five-pound trout are stalked and captured (to be photographed and released if they're lucky, eaten if not). Fishing is much less expensive here than in North America and the surroundings are just as beautiful--lakes reflecting the high mountains and remote, clear streams. The almost up-market Lake Brunner Lodge at Mitchells on the shores of Lake Brunner (3-738-0163), near where the first browns were released at the turn of the century, operates from October through April and has an all-inclusive six-night guided package for $1,800-$2,135 (the head guide is the renowned Ray Grubb). Lake Rotoroa Lodge (3-523-9121), far more luxurious with gourmet meals, has an all-inclusive three-day, four-night package for $1,500. (Outside of these packages, a guide for a day for two people costs about $375.) Another competent guide is Brent Beadle, based at the more budget-conscious Moana Hotel (3-738-0388) on Lake Brunner. He uses a drift boat down the Arnold River and can arrange helicopter trips to the top of the Grey and Rough rivers (where the really big ones lurk)--a full day's guiding (not including the helicopter) costs about $300.

Mount Cook National Park
When you take your first look at the Southern Alps you'll understand why Sir Edmund Hillary, a Kiwi, was so inspired. A half day's bus ride north of Wanaka is Mount Cook Village, at the base of one of the most attractive pieces of rock and ice you're likely to ever gaze upon--Mount Cook, a cloud-piercer of 12,316 feet and New Zealand's highest peak. The 434-square-mile national park it sits in is synonymous with New Zealand mountaineering, and over the years has been a magnet for a hoary bunch of locals and foreigners (although the gridlock of tourist buses at The Hermitage Hotel will have you temporarily believing otherwise).

The 6,986-foot Ball Pass crossing is one way to get up there without any mountaineering experience, allowing you views of Cook that most tourists only see through the windows of a light aircraft. The first day is a tough six-hour, 2,788-foot climb out of the glaciated Tasman Valley to the private Caroline Hut, a comfortable aerie that looks straight across to Cook's dramatic Caroline Face. Climb a nearby peak the next day and rest up for Day 3, a demanding nine-hour trek across the pass and down through tricky gorges and bluffs into the East Hooker Valley. If necessary you'll use crampons and an ice ax and the guide will belay you. Alpine Recreation (3-680-6736) offers this three-day hike for $463. The National Park Visitor Center (3-435-1818; fax 435-1895) in Mount Cook Village can provide advice on weather and other hiking choices.

Mount Aspiring National Park
Southwest of Mount Cook is Mount Aspiring, a pyramidal masterpiece of 9,952 feet lording it over the national park of the same name. Problem is, you can't see the peak unless you get up high. On a four-day guided hike you'll trek through meadows and rainforest to Shovel Flat in preparation for the next day's steep, four- to five-hour "gorilla grunt" ascent to barebones French Ridge Hut at 4,805 feet, where there are gorgeous views of the surrounding glaciers and the Gloomy Gorge. Day Three takes you up the Quarterdeck, an icy ramp where you'll use crampons and an ice ax and be roped up. The three-hour climb to the summit of Mount French (7,678 feet) is dwarfed by the spectacle of Aspiring, but is a solid achievement in its own right. Mountain Recreation (3-443-7330) charges $630 for the trip, including all equipment, transportation, and meals. For more information contact the Mount Aspiring National Park visitor center (3-443-1233) in Wanaka.

Chances are, if you're a keen hiker, that you've heard of New Zealand's much-vaunted Milford Track. Gorgeous as it is, it's but a morsel of what you can do in Fiordland National Park. New Zealand's largest, the park stretches from Martins Bay on the west coast (Tasman Sea) to the South Island's far southwest corner. In the fjords--steep-sided U-shaped valleys that rise up out of the water for nearly a mile--thick bush clings to every crevice. The terrain is so wild that 300 miles of trails still don't give you access to much of the park--which is why it's best to explore it by sea kayak.

The two-day trip into Doubtful Sound is a good place to start. It begins in Te Anau with a drive to Lake Manapouri, a 20-mile boat trip across the lake, and then a 13-mile trek in a four-wheel-drive vehicle over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove. The paddle down Doubtful Sound passes Rolla Island, where you might spot the Fiordland crested penguin, detours up deathly silent Hall Arm, and continues down the sound to Elizabeth Island, home to fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and little blue penguins. From there, put your sails up and, wind willing, get blown back to Deep Cove. Fiordland Wilderness Experiences (3-249-7700) will set it all up for $163 per person. They also rent kayaks and gear to those wishing to do their own trips. If you only have one day, consider paddling Milford Sound with Rosco's Milford Sound Sea Kayaks. Try the Sunriser Wildlife and Waterfall Trip ($51 per person; 3-249-8840), a six-hour trip running every morning. For more information, call the Fiordland National Park visitors center (03-249-7921).

Stewart Island
The first thing that strikes you when you arrive on Stewart Island, off the south coast of the South Island, is the number of inhabitants wearing white gumboots. Sure, it gets muddy on this 40- by 25-mile island, which is why the 20-mile, circular Rakiura Track (one of New Zealand's "Great Walks") has been extensively boardwalked. The three-day walk starts from Oban, the island's main settlement, on the east coast. First you head north on undulating terrain past secluded beaches to Port William Hut, then west through thick bush to North Arm Hut on Paterson Inlet. You can walk or sea kayak the last leg on Paterson Inlet back to Oban. Accommodation is in comfortable huts ($6 per night) where wood-burning stoves, billies (cooking pots), and foam-rubber mattresses are provided--you have to carry in all other necessaries. To rent a sea kayak, call 3-219-1080; to reserve huts, call the Department of Conservation visitor information center in Oban (3-219-1130). Southern Air (3-218-9129) flies from Invercargill to Stewart Island for $90 round-trip. For more information, call the New Zealand Tourist Board in Los Angeles (310-395-7480) or New York (212-832-8482).

By Jeff Williams

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