Dayna's Blog

Holidays, walks and who knows what


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Snowshoeing at Mt Baw Baw – July 2014

Have you ever wanted to go to the snow but haven’t, because skiing (for whatever reason; cost, long lift queues, ability, or potential injury) isn’t your thing?

If you think paying a small fortune for accommodation on a snowfield just to watch other people ski and snowboard is a wasted opportunity, I agree – and here’s the solution…

Snowshoes on, ready to go! (These ones are Yowies)

Snowshoes on, ready to go! (These ones are Yowies)

Snowshoeing!

Forget the tennis racket image. That’s ancient history!

Let me tell you about our day trip to go snowshoeing at Mt Baw Baw the other Sunday.

Leaving home at 8:40am was a little later than planned, but we’re pretty bad early starts at the best of times, although the aim had been to avoid arriving at the same time as everyone else.

Last time (2 year ago) we took the route via Seville. If you’ve got the time, and it’s not out of your way, it is a nice drive although it’s a little bit longer. This time we took the highway to Druin before turning north. It’s pretty easy to follow the signs to Mt Baw Baw from there. The roads get pretty windy from Noojee and there are plenty of potholes to avoid too (so you won’t miss out, even if you haven’t chosen the Seville option), keeping the driver alert behind the wheel.

We got to the turn off to Baw Baw Alpine Village from South Face Road at around 11:00, and saw the first snow on ground – that hadn’t just fallen off cars driving down the road. Unexpectedly everyone was being asked to put chains on. We weren’t sure why because the road was clear… So much for keeping our chains in pristine condition, then!

There were staff helping people who had ‘forgotten’ how to put chains on their cars. The main thing you need to know is whether your car is front or rear wheel drive – and if you don’t, someone else there is bound to be able to tell you.

Chains on, we crept up the last 2.5km to carpark 4. It felt like we were driving a tank. You’re not s’posed to drive with chains on a cleared road…

Arriving at the carpark we saw why we needed chains. There was snow and slush. Some of it was white, but it was getting browner by the minute as the convoy of cars drove in.

Stephen lifted the windscreen wipers (in case it snowed while we were gone) and we donned our hiking boots, gaiters, beanies, gortex jackets and gloves, shouldered our backpacks (valuables, spare clothes, water and lunch) and joined the line of people making their way up to the village where the fun starts.

There was a  shuttle bus (mini van) option if you didn’t want to walk up to the village, but it wasn’t a long walk to where we needed to buy a day pass (Carpark 1). We didn’t do it online before arriving because it wasn’t cheaper, I but think we might next time – not because of a queue, but because you’ve now got to create an account. This will supposedly make it faster next time as I log in using just my mobile number and a 4 digit pin I chose (which can be SMS’d to be if I forget it by next time), but we’ll see how that goes… Note though, that if you want to make payment (cash or eftpos) to a person at the resort office, it costs $5 extra. Oh, and you’ll need to know your car’s registration number, so if you’re coming in a hired car your options of paying in advance may be limited.

Just past the village entrance, we found a jolly, and very realistic looking Santa on the way to the ski hire shop (Christmas in July is big here in the southern states) so took the opportunity for a photo.

Happily we didn’t have to wait long to pay for equipment hire. On the form you complete that details what you’re hiring out, it’s pretty telling that snowshoes aren’t listed as an option to tick. Come to that, they’re not prominently advertised on the website, either. The girl at the counter just wrote ‘snowshoes’ across the columns on both rows. Second clue was the blank look I got when I went to the counter to collect them. Fortunately the cashier girl was able to point the counter girl in the right direction and hey presto – two pairs of snowshoes!

Queueing to hire snowshoes and poles

Queueing to hire snowshoes and poles

Lastly; stocks. As these are collected from a different counter – where skis and boards are dispensed – we had to wait a while as staff adjusted boot fittings and things for snowboarders.

Snowshoes and stocks finally in hand we ventured forth! Now, please be considerate and don’t put them on as soon as you exit the building – there’s not that much room just outside the door! Stephen insisted on being so considerate we walked half way down the main street toward the end of the runs to find somewhere convenient and out of the way to put our snowshoes on.

At Baw Baw they rent out Yowies. Not our preferred type of snowshoe, but since we haven’t bought our own yet, beggars can’t be choosers.

My suggestion is to undo all the straps (not hard since they’re velcro), place your foot in so all the straps will strap back up (if you have larger feet, you may appreciate what I mean), then strap your foot in as tightly as possible. When you’ve got both on, have a few test strides and see if they feel like they need adjusting. You don’t want your boots to slip out as you’re hiking.

I think my boot is a size 43 US (or 12 AUS), and I was glad that it wasn’t much bigger, as I wouldn’t have liked the middle strap that passed over my boot and gaiter to be any shorter. I don’t know if they have larger Yowies at Mt Baw Baw – they are only made in two sizes as it is.

Yowies on

Yowies on

Given a choice, I’d be wearing MSR snowshoes. They’re more streamlined and have more teeth for breaking through and holding you on ice.

That wasn’t likely to be an issue for us today, but check out the teeth that Yowies have. Stephen’s were good; mine were somewhat worn down, probably from people walking on rocks or on the road in them. (Yes, we need to buy our own…)

Victorian on-mountain snowshoe rental comparison

Heading off, we drew a couple of amused (or bemused) looks from people who evidentially haven’t tried this form of freedom for themselves.

A couple of cross-country trails start at the end of the main runs and where the kids learning slope is. That’s also where we found the huskies! I’d seen a sign on the main street advertising husky sled rides – and here they were!

There wasn’t much action happening with the dogs at present, so we headed off. We’d decided to follow the Summit Trail today as we didn’t have time for the longer Village Trail circuit.

It was pretty quiet on the track. Most people were downhill skiing or snowboarding. In fact, I think we only saw about half a dozen people on the trail all day – and 4 or 5 of them were in one family!

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m from Queensland or not, but I find the snow absolutely fascinating! So beautiful, so white, so enticing… And snow gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora) are just amazing with their beautifully coloured bark. That’s why we chose Mt Baw Baw over Lake Mountain – yes it’s a bit further to drive, but it’s higher (= more snow) and the trees are alive! (A lot of Lake Mountain was burnt in the King Lake-Marysville fires in 2009).

This is possibly my favourite photo from the walk:

Mt Baw Baw meets Narnia

Mt Baw Baw meets Narnia

The only downside to snowshoeing is the noise. You mightn’t think it, but walking over snow makes a fair bit of sound. The shoes on the snow, the stocks through the snow, your shoes against the straps (more so on MSR than Yowies, I admit). You really notice the difference when you pause to take a photo (or catch your breath)!

In one of these pauses we noticed some tiny birds picking over the frozen leaves and around the bark of the trees. It’s tricky to photograph birds that move so quickly. I am pretty certain they are Striated Thornbills (Acanthiza lineata).

We planned to stop for lunch at some picnic tables close to the summit, known as Downey’s picnic area. Two years ago, we did this walk in August when Australia was having a decent, if somewhat delayed snow season. This year’s snow season is on time and even better!

So there wasn’t much choice but to eat standing up. We didn’t want to disturb the perfect mounds of snow on the tables.

It was also a good chance to get some Bigfoot – or more accurately in this case, Yowie – footprint photos.

Yowie tracks!

Yowie tracks!

Lunch over, we continued up to the summit where Baron Ferdinand von Mueller’s “The Cairn”, built as a survey reference point, is there to admire. Von Mueller was Government Botanist of Victoria in 1853 and later appointed director of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, but his work was also recognised and honoured nationally and internationally. It is believed he was the first European to climb Mt Baw Baw.

A little further on is Mueller’s lookout. On a winter’s day, you mightn’t get to see very far.

Muellers Lookout - can't see much today

Muellers Lookout – can’t see much today

We haven’t been in summer, but Mount Baw Baw Alpine Resort’s website shows the view in summer is quite nice.

Muellers Lookout in summer - via mountbawbaw.com.au

Muellers Lookout in summer – via mountbawbaw.com.au

From the summit, the ice on the trees started to get a bit… wild.

Not content with just settling as snow on horizontal surfaces then icing up, the snow gums on this side of the summit have their hackles up, and fins on. Yep, they’ve gone feral.

As the trail drops down from the summit, the forest relaxes once more and it’s an easy downhill walk along the cross-country ski trail.

If you walk the Summit Trail in an anti-clockwise direction as we did, you’ll come to an area called ‘The Five Ways’ where the Summit Trail ends and you have two choices – Muellers Track (walkers only) or Village Trail – that will take you back to the village.

Last time we chose Muellers Track, skirting all of the ski runs to the north, and certainly appreciated why it was a walkers only trail.

This time, for something different, we thought we’d try the Village Trail that- as far as we could make out on the map – slips down between ski runs and finished back at our starting point.

The Village Trail meets the ski slopes

The Village Trail meets the ski slopes

I didn’t take any more photos after this until we were safely at the bottom because I was mostly scared about being caught in the path of a skier, and then, as the slope got steeper, also a bit worried that I might go for a slide myself! Although conditions weren’t particularly icy, I was concerned that the teeth and grip of my Yowies weren’t doing as good a job as they should be…

We were passed by a snow patrol skier who only made a comment on the weather, so we were reassured that we weren’t somewhere that we shouldn’t have been, but the path down wasn’t clear to us. I was really glad when we made it to the bottom and out of the way of skiers and snowboarders. We chose snowshoeing to avoid injury, after all!

Since we were back at the start we decided to have another look at the huskies. It just so happened that a team was being harnessed up for a run! And yes, they were all very excited about that!

With that we were done, and a hot chocolate as the Village Restaurant seemed in order – as soon as we’d returned our snowshoes and poles.

The Village Restaurant decorated for Christmas in July

The Village Restaurant decorated for Christmas in July

By now it was well after the lunch rush so getting a table wasn’t a problem.

As it was getting late, we didn’t linger. We knew the queue of day trippers leaving the resort would be long, and it would be dark by the time we arrived home.

It was a great day though!

Here’s a some stats and a couple of maps from this walk if you’re interested:

Elevation graph, stats & map - Mt Baw Baw

 

: )

Have you been snowshoeing? Where abouts and with whom? I’d love to hear from you : )


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Preparing for Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse – 11-13 March 2014

“A maximum two night stay applies to Lightstation accommodation” is first in Victoria Park’s list of Things To Remember when planning a trip to Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse. (They also helpfully point out that there is no minimum stay.)

Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse - photo taken prior to 1942 (not sure who by)

Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse – photo taken prior to 1942 (not sure who by)

Fortunately for us there is accommodation available otherwise we might not get to the lighthouse. To date we haven’t included camping with our hiking expeditions. Our multi-day hikes have all been with guiding companies who take away the worry of accommodation and food; you just have to bring clothes, minimal toiletries and walk from A to B.

Our desire to see the lighthouse at the most south-easterly point of mainland Australia has prompted us to take the next step in self-sufficiency.

Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse, BOM weather station & Rodondo Island

Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse, BOM weather station & Rodondo Island – March 2014

Food, shelter and water. Vic Parks would take care of the last two once we arrived at the lighthouse, but food was our challenge on this trip. We knew we’d been somewhat spoiled with both Cradle Mountain Huts and Ultimate Hikes previously. Both use there freshly-made, high quality meals as a marketing point. Cradle Mountain Hikes advertisesumptuous meals, freshly baked bread,  a glass or two of Tasmanian wine” which, from our experience, was every bit as good as it sounds (if not more so – read more here). Ultimate Hikes spell out their options more fully on their website, but in summary “A three course dinner…[with] A selection of New Zealand wine, beer and soft drinks are available for purchase“. It’s similar in design to Cradle Mountain Huts, but produced on a much bigger scale (as previously discussed toward at the end of my Milford Track Day 1 post here).

Having enjoyed gourmet food out in ‘the middle of nowhere’ before (and having read and heard unflattering reviews of pre-packed hiking/camping food that outdoor shops sell) our self-imposed challenge was figuring out how could we do fresh-ish (if not exactly gourmet) meals for ourselves.

This is what we’ve come up with:

Hiking food - plenty for two nights away, I hope!

Hiking food – plenty for two nights away, I think!

Keeping in mind that the kitchens in each cottage at the lightstation are “fully equipped with stove, oven, microwave, fridge, cutlery and crockery”, we can take some items we wouldn’t otherwise.

Here’s the plan for 3 days and 2 nights:

Breakfast
– Cereal (weetbix for me with a few sultanas, Stephen prefers other cereal) in a ziplock bag x 2 each
– powdered milk (for me) in a ziplock bag
– 1L UHT milk (for Stephen)
– Honey straws (optional)

Trail Snacks
3 x mini ziplock bags each (one for each day) comprising:
Wallaby Bites – fruit, nut & grains coated in dark chocolate – Australian owned & made. (Found with gluten free products at our local IGA supermarket & organic shops)
– Australian Dried Apricots (Stephen’s not a fan of  Turkish apricots – whether it indicates style or country of origin)
– Australian Pecan Nut Halves (we think Riverside taste the best – they’re in the cooking ingredients section of our local IGA)
– Australian Macadamias (I’d hope there aren’t any imports on our shelves!)
– Australian Dried Apples (Incredibly hard these days to find dried apples not from China. These were also at our local IGA, though they weren’t easy to find)

Hiking snacks

Lunch
– Mission Wraps (this time it’s wholemeal, but mainly because we couldn’t find a Spinach or Tomato flavoured pack). Why wraps? Because bread squashes and crackers break.)
– Spicy chorizo
– Sun dried tomato
– Kraft cheestick wedges
– fresh apples
– lunch wrap (we planned to make the wraps at the cottage before-hand)

Dinner
We’ve tested this concoction at home and hope this will be enough for two nights:
– 1 x 250g pk Israeli (pearl) couscous
– 1 x spicy chorizo
– 1 x 100g dehydrated garden (green) peas
– 1 x 100g pinenut kernels
– 1 x 150g semidried tomatoes
– 1 tbs paprika
– 1 tbs oregano
– 1 tsp ground cumin

Hiking food - dinner for Wilsons Prom lighthouse - Hopefully enought for two nights?

In case it’s not enough we’re taking extra food. It’s not fun to walk on an empty stomach!

– Sunrice medium grain brown rice that can be microwaved in 90sec (I hope the microwave is working if we need it!)
– Safcol tuna pieces in foil pack (x 2)
– Continental Cup-a-Soup (2pkt)

(Post-walk note: We didn’t need the extra food. The couscous was definitely enough. Fortunately there is a spare food draw at the cottages. Although the contents of the draw in our cottage when we arrived were just half a dozen packets or so of packet soup and a couple of sachets of salt, the next guests having a gander may have been surprised to find the rice, tuna, and a couple of extra tubes of honey I didn’t use up on my weetbix. And in case you’re wondering, we’ve definitely had our fill of chorizo, salami, etc for a good while now.)

So for food, I think we’re doing ok. Which just leaves…

Drink
What’s wrong with water you ask? Well, nothing. But a glass of something else is enjoyable too.
– 1 x McWilliams Dry Red Clarsac Sachet 250mL ($3.50 from the bottle shop attached to our IGA. I don’t think I’ll be drinking much)
– 2L cask Banrock Station Shiraz Cabernet (No, Stephen won’t be lugging the whole 2L down, but he wanted something better than my unknown brand sachet option)
And because there’s every chance that I may get there and want something non-alcoholic, yet tasty
Ward’s Fruit Saline Effervescent lemon drink
– powdered chocolate drink

(Post-walk note: The saline effervescent drink was a lifesaver. If you’re contemplating walking to the lighthouse in one go like us, I would highly recommend taking some sort of hydrolyte/electrolyte/replenishing tablets or powder, just in case. The weather forecast was for mild conditions – instead it turned out to be pretty hot and I arrived quite dehydrated.)

So a two night limit is probably a good thing for us – who knows how much food we’d think we should take if we were able to stay longer!

Sunset colours the clouds at Wilsons Promontory Lightstation

Sunset colours the clouds at Wilsons Promontory Lightstation – two nights is just not long enough!!

Of course, there’s one more dinner and breakfast to plan for – once we return from our walk (we’ll be way too tired to drive ~3hrs hours back to Melbourne). We’re staying again at Black Cockatoo Cottages just outside the park for one night again after our walk (about 30min drive from Tidal River), so we don’t have far to travel. Even so, because the food will be left in the car while we’re in the park for a few days we need to take something that doesn’t require refrigeration.

(Post-walk note: We found out that the general store at Yanakie does a great take away fish & chip – with a very generous serving of chips. I’m not sure if they do it every night or not. Best to check ahead.)

So apart from food, what else do you need to pack when visiting the lighstation?

Parks Victoria doesn’t have a kit list – not even for novice do-it-yourself overnighters. Of course we have a pretty good idea of what to pack for ourselves, even though we only use our ~80L backpacks once every 3 years or so.

(If you don’t, check out this Ultimate Hike’s page on What To Bring. Keep in mind that Vic Parks won’t be supplying back packs and raincoats!)

Our room, almost packed

Our room in the Lighthouse Keepers Cottage, almost packed

What is provided at the lighthouse are bunk beds with pillows and pillowcases. If you want to use a doona you can pre-book and pay for one through the Visitor Centre prior to arrival, although taking your own sleeping bag is also on Vic Park’s list of Things To Remember. Either way, you must take your own sheet(s). Stephen and I both have compact sleeping bags (1kg & 500g respectively) and silk inner liners (at less than 150g, much lighter than cotton sheets! Dare I ask – who’d take those?), but we’re glad there are pillows provided.

To help care for the environment, guests are asked to bring phosphorus free shampoos and soap.

The lightstation is powered by diesel generators, so while power is available (with no discernible cut-off time), visitors are requested to help save power and keep lights turned off. To keep power usage down each cottage is filed to capacity before another cottage is opened for guests.

Guests do not need to take cleaning products (detergent, sponge, scourer, tea towels), toilet paper, cutlery or crockery for use at the lightstation. I’ll put more details and photos about staying in the cottages in my next post.

Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse on a mostly clear night

Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse on a mostly clear night

Keep in mind, you don’t have to be crazy about lighthouses to enjoy being there. There’s also sunrises, sunsets, wildlife, cliffs, passing ships, fascinating history…. it’s most definitely worth the walk.

: )

See also:

Wilsons Promontory Lightstation – March 2014 (Part 1) – Tidal River to the Lighthouse via Oberon Bay and Telegraph Track
Wilsons Promontory Lightstation – March 2014 (Part 2) – Lighthouse tour, accommodation options, exploring Eastern Landing
Wilsons Promontory Lightstation – March 2014 (Part 3) – Return to Tidal River via South East Walking Track and Waterloo Bay


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Walhalla, Vic – September 2013

For the second time this year we have visited the quaint old mining town of Walhalla at the end of Baw Baw National Park, about 2.5 hrs drive east of Melbourne.

The band rotunda, Star Hotel and Grey Horse Cafe

If you arrive, as we did, before the weekend rush, you get to see the town as the locals do. You can wander down the main street and see no one. You can stand in the middle of the street to photograph the birds without fear of being run over. You can sit in your hotel room and listen to the sound of the babbling creek and the bird calls come in through the window and reflect how purchased relaxation music could never match this.

Needless to say we really enjoyed being the only guests at the Star Hotel (and possibly the whole town!) for the first two days! However, if you like meeting people while on holiday, August is the best time for you to visit. That’s when Walhalla have their annual Winter Ljusfest – which does look lovely, and attracts quite a few visitors to the town.

As with all of our holidays and weekends away, we had a few walks in mind. There’s the tram line that forms the end of the Australian Alpine Walking Track that follows the road into town, but since we’d walked this numerous times before (see our summer holiday post), we were looking for something different.

The road in/out of Walhalla

Between Rawson and Thompson Station there’s a turn-off along the main road. The road isn’t sealed but it’s not too bad; just down the steep hill there’s space to park one or two cars where several tracks intersect. The Horse Shoe Bend Tunnel Track zigzags (Yes! Zigzags! If you’ve walked up/down the Mormon Track you’ll appreciate my exclamation) down to river level. Over the years the river has carved quite a deep valley through the hills, and the hillsides are quite steep.

Wow! A zig-zag path!

Wow! A zig-zag path!

The tunnel was created in 1911-1912 when mining was still in its hey-day, and allowed alluvial gold mining along the newly drained river bed.

There are plenty of frogs calling in the ponds near the tunnel’s outlet, and there is evidence that in times of flood the river rises enough to follow its old route.

We  followed the river around the bend to the entrance of the tunnel. The pools left after the last flood were quiet enough to show great reflections on their surface. After a enjoying lunch on a convenient log we retraced our steps to the zig-zag path.

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After climbing back up to road level, we decided to follow the Rail Trail and see how good the track was and how far we could get. Given we’d seen the bike riders as we turned onto the road into Walhalla the previous day, we were fairly sure we’d get through.

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This section of the Rail Trail is easy (as the name implies, it’s pretty level) but not especially scenic. At the end of the walk I had a very small leech on the inside of each of my gaiters – how they got there I’m not sure… whether it was from one of the walks or when I was trying to flick mud off by slapping them against the side of the seat of the picnic table near where we parked…

Map & stats for Horse Shoe Bend Tunnel & Rail Trail

The next day we decided to go back to the same carpark and walk along the Rail Trail again, but this time heading back to Thompson Station. In summer we tried to walk this track starting from the station, but were very quickly turned back by thick and thorny weeds that made the path almost impenetrable, and the track itself was crumbling and unstable.

Starting off, the rail track follows the Horseshoe Bend Track… just 50m or so above! We could also see both the tunnel inlet and outlet at one point.

Looking down on the Horse Shoe Bend Track

Looking down on the Horse Shoe Bend Track

The track winds its way around the hillsides and eventually you will come to the remains of a rail bridge. A photo of this bridge was the inspiration for this walk – I’m glad we finally got to see it!

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Just over a rise in the path is Thompson station – not 5min from the old bridge! How close we were in summer without knowing it – and without being able to get there! We arrived in good time to see the train depart at 11am, so I went across the vehicle bridge to get the classic train crossing the bridge photo, while Stephen stayed at the station for close up shots.

Retracing our steps to the start of the  Rail Trail it was clear that there had been a lot of work done to track since January. Our heartfelt thanks to all who contributed to reopening the track so we can enjoy it again.

Here is the link to our walk map & stats.

Map of the Walhalla Rail Trail

Map of the Walhalla Rail Trail

Back in town that afternoon we found ourselves at the old post office. Of course, 100 years ago it was more than just a shop; it was a home. I don’t think it would have been comfortable by our standards – not by a long shot. Too cold and damp for starters, not to mention the hard work they had to do just to take care of basic chores!

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As well as taking care of the mail, the post office would have been the local telephone exchange. The current display has been donated by the Telstra Historic Telephone Museum.

We thought to head up to striking buildings that was the old hospital, but we’d heard is now another accommodation place, high on the hill above town, but were thwarted by signs saying Road Closed and Private Road – No Access etc. The bitumen had stopped and we weren’t sure which drive/road actually lead to the place, so we turned back and instead had a look at the local church on our way back to the Star Hotel.

Given we had some time in which to relax before dinner, we though we’d do something we haven’t done before… make use of the guest lounge area! We’d taken along a travel Scrabble set, but noticed that the Star had not just a regular Scrabble set, but a few games and numerous packs of cards for guests to use. Their library is pretty good to – especially so if you’re a train nut. While we were there, enjoying a glass of red to help the letters arrange themselves appropriately and watching the newly arrived guests being ushered through, I noticed the wrens at the window. I think they are attracted by their reflections; I heard tapping at the window. It’s quite an enjoyable way to pass an hour or so.

Wrens at the window

Wrens at the window

It would have been nice to re-visit Mt Erica and the gorgeous Mushroom Rocks Track, but time didn’t allow for it this trip.

A quick note on staying in Walhalla

The Star Hotel is lovely. We have stayed there before, and were very pleased to go back again, although the main reason for this trip was a complimentary one night stay for winning a photo competition run by the local (but now retiring) MP, Philip Davis, earlier in the year.

The only downside – from our perspective – is that we had to travel back to Rawson to buy a fresh sandwich to pack for lunch each day. The Greyhorse Cafe next to the Star doesn’t do sandwiches or other easily packable lunches for hikers, and unless it’s a weekend you can’t count on anything else being open. That’s why we chose a self-contained accommodation (Taylor’s Cottage) for our last summer holiday.

If you aren’t up for much hiking and don’t plan to go far from town, then there’s no problems at all!
: )