Thursday, July 21, 2011

Montezuma’s Revenge and a Big Happy Birthday!.................

Path to Montezuma Falls
Montezuma Falls
The second day of our Jump Tour started with a 90 minute walk through the rainforest to Montezuma Falls. Andrew warned us that the trek would be wet and muddy; it is after all a rainforest; and I might add cold. This is not a tropical, hot, humid rainforest; maybe in summer, but not on the day we visited, although the man-tree ferns look like tropical vegetation; bigger than a man, shorter than a tree. The rainforest, as you might expect, is wet ….. VERY WET. This particular rainforest receives over 3 meters of rain a year. That is a lot of rain. The path was wet the whole way, but there were times it turned into a small stream.  According to Andrew, some people will come to the rainforest and won’t bring any wet weather gear. You would think the name RAINforest would give you a clue. The path to Montezuma Falls is an old railroad bed. The tracks have been removed, but in places you can still see the sleepers (railroad ties) that supported the track, and  there are also a few old trestles along the way.  It was a narrow gauge railway used to haul out ore from the mines. Later the railroad was replaced by an overhead cable system, it looked like a ski lift with little buckets instead of seats.  Tin, lead, zinc and a few other minerals were mined in this area and you can see a deserted mine shaft about ¾ of the way to the falls.  The path is very level and an easy walk, if you can tolerate the water, yet despite this there was absolutely no one there but us. Even in the peak tourist season it is seldom visited. I don’t know if it’s the 3 hour round trip walk, the wet muddy trail, or that it is slightly off the beaten path that keeps people away, but if they knew what awaited at the end of the journey more would come.  The group was moving a little slow, so I walked on alone. All I could see was a sea of green. All I could hear was wetness; the sound of running water from the river below, the rivulets crossing the path, small waterfalls erupting from the rocks, droplets dripping from the leaves,  and the occasional call of some bird in the trees.  There are a few informational signs along the trail providing some history or identifying flora. My anticipation grew as I neared the falls. I didn’t know what to expect because you couldn’t see anything through the vegetation.  Shortly I came upon a suspension bridge. You could hear the falls, not a huge thunderous roar, but you still couldn’t really see the falls. I walked out onto the bridge; a skinny, one lane, swaying, bouncing bridge. The sign said maximum capacity 2; the steel cables looked like they could support more, but who wants to challenge.  As I made my way towards the middle of the bridge I turned to my left and there it was, Montezuma Falls.  A beautiful, narrow ribbon of a fall, 120 meters tall; emerging  just below the rim of the mountain top, cascading down the first tier, turning slightly right, and falling through a few more tiers to the rocks at the base. Little rivulets ran over the green, moss covered rocks. The sun which had just cleared the mountain top behind me shone brightly on the upper third of the falls. Standing alone, looking at the falls in the still crisp air of the forest, I tried to imagine what the men who came to build the railroad thought on first seeing the falls. Was it as impressive to them, these men who hacked their way, probably for days, through the forest to arrive at the same location I arrived at in 90 minutes. Did they think “Oh crap, now we have to deal with this waterfall” or were they too struck as I was by its picturesque beauty. It looked like an idealized waterfall from a British landscape painting. Moving from the bridge to the viewing platform at the waterfall’s base gave me a closer look. Even being close to the falls there was little spray. I just sat and admired the beauty of my surroundings. A minute or two later the rest of the group arrived breaking my reverie. While Russell Falls were beautiful, Montezuma Falls had its’ revenge and upped the panoramic ante.
Old Sleepers

Upper falls

Lower Falls

Suspension Bridge

We stopped to have lunch at Strahan, a small, sleepy seaport on the west coast. As it is winter, most of the shops were closed. There is an operational sawmill in town and the town is also the terminus for the scenic steam locomotive from Queenstown.  Forestry is big (it was bigger) in the area and the sawmill in Strahan is the only one that still works with Huon pine. Huon pine is a protected species and trees can no longer be cut down, but piners (lumberjacks who cut pine) still find logs sunken in the river from lumber operations before the turn of the century, when the river was once the highway used to float logs cut in the surrounding mountains down to the sawmills. Even though they've been underwater for decades, the wood is still usable. Huon pine was a good wood to use in ship building; strong, and with a high oil content making it virtually waterproof. I saw some furniture made of Huon pine at Port Arthur and in the museums. It has a brilliant natural golden color. The shop at the sawmill has beautiful, very expensive, bowls, tables, other objects  and pieces of art made from the wood. You can even buy the pine shavings; the smell is great and it supposedly deters moths and other critters. As we were leaving we saw a rainbow….again. This one was so awesome we stopped the van to get a photo.  A boat was crossing the bay coming into port and the rainbow was shining directly on it. It seemed to follow the boat across the lake. The colors were bright and vivid and it wasn’t even raining. Just lucky I guess.

We finished our day at Henty Dunes. These are large sand dunes, 30-40 meters high, extending 15-18 kilometers along the shoreline, and the birthplace of the “Jump Tours” name. They reminded me of the Indiana dunes or Sleeping Bear dunes of Michigan. The dry sand was quite a contrast from the rainforest we left only minutes away. The dunes are constantly changing and moving as wind, waves and vegetation mold the landscape. However there is one dune, the “Jump” dune which seems to retain its basic characteristics over time. The dune is about 15-20 feet high and has a wide flat top and somewhat vertical drop off or cliff, instead of looking like a bell shaped curve.  “Jump Tours” took its’ because the owner went there one day with some mates and they decided to jump off the dunes. He thought jump tours sounded like a good name and the rest as they say is history. It was never said but jumping off a 20 foot high sand dune sounds like something where alcohol was involved. It has become a tradition of the tours ever since. Basically you run across the top of the dune, throw your feet in the air, and leap out over the edge, coming to a gentle landing in the soft sand below. It really isn’t dangerous and after the initial trepidation of the first jump becomes quite fun, except when you have to clean the sand out of your pants, hair and every crack, crevice and orifice of your body. Sand gets everywhere, but it is worth it; a good shower back at the lodge and your ready for the next days’ adventures. And yes there was a rainbow.

Now let me tell you about day 3……………..

When you travel, whether for work or because you’re on an around the world odyssey, you tend to miss things; your family, your friends, your Sunday workout, holidays, anniversaries and birthdays. I’d like to think that an around the world odyssey is a better reason than work to miss these events, but it doesn’t matter why you’re gone the result is the same; you’re not there to share the joy of the occasion with someone you love. Today/tomorrow (it depends what side of the world you’re on) July 21 is my daughter Emelia’s birthday and I want to wish her a happy birthday. So this is for you:


p.s. Saw some koalas today, but didn’t hold them. They were too high up, sleeping in eucalyptus trees.

Put another shrimp on the Barbie.


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