We were invited to join some friends to help with the Where Where Wedgie survey, a statewide survey designed to estimate the likelihood of seeing birds of prey when out and about. The 4km x 4km plot they had chosen was North-West of Lake Augusta, wedged between Julian and Pillans Lakes, and was a priority square as defined by the survey. Jane and AB were to ride fat bikes in along the 4wd track, whilst Emily and I would walk in.
We had decided to drive up on Friday night and sleep in the ute, in order to get an early start in the morning. We found a nice spot by the boat ramp at Lake Augusta under the stars, and settled in for the night. The forecast for the weekend was clear but cold; this was evident, as the moisture in the canopy had completely frozen and at one point the doona was stuck to the canvas. With the moon almost full and with a clear sky, I took the opportunity to take a few shots of a very still Lake Augusta under moonlight. The sunrise the next morning was also worth getting up for, as parts of the lake had frozen and there was still not a breath of wind.
Jane and AB met us at the boat ramp early, and before long we were ready to start the walk in. Access to the Julians Lake Track in a 4wd is entirely dependant on dam levels, and with that in mind we had chosen a more non-conventional route. This track started just near the boat ramp and follows the northern side of Lake Augusta, before crossing the Ouse River and rejoining the Pillans Lake Track just before the first hut (Allisons Hut). AB had the route marked, and it looked like a decent track on the state aerial imagery. We found out very quickly that this track was quite overgrown and would have been almost impossible to ride bikes through. In the end, they decided to ride along the normal 4wd track and hope that the water level was low enough to cross.
We continued along the overgrown track, negotiating a few creeks and arrived at the Ouse River around an hour after leaving. Crossing at this point would have required wading, and we were keen to stay as warm and as dry as possible. Instead we followed the river upstream to find a more suitable crossing. This proved difficult, as most of the exposed rocks were covered in ice and spaced too far apart to cross safely. We ended up walking almost a kilometre upstream, until we found what seemed to be the safest place to cross. For those interested, the crossing we used was just upstream of the first pine tree that can be easily seen on the other side of the river. We eventually made it across the Ouse and continued to our rendevouz spot at the first hut. As we approached the hut we could see Jane and AB, who had just arrived a few minutes earlier. We spent a bit of time checking out the very cool Allisons Hut; unfortunately I didn’t take any photos but information can be found here.
We then continued along the Pillans Lake Track, as it climbed out of the bush and into the more open landscape that is characteristic of the Central Plateau. Although we had not yet reached our intended survey plot, we spotted a pair of wedge tailed eagles flying just overhead and gave us hope of seeing more over the weekend. We chose to take a small shortcut across an open- but very boggy- grass plain that was once used by vehicles. This track has since been closed to facilitate rehabilitation, however, the deep tyre tracks are unlikely to disappear any time soon.
We continued on towards our destination, stopping occasionally to conduct 10 minutes survey once we were within our plot. We reached a junction in the track that either heads a few hundred metres further to Kerrisons Hut, or continues along to Julian Lakes and the other huts (private) in the area. Once at the hut, we set up camp and conducted a couple more surveys in the area; unfortunately we didn’t see any other birds of prey, so cracked open a can of rum and coke, a few bottles of red and settled in for the night. According to some scribbles on the wall, the flue had blown off so it had been decided to start afresh and build a whole new fire place. An unopened bag of pink mats on the top bunk also suggested the hut might be getting some insulation in the near future.
Clear skies that night made for some nice photos of moonlit tarns and trees; it also meant it was very cold, and we could hear the hoarfrost cracking up through the ground. I decided to get up early to check out the sunrise and wasn’t disappointed, as all of the tarns had frozen over, as well as parts of the larger lakes. A fiery reflection of the sky on the ice was worth the frozen hands and face. We packed up after breakfast and returned along the Pillans Lake Track to conduct more surveys on the way. This time, we were lucky enough to see two Wedge Tailed Eagles (likely to be the same pair from the day before) and a Brown Falcon during a survey. On the way back out, we decided to walk back the long way and avoid crossing the Ouse. I had only recorded the GPS track for the return journey
Kerrisons Hut to Bernacchi – 16.7kms in just over 6 hours including lunch and surveys, 207m ascent.
Getting there: From the Lakes Highway at Liaweenee, turn onto the Lake Augusta Road until you reach the Thousands Lake Lodge. The shorter track that crosses the Ouse starts just up from the boat ramp, but the Pillans Lake 4wd Track starts a few kms past the lodge.