Not the Arctic Circle

We had a madcap idea, drive nine hours north to cross the Arctic Circle, however the sales assistant advised us that there’d just been 20cm of snow in the area, and we were one month too early.

Of course we were in an outdoor gear shop at the time. With the northern parts of Finland now out of the question, we perused the maps on display. The helpful assistant pointed us to the map for Nuuksio National Park, it being not far from Helsinki. So two days later we found ourselves parked, map in hand, ready to stride out into the woods.

Our chosen trail was marked with yellow diamonds. Wearing gloves and beanies we headed off.

I’d pondered how the trees clung on with the granite exposed or barely covered, there is little soil for tree roots to grow down into. The fallen trees provided the answers, the roots grew along the rock surface, just beneath the thin layer of soils and moss.

The lakes were still partly frozen while snow and ice lay on sections of the trail. We reached the picnic shelter and took out our lunch. Harry has always told me how quiet the Finns are, how they don’t make small talk like the Irish. Yet the Finnish man who also came to the shelter sure did prove him wrong! This bloke sat down, started to chat, and hardly drew breath. Harry occasionally nodded or concurred in agreement while yer man rabbited on. All in Finnish of course, I kept my head down while enjoying lunch with a view.

We came upon this dude on the track. He’s a Common Toad, the only toad found in this country. Toads unlike frogs do not hop, they walk. This dude had an ungainly gait as he continued his amble along the track.

Our hike finished with a skirt along a golf course, a play with the ice on the lake’s surface, a sighting of a woodpecker and the return to our car.

Out in the Woods

Our intention is to walk together daily. The locality here is great, it’s easy to get into the woods and wander along the tracks. Some tracks seem random to me, though they must go Somewhere. Others are trails, easy to follow with signage painted on the trees and rocks. Actually, perhaps that’s a winter skiing trail.

This water tower is visible from the kitchen window so to come across it as we rambled was interesting.

Being in Helsinki

Helsinki is cold outside, fresh winds chill the face. There are a few patches of hardened snow lying around. Snow flurries have scooted through this afternoon, though the snow is not sticking. The daylight hours are long. I didn’t quite get to figure out sunset and sunrise times after our first night here, too jet-lagged, too confused with Sydney time on my watch.

We’re staying with Harry’s mother and she lives on the outskirts of Helsinki. This morning we went for a walk in the local area.

Granite boulders lie all round, along with the pine and birch trees they create this quintessential Finnish landscape. The birch trees are still bare, though are beginning to show the first signs of spring. Frisbee Golf is a game played through these woods. It’s interesting to see how much more development there is since I was last here four years ago. There’s quite a lot of clearing of forest, yet green corridors have been left so it doesn’t feel as barren as new development at home.

We visited the family summerhouse this afternoon. It sits above the lake surrounded by tall trees. With the snow melted and the road accessible, it’s time for some early spring gardening.

After a little pruning and other garden work we simply enjoyed the flowers.

Wandering the World

We’ve made it, flown from Sydney to Helsinki via Singapore. Well-masked all the way, hopefully avoiding the SARS2 virus, I guess we’ll know for sure in a few days. At Sydney International terminal, the busy departure area was well-organised with plenty of staff at hand to direct travellers to the correct check-in desk. The chaos of travel at Easter not in evidence.

she’s leaving home
all set to enter Sydney International Airport

The journeys went well. Only seven hours for the first flight. A few hours in Singapore felt surreal. We did step outside the terminal, though not for long with 30’C and high humidity. The second flight was about thirteen hours, many of them spent in twilight as the plane was kept dim and the passengers mostly slept.

We arrived at Helsinki, the nicest of the three airports. Its calm and quiet, especially the toilets (no noisy hand dryers), was just what I needed being in that zone of sleep deprivation and travel fatigue. A lot of the public furniture was soft and inviting to lounge on, unlike the hard and make-you-sit-straight offerings of many airports. A final wave of paperwork and we were outdoors and finally unmasked.

Our rental car is a hybrid Toyota Yaris. With cries of “Keep right!” and the onboard sat-nav set, Harry took off.

Hiking the Six Foot Track

In some email correspondence with a friend I mentioned that I intended to walk the Six Foot Track.  He did his research, then responded that I must be “seriously fit”.

Seriously fit?  Me?  Never, don’t think I have ever attained that status in my life.  Seriously daft, yes; seriously tenacious, yes.  Feeling the need for some soul-searching, I decided to walk the track solo, and did it over three days and two nights: Tuesday 19-Thursday 21 April.

Despite my inherent lack of fitness, and an over-heavy pack (all camping supplies were required), I completed the track with a smile on my face.  It took 47km of pure hardship and gruel (I had started in Katoomba, rather than at the Explorers Tree).  Luckily the sun shone, the moon glowed, the shooting star shot, the snake snuck away, the fellow track walkers were fine folk and I ended it all with an overstay at Jenolan Caves House and a venture into two of the many amazing caves there.  I bused it back to Katoomba and drove down the mountains as the skyscape turned beautiful reds, then headed due east on the M4 straight into the rise of the full moon …  a wonderful adventure!

The track starts with a steep descent into Nellies Glen, a damp and downward section through dripping rainforest between the sandstone cliffs of the escarpment.  Continuing along dirt roads, this is not a get-away-from-it-all type of walk.  I passed the occasional car, day trippers, horse trekkers, a vineyard and a number of privately owned properties with open paddocks.  The dampness was quickly left behind and, with dry weather, I walked along dusty trails and tracks.  The rainforest becomes dry gum forests, with sections of granite boulders.

Crossing the Coxs River via the Bowtells swing bridge, I held tightly to my focus, listening to my breathing, not wishing to risk an overbalance against the sides of the bridge.  Reaching the campsite at the end of Day One was a joy.  Toilets, picnic tables, a water tank, metal bench for unpacking my backpack and the river for reviving my weary feet.

Despite walking alone, I never felt scared or concerned.  I knew there were other groups along the track, I was never far from civilisation, the track is highly accessible and I carried suitable safety gear (whistle, phone, first aid kit, locator beacon).  The three other groups and I became campsite buddies, wandering around to each other’s areas, chatting over cups of tea about the experiences of the day.

Day Two is notorious: 20km with much of it up and up and up along dirt road, very little let-up in the up-ness of the track.  I took it one step at a time, lied to Harry in a phone message (“All going well”), had plenty of breaks (though getting the pack onto my back after each stop became harder and harder), swore profusely at the up sections, and thanked the track marker effusively and at great length when only 5km was left for the day.  I was last into the campsite that afternoon.

Day Three was 10km, a lot of it downhill but with one steep up-hill that must have had the steepest gradient of the track.  The scenery was lovely: open forest, tall trees and a steep-sided valley down into the Jenolan Caves area.  I earned cheers from my trackmates when I joined them at the bistro – Six Foot Track finished!

My intent to soul-search was lost in the effort of taking each step forward; my focus turned to sole-searching as I gazed at the footprints left in the dust.  Spotting a spider imprint on one, I later found out that I was following the footsteps of a fellow hiker; it cheered me no end to realise I had literally been walking in his footsteps; a warm, open and friendly man, his trail had pulled me onwards to the day’s end.

TRACK NOTES: there was water in both the Coxs River and Black Range campsite water tanks.  A new toilet has been installed at the Alum Creek campsite.  Mobile phone coverage is very patchy along with track.



DAY ONE: Bathurst Street, Katoomba to Coxs River Campsite

  • 17.7km (6 hours, 30 minutes)
  • Ascent 430m
  • Descent 1210m

DAY TWO: Coxs River Campsite to Black Range Campsite

  • 20km (8 hours)
  • Ascent 1310m
  • Descent 400m

DAY THREE: Black Range Campsite to Jenolan Caves

  • 10km (3 hours, 20 minutes)
  • Ascent 330m
  • Descent 720m


  • 47km
  • Ascent 2,070m
  • Descent 2,330m
  • 17 hours, 50 minutes
  • Highest point 1212m
  • Lowest point 273m
  • Quote