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First, however, we needed lunch supplies, for this walk would take longer and require a lunch stop. Since we were out of bread, we delayed until 09:00 when Thompson's Store opened. I went the short distance to the store only to find no bread, and upon inquiring was told that it was delivered (presumably from the bakery) at 09:30. So we waited another half hour for the bread.
At 09:30 we walked down again and procured a hot loaf of wholemeal, which we took to our cabin and proceeded to turn into a supply of sandwiches for the trek ahead. Thus provisioned, and with two bottled of water, we set off along the road to Ned's Beach. This time I borrowed a backpack from the Somerset Apartments to carry supplies in, freeing my hands.
We turned north off the Ned's Beach road and on to the Malabar track. It passed through a section of muttonbird habitat palm forest before emerging into a clear paddock surrounded by an electric fence. A stile gave access to the field and we followed the footworn track across it and up a fairly steep hillside to a ridgeline that ran upwards to the right.
Hitting the ridge, we crossed another stile back into forested terrain - but at this altitude and exposed aspect it was stunted heathland trees, just tall enough to shelter us from the wind.
We continued upwards along the ridge, not seeing much view beause of the surrounding trees. On and on we climbed, cresting a couple of shallow peaks and descending slightly into saddles before climbing again, eventually reaching the Malabar lookout at 209 metres elevation.
There the track abruptly ended at sheer sea cliffs, hovering directly above the waves crashing below. Actually the sea was quite gentle, and the rock shelves around the base of the island meant there was little motion of the waves. We rested for several minutes, sharing the perch with a few other visitors. One couple said they saw a large sea turtle in the water far below, but we didn't manage to spot it. There were also many seabirds wheeling around in the sky around us and the nearby cliffs - mostly white terns I think.
As we were preparing to leave for Kim's Lookout, the old man we'd seen yesterday on the Clear Place walk emerged from the bush on the Kim's Lookout track. We stopped for a brief chat and he said that the track to Kim's Lookout was quite difficult - it had taken him 50 minutes to traverse the 1.1 km of ridgeline.
Undaunted, we boldly set forth on the next phase of our adventure. The track was indeed quite difficult, involving a steep descent down muddied and slippery slopes with unsure footing, followed by a steep climb back up to the next peak on the ridge - then the whole process repeated two or three times.
Eventually we made it to Kim's Lookout - a wonderful eyrie on a sharp crag that afforded a marvellous view south along the whole island. Mounts Lidgbird and Gower in the distance stood for the first time on our trip unshrouded by cloud - it turning into a magnificent day with not a hint of rain.
The descent from Kim's Lookout was fairly easy, being on artificially placed steps of earth or stone held by pine risers. We fair flew down the slope, ending up at the junction with the Max Nichols track in good time. Here we rested briefly, then turned right towards North Bay and its beach.
The walk down to North Bay was strenuous because we were still some way up and the way down was a seemingly endles procession of wooden steps winding through highland forest, that slowly turned into lowland palm forest full of forked trees (Pandanus forsteri) and kentia palms (Howea forsteriana) as we descended. The steps down seemed doubly arduous in the knowledge that each must be trod on the return climb before we could make our way home for the day.
Finally we emerged on a flat, yet still thickly forested area, where we found picnic tables, barbecues, changing sheds, and a toilet. A woman was setting up three or four picnic tables with tablecloths and full table settings - presumably for a tour group who would soon arrive by boat. We made do with a more remote table tucked away in the forest behind the changing sheds. There we quickly ate our lunch sandwiches and drank most of our water.
Michelle felt she'd earned a rest and volunteered to mind our stuff while I undertook the return trek up Mount Eliza to see the views of the island and take some photos.
The climb up Mount Eliza was strenuous, involving many steps up a steeply climbing ridge, to a height of 149 metres from the beach level. However, 100 metres of so (horizontally) from the peak - and maybe 20 metres in elevation - I was stopped short by a sign explaining that the summit could not be accessed from October to March, because the peak was used as a nesting site by sooty terns. Indeed, I saw many of these birds all around me, sitting on the ground, flying around in the air, so thick that they often approached to within a metre or two of me. I also saw some dark grey chicks on the ground - obviously incapable of flight yet.
Respecting the sign, I turned to the south and took some photos of the view before me - spectacular with Mounts Lidgbird and Gower in the distance, set away from me by the expanse of the shallow lagoon and the foreground ridge of Mount Eliza, up which I had come.
I returned downwards again and met Michelle back at North Bay. Following her rest, we filled up a water bottle at a rainwater tank, then took the short walk to Old Gulch, a deep cleft in the cliffs on the northern side of the island, full of large pebbles (up to 30 centimetres across) that mostly seemed to be coral limestone, patterned with the shape of the coral. We stayed here only a few minutes, and then set off for home.
The climb back up the steps to the junction with the Kim's Lookout track was extremely tiring and hard on the leg muscles, requiring several brief rest stops along the way to regain our breath. I surmise that the junction must be at at least 100 metres elevation, possibly higher. (In fact, a quick check of a topographic map in the Somerset transit room shows that it was over 140 metres high.)
Once gained, that was the highest point on our way home, so it was mostly downhill from there. More steps led us down, down, down, through the changing bands of vegetation once again, until we emerged at a stile over another fence around another cow paddock, this one on the western side of the island. From here, an easy walk across level grass led us to the Milky Way where we had bought our dinner last night.
One final diversion awaited - a short side track to see the remains of the RAAF plane that crashed on Lord Howe in 1948. We had seen the plaque commemorating this tragic event (seven of nine passengers had died) up on the ridge leading to Malabar, and from here below we could see the impact site up on the ridge and the remains of the wrackage strewn across the forest and grassy field below. I had expected an overgrown, jungle-claimed wreck as one might expect on a tropical isle, but this was just sheets of metal strewn across a bare field, so we contented ourselves with a look through binoculars from the bottom of the hillside.
Back in civilisation, we walked back to our cabin, stopping in at Thompson's Store on the way back for a well-earned treat - and iced coffee drink for MIchelle and a double ice cream scoop for me - strawberry and boysenberry. If anything, the scoops were even more generous than yesterday, and just as yummy.
Back home, writing this, and still we haven't seen a drop of rain today.
We walked back and ate on the porch again. While eating, the woman who came arouns yesterday to spruik about the glass-bottomed boat trips appeared and confirmed the booking we'd made earlier today for tomorrow's trip. If the weather holds out, it should be good.
After dinner I went out to Signal Point on the lagoon to take some photos of the sunset. It was better than the last time we tried, thanks to less cloud in the sky, but not truly spectacular.
Now, as darkness falls, it has just begun raining again for the first time today since before we got up. Insects are chirping outside the window, and it's time to read a book and then turn in.
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