A pleasant spring day in Gippsland

Tuesday 20 September 2016

A few days earlier, I had an invitation to join Rik VK3EQ and Mitch VK3XDM on a proposed day visiting some Gippsland summits. It was my first opportunity to enjoy a day together with these two friends for quite some time, so I accepted.

I headed into Traralgon to meet Rik & Mitch beside the Highway. We then headed to Licola and on up the Licola-Jameson Road, parking near Conners Plain summit.

Connors Plain VK3/VT-022 1305 m 8 points

We set up on the summit plateau, using Mitch’s gear: a 40 m dipole and a 7 m squid pole. Before the HF gear was set up, I worked both Rik and Mitch from down the hill, outside the AZ. Phone coverage was marginal and 40 m propagation poor with no NVIS and some band noise. We found out later that a coronal hole was impacting the ionosphere. It took quite some time to gather the required 4 contacts to qualify the summit for each of the 3 operators. We preserved, although we could have stretched the rules, as among the 3 of us, we had 6 callsigns that could have been used.

The first HF contact was Gerard VK2io, followed by Paul VK5PAS and sometime later Nev VK3WG. Further calling yielded no responses. We tried both 80 m (using Rik’s KX3 plus tuner into the 40 m dipole) and 15 m without any calls. So I needed to work Mitch on 2 m FM after he had left the AZ to get my fourth contact. We were on the summit for almost an hour.

We headed back to South Road and then onto Mt Selma Road.

Mount Selma VK3/VT-013 1464 m 8 points

The road and track to Mt Selma were in reasonable condition after a couple of low-rain days with some wind to dry things out. There was plenty of evidence of the 4WDers with their mud tyres making a mess….

We set up a little way from the trig, not bothering to go the short distance along the narrow track. Gerard VK2IO was again first in the logs. We spent some time trying on 80 m to work Jim VK1AT/3 in a Park to our east. We could just hear him on 40 m SSB, but we could not here me. Nothing was heard on 80 m. I ended up with 7 callsigns in the log, without having to work Rik or Mitch.

We packed up and headed back to South Road and on to the next summit.

Mount Useful VK3/VT-016 1434 m 8 points

We passed the spot where my Forester died last year and on to Mt Useful. We set up near the southern end of the summit clearing, to give some space between us and the gear on the summit. Paul VK5PAS was first in the log, followed 4 minutes later by Gerard VK2IO, then Eric VK7EK a few minutes later. Conditions on 40 m had deteriorated – it was hard work with few replies.

usefulview

View east from Mount Useful

I called on the local Latrobe Valley 2 m FM chat frequency to work Michael VK3ALZ/m. Mitch was still calling on 40 m with no replies. I packed my gear and headed down the access track in case Mitch or Rik needed a final contact to qualify the summit. Our chatting on 146.5 MHz stirred up another local, Brian VK3BBB, so Mitch and Rik got the required fourth contact. Mitch picked me up on his way off the summit. We continued south, then headed west on Williamson Spur Track.

VK3/VT-034 Unnamed summit 1019 m 6 points

This SOTA summit is likely to move further west along the ridge system, as I found a slightly higher spot than the current location. It is likely to be renamed Williamson Spur or similar when the next VK3 update occurs.

We again set up using Mitch’s gear. Gerard VK2IO was again the first in the log, followed by Rick VK4RF with a marginal signal – we could not confirm a contact with VK4HA due to the conditions.

We managed to raise Brian VK3BBB on 146.5 FM for a third contact. Early on, we could hear Paul VK5PAS, but he could not hear us due to an electrical storm near Adelaide. We eventually got a fourth contact each, then packed up and headed back to Traralgon.

There were plenty of topics discussed during the day, including other summits in the nearby hills. We also discussed options for adding 80 m extensions and perhaps links for 20 m into Mitch’s antenna.

The weather was good all day, although the breeze was brisk at times. It was a great day out – thanks for the invitation guys. I look forward to the next one.

So a good day: 4 summits activated, with a total of 39 activator points thanks to the seasonal bonus points.

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2016 Shepparton Hamfest weekend

The Shepparton and District Amateur Radio Club Hamfest was scheduled for Sunday 11 September, presenting an opportunity for a brief visit to family in Wodonga and a planned return home after the Hamfest. But plans changed…

I left home on Friday morning and headed to Healesville, then Yea and on to Benalla. By time I reached Yea, the forecast cold front and associated rain had arrived. I grabbed some lunch in Yea and continued to Benalla to refuel the car. I then arranged to meet Warren VK3BYD in Wangaratta mid-afternoon, at the golden arches place.

Warren had a coffee whilst a long chat progressed about all sorts of topics around SOTA. We eventually headed back to the vehicles and Warren took possession of a small 23 cm Yagi that was surplus to my requirements, plus some coax cable. We then parted ways and headed on up to Wodonga.

Saturday 10 September 2016

I did some shopping in the morning, driving Mum around for some goodies plus a visit to Jaycar for me. After lunch, the weather was looking reasonable, so I decided to head out to activate a summit and Park.

Jarvis Creek Plateau VK3/VE-208 694 m 2 points &
Jarvis Creek Plateau Regional Park VKFF-0969

I had last activated this summit and Park in late October 2015. Whilst that activation generated some 27 contacts, I needed more contacts to qualify the Park for WWFF with its quota of 44. So I headed out past Tallangatta and approached the Park via Jarvis Creek Road and Plateau Road. I found a high spot clearly inside the Activation Zone (AZ) and set up not far from the track.

It is expected that the summit location will change in the next VK3 SOTA update: There are two areas south of the current listed location which show 700 m contours, so the summit should also change to 4 points.

You can find very little information about Jarvis Creek Plateau Regional Park on the Parks Victoria website, but they have 3 photos showing the typical vegetation and a great view from the plateau.

I was set up and on air just prior to 05:00 UTC, with Gerard VK2IO the first contact in the log on 40 m SSB. I had marginal ‘phone coverage at my location, so data access was limited. I worked 31 stations on 40 m SSB, including Warren VK3BYD and Allen VK3ARH who needed the summit to each make a new Complete, both having Activated the summit during the FYBO weekend in late June. I switched to 20 m at around 05:45 UTC and worked John VK6NU, Phil VK6ADF and Peter VK6RZ in a short time, followed by John ZL1BYZ and Albert S58AL. Further calls yield no further responses, so I decided to pack up and head back to Wodonga.

Sunday 11 September

An early start in reasonable weather had me well down the highway with plenty of time to make the 1000 local start time for the Hamfest. I was aware that Warren VK3BYD was planning to Activate The Horn and The Hump on the Mount Buffalo plateau. I decided to divert to Dookie.

Mount Major VK3/VU-011 377 m 1 point

I had visited this summit on my last visit to the SADARC Hamfest a couple of years ago. I arrived at the car park to find a few mountain bike riders preparing to head up the hill, loading up the trailer and then jumping into the minibus. I parked and spoke to the person in charge, who indicated that it was fine for me to drive up – just to be alert for descending riders, especially on my return. I set up using a post near the trig point, hoping that the antenna legs would be out of the way of the riders.

Switching on the radio, I had loud signals from Marija VK5FMAZ/p in Belair National Park near Adelaide. I waited for a chance to call in, making contact at 2340 UTC. John VK5BJE/p and Paul VK5PAS/p were nearby and wanted the single SOTA point. I checked the SOTAwatch site and saw that Warren was on air, so dropped down to work him on 40 m CW for a S2S, then moved up to 7.085 and spotted myself, working 7 stations before UTC rollover. Most of the stations were a reasonable distance away, so NVIS was not working on 40 m. After rollover, I worked 6 stations before Warren called me on CW for a cross-mode S2S contact – thanks Warren! I guess that I could have changed to CW, but the contact was completed. I worked the gang over at Belair NP again, followed by Al VK1RX/p on Boboyan Divide for another S2S, this time on 80 m. I went back to 40 m, and managed to catch Andrew VK1DA/2 on VK2/ST-053 for another S2S at 0030 UTC. I decided to pack up and head on to Shepparton.

SADARC Hamfest

After a short chat with the guys at the door, I was almost immediately greeted for a longish chat. Several minutes later I managed to catch up with Peter VK3FPSR. He advised that the Club had a sales table, so I dashed back to the car to grab a box with an FV-107 which had been gathering dust at home for several years. After getting it set up on the sales table, I started working my way around the tables. Most gems had long been snapped up, but it was good catching up with lots of people.

I visited Dave and Claureen at the TTS Systems table, paying for and picking up a Spiderbeam 12 m fibreglass pole and accessories. More looking, a coffee and many more chats were had before the proceedings started to wind down after the raffle prizes were drawn. I was approached by an amateur and we haggled somewhat over the price of the VFO. I sold it, so at least offset the cost of the new pole. After that deal was completed, it was time to head off to find some food, fuel the car and head to the next stop.

Shepparton Regional Park VKFF-0976

I headed south on the Murray Valley Highway to Kialla, turning west into Raftery Road and then onto Rafterys Track, entering the Raftery Bend section of the Park. The dirt Rafterys Track had lots of potholes filled with water and some mud – clearly some visitors like making mud with their 4WD vehicles. I found a spot a few hundred metres into the Park which gave a little distance from any power lines and set up the 80/40 dipole with my 7 m squid pole to support it. I sat in the car, using the IC-706MkIIG set at about 30 W.

sheppregionalpark

The Park sign just off the entrance.

First in the log for a Park to Park was Warren VK3BYD/p on The Hump VK3/VE-014 for a SOTA chase as a bonus, 40 m CW. It was then to SSB to work Rob VK4AAC/3 a few kilometres away in Lower Goulburn National Park for another Park to Park (P2P). I was getting some RF feedback, so I turned the power down to 10 W. I am not sure why I was getting the feedback, having used a similar configuration in the past. Propagation was improved compared to the morning. I worked Marija, Paul and John in Belair NP for P2P contacts, and several more as the afternoon progressed. I spent time calling on 15 m and 20 m SSB after spotting myself on ParksNPeaks, with no responses. So back to 40 m, with slow progress. I eventually made it to a total of 48 contacts – Park qualified!

Notable contacts, all SSB except VK3BYD/p:

VK3BYD/p CW VK3/VE-014 in VKFF-0339
VK4AAC/3 in VKFF-0741
VK5FMAZ/p in VKFF-0022
VK5BJE/p in VKFF-0022
VK5PAS/p in VKFF-0022
VK1RX/p on VK1/AC-021 in VKFF-0377
Nick VK3ANL/4 on VK4/SE-117
VK1DI/p in VKFF-0852
VK5KLV/p in VKFF-0812
Steve VK2LAD in VKFF-0547
VK2YK/p in VKFF-1349
Tony VK7LTD/p in VKFF-1144
Marcus VK5WTF/p in VKFF-0933

It was a matter of packing up and heading back to Wodonga for another night.

Monday 12 September

A reasonable start time, but had to pack the car, then head off to meet Warren VK3BYD. Warren had sent a message on Friday evening that he needed to visit a summit on private land for work on Monday morning – an opportunity too good to miss.

Mount Lady Franklin VK3/VE-224 544 m 2 points

Access to this summit is via a reasonable track crossing land owned by 2 separate landholders. There are several communications installations on the top of the hill. I jumped into Warren’s vehicle after he locked the gate. At the top he parked close to his work site and I wandered about 100 m to the east to set up just off the summit proper.

vk3_ve-224_2

Looking up to Mt Lady Franklin from the access track.

I was set up and running not long after the start of the UTC day, with Gerard VK2IO first in the log. Despite the poor propagation (no NVIS on 40 m), the summit was qualified in 6 minutes. I tried 20 m, working Rick VK4RF/VK4HA again. Back on 40 m, it was slow progress. Thanks to some liaison, I worked Andrew VK2UH on CW – 519 reports both ways – to make the contact without having to go to 80 m. I could hear Andrew on SSB, but he could not hear me. I worked a few more, including Phil VK2JDL/p on VK2/ST-001 for a S2S. I then tried out the new 80 m extensions to the link dipole for the first time, working Rod VK2TWR who was not audible on 40 m SSB. Back to 40 m to work Col VK3LED, then Warren reappeared, having completed his tasks. I started to pack up and Warren drove down the hill until outside the AZ and made the final contact on 2 m FM, giving him a Complete. The activation also made the summit Complete for me.

vk3_ve-224

View towards Albury from the operating site, with the Murray River in flood.

We headed back down the hill to my car and each headed our own way. Thanks for the opportunity Warren!

For me, it was down the road and onto the Hume Highway for the start of the long drive home. The weather deteriorated, so no more radio activity happened.

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VK1 Winter QSO Party 2016

The VK1 SOTA enthusiasts organised a Winter QSO Party for Sunday 8 August, with operators heading out to many summits in the ACT and nearby NSW regions. SOTA operators from other states also posted Alerts of their plans to attempt to join in the fun, with the regular SOTA Activators hoping to improve their Summit to Summit (S2S) scores.

I did not post any Alerts, not deciding on my plans until first thing Sunday morning. I headed to Nilma, Neerim South and then towards Powelltown, then drove up Limberlost Road. The descent into the upper Latrobe River Valley was scenic, with some fog sitting down in the valley. The gravel surface on Limberlost Road was generally very good, with some small potholes to dodge. There was one spot with a tree across the road, but you could dodge the end of the tree by slowing and negotiating the debris on the wide road verge.

At 9 kilometres up from C425 (Yarra Junction – Noojee Road), there is the 9 km marker, the turn off to Outlook Track and the start of the walking track to my first summit for the day.

The morning was quite cool, but the overcast sky looked benign.

Spion Kopje VK3/VT-040 896 m 4 points

Although this summit is within easy reach. I had not visited it previously, so this would be a new Unique for me as an Activator. I loaded up my gear and started the climb up the track, which is rather overgrown. The lower section is easy to follow, by watch for your feet catching on the long leaves. Watch for the pink or blue tapes marking the route. The initial section is an old 4WD track which then disappears. You then start climbing upwards on steeper rocky ground and skit some large granite outcrops, eventually reaching the top, near where there used to be a firewatch tower.

I set up in the area with the large flat rocky outcrops. I used a young eucalypt sapling to hold the squid pole and deployed the new doublet antenna. This was connected to a LDG Z-817 tuner, then to the FT-817.

First station heard was Dave VK4DD/p on VK4/SE-097 on 40 m SSB, but I could not raise him initially. I gave up for the moment and swapped to 80 m SSB, working Andrew VK1AD and VK1VIC, both on VK1/AC-032 at around 2319Z. But the rig was show low output power and a “Hi SWR” warning – something was not right. I really should have tried the antenna at home before taking it to the field!

I lowered the squid pole and deployed the normal link dipole, leaving the doublet in place so that it was not a trip hazard – it could be packed up when I was finished.

Back on air, I worked Dave VK4DD/p. I check my phone and went to 40 m CW, for a S2S with Tony VK3CAT/p on VK3/VN-012. I then found Paul VK5PAS/p and Marija VK5FMAZ/p on Black Bullock Hill VK5/SE-016 on 40 m SSB. A string of Chasers then called me. I completed a tough contact with Nick VK3ANL/p on VK3/VC-030 just before UTC rollover, and then made another contact just after the first, now in the new UTC day.

I worked Paul VK5PAS/p, Ron VK3AFW/p, Ken VK3KIM/p and Tony VK3CAT/p (this time on SSB) again after rollover. I then managed Paul VK3HN/p0 on VK3/VC-006 after several minutes of looking around and calling. I had given up on 80 m, so kept calling on 40 m, but band conditions were terrible all day due to the ionospheric conditions.

So I missed most of the VK1, VK2 and VK3 stations that were out that were not within ground-wave distance – such is life.

I did make one final S2S contact: Kyle ZL2KGF/p on ZL1/TN-006 on 20 m SSB.

I gave up at around 0045Z, packing up and heading down to the car. I had a new Unique and a new Complete, so I was reasonably happy with the outing.

I retraced my route to Neerim Junction and decided to head off toward another summit, this one would involve a longer walk!

At Neerim, head west on Elton Road, cross the Tarago River at the narrow bridge, then follow Tarago Road to the road junction with Bunyip Road, Proposch Road and Forest Road. There is a “picnic area” just to the east of the road junction which has plenty of area to safely park. The start of Gentle Annie Track is just west of the junction.

Gentle Anne VK3/VT-078 670 m 2 points
Bunyip State Park VKFF-0753

OzTopo shows the summit height as 686 m, a little higher than the SOTA database, and the 2005 VicMaps 1:25k sheet shows the summit as above 680 m. The climb starts at the junction of Bunyip Road and Gentle Annie Track at around 460 m.

Gentle Annie Track is subject to Winter Seasonal Road Closure, but it looked as if someone had broken and removed the lock and chain – the gate was open. I knew that the track was steep and rutted, so I did not even consider attempting to drive up, even if I had a solid 4WD vehicle instead of the little Impreza!

The surface was slippery in many places, with evidence of recent attempts to climb the track in 4WD vehicles and motorcycles. There were portions of the track very churned up, with many deep ruts and holes.

I took the climb slow and steady, eventually reaching the summit at around 0300Z.

I looked around for an operating spot, settling in a rough opening just south of the summit on the south side of the track, which placed me just inside Bunyip State Park VKFF-0753.

I had good signal strength on the phone, but it displayed “Not connects” and “Emergency Calls Only” messages. It seemed strange. With no connectivity, I could not spot or check spots for others! I still had no connectivity much later in the day when I reached home, when I did a phone restart – problem fixed. Better remember that for in the future!

First in the log was Rick VK4RF/VK4HA on 40 m SSB, but Rick did not hear my request for a spot. Rick was followed by Ron VK3AFW/p and Ken VK3KIM/p, this time on Mt Strickland VK3/VN-030. It was slow going, with lots of calls with few replies. I worked Bob VK5AFZ/p in VKFF-0115 and later John VK5BJE/p in VKFF-0873. Finally Steve VK7CW was able to post a spot for me at around 0355Z, which shortly after resulted in a weak contact with Gerard VK2IO/m in VKFF-1375.

I gave up at around 0415Z, with 18 contacts in the log. Another Unique SOTA summit and a new Complete, plus a Park qualified for VKFF.

The descent to the car was much quicker, with the aid of gravity, but one still needed to take it carefully due to the slippery steep surface.

I retraced my route to Neerim. I stopped at the Bakery at Neerim South for a very late lunch, and then headed for home.

The afternoon had been warm for this time of year. It was a good day out with some exercise and some radio fun. Two new Activator Uniques and two new Completes, so a successful day.

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Diversions on a trip home from Wodonga

Having been away from home for about a week dealing with family matters, I felt that it was time to head home. Departure was rather relaxed, leaving Wodonga a little before 0100 UTC. Given that the weather forecast was for rain falling as snow higher up, I opted for the nominal fastest route – towards Melbourne on the Hume Highway.

Approaching Benalla, I was becoming frustrated with the behaviour of some of the drivers of some large trucks, so decided to head south on the Midland Highway (B300). This allowed for some SOTA options to be considered. It was raining as I passed through Swanpool and Barjarg, so I ignored the nearby summits. I travelled on to Boonie Doon, with a last minute decision to activate Proctor meaning a left turn after crossing Brankeet Inlet. The road around the western edge of Lake Eildon is a little snaking, but it is sealed until well after it begins to climb toward the summit. Maintongoon Road looks rather tortuous on the map and has a “Local Traffic Only” sign near its eastern end, so continue south on Sonnberg Drive and continue climbing, then run roughly along the ridgeline. Sonnberg Drive passes through the Activation Zone (AZ) of the summit. Whilst still driving up, I heard Paul VK5PAS working Andrew VK1MBE/2 out on a summit, but could not hear Andrew.

Proctor VK3/VN-019 681 m 2 points

I parked and set up a little away from the vehicle. I started by asking if the frequency was in use, given that the last spot was for Andrew on the frequency. Gerard VK2IO answered, saying that he had not been able to hear Andrew. We asked if Andrew was still there, with someone coming back to say that he had moved to 20 m. I worked Gerard, followed quickly by Steve VK7CW and Paul VK5PAS. A couple of minutes later I worked Tom VK5EE, followed by 4-5 minutes of calling to work Adrian VK5FANA/m and Rob VK2XXM. With no further answers to calls, I closed and packed up.

I drove on to Skyline Road, with occasional views down across Lake Eildon National Park to the Lake, and then headed to Alexandra to buy some lunch. From Alexandra, it was a matter of heading south toward Healesville. Passing through Buxton, my attention was distracted by some other drivers, so I missed the turnoff for Marysville. No problem – I simply headed toward Narbethong and followed the signs for Marysville. Once in town, I looked up the maps to find access onto Paradise Plains Road and headed south and up.

Mt Strickland VK3/VN-030 1068 m 6 points

Paradise Plains Road reaches a branch point when it meets Road Eight – turn to the right to head to the summit, about 3 km to the west. The road is in good condition and suitable for 2WD vehicles, but I did run into one short section which was developing some deeper wheel ruts which could be easily straddled. Stop when you reach a sharpish left at the junction with Strickland Spur Track – you are on the flat top of the summit. The SOTA coordinates place the summit in the thick regrowth on the eastern side of Road Eight, but the 2005 1:25k map shows a spot height point at 1069 m HASL about 140 m north of the road junction. I parked off the road and set up a few metres away.

I spotted myself and my calls were answered a few minutes later by Paul VK5PAS. It took another 5 minutes to be answered again, this time by Mike VK5CK. Several more minutes of calling yielded Tom VK5EE, then nothing further was heard on 40 m. I changed to 20 m to work Rick VK4RF/VK4HA, and then nothing. I switched back to 40 m, as Andrew VK1MBE/2 had spotted on his next summit. At first, Andrew was inaudible. But he slowly rose from the noise to a 31/41 signal. Unfortunately, several calls from me were not heard by Andrew, so no contact was made.

I packed up and headed back to Marysville, with a new unique summit added to the Activator list, and another Complete.

From Marysville, I headed back toward Narbethong and turned off near the Marysville Trout Farm onto Mount Gordon Road.

Mount Gordon VK3/VN-027 754 m 4 points

Mount Gordon is another drive up summit. I parked beside the firewatch tower and set up nearby.

As I was setting up, I spotted as being QRV in 5 minutes. Once set up, I could hear a low down contact, so moved down to 7.085 and respotted. Gerard VK2IO was the first to find me. Several minutes of calling yielded a very weak William VK2YKW operating with only 2 W. 10 minutes later I worked Paul VK5PAS and a couple more minutes of calling yielded Chris VK5SA. 4 contacts in the log, and the day was getting late…. A couple of “Final calls CQs had no replies, so I shut down and packed up. I heard Rick VK4RF calling as I descended the hill in the car. Sorry that I missed you Rick.

Once back on the bitumen, I drove to Healesville and then on to home. I had been out for around 8 hours, but the diversions yielded three summits, including another new Complete. Propagation had been poor all day, but all three summits were activated successfully. Thanks to all the Chasers!

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A dull damp day on Eskdale Spur

Tuesday 26 July 2016

Due to family commitments, I was in Wodonga for a few days. On Monday afternoon, Rik VK3EQ posted to the SOTA_Australia Yahoo group that he intended to activate a couple of summits en route to Mount Bogong. Rik’s basic plan was a couple of summits Tuesday late morning and afternoon, then to camp at Mitta Mitta prior to the start of the ascent of Mount Bogong on Wednesday. I sent a text message to Rik asking if he wanted company. Rik called shortly after and we discussed options.

Rik, John VK3JSN and myself met on Tuesday late in the morning in Wodonga and discussed options. The weather was very grey and damp, with forecasts of cold, wet and windy conditions, with snow down to around 1000 m. We decided to look at a series of 6 point summits on the northern half of Eskdale Spur.

We drove in two vehicles to Lockhart Gap and I parked my vehicle. We transferred some of the gear from Rik’s car to mine and loaded up my pack into Rik’s car, then headed south along Eskdale Spur Road. We climbed up the track in the mist and cloud, passing McGrath Track, the access route to VK3/VE-241. We continued south, noting the parking spot for Lockhart, passing around the west of VK3/VE-144 and continued on. Along the way we had to stop several times to clear fallen debris from the track. We spent some time using the chainsaw at a couple of spots, with trees and/or large limbs across the track: Rik used the chainsaw and John and I cleared away the cut sections.

VK3/VE-130 Wild Horse Hill Range 1034 m 6 points

We finally reached the junction of Eskdale Spur Track and Murphys Track to park the vehicle, only a few metres vertically below the edge of the Activation Zone (AZ).

I suggested that we use my gear, partly as my pack was on top in the back of the car, plus Rik and John were going to heading up to Mt Bogong, thus they could conserve their battery power. We climbed up the side of the summit until we were clearly inside the AZ and set up with the squid pole tied to a large log. Set up was a little quicker than normal, as John & Rik each unwound and strung up one half of the dipole. John decided not to activate the summit.

We had not posted Alerts and had no mobile phone coverage at our operating site, so I simply started calling on 7.090 MHz. After a few calls, Col VK3LED answered. He worked both VK3PF and VK3EQ. It took a few minutes to receive another answer to my calls, this time by Nev VK5WG who posted a spot for us after working us both. Next up was Scott VK7NWT, followed by Rick VK4RF/VK4HA. Paul VK5PAS worked us, then Gerard VK2IO. The cold air was having its effects on us. With no responses to a “Final call” CQ, we switched off and packed up, descending to the car and retracing our access route.

A new unique summit for both of us, and a new complete for me.

VK3/VE-144 956 m 6 points

We parked on the side of the track to the northwest of the summit and started our climb toward the summit. The approach was somewhat scrubby, but there were plenty of animal tracks making for reasonable progress as we climbed about 120 m vertical until a little below the summit, clearly inside the AZ according to the GPS. John continued on to the actual summit. Up his return, he reported excellent views for 360 degrees, all of the inside of the cloud which enveloped the entire hill.

We set up the dipole using a sapling to support the centre point this time. Just over one hour after working him at the last summit, Gerard VK2IO answered our third or fourth CQ call. Relatively quickly we managed to work Nev VK5WG and Paul VK5PAS, but it took another 10 minutes of calling to raise our fourth contact, Tony VK7LTD. A “final calls” CQ was answered with static, so we packed up and headed back down to the vehicle.

Another new unique summit for both of us, and another new complete for me.

VK3/VE-135 Lockhart 1004 m 6 points

We parked the car near the junction of the track and an old track which is heavily overgrown at its junction with Eskdale Spur Road. The old track is visible on the 2005 1:25000 series map, but does not show on Forest Explorer.

Lockhart

Lockhart map from 2005

The first couple hundred metres was a case of navigating through the scrub as best we could, until we came across the old track, which we then followed north until it started to become overgrown by blackberries. By this time, it was raining and sleeting on us, with temperature having fallen.

We headed up toward the spur line, stopping briefly at one point for me to pull on my rain jacket. We continued on up the spur until we were well inside the AZ. We again set up using a small tree to support the dipole.

It was wet! I used my overpants to attempt to keep most of the rain off the radio. It was difficult to keep the rain off the logbook. A couple of calls raised Nev VK5WG, followed quickly by Tony VK7LTD and Paul VK5PAS. It took another 3 minutes of calling to raise a fourth contact, this time Steve VK7CW. Given the rain, temperature and increasing wind, we pulled the plug with just the 4 contacts each.

We then headed back down roughly in the direction from which we had come, picking up the old track a little earlier. The last 200 metres were again difficult navigating through the scrub, fallen timber and rocky sections. But we emerged from the scrub right beside the car.

We loaded the gear into the car and started heading north. As the afternoon was well advanced and we were all a little tired and wet, we were discussing our options. Were we going to attempt to activate VK3/VE-241? Once we reached the start of McGrath Track, our decision was quickly confirmed: there was a tree of almost a metre in diameter across the track only 100 metres up from the junction! As the tree was beyond the capability of Rik’s small chainsaw and would take considerable effort to clear even if we had a longer bar on the chainsaw, we continued on to Lockhart Gap.

Back at my vehicle, we transferred gear as appropriate.

It had been a damp afternoon in dull light, being in the cloud for most of the afternoon. We had some exercise and had manged to activate three summits, all 6-pointers. Two new uniques for me and three for Rik. John simply enjoyed the exercise.

We said our goodbyes and thanked each other for the afternoon of radio fun, bushwalking and camaraderie. We then headed our separate ways – Rik and John south to Mitta Mitta for the night, and back to Wodonga for me. Overall, a good day of SOTA activity, despite the weather conditions.

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Norfolk Island part III: AGM time

Friday

The day started with another trip into town for another coffee whilst checking email. After lunch, I started entering my paper log into FLE. During the afternoon, further AGM attendees arrived on the flight from Sydney. There was some socialising once people had settled in. There were also some short opportunities to operate from the station set up at the hotel.

Dinner on Friday evening was at the Norfolk Island RSL in Burnt Pine: a good meal with entertainment provided by Trent. Many participated in the RSL raffle. Before dinner, a promotional video of the trip to Phillip Island was shown, but unfortunately not really showing a good view of the saddle between Red Knoll and Jacky Jacky. After the video, there was a significantly smaller number of people still expressing interest in the excursion! Comments were made of a possible visit in the following week, after I had departed for home.

Saturday

Saturday was taken up with the WIA AGM in the morning, with an Open Forum after morning tea. After lunch, there were Conference presentations in two streams. I presented on the progress of SOTA in VK and ZL since the scheme started in VK3 in February 2012. Some of the slides used data presented by Wayne VK3WAM at the February VK3 SOTA gathering – thanks Wayne.

Saturday night was the annual dinner. The keynote speaker was the Honourable Gary Hardgrave, Administrator of Norfolk Island, who spoke about the island’s intriguing history and the challenging times of change ahead. After main course, we were entertained by Doug McVeigh VK0DMV, who gave an illustrated talk about his recent time at Casey Station in the Australian Antarctic, its wildlife, the science conducted, and the cooperation between many nations in sharing their resources on the icy continent.

Sunday

On Sunday morning, I led a group of around 9 up to Mt Bates. We did get a station up and running, despite several issues of gear left behind and an intermittent connection on my dipole. Most of the amateurs in the group were on air – some only on VHF & UHF, but some using the HF set up to qualify the summit for SOTA. I managed to arrange for the gear left behind to be delivered to the summit by the second group coming up to the summit.

Liz VK2XSE Ross VK2VVV Mt Bates

Liz VK2XSE on Mt Bates VK9/NO-001, with Ross VK2VVV watching

Sunday afternoon was initially relatively quiet. I joined Keith VK5OQ/9 for a trip to Mount Pitt, where we set up stations on 3.4 GHz using gear supplied by Roger VK2ZRH/VK9NJ and 10 GHz using gear brought by Keith. With three amateurs on Mt Pitt, we quickly had the systems set up and running, waiting in very windy conditions for the other team to set up. Roger travelled with Ross VK2VVV to Kingston and eventually found a spot near the convict barracks with line of sight to Mount Pitt. Once Roger was set up, we had solid signals on 3.4 GHz over a path of about 5.4 km. There were several amateurs visiting Mt Pitt, with most checking what we were doing. Several had a contact, including WIA President Phil VK2ASD having his first microwave contact. After concluding on 3.4 GHz, contacts were made on 10 GHz, setting an initial distance record for VK9N.

MicrowavesMtPitt

Keith VK5OQ/9, Peter VK5APR/9 and Phil VK2ASD/9 operating 3.4 GHz

Late in the afternoon we jumped on a bus to travel to Puppys Point on the west coast of the Island for a Fish Fry: good local food with entertainment from Trent plus three of the local girls doing traditional island dance, including encouraging some of the punters to join in with some lessons.

After dinner, several of the WIA group went to the Jolly Roger for drinks and further discussions. WIA Director Robert VK3DN joined Matt on stage, playing guitar for a long set and displaying previously hidden talent.

Monday

Monday was time to pack up and await the bus transfer to the airport for the trip home. I almost left my toiletries bag behind…. The return journey was straight forward, with a little time to kill in Sydney after clearing Customs & Immigration and transferring to the domestic terminal. I arrived back in Melbourne at about 2000 and met my friends for a lift back to their home for the night. I then returned home on Tuesday.

Overall a good relaxing trip, with some SOTA and WWFF activations included. I largely avoided the tourist tours. It was great to catch up with many amateurs that I had not seen for some time. In addition to the social interactions, of course I had visited Mt Bates VK9/NO-001 on three occasions and had enough contacts over the week to qualify the VKFF reference for another Park activated.

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Norfolk Island continued

Tuesday

Tuesday was an easy day: our package included a morning orientation tour of the Island.

The tour headed down toward Kingston, with a stop at the Queen Elizabeth Lookout for some great views over the historic area of Kingston and south to Nepean Island not far off shore and Phillip Island a little further (about 6km). After some photos were taken, we drove down through Kingston, past the Governor’s residence, the cemetery and onto to “The Bloody Bridge”. We then retraced our route back to the Kingston site and to the Pier, then around Emily Bay to Point Hunter for another photo opportunity.

KingstonOverview

Overview of Kingston

The next part of the trip took as back toward Burnt Pine, past our hotel and out Cascade Road to the Cascade Pier, the alternate landing site for boats. We then travel back through Burnt Pine and around the airport to reach our morning tea spot.

The trip continued along Headstone Road to St Barnabas Church, with its spectacular stained glass windows.

StBarnabasAlter

The Alter at St Barnabas Church

We then travelled out toward Anson Point to view the rugged west coast, together with a view of the NDB and the old telegraph cable station as we drove on. It was back toward Burnt Pine to return to the hotel.

 

WestCoastView

A view of Anson Bay

Several of us left the bus at the Island’s only roundabout, in Burnt Pine. I did some window shopping around Burnt Pine plus buying some WiFi access, which did not work at the Hotel! I walked back to the hotel and bought a sandwich for a late lunch. The Hotel has its own WiFi payment system, based on time connected – forget to log off and your time will quickly disappear. There were also reports from others that the system was slow. On Tuesday afternoon I had some social chats with other amateurs at the hotel, plus worked several stations on the Island toward the WIA Norfolk Island Award – requiring 20 contacts for those amateurs on the Island with other amateurs on the Island.

Another good meal was had at the hotel on Tuesday evening with several of the other amateurs.

Wednesday

On Wednesday morning I took the courtesy bus into Burnt Pine and visited a café for a coffee and to check emails. Reading emails was interrupted several times by meeting amateurs who wanted to chat.

Lunch was at the Governors Lodge Hotel, across the road from our hotel. Ten dollars for a yummy curry dish with rice, poppadum and a little salad. The group started off as Ron VK3AFW, Ruth and myself, but quickly grew to include Paul VK5PAS, Marija VK5FMAZ and Luke VK3HJ.

Mid-afternoon, Ron VK3AFW asked if I wished to join him for his scheduled activation of Mt Bates – he had hoped for some long path contacts into Europe.

Mt Bates, mark II

I started off from Mt Pitt a few minutes ahead of Ron and was set up on Mt Bates by time Ron arrived. I quickly worked 7 VK stations and a ZL before the receiver was blanketed by a strong signal – clearly Ron had activated his tuner to get a good antenna match. I switched to 2 m FM to work some more stations on Norfolk and then spent about 45 minutes calling on 15 m with only one contact to JA. Norfolk Island has only 2G mobile coverage, so I had no capability of spotting myself. Ron worked stations on 20 m CW. I worked a few more on 2 m FM, plus 70 cm FM via the VK9RNI repeater which had been installed by Fred VK9DAC – not valid for SOTA, but valid for the Norfolk Island Award. We started packing up at just after 0600 UTC and finished to walk back to the car in the dark.

VK3AFW_9

Ron VK3AFW/9 activating Mt Bates on 20 m CW

Later, I joined Heath VK3TWO/9, Monique VK6FMON/9, Paul VK9PAS and Marija VK5FMAZ for dinner at The Jolly Roger: great food and excellent live music. At dinner, we met a local singer/musician Trent Christian, who has held the call VK9TC, but has let the licence lapse. Trent is a direct descendant of the famous Christian family and has also held an amateur callsign on Pitcairn Island. We chatted with Trent for a while before allowing him to focus back to his wife and friends. Later Trent played and sung a set from up on the stage.

The entertainment was excellent, as was the food: definitely a recommended place to eat.

Thursday

Another morning trip into town: I first stopped at The Pioneers clothing store at the roundabout to order an embroidered baseball cap with my name & callsign. The cap was ordered at about 0945 and ready to pick up at 1115, with plenty of time for the courtesy bus pick up at 1130. In between, I did more window shopping and checked email over a coffee at The Olive Café.

In the afternoon, I was invited to join Paul VK5PAS and Marija VK5FMAZ for a trip out to the north of the Island to visit the VK9NT team, together with Heath and Monique. The VK9NT team had antennas tied off at impressive heights up into the nearby Norfolk Island Pine trees. With the nearest neighbour several hundred metres away and the mains power delivered underground, radio conditions were without any local interference. The site was within a couple of hundred metres of the edge of the cliff, with the ocean beyond.

After looking over the site and some photos being taken, we retired inside, where there was much discussion over tea, coffee and cake before we headed back to town.

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A trip to Norfolk Island

On the last weekend of May 2016, the WIA held its Annual General Meeting and Conference on Norfolk Island VK9N and OC-005.

I booked a package tour via the WIA.

I left Melbourne on Sunday 22 May, flying to Sydney for an overnight stay, given the early check in required for the 0940 departure of the flight to Norfolk the following morning.

As I disembarked the Airport Transfer bus, I saw Ron VK3AFW and his wife Ruth. I said hello & we progressed to Check In and then had breakfast in a nearby eatery. It was then off to Customs, followed by a wait in the terminal prior to be called for boarding – which involved a bus trip out to the aircraft.

The flight to Norfolk was uneventful, with a reasonable lunch provided by Air New Zealand. As we approached Norfolk, we did a right turn, followed by a loop around Phillip Island, situated 6 km south of Norfolk Island. This loop was required to line us up with the runway, and afforded excellent views of Phillip Island.

Jacky Jacky VK9/NO-002 280 m 1 point NYA

The views included an outstanding look at VK9/NO-002, which has still yet to be activated. Several SOTA tragics had expressed interest in a trip to Phillip Island with the goal of reaching Jacky Jacky for an activation. We were aware of the need to travel to the island by boat:

To access Jacky Jacky, you will first need suitable weather and sea conditions for the boat trip to Phillip Island. The entire island is part of the Norfolk Island National Park (NP), with an approved guide required to accompany those wishing to land.

Landing involves jumping of the bow of the boat onto a rocky shore – surefootedness is a prerequesite. It is then a steep climb up off the shore.

One would then need to climb to the top of Red Knoll and then descend into the saddle between Red Knoll and Jacky Jacky. From reports from the NP rangers, no one has been to Jacky Jacky since the early 1980s. A view of the summit approach was had on our aircraft landing approach to land on Norfolk Island – there appears to be a steep cliff on the Red Knoll side of the saddle.

Maps and Google Earth are not of much assistance in determining the saddle depth, due to the steep cliffs on most sides of the summit and east and west of Red Knoll, known to confuse the SRTM system.

The Geosciences Australia Map shows cliffs on all sides of Jacky Jacky and only a small number of contours, none having height shown.

It certainly looks impressive! Technical rock climbing skills and equipment will be required, a fact which was confirmed later in the week by one of the National Park Rangers. Plans for a possible expedition later in the week were subsequently cancelled due to the weather and sea conditions. Although I had expressed interest in getting to Phillip Island, I was now less interested, having seen the required approach from the air.

PhillipIsland

Phillip Island during our approach to Norfolk. Note the deep notch between Jacky Jacky to the left and Red Knoll to the right of the saddle/notch: rock climbing will be required, or a helicopter.

Norfolk Island arrival

Having landed and passed through the incoming immigration checks (Australian citizens required a passport when we travelled, although this requirement will disappear from 1 July 2016), we were directed to a transfer bus for the short trip to the Paradise Hotel. At the hotel, we had a refreshing juice cocktail plus scones with jam and cream awaiting us. We received a short briefing and then we handed our keys, with our bags being delivered to our rooms whilst the formalities occurred – too easy.

I had decided to wait until later in the week to consider if I should hire a car. In the end, I did not, but got around OK thanks to others and the courtesy bus into town.

It all happened much faster than expected, so I soon had myself sorted out in my room. I set up my SOTA antenna off the balcony outside my room, but found that I had S8-9 noise!

A little later I again ran into Ron VK3AFW, who invited me to join him for a trip to reconnoitre Mt Bates VK9/NO-001. Ron had his hire car paperwork done and the car keys. I quickly grabbed my backpack, camera and VHF/UHF handheld and we headed off a short while later.

Mount Bates VK9/NO-001 319 m 2 points

The approach to Mt Bates is simple: drive to the carpark near the top of Mt Pitt, park & load up the gear. Find the walking path near the start of the road loop around the knoll below the true summit and follow the path. The walk is about 800 m, with a drop of around 35 m into the first of 2 saddles, with an elongated knoll between the 2 saddles. It is then a steep climb up to the summit of Mt Bates.

The walking route starts on gravelled path and then onto board walk before you move on to a grassed track, which can be slippery when wet.

As we approached the summit, I could someone working a pile up: Heath VK3TWO/9 was already up and running. When we were close to the summit, we could see Pail VK5PAS/VK9PAS setting up his station about 30 m from Heath.

We took in the views over the Island. When Paul was set up, Heath changed bands to 40 m and Paul took over the frequency on 20 m. Ron worked a small number of stations on the island on 2 m FM. Monique VK6FMON/9 and Marija VK5FMAZ/9 also got into the action on 40 m. After working several stations and qualifying the summit, Paul invited Ron to use his station to qualify the summit. Soon it was my turn, with 15 stations in the log in around 15 minutes of operating on 20 m. Areas worked were VK 2, 3, 4, 5, N7 and W5.

MoniqueVK6FMON_MtBatesS

Monique VK6FMON/9 operating on Mt Bates.

Shortly after, we started to pack up and head back: Norfolk time is 11 hours ahead of UTC and probably should be 11.5 hours ahead, so local time was already 1630. It is dark by shortly after 1700!

Further happenings on arrival day

We headed back to the hotel. Later I had dinner in the restaurant together with Ron, Ruth and Neill ZL1TAJ from NZART. After dinner, it was time to relax and have an early night.

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ANZAC Day Monday 25 April 2016

ANZAC Day is one of the regular dates when Australian amateurs can swap their VK prefix for the AX prefix. The weather forecast was again reasonable, but with moderate winds predicted.

The Geelong Amateur Radio Club (GARC) was promoting a 3.4 GHz Activity Day, with many amateurs located on high sites around Melbourne and Geelong, most equipped with the transformed Subscriber Panel units that the GARC had acquired and sold to amateurs. I have one of these units partly transformed, but also have a more substantial system, so decided to head to Mount Tassie to try my luck with 3.4 GHz.

Mount Tassie VK3/VT-046 752 m 4 points

I arrived at the lookout point near the northern transmission towers at around 0000 UTC. I set up the offset dish and the 3.4 GHz transverter near the compass rose and made a couple of telephone calls to amateurs that I thought would be participating in the Activity Day. Neither of the amateurs were able to hear my signal despite attempts over about 40 minutes. Most of the activity was being coordinated via the Mt Anakie repeater, which I could not access.

I decided to give up on 9 cm for a while, as a Spot had just come through for a SOTA summit. I quickly set up the HF station and worked Ian AX5CZ/p on VK5/SE-004 for a S2S. I then moved to a clear frequency and started calling. Several minutes later I worked Hugh AX5NHG/p on VK5/SE-010, with Glenn VK3YY/p on VK3/VT-001 a couple of minutes later. After working Glenn, I had a string of callers almost all together, when the phone rang. I quickly advised that I would finish up on 40 m and set up the 9 cm station shortly – I would call them back when ready to go. So the 40 m callers were worked and then I packed up the HF station.

I returned to the previous site and once again set up the 9 cm station, using the same FT-817 as the transverter driver. I called David VK3QM and we tweaked dish pointing to optimise the signals. David and I agreed that we unlikely to complete a contact on voice, given the weak signals at both ends. David noted that he would contact Chas VK3PY who had a more capable system. Several minutes later, David called back on the phone and we started liaison with Chas. The result was a completed contact at 0207 UTC on 3400.150 MHz SSB over a distance of about 208 km. The gear at my end was SOTA compliant, so I now had an Activator contact to claim a SOTA/UK Microwave Group certificate for 200 km on 3.4 GHz.

After the contact was completed, I packed up and headed for home for some lunch.

Overall, a very satisfying weekend.

AX3PF_uWaveRed_3G4_200km_S

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Wilsons Promontory Marine National Park VKFF-0956

Sunday 24 April 2016

Whilst the Wilsons Promontory National Park VKFF-0539 has been activated several times, it appears that the Marine National Park has had only a single previous activation, one which I missed as a Hunter. Logsearch showed that only 12 contacts had been made from the Park, so demand was likely to be high.

I had spent several hours on Saturday at an EZARC working bee, helping to erect 40 m of fencing near the clubroom. I returned home mid-afternoon and did a little chasing. My guests arrived back late after attending a concert and we chatted for far too long, resulting in hitting the pillow well after midnight. As a result, it was a slow start on Sunday morning, with the guests departing close to 0030 UTC. The weather forecast for the day was excellent – fine weather, low 20s temperature and light breezes.

I quickly got organised and loaded the radio gear into the car. I headed off via Boolarra, Meeniyan, Fish Creek and on to Tidal River. After parking the car, it was a case of loading up the pack and walking down the length of Norman Bay beach to reach the southern end, which marks the northern boundary of the Marine National Park (MNP).

I set up underneath some shrubs on the edge of the beach which offered some shade. I was less than 20 m from the high water mark at the MNP boundary. I tied the squid pole to some vegetation and strung out the linked dipole, keeping it to the edge of the vegetation.

Operating site

Operating site for VKFF-0956

Marine National Park sign

Marine National Park sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the station was assembled, I checked the mobile phone – zero coverage! I turned on the radio and dialled up 7.144 MHz, to find Tony VK3VTH/p activating Hepburn Springs Regional Park VKFF-0619. Tony was very happy to be my first contact. I then moved down the band and worked Rob VK4AAC/3 in Alpine National Park VKFF-0619 not far from Falls Creek. As I was finishing the contact with Rob, someone called for me to move to 7.095. It was John VK2YW. Others clearly heard the call, plus John spotted me on ParksnPeaks. So began the dogpile! I had 20 stations logged in less than 15 minutes, including Paul VK3HN/p on VK3/VN-002. The caller intensity eased a little, but continued at a steady pace.

Throughout the afternoon there was a steady stream of walkers passing by: the operating site was at the junction of the Oberon Bay Walking Track and the beach route, with many visitors walking around Norman Point to Little Oberon Bay or beyond. I received many odd glances and several people stopped to ask about my activities, which I was happy to explain.

Other notable contacts included Steve VK5SFA/p in Morialta Conservation Park VKFF-0783, Bob VK3BNC/p in Brisbane Ranges National Park VKFF-0055 and Compton VK2HRX/p on VK2/CT-032. After about two hours of operating, I tried 20 m, with two callsigns worked. With 56 contacts in the log (54 uniques), I decided to pack up and head back to the car.

I slowly worked my way back toward the Park entrance, stopping to work a couple of SOTA stations. Traffic was reasonably solid – it was a long weekend and the weather fine, so patience was required.

I headed for Fish Creek.

Mt Hoddle VK3/VT-076

As I approached Fish Creek, I decided to head east to climb up to park beneath Mt Hoddle VK3/VT-076. I have previously activated this summit, but there were a couple of Alerts out for likely SOTA activations, so I decided to hope for some S2S contacts.

I climbed up to the summit, a climb of about 135 m with 35 m climb, and set up near the trig. The signage refers to the summit as Mt Nicholl, yet the VicMap sheets have it as Mount Hoddle. I was on-air just after 0700 UTC, and first in the log was Glenn VK3YY/p on VK3/VT-004 for a S2S. I promptly moved to 20 m and spotted myself, having good phone coverage. I then worked a string of European stations, all at good strength. Also worked were ZL1BYZ, John VK6NU and Jon VK6JON/4. Amongst the Europeans was Danny ON4VT, one of the key people in the WWFF organisation. Unfortunately, I did not recognise the callsign at the time – sorry Danny! The band seemed to close at around 0727 UTC, with no further responses to my calls. 17 contacts on 20 m were in the log.

As the calls of CQ were raising no more responses, I moved back to 40 m and spent several minutes chatting with local Chris VK3QB, only seven kilometres away below the summit. Next was another S2S with Gerard VK2IO/p on VK2/SY-001, followed by Paul VK5PAS. Amongst the string of callers on 40 m was Allen VK3ARH/p on VK3/VC-018 for another S2S. The final tally was 37 contacts worked. I packed up after sunset and carefully made my way back down to the car and headed for home.

Sunset from Mt Hoddle

Sunset from Mt Hoddle

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