Like so many events during 2020, the annual Keith Roget Memorial National Parks Award (KRMNPA) Activity Weekend was cancelled due to the COVID19 pandemic and the associated restrictions.
The main driver of the KRMNPA for several years has been Tony VK3XV / VK3VTH. Tony announced a deferred event for the weekend of 10 and 11 April 2021 for the tenth running of the event. We were lucky, with no lockdowns in place and restrictions at an easy to comply level.
Tony announced some rules for a planned promotional Operating Award, with an award for Activators and one for Hunters. The special award was to run for the 48 hours of 0000 EST (1400 UTC Friday) Saturday to 2359 EST (1359 UTC Saturday) Sunday. Operators were free to operate outside the local Saturday and Sunday, but any such activities would not be eligible for consideration for the special awards.
It has been some time since I qualified for the KRMNPA Grand Slam – way back in April 2014! The Grand Slam means that I had worked other amateurs in all 45 Victorian National Parks and I had activated all 45 Parks. Playing radio out in the field is most enjoyable (as long as the weather is not extremely unpleasant) and as such, I like to support the activity weekends, so considered my options for the tenth event.
I know that many of the National Parks in East Gippsland are rarely activated. On the downside, several of those Parks are still closed following the Black Summer fires which impacted the area in late 2019 and early 2020. Tackling the Parks which were open would require longer drives between Parks.
Another option was several Parks in Gippsland. The weather forecast made my decision relatively easy: I would head to north east Victoria for a brief visit with family and then activate several Parks in northern Victoria on Saturday. The forecast for south of the Great Dividing Range was for a very wet, cold and windy weekend, whilst conditions would be much milder north of the Great Dividing Range. I would need to cope with the weather as I traversed back to Gippsland on Sunday.
Friday 9 April 2021
I organised my gear and loaded the car before heading off late in the morning. I drove west to Nilma, and then headed to Neerim South, Powelltown, Healesville and onward to Alexandra. I then headed to Goschnicks Lookout on Skyline Road, Devils River. I made a brief stop along the way to work Marija VK5MAZ/3 in VKFF-2123 on 40 m SSB.
Lake Eildon National Park VKFF-0625
Goschnicks Lookout is well inside the boundary of the National Park. I kept the activation very simple by operating from the car, using the IC-706MKIIG and the Hampark antenna mounted on the bullbar.
Almost immediately up parking the vehicle, I worked Peter VK3TKK in VKFF-2204. I moved to find a clear frequency and spotted myself. First in the log was Marty VK4KC. I soon had my VKFF quota of 10 contacts, ending up with 11 contacts in the log in less than 15 minutes. I packed up the gear and headed back to Alexandra and then drove around to Bonnie Doon.
A radiosonde provides a break from the drive
I had checked the last position fix for the radiosonde launched from Melbourne Airport on Friday morning: RS_S4620266. I diverted to a spot on Royaltown Road Maindample and set up my receiving system and soon had a position fix on the ‘sonde – about 800 m away across private property.
I drove around to Maroondah Highway and stopped at the entrance gate to a quarry, located north of the position fix. I rang the contact number on one of the signs at the gate and explained myself to Brendan. He gave permission to enter and to attempt to recover the radiosonde. I stopped part of the way to the quarry to work Peter VK3TKK in VKFF-2036 on 80 m SSB. I continued on to the quarry and followed the track further south, then west and headed south up a spur to park at a fence. I climbed over the fence and up the hill to find the radiosonde well up the steep hillside, about 50 m higher in altitude than my first position decode. (Note to self: acquire a new position fix as close as possible to the ‘sonde!)
I recovered the ‘sonde, the reflector and balloon remnants and headed back to the car. I then drove back out to the gate and again called Brendan to confirm that I was out and that I had locked the gate – the workers had left the site, closed the gate but not snapped the locked closed. I thanked Brendan for the permission to access the site and then continued north to Benalla, then up the Hume Highway. I managed to work Hans VK3XN/p in VKFF-2843 along the way.
I diverted to Beechworth to drop a small package off to Geoff VK3SQ, and then continued to Wodonga. I first visited my youngest brother for a catch up and then headed to Mum’s place for the night.
Saturday 10 April 2021
I packed the gear into the vehicle and headed off towards my first target. I stopped to fill the fuel tank on the outskirts of Wodonga and then drove to Chiltern and around to Lappins Track Cornishtown. I drove a few hundred metres into the Park until I found a spot to set up.
Chiltern – Mount Pilot National Park VKFF-0620
I soon had a line over a tree branch and the doublet centre suspended about 9 m above ground. I set up the IC-7300 on the tailgate of the Ranger and was soon spotted and calling on 40 m SSB. When I started the logging app, I noticed that I had missed Tony VK3XV in Kara Kara National Park. (Note to self: Consider firing up the logging app before starting the trip so that you will receive Spots whilst in transit!)
40 m SSB yielded 22 contacts, including a Park to Park with Gerard VK2IO/p in VKFF-0056. I moved to 80 m SSB and worked two stations. I next moved to 40 m CW, where I worked four stations. Several times I called Rob VK4AAC/3 in Lower Goulburn NP, but Rob was apparently not hearing me. He was weak at my location, but just workable.
I ended up with 28 contacts, including only one Park to Park.
I closed just after UTC midnight and packed up.
I drove out to the Chiltern – Rutherglen Road and drove to Rutherglen, then headed west on the Murray Valley Highway to Brimin. Just after crossing the Ovens River, I swung left onto Camerons Track and parked near a track junction a short distance to the south. Here I had marginal mobile ‘phone coverage whilst being well inside the Park boundary.
Warby – Ovens National Park VKFF-0742
I again tossed a line over a tree branch and hauled up the centre of the doublet. I was soon set up and spotted for 80 m CW. First in the log was Gerard VK2IO/p, still in VKFF-0056. I worked another three callsigns before I had no further replies to CQ calls. I moved to 80 m SSB, where I worked three stations. I then moved to 40 m SSB to chase Paul VK5PAS/3 and Marija VK5MAZ/p in VKFF-0373. I moved to 40 m CW and made only a single contact.
I moved to 40 m SSB, where I first chased Tony VK3YV in VKFF-0020. I then found a clear frequency and spotted. I worked 9 stations in reasonable time, including Gerard VK2IO/p once again and John VK2AWJ/P in VKFF-0231. I then moved around the band to chase Mark VK4SMA/p in VKFF-1621 and James VK2TER/P in VKFF-0550. I had worked 22 stations in around an hour.
I packed up and headed back to the main road, then headed west.
I drove across to Numurkah to buy some lunch and then on to Barmah and into the Park.
Barmah National Park VKFF-0739
I parked just south of the day visitor area, close to the junction of Broken Creek and Murray River. I soon had a line over a tree branch and the doublet in the air. I again set up the radio on the tailgate.
I started the activation on 40 m SSB by chasing Tony VK3YV/p in VKFF-0623, and Paul VK5PAS3 and Marija VK5MAZ/p in VKFF-0373. I moved to find 7.144 MHz free, so I spotted and started calling. I worked 25 contacts, including Allen VK3ARH in VKFF-0630, Gerard VK2IO/p in VKFF-0417 and Stuart VK3UAO in VKFF-0627. I did some quick moving around the band to chase Bryan VK3LF in VKFF-0556, VK2TER/p in VKFF-0550 and Joe VK3SRC in VKFF-0628. I returned to 7.144 and worked another four stations. I tried 20 m SSB and worked one ZL and one VK6 station.
I closed and packed up, with 37 stations in the log. I could have persevered to work another 7 stations to reach 44, but I wanted to move to the next park.
I drove back to Barmah, south to Stewarts Bridge Road and around to the next park.
Lower Goulburn National Park VKFF-0741
I parked not far from the Park sign, off Stewarts Bridge Road Lower Moira. I again set up with a line over a tree branch and the radio on the tailgate.
I started by chasing Warren VK3BYD/P in VKFF-0620 on 40 m CW. I moved up to 40 m SSB to chase Gerard VK2IO/p in VKFF-0417 and then found a clear frequency. I worked 24 more stations, including Joe VK3SRC/p in VKFF-0628, Bill VK3CWF in VKFF-0055, Paul VK5PAS/3 and Marija VK5MAZ/p in VKFF-0373 and Allen VK3ARH in VKFF-0740. When I had no further callers, I closed down and packed up, with a total of 27 in the log. I had attempted to work Rob VK4AAC/3 several times across the day, but the propagation was not working on 40 m or above and Rob did not come up on 80 m.
I returned to the road and continued to the west, working my way through Echuca and on to Torrumbarry, then north on Headworks Road and on to River Track.
Gunbower National Park VKFF-0740
I moved around to a spot where I was clearly inside the National Park. Care is required here, as north of River Track is the Murray River Reserve, not the National Park, plus the south side of the Track does not mark the Park boundary. I saw no Park sign for the National Park, but the mapping showed that my chosen site was inside the Park boundary.
I set up as I had earlier in the day. I started by chasing Chris VK1CT/p in VKFF-0862 on 40 m CW, followed by Paul VK5PAS/3 in VKFF-0373 and Gerard VK2IO/p in VKFF-0417. I found a clear frequency and started calling, with the first caller being Tony VK3YV/p in VKFF-0624. Another 14 stations followed in only 10 minutes.
I moved to 40 m CW and worked seven stations in 10 minutes. I then moved to 80 m SSB to chase Bill VK3CWF/p in VKFF-0055. I moved to a clear frequency and worked six stations in six minutes. With 32 stations in log, I closed down and packed up.
I travelled back to Torrumbarry, then a short distance to the east to then head south. I was soon heading west to look at two of the easternmost sections of the next Park.
Terrick Terrick National Park VKFF-0630
I decided to set up in the Torrumbarry Grasslands section of the Park just west of the Patho Plains Railway Nature Conservation Reserve at Roslynmead. There was a wide gap between the gate post and the gate, with the heavy chain only half way up the gate, making it easy to step over the chain.
I grabbed the KX3, a squid pole, the antenna and a battery. I lashed the squid pole to a fence post and soon had the station set up as the sun disappeared below the horizon.
I simply sat on the edge of a track inside the fence. I started on 80 m SSB, chasing Paul VK5PAS/3 and Marija VK5MAZ/p in VKFF-0373. I moved up the band and spotted. I was called by Bill VK3CWF/p in VKFF-0055, plus another eight stations. I moved to 40 m SSB and quickly worked eight stations before I closed – the light was fading rapidly! I had a total of 19 stations in the log.
I quickly packed up and loaded the gear into the car. I then headed south to Elmore, but nothing appeared to be open which might offer a quick service meal. I continued to Bendigo for a brief stop to grab a meal. I then drove around into a section of the next Park in Junortoun.
Greater Bendigo National Park VKFF-0623
I found spot to park beside Wildflower Drive. It was dark and raining, so I decided to operate from the car with the mobile whip. I started by chasing John VK5HAA/p in VKFF-1743 on 80 m CW. I moved to a clear frequency and spotted. Gerard VK2IO/m was the first chaser, followed by another four callers. I then moved to 80 m SSB to work three stations. I then moved to 40 m SSB, first chasing John VK5HAA/p again. I moved to 7.144 MHz to work two VK4 stations. Next I again chased John VK5HAA/p again, this time on 40 m CW. I moved down to 80 m SSB again and chased five stations in the QRP Club QRP Hours Contest. I then found a clear frequency and worked another five stations.
With 23 stations in the log, I closed and moved the gear so that it was safe for driving.
I drove back to the McIvor Highway and then to Heathcote, then north and around to Mt Ida Road and up to the turnaround area just below the summit. I looked around and selected a spot to set up the tent. I soon had the tent up; just in time before another rain shower arrived. I was feeling weary, so decided to activate in the morning.
A total of 188 contacts were made for the day, with approximately 500 km travelled.
Sunday 11 April 2021
The night was very blustery, with the wind rattling the tent all night, plus the occasional shower. In addition, one of the local vineyards had a bird scare gun going all night, with regular loud “bang-bang” sounds heard. Plus it was cold, with a low of only 3 or 4 degrees. I was reasonably comfortable, but all the noises were disturbing.
Heathcote-Graytown National Park VKFF-0624
Mount Ida VK3/VU-009 450m 1 point
I was awake early. No rain fell during the activation, but the wind was strong and gusting. Air temperature was around 4 degrees, so the wind chill made the apparent temperature quite low. I packed the gear and tent and soon had a line over a nearby tree branch and the station set up in a SOTA-compliant configuration: KX3 powered by a LiFePO4 battery, sitting on a folding table, plus a camp chair for me. The observations for Redesdale (about 23 km away and at a somewhat lower altitude) showed the “Feels Like” temperature as around 1 degree when I started calling.
I called for some time before my first response, despite having spotted myself. Calls on 80 m SSB went unanswered. I tried 80 m CW, again with no responses. I moved to 40 m CW, with the first response coming from ZL several minutes later. With no further responses, I moved to 20 m CW and worked another ZL station. After several more minutes of unsuccessful calling, I returned to 40 m CW and finally had some success: four contacts over 10 minutes, including a Park to Park with John VK5HAA/p in VKFF-1743. I next moved to 40 m SSB and I worked 6 stations, including another contact with John VK5HAA/p. I moved to 80 m SSB and worked five stations, including John VK5HAA/p. My last contact was another Park to Park, this time with Joe running VK3SRC in VKFF-0333.
I decided to call it quits, with 20 contacts in the log. I packed up and descended into Heathcote, with a stop at the Bakery for some breakfast and coffee.
I then headed south towards Kyneton and the Calder Highway, with the next stop at the next Park. The closer I drove towards Melbourne, the darker grey became the clouds!
Organ Pipes National Park VKFF-0627
I drove in to the car park and parked close to the southern end. On arrival, there were few cars present, with most parked at the northern end, close to Visitor Centre.
I soon had the doublet up in the air thanks to a selected tree branch; with the doublet out of reach should anyone come close. I had the antenna up and connected to the IC706MKIIG just before the next shower arrived. I operated from within the car.
I was about to spot when I saw a couple of spots, so I soon had two Park to Park contacts in the log on 40 m SSB: VK2IO/p in VKFF-0049 and Joe VK3SRC in VKFF-0333. I moved up the band to above where the WIA broadcasts occur and spotted. I worked 12 stations in 13 minutes, including Paul VK5PAS/3 and Marija VK5MAZ/p in VKFF-0231. The next call was CW, a little unexpected. I announced for people to standby and retrieved my paddle from the rear of the vehicle. I soon had VK2MZ in the log on CW, followed by SSB. With no further replies to my calls, I dropped down to 80 m SSB and chased Paul and Marija for two more Park to Park contacts. I moved up the band a little, spotted and started calling. I worked 10 stations over about 25 minutes, including a Park to Park contact with Allen VK3ARH in VKFF-0739. I moved down to 80 m CW to again chase Allen VK3ARH. I returned to my previous frequency for one more SSB contact. My final contact was another Park to Park, this time with Tony VK3YV/p in VKFF-0539.
With 29 contacts in the log, I packed up and started the next driving leg: back onto the Calder and in towards Melbourne, through the Tunnel and out the Monash Freeway to Heatherton Road and around to the next Park. As I was driving in, I spotted a familiar vehicle, so pulled in to park nearby and say hello to Joe VK3YSP and Julie VK3FOWL. I was aware that they had planned to be in the same park that afternoon, but I was unsure of the timing.
Churchill National Park VKFF-0621
After some greetings, I helped Joe a little with setting up his antenna: his throw bag was over a good high branch, but had landed in a very prickly bush! Once we had the throw bag freed, I left Joe and Julie to finish setting up and drove to another car park, a little under 100 m away. Less than desirable separation, but we gave it a try! We had set up liaison via 2 m FM. I started by chasing Gerard VK2IO/p in VKFF-VKFF-1908 and Paul VK5PAS/3 and Marija VK5MAZ/p in VKFF-VKFF-0231. I found a clear frequency and spotted. I made 36 contacts over the next 30 minutes, including Park to Park contacts with Adam VK2YK/5 in VKFF-1744, Pete VK2FPAR in VKFF-2786 and Tony VK3YV/p in VKFF-0539. I moved to 40 m CW and made two contacts. Next I went to 80 m SSB, where I made six contacts, including another Park to Park with Tony VK3YV/p.
I had 45 contacts in the log, so closed down and packed up. I drove out of the Park and called Joe and Julie on 2 m FM and soon had Joe VK3SRC in the log for a chase of the Park.
I then drove towards the north. The weather and a little tiredness led me to the decision to change my plan. I headed east to a section of the next Park not far from the Puffing Billy station in Belgrave.
Dandenong Ranges National Park VKFF-0132
The weather was terrible: the wind had increased in strength and it was raining heavily. I decided on an operation from the car. The mobile whip was set for 40 m, so I started by chasing Park to Park contacts, yielding John VK5HAA/p in VKFF-0926, Adam VK2YK/5 in VKFF-1738, Marija VK5MAZ/p and Paul VK5PAS/3 in VKFF-0231, Peter VK3ZPF in VKFF-0480 and Tony VK3XV/p in VKFF-0620. Tony was about to close, due to heavy rain. I waited until after he had closed and started calling on the now vacant frequency.
I spotted and worked nine stations in ten minutes. With no more callers, I changed to 80 m SSB to work a friend in Gippsland. I rearranged the gear and set off towards home, travelling south towards Hallam to reach the Monash and then headed east.
Along the way, I managed to chase Brett VK3MCA/p in VKFF-2043 and Hans VK6XN in VKFF-0639.
As I was approaching Morwell, I decided to activate one more Park, so headed to my favourite spot near Jumbuk.
Morwell National Park VKFF-0626
I parked the car inside the Park boundary, just off Jumbuk Road. My timing was lucky – one shower had just finished and I was able to set up the doublet and connect to the IC706MKIIG before the next shower arrived.
I soon called Peter VK3ZPF/p in Tarra Bulga National Park VKFF-0480 on 80 m SSB. Peter’s signal was big, not surprising as he was probably less than 20 kilometres from my location across a relatively open path! Once we had a quick chat, Peter offered me the frequency as he was closing. He worked Rodney VK7HAM as his last contact. I also worked Rodney for a quick and easy contact. I spotted and started calling. I soon had another five contacts in the log before a group started up with big signals only 4 kHz below me. I moved up the band and again spotted. I worked seven stations in 10 minutes, including Nik VK3ZK/p in VKFF-0745. I moved to 40 m SSB and worked six stations before closing.
I had 19 contacts in the log. I packed up and headed for home after calling a local Chinese restaurant and ordering some take away. With the road very slippery following the rain and lots of fallen leaf and bark litter, I took it easy on the descent from my operating location.
Including the contacts made from the vehicle when between Parks, I made 130 contacts for the day.
I was tired yet satisfied once I arrived home. The plan had worked reasonably well, given the weather conditions south of the divide for the entire weekend. I experienced mild conditions on Saturday, whilst south of the Divide conditions were wet and cold. Sunday saw me move to the south and into the colder, wet and windy conditions. Those conditions and some tiredness meant that I modified my plans, with a benefit of reaching home earlier than originally planned. I know that I missed several Activators over the weekend and thus missed some Parks. It can be difficult to keep track of all the Spots coming through on ParksnPeaks when you are busy on air or busy driving between sites!
Thanks to all the Activators and Hunters who participated over the weekend.