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Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 48, May 2010

Vale Paul Benjafield. When I returned home after my recent trip to Karijini and Perth, I was hit with the news that one of my best guides and a good friend was dead, age 31.

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In this issue

Vale Paul Benjafield

Paul Benjafield

Where do I begin? It's hard to know, so forgive me if I ramble.

I first met Paul in 2003 when he approached me asking about possible work as a guide. I was impressed from the start, all the more so when he accompanied me on one of our family walks in April 2004. The children loved him — and so did their parents. He led his first trip as a solo guide shortly afterwards. Right from the start, I had nothing but great reports. When it comes to guiding, Paul was as good as it gets.

Paul was a talented photographer. He did a fair bit of freelance work for the press -- at least one of his photos made the front page of The Australian. Press photography was one thing, fine art nature photography was one of his true loves. I don't know how long it will remain up, but Paul's Wildprint website shows some of his best work. Click on "Open Edition Panoramic Prints" on the top menu, then on the photo to see the selection. Paul was the inspiration for the Kakadu and Nitmiluk Photo trip in our program. Sadly, he never got to lead it himself.

Another of Paul's loves was fishing. He wanted me to organise a trip which combined bushwalking with some serious fishing -- serious as opposed to the simple fishing that's a feature of some of our Kimberley trips. That never did happen. Perhaps it never will.

Yet another of Paul's loves was diving. This is what got him in the end. The ABC news story shows a picture of Paul with a fish and a smile -- a good way to remember him.
I don't know how long the link will stay live. If it doesn't work for you, let me know and I'll send you a copy of the story.

For those who would like to remember Paul, I've put together a small gallery of photos and comments.

If anyone has any messages they would like to pass along to Paul's family and his partner Dao, please send them to me and I'll send them along.

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Facebook — Moving With The Times

There's not much there yet, but Tracey Dixon, the designer of this website, has created a Willis's Walkabouts Facebook page.
Come and add me as a friend.

People who have done trips can post comments and photos. You can use it to talk to others who have done trips. Probably a lot more that I haven't worked out yet. Given time, this could become a great way to communicate.

Thanks Tracey and thanks to anyone who helps make this work.

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South Africa — You Don't Know What You're Missing

Just after I guaranteed departure for a group of six, two of them had to cancel. That leaves a very small group so I thought it would be worth while explaining a bit more about the trip.

No other tour operator offers anything like this. We combine a series of walks of up to six days with a few of the more touristy attractions. We take you on great walks, some of which remain relatively unknown, even to South Africans. Do a Google Search for "Arangieskop Trail" and see for yourself.

The South Africa trip notes contain lots of links to other sites so you can get an incredible amount of information about the different places we'll be going. Try and find another operator who gives you this much information.

We free ourselves from public transport hassles by hiring cars and keeping them for the duration of the trip. That gives us a freedom unmatched by other operators. If the trip is too long, it should be possible to do part of it. Some of the walks we want to do are already booking out so the sooner you get in the better.

Crime. Some people have told me that they are afraid to make the trip because of the crime rate. Crime in the big cities of South Africa has given the whole country a bad image. Except for a couple of days in Cape Town at the start of the trip, we don't spend time in the big cities. I've now made six trips to South Africa. I've felt less in danger there than I would feel in parts of Sydney or Melbourne. For the places we go, crime is no more of an issue than it is here in Australia.

If you'd like a better idea of what it's like, go to our Overseas Gallery page and click on the three South Africa photo galleries at the top of the page.

If you're seriously interested but still hesitant, several of those who have been on our previous trips have offered to talk to potential clients and give them an unbiased opinion. Ask us for details if you'd like to talk to one of them.

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Last Chance — Four Trips

There are only four trips still available between now and July. All are definite departures. Three come with special offers.

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Walking Poles — Pro & Con — Update

The article on walking poles (page 6 in the spring 2009 edition of The Bushwalker, the magazine of the NSW Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs) mentioned in the last newsletter stirred up some strong feelings. To be fair, I thought I should include some of the comments here.

Gernot Heiser wrote, "I use poles a lot. Because I trashed my feet/ankles 18 years ago, and steep downhills kill me. With poles they are a breeze. That doesn't mean I'm using them in the flat, or uphill. That isn't what they are meant for. I couldn't do a 1500m mountain (or canyon) without these days, my feet wouldn't survive the downhill bit. But I can with."

Stan McDonald wrote, "In my first 50 years of bushwalking I never used poles,although we all used lengths of branches on steep country and also on tricky river crossings.
The first time I used commercial poles was on Ben Nevis where my wife and I found that we were doing much better than most of the younger walkers.Later that trip we used them on Skye in some very rough wet conditions and found them terrific.(You don't find convenient lengths of branches in the areas.)
The last few years we (and one of our daughters) used them in the Dolomites ,the inland Cinque Terre paths and on some easier walks in Tuscany and Umbria.
We do not use them mindlessly when strolling on flat roads but we do on steep/rough/wet tracks. Quite simply they offer "three point"contact at all times and much of the time use one pole only.Having to manage one osteo-arthritic knee with stretching and weight work at the gym I feel the poles that Davis rubbish's will give me another 5-10 years walking.
We were not conned by smart marketing,just had open minds and saw an aid that actually works.
Oh, by the way,they make perfect adjustable splints!

Two of the people on my recent trip to Karijini in the Pilbara carried walking poles. Mostly, they stayed on the side of the pack, but when we had out steep descents, they came out and were very helpful, so much so that they made up for the hassle of carrying them where they weren't needed. (I didn't carry poles, but I did use a stout stick on my way down the steepest hill.) Sometimes, walking poles can be more hindrance than help but when they are useful, they are very useful.

Aside. The Karijini walk was wonderful. I think I've worked out how to make next year's even better. Watch for the new trip notes when they come out.

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Trip Update — July Onwards

Definite or Nearly Definite Departures

Other trips with bookings.


Our guide for this year's Patagonia trip was actually in Chile during the earthquake earlier this year and assures us that it shouldn't have much effect on our 2010-11 Patagonia trip. November is still a long way away, but with a trip like this, the sooner you get in the better.

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Adventure Activity Standards — Update

Following my last newsletter, I've heard a bit from people in different states. This is something that everyone who walks with a club needs to keep an eye on.

From Victoria. "Bushwalking Victoria has had a representative on the Technical Committee and has been keeping an eye on and giving feedback on each of the standards as they have been released. While there is understandable concern that the AAS reach might one day extend to bushwalking clubs and the like the Vic government has said this won't happen and from my perspective any government would be crazy to do this. If it was ever tried bushwalkers might actually mobilise."

From South Australia. "We (Adelaide Bushwalkers)have had a bit of agitation from one member to adopt the AAS in our club, which some of us have resisted (apparently 'toeing a party line' and 'resisting change'), mainly because outdoor activity organisations fought the imposition of mandatory AAS by legislation and won that battle only recently. Now the SA government has altered liability legislation for not for profit outdoor activities in our favour, and has apparently dropped the insistence on putting clubs on equal footing/requirements with profit making service providers." The author goes on to say that if the standards were to apply, there would be only one qualified leader in the club.

From Queensland. "The Queensland AAS has been released, 'on the quiet', in that I (meaning our club ) have not heard anything direct from Bushwalking Queensland, our overseeing body." See the Outdoors Queensland website or for full details, have a look at the 45 page Queensland Bushwalking Adventure Activity Standards booklet.

From NSW. "Sometimes new factors arise to test the status quo. One of these is the drafting of the government backed Adventure Activity Standards (AAS). The advent of these standards was driven by commercial and institutional providers of outdoor activities (many of which were pioneered and established by bushwalking clubs!). There has been concern that these standards would restrict our activities and discourage leaders by imposing layers of formal planning and reporting before and after any Club activity. The Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs very sensibly chose to become involved in the drafting of these standards and has successfully injected many practical procedures into these documents making them much more club compatible." (This quote is from an editorial in Into the Blue the magazine of the Coast & Mountain Walkers.)

Things aren't too bad now, but I fear they may get worse for clubs if they and their members don't keep abreast of what's happening.

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The Green Centre

I don't think many people realise just how big a difference the recent rains make in the Centre. As I said in the last newsletter, Central Australia had more rain in January and February than in the previous two or three years combined. There was more rain in March and April, especially at Watarrka (Kings Canyon). The waterholes will be full and the wildflowers should be spectacular making this the best year for bushwalking in a long, long time. In an attempt to show people just what a difference there is between wet and dry years, I've prepared a new photo gallery which should give you an idea of just how special this year will be. The page also has links to the appropriate parts of the Met Bureau website so you can see just how much rain the area has had and compare it with the norm.

All of our central Australian trips are still available. One of our guides, Don Butcher, is so keen to do the July Watarrka trip as well as Kakadu Circle No. 2 that I agreed to delay the departure by by a day and have dropped the price.

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Calling All Authors

Want to see yourself in print? I have been asked to do a short article, approximately 600 words, for the eco-travel section in a conservation magazine. The best way to keep it from sounding like "advertorial" is for someone other than myself or one of the guides to write it.

If you've done one of our trips in recent years and would like to have a go, please let me know and then send me a draft. If you've got some good photos to go with it, even better. But, if not, we may have photos that would suit.

I hope to hear from some of you soon. (Sorry, but it's not a paid story.)

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Knee Surgery

I hit my knee on a rock about 2/3 of the way through my Kakadu trip in March. I didn't hit it hard, but I did hit it perfectly to maximise the damage. It hasn't been the same since. I managed to get an MRI while I was in Perth after the trip. I won't know for sure until I can talk to a sports medicine specialist here in Darwin, but I suspect that I'll need surgery before I go on another walk. Missing my next two scheduled walks hurts more than the knee, but less than the possibility of a forced evacuation and/or doing permanent damage.

Darwin is probably not the best place to get this kind of surgery. If any of you have a specialist you can recommend, please let me know.

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Special discounts — combine them and save even more

Book now and save! As in the past, if you are one of the first three people who quote this newsletter when booking any Australian trip within two weeks of when we sent it out, you will get an extra 10% discount on any trip where your total discounts are 10% or less. You'll get an extra 5% off if your total discounts are 15% or more.

Note 1. There has to be a limit. The maximum total discount on any trip is 35%.
Note 2. This offer does not apply to trips where the special offer specifies no other discounts apply.
Note 3. It's amazing how few people take advantage of this offer. You have to ask to get it.

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News About This Newsletter

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Best wishes to all.
Russell Willis

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Willis's Walkabouts, 12 Carrington Street, Millner NT 0810, Australia walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

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