I just love, love, LOVE walking in Australia on cool, crisp autumn days. What’s not to like – you don’t get hot, you don’t have to carry gallons of water and you don’t have to worry about stepping on the slithery ones. Today Deb, co-author Indie-the-Dog and I headed for the Dandenongs – only 40 minutes from Melbourne’s city centre but a million miles away in terms of peace and beauty. We did the 14km return trail walk from the beautiful hill town of Emerald to Cockatoo and back, taking in the spectacular autumn leaf beauty of Nobilis Gardens and Emerald Lake Park and the towering eucalyptus and colourful funghii of Wrights Forest. For a shorter walk you could always take the bus back from Cockatoo (though not with a dog), but we were glad of the return walk, as the weather only got better as we went along, and the late afternoon rays through the Japanese maples were breathtaking. A fantastic bush walk with a dog, as there is an off-leash park at either end, though dogs must be on lead for the rest of it. If you do the walk without a dog on weekends and school holidays, you can take a load off and catch the Puffing Billy steam train back from Cockatoo at 3pm.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a chance to post my latest walks, as I’ve been doing a lot of travel for my day job this year: Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Timor Leste – but not a spare moment for walking in each of these incredible destinations. Grrr! This week though, I did manage to get up to the Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park, in Victoria’s west, where I hadn’t been for 10 years. Stupid me for taking so long to get back here – I had forgotten about the extraordinary rock formations and abundant wildlife, and frankly terrific walking, especially in the crisp, clear autumn weather. And all this just an easy 3.5 hour drive from Melbourne.
The Wonderland area, just outside of the main centre of Halls Gap, has got to represent some of the most interesting walking in Victoria – the walk through ‘The Grand Canyon’, while nowhere near on the scale of its famous American counterpart, is nonetheless spectacular. There is a short 1km loop route absolutely perfect for kids, who will just love it, leaping over rocks and scrambling beneath under hangs. You could spend days just exploring this area, and there are good walks brochures for sale in the town which outline a dozen or so walks of various lengths and difficulty.
Another beautiful area, further along the Mt Victory Road, past the lookout of The Balconies, is MacKenzies Falls. Take your knees along for the walk, which takes in 250+ steps on the way down the gorge to the base of these spectacular year-round falls, which must be 30m high and then some. I love how there is an entirely independent weather system at the base of waterfalls, with wind gushing from its base even on the stillest days. Parks Victoria are still working to restore major track damage along the gorge left from the 2012 floods, so beyond the waterfall is still closed as helicopters fly in the materials to restore the tracks.
The other bonus of the area is the wildlife – in Halls Gap itself there are kangaroos literally bouncing down the main street, and you have to drive slowly everywhere you go to avoid all the pretty black wallabies. Over breakfast in the morning, I was also visited by a rowdy flock of cockatoos checking me out. Could have stayed for weeks.
While out walking in Melbourne’s western bayside suburbs today, I spotted these enterprising lads, who obviously decided to take the short cut from Altona across to St Kilda. Hope they packed their snorkels! I opted for the longer route, and took in a fine 8km stretch of the Williamstown to Altona Foreshore Trail, a shared cycle/walk path which winds along the coastline from Williamstown Beach across to the fabulous off-leash PA Burns coastal reserve in Seaholme. While the Foreshore Trail itself is on-leash for dogs, (it runs parallel to the Jawbone Conservation area), the parks at either end of the walk are both off-leash, so plenty of exercise for everyone – particularly those whose dogs like a good run (or in the case of these kids, swim) beside the bike.
Posted in Art, Bellarine Peninsula, History, Otway Ranges, Uncategorized, Wales, Wildlife | Tagged Altona, beaches, bicycles, cycle paths, dog beaches, dogs, Foreshore Trail, Melbourne, Port Phillip Bay, Travel, walking with dogs, walks, Williamstown | Leave a Comment »
As our extended summer in Melbourne draws to a close, I am just finishing the chapter of Off Leash Dog Beaches for the Melbourne for Dogs book. What a trial that has been for my co-author and I. We both just hate having to walk barefoot along the sandy beaches of Port Philip Bay on sunny days, with views all the way to the Peninsula and daily sunsets to set the heart singing. Indie particularly hates having to roll in the sand and dig holes and jump over the (mini) waves to play with all the other very happy dogs. What a drag. Our favourite, thanks to its proximity to home, is St Kilda West Beach, with it’s huge piles of dog-friendly new sand being pushed out to help build the extension to St Kilda marina. Brighton dog beach is the place to go on Sundays when every man/woman and his dog (literally) is out there to enjoy the views and the company. But today we’re heading over to the Altona dog beach, in Melbourne’s west, aiming for low tide when there are endless stretches of flat sand revealed for dogs and their owners to stretch their legs on. In fact, the shallow, calm waters of Port Phillip – the bane of tourists looking for a decent wave – make for fantastic waters for dogs, and the many off-leash beaches available around the Bay feature extensive sand flats and shallow waters at low tide perfect for bounding through and wallowing in. Life’s good if you’re lucky enough to be a dog in Melbourne!
Have just spent the past week getting out and about with the Geelong Walks book – so exciting when all your work comes to fruition and people start to use it! Now, though, my plate is clear so I can knuckle down on Melbourne for Dogs, which is due to the publishers at the end of April. From that point, it is still around 5 months of editing, designing, cartography etc until it reaches the shelves – I find the whole ‘hidden’ processes behind books quite fascinating.
Meanwhile, my co-author on Melbourne for Dogs, a.k.a. Indie, is just kicking back and contemplating the seagulls from her window seat on the front of my kayak, down at St Kilda marina yesterday – a great way to cool off after the longest lasting run of 30C+ February days we’ve ever had in Melbourne. Needless to say, we’re enjoying doing the beaches chapter of the book just now. West St Kilda Beach is a favourite – close by and off-leash for dogs all year round – plus the kite boarders who favour it provide endless hours of entertainment for dogs who run after their enormous, colourful kites in the shallow waters. Dog heaven.
Back to Planet Oz to find my new book waiting on my doorstep. Yay! A year in the making and it feels like an elephant pregnancy, but finally Best Walks of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Brisbane Ranges is here. I think it looks great – but I would do! It should be in bookstores, newsagents and Tourist Info Centres in the region before the end of the month – let me know what you think! You can also buy it direct through Woodslane’s online bookstore or other online booksellers. It retails for $29.99 and includes 40 great walks. Alternatively, if you are in a cafe or other outlet and would like to stock it, let me know and I will put you in touch with the publishers. Now, finally, onto Melbourne for Dogs….
Posted in Bushwalking, Coastal Walks, Places to Visit, Travel, Walking with Children, Walks, Walks with dogs | Tagged Bellarine Peninsular, Brisbane Ranges, Geelong, guide books, Travel, Victoria, walking, walks | 4 Comments »
I’m on the last leg of my trip before heading home, and my son and I are staying in the ancient town of Ortygia, Siracusa, at the southernmost tip of Italy. Today we headed north for a close up look at the largest volcano in Europe: Mt Etna. At over 3300m tall, Mt Etna hasn’t once stopped erupting in its 200,000 plus years of existence, and what looks like a symmetrical cone from the coast (very much like Mt Fuji) is in fact a grumbling, steaming, spewing volcano with hundreds of different cones all over the place. The most recent major eruption was in 2001, and the cafe we had lunch at, which is about 2000m, was partially covered by the lava flow from that eruption, which stopped at its walls – literally:
We did a short walk around the rim of one of the smaller cones, in a group collectively called the Silvestri Craters which are 2000m above sea level, and despite it being mid winter, noticed the air was ‘simmering’ down one slope, adn the ground was in fact very warm to the touch – nice to keep your toes warm on a cold winter day!
Getting up to Mt Etna is easy if you have a car – it’s only a short drive from Catania – which has been covered in lava flows numerous times through antiquity – though the resulting fertile soils bring people back, and Etna is now famous for its wine, pistachios, honey and lemons grown around its base. You drive through the most extraordinary rugged lava fields: an incredible moonscape which stretches as far as the eye can see once you are above the tree lines, and the steam which bellows from one of the top cones bulges across the skyline.
As far as walking goes, you can either walk up the cones from the refugio at 2000m, or catch the cable car (when it is operating) and then 4WD truck. Above 2900m you are required to be accompanied by licensed guides, as despite extensive monitoring, the volcano is still unpredictable and very active with new fumaroles and lava vent explosions happening with no notice. In addition to the higher level walks, as you come to expect anywhere in Italia, with its extensive networks of hiking paths, there are a large number of signed ‘nature trails’ throughout the national park, which also take in the native chestnut groves and wild birch forests at lower levels. Covering an area of over 300 square kilometres, there are a number of quite distinct geological and floral zones on the volcano, and each cone has its own characteristic activity – be it flows, steams, smoke, ash or occasional lava explosions. You could happily spend many months exploring and walking here – one day certainly wasn’t enough.