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Melbourne for Dogs - who could resist that brown-eyed retriever?  Not me!

Melbourne for Dogs – who could resist that brown-eyed retriever? Not me!

I can’t believe it’s been almost 3 months since I managed to update my blog!  Well, actually I can, as I have been pretty busy, with work trips to Mongolia, Canberra, Hanoi and Cambodia since then (plenty of stories and sights to share). But my big news is that the first copy of my new book, Melbourne for Dogs, has just arrived in my hot little hands today, as an advance copy from the printers.  Honestly – the anticipation has been almost too much to bear – it’s been somewhat like an elephant’s gestation, 2 years in the making and finally it has popped out fully formed in glossy, glorious colour!

RSPCA Victoria have come on board and endorsed it, which is wonderful, and we’ll be launching it at the Melbourne Dog Lovers Show, which will be at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton from 2nd – 4th May 2014.  You can pre-order it from Woodslane online, or after the show, it will be available in all good bookstores and online, as well as through RSPCA shops, and some vets and pet stores as well. It will retail for $24.95, but if you buy one at the show, it will be on special for $19.95. There are over 700 off-lead dog parks and 50+ off-lead beaches in there, as well as a series of longer dog and people-friendly walks to keep you entertained, in the style of the Melbourne’s Best Walks book.  I do hope you and your pooch enjoy using it to explore (off-lead) pastures new - Indie and I certainly enjoyed researching it!

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View from Arthurs Seat ridge, south-west to Sorrento and Port Phillip Bay (c) JP Mundy 2013

Time for a day out. Too much work and not enough walking, makes for a dull life, so Deb and I skived off yesterday and bit off a biggie – The Two Bays Walk: 28km from Dromana, on the Port Phillip Bay side of the Mornington Peninsula, up and over Arthurs Seat (for non-locals, that’s a big hill, not a chair, in case you were wondering!) then down through glorious bushland to Cape Schanck lighthouse overlooking the Bass Strait.  It’s only an hour’s drive from Melbourne, but feels like a million miles away. We started from the carpark at the Bunurong Track, at the corner of Latrobe Terrace and Bayview Road. Purists might want to start from the Dromana Visitor Information Centre, which adds another 2km of suburban road walking to the start of the track, but that didn’t appeal to us, as we were here for the bush, and we thought 28km was enough for anyone in a day! The walk is very well signposted with the ‘Two Bays’ fairywren emblem and arrows along the way, the only potential point of confusion being the high numbers of kangaroo superhighways (no seriously, there are a LOT of kangaroos) which criss cross the second half of the track as you descend towards the coast.

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Eastern Greys on the ‘Kangaroo Super Highways’ near Bushrangers Bay (C) JP Mundy 2013

The first part of the walk is a steady but not too harsh climb up a well made path with spectacular views across Port Phillip Bay, which winds up, around and along the ridge-line of Arthur’s Seat. You can make detours to pretty Seawinds Gardens (you could start the walk from here if you didn’t want to walk up Arthur’s Seat) and the summit along the way, but are soon descending down from the bushland, past a lovely dam for a quick 30 minute walk through some quiet suburban streets, before heading past vineyards and bucolic farmlands to enter into the first of a series of joined reserves and national parks for the remainder of the walk.

ImageBeyond Arthur’s Seat, the walking is fairly easy – mostly flat or gently undulating and following through lush ironbark, blackwood and banksia forests.  The Greens Bush section contains some of the biggest healthiest stands of grass trees I have ever seen, and their towering flowering spikes (up to 4m+) are just glorious, though occasional ones are perplexingly wonky!

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Apart from the magnificent bushland, in full flower at this time of year, we came across an echidna and fairy wrens, plenty of parrots and a good collection of fierce bull ants on the sandy parts of the track. Some of the string of reserves have been reclaimed from old grazing property, so we even came across drifts of blue forget-me-nots and canna lilies along one of the fern tree-lined gullies, though hopefully the fantastic local ‘Friends of’ groups are seeking to clear the introduced species over time – for now it feels like walking through English woodlands in places.Image

There were a number of delicate native orchids popping up but also some flowers neither of us could recognise.  Do any readers know what this spectacular plant is?  it looked a little bit like a ‘chicken and hen’ plant, but was a 1.5m high and 3m high shrub just drenched in 1cm wide flowers. Gorgeous!

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Oh… and there’s also kudos for anyone who can tell me what type of caterpillars make up this seething mass: they were each about 15cm long and crossing the track en masse beneath our clomping feet!

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The final leg of the walk brings you out above magnificent, isolated Bushrangers Bay, which is apparently where two convicts from Tassie landed in the 1800′s after commandeering a schooner, using it as a base for their maraundering. From there, you hug the coastal scrub above the seacliffs, the waves of Bass Strait pounding below you, before coming out at Cape Schanck light station.  We’d pre-ordered a taxi (Peninsula Taxis in Frankston) to collect us – as it’s a darn long walk back if you haven’t arranged a car shuttle. A warning that Optus phones don’t have any coverage for the last half of the walk, though Telstra 3G seemed fine throughout.

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A welcome sight at journey’s end: Cape Schanck Light Station (c) JP Mundy 2013

If you have a few more days and you’re just getting warmed up, you could prebook to stay overnight in the lighthousekeeper’s cottages at Cape Schanck, then set off west along The Coast Walk in the morning, through Point Nepean National Park for a further 30km to Portsea.  From there, it’s a walk out to Point Nepean and a further 30km back along Port Phillip Bay via the more pedestrian Bay Trail to Dromana by which time you’ve completed the 100km triangle which makes up the Mornington Peninsula walk!  If you don’t have the time (or energy!) to do the full Two Bays walk at once, it can be broken into lots of short and easy walks.  The walk into Bushrangers Bay (6km return), accessed from the car park on Boneo Road (Rosebud-Flinders Road), or the walk into Greens Bush (accessed via Greens Road) would be a perfect short day out – the tracks are easy and interesting for kids too.  None of the Two Bays walking is suitable for dogs though (even on-lead), as it passes through a number of national parks and protected areas, where dogs are not allowed, and for good reason when you see the beautiful and delicate flora and fauna along the way. There are also no water stops, shops or toilets along the way, so you’ll need to be self-sufficient. In terms of time you need to allow, you’ll know your own pace – if you’re a fit marcher, you’ll get through in 6 hours.  An average walker used to reasonable distance might take 8 hours.  The delightful Deb and I are dawdlers (or rather, I am, and Deb is just incredibly long-suffering and patient!), so with lots of stops to gawk at the scenery, flowers and fauna along the way, a good half hour for lunch (and for me to huff and puff up the stairs!), we took 10! Whichever way you do it, just do it.  It’s a perfect walk.

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View at the end of the day – back at Arthur’s Seat – Sunset across Port Phillip Bay (c) JP Mundy 2013

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ImageBack 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….

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OK, so it’s about time I let you into a little secret. As much as I love walking in Australia, in all its shapes and forms, there is a special place in my walking heart for the west coast and highlands of Scotland.  I lived in London for almost 10 years, and being from country-Oz, pined for a bit of remoteness from time to time.  That took me on the amazing Caledonian sleeper train to Fort William, and beyond, to the very special Knoydart Peninsula, north of Mallaig and opposite the Isle of Skye.  It is only accessible via a very long walk in, or by boat, and the first time, almost 20 years ago, we walked in with all our kit and spent an amazing few weeks here climbing some VERY big mountains, including the magnificent Laddher Bhein (pronounced ‘lar-ven’).  Since then, I’ve made it back every few years, and even managed to get hitched on a hilltop here at one stage!

This week, I am back for some winter walking, and loving it just as much as ever.  Yesterday, while walking up to Loch Dubhain, the gales were howling, the sleet rattling on my jacket and the noise of the water crashing down the burns off the hillside was deafening. Even the deer were looking a bit startled to see a wild walker.  But there was a glimpse of sun and I was rewarded with this beautiful rainbow. Fantastic.

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Well, here’s a bit of excitement (for me at least!).  My next guidebook, Best Walks of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Brisbane Ranges (Woodslane Press) was finally sent off to the printers on the 19th October and should be in stores by mid-December, ready for you to plan some lovely Christmas walks.  It will retail for $29.95 and has 40 terrific walks to suit all sorts of abilities and interests. A big thank you to my terrific editors at Woodslane Press, and to my patient friends who joined me on many of the walks (Karen, Deb, Di and Fred – legends all!). Here’s a sneak preview of the cover, so you know what to look out for. Hope you enjoy the walks as much as I did!

Best Walks of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Brisbane Ranges
JP Mundy (2012), Woodslane Press

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Wattle-lined banks of the Yarra River at Fairfield Park

So, my perspective on what makes a good walk has changed dramatically in the last week, since my son managed to break his leg convincingly enough while skiing to end up in a wheelchair. Gone are the 10km narrow bush trails. Now what I look for is a good short level path which can still take us into the bush to enjoy the gorgeous spring wattle.  The slightest tree root or deep sand or gravel can stymie us and a too narrow path yesterday, on a bit of a slope, almost saw us tipping him into a lake!  No wonder he optimistically calls it off-roading!  A good sense of humour never goes astray at such moments, and we eventually giggled our way out of it.

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‘Have wheelchair, will travel’ – Bushland Circuit near Studley Park Boathouse, Fairfield Park

Anyway, the call of the sunshine and mild weather today was too much, so, dog in tow, we headed off to the Studley Park Boathouse and pushed around the pretty 1km Frank Macfarlane Burnett Bushland Circuit, which runs beside the Yarra River through 100 acres of native bush and grasslands.  It’s hard to believe you are right in the heart of the city. The incentive of an iced chocolate and light lunch in the sun at the Boathouse was an added bonus for our efforts, but the bush itself is just glorious at the moment.  Needless to say, this walk is both wheelchair and pram accessible and OK for dogs on lead – though I haven’t yet managed to train Indie to help me pull the wheelchair up the slopes!

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Proprietary Geese at Studley Park Boathouse, Fairfield Park

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The peaceful waters of Lake Elizabeth in the Otway Ranges.

The circuit walk around Lake Elizabeth, just outside of Forrest, is like descending into some forgotten prehistoric forest. Formed in 1952 after a massive landslide dammed the East Barwon River, this newly-formed natural lake was undiscovered until an expeditionary team was sent in to find out why the river had stopped flowing.  It is estimated that the lake originally held more than 1000 million litres of water, and those living downstream were understandably a little nervous! The dirt road down to the start of the walk takes you through towering eucalypt forests and then descends into wet tree-fern lined gullies.  From the car park, you climb steadily beside the river and then down into the valley that hides this peaceful lake, which is home to shy platypus. The circuit walk takes you along the shoreline, past a small ‘beach’, underneath towering tree ferns and extravagant mosses, across duckboards through the reeds at the northern end and back again, with wonderful views across the pristine lake along the way. Dogs are allowed, as long as they remain on lead, though if you want a chance of spotting a platypus, I’d suggest leaving them at home, and timing your walk for dawn or just before dusk – you can also take guided canoe trips on the lake to get up close and personal with the wildlife.  Regardless of the time of day though, and whether you decide to walk or paddle, it’s a very special place.

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Well, now that the Geelong, Bellarine and Brisbane Ranges book is tucked up with the editors (it’s due out before Christmas!), it’s time to get going on my next two projects: Melbourne for Dogs (well, for their owners actually), and Best Walks of the Great Ocean Road and the Otways.  While it was pretty (err, VERY) cold this weekend, the forecast was for clear skies, so Indie (my furry companion) and I headed down to the Otways, for a weekend of dog-friendly turbo-walking.  Understandably, there are quite a lot of restrictions on walking with dogs in the Great Otway National Park, but there are some great areas you can take your dog – it’s just important to check with Parks Victoria before you head off.  We started off at Wye River, south of Lorne and took Paddy’s Path above the Great Ocean Road to Separation Creek, then clambered back along the rocks.  Not only was the sea calm, but there were two humpback whales making their way down the coastline, no more than 30 metres off shore – what a bonus!

Humpback Whales playing off the Great Ocean Road

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Winter rainbow from the Brisbane Ranges

It just goes to show: just because the weather forecast is for hail, squally winds, thunder storms and all day showers, that’s no reason not to get out for a walk.  Deb and I decided to brave the elements today for the final 12km day of the 3 day Burchell Trail in the Brisbane Ranges, expecting flash floods and worse, only to be rewarded with sunshine, mild weather and no more than a 30 second shower all day. Mind you, the minute we hopped into the car at the end of the day, the heavens opened up and the hail came raining down.  But even after that we were rewarded with this spectacular rainbow. How lucky can you get!

Magnificent Australia Grass Trees along the Burchell Trail

Day 3 of the Burchell Trail starts from the peaceful walk-in Old Mill campground, and wanders for almost a full circuit through the southern part of the Brisbane Ranges, near the historic goldmining ghost-town of Steiglitz.  There is lots of evidence of the area’s former gold rush days. The banks of Yankee Gully, on the second half of the walk, are dotted with old mine shafts and earlier in the day you can detour to take in the very deep pit of the famous Century Mine.  There are a number of glorious picnic spots and camp grounds by the creek crossings, and most of the trail is single track, away from management tracks – it was incredibly peaceful.

Walking above the alluvial gold beds of Yankee Gully in the Brisbane Ranges

It’s relatively simple to turn this into a one day circular walk, which we did today, by leaving the car at Fridays Camping Ground and walking an extra 1.5km along the road at the start, making for a 13.5km total walk. The Burchell Trail markers are, as always, somewhat random and not at every track junction, so you do need the 1:30,000 Brisbane Ranges National Park (Meridien) map to keep you on the right trail. Don’t let this put you off a fantastic walk though. I can’t wait to come back in spring when all the native orchids are in bloom. I am writing the Burchell Trail up in more detail for the Best Walks of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Brisbane Ranges book, so hope that more people will be able to enjoy this wonderful walk.

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Fed up with the poor official Burchell Trail markers, walkers have taken direction-setting into their own hands, with the occasional handy hint!

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Well, back to the Brisbane Ranges again – they are hard to resist – so quiet and incredible flora. Yesterday I headed back with Sue and Deb to walk Day 1 of the Burchell Trail.  With all the recent rain in the area, unusually, every little creek and gully is running full of water: such a rare site in an area most usually thought of as dry and harsh country.  It is going to be a spectacular spring out here with all this growth, there are interesting funghi everywhere at the moment, and the prolific wildflowers are already starting to bud. This beautiful pink heath (epacris impressa), Victoria’s floral emblem, is already in its full glory.  

Victoria’s floral emblem, Pink Heath

The track today started from Old Boar Gully campground in the north of the National Park and took us along some gorgeous ridge-lines, through old slate quarries for vast views across the western basalt plain back to Melbourne, then down into those wet gullies before a steep uphill stretch and then descent down to Little River Gorge and campsite.  Another surprise on the day was passing a group from the Koonung Bushwalkers Club in Templestowe, who were powering up the hill in fine form as we went down! A gorgeous walk.

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