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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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ImageWell, here’s a bit of excitement (for me, anyway!) – a sneak peek at the cover for Melbourne for Dogs has just arrived from the publishers. How can you resist the gorgeous golden retriever on the cover – she was at Cheltenham Park one overcast day in the winter, melting hearts all over – and yes, that’s a very mental looking Indie having fun in the water down at St Kilda West beach – we headed there yesterday to escape the heat and spent lots of time wading through the waters at low tide. Great way for dogs and their humans to cool off.  The other bit of exciting news about Melbourne for Dogs is that the book is going to be launched at the Melbourne Dog Lovers Show on 2nd-4th May next year at the Royal Exhibition Buildings in Carlton, where there will be a big wall display of the more than 750 off-lead parks and 52 off-lead beaches in Melbourne (taken from the book), and little old me and the books!  Looking forward to meeting some of you there!

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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.

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Indie, Seagull Lookout, St Kilda Marina

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.

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Studley Park Boathouse on the Yarra River, Melbourne

There were once 7 historic boathouses lining the banks of the Yarra River – popular in Melbourne’s Victorian and Edwardian eras, when people took their pleasure most seriously with days out for genteel boating and cream teas by the river. There are still two magnificent boathouses left on the Yarra today, and even more pleasingly, they are surrounded by wonderful riverside walks along this beautiful green corridor through the heart of Melbourne.  In some parts of Yarra Bend and Fairfield Parks you can feel a hundred miles from the city, surrounded by remnant river gums, native grasslands and beautiful escarpments, though the hum of traffic is always in the background. Probably the best way to take it all in is to take the riverside walk all the way from Fairfield Park Boathouse to Studley Park Boathouse, some 10 kilometres away, crossing the pipe bridge in front of Fairfield Boathouse and turning right beside the river to walk beneath the Eastern Freeway overpass, past the beautiful Bellbird Picnic area and around Yarra Bend to end up at Studley Park Boathouse.

View to the Pipe Bridge from Studley Park boathouse

Public transport isn’t great here, so either do it as a return walk (20km) or a full day circuit by crossing the river again at Studley Park boathouse and continuing left along the river, turning right at Dight Falls to follow alongside Merri Creek, and right again to follow the main Yarra Trail back towards the Pipe Bridge and boathouse.  Alternatively, arrange for a car shuttle, but make sure you include time for a bit of boating on the river and definitely a cream tea at either end! A fantastic spring walk full of bush, wattle and birdlife – smack in the middle of the city. Dogs are fine on this walk, and there is plenty for them to smell along the way, though they must be on lead and keep an eye out for speeding mountain bikers!

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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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Sweeping views back to Point Addis from the Jarosite Headland

Well, I am down to my last two walks for the Geelong, Bellarine & Brisbane Ranges book, which brought me back to Point Addis along the Surf Coast.  I couldn’t believe how quiet it is out here – even in the middle of school holidays we only passed one or two walkers along the Ironbark and Jarosite tracks.  The views really are stunning, with the rich reds of the jarosite in the soil absolutely glowing in the afternoon sun,despite the cloud cover.

Tracks are reasonably well sign posted, though the map on the information board at the car park was woefully inadequate and there don’t seem to be any Parks Victoria parknotes or maps to download online either.  Hopefully the two walks I will include in the book will help close that gap.  While walking here, it is important to stay away from the high cliff edges, as the soft sandstone and jarosite is rapidly and unpredictably eroding and crumbling away.

Seacliff erosion at Pt Addis

We took our two dogs along (both on leads) and it is critical that dogs (and walkers) keep on made tracks and are diligent about using the cinnamon fungus boot wash stations on entering and leaving the park to help prevent the spread of this devastating disease which is destroying large tracts of our beautiful grass trees.  A big unexpected bonus at the end of the walk was this fearless Peregrine Falcon, sitting right on the edge of the clifftop, surveying his territory.

I am heading off to Point Danger at the end of the week to complete the walks, then it will be head down and walking boots hung up for a while, to get the walks all written up for the publishers, hopefully with a view to the book being published by August.  I have posted the list of planned walks for the new book on its dedicated page.

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View North from Point Addis Clifftop boardwalk

Just past Torquay, and an easy day trip from Melbourne, is a wonderful pocket of bushland which boasts some stunning views from its sea-cliffs.  For some reason, which I can’t fathom, Point Addis seems to miss out on most of the tourist traffic, who are focussed on either Bells Beach or heading to Anglesea, Lorne and the Great Ocean Road beyond.  However, Pt Addis is a wonderful wild destination in its own right.  There is an excellent short Koori Cultural walk with interpretive information boards along the way, or a more challenging Ironbark Basin walk – you can see the distinctive slip of the basin from the main car park – which also allows access to an old jarosite mine site.  Finally, there is a great short cliff-top board walk from the main car-park which allows for fantastic views up and down the coast, as well as access down to the beach itself – though take great care even if it is low tide.  Despite it being part of the Great Otways Park, dogs are fine as long as they are on leads.  An added attraction (depending on your viewpoint!) is that the northern end of the beach is one of Victoria’s only four legal ‘clothing optional’ beaches – don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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ImageI had an unexpectedly interesting walk yesterday in Geelong, along the banks of the Barwon River – I was anticipating a straightforward, shady riverside walk, but ended up with much more: grand Victorian villas and red brick industrial heritage factories, a lesson in 30 million year old geology with vistas to boot from Seaview park, and a close up commune with a pelican at the adjoining Balyang sanctuary.  The Barwon River Reserves cover both banks of the Barwon River for almost its entire urban length, with excellent cycle/walking paths, and are full of hidden surprises.  Who knew, for example, that the world’s first ice making machine was invented by newspaperman, James Harrison on the banks of the Barwon in 1854!!

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