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Autumn leaves in Bright - living up to its name!

Autumn leaves in Bright – living up to its name!

Had a totally glorious family weekend up in the High Country last weekend – in perfect Autumn weather. The autumn leaves were just starting to turn in the beautiful mountain village of Bright, the night air was crisp and cool, and the daytime skies were blue, blue, blue! There is so much to do and see around there, even outside of the ski season, so it’s really worth the 4 hour drive from Melbourne.  Local produce stalls are very distracting, with walnut and chestnut farms, olive groves, and berry and hop farms on either side of The Great Alpine Road to delay your journey, not to mention the VERY tempting vineyards – we had a very indulgent Autumn degustation lunch at Gapstead Winery: think quail and slow roasted autumn fruits – yummmmmm!  Our favourite roadside stall was selling roasted chocolate and chilli pumpkin seeds! Needless to say, our pantry is bulging!

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Bins of freshly harvested walnuts at Gapstead

The kids and I did some off-road ‘adventure’ segway-ing in the morning with Peter of Bright Segways, up and over rocky bush trails, through forestry trails and even over a swing bridge across the Ovens River. Who knew you could 4WD on a segway?! This is hands-down pretty fabulous family entertainment and a real crowd pleaser. What a hoot!

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Segway-ing beside the Ovens River near Bright

 

On our second day, we took in a very easy and picturesque 30km stretch of the ‘Murray to the Mountains’ Rail Trail which runs 106km from Wangaratta to Beechworth. The section we did was virtually flat, and the entire trail is sealed all the way, with short distances between towns, and a number of trail-side cafes catering to cyclists – so it’s very family-friendly, and a more achievable option than riding your bike from the valley up to the top of Mount Buffalo, which seems to be a pretty popular – if masochistic – activity (it takes bout 2 hours of straight up – great training if you’re planning on entering the Tour de France!). The section which we did (a far more leisurely 2 hours) takes you past beautiful pastures and farmland, much of which was originally sown to tobacco, and you frequently pass the old tin tobacco drying sheds.  Today there are  instead hanging hop gardens and all those lovely orchards and vineyards I mentioned. It helped us greatly that we had a willing aunt and uncle who assisted with the car shuttle, but you can also time your ride to coincide with a Victoria Rail Coach (yes, that’s a bus masquerading as a train!), which purportedly will put your bikes in the luggage compartments below and get you back to your starting point – probably best to ring ahead and check.

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Autumn colour on the Murray to Mountain Rail Trail

On our way back to Melbourne, we detoured for the stunning, windy drive up Mt Buffalo – one of Victoria’s first national parks and original skiing centres over 100 years ago.  It’s stunning granite outcrops and alpine plateau meadows are so dramatic and quite unusual in Victoria.

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View from the base of ‘The Horn’ at Mt Buffalo

Mt Buffalo is the home of the Australian Alp’s endangered Bogong moth, as well as the equally endangered historic Mt Buffalo Chalet, which is thankfully about to get a $7m refurbishment. There are also endless bushwalking options, including the aptly named ‘Big Walk’ up the mountain. But it’s the short (1.6km) but very sweet clamber up Mt Buffalo’s ‘Horn’ which tops everything off – literally – at 1,723 metres (5,653 feet). While the only-way-is-up, the walk is not hard and there are plenty of rocks and the occasional seat to lean against and catch your breath as your mountain-goat children leap blithely from boulder to boulder!

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Walking up The Horn at Mt Buffalo

 

The view from the top was pretty special to be honest – 360 degree views across the Australian Alps, with Australia’s highest peak, Mt Kosciousko in NSW, a very remote but visible presence. Despite the clear, calm weather, it was a chilly 10C at the top, even in the middle of the day, so I can imagine it is pretty hostile at times – road access to the Horn car park is closed in the winter months, when the whole plateau is often covered in snow.

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View from the start of the climb up The Horn, Mt Buffalo

 

The walk/climb to the top has recently been upgraded to make it safer and more accessible – steps are cut directly into the rock, or have been installed in some places, grip has been laid in particularly slippery areas and railings are provided where needed – especially on the top of the enormous summit boulder where there is a directional plinth and signage indicating surrounding peaks. All this makes the short walk a great and really interesting option for families with children, with the reward of stunning panoramas at the top while your heart stops tap-dancing in your chest. There now – I think I have described my perfect weekend.

 

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View north-east from the summit of The Horn, Mt Buffalo

 

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IMG_2247Beautiful Waiheke Island is just a short and picturesque ferry ride from downtown Auckland, making it a justly popular weekend and holiday destination for many North Islanders in the summer.  It’s even an easy visit from east coast Australia – an easy 4 hour flight to Auckland, jump on the 30 minute airport bus to the wharf, onto the ferry and then you are there – ready to get vertical and relax! Take note of the welcoming sign at Point Kennedy!  There are hundreds of small bays and hidden beaches tucked in around 20+ wineries, restaurants and artists studios, so even on the occasional cloudy day, there is plenty to do. There are artists studio trails and gourmet food and wine trails to follow, as well as regular sculpture festivals. Absolutely don’t miss the Connell’s Bay sculpture property in the west of the island, which you must pre-book. Reflecting this, in summer, the island population swells to 30,000 from its permanent resident population of 8,000 though to be honest, the beaches still feel blissfully empty.

IMG_2282We’ve just spent a great week there over new year, staying with friends close to the main village of Oneora, and just minutes walk from lovely Oneroa Beach.  If you can bear to drag yourself away from the water, there are plenty of short walks all over the island, many of them passing across headlands to reach secluded bays.  This one from Little Oneroa Beach (popular with the locals) heads up over the headland to Fishermans Rock and Divers Rock, where local teenagers test their mettle clambering up and leaping off 4m and 8m high rock shelves into the ocean below (at high tide only please!). Most of the island is hilly, so it’s a great place to build up your calf muscles.! The local tourist information centre has a range of free brochures with short walks you can do all over the island.

Overlooking Calypso Bay on Motuihe Island, nr Waiheke Island, NZ

Overlooking Calypso Bay on Motuihe Island, nr Waiheke Island, NZ

If you have a friends with a boat, sail across to one of the many small islands around Waiheke – we headed to uninhabited Motuihe Island for the day, moored at picture-perfect Calypso Bay and just hung out. There’s a one and a half hour circuit walk mown into the island’s grasslands, which takes you from Calypso Bay, around to the wharf and back again – there’s no shade or facilities so take a hat and plenty of water, but the views are incredible the whole way, and if you get too hot, you can always detour for a quick swim! Stealing from a well known Queensland marketing campaign ….. beautiful one day, perfect the next!

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The first time I visited Canberra as an adult tourist, I practically missed it – really! For those not from Canberra and unused to its unique, hub-and-axis design, it is nearly impossible to ‘find’ any shops or schools or even the city centre (? Civic) as you drive through.  However, after coming here for years for work on a fly-in-fly-out basis, I have finally started to get to know this quite beautiful planned city.

The National Carillion, Canberra © JP Mundy 2013

The National Carillion, Canberra

Designed by Americans Walter and Marion Burley Griffith in 1912 in response to a global architectural competition to design a fitting national capital city for Australia, it was not until the 1950′s when then Prime Minister Robert Menzies decided to commit his energy, support and importantly, Treasury funds, which enabled the full realisation of the Griffiths’ original vision for the nation’s capital – including the magnificent man-made lake. A great way to see this vision on foot, if you only have a short time here, is to take in the 5km central circuit walk around the shoreline of Lake Burley Griffith – the southern shore of which follows the RJ Menzies walk. There is great deal to take in along this walk, popular with active Canberrans on foot, bike, roller blade and even motorised skateboards! There are plenty of information plaques to keep you interested along the way.

The Canadian Golden Jubilee flagpole

The Canadian Golden Jubilee flagpole

Starting at Commonwealth Park,  and heading clockwise towards the magnificent National Carillion on its own island in the lake, you stroll along the Menzies walk past the enormous (128 feet) wooden flagpole made of a single Douglas Fir brought from British Columbia as a gift to Canberra from the people of Canada to commemorate the city’s Golden Jubilee.

Further on there are pretty gardens with views sweeping directly across both Old and New Parliament Houses – a sight where you can really appreciate the ‘land axis’ of Burley-Griffith’s design. Keep an eye out for Sir Robert Menzies himself, strolling along the lakeside of his beloved lake.

Watch out for life-size Prime Minister Robert Menzies strolling towards you on the RJ Menzies walk

Watch out for life-size Prime Minister Robert Menzies strolling towards you on the RJ Menzies walk

I was really taken with the National Carillion though, housing 55 bells in its  towering geometric structure. While there are regular performances by Canberra’s keen carillionists, every quarter of an hour, the beautiful bells mark out a chime. It’s early worth wandering out onto the island to enjoy the views of the tower as well as the rest of the lake. Keep an eye out for the Paris-style engraved padlocks starting to appear on the footbridge across to the island – lovers declare their love by locking padlocks onto its railings and tossing the keys into the water below. Gotta love a bit of romance!

Lock it up and throw away the key, this love ain't going anywhere!

Lock it up and throw away the key, this love ain’t going anywhere!

From the Carillion, head up and across the bridge and turn right to join the northern shoreline, looking bcd towards Mt Ainslie, the views across to the War Memorial and Carillion are beautiful in the late afternoon.  Soon the walk takes you past the National Gallery and it’s worth detouring through the extensive sculpture gardens.  Do you recognise Anthony Gormley’s Angel of North (it’s one of 5 life-size maquettes of the gigantic original which is on the M1 in the north of England)?

The National Carillion tucked under the Angel of the North's wings

The National Carillion tucked under the Angel of the North’s wings

Just past the gallery, you can stroll on the grass outside the High court. I am so grateful I live in a country where you can just wander up to such critical buildings without having to leap through, under and over all sorts of security. Further along and you can walk beneath the UN Flag Display – quite a fun guessing game with or without kids – providing you don’t mind craning your neck. I think I got about 20/150 right – oh dear! The design museum sits between all the flags, right on the waterfront, then its past Parliament House and the peace garden before heading up and over the bridge back towards the city centre. A really gorgeous and interesting 5km stroll for the early evening. Thanks Canberra!

Canberra;s UN Display of Flags with the High Court in the background

Canberra’s UN Display of Flags with the High Court in the background

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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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Volcanic cones of Mt Etna, Sicily, in winter

Volcanic cones of Mt Etna, Sicily, in winter

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:

A CLOSE shave for the Mt Etna mountain refugio cafe

A CLOSE shave for the Mt Etna mountain refugio cafe

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.

View across Mt Etna lava fields (my son's photo!)

View across Mt Etna lava fields (my son’s photo!)

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.

Lava formation, Mt Etna, Sicily

Lava formation, Mt Etna, Sicily

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Merrivale Standing Stone (menhir), Dartmoor (c) JP Mundy 2012

Merrivale Standing Stone (menhir), Dartmoor (c) JP Mundy 2012

My wanderings around the UK this (northern) winter, have brought me down to very wet, but always beautiful south Devon countryside, to visit friends.  The only solution for socialising in the current inclement (think floods, driving rain, more floods) is to meet up at some of the country’s gorgeous pubs, so we had every excuse we needed to find our way to the Dartmoor Inn at Merrivale, high up on sodden and windswept Dartmoor. Just behind the Inn is the old Merrivale granite quarry which once provided the stones for London Bridge.  Just a short walk from the Inn across the saturated moor, are some remarkable groups of standing stones (think Stone Henge but smaller and wilder) and double stone rows thought to have been placed there over 4000 years ago, though noone is really sure what prupose they served: celestial alignments to help with planting, burial sites or other sorts of ritual seem to get the most votes.

4000 years old and counting: Merrivale Stone Rows on Dartmoor (c) JP Mundy

4000 years old and counting: Merrivale Stone Rows on Dartmoor (c) JP Mundy

Dartmoor itself apparently has more than 70 stone ‘rows’, standing circles and towering standing stones on various sites. Merrivale is the largest and most diverse site on the whole moor with a number of parallel double and single stone rows, a stone circle, menhir (standing stone) and burial chamber.

As fascinating as all the stones were, probably the most interesting part of the walk was coming across a Dartmoor ‘quaver’, surely the nominee for the weirdest bog-effect in the world: somehow the dense peat matted together in places to hold bubbles of water under its surface, and walking on it was somewhat like walking on a bubbly water bed.  Utterly bizarre.

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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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Twilight rowers on the River Torrens, Adelaide

With a mouthful of a name like The River Torrens Linear Walking Trail, you’d expect a pretty impressive (if straight) walking track, wouldn’t you!  Well, Adelaide certainly delivers.  Running a full 35km along the banks of the River Torrens, the Trail passes from Adelaide’s north-east (near Mt Lofty, which also offers some fabulous walking), running right through Adelaide’s pretty CBD and past some of its major public buildings, all the way out to the Gulf of St Vincent at Henley Beach. The land beside the River Torrens was purchased by the state in 1981 partly to redress regular flood inundation, and the shared cycle/walking path was completed in 1997. I spent a lovely week in Adelaide last week, staying in the CBD and walking along sections of the Walking Trail each morning and evening.  It’s well patronised with joggers, cyclists and families and there is plenty of rowing action on the river to entertain you as you go. Highly recommended if you’re in town. It’s also worthwhile making time just to wander around Adelaide’s delightful CBD – especially North Terrace and Hindley Street – to take in its gracious streetscape and growing cafe scene.

River Torrens Lineal Walking Trail, Adelaide

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As (incredible) luck would have it, my day job has brought me to the wilds of Snowdonia in North Wales this week, and I have managed to fit in some incredible walks in these beautiful Welsh mountains.  The one advantage of jet lag is that I have been up every day very early so have walked before each work day has started. At the start of the week, the weather was unimaginably good and I had time to walk up Mt Snowdon (Yr Wddfa, which means The Burial Mound), taking the easy route up the 15km return Llanberis path to start with which follows beside the remarkable mountain railway. This is a highly accessible and easy route for anyone who wishes to walk this majestic, mythical mountain (King Arthur died on its slopes and his sword Excalibur was reputedly thrown into Glaslyn (a lake) on its slopes – his knights are still supposed to be asleep under a neighbouring mountain, awaiting his return!). The walk takes you past Welsh Mountain ponies and lots of sheep and in the early morning was quiet, though very busy on the return.

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I headed off the Llanberis path at LLyn Du r Arddu before the final climb to take a more interesting and peaceful route with a bit of a scramble up around Clogwyn Cloch to the top – where you are greeted by the surreal sight of a train station! I have climbed Yr Wyddfa in years gone by, via the Pyg Track and the Miners Route, but always in cloud and mist, so the views this time were just astounding. The haze of the warm day reduced visibility, but apparently on a clear day you can see all the way across to Ireland and the Isle of Man!

LLyn (Lake) Du r Arddu, beneath the summit of Yr Wyddfa (Mt Snowdon)

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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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