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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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ImageSometimes you forget that the nicest walks are in your own backyard.  After a very hot 30C day yesterday, and just before the first clouds of mozzies descended, the kids and I headed out for fish and chips down at Station Pier in Port Melbourne, then walked along the promenade past Princes Pier where many of our soldiers embarked for northern wars in the last century. This beautiful sunset was showing off to everyone across the old pier’s pylons, and plenty of people were out walking, enjoying the gentle evening breeze. Further along and the walkway continues past quiet Sandridge beach, which is marked by recovered pier timbers engraved with the names of the old boats which sailed into Melbourne, bringing hopeful new immigrants arriving at Station Pier, eager to start a new life. Sad that we seem to have forgotten that, with notable First People exceptions, we were all boat people once.

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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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New Port Philip Cycle Trail

New Port Philip Cycle Trail

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.

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Williamstown Wetlands, via the Foreshore Trail

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ImageAs 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!

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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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ImageWell, I know it’s been a bit quiet and I promise it’s not because of the wet, cold weather.  My Geelong book is in post-production as we finalise the maps and text ready for the printers, and I have been busy working on Melbourne for Dogs, so my walking adventures have been focussed on finding the best off-leash dog parks and beaches in Melbourne.  Needless to say, my dog, Indie, is in heaven.  We recently visited the Brighton Dog Beach, which is a fully fenced sand spit opposite the Royal Brighton Yacht Club (appropriate given our Olympic sailors are starring at the moment!). Surrounded by shallow waters, this is the place for dogs who love to bound through the water – regardless of the temperature – and you can build in a good long (on-leash) stroll along the foreshore before or afterwards.   Not a bad way to spend the day.

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Indie, 'Melbourne for Dogs' co-author

I’d like to introduce Indie to you – she’s our new spoodle pup – just 11 weeks old and has already stolen our hearts (though our cats are not so impressed!).  As well as keeping me company for the walks guidebooks I am currently writing, she is going to be helping me research a new book I am working on over the next 6 months: Melbourne for Dogs.  I know a lot of walkers in Melbourne like to take their canine friends when they go out for a walk (or perhaps it’s the other way around!), but it’s not always easy to find out where and when you can responsibly take your dog off leash.  In the Melbourne’s Best Bush, Bay and City Walks book, as well as the others I am working (Geelong and the Great Ocean Road, I have listed which walks are suitable for dogs.  However, this new book will be entirely dedicated to great walks, parks, beaches, cafes and events in Melbourne where your pooch is welcomed.  I would love to hear from you about your favourite off-leash and dog-friendly parks and open spaces in and around Melbourne, so that Indie and I can come and check them out!

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Melbourne's Best Bush Bay and City Walks

Great news!  Today, my copy of Melbourne’s Best Bush, Bay and City Walks arrived, which means it is also now available through bookstores, other retailers and online – just in time for Christmas.

There is lovely weather beckoning you out of doors after the harsh winter and spring, so no excuse not to stretch your legs and take in the air (and the odd cafe or two)!  RRP is $29.95.  I hope you enjoy using it as much as I enjoyed walking and writing it! If you wish to order it direct through Woodslane Publishing, you can do so via this link: http://www.travelandoutdoor.com.au/title.aspx?isbn=192187435X

Do let me know what you think of the walks when you do them!

Thanks to all of you who have followed my authoring journey for this book – hope you will stay with me on the blog to whet your walking appetite for my next one, Best Walks of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Great Ocean Road, which will be out mid 2012.

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