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Deb, Andrew and Gus observing social distance at Tower Hill in the Grampians.

So, life is changing daily at the moment, with new restrictions on movement being announced daily to cope with COVID-19. My planned 1000km walk adventure on the via Francigena in Italy, leaving on 6th April, has been shelves, while my heart cries for Italy, and for the rest of the world.  It seems to me though that getting out into the bush solo or in small groups (keeping at least a walking pole apart!), might very well be good for our mental health and wellbeing, and stop us from being overwhelmed.  So that’s my plan, and I can hear the bush calling.  The bonus is Deb and I have another book to research and walk: the Grampians Peaks Trail, so you know where I will be as soon as the wrigglers have disappeared back under the rocks at the end of autumn.  In the meantime, closer tracts of fresh air and bush await.  The You Yangs are a favourite go to for great views from the East West Track, and I love the RJ Hamer Aboretum in the Dandenongs. But there are lots of less-frequented places everywhere: Lerdederg State Park is a favourite, and on the weekend I stopped by Nigretta Falls in SW Victoria, which was absolutely deserted and picture perfect.

So many beautiful places close to home to renew our sense of wellbeing and normalcy.  Where are you heading to clear the head? Please take care of yourselves and those around you I these messy times, but do take time to breathe and know that ‘this too shall pass’. xxx

IMG_2515.jpgOK, so Deb and I are not at all excited that our newest guidebook arrived in the post today. OK, I’m a lier.  I am VERY excited – my 6th book in and it still feels like getting a new puppy every time the real book arrives in my hot little hands. This one may well have been my favourite one to walk/research – it gave me an excuse to get out from behind the desk and into the beautiful bush of the Gariwerd-Grampians, which are just simply world class walking, and to do so with my great friend, Deb Heyes. We even had hiking legend Greg from @hikingfiasco come for a day out, sore knees and all. How good is that?  This one is just under $1 a walk, I guess – 28 walks for $24.99 and will be available in all good bookshops (online and in-store) and lots of outlets in and around the Grampians themselves, like Outdoor Adventures in Halls Gap.  Could there be a better Christmas stocking filler???  Inspiring photos, great maps and clear waypoints, and this time co-badged with Australian Geographic: all you need to bring is your legs and lungs!

It’s the first new guidebook for very many years in the Grampians, and includes many realigned walks ranging from 1-12km and easy to tough, with some multi-day walks for the more adventurous as well.  Here’s the hit-list, from North to South.

  1. Mura Mura / Mt Zero
  2. Guingalg / Mt Stapylton
  3. Wudjub Guyan / Hollow Mountain
  4. Gulgurn / Manja Shelter
  5. Beehive Falls / Briggs Bluff
  6. Wonderland Loop (of course – so spectacular!)
  7. Grand Canyon, Silent Street and the Pinnacle
  8. Venus Baths
  9. Bim / Chatauqua Peak & Clematis Falls
  10. The Balconies & Reed Lookout
  11. MacKenzie Falls to Zumsteins
  12. Barri Yalug / Fyans Creek Loop
  13. Boronia Peak
  14. Mt Rosea Loop (perhaps one of the best circuit day walks ever)
  15. Tower Hill (the last walk we did for the book, and a cracker)
  16. Silverband Falls
  17. Sundial Loop (Greg’s guest entry)
  18. Paddy Castle
  19. Mt Wurgarri / Mt Sturgeon
  20. Bainggug / The Picanniny)
  21. Mt Murdadjoog / Mt Abrupt
  22. Larni bunja / The Chimney Pots
  23. Bilimina Shelter
  24. Duwil / Mt William
  25. Mafeking Historic Walk
  26. Grampians Peak Trail – Central Circuit (3 days)
  27. Major Mitchell Plateau (3 days)
  28. Victoria Range Circuit (3 days)

We’re going to be doing a companion guide for the new Grampians Peaks Trail when it opens next year too.  Any excuse to keep walking there!  Let us know what you think as you walk the ones in this book – we’d love to hear back from you.

 

WP8 Looking southMy goodness, it’s been a very long time between blog posts – mostly because my co-conspirator Deb (that’s her above walking south from Mt Rosea) and I have been busy researching, walking, writing and now editing our next guidebook, Best Walks of the Gariwed – Grampians National Park, which will hit the shelves in December 2019. If you haven’t had the chance to walk in the Grampians, just 3 hours west of Melbourne, or even if you have and want another reason to fall in love with it all over again, get yourself west with your boots and backpack. What a place – it offers everything: rugged sandstone ranges, whacky rock formations, ridge-walking, heart-stopping scrambling, waterfalls, lakes and gentle creekside ambles, spectacular wildflowers, serenity, and more wildlife than you have ever seen in one place. There’s controversy at the moment too of course, as long time users of the National Park navigate their way through changes to its use. There is also a lot of track realignment going on at the moment, as work to complete the long distance Grampians Peaks Trail continues. None of this detracts from the walking experience, and winter/spring is a brilliant time to get up there, before the crowds and heat arrive in summer.

Melbourne's Best River, Bay & Waterside Walks

Melbourne’s Best River, Bay & Waterside Walks

Well, perhaps explaining my absence here somewhat, I am very happy to announce the publication of my latest walking guidebook: Melbourne’s Best River, Bay and Lakeside Walks (Woodslane Press, 2018), which I have walked and written in conjunction with my favourite walking companion, Deb Heyes (for those of you who have had my previous guidebooks, she has very often been my patient photographic model – now turned author herself!), which has been a great deal of fun.

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Walk 16: Solomon’s Ford Walk

The new book is the first of a new 2-volume set for Melbourne – the original Melbourne’s Best Walks, has now sold some 10,000 copies, and we have decided to split it into 2 new books – one with a focus on water (this one) and the other on the bush, parklands and city (coming later this year).  We have re-walked the original walks from the first book, and added 40 new ones. There are some real gems in the Water book – as always, Melbourne never ceases to surprise me with all sorts of hidden nooks and crannies. I hope you enjoy discovering them too!

 

You will find the book (hard copy and e-book) available in all good local bookstores and online at places like Dymocks online or Angus and Robertson as well.  Let me know what you think when you get on the trail?  And since we are only about half way through the second one, let me know in the comments section if you have any ideas for fabulous walks you would like to see included.   

After the two Melbourne ones, we are heading further afield for the Grampians – watch this space for up dates!

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OK. So it is mad that it has taken me over a year to write up my 3 weeks of wandering in Patagonia, but as I am shortly to set off on this year’s big wander – the West Highland Way – I thought I ought to finally sign off with my final instalment – finally!  If you’ve read my earlier posts, you will realise that we are slowly heading south. In fact, so south that you can’t go any further unless you go on a boat. And I don’t mean Ushuaia – fabulous frontier town – and Argentina’s self-titled Fin del Monde (End of the World).  Which, by the way, is definitely worth a visit.  Unless you are British.  Because the Marianas are still a sticking point, as per this sign on the Naval Docks:

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‘No entry to British pirates’ (roughly translated!)

That aside – Ushuaia, at the very tip of Argentina, is the main port of call for all those Antarctic cruise ships heading south for iceberg adventures, and it definitely has the feel of a pioneer town – the Government attracts people to live here with massive tax breaks to compensate for its isolation. You can easily spend a few days here, though it is pretty expensive, wandering the shops, and up and down the hills (great for the walking legs and lungs!). A hire car will take you out and about to the national parks, lakes, the penguin island (in part 3), and the End of the World narrow gauge tourist train (which travels at less than walking pace, so it’s a good place to take in the National Park it travels through and zen out, but not a good place if you are in a hurry). My tip: try to avoid the first couple of trains of the day when in season, as you will be competing for your narrow gauge seat with the bussed out cruise ship folk on day trips.

We were soon headed for our main goal – a cross-border zodiac crossing of the Beagle Channel (weather dependent) to make landfall on Chile’s Isle de Navarino – the southernmost-inhabited chunk of land in the world, unless you are aiming for an Antarctic base station: and the focus of much argy-bargy between the Argentinians and the Chileans – the good pope had to intervene at one stage to calm things down a little.  Once we got through an unenthusiastic passport control at the port, the zodiac was a hoot – full up with a hoary sea-captain and 9 random travellers & hikers (including a couple of intrepid cyclists), and even though the weather was clear and still, the waves were impressive. Arriving on the island itself was surreal and beautiful – we were handed off and wandered over a dodgy gang plank to the only buildings we could see, and all hung about somewhat awkwardly amongst the cow pats, waiting for something to happen.  After almost an hour, a minibus came roaring up the dirt road, and out jumped Mr Customs, who proceeded to check our backpacks most diligently, then pile us (and the bikes) into the minivan for a 40 minute drive to the tiny naval township of Puerto Williams. Another stop where we all handed over our passports and watched them disappear into a nondescript building, only to emerge faithfully another 30 minutes later, and we had officially arrived in Chile.

We loved Puerto Williams and the Isle with a passion – it really is a tiny, quirky frontier place with an absulutely fascinating indigenous history, and a fantastic museum. The most southerly trek in the world is also here – the Dientes del (teeth of) Navarino – a week long, rugged, self supporting circuit, of which we did part – climbing up to the top of the mountain about the port, to see the cheekily wagging flag aimed pointedly across the Channel towards Argentina. There are very few people here, and very few facilities beyond the – you guessed it – most southerly yacht club in the world, which services the ocean going yachts about to head around the Cape of Good Horn – you can buy a ride on one or sometimes even pick up some work if you have good sea legs and some serious skills (and a very sturdy stomach!).  Staying here was a total treat because we got to stay as the first customers at the magnificent Errante Eco-Lodge, quietly sitting in the landscape a few miles from town, looking across teh Beagle Channel, built by two passionate and incredible young Chileans, Constanze and Jorge, who make you never want to leave – or determined to come back. What a way to end a trip. x

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Looking NORTH, towards the end of the world – Argentina’s ‘Fin del Mundo’, from ‘Beyond the End of the World’ – Isle de Navarino, Chile – it’s a sore point!

So here’s a quick and cheeky little post to cheer your day – our next stop on the Patagonian Express was at Ushuaia, at the very bottom of Argentina – its Tierra del Fuego (‘the End of the Earth’).  Despite its claims to be the southernmost town on earth, my next post will fill you in on the Chile-Argentina argy-bargy over that claim to fame.  But in the meantime, Ushuaia was a great stop-off for us to find our inner Attenborough and get up close and personal with some – well, a lot of – penguins.

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This was the one paid day tour we did on the trip and it was worth every single penny.   the island is part of a private ranch, Estancia Harberton, a research station where they collect and study washed up marine skeletons (think whales and dolphin skeletons which apparently all end up circling the currents around this bottom end of the world like some big bone graveyard, and end up washed up on the ranch’s beaches!). Two small groups of tourists are allowed to visit the penguin colony each day, via a zodiac boat. then you get to just hang out with the thousands of Magellanic, a few rare gentoo and even a pair of emperor penguins, all of whom just ignore you and do their own thing. What an experience.

Oh – and PS, we visited some champion dog-sledding huskies before leaving Ushuaia as well. That was about my full dose of cuteness for the whole year.

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The spectacular ‘shiny’ granite peak of Cerro Torre in the Mt Fitzroy massif, taken on the long walk up through the Rio Blanca valley.

Well, it’s taking me a little while, but am getting there – the next big stop on our Patagonian adventure after Torres del Paine, was to head by bus from Puerto Natales, into Argentina’s tourist town of Calafate (quick day trip to the spectacular Perito Moreno glacier) and then across the border via the iconic Route 40 to the amazing walking in and around El Chalten.  Just a word on Patagonian buses: they are fast, clean, affordable, regular, on time, comfortable, and have free wi-fi!

We based ourselves for 5 days at the low key outdoors-focussed climbers town of El Chalten, set smack in the middle of the Los Glaciares National Park. With a very cool but unselfconscious frontier vibe, this was a spectacular part of an already spectacular trip – even the view from the bathroom of our little flat was of the beautiful peaks of the mountains (we stayed at Apart el Cabure and I’d recommend it – just 3 little low key local flats, around USD$50 per person per night for 4; warm and good hot water, and super lovely and helpful owners).

Somehow, the cloud gods were on holidays on the day we chose to hike up to the peak, and we were blessed with beyond perfect weather – mild, sunny and not a breath of wind. Apparently this is pretty rare – or so everyone told us. But as you can see from the pics, it really was impossible not to be gobsmacked every which way you looked.

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The canon-shot of falling ice cracking off this hanging glacier was deafening across the valley on the hike up.

Take a quick tip from me (which we took from the owners of our accommodation) – fork out for the bus which takes you up the valley from el Chalten early in the morning for about 40 minutes, so you can take the less trafficked, more gradual and absolutely beautiful walk beside and above the river through up to the  Poincenot campsite at the base of the massif. It’s an alternate walk-in instead of constant 4-hours of steep uphill direct from the township. Your knees and lungs will love you for it. This way takes you through mossy Antarctic Beech forests and above roaring rivers, and also has curious signs that basically say ‘run like hell if there is a fire’ (because apparently you have to be told!).

If you have it in you, when you get to the base of the Cerro Torres (Mt Fitzroy’s towers), on the other side of the campsite, where climbers camp overnight before tackling the towers, there is a hell of a final steep rocky switchback slog, gaining another 400m in altitude, up to the famous Laguna de Los Tres glacier lakes above. Worth every bit of blood, sweat and tears, according to my Duracel-bunny-like buddy, Deb and her loping son Tas, who made it look like a Sunday stroll.  I meantime sat at the now tiny Rio Blanca at the base, and just took it all, in blissful peace. The extraordinary shininess of the rock towers is apparently caused by the repeated frosts, sluicing off the surface of the rock over millenia.  Whatever it is, it’s spectacular.

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The final 400m altitude gain via switchback up to the Laguna de Los Tres from the Poincenot pack-in campsite

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