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Archive for the ‘Birdwatching’ Category

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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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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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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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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Bell's Beach, via the Jan Juc Clifftop Walk (part of the Surfcoast Walk)

Well, how beautiful is this early autumn weather?! 26C and blue skies meant I packed up and headed for the coast, along with 52 million other long-weekenders, but it wasn’t long before I found my stride away from the crowds.  The rightly popular cliff top walk from Jan Juc Beach near Torquay through to the world famous surfing mecca, Bell’s Beach, is an easy 8km return along a well made track.  There are stunning views from the top of the 35 metre high sandstone sea cliffs, and numerous opportunities to head down vertiginous stairways to the beaches to watch the surfers close up. The walk along the top is through beautiful fragile coastal heathlands, with grevilleas in full flower, and I was lucky to spot another echidna, right beside the track. Can it get better than that?  Dogs are welcome, on leads, though they are restricted on the beaches at certain times of the year, so check the signs before heading onto the sand with your dog.

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Samphire grasses on the salt marshes at Kirk Point, near Geelong

Well, I have just had a huge and fantastic weekend of intensive walking for the Geelong and Bellarine book  – the cloud cover and warm-but-not-hot weather we are experiencing at the moment is just perfect for getting out in the summer. On Saturday, I explored the saltmarshes and inter-tidal mud flats on the bay around Geelong.  My first, early-morning walk took me to tiny Kirk Point, near the bird-watching mecca of Pt Wilson, for a really out of the way short stroll along the shoreline with views straight across to the Mornington Peninsula – a perfect stretch out for walkers with dogs, though they need to stay on-lead.

Next I went for a drive past the quirky beach shack community on Avalon Beach, behind Avalon airport.  The newly born mosquito population (which numbered in the trillion billions at least!) kept me at bay there, but with plans to secure a permit to walk through the extensive salt pans managed by Cheetham Salt ….. in the non-mosquito season!

I then headed out to the Hovell Creek walking track in North Geelong.  This well-made combined bike/walking path goes all the way from the northern tip of Corio Bay, which is known as Limeburner’s Bay, through to the small town of Lara, and has the height to provide good views back across Corio Bay to Geelong.  While very exposed, there is a treed picnic rest point from where you walk down onto the Conservation Area saltmarshes via a delightful boardwalk, which takes you right out into the mangroves at water’s edge.  The track is not signposted from the main trail, so it was a real delight to stumble upon. I continued on to Lara and lucked onto the lovely Lara Lakelands Reserve – which is an absolute oasis for waterbirds in the middle of the harsh plain landscape: there were Royal Spoonbills, purple swamp-hens, coots and even two huge nesting herons – right in the middle of the town!

Inspired by the Limeburner’s Bay name, I finally drove into Geelong and past Eastern Beach to Limeburner’s Point to try and find the elusive Limeburner’s Kilns. Luckily, it was low tide, and a passing gent walking his dog helped me find them (thanks, Peter!), buried in under the cliffs beneath the golf club.  They are such an important national heritage treasure, and still in excellent condition, so I do hope the City of Geelong will get involved in upgrading access to them. Off to the You Yangs tomorrow!

Boardwalk into Limeburner's Bay Conservation Area, via Hovell's Creek Trail, near Geelong

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