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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.

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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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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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Walking up the Valley (or should I say, being blown up the Valley!) towards Torres del Paine

I can’t believe it’s been two years since I have written on my blog – how disgraceful! I don’t want you to think I haven’t been walking in all that time, as in between life-as-usual, I have actually done some really wonderful walks – I celebrated my 50th on the Larapinta Trail – unbelievable!; did a multi-day walk on the Ridgeway in the UK; have done some lovely walks around Victoria, including some of the Goldfields Track (my next aim!); walked the Portuguese coastal camino with my daughter, and have just been lucky enough to return from Patagonia – a decades-long dream to walk the Torres del Paine.  And importantly, finally, at the end of last year, my 4th guidebook, Best Walks of the Great Ocean Road, hit the bookshelves. So I clearly owe you a bit of catch-up – let’s see how I do! – and hopefully hear about some of your walks, too.

Patagonia – the southernmost areas of Chile and Argentina – was my first venture to South America, and it won’t be my last. What an incredible 4 weeks, and so easy – bus transportation is fast and comfortable, food is good and plentiful though it helps to like copious quantities of red meat,  people helpful and the walking is spectacular!

First stop: Torres del Paine’s ‘The W Walk’

IMG_3568The 106km ‘W Walk’ around the Torres del Paine massif in Chile has been on my bucket list since I first saw a photo of those incredible spires 20 years ago. And it did not disappoint at all.  A long flight from Melbourne to Santiago, then to Punta Arenas and then a bus to quaint Puerto Natales and yet another bus into the NP was rewarded with a magnificent refugio-to-refugio walk in pretty amazing weather (we were very lucky!). We did the walk independently (very easily) using a local Chilean travel agent to book the refugios and connecting transport, which was very easy and saved us huge wadges of cash. W mapThe refugios are clean – have rooms with multiple bunk beds (If you prebook you can get the lower ones – some are pretty vertiginous!), hot communal showers and can be pre-booked with linen so you don’t have to carry heavy packs, and full board – evening meals are hearty 2 courses and will line your stomachs – and lunchpacks consist of (huge) slabs of bread with meat and cheese and a muesli bar and fruit. For those with more stamina and who are seriously pack-fit, there are excellent camping grounds beside all the refugios.

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Leaning into the wind (already!) as we leave the first refugio

The walk itself is not technical, only reaches altitudes of around 1200m, and the trails are relatively clear except for a bit of rock scrambling up on the final stage to the Towers, but fitness definitely helps – we scaled 1100 flights of stairs in the 6 days, according to our pedometers.  Daily distances are not too long, unless you do some of the optional climbs to some of the bigger lookouts at Los Cuernos (worth it!) – usually around the 16km mark. But one factor you have to take into consideration is the wind. I haven’t experienced anything like it – you hear the gusts coming before they hit you – it sounds a bit like a dozen diesel locomotives at full pace – and you know to ‘brace’ (seriously, as they reach up to 120km an hour.  The lighter weights of us (not me!) were bowled over a couple of times, and one of our 9kg backpacks was tumbled along by the wind like it was a cotton ball. It’s impressive and very wild!

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View back to Los Cuernos (‘the horns’) on the Torres del Paine W walk

We took the option of the boat out from Refugio Grey, rather than retrace our steps, and that was a good call. It takes you up to the face of teh wave-like Grey Glacier and past its various icebergs, and rewards you with a legendary Pisco Sour made with glacial ice as a nice end0-of-walk celebration. We also opted to stay a couple of nights in Refugio Grey at the end so we could do a day walk further up the pass, across some mighty suspension bridges (leave your fear of heights at home!) and clamber down to the iceberg-filled Grey Lake. This walk is seriously very, very beautiful.  Seriously one of the best walks, and most varied, that I have ever done. It did not disappoint one iota. If you ever get the opportunity, grab it with everything you’ve got and go for it.

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Grey Lake icebergs

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Magellanic Orchids – just wow!

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Grey Glacier, from the track beyond Grey Lodge

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Eucla - it's a LONG way from anywhere (C) JP Mundy 2014

Eucla – it’s a long, LONG way from anywhere

Looking west across the 'bite' of the Great Australian Bight

Looking west across the ‘bite’ of the Great Australian Bight

Well, hello after a VERY long time – I feel I owe you about a year of posts, as I have been travelling like a loon with work this year and haven’t found the time to update you – this year has seen me in Mongolia, Viet Nam, Canada, Wales, Nepal and India – though regrettably, not out and about doing much walking, other than the gorgeous Ridgeway in England for my birthday in May. In the June holidays though, the kids and I decided it was road trip time and drove 4,500km across the Nullabor Desert to Perth. It was epic – in the genuine sense of the word. Where else can you drive dead straight for 90 miles (145km), and then they have to put a 6 degree bend in the road to account for the curvature of the earth???!!!! And along the way, the road doubles up as an airstrip for the Royal Flying Doctor Service?!

Across the Nullabor

Across the Nullabor – Yes.  It’s flat.

Anyway, we had a great trip, across our vast and beautiful land: the Great Australian Bight was full of humpback whales and their babes, lolling about just metres from the cliffs and the beauty and silence of the land was very healing for the busy, 21st Century soul. Oh and finally, finally, I got to visit the incredible Wave Rock. Just. Wow.

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One of the hidden limestone blowholes, that connects to the Great Australian Bight – about a kilometre away, and blasts fresh salt air up at you in teh middle of the desert!

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 A number of the ‘settlements’ across the Nullabor are actually just petrol stations. 

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A salt lake road crossing outside Nullabor

Late afternoon looking west across the Bight

Late afternoon looking west across the Bight

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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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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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