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It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a chance to post my latest walks, as I’ve been doing a lot of travel for my day job this year: Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Timor Leste – but not a spare moment for walking in each of these incredible destinations. Grrr! This week though, I did manage to get up to the Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park, in Victoria’s west, where I hadn’t been for 10 years.  Stupid me for taking so long to get back here – I had forgotten about the extraordinary rock formations and abundant wildlife, and frankly terrific walking, especially in the crisp, clear autumn weather. And all this just an easy 3.5 hour drive from Melbourne.

ImageThe Wonderland area, just outside of the main centre of Halls Gap, has got to represent some of the most interesting walking in Victoria – the walk through ‘The Grand Canyon’, while nowhere near on the scale of its famous American counterpart, is nonetheless spectacular. There is a short 1km loop route absolutely perfect for kids, who will just love it, leaping over rocks and scrambling beneath under hangs. You could spend days just exploring this area, and there are good walks brochures for sale in the town which outline a dozen or so walks of various lengths and difficulty.

MacKenzie Falls, The Grampians (C) JP Mundy

MacKenzie Falls, The Grampians (C) JP Mundy

Another beautiful area, further along the Mt Victory Road, past the lookout of The Balconies, is MacKenzies Falls.  Take your knees along for the walk, which takes in 250+ steps on the way down the gorge to the base of these spectacular year-round falls, which must be 30m high and then some. I love how there is an entirely independent weather system at the base of waterfalls, with wind gushing from its base even on the stillest days. Parks Victoria are still working to restore major track damage along the gorge left from the 2012 floods, so beyond the waterfall is still closed as helicopters fly in the materials to restore the tracks.

The other bonus of the area is the wildlife – in Halls Gap itself there are kangaroos literally bouncing down the main street, and you have to drive slowly everywhere you go to avoid all the pretty black wallabies. Over breakfast in the morning, I was also visited by a rowdy flock of cockatoos checking me out. Could have stayed for weeks.

Curious Cockatoo at Halls Gap

Curious Cockatoo at Halls Gap (c) JP Mundy 2013

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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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Afternoon view from Knoydart across Sandaig and Morar to the distant Cuillan Ridgeline on the Isle of Skye.

Who’d have thought you’d come to Scotland in winter to walk in your t-shirt and get sunburnt?  True!  It was 1C yesterday but it was blue, blue, blue and not a breath of air.  Mind you, sunrise wasn’t until 9am and I skated along the icy path from Inverie up over the hill towards Airor then bashed across the moors and hillochs further west past Glaschoille Loch for a view across to the impressive Cuillin skyline on the Isle of Skye in the distance.  It’s really quite hard to get a sense of scale of the mountains in Scotland – they are so large, but when you are out in the wild, there is nothing to compare them to to give you a sense of scale.  What looks like a half hour walk turns out to be 2 hours, and the going is harder as, for the most part, there are no paths: you pick your way amongst the bogs and burns and tussock grass.

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View east across to Inverie from above Glaschoille. Sgurr Corrie Choinichean is the big mountain above the white washed buildings of Inverie. The snow-capped munro, Laddher Bhein (“lar-ven”) is to its left.

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Concentric frozen puddles.

I did discover there are distinct advantages to it being so cold that all the water has iced over: when yomping across a bog (there are lots of peat bogs around here), as long as you are relatively fleet of foot, the crunchy ice layer gives you just enough support to race across instead of sinking in the mire to your knees, as is my usual habit!

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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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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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Well, now that the Geelong, Bellarine and Brisbane Ranges book is tucked up with the editors (it’s due out before Christmas!), it’s time to get going on my next two projects: Melbourne for Dogs (well, for their owners actually), and Best Walks of the Great Ocean Road and the Otways.  While it was pretty (err, VERY) cold this weekend, the forecast was for clear skies, so Indie (my furry companion) and I headed down to the Otways, for a weekend of dog-friendly turbo-walking.  Understandably, there are quite a lot of restrictions on walking with dogs in the Great Otway National Park, but there are some great areas you can take your dog – it’s just important to check with Parks Victoria before you head off.  We started off at Wye River, south of Lorne and took Paddy’s Path above the Great Ocean Road to Separation Creek, then clambered back along the rocks.  Not only was the sea calm, but there were two humpback whales making their way down the coastline, no more than 30 metres off shore – what a bonus!

Humpback Whales playing off the Great Ocean Road

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