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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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Winter rainbow from the Brisbane Ranges

It just goes to show: just because the weather forecast is for hail, squally winds, thunder storms and all day showers, that’s no reason not to get out for a walk.  Deb and I decided to brave the elements today for the final 12km day of the 3 day Burchell Trail in the Brisbane Ranges, expecting flash floods and worse, only to be rewarded with sunshine, mild weather and no more than a 30 second shower all day. Mind you, the minute we hopped into the car at the end of the day, the heavens opened up and the hail came raining down.  But even after that we were rewarded with this spectacular rainbow. How lucky can you get!

Magnificent Australia Grass Trees along the Burchell Trail

Day 3 of the Burchell Trail starts from the peaceful walk-in Old Mill campground, and wanders for almost a full circuit through the southern part of the Brisbane Ranges, near the historic goldmining ghost-town of Steiglitz.  There is lots of evidence of the area’s former gold rush days. The banks of Yankee Gully, on the second half of the walk, are dotted with old mine shafts and earlier in the day you can detour to take in the very deep pit of the famous Century Mine.  There are a number of glorious picnic spots and camp grounds by the creek crossings, and most of the trail is single track, away from management tracks – it was incredibly peaceful.

Walking above the alluvial gold beds of Yankee Gully in the Brisbane Ranges

It’s relatively simple to turn this into a one day circular walk, which we did today, by leaving the car at Fridays Camping Ground and walking an extra 1.5km along the road at the start, making for a 13.5km total walk. The Burchell Trail markers are, as always, somewhat random and not at every track junction, so you do need the 1:30,000 Brisbane Ranges National Park (Meridien) map to keep you on the right trail. Don’t let this put you off a fantastic walk though. I can’t wait to come back in spring when all the native orchids are in bloom. I am writing the Burchell Trail up in more detail for the Best Walks of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Brisbane Ranges book, so hope that more people will be able to enjoy this wonderful walk.

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Fed up with the poor official Burchell Trail markers, walkers have taken direction-setting into their own hands, with the occasional handy hint!

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I had the fantastic good fortune to have a long weekend for my birthday up at Uluru-Kata Tjuta (Ayers Rock and The Olgas) National Park in the Northern Territory last weekend.  I have wanted to visit there for many years and all the stars were finally in alignment.  The weather is just perfect for walking there at the moment – blue skies and 20-21C in the day, down to freezing at night – which means getting up for the obligatory sunrises involves many layers, gloves, beanies, scarves – not what you think of normally in the middle of the desert! The flight into Uluru via Sydney is absolutely spectacular, taking you across the red ‘channel’ country and expansive white salt lakes – you can really see where the imagery in the Central Desert ‘dot’ paintings comes from when you see the land from above.

View from the plane en route to Uluru

I kicked off with a 12km sunrise walk around the base of Uluru itself, and chose a guided option so I could learn about the Anangu creation stories of this incredible rock, which is thought to extend for 6km beneath the earth.

ImageImage It really is worth taking this stroll with a guide, so that you can understand a little about Country and about how important it is NOT to climb Uluru, which is a sacred place for the Anangu and which causes hurt and sorrow every time someone climbs it. At least then, you can make an informed choice about whether or not you choose to climb the rock.  The base walk, though, is more than fascinating – I didn’t realise there were lush groves of river red gums and permanent waterholes at its base; ‘teaching caves’ full of rock art and stunning gorges.  There was also a family group of button quail wandering around under foot and we saw both eastern red kangaroos and wild (feral) camels as well.

ImageImageThe Red Centre has had 3 years in a row of exceptional rainfall, so the land is looking just incredible at the moment – perfect timing for a visit if you can manage it. The colours of Uluru are everything you have imagined and much more – I was overwhelmed.

Sunrise colours on the Uluru base walk

While it can be expensive at the Yulara resort, just outside the National Park, and the only accommodation option, I stayed at the youth hostel in a lovely warm dorm with lots and lots of Americans, and there is also a campground, which means you can have an affordable visit.  One of the ‘Only in Australia’ moments for me had to be when a bloke wandered into the pub with his camel for a drink in the evening.  As you do!

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Late autumn afternoon, Island Track, Brisbane Ranges National Park.

Well, having finally resolved my technology inadequacies, yesterday I managed to persuade my daughter to come for a wander in the Brisbane Ranges, just an hour’s drive from Melbourne to the south-west of Bacchus Marsh.  I have no idea how this absolute gem of a place has stayed so ‘undiscovered’ for so long.  In just minutes, you can be walking out in pristine bush, with not another person in sight and nothing but the sounds and smells of the bush.  We headed up to the Boar Gully campsite, the location for the start of the 3 day Burchell Trail, which traverses a good length of the Brisbane Ranges National Park on it’s way to Fridays Campground. From there, we walked back across Reids Road, along Farm Track and then joined  Spring Creek Track in the very North West tip of the Park, and did a series of loops following the contours of the creek below.  It was a gentle wander, with just the occasional eastern grey kangaroo thumping through the bush, groves of towering grass trees – some over 2 metres in height – and some impressive bushfire regeneration in the ironbark woodlands. I can’t wait to go back in the spring to see all the wildflowers.  Just what I needed to get my mojo back!

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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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ImageI had an unexpectedly interesting walk yesterday in Geelong, along the banks of the Barwon River – I was anticipating a straightforward, shady riverside walk, but ended up with much more: grand Victorian villas and red brick industrial heritage factories, a lesson in 30 million year old geology with vistas to boot from Seaview park, and a close up commune with a pelican at the adjoining Balyang sanctuary.  The Barwon River Reserves cover both banks of the Barwon River for almost its entire urban length, with excellent cycle/walking paths, and are full of hidden surprises.  Who knew, for example, that the world’s first ice making machine was invented by newspaperman, James Harrison on the banks of the Barwon in 1854!!

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Grey Flying Fox in flight, Eastern Park colony, Geelong

I am currently working on the Geelong chapter for the next guidebook, so expect some urban and parkland walking posts over the new couple of weeks.  Today, Indie (the co-author of Melbourne Dogs!) and I took in the relaxing stroll which is the Sri Chimoy Peace Mile circuit, around Geelong’s Eastern Park, which is right in the city centre. This loop beneath ancient cypruses runs around the gorgeous Geelong Botanic Gardens and is very popular with runners, walkers and their dogs.  There are views across Corio Bay, a chance to visit one of a series of global geoglyphs (huge rock sculptures, designed to be seen from the air) and a huge colony of screeching grey flying foxes!

Best of all, the walk ends up at the Geelong Botanic gardens – Australia’s 4th oldest – which may be small at only 5 hectares, but which is perfectly formed.  There is an exciting 21st century garden which you walk through before heading into the original heritage gardens with its iconic Chilean Wine Palm, edible gardens, bunya pine lawns, ferneries, a glass conservatory and wonderful Tea Rooms set on the sweeping green lawns. Unusually, dogs are allowed into the gardens as long as they are on lead and well behaved. A genuine urban oasis.

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Succulent display, 21st Century Gardens - Geelong Botanic Gardens

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