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Archive for the ‘Walking with Children’ Category

ImageBack to Planet Oz to find my new book waiting on my doorstep. Yay! A year in the making and it feels like an elephant pregnancy, but finally Best Walks of Geelong, the Bellarine and the Brisbane Ranges is here. I think it looks great – but I would do! It should be in bookstores, newsagents and Tourist Info Centres in the region before the end of the month – let me know what you think!  You can also buy it direct through Woodslane’s online bookstore or other online booksellers.  It retails for $29.99 and includes 40 great walks. Alternatively, if you are in a cafe or other outlet and would like to stock it, let me know and I will put you in touch with the publishers. Now, finally, onto Melbourne for Dogs….

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Volcanic cones of Mt Etna, Sicily, in winter

Volcanic cones of Mt Etna, Sicily, in winter

I’m on the last leg of my trip before heading home, and my son and I are staying in the ancient town of Ortygia, Siracusa, at the southernmost tip of Italy.  Today we headed north for a close up look at the largest volcano in Europe: Mt Etna. At over 3300m tall, Mt Etna hasn’t once stopped erupting in its 200,000 plus years of existence, and what looks like a symmetrical cone from the coast (very much like Mt Fuji) is in fact a grumbling, steaming, spewing volcano with hundreds of different cones all over the place.  The most recent major eruption was in 2001, and the cafe we had lunch at, which is about 2000m, was partially covered by the lava flow from that eruption, which stopped at its walls – literally:

A CLOSE shave for the Mt Etna mountain refugio cafe

A CLOSE shave for the Mt Etna mountain refugio cafe

We did a short walk around the rim of one of the smaller cones, in a group collectively called the Silvestri Craters which are 2000m above sea level, and despite it being mid winter, noticed the air was ‘simmering’ down one slope, adn the ground was in fact very warm to the touch – nice to keep your toes warm on a cold winter day!

Getting up to Mt Etna is easy if you have a car – it’s only a short drive from Catania – which has been covered in lava flows numerous times through antiquity – though the resulting fertile soils bring people back, and Etna is now famous for its wine, pistachios, honey and lemons grown around its base. You drive through the most extraordinary rugged lava fields: an incredible moonscape which stretches as far as the eye can see once you are above the tree lines, and the steam which bellows from one of the top cones bulges across the skyline.

View across Mt Etna lava fields (my son's photo!)

View across Mt Etna lava fields (my son’s photo!)

As far as walking goes, you can either walk up the cones from the refugio at 2000m, or catch the cable car (when it is operating) and then 4WD truck.  Above 2900m you are required to be accompanied by licensed guides, as despite extensive monitoring, the volcano is still unpredictable and very active with new fumaroles and lava vent explosions happening with no notice.  In addition to the higher level walks, as you come to expect anywhere in Italia, with its extensive networks of hiking paths, there are a large number of signed ‘nature trails’ throughout the national park, which also take in the native chestnut groves and wild birch forests at lower levels. Covering an area of over 300 square kilometres, there are a number of quite distinct geological and floral zones on the volcano, and each cone has its own characteristic activity – be it flows, steams, smoke, ash or occasional lava explosions.  You could happily spend many months exploring and walking here – one day certainly wasn’t enough.

Lava formation, Mt Etna, Sicily

Lava formation, Mt Etna, Sicily

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Merrivale Standing Stone (menhir), Dartmoor (c) JP Mundy 2012

Merrivale Standing Stone (menhir), Dartmoor (c) JP Mundy 2012

My wanderings around the UK this (northern) winter, have brought me down to very wet, but always beautiful south Devon countryside, to visit friends.  The only solution for socialising in the current inclement (think floods, driving rain, more floods) is to meet up at some of the country’s gorgeous pubs, so we had every excuse we needed to find our way to the Dartmoor Inn at Merrivale, high up on sodden and windswept Dartmoor. Just behind the Inn is the old Merrivale granite quarry which once provided the stones for London Bridge.  Just a short walk from the Inn across the saturated moor, are some remarkable groups of standing stones (think Stone Henge but smaller and wilder) and double stone rows thought to have been placed there over 4000 years ago, though noone is really sure what prupose they served: celestial alignments to help with planting, burial sites or other sorts of ritual seem to get the most votes.

4000 years old and counting: Merrivale Stone Rows on Dartmoor (c) JP Mundy

4000 years old and counting: Merrivale Stone Rows on Dartmoor (c) JP Mundy

Dartmoor itself apparently has more than 70 stone ‘rows’, standing circles and towering standing stones on various sites. Merrivale is the largest and most diverse site on the whole moor with a number of parallel double and single stone rows, a stone circle, menhir (standing stone) and burial chamber.

As fascinating as all the stones were, probably the most interesting part of the walk was coming across a Dartmoor ‘quaver’, surely the nominee for the weirdest bog-effect in the world: somehow the dense peat matted together in places to hold bubbles of water under its surface, and walking on it was somewhat like walking on a bubbly water bed.  Utterly bizarre.

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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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Twilight rowers on the River Torrens, Adelaide

With a mouthful of a name like The River Torrens Linear Walking Trail, you’d expect a pretty impressive (if straight) walking track, wouldn’t you!  Well, Adelaide certainly delivers.  Running a full 35km along the banks of the River Torrens, the Trail passes from Adelaide’s north-east (near Mt Lofty, which also offers some fabulous walking), running right through Adelaide’s pretty CBD and past some of its major public buildings, all the way out to the Gulf of St Vincent at Henley Beach. The land beside the River Torrens was purchased by the state in 1981 partly to redress regular flood inundation, and the shared cycle/walking path was completed in 1997. I spent a lovely week in Adelaide last week, staying in the CBD and walking along sections of the Walking Trail each morning and evening.  It’s well patronised with joggers, cyclists and families and there is plenty of rowing action on the river to entertain you as you go. Highly recommended if you’re in town. It’s also worthwhile making time just to wander around Adelaide’s delightful CBD – especially North Terrace and Hindley Street – to take in its gracious streetscape and growing cafe scene.

River Torrens Lineal Walking Trail, Adelaide

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As (incredible) luck would have it, my day job has brought me to the wilds of Snowdonia in North Wales this week, and I have managed to fit in some incredible walks in these beautiful Welsh mountains.  The one advantage of jet lag is that I have been up every day very early so have walked before each work day has started. At the start of the week, the weather was unimaginably good and I had time to walk up Mt Snowdon (Yr Wddfa, which means The Burial Mound), taking the easy route up the 15km return Llanberis path to start with which follows beside the remarkable mountain railway. This is a highly accessible and easy route for anyone who wishes to walk this majestic, mythical mountain (King Arthur died on its slopes and his sword Excalibur was reputedly thrown into Glaslyn (a lake) on its slopes – his knights are still supposed to be asleep under a neighbouring mountain, awaiting his return!). The walk takes you past Welsh Mountain ponies and lots of sheep and in the early morning was quiet, though very busy on the return.

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I headed off the Llanberis path at LLyn Du r Arddu before the final climb to take a more interesting and peaceful route with a bit of a scramble up around Clogwyn Cloch to the top – where you are greeted by the surreal sight of a train station! I have climbed Yr Wyddfa in years gone by, via the Pyg Track and the Miners Route, but always in cloud and mist, so the views this time were just astounding. The haze of the warm day reduced visibility, but apparently on a clear day you can see all the way across to Ireland and the Isle of Man!

LLyn (Lake) Du r Arddu, beneath the summit of Yr Wyddfa (Mt Snowdon)

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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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Wattle-lined banks of the Yarra River at Fairfield Park

So, my perspective on what makes a good walk has changed dramatically in the last week, since my son managed to break his leg convincingly enough while skiing to end up in a wheelchair. Gone are the 10km narrow bush trails. Now what I look for is a good short level path which can still take us into the bush to enjoy the gorgeous spring wattle.  The slightest tree root or deep sand or gravel can stymie us and a too narrow path yesterday, on a bit of a slope, almost saw us tipping him into a lake!  No wonder he optimistically calls it off-roading!  A good sense of humour never goes astray at such moments, and we eventually giggled our way out of it.

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‘Have wheelchair, will travel’ – Bushland Circuit near Studley Park Boathouse, Fairfield Park

Anyway, the call of the sunshine and mild weather today was too much, so, dog in tow, we headed off to the Studley Park Boathouse and pushed around the pretty 1km Frank Macfarlane Burnett Bushland Circuit, which runs beside the Yarra River through 100 acres of native bush and grasslands.  It’s hard to believe you are right in the heart of the city. The incentive of an iced chocolate and light lunch in the sun at the Boathouse was an added bonus for our efforts, but the bush itself is just glorious at the moment.  Needless to say, this walk is both wheelchair and pram accessible and OK for dogs on lead – though I haven’t yet managed to train Indie to help me pull the wheelchair up the slopes!

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Proprietary Geese at Studley Park Boathouse, Fairfield Park

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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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Well, back to the Brisbane Ranges again – they are hard to resist – so quiet and incredible flora. Yesterday I headed back with Sue and Deb to walk Day 1 of the Burchell Trail.  With all the recent rain in the area, unusually, every little creek and gully is running full of water: such a rare site in an area most usually thought of as dry and harsh country.  It is going to be a spectacular spring out here with all this growth, there are interesting funghi everywhere at the moment, and the prolific wildflowers are already starting to bud. This beautiful pink heath (epacris impressa), Victoria’s floral emblem, is already in its full glory.  

Victoria’s floral emblem, Pink Heath

The track today started from Old Boar Gully campground in the north of the National Park and took us along some gorgeous ridge-lines, through old slate quarries for vast views across the western basalt plain back to Melbourne, then down into those wet gullies before a steep uphill stretch and then descent down to Little River Gorge and campsite.  Another surprise on the day was passing a group from the Koonung Bushwalkers Club in Templestowe, who were powering up the hill in fine form as we went down! A gorgeous walk.

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