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IMG_2515.jpgOK, so Deb and I are not at all excited that our newest guidebook arrived in the post today. OK, I’m a lier.  I am VERY excited – my 6th book in and it still feels like getting a new puppy every time the real book arrives in my hot little hands. This one may well have been my favourite one to walk/research – it gave me an excuse to get out from behind the desk and into the beautiful bush of the Gariwerd-Grampians, which are just simply world class walking, and to do so with my great friend, Deb Heyes. We even had hiking legend Greg from @hikingfiasco come for a day out, sore knees and all. How good is that?  This one is just under $1 a walk, I guess – 28 walks for $24.99 and will be available in all good bookshops (online and in-store) and lots of outlets in and around the Grampians themselves, like Outdoor Adventures in Halls Gap.  Could there be a better Christmas stocking filler???  Inspiring photos, great maps and clear waypoints, and this time co-badged with Australian Geographic: all you need to bring is your legs and lungs!

It’s the first new guidebook for very many years in the Grampians, and includes many realigned walks ranging from 1-12km and easy to tough, with some multi-day walks for the more adventurous as well.  Here’s the hit-list, from North to South.

  1. Mura Mura / Mt Zero
  2. Guingalg / Mt Stapylton
  3. Wudjub Guyan / Hollow Mountain
  4. Gulgurn / Manja Shelter
  5. Beehive Falls / Briggs Bluff
  6. Wonderland Loop (of course – so spectacular!)
  7. Grand Canyon, Silent Street and the Pinnacle
  8. Venus Baths
  9. Bim / Chatauqua Peak & Clematis Falls
  10. The Balconies & Reed Lookout
  11. MacKenzie Falls to Zumsteins
  12. Barri Yalug / Fyans Creek Loop
  13. Boronia Peak
  14. Mt Rosea Loop (perhaps one of the best circuit day walks ever)
  15. Tower Hill (the last walk we did for the book, and a cracker)
  16. Silverband Falls
  17. Sundial Loop (Greg’s guest entry)
  18. Paddy Castle
  19. Mt Wurgarri / Mt Sturgeon
  20. Bainggug / The Picanniny)
  21. Mt Murdadjoog / Mt Abrupt
  22. Larni bunja / The Chimney Pots
  23. Bilimina Shelter
  24. Duwil / Mt William
  25. Mafeking Historic Walk
  26. Grampians Peak Trail – Central Circuit (3 days)
  27. Major Mitchell Plateau (3 days)
  28. Victoria Range Circuit (3 days)

We’re going to be doing a companion guide for the new Grampians Peaks Trail when it opens next year too.  Any excuse to keep walking there!  Let us know what you think as you walk the ones in this book – we’d love to hear back from you.

 

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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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OK. So it is mad that it has taken me over a year to write up my 3 weeks of wandering in Patagonia, but as I am shortly to set off on this year’s big wander – the West Highland Way – I thought I ought to finally sign off with my final instalment – finally!  If you’ve read my earlier posts, you will realise that we are slowly heading south. In fact, so south that you can’t go any further unless you go on a boat. And I don’t mean Ushuaia – fabulous frontier town – and Argentina’s self-titled Fin del Monde (End of the World).  Which, by the way, is definitely worth a visit.  Unless you are British.  Because the Marianas are still a sticking point, as per this sign on the Naval Docks:

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‘No entry to British pirates’ (roughly translated!)

That aside – Ushuaia, at the very tip of Argentina, is the main port of call for all those Antarctic cruise ships heading south for iceberg adventures, and it definitely has the feel of a pioneer town – the Government attracts people to live here with massive tax breaks to compensate for its isolation. You can easily spend a few days here, though it is pretty expensive, wandering the shops, and up and down the hills (great for the walking legs and lungs!). A hire car will take you out and about to the national parks, lakes, the penguin island (in part 3), and the End of the World narrow gauge tourist train (which travels at less than walking pace, so it’s a good place to take in the National Park it travels through and zen out, but not a good place if you are in a hurry). My tip: try to avoid the first couple of trains of the day when in season, as you will be competing for your narrow gauge seat with the bussed out cruise ship folk on day trips.

We were soon headed for our main goal – a cross-border zodiac crossing of the Beagle Channel (weather dependent) to make landfall on Chile’s Isle de Navarino – the southernmost-inhabited chunk of land in the world, unless you are aiming for an Antarctic base station: and the focus of much argy-bargy between the Argentinians and the Chileans – the good pope had to intervene at one stage to calm things down a little.  Once we got through an unenthusiastic passport control at the port, the zodiac was a hoot – full up with a hoary sea-captain and 9 random travellers & hikers (including a couple of intrepid cyclists), and even though the weather was clear and still, the waves were impressive. Arriving on the island itself was surreal and beautiful – we were handed off and wandered over a dodgy gang plank to the only buildings we could see, and all hung about somewhat awkwardly amongst the cow pats, waiting for something to happen.  After almost an hour, a minibus came roaring up the dirt road, and out jumped Mr Customs, who proceeded to check our backpacks most diligently, then pile us (and the bikes) into the minivan for a 40 minute drive to the tiny naval township of Puerto Williams. Another stop where we all handed over our passports and watched them disappear into a nondescript building, only to emerge faithfully another 30 minutes later, and we had officially arrived in Chile.

We loved Puerto Williams and the Isle with a passion – it really is a tiny, quirky frontier place with an absulutely fascinating indigenous history, and a fantastic museum. The most southerly trek in the world is also here – the Dientes del (teeth of) Navarino – a week long, rugged, self supporting circuit, of which we did part – climbing up to the top of the mountain about the port, to see the cheekily wagging flag aimed pointedly across the Channel towards Argentina. There are very few people here, and very few facilities beyond the – you guessed it – most southerly yacht club in the world, which services the ocean going yachts about to head around the Cape of Good Horn – you can buy a ride on one or sometimes even pick up some work if you have good sea legs and some serious skills (and a very sturdy stomach!).  Staying here was a total treat because we got to stay as the first customers at the magnificent Errante Eco-Lodge, quietly sitting in the landscape a few miles from town, looking across teh Beagle Channel, built by two passionate and incredible young Chileans, Constanze and Jorge, who make you never want to leave – or determined to come back. What a way to end a trip. x

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Looking NORTH, towards the end of the world – Argentina’s ‘Fin del Mundo’, from ‘Beyond the End of the World’ – Isle de Navarino, Chile – it’s a sore point!

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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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'Double Sunset' over St Kilda Beach, 8 Feb 2015 (c) JP Mundy

‘Double Sunset’ over St Kilda Beach, 8 Feb 2015 (c) JP Mundy

Sometimes the best walks are in your own back yard. Took my trusty co-author Indie down to St Kilda beach on sunset last night to cool off after a stinking hot day, and before long, that fantastic Melbourne phenomenon, “the cool change”, came blasting through with a vengeance: the temperature dropped 10 degree celsius in 10 minutes, and my legs were soon getting a good sand-blasting as the wind gusted from the west. Out of nowhere, rain started falling in curtains on the horizon and fierce storm clouds blew up, creating this bizarre and pretty wonderful ‘double’ sunset. Ain’t life grand?

IMG_5631PS: The ‘real’ sun is on the left!

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