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Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

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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Kata Tjuta Sunset (c) JP Mundy

Perhaps the most spectacular walking in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is at Kata Tjuta – just 90 km from Uluru through spectacular red dune country. Sitting on the landscape like a group of huddled sisters, it’s no wonder Kata Tjuta translates as ‘Many Heads’.  The rock here is very different to the coarse sandstone of Uluru – it’s a munched up conglomerate which once formed part of the sea bed – yes, the land in the centre of Australia was once covered in ocean. The mind boggles!  Large boulders are spewed out from the rock at irregular intervals, looking much like glacial moraine spattered over the land. Here there is the opportunity to wander between the towering walls of the impressive Walpa Gorge, to again find permanent waterholes carved into the base of the rock. But perhaps my favourite walk of this whole weekend was the Full Circuit walk which climbs for 8km up and through the aptly named Valley of the Winds, then descends treacherously down through a gap in the rocks to walk out around the dry back country, with huge domes of red on either side of you.  In the late afternoon it was nothing short of magical. The walk is closed off at the first lookout point (Karu Lookout) when temperatures are forecast to reach 36C, so winter is the perfect time to pull on your books and head for the Red Centre.

Kata Tjuta backcountry on the Full Circuit Walk

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Little River Gorge, Day 2 of the Burchell Trail (Brisbane Ranges)

Friday was just glorious in Melbourne – once the ice had melted off the windscreen!  The rest of the day was crystal blue skies and not a breath of wind: perfect winter walking weather.  My erstwhile walking buddy, Deb, volunteered to brave a car shuttle with me so we could do Day 2 of the 3 day Burchell Trail, which runs north to south for 39km through the little-visited Brisbane Ranges, south-west of Melbourne.  This is a fantastic walk for those wanting to get away from it all – we didn’t see another soul for the entire walk.  On this section, which runs for 15km from Little River Gorge camping ground to the Old Mill walk-in camping ground, the orange flash trail markers are a little erratic, especially where they have been washed away along Little River in recent flash flooding, so it does require a level of confidence and sound map reading to keep on track. However, the paths themselves are quite clear – a mix of management vehicle tracks and fantastic ridge climbs with big views.  The unexpected bonus of the day was Little River Gorge – every bit as spectacular as nearby Anakie Gorge. Really looking forward to going back and walking the other two sections, which I will be writing up for the new Geelong, the Bellarine and Brisbane Ranges book.

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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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Sweeping views back to Point Addis from the Jarosite Headland

Well, I am down to my last two walks for the Geelong, Bellarine & Brisbane Ranges book, which brought me back to Point Addis along the Surf Coast.  I couldn’t believe how quiet it is out here – even in the middle of school holidays we only passed one or two walkers along the Ironbark and Jarosite tracks.  The views really are stunning, with the rich reds of the jarosite in the soil absolutely glowing in the afternoon sun,despite the cloud cover.

Tracks are reasonably well sign posted, though the map on the information board at the car park was woefully inadequate and there don’t seem to be any Parks Victoria parknotes or maps to download online either.  Hopefully the two walks I will include in the book will help close that gap.  While walking here, it is important to stay away from the high cliff edges, as the soft sandstone and jarosite is rapidly and unpredictably eroding and crumbling away.

Seacliff erosion at Pt Addis

We took our two dogs along (both on leads) and it is critical that dogs (and walkers) keep on made tracks and are diligent about using the cinnamon fungus boot wash stations on entering and leaving the park to help prevent the spread of this devastating disease which is destroying large tracts of our beautiful grass trees.  A big unexpected bonus at the end of the walk was this fearless Peregrine Falcon, sitting right on the edge of the clifftop, surveying his territory.

I am heading off to Point Danger at the end of the week to complete the walks, then it will be head down and walking boots hung up for a while, to get the walks all written up for the publishers, hopefully with a view to the book being published by August.  I have posted the list of planned walks for the new book on its dedicated page.

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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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Black Gully Dam, Inverleigh Flora & Fauna ReserveWell, what an unexpected gem I found while out walking on Monday.  The Inverleigh Flora and Fauna Reserve is around 27km west of Geelong on the Geelong-Hamilton Road and just 2km NW of the pretty historic township of Inverleigh. I need to give directions, as it’s very hard to find information about this really worthwhile site, which is plonked in the middle of the largely treeless western volcanic plains farmlands.  Cared for by a dedicated volunteer ‘Friends of’ group, this 1000+ hectare site represents remnant grassy woodlands, one of the most threatened eco-systems in Victoria, with only 1% of the original grassy woodlands of the state remaining. It really is worth spending a day there to explore, though there are no facilities and water, so you need to be self-sufficient.  The reserve is known to have almost 50 species of native orchid: perfect for a spring wildflower walk.  I also saw, among many other birds, hundreds of colourful eastern rosellas, as well as kangaroos, and even a sleepy koala up in the manna gums! The ancient dry river beds and flattened, worn sand dunes were shaped by volcanic activity some two million years ago. The walking is easy, but hot and exposed, so Black Gully Dam, about half way around the 9km circuit walk I did (which will be in the Best Walks of Geelong, Bellarine & Brisbane Ranges book), was perfect for a rest in the shade. Dogs are also allowed, though must be strictly kept on leashes and on the management tracks – and you’d definitely need to carry extra water for them, too.

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Sutherlands Creek Gorge, From Deadman's Track

Yesterday, I went for a really interesting and varied walk in and around the historic gold mining town of Steiglitz, on the edge of the Brisbane Ranges, just 40km from Geelong.  Steiglitz was once a thriving gold rush town of more than 2000 people, a newspaper, 3 pubs (and many more ‘sly grog’ tents), all built to service the miners who flocked to what was once the richest quartz reef goldfield in Australia.  All that remains today is a few buildings, including the magnificently restored courthouse, crumbling ruins which are explained well on interpretive signage, and relics of mining including huge mullock heaps.  Many of the bush walking tracks around Steiglitz follow the routes of the old streets, which gives you an idea of the scale of the original town. Today, the beautiful surrounding bushland has all but reclaimed the land, though it remains littered with old diggings and mines and no doubt quite a few ghosts!   The walking is rugged in places, but very rewarding with rocky gorges, grass tree covered hillsides and yesterday, an unexpected treat after the rain: thousands upon thousands of orange monarch butterflies – though they wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to take a photo!

Mr Suggs, The Blacksmiths, Steiglitz Township

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Late afternoon scoparia by the boardwalk, Overland Track Day 1

Wow.  Have just returned from 6 glorious days walking the Overland Track, the classic Tasmanian, 6 day trek from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair – right through the middle of Tasmania’s World Heritage listed wilderness. We had unheard of perfect weather for the entire trip – blue skies and 23 degrees – when the previous week it had been snowing!!  It really is such an incredible walk.  While the track itself is just over 60km, the terrain is very challenging, with lots of tree roots, rocks, bogs and ancient rotting boards to stumble over, in between the more modern duckboards (AUD$150 a metre, and worth ever penny to protect the fragile line swamps and grasses).  There are wonderful sidetrips to be done, to freshwater lakes and various spectacular dolorite summits – I can really recommend the long detour from Mt Pelion to Mt Oakleigh – despite the thigh deep bogs!  There was also plenty of wildlife to get up close and personal with: pademelons, wallabies, echidnas, wombats and plenty of snakes! But the standout for me was probably the flora – such unique variety: alpine button grass and cushion plant meadows, myrtle beech rainforests, snowgums, King Billy and Pencil Pines, and glorious end of summer colour of the scoparia.

Alpine cushion plants in the 'Japanese Gardens', Mt Doris, Overland Track

I am going to let my photos speak for themselves and just say, if you ever, EVER get the chance to do this incredible walk, grab it with both hands and shake every last drop out of it.  If you want to find out more about walking the Overland Track, including permits, bookings and equipment, click here.  I did my trip with Cradle Huts, who I could not recommend more highly.

Snowgums on the Overland Track, Tasmania

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