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Stonehenge in mid-winter (c) JP Mundy 2015

Stonehenge in mid-winter (c) JP Mundy 2015

There is something incredibly – er – timeless and ancient about wandering around Stonehenge in mid-winter, frost on the ground, icy mist clinging to your skin and a weak wintery sun teasing from just beyond the clouds.  The kids and I dropped in late in the day on the way back from Devon to London in the new year, and if a band of druids had emerged from the mist instead of Chinese tourists, we would not have been surprised at all.

Stonehenge in the winter's sun (Well, the sun is trying at least, the clouds and mist just seem to get in the way!)

Stonehenge in the winter’s sun (Well, the sun is trying at least, the clouds and mist just seem to get in the way!)

The last time I visited, about a million and two years ago, you just parked in a layby beside the road and headed in for a look-see.  There are now plans to take the entire road underground so that the landscape is returned to what it would have been thousands of years ago when Stonehenge was first built. Now there is a most impressively and sensitively done visitors centre, 2km away, so it does not impose on the landscape.  You can choose to walk the grassed pathways across the fields, much as the locals might have done 3000 years ago, and approach Stonehenge across the plains. Alternatively, you can cop out and jump in a very efficient (and very warm!) little bus which drops you about 200 metres from the stone circle. Along with your admission price comes a free audio guide which will help answer all those questions you have: “Where are the stones from?” (Some of them are from Wales); “How did they get here?” (rolling wood carts and possibly boat); “What was it for?” (They still can’t say for sure, but possibilites are as a sun dial, place of worship and a proto-type MacDonalds drive-in – or not).  Still partly unsolved, and all the more awe-inspiring for it.

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It’s New Year’s Eve and am in the UK with the kids. Time for a lovely stroll with our extended English family today around the headland at Clevedon, near Bristol in the UK. After the cold, icy snow of the Christmas week while we were further north, the mild seaside weather (7C) today was practically tropical. Poets Walk starts from the seawall and takes you up, around and on top of the headland, with (murky – well, it is the middle of winter, after all!) views across the Bristol Channel and wider views across the mudflats and mouth of the River Yeo, which has the highest tidal fall in the UK. The walk back through the woodlands takes you under pretty arbours with cheeky little robins hopping about. It’s a great and interesting short walk to do with kids.

Poets Walk, Clevedon, UK

Poets Walk, Clevedon, UK

The bonus about almost any short walk in the UK, is that it invariably ends up at a cosy pub, and being New Year’s mulled cider was the order of the day. Not a bad way to see in the new year!

Eucla - it's a LONG way from anywhere (C) JP Mundy 2014

Eucla – it’s a long, LONG way from anywhere

Looking west across the 'bite' of the Great Australian Bight

Looking west across the ‘bite’ of the Great Australian Bight

Well, hello after a VERY long time – I feel I owe you about a year of posts, as I have been travelling like a loon with work this year and haven’t found the time to update you – this year has seen me in Mongolia, Viet Nam, Canada, Wales, Nepal and India – though regrettably, not out and about doing much walking, other than the gorgeous Ridgeway in England for my birthday in May. In the June holidays though, the kids and I decided it was road trip time and drove 4,500km across the Nullabor Desert to Perth. It was epic – in the genuine sense of the word. Where else can you drive dead straight for 90 miles (145km), and then they have to put a 6 degree bend in the road to account for the curvature of the earth???!!!! And along the way, the road doubles up as an airstrip for the Royal Flying Doctor Service?!

Across the Nullabor

Across the Nullabor – Yes.  It’s flat.

Anyway, we had a great trip, across our vast and beautiful land: the Great Australian Bight was full of humpback whales and their babes, lolling about just metres from the cliffs and the beauty and silence of the land was very healing for the busy, 21st Century soul. Oh and finally, finally, I got to visit the incredible Wave Rock. Just. Wow.

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One of the hidden limestone blowholes, that connects to the Great Australian Bight – about a kilometre away, and blasts fresh salt air up at you in teh middle of the desert!

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 A number of the ‘settlements’ across the Nullabor are actually just petrol stations. 

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A salt lake road crossing outside Nullabor

Late afternoon looking west across the Bight

Late afternoon looking west across the Bight

Autumn leaves in Bright - living up to its name!

Autumn leaves in Bright – living up to its name!

Had a totally glorious family weekend up in the High Country last weekend – in perfect Autumn weather. The autumn leaves were just starting to turn in the beautiful mountain village of Bright, the night air was crisp and cool, and the daytime skies were blue, blue, blue! There is so much to do and see around there, even outside of the ski season, so it’s really worth the 4 hour drive from Melbourne.  Local produce stalls are very distracting, with walnut and chestnut farms, olive groves, and berry and hop farms on either side of The Great Alpine Road to delay your journey, not to mention the VERY tempting vineyards – we had a very indulgent Autumn degustation lunch at Gapstead Winery: think quail and slow roasted autumn fruits – yummmmmm!  Our favourite roadside stall was selling roasted chocolate and chilli pumpkin seeds! Needless to say, our pantry is bulging!

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Bins of freshly harvested walnuts at Gapstead

The kids and I did some off-road ‘adventure’ segway-ing in the morning with Peter of Bright Segways, up and over rocky bush trails, through forestry trails and even over a swing bridge across the Ovens River. Who knew you could 4WD on a segway?! This is hands-down pretty fabulous family entertainment and a real crowd pleaser. What a hoot!

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Segway-ing beside the Ovens River near Bright

 

On our second day, we took in a very easy and picturesque 30km stretch of the ‘Murray to the Mountains’ Rail Trail which runs 106km from Wangaratta to Beechworth. The section we did was virtually flat, and the entire trail is sealed all the way, with short distances between towns, and a number of trail-side cafes catering to cyclists – so it’s very family-friendly, and a more achievable option than riding your bike from the valley up to the top of Mount Buffalo, which seems to be a pretty popular – if masochistic – activity (it takes bout 2 hours of straight up – great training if you’re planning on entering the Tour de France!). The section which we did (a far more leisurely 2 hours) takes you past beautiful pastures and farmland, much of which was originally sown to tobacco, and you frequently pass the old tin tobacco drying sheds.  Today there are  instead hanging hop gardens and all those lovely orchards and vineyards I mentioned. It helped us greatly that we had a willing aunt and uncle who assisted with the car shuttle, but you can also time your ride to coincide with a Victoria Rail Coach (yes, that’s a bus masquerading as a train!), which purportedly will put your bikes in the luggage compartments below and get you back to your starting point – probably best to ring ahead and check.

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Autumn colour on the Murray to Mountain Rail Trail

On our way back to Melbourne, we detoured for the stunning, windy drive up Mt Buffalo – one of Victoria’s first national parks and original skiing centres over 100 years ago.  It’s stunning granite outcrops and alpine plateau meadows are so dramatic and quite unusual in Victoria.

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View from the base of ‘The Horn’ at Mt Buffalo

Mt Buffalo is the home of the Australian Alp’s endangered Bogong moth, as well as the equally endangered historic Mt Buffalo Chalet, which is thankfully about to get a $7m refurbishment. There are also endless bushwalking options, including the aptly named ‘Big Walk’ up the mountain. But it’s the short (1.6km) but very sweet clamber up Mt Buffalo’s ‘Horn’ which tops everything off – literally – at 1,723 metres (5,653 feet). While the only-way-is-up, the walk is not hard and there are plenty of rocks and the occasional seat to lean against and catch your breath as your mountain-goat children leap blithely from boulder to boulder!

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Walking up The Horn at Mt Buffalo

 

The view from the top was pretty special to be honest – 360 degree views across the Australian Alps, with Australia’s highest peak, Mt Kosciousko in NSW, a very remote but visible presence. Despite the clear, calm weather, it was a chilly 10C at the top, even in the middle of the day, so I can imagine it is pretty hostile at times – road access to the Horn car park is closed in the winter months, when the whole plateau is often covered in snow.

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View from the start of the climb up The Horn, Mt Buffalo

 

The walk/climb to the top has recently been upgraded to make it safer and more accessible – steps are cut directly into the rock, or have been installed in some places, grip has been laid in particularly slippery areas and railings are provided where needed – especially on the top of the enormous summit boulder where there is a directional plinth and signage indicating surrounding peaks. All this makes the short walk a great and really interesting option for families with children, with the reward of stunning panoramas at the top while your heart stops tap-dancing in your chest. There now – I think I have described my perfect weekend.

 

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View north-east from the summit of The Horn, Mt Buffalo

 

Melbourne for Dogs - who could resist that brown-eyed retriever?  Not me!

Melbourne for Dogs – who could resist that brown-eyed retriever? Not me!

I can’t believe it’s been almost 3 months since I managed to update my blog!  Well, actually I can, as I have been pretty busy, with work trips to Mongolia, Canberra, Hanoi and Cambodia since then (plenty of stories and sights to share). But my big news is that the first copy of my new book, Melbourne for Dogs, has just arrived in my hot little hands today, as an advance copy from the printers.  Honestly – the anticipation has been almost too much to bear – it’s been somewhat like an elephant’s gestation, 2 years in the making and finally it has popped out fully formed in glossy, glorious colour!

RSPCA Victoria have come on board and endorsed it, which is wonderful, and we’ll be launching it at the Melbourne Dog Lovers Show, which will be at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton from 2nd – 4th May 2014.  You can pre-order it from Woodslane online, or after the show, it will be available in all good bookstores and online, as well as through RSPCA shops, and some vets and pet stores as well. It will retail for $24.95, but if you buy one at the show, it will be on special for $19.95. There are over 700 off-lead dog parks and 50+ off-lead beaches in there, as well as a series of longer dog and people-friendly walks to keep you entertained, in the style of the Melbourne’s Best Walks book.  I do hope you and your pooch enjoy using it to explore (off-lead) pastures new – Indie and I certainly enjoyed researching it!

IMG_2247Beautiful Waiheke Island is just a short and picturesque ferry ride from downtown Auckland, making it a justly popular weekend and holiday destination for many North Islanders in the summer.  It’s even an easy visit from east coast Australia – an easy 4 hour flight to Auckland, jump on the 30 minute airport bus to the wharf, onto the ferry and then you are there – ready to get vertical and relax! Take note of the welcoming sign at Point Kennedy!  There are hundreds of small bays and hidden beaches tucked in around 20+ wineries, restaurants and artists studios, so even on the occasional cloudy day, there is plenty to do. There are artists studio trails and gourmet food and wine trails to follow, as well as regular sculpture festivals. Absolutely don’t miss the Connell’s Bay sculpture property in the west of the island, which you must pre-book. Reflecting this, in summer, the island population swells to 30,000 from its permanent resident population of 8,000 though to be honest, the beaches still feel blissfully empty.

IMG_2282We’ve just spent a great week there over new year, staying with friends close to the main village of Oneora, and just minutes walk from lovely Oneroa Beach.  If you can bear to drag yourself away from the water, there are plenty of short walks all over the island, many of them passing across headlands to reach secluded bays.  This one from Little Oneroa Beach (popular with the locals) heads up over the headland to Fishermans Rock and Divers Rock, where local teenagers test their mettle clambering up and leaping off 4m and 8m high rock shelves into the ocean below (at high tide only please!). Most of the island is hilly, so it’s a great place to build up your calf muscles.! The local tourist information centre has a range of free brochures with short walks you can do all over the island.

Overlooking Calypso Bay on Motuihe Island, nr Waiheke Island, NZ

Overlooking Calypso Bay on Motuihe Island, nr Waiheke Island, NZ

If you have a friends with a boat, sail across to one of the many small islands around Waiheke – we headed to uninhabited Motuihe Island for the day, moored at picture-perfect Calypso Bay and just hung out. There’s a one and a half hour circuit walk mown into the island’s grasslands, which takes you from Calypso Bay, around to the wharf and back again – there’s no shade or facilities so take a hat and plenty of water, but the views are incredible the whole way, and if you get too hot, you can always detour for a quick swim! Stealing from a well known Queensland marketing campaign ….. beautiful one day, perfect the next!

A few weeks ago, I was in Jakarta – hot, humid, heaving Jakarta.  I hadn’t been there for a decade and in that time it had grown up – literally: towering shopping malls and office buildings, glittering apartments and unbelievably bad traffic. However, somethings hadn’t changed – great street food and truly terrible footpaths which making walking about quite the adventure. I didn’t have time to travel further on this short trip, so had to save the tantalising outing for a walk up one of Java’s incredible volcanoes for another time. However, from the towering hotel, I did spot an expanse of green and quiet tucked in behind the crazy  modern thoroughfares and headed out at the first opportunity.

Netherlands Field of Honour and Jakarta War Cemetery

Netherlands Field of Honour and Jakarta War Cemetery

Following my nose through increasingly tiny streets and laneways, I found myself at a ramshackle local graveyard, surrounded by flowerstalls and hawkers, which backed onto the Jakarta War Cemetery and Netherlands Field of Honour. Hundreds of expatriate men and even some women were executed on this site by the Japanese in WWII, and there are graves from a wide group of the Commonwealth nations – including Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, as well as over 2000 Dutch.  It’s a solemn but very peaceful place, with beautifully tended gardens and a still heart which safeguards the memory of those who died so tragically, providing pause for reflection in the heart of a rambunctious, resolutely modern city.

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