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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

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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

 

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The first time I visited Canberra as an adult tourist, I practically missed it – really! For those not from Canberra and unused to its unique, hub-and-axis design, it is nearly impossible to ‘find’ any shops or schools or even the city centre (? Civic) as you drive through.  However, after coming here for years for work on a fly-in-fly-out basis, I have finally started to get to know this quite beautiful planned city.

The National Carillion, Canberra © JP Mundy 2013

The National Carillion, Canberra

Designed by Americans Walter and Marion Burley Griffith in 1912 in response to a global architectural competition to design a fitting national capital city for Australia, it was not until the 1950’s when then Prime Minister Robert Menzies decided to commit his energy, support and importantly, Treasury funds, which enabled the full realisation of the Griffiths’ original vision for the nation’s capital – including the magnificent man-made lake. A great way to see this vision on foot, if you only have a short time here, is to take in the 5km central circuit walk around the shoreline of Lake Burley Griffith – the southern shore of which follows the RJ Menzies walk. There is great deal to take in along this walk, popular with active Canberrans on foot, bike, roller blade and even motorised skateboards! There are plenty of information plaques to keep you interested along the way.

The Canadian Golden Jubilee flagpole

The Canadian Golden Jubilee flagpole

Starting at Commonwealth Park,  and heading clockwise towards the magnificent National Carillion on its own island in the lake, you stroll along the Menzies walk past the enormous (128 feet) wooden flagpole made of a single Douglas Fir brought from British Columbia as a gift to Canberra from the people of Canada to commemorate the city’s Golden Jubilee.

Further on there are pretty gardens with views sweeping directly across both Old and New Parliament Houses – a sight where you can really appreciate the ‘land axis’ of Burley-Griffith’s design. Keep an eye out for Sir Robert Menzies himself, strolling along the lakeside of his beloved lake.

Watch out for life-size Prime Minister Robert Menzies strolling towards you on the RJ Menzies walk

Watch out for life-size Prime Minister Robert Menzies strolling towards you on the RJ Menzies walk

I was really taken with the National Carillion though, housing 55 bells in its  towering geometric structure. While there are regular performances by Canberra’s keen carillionists, every quarter of an hour, the beautiful bells mark out a chime. It’s early worth wandering out onto the island to enjoy the views of the tower as well as the rest of the lake. Keep an eye out for the Paris-style engraved padlocks starting to appear on the footbridge across to the island – lovers declare their love by locking padlocks onto its railings and tossing the keys into the water below. Gotta love a bit of romance!

Lock it up and throw away the key, this love ain't going anywhere!

Lock it up and throw away the key, this love ain’t going anywhere!

From the Carillion, head up and across the bridge and turn right to join the northern shoreline, looking bcd towards Mt Ainslie, the views across to the War Memorial and Carillion are beautiful in the late afternoon.  Soon the walk takes you past the National Gallery and it’s worth detouring through the extensive sculpture gardens.  Do you recognise Anthony Gormley’s Angel of North (it’s one of 5 life-size maquettes of the gigantic original which is on the M1 in the north of England)?

The National Carillion tucked under the Angel of the North's wings

The National Carillion tucked under the Angel of the North’s wings

Just past the gallery, you can stroll on the grass outside the High court. I am so grateful I live in a country where you can just wander up to such critical buildings without having to leap through, under and over all sorts of security. Further along and you can walk beneath the UN Flag Display – quite a fun guessing game with or without kids – providing you don’t mind craning your neck. I think I got about 20/150 right – oh dear! The design museum sits between all the flags, right on the waterfront, then its past Parliament House and the peace garden before heading up and over the bridge back towards the city centre. A really gorgeous and interesting 5km stroll for the early evening. Thanks Canberra!

Canberra;s UN Display of Flags with the High Court in the background

Canberra’s UN Display of Flags with the High Court in the background

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ImageI just love, love, LOVE walking in Australia on cool, crisp autumn days.  What’s not to like – you don’t get hot, you don’t have to carry gallons of water and you don’t have to worry about stepping on the slithery ones. Today Deb, co-author Indie-the-Dog and I headed for the Dandenongs – only 40 minutes from Melbourne’s city centre but a million miles away in terms of peace and beauty.  We did the 14km return trail walk from the beautiful hill town of Emerald to Cockatoo and back, taking in the spectacular autumn leaf beauty of Nobilis Gardens and Emerald Lake Park and the towering eucalyptus and colourful funghii of Wrights Forest. For a shorter walk you could always take the bus back from Cockatoo (though not with a dog), but we were glad of the return walk, as the weather only got better as we went along, and the late afternoon rays through the Japanese maples were breathtaking.  A fantastic bush walk with a dog, as there is an off-leash park at either end, though dogs must be on lead for the rest of it. If you do the walk without a dog on weekends and school holidays, you can take a load off and catch the Puffing Billy steam train back from Cockatoo at 3pm.

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a chance to post my latest walks, as I’ve been doing a lot of travel for my day job this year: Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Timor Leste – but not a spare moment for walking in each of these incredible destinations. Grrr! This week though, I did manage to get up to the Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park, in Victoria’s west, where I hadn’t been for 10 years.  Stupid me for taking so long to get back here – I had forgotten about the extraordinary rock formations and abundant wildlife, and frankly terrific walking, especially in the crisp, clear autumn weather. And all this just an easy 3.5 hour drive from Melbourne.

ImageThe Wonderland area, just outside of the main centre of Halls Gap, has got to represent some of the most interesting walking in Victoria – the walk through ‘The Grand Canyon’, while nowhere near on the scale of its famous American counterpart, is nonetheless spectacular. There is a short 1km loop route absolutely perfect for kids, who will just love it, leaping over rocks and scrambling beneath under hangs. You could spend days just exploring this area, and there are good walks brochures for sale in the town which outline a dozen or so walks of various lengths and difficulty.

MacKenzie Falls, The Grampians (C) JP Mundy

MacKenzie Falls, The Grampians (C) JP Mundy

Another beautiful area, further along the Mt Victory Road, past the lookout of The Balconies, is MacKenzies Falls.  Take your knees along for the walk, which takes in 250+ steps on the way down the gorge to the base of these spectacular year-round falls, which must be 30m high and then some. I love how there is an entirely independent weather system at the base of waterfalls, with wind gushing from its base even on the stillest days. Parks Victoria are still working to restore major track damage along the gorge left from the 2012 floods, so beyond the waterfall is still closed as helicopters fly in the materials to restore the tracks.

The other bonus of the area is the wildlife – in Halls Gap itself there are kangaroos literally bouncing down the main street, and you have to drive slowly everywhere you go to avoid all the pretty black wallabies. Over breakfast in the morning, I was also visited by a rowdy flock of cockatoos checking me out. Could have stayed for weeks.

Curious Cockatoo at Halls Gap

Curious Cockatoo at Halls Gap (c) JP Mundy 2013

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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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OK, so strictly speaking, this has nothing whatsoever to do with walks – well, except that I was walking past my post-box this morning, when I saw that I had an unusual delivery and couldn’t resist taking this photo. A tiny adult ring-tail possum (about the size of a man’s fist) had taken up residence and curled up inside for it’s daytime nap! It seemed most content for the whole day, opening its big boggly eyes at me each time I went past, and grooming itself contentedly in between snoozes (they’re nocturnal) but showing no signs of wanting to decamp, even when the postie delivered the mail mid-afternoon!

Possum in my postbox!

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