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ImageWell, I found out today from my publishers that the release date for Melbourne for Dogs is now expected to be March 2014, instead of Christmas – bummer! So to console myself, I headed up to Bacchus Marsh to see my folks and went for a gorgeous spring stroll along the riverside track which runs from Peppertree Park (off Grant Street, beside the swimming pool – good off-street parking), upstream beside picturesque Werribee River for about 2km, narrowing right at the end until you can cross to the other side at the old ford and return on the opposite bank, through parks and picnic grounds. It’s a gentle and well maintain path and very popular with local dog walkers (on lead) and cyclists.  There are great views up the valley and escarpment which mark the entrance to the geological wonder that becomes Werribee Gorge. This is an easy and pretty walk for those with kids, with opportunities to splash in the water and plenty of shade under the River Red Gums.  It’s also suitable for bikes and scooters. Combined with a visit to Bacchus Marsh’s famous orchards or pick-you-own berry farms, this makes for an easy and interesting day out, just 45 minutes from Melbourne on the Western Highway.

ImageAs a kid, we lived on a farm outside of Bacchus Marsh, which bordered Werribee River, and I remember impressive floods every couple of years, but many years ago, the base of the river was graded and cleared to allow for better flow during flood times, so it’s rare that a flood breaks the banks these days, though it did just a couple of years ago, when the path had to be rebuilt. I love walking in the spring – the sun is warm but not hot on your back, the wildflowers are out – wattle is a riot of colour and scent just now, and the skies are a lovely blue.  Suddenly, you can breathe again after the grey and chill of winter.  Glorious.

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Finally! Melbourne for Dogs is finished and off with my fabulous editor at Woodslane who will work her magic. Did you know it takes up to 5 months for a guidebook to go through the editorial/design/cartography/printing process once it leaves the author’s hands and before it hits the shelves? It’s somewhat akin to having a baby, though at least you get to sleep through the nights. Anyway, to celebrate, I have hauled off to Italy for some summer sunshine and a week of walking around Lake Como. The weather is perfect for walking just now: in the 20’s and cloudless skies. I only have a short time in between other commitments, so I have headed off on the 34km, 2 day ‘Dorsale’ walk, which goes along the spine of the mountains edging Lake Como, from Como in the south of the lake through to the tiny town of Bellagio, which is poised in the centre tip of the upside down Y of the lake.

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It’s a great solo walk: with a reasonable map and guide notes from the local alpine club, and the extensive (if somewhat confusing at times) array of signs, you basically keep the lake on your left and head north. The walk starts with a welcome leg up the first 900m of ascent, courtesy of a vertiginous funicular railway from Como up to the tiny alpine town of Brunate. From there there’s another 700 metres of ascent for the day, but it’s not all in one go, and the huge views give you plenty off excuse to stop and gape when you need to catch your breath. The walk takes you past mountain refuggios, tiny roadside chapels, grand old Italian villas, through beech forests and eventually up above the treeline into glorious mountain pastures, absolutely heaving with wildflowers, bumblebees, grasshoppers and butterflies. I expected Julie Andrews to appear, twirling around and singing ‘the Hills are alive…..’!

Cows puttering past the refuggio on their way to dinner!

Cows puttering past the refuggio on their way to dinner!

I passed only 8 other walkers the whole day which is remarkable when the lakeside towns are just heaving with people at this time of year. However, when I descended into the 1100m Pian del Tivano valley at the end of the first day to stay at the Alpetto del Torno mountain Refugio (for the best gnocchi I have eaten eaten in my whole life, thanks to Ugo the super chef/host), the valley was also heaving – not with people, but with dairy cows with bells around their neck, making music as they ambled around the pastures. Perhaps I’m not in a sound of music ad after all, but one for luxury milk chocolate! It is very close to the border with Switlzerland after all! More tomorrow in Day 2.

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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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New Port Philip Cycle Trail

New Port Philip Cycle Trail

While out walking in Melbourne’s western bayside suburbs today, I spotted these enterprising lads, who obviously decided to take the short cut from Altona across to St Kilda.  Hope they packed their snorkels! I opted for the longer route, and took in a fine 8km stretch of the Williamstown to Altona Foreshore Trail, a shared cycle/walk path which winds along the coastline from Williamstown Beach across to the fabulous off-leash PA Burns coastal reserve in Seaholme.  While the Foreshore Trail itself is on-leash for dogs,  (it runs parallel to the Jawbone Conservation area), the parks at either end of the walk are both off-leash, so plenty of exercise for everyone – particularly those whose dogs like a good run (or in the case of these kids, swim) beside the bike.

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Williamstown Wetlands, via the Foreshore Trail

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Have just spent the past week getting out and about with the Geelong Walks book – so exciting when all your work comes to fruition and people start to use it! Now, though, my plate is clear so I can knuckle down on Melbourne for Dogs, which is due to the publishers at the end of April.  From that point, it is still around 5 months of editing, designing, cartography etc until it reaches the shelves – I find the whole ‘hidden’ processes behind books quite fascinating.

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Indie, Seagull Lookout, St Kilda Marina

Meanwhile, my co-author on Melbourne for Dogs, a.k.a. Indie, is just kicking back and contemplating the seagulls from her window seat on the front of my kayak, down at St Kilda marina yesterday – a great way to cool off after the longest lasting run of 30C+ February days we’ve ever had in Melbourne.  Needless to say, we’re enjoying doing the beaches chapter of the book just now.  West St Kilda Beach is a favourite – close  by and off-leash for dogs all year round – plus the kite boarders who favour it provide endless hours of entertainment for dogs who run after their enormous, colourful kites in the shallow waters. Dog heaven.

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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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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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Sgurr Coire na Choinnichean, above the forests of Inverie, Knoydart, Scotland

Sgurr Coire na Choinnichean, above the forests of Inverie, Knoydart, Scotland

Well, the night before this glorious day, the water pipes froze in the ground here, it was THAT cold.  But in the end, despite it being the second week of December and the rest of the UK wallowing in the wettest year on record, I walked in t-shirt sleeves under blue skies and above expansive views across the sea to Skye.  In fact, it was so picture-perfect, that I can’t help but include lots of photos in this blog, to give you a sense of why this place is so special.

Though the sunlight hours are very short up here in the Western Highlands (around 5 hours in all), I decided to have a crack at a hill walk up Sgurr Coire na Choinnichean (it rhymes with ‘heineken’ apparently: ‘sgurr korry na konniken‘). It is the big hulking hill that rises above the tiny town of Inverie (reached by boat from Mallaig), but is often overlooked for it’s more glamorous neighbouring munros, which were topped with snow. However, it has some hidden surprises – and it also gets the sun for most of the day, which is incentive enough in winter!  A beautiful start steeply up through the mossy forests above Inverie, over the deer fence by way of a vertiginous stile, then a pathless clog up and up, and up some more through heather, mud and icy bog, with Inverie becoming progressively smaller below.

Looking across to Eigg and Rhum from above Inverie (c) JP Mundy 2012

Looking across to Eigg and Rhum from above Inverie.

The sky was brilliant blue and the iced up heather spectacular, as you can see:

Jet stream above the slopes of Coire na Choinneachean, Knoydart (c) JP Mundy 2012

Jet stream above the slopes of Coire na Choinneachean, Knoydart

Icicles on winter heather, Knoydart, Scotland (c) JP Mundy 2012

Icicles on winter heather, Knoydart, Scotland

After a lot of puffing up the boggy hillside, you lose sight of Inverie below and make your way around the rim of the impressive hidden gully/gorge of Allt Slochd a’Mogha (seriously, don’t ask me how to pronounce that one!).

Allt Slochd a'Mogha Gorge, Knoydart, Scotland (c) JP Mundy 2012

Allt Slochd a’Mogha Gorge, Knoydart, Scotland

Looking down the Allt Slochd a'Mogha gorge to Long Beach, Knoydart (c) JP Mundy 2012

Looking down the Allt Slochd a’Mogha gorge to Long Beach, Knoydart (c) JP Mundy 2012

At the head of the gorge, you reach a totally unexpected high level pasture-land/bog, which gives you 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains and lochs, including the magnificent Laddher Bhein, Bhein na Caillich and across to the Cuillins on Skye.

Benn na Caillich, from the plateau on Sgurr Coire na Coinnichean (c) JP Mundy 2012

Benn na Caillich, from the plateau on Sgurr Coire na Coinnichean

The final pull up the two summits of Coire na Choinnichean was not for me this day, sadly, as with the sun going down by 3pm and the rocks and ridges hanging onto their ice, I had to turn around and save it for another day.  SO tough with it close enough to grasp….

The tantalising but icy summit of Sgurr Coire na Choinnichean, with the snow-covered summit of Laddher Bhein peeking above the horizon (c) JP Mundy 2012

The tantalising but icy summit of Sgurr Coire na Choinnichean, with the snow-covered summit of my favourite munro, Laddher Bhein, peeking above the horizon

Totally wild. Utterly spectacular. Very, very hard to leave.

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Afternoon view from Knoydart across Sandaig and Morar to the distant Cuillan Ridgeline on the Isle of Skye.

Who’d have thought you’d come to Scotland in winter to walk in your t-shirt and get sunburnt?  True!  It was 1C yesterday but it was blue, blue, blue and not a breath of air.  Mind you, sunrise wasn’t until 9am and I skated along the icy path from Inverie up over the hill towards Airor then bashed across the moors and hillochs further west past Glaschoille Loch for a view across to the impressive Cuillin skyline on the Isle of Skye in the distance.  It’s really quite hard to get a sense of scale of the mountains in Scotland – they are so large, but when you are out in the wild, there is nothing to compare them to to give you a sense of scale.  What looks like a half hour walk turns out to be 2 hours, and the going is harder as, for the most part, there are no paths: you pick your way amongst the bogs and burns and tussock grass.

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View east across to Inverie from above Glaschoille. Sgurr Corrie Choinichean is the big mountain above the white washed buildings of Inverie. The snow-capped munro, Laddher Bhein (“lar-ven”) is to its left.

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Concentric frozen puddles.

I did discover there are distinct advantages to it being so cold that all the water has iced over: when yomping across a bog (there are lots of peat bogs around here), as long as you are relatively fleet of foot, the crunchy ice layer gives you just enough support to race across instead of sinking in the mire to your knees, as is my usual habit!

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