Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

OK, so it’s about time I let you into a little secret. As much as I love walking in Australia, in all its shapes and forms, there is a special place in my walking heart for the west coast and highlands of Scotland.  I lived in London for almost 10 years, and being from country-Oz, pined for a bit of remoteness from time to time.  That took me on the amazing Caledonian sleeper train to Fort William, and beyond, to the very special Knoydart Peninsula, north of Mallaig and opposite the Isle of Skye.  It is only accessible via a very long walk in, or by boat, and the first time, almost 20 years ago, we walked in with all our kit and spent an amazing few weeks here climbing some VERY big mountains, including the magnificent Laddher Bhein (pronounced ‘lar-ven’).  Since then, I’ve made it back every few years, and even managed to get hitched on a hilltop here at one stage!

This week, I am back for some winter walking, and loving it just as much as ever.  Yesterday, while walking up to Loch Dubhain, the gales were howling, the sleet rattling on my jacket and the noise of the water crashing down the burns off the hillside was deafening. Even the deer were looking a bit startled to see a wild walker.  But there was a glimpse of sun and I was rewarded with this beautiful rainbow. Fantastic.


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Clearly, the local carvers knew what it feels like to go out walking in Port Moresby by yourself …..

I have just had a couple of quick days in Port Moresby with my ‘day’ job, and found myself in a town where you actually can’t just get out and walk around, due to safety and security concerns caused by the ‘raskols’ – groups of unemployed young men.  The situation is particularly bad for women: both locals and visitors. Everyone is hustled from A to B in cars with locked doors and windows wound up, as car jacking is not uncommon. In the evening, the streets are empty apart from groups of young men hanging around on street corners, and people don’t venture outside their hotels and homes, which are behind tall security fences. Fear can breed paranoia (and black humour: one of the expatriate compounds is affectionately known as ‘Camp S**t-Scared’), but of course many people do live there very happily and accommodate their lives around these constraints, and the Papua New Guineans I met were unremittingly kind, friendly and helpful. Outside of Moresby, the security situation is much different, and the country itself is fascinating and beautiful. However, it really struck me how I take the freedom to just go out and walk for granted, but that for some people, this is not the case.  Papua New Guinea is actually home to one of the world’s most iconic long distance walks (certainly for Australians): the 100km+ Kokoda Track, which goes up into the mountains north of Port Moresby. A lung-busting pilgrimage for many of the trekkers walking in the footsteps of their WWII relatives, this demanding trek can only be undertaken with licensed commercial operators.

Tantalising view of Port Moresby port and islands beyond from my window…..

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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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View down to Llyn Nantlle Uchaf (Lake Nantlle), Snowdonia, North Wales

Sometimes you just need to know when to give up!  On my recent trip in North Wales, the day before I was due to leave was my last chance to have a go at climbing a tantalising little 653 metre hill in the Nantlle valley (in the foothills of Mt Snowdon) which had been laughing at me all week: it’s a minor peak, though it has an impressively long-winded name: Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd (no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either!). I’d managed to get half way up earlier in the week when I had a couple of hours spare and in glorious sunshine.  As is the way, this day dawned damp and grey (though not cold) and the clouds had dropped onto the top of the hills, so the Nantlle ridgeline walk I had earlier thought of was out.  Instead I thought I’d aim for the obelisk on top if Mynedd Tal-y-mignedd. The path petered out once I got up on the hills above all the ancient dry stone walls, but with a trusty ordnance survey map, I bashed through some heather, clambered VERY ungracefully over the last stone wall to cross a burn (creek), then slogged ever upwards to a knoll with spectacular views up and down the Nantlle Valley.  And then the (horizontal) rain came.  And the (gale-force) wind.  And the rain and the wind together.  And the cloud. And of course, as only happens on those British Hills, the world dropped away around me, and it was just me and the cloud (and did I mention the rain and the wind?).  It fact the weather was so foul as to be ridiculous, and I couldn’t help but laugh like a mad woman! Talk about flash backs to mad walks of my misspent youth – it was fantastic! But, with visibility so low, after slogging onwards and upwards for another hour, I just had to bail, and head back down.  Though – of course, as it turns out – just 100m short of the obelisk. Another day ….

View across the heather to the knoll on the way up Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd. The first photo overlooking the lake is taken from the top of this outcrop. Slate covered Craig y Bera (698m) is in the cloud on the left.

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Mystery Island, Vanuatu, walking track

From one end of the world to the other! Imagine circumnavigating an entire uninhabited Pacific island on a walk. And imagine it only taking 20 minutes!  Yes, Mystery (Inyeug) Island, which is plonked in the middle of the South Pacific and is Vanuatu’s southernmost island, really is THAT tiny.  And THAT beautiful – somewhat like a film set to be honest.  A mere drop in the ocean, protected by a sheltering Intao reef and cared for by the neighbouring villagers of Aneityum Island, it has a little sandy track around it which passes under pandanus and palm trees, some fabulous snorkelling and not much else.  Except – did I mention a landing strip?  The neighbouring inhabited island is so hilly, that during WWII, the Americans built a grass landing strip which basically runs the length of the island and today still has 2 flights a week to the provincial capital of Tanna Island.

The WWII and present-day landing strip at Mystery Island, Vanuatu

Most visitors to Mystery Island arrive via Cruise Ship lifeboat tender, and bring much needed cash to the islanders who operate tiny market stalls for the day trippers, but it’s also possible to make your way here independently, and stay (you need to be entirely self-sufficient) in the very basic wooden bungalow which is sometimes open and run as a community tourism project by the Aneityum Islanders. For a serious walk though, you’d need to catch a boat with your hosts back to Aneityum, and think about doing the 2.5-3 day walk around the larger island and maybe even a walk up it’s 852m Mt Inrerow Atahein – definitely on my bucket list!

Market stall holders from Aneityum Island (which is in the background) heading home from Mystery Island at the end of the day.

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As (incredible) luck would have it, my day job has brought me to the wilds of Snowdonia in North Wales this week, and I have managed to fit in some incredible walks in these beautiful Welsh mountains.  The one advantage of jet lag is that I have been up every day very early so have walked before each work day has started. At the start of the week, the weather was unimaginably good and I had time to walk up Mt Snowdon (Yr Wddfa, which means The Burial Mound), taking the easy route up the 15km return Llanberis path to start with which follows beside the remarkable mountain railway. This is a highly accessible and easy route for anyone who wishes to walk this majestic, mythical mountain (King Arthur died on its slopes and his sword Excalibur was reputedly thrown into Glaslyn (a lake) on its slopes – his knights are still supposed to be asleep under a neighbouring mountain, awaiting his return!). The walk takes you past Welsh Mountain ponies and lots of sheep and in the early morning was quiet, though very busy on the return.


I headed off the Llanberis path at LLyn Du r Arddu before the final climb to take a more interesting and peaceful route with a bit of a scramble up around Clogwyn Cloch to the top – where you are greeted by the surreal sight of a train station! I have climbed Yr Wyddfa in years gone by, via the Pyg Track and the Miners Route, but always in cloud and mist, so the views this time were just astounding. The haze of the warm day reduced visibility, but apparently on a clear day you can see all the way across to Ireland and the Isle of Man!

LLyn (Lake) Du r Arddu, beneath the summit of Yr Wyddfa (Mt Snowdon)

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Studley Park Boathouse on the Yarra River, Melbourne

There were once 7 historic boathouses lining the banks of the Yarra River – popular in Melbourne’s Victorian and Edwardian eras, when people took their pleasure most seriously with days out for genteel boating and cream teas by the river. There are still two magnificent boathouses left on the Yarra today, and even more pleasingly, they are surrounded by wonderful riverside walks along this beautiful green corridor through the heart of Melbourne.  In some parts of Yarra Bend and Fairfield Parks you can feel a hundred miles from the city, surrounded by remnant river gums, native grasslands and beautiful escarpments, though the hum of traffic is always in the background. Probably the best way to take it all in is to take the riverside walk all the way from Fairfield Park Boathouse to Studley Park Boathouse, some 10 kilometres away, crossing the pipe bridge in front of Fairfield Boathouse and turning right beside the river to walk beneath the Eastern Freeway overpass, past the beautiful Bellbird Picnic area and around Yarra Bend to end up at Studley Park Boathouse.

View to the Pipe Bridge from Studley Park boathouse

Public transport isn’t great here, so either do it as a return walk (20km) or a full day circuit by crossing the river again at Studley Park boathouse and continuing left along the river, turning right at Dight Falls to follow alongside Merri Creek, and right again to follow the main Yarra Trail back towards the Pipe Bridge and boathouse.  Alternatively, arrange for a car shuttle, but make sure you include time for a bit of boating on the river and definitely a cream tea at either end! A fantastic spring walk full of bush, wattle and birdlife – smack in the middle of the city. Dogs are fine on this walk, and there is plenty for them to smell along the way, though they must be on lead and keep an eye out for speeding mountain bikers!

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The peaceful waters of Lake Elizabeth in the Otway Ranges.

The circuit walk around Lake Elizabeth, just outside of Forrest, is like descending into some forgotten prehistoric forest. Formed in 1952 after a massive landslide dammed the East Barwon River, this newly-formed natural lake was undiscovered until an expeditionary team was sent in to find out why the river had stopped flowing.  It is estimated that the lake originally held more than 1000 million litres of water, and those living downstream were understandably a little nervous! The dirt road down to the start of the walk takes you through towering eucalypt forests and then descends into wet tree-fern lined gullies.  From the car park, you climb steadily beside the river and then down into the valley that hides this peaceful lake, which is home to shy platypus. The circuit walk takes you along the shoreline, past a small ‘beach’, underneath towering tree ferns and extravagant mosses, across duckboards through the reeds at the northern end and back again, with wonderful views across the pristine lake along the way. Dogs are allowed, as long as they remain on lead, though if you want a chance of spotting a platypus, I’d suggest leaving them at home, and timing your walk for dawn or just before dusk – you can also take guided canoe trips on the lake to get up close and personal with the wildlife.  Regardless of the time of day though, and whether you decide to walk or paddle, it’s a very special place.

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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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