Feet First Australia

exploring Australia (and sometimes further afield) on foot


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Keen for a Winter Walk? Head to Tasmania!

Don’t delay going bushwalking in Tasmania because the island state has a reputation for harsh winter weather. While many of the classic walks are snowbound, and suited only to experienced hikers, hundreds of kilometres of less challenging cold-weather leg stretches await you. (The oysters are at their best in winter too!)

One way to appreciate Tasmania’s winter on foot is to explore the coast; five of my favourite coastal walks are:

Three Capes Track – 46km, one-way – moderate

Tasmania’s southeast coast can be wild and woolly in winter but that only makes its heath covered moors and sea cliffs, the tallest in Australia, even more spectacular. The 4-day lodge-based Three Capes Track is over-engineered in places, and some may welcome the occasional legs that aren’t stepped or boardwalked, but the scenery will leave you open mouthed and each day’s walk ends at welcoming rain- and wind-proof accommodation.

 

Freycinet Peninsula Circuit – 42km, 4 days – moderate-hard

There’s much more to Freycinet than its headlining Wineglass Bay. Circumnavigating the east-coast peninsula on foot takes you through she-oak and eucalypt forests, around pink granite boulders festooned with lichens, along white beaches impressed with the footprints of plovers and oystercatchers, and over mountain tops presenting dramatic 360o views over land and sea. Sheltered camp sites protect you from some weather but beware the possums, which have learned to undo pack zips to find food!

 

The Docks to Killiecrankie – 8km A-to-B – easy-moderate

Boulders burnished orange with lichen feature in every photo spread of Flinders Island, off Tasmania’s northeast coast, and rock is the star of this Bass Strait island walk. There are cliffs that attract rock climbers with pitches called Toblerone and Trust Me I’m An Idiot; natural granite paving; rock formations resembling modern artworks and intergalactic travellers; and a layered, fractured archway cut by the sea.

 

Rocky Cape to Sisters Beach – 19km loop – Moderate (with lots of rock hopping)

Rewarding the careful step work necessary to navigate the rocky coastline injury-free, this all-day loop hike through Rocky Cape National Park takes you from treeless hills gifting views east and west along Tasmania’s north coast to shoreline paved with fingers of paper-thin layered rock reaching into the sea. Along the way you visit caves once used by local aborigines and pass through Tasmania’s only stand of saw banksias.

 

South Cape Bay – 15km return – easy

Treading the South Coast Track in winter tests endurance and survival skills, but it’s worth driving as far southwest as roads go in Tasmania to tread the first/last leg of the famous wilderness trek. Leaving from Cockle Creek, this walk meanders through eucalypt forest and traverses button grass moors on its way to a shaly black bluff overlooking the Southern Ocean, South Cape Bay, and South East Cape, continental Australia’s southernmost landmass.

Have you got other favourite winter walks in Tasmania? Tell me about them.

These five walks are described in detail and mapped in my new book, Top Walks in Tasmania, published by Explore Australia, due out September 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Treading a different Spanish trail

The Camino de Santiago is not the only walk in Spain. And, while online and printed travel blogs and journalism can suggest otherwise, kilometres of walking trails across the country lead to places other than Santiago de Compostela. 

The following is an article I wrote about walking in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, almost as far from the well-trodden pilgrims’ route as you can get.

Buying 3kg of Spanish weaving is a foolish final preparation for a two-day walk in the Sierra Nevada. But the blanket, worked in green, red, yellow, white and black, will perfectly cover our cat-shredded settee at home, so my new husband chivalrously offers to carry the souvenir in his backpack over the 26.5 kilometres ahead.

Simon and I have come to Las Alpujarras, the valleys and ravines on the Sierra Nevada’s southern flank, at the end of our honeymoon, for a taste of rural Spain after overindulging in cities. And the mountain town of Pampaneira, where we disembark the Granada bus, could not be more different from the Andalucian city that wears the Alhambra as its crown. Pampaneira’s modest landmark is the steeple of the whitewashed 16th century Iglesia de Santa Cruz.

A prosperous silk-producing region during Muslim times and the last Moorish stronghold after Granada fell to the Reconquista in 1492, Las Alpujarras was repopulated by Christians from northern Spain, yet its white towns retain their Berber look. Facing south, away from the worst weather, two-storey houses with flat roofs and chimneypots are wedged shoulder-to-shoulder along twisting alleys. And a few steps from the shops and cafes around Pampaneira’s Plaza de la Libertad, villagers still live in first-floor rooms above their animals and manure smears cobbles outside wooden ground-floor doors.

Pampaneira was almost blindingly white in the sun shining on our arrival but it’s raining now so I hug my paper-wrapped blanket protectively and splash back to our iron bed on terra cotta tiles in Hostal Pampaneira (www.hostalpampaneira.com/en/). In the hotel restaurant, through a door off the busier bar, we tuck into croquettas, rabbit casserole and honeyed eggplant under the glassy stare of a wall-mounted boar’s head.

Ours is the gentler, and lower altitude, of two Alpujarras walks in Lonely Planet’s “Hiking in Spain” guide, a walk on village trails and way-marked long-distance footpaths through towns, farms and national park. With hiking poles, guidebook pages and maps bought in Madrid, we set off after breakfast, climbing from Pampaneira (1055m) to Bubion (1300m), the second of three towns stepped up Poqueira Ravine. Above us are only Capileria and the Sierra’s autumn snow.

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Having taken a last look at the three white towns from a ridgetop (1809m) – and caught our breaths – we enter pine and oak forest, emerging from trees above a broader valley, all green leaves and golden poplars beneath blue sky and wisps of white cloud. Pumpkin patches and leafy corn stalks and trees thick with mulberries and almonds line our way. Dogs bark. Roosters crow. Simon yelps when he turns his ankle on a hard, green walnut hidden under softly spiked fallen chestnuts. (We should have worn boots rather than walking sandals and runners.)

Red geraniums and strings of drying peppers festoon the houses in tiny Capilerilla and Pitres, where it’s market day. We buy oranges in front of the village church before refuelling with cheese-and-tomato bocadillos (sandwiches) at the nearby bar.

Fifteen minutes further on foot is Mecina, the largest of three clustered villages. Leaving Simon to rest his ankle in Hotel de Mecina Fondales (http://hoteldemecina.com/), I continue, down through Mecinilla and Fondales, and more steeply down a muddy track to an Islamic-era stone bridge over Rio Trevelez.

Daydreaming about the bridge builders, the men who worked the adjoining ruined mill, and the people and animals that have crossed it since, I am nearly skittled by five mountain bikers careering through history.

We have booked dinner at L’Atelier (https://www.facebook.com/lateliervegrestaurant/), a vegetarian guesthouse and cooking school on Mecina’s edge. Then-chef/owner Jean-Claude Juston greets our marginally early arrival with stereotypical French censure, “This a guesthouse, not a hotel!” But between seating us and retrieving menus from his kitchen, he becomes a charmer. He soon proves his culinary prowess, too, with chestnut soup (“I gathered them this morning,”); parcels of spinach, pinenuts, onion, raisins, rosewater and cinnamon; and a vegetable paella as delicious as the seafood one in Madrid’s Plaza Major was disappointing.

A stroll to the town of Busquistar first thing on day two warms us up for the zigzag cobbled walk down to the river and up the far side in the footsteps of silk traders and pack animals, like the handsome donkey at the road junction up top.

With Simon choosing the ankle-kinder bitumen route to the next town, I solo down to Notaez, a hamlet below a red bluff from which a mountain goat with don’t-mess-with-me horns observes my descent: through aromatic wild thyme, fennel, and rosemary, past olive groves, grape vines and vegetable beds. I walk to the rhythm of irrigation waters and sheep bells.

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The track beyond Notaez is poorly marked and I briefly lose my way but a prickly uphill scramble to rejoin the track is rewarded with a walker’s-only view of the town of Castaras, sat on a rocky outcrop ringed with poplars. I rejoin Simon outside the lone bar, behind the church, and watch a dog move grudgingly from the middle of the road four times to let cars pass during a lunch of crusty bocadillos.

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A woman patiently waits for me to photograph the age-old village spring in Nieles before collecting the water she needs for her kitchen, and from there we start up and down. The air is ripe with quinces and sheep. We pick a pomegranate and eat its juicy seeds. Then we are wading across Rio Guadalfeo and starting our last climb.

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I am relieved to reach Alqueria de Morayma (www.alqueriamorayma.com/en/) but equally sad, for foolishly we have booked only one night in this renovated farm complex before an early bus.

Our timber-beamed room is too small to swing a jamon and the only barrier between sleeping area and bathroom is an Alpujarras woven curtain much like my recent purchase, but we need nothing more except a shower followed by refreshment in the main house.

The barman easily persuades us to toast our walk with the property’s organic syrah and as we drink, four people behind us chat over a shared plate of fish and an older couple reads beside the crackling fire. Worn farm implements hang on the walls and long-life eco bulbs illuminate old lanterns.

Dinner starts with jamon, olives and cheese. Pumpkin and yabby soup follows. And the chicken cooked with fig, quince and prunes is, Simon declares between mouthfuls, “As good a plate of food as I’ve ever had.”

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Twenty four hours after spooning the last crème caramel and boozy sultanas from a terra cotta pot in the old farmhouse, we are in Cordoba’s Parador hotel, drinking Pedro Ximenez and watching satellite television, both of us wishing we were back in the mountains.

GETTING THERE:

Alsina Graells/ALSA (www.alsa.es/en/) operates buses to the Alpujarras; Granada to Pampaneira takes 2h and the return trip, from Cadiar to Granada (passengers can board at Alqueria de Morayma’s front gate) takes 3h.

WANT SOMEONE ELSE TO DO THE PLANNING:

If finding your own maps and plotting your own route sounds too much like hard work, you can join a wonderful self-guided walking tour of the Alpujarras with Outdoor Travel:

http://www.outdoortravel.com.au/content/pdfs/2017/Spain_Alpujarras_Sierra_Nevada_SG_walk_2018.pdf

 


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Watching My Step on African Shores

Ten minutes’ walk from where ceiling fans stir potted plants as diners savour steak brochette and seafood bisque, women wrapped in multicoloured fabrics wade out from a riverbank slimy and stinking from decades of drying and salting fish, to meet a pirogue returning with a late catch. Such are the disparities of life in Saint-Louis, in the Republic of Senegal.  And herein lay the frustrations and fascinations of this West African country.

dsc_1763Senegal The Ghambia

Senegal meets few of the requisites for a relaxing holiday or a “normal” honeymoon. Travelling is not easy here, even in a group; rather, my new husband and I are visiting Senegal, and the Gambia, which it enfolds, for an adventure in cultures very different from our own.

Day three of a two-week Peregrine tour of Senegal and The Gambia puts eight travellers and guide Mohammed in a Toyota Coaster heading north from Senegal’s sprawling capital, Dakar. (Peregrine’s ground tour operated only this once; they now run adventure cruise tours that do not visit Saint-Louis.) Sharing the smooth-ish bitumen with donkey carts, trucks, and crowded public mini-buses with live sheep on their roofs, we drive through towns swamped by plastic rubbish and bristling with satellite dishes, and pass clusters of solar panel-capped thatched huts set amid harvest-ready corn and millet. We see countless weaver birds attending bauble-like nests on acacias and a trio of vultures hunched over road-kill before we cross Gustave Eiffel-designed Pont (bridge) Faidherbe and stop outside Hotel de la Poste in Saint-Louis.

dsc_1907Senegal The Ghambia

Founded in 1659, on the river island of N’Dar, Saint-Louis was the first permanent French settlement in Africa. It became a wealthy centre for trade in goods and slaves, with a vibrant metis (Franco-African Creole) culture. The capital of Senegal until 1957, three years before the majority Muslim country’s independence, Saint-Louis was briefly capital of French West Africa but its status waned from 1902 when Dakar took that title.

Saint-Louis was also a fuelling stop on the colonial airmail route to Africa and South America, and the pilots, including Jean Mermoz, who made the first trans-Atlantic flight between Africa and South America in 1930, stayed at La Poste. Period posters and photographs decorate the hotel’s walls and the dining room ceiling is painted with a map of the mail route. Aeronautical nostalgia continues in the rooms, with B&W portraits of pilots and air conditioners that sound like propeller engines.

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An hour after checking in we regroup in the lobby for a walking tour.

Saint-Louis has long since outgrown N’Dar island, colonising the mainland and the Langue de Barbarie Peninsula, a sand spit running 600km down the Atlantic Coast. From Place Faidherbe, the town square and main venue for the renowned Saint-Louis Jazz Festival, held each May, Mohammed leads us across the muddy Senegal River to the sand-spit suburbs.

dsc_1733Senegal The Ghambia

Dozens of colourful pirogues stripe the riverbank. Afternoon sun gilds children dripping from a swim while others chant verses in an open-air Koran school. And sheep and goats are everywhere, oblivious to their roles in the upcoming Tabaski Festival, which celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to prove his faith, before God provided a sheep instead.  Moslems are expected to buy the biggest sheep they can afford, says Mohammed, who spent $100 on an animal for his family in Mali. “And God knows if you don’t pay enough!”

Grazing among the sheep to be killed, their meat then shared with family and friends, are robust red-collared animals. These lucky sheep are pampered because the longer they live the better their owners’ fortunes.

Further along the sandy road are new homes that Mohammed says cost over $150,000; they belong to fishers who started with one boat and now run half a dozen. The women who dry and salt their catches day after day for local sale and export earn dramatically less, however, yet the three we come upon working amid racks of fish heads and fillets covered in flies still smile broadly for photographs.

dsc_1755Senegal The Ghambia

We escape the squelchy fish market in need of a lungful of sea breeze however a chorus of voices and rhythmic drumming divert us. It’s an all-singing, all-dancing dusk wedding party for twin brides married in the mosque earlier (our language skills don’t run to finding out where the new husbands are). There is gold and beading everywhere and I feel embarrassingly underdressed in sandals and fisherman’s pants.

dsc_1791Senegal The Ghambia

At 2km long and 400m wide, Saint-Louis island is easily explored on foot, but horse-drawn carriages are popular too so our second afternoon is spent clip-clopping the town’s length.  We stop at the 1828 cathedral and the twenty-years younger Grande Mosque with its distinctly Christian clock tower. Everyone admires, and some of us buy, lengths of Manjak (Catholic ethnic minority) textiles at Ateliers d’Art. Weavers string looms across a small yard around the corner, two days’ work selling in the shop for about $20.

And every street we roll along is lined with double- and triple-storey buildings with wrought iron lace-trimmed wooden balconies and shuttered ground-floor doors outside many of which sit women roasting peanuts in hot sand over braziers. The nuts are scrumptiously dry and crunchy.

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Saint-Louis was World Heritage listed in 2000, but while some buildings have been/are being restored, many need urgent work. What we need, though, is refreshment, so it’s back to Hotel de la Poste’s Safari Bar for a very colonial gin and tonic among glass-eyed animal heads.

FACTS:

Emirates flies to Madrid, Spain, from where Iberia connects to Dakar via the Canary Islands.

Stay at Hotel de La Poste: https://www.hoteldelapostesaintlouis.com (French only)

 


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Take a walk in a (Melbourne) park.

Visit any Melbourne park and it is immediately obvious that patches of public space mean different things to different people. One’s shade tree is another’s hub for playing chasey; and not everyone sees lawn as an invitation to throw a Frisbee or boot a footy. So we’re lucky that Melbourne has parks aplenty suited to diverse wants and needs, a factor, no doubt, in Victoria’s capital being voted the world’s most liveable city by The Economist seven years in a row.

Charles La Trobe, the first superintendent of the Port Phillip District of New South Wales, and subsequently first lieutenant-governor of the colony of Victoria, set aside expanses of land around the young city of Melbourne for open space, parkland and gardens. While formal sportsgrounds, hospitals, rail lines and houses have since reclaimed much of that land, and the city’s continuing sprawl and infrastructure projects threaten more, the capital of the once number-plate boasting “garden state” is still dotted with green. An Aboriginal camping ground before European colonisation and the largest open space in the inner-city, Royal Park is a remnant of La Trobe’s vision.

The Macquarie dictionary defines a park as: “an area of land within a town, often with recreation and other facilities, which is set aside for public use.”  But how do you define “use”?  Melbourne has wonderful parks in which to do all manner of things – or nothing at all.

Birding Bliss

The corner of Warrigal and South roads, Moorabbin, doesn’t scream “bird watching paradise” but Karkarook Park is filled with surprises. A 40-hectare oasis in a desert of industry, it centres on a lake open to kayaks and small single-hulled sailboats and its wetlands filter bay-bound stormwater.

 

The lake was once a sand mine – Karkarook is an aboriginal word meaning “sandy place” – but feathered and human fishers now compete companionably for rainbow trout and red fin.

Intensive revegetation has attracted birdlife and purple swamphens, white-plumed honeyeaters and superb fairy wrens are among the 110-plus species recorded in the park. You can watch them from a waterfront hide, just off the 6km of walking tracks, but birds also paddle around boardwalk uprights and waddle past picnickers on the manicured lawns.

Heal Thyself

In the Wurundjeri dreaming, Bunjil the wedge-tailed eagle created Darebin Creek and its surrounding bush as a place for people to find joy and be at peace, and that’s the ultimate aim of the Spiritual Healing Trail in Darebin Parklands (also known as Rockbeare Park).

 

Gifted by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community as a gesture of reconciliation, the trail takes a 1.4km walk through the park, along the creek and onto Mt Puffalo’s rocky crown. A brochure and signs guide you through the five stages: Gathering, Purifying, Contemplation, Possibilities and Ready to Go.

Take time out to slow down and get in touch with yourself, with others and with the land.

 Let’s Get Physical

It’s exhausting just ticking off the get-fit options in Princes Park, which reaches 1.5km along Royal Parade north of the city.

 

At its heart is the historic home of the Carlton Football Club, now the Blues’ administrative centre and training ground and home ground for Carlton’s AFLW games. Carlton Cricket Club and Princes Park Carlton Bowls Club have also been based here since the late 19th century and Princes Hill Tennis Club since 1919.

Pedestrian and cycling tracks circle and crisscross the park, with distance posts and an assortment of torture equipment (sorry, exercise stations) around the 3.17km circumnavigation. The shared use Capital City Trail runs through Princes Park on its 30km loop around Melbourne.

Then again, you could just kick a ball – round or oval – on a playing field or join the dog walkers.

 Canine Cloud Nine

If you were a dog, your ears would twitch and tail wag on leaping from the car at Burns Reserve, adjoining Altona Coastal Park. Dogs on leads are welcome in the reserve proper, which protects 70 hectares of intertidal and salt marsh between Kororoit Creek and Port Phillip Bay, while the beach fronting the reserve is a leash-free playground for four-legged friends.

 

And friends they are, with big and small canine regulars carousing on the sandy flats and chasing each other into foaming shallows as their humans chat.

The park enjoys uninterrupted views of Port Phillip Bay and the Melbourne CBD and is prettiest at dusk, when the setting sun silhouettes pelicans flying in for the night.

Messing about in Boats

With apologies to Ratty in The Wind in the Willows, there is nowhere – absolutely nowhere – half so much worth going to mess about in boats as Albert Park.

DSC_0024Spectacularly situated with Melbourne’s CDB as backdrop, the lake is prettiest early morning, when you may see hot air balloons drifting over the office towers, their burners flaming brightly in pastel light.

Paddle boats, kayaks and sailing dinghies can be hired at the northern end of the lake along Aquatic Drive. Here too you can enjoy an introduction to sailing and, should the bug bite, take lessons. And while you are on the water, landlubbers can stroll 5km around the lake, which is one of Melbourne’s prettiest short walks.

In Memorium

You can get almost anything in and around the Oakleigh shops, including an insight into the suburb’s history at the Pioneer Cemetery in Warrawee Park.

 

Surveyed in 1853, the township of Oakleigh was one of the first places in colonial Victoria (with Coburg, Geelong and Ballarat) to establish a public cemetery reserve. Surviving headstones and columns, some encircled with rusty iron lace, rest beneath shady trees between a car park, children’s playground, sports oval and Warrigal Road.

Seven year-old Christina Couper was the first person buried here, in November 1860, and the last burial took place 99 years later. Among those interred between times were German migrant Charles Ferdinand Edward Zorn, whose sauces and pickles won international awards, and James Black Ronald, who was elected to the first Commonwealth Parliament in 1901.

Freesias carpet the cemetery in spring.

Escape to the Country

Mt Waverley is a proudly leafy suburb, its houses and unnaturally tidy gardens thread with ribbons of replanted, revegetated native bush. But Valley Reserve is different.

 

This 15-hectare park, just off Waverley Road, protects some of Melbourne’s last surviving patches of original bushland, mostly dry sclerophyll forest with lusher riparian communities along Scotchmans Creek. It is home to flying foxes, tortoises, yabbies, more than forty bird species and five varieties of frog, which perform a syncopated soundtrack.

And the wildflowers! Vivid blue sun orchids bloom on hot summer days. Pretty white milkmaids and chocolate lilies prefer the spring. Then there are the enamel-red running postman and other flashy pea flowers.

Strolling through Valley Reserve is like stepping through a door into the countryside usually found only well beyond Melbourne’s fringes.


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A Pedestrian Love Affair with Tasmania

A few steps into the 800km I trod over the last 12 months, researching Top Walks in Tasmania (my third book, due out in October), I fell in love with Australia’s island state. Not so passionately that I’m packing my bags and abandoning country Victoria, but neither does it feel like a brief fling. This promises to be a long-term affair involving multiple crossings of Bass Strait by plane and ferry for assignations.

Given its spectacular coastline and often intimidating mountains; its luxuriant cool temperate rainforests and precipitous dolerite cliffs rearing from inky depths; its glacier-gouged alpine lakes, wild rivers and more waterfalls than any one state has a right to, I was fool enough to doubt that Tasmania would seduce me. But on 55 walks, each of which only intensified my feelings, I got sand between my toes and salt spray up my nose, walked in the footsteps of mulish convicts and cartoon-character pied oyster catches, scaled ridges and delved into gorges, and I was smitten!

These are five of my many favourite Tasmanian encounters on foot:

Walls of Jerusalem : 3 days

Hiking in this national park, in the Central Highlands, was a spiritual experience, no less intense for it being my second visit. Natural battlements of biblical proportions, uninterrupted views of Tasmania’s tarn-jewelled Central Plateau, prehistoric pencil pines and the reactions of first-timing companions contributed to the park’s impact. My Dad dying while I was standing atop Mt Jerusalem further intensified it.

 

Slide Track, Bruny Island : 13km one-way

The Slide Track follows an old timber tramway line from South Bruny Island forest to Adventure Bay, where a Who’s Who of mariners, including captains Cook, Flinders and Bligh, found safe harbour in the late 18th century. The track is not maintained and difficult to find in places, the leeches are voracious and it took us triple the estimated 3 hours to complete (in the dark) but the forest was lush and festooned with fungi and the weathered timbers perfect for damsel-tied-to-railway-tracks photos.

 

Lost World, kunanyi/Mt Wellington : 5km loop

We found it but navigating the Lost World, on kunanyi/Mt Wellington’s north face, took hours longer than suggested by the younger bushwalker who recommended it. His aunt and I did, though, stop repeatedly to photograph dolerite columns (standing and fallen), Hobart views, and each other among the rocks and alpine gums. And while my friend’s legs are shorter than mine, so she found some manoeuvres challenging, I ripped the bottom out of my trousers and day pack sliding down several slopes. All in a day’s fun!

 

Mt Amos, Freycinet Peninsula : 6km return

Most tourism images of Wineglass Bay are taken not from the popular (which means commonly crowded) main lookout but from Mt Amos, the second of the four peaks making up The Hazards mountain range. Vertigo and rain aside – water makes the rock slippery – climbing Mt Amos’s exposed pink granite slopes gives you access to a grandstand view of what many people argue is Australia’s most beautiful beach, Freycinet Peninsula, Great Oyster Bay and mainland Tasmania.  There’s even a chaise lounge rock part way up!

 

Tolkien Track, Styx Forest : 3km loop

You don’t have to be a Lord of the Rings devotee to appreciate the otherworldliness – Middle Earth-ness if you like – of this short walk. The magnificent sentinels of the Styx Forest are centuries-old Eucalyptus regnans, the tallest flowering plant on the planet and the world’s second tallest tree species, commonly called swamp gums in Tasmania and mountain ash in Victoria. Gandalf’s Staff, the grand master of the Tolkien Track, is 84 metres high and so big around it would take a horde of hobbits to hug it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Victoria’s Bloomin’ Walks

A 3-hour bushwalk in the Warby Ranges, north-east Victoria, on a sunny Saturday a week back, reminded me why I love Australian wildflowers, many of which date back to Gondwanaland and link us to other continents created when the supercontinent broke up.

 

Western Australia is the undeniable star of Australia’s annual spring and summer wildflower spectaculars, with floral carpets in high-vis hues unrolling across acres of outback. But Victoria puts on a colourful show too.

 

In peak seasons it’s almost impossible to hike anywhere in Victoria without seeing flowers, but these five favourite walks are ideal for indulging passions for florals.

 

McKenzie Nature Conservation Reserve, Alexandra, Eastern Ranges

An easy 3km amble through a patch of rare, remnant eucalypt forest on the edge of the Goulburn Valley never ceases to delight. A mixed assortment of winter fungi make way for spring and summer wildflowers and if you stop to look at one you’ll discover half a dozen other varieties in a few square metres.

 

Mt Hotham to Falls Creek, Victorian Alps

When the snow melts, paper daisies, snow gentians, pea flowers, buttercups and many more flowers open to the alpine sun and embroider the exposed high plains with colour. If you’re not up for the full walk between ski resorts (20+ kilometres), a shorter walk from either end will soon have you among the blooms.

 

White Box Walking Track, Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park, north-east Victoria

Don’t let the mostly flat terrain and short distance fool you. When the wildflowers are out, this track through old gold mining country forested with box and ironbark can take much longer than you planned. I set the known record of 5 hours treading the loop with friends equally as enamoured with flowers as me!

 

Lighthouse Hike, Wilsons Promontory, Gippsland

One of my favourite Victorian walks, a long 2- or 3-day loop to the Prom lighthouse via the Waterloo and Oberon bays, gains a whole new level of wow when the coastal heath is blooming. Washes of white, pink, and red augment landscapes worked in granite grey, multiple greens, sand yellow and sky blue.

 

Hollow Mountain, Grampians National Park, Western Plains

Suited to adventurers of all ages, this fun walk-cum-clamber in Victoria’s sawtooth western ranges, begins in a sea of Grampians thryptomene, one of more than 900 native plants found in the mountains. Down at ground level, you might also see cartoonish yellow-and-brown leopard orchids. And once you start looking…

 

These wildflower walks, and many others, are described in detail in my book Top Walks in Victoria, published by Explore Australia


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The Bothersome Business of Buying Boots

“What hiking boots should I buy?”

The answer to this common question is simple: buy the boots that fit your feet!

Flind Ranges MEL_2997

“I could list a whole lot of attributes that I think a hiking boot should have,” mountaineer and adventurer Peter Hillary told me when I interviewed him for an article on bushwalking technology and safety some years back, but if you find boots that lack in some areas but are really comfortable, they are the boots for you.  “If you’ve got uncomfortable feet your great adventure has got serious limitations.”

And not everyone is a fan of traditional hiking boots at all. One of my close friends wore elastic-sided boots in all conditions and some people still swear by Dunlop Volleys!

FTlegs

I recently had to buy new boots, an activity I dread more than scaling a steep scree slope or navigating a slimy log, because while my feet are a standard, off-the-op-shop-shelf width and length, my toes are slightly squared, so many boot lasts – the last is the foot-shaped mechanical form around which the boot is made – don’t fit. I am extremely jealous of friends who have found a boot brand/style perfect for them and buy the same one each time without issue.

bootz pic

In contrast, my hiking boot history is a who’s who of manufacturers. Over the years I have walked in Zamberlan, Hi-Tec, Scarpa, Footprint (made by Birkenstock) and Oboz boots but I have always been eager at day’s end to slip my feet into something more comfortable! My first hiking boots were too small (incorrectly fitted), which contributed to the near life-long abuse of my big toe nails. Some boots have rubbed, necessitating the taping of toes and heals before every walk. One pair made my feet sweat worse than usual – which is saying something – so I on-sold them soon after purchase.

MEL_7121Bibbulmun Coalmine WA

This time around I spent four hours trying on eight different pairs of fabric, hybrid and leather boots in Melbourne’s Little Bourke Street. The heftiest and most expensive proved to be the most comfortable so I brought home a pair of leather-and-goretex Asolo 520s. Frustratingly, our on-track relationship is not yet living up to the in-shop promise but a podiatrist thinks it is my feet rather than the boots and, unfortunately, I can’t sell them on ebay!

With a few helpful hints, though, you might have more success.

What do you want the boots for?

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Footwear is a vital piece of hiking kit but the variety can bamboozle.  While walking sandals suit many situations, including hikes with water crossings, because they grip while allowing your feet to breathe, ankle support is important on rougher tracks and when carrying a pack. You need a sturdier boot for heavy pack walks than you do on lighter weighted day walks, because the added burden on your back changes your posture and bodily stresses.

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Boots should have a thick enough and firm enough sole to protect your feet from rocky ground and side protection from rocks and sticks.

Talk to the salespeople. Many know what they are talking about and will point you towards the right style of boot for the job.

Size and fit?

Even if you have worn the same shoe size for years, get your boots professionally fitted.

Boots should fit snuggly, so your feet don’t move around, but not tightly, and allow your toes wriggle room. Try them on at day’s end (when your feet are swollen) and with the socks you plan to wear.

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With the boot fully unlaced, move your foot as far forward in the boot as possible. In a correctly sized boot you should be able to slip your index finger down inside the boot at the back of your ankle. This determines there’s space when your foot slides forward on descents under load.

Also walk up and down the ramp (good shops have them). And put your foot behind you and tap the toe on the ground; you should not be able to feel the front of the boot with your toes (vitally important on long descents).

Try on several different boots and compare, even one of each make on different feet. And don’t buy the first one that feels good; you can always come back to them.

Do try makes recommended by friends but remember that their shape might not suit your feet.

Falls Creek to Mt Hotham Walk, Victorian Alps, Australia

Put a sock on it?

Socks affect comfort and safety. Ask shop staff what they recommend but only trial and error will reveal what your feet prefer. Having worn thicker, wool-and-nylon blend Explorer-type socks for years, and tried the double layer system that many hikers swear by, I now wear thinner, left-and-right socks for a perfect fit.

Wear them in?

GOW blister

ALWAYS wear-in your new boots/shoes at home and on short walks before tackling anything major. And treat hot spots as soon as they develop, because blister pain can turn bushwalking bliss into hiking hell.

 

Feet booted and comfortable? Get walking!

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