Feet First Australia

exploring Australia on foot


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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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Walking and Wine as Therapy

I love the self-satisfied physical weariness from bushwalking remote from the sights, sounds, smells and hard edges of civilisation. Because I’m too fond of my knees to jog, and dislike figure-hugging Lycra and controlled atmospheres too much to work out in a gym, it’s my near-perfect exercise, and a great partner to my other aerobic passion, dancing.

As well as justifying high-calorie refuels, expending energy on a dance floor or mountain slope gives me a high that not only soothes sore feet and aching muscles; it also exhilarates me, empowering me to do it all again the following day.

In contrast, however, the stress of two ongoing family health crises over recent weeks has left me bordering on punch-drunk, emotional exhaustion draining me of energy. A common experience, according to the internet!

Several studies conclude that while physical activity has little or no impact on mental performance, and sometimes even a positive effect, mental stress can markedly affect us physically. At its worst it can impair judgement, reaction time, situational awareness, motivation, alertness and memory, leading to sub-optimal performance.

So last week, when the depressing grey sky cleared – yes, I know we need the rain! – to a gorgeous sunny blue, I drew on my remaining judgement, reaction time, situational awareness, motivation and alertness and took myself off for a therapeutic stroll at a historic Goulburn Valley winery.

Tahbilk Winery MEL_2469

Founded in 1860, Tahbilk has been owned and operated since the 1920s by five generations of the Purbrick family. It’s a charming place to visit, if only to wander around the heritage buildings – an episode of Phryne Fisher was filmed here. There are, of course, delicious wines, including the estate’s signature Marsanne and Shiraz from pre-phylloxera vines dating back to the mid 19th century; and a café which overlooks the extensive network of billabongs, backwaters and creeks. There are also walking tracks to tread between wine tasting and tucking into seasonal regional fare.

Tahbilk’s Eco Trails network opened in 2005, after ten years of understory plantings to bring wildlife back to the wetlands, and the construction of paths, boardwalks and two bird hides. (Groups can also book a 30-minute Eco Trail Cruise.)

Tahbilk Winery MEL_2416

Having registered at the café – management ask walkers to sign in, so they know where to start searching if you don’t return – and paid my gold-coin donation, I followed the well-formed track down to historic Long Bridge. Built from estate-hewn timber to replace a ford on the site, shortly after completion of Goulburn Weir in 1889, and extensively repaired after the destructive 1954 floods, the bridge was completely rebuilt in 1996, again with timber cut and milled on site.

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Long Bridge, c.1996

Across the bridge, I soaked up vitamin D as I strolled a 5.6km curlicue of flat compacted gravel track and boarding. Through floodplains thick with mixed wattles erupting in late winter yellows; past majestic river gums that have stood here for centuries; along waterways dotted with black swans, pelicans and moor hens and rows of grape vines reaching into the distance.

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I skirted massed fluffy reed and pools of rain and photographed bark, wattle blossoms, bird boxes and afternoon sun reflected off the water.

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I didn’t raise a sweat. Barely upped my resting heart rate. But boy did I feel better afterwards.

And to increase the restorative effect of my day out, I bought some Tahbilk wine to take home.

 

Melanie Ball’s website

Melanie’s photography as art and clothing

Wearable Art from Appliquez Moi

 

 


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Walk Safe & Comfortable

 

by Melanie Ball (this post is based on an article written for and published in Royal Auto in 2010)

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As Simon and I set off on a 9-week walking-focussed road trip around NT, WA and SA, the time seemed right to remind myself and others how best to keep safe on foot.

I love  bushwalking. Because it stimulates every sense – a sandstone cliff lifts my gaze to an expanse of blue sky patrolled by a whistling kite, fingers trace an insect’s scribble on a tree, each step intensifies the smell of eucalyptus, or rainforest humus, or seaweed – and nothing compares with the self-satisfied weariness after a day on foot and the guilt-free pleasure of sating an exercise-fuelled appetite with high-calorie treats.

File0346Mt Abrupt 2014

But bushwalkers also break limbs, suffer hypothermia and dehydration, and become lost and spend unplanned nights outdoors, their rescue engaging numerous people and making headlines, and some die from their misadventures. However there are ways to limit the risks to life and limb (and self-esteem) that don’t detract from the fun of going bush on foot.

Books and web sites repeat mantras such as “always plan for the unplanned” and “expect the unexpected” but some people do not even expect the expected or plan for the likely; just look at Mt Kosciuszko! It’s a fairly easy 6.5km walk from the Thredbo chairlift to the top of Australia (2228m) and you’re rarely alone on the metal walkway on a sunny summer’s day. But alpine conditions can change suddenly and dramatically so why do people – even teachers leading school groups! – ignore the warning signs and set off in coffee-shop attire when dressing sensibly and carrying water, a muesli bar, and a waterproof jacket might save their life?

The biggest mistake bushwalkers make, says Sgt Ian Colles, Coordinator, Blue Mountains Police Rescue Squad, is insufficient planning and preparation.  “They don’t take enough equipment, they don’t know where they are going, and they don’t have basic navigation skills.”

WHAT, HOW & WHEN

DSC_7146 (664x1000)Choosing an Australian hike is like visiting a lolly shop. The assortment, from city-fringe stroll to remote multi-day trek, can tempt you to take on too much.  Don’t! Select a walk that suits your group’s experience, age and fitness; and that doesn’t necessarily mean one that everyone completes without raising a sweat, just one that doesn’t test limits of endurance and enjoyment.

Research the walk’s grade, length and profile (climbs and descents). Check track conditions (with park authorities), weather, and fire danger ratings before departure, and cancel/postpone if extremes are forecast. Download a map of the track and buy a topographic map for longer hikes – and learn how to read a map and use a compass.

Four is the optimum minimum group size, because someone can stay with an injured walker while two seek help, but coordinating four people is sometimes impossible. Solo bushwalking has unique risks (and pleasures). When doing a remote day walk or overnight hike, tell someone your plans and contact them on your return so they don’t raise an unnecessary alarm.

Fill in walk registration logs where provided and/or leave a note on your car. You can download a “Trip Intentions” form, with safety hints, from Victoria Police’s Search & Rescue Squad webpage. Blue Mountains walkers who register their intentions with authorities are asked for information about medical conditions, intended route, etc. so that the police don’t have to waste time asking for this if you make emergency contact.

On the trail, don’t make or follow shortcuts because this leads to erosion and plant damage and increase the risks of injury and becoming lost. Only go off-track if you’re experienced at wilderness navigation. And if you do become lost (or injured), and a brief scout around reveals no obvious way to safety, stay put. Make your position visible, relax and conserve energy, food and water.

WALKING GEAR

The worth of what you wear and carry becomes clear only when something goes wrong. Footwear is a vital piece of hiking kit however the variety can bamboozle.  While walking sandals suit many situations, including hikes with water crossings, because they grip while allowing your feet to breathe, and ankle support is important on rougher tracks and when carrying a pack, one of my close friends wore elastic-sided boots in all conditions and some people still swear by Dunlop Volleys!

“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 this article, 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.” Always wear in new boots/shoes at home and treat hot spots as soon as they develop; blister pain can be dangerously debilitating. WARNING: gruesome blister photo further on.

Socks affect comfort (and safety) too. Some hikers advocate wearing two pairs, others one (you can buy socks with distinct left and right for a perfect fit). Only trial and error will reveal what your feet prefer. _MEL1128Erskine Falls (664x1000)

And although they provoke repetitive quips about lost skis, hiking poles can lessen jarring on hills and improve balance on slippery stepping stones. Swinging the poles forward as you walk can also stop fingers swelling.

Unless you are into nude bushwalking, and there are websites and at least one designated trail for those inclined, what else you wear depends on climate. Cotton is cool in warm weather but is cold when wet so jeans are downright dangerous in alpine country – take note Kosciuszko summitters! Outdoor shops are full of synthetic-fibre layers that keep you warm even when wet. How you put them together is personal choice. I wear cotton leggings in hot weather to limit heat rash and allergic reactions to foliage and in cooler temperatures hike in thermal underwear and modesty shorts. A windproof and waterproof jacket should be in your pack whatever the weather.

As for clothing colour: I wear rainbow stripes to decrease my risk of being run over by a snowplough and increase my chance of being seen and rescued should I lose my way. FTlegsBut my colour preferences are unusual. “I don’t know why they [walkers] want to wear blue, grey, black,” says Sgt Colless, because such colours make lost and injured walkers difficult for air crews and ground crews to see.  “Black and dark blue is nearly invisible in the bush,” he says.  “Wakers should wear high visibility clothing.” And don’t worry about scaring off the wildlife; you don’t need to wear boring environmentally-sensitive colours to have welcome encounters with birds and animals. (Bright colours also look better in photographs.)

Queensland, Australia

In addition to sunscreen, sleeved shirt and shading hat, warm-weather hikers need to carry sufficient water. I prefer a collapsible, bladder-like bag with tube and mouthpiece rather than a water bottle I’d have to stop to retrieve and uncap. And even on short walks you should take energy boosting snack bars, just in case. A notebook and pen, a compact head torch, a box of matches in a waterproof container, and a whistle (for attracting attention), are other lightweight items that could get you out of a pickle.

FIRST AID GOW blister DSC_7441

A first-aid kit is a must on long and/or remote walks. Blister-specific treatments used early can make the difference between a wonderful walk and a nightmare: hikers’ wool protects suspect spots and cutting a hole in adhesive padding puts some space between your boot and a hot spot/blister. Insect repellent, anti-itch cream and antihistamine tablets can keep bites and stings in check. Elastic bandages work for sprains and snake bites.  And you never know when you’ll be glad of your first aid training.

TECHNOLOGY

As in everyday life, technology now plays an integral part in adventuring and few bushwalkers step out without some electronic link to the world. Many walking tracks have limited or no mobile network coverage you have to hike up a ridge to make an emergency call. A popular alternative is the Personal Locator Beacon (PLB or EPIRB), which emits a signal that is detected (conditions allowing) by satellites and aircraft and relayed to a rescue coordination centre. PLBs should only be activated in life-threatening situations when no other communication system is available and penalties apply for unnecessary use. PLBs with integrated GPS cost from $400, however the Tasmanian government hires them through Service Tasmania for $40 per week, and a free hire system operates in the Blue Mountains. You can also hire them on line with Australia-wide delivery. The Blue Mountains beacon loan system is part of the “Think Before You Trek” initiative between the NSW Police Force and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. “The beacons get all the attention,” says Sgt Colles, “but we push people to plan and prepare so, hopefully, they will never need to use the beacon.”

We put too much emphasis on technology, says Peter Hillary, who made satellite-phone calls from atop Everest fifty years after his father scaled the mountain.  “I was interviewed by CNN on the summit.  It was bizarre when you think of it in terms of 1953 [four days passed before England learned of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s success] but technology is here to stay.” BOG43The danger is people relying on technology over planning and preparation.  Hillary thinks the Queensland, AustraliaGPS is a marvelous aid but should only be used in conjunction with the more traditional, older navigational system – map and compass.

 

Off all the hiking equipment available now, though, Peter Hillary’s favourite is a stove.  “It’s survival,” he says.  “Melting snow and ice, bubbling water, it’s life… a very happy sound.” Carry a hiking stove even on a day walk and you can boil water for a cuppa with a view!