Feet First Australia

exploring Australia (and sometimes further afield) on foot


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Escaping the Family on Foot

People bushwalk – hike, tramp, ramble, trek – for different reasons and in different ways. The ten Brisbane mums I met walking the three-day Six Foot Track with Blue Mountains-based company Life’s An Adventure were on their eighth annual escape from their families.

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Members of a thirteen-strong walking group – it’s got a waiting list! – the women live in the suburb surrounding one of Brisbane’s oldest primary schools. Four of them have known each other since childhood; the rest met at the school gate, on tuck shop roster and holding timepieces at swimming carnivals. Aged from 52 to 59, with one 46-year old youngster, they have thirty-seven children between them, all but three of whom attended the historic primary school.

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When the ten women I met on the Six Foot Track first came up with the idea of a walking holiday, over a brie stuffed with cranberries and a glass of NZ sav blanc, it wasn’t really about the hiking. “It was about escaping our humdrum suburban routines and replacing it with adventure,” spokeswoman Nicola explains. “It wasn’t until we had done our first hike – Queen Charlotte Sound in New Zealand [in 2008] – that we understood what a multi-day hike really was.”

 

Since then they have done eight guided and self-guided walks in New Zealand (The Routeburn Track was one of Nicola’s favourites) and Tasmania, and on the Great Ocean Walk in Victoria, with a core group of six doing every one.

 

None were bushwalkers before their first trip but their number includes regular cyclists, boot camp attendees and masters hockey players, so they are not unused to exercise. “We are okay with training before the walk,” Nicola says. “However none of us wants to carry a pack of greater than 7.5kg… We wouldn’t take on Kokoda. We wouldn’t do a walk that didn’t have someone else prepare our dinner; we are all mums who have to cook every night so not cooking is one of the joys.”

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Cut as a bridal trail in 1884 to shorten travel time between Sydney and the Jenolan Caves, the Six Foot Track – it was made wide enough for two loaded drays to pass – was officially reopened as a walking track a century later. It starts and ends with a bang, dropping from a cliff-edge view of the Megalong Valley down rock and timber steps into lush fern forest tucked between undercut sandstone that frames a slice of blue sky, and finishing among Jenolan’s jagged external limestone cliffs and exquisite cave decorations. Yet the Six Foot Track is more about history than scenery, with a long, uninspiring day-two climb up a gravel road, and Nicola doesn’t rate the walk highly against others they have done.

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But Life’s An Adventure, the company with whom they’ve also walked on Maria Island, impresses. (It offers 17 walking holidays across Australia, including a fabulous two-day guided walk into the Wolgan Valley, west of the Blue Mountains.) “The girls in the office are always super helpful… and they get some mad requests from us,” Nicola says. “We pay in dribs and drabs and bother them with queries about pillows and sleeping bags and taking bottles of wine and then we harass them to chill it for us in the evening!”

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There are no better walking companions than those who have their priorities worked out and when the Brisbane Mums headed down to Coxs River for pre-dinner drinks and a dip at the end of day one, glasses and champagne bottle in hand, I willingly followed them slightly astray.

 

 


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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.

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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.)

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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.

 

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