(Note: I left a review of the trail and commented on the issue - and the map has now been updated on AllTrails. Well done, team!)
(Note: I bought a big old bum bag from an op shop a day or two after the walk - more on that in future posts!)
City edgelands, bush tranquility and flight paths.
Dan and I had a few days in Melbourne cat sitting (and house sitting) for friends a few weeks ago. I thought we should make the most of it and get in a long walk somewhere a bit different. Not wanting to stomp out the entire distance on sealed tracks, I turned from the old faithfuls of the riverside and creekside trails. I checked AllTrails for routes in the area of around 20km, and one popped up that included a loop of Woodlands Historic Park. This seemed perfect, as it started a 25 minute drive from where we were staying and we’d only been to the park for a few short visits before.
As the temperature was meant to get to 30 degrees by mid afternoon, we tried to get an early start. I wouldn’t say we failed, exactly. After feeding the cats, going to the supermarket for snacks and driving up to Willowbrook Reserve, we began walking at 7:50am. The sun had just risen on the way up, and we got some lovely pink clouds. (Red in the morning, shepherd’s warning... might mean rain?)
It was a nice, cool start along the Moonee Ponds Creek, snaking through suburbia on the manicured Moonee Ponds Bike Path. There’s been a lot of work done on the surrounds, with lots of new trees planted in the maybe 15 years since I was last here! We saw a wallaby across the creek, and a cat hiding behind a prickly pear. Dan wondered if a couple of birds we saw might have been kestrels - they were definitely birds of prey.
Following the GPS track from All Trails (downloaded into Gaia, which I have found a better app for navigation), we entered a kind of uncared-for, creek-flat, ex-quarry wasteland. We had not really been expecting to end up ranging through grasslands on rough vehicle trails, but so be it. However, faithfully following this well-reviewed route, we popped up onto a vehicle track with a “no trespassing in this area” sign. What? Yep, this was definitely where the route was marked. Hmm. We backtracked a bit and scrambled up a hill/escarpment/old slag heap and followed what looked to be dirt bike trails up towards the bike path. Overhead, a string of planes came in to land at Tullamarine. It was pretty cool. The dirt bike trails ended at a large dam, and we picked our way around the perimeter and popped out once again on the Moonee Ponds Creek trail. When I went back and looked at the reviews on AllTrails, most of the reviewers don’t seem to have actually walked the route at all - they’re all just giving 5 stars and saying how much they like Woodlands Historic Park. Helpful.
(Note: I left a review of the trail and commented on the issue - and the map has now been updated on AllTrails. Well done, team!)
Our first adventure of the day over, we passed into Woodlands and made our way up to Gellibrand Hill. On the way, we spotted some kangaroos in the paddocks beyond the fence. By "some kangaroos", I mean 60 or 70. There were some big old beefy bruisers, ones with joeys poking out of their pouches, and heaps of tweenage looking ones that were too big for the pouch but still not full sized. On the hill itself we saw more roos and a couple of wallabies that we startled (and who startled us as they sprang away into the shrubs). We took a break on Gellibrand Hill, sitting on one of the granite outcrops to eat a bar and admire the view - from the Dandenong Ranges in the east to the city and Westgate Bridge in the south and around to the You Yangs. When we finished our break and crested the rise we could see the Macedon Ranges capped with cloud, and a few long sweeps of rain coming in from the west.
It also started raining on us - just a light drizzle. (Red in the morning!) So much for 30 degrees, we thought. Coming off the hill, on our friend Emily’s recommendation, we took a bit of a detour of the marked route and instead went into the bandicoot reserve area. In 1988 a small population of Eastern Barred Bandicoots were released in the enclosure, helping keep these wee critters from becoming extinct. This was a really lovely area, which felt kind of secluded and quiet - despite the planes taking off not too far away.
I got kind of obsessed with the trees here. There are wonderful old eucalypts with amazing bark patterns, enormous bendy branches and squiggly twigs. There are trees with boughs that dip out towards the ground, enclosing patches of inviting looking grass underneath, (But beware! Many of these trees drop limbs without warning!) There are dead trees that twist up to spiky crowns of bare, white branches. There are mother trees that, without their surroundings being grazed to the earth by livestock, have encircled themselves with children saplings. There are places in the park where it seems every tree is different. And we walked through a monoculture plantation, where the repetition of trunks and bark patches and colours seemed almost like a magic eye puzzle.
We stopped a few times, after the light drizzle had passed. Once on the grassy hillside above the homestead, where we realised just how much this place seemed like the Australian version of a National Trust country house and deer park - only with kangaroos, instead. I guess that’s the colonial instinct to recreate the mother country at work in both the initial development and the drive to preserve it. (Incidentally, there’s a friends group you can join if you’re interested.) We also stopped at the Somerton Road picnic area right at the north of the park, where a bunch of glossy little ravens were hanging around looking for leftover food and shaking down the trees for fruit and grubs. And then we stopped for a proper break at the cafe (how civilised!) where I took my shoes off and we shared a highly-peppered veggie pasty and a bottle of lemonade. The weather was still quite nice - it felt like about 23 degrees and there was a little breeze.
Speaking of my shoes, I was wearing my beloved Altra Lone Peak 4.5s. I got them about a fortnight before the first lockdown in February 2019. The day before this walk, I’d gone to Running Warehouse and bought a pair of the new Lone Peak 6s, but I thought I’d take the 4.5s out for a farewell hike. I’d worn down the tread fairly significantly, and the upper was not in good shape. A couple of hours into this hike, the threadbare section on the outside of my right foot completely gave way, and I had to walk the rest of the day with a big hole in the side of my shoe. I wonder if they’d had a chat to the 6s as they sat together overnight and decided they were ready to pass the baton on. The Lone Peak 6 seems like a similar fit overall - I’m not sure if the 2-3mm narrower toe box might just be because I’ve squished the 4.5s wider than they started - but my main gripe is that the shop only had the most boring colourway available in my size. As I’m probably going to need to change to new shoes sometime on the Heysen Trail, I might get another pair of Lone Peaks online - and if I can, I’ll get the extremely bright yellowy ones!
Lunch was at about the 16km mark, and we were getting pretty tired. After our nice break, we hopped back onto the Moonee Ponds Bike Path and vowed to take every short cut we could on the way back to the car. We were pretty confident we’d still have walked over 20km. The sun came out, so we found a patch of shade and re-applied sunscreen. The lizards also came out with the sun - we loved spotting a little jacky lizard beside the path! Soon enough, we were heading out of Woodlands at the same place we entered, following the trail south (not into the weird ex-quarry!). After the cool, overcast morning, the sun blazing down was a bit of a shock to the system. We stopped a few times in shady spots, followed a couple of good shortcuts and a couple that didn’t work out quite so well (sorry, Dan!), ate another bar, drank the rest of our water… and 1 hour and 45 minutes after lunch we were back at the car. For those of you playing along, yes, it was almost exactly 7km.
Just a reminder, this section is about my fitness and other considerations for a long walk later this year. If you’re not interested in that, please skip over it!
I was definitely achy after this walk, but I think I recovered more quickly than last time. It was varied enough in terrain and surface to save my feet - but I did opt to walk on the grass beside the path for a few kilometres. The blister under my toe didn’t really reemerge - I kind of have a callus there now, so I hope that stays and stops any further blistering. I stretched a little bit during the walk and a little bit afterwards. Dan gave my feet a rub in the evening, so they were all good the next day. (Thanks, Dan!)
Gear-wise, I didn’t take my trekking poles on this walk. I noticed that without them I tend to grab onto the shoulder straps of my bag or tuck my hands in. Also, I get a lot more distracted by the way my pack fits, how tense/loose each strap is, where it’s sitting on my hips. It’s kind of irritating! So maybe using the poles all the time has other benefits than just saving my knees. I put my audio recorder in my bumbag, to have it handy. I took a couple of recordings which I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. I think a bigger bag will definitely be good. I can’t believe I am soon going to own TWO bum bags. I don’t care what the fashion houses told you in 2020, they are extremely dorky.
(Note: I bought a big old bum bag from an op shop a day or two after the walk - more on that in future posts!)
We completed just under 23km in 7 hours, and I reckon we were probably stopped for a bit under an hour for our main breaks, which puts us at 23km in a little over 6 hours, or slightly under our 4kph standard. The jump from 15ish to 20ish kilometres is partly psychological. It’s not so difficult for me to walk 15km before lunch (we did that on this walk, in fact), but a 20km walk I have to think of as being more of an all-day affair. Once I get more in the headspace of walking all day, I think the move to 25km and then 30km might be a little easier. (I mean, 25km would only have been another half an hour or so on this walk.)
I’ve also been thinking about how much water I drink when walking. On this day I walked 23km - on relatively easy terrain, in slightly warm weather - with 1 litre of water and half a bottle of fizzy drink. However, I did have a good drink before I started and another big one after I finished. This is good to know when walking long distances between water sources/tanks so I have enough to drink (and a little spare) but don’t end up carrying loads more than I need. Water is heavy!
Woodlands Historic Park and the Moonee Ponds Creek are in Wurundjeri Country. Sovereignty was never ceded and this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
A walk through varied bushland in Providence Ponds Flora and Fauna Reserve, with sandy soils, wetlands and lots of wildlife.
Our first attempted walk in March was a washout - early on, we met a flooded creek crossing that was a little too hairy for us (waterfalls, rapids and rocks included), so we abandoned the hike in favour of clambering up and down a few shorter hillside paths, then completing a side trail that was more of a gently flowing stream. We had fun and got absolutely soaked, but we only walked about 4km. We’ll try that track another time.
A couple of days later, after the rain had passed, we went to Providence Ponds Flora and Fauna Reserve for what we hoped would be a better shot at getting 20km under our shoes. The forecast said possible showers, but once we’d found somewhere to park, we crossed the Princes Highway under bright skies. It wasn’t warm, though, and I was stoked for a dry, cool day - the best weather for walking, in my opinion. After a little detour (false start!), we made our way onto the correct path and followed it without issue all the way north to the railway line.
The track was often grey sand, which was soft to walk on and afforded us the opportunity to do some vicarious wildlife watching. We spotted lots of kangaroo and wallaby prints as well as fox and possibly feral cat tracks. There were some mysterious lines that looked like something small burrowing just under the surface of the sand. And later there were emu tracks, too. I guess I’m burying the lede here, because we also saw two emus, a few wallabies and a small mob of kangaroos. The ants had been very busy building their tiny iron age hill fortresses, and we also walked through a few clouds of butterflies. We spotted and heard heaps of birds apart from the emus: choughs, magpies, currawongs, butcherbirds, wattlebirds, two cockies (who absolutely screamed the bush down when they saw us), rosellas, wrens, flycatchers, fantails and loads of other twitchy, chirpy little things. Of course, with the eponymous ponds, there were loads of frogs. The whole walk, once we got away from the highway, was an aural treat.
One of my favourite things about this walk was how the bush changed as we walked from one small rise to the next, from banksias to widely spaced stringybarks to views of low-lying heath and marsh. Later, on the northern and eastern stretches, we walked through red gums (I think) and stands of box, and around what might be permanent water completely hidden below bright green reeds. It’s a lot of variety for such a small area, and I’m already looking forward to heading back for another walk and showing other people.
When I mentioned to my folks that I was planning a walk at Providence Ponds, they said they'd heard that this was the site of a massacre of Indigenous people. I can’t find any mention of this when searching online for Providence Ponds or Perry River plus various keywords. (Peter Gardner mentions the Perry River in his notes, but that massacre site is down near the Avon. There’s also a novel called Providence Ponds which is supposedly fictionalised but which "includes hostile encounters with Aboriginal people" - I haven’t read it.) This doesn’t mean that Indigenous people weren’t killed here. What I can say is (a) the landscapes we walked through looked like they would have been excellent for living, with water nearby and park-like forest for hunting, so I can easily believe that Brayakaulung/Gunaikurnai people would have gathered and spent time there; and (b) if one wishes to avoid walking through any sites of genocidal violence towards and dispossession of Indigenous people, then one must avoid walking anywhere in so-called Australia - not merely at sites of known massacres. The fact is that all the walks, all the journeys, all the living that I do here is done on Country that has been stolen from others.
The rail line formed the northern border of our walk, though the reserve continues on the other side. We saw a maintenance vehicle heading along the lines (a ute on those rail wheel things), followed soon after by a little digger, also zipping along the train track. No train, though! We didn’t encounter any other vehicles, apart from on the highway, but we did see fairly fresh dirt bike tracks (explicitly prohibited according to the signs), which we followed most of the way.
Heading south on the eastern edge of the reserve, we walked alongside farmland. Then we hit water. Now, we’d skirted a few road-width puddles, but this was a bit more than that and would have required some over-the-knee wading. We recalled seeing a track earlier on that wasn’t marked on the map, so we thought we’d retrace our steps and take our chances on that. This turned out to be a good decision, and I think the unmarked track is basically the road that everyone uses here - it was slashed, and those ever-present dirt bike tracks led the way. We passed some bee hives and another pond full of frog song, then found a nice spot for lunch.
As always, I felt a little sluggish after lunch, but a few mozzies and a disinclination to catch Japanese encephalitis got me going quickly enough. We’d got the hang of the boundary track, now, and when we saw another unmarked road leading off it, we knew that a little further on we’d find the official route underwater. Soon enough we found ourselves back almost to the highway, then alarming a mob of kangaroos on a road that skirted around a long lake (possibly the eponymous ponds), and then on the very sandy access track below the power line.
Back at the car, Dan decided to rest, but I knew I needed to get another couple of kilometres in to reach my quota. I ditched my pack and did a quick 15 minutes one way, then turned around and came back. It was enjoyable, but it seemed to me that the landscape north of the highway is a little more interesting!
The track was often sandy - sometimes extremely so! Mostly it was pretty nice on the feet, but sometimes it meant working a little harder to push forward. Overall, though, with the small undulations, it didn’t feel too difficult. After taking the pack off and leaving it in the car, the last couple of kilometres were easy. That blister appeared again, though interestingly it didn’t hurt until I started walking without my pack. Perhaps this is because my foot works differently without the added weight.
I was extremely achy all afternoon after this walk. It’s the first one of the year where I really felt like I’d done a big walk. I forgot to massage my feet, so they were a bit sore in the morning. In fact, everything was a bit sore in the morning - lower back, thighs just above knees, feet and ankles. Two days later, the main memory in my body was tightness and tenderness in my calves - I stretched them out, but I probably need to get a massage at some point. I also had some residual achiness in my forearms from using the trekking poles the whole way.
In terms of equipment, I’ve been trialling carrying my phone and a few bits in a bumbag (I know, highly fashionable), which works OK. I am going to try to find a bigger bumbag with some kind of waterproofing. I’d like to be able to carry my phone and audio recorder (and sunnies case and a snack) that way for easy access. When the phone’s in my pocket it gets wet in rain, when my audio recorder is in my bag, I can’t always be bothered stopping to get it out, so I miss things.
On this walk, I managed just under 20km in about 5 hours and 45 minutes. This included a break for lunch, and a few stops to regroup and make decisions about what to do with various detours, so I make that a little under 4km per hour while walking. I don’t go out to try and walk at this pace - it just happens! This will be a great place to come back to with a fully loaded pack and/or to do some even longer walks. There’s enough variety in terrain, surface and scenery to keep me occupied without requiring too much navigation or decision-making (now I know how to avoid the flooded bits).
This walk is on Brayakaulung (GunaiKurnai) Country. Sovereignty was never ceded and this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
Bikes, birds, bats and butterflies on the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail.
It felt like February was ending before I fully got into the swing of it, and I realised I had to get the skates on if I wanted to get my fourth walk in! I mapped out a few routes in the area, but in the end I went for the close, easy option: another bit of the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail. Yep, that makes three of my four February walks on rail trails!
It ended up being a family adventure. Mum came with us to Tinamba, leaving her car at Maffra, and walked the first half back to Maffra with us. Meanwhile, Dad cycled to Maffra as well, meaning we all got to have morning tea together at The Pickle Pot. Then my folks did some shopping and took Dad’s bike home in the boot of their car, while Dan and I turned around and walked the 8-point-something kilometres back to Tinamba.
There’s not much to say about the trail itself. It’s mostly flat and straight, the surface is hard-packed crushed gravel and the grass is encroaching a bit (we did see someone on their ride-on mower clearing up the sides when we were on the way back). It’s quite exposed apart from the last kilometre into Maffra. We saw a lot of people out and about: several solo cyclists, a couple of pairs, a group of 5 cycle tourists with stuffed panniers, a handful of joggers and a few dog walkers closer to town.
The fog was intense in the morning, with many spiderwebs glittering with dew. It rose into fluffy clouds or got burnt off by the sun soon after we started, but it was lovely to have the early light illuminating everything and to watch the clouds lifting off the paddocks, trees and distant hills. On the way back, we got blasted by the sun, so we were happy that a few of those little clouds remained to give occasional relief.
We saw lots of creatures. Birds included fantails, ibis, magpies, mudlarks, punky (crested) pigeons, noisy miners and so on. There were lots of yellow winged grasshoppers that make a clicking sound (we also saw heaps of these at the fire tower on our previous walk), dragonflies, bees and different butterflies. One cool sight was a butterfly with red and yellow spots under its wing laying eggs on a leaf by the path. We also heard lots of frogs - especially in the morning near Tinamba. I couldn’t tell you what species they all were, though. Less of a highlight, but having more of an impact on our walk (and probably our speedy times), were the bloody flies! Yuck. But the main excitement, animal-wise, was a colony of flying foxes (bats) just over the river from Maffra. We’d driven past multiple times and never noticed them, but they were pretty unmissable while walking under their roost trees - what a racket!
View of the Wirn wirndook Yeerung - "song of the male emu wren" or "song of the male fairy wren" - (Macalister River) on the entry to Maffra.
Maffra is a nice little town, and we enjoyed having morning tea there with my folks. Not only was it fun to hear about Dad’s bike ride and have a little debrief with Mum about the first half of the walk, it was good to sit in a comfortable chair, let our legs and feet rest for half an hour, and engage some different muscles. The riverside walks and parks in Maffra are always lovely to stroll in, too.
We were pretty ready for a snack and a cold drink when we got back to Tinamba, and the general store provided both - including some great potato cakes!
After the hills of our last walk, this was dead easy. We walked each way in under 2 hours, probably in part because whenever we stopped the flies would swarm us! Aside from a couple of dips down to creeks and so on, the path is flat (walkers’ flat - it’s slightly uphill on the Tinamba end if you’re cycling).
My legs were fine afterwards, my lower back appreciated the rest in Maffra, and my feet were a bit achy from the repetitive, flat walking. I gave myself a bit of a foot rub in the afternoon and stretched out my calves to make sure I didn’t have too many issues the following day. The second right toe blister didn’t make a reappearance (I don’t get it!), though the toe itself was a bit achy.
All in all, February has been good for getting my distances over 15km, and I’m pleased that I’m able to get that distance knocked out before lunch. March is for ~20km walks, and I know that these take a bit more preparation, as they almost always involve lunch on the trail. I’ll also be starting to add in some overnight walks in the next couple of months (probably shorter distances to start with) to get into the swing of things with my Tarptent and so on.
This walk moves through Brayakaulung (Gunaikurnai) Country. As with all of so-called Australia, this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
I wanted hills. I got them.
As the season tilts ever so slightly towards autumn, we’re getting some lovely, crisp mornings. The daytime temperatures are still getting up into the high-20s/low-30s, though, so we decided if we wanted to do a harder walk in the hills we would have to leave early. We drove up through Briagolong as the sun was rising and arrived at Blue Pool carpark at about 7:15am.
We’ve been for a couple of walks here. A few days before we did a two hour loop with our friend Ross up to the Peregrine Lookout, down to McKinnons Point and back to Blue Pool along the Freestone Creek Walking Track. We started this day’s hike along the walking track, enjoying the quiet valley and the single-file walking. Soon, though, we popped out and onto Froam Road. We’d be following these back roads for the rest of the walk.
Things started easily enough in the cool morning air, with the sun picking up a slight mist and sending shafts of light through the trees. We turned down Bonus Spur Track, which tipped us back down to creek level before starting the climb up. And up. Our destination, and the main landmark of this walk, was visible at times through the trees: the Mount Moornapa Fire Tower. I guess the key is in the name: “mount” (although Australia will call just about any hill a “mount”). This section nevertheless climbs steadily, ascending about 400m in 3km. Throw in the rising humidity and by the time we reached the top we were drenched in sweat.
We stopped at the fire tower to admire the views of the surrounding hills. We could pick out Ben Crauchan and to the left we figured out Mount Hedrick and maybe Pearson Point. To the north of Old Benjamin, Gable End is pretty unmistakable, and the low angle sunlight helped us pick up the treeless Wellington Plains (Wikipedia currently has Mount Wellington labelled as Beef Wellington!). I sent a photo to Dad - who works up this tower - to ask about the little pimply protrusion to the right of that area and he later let me know it was Cromwell Knob. (I’m sorry that I only have the colonial names for these places.)
After a snack and a rest in the shade, we set off again. In retrospect, I probably should have checked the distances more thoroughly - I thought the fire tower was just under half way around the loop, but it was only just over a third. We left Ten Mile Track (not ten miles long, as far as I know) for Three Bridges Road (may have more than three bridges). This road gave an occasional wild undulation and made us very glad we had our trekking poles. On this stretch we had our most exciting and amusing encounter - a big old goanna which, on eventually noticing we were there, took off at top speed through the scrubby growth beside the road. Other animals spotted included some lizards, a few black cockatoos (traditionally a sign of rain… and to be fair, it did rain the following day) and many other birds. We also heard a couple of lyrebirds.
The next nice spot to stop came at the bottom of Three Bridges Road, where a little stream was running steadily across a washed-out ford and through a damp and almost rainforest-y gully. This might even have been the same creek we'd crossed earlier on Bonus Spur Track. If we’d been thinking ahead, we would have stopped here a bit longer to cool down. I did take the chance to splash my face and drench my hat in the cold water, though. So good!
As the sun got higher and hotter, it became impossible to keep any sunscreen on us - it just sweated straight off. There wasn’t a huge amount of shade along some of these roads as there were fires a few years ago and there has been a lot of clearing alongside to create firebreaks. We ate a muesli bar and reminded ourselves to drink water at every intersection. Froam Road (again) to Cooks Road. Cooks Road (last glimpse of the fire tower) to Engine Road. The trees were closer on each side. Engine Road took us down a long spur through dry bush, and we continued down the spur on Hairs Track back to Freestone Creek Road.
The last hour or so we were simply fantasising about the swim that was awaiting us at Blue Pool. When we hit Freestone Creek Road, a car pulled up alongside us and the first humans we’d seen for the whole walk asked us for directions to Blue Pool - I was pretty happy to inform them the carpark was about 100m away, just around the corner! We stripped off our stinky, sweaty clothes, changed into our swimming gear, gingerly made our way down to the water and jumped in. Oh, it was bliss!
The walk was about 15.5km, with >650m ascent. Including breaks, it took about 5hrs and 20mins. The main issue for me on this walk was the heat - the hills were big but manageable (with sticks we didn’t even fall over) and the distance was OK (just) for a full morning. If it had been a bit cooler, or overcast, I think we would have done the whole thing in closer to 5 hours. It's good to know that on extremely hilly terrain in hot weather my walking pace is closer to 3km per hour. At the end of the walk, after our swim, I felt like I could easily have walked another 5-10km over the rest of the afternoon if I’d needed to.
Speaking of the swim… what an amazing way to end a walk on a warm day. It was so good to cool down and stretch out the body in a different way. I took the opportunity when we were drying off to give my feet a bit of a rub, too.
The toe blister returned, argh! It was at around the 10-11km mark that I felt it starting up. I hadn’t taped it this time. The next day it didn’t feel too bad, though. In terms of aches and pains, my calves were quite tight (especially the right), but I stretched them during and after the walk and the next morning, and it wasn’t anything I didn’t expect after all that climbing. My knees were fine (thanks, trekking poles) and my feet were pretty good too. Just goes to show that sometimes a long flat walk is harder on the body than a walk with lots of ups and downs.
This will be a great loop to come and do with a full pack later in my training and prep. I just hope it’s a bit cooler!
This walk is on the unceded Country of the Brayakaulung (Gunaikurnai) People. I acknowledge their Elders, knowledge and claim to this area. This always was, and it always will be, Aboriginal land.
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