- We’ve bought tickets to Adelaide! Dan will come with me to South Australia, we’ll see some friends, do a bit of extra shopping (gas, lighter), drive up and drop my three resupply boxes, then he’ll take me to the start of the walk. After that, he’ll come home (taking a couple of days), and I’ll start walking!
- I haven’t done any overnight walks, but I have camped out in the garden a couple of times. The last time I did this, it was pretty chilly - maybe about 2-3 degrees overnight - and I was almost warm enough in what I had. I do want to get a lightweight merino hoodie that I can wear as a sleep top to keep the draughts out of my neck (my buff will be on my head if it’s that cold).
- I’ve also been going back and forth on an extra pair of sleep socks and some warm mittens. I have struck a great compromise (I hope) with a bit of DIY. I’ve cut the arms off a $4 puffy jacket from the op shop, and I’m about to get on with some sewing. I’ll close in the cuff/toe/finger end, tidy up the leg/arm end, and unpick/seal a little thumb hole in the seam. Then I’ll have some lightweight, warm sleeping booties that double up as cosy mittens if I need them. And when I don’t need them for my feet I can add them to my pillow pile.
Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight a long time.
I didn’t get a chance to do any big walks for a while after the one in the hills. We’ve been busy. We bought a house (yay!), then we were in Melbourne for Dan’s temp job (yay!) and the weather was fairly miserable (not yay!). Instead of beating myself up about not getting the distances in, I decided to work on something else: carrying my pack.
I’ve been getting bits of gear together, weighing everything, and trying to figure out how, exactly, I have managed to create such a heavy load. My tent weighs less than 500g, for goodness’ sake! Of course, the answer is boring: everything adds up. Every extra item - a second hanky or bandanna, multivitamin tablets, an extra piece of cutlery, a pair of thongs as camp shoes - contributes to overall weight. Then I add food for 3-6 days. And then I fill up my bottles and bam! - an extra 2kg just for fun.
Now, once I’ve got everything I need (or want) and have done a final weight analysis, there will be things that I decide not to bring, or will bring less/fewer of, or will make fill the function of other items. But all told, I think that when I’m fully loaded with two (or more) litres of water and food for 3-5 days, I’ll be carrying somewhere in the realm of 15-17kg. This might not sound like much, and probably a kilo of that will be in my bumbag, but let me tell you, it can feel like a sack of bricks! This is especially the case because I find my backpack is really only comfortable for carrying weights below about 13kg. Other people say the Osprey Exos 48 is very comfortable to 15kg or 18kg, but that’s not true for me.
So, in order to get used to carrying a heavy load, I’ve been... carrying gradually heavier loads. Makes sense, right? I’ve packed my backpack with our heaviest tent (for bulk), then piled in a few litres of water, padded with some extra bits and pieces to stop the bottles and thermoses clunking and rattling. I’ve left some of the usual things in my bag - first aid kit, sunscreen, insect repellent - and it usually brings the total carry up to around 10-13kg.
The first time I did this, I almost keeled over and had to take one of the thermoses out. It has been a long time since I’ve carried this much. In the UK, I was used to doing overnight or shorter walks, with minimal equipment and pubs on hand for lunch. That’s not quite the deal on the Heysen Trail. I needed to harden up a bit. But I needed to harden up softly - I didn’t want to injure myself.
I went out for short walks with this setup 3 or 4 times a week. They were mostly suburban strolls along relatively flat streets, but I also went on a couple of more bushy walks with my friend Emily. Only a couple of these walks lasted more than an hour, but I started getting used to the pack. I think it’s partly a mental game. It’s different when I’m actually out on an overnight walk and need the things in my pack - but when it’s just a training walk I keep thinking, “What is the point of lugging 5kgs of water around the block?” Anyway, I’m still experiencing strain on my shoulders, and still getting used to the forward lean to counterbalance the pack. I also know that when the pack’s full of things that are less dense than water it will carry differently - I’m hoping that will help a little, because it has in the past! I just need to keep slogging away, building up to carry the heaviest load I think I’ll encounter in, say, the first week on trail, then building up the distance as well.
At this point in my training - around 5 weeks out from the start date - I’m pretty confident that I can walk the distances and elevation required every day. Some of them will be long, hard days, but I’m not in bad walking condition. I’m less confident that I can do it with a fully loaded pack. So, I need to keep working at it. Again, it’s boring, but that’s how it is.
Other updates are:
Pictures taken on Wurundjeri Country and Gunaikurnai Country. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
Bushland, animal tracks, fungi, birds, flowers and one very large snake.
One day, Dan and Dad went off to Melbourne to pick up a whole bunch of things we’d had in storage since before we left Australia, so me and Mum decided to go for a walk. A return to Providence Ponds Flora and Fauna Reserve to explore south of the highway has been on the cards for a while, and with clear blue skies and temperatures in the low 20s, it seemed like a perfect opportunity.
Gaia and Google gave different information about the tracks in this section of the reserve, and I knew from last time and from satellite imagery that there would probably be tracks not marked on either map, so we set off with an intention to explore and see what we could find, rather than to walk a set route. Things started off easily enough, and we enjoyed the quietness of the mid-morning bush. On this side of the highway the reserve is a little less diverse (north of the highway it seems to be a different ecosystem every kilometre!), but one of the cool things here was the visual of a wall of stringybarks - just a thick band of grey trunks stretching out wherever we looked.
But a lot of the interest of this walk was in the details. In the sandy soils we saw many, many animal tracks - mostly wallaby, a few kangaroo, some wombat, a dog, a dirt bike (of course), and deer. We spotted a variety of cool fungi - none of which I can identify apart from the whole swash of chanterelles (I'm pretty sure) near the end. Australian chanterelles are tiny, and although there were a lot of them, I thought that actually cleaning them of the gritty sandy soil would not have been worth the effort! We enjoyed the few remaining wildflowers and some of the cool banksias of the area. There were also looooooads of ant holes, all built up like fortresses against the incursion of rain and debris. I can’t emphasise how many there were - some sections were like cities of little ant towers. Mum started categorising them into schools of ant architecture - the volcano, the iron age fortress, the pyramid, the hummock. And of course, I took almost no pictures of these ant hills! It’s so easy to forget to photograph the things that are most common on any particular walk.
We made it to the end of Bell Track, according to the map. But the road continued through a bee hive site (under constant video surveillance - beware, honey thieves!) and to the edge of the reserve, just as I had hoped. We turned right along the paddock line, following a grassy track, picking grass seeds out of our socks every few steps, getting buzzed by mozzies and screamed at by white cockies. It was all good! Well, until we turned the corner and found a stretch of road under very stagnant water, stretching as far as we could see. We decided to pick our way around a little way to see if we could find the end, and off we set.
“Oh, shit. Jonathan, stop!” I turned around to find Mum stepping onto an island in the middle of the road/lake. I wondered if she’d seen a big spider (she hates spiders). And then I looked where she pointed and - whoa, OK! the fattest red bellied black snake I’ve ever seen, which I must have missed by centimetres when I walked past. I also hastily hopped into the middle-of-the-road island. The snake didn’t even move - it was just curled up in a sunny patch without a care in the world. Anyway, we know that red bellies are quite nice snakes, but we decided that maybe it wasn’t worth continuing this way after all, and back we went through the mosquitoes and the grass seeds!
We had lunch in a spot of shade, as it was feeling quite warm. Rehydrated hummus (very good), Vita-Weats (my fave, as noted previously), tomato leather (good) and spinach and tomato leather (OK), all washed down with water. We had a few chocs to snack on along the way, and a nut bar, too. The break was a good opportunity to take off the shoes, pick the grass seeds out of the socks and tend to any hot spots. I wrapped a plaster around my problem toe, just in case - I’d felt a tiny twinge and didn’t want another blister. (Learnt my lesson!)
The rest of the walk was similarly pleasant, but I had been feeling sluggish all morning and did not improve after lunch. The miles were not coming easily. My pack felt heavy, my legs felt slow, my head wasn’t really in it. I realised, late as usual, that I could put my sunnies on to keep some glare out of my face. We also had a bit of a rest - which is when I spotted all those chanterelles. Despite the nice surroundings, I was a bit over it. We did a loop back to the car, skirting the Perry River (not visible) and surprising a couple of feral deer (they were very red, decent size but not huge, and they made some high-pitched, short, screams of alarm calls before they ran off - any ID based on that?!).
Apart from the deer and the tracks, a few butterflies and those bloody mozzies, the main animals we saw (and heard) were birds. Lots of crimson rosellas, a few magpies and currawongs, a shrike thrush, sulphur crested cockatoos, willie wagtails and a fantail. Cool spots were a jacky winter and a scarlet robin. But my fave were the two - no, three! - no, four! - gang gangs that were eating nuts in a branch above us, and which we wouldn’t have noticed if we hadn’t stopped walking and, in the absence of footsteps, heard their quiet little creaking noises. I love gang gangs.
We walked 17km in a bit under 5hrs - quite slow. I’m going to chalk that up to (1) a moderately heavy pack, (2) lots of stopping to look at fungi and flowers and other small things, (3) the slow going down where we met the snake and (4) me just generally not feeling good. Afterwards, I had pretty sore hips, and an achy lower back, but some gentle stretches and exercises the next day helped my fully recover, physically. My new, happily colourful anti-chafe undies were great.
I don’t know why I felt under the weather. I had a little sleep when we got home and afterwards I still felt bad - even a bit dizzy - and I developed the didn’t-wear-my-sunnies headache. I drank enough water and didn’t have a blood sugar drop, so it wasn’t that. I did wonder, however, if it might have helped to take some of the electrolyte powder that I had with me last time. Who knows! Anyway, I was pretty grateful for the chocolates - especially towards the end of the walk. I’m not the hugest fan of chocolate in everyday life, but wow, it can be nice when you’re out for a walk. A little burst of energy! Yes! (Thanks, Annie!)
I’m thinking of snacks to pack for the Heysen, especially what to put in my drop boxes. I’ll pack snacks only for the stretch from my box to the next town/shop - in most cases that’s 2-3 days, with 3 snacks per day plus a bit of extra scroggin and dark chocolate. I’ll take a wide range, so I don’t get really bored of anything, and also to take things that I might not be able to find in little general stores (I’m counting on those to have Snickers!). In my scroggin mix will be some combination of:
What do you put in your scroggin? (Also, I hope this final picture doesn't put you off said scroggin!)
This walk is on Brayakaulung (GunaiKurnai) Country. Please note my previous post re: Providence Ponds as a possible massacre site. As will all of so-called Australia, sovereignty was never ceded and this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
A walk, a cycle and a swim. And chips. And potato cakes.
We finally bought some bikes! It’s been five months since we got back to Australia, and we really meant to do it earlier. But wow, researching bikes is boring as shit, so in the end we just went for some entry-level kind of mountain bikes for noodling around on the rail trail and so on. Anyway, the bikes were in Maffra, so we decided to walk there, collect them (and helmets) and cycle home.
There’s not much to say about walking the Stratford-Maffra section of the rail trail that I haven’t already said. Once you’re on the old rail line, it’s mostly straight, it’s pretty flat, there aren’t that many standout points of interest. Unburdened by much in the way of baggage, we made good time, counting off kilometre markers in well under our standard 15 minutes. The sun was emerging and as I had foolishly forgotten to sunscreen my arms and was wearing short sleeves, I wrapped one of my new bandannas around my forearm for sun protection. It worked pretty well.
I also spent a bit of time with the bandanna in my hat for extra shade. And as we walked along we found an old hat thing that someone had lost - just a visor/brim with loose fabric, which I think people wear under helmets? Anyway, it had been there for a while by the looks of it, so I took it home and put it in the wash and I’ll give it a go.
It’s not that the walk is bad - it’s just quite samey. So it was nice to get into Maffra and walk past houses and gardens - some interesting things to see and smell! We headed straight to the bike shop and picked up the bikes and helmets. The bike shop owner (Wayne?) was quite bemused that we’d walked from Stratford. It took very little encouragement from him for us to go and grab some chips (very good) and potato cakes (good) for lunch from the take-away shop down the road. We ate them in the park-that-is-also-an-RV-park, and then wheeled our way back to the rail trail.
We saw a couple of black shouldered kites (which are actually quite small, more like a falcon - the book says it’s a hawk). One of them seemed to be quite young, though it didn’t have juvenile plumage, and seemed to be yelling for food? Also on our travels we saw shrike thrushes, magpies, straw necked and white/sacred ibis, an egret, many fairy wrens, many thornbills (I assume yellow-rumped, because we call them “yellow butt birds”) and many red browed finches (“red butt birds”). We even spotted a pelican flying over!
The cycle home was a lot quicker. Quelle surprise! It took us about 50 minutes to get back to Stratford. The trail is, as I said, “pretty flat”. But that’s walkers’ flat, rather than cyclists’ flat. Fortunately, most of the elevation involves a slight descent towards the Stratford end, so we did get to coast a little bit (from a whopping 37m above sea level to 13m above!). This section of the trail improves when cycled - the views change and evolve more noticeably, and glimpses and views of the hills are very enjoyable. Of course, I barely took any photos.
Anyway, back to the trip. I packed my swimming top, so when we got back to Stratford I changed into that, whipped off my shorts and went for a swim in my undies. And by swim I mean dip. As in, I immersed myself twice, rinsed my head and my legs of sweat and dirt, then hightailed it out of there. The Dooyeedang (Avon River) was very refreshing and not quite as cold as the Ovens! And then we cycled home. All in all, a good outing.
The walk was easy, and we covered about 11km in about 2hr 20mins - usually I’d estimate 10km in 2hr 30mins, so that’s pretty quick for us. Maybe I’ll try a speed walk along this stretch one day! I didn’t carry a pack (just the ‘new’ bum bag carried across my body), nor did I use the sticks. My body felt pretty good - I tried to change the angle of my hips a few times (e.g. tucking in my tailbone) to help ease any issues with my lower back. No blisters or other aches from the walk.
However, although I took care to keep the gears nice and easy on the cycle, my knees still felt a little creaky when we got back. I will need to be extremely careful with this if going out for longer rides - especially with Dan, as he tends to fang it and I don’t like being left behind! I really don’t want to lose all the progress I’ve made with my knees since last year. Also, next time I’ll wear my cycle shorts because the old nether regions felt bruised for days!
Apart from walking, I'm also doing a lot of logistical food planning for the Heysen Trail. This includes things like counting how many days between towns, therefore how many meals I need for each section, trying to research whether I'll be able to actually buy enough food for those sections in town or if I need to pack some extras in my drop boxes, thinking about where my drop boxes will go. I'm also experimenting with different low- or no-cook recipes (I've eaten some pretty horrible chia puddings while on this journey!), dehydrating fruits and vegetables, hummus and fruit/veg leathers, making green powder, and so on. I want to leave a lot of the dehydration of actual meals until July, as a rule of thumb is they should be eaten within 3-4 months. I'm thinking of making a pasta with tomato/nut sauce, a sweet potato/lentil dahl and some sort of chilli with beans and possibly quinoa. I'll also take noodles and some extra veg and flavourings to add to whatever I find in the little general stores - be that more noodles or pasta (yum), instant mashed potato (OK, in a pinch) or cous cous (gross). What things do you pack when walking and camping?
The Gippsland Plains Rail Trail and Dooyeedang (Avon River) are part of Brayakaulung (Gunaikurnai) Country. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
Let’s do this again, but make it twice as long!
It had been almost three weeks since my last long walk (not counting those nice little 10km strolls, obviously!) and I really wanted to get back into the swing of things. I’d enjoyed my last walk along the bike paths and wanted to show Dan the area, so I mapped out a 20km route for us. I stuck to the roads with the hope that there’d be a bit less water to negotiate, especially given two days of rain earlier in the week.
We set off just after breakfast, found a spot to park out of sight of the main road and started walking. I was a bit grumpy to start off, not for any particular reason, but within an hour walking had worked its magic and I was happy again. The route was pretty much all nice walking: easy to navigate and see progress, enough elevation change to keep the legs happy but not so much to be hard work. The weather was great for walking too, cool, not particularly humid, and overcast. We did have to apply the insect repellent a couple of times to keep the mozzies off, though!
We saw and heard quite a few birds - kookaburras, rosellas, magpies, currawongs, choughs, a shrike thrush, wattle birds, blue wrens, thornbills, fantails, willie wagtails and pigeons (at a distance - possibly bronzewing as well as crested). We also had the joy of seeing a bright-red-breasted scarlet robin, which flew onto a nearby branch and looked at us for a while, then darted off.
At some point we noticed two sets of footprints going the other way. It’s nice to know that other people come walking out here, too - not just dirt bikers, horse riders and firewooders. It was also good to know that the way we were going was going to be passable, since these walkers had come through in the last day or so, since the rain. Eventually, though, we turned down a road they had not taken… and encountered a fair bit of water over the road. Since we still had a long way to go, and since I didn’t think we’d meet too many more such obstacles, we took our shoes off and paddled across, toes sinking into the soft, fine mud at the bottom. It reminded me of the barefoot walk we did years ago. Instead of putting our shoes straight back on, we walked the next few hundred metres barefoot. The dirt was cold and hard, but I enjoyed it.
We stopped for lunch at the Blues Road crossroads that tickled me last time. Part of my prep for the Heysen Trail needs to be about sorting out my food carries and making sure my rationing will work. On this walk for lunch I packed us hummus (some of which I will dehydrate and carry with me), 6 Vita-Weats (my favourite crackers, sorely missed when in the UK), a couple of little sheets of seaweed snack (I'll cut up nori sheets for the Heysen) and an apple (heavy, so I’ll probably only eat these in or just after town). Six Vita-Weats is a surprisingly decent portion. I wasn’t hungry afterwards! I also recently purchased some electrolyte powders, so I added a sachet to one of the water bottles.
We crossed back over the Stockdale Road soon after. We’d been playing Twenty Questions/Who Am I?, and it was my turn. To give you an idea of our previous puzzles: I was Dan, then Dan was our friend Gemma, then I was kangaroo prints, and Dan was a blue wren. After lunch, I was the extremely ear-wormy song “Only the Lonely” by Roy Orbison. This tune plagued me through my last walk (which I've realised is because it is walking paced), and has also infected other members of the household to the point that it is like being Rickrolled. Dan cracked me up by making me guess he was the last Vita-Weat cracker he ate at lunchtime (I had 3 guesses left after guessing it was a Vitaweat he ate at lunch... but which one?!). It definitely passed the time, and Dan got stuck with my next puzzle: the Heysen Trail. Is it bigger than a house? I guess so, though maybe not at any specific point. But he got me back by being the Gelobar in Brunswick.
Anyway, at one point I did a quick detour up to touch the Briagolong-Stockdale Road (necessary to get my full 20km), and Dan waited with my pack. I carried everything for both of us for this walk and my pack and bumbag weighed over 10kg when I started, including two litres of water and all the food. It was nice to get a bit of pack-free travel in. I even broke into a little jog. It didn’t last long, obviously. I’m not a maniac.
Shortly after this, I thought I could feel a blister forming on my problem toe. Like a fool, I did not stop to check it out or put tape/a plaster on it because “there’s only a couple of kilometres to go.” I guess I have to make that mistake every now and then to remind myself why it’s good practice to stop immediately and check out the issue. When we got back to the car, it wasn’t a blister in the usual weird place at all (although that was sore), but on the side of my toe next to my big toe. I guess that I didn’t clean my feet properly after our barefoot sojourn and some grit had rubbed until the blister formed. Entirely preventable, if I wasn’t so lazy!
Still, we made it to the end in one piece and pretty good spirits. And it was only 1:45pm. So we toddled home, had a nice shower and a hot cup of tea with a couple of Tim Tams.
Now this was a training walk! 20km with pack and bum bag starting at 10kg. This original bum bag is huge, and I really stuffed it full on this walk with several snacks and all the items I might carry in it. It turns out the front pocket is just big enough for my phone, but the zip is short, which makes it a hassle to use. I just put the snacks in there instead. The next alterations I need to make are to fix up a sharp bit that cut me (end of the old zip) and change the angle where the strap connects to the bag to stop it falling forwards and leaving a big gap at the top.
Physically, that blister was the worst culprit, and it wasn’t really that bad. I popped and plastered it the following day and a couple of days later it was fine. With the heavy pack, I did get quite sore hips and slightly achy knees (thank goodness for walking poles), as well as the usual sore feet. I briefly stretched out my thighs and calves in the middle of the day and when we got to the car. Post-walk and the next day, I continued to stretch my calves and get my hips moving, and I recovered pleasingly quickly. At the end of this walk I thought I could definitely have got another 5km done if needed, especially as there was so much of the afternoon left. So I guess I’m ready to start the 25km hikes!
Food-wise, lunch and two snacks during the day was fine. I’ll also have breakfast, dinner, a third and a bit of extra scroggin each day. Ideally I’d be getting into each town with only one emergency meal in reserve, but in reality I don’t think I’ll be able to do full resupplies at every town, so I will be carrying some items (e.g. my own dehydrated food, vegan protein powder) for a much longer time between my resupply boxes. My next step with my pack is to start figuring out exactly what I’m going to take and finding out how I’m going to get all my food in there.
My latest arrivals are the paper maps for the whole trail. I'm having fun looking through them - there's a lot more than just a map on them. Also, some extremely excellently colourful anti-chafe undies - let’s see if they work!
This walk is on the Country of the Brayakaulung (Gunaikurnai) people. Sovereignty was never ceded and this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
Wandering the dirt bike trails off Stockdale Road.
I hadn’t managed to get out for over a week, and was not likely to be able to do a bigger hike over the Easter long weekend, so I got Dan to drive me out early one day for a quick 10km walk before my sister and her partner arrived on the morning train.
Saying goodbye to Dan, I went a few steps down a dirt road before plunging into the bush on a narrow but recently used dirt bike path. I’d seen these paths marked on the topo map in Gaia and had wondered if they would be good for walking. This seemed like an ideal time to find out - no big rush, not a very long walk, and a lift out only a phone call away if I needed it. Turns out, the path is pretty good for walking. Maybe a bit narrow through the long grasses, dogwood and bracken at points, a little eroded up by bikes in places, and perhaps slightly wetter in the valleys than would be ideal, but still nice.
It was slow going, though. Unlike road walking, this was the kind of path where I had to pay attention to where I was putting my feet - I spent a lot of time looking down. There were also a lot of spiderwebs. I had the genius idea of donning my head net (which is for flies, but I never seem to have it on fly-filled walks) to keep them off my face. That worked quite well, but it slightly obstructed my view so it actually increased my chances of walking into webs in the first place. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. It did also make my head a little bit hot, being an extra layer on top of my hat.
It had been cool overnight, but it hovered around the mid-high teens for most of my walk. The bush was fairly quiet, but I did see and/or hear cockies, rosellas, noisy miners, shrike thrushes and butcherbirds. I disturbed several wallabies (or one unfortunate wallaby several times), but I only caught a glimpse of one tail disappearing - the rest of the time it was just the thuds of them jumping away. I started slightly dreading the sound of frogs, though, especially if I was going downhill - it usually meant there was a bit of a swamp over the path and I’d need to pick my way to the other side. I managed to only get slightly damp feet for most of the walk - but about half an hour from the end I encountered some water I couldn’t get around. I splashed on and gave my boring new Altras their first dirty bath!
I passed two pairs of people on this walk, out collecting firewood. (So, when they were chopping wood, the bush was in fact not very quiet at all.) Other than that, I only saw the cars on the Stockdale Road - and there were a lot of them heading off with their camping trailers for the long weekend! A bike or two had been through in the last couple of days, and there were lots of horse shoe prints on some of the roads, so the area is definitely well used.
Because it was a bit slow on the single track, I decided to knock out a few quick ks on the roads. It was amazing how much more quickly I progressed! I let Dan know to pick me up half an hour later than arranged, and then, because I had more time, I did a few more footpath/dirt bike track detours! Towards the end of the walk, I met the edge of the HVP pine plantation, then jumped back into the bush to follow the bike track back to our meeting place.
This was a pretty nice spot to come for a walk if you don’t mind getting your feet wet. I’d probably advise leg coverings, too, unless you (like me) don’t mind getting your shins a bit scratched up.
Although this was only 10km, it felt a little bit more like training than my last three 10km walks. I think that’s because (a) I was alone, (b) the path required a bit more concentration and energy, (c) I was carrying a pack (even if it wasn’t that heavy) and (d) it was a bit more adventurous with route finding.
My right foot was a bit sore in the arch, and I almost got that annoying blister under my toe. I think that’s because my feet were damp for a lot of the walk and wet for the last section. But otherwise my shoes felt fine - or at least, any issues within the shoe were outdone by the terrain!
I used the smaller bum bag, and I think I’ve decided I would rather take the big one. Although this one has the really handy pocket for my phone at the front, I don’t think it’s quite big enough to store everything I want handy: audio recorder, sunnies, PLB, snack, lip balm, head net, maybe a bandanna/buff, phone and a snack or two. I can use the hip belt pockets on my pack for the PLB and a couple of small things (which I did today), but the extra space is just too useful. Maybe I can create an internal pocket for my phone in the large bum bag to make it easier to keep separate from the rest of the contents.
This walk is on Brayakaulung/Gunaikurnai Country. As with all of so-called Australia, Indigenous people did not cede this territory - it always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
Exploring an intriguing geological feature on my mum’s birthday.
I’d had the silt jetties down near Paynesville on my list of places to check out since before we got back to Australia. So, when Mum suggested it for her birthday walk, I agreed post haste!
What are silt jetties? Good question. They’re a kind of delta (more specifically a kind of digitate delta), where the sediment coming down a river is deposited in such a way that it extends the river’s course out into another body of water in a long ‘finger’ (digit). Rather than the splitting and braiding of the classic delta system you might have learnt about in high school geography, the thin strips of land that make up the silt jetties here at the end of the Wy Yung (Mitchell River) keep the river in a single channel. It extends almost all the way across the part of the Gippsland Lakes system where the river emerges. It is possibly, from my 15 minutes of research, the longest example of this kind of single-finger delta in the world. (But see also birds foot deltas such as the Mississippi - also digitate deltas, and much bigger!)
Anyway, this background information is perhaps the most interesting thing about this walk! The silt jetties look amazing from the air, but of course as you walk along them, it mostly just feels like any other river and/or lakeside walk. The few exceptions to this are the moments where the jetty arm is so thin that it’s only wide enough for the road and a little strip either side, and right at the end, when you really get a sense of being in the middle of a larger body of water - just as you do when you walk to the end of a long, human constructed pier or jetty.
There was a lot of rain around the area during the week we were away, but the day we went for this walk it started cloudy with no rain on the forecast. We strolled past the houses strung out along the jetties (probably somewhat precariously given predicted climate change and water level rises), stopping to chat to some people building a high fence and their friendly boof of a dog. The road turned to gravel and we enjoyed the protection against the wind that the vegetation provided - it wasn’t super cold, but the breeze had a bite to it! The last couple of houses were beyond the power lines, so I presume they were running off grid with their solar panels and perhaps a generator.
At points, the jetty is very narrow - barely more than the road width - and at other times it is much wider, with vegetation and grass clearings with a few kangaroos. Information signs told us that since colonisation and the opening of the lakes, erosion has been an issue here. We could see that rocks have been placed all the way along the edges of the jetties to prevent them from eroding further. If the rocks hadn’t been put there, the jetties would now be a chain of small islands, rather than a continuous strip of land.
Along the way we saw various waterbirds - mostly pelicans, cormorants, ducks and swans - as well as swallows, shrike thrushes and a couple of magpies. We also found a dead juvenile tiger snake and a dead praying mantis on the road. At the end, we walked past the car park and right to the tip of the jetty, where we looked over what was now quite a narrow strip of water towards the opposite side of the lake. We could make out places we’ve visited and walked since we came back to Australia - Raymond Island, Paynesville and Tambo Bluff near Metung.
After making it to the end, we backtracked a little way to a waterside spot with a couple of benches, out of the wind, perfect place for a cup of tea. A clutch of baby huntsman spiders also thought it was a perfect place, but that’s another story!
And then we walked back. The sun came out, which was lovely - the water was sparkling and the views were excellent. What else to say about this walk? Oh, there was a public loo halfway down. It was a drop loo, but obviously they can’t dig down into the ground this close to the water, so they have built the toilet up a flight of stairs. Dan went and reported back on the loo with a view. I meant to take photos of this marvellous structure, but on the way back I was too busy chatting with mum and we completely missed it.
After the return walk, we hopped in the car and drove to Paynesville where we ate a huge and delicious lunch of chips, potato cakes and onion rings. A great birthday feast!
This was not a difficult walk, we went through the 12km pretty quickly. I can’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure we were slightly faster than our 4kph standard (excluding our tea break!). I did fall asleep in the car on the way home, but whether that was a result of the walk or the enormous quantity of chips consumed, who can say. My new (boring colour) Altras feel pretty well worn in, now.
It was nice to be out again so soon. Even though the last few walks have been pretty short, and I clearly haven’t done anything I said I’d try to do in my last March post (consecutive days, bigger pack, longer walks, overnighters), I don’t feel too bad about it.
Mum and dad found another bum bag at an op shop ($3!) and I used it on this walk, as well as carrying my backpack with the thermos and so on. It’s a nice bum bag, and has a front pocket that’s big enough for my phone, which is great - saves me having to fumble around in the main pocket whenever I want to get it out for a picture or to check progress. The main pocket is a lot smaller, though, so I don’t think I’d be able to fit both my audio recorder and my sunnies in there alongside a snack, my PLB, etc. I also don’t love the side fastening and adjustment mechanism on the strap. I’ll give it another go next time!
The silt jetties have formed at the end of the Wy Yung (Mitchell River) in the Gippsland Lakes system. This is Gunaikurnai Country, specifically of the Brabalung people. It always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
After a few slightly more adventurous and far-flung hikes, I returned to the trusty Gippsland Plains Rail Trail for my final walk in March.
We (Dan, my parents and I) started walking from Tinamba just before 9am, after our car shuffle was held up by roadworks. Our plan was to walk 10km to Heyfield and have lunch, then Dan and I would walk back while Mum and Dad would pick up their car outside the cafe and head home. It was a cool and slightly foggy morning, though the forecast promised a sunny day with highs in the mid-20s.
The nice thing about this part of the rail trail is that almost two thirds of it does not travel beside a road. Instead it cuts southwest through farmland, diagonally across the grid of back roads, before running alongside the main road into Heyfield for the last few kilometres. Although there weren’t any particular highlights on this section, it was probably the most pleasant so far. There were stretches of shady wattles (including blackwood) and some really lovely established eucalypts around Heyfield and on the hill (“hill” being a generous description) in the middle of the section.
My folks set quite a good pace! I told Dan it made me notice how often I stop to take photos or look at things along the way - let alone field recording, which takes a minimum of a few minutes each time. Luckily they stopped at the handily spaced benches (pretty much breaking the section into thirds) to let us catch up, take off the pack, stretch a bit and have a snack. We arrived in Heyfield a little sooner than we would have at our usual 4kph standard!
Possibly the best bit of the day came in the form of a cute, friendly little cat at the Stag & Doe cafe in Heyfield. It was pretty snuggly! We enjoyed our lunch and drinks (thanks for shouting us, Mum and Dad)... but I enjoyed meeting the cat more.
After lunch, my folks dropped us back up at the trail (saving our legs all of 500m) and we faffed around for a bit - emptying our shoes of gravel, reapplying sunscreen - before setting off at 12:10pm. Dan and I discussed how much easier we were finding this walk than the Maffra-Tinamba one last month... and then it got sunnier and hotter and the flies came out. Still, there weren’t too many flies and it wasn’t too hot, so it wasn’t all that bad.
It often feels quicker walking the return leg, regardless of how long it actually takes. We knew the benches would break our trip in thirds, so we had something to aim for. We didn’t stop long - just enough to sip some water, do some circles with our ankles and take the weight off. The shady trees and a very slight cool breeze kept us pretty happy for the first half. We both had a couple of twinges in the foot and leg department, but we kept up a fair pace up over the hill (well, it does offer a slight gradient!) and down onto the plains.
We hadn’t seen any other walkers or cyclists on the way to Heyfield, but we saw four cyclists (a pair and two solo) on the way back. The last one we met just before we crossed over the bridge not far from Tinamba, and he kindly warned us of the wasps that frequent the structure. We’d noticed them in the morning and they were still hanging around. They weren’t aggressive or anything, though, so we just wandered through and tried not to disturb them. I wonder why they all hang out on that bridge? Are they collecting wood for nests underneath it?
We didn’t see a huge number of mammals - Dad spotted a bunch of rabbits, but I only saw their poo, and there were a few herds of cows along the way. Once again, we were treated to clouds of butterflies, making us feel like Disney princesses. There were also a lot of spiderwebs with large orb weaver spiders in them - as well as a couple of unfortunate butterflies, dragonflies and other insects. Birds once again made up most of our sightings - magpies, currawongs, little ravens, sulphur crested cockies, corellas, straw-necked ibis and fantails all made multiple appearances. We heard a kookaburra and a butcher bird and saw a shrike thrush and a couple of blue wrens. Towards the end of the walk a small brown bird of prey (maybe a brown falcon?) darted ahead of us on the path and was pursued straight back out into the paddocks by a few magpies. We also stopped to watch two whistling kites turning circles above us. They’re big birds!
Dan and I made it back into Tinamba at 2:40pm - exactly two and a half hours after leaving, which is spot on in terms of our average pace. We got a nice cold bottle of lemonade at the general store and headed home for a shower, tea and hot cross buns. Yum!
I’m not sure if it’s my general fitness, the nice terrain, the cooler weather, new shoes or a combination of all four, but this was a pretty easy 20km walk. I carried a heavier pack than I have so far in my training walks (maybe 7kg?) but I still felt pretty good afterwards. I also used the big bum bag again, which I’ve patched and done a couple of minor alterations on (see below).
I was a little tight in my calves as usual, but stretching helped. My feet were less achy than after other flat walks. And I definitely wasn’t as tired as I have been after my previous few outings. I’ve been a bit concerned about making the step up to 25km walks, but maybe I’ll be fine! However, I’m still not 100% sure what my training walks will be like in April and into May. Options include:
Before I head off on the Heysen Trail, I definitely want to have done at least a handful of multi-day “shakedown” walks to test out new gear/gear combos. I also know that in the first week of the Heysen there will be a couple of 28-30km days, so I want to make sure to do a couple of walks of that distance with similar ascent/descent and a decently full pack before I leave - just so I know I can do it.
This walk, and the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail generally, is on Brayakaulung (GunaiKurnai) Country. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
A solo walk through the foothills and fringes of the Briagolong State Forest.
I’m still quite behind with my walking blog posts, sorry. I have another four walks to write up! Anyway, way back on the 23rd of March, a bit before 9:15am, Dan dropped me off at the intersection of Beverleys Road and Stoney Road, near Stockdale. It was very pleasant walking up the dirt track as the weather was cool and the sun was peeking through the clouds and trees. Many, many frogs were singing from the puddles that pooled in gutters and old wheel ruts beside the road - it had rained the day before. The track was smooth and climbed gently for the first 4km.
I was loving every moment of the walk so far! The bush smelt amazing - eucalyptus, dogwood, hop goodenia, wet earth... The sky was clearing and the three-quarter moon hung before me, calling me west. Views opened up to the forested hills north of the valley, and back east I caught glimpses of a landscape made silvery by the morning light. I heard black cockies, saw a couple of wallabies, a feral cat (uh oh), kookaburras, magpies, currawongs, native snails and tadpoles. As the bush woke up, later in the morning and into the afternoon, I saw more birds - lots of wrens, some red-browed finches, shrike thrushes, sulphur crested cockies and, towards the end, a quail that scuttled across the road in front of me. I also photographed a dead red bellied black snake - it looked like it had been run over on the road, poor thing. (Photo not included.)
I turned off for a 2km walk downhill past a section of bush that had been burnt more severely a couple of years ago judging by the black trunks and fallen trees. Dad reckons a fuel reduction burn - if so, it might have got a bit out of hand. I stopped for a few minutes at the creek for a drink and half a protein bar, then started climbing again. The track was very slightly steeper than the first climb, but still not too hard - about 200m ascent over 2km. Clouds were gathering overhead, threatening rain. Towards the top of the climb, the road circled to the south of the hill where mountain ash (I think) joined the stringybark and box- tall, pale trunks rising from a dense understory of bright green bracken. A shaft of sunlight shot through, illuminating a patch of the forest. Magical!
At Insolvent Track, I turned left and began a long, easy stretch of mostly downhill walking. Insolvent Track was the first main colonial route up to Dargo, which was interesting to consider as I went along. The sun came out again, and the weather was heating up. I spotted Mount Moornapa Fire Tower on the horizon. For the first time, I heard signs of other humans - mainly a chainsaw in the distance, and an aeroplane passing overhead. I was getting hungry, so I stopped for lunch near a clearing that belongs to the plantations and seems to have some kind of quarry in it. I could hear a digger or truck working in there, but I didn’t see anyone. I later noticed the wheel marks and fresh firewood collection spots of the chainsawyers, but didn’t see them, either. Lunch was far too big, but I didn’t want to carry it in my pack any more, so I ate it all!
Immediately after lunch, a sharp downhill and uphill. Yuck. But then a stretch of relatively flat walking allowed me to digest. I realised I had started talking to myself at some point. Oh well, the birds weren’t judging me. I hope. With about 6km to go, I called Dan and let him know I should be at Blue Pool before 3pm, so long as I didn’t conk out on the steep climb that I knew was coming. I was getting a little achy as I headed down to the end of the charmingly named Letter Box Road, past signs for planned burns, firewood collection and wild dog baiting. And then I saw The Hill and I wasn’t pleased. Oh well, the only way is up! I ground it out, counting my steps and stopping regularly for a sip of water and to turn around and check if there was a view yet (there wasn’t). Two steep but relatively short climbs later, I was at the top.
I spent the last couple of kilometres down into Freestone Creek following the same route as we did at the end of our Mount Moornapa walk. I reflected on how I felt now vs last time, and concluded that I felt better. The Mount Moornapa walk was shorter, but with more ascent - and really hot. This time I was carrying a bigger pack and went a bit faster.
Dan arrived at Blue Pool about two minutes after me. And he brought my swimming gear! So we went down to the water and I had a brilliantly refreshing dip. Again, an excellent end to a walk!
A total of 19km in exactly 5hrs 30mins. With a break of 20mins for lunch, that’s between 3.5km and 4km per hour. It included >550m of ascent (do you know Naismith’s Rule and variations?). I kept track of my water as noted last time. I carried 2L, drank 1L during the walk, 500mL right after, and another few hundred mL on the way home.
My new Altras didn’t pose any major issues for my feet. I transferred my old insoles into the new shoes to help wear them in (if needed) and to stop my feet slipping around too much - I’ll probably keep them in for one more walk and then swap them out for the new ones. I was a bit sore in the arch of my right foot after lunch. No blister under my toe - that callus is doing its thing. I used my poles, so no falls (only one near-miss) and my knees were fine.
I’m not yet carrying a full load, and I estimate I started with about 6kg on my back (including the backpack) and a bit extra in my bum bag. Speaking of, I found a much bigger bum bag at an op shop the other day and this was my first outing with it. It held everything I wanted and still had space for the things I forgot (i.e. my sunnies!). I will have a go at altering it - maybe make it a bit smaller and hopefully change the angle that the strap joins the bag so it doesn’t jut out at the top so much. I’ll also cut off the zip part from where it used to attach to a big backpack.
Maybe related to using the bum bag, maybe the new shoes, or maybe just the terrain, my hips and lower back were quite sore after the walk and into the next day. My calves and thighs were also very tight, so I made sure to stretch immediately after, that evening and the next day.
This walk is on Brayakaulung (GunaiKurnai) 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.
Another rail trail! This time, a there and back walk along the Great Southern Rail Trail between Koonwarra and Meeniyan.
Dan and I spent a few relaxing days in South Gippsland in early February, which gave us a chance to check out a section of the Great Southern Rail Trail. While most material will tell you this trail starts at Leongatha in the west and goes to Welshpool in the east, it is being extended on the other side of Leongatha and if you don’t mind a bit of a road cycle you can also hop on the Tarra Trail from Alberton to Port Albert or Yarram at the eastern end. As we were walking, we chose the 8km section between Koonwarra and Meeniyan, planning to walk one way, grab lunch, and then walk back.
Which is exactly what we did. The End.
Just kidding! At the Koonwarra end, there are currently major roadworks to realign the South Gippsland Highway. The rail trail passes under the new alignment at a couple of points, but we didn’t have any disruptions. While we didn’t have to wait, we did stop and take photos (along with most of the work team) of a crane lifting a digger down into the valley. We also had a quick convo with one of the workers who recommended we get our mid-way coffee at the bakery in Meeniyan.
Most of the rail line itself was built in the 1890s, and was a key mode of transport of wood and dairy produce to Melbourne (or to ports and then on to Melbourne). The train had mixed goods and passenger service throughout much of its life. In later years it was kept open mainly by the need for commercial transport - superphosphate (fertiliser), the branch to Barry Beach that serviced the Bass Strait oil rigs, the sand mine (for glass production) and so on. Parts of the service, the line and its branches were discontinued or closed starting in the 1940s. Services to Leongatha itself stopped in the 1990s.
The line apparently had a reputation as being a particularly scenic route, especially in the western parts - and it’s still a really nice trail. The path between Koonwarra and Meeniyan weaves around grassy hills, crosses the Tarwin River a number of times (sometimes on the old wooden trestles, sometimes on new bridges beside them), and snakes along beside the flats a bit above the floodplain.
It was interesting to compare this to the Maffra-Stratford section of the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail from the week before. Although I’d like to show some kind of home-team loyalty, this is honestly a much nicer path! As well as having corners and therefore several changes of views, there’s a little more ascent and descent (even a couple of walkers’ uphills, as opposed to only cyclists’ uphills) and variety in surface. There’s also more shade under the mature trees on some sections.
In Meeniyan, we checked out a few options for lunch (we’d come on Thursday when we knew most places were open) and ended up going with our road worker friend’s suggestion of Pandesal Bakery. We had some very fresh cheese and salad rolls (the freshness made up for them only having cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion and aioli - this wasn’t your massive milk bar salad sandwich!) and I had an excellent coffee. Meeniyan is a really interesting little town, as are most of the villages on this section of trail. We didn’t spend time mooching this time as we knew we had another two hours of walking to get back to the car, but it’s definitely worth a visit!
Most of our walks this year have ended with a meal, and I’d kind of forgotten that it’s always hard to get going again after lunch. I tried to convince Dan to carry me, but no luck. We stopped a few times on the way back for mini breaks, but it took us a while to find a bench that was actually in the shade for a proper rest - I took my right shoe off and we ate muesli bars. Allegedly, it was only meant to be 21 degrees, but with 95% humidity and the afternoon sun starting to beat down it felt a lot warmer.
There were lots of little birds out on the return walk. We saw heaps of wrens, a few red browed finches, an eastern (yellow breasted) robin, a rufous whistler (pleased I could identify this after our walk at Holey Plains), fantails and even something that may have been a goldfinch - as well as the usual bigger birds, such as magpies, wattle birds, a shrike thrush, wood ducks (aka maned ducks), a heron and crimson rosellas. There were a few I couldn’t identify and I didn’t get a good enough look at them to check later, but that just means more birds to find out about another time.
We hobbled back to the carpark and I was very thankful for a sink with a good tap so I could wash my face and drink water until I could feel my cells starting to unwrinkle and rehydrate!
In terms of speed and distance, we were just edging over 2 hours for the eight-point-something kilometres each way, spot on for my 4km per hour standard. We didn’t have big packs, and it was easy walking. At one point I thought it might have been useful to bring my sticks, just to give my feet a bit of a break. I’ll need to remember to take them on more walks!
My feet hurt. That second toe on my right foot has never really recovered from bashing it on a brick a few months ago and I should probably get it checked out as Dr Google seems to think the options are either a fracture or arthritis. I also didn’t tape my toe, but I didn’t get a blister. Dan kindly rubbed my feet that night and the next day I was fine. (I always get surprised when a foot massage makes that much difference, even though it consistently does! I need to build a foot rub into my post-walk schedule… Dan???)
There was slightly (and I do mean slightly) more variation in this trail, and I did a few minimal stretches for my legs and back. This seemed to keep me pretty pain free. My lack of energy in the second half of the walk was probably mostly because I slept really poorly the night before. Not even the coffee at lunch really helped when all I wanted to do was lie down in the shade and have a sleep. (And I probably would have, if we’d found a good bench earlier on!)
This walk is at least in part on the unceded Country of the Bunurong People. The rail trail also traverses the unceded Country of the Brataualung (Gunaikurnai) People. This always was and always will be Aboriginal land.
A walk along the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail from Maffra to Stratford.
Mural at the Stratford end depicting the story of Borun the pelican and Tuk the musk duck among other things.
The calendar flipped to February, and that could only mean one thing: 15km walks! The plan is to gradually increase my walking distances for the first few months of the year, before adding packweight and overnighters to the schedule as the weather cools down. And since our car had to go to the car doctor in Maffra, it seemed like a good opportunity to stretch my legs. It's taken a couple of weeks to get this up on the blog.
Dan dropped me off near the Maffra (Macalister) Wetlands just after 8am, and I started with a quick stroll up to the loop in the northern section of the reserve, then back around the boardwalk. There were loads of birds out and about early in the morning, including some extremely cute juvenile fantails that would have been darting in and out of the reeds and rushes if they could fly well enough to dart. A person went past on a fat wheeled bike and responded to my standard greeting and how are you with a big smile and, “Don’t make no difference if I complain, it really doesn’t.” OK, then.
I headed back down the river and met Dan in Island Reserve, the park out the back of the main street. (Why is it called Island Reserve? Old aerial photos seem to show it might have had an oxbow lake there, possibly…). Dan had bought some tasty buns and a coffee for me, so we sat and had our breakfast in the slowly emerging sun. The weather was almost perfect for a walk - a bit overcast, a bit cool, a slight breeze. Quite different from most of January’s outings, and (other than the humidity) a relief after the heat of the last week.
It wasn’t the first time we’d walked this section of trail. Since we’ve been back we’ve walked once from Stratford to Maffra and once from half way along back into Stratford. Probably because of this, we didn’t stop that often to read the information boards and signs. However, we did make note as we passed various landmarks - the spot where the old Briagolong line (1889-1952) used to branch off, the entrance to Powerscourt (homestead built circa 1859), Powerscourt Siding (built 1914 to help bring sugar beet to the factory in Maffra and the weighbridge later used to weigh flax for the flax factory), Beet Road (also related to the sugar beet industry).
Another reason we didn’t stop that much was because of the bloody flies! We haven’t had much trouble with flies since we’ve been back - unlike on some other trips - but they were out in force on this walk. We tried to talk them into transferring to some local cows, and even a passing jogger. We wished for a stiff breeze to blow them away over the paddocks. I put on sunnies and tucked a hanky in my hat to try to keep them off my skin. And we spent many kilometres hitting ourselves in the face with leafy twigs. In the end, what sent them packing was a short, sharp shower of rain.
Arriving back in Stratford, we noted the progress on the rail trail path that curves under the bridge (getting ready for the concrete to be laid). Stratford is the eastern terminus of the trail - it runs all the way from Traralgon, so one day I hope to walk and/or ride the whole thing! We had a little rest stop at Apex Park, then followed the path under the new and old rail bridges and up onto the street. It would be great if they could use the old bridge for the rail trail - it’s had trains on it up to a year or so ago, so surely it could be made into a bike/walking bridge? A short street walk and a hop across the tracks took us to the station.To be sure I walked the full 15km, we took the long way home.
In the afternoon, my dad gave Dan a lift back to Maffra to pick up our freshly repaired, fully serviced and thoroughly cleaned (!) car.
I walked just under 16km in a little under 4 hours - we arrived home at about 12pm, right in time for lunch (Mum made garlic bread - yum!). That’s pretty much spot on for speed, no doubt helped along by the cool weather, familiar route and irritating flies.
The day before, we’d headed back to Mount Hedrick with my folks for a short (4km) but much steeper walk. I’d carried my backpack with a couple of thermoses, food and raincoat and I really noticed how much impact that had - from balance on the boulders to the strain of extra weight on steep climbs. In comparison, this was an easy walk.
I taped my toe for this walk (and the previous day's walk), but I'm not sure it helped. My blister remained though it didn't seem any worse. I still had a sore toe the next day. But the main issue was, once again, the lack of variety. I stretched my legs a couple of times along the walk, but my knees noticed the repetitive work and my calves were very tight afterwards. My feet and lower legs were achy for a couple of days. Overall, though, the switch up to a slightly longer walk went well. I’m feeling a bit fitter than a month ago, which is a good sign!
This walk is on the Country of the Brayakaulung (Gunaikurnai) people. Sovereignty was never ceded and this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
Sometimes instead of going somewhere else to do a walk, you just need to step out your front door.
I recently calculated that, depending on how many little detours I added in, a walk from my folks’ place around Stratford to the Knob Reserve (heh), around the Knob (heh) and back would be about 10km. So, one overcast, relatively cool and humid January morning Dan and I set off. We let my parents know that if they wanted to bring us morning tea halfway through, we wouldn’t mind that at all! We did have a backup plan, though - we first went to the IGA and got a selection of muesli bars. We’re not going to be caught without snacks again!
Walking through towns is a good opportunity to put lots of things in your eyes. There’s always heaps to look at - houses and buildings and fences, different plants in gardens, pets and other animals, various bits of signage and public art. Stratford actually promotes an “art trail” around town, mainly by the river, and we followed part of it on this walk. A lot of it is (perhaps unsurprisingly) Shakespeare related. We took a detour to see the three witches, a cool bit of sculpture beside a lookout where the view is otherwise in the process of disappearing behind growing trees. Along here, we also saw someone kayaking down the river - mostly just floating downstream, really. One day I’d like to do that.
Not all the streets in town have sealed footpaths, so we spent a lot of time walking on the road or on the nature strips. This was actually quite nice underfoot, sometimes, with springy grass to soften our steps. And at the Knob the paths are all unsealed. Bonus.
The Knob Reserve has been a gathering place since pre-invasion times. We noticed two scar trees in the reserve on this visit. After colonisation, the reserve was used as a police horse holding area, and later it became a public reserve. A couple of years ago the reserve ceased to be jointly managed by Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation and Parks Victoria and was handed over in its entirety to GLaWAC. As you stroll around you will see new signage and other objects, and some work on a few of the paths. I’m grateful as always to be permitted to share and enjoy these places.
Mum and Dad did meet us with morning tea! It was delicious and I forgot to take photos. Oh well. After they left us, we popped up to the lookout at the top of the Knob. From here you get a great view of a sweeping curve of the Dooyeedang (Avon River) with a few rooftops of Stratford behind - and beyond the plains, the blue hills of the Avon Wilderness and the Alps. A photo of the view is at the top of this post. One of the most iconic peaks in this area is that of Ben Cruachan - pronounced a bit like "crow-can" or "croakin'". Benjamin, as I like to call him. (I’m guessing it’s named after Ben Cruachan in Scotland, and I’m not sure what the hill’s name is in the local Indigenous language.) One day we’ll get up there for a look - though probably not using this extremely unhelpful listing from Parks Victoria.
The sun came out just as we were having morning tea and it got pretty warm as we headed back, meandering through the residential streets of Stratford. We mostly avoided the new build suburb, both because it’s a bit ugly and because there’s very little shade. We dropped into the oval and stood in the shade of some trees watching magpies digging up bugs in the grass under the sprinklers. Later we also had a little rest on the sheltered benches in the skate park (it’s nice to be back in a country where shade is provided!) enjoying the occasional cool breeze. After a final few blocks of detour, we headed home.
I mapped this walk out after we got home, and in the end we walked about 12.5km. It didn’t really feel like we walked that far. Maybe because it was pretty flat, maybe because we had an excellent morning tea in the middle, maybe because we had lots of things to look at. I was noticeably less sore in the foot/leg department than previous walks, which is great.
Not so great: return of the pinch blister! I wonder if it happens more when it’s hot and I’m sweaty? Or if I sometimes walk in a particular way without realising? I Just don’t know. I am going to put tape on the shopping list - I’ve never used it before, so it’s going to be a bit of an experiment. I already know that plasters just fall off my toes, though, so I need something else.
Other than that, I noticed sore hips/lower back post-walk, which I’m chalking up once again to the lack of variation. I should have done a few minutes of stretching when we were halfway through. It doesn’t take long, so why do I always forget or put it off? The neverending struggle. Woe!
This walk is on the Country of the Brayakaulung (Gunaikurnai) people, and takes in a site of significance for the Gunaikurnai tribes more generally. Sovereignty was never ceded and this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
The day after my walk in Bairnsdale, off we went for another hike! This time, the whole crew came along to explore Holey Plains State Park.
I wasn’t expecting to do another walk so soon, but Dan and my parents had agreed to go the night before (when I went to bed so early after the previous walk!), and I’m not one to turn down such an adventure. The weather was partly cloudy when we started at about midday and the temperature was still in the low 20s. It definitely got warmer as the afternoon wore on, though!
Holey Plains was so named for the crab or yabby holes down on the flats near the creek, but this part of the park actually covers a range of gentle hills. We set out on Long Swamp Track through an almost coastal ecosystem - grey sandy soil, banksias galore, reeds and rushes and other grasses in the swamp and through the bush. A fire came through here a few years ago, and you can really see the effects. There are a lot of burnt tree trunks and dead trees amongst the bracken, some larger eucalypts with epicormic growth, a few small eucalypt saplings and huge numbers of baby banksias. That probably makes sense, as many banksia species not only survive fire, but need it for their seedpods to open.
More delightful (at least to me!) than the trees were the copious pretty wildflowers. There were so many delicate little purple flowers, along with yellows, pinks and whites. I was constantly catching up to the others, then falling behind to take photos. There were hardly any birds - though we did see a rufous whistler and heard a shrike thrush - but while looking down, we noticed tracks of a horse (shod) and what we thought might be goanna (monitor lizard), as well as plenty of wombat poo and a few possible emu tracks. We also found one particularly big spider, which Mum almost walked straight into - the worst person in the group for this to happen to, as she hates spiders!
This was a walk we’d been thinking about doing for a while, although after the Mt Hedrick incident we weren’t sure if we could trust the map! The trail was listed on the map as about 3.4km each way (3.5 according to AllTrails, 3.2 according to the signage). We decided to go south to north, planning to stop at the picnic area on Holey Hill, do a loop of the Banksia Forest Walk, then head back. When we got to the northern end, the loop walk was not signposted and not even remotely visible on the ground. I guess the map was made before the fire came through, and presumably the fire wiped out the walk - and possibly the banksia forest - and the powers that be have not reinstated it. I really wanted to get my 10km in, so I walked about 1km one way down Holey Hill Track and back before lunch (with Dan) and then down to the junction of Seldom Seen Track after lunch (with Mum).
We appreciated having the picnic lunch with us this time! We ate leftover pizza and some chocolates, then headed back down Holey Hill, past the swamp and back to the car. Just before we finished, we saw a goanna (aka monitor lizard)! It was so delicate, very small for a lace monitor, with pretty markings on its body and legs. It seemed pretty chill, climbing up a burnt tree trunk, having a yawn and then (we think) eating a few ants. So cool!
I wasn’t sure I’d made my 10km yet (though later mapping showed that I had), so I suggested we do a loop of Harrier Swamp, marked on the map. We drove there and found the site complete with the promised camping area, picnic bench, fire pits and drop toilet… but the walk was closed due to fire damage. Those fires have a lot to answer for. At least this little detour gave us a chance to enjoy the view to the north from the hill on Wildflower Track.
This was a very nice spot to visit, and I think we might come back to do some walks using the quiet roads in the park.
Just a reminder, this section is about my fitness as part of preparing for a long walk later this year. If you’re not interested in that, please skip over it!
I walked 10-11km including the extra sections at lunch, but I didn’t really time things. It took us a bit over an hour to do the first 3.5km and I imagine we were a bit speedier on the way back as it was downhill and we didn’t stop as often. The path and roads were sandy, the undergrowth slightly infringing on the track in places and causing a few little scratches. Not really gaiter-worthy, though. Most of the walk was over gentle ascents and descents, apart from the last short stretch up to the top of Holey Hill.
It was good to do >10km walks two days in a row, to see how my body held up. I was less sore after this second walk than after the one in Bairnsdale, which was good. I can feel my calves starting to develop, which means I probably need to start doing some squats or something to get my glutes working and even things up in my legs (I have been told that uneven development can cause or exacerbate knee issues). Any suggestions for non-squat alternatives? I don't like squats so I never do them. My right calf is tighter than my left, too, so I concentrated on stretching that out after. My feet were, as usual, a little sore - but nothing lasting. No blister under that pesky right toe, either - yay!
I have had a slightly achy neck and shoulders after the last couple of walks. I think this may be from only having a shoulder bag to carry - I don’t have a good daypack, and the very average one that I do have is still in a box on a ship somewhere. I swap from side to side with the shoulder bag, but it's not perfect. I should probably invest in a decent small pack for shorter day walks.
This walk is on the borders of Brataualung and Brayakaulung (Gunaikurnai) Country. Sovereignty was never ceded and this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
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