- 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.
At least it keeps us off the streets…
Just before 8am, we popped out onto Sydney Road, then took a little detour through Warr Park before heading up Albion Street to A Minor Place. We hadn’t been there since getting back to Australia this time around, so this was a long overdue breakfast! I had the tofu poke bowl and Dan had Henry’s White Beans with an egg. The white beans are a classic and have been on the menu since I used to come here to “work” on my PhD. They’re still excellent, as is the coffee (my breakfast was good overall, but some of the items were a little lacklustre). Absolutely stuffed with food, we joked we wouldn’t need to eat again until dinner with friends at the Cornish Arms.
East on Albion, then along one of Melbourne’s bluestone alleys to Allard Park and the oval. The idea of this route was to (a) keep off conventional streets and roads as much as possible and (b) make the loop into a ~15km walk by going the long way around any parks we encountered. So, around the oval we went, pleased to see the bocce pitch (field? court?) was still there. Up onto the little hill to survey Jones Park, the trees along the creek, the golden domes of the orthodox church. Then finally down to the Merri Creek path.
There were works on the path to the south, and the detour took us through Ceres, which offered lots to look at (gardens, chooks, sculpture) and some toilets for a quick pit stop. We enjoyed the new-to-us footbridge and viewing platform under Blyth Street, then crossed the creek to continue on the unsealed paths on the other side. There were a lot of signs warning for snakes. Attenzione serpenti! We didn’t see any serpenti. But we did see a kindergarten group doing activities, and were greeted enthusiastically by one of the kids (reminded me of the kid at the You Yangs!). It was really pleasant to follow the familiar-but-unfamiliar path along the creek. Apparently it was opened by Bob Hawke - now there’s some political history for you. (Politics was on our mind, as the federal election loomed. Thankfully the result wasn't terrible.)
The path loops under and back around on St Georges Road (NB: Australia doesn't use apostrophes in place names), and then a little while later we turned off onto the Capital City Trail. We hadn’t brought our raincoats, so when the light sprinkle started turning to drizzle, we sat under a picnic/BBQ shelter along with various evacuees of the play ground and a few fuzzy pigeons. We also spoke to my aunt, who has recently had surgery - everything went well, and she’s recovering nicely, which is great news.
Walking along Park Street reminded us of one time when we walked the whole Capital City Trail in a day - which remains, I believe, the furthest I’ve walked in a single day. As we got towards Lygon Street, I also recalled what the area looked like when I lived near Drummond Street in my second year in Melbourne, before we met. The trees have grown up so much, and places like the North Carlton Railway Neighbourhood House really enliven the green corridor.
At Princes Park, we strolled down and around the Carlton football ground (I think it’s called Ikon Oval at the moment) and enjoyed the autumnal colours of the deciduous trees. The weather was also suitably autumnal - occasionally chilly enough to pull my sleeves down and do up the zipper on my fleece, but five minutes later warm enough that I almost considered taking the jumper off altogether.
We didn’t go all the way into Royal Park this time, instead heading down another long bluestone alley into Brunswick West, then starting our extremely meandering route back north via Temple Park, Gilpin Park, Clifton Park and Clifton Park West, Brunswick Park and the Gillon Oval.
Somewhere in these parks, we both started flagging. I think the main issue was that we knew we were so close to home, but still had a few kilometres to walk before getting there! But of course, eventually we were done. We headed east along Hope Street (possibly our longest conventional street stretch of the whole walk), then north on the Upfield Bike Path to connect the loop. Despite having sworn I was too full for lunch, I managed a very hearty slice of toast before we crashed for an afternoon nap.
This was an easy walk, without a pack, over fairly flat terrain. My feet felt OK, though towards the end I opted to walk on the grass rather than the hard path where possible. I didn’t get any blisters, but probably would have if I’d kept going another 5km (especially if I hadn’t been able to dry out my socks a bit).
I got quite a sore lower back as I sometimes do, especially when I'm not carrying a pack. This is something I’m hoping might start to improve in future as a friend of mine offered me some free online Alexander Technique sessions after reading about this issue in a previous post. I'm enjoying the sessions and I’ve noticed I’m getting far less sore in my neck area, which is great. Two of the techniques I was given to try during the lesson before this walk were (1) to ask myself, “How can I do less?” and (2) to tell myself, “I am not walking” (when walking, or standing when standing), and see what changes occur in my body. It was quite interesting, and something I’m sure will continue to evolve!
This walk is on the lands of the Wurrundjeri people. This country was never ceded and it always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
The familiar has become unfamiliar…
A few days after our You Yangs outing, Dan and I were due to meet a friend for morning tea at Ceres. We arrived a couple of hours early and headed north on Merri Merri (Merri Creek) in the almost-drizzle. We made it all the way up to Coburg Lake Reserve before turning around.
This was a path we walked many, many times when we lived near the creek in Thornbury, and it was lovely to revisit the area - even if some of the changes made us feel like strangers in our old neighbourhood! There’s a big new footbridge across the creek at Ceres, the trees and shrubs have all grown up, there’s new signage (directional and informational), the market garden at the swing bridge (which has “save our bridge” banners on it) has become quite the destination as an outpost of Ceres with its little cafe. It was a lovely walk, and I hardly took any photos, so I’m not going to dwell on it here
My training notes for this outing are: it helped ease my achy calves from our You Yangs walk (and so did a serious stretching session afterwards); I almost got another blister on my right toe; and thankfully I can actually walk fast - if only over flat terrain, on easy paths and without a pack (11km in 2hrs 15min).
Thoughts about gadgetry
I haven’t posted a lot about my Heysen Trail prep other than training walks I’ve done, but I’ve been making some decisions about what gear to take. I thought some of you might be interested. If not, feel free to close the tab now! This little ramble is about navigation, emergency beacons (PLBs) and gadgets.
One thing you need to think about when walking in remote places is safety. Let me start by saying: I already have a one-use-only emergency beacon (Personal Locator Beacon, or PLB) and a smart phone. I went back and forth on getting a Garmin Inreach or a SPOT for the Heysen. I’d pretty much ruled out the SPOT and was really researching the benefits of the Mini vs Explorer Inreach. But in the end, I decided against it. Why? Cost and weight/bulk.
The benefits of getting a Garmin, depending on the model, can include: topo maps, GPS tracking (e.g. onto a map that friends/family can check from afar), texting (even/especially when phone reception is bad), weather updates, emergency beacon and additional comms options in case of an emergency. This makes it a lot more useful than my one-use-only PLB. Also, the battery life isn’t bad and it would extend the battery of my phone (because using GPS on the phone when looking at maps uses a lot of juice).
These are all great things, so what’s holding me back? First, it’s hundreds of dollars for the device ($400+ for the Mini, $600+ for the Explorer), then you have to pay a subscription fee for $20-$100 a month (with the more basic plans, you also have to pay for tracking points and extra messaging). NB: there are cheaper ways to do it - either by buying second hand, borrowing or renting the device. So, that’s something to keep in mind if you really want to take a Garmin with you on a trip.
The other issue is I don’t want to carry more devices than I need to. My phone should be able to do a lot of what the Garmin does. I can download topo maps for offline use (e.g. Gaia premium), I can get weather updates (though only when I have internet reception, but I can check the 5 day forecast when available), I can text (when I have phone reception), I can get updates on the water tanks from other walkers (i.e. FarOut/Guthook). Paying for premium Gaia and buying FarOut for the track costs less than buying a Garmin and paying for the subscription. Plus, my phone can take photos (I have made the decision - which I may regret! - to leave my camera behind).
Of course, the phone won’t be any good in an emergency if I'm out of range and, as I said, using it for GPS tracking gobbles up the battery. It’s also possible that it will just crack the shits and stop working (Garmin is, as far as I’m aware, a much sturdier piece of equipment). So, what are my plans for that?
I guess the main things I’ll miss (which I’d have with a Garmin) are the ability to have (e.g.) hourly “pings” onto a map so family/friends can trace my progress, and the ability to text when I have no phone reception. But the former is a nice to have rather than an essential, and the latter… well, people managed to do long walks before mobile phones were invented, so I think I’ll be OK. Maybe I’ll have to miss out on a couple of days of comms with loved ones, but that’s just part of the experience.
Merri Merri (Merri Creek) is part of the lands of the Wurrundjeri people, as is much of the wider Melbourne area. This country was never ceded and it always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
Granite, hills, views.
When we lived in Melbourne many years ago, Dan and I always wanted to visit the You Yangs (Wurdi Youang). The pointed hills stand out in the distant south-west, rising from the surrounding plains, clearly visible when you get anywhere with a view out in that direction. But the closest train station is 10km away, so even if we’d managed to get bikes on the train it would have taken us something like three hours to get there, leaving not very much time for a walk before it would be time to turn around and go home. It’s basically impossible to do a day trip there (and there’s no camping) unless you have a car.
But now, we have a car! So, off we set from our friend’s place in Brunswick, and pulled into the park less than an hour later. I hate that this is the only option for getting there, but I’m glad we were able to. As we hopped out of the car, a bus load of early primary school kids also arrived. “We’re going on a REALLY BIG WALK!” one of them informed us. “What are you doing here?” They seemed satisfied that we were also going on a REALLY BIG WALK. Despite the commotion, a few kangaroos stuck around nearby to watch us set off. The kids still had to get through the entire class of toilet visits, so we left them to eat our dust.
Our plan was to do a bit of a butterfly, forming two circuits around the hills (East Track, Saddleback Track, Branding Yard Trail, Northern Range Walk and West Track, if you want to check a map). Then, if we had time at the end, we’d head up to so-called Flinders Peak (I can’t find if the individual hills have Indigenous names) and back to the car park. Spoiler: we did not have time.
East Track started us out with what ended up being the hardest bit of walking of the day. It was fairly steep (rising roughly 175m over 2km) but mainly what slowed us down was how the path winds through and over the amazing granite rocks and boulders that form the hillsides. There was lots of awkward stepping up and down (which I have to do carefully because of my knees), along with a bit of four-legged walking (aka scrambling) at times. I worked up quite a sweat, and could feel the burn in my calves. We pulled aside to admire the fantastic view over the plains and the bay to the east. Someone passed us, and promptly disappeared up the track. “How can they go so quickly?” I lamented. “Well, we haven’t been hoofing it,” Dan replied. I was aghast. In fact, I had been hoofing it. But then again, perhaps I felt that way because I was carrying a 10kg pack and Dan and the speedy person were not.
As we twisted around East Track, we started to get views of the hillside we’d just come along, and wow! It was even more spectacular than we’d thought. There are huge granite faces, big boulders poking up through the trees, and the whole thing made me want to paint it. Having only ever seen the hills from a distance, I’d just assumed they’d be covered in trees, but no - the closer you get, the more you realise the trees are just filling in the gaps between the rocks. The granite is actually the reason this range exists - originally a mass of magma that solidified within sedimentary rocks under the sea, as the water receded and the sediments eroded, leaving behind the hills we see today. Underfoot, the soil is sandy, formed from granite eroded over time by the weather.
Speaking of the weather, we had chosen a perfect day. After a chilly morning, which left the grass glistening, the sun rose high in a clear blue sky. There was enough shade to keep us just on the cusp of being too hot, supplemented later in the walk by a very gentle cool breeze. Although there was a lot of haze and smoke in the distance, the air was fresh. I was glad we’d decided to come straight down on our first day in Melbourne, rather than waiting until later in the week, when it got a bit overcast and drizzly.
We passed the intersection where our loops met, and spoke briefly to two fellows who told us to look out for brown snakes as there had been one on Saddleback Track yesterday. Then we dropped down off the hill along said track, passing three other people coming up, and into the trees on the plain. We were once again visited, albeit fleetingly, by a scarlet robin. I feel very honoured to have seen one on three of my last four walks. Making a very small detour, we popped out into the clearing with the geoglyph of Bunjil the wedge tailed eagle - the Wadawarrung/Wathaurong creator spirit, who made all the country of the Kulin Nation - though at 100 metres across it’s designed to be seen from above, so we’d already had a better view from East Track.
A little later, we stopped at a low bridge over a dry watercourse to take the weight off and share a Snickers. A friendly young border collie came to say hi (on a lead, as per the rules). And then it was time for the short, sharp climb back up onto the hills. A nice bench part way up gave us the chance to have a rest and watch a large family of choughs making their way through the trees around us. As well as choughs, kangaroos, the scarlet robin and some dogs out with their owners, we also saw cockies, yellow rumped thornbills, red browed finches, a small bird of prey, a large bird of prey, pigeons, magpies and wrens. We also noticed tracks that might have been from feral goats? They seemed too small for deer.
Making our way back to close the loop, we met another couple of people walking the other way - apparently without any packs or water, which was a little alarming, but I’m sure they knew what they were doing. Right? It was quite pleasant on the Northern Range Walk, as the path was mostly in shade and had been for most of the day. We passed through a couple of lovely-smelling damp areas. We also finally realised that one of the complexes we’d been looking at to the east was Avalon Airport. Not a single plane landed or took off - at least that we noticed.
Lunch was taken on a large rock - Vita-weats, Emmenthal slices and some long swigs of electrolyte-laden water - before we set off along West Track to complete our walk. We decided at lunch that rather than rushing to get up the hill and back, we’d just take our time heading back to the car. If we hadn’t had a dinner date arranged with friends (dumplings in the park!), we probably would have headed up the peak at the end. But I was happy to forego the 450 steps up - and especially the 450 steps down. I’m not sure my knees would have taken it!
On this side of the hill, the boulders felt more prominent - maybe because the west side cops more of the weather? We enjoyed views out to the Brisbane Ranges and the hills and plains to there. We spied a couple of other large complexes - one of which I guessed might be a prison, which was on the money. We met a couple of lads slipping and scrambling their way down to the path, presumably from the summit, a jogger and another dog walker. All in all, once out of the car parks, we only encountered 14 other people. Not a huge number for being out for four hours, but enough to make the place feel well used. I think most people just hike up to the summit and back, rather than exploring these other tracks. Towards the end, we could see an inviting looking big rock far below - which is, of course, imaginatively named Big Rock. A destination for our next visit. Below an official lookout, we also spotted anchor points in the granite - presumably for sport climbing and abseiling.
And then, after a few minutes rest on the benches at the Turntable Car Park, watching trains and boats head from Geelong to Melbourne, we toddled back to our car in Lower Car Park. The kangaroos were still there, including a few whoppers! But the primary school kids had long finished their day and headed home.
Let’s go for some bullet points.
The You Yangs (Wurdi Youang) are part of Wadawurrung (also transcribed as Wathaurong) Country, created by Bunjil, the wedge tailed eagle. 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.
Autumn leaves, gold mining history, pretty river views, tasty treats… and a little dip, of course!
We were in the Ovens Valley for a short stay after our Melbourne sojourn. After a cloudy and drizzly start, our second day dawned with bright sunshine and the promise of temperatures in the mid-20s. There are plenty of options for walks in this area, ranging from flat and accessible (e.g. sections of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail) to epic ascents (The Big Walk up Mt Buffalo rises 1000m in about 10km) and everything in between. As this was our first time here together (and I hadn’t been since I was a kid) we decided we’d stay around Bright and explore it in more detail.
We strung together two of the walks in the very good guidebook that you can pick up for free at the visitor info centre (or many shops around the place). First, the Canyon Walk, which heads downstream along the river, crossing swing bridges to head back on the opposite side; second, Cherry Walk, which heads upstream and back in much the same fashion. Both walks are pretty easy, though not fully accessible - and the rockier sections of the Canyon Walk on the northern side could be a bit slippery when wet. Both walks are about 5km (though you can do a shorter version of the Canyon Walk by turning back at the first swing bridge).
The morning was glorious, and currawong calls echoed across the valley as we set off on the Canyon Walk. There were a few other people strolling along the river, even though it was mid-week and not yet school holidays. Bright is a tourist destination - and for good reason! The autumn leaves on the deciduous trees might not have quite reached their full glory, but there were flashes of colour wherever we looked, and the smell of fallen leaves was starting to scent the air. The views along the river as we headed into the small gorge were absolutely stunning.
On the way up, we noticed some water falling out of a split in the rock slabs opposite and wondered how it got there. On the way back, after crossing the swing bridge and making the short extra trip up to the old rail bridge, we learned that it was coming from an old tail race. These deep channels through the rock were cut by miners during the gold rush to drain water from the claims where it was used in the extraction of gold from the soil. The path crosses several of these channels and it’s boggling to think of the amount of work that must have gone into their construction.
There is a darker side to the gold mining history here. Mining started in the 1850s and by the end of that decade most of the river (alluvial) mining was run by Chinese miners - it’s probably these people who cut the tail races we crossed over. Two years after the anti-Chinese Buckland race riot, which occurred just downstream in 1857, the camp near Bright was also attacked by White miners. One man was murdered and another severely injured. Anti-Chinese racism has been a continual issue in Australia since these gold-rush days.
Back in Bright, I tried in vain to record some black cockies, which stopped squeaking every time I hit the button. I did, however, manage to record a few gang gangs - probably the cutest parrot, in my opinion. We enjoyed watching a few blue faced honey eaters, which I can’t remember having seen before. They look fake! Incidentally, the magpies up on the north side of the range have black backs, rather than white, which I also found interesting. We grabbed cake and coffee (cake and chai for Dan) from Ginger Baker (not the drummer) and sat beside the river to eat. Yum!
After a nice break, we headed off upstream on the Cherry Walk - named after a local family rather than the fruit, alas. In fact, along much of the south side of the river the path runs beside plantation pine. Again, we saw a few people out and about, though it seems to be a less popular loop. It’s a little less shady and maybe not quite as spectacular, but I really enjoyed meandering beside the river, past multiple picnic areas and popular fishing spots. A series of informative signs taught me a great deal about fly fishing, none of which I have committed to memory as inflicting injuries on fish does not seem like an enjoyable or ethical pastime to me. I will, however, concede that standing in or sitting beside a river for hours on end is a great way to spend a day, so I do understand the appeal. Especially on a day like this was, in a river like the Ovens.
As we headed back, the path passed through patches of mint, overgrowing reeds and blackberries. It also, on this walk, suddenly occurred to me that the Ovens wattle - of which we saw plenty - is so called because it’s named after this valley. We finally found a spot without fishers to have a paddle, and I recorded a little bit of audio for the next issue of Queer Out Here. The water was brisk and clear. It was lovely.
Soon enough we were in town again, and we headed to Clean Bowled for a fresh lunch. It was super tasty, and the weather was perfect for sitting in the park and relaxing. Afterwards, we did a couple of chores then headed back to our accommodation in Porepunkah, where I went for a proper dip in the river. It was definitely on the invigorating end of the nice-refreshing-invigorating-freezing scale of coldness. I loved it. My hands stopped working properly and they stung like anything when I had a shower to warm up afterwards. Would recommend!
Again, this hardly counts as training! My only complaint was a sore lower back, but a little stretching mid-walk and a bit more afterwards helped with that, as it always does. My new shoes were fine, apart from a slightly annoying bit on the outside of the right foot where the crease of the shoe pushes into the side of my bottom toe joint when my foot bends. Not enough to make a blister, just enough to be a slight mental irritation. I had ordered (and received just after this trip) another pair of the Lone Peaks (in the bright colour, yay!) and I’m interested to see if the same happens with them or if it’s just a quirk of this pair in particular.
I also ordered the full set of the Heysen Trail paper maps when we got home from the trip. I will get a lot of enjoyment looking at them before and after the hike. I don’t plan to use them that much while on the trail, but I’ll carry them for the very good reason that they never run out of batteries. Anyway, this is exciting and makes it all feel a little more real! Next step... is maybe buying plane tickets to Adelaide?!
This area is Taungurung and Jaitmathang Country. Sovereignty was never ceded and this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
A different kind of walk-and-swim outing.
I didn’t want to spend a day of our short Melbourne break doing a 25km walk and rendering myself useless for any socialising in the evening. But I did want to do a walk long enough to count as ‘training’ - i.e. a minimum of around 10km. So, we decided to walk from our spot on Sydney Rd in Brunswick to my sister’s place high up in the sky on Southbank. The direct route is more like 8km (and a bit boring), so we added a few scenic diversions.
We started off by calling in to Tabets for some late lunchy snacks, then stepped over onto the bike path that runs beside the Upfield line. It’s always fun to revisit the old haunts and see what’s changed and what hasn’t since we lived in the area. And on the bike path we ran into an old friend! Kate, who made so much tasty food for us on our Snowy River adventure. That was lovely, not just to stop and have a chat but to be reminded that yep, we lived in this city for 10+ years and know enough people that we can just randomly bump into them.
The bike path curves into Royal Park, joining the Capital City Trail (we once walked this loop in one day - and it remains one of my longest distances covered in a day at 30-something kilometres). We jumped off that path behind the zoo, and instead made our way to the native grasslands circle. This was our main additional detour of the walk - we did an almost complete loop, adding about 1km. It’s quite a nice spot to go for a stroll, with big skies and views of the city skyline.
We enjoyed the park beside the children’s hospital as the last bit of this long section of non-roadside walking, then headed through the streets of North Melbourne. A helicopter landed on the Royal Melbourne Hospital as we waited for the traffic lights. We passed the old Meat Market then headed south to stroll through Flagstaff Gardens. The skyscrapers of the city sprang up around us and we crossed William Street to avoid the stream of workers heading to the station. A nice little surprise was the Market Street Park, which gave us a great view of our destination: the super tall building with a golden ‘skirt’.
It was a quick walk from there across the river and into Southbank. In keeping with my theme of having a swim after a walk, my sister took me to the infinity pool on floor 70 for a dip. Maybe not as refreshing as the creek, but pretty spectacular. I’ve definitely never been swimming somewhere that gives me a view over the top of other high rise buildings, parks, suburbs and the bay before!
This was an easy 10km walk, and the only possible issue was that the majority of it was on sealed surfaces. My feet were slightly sore immediately afterwards, but I didn’t notice any twinges the next day. Having a swim helped stop any lingering stiffness, too.
Honestly, I wondered if I should even write this up as a training walk. But then, I started with 10km walks in January, so I might as well. It did tell me that my walking fitness has improved since then!
This walk in Naarm (Melbourne) is on Wurundjeri Country. Sovereignty was never ceded and this 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.
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.
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