Week 14 – Little Desert National Park

Week 14 – Little Desert National Park

We acknowledge the Traditional owners of these lands, the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk Peoples (collectively Wotjobaluk) people and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.

What a year 2020 is shaping up to be.  I have never imagined what I was getting myself in store for when I decided that this was the year, I’d set a hefty, year-long goal for myself. I’m not a fan of Resolutions, so committing to a 12-month task is significant for me.  And now with the country in government-enforced lockdown, the opportunities to get outdoors are closing rapidly.  We now tune into the news every night at 7pm, wondering what the death toll in Italy will be and what new restrictions are being enforced across the country.  Never before has the need to be in touch with the daily news cycle been so necessary, as reports online are often unclear and contradictory.  In times like this I turn to the ABC and try to disengage with social media and it’s inflammatory reporting.  Seeing all the closures and regulations in Melbourne feels like a world away, with life continuing as normal at Bonnie Brae.  The pantry is always fully stocked with staples, and we only leave the farm when farm supplies are required.  No one is coming and going; we are an island, surrounded by paddocks awaiting rain, cut off from the hubbub of the world around, with only the virtual world to connect us to the outside reality. 

The restrictions were still allowing outdoor exercise, so both Mum and I were keen to take advantage of this grey area before level 3 restrictions were enforced.  I wanted to check out Little Desert National Park, which is about 50 minutes north-west of Bonnie Brae.  Technically, we were within our district and if anyone asked, we agreed to say we were going to town for supplies.  The Landcruiser full of camping gear may have been a giveaway, but we were willing to risk it.  We didn’t have the blessing of my Dad or brother, who both thought we were pushing it.  Our desire to escape the farm for just one night was too great, so on April 1st, Mum and I set off, with everything we needed to avoid any stops along the way.  Driving towards Dimboola, the gateway to the Little Desert, we passed through an incredible wind farm, unlike any I have seen in Australia. There were well over 50 turbines, standing majestically in long, elegant rows, over the flat, dry landscape.  The road went through the middle of them and I hung out the window, trying to capture their mass and majesty.  Unsurprisingly, Dimboola was a ghost town, as stay-at-home recommendations were firmly in place and public facilities were all closed.  We made a beeline for Horseshoe Bend Campground, where I was to start my Little Desert Mission.

I’d already sussed out the trails on offer and was eager to undertake the Desert Discovery Trail, a 75km walking track that does a big loop of the eastern section of the National Park.  There was one out and back section from The Little Desert Lodge, but it was going to be a bit tricky to coordinate my support crew (aka Mum), so opted to do the loop, which would be roughly 60km.  Horseshoe Bend was deserted, with WARNING signs pasted on top of existing Park Information signs and caution tape billowing off picnic tables and toilet blocks.  By the time we arrived it was already 11am and I was eager to get moving.  I pulled on my vest and bid Mum farewell, enjoying the sunny but cloudy conditions.  As I left the Wimmera River, the landscape became more open and vast;  the vegetation grew to only waist height.  Undulating sand dunes offered the occasional view over the Little Desert, showing nothing but scrub to the faraway horizon.  It was the first day of the ‘Run for Wild Places’ Challenge, a virtual event organised by Simon Harris, who was also behind takayna Ultra.  We’d been chatting since takayna and I was giving him a hand with Facebook for the event, which ran for the entire month of April.  It was my goal to run 70km a month, which would be a big jump for me, but I was starting strong in the Little Desert.  The track underfoot was loose sand, occasionally disturbed by trail bikes, but more often dotted with emu and kangaroo tracks.  The track wound its way westwards; the scrub occasionally punctuated by patches of larger gum trees.  After 1.5hrs I arrived at Mallee Walkers Camp, which consisted of a stagnant dam, hut, water tank and toilet.  Everything was locked, but I took the opportunity to replenish my water as the day was warm and future sources were unreliable.  I startled a couple of emus as I arrived at the camp, no doubt drawn by the reliable water source amongst the parched country.  I continued onwards, relishing the opportunity to get lost into some solid podcasts. With the soft sand proving to be hard work, I fell into a routine of running in half hour blocks followed by a five-minute walking break while I sipped some water, had a snack and enjoyed some phone time.  While checking socials I saw that a mountain biker had to be rescued via helicopter from the Australian Alpine Walking Track.  Considering I was pushing the boundaries on what ‘daily exercise’ was, requiring medical assistance was weighing on my mind, so I was extra caution of keeping the ankles in-tact and the hydration up.

I pushed through the first 20 kilometres, with the landscape staying consistently familiar, with the clouds fully enveloping what blue sky was left.  Considering there was no overhead vegetation, I was thankful for the overcast skies.  There was a bit of water in Pump Jack Dam, and after diverting from the trail to investigate, I thought I heard a person in the bushes, and after a brief moment of fear, was thankful to find I was still utterly alone.  Onwards I continued, passing Albrecht’s Mill and continuing to Kiata Campground, where Mum would hopefully be waiting.  I was thankful to see the trusty Landcruiser there, complete with freshly brought Boston Bun. 

It was 3.30pm by this stage, and I was wary of leaving too many k’s on the agenda for tomorrow.  My legs were feeling pretty good, so we agreed to meet further along at Trig Point, which was another 7km south.  It was accessible via a 4×4 track, so we both set off, aiming to meet there in about an hour to set up camp.  The trail gradually transitioned from a sandy track to a rocky, gravelly surface, which was a welcome relief and allowed me to pick up my speed, in spite of the gradual incline.  I was feeling pretty good, buoyed along by banging tunes now that I had phone service.  I reached Trig Point at 4.15pm, with no Landcruiser in sight. While I waited, I reeled off a bunch of self-timer shots, consistently failing to get one that was half decent.  Mid-shot, my phone started ringing and it was Mum, in a tiz, with a flat tyre god knows how far down the 4×4 access track.  I’d already clocked 38 kilometres for the day and now had to pull on the vest again and go in search of Mum.  I followed the access track for about four kilometres, before finding Mum attempting to change her first tyre in quite a while.  Thankfully she had service and had been able to call Dad for advice – I hadn’t been so lucky when I got a flat tyre several years ago while out bush, and it took me longer than I’d like to admit to work out how to release the spare tyre.

Between the two of us we managed to get the old one off, which was completely shot after grazing a tree-stump. After about 15 minutes we set off for Trig Point, very relieved to be on our way again. I was pretty smelly by this stage and after deciding to camp on the trail next to the Lookout, I attempted a ‘wash’ using a tea towel and bowl of water. It wasn’t ideal, but certainly better than nothing. My toes were filthy and my months-old nail polish was well overdue for removal. I set up my tent in the usual 4 minutes flat, and then helped Mum set up her Aldi monstrosity. It had a front awning, so we set up the kitchen here, awaiting the rains we could see looming on the horizon. As I cracked a well-deserved beer at about 6.30pm, the rain started to fall. We were camping on red, clay soils, so everything was slipping and sliding around us and the rain was pooling in the canopy, requiring an occasional poke to ensure the entire tent didn’t collapse under the weight. Dinner was one of my camping favourites – green curry with rice noodles. Despite the rain it wasn’t too cold, but with a fully belly and the pitter-patter of rain, bed was looking pretty cosy. 

The following morning was an early start, as I was keen to knock off the remaining kilometres and get back to Bonnie Brae.  We hadn’t seen one other person since being in the Little Desert, however Mum had run into the Ranger who wasn’t the least bit concerned about our presence.  I packed up my tent and pulled a fresh change of clothes onto my still grubby, smelly body.  After my favourite pre-run breakfast of overnight oats, I gulped down a coffee and set off at roughly 9.15am, leaving Mum to enjoy a leisurely morning.  The first stint was downhill; always a great way to start the day.  My legs were feeling a bit sluggish, but thankfully with no major niggles.  The grey, cloudy hangover of last night’s rain remained, with the temperature slightly cooler than the previous day. The landscape was much the same; low, scrubby bushes with the occasional larger tree, and even less frequent woodland.  The highlight of the morning was passing Salt Lake which still had a bit of water and made for a great self-timer background! I jerry-rigged a tripod from a tree branch and ran back and forth several times on the exposed lakebed, peeved at the tyre tracks disturbing the natural tranquillity of the scene.  I pressed on, still in my 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off regimen.  It wasn’t only to give my heaving lungs a rest, but also to break the boredom and enjoy some phone time, when service permitted. The landscape was unchanging and despite the endless podcast, my mind was still fixated on the goings-on of the world outside the remote Little Desert.  Friends were being stood down from work, businesses were being shut down and everything felt very uncertain.  Constantly refreshing my newsfeed didn’t curb my need for information in an everchanging news cycle.

Last night’s rain hung from the native correa and heath, small burst of colour in a mostly brown and green landscape.  At around 11:30am I reached Yellow Gum Camp, which was also locked and lonely.  With no real reason to stop, I continued on after a quick gander, now headed east, back towards the Wimmera River.  The closer I became to the river, the more the landscape changed, with taller eucalyptus and more undulating terrain.  The heavy cloud slowly parted, with the Mallee sun peeking through for brief, sweaty moments.  As the trail stated to deviate north, I poked my head in at Eagle Swamp, hoping to see some more wildlife.  I was disappointed to find it like most of the Little Desert; deserted and dry.  I was relieved to finally see the Wimmera River just after Crowhurst Flat, with the trail meeting a gravel road, which would lead me along the final riverside stretch.  I finally came across a bunch of kangaroos hanging out on the slightly green grass on the river flats; the most wildlife I’d seen over the past two days.  Knobbly, towering gums lined the track, which were a nice change from stunted bush I had grown accustom to.

I arrived at Horseshoe Bend rather confused – It looked nothing like the picnic area I’d left just 28 hours earlier.  I was pretty cooked by this point; I just wanted it to be over.  I consulted the map at the toilet block and realised I still had a few river bends to round before reaching the finish line.  The sight of the Landcruiser patiently awaiting my arrival brought a relieved grin to my face, as I picked up the pace, bringing it home strong.  Mum had her whopping zoom lens at the ready, so I did my best to hide my fatigue as I lurched towards the Little Desert Loop sign, which mentally marked the finish line after a whopping 36.7 kilometre day.

It was 2.30pm by this stage, and I was pretty hungry and rather smelly.  We jumped in the car and drove around to the ‘beach’, a bend in the river with an accessible point for swimming.  I stripped off and jumped in my undies, with the cool, muddy waters of the Wimmera River washing away 74 kilometres worth of sweat and dust.  After drying off and pulling on some clean clothes, it was lunch time. I threw together a big, delicious bowl of fresh and roasted veg and devoured it in minutes.  Before saying farewell to the Little Desert we went for a short walk to look at a ring tree; a huge river gum who’s branches had been manipulated by the Wotjobaluk Peoples hundreds of years ago to create a landmark.  The branches had fused together, and were quite high up on the trunk, which demonstrated it had been done while the tree was still a sapling and was of considerable age.

It was finally home time; and for how long we didn’t know.  Impending restrictions were imminent and future travel plans seemed like a faraway dream.  But I was thankful to be returning to a farm, with endless chores and vast, open paddocks to roam in.  My legs were certainly worthy of some rest, but I was feeling good after my efforts and excited to keep building the kilometres during April whilst running for wild places.

For more information of Run for Wild Places, visit www.runforwildplaces.com.au

Week 12 – Kara Kara NP

Week 12 – Kara Kara NP

We acknowledge the Traditional owners of these lands, the Dja Dja Wurrung and Barengi Gadjin people and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.

 

Well, it’s been a minute. Port Campbell National Park feels like a lifetime away from where I find myself now.  In the past month, I’ve lost my job, completed the takayna Ultra and now a global pandemic is threatening the lives and lifestyles of people all over the world.   I was made redundant on the 20th of February and chose to walk immediately, rather than resign and give my two weeks.  I hadn’t been loving my job, so when it came time to rip the band-aid off I wasn’t overly disappointed.  The looming impact of coronavirus was starting to impact events we were working on and being a designer, I was the first to go.  It came as a massive surprise as we had no idea that the company was struggling so severely.  Over the workday properly assessed my options and decided to end it then and there.  I packed up my desk and woke up unencumbered and unemployed on Friday morning.  I decided to move out of Melbourne for a few months, after returning from a week in Tasmania would move up to the family farm in North-Western Victoria for some R&R. So, that’s where I find myself now. By the time I reached the farm, lockdown was inevitable.  My outdoor loving parents were also getting itchy feet at the thought of going into lockdown, so before the restrictions set in, we headed away for a night to the nearby Kara Kara National Park. 

My parents brought a Winnebago (named Yam Daisy, known as Daisy for short) on a whim last year so we’d be camping in style. I threw in my tent and sleeping gear despite there being a bed on offer in Daisy.  I sat up at the dining table on my laptop as we set off, getting thrown around on the rough country roads during the short 45-minute drive.  We headed straight for the Teddington Camping Area, just a short drive from Stuart Mill.  We pass through this area regularly on the way to Ballarat, but never before had I ventured off the Sunraysia Highway.  The camping area was large and parched, overlooking the empty Upper Teddington Reservoir, surrounded by towering Box Ironbark forest.  I sat back and watched as Mum & Dad went through the motions of trying to park Daisy on a level surface, coming to terms with the fact that my parents were now grey nomads.  We left Dad to get the fire going and do his sudoku, with me setting off for a run and Mum and bird-watching walk. 

With a range of 4×4 tracks criss-crossing the National Park, I was planning on just following my nose and try to find a loop.  The track took me past Teddington Hut, which I was also keen to check out.  With my headphones in, I set off south down Teddington Road.  I heard the Hut before I saw it; an enormous Husky dog ran up to me, slightly too energetic and jumpy for my liking.  There was a lot of swearing going on, with a couple of people sitting around a fire under an Aboriginal flag.  I took my headphones out and said hello as they tried to restrain the over-excited dog.  It was a weird situation and looking back I didn’t handle it too well.  I thought this Hut was like all other National Park huts and wanted to have a look inside.  As I was chatting to the woman while the two men looked on, the dog became very aggressive as I went to have a look inside the hut.  It was full of their food and belongings – it seemed as if they lived there.  I felt very uncomfortable, as I was clearly imposing on their personal space and both the dog and the campers were not comfortable with my presence.  So, I said farewell and continued heading south with the dog bounding after me.  Their attempts to call him were futile and catching him just seemed like a big game to the playful pup.  Eventually they restrained him and I suggested they tie him up as Mum would be coming through soon, and she is not a fan of big dogs. 

Our strange encounter came to an end and I set off again, reflecting on my behaviour as I put one foot in front of the other.  I wondered if they were Dja Dja Wurrung or Barengi Gadjin Peoples and had permission from Parks to live on their unceeded lands. Or if they were just taking advantage of a quiet, uninhabited hut in the bush.  The encounter left me feeling slightly on edge, when usually I feel completely at home in the deserted bush.  Not too far along, two 4×4 vehicles passed me, with the driver in the lead vehicle saying they saw a lot of smoke on the horizon, so were heading north just in case.  He told me not to continue, which instantly got my back up, so I continued south, in spite of his warnings. 

As I turned onto Chimney Track, the smoke became more noticeable and I checked the VicEmergency App but there were no warnings for the area.  The track was rocky and undulating, surrounded by virgin Box Ironbark habitats.  There was so much fallen timber; the place was a tinderbox waiting to ignite at the slightest spark.  As I power-hiked up the hills towards the ridgeline, my eyes were peeled for signs of fire, but despite the occasional views to the south I couldn’t see any sign of flames.  I’d reached the turnaround point and started heading north along the Mt Separation Track. At the Blue Gum Track turn off, the road descended steadily, as I picked my way down the rocky 4×4 track at pace.  The deafening squawks of cockatoos could be heard over my podcast.  The track headed west, winding through creeks and enormous gums before re-joining the Teddington Road.  All was quiet at the Hut as I passed, and soon enough I was back at the campsite, excited to see it was drinks and nibbles time by the campfire.

 

As we sat around the campfire overlooking the completely dry reservoir, our neighbours were visited by the crew from the Hut.  A full-blown argument ensued, with loud swearing and lots of anxious pacing.  We had a front seat to the spectacle but kept to ourselves, busying ourselves with making dinner and trying to enjoy the stunning sunset.  Just before dark, we were joined not one, not two, but three police cars, intent on diffusing the situation that was unfolding not 50 meters from our campsite.  The police eventually left and not long after, the neighbours packed up their camper-trailer and headed off too.  Dad went for a not-so-subtle walk to chat to the other campers and try and get the gossip.  All we found out was that someone had called the police and the three local stations had all turned up.  Clearly it was a quiet night of crime in the St Arnaud region.  Once the action had ceased we were all ready for bed and I retreated to my cosy tent, excited to be sleeping out in the elements once again.

I was woken by the birds on Sunday morning, as I threw open the door of my tent so I could enjoy the view while I finished demolishing my super addictive book, ‘The Dry’.  After breakfast we packed up, before heading out for a run around the Upper and Lower Reservoirs.  I started south, enjoying the rough 4x4 track as it ducked and weaved through dry creek bed and around enormous gums.  A very still wallaby caught me off guard and continued to stare intently while I composed myself and fumbled for my phone.  In typical form, he took off just as my finger hit the shutter.  The track soon joined the banks of the Lower Reservoir, along a degraded track that would soon slip into the lakebed below.  Tens of kangaroos were dotted on the lakebed, munching on the parched grass in the morning sunshine. 

The Upper Teddington Reservoir was a welcome sight; an oasis in the landscape of brown grass and cracked ground.  The exposed flats were covered in green grass, and unsurprisingly, kangaroos.  The track hugged the edge of the lake until it reached the access track.  The water level was quite low, so I continued along the rocky banks, picking up all sorts of random rubbish along the way.  Once the track disappeared, I picked my way through the bush to Teddington Road, before taking the next left to join the Upper Reservoir.  A picnic bench and memorial to the local Angling Club suggested this was once a popular fishing destination for locals.  I ran along the dry lakebed, scaring the kangaroos, til I reached our campsite, completing the 5-kilometre loop.  Mum had headed off on another walk, so we packed up Daisy and met her at the other Reservoir for morning tea before returning home.  Despite Mum’s protests, Dad manoeuvred Daisy along the gravel roads and down the to the lake shore, parking on a precarious slope. In true Don fashion, Mum’s questions of safety were met with a ‘she’ll be right’.

It was finally time to head back to the farm as we waited for the chaos to unfold across the globe.  We stopped in St Arnaud to stock up on essentials where a sense of uncertainty hung in the air.  The toilet paper shelves were empty; hoarding was in full swing.  I was thankful for the opportunity to get out into nature, even it was just for a night.  I was now 11 National Parks down and with the threat of Covid-19 seeming more prominent by the hour, I wasn’t sure when I would be able to get out exploring next.

Week 8 – Port Campbell National Park

Week 8 – Port Campbell National Park

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Gadubanud country, the Gunditjmara people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.

At the start of the year I’d told friends if they were keen to hit up a National Park to pick a date, lock it in and we’d decide where to go later.  My oldest friend, Laura, had put this weekend in the diary and with lovely weather forecast we decided to head to Port Campbell National Park.  Despite being one of the smaller National Parks, it’s probably among the busiest with busloads of tourists departing Melbourne daily to take in the sights of the monolithic 12 Apostles.

I got the first train to Geelong on Saturday morning and Laura picked me up from the station and we headed west from there.  After a quick stop over in Colac to stock up on the essentials (food & booze) we continued along the inland route to Peterborough. A friend’s family had kindly offered their place for the weekend, as our initial plans to camp seemed like hard work for only one night away. We stopped for a coffee as we went through Port Campbell and went down to the foreshore to soak up the blue skies.  Watching the SLSC rowers and kids jump of the jetty soon melted away the stresses of the week just passed. 

Laura and I have literally known each other our whole lives – we were born hours apart in the same hospital.  We were inseparable as kids, spending hour after hour entertaining ourselves on our respective farms and getting into all sorts of mischief.  We were more interested in making mud cakes than playing barbies and since then our love of adventure and the outdoors hasn’t abated.  Laura moved away to Geelong in Year 1 and as we’ve grown up our friendship has revolved around summer holidays and hiking adventures.  From the Overland Track to the Victorian High Country, Laura and I have spent many evenings out under the stars.  It was a given that on this occasion we’d be hitting up some trails, but Laura was very adamant that she was going to be setting the pace! I’d pulled up quite sore from The Archie, so that suited me just fine.

 

After settling into Peterborough, we made some sandwiches and made some calls, trying to arrange a drop off on the Great Ocean Walk so we could do a point to point section.  I got onto Callum from Ride with Us; a Timboon based company that specializes in drop offs etc for hikers.  We arranged to meet him at the 12 Apostles Car Park and be dropped off at The Gables Lookout.  It was $80 for the half hour drive and arrived there at about 1.30pm.  After farewelling Callum, we detoured to The Gables Lookout; the views gave us a peak of what was east of us, before heading west, towards Wreck Beach.   I had done this section of walk years before with my sister Anna, and Wreck Beach was a highlight, so wanted to return.  However, the tide was in, so the exposed anchor on the rocks wasn’t visible.  The vibrant colours of the rockpools and pounding surf made the steep descent worthwhile, and after enjoying a bit of lunch we headed back up the stairs, continuing to follow the cliffs west.  If the tide is out, you can continue along the beach and re-join the GOW further along.

 

The tracks were in excellent condition, with lots of raised mesh sections, in a hope to prevent the contamination of fungi.  The beating sun cast beautiful shadows across the bracken lined trail, under a canopy of sprawling native trees.  We’d seen several other walkers around Wreck Beach and just before Devil’s Kitchen passed a school group.  We bypassed the campsite but soon after were stopped in our tracks, as a tiger snake was basking in the sun on the path.  While Laura doubled back to let the school kids know, I did whatever any responsible millennial would do and took some videos.  It was still for the few minutes while I was watching it, so we gave it a wide berth as we passed it.  It reared its head as I passed, then scurried off into the bush.  It was the first snake I’d seen on a trail in years – I am always wary (and prepared) for them, but in reality, the chances of seeing one had been pretty slim. 

Not too far along, a moment of lapse in concentration led to me twisting my ankle, with the pain and shock making me light headed, and I needed a bit of a sit down before pushing on.  It was the same ankle that I’d strained the week before, so it was no surprise that it was a bit fragile. After composing myself we continued onwards, with my teeth gritted for the remaining 10k.

 

 Before descending to Princetown, we were offered amazing views to the west, with the coastline stretching out before us, all the way to Port Fairy.  We skirted the Gellibrand River at Princetown, before coming upon the local cricket game at the Caravan Park.  Laura was a bit thirsty, so we popped by the cricket sheds to see if we could grab a quick beer.  Sadly, ‘The Swamp’ was cash only and we only had card, so continued on.  After crossing the River we were finally in the Port Campbell National Park – marking National Park number 10.  We were now on the home stretch, with only 8 kilometres til the 12 Apostles.  Despite the stunning coastal views, there was not an Apostle to be seen.  The track undulated along the coastline, with each rise offering the chance to spot an apostle through the sea spray. 

Before too long we could spot a few and soaked up the evening sunshine as we neared the official end of the Great Ocean Walk.  We stopped an obligatory snap at the end, before pressing on to the carpark.  As we passed through busy Gibson Steps carparks and paved trails the frequency of rubbish along the track became greater, as I added it to my stash for the day.  At 6.10pm we reached the 12 Apostles Visitors Centre, roughly 4 ½ hours after setting out from The Gables.  It had been 21.5km hike, with 510m of elevation gain.  We jumped in the car and made a beeline for Port Campbell, where we finally quenched our thirst at the local pub.  Despite being a touristy town, it certainly felt like a small-town pub, with all eyes on you as you cautiously wait at the bar, feeling very out of place.  With a local musician drowning out the main bar, we retreated to the balcony to enjoy our schooners in the last of the evening sunshine.  From here it was back to Peterborough to put the feet up and ice the ankle.  After a late dinner and a game of Rummikub (with Laura winning, as usual!) it was bedtime, both of us zonked from a big, glorious day outdoors.

Sunday morning was a slow start before pulling on the runners and heading out to explore the beautiful local trails of Peterborough.  It was another glorious day, with blue skies and flat, endless seas.  Mini apostles and limestone bridges dotted the landscape, but without the tourists and infrastructure of the more popular tourist traps.  After stopping for a quick #TeamLucy photo at Halladale Point, we continued onto Worm Bay and turned around at Bay of Martyrs.    We finished up our 5k circuit at the golf course before returning to the house for showers and a hearty breakfast.  We packed up and headed into the centre of Peterborough in search of coffee – with the main street offering limited options.  The local antique store cum café seemed like the best bet, with our hopes for a good coffee quickly dashed when the barista asked how to make a long black.   But we were pleasantly surprised, and later found out the café was owned by a friends Mum, so be sure to visit the Antiques Store when passing through!

Although the 12 Apostles draw the bulk of tourists to the area, there is a heap of other sights along the Great Ocean Road.  We checked out a few of them along the way, including The Grotto and Gibson Steps.  The Grotto was overrun with tourists talking loudly and drinking breakfast beers, which certainly disrupted the serenity of the occasion.  We continued onto Gibson Steps, which were unfortunately closed due to erosion. I’d only seen the Twelve Apostles from the cliffs before, so was keen to get onto the beach for a fresh perspective.  That dream would have to wait for another day. 

It was hard to pass through Port Campbell and not grab a coffee, so after injecting some more cash into the local caffeine economy we returned to the foreshore.  We chilled on the grass and soaked up the precious vitamin D and people watched, content to relax and in no hurry to return to reality.  After finishing off our leftover food in a cobbled together picnic lunch it was time to head home. We detoured via Timboon to check out the lovely local stores, most of which were closed on account of it being Sunday.  Thankfully the renowned Timboon Fine Ice Cream was still open, so enjoyed one last treat before calling it a weekend.

Despite only being away for 34 hours, it felt like we’d had a proper break and had the time to enjoy the sights and tastes of Port Campbell.  Our quick trip had been the perfect combination of outdoor exercise, eating good food, quality time with friends and recharging for the week ahead.  Given the affects the summer bushfires had on tourism and the growing effects of Coronavirus, it was great to be a tourist in our own backyard and support the local economies that rely so heavily on tourism.

If you’d like to do a section of the GOW, be sure to give Callum at Ride with Us a call. And if you’re in Peterborough, be sure to stop by Peterborough Antiques, Art & Coffee.

Week 7 – Alpine National Park

Week 7 – Alpine National Park

We acknowledge the Traditional owners of these lands, the Taungurung people and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.

Another weekend of my National Park being dictated by my growing obsession with Ultra running.  This weekend (15-16th February) I was completing my first ultra-marathon – The Archie.  To qualify for takayna65 in March I needed to have successfully completed an ultra-marathon (an ultra
qualifies as anything longer than a marathon, 42km).  The Archie was my only real option – it was perfectly positioned a month before takayna, it was 50km (or so I thought!) and the 2000m of elevation gain meant I would be in good shape for takayna.

I’d mentally signed up in November 2019 and since losing my licence had been trying to convince any number of friends and family to come up to Mt Buller as public transport wasn’t a viable option.  Eventually I found a taker – my younger brother Dougal was keen to get away for the weekend. He is living between Melbourne, Aireys Inlet and our family farm and was more than happy to slog his
away across the state.  After another terse week at work I managed to squeeze out a few hours early so I could make the train to Seymour, where Dougal met me, and we hotfooted it up Mt Buller.  We had to reach the Village by 7pm for a mandatory race briefing and there was no way I was going to miss that after all the bullshit I went through to get out of work early.

Preparing for my first Ultra event was a lot more time consuming than I’d imagined – from finding accommodation to sourcing the extensive mandatory gear list and of course, the training.  Come race time, I felt the hard work had already been done.  Being in the exposed alpine, every conceivable layer was necessary along with a fixed plate compass, first aid kit and whistle, just to name a few.  I had to purchase some new gear and looking at the forecast, I thought I would need do didn’t want to waste my money on crappy stuff.  From entry fees to gear, food, fuel and lost hours of work, what was supposed to be an inexpensive hobby was adding up.  There had also been a chance the race would be cancelled due to the January bushfires, but thankfully the areas of Mt Buller we were running were spared.  The big brother race to The Archie, The Hut 2 Hut, had to alter its course and rather than do a 100 kilometre out-and-back course was two laps of the Archie 55km route.  The Hut 2 Hut race took place on the Friday and was still underway as congregated in the Mt Buller Cinema for the pre-race briefing. On the drive from Seymour we’d passed through pelting rain and I felt for those dedicated souls out there, plodding through 4000m of elevation gain in the dark and the cold. 

 

Participating in the smaller distance race always gives me a little reality check, as I think I’m a trooper for attempting to run 55km, but in comparison they are doing it twice as hard.  Regardless of which event I’m in, I remind myself that everyone is running their own race, against their own challenges, and as Lucy Bartholomew says, there is no ‘just’ when it comes to races.  Saying I ‘just’ did the 55km is unfair to myself – it was going to be a struggle and I should be proud of the work I’d put in. But I’m getting ahead of myself here… Back to the briefing.

If I wasn’t nervous before, the pre-race briefing certainly dialled my anxiety up to 100.  Talks of medic-air lifts and initiating lightning protocol had me reaching for my phone and renewing my Ambulance Victoria subscription – actually.  One the briefing was done, I lined up to get my mandatory gear checked.  I thought I was smart in brining my smaller snake bandage but it didn’t pass the test so had to buy a longer, bulker one.  But I got the tick of approval and was able to pick up my race bib and GPS tracker.  I was ready to race!

 

The next step was to find somewhere to sleep for the night.  The plan was to drive out to Howqua Gap Hut, however there was a big ass excavator across the access road.  Instead, we drove around a bit and decided the upper carpark looked pretty cosy.  There was already one guy there, so we found a corner to set up camp.  I was in my tent and Dougal in the back of the Landcruiser.  I got myself sorted for the morning and went to bed, feeling pretty calm and ready for rest. 

 

It was an early start – I was up at about 5.30 to eat breakfast and get my gear together.  After a windy night I was expecting to wake up to dark, ominous skies, but was relieved to find it was shaping up to be a clear, sunny day.  It didn’t take long to pack down the tent and drive the few kilometres up to the start line.  I scouted high and low for coffee, but there was none to be found.  At 6.30am the starter gun went off, with just enough light to guide our way as we set off from the Village towards the Summit.  The route was supposed to head up Mt Buller summit to start with, but due to the forecast they decided against it, which suited me just fine.  After passing the summit we turned off the main track to Four Mile, where one of the race directors (obvious due to his raging mullet) was giving everyone high fives as we descended into the first technical section. 

It was hard to maintain speed as I negotiated rocks, roots and branches, trying to ignore the adrenaline and just take it easy.  I’d pushed up the hills early to get ahead of the pack and was thankful for it as the single track was slow going and I could only go as fast as the person ahead.  The trees cleared as I reached the exposed ridge, which gave me serious déjà vu of the Razorback at Cathedral Ranges. I slowed down to appreciate the gorgeous sunrise over the mountains.  The track was hard to locate and I relied on the runners ahead to guide me across the escarpment.  From here the track levelled out, and I found myself behind a group that were maintaining a decent pace, so settled in as we wound our way down to the Howqua.  An uneven step in a moment of distraction shot pain up my left leg, and I managed to save it before rolling my ankle entirely.  I pushed on, the initial shock dissipating into a constant but bearable pain. 

 

By 8.15am I’d reached the first river crossing, right before the first aid station. The river was wide and fast, and a bit of a novelty.  We’d been informed about the multiple river crossings, but the river was wider, deeper and murkier than I’d expected. The rocky bottom meant I had to keep my feet low and shuffle my way forward, trying to land each step in the gap between rocks.  After a short uphill I arrived at the first aid station, where I was super surprised to hear a loud ‘Hilary!’.  I wasn’t expecting to see anyone I knew and was stoked to see Jacqui from the Mt Buller camp volunteering.  After a brief catch up, I set off again, enjoying the blue skies and dense bush as the track meandered along the Howqua River. The next 17km followed the river to Pikes Flat, where the track climbed back up Mt Buller.  I was settling into a bit of a groove and feeling good, however still walking the uphill sections. 

I crossed the Howqua so many times I lost count.  These brief periods of sunshine as I crossed the river were a delight and I relished the opportunity to soak up the mountain goodness.  After passing Richie’s Hut it wasn’t far to the 8 Mile checkpoint, where I was greeted with wide smiles and potato chips.  Hurrah!  They were keeping an eye on the radar and said it looked clear until that evening – just the incentive I needed to keep moving!  I continued onwards, headphones in, eyes open and legs pushing forward.  The final aid station before the climb began was Pikes Flat, where I wolfed down some watermelon and quickly set off.  As I crossed the Howqua for what I would soon discover to be the last time, I was affronted by a steep, winding hill. These would be the first of many, as my pace dropped dramatically and I settled into the uphill slog.  My water bladder was dry – I hadn’t filled up at the aid station and now had 14km and 800m elevation gain to get through with no water.  Oops. 

 

I was leapfrogging with another guy who was finding the hills as much as a challenge as I was – we joked about their savageness and felt for those who had to tackle these twice, in the dark and the rain the day before.  As I pushed on ahead, the steep hills slowly started to level out to a gradual, bearable uphill. We were in full sun as we wound up Cornhill, and I stuck to a walk while keeping my eyes peeled for a stream so I could refill.  Thankfully I finally found one, and finally broke into a jog, feeling revitalized by the cool, mountain water.  I caught up to a few guys ahead of me and had a chat to a few of them as we wound our way up to Howqua Gap Hut.  Most of them were looking pretty worse for wear – my legs were certainly tired, but mentally I was feeling good.  I stayed strong on the hills – just power hiking my way up, one foot in front of the other.  When I passed the middle-aged males, I gave them a big smile and wave, but internally I was giving myself high fives for staying strong, both physically and mentally.  The final stretch to the Hut was a bitumen road which had a bit of traffic, a reminder that the outside world still existed. 

 

Arriving at Howqua Gap Hut was a milestone – the bulk had been done, now there was just 12km to go, as well as a 590m climb.  I stocked up on fruit and used the loo before setting of for the final leg. These trails were familiar to me which made it easier mentally as I knew what was ahead.  They were single track, and I was alone so enjoyed the yellow flowers and bare snow gums as I climbed towards the summit. 

 

After reaching the outskirts of the Village, the track wound under chairlifts and around trails, all bringing back memories of the running camp back in December.  Track’s we’d practised our downhill running on were now dug up and unrecognisable, as I felt sad that a place where I’d made a memory was destroyed.  An impromptu aid station brought me to tears at the 50k mark – a group of women were cheering me on as I wound my way along the contour track, all shouting encouragement and positivity.  The achievement of what I was doing was starting to sink in, and before I knew it, I was wiping away the tears streaming down my face. 

 

A few kilometres ahead I was startled by a creature bursting from the bushes, very surprised to find it was in fact Dougal, who’d be waiting for me to pass for quite a while.  We walked together for a bit before the track peeled off away from the Village, the track joined the summit path for the final time.  Looking up towards the summit I questioned how my already exhausted legs were going to get me up there – it looked like forever away!  People returning from the summit were passing me on the trail, as I passed on genuine encouragement and praise for their amazing efforts.  The cloud had rolled in by this point, and I was thankful for the cover as I left the trees behind, summit bound.  It was a slow slog up, but before I knew it, I was at the cairn, tearing out my page in the book that awaited all runners.  Every runner had to tear out the corresponding page in the book  to their bib number and show it on completion to prove you’d made the summit journey.  I wasn’t aware of this fun ritual until reaching the summit, which made me realise every runner’s number was odd! After a brief photo it was back down, as I allowed gravity to take control and propel me down the mountain.  As much as I wanted to be done, I took it easy on the grass, wary that a knee or ankle could give way at any second. Once I reached the gravel and then asphalt, I let go, and bounded my way to the finish line.  I passed a group of people who said ‘wow, she must have run the whole way!’.  I smiled to myself, knowing that if that had been the case, I would have crossed the finish line hours ago.  But they were still impressed – as was I.  I was feeling strong and elated as I rounded towards the finish line, completing the 52.8km course in 8hrs 50min. It was fantastic to have Dougal at the finish line for a hug and to ply me with fresh watermelon and water!  I received my race momento, a super handy vac flask and unloaded my pack of the rubbish I’d picked up along the way which consisted of the standard gels, bottle tops and random soft plastics.

 

It was about 3.30pm by this time and people that I’d passed throughout the day were tricking across the finish line in a flurry of hugs, high fives and tears.  Dougal and I still didn’t know where we were camping that night, so headed off, feeling electric and energised after an amazing day in the Alpine.  At Mirimbah we pulled up next to the river, as I was desperate for a swim and a wash.  After crossing the river multiple times that day, the temperature was familiar but still took my breath away!

Week 6 – Wilson’s Promontory National Park

Week 6 – Wilson’s Promontory National Park

We acknowledge the Traditional owners of these lands, the Gunaikurnai People and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.

I started off with good intentions for Wilsons Prom as I am quite a way behind on my entries and am wary of forgetting details when not writing the recaps til weeks after.  However, like most things I do, my good intentions were soon abandoned for eating, sleeping and drinking and I now find myself once again trying to recount an adventure from almost 2 months ago.

Never mind – I took about 500 photos during my time in Wilsons Prom and when flicking through them I am instantly transported back.  Wilson’s Prom was the chosen destination for the weekend (8th– 9th February) as it was the annual RMIT Underwater Club February trip to Wilsons Prom.  We always go there over Melbourne Cup Weekend, but due to work I usually can’t make it.  In February the weather is more reliable, the water slightly warmer and the days longer.  I know I’m not alone in loving Wilson’s Prom – it’s hard to not leave its mark on you after spending time here.

After a frustrating few days at work (long story!) I dashed home after work, ready to be picked up by fellow club member Justin.  Justin is one of those guys that drives around and picks everyone up from their house before heading away for a weekend, even though it means him driving across town several times in peak hour.  In return, I was committed to being an A+ passenger, so cracked my first beer on the Eastern to ensure lively company.  The drive east was pretty uneventful, except for a fish & chip stopover in Leongatha which we ate from the bonnet under a stunning, vivid sunset.  The final hour to Tidal River was slow as the sun had set and the wombats and wallabies were roaming.  We were amongst the last to arrive and despite my reputation amongst the club for loving a beer, I said a quick hello before retiring quickly to bed.  It was already 11pm and I was mentally preparing for a big day ahead.  The campsite was a dustbowl – I’d never seen it so dry.  A super fine layer of dust soon enveloped every crevice of gear, clothing and body.  As I lay in my tent, I could feel fine particles of dust fluttering into my mouth.  Not ideal.  I was sleeping ‘upside down’ in my mummy shaped tent and realised if I rotated 180 degrees I had solid fabric over my head, not mesh.  This realization meant I could finally get to sleep and stop crunching dust in my mouth.

All night, the wind howled and (I thought) the rain fell.  It was a fitful sleep as I was concerned about not brining a raincoat suitable to run in.  At 6.30am I awoke, instantly checking the radar to see the rain had passed.  Little did I know there wasn’t any rain overnight – my anxiety had manifested the rain sounds, and the campsite remained a dustbowl.   As I got up and started getting my gear together, I was surprised to see the other club members rising slowly – usually everyone was asleep til the dive captain roused everyone to get moving.  I asked the always generous Justin to give me a lift to Telegraph Saddle Carpark – I had been prepared to run the extra few kilometres but preferred to save my legs the 4.4k uphill slog.    

I set off from Telegraph Saddle at about 8am, loaded up with heaps of food, including the recently concocted ‘Sinches’ – DIY gel recipes passed onto me from David Bain from running camp.  Usually I’m pretty terrible at fuelling for runs and this 40km loop would be my longest run to date.  I was determined to eat little and eat often, so did my best to eat either a muesli bar, nuts or a suck on a sinchie every 30 min.  A thick cloud enveloped Tidal River and I set of east, which made the lush, green gullies along the way even more misty and beautiful.  I passed a few other hikers who were loaded up with heavy packs.  Having done the 3 day / 2 night hike myself a couple of times, I knew their discomfort and always gave them an overly enthusiastic ‘Good Morning!’.  I was very sensitive to the fact I was  ‘that’ person (aka trail runner) on a track that was for hiking… While doing the Cradle Mountain hike years ago, I looked at the ultra-runners doing the 4-day hike in 1 go and proclaimed them ‘crazy’.  I was acutely aware that I was becoming ‘crazy’ and didn’t want to give hikers any reason for distain. During all my encounters throughout the day I slowed down to pass, moved off the path when possible and always welcomed conversation.  These small moments of connection were the highlights of my day.

On reaching the boardwalk section I knew Sealers Cove wasn’t too far away and was feeling fit and fresh as I pounded along the easy, flat boardwalk.  I utilized the toilet at Sealers Cove, only to realised I’d failed to bring toilet paper, which was non-existent in every toilet I encountered that day! Thankfully at this stage it was only number 1’s – more on that later….!

I set off along the sand of Sealers Cove, with the dense band of cloud slowly disbanding.  In previous encounters the river crossing involved removing all shoes and socks, but with my lightweight and quick-drying Salomon Sense Ride 2’s meant I was straight into the water, attempting to impress the couple that were re-socking post crossing.  I sheepishly backtracked into the water to get a quick photo; instantly forgoing any cred I’d garnered.  The campsite was full of campers enjoying breakfast and packing up to head out for the day. 

I continued up the hill, keen to get a bit of distance between us so I could enjoy the solitude.  After the climb out of Sealers, a quick photo stop at the top was in order before pushing on.  The clouds were seriously moody and gave me a whole new perspective and experience of Wilsons Prom.  I’d been lucky on previous visits to have blue skies, which made for sweaty backs and turquoise waters, however seeing the landscape shrouded in cloud allowed me to experience a whole new personality of the Prom.  The section between Sealers Cove and Refuge Cove is one of my favourites, with expansive views out to the East and beautiful secluded coves, surrounded by curvaceous, granite boulders.  I passed quite a few hikers, still growing accustom to the surprised and strange looks they threw my way.  Part of me relished it, as not only was I a trail runner (surprise!) but I was also a woman (surprise surprise) and most surprisingly, doing it solo! (surprise, surprise, surprise!) I’m not sure if the people I passed thought this also, but it certainly was on my mind and gave me an extra pep in my step, determined to live up to the assumption of being a super fit, capable trail runner) despite my regular bouts of walking).

Refuge Cove was just as idyllic as I remembered – after passing the driftwood graveyard I detoured along the beach, soaking up the serenity. Following the river took me in the campsite, which was almost empty – it was 10am so all the hikers had already headed off. I stopped for morning tea on the granite ‘balcony’ overlooking Refuge Cove, as I tried the first of my Sinches. ‘Sinchie’ refers to the reusable squishy packet and this particular concoction was Choc-Banana. Apart from the texture resembling toothpaste, it was super tasty and almost instantly I could feel the calories boosting my energy. Heading onwards and upwards, I detoured to Kersops Peak which was completely shrouded in cloud with fierce winds. On the way down a group of men who I’d passed previously who were keen for a chat. These little moments of interaction gave me as much energy as the mouthful of calories I’d just consumed. North Waterloo Bay marked the 21km mark and despite the cloud and wind, I was feeling positive and fresh. I stopped to appreciate the breaking waves crashing over the granite boulders along the shoreline; these rock formations epitomise the Prom for me, whether it is above or below water. At the Little Waterloo Bay campsite I refilled my water and utilized the bathroom facilities. Foreseeing a lack of toilet paper, I picked the largest leaves I could find from a bush which although not being ideal, did the job. A quick chat with a couple heading to Oberon Bay provided a ray of sunshine amongst the gloomy weather. Before reaching the second beach section of Waterloo Bay I took a minute on a large, granite ‘balcony’ to have a quick sit and enjoy a few lollies. After hop-crossing over the river, it was time to say farewell to the east coast and head inland across the Promontory.

By this time, it was midday and I was hanging out for some lunch. Queue my next Sinchie flavour – sweet potato. Despite tasting 100% like pumpkin (and not containing a scrap of pumpkin) it was pretty tasty – like a soup which was a nice change from all of the sweet food I’d been consuming. Once again, the effects were instant and I managed to keep the legs moving forward, stopping only to pick up rubbish, queue the next podcast or take a photo. The cloud was clearing by now however the wind remained steadfast. The sandy track was a bit tough and made me question my decision to do this route again, instead of heading south to the Lighthouse. I haven’t ventured there yet, but despite being roughly the same distance I’d been warned against it as most of the trails are sandy.

 

A lapse in concentration, a prominent root and my weary legs were the perfect recipe for me to eat sand; which is precisely what I did. While deeply engrained in the Humans of Ultrarunning podcast with Lucy Bartholomew, I went down face first, thankfully onto sand. My right need copped a few rocks and was soon bleeding. Any attempts to clean it just resulted in more bleeding, so I left it be and pressed on. The sun was out in full force by the time I reached Telegraph Saddle at 1pm. The 4×4 track was a low point, with tough, sandy ground underfoot and wide, uninspiring tracks for kilometres. This was brightened up by a flurry of activity as a bunch of enormous crows disrupted a flock of black cockatoos, causing quite a ruckus. I was overjoyed to arrive at Oberon Bay Camp with my joy quickly dampened by the amount of rubbish caught in the trees and bushes surrounding the clearing. I added it to my stash and pushed on, feeling like I was finally on the home stretch.

The cloud continued to roll in from the west, however the ocean didn’t look too rough and I kept an eye out for Shambles, our dive boat.  The tide was right out, so I made the most of the hard, flat sand.  Climbing up the other side of the beach offered amazing views over Oberon Bay, with the flat, consistent waves creating a silk like ripple all the way out to sea.  A couple stopped to ask me if I was okay – the graze on my knee looked worse than it was, as I had trails of blood running down my shin. I assured them I was okay and pressed on, realising that my goal of finishing in under 6 hours wasn’t going to happen.  There were more walkers about the closer I got to Tidal River which kept me pushing on, despite my legs pleading otherwise.  The short, sharp soft sand stint up Little Oberon Bay was a push and I kept on moving til I was around the corner and out of sight.  All day I had been walking the uphill’s and now wasn’t going to be any different! 

Despite my weariness, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the views from Norman Point Lookout.  As the track wound downhill I questioned my choices, only to get to the lookout to find I wasn’t alone.  I find it hard to appreciate these moments in the company of others, so didn’t stay long as headed back up the track against the constant stream of casual walkers, making me feel slightly overdressed in their thongs and eskies.  After re-joining the track I was stoked to find it was a consistent downhill to Norman Beach.  I drained my sweet potato Sinchie and bounded downhill, internally stressing about the durability of my knees and ankles while looking as cool as a cucumber on the outside.  Upon reaching Norman Beach I felt like I’d made it – but the end was still a long, beach run away.  The wind was whipping along the sand and I fought it, trying to keep up the pace as I passed surfers and families and people drinking beers.  I’d messaged Justin to let him know I wasn’t far away – he said he’d come down and take some photos of me if he could.  I hadn’t heard from him, so assumed they were out diving. There are few people I feel comfortable asking taking of me for the ‘gram – I’d fear endless ridicule from friends and family if I asked. However, the misfit band of friends I’ve made in the UWC are judgement free, and after all the years camping and diving together, they know me better than anyone.

I’d almost reached the invisible ‘finish line’, when I saw Justin snapping away with his epically massive lens.  Part exhaustion, part pride and mostly relief flooded my face as he congratulated me on a job well done. In total, it was a 41.1km round trip, with 1100 meters elevation gain in  6hrs 32min and a balmy 26 degrees.  I did a few quick laps to make sure he got the shot, before starting the walk back to camp.  It was 2.30pm by this stage and I was ready for a nap and a shower! I emptied my vest of the rubbish I’d collected along the way; a mixture of bottle caps, cigarette butts and facewipes.  It was hard to take a photo without it all blowing away – the wind had been unrelenting all day, and they’d only managed to scrape in one dive that morning before it was deemed too windy.

I used the camp laundry to cook up a late lunch – my new favorite of pre-roasted sweet potato & eggplant with quinoa and fresh lettuce, tomato, red onion and a huge dollop of hummus.  After a brief and unsuccessful attempt at a nap, the rest of the crew were getting restless, so we decided to pack the eskies in the car and walk to Squeaky Beach.  I was feeling pretty good so joined them as we set off towards Squeaky.  In typical UWC form, the guys were complaining about 10 minutes in about how far it was.  Despite scuba diving potentially being considered a sport, this bunch isn’t the most active club getting around. I managed to convince them the detour to Pillar Point was well worth it, which they didn’t deny, but still complained incessantly about how far it was!  The views towards The Glennies were well worth the walk, as the wind created a rippled silk effect over Bass Strait.  We had Squeaky Beach to ourselves and headed to the carpark to retrieve the esky from Justin’s car.  I helped Petey carry it to the beach – looking back I don’t know how I still had so much energy! On the beach, we set up camp behind a big boulder, trying to stay protected from the wind.  I cracked a beer and a packet of S&V chips and was promptly in heaven.  Unable to sit still, I did some improv yoga on the soft sand, feeling much more flexible and elegant in my head than I did in Qing’s photos.  After a quick dip, we returned the esky to the car and hitched a lift back to camp with Justin.  Dinner was a battle against the wind and dust, as I tried to pull together a veggie burger without eating dirt at the same time. I had a few more beers but was soon nodding off in my chair. It had been a massive day and I was hoping to go diving in the morning and from experience know that diving hungover is not enjoyable!

After a disappointingly fitful sleep I was up early to check on the conditions down at Norman Beach.  There were a few whitecaps out there, but the waves were pretty small so it would be possible to push Shambles out.  After breakfast we loaded all of the gear onto the boat; tanks, BCD’s, regulators, masks, fins, weight belts etc.  Unlike most places we go diving, getting the boat in the water here requires us physically pushing it in and then floating it off the trailer once it’s waist deep in the surf.  Large waves often prevent us from getting it in, however today the onshore breeze meant small waves.  I was pretty excited to get behind the wheel of Shambles – I may have lost my drivers licence, but my boat licence was still valid!  There is no better feeling of gunning it across the water, music up loud, with nothing but the horizon in front of you.  The choppy conditions made for a bit of a rough ride for everyone else – I was pretty comfortable  and dry under the cabin in the drivers seat! 

We did split dives at Eagles Beak, popular dive site at the back of the The Glennies.  Half of the divers went in and once we surfaced the remaining divers went down.  We avoid anchoring during dives; for safety reasons it’s good to have a driver on the boat at all times. This also means we can float while the divers are down (about 40 min in this case) which helps with the sea sickness as being on anchor makes for a very uncomfortable wait.  I hadn’t been diving since Easter 2019, so it was great to get back in the water and experience the beauty of Wilsons Prom.  The granite rocks tumble all the way to the ocean floor, which in this case was at about 50 meters.  There are heaps of caves, narrow gaps and swim-throughs to explore – compared to most dives, it’s much more physical and playful.  After about 40 minutes I was getting pretty chilly and went into deco, so started ascending with my dive buddy.  We did our safety stop as we watched the kelp sway in the current and was shivering by the time we surfaced.  By the time the second round of divers had gone, we were all ready to call it a day. 

 

The post-dive clean-up is time consuming, as all of the gear has to be cleaned in fresh water, the boat fully washed down and flushed out and all the tanks filled.  By the time we’d got back to shore and cleaned up, it 3pm and we were ready to head home.   Diving in cold water expends a lot of energy and we were all starving so stopped via the kiosk for a veggie burger & chips before hitting the road.  The drive back to Melbourne much more subdued after two activity filled days. Justin dropped us all back to our respective homes and the gear clean-up commenced.  With every single item coated in a fine layer of dust, everything had to be washed, including the bags themselves. The backyard was once again transformed into a drying room, with wetsuits, tents, hydration vests and clothes scattered near and far – the sign of a weekend well spent.

Week 5 – Churchill National Park

Week 5 – Churchill National Park

We acknowledge the Traditional owners of these lands and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.

As my first weekend sans licence, it was time to recruit a running buddy to explore the nearby Churchill NP, tucked away in-between Rowville and Lysterfield in the South-Eastern suburbs of Melbourne.  I was excited for a weekend in Melbourne for a change as the weekly routine of packing and unpacking was starting to get a bit repetitive.  My sister, Anna is always up for a run and was keen to escape the kids for a morning and join me.  The weather was due to turn ugly, so we headed off early to try and avoid the cold-front coming our way.

I’d spent a bit of time out in Lysterfield during my Oxfam days and had passed through Churchill NP.  It’s tiny footprint (271 hectares, making it the second smallest National Park in Victoria) means you’ll pass through it in no time; however the neighbouring Lysterfield Park is five times the size.

 

We parked at the Churchill Visitors Area, which despite looking well equipped, didn’t have available toilets or water.  We were both in desperate need so threw on our vests and set off with a rough route in mind.  We made a beeline for the Lysterfield Visitors Area which was on the far side of the park.  Running along the gravel tracks we encountered the odd mountain biker – this area was the venue for Mountain Biking events during the 2006 Commonwealth Games.  With a range of tracks and roads to follow we just continued in the right direction, slowly clocking up the kilometres.  Being in need of some hills training in preparation for The Archie at Mt Buller in two weeks, I’d run up and down each hill a couple of times while Anna walked/ran.  Soon enough we reached Trig Point, however the views towards Melbourne were obscured by dense cloud. I had a quick chat to a group of women training for Oxfam – this time of year you’re bound to see groups of 4 out on the trails, familiarising themselves with the 100k route and getting the training in.

As we descended towards the lake, super friendly kangaroos lined the road, nibbling on grass, completely oblivious to us.  As we ducked and weaved through the many roads and trails I consulted the map a couple of times to make sure we were headed in the right direction, as it was hard to maintain my bearings with nothing but bush surrounding us.  Lysterfield Picnic Area was deserted and with the intense humidity I was soon dripping in sweat.  We followed the picnic area around to the dam wall, absolutely heartbroken by the amount of rubbish left behind.  With no rubbish bins available, people had left all manner of litter behind, only for it to be blown into all of the shrubs and trees.  My vest was already reaching capacity, so we vowed to return and pick it up after our run. 

As we crossed the dam wall, the wind picked up, a welcome respite from the clammy, oppressively humid weather.  A few wrong turns took us here and there, before we ended up at the start of the Granite Peak Trail.  We left the wide roads behind and followed this single track gradually uphill.  Finally, the tension building overhead in the grey skies gave way and the skies opened.  I was ahead of Anna and continued onward, stopping to capture the rain falling on a small, tranquil lake.  The lookout at Trig Point was even more socked in than before and I took shelter under a tree while waiting for Anna.  After a few minutes I started to get cold, so headed back downhill to meet her. 

We knocked off the last few kilometres together, running through the rain and large puddles that had already formed.  As we crossed through Churchill NP once again, swathes of powerlines overhead reminded us that civilization wasn’t far away.  We were quite relieved to see the car and quickly changed into whatever dry clothes we had.  Typically, Anna was more organised than me and I squelched away in my wet shoes and shorts for the drive home. The rubbish at Lysterfield Lake left our minds, with our only focus on a hot lunch and coffee.  Once again, our good intentions were thwarted by our inability to think about anything but our stomachs! We’d already picked up a solid haul along the way (#take3forthetrail) and would be sure to pack some rubbish bags next time.  In total, the loop was 22km, with a bit of back and fourth up hills.  It took us 2hrs 50min, with 403 meters of elevation gain.

On its own, Churchill National Park isn’t overly impressive, but combined with the extensive trails of Lysterfield Park and the friendly kangaroo population, it’s an excellent option for a weekend Melbourne nature fix. 

Week 4 – Kinglake & Lake Eildon National Parks

Week 4 – Kinglake & Lake Eildon National Parks

We acknowledge the Traditional owners of these lands, the Taungurung people and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.

Lake Eildon had been on the cards since early 2020 when I pencilled in a few National Parks to visit during the warmer months.  I’d never been to Eildon but have plenty of friends who’d been there water skiing and on houseboats and I was keen to check it out.  It was also the last weekend with my licence, so I wanted to maximise use of the Landcruiser before entering transportation purgatory.  

I’d done a bit of research trying to find a kayak I could hire / borrow for the weekend, as I imagined Eildon would best be explored via the water.  I found a kit I could hire from Melbourne for a few hundred dollars, but really didn’t want to fork out that much for something I was sure someone would have lying around in their garage somewhere.  I racked my brains and remembered a guy I’d been on a tinder date with years ago who was a professional white water kayaker (which may have been the sole reason I chose to go on a date with him!).  I hunted him down on Instagram and sent him a pretty direct DM, asking straight up if he had a kayak I could borrow for the weekend.  He replied promptly that he sure did, I seemed like a good egg and that it was all mine!  I arranged to pick it up from his uncle’s place in Essendon and we were good to go!  I rounded up every dry-bag in my possession and borrowed a large rucksack from my brother-in-law.  Thankfully the kayak fitted in the back of the Landcruiser as trying to get it on the roof solo would have been a mission.  I did manage to get it down from the rafters of his Uncle’s garage without dinting the car or the kayak or putting my back out, which in itself was a miracle.

The plan was to spend Friday night at Kinglake National Park as it was just a bit over an hour from Melbourne and I wasn’t in a huge hurry to get to Lake Eildon.  Being the long weekend I had an extra day up my sleeve so spent a few hours after work on Friday getting organised before hitting the road at about 7pm.  It was a familiar drive to Kinglake, arriving at The Gums campsite on bedtime. I’d booked the campsite in advance which was a nice change from scouring the bush in the dark to try and find somewhere to pitch my tent inconspicuously.  Given the ongoing bushfire crisis I was also acutely aware that Parks Victoria need every cent of funding they can get and my $12 camping fee was the least I could do for their ongoing efforts.

There were still a few people kicking around when I arrived and I promptly set up my tent and was soon snuggled in.  I had planned on rising early to head off on a run before sunrise so I could enjoy the views from Mount Sugarloaf. My alarm went off real early and I decided that a pre-dawn start really wasn’t necessary so turned it off and went back to sleep.  I woke a short time later to the sounds of birds in the tall, slender gums around me – a much more enjoyable start to the day!  I soon had my tent packed up and went for a wander around the campsite while I munched down some oats.  It was a lovely, well maintained campground was a bit too intimate for my liking, but would be perfectly lovely for most campers!  I set off at about 8am, heading back through Kinglake to Sugarloaf Entrance where I’d start my run.  I’d found a good 14km route on All Trails, and soon set off along the Mt Sugarloaf Ridge Track.  It was a beautiful, clear day and I relished the feeling of stretching out the legs and breathing in the fresh air.  I soon reached the summit and was disappointed to find it was basically a carpark  with only glimpses towards the Melbourne skyline.  I headed back down the same track to the intersection and turned off to join Running Creek track.  

The track was a solid downhill to the river where I stupidly stood in what seemed to be solid ground, but was in fact very sticky mud that coated my runners! I was happy to see other out enjoying the beautiful Saturday morning and impressed at the lack of rubbish and good condition of the tracks.  As Kinglake was at the epicentre of the 2009 Black Friday fires it seemed that locals and tourists alike had a new found respect for the Park and treated it with respect.  I became frustrated thinking how we often don’t appreciate places or people til we’ve lost them or they have been threatened.  I was buoyed to see the positive effect the fires had on not only people’s attitudes, but also the bush surrounding me.  Spindly, white, weathered branches poked above the canopy, a reminder of what this bush once was. 

After reaching Hazel Glade the track climbed steeply again and I settled into a steady pace, hands on thighs, willing my legs to keep on going up, up and up.  Just before Masons Falls passed a trail running couple and felt a wash of satisfaction as they gave me surprised eyebrows.  Whether it was because I got a head start on them, or I was a solo female I don’t know, but it gave me the energy and encouragement I needed for the final push to Masons Falls!  

The Falls were lovely, but not close enough my liking to be able to feel the power emanating from the crashing water.  A woman was at the lookout with her son, who I could sense was autistic.  As I snapped some photos he came up close to me and started touching my thigh – I moved away, assuring the mother it was okay as she apologised.  Had it been anyone else, this behaviour would have been unacceptable, but in this case I shrugged it off.  I took time to ponder this interaction as I ran the final stretch to Masons Falls Picnic Area, contemplating how much society has changed in even the last 5-10 years and how unacceptable behaviour by males towards females is now called out, rather than just accepting it and ignoring it. 

There were several tracks to choose from as I approached the Picnic Area, so ducked and weaved amongst them, finally arriving at the lush, open and incredibly new looking Picnic Area. It was a really nice picnic area with modern shelters, wide open spaces and beautiful towering trees overhead.  I set off along Boundary Track, with only a few k’s back to the car.  This track followed the boundary of the National Park and I had houses on my left and bush to my right.  Something colourful in the trees caught my eye, so I vented in to investigate.  I couldn’t work out what it was until I had hands on it – it was a rainbow helium ’S’ balloon, floated in from god knows where. I didn’t have my vest on and my small pocket was already choc-a-block, so carried it for the final stretch.  I arrived at the car, hanging out for some watermelon and much needed H20. The run had been 14.4km, with 431m of elevation gain, taking me 1 hr 56 min.  I enjoyed some chilled watermelon in the sun before jumping in the car in search of coffee. I joined the lycra clad cyclists at the nearby Flying Tart’s Bakery & Cafe where I was pleasantly impressed with the quality of coffee. I quaffed down a delicious brownie from the esky that I’d brought the night before from Very Good Falafel for this very purpose!

It was a 2 hour drive to Lake Eildon from Kinglake and I was excited to get stuck into some podcasts and enjoy the drive. I stopped in Yea for some potato cakes and a quick gander at the local Op Shop before beelining for Goughs Bay, where I intended to launch. The banks of Lake Eildon were strewn with 4×4’s, boat trailers and tents – the low waterline meant access was easy and people were just plonking themselves wherever.  I joined them, barging my way around the waters edge to find a spot with comfortable buffer zone while I got myself sorted.  I desperately needed to pee but was surrounded on 3 sides by campers, so hid under the mighty bull bar hoping that my neighbours weren’t too inquisitive.  It took a while for me to get the kayak in order, as I had to work out where the hell to put everything. It was more of a white-water kayak than a lake boat and there was very little room at either end to store my gear as planned.  Thankfully there were some mounting points on the back so I could stop down the large dry-rucksack I had, which housed all of my camping gear and clothes. I stuffed my water bottles (about 8L worth) down one side of the seat and the other with my food.  After about an hour I was ready to hit the lake, moving the car up the bank a bit where I hoped it would remain for the next 2 days.  

I set off with gusto, paddling across the high traffic zone, thankful that the creek boat handled the wake well given I didn’t have a neoprene skirt.  After a solid 20 minute  paddle across the exposed section I arrived at a thicket of submerged trees, thankful to be able to have a quick rest. The wind quickly tried to pull me backwards, so I anchored myself to a tree with a silicone strap.  Turned out this kayaking business was way more tiring than I’d imagined – the kayak was very flighty and after about 10 strokes I’d find myself doing 180’s.  My brother-in-law had commented on the kayak a few days prior, saying it was more of a ‘creek boat’ and wouldn’t go too well on the open water. I didn’t think too much of it… til now.  Originally I’d planned on exploring all over Lake Eildon, imagining myself cruising from place to place, feeling strong and capable.  I soon reassessed the plan and set off once again, eyeing off the banks for a nice grassy spot to call home.

The sun was beating down and I was feeling rather smug and SunSmart in my rashie, hat and sunnies.  At around 5pm I found a little bay that looked slightly desolate but mostly flat, which at that stage looked pretty bloody good.  There were also a few house-boats around so I was keen to find a spot hidden behind the tree trunks, so at least I felt like I was n the wild, despite the roaring of the speed boats nearby.  I peeled myself out of the kayak, already feeling tight across the shoulders and stiff in the legs.  I was surprised to see that quite a bit of sun had found it’s way to my legs, which now had the most precise shorts tan I think I’ve ever seen.  My knees are pinned to either side of the kayak while paddling, so my inner thighs had recieved about 5 years worth of sun in an afternoon and were now nice and pink.  I set up camp, laying all of my bedding out to dry from the night before.  I fashioned a beer cooler by placing some rocks and tinnies in a mesh bag and tying it to a tree in the water, in the vain attempt to have a cold beer to enjoy.  

I enjoyed a ‘quick lie down’ while the beers cooled, and soon found myself waking up an hour later, ravenous.  I retrieved the beers (which were now just slightly below room temperature) and enjoyed one while I cooked up a delicious dinner of last week’s leftover green curry sauce.  It was a beautiful sunset which I enjoyed while writing a long overdue diary entry.  I was in bed by about 9.30pm, feeling slightly uneasy as a bright light shone sporadically into my tent .  I poked my head out to see a couple of fisherman weaving through the trees nearby, presumably fishing.  I soon drifted off to sleep, with the sound of lapping water soothing me to sleep.

I woke to the sounds of bird song and splashing, packing up my tent before putting breakfast on.  About an hour later I was all packed up and ready to go, unsure of what the day would bring.  I was planning on heading down Big River Arm, as I’d been told that this area is more picturesque and more inaccessible for larger vessels.  I had the water to myself for a while and enjoyed the lack of breeze, making good time.  I had been surprised at how hard the paddling was and didn’t want to head too much farther from Gough’s Bay  as there were periods that were more hard work than fun! After about an hour I pulled onto a rocky bank for morning tea, hoping a caffeine hit would give me the energy boost I needed.  Phone service was becoming patchy the further east I travelled so was trying to work out an alternate plan, that involved me running back to the car and driving the car in to pull out the kayak.  There was a spot a bit further up the arm that was car accessible – It would involve me parking the kayak on the far side of the lake, running roughly 25k back to the car, driving back to the point opposite side of the river bank, swimming across to retrieve the kayak and then paddling it back to the car. It was a pretty complicated affair, but I was so over paddling that it seemed like the proffered plan!  I had all of my running gear as I’d planned on exploring some of the few trails through the inland areas of the lake.  

At about midday I arrived at Taylors Creek, which had 4×4’s camped on the foreshore.  I used the toilets and had a quick look around before deciding to head a little further along for lunch. I found a grassy spot at the Lake Track Number 2 Trailhead and cooked up a delicious lunch of quinoa, broccoli, tomato, carrot, green peas and red onion.  My surrounds were nice, with a flat grassy area and the surrounding banks covered with dense trees and vegetation.  However the rubbish around me was frustrating and detracted from my positive mood.  Old tarps, rope and beer bottles were strewn around, just another reminder of how people take advantage of these special places for their own enjoyment.

I set off for a bit of an explore in my Teva’s, quickly realising that walking through long grass in the heat of the day wasn’t the smartest move.  I couldn’t find any trace of the access road so decided a run wasn’t on the cards, a decision that was supported but the fact I also just didn’t feel like it.  I packed up the kayak once again, finally making a decision to push on paddling and return to Gough’s Bay.  I headed back up Big River Arm, calling it quits after about an hour as I found a nice grassy bay to set up camp.  I felt like an afternoon off so lay everything out to dry and enjoyed a kip in the sun.  I cracked my second and final (and rather warm) beer at 4.30 and was soon feeling restless so pulled out my exercise band and did a quick 20 min abs and legs workout.  This was followed by a cleansing swim, as the boat traffic eased and I enjoyed having this little slice of paradise to myself.  I’d raided my hiking gear box and taken a sachet of Uncle Ben’s rice, which as I went to cook it, realised it was way past its used by date. I was going to wing it until I read that it contained ham, which was a dealbreaker.  So I replaced the rice for quinoa and enjoyed a second lunch for dinner.  The plan was to have an early start the following morning, as the morning were always much more still and less boat traffic, therefore also tranquil.  So I was in bed by 7.30pm, eager to get a good sleep before the alarm went off at 4.30am.  Of course my brain wasn’t on board and I lay awake for what seemed like hours.

The following day I was up early as planned, setting off at 6am, just as the sun was peering over the ranges to the east.  It was a beautiful morning and I was so glad to have made it out of bed to enjoy the pristine sunrise.  Low clouds hung in the valleys, slowly dissipating as the sun rose.  By now I’d worked out a comfortable paddling  rhythm which minimised the amount of donuts I did in the water, and I made good time in the still conditions.  I listened to podcasts as I paddled along, loving finally having the lake to myself.  At 9am I pulled over for breakfast, well overdue for some sustenance.  After a delicious meal of oats, turmeric, nuts and banana I pushed the kayak back into the shallow water, trying in vain to keep my feet free from the super sticky mud.  I was still in quite shallow and as I tried to push off hit the bottom and tipped the kayak 90 degrees, and I had to abandon ship to avoid filling the entire boat with water.  Feeling pretty clumsy and embarrassed, I picked up my wet self and jumped back in, setting off for the final stretch back to Goughs Bay.

There was the odd keen-bean skier out on the water, but for the most part it was just little old me out on the water.  By 10am Goughs Bay was in sight and I was relieved to see the Landcuiser still parked on the shore line.  I’d used my GPS watch to track the distance back to the car and was surprised to find it was 13km from my campsite back to Goughs Bay.  I’d maybe ventured a few kilometres beyond this campsite, so in total would have paddled roughly 30km over the three days.

Back at the car I snapped a few quick ‘after’ photos before beginning to unpack the contents of the kayak into the car.  My back was quite sore and I suspected the unreachable area on my back was quite burnt, which was confirmed by some  self-timer shots.  After changing into some clean clothes and making myself a coffee I set off, eager to make the most of the remaining public holiday and explore a different section of Lake Eildon National Park.

The plan was to head to Devil’s Cove which was on the western side of the lake, closer to Yea.  It was an 90 min drive and I massage the knots in my stiff neck as I drove.  The road took me through the quaint town of Alexandra, which I passed through but would like to check out next time.  I parked at the Herb Fitzroy Day Visitor Area and got ready for a run.  I took a stuff sack with my bathers and sarong down to the lake and left them on a tree stump so I could enjoy a post run dip.  I was planning on doing a roughly 14km circuit from the Main Ramp to High Camp, then onto School Point, Wallaby Bay and back to Main Ramp.  The track followed the edge of the lake before heading up some of the highest points of the National Park.  I was feeling good as I set off, glad to be moving the legs for a change.  As I passed through numerous campsites there was rubbish strewn all over the place, signs of the already-departed long-weekend campers.  From the Perfect Cure Creek Carpark I was confronted with long, steep hills, which wound around corner after corner.   I tried my best to keep on climbing but had to stop several times to catch my breath as the sun beat down overhead.  The track was  4×4 track was easy to follow with the occasional view over the lake below through the trees.  After passing the turnoff to Blowhard Summit the track descended quickly and I was soon at School Point.  According to the map the track extended out all the way to the Point but I couldn’t see it so continued along Wallaby Track.  This narrow, single track was a joy to run, with undulating terrain and overgrown sections that required a bit of contortion.  It was still 7km to Wallaby Bay and I was starting to feel a bit gassed, as the sun was hot and I was slurping through the water.  Soon enough I ran out and was sweating profusely, with the lake looking extremely temping down the steep embankment.  It was mostly downhill from Merlo’s Point to Devil’s Cove, where thankfully there was drinking water. I suckled away as I filled up my bladder, glad to be on the home stretch.  The track was mostly flat as it followed the high-water line back to the boat ramp, where I finally hit stop on the GPS. The circuit was 18.2k in the end, about 5k longer than I’d anticipated.  It too me 2hrs 32min with an elevation gain of 436 meters. 

By this time I was hanging out big time for a swim and thought I was going crazy as I searched around the area I’d left my stuff sack.  There were some campers nearby so I asked them if they’d seen anyone pick it up, but in classic country style, no one had seen nothin’.  So I headed up to the car, pulling out the piles of rubbish I’d collected along the way, mostly from the campsites.  I drove back down to the waters edge for a swim in my undies before getting changed for the drive home.

I penned a quick note for the Parks staff, explaining that my bag had disappeared.  I left the note under their door, as I was devastated to lose my $300 bathers that I’d hoped would last me at least a few years.  The drive home was pretty uneventful, as I relished my final chance to drive in 6 months. Despite being eager to get home, I realised I had to drop back the kayak to Essendon and after a few very vain attempts to put the kayak back on the rafters, gave up and left it at the back door.

Monday night was the usual weekend conclusion of unpacking, drying out the camping gear and emptying the car fridge.  I was sad to say farewell to the trusty Landcruiser – it had become my loyal companion over the past four weeks and had never let me down.  As I cleaned all of my shit out of it for the last time I wondered how different the next six months would be, and how my ability to adventure and find solitude would change.

Week 3 – Tarra Bulga & Morwell National Parks

Week 3 – Tarra Bulga & Morwell National Parks

We acknowledge the Traditional owners of these lands, the Gunaikurnai People and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.

 

With a wet weekend forecast  I was excited to be heading to the hills of the Strzelecki Ranges, tucked away in an often overlooked part of South West Gippsland.  After a stressful work week preparing for the Australian Open I was hanging out to escape the city and engage Aeroplane Mode. A last minute scissor lift debacle threatened to thwart my plans, but I shuffled things around and managed to escape Melbourne at around midday on Saturday.  It was a comfortable 2.5hr drive out to Balook, a tiny town in the centre of Tarra Bulga National Park. This part of Victoria was totally unbeknownst to me -I’d passed the turn off to the Strzelecki Ranges while on the drive home from Wilsons Prom, but had never ventured closer. My plan for the weekend was to complete the Grand Strzelecki Trail – a 100km track that takes in Tarra Bulga & Morwell National Parks.  I found it frustratingly hard to find information on this hike, apart from a very clunky yet in depth website which allowed me to purchase physical maps. A couple of weeks ago I purchased the downloadable planning map and earlier that week brought the Map Set, which was waiting for me in a gentleman’s letterbox in Balook.

 

As I turned off the M1 towards Balook I felt I was entering a different world, with huge chimneys on the horizon, pumping out CO2 into the atmosphere.  This area is best known for its coal fired power stations, including Loy Yang, Yallourn and the decommissioned Hazelwood. Earlier that week the air quality in Melbourne had been so bad that people were encouraged to stay indoors and a haze of smog was still evident across the horizon.  It seemed ironic being surrounded by these antiquated carbon belchers as we struggle to breathe in the ‘fresh’ country air. 

 

I followed the backroads to Balook and soon enough was struggling up the mountains in second gear.  It was an overcast day but as soon as I hit the forest the air became moist, thick and full of possibility.  The atmosphere transformed and I felt like I was truly embarking on an adventure. Balook was even smaller than I anticipated and I soon had the maps in hand.  I headed to the Visitors Centre to read more about the town and try and sus out a lift from Morwell to Ballook, as this section of the Track is one-way. A lovely local volunteer was quite surprised to hear I wanted to complete the full 100k in three days – she said it would be impossible unless you were a ‘Bear Grylls’ type person. I said I wasn’t, but endeavoured to get it done regardless!

 

Being a relatively unknown area there weren’t many camp options on WikiCamps so I used Google Maps to suss out some potential spots.  I headed out of town, hoping to camp at Pattison Rest Area only to find it isn’t vehicle accessible. I headed down Goombala Road until an impassable log meant I had to floor it and reverse back up the hill. There was a small, grassy, yet rocky area just off the road that  would suffice, so I pulled in and got ready for the first leg of the Grand Strzelecki Track.

The Track  consists of three loops, all which intersect Balook.  The fourth leg joins Morwell NP and Tarra Bulga NP and was proving to be difficult logistically, as my initial plans of hitch hiking were dashed when I realised just how remote and quiet the area is.  First on my agenda was the Tarra Valley Loop, a 22.8km circuit. I set off from Pattisons, excited to try out my new Salomon Sense Ride 2’s. I was also undertaking the ‘Relief Run’, a virtual Half Marathon, raising money for the Red Cross.  Simply by logging my run on Strava I competed alongside thousands of other people worldwide. In the end the organisers raised over $1 million for the Red Cross, all from $50pp registration fees.

I set off at a solid pace, soon discovering that despite most of the track being 4×4 roads, fallen trees and branches meant it was very stop / start.  The Mountain Hickory Track offered amazing views across the surrounding valleys where the effects of Black Saturday were still evident. The track changed from open roads to narrow, difficult to follow tracks that seemed to make a beeline up a vertical embankment.  There is lots of forestry throughout the area, so in some sections I’d have beautiful, untouched Cool Temperate Rainforest on one side and towering, slender pines on the other. This section of the track was very challenging – the thick layer of fallen leaves underfoot were wet and slippery which meant it was all hands on deck as I stumbled downhill, falling from tree to tree.  Fallen trees made the track difficult to follow, so a bit of rainforest bashing was required.  

 

After a steep descent I arrived at the Tarra Valley Picnic Area. I was tempted to do the short waterfall walk, but the day was getting on (it was already 3.30pm) so I continued downhill before turning left onto Diaper Track.  This easy follow to path was a welcome relief and gave me the opportunity to actually see my legs, which by this stage were home to a couple of freeloading leeches. Peter (??) Had warned me there would be plenty about, so I pulled out my lighter and continued on with blood dripping down my legs. 

The Old Yarram-Ballook Road section was just stunning – a light fog had rolled in and the landscape was just layers of green on green. One particularly impressive Mountain Ash had ferns drooping from its boughs which just took my breath away – I felt truly transported into another world. There was not a soul to be seen or heard and I just soaked in the atmosphere and the rain, feeling truly grateful that such magical places still exist.  I soon reached Balook where I could take the short option (main road to the car) or continue along the track. I continued along the track, still with another 10k to go. This section was a bit underwhelming after the beauty of the Temperate Rainforest, with the landscape opening up and many fallen trees to negotiate. Given the current bushfire crisis further East I was frustrated by the lack of funding to maintain these roads, given they are vital in an emergency.  There were so many fallen trees that it would take forever to chainsaw your way through. It made me realise that we need donations and funding constantly so we can upkeep these access tracks so in the event of a bushfire, emergency services can access these remote places to prevent fires spreading.

 

I started a couple of wallabies as they crossed the track, and yelled out instinctively ‘WHITE TIPPED TAIL BLACK WALLABY’ as they passed – what I have now discovered to be a personal instinctive response to being started by an animal.  As much as I love yelling out the name of the creature in surprise, more often than not I am wrong, so I am just left feeling embarrassed and thankful for being alone! Turns out these are more commonly known as swamp wallabies.

Eventually I reached the turnoff to Pattisons, thankful to be almost calling it a day.  I arrived back at the car at about 6.30pm, after a solid 4hrs 10 min on the track and 25km.  During the run I’d passed a clearing that I thought would make a superb campsite, so after taking a quick photo of my rubbish haul for the day it was in the car and on the road.  My drop pin from earlier led me straight to the campsite – a lovely grassy clearing surrounded by tall, slender gums. I quickly set up my tent and put dinner on – I was pretty starving and also ready for bed! Within minutes there were leeches on the tent, so I changed into my very fashionable camping attire  – trackie pants, long socks & Blundstones. Dinner was my favourite camp stove meal (pesto pasta) and washed down with a glass of red, which was more out of obligation than necessity. As I lay in the darkness I could hear the trees whispering around me and the odd bird call – but before long I was out to it.

 

I woke up to a misty morning in the clearing after a restful yet fitful sleep.  I was slightly concerned that I may have a stray leech in my hair or on my back, out of sight, slowly but steadily sucking my blood.  After checking my ears and hair for the 12th time, I convinced myself I would surely have felt it by now and clambered out of the tent.  Everything was pretty damp so I quickly packed up the tent, leaving it loose in the backseat and set off in search of some sunshine to accompany breakfast.  Just down the road I found a nice bend so pulled over and made a delightful breakfast of overnight oats and a green tea. I prepared my gear for the day ahead – it was going to be a big one. The plan was to split the day and do one loop in the AM and the other in the PM.  I drove through town, to a spot where the track intersected the main road to start the Mount Tassie Loop. Rain was forecast for the afternoon so I opted to do Mount Tassie first, hoping I’d get a view. I went to make myself a coffee before setting off and was very frustrated to find I’d forgotten my AeroPress! I’d gone to the effort to grind the beans so rather than give up I tore open a tea bag and lay it over the mini-grater attachment and voila, coffee filter! Granted it wasn’t the best coffee, but it fed my need for caffeine.  A very cute lizard came out to join me on the stump beside the car. As he basked in the sun I admired his stubby little tail, which was in the slow process of regrowing. Having the time to sit and watch this dude was a true gift and reminded me just how resilient and adaptive nature is.  

 

I set off at 9.15am, promptly passing a sign that said ‘Track Closed’. There were forestry operations in the area and the track would be re-opened the following day.  I was pretty sure no logger was getting out of bed before midday on a Sunday so pressed on! The track followed an old logging route and all along the way were information signs, telling the recent history of the area.  All of the signs were sponsored by HPV Plantations, which is not surprising, but better than them doing nothing, I guess!? There were many enormous Mountain Ash trees which survived the sawmills and subsequent fires. This section was incredibly damp and lush, before hitting the logging boundary and being replaced by expansive Gum plantations.  As I followed the 4×4 track I spotted a deer in the distance. I took a wrong turn around here somewhere, but ended up on Callignee South Road, sadly missing the ‘historical tree stumps’. From here it was a gradual incline up to Mt Tassie (754m) which was more about the excellent phone reception than the views. On the decline I passed a simple yet moving Black Saturday memorial, that had a few personal tributes to locals who lost their lives.  Looking across the surrounding ranges it was hard to imagine how different this landscape looked 10 years ago. The track continued down Mt Tassie and crossed the main road before joining another 4×4 track which followed the contours, making for an easy and enjoyable run. There were a few side trips through overgrown thickets to see barely-there waterfalls, which were more about the journey than the destination. Soon the rain arrived and I put on Raincoat #1 of the day.  I was soon soaked through, but moving kept me warm, so pushed up the hills. Soon enough the rain cleared, leaving behind some low cloud in the valleys. The track slowly wound back down to the road and soon enough I was back at the car just in time for lunch. The Mt Tassie Loop was 15.54km and took me 2hrs 50min, with 672m of elevation gain.

 

Once again, I’d passed a good potential campsite on the run so jumped in the car and headed back through town to a little spot on the edge of a pine plantation.  It wasn’t the prettiest campsite, but would do the trick. I set up my tent, wolfed down some lunch and leaned into the fatigue and enjoyed a quick kip. An hour later I was back up again, wet shoes on and ready for #2. I’d saved the longer haul til last – a 25km loop to Macks Creek and back.  I would shave off a few k’s by starting outside of town, but it was still going to make for a long afternoon. I started along the Macks Creek trail, a gorgeous fern lined track with towering Mountain Ash and a misty haze. An animal up ahead caught my attention – it kind of looked like a wombat, but not quite.  Once again my mouth went before my brain and I told the Koala to shoo as I didn’t want to startle it. Yep, it was definitely a wombat. He would run ahead and continue to nibble the grass until I got too close again, then would take off down the track. We continued this way for a few minutes and I was appreciative of the company!  There were several creek crossings which were reasonably easy to negotiate, partially due to the fact that my feet were already soaked from the long, wet grass. Bright red fungi poked out of the lush green grass, feeling a world away from the dry, sandy beaches I’d explored only the weekend before. Once again information signs lined the track, supporting the Macks Creek Warm Temperate Rainforest Corridor Restoration Project, which hopes to link Tarra Bulga & Morwell National Parks with the coastal reserves. The quality of the track ebbed and flowed with some sections having slid away into the creek below. 

 

 

There were a few friendly leeches which I removed with a touch of Vegemite after feeling slightly barbaric after yesterday’s torching. The rain had started to fall now, gradually getting heavier and heavier. I pulled Raincoat #2 out of my pack, and was thankful that it was slightly more water repellent than #1. After a particularly dodgy bit of track I hit a bitumen road, leading to Macks Creek. I passed a dairy and it felt strange being back in civilization, with plenty of litter to pick up from along the roadside. As the rain began to pound down I reached Macks Creek Hall, hurriedly skirting the building to find an awning or alcove I could shelter under.  Thankfully the small verandah provided enough cover to escape the downpour, as I snacked on a PB wrap and waited for the rain to pass. I checked the BOM radar and there was plenty of more rain on the way, so when it eased slightly I got back out there, wary of getting cold. The track back to Balook was pretty uneventful, following local gravel roads most of the way. My legs were a bit toast and the rain was constant, so I resigned myself to walking the 10k back to the car. It was a slow, steady pace, interrupted by picking up another discarded energy drink can from the side of the road. Eventually I ran out of water, which wasn’t too concerning as it was cold and wet, so I’d just open up my mouth and let the rain fall in when thirsty!  As the track wound through plantations I took what I thought was the right track, relieved to find it heading downhill. I picked up the pace and when I got to the next intersection consulted the map to find it was in fact the wrong way, so begrudgingly headed back up the hill. The only perk of this detour was seeing an echidna! The plantations were soon replaced with old growth forests and I was delighted to be back amongst the unstructured forest. The rain had been falling steadily for a few hours now and water was cascading down the towering Mountain Gums. The glossy, smooth bark accumulated foam as it reached the base of the tree, which was a phenomenon I hadn’t before witnessed. The foaming trees distracted me from the constant rain, with my raincoat basically acting as a sponge by this stage.  I arrived back at the car at around 7pm, with my hydration vest filled to the brim with rubbish. It had been a 22.7km loop, taking me 4hrs 17min.

 

The rain was still coming down, so while still soaking I fashioned a verandah from the blue tarp I’d brought so at least I could eat dinner out of the elements.  I changed into some dry clothes and put a towel around my soaked hair and cooked up a green curry with rice noodles and vegetables, which barely touched the sides.  I was in bed super early, listening to the rain still coming down.

It was another wet morning so I packed up in a rush and headed to the Visitor Centre to make use of their picnic shelter.  I ate my breakfast with the company of some very soggy looking parrots who made light work of the banana round I dropped. I was hoping to do the final legs of the Grand Strzelecki Trail from Morwell NP to Tarra Bulga but hadn’t made any plans to get a lift.  So instead I opted to check out Corrigans Suspension Bridge and then head across to Morwell and do a few small walks. The suspension bridge walk was just a short loop, which was enjoyed in Raincoat #3 as the rain continued to fall lightly. Foam washed down the glossy gums and soon enough I was surrounded by slender tree ferns as I walked across the suspension bridge, relishing the peace and quiet of a Monday spent out of the office.

 

I checked out the Lyrebird Cafe in town, which looked super quaint and offered some delicious Dutch fare – however despite evey sign saying it was ‘Open’, my several patient knocks proved otherwise.  So I set off for Morwell National Park, which was a 50 minute drive via Hazlewood. I passed through Hazelwood in search of coffee and found myself in the most depressing shopping centre, ever. All of the store fronts were faded and the footpaths desolate; I felt like I was stepping back in time, but not in a good way.  There were a few equally dreary cafes to choose from, so I played coffee roulette and was pleasantly surprised to find the coffee was in fact palatable. Signs on the door asking people not to be racist didn’t inspire much confidence, nor did blank looks the ‘barista’ gave me when I passed him my reusable coffee cup. 

I continued on to Fosters Gully Visitors Area and started the Nature Walk – an easy 2.3km loop that I took at a leisurely pace.  Despite having numbered information points the markers on the track weren’t always visible so I just enjoyed the surroundings while listening to yet another podcast.  After a quick relax on the picnic table at Lyndon’s Clearing I was soon back at the car, feeling slightly underwhelmed by Morwell NP after the wild beauty of Tarra Bulga.  There were houses backing onto Morwell, so the serenity was peppered with dog barks and vehicle noises. I was so taken by Tarra Bulga NP that it was going to be hard for Morwell to surpass it.  

I jumped back in the car and headed to Billys Creek Carpark, which marked the beginning of the Great Strzelecki Trail. I set off again, sans pack, ready for a leisurely morning walk. The plan was to walk to the Weir via Clematis & Lodge Track, and back along the Billys Creek Track.  It started off as a wide, easy to follow 4×4 track that hugged the trickling creek. Bird boxes high up in the gums were evidence of the active ‘Friends of Strzelecki Ranges’ group. The turn off to Clematis Track was clear, but as the track rose steadily uphill, it intersected wallaby tracks and soon enough I was completely off course, embracing my inner goat as I tried to stay upright on the steep valley slopes.  I used All Trails and Google Maps to try to get back on course and after scrambling through some blackberries managed to find the track again. Trust me to turn a relaxed morning stroll into an off piste adventure! I stuck to the path for the return journey, but still managed to miss the Weir. Potato Flat looked like a nice place to camp, but I’m not sure if car access is possible along the creek. The 6.5km Billys Creek jaunt took me 1.5hrs and by 1.30pm I was back at the car and ready for lunch before cruising back to Melbourne.  I made sure I had plenty of snacks at hand for the return journey, as my appetite was raging after two long days of action.

Which brings me to the end of my amazing three day weekend in Tarra Bulga & Morwell National Parks!  This is my favourite trip to date, as it was an area I hadn’t visited before and I absolutely loved the feeling of remoteness and wild beauty it had to offer.  I feel like I’ve been let in on a secret – as there is so little about this area online, you feel like you’re discovering it. During my time in Balook and exploring the Grand Strzelecki Track I discovered the reason for there being so few resources available online.  The Track was developed and is maintained by a small group of dedicated local volunteers who do their best to upkeep the 100km of trails through remote and challenging landscapes. Their only funding comes through the sale of maps, so releasing them online would put an end to what little donations they recieve.  Going into this, I thought I would be doing the locals a favour by making the Grand Strzelecki track information more accessible, however realise now that it would have the opposite effect.

 

So I encourage you – whether you are a family, avid birdwatcher, trail runner or Bear Grylls, get out there and explore Tarra Bulga & Morwell National Parks for yourself – just make sure you pack a raincoat, or three! And purchase a few maps while you’re there too!

 

Week 2 – Mornington Peninsula National Park

Week 2 – Mornington Peninsula National Park

On Sunday it was time for 2 Bays – a 28km trail running event, taking off in Dromana and finishing at Cape Schanck.  I’d done the track roughly 12 months previously while training for Oxfam when Fenella saw her first ever snake and Anna completed her longest walk to date!  

 

The weather was ideal for running – overcast yet still warm, with the odd wave of drizzle coming through.  I was up early so I could squeeze in breakfast and a coffee before marshalling at the start line at 7am. Anna and Sam dropped me off in Dromana; Sam still half asleep.  There were roughly 900 participants in the 28k and roughly 600 in the 56k, which starts in Cape Schanck and goes out and back to Dromana. Despite feeling a bit beat the day before, I felt fresh and ready to go. There was a strict no-headphones rule  so I enjoyed eavesdropping as the pack slowly wound up Arthur’s Seat. I was surprised by the massive variance of gear – some people had bulky backpacks, others hydration vests, some incredibly ill fitting which frustrated me to no end. 

At Monash Car Park we turned off the bitumen and started on the track, with overtaking becoming basically impossible, so just settled into a comfortable pace, dictated by those in front.  The track was basically uphill for the first 5k, so I was keeping a close eye on my watch, looking forward to having the climb out of the way early. Once we started descending the pack had dispersed, the track opened up onto 4×4 roads and we breezed along. The track weaved through bush land, back streets and farmland, the repetition of one foot in front of the other peppered with the odd lunge to pick up a piece of rubbish.  I was hanging out for my favourite section of the track, a short, windy section that had me ducking and weaving through overgrown grass trees. As I passed what seemed like the 12th photographer for the day, he snapped me just as I shut my eyes to avoid the spikes – another quality professional photo I will not bother buying!

As I approached Brown’s Road I could hear clapping and cow bells as  reached the first main aid stop. I stayed strong up the short, sharp hill despite my tight chest.  Nothing like a crowd to motivate me to keep my chin up and knees high! As I passed through the crowd lining the track my eyes were peeled for Lucy Bartholomew, who I knew would be cheering along.  I managed to find her and gave her a massive high five as she yelled out ‘GO HIILARY!’. Her genuine excitement gave me a spring in my step as I scanned the crowd for my own crew. Anna and Sam were further along the track, waiting patiently with pre cut watermelon, water and lollies. I  gave Sam an enthusiastic high five which nearly produced tears – to his credit I did go pretty hard! Sam was still in his PJ’s and after a reluctant photo together, it was time for me to press on. I was making good time, with 1hr 10min on the clock, 10k under the belt and the hilliest and most congested section out of the way.  I set out along Hyslops Road and soon enough the leader of the Men’s 56 were bounding towards us, looking incredibly fit and fresh! 

 

After my experience at Surf Coast Century last year, I now make a conscious effort to cheer on fellow runners, so clapped and encouraged each guy as they flew past.  As I get older I find myself embracing the things I once considered ‘uncool’ or ‘below me’, like picking up rubbish or being the sole cheerer amongst a crowd. I now embrace these once awkward actions, as I’ve found being more involved and interacting with others only enhances my experience.  At the end of Hyslop’s Road the 28k pack diverted left as the road forked to allow for the 28/56 track. We left the open farmland behind and were soon surrounded once again by beautiful scrubby bush. I stopped for a moment to capture the Greens Bush sign, welcoming us into the Mornington Peninsula National Park.  Park #3!  

We had truly dispersed by now and I found myself running through lush, ferny gullies alone.  Occasionally the bush would give way to a large clearing, as the clouds overhead slowly dissipated and for brief moments the sun shone down.  My pace had certainly slowed but I kept steady on the flats. The uphills usually called for a walking pace, as my breath failed me while my legs stayed strong.  We wove around the large gully and soon enough were in the exposed sections leading up to Boneo Road. Once again, it was uphill to the checkpoint and once again, my ego pushed me to keep running as spectators cheered us along.  My eyes were peeled for Anna and Sam however they were nowhere to be seen. I’d sent a very specific list of preferred snacks through to Anna and was disappointed to realise they hadn’t made it in time. I passed on the plastic cups of Coke and continued on, only 5k to the finish line.  I found stopping hard work as getting the legs moving in unison again was quite an effort. Heading towards Bushrangers Bay I had my first glimpse of the ocean, relishing the cool breeze as we pushed along as surprised and impressed day-trippers stood aside, allowing us to pass. The track undulated up and down with the odd encouraging notice from the organisers spurring us along.  

Soon enough there were only a few kilometers to go and I was stoked to be on track for a sub 3hr finish. However after completing what I thought would be my second last kilometer, I realised in my fatigue I’d read both my watch the signs lining the track incorrectly and we in fact had 2 more to go, so I gave up on my plans for a sub 3 finish and continued my run / walk routine. I kept passing the same people on the downhills, only to have them at my heels on the up.  One woman was right on my tail, encouraging me to keep running when I opted to walk on the inclines. Having her there was the perfect support and pushed me along. As more and more people lined the track, I realised just how close we were to the finish line. I gave it one final push, getting full body tingles as I propelled my body forward, preparing for a strong finish. I could see Sam on Anna’s shoulders and hear them over the clapping, cow-bell chiming crowd as I crossed the finish line in 3hrs 4min.

Post race I felt pretty good – so good in fact that it made me think I should have pushed harder.  After a quick rest in the gutter I unloaded my vest of all of my rubbish, under the watchful eye of Majell who documented the moment for @take3forthetrail.  After a quick walk over to the lighthouse it was time to drop Anna and Sam to the ferry in Queenscliff. I had a quick swim in the cold water, scrubbing my sweaty, salty and grimy legs with fistfulls of sand.  After farewelling Anna and Sam I headed back to Cape Schnack, ready to see Ed & Bek finish up in the 56k. I was disappointed to find the coffee van had closed for the day, so cooked up an AeroPress in the back of the Landcruiser.  Majell and his sister Simone kept me company while I waited for Ed to come through. Phone service was sketchy at Cape Schanck, so Kate’s updates were slightly delayed and I missed Ed crossing the finish line by a few minutes! Ed was in the car and on the way back to McRae while I waited patiently by the finish line!  Soon enough Jak and Jess arrived at the finish line, with Jak having completed the 28k earlier and then heading out to help Jess crew Bek. Bek crossed the finish line not long after, looking incredibly strong after her longest trail run to date. What an achievement!

 

We continued to outstay our hospitality at the Salomon van before heading our separate ways.  I was planning on finding a beach somewhere to take a nap, but Kate got in first and before I knew it I was enjoying a Pale Ale at Jetty Road Brewery in Dromana.  It was great to catch up with Ed and hear about his run and devour some carbs. I had to head off soon after to meet Bek, Jak & Jess at the Peninsula Hot Springs for a well deserved soak.  It was really nice to recap the day and share war stories from the trail – an opportunity I didn’t have until meeting these guys at the Mt Buller camp in 2019. For the drive home I pulled out the post run Sprite from the car fridge to keep myself awake on the return journey.  I arrived home feeling fatigued and satisfied after an active and social weekend. Having friends in the trail running community made my first event post-camp so much more enjoyable and rewarding, which was my intention when joining the camp.

On Monday I only felt a bit stiff, so once again regretted my inability to push myself in the moment.  I went to bed on Monday night preparing a pretty hectic training plan which would get me through The Archie 50k in February, both physically and mentally. The more trail running I do, the more I realise it’s as much about the mental preparation than it is the physical, so I am excited to learn to push myself mentally to try and cross that finish line knowing I’ve given it everything in the tank.

I’d highly recommend the 2 Bays Trail run for anyone wanting to try their hand at trail running – check out their website here. I know i’ll be back there in 2021, so see you there!

 

Week 2 – Point Nepean National Park

Week 2 – Point Nepean National Park

We acknowledge the Traditional owners of these lands, the Bunurong people of the South-Eastern Kulin Nation and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.

I may be only two weeks in, but already I’ve ticked off three National Parks! I feel a bit like a fraud not visiting every corner of each Park, but part of my mission is to show people out there that you don’t need to overthink getting outdoors and you don’t have to see every sight to have a worthwhile experience. It really frustrates me when people go travelling abroad and say they ‘did’ Croatia and ‘did’ Italy, when maybe they passed through it on a 10 day Euro Contiki tour.  I don’t see this mission as ‘doing’ each National Park, but more of an opportunity to experience each Park myself and leave vowing to return.

 

The decision of  where to go this weekend was made easy by the fact that on Sunday I was running the 2 Bays Trail Run on the Mornington Peninsula.  When signing up for the run I’d booked a campsite at the Foreshore Camping in Rosebud which isn’t my preferred style of camping, but acted as a convenient base for the weekend.  After attending the anti-Scomo / Climate Change / Bushfire rally at the State Library in the rain and popped by a friends Birthday Drinks in Richmond I was soon on the road, heading south under a stunning red sunset.  I arrived in Rosebud quite late and after waking up most of the campsite cutting laps in ‘the tank’ in the dark, I finally managed to find my site. After a luxurious sleep in (which involved Netflix in bed, bliss) I woke up to find myself in Caravan City.  I awkwardly ate breakfast out the back of the Landcruiser as locals jogged and walked their dogs along the communal path, just meters away. Despite the late start I had a busy day ahead so set off quickly for Point Nepean National Park with a brief stopover at my favourite local café, Captains of Rye.  As I approached Point Nepean signs warned me there was an event in progress. As I approached the first of many checkpoints, I discovered that it was Portsea Polo that day which elicited a profanity as I thought my hopes to visit the park might be dashed. Thankfully a special sticker on my windscreen meant I breezed through the many checkpoints and soon found myself at the Gunners Cottage with a bunch of other tourists unaware it was potentially the busiest day of the year on the Peninsula.

From the Gunners Cottage I set off north towards the cemetery on the Walter Pisterman track.  I regularly consulted the Park Map on my phone as there were so many intersections it was often confusing! After taking a moment to read some of the gravestones dating back to 1853 I continued onto The Bend where the remnants of the cattle jetty stood.  Even in the early days the need for quarantine for livestock was paramount so all incoming stock were treated here before travelling further inland.

 

Further along, Cheviot Hill marked the highest point of the National Park sitting at just 54 meters above sea level.  As I wound along the main bitumen road towards the Point decaying concrete shelters jutted out from the cliffs, making it feel more like Normandy than Portsea.  The road wove through Eagles Nest which was once home to an enormous gun with 270 degree range, firing up to 9.9km. As the Point narrowed you could see the ocean either side with the pounding surf to one side and the calm, clear waters of Port Phillip Bay on the other.  Passing through Fort Pearce I diverted to the Cheviot Beach lookout, wondering why Harold Holt chose to go swimming there on a rough day, as the huge surf pounded constantly onto the exposed reef. Continuing on towards the Fort the bitumen road ended and the exploration begun. 

A short loop around the Fort took in the Engine Room, which overlooked a quaint, sandy beach which sadly was out of bounds.  I didn’t have much interest in exploring the underground tunnels network so opted for the scenic route around the Point which offered great views over The Rip and towards Queenscliff.  I found the maps to be deceiving as I was soon enough back at the beginning of the loop – although the maps look quite complex, the area is actually quite small and much quicker to get around that I’d initially thought.  I’d planned on getting the courtesy shuttle bus back to the Cottage, however still had plenty of time and had only covered 6 kilometers. The cloud was finally starting to clear and the sun was coming out and the water of Port Phillip Bay looked incredibly inviting.  I detoured via Eagles Nest and tested my self timer skills at the lookout, with the wind ruining my attempts several times before finally getting a shot! The circular concrete structure that housed the massive gun was quite cool with interesting architecture and little tunnels which led off to dark, dank rooms that would have been bitterly cold during the winter months.

I continued following Defence Road, diverting to see the Harold Holt Memorial which overlooked Cheviot Beach.  I read that Holt had special permission to snorkel at the beach, which was usually out of bounds to the general public; one of the perks of being Prime Minister I guess! It was Australia’s biggest search operation to date, but his remains were never to be found.  A colonial inquest in 2005 found he accidentally drowned while swimming. Ironically, the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Centre was named after him, which was undergoing renovations during the time of his disappearance in 1967.  

 

After passing Cheviot Hill once again I turned off toward the Range Area Walk which followed a sandy management track towards the old firing range.  From here I cut through the range to join Defence Road, just a few hundred meters away up from Gunners Cottage. I was sure to not stray too far from the track as signs warning of unexploded missiles occasionally popped up in the bush, reminding you of the military history of the surrounding scrubby landscape.

Soon enough I was back at Gunners Cottage with a packed car park and tourists galore.  I’d covered 8.6km in just under 2 hours, all at a reasonably leisurely pace. Considering I’d passed the National Park many times when heading out scuba diving in the surrounding Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park, it was great to experience the history and unique landscape for myself.  Being so popular and touristy it won’t be my favourite National Park, but a significant part of Victoria’s history and well worth the trip. I’d recommend Point Nepean to families that want an interesting day out, as there is a lot of history on offer that is all clearly and simply articulated.   As there is no swimming allowed, I’d steer clear on a hot day and head to the beach instead! But as a windy, overcast Saturday morning activity, it is perfect!