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.