Dayna's Blog

Holidays, walks and who knows what


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Crunching the trails at Lake Mountain, Victoria – 2 August, 2015

Playing in the snow is fun; spending time waiting in queues is not.

How are the two related? If you live in Melbourne (as we do) and wish to visit the snow, this usually involves entering an alpine resort. The alpine area closest to Melbourne is Lake Mountain (named after Surveyor-General George Lake; there isn’t a lake there) in the Yarra Ranges, just outside of Marysville. But a visit to any alpine resort will generally mean queueing to:

– hire snow gear (chains, skis, poles, sleds, snowshoes, clothing, etc)
– enter the park/resort and pay entrance fees
– put chains on and, later when you’re exiting, take them off again
– be directed where to park
– resort facilities
– ski/toboggan runs

In the queue to enter Lake Mountain Resort

In the queue to enter Lake Mountain Resort

So it’s no wonder we are looking for ways to reduce the number of queues we need to join on our snow day. The answer was to buy all our own gear.

For us this didn’t mean shelling out a fortune because we’re not planning to go skiing. Having grown up in Queensland I have no skills in that area, and while Stephen’s background was almost the complete opposite, we’ve decided that snowshoeing is an activity that we can both enjoy in the snow with minimal practice. After having now shelled out only a small fortune for chains (for the car), snowshoes and poles, we’re set and ready to go. We didn’t have to buy a lot of extra specialised clothing since most of our hiking gear is adaptable to snowshoeing.

This was our first walk with our own snowshoes and poles. We’ve just bought MSR Revo Explore Snowshoes from Bogong in Melbourne’s CBD. We were very lucky to snag the last two pairs they had this season! While MSR aren’t the cheapest brand, and Revo aren’t the cheapest option in their range, I wasn’t settling for anything less. (See my previous post Snowshoeing at Mt Baw Baw for a comparison of snowshoes that we’re hired at various resorts in Victoria.)

Now fully equipped, we planned to go snowshoeing the very next day – a Sunday. We did our best to get our the door early. There are always more tourists of a Sunday, so we didn’t want to be at the end of the line. On the other hand, because the Mini is so neat and zippy we’ll always catch up to a convoy of cars eventually. Eh!

The least enjoyable part of a snow day is getting out of the car once you’ve arrived, and getting kitted up to walk. The cold is biting! And it’s doubly – triply! – cold if it’s windy, but we don’t wear our boots in the car – or all of our layers – so by the time we’re finally ready to lock the car and head I’m generally shivering (or nearly) despite wearing all my layers.

The sounds around the carpark remind me of a crèche or kindergarten. Lots of young children, most of whom are excited and impatient to get going, some of whom are content to play with the first snow they see, and then there are those who have changed their minds and don’t want to get out of the car. Voices – excited, petulant, upset, coaxing, calm, or quickly getting frustrated – hang in the air on every side. For someone unused to children, it provides extra impetus to get going quickly.

Up at the main buildings it’s like the shopping mall at lunch time during school holidays – people everywhere. Here is where we stop to strap on our own snowshoes instead of heading over to the building on the right to queue up to hire snowshoes and poles. Leaving the tobogganists and snowman-makers and snowball-fighters and other wanderers to their own devices we headed up main trail out of the village with a big sigh of relief!

Ski fields are very colourful places - just remember to mind your step!

Ski fields are very colourful places – just remember to mind your step!

Setting off at last

Setting off at last

Lake Mountain is popular because it’s close to Melbourne, and because it’s pretty family friendly. There are toboggan runs to keep kids amused for hours. If, like us, you’re looking to enjoy nature with half of Melbourne in your pocket, you can do that too. Once on the trail we quickly left the noise of the resort behind, and then the novice cross-country skiers. It was nice to go off (groomed) track when we found the snowshoe trail and walk on fresh, soft snow instead of compact trails.

Pretty good use for old skis - Snowshoe trail marker at Lake Mountain Resort

Pretty good use for old skis – Snowshoe trail marker at Lake Mountain Resort

This style of snowshoe makes for easy walking - MSR Revo Explore

This style of snowshoe makes for easy walking – MSR Revo Explore

Walking on fresh, uncompacted snow is not only more pleasant but sooo much quieter! All snowshoes create noise on ice when the mental teeth crunch through the icy crust or compact snow on the trail. Being made of a hard plastic, ours also flap noisily when walking on compact surfaces – on soft surfaces it’s almost more of a shuffle.

Stand aside, they're grooming the trail

Stand aside, they’re grooming the trail

'Cordoroy' - easier to walk on, but much noisier and less fun

‘Cordoroy’ – easier to walk on, but much noisier and less fun

From Snow Gauge (trail junction) we chose Echo Flat Trail to continue up to Helicopter Flat. Despite some cold fronts coming through recently, the amount of snow did seem to be a bit low this weekend. Lake Mountain is only 800m above sea level, so as long as there’s something on the trails I guess we should be thankful.

Lake Mountain Trail Map

Lake Mountain Trail Map

Arriving at Helicopter Flat we were surprised at the number of people gathered – and the tent that was set up (sorry about the dud photo – didn’t notice until I got home). Turns out there was a cross-country race on that we’d stumbled into the middle of.

We waited for a break in the skiers – I think we’d come in towards the end anyway – and continued on along Echo Flat Trail to The Camp (junction).

Winter vs summer - Echo Flat trail

Winter vs summer – Echo Flat trail

I've never seen an iced-over pond before

I’ve never seen an iced-over pond before

The Camp was a busy junction. It has green (easy), blue, (more difficult) and black (most difficult) trails intersecting there. Standing out of the way we had a quick break for a snack, drink – and a couple of fungi photos.

'The Camp' junction was pretty busy today, too

‘The Camp’ junction was pretty busy today, too

Refreshed, we decided to stick with the easy-rated Echo Flat Trail. We’d seen other fresh snowshoe tracks, and shortly after leaving The Camp we caught sight of the snowshoers.

Other snowshoers heading off into the mist

Other snowshoers heading off into the mist

There were more in the group than we’d expected. We left Echo Flat Trail and followed after them for perhaps 30m or so, but the snowshoe track crosses the middle of the valley and they looked like they were going pretty slowly crossing the creek. After watching their slow progress for a few minutes we decided to back-track and stick to our original plan of following the ski trails.

Blue sky was starting to show as we reached The Gap. Pausing just long enough for a drink and a photo, we headed uphill to Triangle Junction.

Our initial aim was to walk the Panorama Trail and checkout the views from the lookouts (assuming it wasn’t cloudy), but although we hadn’t come far our feet were talking to us, so we instead decided to head back along Royston Trail – our first blue grade trail for the day, but as it was down hill all the way back it didn’t really matter. In fact, it was the best ski trail of the day because there was plenty of deep, ungroomed snow on the side of the trail. Perfect for snowshoers!

The cafeteria, shop, first aid, and public toilets and change rooms are all in the large building on the lower side of the village. We knew it would be packed inside; lucky we weren’t famished. We decided to stop in near-by Marysville to find lunch instead. It was interesting to see the old-style skis and snowshoes they had on display. How our equipment has changed!

There’s just one more photo I’d like to share – it’s from our drive back through (The) Black Spur. The road winds its way through a forest of fern trees which are dwarfed by giant mountain ash, standing straight and pencil thin, their crowns seeming to reach for the clouds. It’s not the safest place to be during storms or high winds, though – I’ve seen YouTube clips of trees falling across the road like a giant tipping over wooden building blocks – but unless you’re stuck in a painfully slow convoy, it’s a great drive!

Magnificent Mountain Ash - driving through Black Spur

Magnificent Mountain Ash – driving through Black Spur

🙂

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Mt Sturgeon & Mt Abrupt – Grampians National Park, Victoria

Writing a guest post is not like writing for your own blog.

I felt quite spiffed, chuffed, honoured even, when Neil Fahey invited me to contribute to his well-known Bushwalking Blog.

He asked if I had a favourite local walk.

Umm…well…

Despite having lived in Melbourne for almost 5 years now, I found myself answering his question with a question my own: “How local is local?”

Strictly speaking, I honestly suspect the answer is ‘no’. Despite there being plenty of walks we have enjoyed doing around Melbourne, my favourites (i.e. that ones I’d most love to return to) all involve overnight stays. We don’t re-do walks too often as there are plenty in both Chapman’s and Tempest’s books that we haven’t done yet (and there is, of course, the 1000 Steps that I always find myself talking Stephen out of – shhh, don’t tell him).

Still eager to contribute a post, I suggested my very first – and possibly favourite – hikes in Victoria: Mt Sturgeon and Mt Abrupt, located at the most southerly end of the Grampians National Park, about 3 hrs drive west of Melbourne. To my surprise and delight, a quick search had revealed that neither of these hikes had been covered yet on Neil’s blog!

Awesome!

Although we hadn’t been for over a year, the trickiest part for me wasn’t remembering the details – it was trying to keep focused on describing the hikes rather than writing a tourist brochure for Dunkeld or the Royal Mail Hotel. (Look out – that could be coming in a future post. It’s drafted… but then, that and more of the Grampians region has been in draft post stage for at least 18 months now, so don’t hold your breath.)

What I finally sent to Neil must have passed muster because he posted it on his blog. Thank you Neil for the opportunity to contribute!

Here it is – please read, enjoy (hopefully), and please feel welcome to leave a comment:

Bushwalking Blog Guest Post: The glorious southern Grampians – Mt Sturgeon & Mt Abrupt

: )


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Southern Circuit of Cathedral Range State Park, Yarra Ranges VIC – 3 November 2014

A challenging hike for walkers unused to much rock scrambling, and not one I’d recommend in wet or hot weather, but good views and a real sense of accomplishment at the finish make this a worthwhile day hike.

Other people at the top of Sugarloaf Peak who climbed up from the saddle car park

Start/Finish: Jawbone Car Park, Cathedral Range State Park
Distance: Approx 9km
Time: Approx 4h 50m (included a 20min lunch break). Moving time was 2h 30m.
Difficulty: Hard

Map & elevation profile of the Southern Circuit of Cathedral Range State Park
See also: Parks Victoria Map of Cathedral Range State Park which is very detailed.

Melbourne Cup weekend provides a fantastic opportunity (for those of us living in Victoria) to enjoy a 4 day weekend late in the year. Since no one else in my team at work was taking the day off, it fell to me to uphold this time-honoured tradition. Ignoring anything and everything to do with the spring racing carnival, Stephen and I followed our own tradition and decided to go for a walk somewhere away from the maddening crowd…

So, why this walk?

We first attempted this circuit in September 2010, having picked it out of John Chapman’s “Day Walks Melbourne“, probably because it looked interesting and slightly adventurous. Or possibly because it was located near Marysville, where I’d never been, and Stephen hadn’t been since the devastating Black Saturday Fires in February 2009. Or maybe we were simply enticed by the photo of two hikers looking over the range from Sugarloaf Peak featured on the books’ cover, which belies the challenges and amount of effort required to get to that point.

Atop Mt Sugarloaf, background is similar to that on the cover of Day Walks Melbourne

Me atop Mt Sugarloaf. The view in this shot is similar to that on the cover of Day Walks Melbourne; there’s little indication of the challenges faced to get to this point – from either direction.

In our first attempt, we drove up Cerberus Road to Sugarloaf Saddle (apologising to the MINI as usual for asking it to be a 4wd) and walked up Canyon Track. John Chapman’s brief description of Wells Cave Track was enough to make us think the ‘easy’ option was more our level. We followed his advice and ‘scrambled carefully’ up the steep hillside, the gullies and terraces proving not overly challenging until we came to what I believe he refers to as “a short climb to the right lead[ing] to the summit of Mt Sugarloaf”. Which is where we got stuck. And this is how it looked.

Sep 2010 - The sticking point on our first attempt at this walk

Sep 2010 – The sticking point on our first attempt at this walk

Now, we’re not the only ones to have fun here. I’ve just read Greg of Hiking Fiasco’s account of his ascent (with a full backpack containing camping gear, mind you!) and he ratchets the difficulty rating of this walk to a level above merely ‘hard’. No wonder!

So, finding ourselves somewhat confounded – we’d never had to abort a walk before! – we retraced our steps, drove back to Jawbone Car Park back down the road and walked up to South Jawbone Peak instead. At that time it was only a year and a half after the Black Saturday fires when 92% of the park was burnt; it was very clear the greening bush still had a long road ’til anything near ‘full’ recovery.

For the last four years the memory of this failed walk has been at the back of our minds, nagging away. Almost every time one of us (ok, usually Stephen) suggests we go for a bushwalk, more often than not Cathedral Range has been offered up. Like that thing you borrowed and have been meaning to return to whatshername for yonks, you almost get used to living with the guilt of still having it hang over you.

This weekend was finally it. The conditions were pretty prefect – not raining, not too hot, not too cold, fire risk seemed reasonably low. When it came to it, there was just one fly in the ointment… my legs.

More specifically, the huge amounts of lactic acid in them from a PT gym session two days prior, rather impeding my ability to walk. Now, I usually go to the gym on a Wednesday night, but due to a couple of re-scheduling issues it was changed to Saturday. Never again, people! Certainly not if I’m planning to do a walk that weekend! Despite stretching after the session, it was coming back home and blogging for the next ~8hrs that probably didn’t help matters much. Had I but known how sore I was going to be, I would have continued to stretch through the day. (Ok, point made, enough complaining.)

Despite the legs, I felt that this was our chance to get this walk knocked over, struck off the list – and I didn’t want to be the one providing the excuse not to go yet again. Especially after I’d told everyone that this is what we were doing this weekend! So Monday morning we made lunch, packed the car and off we headed.

It’s a lovely 2hr drive from our place through the Yarra Valley to Cathedral Range State Park. I used the time to try to warm up my stiff and aching legs (and gluteals) – the benefits of being the passenger. Unsurprisingly, we found Cathedral Range right where we left it; tall, long and distinctive, though a bit tricky to photograph well from the road due both to the length of the range and the trees growing along the roadside.

From the road, the top of Cathedral Range looks pretty flat and easy to walk...

From the road, the top of Cathedral Range looks pretty flat and easy to walk…

The turn into Cathedral Lane from Maroondah Highway is at the northern end of the range and is marked with the usual brown sign for places of interest. The graded dirt Little River Road (that runs alongside Little River) is reasonably well graded – but mind the potholes.

(Of course, the middle of a State Park is the best place for the state government/Vic Forests to put a pine plantation…)

We were somewhat surprised to see the large number of cars parked at Neds Gully car park (we didn’t realise at the time that there is a camping ground across the creek) and there were also plenty of people parked and camping around Cooks Mill. Apparently it’s a popular weekend for coming to the park! Navigating solely by memory (naturally the book was in a backpack in the back of the car) we turned right at the campsite and headed uphill to Jawbone Car Park.

We were astounded by how many people were at Neds Gully car park

We were astounded by how many people were at Neds Gully car park

By now it was almost noon – despite my crossed fingers, we weren’t the only there. Given the numbers of people we’d passed, it wasn’t really a shock. The Mini blended in perfectly with the other cars.

Nov 2014 - The Mini really blends in amongst the other 4wd's - Jawbone Car Park, Cathedral Range State Park, Yarra Ranges

The Mini really blends in amongst the 4wd’s

 

Slowly changing shoes for hiking boots (while at the same time, going as fast as I could manage) I heard three or four groups come and go – mostly young families. Concerns about how busy the walk was going to be started to fill my mind – was the car park just an indication of the traffic on the track? Yikes!

Backpacks on, we set off – slowly – down the steps to cross the creek at the bottom of MacLennans Gully. In 2010 we crossed the creek on stepping-stones. Today there’s a nice, shiny new bridge…which you’ll just have to take my word for since I neglected to take a photograph of it…

The bridge marks the last downhill section for a good while. Although the climb up to the Farmyard is step, the path is very well made and if you take your time it is a very pleasant walk. I’m afraid I didn’t take too many photo’s along this section. On countless occasions Stephen has probably wished that I’d stop taking photos and hurry up. Well I’ve found what will limit my compulsion to stop and click: pain. Unfortunately that also meant my average speed wasn’t any faster than usual!

There was so much I didn’t stop for, too. November is a good time to see lots of flowers in bloom. The walk up to the Farmyard probably has the best number and variety across the whole walk, since it’s quite a damp and sheltered gully,with Jawbone Creek even supporting tree ferns to grow near the top.

A sign at the top of the gully directs you to turn left here to continue on to The Farmyard. Another walker had caught up to us at this point. He looked like he’d taken a wrong turn to a running race and somehow ended up on the mountain with only his drink bottle, but when we got to the next clearing and he ducked into his tent that blended in so nicely with the surrounding vegetation I completely failed to see it on approach, I began to think maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

You are allowed to camp here, and if you want a bit of quiet and/or privacy and don’t mind lugging your gear all the way up here it’s certainly the way to go. He was the only person camping in this first clearing where there is another track leading to The Cathedral. In the next clearing there was also a single tent.

If you’re interested in climbing South Jawbone Peak, the track starts at this second clearing. When you enter the clearing from the north there are three tracks to chose from. On the left is South Jawbone Peak (sign posted), the middle one is The Razorback (also sign posted) – not, as I initially thought, an alternate route to South Jawbone – and the track on the right (which is roughly straight ahead as you approach) is actually the track to the latrines. No, not long drops, the unofficial latrine area used by campers. It wasn’t the smell that gave it away (at least, I didn’t smell anything); the tell-tale signs were toiletpaper and other non-biodegradable rubbish lying around. Goodness people! Dig deeper holes! Ladies – take liners and packaging home with you to dispose of, please!

Nov 2014 - The choice of paths at the main Farmyard clearing was more than expected - Cathedral Range State Park, Yarra Ranges

Chosing the Razorback Track from the Farmyard - Cathedral Range State Park, Yarra Ranges

Beating a hasty retreat we tried again, taking the middle path this time.

The Razorback Track undulates relatively gently at first (lulling you into a false sense of security) as it follows the ridge line south through fairly dense young trees and shrubs regrowing on the ridge after the fire. By now my legs had warmed up a little, but still seemed reluctant to handle anything but an incline with anything nearing a modicum of comfort.

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Occasional glimpses down into the valley are obscured by burnt, dead trees; in the five years since the fire their charcoaled limbs haven’t yet fallen to the ground and they remain reaching, stark and barren toward the bright blue sky.

A glimpse into the valley to the west of Cathedral Range

A glimpse into the valley to the west of Cathedral Range

It’s quite clear that the path is well used and it’s simple to follow for the most part, but there are numerous orange triangle track markers along the way to ensure walkers don’t get lost. Indeed, it’s easy to think that Parks Victoria have put a whole year’s allocation of these markers just in this one park. (Maybe that’s why they’ve had to resort to carving blobby arrows into the signs at Wilsons Prom?) However, the further we walked, the more reliant on these arrows we became.

I lost count of the number of walkers that passed us going the other direction – young and old, all evidently following the generally recommended route. How had they climbed up the section that defeated us four years ago? Had we missed something – was there a way around that bit that meant retirees were seemingly able to do this circuit yet we couldn’t? What was going on? As with almost all our walks where we pass lots of people, the general state of attire seems to be ‘casual’; limited water, basic footwear, and no extra clothing discernible. How do people go for a bush walk so unprepared?

This couple are typical of people we see out walking, to whom we much appear completely over equipped

This couple are typical of people we see out walking, to whom we must appear completely over equipped

Walking along the ridge you really appreciate why the range is described as ‘sharply upturned sedimentary rock’. In fact, it reminded me of crunchy sand at the beach – the type that fragments into pieces as you break the crust. Only these rocks were formed from sand/silt in the Devonian period, a few hundred million years ago. No wonder they’re a bit harder than the crusty sand bits on the beach.

Don’t get too excited at the sneak peaks you get back over the ridge – soon enough you’ll have plenty of opportunity for looking around as you really start climbing. And there’s still plenty to see around you.

Sugarloaf Peak, being the highest point along the ridge, is tall and narrow and sticks out like a sore thumb. But we were too busy looking at the view behind us to pay much attention at first of what was ahead. I had in my mind that the ridge was pretty flat – that’s certainly how it looks from the main road – and the real challenge would be getting down that tricky bit from last time. But as we kept climbing and clambering over increasingly large rocks along the ridge line, the peak in front loomed ever higher. It even got to the point where I put my camera away so I could focus on climbing properly instead of worrying what it might be banging against as I held the strap between my teeth. That may be fine for short diversions, but when you’re combing what is essentially a rock wall – it’s better to keep the camera somewhere safe.

We didn’t re-read the track notes or anyone else’s blog posts about the walk before setting out (at least, I didn’t) and on reflection I’m really glad we didn’t. Although John Chapman certainly doesn’t make it sound scary, had I read Greg’s Hiking Fiasco post or Neil’s Bushwalking Blog (plus the mention in his Northern Circuit post) post on this walk, there’s a very high probability that we’d never have tackled this walk. Putting something in the ‘Too Hard’ basket is a very convenient excuse not to accept a challenge. As it was, I’m left to reflect the marvellous ways we try to kid and talk ourselves out of something we don’t really want to contemplate even when it’s right in our face.

“I wonder what mountain that is?” became, “Is that part of this ridge?” which lead to, “Surely we don’t have to climb that?!”. Inevitably, the reality of the situation is accepted and you admit to yourself that yes, indeed, that shark’s fin of some “Sharply upturned sedimentary rock” IS part of the track, and what’s more, “Yep, the track goes straight up”. Don’t forget to follow the orange triangles! There’s one place where it looks like the path leads down, but as far as I could see from the ‘junction’ it doesn’t go anywhere. Keep following the markers straight up.

I knew we were almost there when I saw someone else at the top. We knew had made it when we got our cameras back out. Wooo!

Now, about this down bit….

Once you’ve had the freedom of two hands (or maybe it’s just that the path down quickly requires both hands again) the camera was soon back in the top pouch of my backpack, only withdrawn for a quick photo here and there. The people we saw at the top were a group of three young hikers, who started back down shortly after us. I have to say I welcomed their company on this section because they clearly managed to get up – maybe they knew a better way down, or at the least, if we got stuck it was more people around to help out.

Follow the arrows. Uh-huh. In the end the ‘tricky bit’ wasn’t as scary as I had worried it might be, but thank goodness the day and been a warm and dry day. There was no chance of slipping on these lovely rocks that are pretty good to hang on to without getting torn to bits. I went first, and just like climbing up the peak, the one thing running through my mind was to keep at least three points of contact on the rock at any one time. The hand and footholds are there, you just need to find them – and trust your hiking boots. Now, having made it down, I found the step we both missed the first time. So obvious now…

Unexpectedly, getting down the next rock was almost the trickiest of the day! It’s a bit of a drop to the next level, and I have only vague memories of climbing up there last time. I tried to feel for a place to put my foot as I held onto a rock on the side and a tree root, but instead I ended up sliding down on my belly. It was only a drop of about 20cm – if that. I ended up with a tear in my shirt where it got caught between buckle and rock, but the others chose to slide down on the bums. Could be the better option.

From there it’s more or less plain sailing. My legs were still not properly programmed for descent, but otherwise hiking as usual. It took us about 4 hours to get to the rest area at Sugarloaf Saddle where there is a pretty fancy new covered picnic area where we ate lunch. There are toilets nearby (best to take your own toilet paper) and a car park.

Backpacks on again, Stephen took off and I hobbled after him, my legs quickly seizing up in our relatively short (but late) lunch break. (Why people chose to walk up Cerberus Road instead of down it is beyond me.) Downhill was not much fun, but by the time we made it back to Jawbone Car Park (a couple of kilometres later) I felt I might be loosening up a bit. Just in time for a 2hr drive home.

In all it was a really good, if challenging walk, and we’ve both come away with a sense of accomplishment. I’m glad it wasn’t any more challenging as there were a couple of sections there that we only just found a way to climb up or around.

We’re not in a hurry to do the Southern Circuit again. Other bloggers seem to rate the Norther Circuit as about the same but without a slightly lesser degree of rock climbing/scrambling. One day we might even pluck up the courage (or have forgotten enough details about this one) to go and check it out.

: )


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Katoomba Falls Circuit from Echo Point, Blue Mountains – 8 September 2014

A short, to half-day walk for anyone of reasonable fitness and mobility who is visiting the Blue Mountains and wants to see some iconic sights.

Start/Finish: Echo Point Visitor Information Centre

Distance: Approx 7km

Time: 4hrs

Difficulty: Medium

Accuracy not guaranteed!  Please equip yourself with local knowledge (maps and weather forecast), appropriate attire and kit (including water) before starting your bushwalk.

Accuracy not guaranteed! Ensure you are equipped with local knowledge (maps and weather forecast), appropriate attire and kit (including water) before starting your bushwalk.

This was our first walk for our stay at Katoomba. Although armed with local knowledge, in the form of an SV Map and a Walking Track Guide for the Katoomba area produced by the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service (both purchased from the Echo Point Visitor Information Centre), I felt like a new employee feels heading off to work on their first day: you know how to do your job (in this case, pack a backpack, dress appropriately and walk), but you’re not really sure what you’re going to encounter on your expedition.

Our starting point was actually 3 Explorers Motel, approx 500m from Echo Point Lookout and Visitor Information Centre.

There are people on the bridge to the first sister - Three Sisters, Echo Point Lookout, Katoomba

There are people on the bridge to the first sister – Three Sisters, Echo Point Lookout, Katoomba

After the obligatory photo of the Three Sisters from Echo Point Lookout, we headed back towards the Visitor Centre. To get to the Giant Stairway you follow the Prince Henry Cliff Walk for a short distance. Pick up the path at the stone arch between the Visitor Centre and the public facilities. The track leading off to the right almost immediately is just a short walk (maybe 50m) to another lookout.

Start of our walk - The Prince Henry Cliff Walk next to the Visitor Information Centre, Echo Point, Katoomab, Blue Mountains

The path is quite beautiful along the ridge next to the banksia trees. The only shame is that so many people have chosen to carve their initials or unreadable messages into the exposed sandstone rock and any smooth-barked tree unfortunate enough to be located beside the path. The rock is really so lovely – cream coloured with maroon ribbons of much harder layers running through, I felt so sad to see the sooth stone used like the back of a public toilet door. Stephen offered another view – maybe in a few decades time these carvings will be valued as a glimpse of this time in history. Well, that’s one view I suppose.

I still disapprove.

Roughly 400m from the Visitor Centre, the track to the Three Sisters and Giant Stairway branches off to the right. Just before you pass under another stone archway, there’s a sign asking people to remember to “Please take your rubbish out with you“. This is a National Park, but even if it weren’t, if you can’t find a bin for your rubbish, that is what you’re supposed to do anyway, right? Right?

Path to the Three Sisters and Giant Stairway - Katoomba, Jamison Valley, Blue Mountains

Pretty much as soon as you pass under the arch the steps start. There’s a plaque saying there are 900. Stephen counted on the way up a couple of days later and didn’t quite reach 900, but near enough. Many are natural stone that have been worn in the middle of the tread from countless footsteps. Despite being wet they weren’t slippery thank goodness, but I wasn’t taking any chances and kept one hand on the hand rail. Like when you’re a kid mastering a trick and call out to your mum to watch, and as soon as she does you stack it – I wasn’t going to let my guard down and use anything but my feet to descend, thank you.

 

Today was the best day we had weather-wise; sunny but not hot, and not windy. Walking across to the first sister was a breeze, so to speak, but the staff at the Visitor Centre had warned about crossing when it’s really blowing a gale.

The layers of rock are just fascinating.

If anyone’s up at the lookout you can wave and possibly be in someone’s photo! I don’t think I made it into anyone else’s album.

Echo Point Lookout from the bridge to the Three Sisters

Echo Point Lookout from the bridge to the Three Sisters

A good portion – half, if not more – of the steps are metal treads and look pretty new, although due to the steep gradient they’re often fairly narrow and one or two were a tad slippery. I can only imagine how much effort it took to put everything in – especially the railings, which seem jointless. I take my hat off to the NSW NPWS staff who worked on this!

In a couple of places falling trees have taken out part of the stairs or railings. It’s doesn’t make the path unnegotiable, just a little trickier if you’re relying on the handrail. (Hey – they put it in, why not use it?!)

Although you’re descending into the valley, the view is still good, so don’t forget to stop and look – and listen! The bird calls are fantastic! The dominant call we heard ringing up out of the forest below was the single chiming call of numerous Bell Miners (Manorina melanophrys), a medium-sized native bird, a little smaller than a Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) which many people living in the eastern states of Australia would be familiar with. (For overseas readers, they’re about the size of a Common Starling, Sturnus vulgaris).

About half way down, as I was pointing out rubbish in illogical places to Stephen, we came across a huge bag of rubbish that looks like it’s to be ‘choppered out. Wow. Ok, so I don’t know how long it’s been there, but if they can fill a bag like this and there’s still enough plastic bottles and wrappings around to make me think a collection is most certainly due… that’s incredibly disgusting. So much for the sign at the top, hey? ‘Take your rubbish with you’? Yeah, sure, a lot may be blown in, but that says to me it wasn’t properly disposed of in the first place.

A bag of rubbish ready to be helicoptered out - Giant Stairway, Katoomba, Blue Mountains

At the base of the stairs you’re on the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track. We turned right here and walked around the base of the cliffs that are the Three Sisters.

Giant Stairway meets Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

Giant Stairway meets Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

In about half a kilometre the track Dardanelles track joins the Federal Pass Walking Tack. This section of Federal Pass Walking Track seems to get a lot of traffic. It’s easily accessible via Scenic World’s railway or cable car if walking down (or back up) stairs isn’t your thing, it’s well maintained and easy to negotiate for almost everyone.

The downside of this accessibility is every smooth-barked tree is scarred with nonsense, and there’s rubbish where there shouldn’t be. Was I glad to see a Brown Antechinus feeding on the path? Well, had it been eating an insect or lizard it had caught – yes, I’d have been stoked! As it was attracted by broken biscuit pieces someone had carelessly dropped (along with the packaging) I was less than thrilled. We aren’t walking lightly through our national parks, we’re stomping! Intentionally or not, we are changing the habitats and habits of our remaining wild paces and the species that live there.

A shopping trolley, an umbrella, random pieces of large and small plastic junk, treated wood posts… it’s amazing what a small landslide can introduce into an environment like this.

Garbage that turns up in a landslip - Federal Pass Walking Track, Jamison Valley, Blue Moutains

Soon enough we arrived at Scenic World. I was amazed to see they provided a rubbish bin at the entrance – which just proves my theory that most people will take the lazy option whenever they think no one’s watching them. We disposed to the bits of rubbish we’d picked up off the path along the way – not everything we came across – we didn’t come equipped with giant garbage bags after all.

ScenicWorld provides bins (trashcans) at the boundary between their property and the National Park - no excuses - Federal Pass, Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Not to give you the impression that the walk isn’t worth doing, here are some photos of what was beautiful:

Now we were at Scenic World’s ‘scenic walkway’ it was time to make a call on whether or not to catch the railway back up. Everyone I know who’s been on it raves about it. Yes it looks steep and a fun ride, but at $14 per adult for a one-way trip… we watched the ‘train’ arrive and set off again, had a short look at the old coal mine entrances as you venture along the boardwalk, but quickly lost interest since there’s not much information there and there aren’t tours going in. After watching a second exchange of passengers on the railway, we retraced our steps to where the Furber Steps join Prince Henry Cliff Walk above with Federal Pass Walking Track below. We’d decided to walk up.

A good call, if I may say so myself. The Furber Steps aren’t nearly as numerous (~700) or as steep as the Giant Staircase, and you get to enjoy views of Katoomba Falls (for free!), Vera’s Grotto and Witches Leap (‘leap’ being a Scottish word for ‘waterfall’). Oh, and other tourists seem to quickly vanish from view. Strange that.

Rejoining the Prince Henry Cliff Walk at the top, I was struck by how distinct the boundaries between the different ecosystems are in the area. Approaching Katoomba Cascades is different to the cliff tops, which seem in complete contrast to the lush valleys with their heath scrub growing out of grainy yellow soils.

Because there had been rain recently there were puddles on the track. Some were large puddles. And when puddles form on dirt tracks, you get mud. Unfortunately for the many tourists who arrive by coach and decide to take a stroll along the cliff (no doubt having been told it’s an easy walk – which it is), they usually come unprepared for mud. Call me heartless if you wish as I freely stride past in my hiking boots, but we see examples of woefully unprepared tourists almost every time we go for a walk.

I don’t know why I felt the return cliff top walk seemed to go for ages. Maybe it was the people. Maybe it was just me. The graph at the very top stops short of the end as Stephen’s garmin ran flat…and I haven’t uploaded my data yet. I wasn’t sure we’d get any usable walk info actually because on all the walks we did they kept beeping to say they’d lost satellite connection. Well, that’s what you get when you’re walking in forest at the base of tall cliffs!

You might also have noticed that we weren’t exactly breaking any speed records. That’s never the case when my camera’s in hand! It’s a bit of a trade-off between burning more calories and really seeing more of what’s around me. I find that when I have a camera in my hand I look at the world slightly differently, like I’m looking through an imaginary lens. I’m not the only one, I hope? I know some people say they can only take in and appreciate a moment without being distracted by cameras and the like. I’m the opposite. If I haven’t photographed it – or imagined photographing it – chances are I won’t remember it.

All up this wasn’t a bad walk, but if you appreciate untouched wilderness and being alone on the track, this not the walk for you. (Things do improve on our following walks – posts coming!)

If you’ve got no time for anything else, then why not do this one! If you don’t stop to take as many photos as we did, or watch the railway come and go, you can cut down the time by a fair bit and take a wee bit off the length, too.

A Pied Currawong, indignant at having its photo taken - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Pied Currawong at Echo Point Lookout

: )


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The Doctor Blake Mysteries Costume Exhibition, Ballarat – June 2014

The Doctor Blake Mysteries is an Australian period drama TV series that is simply brilliant. Sorry – I meant BRILLIANT!

Stephen poses with Craig McLachlan as Doctor Blake

Stephen poses with Craig McLachlan as Doctor Blake

Following hard on the heels of Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries – which is light, bright, fun and glamorously over the top, as it’s set Melbourne in the 1920’s – one of my first thoughts when the show started was, ‘Why would the ABC be running another Australian period murder mystery series right after a fantastic one just ended?’

But instead of trying to out sass Phryne (I’m not sure anyone can do that – but give him a pair of fishnets and I bet Craig McLachlan (who plays Dr Lucien Blake in this series) would give it a go!), The Doctor Blake Mysteries are set in the bleak post war period of 1950’s Ballarat. Fans like Stephen and myself have been drawn in by the haunting music of the opening titles composed by Dale Cornelius (see more on his YouTube page), the sublime casting, wonderful plots and character threads, and great production of this award-winning series. The deliberate fading of colour in post production does take a bit of getting used to, but it’s done to reinforce the post war feeling of the era (I think).

The best news recently is that season three is going to be shot by the end of 2014 and – somewhat amazingly – the show’s official Facebook page was even saying that it could be airing by February 2015! Woohoo!!

Doctor Blake Mysteries - Facebook Page update on Series 3 posted 08.08.2014

But onto the costume exhibition…

From 1 May to 9 June this year, M.A.D.E. (Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka) in Ballarat hosted The Doctor Blake Mysteries costume exhibition. Since Ballarat is only a 1.5hr drive (these days! It would have been much longer for Dr Blake) from Melbourne, and Ballarat is a great place to visit, we thought it was definitely worth going, especially since we hadn’t visited MADE before.

First port of call was The Design Exchange market in the glorious old Mining Exchange building on Lydiard Street. Definitely worth a stop if you’re visiting on a Sunday. The only downside for Stephen was that there wasn’t much in the way of menswear to browse, whilst I on the other hand, managed to pick up two items of clothing. Not bad for someone who doesn’t usually like clothes shopping! There’s also plenty of funky handmade craft items to browse.

We stopped for lunch a door or two along at the cafe attached to the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Also worth spending some time there if you haven’t been before… (You can find out whether Dr Blake’s mother’s painting hangs in there or not!)

Art Gallery of Ballarat - photo from March 2012

Art Gallery of Ballarat – photo from March 2012

Admire the cinema as you cross Lydiard Street in front of the Art Gallery, and not just because it was featured in definitely one Doctor Blake episode (Series 2 episode 5 “Crossing the Line” – but possibly more, in general street-scape shots. The tourist information shop is also across the street. You can pick up this Doctor Blake Walking Tour brochure from them if you don’t want to print it out for yourself. Pity there doesn’t seem to be any organised guided tours of Doctor Blake filming locations with insider (or at least local) information to impart…

Regent Theatre, Lydiard Street, Ballarat

Regent Theatre, Lydiard Street, Ballarat

After a quick drive around Lake Wendouree – no trip to Ballarat is complete without a drive around the lake to check the water level, see the birds, and admire some of the houses, old and new, but all with great views – we headed off to M.A.D.E.!

People enjoying Lake Wendouree, March 2012

People enjoying Lake Wendouree, March 2012

Located just outside the centre of town at the physical site of the Eureka Stockade, M.A.D.E. uses the history of the site to encourage visitors to explore concepts of democracy. As it opened fairly recently (May 2013) there’s no excuse for children and adults alike to visit and learn something new. I thought the lecture theatre was also very comfortable and inviting.

Yes, I’m getting to the photos of costumes…

It didn’t feel like there was as extensive a collection as was set out in the Rippon Lea mansion for the Miss Fisher exhibition (see here), but it could be that there just aren’t as many costume changes in Doctor Blake as in Miss Fisher. Gorgeous furs and ostrich feathers went out the window in these lean post-WWII times, and synthetics were now in – although there are still a lot of cotton items in the collection, and the suits are wool, of course. The exhibition space was also unrelated to the series – maybe if it was being displayed in the house they use as Dr Blake’s residence in the show there would have been more opportunity for costume and prop displays. But it’s possible that someone may actually live there – I don’t know.

Before taking photos I did check for any signs indicating that photography, even on my phone (which, incidentally, was what I was using) was not allowed, but saw nothing. No mention was made at the front desk about photography (or its prohibition) when we enquired about the exhibition, so I don’t think I’m breaking any rules in sharing this with you.

I have titled the full-shot photos as per the display descriptions, and certainly tried to photograph everything on display. Due to guide ropes and glass cases keeping visitor from getting too close to the costumes and props (which is completely understandable), indoor lighting and not taking my proper camera, some of the photos are not quite as good as I’d hoped.

So there you have it. May season 3 be every bit as good as the past two seasons have been, and may there be plenty more Doctor Blake goodness to come!

: )

 


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Snowshoeing at Mt Baw Baw – July 2014

Have you ever wanted to go to the snow but haven’t, because skiing (for whatever reason; cost, long lift queues, ability, or potential injury) isn’t your thing?

If you think paying a small fortune for accommodation on a snowfield just to watch other people ski and snowboard is a wasted opportunity, I agree – and here’s the solution…

Snowshoes on, ready to go! (These ones are Yowies)

Snowshoes on, ready to go! (These ones are Yowies)

Snowshoeing!

Forget the tennis racket image. That’s ancient history!

Let me tell you about our day trip to go snowshoeing at Mt Baw Baw the other Sunday.

Leaving home at 8:40am was a little later than planned, but we’re pretty bad early starts at the best of times, although the aim had been to avoid arriving at the same time as everyone else.

Last time (2 year ago) we took the route via Seville. If you’ve got the time, and it’s not out of your way, it is a nice drive although it’s a little bit longer. This time we took the highway to Druin before turning north. It’s pretty easy to follow the signs to Mt Baw Baw from there. The roads get pretty windy from Noojee and there are plenty of potholes to avoid too (so you won’t miss out, even if you haven’t chosen the Seville option), keeping the driver alert behind the wheel.

We got to the turn off to Baw Baw Alpine Village from South Face Road at around 11:00, and saw the first snow on ground – that hadn’t just fallen off cars driving down the road. Unexpectedly everyone was being asked to put chains on. We weren’t sure why because the road was clear… So much for keeping our chains in pristine condition, then!

There were staff helping people who had ‘forgotten’ how to put chains on their cars. The main thing you need to know is whether your car is front or rear wheel drive – and if you don’t, someone else there is bound to be able to tell you.

Chains on, we crept up the last 2.5km to carpark 4. It felt like we were driving a tank. You’re not s’posed to drive with chains on a cleared road…

Arriving at the carpark we saw why we needed chains. There was snow and slush. Some of it was white, but it was getting browner by the minute as the convoy of cars drove in.

Stephen lifted the windscreen wipers (in case it snowed while we were gone) and we donned our hiking boots, gaiters, beanies, gortex jackets and gloves, shouldered our backpacks (valuables, spare clothes, water and lunch) and joined the line of people making their way up to the village where the fun starts.

There was a  shuttle bus (mini van) option if you didn’t want to walk up to the village, but it wasn’t a long walk to where we needed to buy a day pass (Carpark 1). We didn’t do it online before arriving because it wasn’t cheaper, I but think we might next time – not because of a queue, but because you’ve now got to create an account. This will supposedly make it faster next time as I log in using just my mobile number and a 4 digit pin I chose (which can be SMS’d to be if I forget it by next time), but we’ll see how that goes… Note though, that if you want to make payment (cash or eftpos) to a person at the resort office, it costs $5 extra. Oh, and you’ll need to know your car’s registration number, so if you’re coming in a hired car your options of paying in advance may be limited.

Just past the village entrance, we found a jolly, and very realistic looking Santa on the way to the ski hire shop (Christmas in July is big here in the southern states) so took the opportunity for a photo.

Happily we didn’t have to wait long to pay for equipment hire. On the form you complete that details what you’re hiring out, it’s pretty telling that snowshoes aren’t listed as an option to tick. Come to that, they’re not prominently advertised on the website, either. The girl at the counter just wrote ‘snowshoes’ across the columns on both rows. Second clue was the blank look I got when I went to the counter to collect them. Fortunately the cashier girl was able to point the counter girl in the right direction and hey presto – two pairs of snowshoes!

Queueing to hire snowshoes and poles

Queueing to hire snowshoes and poles

Lastly; stocks. As these are collected from a different counter – where skis and boards are dispensed – we had to wait a while as staff adjusted boot fittings and things for snowboarders.

Snowshoes and stocks finally in hand we ventured forth! Now, please be considerate and don’t put them on as soon as you exit the building – there’s not that much room just outside the door! Stephen insisted on being so considerate we walked half way down the main street toward the end of the runs to find somewhere convenient and out of the way to put our snowshoes on.

At Baw Baw they rent out Yowies. Not our preferred type of snowshoe, but since we haven’t bought our own yet, beggars can’t be choosers.

My suggestion is to undo all the straps (not hard since they’re velcro), place your foot in so all the straps will strap back up (if you have larger feet, you may appreciate what I mean), then strap your foot in as tightly as possible. When you’ve got both on, have a few test strides and see if they feel like they need adjusting. You don’t want your boots to slip out as you’re hiking.

I think my boot is a size 43 US (or 12 AUS), and I was glad that it wasn’t much bigger, as I wouldn’t have liked the middle strap that passed over my boot and gaiter to be any shorter. I don’t know if they have larger Yowies at Mt Baw Baw – they are only made in two sizes as it is.

Yowies on

Yowies on

Given a choice, I’d be wearing MSR snowshoes. They’re more streamlined and have more teeth for breaking through and holding you on ice.

That wasn’t likely to be an issue for us today, but check out the teeth that Yowies have. Stephen’s were good; mine were somewhat worn down, probably from people walking on rocks or on the road in them. (Yes, we need to buy our own…)

Victorian on-mountain snowshoe rental comparison

Heading off, we drew a couple of amused (or bemused) looks from people who evidentially haven’t tried this form of freedom for themselves.

A couple of cross-country trails start at the end of the main runs and where the kids learning slope is. That’s also where we found the huskies! I’d seen a sign on the main street advertising husky sled rides – and here they were!

There wasn’t much action happening with the dogs at present, so we headed off. We’d decided to follow the Summit Trail today as we didn’t have time for the longer Village Trail circuit.

It was pretty quiet on the track. Most people were downhill skiing or snowboarding. In fact, I think we only saw about half a dozen people on the trail all day – and 4 or 5 of them were in one family!

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m from Queensland or not, but I find the snow absolutely fascinating! So beautiful, so white, so enticing… And snow gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora) are just amazing with their beautifully coloured bark. That’s why we chose Mt Baw Baw over Lake Mountain – yes it’s a bit further to drive, but it’s higher (= more snow) and the trees are alive! (A lot of Lake Mountain was burnt in the King Lake-Marysville fires in 2009).

This is possibly my favourite photo from the walk:

Mt Baw Baw meets Narnia

Mt Baw Baw meets Narnia

The only downside to snowshoeing is the noise. You mightn’t think it, but walking over snow makes a fair bit of sound. The shoes on the snow, the stocks through the snow, your shoes against the straps (more so on MSR than Yowies, I admit). You really notice the difference when you pause to take a photo (or catch your breath)!

In one of these pauses we noticed some tiny birds picking over the frozen leaves and around the bark of the trees. It’s tricky to photograph birds that move so quickly. I am pretty certain they are Striated Thornbills (Acanthiza lineata).

We planned to stop for lunch at some picnic tables close to the summit, known as Downey’s picnic area. Two years ago, we did this walk in August when Australia was having a decent, if somewhat delayed snow season. This year’s snow season is on time and even better!

So there wasn’t much choice but to eat standing up. We didn’t want to disturb the perfect mounds of snow on the tables.

It was also a good chance to get some Bigfoot – or more accurately in this case, Yowie – footprint photos.

Yowie tracks!

Yowie tracks!

Lunch over, we continued up to the summit where Baron Ferdinand von Mueller’s “The Cairn”, built as a survey reference point, is there to admire. Von Mueller was Government Botanist of Victoria in 1853 and later appointed director of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, but his work was also recognised and honoured nationally and internationally. It is believed he was the first European to climb Mt Baw Baw.

A little further on is Mueller’s lookout. On a winter’s day, you mightn’t get to see very far.

Muellers Lookout - can't see much today

Muellers Lookout – can’t see much today

We haven’t been in summer, but Mount Baw Baw Alpine Resort’s website shows the view in summer is quite nice.

Muellers Lookout in summer - via mountbawbaw.com.au

Muellers Lookout in summer – via mountbawbaw.com.au

From the summit, the ice on the trees started to get a bit… wild.

Not content with just settling as snow on horizontal surfaces then icing up, the snow gums on this side of the summit have their hackles up, and fins on. Yep, they’ve gone feral.

As the trail drops down from the summit, the forest relaxes once more and it’s an easy downhill walk along the cross-country ski trail.

If you walk the Summit Trail in an anti-clockwise direction as we did, you’ll come to an area called ‘The Five Ways’ where the Summit Trail ends and you have two choices – Muellers Track (walkers only) or Village Trail – that will take you back to the village.

Last time we chose Muellers Track, skirting all of the ski runs to the north, and certainly appreciated why it was a walkers only trail.

This time, for something different, we thought we’d try the Village Trail that- as far as we could make out on the map – slips down between ski runs and finished back at our starting point.

The Village Trail meets the ski slopes

The Village Trail meets the ski slopes

I didn’t take any more photos after this until we were safely at the bottom because I was mostly scared about being caught in the path of a skier, and then, as the slope got steeper, also a bit worried that I might go for a slide myself! Although conditions weren’t particularly icy, I was concerned that the teeth and grip of my Yowies weren’t doing as good a job as they should be…

We were passed by a snow patrol skier who only made a comment on the weather, so we were reassured that we weren’t somewhere that we shouldn’t have been, but the path down wasn’t clear to us. I was really glad when we made it to the bottom and out of the way of skiers and snowboarders. We chose snowshoeing to avoid injury, after all!

Since we were back at the start we decided to have another look at the huskies. It just so happened that a team was being harnessed up for a run! And yes, they were all very excited about that!

With that we were done, and a hot chocolate as the Village Restaurant seemed in order – as soon as we’d returned our snowshoes and poles.

The Village Restaurant decorated for Christmas in July

The Village Restaurant decorated for Christmas in July

By now it was well after the lunch rush so getting a table wasn’t a problem.

As it was getting late, we didn’t linger. We knew the queue of day trippers leaving the resort would be long, and it would be dark by the time we arrived home.

It was a great day though!

Here’s a some stats and a couple of maps from this walk if you’re interested:

Elevation graph, stats & map - Mt Baw Baw

 

: )

Have you been snowshoeing? Where abouts and with whom? I’d love to hear from you : )


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One Tree Hill & the 1000 Steps, Dandenong Ranges National Park – 2 March 2014

Just because you’ve done something once before, doesn’t mean you can do it again – without directions, at least.

Which is how we came to be walking by some very nice houses on Kia Ora Parade (with some other locationally challenged walkers) wondering which turn we should/shouldn’t have made to get to the 1000 Steps. But lets rewind a bit and I’ll explain…

It’s not long now until we’re off to Wilsons Prom to walk down to the lighthouse. My office day job provides, as you might imagine, ideal training for a 20-24km hike (probably to be repeated 3 days in a row, unless we’re too knackered on the middle day). The slightly downhill 3km walk home of an evening has also really helped to boost my confidence.

Even so, we though a bit of extra practice wouldn’t go astray.

We’ve been meaning to go back to One Tree Hill and the 1000 Steps for quite some time. The last first and last time we were there was before the ‘new’ Lyrebird track was (re)opened. Today seemed like a good day. Pity neither Stephen or I remembered to pick up Glenn Tempest’s “Daywalks Around Melbourne” in case we couldn’t remember which track to take, based solely on our memories of our walk from a couple of years back.

This section of the Dandenong Ranges Nation Park must be one of the most visited of Victoria’s parks. The 1000 Steps car park at the bottom of the hill (Fern Tree Gully end) is very large, but always full. I’ve never been by and not seen cars parked for hundreds of metres up the sides of the road.  As suggested by Glenn Tempest, we have always (that is to say both times now) parked at the top at the One Tree Hill car park. Compared to the crowd at the bottom, it’s like hardly anyone seems to know about it. And yet it’s only about 100m (if that) from the end of the 1000 Steps track. Go figure.

Dandenong Ranges NP - car park at One Tree Hill

Car park at One Tree Hill

A small section of the 1000 Steps Car Park

Just a small section of the packed 1000 Steps Car Park (not the clearest photo, I grant you)

Just going up and down the 1000 Steps (or Lyrebird) track with half of Melbourne’s population (well, not quite half) is not our idea of a great afternoon, so we like to extend the walk so we can look around, enjoy the bush and get to clock up 10km without collapsing (as I think could be on the cards if we did the same distance just going up and down the ‘Steps).

So after finding a park (not hard), changing into our hiking boots (there’s a convenient seat nearby), we walked to the top of the hill to start our walk along Tyson Track. It’s pretty steep going down, even if it doesn’t look it in the photo.

The bush down the western slopes of One Tree Hill is drier, with less understorey than in the lush and protected gullies, and with grasses as the majority of the ground cover. Numerous tracks crisscross the park. Some follow a level grade as much as possible, and some tracks are very steep (through not as steep as the Telecom Track in Walhalla, thankfully). The tracks are generally wide, gravel-surfaced and well maintained, and it’s not unusual to come across a number of other walkers or hikers and there are signs of mountain bike riders using the tracks, too. In fact, this section of the National Park reminds me of Toohey Forest, just south of Brisbane.

Something I’ve never seen in Toohey’s Forest though is one of these fellows, who was just to the side of The Boulevard (track) as we tried to find our way back up to Belview Terrace.

Echidna

Echidna in defensive mode

Having descended from the top of the hill, walked some streets while slightly ‘locationally challenged’, climbed almost the whole way back up again while doubling back due to a poor choice of track at Himalaya Road, we eventually found the path we originally intended to be on (Belview Tce).

Slightly surprised at the appearance of a police 4wd coming up the track (yes, the paths are that wide and no, I doubt they’d need to put it in 4wd to get up that track… well, maybe to get around some of the corners lower down) we continued down hill again until we reached the 1000 Steps car park and picnic ground. There are public facilities there and even a cafe now.

Cafe at 1000 Steps/Fern Tree Gully picnic ground

Cafe at 1000 Steps/Fern Tree Gully picnic ground

Now, I understand and fully support the principle that what you take into a national park you should also take out. That’s good, proper and the responsible thing to do. But when you buy something at a cafe, you would expect them to have a rubbish bin, wouldn’t you? Apparently not in this case. Again, I understand why – they don’t want to attract birds/possums/rodents etc and encourage unnatural habits – but there’s not even an inside bin. Which isn’t to say that the cafe staff don’t dispose of rubbish left on tables by people who ‘didn’t see’ the signs… Anyway, we took our rubbish with us – it’s not like there was a lack of space in our backpacks!

And so here we were. The infamous 1000 Steps (of which I hear there are somewhat fewer than 1000 – I wasn’t counting though). Last time we battled our way up the old, narrow,  steep, slippery track with half of Melbourne’s population who are trying to get fit and a couple of bus loads of tourists on top of that. What was the new track going to be like?

Start of the 1000 Steps

Start of the 1000 Steps

I think I’ve been told that groups preparing to walk the Kokoda track come here to train. Have I mentioned that the old track is steep? The recent works done around this lower end of the park really emphasise our history on the Kokoda Track. There are information plaques along the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk – aka the ‘old’ 1000 Steps track – but with the human traffic it can be hard to take it in. Having large, dedicated areas down the bottom that you can read before or after your climb seems a good idea. It also gives you something to reflect on while you’re struggling up the hill.

Kokoda Memorial at the start of the 1000 Steps

One of the new Kokoda Memorials at the start of the 1000 Steps

And here it is – the spilt. Lyrebird (new 1000 Steps) on the left, the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk (aka the ‘old’ 1000 Steps) on the right.

1000 Steps vs Lyrebird Track

Kokoda Track Memorial Walk (aka 1000 Steps) vs Lyrebird Track (aka the new 1000 Steps)

We came to try out the new path, so that’s what we chose. I was surprised at the number of people still heading up the old path. It hasn’t been wet lately – I wonder if that makes a lot of difference? You won’t catch me going up there in the wet. Even with a handrail, those old, mossy, sloped steps do not make me feel safe. In comparison, the steps of the new track – though not as wide as we’d expected – are level, deep and moss free.

The new path is 700m longer than the old one (2.5km vs 1.8km), although both are rated as ‘Steep’. And since you get a choice between stairs and path on the Lyrebird Track, after a short while I found the track was definitely easier! As long as you keep to the one line and be aware that you’re sharing the path, it’s pretty good. But still quite a way up. And these signs along the way don’t help. I’ve no idea what they’re measuring. The track is 2.5km long, but the post at the top says 15oom… it’s not elevation – the top of the track is not quite 500m above sea level.

Mission accomplished we left the sweaty masses behind and wandered up the last 100m (if that) of the track back to the One Tree Hill car park. By this stage lunch on top of the hill was sounding really nice (we only stopped for a quick snack at the cafe below) and as previously mentioned, there are open and sheltered picnic tables as well as BBQ’s and facilities up top here too.

Full circuit

Full circuit

Unfortunately I’m still having issues with embedding our Garmin details, but if you’re interested in a good walk around the Dandenongs, please check it out here – and don’t forget to take a copy of your walk directions with you!

: )