Walking the Belgrave to Ringwood Rail Trail

After adding a number of walking bloggers to my reading list, I have felt more motivated to expand my blogging to small excursions and not just big holidays. Also, being from Melbourne, it’s nice to write about and promote my home town.
I have walked the Lilydale to Warburton rail trail many times and I like the idea of rail trails. In Victoria they are usually decommissioned rail lines where the tracks have been removed and all that is left is a nice, wide track through the countryside. I recently discovered that the train line that passes within a kilometre of my house is accompanied by a rail trail that stretches for 20km, so this morning at 8:30 I walked to the local station and caught the train up to Belgrave then started walking back home.

There are a few small hills along the way, but otherwise the trail is fairly flat after the first five kilometres.

The path mostly sits between the rail line and the road. Some places are more sheltered from traffic noise, at other times it is right by the busy Burwood Highway.

I couldn’t say that there are masses of things to see – some native birds, some bright graffiti, and I was most impressed with the giant lyrebird mural along the side of the Belgrave supermarket.

Some parts of the walk are leafy and open, some are grey and industrial. It gave me a good opportunity to see the new station at Bayswater, which is kind of impressive if you like architecture that reminds you of a futuristic communist suburbia. At least they gave over some walls to bright murals.

I stopped at a cafe in Ferntree Gully for some caffeine and was sad to find that my soles stung when I stood up.

This is always my problem with long distance walking – I never get muscle pain, there’s never any long lasting aches, just sore soles that feel much worse after I’ve given them a rest and then have to go on. Later on I stopped at a park bench to eat my tin of tuna and took my socks off and rubbed my feet properly. This definitely helps but feeling sore after only 10 km is a sign that I really need to step up the training before I get to the U.K. next year if I want to make the most of it.

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Surf Coast Walk: Day Two

I woke up face down, with my sleeping bag over my head and a strong suspicion that the air outside was freezing cold. I had managed to sleep for about 9 hours though, which is a champion effort for the first night in the tent.

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Sad face.

It took me an hour and a half to emerge and pack everything up. I ate one chocolate biscuit for breakfast because it’s the most important meal of the day, and was on the trail by 8:30.

The sun was shining, there was hardly anybody about – I felt great! The path from the campground heads north-east along a fairly flat trail until it starts to climb up the headland. There was a series of rough stone steps that were quite a struggle but the view at the top, back over Anglesea, was lovely.

Apparently people ride bikes up these steps. Because they are insane, I assume. 

Looking back towards Anglesea.

Down from the headland the path emerged onto a beach and mine were the first footprints of the day! It wasn’t a long stretch, but I enjoyed the feeling of solitude and admired a hut-shaped pile of driftwood that someone had constructed. At the far end of the beach a couple of Japanese tourists were climbing down the stairs. They said hello and I informed them that they would have the beach to themselves and I’m sure they were suitably impressed.

Pristine!

The path meandered on and eventually I found myself at the famous Bell’s Beach (famous if you are Australian or know anything about surfing). There were about half a dozen surfers braving the cold water, but the waves didn’t look particularly impressive. I had a rest and a drink at the lookout and considered the fact that I hadn’t eaten a proper meal yet, so at about 11am I made myself some porridge (burning it onto the bottom of the jetboil, exactly as I’d done on the last camping trip). I’d brought two sachets because they looked very small. Turns out they expand enormously but, like a trooper, I wolfed it all down and tried to ignore all the people walking past me who probably wondered why I was cooking white sludge on a park bench.

After I’d eaten I packed up and wandered on, but I got a bit confused and ended up doing a bit of road walking. I think this actually shortened my walk and, since there was almost no traffic, wasn’t too unpleasant. The hill I had to walk up was quite a killer though and I was extremely glad to get to the top and find a carpark that met the path.

Like some kind of alien muppet. Needs a pair of giant googly eyes. 

From there on there were a lot of spiny bush-things (I’m annoyed I didn’t find the name – if anyone knows please tell me!) that were quite sculptural in appearance. They were dotted between eucalyptus trees, which made for a nice visual contrast. There were also a lot of wildflowers.

When I emerged from this part of the trail I found myself on a section of coast where hang-gliding seemed to be quite popular.

As I came towards Torquay I stopped to take some photos of a glider who had just taken off and also have a chat with his mate, who was watching from below. Turns out he’d just done the Camino last year so we talked a bit about walking before I continued on.

The last leg was into Torquay via the beach and a path around the golf course. I kept going until I reached the esplanade and then found a restaurant/bar to dump my bag and order dinner. And what a dinner! It is so true that food after extended outdoor exertions always tastes amazing.

The second day of my walk had been at least 4km longer than the first day and I’d taken more rest stops. By the end my soles were sore and I was happy not to do the last few kilometres along the beach. I don’t know why the people who planned the path had it finish far beyond the last town centre and in a place where no buses or trains stop, but I’m not the kind of walker who feels the need to do things by the book so I was fine with an early finish.

Right when I finished dinner and my little wrap-up video, Jess called and said she’d be by to pick me up in 15 minutes. Perfect!

All in all, an excellent first experience of overnight hiking (well, ‘hiking’ is probably making it sound more rugged than it was) and I came home ready to do more, ASAP! I have a few walks in mind to tackle this year – something in The Grampians, part of the Mornington Peninsula circuit, and Oberon Bay at Wilson’s Prom. Or maybe something longer?

The Surf Coast Walk: Day One.

For my very first overnight solo hike I did a lot of researching and planning and decided on walking the Surf Coast, which stretches between Fairhaven in the south-west, and Torquay in the north-east. Here’s the (slightly blurry, apologies) map that the local council provides, and which turned out to be pretty much all I needed to do the walk.

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The first section I walked – Split Point to Anglesea. The yellow section is a massively long beach, on which I saw five people in the space of an hour. Magic!

I have been accumulating gear throughout this year and now I have all the necessary basics  – bag, tent, sleeping gear and cooking equipment. I’ve tried to focus on ultralight principles (to some degree, anyhow) and so the items I have in those four categories altogether weigh around 5kgs.

On Monday it was time to try it all out for real!

My friend Jess has family in the lovely beachside town of Anglesea, which is about half way along the walk. I hitched a lift with her on Sunday night (Anglesea is about 1.5-2 hours from where we live in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne) and stayed the night there. Jess’ family are *lovely* – it’s always a pleasure to go stay and chat with her mum about gardening and travel and everything… and I’m not just saying that because Wendy will probably read this (*waves*!). Every time I go to Anglesea I think about how soon I can retire there;-). Apart from being beautiful it has a lovely community vibe and lots of environmentally-friendly things going on. My kind of place.

On Monday morning Jess kindly offered to drive me to the start point and come rescue me if anything went wrong. At the last minute I went through my pack and ditched maybe another kilo of gear (clothes, kindle case, toiletries) and then we were off!

Jess dropped me at the Split Point Lighthouse. I’d decided to cut a couple of km from one end of the walk as I was a bit nervous about being able to carry my 12+kg bag for 20 km (12.4 miles). Turns out I needn’t have worried, but it’s better not to start a new experience feeling nervous, I guess.

We had a a bit of a dither finding signage for the walk – it seems the sign makers envisaged people doing it Torquay to Fairhaven, and not so much the reverse, as I’d planned. Still, the people in the lighthouse cafe were helpful and I set out full of vigour!

Ten minutes in and the rain started. Fortunately the view along the coast allows for a lot of warning and so I had my raincoat out in plenty of time. I’d half hoped it would rain because I’m preparing for walking in the UK next year and I hate getting wet, so I’m trying to condition myself to getting out in all weather. It’s working pretty well, and it helps that I have a really top-notch Kathmandu raincoat that keeps everything above my knees completely dry.

The first part of the walk is along the cliff-tops. The views are lovely and the cliffs are very orange when the sun shines on them. The sunlight and clouds made for great colours on the ocean and the hedging scrub was full of flowers. The whole two days of walking were filled with tiny flowers and I made a little collage when I finished:

The walk detoured through little stands of moonah trees (a local species that is threatened with extinction), gum trees and then down onto beaches and up stairs and hills. There were a few muddy sections that made me glad I had my poles and waterproof trail-running shoes (not that I’ve ever run in them!).

One of my favourite parts of the day was a 4.5km stretch of beach where I saw almost no one. There was a bit of rain, but watching the birds and the waves and having it almost to myself – magic!

I’d set out at about 10am and had 15 km to walk to get to Anglesea where I’d booked a campsite at the caravan park. I had no idea how long it would take me but I was pretty sure I could get there by dark. I was pretty slow on the uphill stretches – carrying such a weight is a fairly new experience for me – but I made it to Anglesea at around 2:30pm. Much better time than I’d hoped! After getting a tiny bit annoyed at the $40 fee for camping (although they did have excellent facilities I only wanted the use of a toilet and sink), I spent a few minutes putting my tent up and then lay on my mat under my quilt (it was a cold and rainy afternoon) for two hours reading my kindle (Charles Stross, The Atrocity Archives – would recommend!) before venturing out for dinner.

I decided that, being by the beach, fish and potato cakes were in order. I also thought I deserved a packet of chocolate biscuits and a can of pre-mixed drink (to help me get to sleep – it was virtually medicinal). Now, Wendy had mentioned to me that Anglesea doesn’t do plastic bags but I had completely forgotten, so I left the fish and chip shop with an arm full of food. I ended up putting the cold things in the hood of my raincoat and warming my hands on the fried food package on the 500m walk back to the campsite. On the way I saw the brightest, clearest rainbow in a full arc across the sky over the headland. It was so incredible I just stood there and ate my potato cakes and admired it, even as the rain started up again.

Rather than get fish grease on my tent, I went for a wander around the campsite. It sits on a headland and has great beach access. The site also has more moonah trees and with the dusk light pouring through they looked quite eldritch. It was fabulous.

After a little walk on the beach I headed back to the tent and read for another couple of hours, setting up my selfie stick (I know, I know, but the tripod facility is really handy when you’re doing things solo, especially making videos) as a bedside light. It was freezing cold but my quilt and a beanie kept me warm enough, and I somehow managed to spread the entire contents of my pack throughout my tent during the night. It is hard to fathom how so little can make such a mess.

Anyhow, I finished my first day feeling pretty good. No blisters, no foot soreness, no major discomfort of any kind. From feeling somewhat hesitant that morning about my chances of successfully embarking on a couple of months of solo travel, I felt like I could DO IT! Maybe I won’t be climbing Snowdon… but who knows? Maybe I shall!

Sealers Cove walk, Wilsons Promontory National Park

Last weekend I was finally able to badger Luke into coming with me on an overnight hike as we both had a few week days free –  he from editing contracts, me from school as I have taken leave this year.

I have also recently bought a set of ultralight camping gear – a two man (barely!) tent, quilt, mat and cooking gear. I wanted to try it all out away from home. I did spend one night in the backyard, much to our dog’s confusion, and everything seemed to be in working order. Now it was time to take it out for real!

I had picked Sealers Cove at Wilsons Prom as it looked to be a doable 10km walk. I read the park notes and found a few other blog accounts of walk too. The pictures all looked very inviting.

We left Melbourne at 10am on Monday, stopping for an early lunch in Leongatha.

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We reached the Prom in about three hours, listening to podcasts most of the way. We only saw one wombat on the side of the road as we drove in. Last time we saw dozens, but then it was early evening.

I hadn’t booked our campsite ahead of time as I’d phoned the day before and been assured there would be space. The website is a bit confusing, It seems to say there is camping for 12, but it means 12 campsites and the number of campers can be up to 60. We bought our permit to camp ($13.10 pp/pn) and then drove back to Telegraph Saddle, where the walk to Sealers Cove starts.

I had divided our things into two backpacks – the lighter but bulkier stuff went into my big travel pack and the water and food went into my day pack. I took the bigger pack and Luke carried the water to start with. We weren’t really sure what the water situation along the trail was going to be so we took about 7 litres to last us the 24 hours.

1907c430-2bc7-4d63-905f-133569cc1f9cAlthough the car park was full, we had plenty of time on the trail by ourselves. The first 2km of the walk in on a fairly exposed and dry north facing path that has some ups and downs but nothing exhausting. I was very glad I’d brought a hat and sunscreen. Eventually trees start to cover the path and then after about 3km we reached Windy Saddle. This is the only point on the trail where any distances are marked by a sign.

After this point the landscape changes to a damp and shady south-facing path that winds down to the coast. There were still some up hill parts and lots of short flat sections. Nothing tortuous.

The walk through the forest was beautiful. Luke wasn’t so impressed, but then he’d started feeling a pain in his knee. We swapped bags and that sorted out some of our discomfort. For some reason, carrying a smaller, heavier bag suited me much better, and Luke liked the bigger bag that had better support.

The forest section made up about 5 or 6 km of the walk but after a while it felt more like 10 as there were lots of roots and rocks to negotiate. We also started to notice the huge March flies that circled us every time we stopped moving. We weren’t sure if they would bite us but they looked nasty and wouldn’t leave us alone. I’d brought my walking poles so we had one each to swish around our arms and legs while we took the occasional break.

2df60315-cb00-47fa-8c03-302616179cc7Although there weren’t many places where the trees opened up, when they did it was beautiful. There was one stream, about half way, where we definitely could’ve filled up our water bottles, and another running pipe at the camp site too. All that weight we didn’t need to carry!

The last two or so km of the walk was boardwalk through Sealers Marsh/Swamp. Some of it is very wet but as it gets closer to the beach it become quite dry.

There are lots of interesting plants to see, particularly epiphytes. We also spotted a few little lizards sun baking on the boardwalk. I was surprised at how overgrown the boardwalk was considering the amount of traffic – dozens of people pass through here most days. At some points the boardwalk was almost invisible beneath ferns.

After the boardwalk the path immediately opens out to the beach.

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And what a beach it is! Over a kilometre of golden sand in a perfect crescent. The signs at this point are a bit tricky to understand, but some people in the water pointed us to the campsite further down the beach. It’s not at all obvious from this point which way to go.

The sand was easy walking up to Sealers Creek. Although it was low tide the water was still calf-deep, so we took off our shoes then left them off as we walked up into the forest and to the camp.

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The cool creek was a welcome treat for our slightly sore feet.

The campsite is up a small incline and each camping area is surrounded by ferns. It’s very cool and pleasant… apart from the enormous flies. We set up our tent then took a short walk along the beach, where we spotted a small group of black cockatoos with yellow under their tails. I couldn’t get a decent photo but they were quite magnificent. They were doing the same thing they do when they visit my backyard in Heathmont – shredding the seed pods and branch-tips of the tree they were sitting in.

The flies continued to annoy, so we made dinner (inadvertently burning pasta to the bottom of my new jetboil, sigh) then, as the sun was going down we lay in the tent and read an interactive, graphic novel-style Sherlock Holmes book that Luke had downloaded onto his phone.

img_5324Feeling tired, we tried to get to sleep early but neither of us slept very well. A lot of screeching birds during the night, plus my noisy mat, were not conducive to a great rest. I also had a series of strange and disturbing nightmares, which didn’t help.

In the morning we cleaned the jet boil as best we could then had porridge before packing up the tent and heading out at about 9. I think there were maybe 30 other people camped at Sealers Cove that night and we were the first ones to be up and out. With the weather predicted to the high 20s I wanted to get as far as possible before the day properly warmed up.

The information for the walk says that it takes 3 hours one way. We took 3.5 coming in and at least 5 on the way out. Partly due to carrying packs (lots of people walk in and back in one day), and partly because Luke had a sore knee. Also partly because the walk back is about 80% uphill, although few parts are very steep. There were also a few boggy sections that required careful navigation.

When we got back to the car we were both quite tired and dirty, but I felt proud that we’d walked the distance carrying our loads and the weight hadn’t felt too onerous. I think I could manage one night carrying all my own gear – although I might start with shorter distances, or give myself more time.

We made it back to Telegraph Saddle by 2, and were home before rush hour started in the city. Not bad going!

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Highs: perfect weather, great views, estimating the food pretty accurately, spending time together off the couch!

Lows: Luke’s injury, the flies, discovering my legs were covered in red, itchy bites when I got home, bad sleep.

Next time: long sleeves and pants and a head net just in case. Eventually buy a proper hiking backpack. Bring less extra clothing.