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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The National Rhododendron Gardens.


Living in Melbourne means having a reasonably diverse range of scenery on your doorstep – from miles of beautiful beaches to foggy temperate forests, snowy mountains, vineyards and dry bushland. Closest to where I live, on the eastern side of the city, are the Dandenong Mountains (well, let’s be honest, hills) that have large areas of national and state forests and hundreds of kilometres of walking tracks. There are also many gardens and arboretums and one of the best is the National Rhododendron Gardens.

The gardens are over 1.5 km in length and doing a full circuit can add up to 5km (approximately 3 miles) and it’s all quite hilly.

Right now the rhododendrons are in full flower, the magnolias are a bit past it and the azaleas are almost out.

 

The gardens open from 10 till 5 and parking at this time of year can be a nightmare so I got there at 9:55 to find the gates already open. When you’re out to take photos it’s really nice to beat the crowds.

By the time I left there were hundreds of people there, quite a lot of them tourists form east Asia and many a giant tour bus in the parking lot.

 

 

I was slightly annoyed to have completely missed the cherry blossoms again – I never seem to remember to go, despite having two blossom trees at home to remind me. I consoled myself with a piece of chocolate brownie form the new cafe (research!) and watched a bunch of elderly people complain that the shuttle bus that takes you around the gardens cost money to ride – which seemed a bit churlish considering the gardens were free entry. No pleasing some people, I suppose!

 
So if you’re nearby, go have a look! It’s well worth it and there’s acres of lawn and many a kookaburra just waiting for picnickers to leave their crusts:-).

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!

Canada and Alaska: Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay National Park was the turn-around point for our cruise and the visual highlight. The weather had been almost unremittingly foggy and grey for the whole trip up to this point and so we were all a bit concerned we wouldn’t actually see anything.

Fortunately some sun did appear, and there was no rain. The weather was cold, but because the ship did a loop up the channel and back, we could see everything from our balcony. I did go out on the prow though and took photos from a few different spots around the ship.

It was also a day when the ship’s crew celebrated 77 years of Alaskan cruising with a serving of pea and ham soup (it’s a Dutch thing? Or something) that I thought was very nice but not many others seemed to enjoy it.

The scenery was spectacular, and the onboard tvs had documentaries on the wildlife and the formation of the bay that were quite interesting. They also had a park ranger do a voice-over as we went past the different glaciers.

No big icebergs were to be seen, but lots of little one made the water look like a styrofoam boat had exploded. Although not all of the icebergs were white – many were a dirty brown and you could watch them float along shedding clouds of rock flour that clouds the water and makes it that milky turquoise shade.

Next: Grouse Mountain and Vancouver for a day before heading home.

Canada and Alaska: Ketchikan

If Skagway had the best weather of the cruise, Ketchikan had the worst. Which was a shame because it did have a certain charm.

Mum and I went out for a quick walk first thing then back to the boat to dry off and regroup. I ended up taking off most of my clothes and going out in shorts and sandals with a light rain jacket, figuring it was better to be a bit cold and towel dry my skin rather than have to try to dry jeans and sneakers.

Ketchikan has a little ‘ye olde’ area called Creek Street, which was ok, boardwalks on stilts along a creek full of salmon. Better though, was a great book store called Parnassus Books, which was nearby. A great range and friendly staff. I recommend dropping in if you’re looking for some travel reading.

I don’t really have much to say about Ketchikan. It felt a lot like Juneau, obviously a town where people lived and worked outside of the tourism sector. Lots of people on our tour did plane and helicopter rides and could probably give a better impression of the place but we spent most of our time there on the ship. How sad! That’s what sideways rain does to you though.

Next: Glacier Bay.

Canada and Alaska: Skagway

After a day at sea the ship docked at Skagway, a tiny town north of Juneau. Someone told me that Skagway’s population all leave in winter – basically it’s a town set up for tourists and boy, does it feel like it.

There’s one main street with a real wild-west feel, right down to the wooden boardwalks. A lot of the building are either original or restored to the original state, so it’s not like the place is fake, it’s just Alaska-Disney. Everything is very clean and nice, plus the hordes of tourists have almost nowhere to go but from one end to the other, looking in the stores full of jewellery and pyjamas. I don’t know why, of all clothing items, pyjamas are the thing Alaska doubled down on, but it’s hard to find a shop that doesn’t sell them – particularly those long-john/onesie style ones with the flap at the back.

However, it was the nicest weather of the whole cruise, so Mum and I decided to visit the Jewell Gardens, which were a short bus ride away. They were very different to the Burchard Gardens. Smaller, messier and with lots of fruit and vegetables.

Also a glass-blowing workshop. It had a really nice artist-enclave vibe and the cafe had good food (and wine of course). As we were leaving there was a brief shower of rain, despite there being barely a cloud in the sky.

“Alaska’s weird’ said the guy behind the counter when we commented. Which reminds me that I forgot to mention that in Juneau there was a girl in a kimono riding a skateboard down the main street and blowing bubbles the whole way. Fabulous!

The only other noteworthy thing about Skagway was the salmon, which were currently doing their kamikaze run upstream. There are many sad sights in the animal kingdom, and watching thousands of salmon queue for a metre-wide fish ladder so they can struggle towards their death, is definitely one of them. Our bus driver said the smell in town about a month hence is unbelievable as the bodies pile up. Grim but fascinating.

Next: Ketchikan