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1 week to go til Dad & donna arrive!  Woot for visiting Down Under…

And your prize? Tales to come of tramping around Tasmania and New Zealand (not to mention Melbourne).

This week involved hiking it in the city at Yarra Bend Park, the largest area of native bushland in inner Melbourne.

Week 7: Yarra Bend Park
Distance: 8km (walk); 8 km (bike); plus…
Grade: easy (walk); moderate (bike, but only because I suck on a bike)
Weight: 5-6 kgs

For week 7, Kelly joined me to train for her upcoming hike in Wineglass Bay. We decided to stay in the city, so she met me at our house and we biked 4km up the river to Yarra Bend Park, which is full of mountain biking trails also prime for hiking. We hiked for an hour north along the river to a mass colony of flying foxes.

Yep, each of those little black dots, every last one of them, is a native Australian bat, also know as the flying fox. Formerly residing in the Royal Botanical Gardens and surrounding wealthy neighborhoods on the south side of the river in the CBD, the flying foxes have been relocated here over the last 10 years by the parks services to a permanent home that is supposedly better habitat for them (and for Melburians).

The colony is so large we walked for about 10 minutes among trees this thickly populated. They are numbered between 30,000 and 50,000 depending on time of year. At the end of the colony, we turned back and did the return walk and bike back to my house, and Kelly biked it back to St. Kilda.

A few hours later, we meet some friends at the south side of the Yarra River (the bats’ former home). We enjoyed a lazy Saturday afternoon grilling and chilling by the river. Bentley enjoyed himself doing laps around the BBQ and making friends with other picnickers, showing his charms in exchange for stray sausage bits. It’s another 3km (one-way) walk down to the river, so all up it was a 14km walking day.

New Zealand here we come!

It’s been awhile since I reported on odd Aussie lingo. In truth, it’s become a surprisingly normal part of our life here and we’ve each picked up a few favorite phrases (“pear-shaped” and “reckon” for Steve; “ta” and “I couldn’t be bothered” for me). But this one is just so wacko it had to be duly documented: over birthday cake yesterday in the office, the Aussies called a “spork” a “splade”.

That’s right, not only do they not know the function of a fork versus a knife, they apparently also have a medieval way of referring to cutting instruments. Despite protestations on all fronts from the Americans and Kiwis, the Aussies could not see any problem in referring to a spoon-like instrument that has no cutting edge whatsoever as a hybrid-blade.

Silly Australians….

Week 6 coincided with a lovely Valentine’s Day weekend in the remote and rugged town of St. Helens, on the southernly edge of the Bay of Fires Conservation Area.

Week 6:  Beach tramping in the Bay of Fires
Distance: 8-10kms (4 hours)
Grade: Moderate
Weight: 3kgs

An afternoon hike in the Bay of Fires was the perfect “us” weekend moment – 4 hours of sand, surf, brush, beach, blazing our own trail in the sun. 

The Bay of Fires is known for its rugged coastline, white pristine sandy beach, turquoise waters, and orange lichen stained boulders.  Needless to say, gorgeous but challenging hiking terrain.  We beat the beach by spending much of the trail in the brush that took the place of normal sand dunes, and side detours through and to a large inlet lagoon.

After our exertions, we sat down at a bayside cafe for a drink and leisurely reading session.  Happening to be in the right place at the right time, we watched a school of dolpins play in the surf (and surprise a surfer!) in the shallow waters just 10 meters off the beach. 

It was a lovely weekend in St. Helens, and reminded us all the reasons we love the great state of Tasmania!  Full pictures on the out and about page.

For Week 5, we went back to Mornington Peninsula.  Steve to play golf; Claire to continue the hiking challenge.  There’s a ~30km coastal walk along the southern end of the peninsula, so I set out from the golf course towards the coast and just kept on trucking. (Full pictures)

Week 5: Cape Schanck (golf course) to St. Andrew Beach / golf course
Distance: appx 15 kms
Grade: moderate
Weight: 10-12kgs

From the golf course, I set out for a familiar landmark – the lighthouse at Cape Schanck. Just 3kms in, I arrived there around the boys’ tee time, so figured a side jaunt down to the beach and back up would help lengthen my overall time and simulate a little elevation change.

From there, I followed the water’s edge on the cliffs for a 7km stretch to Gunamatta Beach.  The brush offered a welcome respite from the blistering midday sun, and the trail was a challenging mix of soil and sand.

I had some company along the way — no humans to speak of, but dozens of monarch butterflies flitting along the path.  The path looked like no one had passed this way in a long time, other than perhaps the wayward wombat.  So I was forced to adopt a robot walk through the thickest brush, to avoid spiderwebs to the face. It’s a technique I perfected in college, in the back woods of Rocky Mount NC, when trips home for the weekend usually involved me patching the fence or clearing brush from mom’s 5 acre homestead.

As the path grew more sandy, my legs grew more tired. Hiking in sand dunes is no easy feat.  Finally, I broke out onto one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen in the greater Melbourne area.  Extremely hot and due for a bit of a break, I dropped the pack and went for a swim.

The last leg of the journey would continue on the beach.  Good grief, more sand.  As the sun set on a beautiful day, I only wished I had the legs to go further (the coastal walk extends another 15 kms or so to the tip of the peninsula at Sorrento).

Miraculously, though I was thoroughly exhausted Saturday night, I only felt slightly stiff on Sunday.  All this practicing is paying off!

Week 4 was a (delightfully enjoyable) hiking let-down.  A holiday weekend (with Australia Day on Thursday and a vacation day reserved for Friday), we had originally planned to go to Snowy River National Park, no the Victorian Alps, no Snowy River National Park…

With much indecision, and soaring temperatures for 4 days straight, we went… to the beach.  After our very hot excursion at Werribee Gorge, Steve was feeling a bit hiked out.  And it was, as he put it, “stupid hot”.

So on Friday, instead of hitting the road for another hiking adventure, we did a nice 15km bike ride down the coast of Port Phillip Bay, from St. Kilda to Brighton and back.  And on Sat, we rounded up Kelly and Adam and escaped the heat of the city, fleeing to our favorite ocean-side beach on the Mornington Peninsula.

Sure, it wasn’t the most active weekend, but when it so hot outside you’re sweating standing still, hiking is just no fun…