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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!

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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…

Dave and Holly, our Kiwi friends, heard us profess our hiking mission over dinner (and vodka) and decided to join along this week.

Claire the vicambulist, spreading the word of walking one person at a time.

Week 3: Werribee Gorge State Park – circuit walk
Distance: 10 kms
Grade: moderate to difficult
Weight: appx 6-7 kgs

It was a hot one today in Melbourne.  A top of 34, and a series of unfortunate events put us at the trailhead just before midday. The walk was mostly exposed, and moderate in grade, up and down the gorge cliffs.  But although it was incredibly hot, there was a soft breeze, and it was a good, varied trek.

Not more than 20 minutes in, we spotted an echidna.  Score another one for Claire & Steve’s adventures spotting furtive Australian fauna!

(getting a closer look)

(if I can’t see you… you can’t see me… right?)

We also brought Bentley (bad idea). It was longer and hotter than we’d judged.  Plus, as we discovered, the trail involves several sections of scrambling, including one with a “handrail” to assist.  It took a 3-man handoff shuffling the lil’ pup like a football to get him around the bend…

(note the wire affixed to rock ledge)

But in the end, sweaty and breathless (and nearly out of water) we completed the circuit.  We rewarded ourselves with some snacks and a well-earned cold beverage.   All and all, it was a challenging but good hike for week 3.

(a tired lil pup gets a lift)

No, that’s not a new WB tween drama, its our hiking itinerary for week 2!

Week 2:  Fern Tree Gully to One Tree Hill
Distance: 9 kms
Grade: moderate
Weight: 13-15 kgs

With packs stuffed full to simulate an overnight hike, we set out on the train from Richmond to the Upper Fern Tree Gully area of the Dandenongs.  We were out to test the packs, and our legs, on a more challenging walk with a little elevation change. 45 minutes later, we were at the base of the Dandenong Ranges ready to spend the afternoon tramping.

It can sometimes be difficult to gauge a new hike.  We’ve found the Victoria Parks Service assessment of “moderate” trails can range from easy flat walks requiring only stamina to go the distance and seriously challenging multi-grade walks.  Turns out though when they say steep, they definitely mean… steep.

The first leg of the hike up the Lyrebird Track was a seriously vertical incline.  We huffed and puffed under the weight, and I glared enviously at the walkers and runners barreling down the hill we were so struggling to ascend.  But after an initial rough period, we set into a more comfortable and sustainable stride.  Eventually, we flatted out and around at One Tree Hill, and started a slower and more gentle descent.  Deep in the forest, we had the cool woods nearly to ourselves for the afternoon, strolling among the trees.

We combined a number of trails to reach the right distance: the Lyrebird Track to the top of One Tree Hill, branching around on Tysons Track, and back down on the Outlook Track and Belview Terrace. There was a somewhat extensive network of tracks to loop, and given how easy it was to reach via train, we’ll definitely be going back for some more training exercises!

Part 2 of Week 2 was Sunday.  With tired legs, my goal was to simulate the distance walking portions of the Milford Track.  I walked down to St. Kilda beach and back, over 15kms, over the course of 4-5 hours.  Woah hamstrings. 

But that’s the goal of training, testing limits and finding areas of improvement!

March is going to be quite a month on our feet.  Among other things, we’ve committed to hike the Milford Sound Track in New Zealand with dad and donna — it’s a 4 day, 55km hike through fjordland on the South Island. Should be pretty awesome, and a physical challenge for all of us.

If past is any precedent, it’s important to prepare properly for multi-day hikes… So we’re determined to do a series of training hikes, one every week for the next 2 months, to get read for the big show.

Unfortunately, morning rain dampened our plans for a hike in the Dandenongs on Sunday.  Steve was already underenthused and slightly hungover, so he settled in for an afternoon of his favorite Sunday activity: watching NFL (taped).  Determined not to slip a week behind I did the only thing that made sense; I walked out the front door and just kept walking…

Week 1: Richmond to CBD; the scenic route
Distance: 13 kms
Grade: easy
Weight: appx 6-7kgs

I’d learned the week before, when an impromptu urge to bike to work during the holiday lull hit me, that although it’s a short 3km direct route from Hosie Street to the city, it takes 3x as long if you follow the winding Yarra River (a full 10 kms).  Fully aware of my ridiculous appearance, I strapped on the hiking boots and a pack weighted down with clothes and books and trekked a 13km loop along the river, through the CBD, and back down bustling Bridge Road.

Strangely, the rain had not lowered the temperature and an uncharacteristic humidity hung in the air.  But the river provided a light breeze and all in all it was a good test for distance (if not elevation).

Dad & donna are also diligently getting ready for the hike (although in much different terrain!)