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At long last, the final pictures of our journey out to Western Australia.  There were many reasons to fly to WA for our campervan roadtrip:  the weather, the coast, the abundance of trees found no where else.  But you know us, and knowing us as you do, you had to know there was a hike in there somewhere.

For the past three years, we have tortured Kristin & Damiano with tediously long day hikes for which we are typically underprepared  had the pleasure to share our love for the outdoors with our best friends and have seen some pretty beautiful terrain — from the open plains and a wispy Fairy Falls in Yellowstone to a 2-day excursion up Mt. Chirripo through rainforest and sub-alpine ecospheres and knee-deep in mud.

We had our reputation to live up to.  So it was with that in mind that we set off to WA for a week’s worth of adventuring and a day’s worth of tramping on part of the infamous Aussie Bibblumun Track.

The Bibblumun Track is a 1,000 km long distance trek from the suburbs of Perth to the far South East coast of Western Australia.  We conquered but a piddly little 12kms (we think).  See, we didnt really bring a map and estimates of the portion from Peaceful Bay to Conspicuous Cliffs ranged from 10-15kms.  Also, we were a little short on water.  And Dami didn’t have hiking boots.  And our (new color filtering) camera ran out of battery they day before so I had to lug the big ‘un all day.

In short, a typical fantastic four hike.

But oh what a beautiful little stretch of the trek it was…  Read about the journey on the out and about page and experience the beauty of Western Australia, from shrub to sun to sea.

It’s been a hot minute since I posted some Melbourne street art.  I took these shots of Hosier Lane when dad & donna were visiting in March.  Since then, construction at the nearby high rise has littered the laneway with scaffolding, obscuring the art.  So as a refresher, I thought I’d post some shots.

(movida)

(sad elephants)

These installations aren’t just tags; there was a definite focus on multimedia.

(horsey)

(senorita roja)

So after a year and a half searching out a decent bagel in this city, finally, we have struck gold!   I managed to drag Steve to Beans and Bagels in Fitzroy this Sunday, despite pelting rain, and oh man was it worth it.  Bagels made in the proper NY style (boiled then baked), thick creamy schmear and a buffet of bagel sandwich-making items.  We each got a sandwich, devoured it, and then got another.  Yep, we love (and have been craving) bagels that much…

Fellow American-Melbourians, take heed, Beans and Bagels is where it’s at!

OK, so its May and I’m STILL working on posting all the pictures from our March/early April adventures.  Rather than give you the impression that I am ambivalent or lazy, please note this is due to the sheer abundance of fun had by all (partially offset by the necessary balance of work and picture weeding).

So needless to say, we had a blast during Lisa & Matt’s trip, hot on the heels of the parents visit and our hiking adventures.  We meet the  jet lagged couple in Sydney for the Easter weekend, and showed them our favorite sights in the city.

On Saturday morning, it was off to the Blue Mountain. Just an hour’s drive as the crow flies (but certainly NOT as the traffic accumulates) east of the city, rich gum tree forests earn the Blue Mountains their name, as a blueish fog settles on the hills through a combination of mountain climate and aerial eucalypt oils.  We stayed in a cute little house in the middle of a bird paradise, managed to rope Lisa & Matt into the stairmaster of all hikes and only got a little lost along the way, and enjoyed ourselves a serene dawn-hike over (literally) the Wentworth Falls.

Check out the pictures on the photos page.

After we returned to Melbourne, we had a whirlwind week to show them the best side of our city.  And although it may not have an internationally recognized opera house, it does have a golf course that’s home to hundreds of kangaroos.  So on their sunny last Saturday down under, what else could we do but journey down the Great Ocean Round and play a round at Anglesea Golf Course?  I played photographer to what I’d like to call golf-a-roo…

Thanks Lisa & Matt for the visit!!

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!

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!

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!)

Ah it’s that time of the year again.  One year ends, another begins, prompting contemplative thinking about what life (or at least the next year) has in store and/or excessive champagne consumption.

2011 was a pretty great year.  You might have noticed that we spent it in Melbourne, Australia.  As if that wasn’t enough, I learned to cook kangaroo, re-learned the piano, made it almost all the way through my reading list (Infinite Jest, in all its 500+ page glory, is still waiting in the wings on my bedside table), attempted to make pasta from scratch, blogged my heart out (and even earned a WP kudos for doing so), and did an awful lot of exploring in this beautiful country.

For 2012, I have a similar laundry list of potential personal achievements, a new reading queue, and some holdovers from 2011’s resolution list to finish off (hot air balloon ride and Tassie devil sighting). But after much contemplation, I have decided 2012 will be the year of Claire, the vicambulist.

So instead of professing my commitment to meet general goals for the year, below is my hiking wish list.  Since Australia is relatively flat, it is hard to characterize many of these as “hikes”, but walks, treks or tramps will suffice…

Some are day walks, others are overnight hikes.  And a full 1/3 of the list is already planned for the month of March when dad & donna visit, which is giving us a jump start to the year.  Let’s just say, I am excited to hit the trails in 2012 (ambulance ride optional).

Therefore, I hereby resolve that in 2012 I will hike…

1) in and around Wilson’s Prom (VIC)

2) a New Zealand glacier (South Island, NZ)

3) the misty eucalyptus forests of the Blue Mountains (NSW)

4) the highest peak in Australia, Mount Kosciuszko (NSW)

5) Snowy River National Park (VIC)

6) at least 2 days of the 9-day Great Ocean Walk (VIC)

7) a portion of the Overland Track, Cradle Mountain (TAS)

8) the Victorian Alps (VIC)

9) the Milford Sound Track (NZ)

10) among waterfalls, rainforests and killer crocodiles in Kakadu National Park (NT)

11) Grampians National Park (VIC); and

12) an international peak with the other members of the fantastic four, location TBD.

In addition to the specifically enumerated walks comes a general commitment to walking where possible in lieu of other forms of transportation.

These boots were made for walking, and in 2012, that’s just what they’ll do!