health

Cathy's Five Favourite Runs Around Melbourne

I never, ever, ever thought that I would enjoy running. I was the type of sprinter that thought the 200m was a cruel joke, and the thought that people might deliberately just run for fun or fitness seemed ludicrous to me. To my mind, distance running was an actual form of torture.

That is until a friend conned me into doing a fun-run with them and I realised it was actually possible to run and enjoy it. To other non-runners, this probably sounds like a lie, or the result of brainwashing. I swear to you it is possible. I might have hated them for dragging me along, but I was falling in love with the trail.

Since then, I’ve found out that because I can cover more ground while running, it’s the perfect way to see more of my surroundings when I have limited time. Moreover, because I can call it exercise, I don’t have to try and jam more fitness activities into my week, when what I really want to do is be out in nature.

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

When I run, I can be completely absorbed in my environs. I don’t have to carry gear; I don’t have to have a plan. I can just run, and when I see something I want to look at, I can stop. I never let the thought of a PB record stop me from checking out some cool fungi or a bird I’ve spotted, or talking to someone else’s dog. When I get home, the good vibes that come from being in nature plus the endorphins produced by my body equal a grin that doesn’t leave my face or my mind for several hours.

There are plenty of great places to run in Melbourne and Victoria. Here are five of my favourites.

The Mornington Peninsula Coastal Walk (Cape Schanck to Portsea Surf Beach)

I don’t know why it took me so long to start running here, because I’ve been walking here since I was a little kid. This track is 30km long, so regardless of where you start, you are pretty unlikely to run out of trail. The sandy path traces along the edges of impressive craggy cliffs, wends its way in and out of gorgeous coastal scrub and past incredible, secluded beaches. I like to get out here before the sun rises in the winter, and marvel at the softness of the colours in cliff, sand, sea and sky. This run is an absolute feast for the eyes, but since almost stepping on a little jacky dragon asleep on the path, I’ve learnt to keep one eye on the trail ahead. Because much of this track is soft sand, it can be a bit punishing sometimes, but if you wear your bathers and bring some water, there are plenty of amazing beaches to rest at along the way.

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Conservation Hill to Rhyll Inlet

This run starts at the Conservation Hill car park between Cowes and Rhyll on Phillip Island. From Conservation Hill to Rhyll itself is a 7km run, but I usually turn around on all my runs about 3km in. My favourite thing about this trail is the constantly changing scenery. The trail starts with wallabies in the paddock, heads through bracken heath and a paperbark forest, over a stunning saltmarsh and along a mangrove boardwalk. After checking out the mangroves, I usually run up the hill to the cliff tops, from whence the trail runs between farmland and coastal woodland, and overlooks the incredible Rhyll Inlet. This is a lovely morning or evening run, with plenty of bush birds to listen to and lovely sunsets over the inlet. You can also join this trail from the opposite direction in Rhyll, or close to the middle of the track at the McIlwraith Road lookout. The beach and mudflats of Rhyll Inlet are very popular with our migratory waders, so it’s worth chucking a pair of binoculars in the car.

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

The Merri Creek Trail

I don’t think people realise how lucky we are to have trails like those of the Merri Creek, Main Yarra, Capital City, Maribyrnong and Gardiners Creek. The Merri Creek Trail is where I learned to run again after years off post-injury. I loved finding new rapids, new bridges, and massive new trees as I pushed myself further along the trail. I used to love running down to where the Merri Creek joined the Yarra River. Called a confluence, the joining of these two different coloured rivers can be quite spectacular. Just after this is Dights Falls, which have some interesting history and is a good spot to see adorable little red-browed finches.

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Main Yarra Trail

The Main Yarra Trail between Victoria Street and Studley Park Road is another favourite urban run. With yellow-tailed black cockatoos, massive old eucalypts, and plenty of little scrub birds, it is easy to forget how close you are to the centre of Melbourne. I love this area, because apart from the main trail there are tonnes of tiny, one-person-wide trails that loop down to the Yarra and back up again through beautiful bushland. You always have a view down to the Yarra, and the steep hills and trees keep the sound of the road traffic out. The added bonus with the Yarra Trail is that if you run far enough (in the right direction) you can get a well-deserved breaky on Southbank, and then just hop on the train or tram home. Winning!

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Surf Beach, Phillip Island

There is seriously nothing like a good beach run. If you’re lucky enough to be standing alone on an empty beach, looking at the sand stretching forever before and behind you, relish that moment. For me, that beach run is at Surf Beach, Phillip Island. It was almost always empty when I ran, morning or evening, and the pounding of the surf, the colours in the cliffs, and the patterns in the sky were all mine. A simple landscape like this always mesmerises me. A short run in the Cape Woolamai direction will take you to Forrest’s Caves, which are worth checking out at low tide.

NB: If you are in it for the fitness, the stairs at the Surf Beach carpark are a great way to test yourself.

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Running beautiful and interesting trails makes it so much easier to forget that you might be tired or have sore legs. Give one of these trails a try and see if you get hooked too. Even if you have to stop and walk home, you at least had the chance to enjoy some beautiful natural surroundings.


Cathy Cavallo

Cathy is a PhD student and science communicator with a passion for natural history, environmental engagement and photography. When she isn't running the Wild Melbourne social media, you'll find her working with little penguins on Phillip Island or underwater somewhere.

You can find her on Twitter at @CavalloDelMare


Banner image courtesy of Cathy Cavallo.

Nursing a Green Thumb: The Restorative Powers of People and Plants

There’s nothing more Australian than having to shake your gumboots upside down in case a redback spider (Latrodectus hasseltii) has decided to call them home. You’re never 100% sure (really, who wants to stick a bare hand down to find out?) but after a good few slaps of the undersole and a couple of vigorous shakes, I was at least 95% confident and slipped my foot in. Fully kitted up – gloves, boots and all – I was ready and welcomed into the Friends of Warrandyte State Park (FOWSP) fold as we headed down to plant eucalypts along the banks of the Yarra.

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    Revegetation in action along the Yarra River.  Image: Leonardo Guida

Revegetation in action along the Yarra River. Image: Leonardo Guida

FOWSP is one of Victoria’s largest and most active Friends groups, with approximately 294 volunteer families operating out of a not-for-profit nursery since 1982. Located at Pound Bend, the nursery is beautifully nestled amongst gumtrees and wattles, and is gently enveloped by the flow of the Yarra. The nursery isn’t one in the conventional sense, at least not in the way I’ve thought of them since I was a kid. Whenever I visited a nursery with my green-thumbed father, it was English box hedges this and roses that. There was never a native lily (Bulbine bulbosa) in sight! Instead, at FOWSP you’ll discover a plethora of indigenous species in all their flowering glory (plenty of bulbine lilies, I might add!) owing to the nursery’s mission of cultivating and conserving indigenous plants of Warrandyte State Park and the Warrandyte-Kinglake Conservation Reserve.

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    Writing plant ID tags for seedlings.        Image: Leonardo Guida

Writing plant ID tags for seedlings. Image: Leonardo Guida

The success of the FOWSP is undoubtedly due to the passion and dedication of its volunteers, some of which have been lending a helping hand for the better part of 20 years! Quite literally, come hail or shine, volunteers make their ritual journey to the nursery every Thursday. This is truly impressive, especially when you consider that some volunteers are in excess of 80 years young! When I asked what drew them here week after week and for so many years, the answer was both astonishingly simple yet profound: ‘It makes us feel good.’ Whether one was writing plant tags, weeding, cleaning or pruning, there was always time for chit-chat, playful banter, a passing smile or a welcoming wave from across the field. There was no pressure to stay or leave and everyone’s enthusiasm was infectious. It was the social aspect, the sense of family that made people ‘feel good’.

The mental and physical health benefits of gardening are well-known, ranging from improved cardiac function, warding off Alzheimer’s and improving self-esteem. Although levels of physical activity varied across the FOWSP volunteers, many thoroughly enjoyed the light mental stimulation of learning new horticultural techniques and the identification of indigenous plant species. One volunteer quite eloquently stated that ‘…unlike roses, indigenous plants teach you about the subtle beauty of plants and the landscape, they’re not as obvious as roses are.’ She went on to explain that it was because of this ‘awareness of subtlety’ that on one particular day walking through the State Park, she suddenly experienced ‘…sheer joy’.

A particular story that stuck out for me was that of a young woman in her late 30s who was very active all her life until she was suddenly struck down by a hip injury. Needing a hip replacement, she was not able to move for a considerable period of time and in the early stages of recovery, was house-bound – for her, essentially a prison sentence. But, just as any flower can break through stone, FOWSP extended a helping hand and soon she had broken free from her ‘prison’ and blossomed as the nursery became part of her mental and physical rehabilitation.

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    The subtle beauty of the indigenous flora of Melbourne.     Image: Leonardo Guida

The subtle beauty of the indigenous flora of Melbourne. Image: Leonardo Guida

It soon became apparent to me that, in the most beautiful sense of irony, the nursery was in fact nursing people and not just plants. The enthusiastic and energised atmosphere coupled with the therapeutic act of gardening was providing feelings of wellbeing that lingered well into the week, permeating each person’s daily life.

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   Marvelling that the swamp gum ( Eucalyptuis ovata ) sapling would one day grow into the towering giant in the background.   Image: Leonardo Guida

Marvelling that the swamp gum (Eucalyptuis ovata) sapling would one day grow into the towering giant in the background. Image: Leonardo Guida

FOWSP’s collective efforts, knowledge and experience have seen them develop many fruitful relationships, particularly with Parks Victoria. The combined use of resources, expertise and labour allows conservation efforts to extend well beyond the nursery’s gates and its immediate surrounds. In conjunction with Parks Victoria, FOWSP plays an important role in cultivating Victorian rare or threatened (VROT) plant species. Their success includes the re-discovery of locally extinct, indigenous plants like the leek lily (Bulbine semibarbata) and perhaps more poignantly, the revegetation of the Kinglake and St Andrews areas lost to the Black Saturday bushfires.

The morning was drawing to a close and we had just about planted the last of the saplings along the river’s banks. I stopped for just a moment. Drawing in a soft, deep breath of the cold, fresh air, I slowly and attentively worked the dark clay soil between my fingers and within my palms. Instinctively, I focused on how it felt – cold and moist, granulated yet smooth. I looked up slowly at the towering gums filtering the sun’s rays and then back at my hands where I cradled the sapling. I felt connected to the land in both time and space. An entire history was about to be written by people and animals who would enjoy the tree’s shade long after I would be gone.


Leonardo Guida

Following a childhood love for sharks, Leo recently completed his PhD at Monash University investigating the effects of fishing on shark and ray populations. He is Director of Community Operations for Wild Melbourne.

You can find him on Twitter at @ElasmoBro.