walks

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.

At Land's End: The Beauty of Point Nepean

This is a guest post by Tessa Koumoundouros. 

A strong wind filled my senses as I stepped out of the car opposite the Quarantine Centre at Point Nepean National Park. It whipped at my friend, Alex, and I as we walked along and rustled through the knotted wall of tea trees and shrubs that bordered both sides of the road. Above us, the wind cut through the power lines, making a low eerie whistle, which seemed to suit the dark, brooding sky.

Point Nepean National Park is 90 km from Melbourne, but at only a few minutes' drive from Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula, it is a popular tourist destination. The walk from the Quarantine Centre, a historic medical facility that played a role during the worldwide Spanish Flu pandemic, to the end of the point is a 3.8 km round trip, and while the road is well-maintained, there are a few hills along the way. A year ago, when I was battling a back injury, those hills would have caused me some difficulty. But a shuttle bus runs from the car park at Quarantine Station to Fort Nepean at the end of the Peninsula twice an hour from 10:30am to 3:30pm, making this an ideal walk for families with young children, or friends and relatives who may tire easily.

Image: Tessa Koumoundouros

Image: Tessa Koumoundouros


I remember wondering what the point of this hilly road walk was when I was first here as a teenager during a sweltering summer’s day, until we reached the area where the trees and bushes were stunted - managing only to reach hip height at best in the exposed coastal conditions. Here, the land narrowed to reveal panoramic views of the white-capped ocean waves of Bass Strait to the right, and serene bay waters to the left.

Sometimes dolphins visit the bayside coves; I had seen their fin tips trailing through the water near the untouched beaches. And at dusk we’d seen grazing wallabies in grassy clearings. Everyone who spoke of this walk always mentioned seeing echidnas, but they seemed to have eluded me on every visit so far. I wondered if the wild weather now would mean there would be less wildlife to see.

Image: Tessa Koumoundouros

Image: Tessa Koumoundouros

This was the first time I’d been to Point Nepean while so many plants were in bloom. The white flowers of the tea trees filled the air with a rich, honey scent, so thick even the persistent wind couldn't fully disperse it. Delicate, deep purple pea flowers bobbed on their scattered green shoots, hugging the ground beneath the tea and melaleuca trees. The air around the plants was alive with activity, with bee-mimicking hoverflies loitering in bunches and butterflies performing spiral dances around each other, unperturbed by the moving air. Honeyeaters and small, cryptic birds darted in and out of the foliage.

Along the way we passed several walking tracks that branched off to the tops of hills and lookout points along the coast, including the memorial to Australia's former Prime Minister Harold Holt, who disappeared one morning along this coastline. We also passed foreboding warning signs about unexploded ordnance off the paths, a reminder of dark times when forceful defence of Port Phillip Bay was deemed necessary. Now it seemed as if this military history helped protect the wild things that live here by enhancing the park's draw to tourists, but keeping us from straying from the pathways. The old fort and associated buildings with their cold concrete walls and low ceilinged tunnels were unsettlingly claustrophobic compared to the wild, open spaces of their location.

Tourists passed us, in pairs or noisy groups, as we stopped to examine the insects along the road.  As we approached the narrowest part of the point, a young girl shouted gleefully as she raced into the wind, her arms out like an aeroplane.  But when she left with the rest of her family trailing after her, we were alone at the end of the Peninsula; the final bus for the day had gone and the overcast sky grew darker.

We rested on a wooden bench, below the old concrete fort, at the edge of the land, watching the wave-surfing gannets fly in from the ocean to join the terns resting on the exposed rocky shelf of Nepean Reef, in the mouth of the bay. After my experience with injury last year, it was a relief to be able to access such wild views again. The bay looked wilder than the ocean today, with the north wind tossing up the waves. There, across the water, we could see Queenscliff, the lighthouse at Point Lonsdale, and the jagged Australian coastline extending southwest, hazy behind distant rain.

Image: Tessa Koumoundouros

Image: Tessa Koumoundouros

Soon after we turned back, Alex abruptly stopped and pointed towards the low scraggly shrubs near where the land dropped towards the ocean.  There, snuffling along the base of the shrubs in the sandy soil, was an echidna! As we stood and watched its distinctive shape waddle in and out of view, a bird plummeted past at a staggering speed. We watched the diminutive raptor, a nankeen kestrel, hover; a shrinking speck climbing into the sky, as we made our way back towards the Quarantine Centre, reaching the carpark just in time for the rain to tumble down.


Tessa Koumoundouros is a science writer and illustrator with a passion for nature. As a Zoology and Science Communication graduate, she is fascinated by the interactions between science, art and society. You can find her on Twitter at @tesskou.

Banner image courtesy of Tessa Koumoundouros.

Maribyrnong, Lifeblood of the West

This is a guest post by Sarah Thomson. 

The Maribyrnong River, to most Melburnians, may be best known as the place to go looking for missing bodies, or parts thereof. But although I do admit squirming just a little seeing people fishing in the river the day after the arm was found, to local residents these stories are merely a quirky sidenote. There’s far more to the river than the odd floating morsel of human flesh. To those acquainted with it, the Maribyrnong is a vital, essential piece of the suburban landscape, both geographically and culturally. Despite the apartment buildings that now punctuate its shores, the surrounding parklands remain both a life-giving and life-sustaining haven of wilderness wedged amidst the clean-cut squares of the suburbs. This is primarily thanks to ongoing efforts of preservation and revegetation of the river.

I have lived next to the Maribyrnong for around three years now, and it’s played an indispensable role in my daily life. I’ve cycled down the bike path to three different jobs; I watched a family of ducklings grow from fluffy waddling balls into adulthood over the course of several months’ commute; I discovered a species of parrot new to me when I thought I knew them all. Ducks and moorhens raise their chicks within the safety of the fenced Newells Paddock wetlands (though the ducks seem to believe they have right of way on the bike and walking paths). A little further down, flocks of red-rumped parrots inhabit the trees of Pipemakers Park and take their chances between the driving range and the off-lead dog park across the bridge.

Image: Sarah Thomson

Image: Sarah Thomson

Screeching lorikeets also line the path beside the golf course and I’ve seen this area provide temporary residence for roaming galahs, sulphur-crested and black cockatoos, and the odd eastern rosella, as well as the herons that crouch above the water line and even a few black swans. In parts, you can hear the loud chorus of frogs and (though I’ve never seen one - and not complaining!) signs warn of the presence of snakes. It’s an ecosystem that is teeming with life, and each one of these native species that finds a home by or in the river is an argument for the importance of maintaining healthy green spaces like this as habitat for animal and plant life.

There’s another reason, however, that places like this are so necessary to our urban environments. The river provides a habitat for humans, too. On any given weekend (weather providing), the paths and parks surrounding the river abound with human life. Running, fishing, golfing, cycling, team sports on the ovals, kayaking, dog-walking, picnics, sitting in quiet contemplation by the water: these are some of the myriad activities in which people engage, but they all achieve a common aim. The open green space that winds alongside the water provides an opportunity for people to enjoy the outdoors, be active and engage with nature without having to travel great distances. Without places like this close at hand, the barriers of distance to these activities that form such an important part of a healthy physical, mental and social lifestyle become increasingly obvious. If we had to get in a car and drive up to an hour to find a space like this, the reality is that most of us wouldn’t find the time or energy, and we’d all be vastly poorer for it.

Image: Sarah Thomson

Image: Sarah Thomson

I now walk my dog in the off-lead park every day and it’s become an essential activity for the wellbeing of canine and human alike. When working from home on projects of an endless and soul-destroying nature, I started to feel emotionally synced with my dog, both of us waiting sullenly for that time of the afternoon when we could escape the confines of the house-prison. It is remarkable how stress and frustration melt away at the sight of wrestling pups splashing through the mud as owners try in vain to steer them off-course.

I met a woman who told me she fell into a deep depression after losing her job. She lived in the council flats nearby and decided, despite unstable living conditions and financial hardship, to get a dog to help herself out. She now walks 10,000 steps a day around the river with him and makes idle chat with strangers like me (as our dogs ran in circles for an hour attached to opposite ends of a palm frond).

Image: Sarah Thomson

Image: Sarah Thomson

Another man told me, as our paths and dogs intersected, that he lived in Caroline Springs. I joked that I guessed he didn’t come all this way just for the dog park, but it turned out he had. ‘It’s a good park,’ he shrugged. He used to play footy there, and kept coming back.

When I first moved into my house a five-minute walk from the river, I felt the location was a compromise, being so far from a train. I realise now that there’s no way I’d swap my proximity to this urban oasis for a slightly more convenient commute.


Banner image courtesy of Sarah Thomson

The Bulldogs aren’t the only good thing in the West

When I think of Melbourne’s western suburbs, excellent wildlife-watching is not the first thing that springs to mind. This side of the city’s long, industrial history has taken a heavy toll on natural areas. Yet it would be incorrect to blithely write western Melbourne off as a wildlife wasteland. Parklands in this area are gradually receiving the recognition they deserve. Open spaces such as Cherry Lake and the Jawbone Marine Reserve are popular places to visit. However, many of these natural areas are not so natural after all, and careful scrutiny unveils a history of human use. 

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  Looking at Newport Lakes Park today, it's hard to conceive of its industrial heritage.  Image: Rowan Mott

Looking at Newport Lakes Park today, it's hard to conceive of its industrial heritage. Image: Rowan Mott

In the suburb of Newport there was formerly a bluestone quarry. However, when this closed down in 1968 the large quarry pit left a mark on the landscape. The pit was subsequently used as a rubbish tip for seven years before an astonishing transformation began. Rather than letting this site languish as an eyesore, the site was restored as a wetland and bushland park. And this restoration has been a spectacular success as evidenced by the diverse and abundant wildlife that now call Newport Lakes Park home. The two large lakes at the heart of the reserve are a relic of the quarry pit and are now used by many waterfowl. Similarly, the dry sclerophyll vegetation on the slopes above the central lakes also supports many species. It isn’t only the number and diversity of animals that inhabit this pocket of vegetation that suggest how important this site has become; many species breed here. It is very common to see Eurasian coots paddling around the water margins with a small party of chicks following closely behind, while juvenile welcome swallows wheel around above the water as they master the skills of their aerial lifestyle.

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  Eurasian coots breed at Newport Lakes Park and the tiny young can be seen following their parents around while waiting for morsels of food to be fed to them.  Image: Rowan Mott

Eurasian coots breed at Newport Lakes Park and the tiny young can be seen following their parents around while waiting for morsels of food to be fed to them. Image: Rowan Mott

These are common species in many parts of Melbourne, but species that are difficult to see in the city can also be found at Newport Lakes Park. The Park was the first place where I ever laid eyes on a spotless crake. These shy reed bed inhabitants are difficult to see at the best of times and when they do offer a sighting it is usually fleeting. You can imagine my surprise to find one just a couple of metres from the edge of the track, out in the open for an extended period of time. Similarly, common blue-tongues can be found among the leaf litter or sunning themselves during the warmer months, spiny-cheeked honeyeaters feed among the shrub layer, and koalas sometimes laze in the branches of eucalypts.

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  Common blue-tongues blend in well with the leaf litter, but, if you’re lucky, you might spot one sunning itself in the open.  Image: Rowan Mott

Common blue-tongues blend in well with the leaf litter, but, if you’re lucky, you might spot one sunning itself in the open. Image: Rowan Mott

Another way to gauge the condition of a habitat is by the health of predator populations it supports. There are signs at each entrance to Newport Lakes warning visitors that snakes are present. This is not simply a case of the council covering their backs: tiger snakes can indeed be found in the park, surely surviving on a diet of frogs and other small vertebrates. In the air, brown goshawks terrorise honeyeaters that feast on nectar. High above the reserve, peregrine falcons can sometimes be seen tearing through the sky, hoping to catch a bird off-guard.

So why is the wildlife-watching so good here? The high quality habitat that has been established is the reason so many individuals of a diverse range of species live here, but another factor contributing to the viewing spectacle is how used to people the animals in this park are. Many people jog around the well-made pathways and children squeal gleefully as they enjoy the stepping stone causeway separating the two main lakes. Yet, grey teal, Pacific black ducks, and purple swamphens seem largely unperturbed by the commotion, and I’ve watched joggers pass mere metres from tiger snakes, oblivious to the presence of these supremely camouflaged predators (that are similarly nonplussed by the joggers).

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  A jogger ran straight past this richly coloured tiger  s nake and neither paid the other the slightest bit of interest. Top predators such as this are a good sign of a healthy ecosystem.  Image: Rowan Mott

A jogger ran straight past this richly coloured tiger snake and neither paid the other the slightest bit of interest. Top predators such as this are a good sign of a healthy ecosystem. Image: Rowan Mott

There are few examples of restoration done as well as this in close proximity to the city. Families will love the close encounters with the waterfowl on the lakes, and if the thought of snakes is a deterrent to you, why not get down for a look while the weather is still cold and the snakes are less active? To further allay any fears, I go to Newport Lakes Park quite regularly and snakes are by no means a common sighting, even when the weather is warmer – just make sure to pay attention to your surroundings and wear appropriate clothing if walking or hiking through snake habitat.

So if you’re anything like me, why not rejoice in sharing the environment with these reminders of how far this site has come since its industrial past?


Rowan Mott

Rowan is a PhD student studying seabird ecology. When he's not thinking about the ocean he likes to think about woodland birds. 

You can find him on Twitter at @roamingmoth

 

 

 


Banner image courtesy of Rowan Mott: The yellow marking the gape (corner of the bill) of this welcome swallow indicates that it is a young bird. Welcome swallows breed at Newport Lakes Park and young birds like this can often be seen flying over the water.