Explore Ballarat’s Great Outdoors

Words by Della Vreeland
Images Supplied

Ballarat’s cool-climate might make for some chilly winter days, but it also works to create some profoundly rich natural surroundings.

Many a time when friends and family visit my neck of the (literal) woods, they can’t help but comment on the lushness of the land, the green that surrounds and the serenity that abounds – regardless of the season.

And while my hometown is best known for its heritage, its burgeoning food scene, and of course its gold-rush history, there’s no doubt the great outdoors play a part in the creation of its marvel.

So if you’re thinking of hitting up Ballarat and harnessing your inner-adventurer, take a look at the itinerary below and start planning your special outdoor adventure.

The Flats, Mooroopna

On February 4th 1939, Jack Patten led a mass walk-off of about 170 people from Cummeragunja reserve near Barmah. Conditions on the reserve were oppressive and unliveable. Successive government actions isolated and degraded the way of life for the mostly Yorta Yorta people who lived at the reserve. In what was the first-ever mass strike of Indigenous Australians, the people of the reserve settled on the other side of the river on the flats near Mooroopna.

Today, walking through the flats with the aid of good interpretive signage and aided by an attitude of stillness, absorbing the story of the people who moved out of oppression to make their home on these river flats is a visceral experience. Listening to the stories, understanding the ancient stories, and knowing the darker more recent past.

There are organised walks that run on an ad-hoc basis, which you can find out more about from River Connect. Uncle Reuben tells the story of his mother and grandmother, how the women would leave town to be here on the river flats to give birth hidden in the safety of tree hollows because babies were taken at that time under the White Australia Policy. He also tells the stories of the people who made simple but free lives here.

“How do we learn more, gain more understanding, Uncle?”

“Spend more time on country. Take it in. Listen to the stories. Pass them on.”

It’s a simple message, and it’s the responsibility of every Australian. It’s also a really simple thing to do. Get out of the car, and take a quiet walk on country. In places like The Flats and Gawa Reserve, the signs really help. But the message is the same. Spend some time on country and spark a little understanding.

Melbourne Design Week is coming to East Gippsland with ‘Waterfront’

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If you’ve ever been interested in design or in our state’s waterways, Melbourne Design Week have got the perfect program for you.

Australia’s largest international design event, Melbourne Design Week is back with an exciting regional addition to the roster: the Waterfront program, hosted in both the state’s capital and East Gippsland.

Presented by Centre for Architecture Victoria | Open House Melbourne, Waterfront runs as a complementary program to Melbourne Design Week from March 26 – April 5. The large scale event explores Melbourne and Victoria’s water sources and how we engage with them through design.

Through a series of guided and self-guided tours, talks, workshops and exhibitions around the Lakes District in East Gippsland, participants will be educated about and engaging with the region’s waterways and the important role design plays in their overall health – with a particular emphasis on Care, Community and Climate.

Supported by the School for unTourists, the new program will take a deep dive into the post-fishing communities of Lakes Entrance and Lake Tyers specifically, and provides invaluable insight into the future of the environment and the people who live there.

Events include a series of walks, tours, talks, kayaks and boat trips, and even a water-inspired dinner event honouring all things seaweed. Each one is led by either Traditional Owners, local community members, designers, artists and marine experts, giving participants a wide range of perspectives that should not be missed.

A full program of scheduled events can be found on Melbourne Design Week’s website. We recommend the (free!) Metung Hot Springs pop-up bathing and site tour on April 4th. You’d be crazy to miss it.

THE DETAILS
WHAT: Waterfront, Melbourne Design Week
WHERE: East Gippsland
WHEN: March 26 – April 5, 2021
MORE INFO: Melbourne Design Week

The iconic Great Southern Rail Trail is being extended

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Australia’s most southern mainland rail line, the Great Southern Rail Trail is about to get a little longer.

If there was one trail to rule them all, we’d probably pick the Great Southern. Down in Prom Country, just a 90-minute drive from Melbourne, it traverses through Gippsland’s most picturesque towns (Leongatha, Stony Creek, Buffalo, to name a few), showcasing some stunning natural scenery along the way.

And now, thanks to the Andrews Labour Government’s $1.3 million funding, works have begun to extend the trail by 36 kilometres, meaning there will be even more natural beauty to behold, more cardio to complete and more trail mix to eat along the way.

Popular among walkers, cyclists and horse riders, the trail will be extended from 72 kilometres to 108 kilometres in length, connecting Nyora with Welshpool with a shared gravel track and eight bridges.

Construction is expected to be finished by February 2023, and once completed will start at Nyora and pass through Loch, Bena, Korumburra, Kardella and Leongatha. It will then join an existing rail trail that runs through the towns of Koonwarra, Meeniyan, Fish Creek, Foster, Toora, Welshpool and finishes at the freshly minted Long Jetty at Port Welshpool.

The project is partly funded by the Regional Infrastructure Fund, alongside the Local Sports Infrastructure Fund and is estimated to create seven full-time jobs for the region, as well as attract an addition $4 million in tourism each year. Great news for a region hit hard by COVID-19.

If the lush rainforests, crystal blue waters and green pastures of the rail trail weren’t calling you before, then they certainly will when there’s even more to discover.

THE DETAILS

WHAT: Great Southern Rail Trail is being extended
WHEN: February 2023
MORE INFO: Great Southern Rail Trail

Falls to Hotham hike gets eco-glamping upgrade

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The popular Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing hike has had a summer upgrade with an unforgettable tree-top experience.

Alpine Nature Experience has organised an all-inclusive hike from Falls Creek to Mount Hotham that lets you enjoy the popular picturesque hike, but maximises comfort at the same time.

The night before you head off on your hike, you’ll be treated to a night in luxury accommodation – and the luxe treatment continues from here. The next morning, not only will you be transported to the starting point of the hike, there’s also no need to carry your pack or a tent; all your belongings will be transported between sites for you, so you’ll just need to carry a light day pack.

When you arrive at Blair’s Hut Campground for the night, not only is the campsite set up, but dinner will also be ready for you. But this is no ordinary campsite; Alpine Nature Experience will hoist your tent off the ground and between the trees, offering a truly unique camping experience. For dinner, locally-sourced meals will be provided, and other locally-sourced snacks will also be on offer throughout the hike.

The next morning, your belongings will be transported back for you, and you can enjoy a post-hike night back in your luxurious accommodation.

The all-inclusive two-day hike can be self-guided or you also have the option of booking an experienced guide to help you along the way. You can also add return transport to and from Melbourne if you’d like.

To ensure you can fully enjoy the experience, numbers are strictly restricted to just 10 people at a time, and dates are also limited.


THE DETAILS

WHAT: Falls To Hotham Crossing – All inclusive Curated Hike
WHERE: Falls to Hotham Crossing
WHEN: Selected dates only from January to March.
FIND OUT MORE: alpinenatureexperience.com.au/summer-bookings

Rejoice! Mount Buller Riding and Walking Trails have Reopened

Images via Mt. Buller

Summer is just around the corner and that can only mean one thing in the Alpine region: it’s time to pack away those skis and bring out the hiking boots or mountain bike ’cause Mount Buller’s stunning mountain trails are progressively reopening.

The mountain crew have been dutifully cleaning and clearing away any leftovers from winter on the vast trail network for what is expected to be a huge summer, meaning adventurers will have ample pristine nature to explore.

Serious mountain bike riders will be relieved to hear the world-class cross-country and gravity trails at Mount Buller will all be accessible from November 3rd, while the full network will reopen by December 5th. From the legendary 40km Australian Alpine Epic trail to the beginner “Billy Buttons” track in the Mount Buller village, all trails all fair game – and best of all, still free to use.

If a quiet amble through the alpine trees is more your thing, don’t worry, Buller’s got something for you too. You could try the Summit Nature Walk, winding your way through a glade of snow gums to a rather Kodak-worthy view. Or perhaps a tranquil walk following the Delatite River up through lush mountain ash forests.

Trails at Mount Stirling are also reopening to the public, so walkers can experience views of the regions without interruption. If that isn’t the perfect lockdown antidote, we don’t know what is.

THE DETAILS
WHAT: Mount Buller Trail Reopening
WHERE: Mount Buller and Mount Stirling
WHEN: November 3 – December 5
MORE INFO: Mount Buller Summer Activities

Kinglake National Park

The 2019/20 bushfire season has been horrific for vast areas of Australia. But if you want a close-to-home reminder of how the bush recovers after a catastrophic fire season, you’ll find the well-managed Kinglake National Park an uplifting experience. The bush here was devastated by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. It’s now ten years in to its regeneration cycle, and you can see it going through a transition stage, with dense undergrowth now dying back and falling to the ground under the taller re-grown large tree species. The die-back forms floor compost that retains water and provides composted nutrients for the further growth of the larger trees. This mid-stage regeneration is fascinating. It’s a great reminder of the natural order of regeneration, and despite the magnitude of our summer just gone, also a visual pointer of hope to the mighty come-back we hope to see.

Mason’s Falls is just one of many parks and picnic facilities in the National Park. It has some terrific walking tracks, including wheel-chair accessible ones. There are tracks that are a decent run for the training-minded visitor. The walk to the falls is relatively easy, and well worth it for the view up the gorge to the actual falls. There are several walking loops that take in longer routes, for those who like a challenge. Most importantly, the BBQ facilities are excellent.

Five Favourite Forest Walks

Words by Richard Cornish
Images supplied

There is something about the primal beauty of mature trees that feeds our body, our brain and our soul. The sun filtering through the canopy, the cloak-like protection from the weather outside, the fragrance from the living leaves, and the earthy aroma from those dead and decaying into the soil. Walking in nature is hard-wired within us. 

The fresh air cleans our lungs, the vistas ease our eyes and the act of walking itself promotes an overall feeling of wellbeing. There is also the Japanese concept that people are embracing called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. This refers to the therapeutic effect the aromatic compounds emitted by the trees are said to have on peoples’ wellbeing.

Whether you’re into forest bathing or not, here are some of our favourite places to reinvigorate your body and soul, with a stroll in Victoria’s native forests.

1. Mountain Giants, Dandenong Ranges
#onehourout

Here, the mountain ash trees tower above the cool clear waters of Sassafras Creek, their smooth creamy bark shining like columns. The mute-coloured forest erupts with red and blue and swooping and squawking, as a family of Crimson Rosellas fly noisily in shallow arcs. There’s a brilliant flash of sapphire as a little Superb Wren dances about to impress his mate. Somewhere, under the ferns on the hill above, comes the noise of a wagtail, kookaburra, currawong and cockatoo, and then there’s a lyrebird showing off his repertoire of near-perfect impersonations.

Walk quietly along the Sassafras to Monbulk trail and there’s a good chance you’ll experience all this. It’s 12km one way, starting at the Sassafras Hall, and perfect for a half day walk.

If you don’t have time for the entire walk, try a section of it. We would recommend the 4km walk from Sassafras Hal to the 1950s Kalista Tearooms (103 Monbulk Rd) – this is one of many walks in the forest of the Dandenong Ranges, which can range from short to strenuous.

When the weather is wet the well-made tracks at the RJ Hamer Arboretum offer forest bathing amongst dark and mysterious exotic conifer plantations.

After a walk through the forest giants, try pastries and light meals at the highly recommended Prosperina Bakery and Café (361 Mount Dandenong Tourist Rd, Sassafras). For a bowl of warming soup or great dish of roast pork and cabbage try Seasons Restaurant at Cloudehill (89 Olinda-Monbulk Rd, Olinda). The best reference for forest walks in the Dandenong Ranges is https://explorethedandenongs.com.au/ 

2. Seaside Forest, Bells Beach
#oneandahalfhoursout

There is a certain tough beauty about the west coast bush. The prevailing winds bring salt-laden breezes from the surf-pounded coast, stunting the banksias and colourful correas, and twisting the trees – sending many on a leeward tilt. Under the canopy of the ironbark trees there is a sense of stillness; their bark is such a deep red that it is almost black.

After rain, the almost invisible moss swells and grows deep green, cloaking these hardy trees with another layer of life. Late winter and spring see the wattle burst into their tiny pom poms of yellow, and below them are the small but intricately beautiful terrestrial orchids.

This is the forested part of the Iron Bark Basin walk, an 8km hike from Bells Beach to Point Addis. Much of the forest is regrowth, the ancient ironbark removed for firewood to feed the jarosite mine – a mineral compound that was mined and used to colour the paint on Victoria’s famous red rattlers trains in the 1920s.
This walk weaves through the forest, around groves of grass trees and opens out onto clifftop lookouts, offering breathtaking views of Bass Strait and the ochre-colored cliffs of Point Addis.

In summer, bring your towel and bathers as Point Addis beach is popular with families. Make a day of it and book ahead at Captain Moonlite, some of the best modern Greek food in the nation served up in the Anglesea Surf Life Saving Club (100 Great Ocean Road, Anglesea). For more information, head to https://www.surfcoastwalk.com.au/.

3. The Rainforest,  Great Otway National Park
#threehoursout

Soon, parts of the forest at Melba Gully will take on autumnal hues of deep red and vermillion. These are the juvenile leaves of the myrtle beech – an ancient forest tree that covered the earth from Papua New Guinea to Antarctica millions of years ago.

Under them are unfurling fronds of tree ferns and a thick mat of deep forest litter. Along the 1.2km Madsen’s Track Nature Trail in the Great Otway National Park you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back millions of years, when Australia was part of the mega continent Gondwanaland.

Many of the species that were around back then still inhabit this damp, dark forest. The raised walkway takes you deep into this forest, interlaced with babbling brooks and the sound of waterfalls in the distance. At night, the forest comes alight with thousands of glow worms dotting the undergrowth and sheltered nooks like natural fairy lights.

If you’re travelling to Otway Ranges National Park through Apollo Bay, order a serve of fish and chips at the Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-op (2 Breakwater Rd, Apollo Bay). For really good paddock-to-plate dining with a view over the bay, book into La Bimba Restaurant (125 Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay).

This is one of the many walks in the Great Otway National Park, which can be accessed via the Great Ocean Road. Some of the tracks have been closed for winter and early spring for repairs. Visit https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/ before you leave for track and camping information.

4. Ancient River Red Gums, Barmah
#threehoursout

With a massive girth and twisted limbs ending in stumpy hollows, the old river red gum is old. Very old. It was most likely a sapling when Shakespeare was writing his sonnets. But then the river red gum forests are ancient; they have been there since the Dreamtime. Ask the Yorta Yorta indigenous people – this is their home.

A vast forest of silver barked eucalypts whose wood is the deep, red-colour like the flesh of people. You get a sense that they are more than alive when you walk amongst them. The big trees hold – in their limbs and inside the nooks and crannies of their trunk – birds, possums, insects, spiders and lichens.

On a warm spring day, the sounds of buzzing bees and flying beetles, all feeding on the nectar in the tree’s flowers, fill the forest with a low-pitched hum.

Some of the best walks can be found at Barmah, about 30 minutes north-west of Echuca. Start at the Dharnya Cultural Centre, where you’ll learn how to identify the numerous canoe and scar trees in the forest as well as how to look for a clay oven – mounds of baked earth where the Yorta Yorta people would have cooked their meals of fish, turtle, mussels and freshwater crayfish.

From here start a series of walks ranging from short to several hours. For coffee nearby try The Forest Door (3 Maloney St, Barmah) or for some more substantial pub grub try the American Hotel in Echuca (239 Hare St, Echuca).

5. Errinundra Plateau, Errinundra National Park
#sixhoursout

Mist and fog are not uncommon up on the Errinundra Plateau. Moist air rolls in from the coast and gathers around this ancient forest, some 1000m above sea level. Here, ancient mountain plum pines grow amongst giant granite tors – both covered in moss and lichen and creating a world so beautiful yet foreign that it could have been devised by the mind of Tolkein. This is a land of towering old-growth shining gum trees (some 80m tall), of plunging ravines and soft, silent trees fern groves.

There are a series of walks cut into this wild forest that allow you to travel back in time to the Gondwanaland rainforests and later, when the people of the Kurnai Nation walked the ridgelines throughout the seasons.

This is remote and rugged country, accessible only by mountain tracks shared by massive logging trucks. The roads can be impassable after rain. Make sure you bring water, food and protective clothing.

There’s excellent coffee and fresh bakery items at Wild Rye Bakery at Cann River (14a Princes Hwy, Cann River). There is a range of eateries in Orbost, but book in for a sunset dinner of really decent pub grub at The Marlo Hotel, on the banks of the mouth of the Snowy River. (19 Argyle Parade, Marlo)

Choose your own adventure: Exploring the You Yangs & Moorabool Valley

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They say life is all about balance, a bit of yin with your yang, so to speak. We all know that getting outside to blow away the cobwebs is not only good for the body, but it’s also good for the soul. We’ve rounded up a host of activities in the Moorabool Valley to get you out and about (while we can) and sweetened it with some treats for afterwards.

Walking MelbourneYou Yangs Regional Park

You’ve definitely seen them from across the bay, or perhaps from the city’s outskirts, those hills on the horizon. The You Yangs (Wurdi Youang) are a group of 24km long granite outcrops an hour southwest of Melbourne near the town of Little River. Time to pay them a visit!

Topping out at 319m is the park’s highest point, Flinders Peak. Those who make the 3.2km one-hour return walk will be well-rewarded with stunning views across the volcanic plains back towards Melbourne or south to Geelong.

From the eastern lookout, the eagle-eyed will also spy the geoglyph of Bunjil, creator spirit of the Wadawurrung people, traditional custodians of the region. Artist Andrew Rogers utilised 1500 tonnes of granite and limestone rock to form the wedge-tail eagle geoglyph, in recognition of the Wadawurrung people’s connection to the land.

Iconic Australian painter Fred Williams was known to spend much time painting en plein air in the region. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to create your own masterpiece?

Bike Riding MelbourneIf you’re the type who likes to get the blood really pumping, you might like to bring your mountain bike and hit some of the 50km of purpose-built trails across two dedicated zones. Maybe horse riding, orienteering, rock-climbing, abseiling or bushwalking is more your speed? If so, there are dozens of trails from the family-friendly through to the more challenging to choose from.

If that all sounds a little exhausting, you could always try your hand at some birdwatching or perhaps a gentle stroll to one of the nine designated picnic areas.

The You Yangs Regional Park is open every day from 7am and closing at 5pm (6pm from Daylight Savings). Access to the park from Princess Freeway is signposted via Lara. Facilities include picnic areas (barbecues, tables and toilets available) as well as drinking water available from the Visitors Centre.

Serendip Sanctuary Wildlife Park

Melbourne wildlife
© Barbara Dawn

Only 10 minutes further south is the Serendip Sanctuary. Soak in the serenity or explore some of the 250ha of wetlands and grassy woodlands. Experience your own close encounter with some native wildlife on one of the popular and wheelchair-accessible nature trails. Spot a mob of emus, Eastern Grey kangaroos or even a Tawny Frogmouth from one of the many bird hides.

With an emphasis on education, the sanctuary offers a Junior Rangers Program for families during school holidays as well as downloadable DIY activity sheets. Discover how some of Victoria’s most threatened species are being protected at the sanctuary’s education facility, old school and screen-free.

Serendip Sanctuary is open every day except Christmas Day & Good Friday from 8am until 4pm. Facilities include picnic areas, barbecues, tables, toilets and drinking water.

Brisbane Ranges National Park

National Parks MelbourneDrive half an hour west and you’ve arrived at Brisbane Ranges National Park and Steiglitz Historic Park. Ten points if you time your visit for spring’s magnificent wildflower displays including the rarely seen Velvet Daisy-bush and Brisbane Ranges Grevillea.

But first let’s start the adrenaline racing with some rock-climbing, abseiling, horse riding, kayaking/rafting or bushwalking (trails range from a couple of hours to several days). Camping areas with tank water and pit toilets available, bookings required. Picnic areas include wood barbecues, tables and toilets.

As with any visit to the great outdoors, best to check forecasted weather as well as location conditions. Visit Parks Victoria for more information.

Reckon you’ve earned a reward or two?

Farmers Market MelbourneFortunately, an area so rich in outdoor activities is also blessed with a cornucopia of food and drink choices.

Golden Plains Farmers Market is held the first Saturday of every month and is the ideal place to begin. If you miss that, no matter; the region is well placed with a slew of farm gates and providores.

Moorabool Valley Chocolate Pick up some handmade truffles made with the freshest ingredients from this family-owned small business.

Meredith Dairy The Cameron family have been responsibly and sustainably farming sheep and goats since the early 1990s, creating one of Australia’s most iconic farmhouse cheeses which are now exported to the world.

Inverleigh Bakehouse An old-school country bakery is a thing of beauty and this converted 1868 homestead doesn’t disappoint with artisan breads as well as tempting pastries and cakes.

Clyde ParkBread cheese and chocolate – tick! Now you need something to drink. Thankfully this cool climate wine region offers boutique wineries, renowned cellar doors and winery restaurants both large and small, so you’re sure to find one to suit.

Clyde Park Vineyard and Bistro Step into the cellar door and secure a spot by the fire before tasting through their award-winning wines whilst taking in sweeping views over the Moorabool Valley. This family-friendly bistro is open daily offering everything from a quick nibble through to a three-course meal.

Del Rios Wines Enjoy a long, lazy lunch centred around their estate-grown produce (including Black Angus beef) complemented by an extensive wine portfolio.

No doubt this has whet your appetite to explore the region. You’ll only wonder what took you so long.

We wish to acknowledge the Wadawurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.