Monday, 25 May 2009

Dandenong Ranges: The Hills are Alive!

I'm standing in a clearing about three-quarters the way up a steep slope in the Dandenong Ranges National Park east of Melbourne, and I've just startled a wallaby.

As I was crunching my way along a ridge, trying to see a way around the fallen trees that were blocking the marked track, the brown furry creature bounced rapidly away from my position, heading downhill.

About 50 metres behind me is Narrelle, taking a break after realising she's wearing quite the wrong shoes for a track this steep and leaf-strewn.

There's just a tinge of Macbeth about our situation - in that returning downhill is as tedious as to go o'er - so we really need to find a way up the last bit of the slope to the roadway we know is nearby. But at least we saw some crimson rosellas on the way up. Very pretty.

I'm over-dramatising, of course - we're not really in any trouble. We know the road and a golf course is just up there on top of the ridge, we could still reverse our steps back down the hill to the RJ Hamer Forest Arboretum, and it's the middle of the day so there's little chance of the sun setting before we get out.

I probably even have mobile phone reception. And it is very beautiful in this expanse of native forest, surrounded by gum trees, mountain ash trees and tree ferns.

And this always happens to me when I visit the Dandenong Ranges. Keen to bushwalk, I consult a simple map that includes tracks but not topographical info, and inevitably find out that part of the walk is much harder than expected. But I've always come back alive.

On this occasion I go back to fetch Narrelle, and we walk along to a point where the undergrowth is minimal. Then we start up the remaining slope - and are immediately surprised to see a woman in a pink shirt strolling along what must be an intersecting track above.

Fairly soon we're walking along the edge of the golf course, back to the sealed road. I can tell we're in civilisation, because there's a man in a cap trying to rescue his golf ball from the long grass on the fenceline between wilderness and manicured greens.

Walking along the road back to the town of Olinda, we're slightly startled by the contrast. A few minutes before we were picking our way up a poorly marked track on a slope in the middle of nature; now we're walking past cars and modern signage, and soon stepping into the golf course's cafe for a rehydrating drink.

On the basis that you're allowed to eat whatever you want after vigorous exercise, we'll soon be purchasing a couple of meat pies for lunch for Olinda's excellent (and much-touristed) Pie in the Sky pie shop.

Which is part of what I like about the Dandenong Ranges National Park. Rather than being an area of total wilderness, it's actually a long, attenuated nature zone wrapped around an core of small towns and B&B accommodation.

Which means you can go for a vigorous walk through dense native forest, then arrive at a place well-supplied with tea and scones. Try doing that in the Wolfe Creek Crater National Park...

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Tourism Victoria.