Earn your turns at The Oaks flow trail.

Jump, hop, drop and flow on The Oaks flow trail. Rail the berms and float over rock features at the end of the Woodford to Glenbrook fire trail in the NSW Blue Mountains National Park.

Treat yourself to some fun and frivolity on a well-constructed single track trail after the journey down from Woodford. Take the black line and pop off every jump and drop, or opt for the blue line and just feel the flow. You can even do both. The trip from the end of the flow trail back to the start is only about 2k on a sealed road.

The flow trail runs parallel to the last section of the fire trail in the national park and is a reward for enduring the undulating trek from Woodford, kind of like the fun you add on to the end of a workout. The Oaks Trail is a moderate workout, and the beginning of the MTB trail can be reached from Woodford in about one hour without too much effort – it is essentially downhill, so

‘keep your hands off the brakes and your eyes upon the trail’

You can warm up for the flow trail at certain parts of the fire trail. You could read the following signs as a warning, or an invitation. With enough speed, you can get good air off the humps.

The signs are great for your confidence too, as they tell you you’re going so fast you need to be alerted to the presence of speed humps.

Upon arrival at the first boom gate, you’ll see a short single track off to the right, and while this has no designated features, it is still fun and more interesting than following the fire trail. It’s also a walking trail, so keep your eyes open for hikers.

Cheat

You could cheat. You could get yourself to Glenbrook, then ride or drive to the start of the MTB flow trail, without doing the hard work from Woodford. The start of the flow trail lies a few kilometres from town and it is even possible to drive all the way to the carpark before enjoying the jumps, drops and berms.

That said, the climb out of the gully from the creek crossing back to Glenbrook is quite steep, and almost as arduous as riding from Glenbrook all the way back to Woodford on the fire trail.

Still hungry?

If you’re still hungry for single track and MTB features, cross the highway to Knapsack Reserve and enjoy the trails in this small section of bushland. There’s enough to keep you entertained for a good while, and the downhill track is steep and rocky.

Image: Nick Rickert

Do you wear headphones when you’re in the bush?

‘I’m not going to attack’, I wanted her to know. I mean no harm.

But I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t reassure her until I was so close that she would fear me or question my intentions. The wind was blowing strongly into our faces and the cicadas were in full voice. I wanted to warn her of my presence and ask to pass on the narrow hiking track, but she hadn’t heard the scrunch of my hiking shoes on the loose stones and I feared that if I yelled it would startle her even more.

The she turned.

“OOH!” she yelped in shock and panic. I raised my hands to indicate I meant no harm and that I was just another hiker enjoying the fine weather and the surrounding beauty. I wasn’t a crazy stalker or pervert, despite the fact that I was walking without a pack or a water bottle. I’d walked this trail many times before and was completing my daily work out. I could hydrate at home.

“Oh. you scared me. I didn’t hear you.”

Probably because she was wearing headphones.

I don’t understand why people wear headphones while in the bush. Isn’t the point of hiking or biking to experience the natural world? To engage the five senses and immerse oneself in the sounds of nature. Hearing the wind rush through the trees and the birds sing. Listening to the water babble through the stream or thunder off the waterfall into the pool below. Even the squelch of sodden, muddy hiking shoes reminds you you’re alive.

Why do people deliberately shut this out when they venture into the bush?

How do they do it?

In an Australian summer, when the cicadas are in full voice, the din is so deafening that it must be impossible to hear the music without doing permanent damage to one’s eardrums.

Isn’t it dangerous?

Dangerous animals lurk in the woods. We play in their world. Many of them are silent but others are not. Surely it’s better to hear the animals before they set upon you, before it’s too late. At least give yourself a chance to escape, or to extract the bear spray from your pack.

The silent killers offer no warning. They lurk in hidden corners or sometimes display themselves proudly and fearlessly in full view. Concentrating on what lies ahead could save your life. Concentrating on what lies ahead is more difficult when you’re engrossed in a playlist or a compelling podcast.

What are you missing out on?

With headphones firmly attached you will only notice what exists in your immediate surroundings. What lies off the track? What lies just metres from the trail? You’ll never know if you remain plugged into your headphones. You won’t hear the distinctive grunt of a koala up a tree or have the chance to sit below it and watch it gorge on gum leaves. The next time you see a koala might be at a zoo surrounded by hysterical tourists jostling for that perfect selfie with Australia’s most lovable creature.

You might miss the perfectly camouflaged creatures who inhabit the natural world, or the impossibly colourful Australian parrot varieties.

Maybe some people just can’t disconnect. Venturing into the outdoors is one of the best ways to disconnect from the pervasive technology of the modern world, yet some people take it with them.

Disconnect from technology and connect with nature.

Keep your hands off the brakes…

Keep your hands off the brakes, your eyes upon the trail…let it roll baby roll, let it roll, baby roll…

Feel the flow, face your fears, glide around corners and sail over jumps.

Embrace the risk, raise your heartbeat and feel the endorphins course through your body.

Stay off the brakes and carry the speed from the downhill into the next up hill around the berms and into the jumps then up, up, up into the air.

Fix your eyes on the trail ahead, scan and search for danger and excitement. Feel more alive than you ever have before.

Ride on through the storm as Jim Morrison and The Doors implore. Splash through puddles, plough through dirt, rattle over rocks and slosh through the snow.

Eat dirt, get back up, and eat it again.

Keep your hands off the brakes…

Walking the Other Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon Walk in the Blue Mountains of NSW is certainly less grand than its famous name sake, but the hike is a rewarding walk through beautiful bush land which ends with a stunning view.

The walk snakes its way along the base of the canyon after descending from either of the two starting points near the mountain town of Blackheath.

Beautiful native vegetation, ancient trees, waterfalls and the river are on display throughout the walk, and native wildlife is slowly returning after the destruction of the most recent bush fires. Lush green plants juxtapose with sandstone cliffs. Slim, pale eucalyptus trees are dotted along the trail and the cliff tops and water falls dance in the sunlight.

Walkers can start from Evans Lookout and complete the walk at the Neates Glen car park, or walk in the opposite direction. Starting at Neates Glen car park rewards hikers with the stunning vista from Evans Lookout at the end of the hike – a great spot for a drink and a well-earned snack.

Whichever direction hikers take, they will start the hike with a staired descent and finish with a hike up some stairs. The steep stairs which bookend the hike explain the advisory on the official NPWS website which recommends 3 – 4 hours to complete the journey. Hikers with a reasonable level of fitness can finish the walk in about 1 hour at a steady pace, even after stopping to take photos and admire the scenery.

Photographers are rewarded on this trail and its worth taking a snack and stopping at the bottom of the trail in one of the rest areas to enjoy the scenery and the wildlife, as well as the peace and quiet on a weekday.

Early in the morning or late afternoon are the best times to enjoy the Grand Canyon. Early mornings in winter can be very cold, but can treat the hiker to mountain mist or sharp, blue skies. Mornings and late afternoons are also the best times to watch the sun bounce off the stunning yellow sandstone cliffs for which the Blue Mountains are famous.

At present, the hike is restricted to the Grand Canyon walk. The cliff top walk from Evans Lookout to Govett’s Leap Lookout is unfortunately closed due to bush fires, as are the longer and more challenging hikes which branch off the main track. Most long hikes in the region will apparently be closed for the rest of 2020.

The Grand Canyon walk is reachable by train. From Blackheath station it is about a one hour walk to the trail head, either walking back along the highway and turning left at the big brown sign to Evans Lookout, or by walking though suburban streets to Braeside fire trail, then towards the starting point.

The Daily Double: Surf and Ski in one day.

Where in the world is it possible to surf and ski/snowboard in the same day?

I almost did it once, in Australia, but I can’t genuinely lay claim to having experienced this rare privilege of outdoor sports. I enjoyed a bodysurf somewhere on the far south coast of NSW, Australia, then drove with friends to the snowy mountains and hiked for a few hours that afternoon through patches of summer snow.

I know it doesn’t count but it made me curious and very keen to experience the real thing – a surf in the morning and a ski in the afternoon, or vice versa, as long as you see foam and powder before the sun sets. That said, with so many ski resorts offering night skiing under lights, you could ski in far away lands, or take your time in the waves before heading to the slopes.

California, USA

Southern California is home to great surfing beaches and snow-capped mountains. So blessed are the locals in this part of the world that surfing and skiing on the same day is known as the California Double or the Twofer.

One combo is Huntington Beach and Mountain High, which are about 90 minutes apart. Another popular double is Lower Trestles (San Clemente) to Bear Mountain. They are both enticing options on their own, and are just two hours apart – enough time to grab some tasty Mexican food on your way to the powder. You could also opt for Santa Monica to Mount Baldy, or Ocean Beach to Boreal Mountain Resort.

While you’re in Cali, you might be lucky enough to meet The Governator, or be discovered by a director and appear in a Hollywood blockbuster. The question is, are you cool enough to visit SoCal?

New Zealand

New Zealand is another nation blessed with a long coastline near steep mountains.

If you can handle wild and woolly weather and big swells, check out Raglan and Piha on the north island, as well as Boulders Bay, before driving for about an hour to Mt. Taranaki and the Manganui Ski Area. The South Island Twofer is doable at Taylor’s Mistake, a beach break near Christchurch, and Mt Hutt, just two hours away. At Mt Hutt, get ready to get vertical.

Chile

The thin mountainous nation of Chile offers quality waves and snow from June to October. When the temperature drops in the Southern Hemisphere, the Andes catch snow and the coast catches a swell.

Head to Valparaiso for a surf then up to Valle Nevado. The three-hour drive rewards you with waves and ski slopes. An extra hour in the car lets you ski at Nevado and surf at one of Chile’s most famous breaks, Pichilemu. For off-piste skiing and heli-skiing, try Nevado or La Parva, El Colorado and Farellones.

If you pack your passport, you could surf in Chile and ski in Argentina. Ski resorts such as Bariloche, Las Lenas and La Hoya share the same mountain range as the Chilean resorts. They are located near airports, so you could fly to the slopes from Santiago after a morning surf and a 1-2 hr bus ride from the coast.

For a real challenge, and a story to dine out on, ski at Cerro Castor, right at the southern tip of Argentina, and find some waves at the end of the world. You might need a dry suit and a rescue party on standby, because you’re almost surfing in Antarctica. Has this been done?

France

France is famous for elite skiers and wonderful ski resorts, and every surfer knows the name Biarritz. Fortunately, the surf beaches and the mountains are not too far apart.

When snow blankets the Alps and Pyrenees, the big swells arrive at breaks like Belharra. If you don’t want to stare death in the face at Belharra, or get lost in the crowds at Biarritz, pop over to the Basque Country to beaches such as Anglet, Hossegor or Guethary.

Australia

In theory, it’s possible.

Go for an early at a beach on the far south coast of NSW, or even into Victoria, then across to the snowy mountains which straddle the border between NSW and Victoria, for a late afternoon ski. It would be a very long day, and one destination where night skiing is an advantage.

Algeria

Algeria is an off-the-beaten track destination for both skiing and surfing, and an even more surprising destination for people looking to do both. It is possible. Surf break Decaplage is less than two hours drive from the ski resort of Chrea. This could be the best magical mystery tour of any of the destinations listed in this article – why not give it a go?

Morocco

Still in North Africa, Morocco has both surf and snow. Between January and late March consistent swell hits the North Atlantic along Morocco’s beach breaks and reef breaks, throwing up all kinds of waves.

Distance is the killer in the Moroccan daily double. The ski resort at Oukaimeden is a four-hour drive from the nearest beach at Essaouira, and about 5 hours from the most famous surf spot in Morocco, Taghazout. But, if you like long drives through the countryside, you can surf and ski in the same day in Morocco.

South Africa

At the other end of the continent, South Africa offers a daily double. Get in the green room at breaks such as Dunes, Crans, The Hoek and Pebbles near Cape Town, then travel for about 2 hours to the small ski resort of Matroosberg. On the Eastern Cape, be prepared for more driving, because the ski resort of Tiffindell is 6hrs from the coast. If you’re going to travel that far, why not cross a border and visit Afriski Mountain Resort in Lesotho, which is just a little bit further. It’s a tiny resort but it might be worth the passport stamp, and you could say that you completed the Twofer in a landlocked nation.

If your wish is to surf and see snow on the same day, you could do it in Taiwan. Taiwan catches snow in Taroko Gorge, Hehuanshan, Yushan and Xueshan, and most of these mountains are reachable by road and /or hiking. At some of them, you can sit in a hot spring instead of skiing. Is this also possible in Japan, Norway, Sweden or Iceland?

If you’re lucky enough to experience this double, it’s up to you where to go. It’s also up to you whether you ski or snowboard, or whether you ride a surf board, a body board or a SUP. You could don some skins and ski the back country if time permits, or spend hours showing off at the park with your selfie stick.

I don’t really think you qualify for a Twofer if you ride a goat boat through the waves before sliding down the snow on a toboggan. Personally, I also think it doesn’t count if you surf at a man-made wave pool, even if Kelly personally invites you, or ski at an indoor man-made slope.

To get back to the roots of surfing, grab some fins and enjoy body surfing – pure surfing.

If anyone has achieved this double, or knows of another place in the world where it is possible to surf and ski on the same day, let us know. Maybe one day in the future we will all be able to travel again and fill our days with surf and snow.

Images: Anton Repponen, Alex Lange

Cycling the Narrow Neck Trail.

Narrow Neck Trail is a scenic and challenging cycling trail in the Blue Mountains National Park near Katoomba which offers off-road cyclists a solid workout with some spectacular views.

The trail itself is a shared hiking and cycling fire trail which snakes its way along the Narrow Neck ridge for about 10 kilometres in either direction, and finishes at a lookout point which promises views of the national park, farm land to the west and even to Sydney on a clear day.

Cyclists weave their way in and out of bush land and exposed sections with beautiful views, and share the bush with birds and other native animals, which are slowly returning after the severe 2019/2020 bush fires which ripped through the Blue Mountains.

Evidence of the fires follows riders along the trails and the charred remains of trees contrast starkly with the bright blue sky and the striking green shoots of new growth.

Narrow Neck presents a solid workout. Short sharp climbs are scattered throughout the trail, and flat sections are interspersed with long, slow climbs. The halfway point features a few very steep climbs whose ‘whoa boys’, (water drainage humps), add an extra challenge to an ascent. They’re guaranteed to burn the legs – but they’re great fun on the way down.

Furthermore, Narrow Neck trail lies at about 1000 metres altitude. On some of the tougher climbs you can definitely feel the difference in the lungs.

Winter can be cold in the mountains – very cold. Its not uncommon to start the ride with the temperature hovering around 0, and the exposed sections get very chilly on a windy day. Don’t be surprised if you ride through patches of ice early in the morning.

An advantage of riding the trail in winter is the chance to see the valley covered in mist and to ride through clouds.

The trail head sits about 2 kilometres along the access road, which begins in the suburbs of Katoomba. It’s possible to drive right to the trail head, and the advantage of driving is that it cuts out a steep hill just before the trail head – a hill so steep it has been concreted to avoid erosion. This steep and nasty hill is quite a warm up.

For those who are not afraid of a little climbing, it’s possible to reach the trail from Katoomba town centre and from the train station. It lies a few kilometres from the station and can be easily found. Just head to Cliff Drive then keep an eye out for the sign to Narrow Neck trail and the dirt road.

A cycling trail also exists between Katoomba and Leura, and Katoomba and Blackheath and is a mixture of dirt, bitumen and suburban streets. At Blackheath, riders are rewarded with some genuine single trail.

Cycling to and from the trail also forces riders to climb back out to Katoomba, along the dirt access road. After a hilly 20km ride at 1000m, you’ll feel like a sprinter in a Tour de France mountain stage – just tap out a tempo.

Most cyclists tackle the trail on a mountain bike, but it would be achievable with a gravel bike and some decent bike handling skills.

Most importantly, the trail lies close enough to Katoomba for cyclists to finish their ride with a coffee.

How to clean your hiking shoes

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Hiking shoes get dirty, very dirty.

They slosh through mud and trudge through dirt. They scrape and scratch and scorch in the sun. They sink into snow and slide down slopes, collecting dirt, mud, stones and blood.

 

But cleanliness is the last thing on your mind when you’re hiking. You’re too busy admiring the view or anticipating the next climb. You’re distracted by the sound of rushing water over cliffs and watching the sunlight tickle the drops of water as they fall from above.

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You’re charging through puddles once into the hike, because your shoes and socks are already soaked after you braved the mini waterfall charging down the stairs. You were too busy trying to stay upright to worry about cleanliness or staying dry.

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The state of your shoes matters little while you count the scars on your shins as you bash through yet more bush, and remind yourself that a sprained ankle halfway through the hike would make the climb out even harder. Onwards you hike, over tree roots and rocks and boulders until something captures your attention – the sound of gushing water, and soon the roar of rushing water, such that this hike has never produced before. Onwards you hike, drawn to the sound of the thundering water and thankful for the grip on your hiking shoes as you cling to the slippery rocks further into the canyon. Then you see it; the origin of the roar, and what a sight.

Your mind is never on your shoes as you catch a glimpse, yes just a glimpse, of that beautiful bird before it flies away coquettishly. I’ll capture it for posterity next time. That’s what you said last time.

You push on up the steep and slippery stairs, sodden but satisfied and hoping that you packed the chocolate as well as the scroggin.

The encroaching clouds cause you to ponder whether you’ll make it home before the rain arrives, and whether the Scots would be bothered by a ‘wee spot of rain’ on the moors.

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As you turn for home, your’e forced to confront the condition of your squelching shoes.

There are various methods for cleaning your shoes. You can scrape them, soak them and scrub them. It’s always a good idea to remove the laces, for a thorough clean. Hold them up and squeeze the water from them – it’s amazing how much dirt they collect.

The trusty old toothbrush comes in handy when cleaning off all manner of debris, especially from the sole. The toothbrush helps to dislodge tiny stones and decidedly less savoury items. Be sure to return the dirty toothbrush to the laundry and not the bathroom – that would be highly unsavoury.

A scrunched up ball of newspaper inserted into the soggy shoes helps soak up the dampness, before you subject your footwear to yet another beating.

But in the end, what’s the best way to clean hiking shoes?

Kiama Coastal Walk

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Spectacular scenery, sweeping views, sumptuous sunsets and the great Australian tradition of sun, sand and surf await hikers on the Kiama Coastal Walk, on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia.

The stunning hike meanders through beautiful bays and beaches and offers the moderately fit hiker a perfect escape from city life, as well as a fantastic opportunity for contemplation, nature appreciation, wildlife viewing and photography.

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Hikers can walk from north to south or south to north along a selection of different, connecting trails on a relatively easy, undulating path. There are some uphill sections, but the path is not too strenuous and the stunning scenery will encourage breaks for rests and photographs.

Furthermore, hikers can reward themselves with a refreshing dip in the ocean, or an exciting bodysurf, at one of the many stunning beaches which dot the route and are rarely crowded.

Hikers can choose from various routes.

Minnamurra to Gerringong – about 20km in total.

If you’re feeling fit, try the long hike. Start early in the morning to avoid the heat. Feel the sun on your back as you wander through Jones Beach, Cathedral Rocks, Bombo Beach and the suburbs of Kiama, where you can stop for a coffee or a snack. Continue towards the lighthouse and Kiama’s famous Blowhole.

If you have time, take a detour to the Boneyard and Spring Creek Wetlands or linger at Bombo headland for some great photo opportunities.

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Kiama Blowhole to Gerringong – about 11km

The next section of the walk takes you through the suburbs and beaches of the town of Kiama, where you can cool off with a refreshing dip in the ocean. Keep in mind, a dip in the ocean here will be VERY fresh in winter – at least you’ll know you’re alive.

Kiama Heights to Gerringong – 6km

Quaint and friendly Easts Beach marks the end of suburbia and the beginning of the most beautiful section of the hike. Beachside houses make way for rolling green hills and rugged cliff faces which overlook the rocky bays of the coast and provide the perfect vantage point to watch whales as they migrate to breeding grounds between May and October. It’s amazing how close they swim to shore.

Stop to explore many of the bays and hidden caves, as well as the small patch of rainforest which serves as a reminder of the vegetation which covered the area before it was cleared for agriculture.

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This section of the hike must be savoured. Enjoy it at your own pace before you descend to Werri Lagoon and the final beach of the hike, Werri Beach. You may have to remove your shoes to wade across the mouth of Werri Lagoon, but you can leave them off and feel the sand between your toes as you stroll to the southern end of the beach. Reward yourself with a swim before climbing the headland for more amazing views and a short stroll into the town of Gerringong, where eateries await.

Reflect on a beautiful experience before hopping on the train from Gerringong for the short trip back to Kiama.

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Transport: Trains run from Central Station, in Sydney, to Kiama. Kiama is the last stop on this line. To start the long walk from Minnamurra, get off the train at Minnamaurra (north of Kiama) and follow the signs to the Coastal Walk (start early in the morning).

To start at Kiama, get off the train at Kiama, walk down the street to the small harbour and turn right- you have started.

Trains also run between Gerringong and Kiama, but not very often. Check the timetable at http://www.transportnsw.info for the timetable.

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Have you tried Fred’s Man Boobs?

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I have; both of them.

What were they like?

They both had their own feel, their own personality as such, and the sensation was very distinct, but I must say I enjoyed the experience.

One was distinctly harder than the other, it’s curves tighter and sharper, it’s surface coarse and less soft to the touch.  A number of its more salient protrusions sent my hands and head cascading giddily.  The propensity of its tiny bumps would normally deter me, but are something one must tolerate in the pursuit of pleasure.

The other, despite its proximity, was far smoother and provoked an entirely different response. Its soft, flowing contours guided my hands and the rest of my body around its entirety and at times caused a feeling of weightlessness – as if I were floating on air.

That said, both set my heart racing, sped up my pulse and left me with a dry mouth. They both left me weak at the knees and slightly out of breath.

Fred and Man Boobs are both mountain bike trails in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada. The trails lie fairly close to each other and can be ridden consecutively after climbing on this famous trail network.

Man Boobs is a fun, flowy trail with a decent gradient, berms and small jumps which encourage the rider to let go of the breaks and enjoy the chance to get some air.

Fred, on the other hand, is a more technical trail with small rocks and tree roots and is also known for a few short climbs which lead to some reasonably steep and short rock rolls which set the heart racing.

I almost fell on Man Boobs. Not from an errant rock or obtrusive tree root, but from surprise. As I rounded a corner and looked ahead to negotiate the trail, I glimpsed its eponymous artwork. Halfway up a tree, a manikin with a garish wig and lacy bra strapped around the chest caused such a distraction that it nearly threw me off my bike. Luckily I stayed on and managed to negotiate and enjoy the rest of the trail and make it to Fred, where the trail became flatter but also more tight and technical.

The two trails were as distinctive as their names and it made me wonder, how do mountain bike trails get their names?

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Essentially, mountain bike trails are named by their builder. You build it, you name it.

The names of mountain bike trails, therefore, tell us something about mountain bikers.

Trails attract names like Toads of the Short Forest, Handsaw and Gretel, Butthead, A Reptile Dysfunction, Sleeps 3, which provide some insight into the mindset of the average mountain biker.

Many trial names carry a back story, but the average rider knows nothing of that story as they set off on trails like Misty Mushroom, Curse of the Were-rabbit, The Ducks Guts and Wine Shanty, while riders descending Dirty Little Secrets must surely have their curiosity piqued.

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Some trail names are informative, and carry words like loop, creek, hill or link. Some examples, like those in Adelaide, South Australia, include Uprising, a climbing trail connecting riders to a downhill trail, or Blue Luge, an intermediate trail whose lower half boasts long sweeping turns which hug the banks of the small creek and are enormous fun to ride. One of the world’s most famous trails is Top of the World in Whistler, Canada. No prizes for guessing that this massive trail starts on the top of a mountain and descends to the Whistler resort area.

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Mountain bikers have a peculiar sense of humour.

The trails of south Nowra, in NSW, Australia, are managed by the local organisation called South Coast United Mountainbikers – proud to be known as SCUM. Another trail in the Nowra region is called How Roo’d, and if you’re lucky, you might spot a kangaroo on these trails. Meanwhile, close to Man Boobs and Fred, riders can start on Tinder and finish with Your Mum – how rude indeed.

Mountain bikers are mad.

Many trails suggest impending doom. Names like Certain Death, Widow Maker, Verge of Ruin, Rock and Roll Suicide, Treachery and Tombstone, reflect the inherent danger of this extreme sport.

Ultimately, mountain bike trail names reveal their fun-loving irreverence of the average mountain biker, and while I don’t know why a couple of Squamish locals called a trail Fred, I do know that a fellow local has a serious obsession with man boobs.

Images: Simon Blake

 

 

The value of peace and quiet.

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Peace and quiet is hard to find in the modern world and the search for tranquility and an escape from the noisemakers is what drives many people into the outdoors.

Unfortunately, it is not prized by all who step into the outdoors, including the crowds tackling the walking trails in Morialta Conservation Park on the fringes of Adelaide, South Australia, one fine summer’s day. So many of the locals and tourists were yelling, talking loudly, wearing headphones or, in one instance, carrying a stereo in a backpack and blasting out some funky electro-pop. There was so much noise on the main trails that it was hard to hear any bird life or any sounds of nature.

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The noise and the crowds drove me off the main trails and onto some of the more arduous paths – and it was there that I claimed my reward. Free from aural bombardment, I heard a gravelly, guttural noise emanating from the right of the trail. At first I felt shocked and threatened, all too aware of the number of dangerous feral species which inhabit the Australian bush. I stopped, looked right and saw nothing. There it was again – the same guttural call. Still I saw nothing as my eyes scanned the dry bush. Should I stay, should I run – what is that noise? I scanned upwards, into the tops of the gum trees, and I found the origin of the call – a cute, cuddly koala.

I stepped off the trail a mere ten metres and there I was able to sit under the tree and watch the koala go about its business for at least 30 minutes. It wasn’t particularly exciting. Koalas are some of the most docile animals in the world and spend most of their days eating and sleeping – like many Australians during the summer holidays. There is also an urban myth that the amount of eucalyptus leaves that koalas consume plunges them into a drunken stupor most of the time – again, like many Australians during the summer holidays.

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I enjoyed my time with the koala. When I finished the hike and walked back to the car, I saw groups of people reaching excitedly for their phones to snap a selfie with the koalas in the trees near the car park. Many were overjoyed at seeing a koala in the ‘wild’, but had they embraced the peace and quiet of the outdoors, they could have observed a koala in solitude without jostling for the best photo position or stepping out into the path of a car.

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Don’t go chasing waterfalls..

Don’t hike to waterfalls during an Aussie summer – you’ll be disappointed. The waterfall hike in Morialta Conservation Park is a rewarding hike in itself as it offers walkers the chance to immerse themselves in the rugged Australian bush just 10km from the Adelaide CBD, but the reward for the physical strain is meagre during the dry Adelaide summer. At each of the three waterfalls, there were steep rock faces, there was water, and it was falling, but it was a mere trickle and had no right to call itself a waterfall.

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Despite the dryness and the heat, the walks in Morialta park are impressive for a recreation area that it so close to the centre of the city. Many of the lookout points boast views back to the city and to the ocean and there are enough trails to suit many ability levels.

Late winter and early spring would seem to be an ideal time to visit this park, when the temperature is more conducive to hiking and the winter rains have filled the waterfalls. A mid-week visit would make it easier to avoid the crowds and to witness waterfalls and koalas in peace.