Thursday, February 13, 2014

1000 Steps - Ferntree Gully (Kokoda Memorial Trail) Feb 2014

"The 1000 Steps" is something of a classic short walk in Melbourne.  It's more formally called the Kokoda Memorial Trail, in reference to a single-file trail in Papua New Guinea, that was used extensively by Australian soldiers during WWII and where many died.

I got there at 8:15am.  Apparently that makes me a late starter, as the large car park was already full and there were many more cars parked lining the neighbouring streets.  I ended up parking about 500m away.

This is just one section of a full car park

With so many cars on hand it came as no surprise that the track was very busy.  It was a bit daunting really as my walking is almost always a solitary affair.  Still, it made for interesting listening.

In the flat section before the steps I passed a couple of middle aged blokes engaged in an in-depth discussion about some sort of property contract negotiations.   A little further on I passed a couple of teenage girls, enjoying an animated chat about the new job one of them has just started.

Once I hit the steps however, the conversations changed somewhat:  Not far from the start, a man was telling his wife to walk on the left.  At about the 50 step mark I overhead another man telling his partner that "there should be a bench just a little further up".  By the 100 step mark, there weren't many conversations at all - just lots of people puffing along, each absorbed in a private battle to get to the top.

Originally the steps were made from tree trunks, then later wooden palings.  These days the steps are mostly concrete, with a metal hand rail to take some of the load of the aching quads.  They are quite steep and walking the 1000 Steps is a serious challenge!  So serious, in fact, that I got so caught up in the climb, I forgot to take any photos!  Which was a shame as the bush around the trail was stunning.  My apologies for this omission, dear reader, but if you must see pics of the steps, have a look at the gazillion photos taken by other visitors.

While the actual Kokoda Trail in PNG runs for 96 kms, the local version is a tad under 1.5km.  Most people who walk the Memorial Trail will be grateful for the shorter distance as the entire walk involves climbing steps.  (Not actually 1000 it seems - more like 770.  But hey - who's counting?!  I wasn't. I was too busy huffing and puffing like everybody else.)   For me this was definitely intended as a hard work-out and I was determined to walk the steps in one hit - which I did, though I did have some extra motivation, in the form of a pretty young thing, who came up behind me. The prospect of being passed by said PYT was just too much to bear for my frail male ego and, with a surge of testosterone I powered ahead, ignoring protests from my lungs, heart and legs.  In the end, I completed the climb in 30 minutes.

The resting area at the top of "the steps"

After a short rest I made my way the short distance to One Tree Hill  Picnic Ground, then continued on to do a 5km loop back to the car park, on wide, well maintained paths, through beautiful, open bush.  It was very pleasant and peaceful.  I met only a few people on this section - a total contrast to the hectic traffic of the steps.

The new Barmah hat.
The 1000 Steps is very popular so it's unlikely you will get to have it to yourself, but it's nice walk all the same, through very pretty bushland...and you get to have a great work-out.

The key facts:

Distance: 7.5 km
Time: 1 hour 45mins.  (Those with moderate fitness should knock this over in about 2 hours. If you're a slow walker, or are likely to be buggered for a while from the steps climb or you are taking younger children, you should allow 2.5-3 hours.
  -  "Daywalks Around Melbourne" Glenn Tempest. Walk #77. Avail. from Open Spaces Publishing;
Navigation: The trail is well maintained and with good signage
Challenge level:  The actual 1000 steps are quite steep and anyone other than an elite athlete will be blowing hard by the time you 'summit'.  Thereafter the walking is easy.
Phone reception: Good reception throughout the trail.
Water: Carry what you need.  It's a short walk.
Start location: Google Maps reference

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