Doing time at Narmbool – no bad thing!

On Sunday, I finally caught up on some of the voluntary time I’m supposed to be giving to Sovereign Hill. It’s many months now since I’ve managed to get in to the main site in costume to do my usual voluntary stint. Just too many competing priorities unfortunately…

sml DSC00419Sovereign Hill also owns a 2,000-hectare property south of Ballarat called Narmbool, which was first settled in 1839 and  donated to the organisation in 2000 so that it could be developed as an educational resource.

Consisting of an historic homestead, beautiful garden, restaurant, lodge and environmental education centre – plus approximately 12,000 adult sheep on a sustainably run farm – its a fascinating addition to the Sovereign Hill portfolio.

Sunday was the first gardens open day they’ve had for some time, and I put up my hand to volunteer as a guide as I’ve been curious to see it ever since I joined up. It was well worth the hour long journey each way to get there! Such a stunning garden and property.

I’m not going to ramble on too much further, and will let the pictures speak for themselves.

sml IMG_3833Except I had to show you the spot I chose to spend most of my day hanging out in, to talk to visitors as they walked around the gardens, near the relatively newly developed lake area. (there are many weddings at the property, you’ll see why below!)

It so happens it was one of the warmer spots in the whole garden, as I discovered when I returned up the hill to the main homestead at lunch time. It was only half way through the day that I spotted a Geraldton Wax in the border very near to my chosen spot (left of photo) – coincidence or sub-conscious?

sml DSC00433And these are the new additions to the garden – they were running a competition to name them during the open day.

I just thought they were gorgeous – longingly looking and tracking towards that very tasty garden! By the end of the day they were named Herbert, Hector and Hugh – three early pastoralists of the property. Close second choice was Ess, Car and Go (but deemed too hard to explain to visiting school kids!)

Enjoy…

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Celebrating one year

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Today I’m celebrating one year of living in central Victoria. 🙂 it helps that it’s also super sunny and bright, and Melbourne Cup day, so a very good excuse to open a bottle of bubbly!

It’s very novel for me (coming from WA) to have a holiday just because of a horse race. But very welcome!

So… one year ago today I arrived at Creswick’s Calambeen Lake Caravan Park, which was to become home for two months while I looked for work in or near Ballarat.

(I admit, I’m deliberately ignoring the the previous night I spent in a hideously miserable caravan park in Ballarat that shall remain nameless – couldn’t get away quick enough!)

On arrival at the park in Creswick around lunch time, I was welcomed in, invited to join the cup sweep and to join a group of regulars and the parks managers to watch the race. What a great intro to Victorian life! The park is now my second home in this state.

Today? I enjoyed some bubbles, caught up on housework neglected over the weekend while I was in the big smoke indulging my newfound love of cricket (Sheffield Shield – and Vic Bushranger’s Cameron White is simply awesome by the way!) and listened to my favourite local ABC radio – Lindy Burns and Coodabeens in the same day – bliss!

Life is pretty good. 🙂

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Four weeks to go; mixed messages…

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After a disastrous two-week downfall of my training schedule preparing for my first half marathon, Run From the Hills which is fast approaching (16 Nov) I decided the best remedy would be registering for a 10km run through similar terrain to shock me back into action! Hello Brackenbury Classic.

So this morning, after a restless night and not as much sleep as I’d have liked, I left the house early to return to my first “home town” in Central Victoria – Creswick.

I just had to wear my new favourite running shirt – I love the simple message! anything that helps. 🙂

It was a disappointingly small turnout for the event, I’d have thought; a field of only thirty or so, spread across three distances – 5km, 10km and half-marathon. All three races started and ran together for the first 2.4km at least, so that created a bit more atmosphere than there might have been otherwise.

After doing a ridiculous amount of warm up exercise in an effort to avoid my usual calf pain, I hung out at the back of the field for the start, proudly holding that position for quite some way into the start I must say, before eventually passing one person. But that was it for the whole race, no major overtaking moves for me in this game!

My friend Andrew, who came along for the 5km only as he was feeling a bit out of shape (why can’t I be that sensible?) very patiently plodded alongside my pedestrian pace from the start until we parted ways – him to his attractively-nearby turning point before his return; me to continue another 2.6km before I could turn and head back to the finish line. And then the hills really started! What fun.

And the verdict in the end? Well actually not too disastrous, considering my disappointing week since I registered for the run.

Four days ago I couldn’t even manage a 3.5km run up my nearest favourite hilly training ground – ended up limping most of the way with a mysterious pain in my left foot just below the ankle bone that wouldn’t go away. And worryingly, that pain kept me company most of the rest of that day too.

After a couple of days rest, it seemed all better again though, and having reached the half-way drinks stop today my only concerns were overheating (28 maximum today) and having walked up large uphill stretches, particularly the last very long steep one of that first 5km, cos I was too woossy to run them.

How red is that face?! But still happy.

How red is that face?! But still happy.

 

Then, three quarters of the way through my joyful, skipping, tumbling jog back down that hill after I had tipped most of a bottle of water over my head, I heard it…

Faintly at first, then it grew louder and stronger – “hey, hello, you up there! I’m your left foot, remember me, and how I wasn’t happy on Wednesday? Well, I’m still here… – and what do you think you’re doing?!”

Bugger. Thought I was going to get away with that.

Only at about the 6km mark at that point, the remainder of the run was therefore unfortunately mostly walking (especially downhill, which hurt more than uphill) and a bit of jogging. And then I thought, what the hell I might as well stop and take some photos.

The run took us past St Georges Lake, which I remembered from a couple of walks I’d done when I’d been living in Creswick. This picturesque lake, surround by steeply wooded hills, happily reminds me of The Lake District, where I’d spent five very distracting months working in a pub during my first year in England in the 90s. Just stunning.

The whole run was pretty picturesque to be honest – it’s so gorgeous to run through the dappled shade of a cool forest on dirt tracks, rather than on a hot bitumen road. For me, it’s the only way to run.

I’m looking forward to Run From the Hills, where most of the run is on a walking track rather than a vehicle track – even more special I’m sure. Though according to one of the other runners Andrew was talking with while he waited for me to return (which must have seemed like hours!) today’s hills are nothing compared to what I’ll be facing in four weeks. Hmmmm…

Anyway, I’m just overjoyed that my calves don’t hurt. That’s phenomenal! The first time I ran 10km a few years ago, which was mostly on the flat, I couldn’t walk properly for a week afterwards. And after my 11.5km Run the Gap experience earlier this year, it was two days before I felt back to normal. This time – so far, fingers crossed – all seems pretty good! Even my foot has calmed down now I’m not subjecting it to trauma.

Well, that’s progress at least. 🙂

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Learning to love The Coonawarra

IMG_3582I didn’t expect or intend to enjoy the Coonawarra Wine Region in South Australia. My friend Jacqui and I agreed to meet there, as a convenient half way point between her home in Adelaide and mine in central Vic, for a weekend catch up. We both like a glass of white wine or too, so it seemed an obvious choice.

After we made the plan I discovered that the region promotes itself as the “other red centre” of Australia – ie red wine. So I wondered how much it would have to interest us both, given neither of us drink red wine if we can help it!

Then when I talked to colleagues and winemakers in my own region about my planned trip, and my intention to keep an eye out for ideas and inspiration worth exploring in terms of better promoting our own Pyrenees Wine Region, all I heard was “there’s no point, they have a name already, and lots of big players and we just can’t compete”. It actually made me determined not to enjoy my visit, in a bizarre kind of way. Maybe I didn’t want to believe I was on a hiding to nothing. Always a big fan of ignorance!

I knew already that it was similar geographically to my home “local”, the Swan Valley region in Western Australia. The flat unvaried landscape full of wall to wall vineyards there, particularly along the Great Eastern Highway, has always struck me as boring and industrial. And so I expected similar of the fabled Coonawarra. By contrast the Pyrenees, which I have come to love so much, is a place of breath-taking views, unexpected valleys and hidden gems of vineyards sculpting the sides of impossible hills – just so stunning.

My initial impression of the Coonawarra didn’t ‘disappoint’ – in regards the boringness. Entering onto the main drag immediately north of the core stretch, I progressed south towards our accommodation booking in Penola on an almost perfectly straight road lined both sides with endless vineyards and a profusion of brown tourism signs pointing to cellar doors. Pretty uninspiring.

The most arresting sights of that initial introductory drive were a huge industrial-looking winery carved into the ground just to the east as I approached the main drag, and a large block of recently ripped out vines awaiting clearance part way along the main road. It was, frankly, quite depressing.

On arriving in Penola though, I could feel my resolve slipping. Always a sucker for a town that values its built heritage, I first noticed the visitor information centre was in a spectacularly impressive heritage building. This was next to a gorgeous well maintained town centre park with fab kids playground, bbq’s and adjacent outdoor swimming pool and intriguing yarn-bombed tree. A small detour around the back streets in order to find the backpackers where we’d booked in gave me glimpses of more historic precincts and enticing shops and restaurants.

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After settling in to the very comfortable Penola Backpackers, Jacqui and went for a walk to explore our weekend “home”. Petticoat Lane – full of National Trust and heritage listed buildings – was fascinating and includes a cute little cottage you can stay in. On the corner of the Lane, the impressive centre celebrating the life of Australia’s first Saint Mary Mackillop (who had links in that area I understand) looked interesting. We checked out the menu at the award winning restaurant in town and considered whether we might make a booking for the following night.

The main street had all the elements needed for vibrancy, though it was actually pretty quiet at the time – apparently not so unusual for that time of day but today it was partly due to the town preparing for the big footy and netball grand finals the next day. Understood! Important business that. The town centre was tidy, clean and had an attractive mix of shops and businesses, with no empty shop fronts and a smattering of artistic chaos in the form of more yarn bombing – including a cheeky beard on the statue of the town’s founder.

IMG_3419Then we stumbled upon the Koonara cellar door and gift shop in the town centre, and dived into our first tasting under the guidance of the fabulous cellar door manager there who was welcoming, entertaining, educational and provided a faithful introduction to what the weekend would hold in store for us. She even gave us detailed advice on the best cellar doors to visit for exploring the best white and sparkling wines the region had to offer, (other than theirs!) which we thought quite extraordinary. So much for the Coonawarra being all about red wine! The owner of the winery called in while we were there and we also had a very interesting chat with him, quite an inspiring character.

The next morning I was determined to keep up my training for the big trail run in November, so headed off first thing. The woman I’d spoken with at the visitor centre the day before had recommended I head to Greenrise Lake for a good off-road run. While not great preparation for a forest run, it was appropriately rural at least and very entertaining staring out the odd sheep in the reserve that wasn’t scared off as I approached (which made me think uncomfortably of the absurdist Haruki Murakami novel Wild Sheep Chase) and I had a good laugh when I saw this sign.

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Okay, I know that actually it’s not that funny given it’s a sign of drought, but the absurdity of it still appealed to me. I blame that on my high school literature / drama teacher Mr Stone who didn’t believing in teaching Shakespeare and instead taught us about absurdist or hyper-realist drama like Stoppard, Pinter and Beckett!
Well, that’s my excuse for weirdness, and I’m sticking to it.

As the rest of the day progressed, the 22km stretch of endless vineyards and cellar doors grew on me, to the extent that by the end of it Jacqui and I had decided to return for the region’s big race meet in January.

I came to notice the various stages in evidence along the drag of vineyards at all stages of life – the recently ripped out blocks I mentioned earlier, the newly ploughed ones ready to plant, the early spindly vines just reaching up towards the frame through to the well established, solid gnarly vines with shoots just starting to show. Yes the landscape hadn’t changed and it was still flat and boring, but the concentration of life and evidence of the life cycle surrounding you every which way you look was impressive in a different kind of way to my new back yard.

In terms of the experience of the cellar doors – what I did notice once you got past the façade that some of the cellar door staff had (Jacqui is particularly good at opening up conversations, and we chose a smaller number of cellar doors and stayed longer at each than many might) was how willing they were to open up and tell you about the region, about the other wineries they’d worked at, the other wines from different places they thought we should try and how they all enjoyed their monthly get togethers with other cellar door staff to get better acquainted with other producers offerings and to foster cooperative relationships.

 

Surely that’s something from which any wine region can take some positive inspiration? It sure made for an enjoyable overall experience, and a great impression of cooperative working, which to me is always appealing.

IMG_3571On our last night in town, we were entertained at the local pub by some of the local footy team guys, who had been victorious the day before in winning their league grand final and were still celebrating. In a brief instant when I disappeared back to our accommodation, Jacqui was roped into a game of pool by one of them, and between them they held the table for well over two hours. I was kind of relieved actually, as I knew she wanted a game and was a bit of a shark – and I also knew I was way too useless to challenge her or to not make a fool of myself in front of any audience. So all’s well that ends well!

The verdict on the Coonawarra then? Well worth visiting, and exceeded my expectations, such as they were. The bounty I bought back with me probably says as much as anything. I was so determined this might be the trip where I learned to taste without buying. Wrong!! Oh well…

PS. It’s also hard to not like a region that has a vineyard called The Old Cricket Ground! More to come on that theme.

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E Day in the Pyrenees

What do town markets, boutique wineries, a lavender farm, a national park and a Bollywood night have in common?

All were wonderful ways to distract myself from election day 2013!

I’d been dreading yesterday for weeks – feeling heavily weighed down by the knowledge that it would inevitably result in a Government I don’t want and that in the process I would have to make a choice between “alternatives” that to me were basically as terrible as each other. In all my experience of elections to date, I have never felt so miserable about the country’s political leadership and the future they offer.

Counter to all expectations, I awoke to a gorgeous blue sky and sunshine! That certainly helped raise the spirits. I determined that I would get voting out of the way early and go spend the rest of the day exploring my adopted Shire to visit some of the businesses that are participating in the Victoria Tourism Week local ambassadors campaign I put together for work.

IMG_3352After voting I called in to check out the return of monthly market in Beaufort – and was very pleasantly surprised! I have to admit, when I first experienced the market I was pretty disappointed at what I found. It lacked life and energy and any great distinguishing factor. It seems many others were feeling the same and over winter the market took a recess.

Yesterday was the first day back under a new coordinator, after a community and business meeting reinforced the desire for the market to continue and prosper.

IMG_3357The local brass band was playing, the sun was shining and although I’m sure many of the stalls there were just the same as had been there before, gee it was good to have them back! I’d love to see the markets build and grow in strength and popularity – fingers crossed.

I then headed north to meet up with a friend in Avoca for a coffee before we headed up to Moonambel. There we visited a couple of small boutique wineries – Counterpoint and Gwynnyth – on our way to the Barkly Lavender & Rose Farm for lunch & cake, and then a quick stop at Sally’s Paddock on the way back. Extraordinarily beautiful weather and the stunning Pyrenees and St Arnaud Ranges gave us a fabulous backdrop for a really enjoyable afternoon.

The most spectacular discovery for me was the dirt road connecting Barkly to Redbank, traversing the southern end of the St Arnaud Range and passing through the St Arnaud National Park. Wow. Just stunning and a bit of an exciting drive too, with a steep drop off at the right hand side of the road for most of the way. So stunned was I that I didn’t even manage to stop and take any photos! I’ll have to go back…

Back in Beaufort, I just had to time to get creative with my clothing before attending a Bollywood night at the Stockpot and Ladle, a new restaurant that’s in in the process of getting established by friends Sara and Liz. Much fun and laughter, only a little bit of checking how the election results were falling out, and fabulous food and drink made for a great night out. Looking forward to the next occasion at S&L! And thanks for the distraction guys, much appreciated.

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Things I don’t understand 1 – me and running

IMG_2779I hated cross-country running at school. Hated it! Well ok, hated all running really.

And now? I am training to do a half marathon trail run through the Pyrenees State Forest in November this year. That’s 21.5kms of running, on rough uneven ground, up and down hills – mud, tree roots, branches, sticks all waiting to get me.

Madness! But I love it.

Today I finished week one of my 12 week training programme, with a 30-ish minute run in my “local” – Mount Buangor State Park. It has a fabulous network of walking trails, so a perfect training ground. I suspect I’m going to get very friendly with most of them over the next three months.

IMG_3228Today was pretty tame – stayed on the flat with a short run on the recently re-opened trail between Middle Creek Campground and Bailes Picnic Area and return. Even so I still found a very wet muddy patch, had a fight with a stick and had to leap and dodge obstacles on the way. Such a buzz, I was on such a high at the end!

 

Who’d have thunk it… ?

Not me that’s for sure!

Oh – and did I mention that the big run in November finishes at a winery? 🙂 now there’s incentive if ever I need it!

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Horrid weather in Hamilton

The forecast for the Saturday just gone was horrid – heavy rain, wind and cold.

So what did I do? Off I went to explore Hamilton in the Southern Grampians shire – about 140kms from where I live. What can you do when you find yourself experiencing cabin fever and Sweetie the wondervan demands an outing?

After stopping in Dunkeld for a restorative coffee and cake at the cosy Old Bakery and Wild Plum Cafe (yum) I eventually arrived. I was on a mission to start with to find as many op shops as I could – I was looking for a small shelf unit to put my music folders in, no luck. Only two shops were open, though there were at least another 3 that I saw – very disappointing for a Saturday morning I thought.

As I continued my drive around the town, once again, I found myself in awe of fine botanic gardens and some of the architecture to be found here in Victoria – check this pic out for example, I had to pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t in England.

IMG_3097I find it interesting how often churches appear to cluster in the same area of many towns and cities, for example in Ballarat as well as here in Hamilton – where I found the Protestant and Anglican churches facing off across the street. Strength in numbers? Or keeping a close eye on the ‘enemy’? 🙂 I noted the Catholic church was way off on the other side of town…

I was a bit sad about the long row of empty shops I found under and running along from a shopping centre with the misleading name of The Hub (it didn’t appear much like a hub of anything if I’m honest) in the town centre – all backing onto the main street and facing a busy car park full of shoppers visiting nearby Safeway and other big name shops. I really hope they are all empty because there’s an exciting new redevelopment planned for the building, and not just because no tenant businesses can be found for them.

I had heard before about the fantastic adventure playground in Hamilton, and stumbled upon it by accident when I went to explore around Lake Hamilton. What a fantastic place! If it hadn’t been tipping with rain, I would have been trying it out that’s for sure. I don’t think you can overestimate the value of something like this for attracting families to an area when they’re holidaying or passing through. It’s just a shame there doesn’t seem any attempt to convert those visitors into supporters of local business – the site is removed from the main town centre, and I didn’t see any evidence of promotion or suggestions on where they should go next to get some lunch or a coffee or some supplies…

Sheepvention is on this week in Hamilton. Great name for an event huh? It is a huge agricultural show, which doubles the population of the town for the couple of days its one. Extraordinary. I did find the showgrounds as I was driving around, and all the marquees and stands set up already was certainly very impressive. I hope it brings as much business and vibrancy to the town as it usually does by all reports I’ve heard.

Despite having called off my planned run with a friend for later that day because the weather was just too nasty, I eventually started heading home anyway. And then the rain stopped. I pulled over some way down the road to marvel at the now bright blue sky, white clouds and brilliancy of the glistening countryside So here’s the view south from that road where I stopped…

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And when I did a 180 degree turn to face north, here’s what I saw…

IMG_3117It was a funny changeable kind of day, watching the weather fronts roll across the countryside, the dominant peaks and ridges of the Grampians National Park shrouded in cloud and invisible to me both times I drove by its southern tip. Jen and I did manage a walk though at least at the end of the day, I’m happy to say. And they I got stuck on the boggy, grassy, slippy drive out from her farm… very embarrassing! Hurray for her hubby Simon who pulled me out with the truck, and her father-in-law Rod for assisting – all in the penetrating darkness of the countryside. I won’t be driving into their property again in a hurry while it’s wet!

And one last thing of interest – this captivating little water hole right by the side of the road intrigued me so much I had to turn around and return to stop and take some photos.

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Was it naturally formed? The whole of the south west of Victoria (and south east of South Australia) is extraordinary geologically – old volcano country.

Or did someone drop a bundle of gelignite sticks to blast out the rock? It was almost perfectly round with steep rock sides all round. Curious.

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It’s all about orange

My best purchase last week?

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My local IGA had a trolley full of oranges, with a big pile of buckets next to it – fill a bucket and take the lot home for $4.99. Yum.

There’s something special about oranges in winter that brightens the world up. A bit like pumpkin…

And my cosy burnt orange cottage!

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Intimate and fabulous

IMG_3024Last night I was fortunate enough to experience a great live performance by David Bridie and band, promoting his new album Wake.

I first became aware of David’s intoxicating, emotional bass voice and brooding songs during his My Friend the Chocolate Cake days late 90s, and later bought a solo album of his by chance, which I also enjoyed. When I saw recently that he was going to be performing not so far from where I live, I thought it would be crazy not to catch him in the act!

Ararat Live brings “original musicians to the Ararat district for intimate gigs in small venues”. The brainchild and hard work of a small and dedicated band led by David Nicholson, and partly an outcome of the annual Lake Bolac Eel Festival, it’s a great offering to the local community and deserves to be applauded loudly (as it was last night!). I’ll certainly be making a point of supporting this when I can in future.

IMG_3020One of the best things about the night – hooray for being in the country on this occasion! – was the intimate scale of the gig. The venue was the red room at the back of Ararat Hotel – which I gather is the dining room, and not a big one either! No one was more than a few metres from the stage, and there was no bar in the room to distract.

And even better was the respect shown by the audience – which actually listened to every note! It’s so rare in my experience, and such a joy to be a part of. In my home town I got sick of being at gigs where the artist would be constantly competing with the audience to be heard. No such issues last night.

And the music? It didn’t disappoint – every bit as thoughtful, carefully crafted, emotional and often brooding as I remember David’s work being. It was especially joyful to watch the deft way he directed the input of the drummer – Greg Patten, ex MFtCC and whom I gather hasn’t been doing the majority of the tour with David and Kiwi guitarist/bassist Eden Mulholland – plus how instinctive Greg was in reacting to David’s direction and finding just the right level and sound at key points in each song. Phenomenal – it was really a cut above, an awesome demonstration of what it means to be a professional muso (and no doubt to the inherent understanding two artists can develop having worked together for a long period of time).

One of the things I particularly noticed – and to be honest I hadn’t really twigged before that David was a pianist – was both the importance of having a good set up and relationship between height of keyboard and seat (result? unplanned trip to Ballarat today to buy a proper keyboard stool – no more dodgy, too low, dining chair practising for me!), and yet how that didn’t stop David from getting so engrossed in his performance that he made himself look decidedly uncomfortable at times, on what I know from experience is quite a comfortable seat! He wriggled about and flung his legs out at awkward angles, and I was sure he would knock over the glass of wine placed at the front of the stage for him. I want to learn to be so abandoned and unselfconscious in my own performance.

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So thank you Ararat Live for promoting fab intimate live gigs in my local area, and thank you David Bridie, gorgeous daughter Stella on backing vocals, and Eden and Greg rounding out the quartet last night – I’m reinspired!

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Clouds taste funny

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That’s pretty much all I have to say. 🙂

Oh okay, of course I have more.

First visit to tassie – absolutely loving Hobart, especially Salamanca.

And no I’m probably not going to MONA! If I had a $ for every person who asked me this last fortnight… I’ll get there eventually, just not this visit.

Heading to Mt Field tomorrow for 7hr hike. Yep, crazy. My friend Chiara who invited me to meet her here likes her outdoors hardcore – mountains jn tassie in winter? – but of course! Ah well, should be fun.

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