Ooh, stiff today. Yesterday we climbed the 1000 Steps at the Dandenong Hills. It’s in a beautiful lush area called Ferntree Gully, about an hour’s drive from Melbourne.
You can see why it’s called Ferntree Gully (it’s called that outside the Gully; inside the Gully, it’s called Tree Fern Gully!)
To give an idea of what the climb looks like, I stood (taking the photograph of someone else) at about 350 steps up, and could happily have stayed there all day. For a few reasons.
I counted only 782 steps up to the top, but there could be valid debate about this. I have no doubt there were at least 1000 concrete-and-gravel slabs carried up there, but I did not count the ones that were laid flat on landings, or sloping up the gentler slopes, only where I had to take a step upwards. I also caught myself losing focus at times in the mesmeric ever-upwards plod, forgetting whether I was on 500-and-something or 600. There were certainly more than 1000 actual footsteps involved to get up there.
The climb culminates in some particularly steep stairs and suddenly ends not with a bang but a whimper:
From there, one can continue the uphill walk to One Tree Hill, but the “hill” part of the name was somewhat off-putting to me at that stage. We decided to walk down via the Lyrebird Track, on to Link Track and Belview Terrace – certainly the ‘road less travelled’ (too easy for the gung-ho early risers, one surmises).
The climb is also known as the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk, and here is a picture of the gate from the car park (there is still a longish uphill walk to the start of the Steps.) I know it’s out of order, but I didn’t want to start with the history part.
The original Kokoda Track has a special place in Australian hearts, as it’s where Aussie troops held off the Japanese in Papua New Guinea – the closest land battles to Australian soil. (The Japanese also bombed coastal towns in Australia, starting with Darwin in Feb 1942 where more bombs were dropped there than at Pearl Harbour. I bet few of us knew that – says a lot for the tough spirit of Australians as a whole that they don’t whine about it endlessly.) Though Australia was never actually invaded, I was surprised at the extent of the Japanese threat as shown in http://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/air_raids/ – more than half of the Australia’s perimeter.
Old footage of the Kokoda Track, and some lovely views of the 1000 Steps in comparison, are shown on http://getaway.ninemsn.com.au/fsaustraliavic/804901/kokoda-track-memorial-walk
A poignant story is told about the 39th Battalion, average age under 19 years, which in one particular battle held off a force of 900 Japanese troops. The Japanese reported that the Aussies must have numbered 1000; in actual fact, there were 77. In a case of classic government-speak, it’s reported about the 39th Battalion, “Such was their involvement in the battle that by the time they were withdrawn [from PNG] they could only muster 32 men.”
When I think of two 20 year olds I know who mostly battle their way between bed, computer and fridge, it makes the actions of those boys of 70 years ago all the more amazing – through impenetrable jungle at times, calf high in mud at others, 96 kms of hell and terror.
Coming from a similar position of daily idleness as the 20 year olds, I return to my own climb. No mud, no impenetrable jungle, only the seemingly endless concrete steps. The 1000 Steps climb is not meant to represent the Kokoda Track in any realistic way, but to remind us, though 14 bronze plaques, of the men who were sent to fight for Australian freedom.
Having set myself the task of photographing each plaque (and to secretly get a little rest at least 14 times on the climb), I was shocked to see how many people used them as seats. But then again, I was also happy to have the extra wait for them to pick themselves up again.
I was passed by many, many people and, sadly, didn’t pass anyone. But that will happen in due course! We plan to do the track again soon, and in fact try to climb it twice next time.
The climb is used in lieu of gym membership by a large part of the population. As someone said, from 5 pm it’s every man and his dog on the trail – though actually dogs and cats are specifically banned. We even saw a small “roo” according to K, but I think it was probably a swamp wallaby as listed among the wildlife to be seen there.
Talking of wildlife, we were deafened as we arrived by Australian magpies on one side and lorikeets on the other – it was not a quiet peaceful walk, but oh how satisfying. Far better than being in an enclosed gym with muzak belting out.
With the picnic grounds too, the area has much to offer families and it’s all at no charge!
I liked the contrast of the leafy uphill climb and then the wider, more gentle gravel tracks on the way down, through open park-like grounds with little undergrowth and huge trees. Of course one can make the trip in reverse, or just go up and down the steps. The full round trip to One Tree Hill and back is about 5 kms and takes about 2 hours, and our route was an easy 90 minutes.
I often find myself looking at the eucalyptus trees here thinking, “Alien invaders!” and then I recall that I am the alien in this setting. And I feel very privileged to be allowed to share in it.