Despite being cold and wet most days, winter in Melbourne can still give way to small glimpses of sun and breaks in the weather. These are precious moments when a winter walk can fuel you for your weekend. The Kokoda Memorial Walk in Upper Ferntree Gully, locally known as the 1000 Steps, is a popular walk for many Melburnians.
Whenever I do embark on a walk, I am one to connect with nature and reap the relaxing benefits. Exercise is also another great benefit, though I’m not one to really push myself beyond my limits. Track conditions on the 1000 Steps circuit are steep, emulating its Kokoda roots, and intertwines throughout this part of Sherbrook Forest. It’s a challenging work-out, a chance to be one with nature and, importantly, time to pay respects to Australian soldiers who fought and died in Papua New Guinea during World War II.
Here are my tips if you’d like to travel to 1000 Steps for a winter walk this winter.
Wear appropriate clothes and footwear
Given the unpredictability in conditions during winter, it’s best to be prepared. Be sure to attempt the 1000 Steps on a day when the forecast isn’t alluding to storms and rain. Conditions in this area can turn into a very slippery, wet and unstable affair when the rain arrives. It can get quite cold here, so consider wearing comfortable layers that can be removed and tied around your waist along the way. A beanie, gloves and scarf can also give you added warmth. Appropriate footwear is also a must. Sturdy shoes providing good grip, comfort and protective ankle support is recommended. You don’t want to be leaving 1000 Steps on a stretcher with a suspected ankle injury, like some have in the past.
Keep your hands free if you can and make use of pockets
If you’re one to take stuff with you then you might want to use a small backpack. I tend to make the most of my pockets by using them for keys, small wallet, a muesli bar or piece of fruit. I take a bottle of water, though small enough so it doesn’t weigh my hands down.
Time your visit to avoid the crowds
The 1000 Steps is popular among Melbourne’s exercisers and attracts lots of locals from families to tourists and even sporting teams. Early mornings and weekends prove to be the area’s busiest times and parking is slim, almost unattainable. I prefer heading to 1000 Steps mid-week when the weekend travellers are at work though try later in the afternoons on the weekend if you’re timing is limited.
Do all the hard work first
If you’re a little like me and prefer getting that nature connection, then I suggest taking the Lyrebird fire trail. From the carpark, the Lyrebird trail veers off to your left, and allows you to get all the hard work done and out of the way first. Walkers can choose between ascending the trail along the unsealed trail, or by taking the steps along its right. There are also markers along the way, at 250-metre intervals, so you can keep tabs on your progress.
The trail, one way, measures 1500 metres in total so these markers give you the motivation to keep pushing through. Just be sure to watch for foot traffic coming down the trail to avoid any collisions. If you stop at about the 750 to 1000-metre points, you can look behind you through the trees and catch a quick peek at the rest of the Dandenong Ranges rolling out to the horizon.
Enjoy the wildlife as you go
As you ascend the trail, you’ll hear parrots, lyrebirds, cockatoos and kookaburras in the distance starting their day. It’s a rare occurrence, though you may even be treated to a rare wildlife sighting. I’ve been lucky to spot a wombat in the past and some have reported wallaby sightings too.
Take the descent down the stairs
After the hard work is done, and a little rest at the top to catch your breath or fuel up with a little snack, it’s time to make your way back to the carpark. I prefer the descent via the official 1000 Steps. It’s peaceful and tranquil to wander the steps through the seclusion of the forest. Sun rays shoot through branches above and the crisp wintery air replenishes your lungs. It’s as if the forest is blanketing you – tree ferns pop out sporadically and manna gums soar to the sky. It’s special to wander the steps after a few days of rain, when you can hear trickles of rainwater snaking through the undergrowth. Again, avoid peak times as you’ll be muscling your way through fitness fanatics powering their way towards the top.
Take the time to stop and pay your respects
There are two memorial sites near the entrance to The Kokoda Memorial Walk. At each site, you can stop to pay respects to the Australian soldiers who fought along the Kokoda Trail in Paua New Guinea during World War II. As you make your way down the steps on the return, you can also take your time to observe the plaques dedicated to the Kokoda Trail along the way. Fitness for many is the priority when they come to 1000 Steps, though it’s important to understand the area’s significance too. You may even find travellers along the 1000 Steps who are actually in training to trek Kokoda Trail, complete with full backpacks and hiking poles.
The Kokoda Memorial Walk, or 1000 Steps, is located on the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road via Burwood Highway, Upper Ferntree Gully in Melbourne’s outer east.
Picnic facilities, parking and toilets are also onsite, though access to these facilities may be limited during peak times. Entry and parking are free.
A round-trip walk takes approximately one to one and a half hours to complete and reasonable fitness is required.
After your winter walk, make your stay in Upper Ferntree Gully last a little bit longer:
- On the way out, catch a replenishing lunch at Warratah Organics on Burwood Highway
- Treat yourself to a post-lunch chocolaty treat from Hahndorf's Fine Chocolates within walking distance from Warratah
- Visit The Gully Market at the Upper Ferntree Gully train station carpark on Saturdays and Sundays from 8.00am to 3.00pm to purchase local produce and plants