Carly Jones.

The Mushroom Rocks are rad scene to take in, especially when there’s snow covering the giant granite tors, but they’re not typically the site of a revelation for a new pseudonym or business name.

Given a new lease on life and a reinvigorated passion for hitting the hiking trails, Carly Jones morphed into the Gippy Explorer as she brushed past the shrub on her brisk ramble back to the Mt Erica car park. Now, she was on a new path.

Carly is a proper born and bred Gippslandian. In fact, she’s a member of the family’s fifth generation to live here. For most of her life, Traralgon has been home, but her handsome husband, Brad, has recently lured her to Newborough.

The story of Carly’s inspiration at Mushroom Rocks begins way back (but not that far back, right Carly?) at her birth. It’s a great place to start a tale. Carly was born with hip dysplasia, meaning her hips weren’t formed properly. As a baby, she spent six months in plaster from her hips to her ankles. It appeared that her childhood treatments had served Carly well.

Unfortunately, in 2015, she started to have severe pain, which meant she walked with a limp. Luckily, a cortisone injection helped reduce the pain and assisted Carly in correcting her walking. Two years ago, Carly had major hip surgery and, gratefully, she’s now mostly pain-free and walking fine.

Carly recounted her mindset before surgery. “I realised I was depressed and unhappy with myself, so I decided that if walking was the only thing I could do, then hiking was going to be my new hobby.

“On January 7, 2017, I went on my first hike to Mt Bishop at Wilsons Promontory. That hike completely changed everything for me; I fell in love with nature, and more importantly, I saw the beauty that had always been around me in Gippsland.”

The idea of blogging about her hikes was planted by a friend, and as the concept germinated into the Gippy Explorer, it began to take on much more. Carly explains.

“I’ve lived in Gippsland for 30 years, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until I started hiking. I’ve seen more of Gippsland in the past three years than I had in my previous 27 years.

“One thing I love about Gippsland is that all the walks are different. You can choose your adventure, whether it be a trip to the snow, beach, rainforest, mountains, lakes or even waterfalls! The options are endless, and all less than a few hours from each other. I don’t think I really gathered how lucky we are to live here and how many special things are right under our noses — some I never even knew existed.

“I grew up with a father that worked at the former Hazelwood power station, [a place that’s] an important part of the Latrobe Valley’s history. Sadly, I think people that travel the Princes Freeway through Moe to Flynn see the industrial areas that have helped grow the region, but they miss the rolling green hills of South Gippsland that overlook the Prom, the beautiful beaches of the Bass Coast, and the massive old growth forests of East Gippsland. You can be from the snow to the sea in under three hours — that is the part of Gippsland I want to show.

“I was frustrated with the lack of information out there on Gippsland’s walks. Don’t get me wrong, there is some amazing information out there, but it seems to be limited to the individual shires, rather than Gippsland as a whole. What I wanted to create was a place where people could come and find every single walk there was to do in Gippsland.

“At first, I honestly didn’t think people would want to read my content, but surprisingly I got so much positive feedback, it was really lovely. The more I shared, the more people began following The Gippy Explorer page and the more I realised people wanted to see what’s around. It eventually became a passion of mine to change people’s perspective on Gippsland and show everyone how beautiful it is. It’s been overwhelming to see how many people have completed the walks that I’ve written about and then taken other family and friends to show them the beauty of Gippsland.”

With Carly sharing her motivations on starting the Gippy Explorer project and the enjoyment she’s gained from it so far, we eagerly listen to where she hopes to take the idea into the future.

“I really want to make it easy for people to find all the great places here in Gippsland. I also want to provide detailed information about what you should expect along these walks, so people know what’s ahead of them. One day I would love to make it into a community, and maybe help people get out and about. Kind of like a hiking group. I know hiking by yourself isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (although, mine are always fuelled by coffee, not tea).

“My ultimate dream would be to lead guided tours on some of these walks for visitors to the region and for those who live here — so that I can share my passion for Gippsland.

A couple of years into the Gippy Explorer concept, you’ve got to wonder just how many kilometres of trail Carly’s hiked along. Carly explains that she stopped counting kays or steps long ago, as she walks for the love of it, but after a rough count, she thinks she’s completed more than 100 hikes.

Carly’s favourite hikes include:

-Mt Erica & Mt St Gwinear,

-Baw Baw National Park

-Lawson Falls, Bunyip State Park

-Poverty Point Bridge, Walhalla

-Mt Hedrick, Avon Mt Hedrick Scenic Reserve

-Mt Bishop, Wilsons Prom

-Darby River to Tongue Point, Wilsons Prom

-The Big Drift, Wilsons Prom

-Albert River Falls

-Den of Nargun, Mitchell River National Park

-Mt Worth State Park.

Carly admits that her to-do list continues to grow as she learns of more trails to explore, but that she can’t wait to check out the following:

-Mt Howitt

-Lake Tali Karng

-Blue Pools Walking Track

-Tanjil Bren Tramway Walk

-Bryce Gorge Circuit

-Store Point Walking Track (plus other at Aberfeldy)

-Mt Everard (plus many more in East Gippsland).

It’s pleasing to hear that most of the tracks are very well maintained. Carly gives kudos to the many selfless and committed volunteer groups, as well as government agencies, that keep the trails in good condition. Some of the best looking areas are:

-Mt Erica & Mt St Gwinear

-Wirilda Walking Track

-Wilsons Prom

-Mt Worth State Park (very active volunteer group)

-Blue Rock Lake Walk

-Lawson Falls

-Peterson’s Lookout

-Lyrebird Forest Walk.

With so much time spent in our gorgeous bush, Carly has enjoyed unique encounters with some of our wilder inhabitants.

“One of my fondest memories was during a solo morning hike up Mt Erica. I came across a lyrebird in the middle of a mating call. It was one of the first times I’d seen a lyrebird. It was pretty special, especially because they’re normally such secretive birds. I got some great photos. They’re one of my absolute favourite animals to spot and, surprisingly, I see them quite often now.

“Another random experience I’ve had was along the River Heritage and Wetlands Walk in Sale. I was by myself; it was hot and I kept hearing rustling in the bushes as I walked. I was terrified and certain I’d come across a snake. I finally spotted what was making the noise and it wasn’t what I expected. It was some rats, I’m not sure of the species, but it was one of the cutest things I’ve seen and certainly brightened my day after walking about 15 kms.”

Fresh air in the Australian bush is an excellent stimulant for contemplation. Utilising the trail as her rehabilitation from surgery, Carly has had plenty of opportunities to reflect.

“I’m definitely more self-aware. I have become more confident, stronger and resilient. I can endure a lot more than I once thought possible and still be able to keep going. Walking helps me refresh and look at things with a clear and positive mind. It’s also a great release if I’m feeling overwhelmed or anxious. I owe everything to these walks; they’ve completely changed me.”

Carly hopes that more people can experience the healing and redeeming qualities of the outdoors too, especially our youth.

“People need to get out more and go explore these wild spaces. That’s the only way you can truly appreciate and understand how special they are. I’d love to see more programs in schools. Outdoor education is very important to encourage all age groups experience the bush. We really need to start from a young age if [our kids] are going to know what it means to live in a more sustainable way… if we change a few perceptions, it may help change our future landscape. The youth of today will drive change of tomorrow”.

From facing a potentially sedentary future to a renewal, both in body and spirit, gained during her time on the trails, and a fulfilling and far-reaching project inspired by her many hikes, you can probably guess at what Carly’s future plans entail… Yup, her and Brad have decided that next year they will undertake the great Australian Alps Walking Track, which extends from Walhalla to Tharwa, ACT, about 670 km all up. It’s an adventure that will take the Gippy Explorer well outside her typical stomping ground, and we can’t wait to follow Carly’s tales along the way. May she continue to inspire more adventurers into Gippsland for many hikes to come.

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