Walk on the Wild Side

A new Australian trail offers a vast array of hikes, astounding views, and even koala encounters—as well as an intimate look at how climate change may already be affecting the country.

By Christy Harrison

But the drought is also having some unexpectedly positive consequences in farmland-rich Victoria. The record-low rainfall is drawing attention to the fact that some of the area’s big commodity crops—such as rice and cotton—are extremely water-intensive, and some farmers who once grew those crops are leaving the business. In recent years, a growing number of agroforestry companies have been buying these farms and converting them into highly profitable tree plantations: With their deep root systems, trees require less irrigation water, since the trees can tap into lowered water tables that other crops don’t reach. The federal government advocates these plantations as a sustainable solution to the country’s demand for timber and paper pulp (provided they’re managed in an eco-friendly way). But some environmentalists—and the influential eco-organizations Bush Heritage and Trust For Nature—aren’t so hot on these tree farms, preferring to buy farmland and convert it back into its native “bush” state to help restore the area’s shrinking biodiversity. That’s exactly what Neal and Corke did to create their 100-odd-acre preserve; Chadwick wants to do the same and is looking for his own farm to convert. “That’s a much better use of the land than farming,” Chadwick says.

Of course, Australians still have to get their food from somewhere, and imports to this far-flung continent are costly. So other green-minded folks are keeping the farming tradition alive, opting to use their land to grow fruits and vegetables using sustainable methods that demand less water than export commodities like rice and cotton. This shift is helping to create a thriving local food economy in Victoria—and it’s one that draws ecotourists and foodies alike.

After our stay at Cape Otway, Chadwick and I link up with Jennifer Wilkinson, the owner of Epicurious Travel, who has spent the past four years organizing food- and wine-oriented treks all over Australia. She loves Victoria in particular because of the ever-growing number of food artisans, small dairies, and local fruit farmers. We meet her at one of the handful of parking lots along the Walk—and quickly pop back into our cars to escape the freezing rain, whisking the bountiful picnic she has prepared over to the farmhouse at Johanna Seaside Cottages. The quaint old home, with its ample, welcoming kitchen, was once at the center of a dairy farm. The owner, Joy Evans, raised her five children here and has lived in this green valley for all of her 63 years. Her late husband grew up on this farm, and she was the girl next door. When he died, she turned the property into a B&B with a set of cottages, but also kept aside a few choice bits of land for a vegetable garden and chicken coop. Despite the name of the property, none of the cottages actually offer ocean views, and I ask Evans why. “I didn’t want to build right on the cliffs above the shore and ruin it for people down below, making them feel like they’re being watched,” she explains in a lilting accent that seems particular to this one tiny valley.

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Issue 25

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