Running the Australian Alps Walking Track to help save takayna

In just a few weeks, two amateur trail runners will begin an epic adventure as they run 650+ km on the Australian Alps Walking Track. Giles and Matt are two keen runners and outdoor enthusiasts who are on a mission to raise funds and awareness for Australian wilderness and the need to protect it. Through this journey, they will be fundraising for The Bob Brown Foundation’s work protecting takayna.


Amid their busy time planning and preparing before the trip, we managed to snag Giles for a chat about what will be involved and the ‘why’ behind this traverse of some of Australia's most rugged mountains.


Giles Penfold

You’re planning this incredible run through the Australian alpine, can you tell us a bit about that? What’s the plan?


The Australian Alps Walking Track (also referred to as the ‘AAWT’) is something that’s been in the back of our minds for a few years now. Matt and I started throwing around this idea of running the route at the beginning of 2021 and one way or another, things started to click and here we are, two weeks out from starting the biggest adventure of our lives (to date!). To provide some context, the AAWT is a 650 odd kilometre route that is rare for people to complete in one go, and we’re hoping to complete it in 15 to 20 days. This will involve a fair amount of running (and bush bashing), and we plan to start the traverse on the 21st of November. We’ve been lucky enough to be sponsored by some great brands and supported by a film crew who will be tagging along with us and creating a documentary of the trip.


What inspired such a big undertaking?


We’ve both dreamed of running the AAWT for quite some time now and were inspired by Beau Miles’ short film ‘Trials of Miles’ which follows his experience of completing the route in a very rapid 11 days. It’s also a huge challenge in and of itself, and being lovers of the outdoors and running, when you blend these two ingredients with a bit of research, the mother of all Australian routes appears to be the AAWT (to our knowledge, anyway).

The Australian Alps Walking Track - Photo by Christian Bass

Can you tell the outdoors people reading this a bit about the route itself and the areas you’ll travel through?


We’ve chosen to go from South to North, which means we’ll begin in the foothills of Baw Baw National Park, two hours’ drive from Melbourne. In a nutshell, the track will take us through Victoria’s most rugged mountain ranges (Baw Baw & Alpine National Parks) before traversing into NSW’s remote wilderness areas on its way to the finish line in Namadgi, 30 minutes' drive from Canberra. The route crosses through equally uninhabitable and stunning areas, more often than not following ridges and high plains through Australia’s highest country. We’ll be passing through a variety of biospheres, some of which include grassy high plains, mountain forests, snow gum woodlands and rocky alpine summits. For thousands of years, these areas were occupied by Indigenous groups and we’d like to pay our respects to the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we will be crossing.


Why is protecting takayna important? Can you tell us a bit about takayna and its significance?


In completing the route and creating a film about it, we will be raising money for a very special part of Australia which unfortunately, is also under serious threat. takayna, also known as The Tarkine, is Australia’s largest temperate rainforest and resides on the west coast of Tasmania. This area is an essential carbon storehouse, acting as the home of many endangered species, as well as being a rare gem of natural intactness. Simply put, it is a stunningly important area we must preserve. Despite this, it has not been Heritage Listed by the Federal Government due to the fact that the majority of its area is open to mining leases and logging. As we all know, there has never been a more crucial time to change the way we interrelate with our natural environments. The Bob Brown Foundation is at the forefront of this endeavour, implementing effective practices that protect places like takayna.

Matt running in takayna

What personally motivates you to get outdoors and to protect a place like takayna?


On a personal level, getting outdoors and spending time in nature is something I have always cherished and enjoyed. In my eyes, wild places are meant to be explored but also respected. Herein lies the fundamental issue that our modern day society continues to ignore. We rely so heavily on the natural world and have created a system that disproportionately takes rather than gives back to natural environments. At its core, protecting places like takayna means giving back not only to the natural world, but ironically, back to humanity itself. If we want to be here for the long haul, creating a sustainable relationship with nature is paramount. Takayna is one such place we must fight to protect.


Between climate change and the direct impacts, like native forest logging, on precious places like takyana, it can be easy to despair. What gives you hope?


I hate to sound too dramatic or repeat what many others are voicing, but there’s no other way of putting it: we are currently at a pivotal point in history and the next few years will dictate whether our grandkids or even kids will be able to explore, appreciate and learn from wild places like takayna. In spite of this, there is plenty of hope. One such beacon of light lies in The Bob Brown Foundation, a non-profit organisation that gives a voice to, and fights for the livelihood of takayna. There are thousands of other organisations, communities and people out there looking to turn around the fate of our world and these drive us to leave the world in a better state, so that future generations will do the same.

The Bob Brown Foundation's front line action to protect takayna from logging

Have you learned anything from this process of planning this expedition and organising the fundraising that you’d like to share with people who might like to do something similar?


The logistics, time, and resources involved in putting together such a project should never be underestimated. Doing it alongside someone else, or even better, a team, makes a world of difference. Additionally, reaching out to people and asking for any guidance, tips, or feedback is something that has helped us immensely and it may seem fairly obvious, but being passionate about whatever you’re doing sits pretty high on the list. On a similar note, it’s always worth contacting organisations you align with as you never know what will come of it. We approached a few brands we love, essentially pitching the concept of 655fortakayna and to our surprise, we are lucky enough to be sponsored by Salomon, Sea to Summit, Radix Nutrition and K2 Base Camp. There’s no harm in asking for assistance…


How can people reading this support the run and your fundraising efforts? Will we be able to follow you as you’re running?


Our website www.655fortakayna.com has heaps of information on the project and we would appreciate any donations, big or small, for The Bob Brown's takayna campaign. Every dollar counts and goes toward creating a better future! You can donate here - https://chuffed.org/project/655fortakayna.


Lastly, our crew members will be posting frequent updates on the run and will be found on our Instagram page, https://www.instagram.com/655fortakayna/. We’d love it if people could follow along and help spread awareness of 655fortakayna!

Matt Gore

We are so impressed with the adventure Giles and Matt are undertaking and their determination to make a positive contribution to protect takayna and other wild places. We wish them all the best with the rest of their planning and that they have a safe, fun and meaningful time on the AAWT!


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