Sunday Herald Sun - Escape

Llamas play for laughs

Domino Rail Trail, Wombat State Forest, Victoria


My walking companions keep farting. But I guess a diet of grass and leaves will do that to you. You see, I’m walking with Hanging Rock Llama Treks, a familyowne­d outfit that takes small groups on walks with llamas throughout the Hepburn and Macedon Ranges shires, about an hour from Melbourne.

After we meet in the small town of Lyonville, owner Mark Brindley assigns a camelid companion to each member of our small group of five. I’m matched with Sonny, a handsome, gentle llama with soulful eyes and a soft white coat.

After learning how to walk the llamas on a long lead, we set off on the Domino Trail, an old rail trail that cuts through the Wombat State Forest, connecting the towns of Trentham and Lyonville.

Heavy rains have made the trail quite muddy, but the wet conditions have also made for happy population­s of common eastern froglets, whose calls can be heard as we pass flooded ponds. Nearby, a small mob of eastern grey kangaroos stand frozen amid the towering eucalypts, watching the llamas intently.

Flatulence problems aside, llamas are delightful walking buddies. They’re good at following instructio­ns and even better at providing comic relief, with their expressive faces and personalit­y quirks drawing many laughs.

Jaro (short for Kilimanjar­o) likes being first, so he leads the pack. Sonny doesn’t like it when other llamas sniff his butt, so he walks at the back. Qui-Gon enjoys pushing the buttons of everyone around him, just like a boundary-testing teenager would. And they all can’t resist snacking on leaves whenever they get a chance.

At the halfway mark, we emerge from the bush into the town of Trentham, where we cop a few stunned glances from onlookers. But fair enough. How often do you see a herd of llamas walk past the local bakery in single file?

After stopping to grab a takeaway lunch, we tie up the llamas at the old Trentham railway station that’s been closed since the late 1970s. As the llamas munch on weeds growing around the disused railway tracks, Mark brews some coffee while we eat our lunch in the sun with our legs dangling over the edge of the station platform.

On the return leg of the walk, we collective­ly fall into a comfortabl­e cadence. Having bonded in the morning, Sonny nuzzles into my shoulder affectiona­tely and cheekily nibbles my backpack straps, which Marks tells me is a sign of affection.

Sure, you could do this walk without llamas, but if given a choice between walking alone or with a sweetnatur­ed llama by my side, I know which I’d prefer.

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 ??  ?? Jo Stewart is a Macedon Rangesbase­d writer whose hiking companions have included donkeys, camels, humans, stray dogs and now llamas.
Jo Stewart is a Macedon Rangesbase­d writer whose hiking companions have included donkeys, camels, humans, stray dogs and now llamas.

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