Another Hike Complete!

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Last Friday, I flew to South Australia to hike the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail. Over five days, my friend and I walked the 61km that make up the trail, which officially opened in October 2016. The trail winds its way along the south-western corner of the island, and provides views of spectacular coastlines and rugged bushlands.

I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it felt to be out hiking again. Sure, every day, my friend and I grumbled about the weight of the pack on our shoulders, groaned about our feet being sore from walking for hours on end and complained about being covered in sand and dust and grime. But at the end of the day, I love the hiking life, and I miss it once it’s over.

What I find myself missing most of all is the peace and quiet that comes from escaping the hustle and bustle of modern life and being surrounded by nature instead. The frantic pace of everyday life definitely gets a bit much for me sometimes and it’s not until I step away from it all that I realise just how overwhelmed I’ve become. Living in a pressure bubble with a constant list of unattainable expectations is just not good for the soul.

Hiking life is so beautifully uncomplicated. All I do is walk, eat and sleep, and yet every day is full of adventure and surprises and breath-taking new sights. It reminds me that when you keep things simple, there are enough hours in the day after all, and they certainly don’t need to be spent trying to squeeze in as many things as possible from a never-ending to-do list (or procrastinating from doing them, as is so often the case for me). It’s also a welcome relief to be disconnected from social media and the digital world for a while. My senses are suddenly liberated from having to process rapid-fire streams of information, while my mind isn’t weighed down with negativity from the latest news reports providing updates on all the bad things happening in the world at large. When I go out hiking, I’m reminded that the world isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s a beautiful place, actually. It’s just us humans who make it ugly. How nice it is to wander in the wild and find places which are still untarnished and unspoilt by people.

But I digress.

My Kangaroo Island hike was a fantastic adventure, and I’ll be sharing photos and writing about the experience in the upcoming days. There’ll be stories of battling fierce winds that threatened to blow us into the Southern Ocean; a failed rendition of Baywatch- With Backpacks; a face-off with the fattest tiger snake ever; roaming the rocks of a seaside Stonehenge; a match-making cape (or not); river crossings and cotton cloud beaches; tents full of sand, sand and more sand (but thankfully not mice); and how a horse named Kelly discovered some pretty darn cool caves. Stay tuned!

Great Southern Land

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Today I watched the movie ‘Lion’. I really enjoyed it and found it to be a moving film. It reinforced a feeling that really struck me when I travelled around Cambodia last year- that we don’t have a choice as to where we are born or what circumstances we are born into. So many factors beyond our control shape our lives.

There is no doubt I was born into fortunate circumstances- as a child, I never had to wander the streets, or worry about my next meal, or toil in laborious jobs to support my family. I was able to go to school and get an education. I went to bed each night with a roof over my head, feeling loved and safe. I have been very blessed indeed, because, as the movie showed, not all children are lucky enough to have such a carefree introduction to life.

No doubt one of the reasons why I had such a fortunate childhood is because I was born in Australia. And since it is Australia Day, it is apt that, today of all days, ‘Lion’ reminded me of how lucky I am to be Australian. There are many things to love about living in this beautiful country, but today, what I feel most grateful for is that, when my wheel of life was spun to determine where I would be born, it just so happened to land on this great southern land.

Sweet Simplicity

I headed down to the beach this evening, in the hope of catching a nice sunset. It’s my favourite time of day, and sunsets by the beach in summer can be absolute magic. Sadly, my camera has not had much of a beachside workout this summer, as Perth has been seriously lacking in dramatic evening skyscapes.

I had a bit of time to spare when I arrived at Hillarys, my go-to beach destination, so I decided to get some food first. Ice-cream is totally acceptable for dinner, right? Well, this ice-cream bowl definitely lived up to its promise of delivering a serve of sweet berry blissfulness. There’s no denying that strawberries and summertime were totally made for each other.

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When I made it down to the beach, the day had already quietly faded. This is what the majority of our sunsets have looked like this summer. Where in previous years there have been rainbow clouds marching boldly across the heavens to announce the day’s end, this year, the days seem to be disappearing with no fuss or fanfare. Just a final flicker of light before a faint glow illuminates the hazy horizon, until, that too, vanishes from view.

I love my grand sunsets but I also appreciate the quiet ones. They’re much like our everyday lives- seemingly unremarkable from one day to the next, but always unique, and full of beauty if we care to look. A gentle reminder of the beauty in simplicity.

I also find that quiet sunsets have a sense of timelessness about them. All the colourful sunsets I have photographed stand out resolutely in my memory and take me back to a specific time. Quiet sunsets, so oft repeated over the years, are nothing more than vague recollections in comparison, like a blurred memory of a forgotten dream, or a word that’s on the tip of your tongue. You can’t recall the details but you can feel their lingering presence.

And sometimes, this feeling is all we need. The details are irrelevant. I don’t want to remember the specifics of being 17, but to be reminded of the freedom that I felt all those summers ago, when driving down to the beach first became an expression of finally being an adult, young and carefree, well, that is a gift to be treasured indeed. It’s for this reason, this link to days long surrendered to the passing of time, that I am grateful for the quiet sunsets, and look forward to many more in the summers still to come.

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A Lure of Light

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Today marks exactly two years since this photo was taken. I had just arrived back in Perth, after having spent 19 days travelling across the Arctic regions of Scandinavia in search of the magical Northern Lights. I was home, but my mind was still halfway across the world, reliving an epic journey that had spanned 39,608km.

I had been lucky enough to see the Northern Lights twice, in Ivalo, but bad weather had prevented me from seeing any auroras in Tromso or Kiruna. My sojourns in those two places were characterised by clouds, rain and snow, so that the only colours I saw in the sky were varying shades of white and grey.

Whenever I took to the skies above these places and left the clutches of coldness behind, I was reminded that, although winter had shrouded the heavens in a thick blanket, at any given time only a few kilometres above our heads, there is always some sort of light shining steadfast in the sky. Whether it be from the sun, or the moon and the stars, or the dancing auroras of the polar circles, even if we cannot see them, they are there. Constants of the cosmos.

Once home, I did not have to worry about obscured skies anymore. I had returned smack bang in the middle of summer and was now guaranteed to see the sun each day, and a lot of it. In Europe, I’d missed the sun, but here it was no longer a pale golden orb that shone a fragile light over the snow (if, indeed, it surfaced at all). No, in Australia, in the middle of summer, the sun is a burning ball of fire that is best avoided in the peak of day. It is not until the late evening, when it begins its descent below the horizon, and a balmy sea breeze begins to blow from the coast, that it becomes pleasant to be outdoors. And on the evening of January 19, 2015, I was in for a real treat.

I had just gone outside to hang up some post holiday washing when the sight of this sky made me drop the washing and run inside to get my camera instead. Somehow, I had been transported back to the Arctic, because it felt like I was gazing not at a summer sunset, but at an alluring aurora. The way that vibrant pink haze spread across the violet sky, glowing brightly in the centre and wisping around the edges, before fading quietly into the night, was pure magic. I could even picture it dancing. It was a reminder that there is wonder and beauty all around us, and sometimes, we do not even have to travel beyond our own backyard to see it.

The 9th Annual Rottnest Trip [Part 2]

The first part of the Gabbi Karniny Bidi treated me to some beautiful coastal views and provided the opportunity for a pleasant stroll along some of Rottnest’s best northern beaches. The trail now turned inland and I had my first glimpse of the salt lakes.

The salt lakes occupy ten per cent of the total area of the island. They were once an underground cave system and were formed about 6000 years ago, when the limestone roofs of the cave system collapsed and the sea flooded the area. Now, the lakes are completely land locked.

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Lake Baghdad is just one of the many lakes on the island which support a variety of unique ecosystems. The thick grasses which border the lakes are particularly important as they are the habitat for many species of animals.

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Five of the lakes on the island are seasonal and dry out in summer, leaving a fragile surface frosted by salt crystals and the occasional pool of water. Their barren appearance is almost glacier like- well, if you can ignore the colourful vegetation which fringes the edges.

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There is a wide variety of salt tolerant plants that grow around the lakes and which have adapted their features in order to deal with the high levels of salinity present in the soil. For example, the samphire, a succulent plant, concentrates the salt in its rich ruby leaves. These eventually shrivel up and fall off the branch.

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Pink Lake is slightly more- you guessed it- pink than some of the other surrounding lakes. This is partly due to the presence of an algae which grows on salt crystals in the lake. This algae contains the substance beta-carotene, which is a red/orange pigment also found in many fruits and vegetables, such as mangoes, pumpkins and carrots. Pink Lake is also four times saltier than seawater so the high salt concentration, combined with the algae, gives the lake its rosy appearance.

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As I continued my walk, I came across a beautiful boardwalk extending along Lake Vincent, with a chorus of cacophonous birds piercing the peace of the surrounds. In winter time, the water extends underneath the boardwalk to create an illusion of walking on water.

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The trail now merged with a man-made path known as The Causeway. One of the darker chapters of Rottnest’s history is that for almost 100 years, it was used as an Aboriginal prison. The Causeway was built using Aboriginal labour around 1860. In those days, salt gathering was a successful industry on the island and The Causeway provided a link to the salt works, as well as the lighthouse.

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In previous years, I have always cycled my bike past the salt lakes, appreciating the long stretches of flat ground, as opposed to the hilly terrain pretty much everywhere else. Walking the trail as it began to wind its way back to The Settlement allowed me a much higher view of Lake Herschel than I’ve been accustomed to. It was decidedly picturesque.

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The final landmark on the trail was Vlamingh Lookout. Situated on the aptly named View Hill, the lookout provides scenic views of many of the lakes visited along the trail. It also serves as a memorial for the Dutch captain, Willem de Vlamingh, who explored Rottnest way back in 1696 and described the island as ‘paradise on earth’. You’re not wrong there, Captain Vlamingh!

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I arrived back in The Settlement about five hours after setting out. The trail can probably be walked in half that time but I’m a firm believer in enjoying the journey along the way to the destination. My brother and his friend were waiting for me and, being teenage boys, they were positively starving so it was time to get some food. We had Subway and an ice-cream, then walked to The Basin, a popular swimming spot which I’d already visited earlier while walking the trail. James and I always end our day at The Basin while waiting for our return ferry. It was pretty much deserted, which meant we had this beautiful water all to ourselves.

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All in all, the 9th annual trip to the island was a wonderful adventure and left me with another treasured collection of summer memories and photographs. See you in 2018, Rotto, for our ten year anniversary.

The 9th Annual Rottnest Trip [Part 1]

It’s become a summer tradition for my youngest brother, James, and I to visit Rottnest, a small island off the coast of Western Australia. It’s one of those magical places which seems to lie outside the reach of time. It’s unaffected by the frantic pace of everyday life. I step off the ferry and nothing’s changed. Another year’s gone by yet it feels like only yesterday since my last visit. Timelessness in a time-centric world is comforting and probably one of the reasons why I keep coming back.

This year, my brother’s friend joined us. We arrived at Hillarys just after eight a.m. but the 8.30am ferry was already fully booked so we had to wait for the 10am ferry. This meant it was close to 11am when the three of us finally descended on the island. Luckily, our return ferry was at 8pm, which still gave us plenty of time to enjoy the island.

Our first port of call is always the Rottnest Bakery for a quick feed before we start our explorations. Most years, my brother and I have hired bikes and cycled around the island but we broke with tradition last year and walked instead. It was a fantastic change as we ended up discovering parts of the island that we’d never seen before. I was keen to walk again this year, however James and his friend wanted to do their own thing, so after finishing our sausage rolls, we split up and went our separate ways.

Last year, we’d been vaguely aware of some trail markers but had predominantly walked our own route. Towards the end of 2016, I read about a series of walk trails that span the island. There are five sections, each ranging between 6-10km in distance and named in the language of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land: the Ngank Yira Bidi, the Gabbi Karniny Bidi, the Wardan Nara Bidi, the Karlinyah Bidi and the Ngank Wen Bidi (which is still under construction). Together, they make up the 45km Wadjemup Bidi.

Only two of the trails start from The Settlement, the main arrival area on Rottnest. These are the Ngank Yira Bidi and the Gabbi Karniny Bidi. From memory, James and I followed parts of the Ngank Yira Bidi last year so I decided to tackle the Gabbi Karniny Bidi.This 9.7km trail enables walkers to discover Rottnest’s salt lakes, as well as some of its beautiful bays and beaches.

It took me a few minutes to find the gold osprey trail marker that represents the Gabbi Karniny Bidi and when I did, it led me out of The Settlement and onto the northern shore of Thomson Bay. (Only later did I realise I’d actually walked the trail in reverse. I’ll blame that on the fact I only had three hours of sleep the night before.)

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Despite my lack of zzz’s, I felt alert and awake. Though this was probably aided by the fact that my hat kept blowing off in the wind. Twice, I had to chase it over rocky outcrops, including while I was trying to photograph the Bathurst Lighthouse.

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Then, my hat decided to go for a swim at Pinky Beach. When the water looks this inviting, I can’t really blame it, though.

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It was a windy day, for sure, but overall, a beautiful day for walking, with magnificent cloud formations adding a sense of drama to the sky.

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Walking along Longreach Bay reminded me of my 1000km hike on the Bibbulmun Track last year. Towards the end of that hike, I got to enjoy many beach walks under majestic clouds.

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It was a great feeling following a trail again and being able to see such sweeping coastal views. In nine years, I’d never actually come across Fay’s Bay.

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Approaching Geordie Bay, there were lots of people enjoying the pristine surrounds, whether it be lying on the golden shore, swimming in the turquoise water or relaxing aboard the boats that are such a prominent sight along the Rottnest coastline.

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Little Parakeet Bay marked the final view of the coastline before the trail started to meander inland towards the salt lakes. More on those in Part 2!

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