Galle to Ahungalla

After a few days of nature based experiences, we bid farewell to the Udawalawe region on Day 5, and headed off in the direction of Sri Lanka’s famed southern coastline. Our first stop for the day was Galle, a coastal city renown for its Dutch colonial architecture. We had an hour and a half to explore the city, which was obviously nowhere near long enough to fully experience the rich history of the area, but it was just enough time to walk around the Fort and take photos of the old streets and buildings, as well as the beautiful Indian Ocean which surrounds three sides of the city.

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Galle played an important role in the ancient trading routes between the east and west, and the Fort, which is such a key feature of the appearance of the city today, was first built by the Portuguese in 1588. However, from 1649 onwards, it was the Dutch who set about on an extensive fortification of the city. Today it is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by Europeans, as well as being recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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There are a number of additional interesting architectural features around the city, aside from the impressive fort structure. These include the clock tower, constructed in 1883; the Dutch Reformed Church, a Protestant church constructed in 1755; All Saints Church, an Anglican church constructed in 1868; and the lighthouse, which stands 26.5m tall at the southern end of the city. It was constructed in 1939 after a fire destroyed the original structure which the British had built in 1848.

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After Galle, we made a brief pit stop in the popular beach town of Hikkaduwa, as it is where we were originally meant to stay. There were many water activities available, but we only had time for a short stroll along the beach. It is one of the coastal areas that was badly affected by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, in which over 30,000 Sri Lankan people died.

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There were certainly no complaints about the change to a new beachside destination when we drove down the long paved entrance to Heritance Ahungalla, and realised this luxury five star hotel was our accommodation for the night. Everyone’s jaws dropped when we walked into the hotel lobby and saw the view below.

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Once we’d checked in, most of the group headed straight down to the beach, which was much less crowded than in Hikkaduwa. I, however, had got sunburnt in Galle, and wanted to avoid the sun for the rest of the afternoon. Instead, I started planning for my solo week of travelling around Sri Lanka. I did make it down to the beach for a stunning sunset, though. There’s no denying life is good when you’re treated to this sort of beauty.

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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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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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Rotto ’17: A Sneak Peek

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Today, I visited Rottnest Island, or Rotto, as it is affectionately known by us West Aussies. It is one of the most popular holiday destinations in our state. I’ve been visiting the island every summer for many years now and I always look forward to it.

Rottnest is located about 18km off the mainland and can be reached by a 30-45 minute ferry ride. It’s only 11km long but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in sheer rugged beauty, especially with its coastline of over 60 beaches.

This year, I walked one of the five sections that make up the Wadjemup Bidi, a 45km long series of walking trails that span the island. The 9.7km loop trail which I walked today, known as the Gabbi Karniny Bidi, consisted of beautiful bays, stunning salt lakes and quirky quokkas.

I’ll be posting photos and a recount of today’s adventures in a future blog post but for now, it’s sleepy time for this worn-out walker!

My Top 10 Travel Memories of 2016: #5

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Number 5: Walking along White Beach while listening to Mark Ronson

At the beginning of April, my friend, Suz, and I spent two weeks holidaying in the Philippines. Considering there are over 7000 islands to choose from, it was difficult to decide which ones we wanted to see. In the end, we settled upon four islands: Bohol, Cebu, Boracay and Palawan.

We’d read mixed reviews about Boracay. In fact, the first article that popped up when we searched ‘Boracay’ on Google was It’s the worst island I’ve ever been to. While my friend and I are not big on the whole party island vibe ourselves- one of the author’s main gripes- we thought her assessment was a bit harsh and that we’d be better off making up our own minds.

After further research, we found out that White Beach, which is the main beach on the island, is divided into three ‘stations’ and if you stay in Station 1 or 3, it’s far less crowded than in central Station 2. As fate would have it, a picture of an amazing looking location called Spider House popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. It was in Station 1, at the very end of the 4km long beach. The decision was made. We were going to Boracay.

I’m glad we decided to visit Boracay because both my friend and I ended up really loving the place. Spider House was the perfect spot to stay- about a 20 minute walk to the busy part of White Beach but even there, we didn’t find it to be more touristy than any other island in South East Asia.

We did a lot of day tours over the two weeks but decided, for our three days on Boracay, we would just chill out and do nothing. It was blissful. The added advantage of our accommodation being further away was that we did a lot of walking each time we headed to or from Station 2.

Walking along the beach became my favourite thing to do. I was captivated by the tides and how they changed the colour and texture of the shoreline.A turquoise dream at high tide and an intricate web of wavy streams at low tide.

One afternoon, after having had lunch in Station 2, Suz decided to have a massage while I opted to go back and relax at Spider House. I put in my headphones, ready to pass the 30 minute walk with some tunes, and pressed play on ‘Uptown Special’, the album by Mark Ronson that I’d recently acquired. At this point, there were a couple of songs on the album which I loved and kept listening to on repeat. I soon became too wrapped up in the stunning surrounds to notice what songs were playing.

Until the twentieth second of the third minute of a song called ‘In Case of Fire’ started playing. The dreamy twangs of this short instrumental interlude jolted me and I had one of those transcendental moments where you look at the world around you and realise that, right here, right now, everything has aligned into perfect harmony- the water, the wind, the sand, the palm trees, the people, everything.

And to think I had always skipped over this song. Needless to say, I found a new song to listen to on repeat. Even though I never recaptured that same feeling of zen, I think the reason I love this memory so much is that it provided me with one of those rare times in life when you are truly living in the moment. And in that moment, I heard the soul of Boracay sing.

 

My Top 10 Travel Memories of 2016: #6

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Number 6: Swimming amongst phytoplankton on the island of Koh Rong

The inspiration for my Cambodia trip in February came from an article I read about the country’s tropical islands, of which I had not even been aware. The author described an island escape where electricity was only available from 6-10pm. I couldn’t think of a more perfect place to detox from the technological world and disconnect from the frenzied pace of modern life.

So, after my group tour ended, I made my way to the island of Koh Rong. That was an experience in itself and as I disembarked off the ferry from Sihanoukville onto the main shore of the island, I was quite shocked to see how quickly the claws of commercialism are making their mark here. I suspect this once unspoilt paradise will eventually become just another cheap tourist party island. I know I cannot begrudge a developing country the opportunity to tap into tourism as a source of revenue but it always makes me feel sad when it leads to nature being destroyed in the process.

Luckily for me, I was not staying on the main shore of Koh Rong but rather on the eastern side. I felt far more comfortable when, after a further 40 minute boat ride, I stepped onto white sand and saw nothing but a handful of wooden bungalows peeking out from amongst palm trees swaying lazily in the breeze.

My accommodation for my three night stay was a tent on the shore of the beach. The same chorus of waves welcomed me when I woke in the morning and provided a soothing lullaby as I drifted off to sleep each night. I switched off from ‘time’ in between and lived a simple life of eat, swim, sleep, repeat. (Do not repeat falling asleep in a hammock and waking up with tiger legs though. It makes for a most unfortunate tan.)

One of the things I was most excited about was the bioluminescent phytoplankton in the area. I’d seen incredible pictures of midnight seas aglow with electric blue water- a direct result of some pretty amazing chemical reactions occurring within these microscopic marine plants.

On my second night on the island, I had my first experience with phytoplankton but it was not quite what I was hoping for. For starters, the water was pitch black as we made our way to the beach for a late night swim, which made me wonder whether the photos I’d seen hadn’t been a bit generous in their adjustment of saturation levels. This was no big deal though, because when we entered the water, the phytoplankton were certainly there- however, I couldn’t really focus on their quiet beauty as I had to convince the somewhat inebriated owner of the bungalows that I was not interested in being anymore than his friend that evening, thank you very much.

I decided to try viewing the phytoplankton again on my last night. Around midnight, I walked the short distance to the beach with high hopes that this time, my experience would be better. The shore was deserted. Perfect. The night air was balmy and the water warm and inviting.

What can I say? This time, the experience was mesmerising! A real magic show produced by some of nature’s tiniest creatures. I was simply transfixed each time I twirled my hands through the water, to see hundreds of tiny sparks of liquid light shooting past my fingertips.  I don’t know how long I swam in that water but afterwards, I noticed even my skin was glowing!

It’s safe to say I will never forget the memory of this midnight swim. After all, it’s not every day that the sea becomes a galaxy of fallen stars, allowing you to dance in the light of the universe itself.