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!

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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A Moment of Zen

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There are two memories that stand out from yesterday’s trip to Rottnest Island. They were moments of zen, where you just feel the world and notice how everything is connected and co-existing in harmony. These are my most treasured memories because they are a reminder that life can be perfect.

What I’ve come to realise is how simple perfection seems to be at its core. This particular experience started off with me sitting by a salt lake, eating dried mango. It was early afternoon, the sun was warm and a salt-laced sea breeze stirred the air. My entertainment consisted of clouds rolling by, while raucous water birds and chirpy crickets provided a free soundtrack.

Rottnest is a busy island and yet there was no-one else about. These pristine surrounds were all mine to enjoy. It was incredibly peaceful and I felt incredibly content.

 

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: #4

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Number 4: Sailing around the islands of the Bacuit Archipalego

I love the ocean and always find the sight of it, stretching infinitely out beyond the horizon, so calming and peaceful to look at. I take comfort in its constancy and timelessness. The lives of humans come and go but the ocean remains where it always has been and always will be.

I’m not much of a swimmer but I love being out on the water. Unfortunately, since I do not have a millionaire husband with his own private yacht, it is not an opportunity that arises very often! That’s why if I’m travelling somewhere warm and it has any sort of coastline, one of the first things I’ll do is arrange some sort of sailing experience.

So, it’s safe to say that when my friend and I visited the Philippines, there was definitely going to be some sailing involved. After all, a country with over 7000 islands was practically made for living life on the sea.

The main sailing experiences we had on our holiday were in El Nido, a municipality situated in the north of the island of Palawan. As you enter the town, a sign proclaims Welcome to El Nido- A Paradise Within Paradise. El Nido has also been called the Best Beach and Island destination in the Philippines. Again, given the number of islands that make up this country, such acclaim meant that our expectations were high.

We were not disappointed.

My friend and I only had two full days in El Nido and spent both of them doing ‘island hopping’ tours. As El Nido is the gateway to the wider Bacuit Archipelago, there are 45 enchanting tropical islands which you can explore. We visited ten of them over the two days.

Our first island hopping tour was my favourite and the highlight of my entire Philippines holiday. A calm, clear ocean and the balmiest sea breeze set the scene for a perfect day of sailing. The gentle swaying of the boat was so soothing that I could’ve easily dozed off, if it wasn’t for all the rugged karst cliffs rising around me. It is awe-inspiring and humbling to see the work of eons towering over you.

The day offered many opportunities to swim and snorkel and it was such a treat to be able to do so in such magnificent natural surrounds. Striking contrasts were everywhere- ivory shores, ebony outcrops, emerald forests and crystal water. But what I loved most of all was just sitting at the front of the boat, the sun on my skin, the wind in my hair and the presence of freedom all around me.