Goodbye Summer

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It seems like only yesterday that December was starting, and with it, the season of summer stretched ahead, full of possibilities. And yet, somehow, three months have gone by, and the sun has now set on the last day of summer for 2016/17.

I’ve always loved the freedom that summer represents. As a kid and later as a teacher, I always relished the long school holidays, from mid-December to the end of January. Finally, there was time to indulge in my creative pursuits without feeling guilty that I should be doing school work instead. For six weeks, I would feel like ‘me’ again. These days, as a relief teacher, I have more freedom than ever before, so I’m trying to make the most of it. That’s why I’m so pleased with how successful this summer has been from a creative point of view. My two biggest achievements were completing my ‘Himalayan 100’ photo album and starting this blog. More importantly, I’ve maintained this blog for two months now. This is because I dedicated the month of January to changing my mindset about writing. Now that it’s a habit instead of a task, it’s just become a natural part of my routine and I don’t feel as if my day is complete until I’ve done some writing.

No summer is complete without a holiday, of course. My annual visit to Rottnest Island at the start of January may only have been for a day, but, like always, left me feeling refreshed and inspired. The longer trip came in February, when I headed off to Sri Lanka for two weeks. It was my first visit to the island, but I’m sure it won’t be my last. I met some lovely people on my G Adventures tour, was treated to some amazing views and nature experiences, and ate such delicious food that I’m still dreaming about it. Sri Lanka was the perfect way to start off my adventures for 2017.

I aimed to be active regardless of whether I was on holiday or at home, and, happily,  I achieved a goal that I set at the start of summer to walk 10,000 steps each day. That said, I found plenty of time to relax as well, in the form of watching late night trashy horror films; feasting with friends over the festive period; and what has got to be my favourite summer pasttime of all- lazing in the hammock with a good book (and sometimes falling asleep).

What I also really liked about this summer were the milder temperatures, as I don’t enjoy the heat as much as I used to. There were several days where I actually went for my walk wearing a jumper, as the air was nippy outside and it was so windy. The weather resembled a rollercoaster, as we’d have a couple of really hot days, which would be followed by a substantial drop in temperature. Not that I was complaining. It’s much easier to tolerate a 40 degree day when you know you don’t have a two week heatwave following it. (Though the 114mm downpour and 17 degree day that Perth experienced while I was in Sri Lanka was just weird.) I’m not sure whether the weather had anything to do with it, but the skies were pretty tame at sunset time, and my camera only came out twice the entire summer to capture a dramatic evening sky.

Nevertheless, there’s no denying it’s been a wonderful summer. Now to see what autumn has in store.

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This summer, I set myself a goal to walk 10,000 steps each day. Perth is blessed with clear blue skies, sunny weather, and fourteen hours of sunlight during the summer season. Even if it’s too hot during the day, the nights are generally balmy- in fact, this is my favourite time to exercise. All in all, it means there really is no excuse not to be active. And although there were several times when I had to go for an 11.30pm run to make sure I reached my target for the day, I can now officially say that I achieved my goal! In total, I walked 1,035,362 steps this summer. I was so happy to realise I’d broken the million mark.

I also achieved another exercise-related goal this summer, which was to run around my suburb- a distance of about 7km. It doesn’t sound like much, but given that I’m not a runner, it felt like a formidable challenge. After last year’s 1000km hike along the Bibbulmun Track and my trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, a new fitness challenge was just what I needed. I don’t know that those walks made much long-term impact on my overall fitness, but after a couple of months of building up my endurance, I managed to complete the run, in under the hour that I’d been aiming for. (Actually, I shouldn’t lie, it was more of a very slow jog.) This goal was actually more of a resolution for 2017, so to achieve it before the first month of the year was over was a bonus.

I’m proud of these efforts as I’ve never really been into fitness, aside from trying to fit in a few walks during the week. Even that started as a way of procrastinating from doing assignments, back in my uni days. As I’ve got older, though, I’ve become more conscious of wanting to look after my body. Given that I love my food, I know that regular exercise is in my best interest. Buying myself a Fitbit for my birthday last year also helped, as it made me more motivated to move. And while I’m not going to worry if I don’t make 10,000 steps each day in March, the first week of autumn is looking to be very summery indeed- perfect for some balmy evening walks.

The Return of Summer

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Sunsets are one of my favourite things to photograph, and I am lucky to live in a city which is blessed with some spectacular ones. The 2015/16 season was full of rainbow skies and striking cloud formations.

At the end of November 2016, with only a few days to go until the official start of summer, there was an evening that blazed with a flaming orange sky. I got super excited, thinking this was a teaser for what was in store for the hot months ahead.

It wasn’t.

Two months went by, and there was nothing. Each night, the skies have been calm and clear. I don’t know whether it’s because we haven’t had as many days of sustained high temperatures as usual, but there simply haven’t been any dramatic endings to the day.

And then, finally, finally, this happened.

I have been waiting for an epic sunset like this all summer. I love the simple sunsets, don’t get me wrong. But there is something utterly thrilling about witnessing such a lively sky, full of vibrance and energy. It is as if a grand masterpiece is being painted before your eyes, simultaneously revealing the past, present and future of a moment in time.

These are the skies that tell a thousand stories and weave them into an epic saga about a fleeting empire of castles built in the air; an empire that is falling into ruins even as it is being built. These are the skies that sing bold proclamations to the heavens, rejoicing in life but all the while preparing for their voice to be extinguished. These are the skies that define majesty and magic, and spark the imagination with a light that reflects the secrets of some other world.

But most of all, these are the skies that remind all who view them just how small and inconsequential we are in their presence. And that is why I love them.

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 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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