Week back in Sydney

We’d the opportunity to spend a week in Sydney. Work during the day, catch ups with friends over meals in the evening. And on the weekends, we did what we loved best in Sydney – exploring the outdoors.

Our original plan to kayak the first Sunday we were back was scuttled due to gusty winds of up to 45km/h. And our attempt to go again the following Saturday was stymied by the strong winds again, as was the SUP ball game our friend had planned for us in Manly.

Oh well. But Lisa had another idea up her sleeve happily for Saturday – hiking in Lane Cove National Park. It’s a beautiful little area of land, so serene and quiet amongst the trees, and so close to downtown! We spent an enjoyable 4 hours just meandering around, stopping for a warm cuppa tea (ginseng gin tea anyone!?).

The winds finally did die down Sunday morning though, before our 3pm flight. Garry, Jeff, and I managed to squeeze in a two hour paddle from Spit Bridge to Bantry Bay and back, one of my favorite training routes back when I was training for the Massive Murray Paddle. Good times.

Spied a seal rubbing itself against a moored boat

Journey to the roof of Africa

What was the one highlight of the trek for you, Juraj (or Ting as she corrected me) asked the group, on our last evening meal in camp. Certainly not reaching the summit – Jeff and I got to 100m below the summit, to Stella Point at 5756m. We would have made the summit if we’d gone on another 0.5km, gritted our teeth through another hour. But by that point, Jeff’s oxygen levels were dangerously low, and I was over it and dreading the slide downhill back to base camp.

In any case, taking the obligatory photos at the summit were not the highlight for Juraj and Ting either. The view wasn’t much too different from where we had parted ways.

I think, for all of us, there wasn’t one particular highlight. Certainly not the interminable slog up from base camp at midnight. That was the singular hardest and longest night of my life. It was beautiful looking up at the trail of lights from headlamps slowing snaking up the mountain in the dark, while the stars twinkled overhead. At times, when the clouds below parted, we could also see the distant yellow lights from the city of Moshi far, far below, where people slept soundly and snugly in their warm beds. Most of the time though, we kept our eyes firmly on the round spot of light from our headlamps, which were trained on the boots of the person in front of us.

It was too cold, too windy, and the air too thin, to appreciate the beauty of the night. We had all wrapped ourselves up in multiple layers. Two pairs of socks, three pairs of pants, three layers of jackets, beanie, two pairs of gloves. But still the biting wind cut through. It seemed an eternal struggle between stopping to gasp for air and shiver from the cold, or trying to fight off the building lactic acid in our legs and push on.

Groups passed us. We passed guides helping clients back down the mountain, seemingly before we had barely started on the trail. We passed people who keeled over suddenly to retch, passed people slumped over by piles of rocks, unable to get up on their own accord. I couldn’t see my watch under all my layers of jackets, but I concentrated hard on just putting one foot ahead at a time, and tried to estimate the minutes until sunrise.

I was never happier when I looked up to see the thin sliver of the waning moon rise above the clouds, the yellow crescent a sure and welcome precursor to the rising sun. And finally, finally, after five miserable hours in the dark, we could see the start of a band of indigo light up the clouds, which slowly broadened and turned orange and pink.

A most glorious sight, one of which I shall have to commit to memory, since I was too cold and tired to want to struggle to get out my camera. But the sense of relief was so sweet.

Making our way gingerly back down from Stella Point to Base Camp

So, while there wasn’t one highlight, as I reflected on the trip, and especially as I gave more thought to the question when I got up at 230am for my last night pee at altitude, what I appreciated was being out there in nature. To have been able to walk through the drastically different climate zones that Mount Kilimanjaro had to offer – from the wet and humid rainforest to the moorland, to the Alpine desert and finally the arctic zone, it was pretty special.

It was pretty special to ring in the new year on the mountain too. Not that any of us were particularly planning to stay up till the Tanzanian midnight to countdown to 2019. We had already marked the Sydney new year and the Singapore new year earlier. But my bladder, and the brief but rousing cheer of the porters woke me up right at midnight. I crawled out of my tent to find that the earlier fog and clouds had cleared, and I could see a sky full of stars overhead and even the snowy outline of the summit in the background. I exchanged greetings with a couple of the guides and porters in the vicinity, and with Juraj, and snapped a few astro shots to mark the occasion.

Ringing in the new year at Barranco Camp, alpine desert environment

2018 seemed long and short at the same time. Long, because we had packed quite a lot into the 12 months. Moved from Sydney to London and then to Singapore, and then we each visited another total of 6 other countries. Short because time seemed to flash right by.

But back to Kilimanjaro: we had a great experience. It wasn’t a vacation by any means, and frankly, after back to back trips like this and the kayak marathon, I am looking forward to a warm and relaxing vacation by the beach. A bit of snorkeling, kayaking, and sleeping in hammocks under the stars.

Our guide Francis, leading us to Big Tree Camp on Day 1 of the trek through the rainforest zone
The clouds mostly dispersed when I crawled out of the tent in the middle of the night for a toilet break at Shira 1 camp – see our private toilet tent in the left foreground; best decision ever since we didn’t have to trek in the darkness of night to the public stalls, which, let’s just say, have seen tons of use…
Sunrise at Shira 1 camp, marking day 3 of our trek. Our dining tent is the bright green one in the middle
Night view of Moshi city miles below on Jan 1, at Karanga camp. Day 5 of trek
Long walk through the alpine desert on Day 6 to Barafu camp

One big bonus – after going through countless pairs of hiking boots and even more blisters and a few lost toenails, I finally landed on a pair of boots that fit like a dream. The lady at Campus Corner in Singapore who sized me up, placed my feet on insoles two sizes larger than my usual boots and pronounced them perfect to go. And indeed they were. Perfect. Not a single blister after 100km on Mt Kili! To think that I had almost normalized wincing everytime I accidentally kicked my old boots against my hiking pole!

Exploring verdant Singapore

I’ve to confess – since I moved to Singapore, my DSLR hasn’t really seen light of day. This contrasts with my using it every day in Sydney. But I’ve always been a little self conscious wielding a huge camera and tripod in urban environments, and much prefer to take pictures of landscapes.

And when we do go out to explore the little trails dotted around the island, the sun’s way too high in the sky and the weather too humid to want to lug that beast of a camera around. Excuses I know. But my phone has been more than capable of capturing snapshots that depict exactly how lush and green Singapore is.

This past weekend, in our attempt to break into our new hiking boots and get in a bit more training before our big walk up Kilimanjaro, we headed south to Hort Park, where we tripped across the tree-top bridges through to Mount Faber.

It was both our first times doing the trail, and we were very pleasantly surprised how beautiful it was, walking amidst tall leafy trees opening up with occasional glimpses of high rise apartments and office buildings in the background. The scenery reminded me of the backside of the Peak in Hong Kong. We only did the southern half of the trail before doubling back to Hort Park, but in the future, we’d want to start at West Coast Park and walk the length of the 9km trail.

Southern Ridges Walk2

 

Weekend in South Wales

We visited South Wales this weekend. It’s incredible actually – after 2.5 weeks in the UK, this was the first rainy weekend we had. But the wet hardly dampened our moods; South Wales is incredibly beautiful and has coasts that rival that of its namesake, New South Wales in Australia.

Our base for the Saturday was at a bed and breakfast in the town of Swansea. After we arrived in the afternoon, we took a stroll through Singleton Park and the University of Swansea to the promenade where we picked our way across the wet flat banks of Swansea Bay towards Mumbles. It was low tide, and the beach seemed to stretch for miles; we could hardly see the finger of water beyond.

Walking the promenade, Swansea to Mumbles
Walking the promenade, Swansea to Mumbles

It was close to 6pm by the time we finished the walk, but daylight was for another 3.5 hours and the rain clouds had parted. So we picked up some sandwiches and drove to Three Cliffs for a hike to Pennard Castle.

It’s a stunning walk. We clambered across steep sand dunes to access the beach…

…And up another series of sand dunes to get to the 12th century Pennard Castle, from where we were afforded a bird’s eye view of the entire Three Cliffs Bay.

We weren’t paying attention to the tides though. By the time we got back down to the beach, the fast rising waters had already covered most of the sand, completely blocking our path back to the carpark.

We approached a guy pulling along a fishing kayak on the opposite bank, to ask if there were an alternate path back – and also in hopes that he would give us a short lift back across the other side of the beach. While he didn’t offer the lift (ah well), he did point out a rather circuitous route back towards the castle ruins we had just clambered down from.

Hiking Gower Peninsula
Our high tide route back up to the car park from Three Cliffs Bay, through the woods

It was raining when we awoke on Sunday – drizzly with intermittent downpour. We kitted up and drove out to Rhossili Bay, reputed as the most beautiful bay in South Wales. Even in the mist and rain, it was stunning. Long, even sets of waves rolled into the bay below us, where dozens of surfers trekked down to surf.

During low tides, one could hike down to Worms Head, seen in the background in our photo below. But after our near mis-adventures the day before, and given that it was still mid-tide, we turned back around at the top of the cliff before the descend down.

Rhossili
View of Worms Head from Rhossili Bay

Driving back towards London, we stopped by Cardiff to visit Cardiff Castle. The site has stood through history from Roman times to the age of the Normans (when the keep was built) to the Victorian era where the sumptuously decorated rooms still stand, and then to WWII where the townsfolk of Cardiff sought refuge between the thick city walls during air raids.

Arab Room in Cardiff Castle
The stunning Arab Room in Cardiff Castle. At the top and centre of each stained glass window are crystal balls to better reflect the light streaming into the cosy room

Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Castle

Day hike of Seven Sisters – Seaford to Birling Gap

I checked off the iconic walk of the Seven Sisters down by Brighton on a brilliantly blue early summer day.

Headed down to Seaford by train, an easy 2 hour ride from London. From the train station, I walked across the small town to the Seaford Head Golf Course, where the sight of the imposing white chalk cliffs falling into the ocean took my breath away.

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap2

For a short way along the trek, I walked alongside a local, an old man who is a regular plyer of the walk, often with a sandwich bag in hand. We chatted about the unusual but welcome spell of sunny and cool days in Britain (jet streams that veered off the island carrying rain instead to Bordeaux); the wildflowers that sprouted up on the path through the different seasons; the geographic significance of the coast during WWII etc.

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap3

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap4
The kindly old man I walked a distance with pointed out the WWII Spitfire that flew overhead. “You can always tell a Spitfire by the purring of its Rolls Royce engine”, he said, reminding me of the character of the civilian captain in the movie Dunkirk

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap5

The official Seaford to Birling Gap walk has the walker turning back inland along the Cuckmere River when they reach Cuckmere Haven, the stretch of beach that connects to the actual Seven Sisters walk. But I was lazy to wander back inland and to the town of Exceat just to cross the river stream. It was mid tide, and the channel at the mouth, although fast moving, looked shallow enough. So I bid farewell to my lovely companion, took off my socks and shoes and rolled up my pants, and waded across the pebbly stream.

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap6
There are WWII bunkers that dot the beach. But, as the old man I walked with said, Hitler was not a student of history and did not learn from Napoleon’s mistakes. Instead of landing and attacking Britain while he could, he instead turned the German army against Russia. Thank goodness for that.

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap7

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap9

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap10

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap11

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap12

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap13

Such a gorgeous stretch of coast. 😍 Though the hills looked tiringly steep from a distance, I felt like I got up and over each “sister” in no time at all, distracted as I was by the lush green fields and blue ocean beyond.

Hiking and camping the Coastal Track in Royal National Park

For our 6th wedding anniversary, and to check off Jeff’s bucket list, we went camping with some friends along the Coastal Track down at Royal National Park. This is a super popular hiking trail – with camping reservations booked out at least 3 months in advance. This was our third – or was it fourth?! – time trying our luck at hiking it. Previously, the weather had either been too stormy or too hot for us fair-weather folks to attempt it. Heh.

While the weather forecast appeared decent this time around, a recent bush fire had resulted in a 6.5km track closure between Wattamolla and Garie Beach, which meant that we had to car pool to get around the closed section. That turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise for me actually, since I need only lug my heavy pack for a much shorter distance. 🙂 I’ve been so focused on kayaking, I’ve lost any stamina I had in the first place for hiking. Good wake up call to start cross-training!

But Saturday was a beautiful day, with a nice steady breeze, and after we’d puffed our way over Thelma Head into our beautiful valley campsite at North Era, we changed into our swimmers and plunged into the waves to cool down.

We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful end to the day really. The clouds gathered and thickened overhead, initially causing me to fret about having lugged my tripod for naught (since I wanted to shoot the stars), but they soaked up all the gorgeous hues of orange and pink and sunset.

 

And as the moon dipped below the horizon, the clouds did clear for a bit for the stars to come out to play. It was so relaxing and mediative to lie back on the soft grass to star up into the night sky, watching the stars pop out one by one.

I toyed with the idea of actually sleeping outside, under the stars. But when Lisa and I popped down to the beach to listen to the waves and play around with more long exposure photography, we noticed a band of lightning spread across the southern horizon at ever increasing intervals. I retreated back to the tent in the end, which turned out to be a wise decision because it did rain for a half hour right before sunrise (before the skies cleared again for what turned out to be a sweltering fall day).

March 2018 Royal National Park Weekend30.jpg
Lisa and I having some fun playing with long exposure shots on the beach; notice the light pollution in the background from Wollongong

Teaser week in Perth

If anything, these past few days just showed us how much Western Australia has to offer, and what little we’ve seen of it. Back in Sydney now, but already dreaming of going back and exploring all the other nook and crannies, including Broome, all the way up north in the further reaches of the state. Oh well.

In descending order, our highlights:

  1. Biking and snorkeling around Rottnest Island. I huffed and puffed my way around the island; it’s been too long since I got on a bike! But the weather was glorious. Hot sun with a steady cool breeze, and if we got too sweaty, we just cooled off in the water.
  2. Kayaking to Penguin Island where, along the way, we paddled up close to lazing sea lions and a pod of dolphins
  3. Walking short sections of the 135 km Cape to Cape trail. Stunning coast line. Oh to walk the full distance!
  4. Sneaking in a cheeky 2 hour SUP along Cottesloe Beach just before our flight. The water was soooo clear and inviting

We also managed to get in a bit of wine tasting in Margaret River, but for perhaps the first time ever, our heart wasn’t really into it. We just wanted to get back to the beach!

Exploring the Pinnacles

Male sea lions rule this little piece of land just off Penguin Bay – WA

Pod of dolphins just cruising by

Checking out the sea lion sanctuary – Jeff’s GoPro

Bird sanctuary on Penguin Island

Cape to Cape trail

Sunset over Surfers Point – Margaret River

Checking out the wines in Margaret River – Leeuwin Estate, The Watershed, Voyager

We know we aren’t supposed to pet the quokkas, but they didn’t get the memo and crawled all over Jeff

Look at those cute little ears

Snorkeling in Parker Bay on Rottnest Island

Exploring the bays of Rottnest Island by bike

Long weekend in Grampians and Arapiles

We put our paddles away this long weekend, in favor of our climbing harnesses. It’s been a while since we dusted off our gear and headed outdoors, but we did try to hit the gym this past month to get back into climbing shape… or some semblance of it at least.

Rose, Jeff and I hit up Grampians first on Sunday, where we managed several short hikes, including to the beautiful Pinnacles lookout and MacKenzie Falls.

We stopped by the picturesque MacKenzie Falls.

Our main attraction for the weekend though, was Arapiles, Australia’s climbing mecca. We hired a guide, Anthony, who brought us up 6 pitches of Kaiser and Resignation. Super beautiful quartzite climbs.

It was mostly overcast, with periods of intense sunshine that burst through the clouds. We did get rained on for short minutes a few times throughout the course of the day, but the fast moving clouds only lent to the beauty of the landscape. Check out those vivid canola fields in the distance!

 

At least the rain is no longer on us – Arapiles

We enjoyed a light lunch after pitch four of our climb, amongst the bright yellow crinkly Everlast flowers.

And when we finally reached the top of pitch 6, it was to the view of 6 different highlines strung across the valley. This was maybe a 300m highline – man!

Highline goals – Arapiles

Check out the views from the top of Arapiles – and the insane highlines! We’d chanced upon the annual slackline festival in Arapiles, apparently. Here’s a link from the 2016 gathering.

And before we headed back to sunny and warm Sydney, Rose and I managed one sunrise adventure in search of canola fields.

Foggy sunrise

 

Sunrise over the canola fields

Short Getaway to Hamilton Island

We were looking forward to breaking out our skis for a weekend in Queenstown, New Zealand, but couldn’t quite justify the cost for a short trip. So instead we looked northwards, to Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays, where we could go snorkeling in the midst of winter without fear of jellyfish stings.

Great long weekend getaway. Our chalet rental came with a golf buggy, which we used to explore around the island. We were definitely grateful to drive it up and down the steep One Tree Hill peak multiple times over the course of our stay for the cheap $10 cocktails and the beautiful sunsets on the peak.

Puttering around Hamilton Island in our golf buggy

 

Moonlight over Passage Peak - Hamilton Island
Moonlight over Passage Peak – Hamilton Island

Our one grouse about staying on a resort island – limited and overly strict regulations on sport rental. There was a single kayak rental on the island (!!!), on the long Catseye Beach, but we were restricted to paddling within a 1km perimeter. Same with the catamaran rental. Gah. So we rented a dinghy instead to explore the nearby islands. Even then, we weren’t allowed to wander too far off, or even circumnavigate Hamilton Island. On hindsight, we should have brought our own kayaks. But hey, it was fun driving our own little dinghy.

 

 

 

Unfortunately, the snorkeling leaves much to be desired around Hamilton Island. We’re not sure how much of that is due to Cyclone Debbie that ravaged the area in April, but there were barely any coral around, nor much fish to see. So we booked ourselves on a snorkeling tour to the Outer Barrier Reefs on a day trip. Happy to report that the reefs there are still really healthy and abundant, if not the most colorful. Tons of fishes.

Enjoying a stunning sunset atop One Tree Hill - Hamilton Island
Enjoying a stunning sunset atop One Tree Hill – Hamilton Island

 

Sunrise over Catseye Beach - Hamilton Island
Sunrise over Catseye Beach – Hamilton Island

Sunrise over Catseye Beach - Hamilton Island
Wading in the shallow waters at Catseye Beach, hoping to catch glimpse of turtles heading out for their early morning swim. Didn’t spy any, but we did spot plenty of crabs, an octopus, and some fish.

 

View atop Passage Peak - Hamilton Island
View atop Passage Peak

Backcountry Camping along the Uloola Track

A couple of weekends ago, almost on a whim, we packed our bags for an overnight backcountry track down in Royal National Park. Uloola Falls Track. It’s not along the coast, but more inland, where the brush is overgrown, so much so that we pretty much have to walk with our hands in front of our faces, pushing off the leaves and tree branches in our faces. Once or twice, the path narrows so that we think we’ve wandered down the wrong trail. But every once in a while, we emerge from the thick undergrowth to large slabs of rocks into the bright sunshine, for a glimpse of the shimmering ocean beyond and the shrunken Sydney skyline in the north.

It was a short weekend hike, easily accessible by train from the city. Nice and quick little getaway.