Category Archives: Trekking

Melbourne to Sydney on Highway 1 and The Blue Mountains


Rain rain go away, come again another day…

It was February 26th but in this camper the day was only referred to as the Carling Cup Final Day! The morning was spent with Hedd driving us to Sale along Highway 1, after leaving a very hot Melbourne, anxious to book us into any type of accommodation with Foxtel Sports so he could watch his team, Liverpool, play Cardiff in the Final. We ended up in the Best Western Motor Lodge, the one and only establishment with the aforementioned TV channel. After checking into our room and double checking once more that it indeed had Foxtel Sports, Hedd relaxed enough to enjoy a bit of exploring. We made our way to the coastal village of Seaspray and then drove the Ninety Mile Beach to Golden Beach. The ninety mile sweeping beach in the shape of a shallow smile was really cool to see and had sand dunes all along it with golden fine sand. And it was sunny so we could actually see, walk along and enjoy this Ninety Mile Beach not like when we were in North Island New Zealand battling against the rain and mist to see Northland’s own Ninety Mile Beach! After paddling in the sea and having a chill out on the beach we made our way back to Sale. Touch and go whether we would make it as the fuel gauge was on empty for a considerable length of time, we were relieved to reach the edge of the town and dive into the nearest petrol station. Take out pizza for tea whilst watching a movie and ticking down the time to the match. As the alarm sounded at 2.15am for Hedd to take his position in front of the telly to watch Liverpool v Cardiff football game. My original intentions of joining him on the sofa was soon forgotten and I stayed in bed and dozed in and out of sleep with Hedd’s cries of delight and sorrow as Liverpool struggled through full-time, extra time and penalties to eventually win at 6 o’clock in the morning! Oh dear, got to love time difference!

Waking up just a couple of hours later, we woke up to rain. We drove through showers, chasing the sun, up the coast to a place called Lakes Entrance where it was still dry. Reliably informed by the tourist information ladies that “the storm was a’ coming”  we whipped around all the lookout points around the town before the rain caught up with us. The best lookout was funnily enough down Lookout Road, where we were afforded a view over Rigby Island, the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes, Reeves Channel, part of the Gippsland Lake Coastal Park and the Bass Straight. It was pretty with turquoise seas, white sandy coves and foliage covered small islands. Like a miniature Fiji! But alas the rain had caught up with us and as we ate our lunch in the shelter of our camper our spirits got lower as the rain got heavier. We set off north up the coast once more, turning off at Orbost to take the scenic coastal drive to Cape Conran. I was driving and it was really nasty driving conditions, 90 km/hr max, with the wipers tirelessly sweeping streams of water off the windscreen. My anxiety wasn’t helped by the fact that a massive lizard dashed

out into the road which I had no choice but to run over. I screamed a lot; this lizard was easily 1 meter long and felt like I was going over a speed bump! We arrived at Cape Conran in a break in the rain and I must say I was pleased to get out of the car. The camper wasn’t damaged but Hedd said he could see lizard guts as he looked under the vehicle; squeamish and irrationally thinking all lizards were now out to get me, I ran away from the camper and onto the sheltered, white sand beach of Cape Conran. It was very pretty and we paddled our feet until we began to feel the rain again. Back in the camper and driving north again to our overnight stop at a town called Eden. However it wasn’t the paradise the name suggests as we creeped into town in the torrential rain and mist which made the 5pm look more like night-time! We found a holiday park next to Eden Beach, parked up, cooked soup for dinner and rooted ourselves on a covered picnic bench with a pack of cards and a bottle of wine to see the rainy evening in the best we could. We fell asleep that night to the sound of rain on the camper roof. Oh Australia, where did your infamous sunshine go?!

Tuesday 28th Feb and a bout of bad luck struck Hedd. He started the day gently rolling into the car behind him as we left Eden (the gentleman was not bothered at all and was more annoyed that Hedd made him wind his window down whilst it was tipping it down to see if he was okay!); next up was a big rock flying up and hitting the windscreen creating a big chip; and finally as we stopped for lunch at Batesmans Bay for lunch the crockery box fell out of the camper as he opened the side door smashing our 2 glass cups! Needless to say Hedd was not a happy chappy! Still raining we got back on the road and headed towards Jervis Bay and the Booderee National Park- our stop for the night. We stayed in the National Park campsite called Green Patch- pretty basic but fine for just 1 night. We reluctantly left the camper and legged it over to the covered BBQ’s to make dinner- Chorizo sausage salad. Then legged it back to the camper where we hid from the heavy rain until, again reluctantly, we had to get out to brush our teeth before bed.

Happy Leap Year Day! Guess what, it was still raining! We worked out it hadn’t stopped since lunchtime on the 27th and by now our rain coats were drenched and we were both fed up of being constantly damp and not being able to do or see anything. These feelings were heightened especially in Booderee National Park as in the sunshine we could see that the place would be stunning, fantastic white sandy beaches, fun forest walks and cool historic sites to visit. We were determined to see/do something here. So we drove down to Green Patch Beach, where indeed the sand was white and the waters clear. Then we drove to the Cape St George Lighthouse ruins. Putting our soggy coats on, we braved the weather and walked up to it reading the info boards and visiting all the different lookouts. The weather now was truly atrocious- cold as well as wet instead of just being wet. But the lighthouse ruins and its history were quite interesting. The lighthouse had never served its purpose well, being designed all wrong and being in the wrong location; it became a showpiece. However each of the families that lived in it had tragic accidents so it was thought to be a highly unlucky (some may say cursed) place. People drowning in fishing nets, falling off cliffs, catching diseases, getting shot…all sorts of horrendous endings! Reading all about that plus the inclement weather soon saw us leave the place sharpish and driving out of the National Park and up the coast to Wollongong- our last stop on Highway 1 before heading west into the Blue Mountains. Having lunch and stocking up on maps and information on the Blue Mountains from Wollongong information centre, we set off for Katoomba- Blue Mountains main town. Passing familiar place names on our way, we drove through Penrith and Liverpool, before arriving in Katoomba at 5pm in the thick mist and rain. My goodness, the place really did look miserable! As we drove into Katoomba Falls Caravan Park- the only one in town and within a 1 hour radius- we couldn’t believe our eyes when we read the sign saying ‘No Vacancies’! Hedd went into the office anyway and looking so depressed the lady took pity on us and moved a load of bookings around so she could give us a pitch for the 2 nights we needed. Phew, thank goodness for that! We had pitch 13- unlucky for some but at that point in time, for us, our saviour! Nothing else to do but to make dinner, we headed over to the camp kitchen only to be greeted by a big group of 50-year-old + couples who slightly drunk offered us cheese, biscuits and dip. They were all from Newcastle, north of Sydney, here for a golfing holiday. But on account of the rain had done little golfing and a lot of drinking instead! As we proceeded in making our beans on toast the group took great interest in us and were given the title “the young people”. “Give the young people more dip and biscuits”, “give the young people some chairs”. And after our beans on toast one of the wives came over with 2 Aussie Patties (burgers) full with salad, cheese and sauce for us saying “she couldn’t see us going to bed with only beans on toast in our bellies” . Although pleasantly full after our beans on toast we weren’t ones to pass up on free food and enjoyed our burgers tremendously whilst chatting away with the group. Before they could feed us with more food, we retired to the van. For a while I refused to get out of the van on account of the foul weather, cleaning my teeth my putting my head out of the window. But eventually nature called and I legged it to the loo and back. Even though the amenities block was less than 20 meters away, I still managing to get absolutely drenched. I went to sleep hoping, wishing and praying that tomorrow we wouldn’t wake up to rain drops.

Naturally waking up at 7am, the first thing I notice was the silence…halleluiah it wasn’t raining! We both looked at each other and without speaking raced to get dressed to head out and actually do some sightseeing. We were walking out of our campsite and towards Katoomba Falls by 7.30am, picking up the Prince Henry Cliff Trail which wraps itself along the mountain side with views of the Blue Mountains and the valley below culminating at the 3 Sisters rock formation at Echo Point. We were so excited to be outside doing something we almost skipped along the trail. But we soon came to an obstacle- “Path closed due to recent bush fire activity”. We weighed up our options- turn back and go along the boring road with no views or push back the very flimsy gate, think blow it and proceed. We went with the later option and continued to enjoyed the spectacular view as we made our way to Echo Point. We were going along quite happily when we turned a corner and faced our “ah, this is what they were talking about” moment. A whole staircase of wood obliterated into charcoal! We clambered along and quickened up the pace in the fear of getting caught! Eventually we came to Queen Elizabeth Lookout and bent around the sister “closed path sign” and we were back on the path of legitimate walking! As we approached Echo Point we got our first sight of the rock formation called the 3 Sisters. Hedd was so chuft if was seeing them as he had convinced himself he would be confined to the camper until we got to Sydney. I had again some deja vu moments as I stood taking very similar photographs to the ones I took back in 2004 but I still took them! So the legend of the 3 Sisters goes that 3 beautiful sisters from the Gundungurra people were in love with 3 brothers from the neighbouring nation of Dhuarruk people, but marriage was forbidden by tribal law. The brothers were warriors and decided to take the maidens by force. Tribal war forced the Kuradjuri (clever man) of the Gundungurra people to turn the sisters into stone. He intended to restore them after the danger had passed but he was unfortunately killed in the battle and to this day nobody has been able to break the spell and turn the 3 sisters back to their natural form. Hmmm not such a clever plan after all! We then walked further along the track and down part of the Giant Staircase until we hit another ‘danger do not pass’ sign. We decided not to push our luck and turned back towards our camp site really pleased we’d had the break in weather to see the key sights in the Blue Mountains. After a well deserved breakfast and showers we headed out again but this time in our camper to drive Cliff Drive, culminating at Sublime Point, and stopping off at all the various lookouts on the way. As we checked out Honeymoon lookout, Kiah lookout, Leura Falls, Gordon Falls lookout and eventually getting to Sublime Point lookout we had seen the Blue Mountains in the now clear, cloud free weather from many different perspectives and, as the sun started to shine, saw why they were called ‘Blue’ Mountains. A blue haze appeared before our eyes in the valley as the sun hit the oily atmosphere created by the eucalyptus trees, gets scattered with only the blue being absorbed by the canopy giving its blue appearance. An optical phenomenon called ‘Rayleigh Scattering’. As we made the walk back to our camper from Sublime Point Lookout the spits of rain began once again and we smiled at our timing. Arriving back at the campsite we resume our hermit lifestyle as the rain lashed down on us once more. We were just pleased we had got our morning of sightseeing and whiled away the afternoon playing cards and listening to music. As it was St Davids Day we celebrated with a dinner of Lamb Burgers!

So the 2nd March marked our last day with the camper and we reflected upon what a vastly different 2 weeks we had had in terms of weather since picking it up in Melbourne, as we made our way past Penrith and Liverpool again and onto Sydney. Navigating ourselves into the big city wasn’t as bad as we had originally feared and we arrived at the Hippie Camper drop off by the airport our stress levels surprisingly low. We now just had to see that we got our bond refunded and hope they didn’t charge us anything for the chip in the windscreen. Hoorah everything was fine! As we waited for our taxi to take us to our first cheeky freebie place to stay, we wondered what mayhem would proceed that weekend when Royal Chester Rowing Club members regrouped and descended on the unaware Sydney suburb of Narrabean…

Highway 1 to Sydney and The Blue Mountains in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Cold, wet and miserable!
  • Food= Anything quick to cook in the rain (soup, salad, beans on toast)
  • Drink= Wine and plenty of it!
  • The area flooded in New South Wales= The size of France
  • Items thrown out due to saturation= Both our trekking sandals
  • Shouldn’t have done it but pleased we did moment= Walking along the closed, due to forest fire, Prince Henry Cliff Walk in Katoomba!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

Rain, rain, rain…the heaviest rain in that region in 12 years! Great, well we could at least be grateful for two things. Firstly we were mainly traveling via the coast and were not in the areas effected worst by the flooding. Secondly, we were traveling in a camper van, and camper vans are so much better than a tent in the rain! Despite the rain, we still managed to have a great time and saw some cool things. Sometime you just have to make the most of a bad situation, which we certainly did. We went to all the places we were going to and although I’m sure that Jervis Bay and the Blue Mountains would have been so much more spectacular in the sun, we got to see them. We were even lucky enough to get 4 hours of no rain and no fog in the Blue Mountains, so glad we got up straight away and just went out to see what we could do. So there’s the lesson, when the weather is good make the most of it, and when it’s not make the most of that too!!

Our Last Leg in NZ- Mt Cook, Rangitata and Christchurch


Good bye New Zealand, you have done us well.

So time for our last stretch on the Stray Bus and our final driver called Salty. He greeted us in the early morning pick up with a lot of swearing and exclamations…we liked him instantly! We were heading to Mt Cook for the night (12th Feb), but we had the journey first… Our first coffee break was at a place called Cromwell- well-known for fruit-growing and wine making. We then drove along Lake Dunston- a man-made lake created to generate hydro-power and flooding the old Cromwell in the process. Then through the Lindis Pass to Omarama for a toilet stop. We then made our way through McKinsey Country known who its sheep farming – not for meat but for Mareno wool used for warm wooly sock, jumpers, scarves etc. Fetches quite a price out here. We then drove along side Lake Pukaki and stopped at Peters Lookout for a picture. The lake was a bright light powder blue colour due to being fed by the Tasman Glacier; all the rock flour refracting the light making it show as a gorgeous blue. Just a little more driving and then we had arrived at Mt Cook on a stunning clear blue sky afternoon. The ice capped mountains of the national park looked spectacular. We were so lucky with the weather! We arrived at 2pm, checked into our hostel- Mt Cook Backpackers- and got our walking shoes on, heading straight out to walk the Hooker Valley trail to the base of Hooker Glacier (4 hour return). We walked up to the Hermitage Hotel, post the DOC campsite, passed an Alpine Memorial, crossed 2 swing bridges, tracked a lively pebbly river and eventually arrived at our final destination- Terminal Lake at the bottom of the Hooker Glacier. The lake had icebergs floating in it which was a bit mad and the weather stayed glorious so we had a fantastic view of Mt Cook the whole way. It was a fantastic walk but definitely further than we expected and as we made our way back the promise of food (even if it was just pasta and sauce) kept us going back to the hostel at pace and straight to the kitchen to cook dinner!

The next day (13th), and after such a great afternoon in Mt Cook, we were thinking maybe we should have stayed one more night here, but as we got outside and saw the weather we pleased we kept with plan a. The weather was horrendous. Thick fog everywhere and no mountains to be seen. So it was back on the Stray bus to our final nights stop with the tour at Rangitata. The journey was pretty rain filled, but the weather did let up for our picture stop at Lake Tekapo- the highest lake above sea level in NZ according to Salty. We then traveled back through McKinsey Country with its rolling green hills and entered the western front of the Canterbury Plains. We stopped at a place called Fairlie to visit one of the top 3 bakeries in NZ and try their famous bacon and salmon pie- it was indeed prize worthy! We made a last stop at a town called Geraldine and then arrived at Rangitata Rafting Lodge in the middle of nowhere in the heavy rain mid afternoon! On account of the weather going for a walk was out of the question, so instead we got cosy in the common room in front of the wood burner and watched The Bucket List film with copious amounts of tea! The group whiled away the afternoon and early evening with a mini film marathon until it was time to cook our last group meal with Stray- T-Bone Steak, Salad and Roasties. The T-Bones were as big as our plate and the feta salad was divine and the crispy potatoes tasty…all for $10! I think Salty might have taken a bit of a hit on our behalf there me thinks, bless him. We celebrated our last night on the bus with some wine and plenty of games of Jenga, hitting the hay at 11pm in prep for our 6.30am start the next day.

Valentines Day 2012 and our last journey with Stray across the Canterbury Plains to Christchurch. It was a dark and rainy journey and felt very much like what I imagine the weather in the UK is like at this time of the year! Our coffee stop was at a place called Rakaia, after which we crossed a bridge which is the longest 2 lane bridge in NZ and that was the extent of the excitement of that journey! We arrived into Christchurch’s Antarctic Centre car park, by the airport, around 10am and hopped into a group super shuttle taxi which would take us into town. After the February 2011 earthquakes Stray don’t stop or even do into Christchurch City Centre. All the big backpackers were taken out by the earthquake as they were all in the old High street that is now condemned and the roads are still pretty bad so it would take too long for the bus to navigate itself around the place. So that was the first sign that we had that something major had happened in Christchurch’s recent history that the city was still contending with. We were staying with my Mum’s old work colleague and friend called Helen in Christchurch and needed to meet her at work, so we got dropped off at the Women’s hospital and found the Oral Health Clinic by walking through the hospital and down the escalater…all with our rucksacks and luggage! Bizarre experience! We found Helen in the dentists and was greeted by a bubbly warm lady who treated us like old friends and not 2 people who she’d just met and were squatting in her house for a couple of days! Her generosity showed no limits either when she produced her car keys and tom-tom and showed us to the vehicle which we could use for our time in Christchurch to see the city. Amazing amazing lady. Although when we let slip that we had never actually driven an automatic before or used a tom-tom, she spent a bit more time with us to make sure we knew the ropes thoroughly before letting us run free with her assets! We survived the journey back to The Thurlow family home in a suburb called Horby without too much trouble and called Helen at work to say us and the car were still in one piece! It was so lovely to have all the comforts of home and we took the opportunity to have a good sort out of our stuff after 3 weeks on the Stray Bus, getting some clothes washing done and figuring out what we could send home to lighten the load. We met Neil and Ben, Helen’s husband and son, who were just as lovely as Helen was. That evening we enjoyed a gorgeous home cooked hot-pot with mash and peas and enjoyed watching some telly on Neil’s MASSIVE telly….bliss!

The next day (15th) and time to sort out the matt of fibre on top of my head which should be my hair! AKA I got a haircut! Wash, cut, blow dry and she straightened it too…the most action by hair had seen in 3 months by far! Courtney the hair dresser did a fab job and it was nice to have a bit of day-to-day life pampering. Afterwards Hedd surprised me with a pedicure at a nearby salon as a Valentines present (lovely boyfriend), after which I almost looked like a resident and not a backpacker…the accent gave me away of course! We then headed to the flicks at Riccerton Westfield just outside Christchurch CBD to use the film vouchers Neil and Helen had kindly donated to us the evening before. We picked the film ‘A Few Best Men’ and went up to purchase the tickets thinking we would have to pay something, but no completely free! We couldn’t believe our luck and tip-toed away with our tickets like naughty children. The extent of Neil and Helen’s generosity has no end! It was an hour before our showing so we wandered around the shops to try to find outfits for the wedding we were going to in Sydney in March. And hark I found a beautiful powder blue dress in the sale at a shop called ‘Forever New’. I really couldn’t believe my luck that day- hair cut, feet pampering and a new dress! Needless to say I had a big beaming smile over my face for the entire day! That evening Helen and Neil invited some of their friends over to meet us and we had dinner and drinks and chatted away the evening in the garden. All expats- a family from Leeds and a lady from Texas- and all as lovely as the Thurlows. Chat soon got around to the 2011 Earthquakes with talk about families still living in condemned accommodation and those that have moved out having to secure their homes from squatters and prostitutes who have lost their usual haunts in the CBD and now heading out into the suburbs. Also the how way of claiming insurance from the state as well as privately sounds horrendous. And the city is still getting aftershocks so the dilemma continues. But there is still a great feeling of resilience amongst the city too which is good to see, the recovery just sounds like its taking a while. But the Christchurch earthquake was the 2nd biggest humanitarian loss in NZ’s history so it was a big deal and easy to see why it’s still forefront in residents consciousness. I felt pretty lucky to have grown up in the UK where we don’t have such natural disasters.

Early start today (16th) as I had a ‘skype date’ with Mum and Dad and then it was up and out to spend some time exploring Christchurch city. We headed to the Avon River and to Cambridge Terrace (the opposite side was Oxford Terrace- a hark back to the opposing rowing towns perhaps?!) where we enjoyed a punt down the river which took us along the cities Botanical Gardens. It was all very quant and romantic, although not terribly Kiwi authentic as the guys were all English and dressed up in the Victorian British get up with straw hats and strippy trousers. But ah well it was good fun anyway! We then headed into where the High street used to be but that is all cornered off now. But in its place the city have created a mall called ‘Re-Start’ which is all made out of shipping containers. Either single story or stacked, each container holds a shop with one side cut out and replaced with glass. It was fantastic! We had a wander around and sat outside and had lunch before heading back out-of-town and into the suburbs to complete some errands. We posted some stuff home to lighten our bags for our flight to Oz the next day and we found Hedd some trousers and shirt for the wedding at a Discount Outlet called Dress Smart. Then we picked up the food supplies to needed to cook the Thurlow’s and Thank you and Farewell meal that evening. The Baked Spanish Risotto we made went down very well, as did the chocolates we bought for dessert. There was only time left to check out their massive TV once again to watch Monsters vs Aliens animated film in 3D. It was a bizarre experience sitting on the sofa with 3D glasses on watching a 3D film. But very cool that technology had advanced so much that it now allows such things. I had to remind Hedd though that it would be quite some time before we could afford such things. Men and gadgets eh!

17th February and time to say goodbye to New Zealand and head onto Australia. Really great country and one that I think we will probably visit again in the future. Thanks again Helen, Neil and Ben for making our last couple of days in the country so fabulous.

Mt Cook, Rangitata and Christchurch:

  • Weather= A real mix of sun and rain, but unfortunately more of the latter
  • Food= Steak and yummy home cooking by the Thurlow’s
  • Drink= Speights Apple Cider courtesy of Neil
  • Best day= Being pampered in Christchurch
  • Would have like to seen= The Tasman Glacier at Mt Cook (top tip- hire a bike to cycle from the village if you have time)
  • Community Resilience in action= Christchurch residents after being battered, and continuing to be, by Mother Nature


Hedd’s words of wisdom:

There’s nothing like a bit of friendly Christchurch hospitality, albeit from some ex-pats. We had a really great time with Helen, Neil and Ben and are so grateful to them for their hospitality and for making us feel so at home. They went above and beyond to make our stay in Christchurch as easy as possible – lending us their car was such a nice gesture. We didn’t see too much of the damage that the city had suffered, although the pop-up mall was interesting and it was good to see the city ‘adopting a life must go on’ attitude. However we did hear a number of stories from Helen, Neil and some of their friends of how people had suffered and are still suffering as a result of the earthquake, which was quite moving. We didn’t experience any aftershocks while there and I hope the city gets plenty of time to recover, rebuilt and future-proof before they experience anything else near the events of the past 12 months.

Queenstown- Routeburn and the Rest


A toast to Queenstown’s magnetism and Routeburn’s Beauty…cheers!

After an early 6am start on the bus and stops along the way, including the mirrored Lake Matheson, Thunder Creek waterfall and the Blue Pools, we arrived in Queenstown late afternoon on the 31st January. It was our last day with Whales so we planned a big night out with him to say thanks, meeting at the famous Ferg Burger for dinner and then onto the bars. Now a bit about Ferg Burger- it was started by a local back in the day as a bakery to begin with as he felt you could never get good bread. Then he went onto gourmet burgers and its reputation is now global. Open 22 hours a day, 7 days a week and almost always packed with locals and travellers alike. And these burgers were big! As you can see from the pic and just as lovely as the reviews say they are. Then it was the big night out (haven’t had one of those in a while!) and we both enjoyed the 2 for 1 wristbands Stray got us. Plus there was a dance floor which I pretty much stayed on for most of the night!

Next day we just chilled and explored Queenstown. So a bit about Queenstown…it’s titled the adventure capital of NZ; hot in summer, freezing in winter- 2 ski fields really close by; it has a resident population of 20,000 people but a huge transient traveller population which doubles that figure and then some; its by a lake and surrounded by mountains. Hedd and I fell in love with it! So the 1st Feb was Hedd and I’s 18 months anniversary (awww) so we went out for lunch as a treat, walked the lakeside, and booked some crazy adventure stuff for us to do over our time here. Next day was bungy day and the day after was Hedd’s skydive- check out the blog post ‘Queenstown- the Adventurous Stuff’ for more about that. And after Hedd’s skydive it was time to get ready for our 2 night, 3 day tramp along the Routeburn Track the next day.

The Routeburn Tramp- 4th – 6th February

Day One

  • Distance= 8.8 km
  • Time= 4 1/2 hours
  • Scenery= Forest and Plains

We got picked up by the Tracknet bus at 8am to take us to the start point of the Routeburn track at the Routeburn Shelter in Mt Aspiring National Park. At 10am, from 600 m above sea level, we started making our way up through beech forest where we saw NZ’s smallest bird (like a tiny fat robin) called the Rifleman; along the Sugarloaf and Bridel Veil streams of gorgeous powder blue colour; and over lots of cool swing bridges. Walking with full packs was a a bit of a shock but we figured they could only get lighter as we ate more of our food supplies as the days went on (we forgot we still had to carry all our rubbish with us though!). We stopped for lunch at the first hut along the track called the Routeburn Flats Hut, where the warden called Liz was just finishing up cleaning after the overnight trampers. Oh a bit of context needed…The Routeburn is  one of the Department of Conservation’s ‘Great Walks’, which means that the track enjoys a higher standard of track maintenance and hut facilities. Each hut along the Great Walks tracks has a warden who works 8 days on, 6 days off (they walk in) and is responsible for maintaining the hut and the track that surrounds it. The huts along the Routeburn have gas, running water, flushing toilets and bunk beds. Luxury! So after the Flats hut, we walked over more swing bridges through more beech forest and got some ace views of the valley where a recent land slip had taken the trees down at the side of the path. We arrived at Routeburn Falls Hut at 2.30pm, claimed two beds and then boiled some water for a nice cup of tea with powdered milk (yuk!). The hut was in a fab location and had a big veranda overlooking the valley and a small waterfall behind it. We cooked up filled pasta and sauce for tea and ate from the pan. We met our warden called Keith at ‘Hut Talk’ at 7.30pm and he talked us through hut safety, etiquette etc; which all seemed pretty pointless as we’d been here since 2.30pm and had used all the facilities and were just about to go to bed! And that’s just what we did.

Day Two

  • Distance= 11.3 km
  • Time= 6 1/2 hours
  • Scenery= Stunning snow-capped mountains and alpine lakes

After a surprisingly good nights sleep, considering we were sharing the room with 26 other people, a cuppa and a cereal bar, we were ready for day 2- our longest day and steepest incline for walking. We set off at 8am for the steady climb up the Harris Saddle. It was tough going but we hardly felt our packs or the ache in our legs because our minds were captivated by the landscape and views that surrounded us. Behind us as we climbed was the Routeburn Valley, Lake Harris came into view on our right and the snow topped Darran Mountains were to the front of us. It really was spectacular and bathed in the morning light too- magnificent! We did the climb at good pace too, getting to the top and the highest point of the Routeburn track (1255 m) within 1 1/5 hours. However as we got to the Harris Saddle Shelter the fog set in, with the wind blowing moments of clarity and disguise with the fog in equal measure. We could see the top of the mountain behind the shelter so we dumped our bags in the shelter and decided to do the side trip up Conical Hill, hoping the fog would clear some more by the time we got to the top. It was a tough old climb/ scramble up a very steep side for 45 minutes, the majority of which we were walking through fog and thought ourselves bonkers! But then we reached the top and the sky was blue, sun was out and the views were spectacular. From the top we had a superb view of the Hollyford Valley through to Martins Bay at the coast and the Tasman Sea. It was fantastic. After 30 mins or so we made the scrabble/slide back down to the Shelter again, had some lunch, retrieved our bags and continues the walk towards Lake MacKenzie Hut where we were staying that night. We were now in Fiordland National Park and the track seemed to go on forever now and after the excitement of the Harris Saddle and Conical Hill, a rocky path slowly going downhill was a bt boring! But we kept on spying the view along Hollyford Valley to the Sea which was lovely and eventually we got our first sight of Lake MacKenzie. It looked so close but we soon realised we had a way to go as we zigzagged back and forth down the slope to get to it. The last bit of the walk was through bush land- moss-covered trees and leafy paths. Looked all very mystical and Hedd and I had a few Lord of the Rings moments! Eventually we caught sight of our hut, arriving again at 2.30pm. Lake MacKenzie was pretty but not as spectacular as Lake Harris but we got to paddle in this one which was fun but freezing! After a relax we went off to explore more of the lake and went to a place called Split Rock which was exactly that a Split Rock. And then came back to the hut and chatted to our group of tramp buddies who we had shared the bus with by the lake. We sat and had dinner with them too (filled pasta and sauce again!), and waited for our Hut Talk with our warden. This one was called Clive and this was his 17th season as Lake MacKenzie Hut Warden and he was a complete nutter! He went on for 1 1/2 hours telling stories that didn’t really make sense. He finally let us go to bed at 9.15pm with a cryptic warning about possums. But I was too tired to work it out so just went to sleep and hoped not to need to go to the loo in the night!

Day Three

  •  Distance= 12 km
  • Time= 5 1/2 hours
  • Scenery= Forest and alpine wetland

Our last day of the tramp and we were up and out on the track by 8am again. We crossed a small flat before climbing steeply to the bush line over steps of tree roots and rock. And I thought it was all downhill today! Where the trees parted a little we were afforded with a view of the Hollyford Valley out to the Tasman sea with a mystical hanging of mist that gave it a very different character to the same view we saw yesterday. It was quite beautiful. We passed an area called the Orchard which is a natural clearing enclosing Ribbonwoods resembling fruit trees, and then we hit Earland Falls. Wow that’s a big waterfall! 174 m and the path took you right up close to it. You soon felt wet from the spray but it did a perfect job of cooling us down. We then made the gradual descent to Lake Howden Hut- our lunch stop. I took of my shoes and padded about in my socks enjoying the sunshine at the hut. Although th sandflies were out and causing their usual annoyance! As we were there 2 boys walked past with the hind legs of a deer around their necks. They had obviously gone hunting and this was some sort of hunting trophy display- they certainly looked pleased with themselves but I thought it just looked grotesque. After being put off having anymore food, we set off again up hill towards the Key Summit Track turn off. We dumped our bags by the sign and took our remaining lunch to have at the top. A steep zig zag path up through the bush-line took us to the alpine wetland where you get a view of 3 major river systems. There was a 30 minute nature walk around the top, so we took the information card and wandered around finding the various pegs to read about. We had our sandwiches at the view-point overlooking Lake Marian. We had great views of the Darran Mts and Hollyford Valley. But really nothing that we hadn’t seen before on Day 2 so we completed the nature trail and headed back down to the main track. Last little bit now- down hill through Silver Beech forest. The sound of the Milford Highway was getting louder and we arrived at the Divide Shelter- the end point of the track and the lowest crossing point of the Southern Alps- at 1.42pm. I know the precise time as Craig one of our friends from the bus was clocking everyone in in his diary! We bantered with the group (5 from California and 2 from Stockport) until the bus came at 3.15pm to pick us up. It was a 3 1/2 hour haul back to Queenstown (I slept most of the way!) and we arrived at 7.45pm, just enough time to get a shower and a celebratory Ferg Burger and cider before crashing into bed. Phew we had done it!

So back in the adventure capital of NZ and on the 7th Hedd did some white water rafting and the next day we both did Mad Dog River Boarding (check out the blog post titled ‘Queenstown- the adventurous stuff for more on that). For our last afternoon in Queenstown we found 1/2 price wine tasting on a website The place was called Wine Tastes and you can taste over 80 NZ wines. You get a card which is loaded with money and you can pick any of the wine to have a taste, 1/2 glass or full glass of. It’s really quite clever. So we got there at 3pm and left at 4pm after trying 8 different wines and enjoying a 1/2 glass of our favourites. We found they had a free tasting session of 6 wines at 5pm so we hopped home for a piece of toast and then was back to try them! Cheapest drinking session we’ve had in NZ and a good way to say bye to our extended stay in the captivating township of Queenstown.

Queenstown and Routeburn in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Queenstown on the whole sunny; Routeburn a mix of sun and cloud
  • Food= the mighty Ferg Burger!
  • Drink= Milo on the Routeburn and Wine in Queenstown
  • Definitely check out= to save some money on Queenstown’s (expensive) activities
  • Definitely on the Routeburn you should= walk Conical Hill and slap on ‘Goodbye Sandfly’ lotion whenever you stop!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

At the end of Day 1, the ranger told us there would be no point going up Conical Hill if it was foggy and not to bother if we couldn’t see the top. Now you should probably listen to the rangers 99% of the time, but I’m glad we didn’t. When we started our side trip up Conical Hill, the fog didn’t look that bad, but we couldn’t see the top , however I was convinced it would clear by the time we got to the top. I was still convinced half way up when we could only see a few yards in front of us and one old lady turned around complaining that it wasn’t worth it as she couldn’t see anything. But we perservered and got our reward. When we got near the top, the fog started to clear and we could start to see the mountains and sky again, but nothing prepared us for the sight ahead. Over the last few rocks, we emerged on the top of the hill and stared in amazement at the snow-capped mountains right in front of us, the valleys to the left and the Tasman sea far off to the right. This was the highlight of the three-day tramp for me, it was stunning and it we would have never seen it had we listened to the ranger…

South Islands North Coast- Picton and Abel Tasman


Welcome to the Stray Bus!

So after cramming all of our stuff into our backpacks again (previously strewn all over a rental car!) we took the $2 shuttle bus to the InterIslander ferry terminal for our 08.25am crossing to Picton- the gateway to NZ’s  South Island. We got an ace seat in the ‘atrium’- floor to ceiling window seating area- at the back of the boat and sat back for 3 hours and enjoyed the ride. The Marlborough Sounds is a flooded sea valley so has lots of little islands which the boat cruised around. Very beautiful ride and it was sunny- yey! We got in at 11.30am and was greeted by a Sequoia Lodge shuttle bus which took us to our hostel for the night. The hostel was nice enough, but best of all they gave all guests free hot chocolate pudding and ice cream each night. It was yum! We just chilled out in Picton for the day and enjoyed the sunshine. Hedd got his hair cut and went from looking like part yeti to an army recruit with short back and sides! Oops!

Next morning it was time to meet up with the our transport for the next 3 1/2 weeks- The Stray Bus. So Stray is a backpacker bus which drives you around, you can hop on and off, it guarantees you hostel accommodation for your first night in places and stops off at some cool places along the way. There are lots of different passes you can buy. But we were on the Short Ron. The map opposite shows the route. And today (25th) we were traveling to Abel Tasman- NZ’s smallest national park but the second most visited after Tongariro National Park. There were 24 of us on the bus and our driver was called Ms P. Quite a few of the people had been on the bus together since Auckland so there was a bit of a click on the go but everyone was nice enough. It was Ms P’s first time driving such a big coach and she took the corners pretty sharp so the tummy muscles got a good work out trying to keep myself in my seat! It was weird not knowing where exactly we were going, or stopping or how long we were going to be driving for after being so independent in North Island. But equally it was nice not driving and just going with the flow. Plus there is not many roads in South Island so if we had rented a car we would have just ended up behind a Stray bus anyway; so might as well be on it! So the first drive towards Nelson was through the Marlborough wine region which was very pretty. Marlborough is the biggest wine exporting region in NZ and they have gravelly soil great for grape growing just like Hawkes Bay. We made our first stop at Bouldevines Wine Celler near Blenheim to do a wine tasting. We tasted 4 whites for $2 and bought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to have with our free BBQ that night that Stray was putting on for us. After tasting some fudge and different oils and chutneys it was back on the bus. We dropped some people off at Nelson and then continued forward through a place called Havelock which is a little town known for its green lipped mussels which they farm in the Sounds. Then it was onwards to Motueka- the last town before the National Park for a supermarket dash. Apparently Motueka is the one place Hippies and Farmers get on. The town used to be known for tobacco production but now they just grow hops for beer (and marijuana for the hippies!) It was just another 20 minutes to get to Marahau- the village just by the entrance of Abel Tasman National Park and where we would be staying for the next 3 nights. We were booked into The Barn in a little 2 person cabin which was very lovely and enjoyed a great BBQ that evening with the gang from the bus.

Next morning we decided to rent Freedom Sea Kayaks for the day ($55). We went with Independent Guides based at the hostel next door called Old McDonald Farm and Mitch, the owner, kitted us up, ran through a safety briefing and a quick lesson in kayaking before taking us and our kayaks down to the beach. We had to show we were semi-competent in the water (tick box exercise because Hedd and I passed and we were complete crap!) and then Mitch let us roam free!  Oh my goodness it was awful! We tried to paddle out and around Fisherman Island- absolutely over ambitious at our ability- and gave up half way as Hedd’s back was hurting, my shoulder was hurting and plainly it was exhausting! Hedd was setting the rhythm, although he would be the first to admit he has little, and I was attempting to steer with a rudder attached to foot loops that I had to almost dislocate my ankles to operate. All in all a frustrating time! But we made it around the first headland and beached at Appletree Bay, relieved to be out of the plastic prison that was our Kayak! Okay okay that was melodramatic, and after a sandwich, cereal bar and a sunbathe we ‘manned up’ and got back in the kayak. The going was still tough but we actually began to enjoy it as we kept close to the coastline looking at all the different bays. We made it to the end point for a 1 day freedom kayak called Watering Bay; surprising ourselves that we made it; and then headed back stopping at Observation Bay for our last sandwich and apple. The beach rivalled any beach we saw in Fiji- white sands and the water clear aquamarine. Although the water unfortunately was about 10 degrees cooler than the bath waters of Fiji. From Observation Beach we then made the long paddle home to Marahau beach. The favourable wind Mitch had promised us had not materialised and the trip home was long, hard and frustrating. We eventually dragged our kayak onto shore at 4pm, supporting the various bits of our body that ached. Semi pleased we did it as we got to see some of the bays in the National Park that are only accessible from the sea, but not for me sea kayaking I don’t think!

So the 27th January saw us exploring the rest of the park via water taxi and by foot. We got picked up from The Barn at 9am and taken to Aqua Taxi HQ to board our boat there which was on a trailer on the back of a tractor! This then tugged us to the beach for launch. You can imagine the chinese photo snappers loved that sight as we drive along the road to the beach! We had gone for a 1 day trip called the ‘Slice of Paradise’ where we would travel the length of the park to Mutton Cove and then back to Barks Bay where we would get dropped off and walk the 4 hours to Anchorage to be picked up again and taken back to Marahau. Our skipper whisked us off in our speed boat to see our first sight- the Split Apple Rock. Legend has it that it was broken clean in half by Captain Cook as he sailed past and shot at it with a cannon ball. Reality is a that it is young granite and full of iron which caused it to split in half after the impact of years of wind, rain and waves. We then zoomed off again passing Fisherman Island and settling by Adele Island to view Observation Beach. The whole area and the names of things have a lot to do with an explorer called Dumont d’Urville. He was the first European to spend much time in Abel Tasman back in the 1800’s and sort to complete Cooks charting of New Zealand. Story is that he got a bit friendly with a Maori lady whilst here and out of guilt for his wife back in France, named an island after her- Adele Island. Observation Beach is called such, as it is the beach from which Dumont d’Urville used the stars and super clever maths to locate NZ on the globe for the first time. His longitude and latitude positions were so good that they were used up until the 1960’s when they were then replaced with the coordinates from the satellites up in space. Worked out that Dumont d’Urville’s was only 2 km out! Fair flipping play! We then zoomed off again up the coast, stopping at Tonga Island to see the seal colony there. The seals were pretty lazy and our skipper told us they actually wait for the tide to rise to them instead of moving themselves to bath! We then continued to Totoranui and then right up to Mutton Cove at the top tip of the National Park. We saw Separation Point which is a headland with a little lighthouse on it and marks the point where the park ends and Golden Sandy Bay begins. We saw seals again and a wild boar. Then we turned back towards Barks Bay. On the way we saw Dusky Dolphins! Very unusual to see them as they are quite shy and smaller than the bottle nose dolphin. But they have lovely markings on them and 2 of them same up close. Our skipper was even chuft that he got to see them. Our last detour before Barks Bay was to a place called Shag Harbour. Its only accessible by boat at high tide and we had to go through this tiny entrance and then we found ourselves in a blue lagoon. The water was so clear we saw a sting ray swimming at the bottom on the shallow waters. Very beautiful place.

We finally got dropped off at Barks Bay at 12 noon, 50 minutes later than planned after the pleasantly eventful water taxi trip up the National Parks coastline. We had some lunch on the beach and then headed off on the Abel Tasman Coastal Path. The DOC guideline walking times said 4 hours to Anchorage. We had 3 1/2 hours before our water taxi ride back to Marahau so we went set a storming pace as we walked through forested headlines and coast line hugging track. It really was a lovely track to walk. Our first stop was at South Head to check out the view-point 10 minutes off the track. Abel Tasman certainly is stunning- challenging Coromandel Peninsular as my favourite place in NZ for sure! Then we headed inland, up and over various headlands and the Falls River. The glimpses you got of the coast along the way were just beautiful. Especially Frenchman Bay which, as it was high-tide, was covered creating a turquoise/aquamarine lagoon (see the pic opposite). Gorgeous! And some lucky bugger had a house on it! Then we made our way to Torrent Bay and had a rest and a snack on the beach there. Torrent Bay is one of the few places in the park with holiday homes on it. It was private land which DOC allowed the people to keep after turning it into a National Park. Its only accessible by boat now as the December floods washed the access roads through the park away and DOC aren’t rebuilding them. Although I hear a lot of the owners have their own helicopters too so I can’t say they are too fussed! As it was high tide we had to take the long 1 hour route to Anchorage instead of the mere 20 minute beach stroll you can do at low tide! Nightmare! So we stormed it again around Torrent Bay and up and over the headland. We stopped off at Cleopatra’s Pool which is a clear pebbly stream which gushes over a rock making a slide. We had our swimmers on with the intention of trying out the natural slide. But alas no time so we settled for dipping our toes in the icy water. To get to the pool you had to cross the river using non submerged stones. Needless to say there was plenty of screams on my front. But no injury, accidents or falling in so all was good! We walked the last little bit and arrived at Anchorage at 3.50pm for our 4pm pick up. Perfect timing! Our skipper this time around didn’t hang about and we were back at Marahau being towed by tractor out of the sea before we knew it. The tractor took us back to HQ and then we caught a lift to The Barn with a Kayaking instructor (ironic!). All in all a great day in the National Park.

The sun had gone in and it was much colder than yesterday, so we showered, wrapped up warm, had tea and retired to bed with a book with our jumpers still on! Tomorrow was departure day on a new Stray Bus with new people again. But this time we were heading for the West coast…..

Picton and Abel Tasman in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Sunny woop woop! Top temperature 28 degrees but cold cold nights
  • Food= Spag bol (classic) and free chocolate pudding
  • Drink= Sav’ Blanc and L&P (NZ lemon drink)
  • Watch out for= Sandflies (the bites itch for days!)
  • Top activity to do if you’re looking for an argument= Sea Kayaking!
  • Proof that you only get what you pay for= Hedd’s short back and sides Picton haircut!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

Whenever I’ve seen people kayaking on rivers or on the sea, they’ve always looked so peaceful and I thought that looks like a nice leisurely way to spend a day. So when we were in Abel Tasman it seemed like a perfect opportunity to try it – the place is famed for kayaking. So here are my words of wisdom for anyone out there who thinks that taking their significant other for a day of kayaking would be a lovely way to spend the day together – DONT!! It is bloody hard work, can lead to bickering and can result in lots of swearing!! Ok, we may have enjoyed the bit in the middle, the gentle paddling between coves, but the paddling out there and most definitely the long stretch back to the shore was exhausting. So if your thinking about a romantic day on the water, kayaking might not be what you’re looking for!!

New Zealand North Island Road Trip- Tongariro National Park and Taihape


“The journey is the destination”

So after stocking up on supplies from the local ‘Countdown’ (our equivalent of Asda), we hit the road towards Whakapapa Village. The drive took us along Lake Taupo which was very pretty and then heads on into the Tongariro National Park itself- North Islands showpiece National Park and World Heritage Site. It really is beautiful with lots of Alpine forests and snow capped peaks. On our way to Whakapapa Village we stopped off at Lake Rotopounamu to do a 1 1/2 hour loop trail around he lake. However we couldn’t complete it as the beach sections were flooded due to the heavy rain. We set off anyway through the forest, the trail lined with giant Rimm and Beech trees, and got level with the lake. But as we couldn’t get onto the beaches to actually see the lake, the walk got boring fast so we headed back, had our sandwiches, then finished our journey to Whakapapa. We arrived late afternoon and really felt we were in a NZ that we hadn’t seen yet- 1100 meter up and definitely in alpine ski region. We re-taped our tent poles an erected the damn thing, glad that it would be the last time we had to do it!  Neither of us slept well that night as this place is FREEZING! When our alarm went off at 6am the next morning we were awake anyway!

So January 18th and the day of the world famous 1 day ‘ Tongariro Alpine Crossing’ (“an extending trek over steep and exceptional volcanic territory”). We got picked up at 7am and taken to the start point 20 mins away at Mangatepop car park. Our driver gave us a safety and logistics briefing and sent us on our way saying that the weather was meant to stay dry with cloud clearing in the afternoon. However Tongariro weather is fickle- cloud can burn off in minutes but return just as quick- as we were to experience first hand in this 19.4km 1 day trek!

So the ‘Crossing’ – we started off from Managatepop car park (1150 meters) at 7.40am and followed the river up the Mangatepopo valley to Soda Springs (1400 m). The weather was overcast but with spots of bright, hot sunshine. At Soda Springs was the last loo stop until Ketetahi hut 4 hours away so we definitely took the opportunity to use the facilities! Our trek then took a sudden incline to the South Crater between Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, up steep steps which they call the devils staircase and it definitely felt devilish come the end!

South Crater is at 1550 m and as we got higher it got windier and freezing so all the layers got put back on as we walked across the South Crater which a long flat barren land in the shadow of Mt Ngaunhoe. Or for those Lord of Ring fans- Mt Doom from the films. Not that we could see Mt Doom (or Gollum, Frodo or Sam!) as it was foggy as hell…really felt like we were walking into an abyss!

Next was the scrabble up to the tracks highest point- Red Crater- at 1886m- a still active and steaming vent. You could definitely see the red rock of the crater and when the cloud cleared you saw a great view of the valley. We almost saw the peak of Mt Doom from up there but not quite!

We then the scrabble and slide down from the top of Red Crater. I pretended that I was skiing at this point and hoped for the best as I slid down the loose scree! We stopped half way down to have our sandwiches overlooking the Emerald Lakes. These lakes were very beautiful and we had a fantastic view of them as the cloud cleared (and yes you guess it, came back again!) But in the sunshine the emerald lakes glistened a beautiful light jade colour. After lunch we slid down the remaining hill and walk around the 3 Emerald lakes and then skirted past Te Wai-Whakaota-o-te Rangihiroa (or Blue lake in English!). We were at 1650 m now and there were ice pockets which hung to the hills behind the lake.

There was one last uphill stepped section and then we were on the descent to Ketetahi Hut. We were back in the cloud again and the route wrapped and weaved itself down the mountain so you never really knew if you were making progress! But we finally made it to the hut at 1400m and chilled out on the wooden veranda to wait for the cloud to clear to get a glimpse of Lake Taupo. Oh and use the loo of course- phew! The cloud cleared after a while and we got a goof view of Lake Rotoaira, Lake Otamangakau and massive Lake Taupo beyond them.

We then made the final descent down to Ketetaki car park back at 700 meters. The final section is through native forest and feels like it goes on forever! But the river sections of that bit are cool and you have to go up and over tree roots which breaks up the monotony of just forest. Eventually we made it to the end point at 2.15pm and sat in the sun to wait for our pick up back to camp at 3pm. So it took us just over 6 1/2 hours which isn’t a bad pace so we were quite pleased with ourselves. Although our legs and feet were aching terribly. But nothing the hot shower back at camp didn’t fix. We drove to the nearest shop, 20 mins away, at National Park Village and picked up some burgers for a mini BBQ. That with a couple of ciders marked the end of a great day. Although it was super cloudy on the crossing, we were still really pleased we did it.

So the next day we put down the tent for the last time- yey! We had heard back from Jackie from Adventure Capital and she was going to charge us anything saying it was something wrong with the poles and not us- phew! And we headed off on Route 1 south towards Taihape. It was a bit of a long detour from where we needed to get to that night (Whangamomona) but eventually we got to Gravity Canyon, 20 mins south of Taihape, around noon. We paid up to do the ‘Flying Fox’ and walked the 15 mins up to the launch pad 175 meters above the river. So the ‘Flying Fox’- it is a 1 km zip-line where you fly at 160 kph down and along the canyon. You look more like a flying squirrel than a fox with a blue bib which they hoist you up into lying position. The lady counted down 3, 2, 1 and then we were off for maybe 10 seconds really fast down the canyon. I screamed all the way…naturally! The then pull you back up to the launch pad quite slowly so you can get a good look at what you’ve just zoomed past. It was really good fun and Hedd’s back was fine. It is quite addictive though and you wanted to go again. But alas our budget doesn’t allow for such whims, so we grabbed some lunch and then headed back on the road heading North West towards the Forgotten World Highway and our stop for that night- Whangamomona.

Tongariro National Park and Taihape in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Cold and crisp as every alpine area should be, but shame about the cloud.
  • Trek snacks of choice= Fruit chews for Hedd; Yoghurt covered raisins for me
  • Drink= Water
  • Invention of the year= ‘The Front Cape’- your rain coat put on front ways (cos you can’t be bothered to take your day bag off when walking!)
  • Outfit that I will be sporting next RCRC ball= ‘The Flying Squirrel’ (see pick above)- that’s right, goggles and all!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

Well that was a fun day trek, plenty of mist and freezing wind, steep slopes and thankfully very little rain. On the one had it was a shame we couldn’t see much at the top and we couldn’t climb Mt. Doom due to the low visibility but it was still cool climbing up and disappearing into the mist!! All in all a great day of hiking, followed by a BBQ and some cider, what more could I have wanted!!

They wouldn’t let me do a cliffhanger swing in Taupo because of my back, which was disappointing and the reason we drove a 200k round trip out of our way to do the flying fox!! It might be the most extreme thing I get to do on this trip because of the bloody back and it was certainly fun. No matter how securely they strap you in, its still quite nerve-wracking standing 175m above the ground about to be released, but apart from the first drop it was more like an intense roller-coster than anything and well worth the money.

Machu Picchu and The Inca Trek- Absolutely Fabulous!


Completely exhausting but 100% worth it!

Well what a 4 days! After a 4.30am start on the 2nd December, a 3 hour drive we arrived at our starting point at ´km 82´for our 4 days 3 night, 49 km, Inca Trek to Machu Picchu with tour company SAS. Armed with our day bags and walking poles we ventured off across the river and to our first of many hills to climb! We were a group of 9 trekkers, with 12 porters, 1 cook and our guide called Ruben. Our route to Machu Picchu is known as the Inca trek and would take us as high as 4200 meters, over 3 mountain passes and through 9 Inca ruins. There are however many access routes to Machu Picchu- ´the lost city´- and connecting Machu Picchu with all the different Inca settlements across Peru, Bolivia and Chile, creating a network of trails which the Inca´s used as communication channels with many messengers running along them to bring news and information between settlements. The trails are laid with granite stone and follow the contours of the mountains, using stone steps up and down, tunnels and bridges. The Inca towns are all made of granite, quarried from the mountains, and are all in the Highlands- closer to their gods, the highest Mountains. In Inca mythology there are 3 worlds- the upper world (represented by the Condor), the present world (represented by the Puma) and the inner world (represented by the snake)…this was inherent in the temples within the Inca places where things came in the series of 3. Also the sun was important in Inca times with settlements angling to the East. All this history was brilliantly explained to us all over the trek by our guide Ruben and listening to Ruben also represented a welcome break from the trekking!

So Day 1:

  • Km trekked- 14km
  • Hours of trekking- 6 hours, starting at 9.30am and finishing at 5.30pm
  • Altitude at start- 2650 meters
  • Altitude at end- 3300 meters
  • Highest point reached- 3300 meters
  • % of the trail which is the original Inca stone- 30%
  • Key sights seen- First Inca Place seen was called Canabamba, second Llacdarada and third Vvilcaracau

The first ascent was hard and I couldn´t get my breathing right at all. But after a few coca candies I was on my way and soon got into a stride for the remaining of the day where the trail took us up and down gradually getting higher each time. Ooh a bit about Coca- Coca grows naturally in Peru and is a natural stimulant that speeds up your heart rate so enough blood goes to your brain to combat altitude sickness which is when the brain lacks blood and causes you headaches. If you process enough of it (50 kilos) and add a load of chemicals you can also make cocaine!. We got to the lunch stop at 1pm and felt awkwardly like royalty with individual bowls and towels laid out for us to wash our hands and faces! However when the chef Mario came out with a chefs hat on we soon realised this was the standard they were going to deliver for the entire trek. And the porter team never disappointed and always went above and beyond what you expected. Along this part of the trek there were homes dotted randomly along it- only accessible by walking the trek. The families are farmers so are pretty self-sufficient and make their living from their front yard which they turn into campsites for us trekkers as well as selling chocolate and drinks. The funniest/scariest moment of day 1 was almost being taken out by 3 charging lama´s who came tumbling around the corner….I propelled myself into a bush!

Day 2:

  • Km trekked- 18km
  • Hours of trekking- 8 hours, starting at 6.45am and finishing at 5.15pm
  • Altitude at start- 3300 meters
  • Altitude at end- 3600 meters
  • Highest point reached- 4215 meters (Dead Woman´s Pass)
  • % of the trail which is the original Inca stone- 30% before Dead Woman´s Pass and 80%  after
  • Key sights seen- Dead Woman´s Pass, Inca place called Rumkuracau, Rumjuracau Pass (3900 meters) and another Inca Place called Sauacmarca

Tough tough day! Early wake up with a cup of Coca tea at 5.30am and off trekking by 6.45am up to Dead Woman´s Pass. The trek for the morning was all up hill, with the stone trail mixed with a lot of steep stone steps. After 4 hours of solid trekking, we got to the top at 10.15am knackered! The pass is called Dead Woman´s Pass as the shape of the Mountain looks like a dead woman´s face and torso with the boob creating the peak! This story was told with much amusement by our guide Ruben! Then it was 1 1/2 hours down the other side to the lunch stop, down very steep and deep stone steps…tough on the knees I can tell you. After yet another impressive lunch it was up and over the second pass Rumjuracau. This wasn´t as bad as Dead Woman´s and there was much more to see along the route which broke up the trekking. Plus the 2 hour down hill had great views of the valley and was in the shade so was actually really pleasant. When we (fell) into camp at 5.15pm our calves and thighs were screaming but we were happy that it was ´easy´ from now on. The most shocking fact learnt on the second day was about a race that is organised every couple of years along the Inca Trail, from km82 to Machu Picchu. There are 2 categories Porter and Athletic Tourist. The current record for the athletic tourist is 3.05 hours! 3.05 HOURS! Held by 2 crazy american women, must have been hill runners. I actually don´t know how they did it that quick. The up hills are killers and the downhill sections are so steep you´d risk going arse over tit every few steps. But fair play, what we´re doing in 3 days walking, they did in just over 3 hours! Crazy!

Day 3:

  • Km trekked- 10km
  • Hours of trekking- 4 hours, starting at 7.45am and finishing at 1.30pm
  • Altitude at start- 3600 meters
  • Altitude at end- 2650 meters
  • Highest point reached- 3740 meters (Puyipattmarca Pass)
  • % of the trail which is the original Inca stone- 70-80%
  • Key sights seen- Intipata Inca Place, Wianayhuayna Inca Place

So the massive Day 2 meant that day 3 was effectively a 1/2 day, starting late at 7.45am and ending at lunch at 1.30pm. The trek was much easier than day 2 too, but my calves felt like rocks so that hampered progress until they loosened up a bit. It was 1 1/2 hour trek up to the 3rd and final pass and then downhill for 3 hours, broken up with seeing Inca Places and going through original Inca tunnels which were really cool. Downhill was all stone steps and after the overnight rain still were quite slippy. I only fell on my bottom once though which was good going for accident prone me! So Ruben tells me, there are 127 micro climates in the world and 87 of them are present in Peru- pretty big number. And in this day the micro climate was high jungle. I got to see lots of really pretty and colourful butterflies which flew up at you as you walked past. Also lots of orchids grow out of the rock edges of the paths in extremely vivid colours. It was quite a delight. So we got to our final camp of the trek at 1.30pm for lunch and then had a big siesta afterwards (although this soon turned into a trumping competition between Adrian and the guys tent (Devin and Tim)…Adrian won by far!) Hedd braved the ice-cold showers whereas us girls wimped out and settled once again for our baby wipe bath! In the afternoon we checked out the Inca place right next to our camp called Wianauhuayna, which had super steep and lots of Inca terraces going down the mountain which was quite impressive to see. Then it was bed early in prep for our super early wake up call the next day for the final trek to Machu Picchu.

Day 4:

  • Km trekked- 7km
  • Hours of trekking- 3 hours, starting at 4.30am and finishing at 9.30am at Machu Picchu city
  • Altitude at start- 2650 meters
  • Altitude at end- 2400 meters
  • Highest point reached- 2720 meters (Huayna Picchu)
  • % of Machu Pichu city which is original- 60%
  • Key sights seen- In Machu Pîcchu city= Farming area, urban area, religious area (3 windows temple, temple of mother earth, temple of the sun, principal temple), the Principle square with the Intivvatana stone which is carved in a way that the shadows when the sun hits the stone show the timings of the summer and winter solstice). And of course the terraces and temples on top of Huayna Picchu.

So very very early start on day 4 with the wake up call at 3.40am and setting off at 4.30am to the check point. We walked 10 minutes and then hit the que for the check point which opened at 5.30am. The people at the front of the que had got up at 2.30am apparently- crazy! The waiting was pain staking but we saw the sun come up and there were 2 english women doing a finger puppet show of jack in the beanstalk, which was completely random but quite humourous at that time of the morning with little sleep! Once the gate was opened the que went through quite fast and we were off on the 2 hour walk to the Gate of the Sun. It was an okay walk, gentle (ish) up and down until the last bit which was 52 incredible steep steps which you basically scrabbled up. We got to the sun gate at 7.30am and it was still pretty cloudy over the city at this time. But the wind blew the cloud to and from the city so we got to see a good view with it being quite mysterious at the same time. We stayed there admiring the view for about 40 minutes and then took the last hour walk down to the city. So the city is between 2 mountains- Machu Picchu mountain (where the sun gate is) and Huayna Picchu mountain and was the principal city of the Incas. It is large with different areas and farming terraces to the front of the city going down the mountain side. All the buildings and paths and walls are made from granite. The ruins were discovered by Hiron Bingham in 1911 and have since been restored. But 60 % of Machu Picchu city is still original. The city is so well-preserved as it was abandoned when the Spanish first conquered Peru so they never found it to destroy it like they did with all the their Inca places. When Bingham found it it was covered by hundreds of years of jungle vegetation. Must have been quite a discovery! After a pit stop at the loo´s (first sit down toilet in 3 days- hoorah!) Ruben took us on a tour of the city. He showed us the different areas of the city and the various temples and the intivvatana stone which acts like a sun-dial showing the seasons. He also showed us the principle square which used to have a obolysk in the middle of it. However in the 1990´s it was temporarily removed so the King and Queen of Spain could helicopter into Machu Picchu and when the workers went to put the stone back it broke! So that was final rubbish thing the Spanish did to the Inca´s 500 years after the first colonisation! We left the tour and the rest of the group 30 minutes early to catch our 10am slot to climb Huayna Picchu. When we were waiting in the que for the check point I was honestly thinking I must be absolutely nuts to climb this mountain after 3 days of trekking. My calves and thighs were so tight….I was pretty worried. But as soon as we started the trek the adrenaline kicked in and we absolutely stormed the ascent in just 40 minutes (meant to take 1 hour). The climb is crazy steep in places and you have to haul yourself up the stone steps using the rope on the side with a sheer drop on the other side! But we made it and the view from the top is amazing- truly spectacular and much better than the view from the sun gate. Plus its super fun at the top too. Plenty of ruins to explore, crazy steep steps which you have to shimmy down, plus a tunnel which you have to crawl on your front to get through. We spent a good half hour at the top of Huayna Picchu and it was actually the highlight of the trek for me. Well worth that extra bit of effort, even after 3 days of trekking. After a slightly precarious slide down the mountain (!) we strolled through the city again to the exit and had a well deserved (but ridiculously expensive) cup of coca cola. And then it was a short 30 minute bus journey down windy roads to Agua Callenatis, arriving for lunch at 1.30pm. I was straight in the shower and on the Pisco Sours for the rest of the afternoon and enjoyed a spot of shopping in the amazing market they have there. Although during this trip around the market I did get poo-ed on by a bird, much to the local stall holders amusement! I burst out laughing too (after being horrified!) and after a quick change back at the hostel I was out again having a pisco sour to recover from the ´trauma´(of course!)

So this morning we caught the 8.50am Peru Rail train to Ollantaytambo and then it was a 15 sole taxi collective back to Cusco. And after a couple of loads of laundry later, the sense of accomplishment that I made it to Machu Picchu by my own steam, walking, hasn´t died down. For me it is definitely the highlight of our trip around South America so far and will be quite hard to beat I think. But we´re still yet to arrive at some amazing places on our 5 1/2 month trip, so who knows Machu Picchu and the Inca Trek might still have competition for their current top spot. Can´t wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store…

Machu Picchu and The Inca Trek in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Sunny by day, raining and storms at night (luckily when safely tucked up in our tent!)
  • Food= Oh my goodness, a feast for breakfast, lunch and dinner…our chef Mario is a miracle worker to produce such food in a campsite in the middle of nowhere!
  • Drink= Milo! (Hot chocolate with lots of vitamins in it- brought back fond memories of drinking copious amounts of it up Mt Kilimanjaro)
  • One thing I will not miss= Long drop toilets
  • One thing I will miss= Mario´s 3 course dinners
  • One thing that is truly unforgettable= The sense of achievement felt and the view of Machu Picchu- the lost city- after reaching the top of Huayna Picchu

Hedd´s words of wisdom:

So, we´ve just got back from the Inca Trek, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu and it was amazing. Bloody hard at times, but amazing. I have been worried about this trek for the past few months ever since I hurt my back playing football and ended up with a prolapsed disk and the fact that i´ve been having a few problems with my left knee recently (I know, I´m getting old!!). So having completed the trek, I would like to thank the following for helping me through it:-

  • My back support belt;
  • My newly purchased knee support;
  • Clare and Ger for pointing me in the direction of Diclofenac drugs to help with my Sciatica;
  • Farmacies in South America for providing Diclofenac “no questions asked”;
  • My rented trekking poles;
  • The porters that carries the majority of my stuff;
  • All our fellow trekkers for providing such good company and banter;
  • and of course, not least, my wonderful Helen for being by my side throughout our adventure.

I read somewhere that people who suffer from back injuries fall into two categories, mopers and copers. Well I certainly coped and I suppose the point I´m trying to get to is that there are always ways to overcome setbacks and that if you really want to do something, you will find a way.