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A Trek Around ‘One Of The World’s Most Beautiful Beaches’

Referred to as ‘one of the top 10 favourite beaches in the world’ and ‘one of Tasmania’s most celebrated locations’, the lesser-known fact about this place is that it is also home to some near extinct plantlife.

Up to the Wineglass Bay lookout

Pathway up to the Wineglass Bay lookout at Freycinet National Park

Pathway up to the Wineglass Bay lookout at Freycinet National Park

I prefer my hikes a little rugged so the first kilometre of this hike was disappointing, an easy walk along a perfectly pummeled pathway, constant width, winding gently up the mountain.

And there were quite a few people. Well, lots. So I followed others, all sorts and every sort of others, and felt a little as though I was climbing up to the top of a family flume ride at Disneyland.

View from lookout down onto bright blue sea of Wineglass Bay

View from lookout down onto bright blue sea of Wineglass Bay

Once at the lookout it all made sense. There we all stood, shoulder to shoulder, admiring the view and the crescent curve of Wineglass Bay. Graced with a clear sky day where the sun illuminated the turquoise of a sea that kissed the edge of a fine, sandy beach, high above the shoreline people posed and cameras clicked away.

It was (and is) the stuff of postcards.

Down from the lookout to Wineglass Bay beach

The crowds thinned on the next stretch, many people deciding not to trek the next section and feel the fine sand in between their toes. Maybe it was wise: the difficulty of the walk tripled with a descent of rocky steps that put plenty of pressure on the knees.

After steep rocky steps and a short stint of a woodland pathway we pushed through an opening in the trees to arrive at a white sand beach, sun bringing out the strongest blues and turquoises of a clean, clear ocean. Knee high waves crashed onto a beach dotted with groups of people, tiny in the distance, who had made the trek down to the shore.

View of beach and ocean edge at Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park

Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park in Tasmania, Australia

Crystal clear waters at Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park

Crystal clear waters at Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park

There was a moment of travel spoilt realisation: although this is an undoubtedly a beautiful beach, so are so many of Australia’s beaches.

I wasn’t as blown away by it as I maybe could or should have been.

Cutting across to Hazards Beach

D-man and I continued on through woodland and ferny passages, alongside white flower scrub and tarns holding puddles of aqua blue. We walked on stretches of newly built boardwalk designed to protect the natural environment. Tasmanians, I realised, get hiking. Maybe even sanitised it, in parts, but I wasn’t complaining.

Wineglass Bay to Hazards Beach Circuit Walk

Wineglass Bay to Hazards Beach Circuit Walk

A bird of prey hovered, silhouetted against a bright sky interrupted only by a few puffs of leftover cloud. We restocked the suncream and cut across the peninsula to picnic at Hazards Beach, but with a buffeting westerly breeze I realised that lunch would have to wait.

As we walked along Hazards beach I ran some of the sand through my hands. It was grittier, thicker than that of Wineglass Bay. But the beach itself? Equally as – if not even more – beautiful than Wineglass Bay.

End of Hazards Beach in Freycinet National Park, Tasmania

Possibly the best lunch spot… ever

We finally settled on a snack spot in a protected little cove at the far north end of the beach where the waters were still. Sitting on rocks smoothed from years of waters rolling over them, we ate warm, squashed sandwiches and chatted to the pademelon who hung around.

Other than the pademelon, we had this place to ourselves. This spot was the perfect spot, the best spot of the trek. I could have frozen this moment and lived in it forever.

Granite and grass trees

And then the last section of the hike, which was a mixture of cutting across rocky hillsides and through grassy patches and sparse woodland until we all but bumped into the nearly-last-standing grass tree.

This tree sprouted a head full of green and brown spikes and trimmed facial hair around a smiling mouth. The things that a tired mind can conjure up.

Grass tree in Freycinet National Park

Spot the features

Plaque in Freycinet National Park displaying info on grass tree rot

More info on the rotting disease

I read the info plaque, stared at this grass tree and was suddenly overwhelmed by the fragility of our environment, human responsibility and everything inbetween. How long before phytophthora root rot would take to claim this victim, a tree who grew only 1mm a year? How long before this landscape became unrecognisably changed, forever?

It was impossible to be optimistic.

The sky greyed and appropriately, it started to rain. Time to wrap this up. We made the descent down through the forest and back to the car park, now nearly empty at the end of the day. No signs of pademelons either.

Reflection

Despite visiting, observing and walking one of the world’s best beaches, it wasn’t the sparkling sea or the postcard view that stuck in my mind.

No, it was that fuzzy looking tree creature waiting to die, the reminder that beyond all the gloss of travel and tourism is the harsh reality that the pursuit of new sights, experiences and places has it’s impact, in this case the accentuated spread of disease.

Time to clean my shoes.

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Just how sexy is Ipanema beach?

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Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Famous for being the place of beautiful girls, Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro is alive with energy and activity.

Back in 1962, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes wrote the song “The Girl from Ipanema” after being inspired by a tall, pretty brunette in her late teens.

Since then, Ipanema has gained itself somewhat of a reputation for being sexy, a place for people to feed their eyes on physical beauty. Does it live up to its image?

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Hanging out on Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The idea of a beach in a city always sounds quite appealing but in reality, Ipanema beach is a display of bodies packed in tightly along a narrow strip of sand.

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Surfing Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro

Surfers gather at the top end of the beach, the braver going nearer the point and dodging rocks. Teenagers play volleyball and women spill out of string bikinis whilst men stand around chatting in tiny trunks, showing off some upper bodywork.

But not everyone is perfect; there are plenty of thigh ripples and love handles on display too. It’s quite a relief really. Maybe not conventionally sexy, it definitely makes it more real. And that’s more sexy, right?

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Why you could fall in love with the Byron Bay bubble

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Stretch and surf: that which epitomises Byron Bay

Although I arrived into Ballina-Byron airport to late January sunshine, I spent the next three days a prisoner indoors, rain refusing to run out. My early impressions of Byron were therefore not great.

We live in a rainforest area’, said my good friend Sariya, ‘it rains a lot here’. And over the next weeks, her words rang true. Hot, humid days with a piercing sun and big, blue skies were interspersed with grey days of torrential downpour. It took a while to acclimatise to the heat, the spores or whatever in the air made me feel congested much of the time and I found sleeping difficult, tossing and turning, uncomfortable.

So when was I going to fall for this place? It wasn’t love at first sight (mostly because I couldn’t see a damn thing through the heavy blanket of rain). But things got better. I discovered many of the things that draw in the crowds to this small surf town.

Among other things, Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia is:

Beachy. Byron life revolves around the beaches and the surf, although surprisingly, a lot of locals don’t actually surf. There are some strong rips and some seriously dangerous areas along this stretch of coastline where swimming is not recommended, but places like The Pass are ever popular spots for people learning to surf (the first day that I went out it wasn’t so great and I smashed up my friend’s board. Not a good moment). Groups gather on the beach in matching tops, practise their pop-ups on the sand before taking to the water. Families hang out in the shade of the trees that fringe the beach and hot, young things wander by giving each other the eye. Out by Main Beach, evenings offer up regular dusk drumming sessions and the opportunity to mix, mingle and party as the hillside fills with small groups of travellers, language students, locals and musicians in the making.

Randomly eventful. Whilst I was in Byron, the place was winding down from the busy summer holiday season but there was still plenty going on including Buddhist teaching workshops, the Sex & Consciousness Conference with its Masked Lovers Ball, Tribal Fusion Belly Dancing performances, and the yoga-focused Spirit Festival. March and April promised even more with popular events such as Bluesfest and Byron Bay International Film Festival.

Aesthetic and beautiful. I sat down for a few minutes at the Sunday Byron Market with a friend whilst her kids played on a bouncy castle slide, and I did some serious people watching. I was a bit intimidated. ‘Those people’, said a local guy when I aired my insecurities, ‘are probably holiday makers and they’re in happy, confident holiday mode, far away from their usual worries’. People were slender, toned, and beautifully and stylishly clothed. They walked tall, perfect posture. Market asides, there just seemed to be so much cool and confidence in Byron, and in my experience that’s the locals and tourists alike. Maybe more so the locals, actually.

Postive-energied. I couldn’t help but feel some of that magical energy that is regularly commented on. Warm people, some pretty out-there experiences, lots of stuff about intuition and energy and vibes. And lots of genuine smiles and hellos from strangers (or friends you have yet to meet, if you subscribe to that philosophy!). People come here for all that, for the way-out opportunities, for the laid-back lifestyle and of course, for the surf (just don’t come thinking you’ll easily score a job). And some people come to find themselves and their Zen and to feed off the energy of this place.

Independently minded. This is evident by the many individual clothing, gift, craft and jewellery shops that line the main streets, the quirky coffee bars and book shops and restaurants. Whilst a few big brands have tried to muscle in, Byron has managed to maintain a feeling of individuality.

Healing and spiritual. In Byron, there are many ways to retune one’s mind, body and soul, from the expected hypnotherapy, massage, tarot, zumba, and of course every type of yoga imaginable (Byron is yoga central) right through to the more curious soul wound healing, kinesiology, iridology, happiness coaching and kahuna bodywork. There is even support for men who want ‘Wild Man’ to help guide them to live ‘a masculine life of integrity, authenticity and freedom’. I almost wish that I was a guy, just so I could try it out.

Healthy and active. The climate and the setting make for some great time spent outdoors doing active stuff. I swam and surfed in a warm sea and shared smiles with other joggers out on dusk runs. I often cycled into town from where I was staying in Suffolk Park along sun speckled bike tracks and through the Arakwal National Park. On my way I would pass by hoards of kids skateboarding to school and join a stream of cycling commuters as I got closer to Byron itself. There does seem to be a complete contrast between the full on healthy, non-drinking, non-smoking puritans and the party pleasure-seekers with their alcohol, drug fuelled fun. Because I don’t totally subscribe to either scene, I did at times feel a bit a bit out of the loop and looked down on. Don’t give me a label. I’ll have a bit of it all, thank you. Let me and others enjoy the healthy lifestyle options available in Byron without being judged on the odd indulgence.

Hedonistic. Alongside the healthy are the hedonists: predominantly the backpacker scene of party people. Byron may be a place of clear complexions and body awareness but it is also the place for some messy, messy nights. Whilst there are places in town to cater for all sorts of tastes, ages and people, the party crowd in the main spots is on the whole pretty young, think late teens early twenties. And they want to indulge: in alcohol, in each other, in the heady atmosphere. But there is more to Byron nightlife too, including a whole range of musicians who busk their hearts out and street performers who keep the post-pub crowds entertained (although you won’t see fire poi or juggling as flames were supposedly banned from Byron’s streets a good few years back).

Coffee loving. I hung out in comfy, cosy coffee shops making use of free WiFi. When I was looking for work, one of the main questions was ‘Can you make coffee?’ Of course I can make coffee, I thought, but until I said it with some conviction, I didn’t even get a look-in. As it turns out,  Byronians love their coffee (well, Australians in general love their coffee, I think it’s fair to say) . I met a good few self-proclaimed coffee connoisseurs. Bad coffee could ruin a business. I got it. And I did have some great coffees in friendly, smiley places such as Why Not?, one of many coffee bars scattered around the town. 

Social and familiar. Compared to other places that I’ve been based, making friends in Byron was a fairly easy process, providing you made some effort. And I met people who were keen to get out and do stuff, and up for chats and beers and music and dancing. Nearly everyone that I met, local or otherwise, were welcoming, happy to share their space. And with Byron being quite small, it wasn’t long before I was bumping into people I knew, hellos on the street, that sort of thing. Felt good.  Note: Don’t park your van outside someone’s house and leave rubbish and beer bottles kicking around. You’ll make friends with no-one but the police who are doing a clampdown on ‘vanpackers’.

In short, Byron has a lot going on. ‘It’s its own little bubble’, said a local, ‘It’s not really representative of the rest of Australia’. Some things are truly bizarre, other stuff more conventional. The beauty is that there is something for every taste. And more than enough energy kicking around to soothe any lost souls.

Residents may bemoan the changes and increasing commercialisation that has taken place in the past ten years, but Byron Bay does still hold considerable charm. It’s still a bit of a hippy town, even if Subway and Sportsgirl have made an appearance. It’s small enough to be cosy, but there’s enough going on to keep it vibrant. I’ll be back before too long.

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Losing my way in Mompiche

I had craved Mompiche’s empty, tropical beaches since first reading a teeny snapshot about it online. ‘Montañita is… yeah…’ said my Spanish teacher, ‘but Mompiche is… well… my favourite in Ecuador’. ‘How do you get there?’ I asked, my appetite whetted by inside information. She didn’t know, other than to drive.

I tried to figure out my route but information was scarce and what I did find told me that it would be quite a mission. One site advised: catch a bus from Quito to Atacames but get off at a roadside junction – the bus driver will know which one – and wait for a bus to Mompiche. But there were only two buses per day, it added, and I envisaged myself standing alone on a random dirt road well into the night, looking hopefully into the distance for a bus to show.

In the end, the route I took (well we took, – my earlier travelling companions decided to come along which, on such an unknown route, suited me fine) was from Quito to Esmeraldas to Atacames to El Salto to Mompiche. It should have been simpler but it got us there.

So was it worth it? Did the dream translate?

Stocking up on some much needed vitamins with a fresh berry juice topped with slices of watermelon and banana was a good way to start the Mompiche experience, although the owner first needed to finish the card game that he was betting on. He won, the other guy disappeared and the juice arrived in a dramatic fashion to an Afro-Ecuadorian soundtrack. The music was, however, quickly switched to some unrecognisable Western schmaltz. Pity.

Mompiche is a village of dream catchers, and maybe it also hooks in those searching for the dream life. Serranos (people from the mountainous area of the country) have made their way here, and there’s a strong Argentinian and Colombian presence too (the DMCA Surf Hostal – the only publicised hostel – is run by a bunch of Columbian surfers).

Mompiche at low tide offers a vast stretch of sandy beach across which mini crabs scuttle in and out of their tiny holes, undisturbed by human presence. Whilst I was there, hardly a soul was in sight. Even on the high street (there are essentially only two main streets in the place) it could be an effort to find someone, and shops often remained without keeper until alerted.

What to do in Mompiche? Relax. I had grand ideas of getting up early and running the stretch of the beach (I’ve still not satisfied the restlessness of my legs), but beers, chats and giggles around the campfire at night meant that, come the morning, the craving for sleep won.

I imagined hiring a surf board and playing on the beach break but lethargy kicked in and even a walk to La Playa Negra was a mammoth effort (we hitched a ride back). Mompiche took my energy and character and melded them into something unconstructive yet perfectly content with swinging in a hammock and splashing in the sea. Days passed. I was happy. But I really didn’t do much.


Before I left, I swung by El Negrito Bar for a final drink. A kiss on the cheek and a cuddle later from the owner and I was ready to leave, batido de mora (berry milkshake) in hand. I had to get away from Mompiche before I stayed forever and did very little for the rest of my life.

P.S. Pablo, Tito and the crew at Gabeal, and all the guys at La Facha (great food) and DMCA, – thanks for the info, advice and the good times. Thanks also to the sand flies and mosquitos for your monstrous munching efforts. It will take some time to forget you.

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