Tag Archives: hiking
It was when I arrived home from a trip to the Blue Mountains and kicked off my hiking shoes and socks that I noticed trickles of bright red blood dripping down on to the floor. And it wouldn’t stop.
By the awesome power of a borrowed car and a TomTom sat nav, I had cruised along the Great Western Highway, away from Sydney with the radio blasting and the Blue Mountains up ahead.
At Echo Point nearby Katoomba, a thick covering of fog concealed any natural wonders. I sat down and ate a sandwich to the sound of a didgeridoo being played by an Aboriginal guy who had been traditionally painted up, ready to pose for photos with impressed tourists.
Within a little while The Three Sisters revealed themselves, their stony prison smaller than I expected. I joined the crowds on the viewing platforms, got some truly bad pictures taken by a stranger that I had to delete (lots of sky, lots of me, barely anything of the Three Sisters) and then did a short walk over to the Lady Marley lookout where I took in the vast mountainous landscape, wisps of mist still drifting about giving it a mystical edge.
Legs unsatisfied, back at the start and with the Information Centre behind me I took a right and headed over to the start of the Giant Stairway with over 850 narrow steps leading down from the Three Sisters mounting point and into the arboreous gulley below.
The signposted track led me along the Federal Pass on forest pathways, squelchy and covered in leaves. A building purr of thunder rattled the sky as rain drops slapped onto damp leaves, working up to a steady downpour. I hid in a hollow tree trunk until the worst of it passed.
After two hours and a steady pace later, I arrived at the Scenic Railway. Would I cheat and take the train up for an easy wander back to Echo Point? Hell, no!
In fact, on the way back I was on fire, getting to the bottom of the Great Stairway within 40 minutes. Super speedy (wait for the pain tomorrow). ‘Are you really going up?’ asked a Dutch guy raising his eyebrows. He had just made the descent with his friends. ‘Sure’, I said, ‘I came down so now I’ll go back up. It’ll balance things out!’ ‘If we don’t see you back by 6:00pm’, he said, ‘then we’ll send the search parties out to the steps’.
It was unnecessary. Although I took a couple of breaks and nearly puked as my heart battered my rib cage, I was back at the top within twenty minutes, legs fully worked out and shaking.
And then back along the Great Western Highway, back to the house and kicking off my shoes and my socks and spotting the mystery blood dribbling down my ankles. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted my sock moving. I lifted it to reveal a squirming, wet and well-fed leech. Eurgh! How had I managed to miss that?! Thanks very much, Blue Mountains, what a parting gift.
For free parking by Echo Point, drive past the Information Point on your right, continuing along Cliff Drive. You will see a sandy stretch on the right hand side where you can park for free.
Back in Auckland for a couple of days, I wanted to fit in a trip to what has been voted ‘Auckland’s best day out’? Waiheke Island, aka ‘Jewel of the Hauroki Gulf’ is a forty minute boat ride away from the bustle of Auckland, an easy daytrip with the promise of good tramping tracks and other activities such as kayaking and mountain biking. Lunching out and visiting art galleries and wineries offers an alternative for those after less of a physical challenge.
If I’m honest, I had hoped to go to the Great Barrier Island which sounded incredible and more off the beaten track, but the practicalities of getting to Waiheke and the more structured nature of the walking tracks meant that for a solo adventure it would be the better, safer option. I had woken up tired and a bit hungover after a late night of beers and chats with my CouchSurf host, Nate. Without a clear head, a total random, unmarked adventure may have not been too smart. So Waiheke it was. And what a lovely decision.
I arrived into Matiatia Wharf just before midday having shared a ferry over with day tripping families and groups of friends. Everyone seemed to be wearing flip flops. Were none of them planning on hiking?
I set off boldly in the wrong direction before being walked to the right start point by a taxi driver. ‘Tide’s in so you’ll have to use the goat track’, he told me before disappearing and leaving me to do a cliff scramble through thickets and under branches for a few hundred metres.
Re-joining the path, I traipsed through tall grasses and clusters of trees alive with the sound of cicadas, and close to grand houses with manicured lawns, vast glass frontage and wide driveways, nestled neatly into the hillsides. I watched bees feasting on thistle flower nectar and boats bobbing around in a wind rippled sea.
I was on the ‘Northern walk’ (North Yorkshire, North Devon and now North Waiheke – can’t keep me away from the north!), a hike said to be ‘ideal for visitors wanting to take in as much of the island as is possible without venturing too far away from the ferry’.
The walk from Cable Bay to Owhanaka Bay was a bit of a killer: a stretch of steep calf burn followed by a knee crunching descent. Luckily it didn’t last and was followed by a blissful flat period and a bench where I sat down to reapply sun cream and refuel in the company of anchored speedboats. Clearly it was food and siesta time.
The cut across to Island Bay went through a lush garden of reeds and palms and bushes, ending at the prettiest little bay where crystal clear waters lapped onto the beach and sea-seasoned tree trunks lay washed up on the sands.
And then the climbing started anew, but this time on steady, constructed steps that wound ever higher to give wide views out over the coves, a patchy, turquoise sea topped with a little white chop, and not a soul in sight.
Things then got easier. The path that had thus far wrapped around the coastline now meandered inland through olive groves and vineyards and along dusty, wider tracks until I reached one of the few actual roads crossing the island. Walking by houses with boats parked out the front, I tried to imagine living here: nature and beauty on your doorstep. But too isolated, I concluded. Not for me.
The last little walk from Oneroa Beach back to Matiatia Bay took me through the Atawha Whenua Reserve full of clematis and pigeonwood and NZ mahogany. Known as a good bird watching spot, my untrained eye saw nothing other than a load of little plaques detailing various trees.
I got back on the boat to Auckland with all the flip floppers but now I noticed that there were also women in pretty summer dresses and high heels carrying handbag dogs, and I thought, have I totally missed something here?
The Paritutu is a mini mountain, well hill really, overlooking New Plymouth and some of the Taranaki region of New Zealand. My plan had been to climb Mount Taranaki itself but other than a peek of the peak on my arrival into the city, she had kept herself well hidden under a swath of heavy cloud. The weather had also been particularly bad for New Zealand summertime: torrential downpours and forceful winds that snapped trees in two and forced us humans to retreat indoors.
But then one morning a little sliver of sunshine promised a better day and my friends suggested a practise walk to and up the Paritutu. We dropped Rob and his surfboard off at Back Beach, and Dund and I set off along the cliff top walk through passageways of plants and grasses. The views opened up to show the surf below; nice lines and peeling two foot waves on a bright blue ocean under a Simpsons sky.
After less than half an hour we were at the start of the Paritutu climb where the first part was an easy ascent up solid, supported steps. The next section was more fun: a return to the ropes and cables of some of the climbs I had experienced in Peru, although here the chain was really necessary to help launch you up to the next level. Not really a path, it was a steep scramble with rocks jutting out all over the place that put vertigo and basic climbing skills to the test. I loved it. (Coming down was a bit of a different matter, the incline and height accentuated by the views down to the bottom, and Dund’s legs were shaking when we arrived back at the start, an adrenaline-achievement mix).
At the top of Paritutu there was a little platform to catch one’s breath, take in the views and reapply some sun cream. No shade though, and the strong midday sun was a bit vicious. The height of the Paritutu, although only 156m, allows you to take in the views of the city, seascape and the mass of fields stretching out into the distance. And if you’re lucky, Mount Taranaki, but on this particular day she was still feeling a bit shy. Not uncommon, apparently.
When I was in Rotorua, I listened to a radio interview with the British adventurer Alastair Humphries who talked about doing mini adventures that were doable in a day. This Paritutu experience was essentially a micro adventure, and although fairly structured and safe, it still had the undertaking of the clamber up steep crags which gave it an element of risk. It wasn’t for the unfit or the frightened (though the girl who point blank refused to go up when her parents were up for it was probably being a bit pathetic), but it is a short and sweet morning activity.
If the rain holds off, give it a go.