Tag Archives: hike

A Bit More of Sydney Pt.1

Many years after first visiting Australia an invitation that couldn’t be refused arrived. So an elaborate plan was formed – India, Sydney, Myanmar and back to the UK. Not the simplest route, but one that just about worked out.

Having been to Sydney before, this trip was about pushing out of the normal tourist spots and seeing a little more. With a wonderful local friend/guide and a car it’s amazing the spots you can find, completely off the radar for the average tourist, and invisible to unlucky backpackers. Perhaps the Aussies want to keep some of their beautiful country a secret, a special place for locals and the enthusiastic.

Clovelly, Gordons Bay and Coogee

IMG_20170523_154334Heading straight to the beach after the airport, what better way to get started on an Aussie adventure? But we skipped the typical tourist traps, instead hitting up the adorable Clovelly first, part way between Bondi and Coogee, then started to clamber up and over the headland. The east coast cliffs are a treat to climb, and are a heaven for those ‘candid’ instagram photos, perch yourself on a precarious edge and get a friend to snap away.  From Clovelly it’s an easy stroll along the cliff walk through Gordons bay (with a really cool underwater nature trail) around to Coogee beach. Coogee was pretty quiet as the sun was setting, but is so characteristic of the beach towns, wide streets, green grass and trendy fish and chip shops. It’s easy to understand why so many people move there.

Illawarra Treetop Walk, Belmore Falls and Fitzroy Falls.

IMG_20170524_144438This was a bit of a drive away, down past the Royal Nation Park and up into the hills. The area is packed with waterfalls, trails, walks and forest to explore. Theres a great site that allows to you get above it all though, the treetop walk of Illawarra. It’s a little pricey for a walk, especially as there’s very similar views for free a short drive away. The walkway is impressive though, especially the crows nest which gives dominating views in all directions, all the way down to the coast.

20170524_173145Belmore Falls was the next stop, a view point from afar is easy enough to find, but getting up close was much more spectacular. The top of a waterfall is an interesting lookout, while the bottom offers the more impressive spectacle, but the dense forested valleys block access from the base. Still the views are great, especially around dusk, the colour of the sky slowly shifting as the sun descends. Next on the list was the more touristy Fitzroy Falls, with it’s walkways and viewing platforms, certainly the Australian health and safety had got their hands on this place. But as it was getting seriously dark, perhaps it was a good thing we had the paths to follow.

We stopped off for a cheeky bit of Mexican food in Wollongong before heading home, a decent feed after a day of adventuring.

Wendy’s Secret Garden, Luna Park and Lavender Bay

IMG_20170525_151754Staying a bit closer to the city, some research came up with a couple interesting spots, the main one being the delightful Wendy’s Secret Garden, just a short walk from Luna Park. It’s a private garden that’s open to the public, filled with little seats and tables to stop and enjoy the surroundings, it’s a stones throw from the water, and the city, but with the foliage so thick you could be miles from anywhere. It’s romantic and charming in equal measure, perfect for a picnic with your sweetheart, or a lonely stroll before sitting with a book.

Luna Park was closed as we wandered past, but the boardwalk stays open and a selfie with that giant creepy clown gate is a must. It’s an odd place, but an interesting bit of history for Sydney, Luna Park has been open since 1935, slowly updating and upgrading as it went. Now it’s a modern and exciting theme park, but with no entry fee. Perfect for a short day, rather than trying to cram as much in as possible like many other parks.

Further around is the quiet Lavender Bay, it looks a lot like Mrs Macquaries point, but with no one around. It’s a blissful hiding place away from the tourists, and offers incredible views of the Harbour Bridge, and the Opera House in the distance. It’s a vantage point few people see, and in such serene surroundings as well.

Newtown, Surrey Hills and Alexandria

IMG_20170530_152406A few trips to Newtown during the trip, so we’ll roll them into one. Newtown is still the coolest area in Sydney, with funky alternative shops, rooftop bars and some incredible food choices. From excellent pizza to ice-cream made with nitrous oxide to giant cake like doughnuts which are doing nothing to help all the runners as they go by. The nightlife is probably the most accessible and welcoming, no aggressive bouncers with idiotic door policies or an overdose of testosterone, bar staff that understand your drink orders and music that doesn’t induce a headache after 30 seconds.

Surrey Hills is pretty good too, we didn’t spend a lot of time here though, just a drive through to grab some (more) ice-cream from Messina Gelato, apparently the best ice-cream in Australia

Alexandria of course is home of The Grounds, a collective of restaurants, shops and cafes spaced in amongst a green utopia within the suburbs of Sydney. An easy walk from from the accommodation and a real hipster treat. They probably brew their own beer and definitely roast their own coffee.

Continued in Pt.2

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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Rhodes, Islands of Castles Pt.1

Using a bit of time off from the Busabout Greek Island Hopper I visited Rhodes, one of the largest of the Greek islands, closer to the Turkish mainland than Greece but only a short (and cheap) flight away from Athens.

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I arrived in the morning, and immediately jumped on the bus into Rhodos, or Rhodes town. Not much to see out the windows but fairly average looking beaches, but once I hit the town thinks started to look up, it’s not hard to find the incredible old town here, it encompasses about 50% of the area. My hostel was only a short walk from the bus stop, but I got distracted by the nearby sights and started exploring.

img_20160827_111807627The old town is surrounded by Byzantine city walls, two layers of thick brick structure used to defend the town throughout various periods, through the Christian Crusades and Turkish Invasion as well as during the time it was built. Inside the walls is a maze of alleyways, blissfully free of cars and surprisingly few nagging salesmen desperate to have you look at their wares. It’s clean and tidy, while still holding it’s ancient stylings. The Road of Knights is a popular stop, the curving street that arcs gently up to the Grand Masters Palace.img_20160827_114452347_hdr My highlight inside was the Roloi Tower, for 5EUR you can climb inside, and you get a drink included as well, I think it’s a rather hopeful attempt to encourage people to use their bar, but it’s not a bad place at all, and the tower offers some great views of the city.

img_20160827_124425180Surrounding the central section, between the two walls is the Tavros, the moat that attackers would have had to climb into before reaching the main castle walls. It’s impossible to imagine the loss of life in that huge manmade canyon, but taking a walk through is both poignant and beautiful. It’s possible to walk the entire length, or just parts of it, and it’s well worth doing. Surprisingly quiet despite between sandwiched between the two parts of the city.

img_20160827_161144616Mandraki Port is worth walking through, further fortifications can be found here and explored for free, but also the port entrance has some nice statues framing it which make for a good snap. From there you can explore around the sea front to the beaches. While I was there I found that the wind was blowing from the north, making the southern beaches much more pleasant. On the North-Eastern tip of the island is the Aquarium, fairly highly rated, but not on my list of things to do.

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After dropping my bags at the very pleasant STAY hostel, I decided to make the trip up to the acropolis. It’s clear when you get there why it’s not as famous as the one in Athens.img_20160827_170444189The stadium is impressive, but the temple is all but gone, with just four pillars remaining along with a lot of scaffolding. Perhaps in a couple years when whatever work they’re doing is complete it’ll look a little better, but for now it’s not worth the walk up the hill.

I enjoyed a nice evening at the hostel, they hosted a Greek night, which was a little redundant for me having been in Greece for the last couple of months, but it was good to meet some fellow travellers and experience the whole backpacker vibe again properly. The hosts certainly did a good job and provided plenty of food.

img_20160828_104718076Day two involved jumping on my rented quad and heading out for the first of my many pinpoints along the North coast of the island. Filerimos was the first stop, a monastery at the top of a hill overlooking the coastline, and plenty of the inland as well. A huge cross was accessible for free, and making an impressive photo point, but was also placed at a great lookout.img_20160828_105055829_hdrWorth the drive up for that alone, but for only 6EUR I entered the Monastery site as well. Relatively small, and clearly not used any more the Monastery was pretty, but not overwhelming, however on the far side was another Byzantine remnant, a small fort built up on one of the higher cliff faces. Again, great views from here, and some interesting architecture but nothing that would blow your mind.

img_20160828_135002542Next location was a little more inland, and as it was through a valley I decided to take the scenic route, heading further south and nipping up to it. The Valley of Butterflies can be entered from a couple of places, I would recommend starting at the bottom so it’s downhill on the way home, of course I started at the top and had a long climb to get back to my vehicle. The Valley was 5EUR entry, but is very peaceful once you enter, the path winds it’s way down through the lush forest, although it may take a little while to realise why it has it’s name. There’s only the one type of butterfly in there, however once you spot one, you’ll recognise it’s camouflage and start to see them everywhere. They rest on the floor and on trees, and blend in so well with the dirt and bark.

img_20160828_134807389It creates quite a lovely atmosphere with so many of them flying past here and there, and the occasion mass movement from a hideyhole where they explode like a slow-mo party popper. There are some spots which were really overwhelmed with the creatures, trees and rocks covered so thickly that you couldn’t see what the bugs were sitting on. There is a little stream that flows through the valley as well, and in a couple spots where it was more rock than mud, you can spot some fresh water crabs, standing is still as possible, clearly waiting for the chance to snatch a butterfly from the air. I watched for a little while, but of the five crabs I could see, not one even moved, let alone caught some food.img_20160828_141436419_hdrAt the main entrance is a little cafe and info booth, although there’s really not much info there at all, and if you continue further down it’s much of the same, with less people. The walkways are well built and family friendly, although I wouldn’t trust someone too old to make the walk back up.

img_20160828_153804383Kameiros was everything that I had wanted from the acropolis but hadn’t got. The site was large, well presented and showed a settlement of impressive size that provided remarkable facilities to it’s residents considering the age of the place. Fresh running water was provided to all homes, and a clear hierarchy within the town is still visible, with the larger richer houses along what would have been the main roads, while others were tucked behind.img_20160828_155216443_hdrIt’s fascinating to walk through homes so old and to really begin to understand the lives of these people. The remains of the temple at the bottom of the hill was a centre point for the town, while a second at the top added another altar. It’s possible to note the era that certain parts were built, and to explore the baths that used to running water, along with a surprisingly technical series of pipes to provide hot water and steam to cleanse the locals.

img_20160828_170751927_hdrNext up was the first of the little castles I was due to visit over the next few days. With a pleasant cafe, and a well kept path leading in, Kritinia was one of the more complete structures. Most of the main walls were standing, but a few collapses had been tidied up and made safe, without any major reconstruction work spoiling the aesthetic. The views from here were amazing, many an instagram photo to boost the likes and gain a few extra follows as you gaze out over the winding coastline and the distant islands fading into the mists.

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img_20160828_184758730_hdrThe last stop for the day, after dropping my bag and quad off at the hotel was the castle of Monolithos. Not much of a castle, but it makes up for it with it’s location, perched on a cliff with sheer drops on three sides. Only accessible through a short path up from the road, which locals and tourists alike have decorated with hundreds of small cairns, piles of rocks built from the loose stone all around. Makes for a rather pretty walk through, and then on reaching the pinnacle there were many many more. The location reminded me stronger of the monasteries at Meteora, although this just had a small church and some fortified walls which were well crumbled away. The best thing about it, as the point on the north west of the island, was the sunset. I reached there with about half an hour to spare so had enough time to explore and snap away, then as the sun actually set just sit and appreciate the pure beauty of it all. The colours in the sky, and the fact that the sun was setting over pure ocean (something that Santorini can’t claim) along with the incredible setting made it an excellent end to a busy day.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cornwall – Treen to Penberth to Porthcurno ft: The Minack Theatre

A somewhat more challenging walk than the previous excursion is the loop from the hamlet of Treen on the hill between two valleys and the beaches at the bottom of those valleys: Penberth and Porthcurno

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IMG_20150208_120602The walk starts off across typical hilly Cornish countryside down into the valley, then alongside the stream that leads out to the small fishing town of Penberth. A pretty town, where the newer houses have been kept in keeping with the style of the older original buildings. The beach is pretty but somewhat rocky, not good for a swim, but the slipway opens the transition between land a sea, with an old winch still used to pull the fishing boats ashore. There’s still a healthy trade going from this village, with line caught mackerel being the most popular catch, and fetching a good price for it’s ecological benefits along with the prestige of Cornish fishing.
IMG_20150208_124650The walk up the cliffs from here is a bit steep, but is the hardest section of the day, and looking back into the cove offers some lovely views of the uniquely rocky cliffs and the town nestled between them. Along the top of the cliffs the views out to sea are impressive. In places along this route there are areas grazed by dartmoor wild ponies which can be fun to spot. It’s important not to feed these animals as they’ve been introduced to help the environment recover. They are friendly creatures, but try not to pet them, as they are wild and may not be completely safe.

IMG_20150208_121215As you work towards Porthcurno you’ll pass the headland which is home to Logan Rock. The story is that two sailors decided to push this loose rock off the cliff, only to be caught and forced to take it back up. If you climb up to where the rock is sat you can see the holes they made to insert wooden bars to help them lift the stone back into position. The climb up there is not part of the walk, but is a great little detour that doesn’t take too long although the rocky bit can be a challenge to climb up.

IMG_20150208_122942From the headland you can see down into Pedn Vounder, a stunning bay with huge stretches of sand. The way the cliffs and sand banks lie mean that at high-tide the water is still very shallow, turning the deep blue ocean to a gorgeous turquoise to rival the Mediterranean. This beach is usually quite quiet for a couple reasons, the walk to it is fairly steep and tricky, certainly not suitable for young kids and due to the lie of the sand it’s easy to get trapped by an incoming tide. Thanks to this it’s made the beach a bit of an unofficial nudist hotspot. While it’s easy to see down into the bay access is tricky enough to put off most, and the distance between the cliff tops and the beach is enough to prevent any embarrassment. There weren’t any naked people out when I walked past, but given the cold February air, I wasn’t surprised. it also meant my photos were unspoilt by anyone in the bay at all.

IMG_20150208_125134From there it’s a short walk around the next head and down into Porthcurno. Another small town, but one with a lot more significance than most in Cornwall for two reasons. Porthcurno is the beach where the telegraph cables arrived in the UK. The telegraph network allowed messages to be sent trans-continentally within just a few days, rather than the weeks it took previously. The old method was simple mail, sent across on ships, but these cables stretched across the atlantic to improve communication between the colonies and London. There is a Museum a little further up the valley, but by the beach is the hut into which the cables ran, you can still look inside and see the various sources of the communications, some direct, and others via relay stations in friendly nations.

IMG_20150208_140322The second is the world famous Minack Theatre, a spectacular stage and auditorium built into the cliffs, just visible from the beach. With the Atlantic as it’s backdrop, plays held here are impressive affairs, and while there are risks of numb bums and some rather damp shows (weather depending) the show will go on. The season starts in mid-Spring, through into Autumn, to make the most use of the daylight hours. With the brisk air, you’d have to be a very enthusiastic fan to want to sit in the freezing cold of winter with the wind across those cliffs. It’s an amazing place, even just for a visit, and the matinee shows are as popular as the evening as fans enjoy the summer sun.

IMG_20150208_141205The town has a bit more to offer than just the Museum and Theatre, with a few good restaurants, boasting some excellent local fish dishes. It’s a pretty village as well, and a walk through is not unpleasant, however it does get rather busy in summer as the holiday lets and hotels fill up, and even more people come down to check out the sand.

Our walk took us up the cliffs beside the Minack and onto the headland, from where we walked inland and across the flatter land. Farmers fields and backcountry roads led the way back to Treen and home.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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South Africa Part8 – The Drakensberg

The last and final leg of my journey leads up from the South Coast and Durban, north towards Johannesburg, stopping only once at the excellent Drakensberg mountain range.

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AmphitheatreThe Amphitheatre is in the Northern Drakensberg, a huge bowl shaped area of valleys, canyons and cliffs which stretch up to some of the highest peaks in South Africa. A incredible area of natural beauty this region could easily have been the back drop to parts of Lord Of The Rings, losing nothing to the New Zealand mountain ranges used, which is saying a lot, as I am a very big fan of the NZ hills.

DownhillThe Amphitheatre Backpackers was a comfortable and and friendly stop, if a little unsuitable for the typical idea of backpackers. While the rooms were comfy and spacious, they had no facilities for buying your own food, just a vague map with some unreliable bus times to get into the nearest town. They offered meals during the day which were fairly reasonable, but the evening set meals were practically Australian in price. After practically begging them to drive us to get something to eat that we could cook ourselves, we jumped a backie (Ute in Aus, or Pick-up in the UK) with a bribe to the driver who took us to a campsite nearby. He also took us to a local lady, who raided her own fridge to sell us some very fresh and delicious meat – perfect for the brai that evening. The hostel had some interesting facilities, included a freezing cold outside pool, bar, tv room, hot tub and, my favourite, a bouldering wall inside the bar.

AmphitheatreThe hostel ran transfers and tours to the mountains, the one I took was just a transfer to the base, from where we hiked up through the valleys and foothills, trying to get as close to the epic cliffs of the peaks as I could. The walk was a good challenge, constantly offering awe inspiring vistas, both up and down the gradient. Along the river bed the rocks made going slow, but as the path only went so far it was the only option. This was followed by chain ladders up sheer rocks to get around the semi subterranean rivers (which offered some very interesting sights). The further I walked, the closer I got, the steeper the river bed got, but the views were constantly impressive.

SunUnfortunately the inflated prices of the transfers and tours meant the second day was spent relaxing and exploring around the plains the hostel was set on, rather than heading to the top of the range. Coming to the end of a trip is always a tight time for those on budgets, but as this accommodation had realised it’s monopoly on it’s guests, they had clearly maximised their prices. The plains lead down to a pretty little river though, where myself and a couple others relaxed for the day before having seconds of brai’d beef.

PlainsFrom it here it was one more jump onto the Bazbus, straight to Johannesburg airport. Having seen the city on arrival, a second look wasn’t necessary, in fact the budget barely would have stretched to another night of accommodation. The same day I left the stunning Drakensberg I was flying back to the UK (after a rather long stop in Abu Dhabi (don’t sleep in airports unless you’re sure which time-zone you’re in).