Elwyn Campbell: Blog https://elly.net.au/blog en-us (C) Elwyn Campbell (Elwyn Campbell) Sun, 31 Oct 2021 05:50:00 GMT Sun, 31 Oct 2021 05:50:00 GMT https://elly.net.au/img/s/v-12/u68940453-o800368016-50.jpg Elwyn Campbell: Blog https://elly.net.au/blog 120 120 New Zealand https://elly.net.au/blog/2021/10/new-zealand March 2020

We managed a 2 week trip to New Zealand's South Island just before the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic descended and restricted our international travel.

Here's the photos from our trip: https://elly.net.au/new-zealand-2020

Kepler Track - South FiordKepler Track - South Fiord
 

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(Elwyn Campbell) https://elly.net.au/blog/2021/10/new-zealand Sun, 31 Oct 2021 05:49:51 GMT
Southwest USA Road Trip https://elly.net.au/blog/2021/4/southwest-usa-road-trip June 2019

We had a fabulous 3 week honeymoon to the southwest USA! It was a great adventure to share.

Photo Gallery: https://elly.net.au/usa-honeymoon

Our time in the USA previously was limited. We got out a map, and figured out what we could do for 3 weeks. Rather than spend time flying between USA highlights, we wanted to get outside the cities and enjoy a road trip. We managed to independently plan and book a mixture of driving and hiking days. We brought our camping gear on the plane so we were prepared for some camping trips during our road trip.

We flew in to LA and were lucky enough to get an upgrade to premium economy which really helped us arrive relatively refreshed. We were also very lucky as we flew through fog at Sydney airport that:
(a) our flight from Perth landed
(b) the only A380 that landed in Sydney from London was rerouted on our flight to LA, all other A380s were diverted
Universal StudiosUniversal Studios
After a bumpy flight across the Pacific, we navigated our way through LAX. We pick up the hire car and figured out how to drive on the wrong side of the road whilst attempting to navigate on the 6 lane interstate 😱. We had a few days in an Airbnb in Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills while we got over the jet lag. This was a great central location while being relatively quiet from the bustle of LA. We saw Griffith Observatory, the Peterson Car Museum and Nakatomi Plaza (of Die Hard fame). A full day at Universal Studios was awesome. 


A few days in LA was enough, and we were looking forward to getting out of the big city. An early start to beat the notorious LA traffic. While stopping for fuel we were surrounded by 4 news helicopters, standard around LA traffic. We drove east to our second state, Arizona, and to the Grand Canyon for a few days. A full day driving east mostly on the classic Route 66. This was a mixture of interstate and country road driving. Our Mitsubishi Outlander was one of the smallest cars around, but it suited us well on the way. We stayed in a Teepee found on AirBnb, about 30 minutes south of the Grand Canyon South Rim. 

It was height of summer so it was rather hot. Therefore we started early which meant it was both cooler and a lot less crowds. There was hardly anyone around  the South Rim when we arrived around 7.30am. We did a couple of hikes down into the canyon: the Bright Angel trail and the appropriately-named Ooh-Aah point. It was all very easy walking downhill and also very deceptive of just how far down it is to the floor. Add a bit of heat and altitude into the mix and we were very wary of not going too far. That proved correct after we were all cowering in the shade for some cool as we hiked back up to the rim! 

Grand CanyonGrand Canyon

We could see the north rim of the Grand Canyon which was only about 11 miles but actually a 200 mile drive away. We took a day to drive from the South Rim to the North Rim on the Grand Canyon through some great variations in the landscape. We diverted to the north on the way to see the classic Horseshoe Bend, a popular lookout further up the Colorado River. The sheer scale of it was mind boggling, offset by the rafts below which themselves were very large. 

Horseshoe bend on the Colorado RiverHorseshoe bend on the Colorado River
 

 

 


It was a lot cooler at the north rim as it’s at a higher altitude, surrounded by alpine meadows and larger trees. We stayed in a log cabin right on the North Rim which offered great views throughout the day, right until sunset. We did another hike along Widforss Trail on the north rim which  offered great views back to the south.

We drove into Utah to the north, heading for Bryce Canyon National Park. We were a little confused by the time and then realised that Utah is actually an hour ahead of Arizona. Bryce Canyon is at a high altitude, at about 9000 feet the lack of oxygen is noticeable. We stayed just outside the National Park and did a couple of walks in the National Park to see the "hoodoos", rocks which had been sculpted by the weathering and freezing/melting over thousands of years. 

Han and Leia at Bryce CanyonHan and Leia at Bryce Canyon

Zion National Park

Next was west to Zion National Park. Again, this offered great changes in scenery as we drove between different valleys. The road we entered on was spectacular, through a long one-way tunnel into the main Zion Canyon. 

Zion National ParkZion National Park Accommodation was difficult to book in Zion even months before our trip. We found a single camp site in an "RV Park" which proved a useful location for exploring Zion Canyon. Limited parking in Zion Canyon means it's best to catch a park bus. We caught the bus up to the top of the valley to the famous Narrows.  In normal times, this is a waded walk up the river. Thanks to a very wet spring, the water level was too high so this walk was closed. We enjoyed walking around the top of the Canyon and enjoyed the awesome surroundings.

Zion National ParkZion National Park

 

Some research on the National Park "permit" system. There are limited hiking permits available with pre-booking, plus there are "walk in" permits, available within 24 hours of the intended camping date. We visited the Zion National Park office, and were fortunate enough to find a permit for a private campsite high up on the West Rim trail in the national park. Limited buses to the start of this one-way walk meant that we were up at 5am for the 6am bus to take us to the walk start. We left our car at the National Park office and got the bus. We were at the start of the trail by 7am. 

Our campsite was the first one on the trail, so we were there by 10am! We set up camp and enjoyed the little valley to ourselves for the whole day. It was on a site-track to a spring so we only saw 2 other hikers for the day. Quite a contrast to the crowds in the main Zion Canyon. We saw some rustling in the bushes which turned out to be a turkey. That was while we were careful to string up our food as the resident squirrel was keen to help itself to our food. We were enjoying a quiet late afternoon when all of a sudden a large black cloud had built up. Next were flashes of lightning and loud thunder. Quickly we cooked our dinner and finished it inside the tent as it started to rain. All cleaned up and back inside the tent while there were large claps of thunder all around us which is a little disconcerting when we were relatively high up. Torrential rain continued all night. Fortunately we were dry and safe in our trusty Macpac tent. It cleared up the next morning for the walk down to Angels Landing and into Zion Canyon to finish the walk. This day was 26km of "undulating" walking which was challenging as it got hotter. Plus there was some particularly muddy parts after the wet sprint. However it was spectacular scenery and we hardly saw anyone else until we neared Angels Landing which is a popular day trip from the valley below. We didn't have time to complete the Angels Landing climb but got a great view of the spectacular Ridgeline from our descent. 

Zion National Park - West Rim Trail - Angels LandingZion National Park - West Rim Trail - Angels LandingNear the end of the trail next to Angels Landing, a popular climb for day walkers from the valley.
Getting very hot in the day. Some thunderstorms in the distance.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plenty more descending and we were happy to reach the end of the trail and the Zion Canyon floor after a challenging but awesome hike. We caught the bus back to the base of the valley, a brief tidy up and drove down to Las Vegas, 3 hours away. 

Las Vegas

Vegas is a sight to behold. Most noticeable is all the signs advertising for lawyers on the interstate on the way in. Then all those huge builds on "the strip". We navigated our way along to our hotel and smiled at the crazy cars and people around. Such a different world from the peaceful hiking trip we'd just finished. We checked into the Bellagio still dirty from our overnight Zion hiking trip and with mud on our legs. After a tidy up of ourselves and our gear (the giant bathtub was great for cleaning all the hiking gear!) we ventured down to the ground level through the casino. This was quite overwhelming and we found our way to the buffet. Unfortunately it was full and we were rather hungry after all our exercise so we headed elsewhere. We found Walburgers and had the best. burgers. ever. Then we slept very well that night!

Up by 9am and we found a buffet that was open (nothing shuts in Vegas...). The breakfast buffet was great and quiet since it was "early" for Vegas. The Eiffel Tower opened at 10am and we were one of the first people up there so again had a great view almost to ourselves. We looked through various casinos and walked the strip. 

Grand Canyon Helicopter FlightGrand Canyon Helicopter Flight
Grand Canyon Helicopter FlightGrand Canyon Helicopter Flight
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a Grand Canyon helicopter trip leaving in the afternoon. This flight landed in the canyon itself and we enjoyed Champagne as we took in the awesome surroundings.  Vegas Beer ParkVegas Beer Park
 

Landed back at Vegas and we headed for dinner followed by the "Beer Park" which had a great view over the fountains of the Bellagio.

Death Valley

Yosemite

San Francisco

LA / Disneyland

 

To be continued.

 

 

Here's some statistics for the whole trip:

  • 3,000+ miles on the hire car (Mitsubishi Outlander)
  • 4 states: California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada
  • 6 national parks

 

 

 

 

 



 


 

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(Elwyn Campbell) Arizona California Grand Canyon Hiking North America Travel USA Utah https://elly.net.au/blog/2021/4/southwest-usa-road-trip Mon, 26 Apr 2021 04:56:48 GMT
Southern African Cycling Epic https://elly.net.au/blog/2020/5/southern-african-cycling-epic June 2017

A 3 week cycling trip across Southern Africa. Starting at Victoria Falls, through Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa into Cape Town

Photo gallery: https://elly.net.au/african-cycling-epic
 

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(Elwyn Campbell) Africa Botswana Cycling South https://elly.net.au/blog/2020/5/southern-african-cycling-epic Sun, 03 May 2020 03:53:43 GMT
Larapinta Trail https://elly.net.au/blog/2020/5/larapinta-trail August 2016

A 14 day end-to-end walk on the epic Larapinta Trail in the heart of the Australian desert. Starting from Alice Springs, clear days and amazing views of the starts during our adventure. 

Photo gallery: https://elly.net.au/larapinta-trail

Waterfall GullyWaterfall Gully

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(Elwyn Campbell) https://elly.net.au/blog/2020/5/larapinta-trail Sun, 03 May 2020 03:48:34 GMT
Vancouver Sailing https://elly.net.au/blog/2020/5/vancouver-sailing September 2015

An excellent 10-day adventure with the London Corinthian Sailing Club. We charted a number of yachts from Vancouver and cruised north along the coastline of the vast wilderness of British Columbia.

Photo gallery: https://elly.net.au/vancouver-sailing

Snug CoveSnug Cove Smuggler CoveSmuggler Cove Roscoe Bay, Desolation SoundRoscoe Bay, Desolation Sound

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(Elwyn Campbell) https://elly.net.au/blog/2020/5/vancouver-sailing Sun, 03 May 2020 03:42:51 GMT
Our Dams Adventure https://elly.net.au/blog/2016/6/our-dams-adventure

I’ve been cycling semi-regularly since I was about three. Depending on how far my commute was, I’d cycle when I could. I even survived cycling to work in London as it was much nicer than crowded, unreliable public transport.

I moved back to Perth a couple of years ago after almost a decade in the UK and really appreciated the Australian climate which allowed me to cycle more regularly. I was keen to join a group so I could improve my cycling fitness. I’d seen a number of cycling groups around Perth around but felt quite intimidated to find myself out of my depth.

I’d seen a handful of “She Rides” cycling course ads on Facebook. I signed up for the “She Rides Together” course which suited my cycling ability. I could learn about riding in a group in a friendly environment. Our Kings Park She Rides Together group were quiet as we got to know each other. That quickly changed as we went for a few rides.

During our “She Rides Together” course, I quickly learned the techniques and benefits of cycling in a group. Our group of ladies were a terrific bunch. We often stayed for coffee after our She Rides sessions, talking for longer than we actually rode!

Our She Rides group kept in touch after the completion of the course and organised our own rides. We entered the 40km Armadale Grand Fondo the week after our She Rides course finished. Sally and I found ourselves up ahead of the group at a good speed while we were chatting.

I’d heard of the “Dams Challenge”, a single-day cycling event in the Perth hills. I mentioned to it Sally who promptly signed both of us up as a pair before we knew too much about what was involved. At that time, a “big” ride for us would be about 40km. The 3 Dams Challenge is 145km with about 1,800m of climbing. It was only three months away.

The first month of our training was consistently riding for at least an hour, three times per week, climbing hills where possible. We were very excited to complete hills ride of over 30km at the end of January with about 400m of ascent.

We intensified our training effort in February, mixing hills with flat rides to increase distance and time on the bike. Our first “big” climb was up Welshpool Road, around 250m of climbing taking about 30 minutes. We knew it was getting hard as we had to stop talking to breathe enough to complete the climb.

Sally’s partner, Adrian, completed the 3 Dams Challenge last year and took us on some tough weekend training rides he’d done to prepare himself for the event. We ensured we were out for at least four hours in different conditions. We experimented with what to eat, drink and wear for a long time on the bike. It was the height of summer so we’d be up before dawn to ride in cooler temperatures. Sally and I had our individual ups and downs during these longer rides but we worked very well as a team to help each other.

We also needed to manage rest time. We were honest with each other when we weren’t feeling well on a tough ride. We managed our training load to ensure that we didn’t get run down. Leg massages and were required to keep the legs relatively fresh along with the foam roller every day. We both have active lifestyles and made adjustments to our exercise routines to ensure cycling was our priority.

Adrian lead us on the “2 Dams” ride, our last big training ride, a few weeks before the 3 Dams event itself. A 5.30am start, and we managed 110km with 1,300m of climbing. Strava rated it as “Extreme”. It was hot towards the end so we jumped into the river in all our cycling gear to cool off!

The day of the 3 Dams Challenge finally arrived. Our aim was to enjoy it and finish comfortably. The first big climb was Greenmount Hill. We hadn’t actually climbed Greenmount Hill in our training but we felt good on the climb. Several other competitors commented that we weren’t trying hard enough as we were talking too much!

 

It was a great boost to see some of our She Rides friends supporting us along the route, especially at the top of the first climb. It was the hottest day for a few weeks. I was overheating so much that I felt cold. We pulled over to a service station, bought some cold water and poured some over our heads to cool off. I was seriously considering standing in the beer fridge for a while!

After that break we agreed to back off on the pace a little so we wouldn’t overheat. We continued the slog towards Canning Dam, where the road gets very rough. The “2 Dams” training ride had taken us on that route before so we knew what was coming and continued to successfully negotiate each climb. A lot of competitors were suffering in the heat and we saw a number of cyclists lying under trees to cool off.

We finished our last climb out of Wungong Dam and we were thrilled to reach Albany Highway and the descent into Armadale. Only 40km to go! The ride got really hard, it was early afternoon and we could feel the heat coming off the tarmac even more. We knew it was hard as weren’t talking much now apart from swapping the lead rider. We powered on. We had one last stop on the Kwinana Freeway and welcomed some ice and cold water poured over us.

Finally, we made it to the finish at Curtin University. We were elated to cross the finish line and all the pain disappeared with the adrenaline rush. Our supporters took a few photos with our well-earned medals and celebrated with us. It was a fantastic achievement.

Sally and I have enjoyed the journey of our training and the Dams Challenge itself which has cemented our friendship. Our experience of the She Rides Together course a year ago and completing the Dams Challenge has given us a terrific platform to take our cycling further. However, I’m not sure we’ll be signing up for the 3 Dams Challenge next year!

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Cycling Dams Challenge Hills Perth https://elly.net.au/blog/2016/6/our-dams-adventure Tue, 21 Jun 2016 10:53:15 GMT
View from the top of St Pauls Cathedral https://elly.net.au/blog/2015/10/view-from-the-top-of-st-pauls-cathedral View from the top of St Pauls CathedralView from the top of St Pauls CathedralLooking south across the city towards the River Thames

 

I finally did a tour of St Pauls Cathedral when I visited London on a recent holiday. This is after I never toured St Pauls during my time living near London for many years!

This panorama is from the top of the cathedral to the south towards the River Thames.

 

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(Elwyn Campbell) Cathedral St Pauls https://elly.net.au/blog/2015/10/view-from-the-top-of-st-pauls-cathedral Fri, 30 Oct 2015 12:35:11 GMT
Walking from Cremyll to Rame Head in Cornwall https://elly.net.au/blog/2015/9/cremyll-to-rame-head-cornwall Rame Head from Penlee Point

The English South West Coast Path is a 630 mile walk from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset. One of my favourite day walks on the South West Coast Path is from Mount Edgcumbe to Rame Head in Cornwall.

Mount Edgcumbe House

The start of the walk at Mount Edgcumbe is easily reached by the Cremyll Ferry which runs the short trip across the Tamar River from Plymouth. The walk continues through the grounds of Mount Edgcumbe, through a deer park and then through forest. There are good views across to Plymouth and the harbour from the deer park.

It's about 5.5km to the twin villages of Kingsand and Cawsand. There are a few pubs and cafes which are open year-round.

 

From Kingsand, the walk extends through further forest up to Penlee Point. It's a clear view trees of the English Channel to the south and across to Rame Head. It's a few more kilometres to Rame Head where there are views right along the south coast on a clear day.

Rame Head

Return the same way from Rame Head to Cremyll which will probably take a couple of hours' walk. Enjoy a well-earned icecream or pint on the shorefront while you wait for the Cremyll ferry to provide transport back across the Tamar River to Plymouth. 

The total distance from Cremyll to Rame Head and back is about 20km which means the walk will take around 4 hours to complete. Allow time for stopping for views and pubs!

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(Elwyn Campbell) https://elly.net.au/blog/2015/9/cremyll-to-rame-head-cornwall Mon, 28 Sep 2015 08:50:21 GMT
Moving back to Australia - one year later https://elly.net.au/blog/2015/6/moving--back-to-australia---one-year-later About a year ago, I arrived back in Perth after 9 years in the UK. It's taken a while to adjust back to the Australian way of life.

Here's some things I've noticed while I've settled in Australia:

Lifestyle

  • An incredibly laid back lifestyle. 
  • Most people say "thank you" when they get off the bus, even in peak hour!
  • A traffic jam is anything over 10 cars (and sometimes even less).
  • A "really crowded" train or bus is when there are no spare seats available.

Weather

  • The relief at the end of summer when the daytime temperature drops below 30 degrees and night temperature below 20 degrees.
  • Related to the end of summer: getting excited when it actually rains after months of hot, dry, dusty weather.
  • If it does rain, don't even attempt to go outside as it's too wet. Unable to find umbrellas or rain coats as they haven't been used for months. Chances are it won't rain tomorrow anyway.
  • Any daytime temperature below 20 degrees is "freezing".
  • Relief at the end of "winter" when it's finally getting above 30 degrees. Winter only lasts a month or two anyway.

Language

  • The greeting "How's it going?" without expecting a response.
  • The "Australian Salute" (ie. swishing away flies buzzing around your face)
  • Bogans. The Australian equivalent of chavs. Also "cashed up bogans".
  • Places are called really obvious names:
    • Great Sandy Desert
    • Shark Bay
    • Great Dividing Range
    • Great Barrier Reef
  • FIFO = Fly-in Fly-out. A worker who commutes via plane to their remote work site.
  • The Australian accent. Adam Hills explains: http://youtu.be/KpBYnL5fAXE

Clothing

  • It's perfectly acceptable to take off your thongs (ie. flip-flops) and walk around someone's house barefoot. Especially on a hot day.
  • Dressing up means not wearing thongs (ie. flip-flops).
  • Board shorts are acceptable clothing in almost any situation.
  • "Hi-Vis" (high visibility) clothing is acceptable anywhere since it's common workwear. It's acceptable to go to the FIFO airport in your high visibility/safety gear. If you don't, you'll be the only one in the entire airport not wearing high-vis clothing. Spoken from experience.

 

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Perth Travel https://elly.net.au/blog/2015/6/moving--back-to-australia---one-year-later Sun, 07 Jun 2015 07:18:34 GMT
Wheatbelt Camping https://elly.net.au/blog/2015/4/wheatbelt-camping SunsetSunset in a big sky, just after we set up camp. We camped for a couple of nights in the wheatbelt, about 200km east of Perth. Just after we arrived, we were treated to an amazing sunset.

Sunset over our campsite Then we awaited the lunar eclipse. Even though it was a relatively clear sky, a single storm cloud appeared on the horizon right where the moon was due to rise. We were fortunate to see the start of the lunar eclipse and a single flash of lightning. Then the cloud cleared just in time for the total lunar eclipse when the moon turned red.

Storm cloud over the lunar eclipse We spent some time exploring the area which had a number of "monolith" rocks. They are a single rock, similar to but not as big as Ayers Rock. Climbing up offered a great view of the surrounding country.

Kokerbin Rock

After a couple of nights' camping, we drove back to Perth. It started to rain on the way home so it was perfect timing with the weather!

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Camping Cunderdin Perth Travel Wheatbelt https://elly.net.au/blog/2015/4/wheatbelt-camping Sun, 19 Apr 2015 10:25:37 GMT
Rottnest Swim https://elly.net.au/blog/2015/2/rottnest-swim Sunrise over Cottesloe BeachSunrise over Cottesloe Beach

Kayak selfieKayak selfieWaiting for the start off Cottesloe Beach. The Scottish flag helped both the swimmer and support boat find me!

The Rottnest Swim is a 20km open water swim which starts at Cottesloe Beach and finishes at Rottnest Island. It has now grown to be so popular that there's a ballot to enter a team in the race. Our sailing crew managed to win the ballot to enter the race so we all helped out as support crew. 

The standard Perth summer weather conditions are an offshore easterly wind overnight and into the morning before an onshore seabreeze later in the day. Therefore, it's best to start swimming west to Rottnest Island with the offshore breeze as a tailwind and get as far west to Rottnest as possible before the seabreeze comes in. The start time for our swim team was 7.15am but we needed to be on the boat at 4am to motor up to the start line and get organised.

The support team needs a boat to provide safety and recovery for the swimmer(s) and navigate the course over to Rottnest Island. A kayaker paddles very close to the swimmer to guide the swimmer along the correct course as it's very difficult to see any distance when swimming.

My support crew role was kayaking so I stepped off the back of the yacht into the kayak to meet our swimmer at Cottesloe for the start. Our swimmer was Scottish so naturally I was given a Scottish flag to help identify me amongst hundreds of other kayakers and support boats.

Start wave at Cottesloe BeachStart wave at Cottesloe BeachSupport kayakers waiting and attempting to identify their swimmers.

Our swimmer started and we found each other relatively quickly thanks to the Scottish flag! The first 1km of the swim was relatively straightforward as no support boats were allowed in the swim channel. But after that it was chaos with boats, kayaks and swimmers everywhere. So I did my best to protect our swim team. Even at the start, it was a steady southeasterly wind that soon became a southerly crosswind so we knew we were in for a difficult crossing.

Support crew & waiting swimmersSupport crew & waiting swimmers

The swim team of four swimmers took turns to swim 10 minutes each at a time and rotated through resting and recovering on the support boat. We continued west, before the wind died out. But it wasn't long before the seabreeze started and we were battling to make the cutoff time for the 10km mark. We just made the mark, but with choppy seas and a headwind the writing was on the wall that we'd need to retire. It was unfortunate, but there wasn't much we could do about it. 

Support craft & swimmerSupport craft & swimmerThe dinghy and kayak helping the swimmer. A long way to go!

We decided to retire from the race and pull the swimmers and support craft into the yacht. Then it was time for the Rottnest pub! It's easily one of the busiest days of the year at Rottnest so we soaked up the atmosphere and had a good chat over a few beers. Perhaps we'll enter a team again and hopefully have better conditions next time.

 

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Cottesloe Beach Perth Rottnest Island Rottnest Swim Swimming https://elly.net.au/blog/2015/2/rottnest-swim Tue, 24 Feb 2015 12:09:25 GMT
Lake Ballard https://elly.net.au/blog/2015/2/lake-ballard Lake BallardLake BallardSalt lake north of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

Lake Ballard is a 50km long salt lake 200km up the road from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. 

Lake Ballard has Antony Gormley’s 51 Carbonised Steel Figures which were initially installed as a temporary art exhibition but proved so popular they are now a permanent fixture. 

A real sense of the expanse of the outback. Flies and dust are mandatory!

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(Elwyn Campbell) Antony Gormley Australia Goldfields Kalgoorlie Lake Ballard Menzies Outback Salt Lake https://elly.net.au/blog/2015/2/lake-ballard Fri, 06 Feb 2015 06:11:55 GMT
Blue Mountains https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/12/blue-mountains I spent a week in Sydney. I was fortunate to see a good friend of mine and we arranged an overnight walk in the Blue Mountains. I last visited the Blue Mountains when I was a teenager (ie. a long time ago!) so it was time for another visit.

The weather was dicey earlier in the week with snow falling in the area but fortunately it cleared up on the weekend. I'd had a 6 hour delay arriving into Sydney due to severe thunderstorms

We drove up to Blackheath which was about 2 hours from the middle of Sydney and commenced our walk at Evans Lookout. As it was an overnight walk we needed to carry everything so we had a fair weight in our packs. Walks in the Blue Mountains start high from the car park, and then descent down to the valley floor to spend the night before climbing out of the valley to finish. 

Evans Lookout offered a great view to the north of Blackheath and we could clearly see our planned route. 

View from Evans LookoutView from Evans Lookout

From Evans Lookout we descended down to the base of Grand Canyon, a side valley leading down to Junction Rock. The terrain and the flora changed quickly as we descended through various ecosystems. We descended past of a number of waterfalls as the terrain became steeper near the valley floor. 

Descending to Grand CanyonDescending to Grand Canyon

We then walked through Eucalyptus forest along the river to Junction Rock, where we turned north to head towards the blue gum forest. We had glimpses to the distinctive cliffs lining the top of the valleys around us. 

Lockleys PylonLockleys Pylon

We set up camp at Acacia Flat and then had a short walk to the Blue Gum Forest in the evening light. 

Acacia Flat CampAcacia Flat Camp

We enjoyed a cool night before packing up camp and heading back up the valley the next morning. We remembered that we had to climb back out of the valley after the relatively easy descent the day before! We turned right at Junction Rock and climbed up towards Bridal Veil Falls. As the temperature was around 30 degrees it was a warm climb but fortunately there was plenty of shade. It was an impressive path that became steeper until we were climbing stairs up the cliff face.

Stairs up Govetts LeapStairs up Govetts Leap

The view across the valley and Bridal Veil Falls made the climb worthwhile!

Bridal Veil FallsBridal Veil Falls

We finished the climb up to Govetts Leap and then crossed the top of Bridal Veil Falls before the finish back at Evans Lookout. Then a well-earned ice cream.

It was a great weekend and a reminder that I should visit the Blue Mountains more often!

 

 

 

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Blue Mountains Hiking New South Wales Sydney Travel Trekking https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/12/blue-mountains Sat, 06 Dec 2014 08:42:01 GMT
(Almost) Swimming with a Dolphin https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/10/almost-swimming-with-a-dolphin

We anchored our yacht at Rockingham Beach, south of Fremantle. As we took the dinghy to shore, we had this close encounter with a dolphin! 

 

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Dolphin Perth Sailing https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/10/almost-swimming-with-a-dolphin Sun, 05 Oct 2014 02:15:10 GMT
Pune, India https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/9/pune-india Tuk tukTuk tuk We visited our office in Pune, India for about 2 weeks in late August. I'd travelled to India on a couple of previous occasions so I knew what to expect: chaos! 

Pune is a city of over 5 million people which is makes it the 8th most populous city in India, behind Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata. It's in the same state of Maharashtra as Mumbai on the central western coast. As Pune is on a less travelled route to India from Australia, it took 3 flights and over 20 hours in transit to get there from our home in Perth. The newly built airport in Delhi made the transit much easier than the old airport that I went through on previous visits to India in 2007 and 2004. Two wheelersTwo wheelersWhenever there was a red light, the motorbikes would line up at the front.

It's no surprise how crowded it is on Indian streets. There are literally people everywhere. It's now quite visible that some of the population are better off since the Indian economic boom as there's more cars on the road. That said, there are also lots of "two wheelers" or motorbikes on the roads there who battle for the front at red traffic lights. Fortunately we had drivers assigned to take us everywhere for our stay so we didn't have to deal with driving on India roads. A different style of driving means that's generally friendly to use your car horn to let other drivers know you're there. Many trucks have "Please use horn" painted on their back bumper bars. That makes the streets of India very noisy. Not to mention the frequent cows and other animals frequently seen on the roads!

CowsCowsOur driver was quite used to unexpected road obstacles.

Most of our week was spent at the office which only offered evenings to look around the city. The Osho International Meditation Resort is based in Koregaon Park. It was started by Acharya Rajneesh in the 1970s which attracted many Westerners to visit India and many have stayed in the meditation resort for a number of years. 

LavasaLavasa

LavasaLavasa

Not far from Osho is the German Bakery. As we had several Germans in our group, we had to visit the bakery. Unfortunately, this bakery was bombed in 2010. Since this bombing, there is increased security around Pune. Upon entering any shopping centre, reasonable hotel, office or tourist site visitors must go through security, get frisked and have bags x-rayed. As I'm about a foot taller than most Indian ladies, my head was often sticking out above the security screen as I was frisked by female security staff. 

India has become much more westernised in the past decade. There are plenty more shopping malls and recognisable western brands (and rip-offs)  available for sale. But there's also millions of people living in extreme poverty on the streets. The "Land of Contrasts" label is obvious everywhere. Besides flashy cars are children begging at traffic lights hoping to buy their next meal.

We made a day trip to Lavasa, a hill station built between Mumbai and Pune in 2010. It was nice to get out of the big city of Pune and see some of the surrounding country. We passed through a couple of valleys of the "Western Ghats", a hill range which extends along the west coast of India. Lavasa is planned as a totally self-sufficient town but it's still under construction. It surrounds a dam which offers views across the valley. Fortunately there was a reasonable restaurant for a suitable lunch stop. 

As it was August, it was monsoon season. Most days had a huge rain downpour in the afternoon and we drove back from the office through some deep, muddy puddles. This made the surrounding land look very lush and green. Our hotel overlooked the river which ranged in height from barely trickling to a large torrent following downpours in Pune and the hills upstream. 

Ganesh for saleGanesh for saleIn preparation for "Ganesha Chaturthi"

Ganesh Chaturthi, the Hindu "Festival of Ganesh" was celebrated after we left. It's a week-long festival where statues of Ganesh are erected around India and worshipped. The celebrations are particularly long in Maharashtra. We didn't want to get stuck in the impending traffic jams for the festival so we departed back to Perth the day before the festival started. I'm sure we'll be back to visit Pune soon. 

More photos are in the gallery.

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(Elwyn Campbell) Asia India Maharashtra Pune Travel Western Ghats https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/9/pune-india Mon, 29 Sep 2014 09:40:53 GMT
Avon Descent https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/8/avon-descent The Avon Descent is a two day kayak and powerboat whitewater event on the  Avon River and Swan River near Perth in Western Australia. It starts in Northam and finishes just east of the city of Perth. The most spectacular day of the event is on the second day when most of the rapids are tackled.

We went to Bells Rapids to watch the action. Bells Rapids are the last whitewater obstacle before 30km of flatwater before the finish line in Bayswater. Our timing was perfect as the leading kayakers came through the rapids around 15 minutes after we arrived and around three hours after their early morning start. The leading paddlers made the rapids look easy. 

Bells RapidsBells Rapids

Bells Rapids, Team 511Bells Rapids, Team 511

Bells RapidsBells Rapids

As more paddlers attempted the rapids, there were more capsizes. The Avon Descent support crew did a great job of helping people out when required and everyone we saw made it on to the flatwater and the long paddle to the finish.

Bells RapidsBells Rapids Bells RapidsBells Rapids Bells RapidsBells Rapids One pair of kayaks managed to get their rudders tangled across the rapids which blocked the river for other competitors. Fortunately the rescue crew managed to untangle their rudders and both competitors continued down the river.

Bells RapidsBells Rapids Bells RapidsBells Rapids Bells RapidsBells Rapids

The powercraft started to come down the rapids but fortunately most of the paddlers had finished the rapids.

Bells RapidsBells Rapids

Bells RapidsBells Rapids Bells RapidsBells Rapids

We then drove down to the finish at Bayswater to see the finish line. The competitors enjoyed perfect weather and the high river level.

Finish at Bayswater, Swan RiverFinish at Bayswater, Swan River Finish at Bayswater, Swan RiverFinish at Bayswater, Swan River

Plenty more photos are in the photo gallery at http://elly.net.au/avon-descent-2014 and in the slideshow below. Enjoy!

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Avon Descent Kayaking Perth Rapids River Swan River Whitewater https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/8/avon-descent Sun, 10 Aug 2014 10:21:25 GMT
Melbourne https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/6/melbourne I spent most of June in Melbourne for my new job. Fortunately there was time for some sightseeing too. I'd travelled through Melbourne airport on a number of occasions before but hadn't actually seen much of Melbourne itself. 

As Melbourne is the sporting capital of Australia, naturally I had to attend some sports events. 

National Sports Museum at the MCGNational Sports Museum at the MCG

Australian Cricket Hall of FameAustralian Cricket Hall of FameThis is a statue of the legendary Don Bradman

The National Sports Museum is part of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. I had enough time before the football game at the MCG to have a look in the museum. It has a large number of significant sports memorabilia which I was amazed to see in such a small area. The Australian Cricket Hall of Fame is also held here. 

Fremantle vs Richmond, Melbourne Cricket GroundFremantle vs Richmond, Melbourne Cricket GroundThe Dockers managed to win in front of a small crowd.

The Fremantle Dockers had travelled from Western Australia to play the Richmond Tigers at the MCG. If you don't recognise those names, you probably aren't familiar with Australian Rules Football. The Australian Football League originated in Victoria so there are many suburbs of Melbourne with their own AFL clubs. For example, Richmond, Carlton, Essendon, Footscray and Collingwood. 

The Fremantle vs Richmond game was a good one since the Dockers managed a win. By a fluke my ticket was at the right end of the ground amongst the Dockers supporters which made it easier. The MCG can hold almost 100,000 people so it seemed relatively empty with a crowd of about 25,000.  Etihad StadiumEtihad Stadium

French supportersFrench supportersThere were a surprising amount supporting their side versus the Wallabies at Etihad Stadium Etihad Stadium was next on my sports agenda to watch the Wallabies vs France rugby game. Etihad Stadium is much newer than the MCG and has a well designed layout so all spectators have a good view of the whole ground. There were a surprising number of French supporters. The game itself was quite boring, only a 6-0 scoreline and no tries. Still, it was good to visit the ground.

We visited a rooftop bar to have a view across the city after the rugby and soak up some Saturday night atmosphere.

Melbourne is also famous for its art. I went to the National Gallery of Victoria to see the "Italian Masterpieces" exhibition. Many pieces on display hadn't been seen outside of Europe before. 

National Gallery of VictoriaNational Gallery of Victoria

I had a walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens. These are well-kept gardens have some relatively fresh air and peace in the middle of the city. 

Royal Botanic Gardens MelbourneRoyal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

I had a look at the South Wharf, past the Crown Casino. There were plenty of factory outlet shops but I restrained myself and didn't buy too much :-)

Melbourne South WharfMelbourne South WharfLooking up the Yarra River towards Crown Casino

More photos of Melbourne are available in the photo gallery.

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Melbourne Travel Victoria https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/6/melbourne Sun, 29 Jun 2014 09:28:30 GMT
Midwinter sailing in Perth https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/6/midwinter-sailing-in-perth

We went for a sail on the Swan River in Perth today. This photo was taken from King's Park.

A cold front passed over Perth only an hour after we finished, including a water spout over the South Mole in Fremantle. It was definitely worthwhile starting sailing at 8am!

 

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Perth Sailing Solstice Swan River https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/6/midwinter-sailing-in-perth Sat, 21 Jun 2014 06:44:01 GMT
Trekking through the Bernese Oberland https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/5/bernese-oberland KanderstegKandersteg

August 2013

The Bernese Oberland in Switzerland is the home of Europe's largest glaciers. I signed up for a week-long high altitude trek across these mountains. The Bernese Oberland is part of the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch World Heritage Site and therefore includes some stunning scenery.

I managed to catch measles during June 2013, right in the middle of my pre-trip fitness training. This laid me low for a few weeks to the point where I struggled even to walk up a flight of stairs. I was determined to keep my booking and get fit for the challenging trek. I was nervous that I hadn't done enough training prior to the trip when I departed the UK. 

After a short flight from London, the ever efficient Swiss trains provided great views across the Alps during the journey from Zurich. I met my trip companions in Kandersteg, a small mountain town near Interlaken. We met our guide and prepared for the week-long trek departing early the next morning. All our climbing equipment and clothing was to fit in a small backpack for the duration of the trek.

Our first day was a climb up to the Kanderfirn Glacier. We traversed across the glacier to Mutthorn Hut. The clear skies provided good views across the mountains as we climbed higher. Some bad weather closed in as we approached the hut. There was hardly anyone there which was unusual for the height of summer holidays as it was late August. 

The weather continued to close in the next day. We crossed the Petersgrat which was supposed to have a nice view across the mountains but the clouds, sleet and rain didn't provide much visibility. We didn't hang around in the cold conditions and descended into Falferalp via the Talgletscher. A sharp descent took us to our hotel for the night and we had the luxury of drying out our clothes before a well earned dinner. 

AnenhutteAnenhutteView up to Hollandia Hut

Fortunately the next morning was cold and clear for our climb up to Hollandia Hut. We crossed farmland before having coffee and cake at the refurbished Anenhutte. We continued along the valley until we reached the Langgletscher and put our crampons on for traversing the glacier. The air was very still and the sun was warm which made for a sweaty climb up the glacial bowl. We couldn't rest too much as the warming sun was melting ice holding rocks up high which occasionally fell nearby. We made it up to the Lotschenlucke pass and roped up for the steep remainder of the climb into Hollandia Hut. The drop to the left was significant where even a small slip could mean a major fall. Hollandia Hut had a great view down the valley to Mont Blanc and we were treated to a spectacular sunset.

Sunset over AletschhornSunset over AletschhornFrom Hollandiahutte

The next morning was a 4am alpine start to allow a summit attempt. We climbed steadily from the Hollandia hut before traversing a large glacial bowl. We didn't stop as it was quite cold. There was a steep climb around the back of the peak with a few large crevasses which we were careful to avoid. A few crevasses required jumping over but our ropes kept us safe. I remembered from my mountaineering training: don't fall down a crevasse! We reached the summit of Abeni Flue around 7am. It was perfectly still so we were lucky to spend some time up there admiring the view across the mountains. Mont Blanc, Jangfrau and the Eiger were all visible amongst others. A great summit feeling!

Abeni Flue summitAbeni Flue summit

We descended as the sun got higher and it was very warm as we crossed the glacier. We still had all our warm clothes on for the early morning start so we were soon overheating. It was a relief to get back to Hollandia Hut and cool down and have a well earned brunch. Our route took us down to Konkordia which is a junction of several large glaciers at the top of the Aletsch Glacier. This presented a maze of huge crevasses and rocks. We were roped up initially but soon the Aletschfirn Glacier became dry so we unroped and kept our crampons on so we could jump across the countless crevasses. I avoided looking down the crevasses as they were so deep that I couldn't even see the bottom of many of them. The glacier is around 900m deep in some parts.

KonkordiaKonkordiaThis meltwater stream disappeared down a LONG way into the 900m-deep glacier.

Konkordia HutKonkordia Hut780 stairs up to the hut after a long day!

After crossing Konkordia, our final task of the day was to climb about 780 steps up a cliff to our hut for the night, Konkordiahutte. My legs were telling me otherwise. Apparently these metal stairs were much safer than the older wooden stairs which we could see strewn over the rockface. They didn't hide the fall below which was a few hundred meters. It's a common problem in the Alps these days. With the retreating glaciers, many huts are now high above the glaciers which makes for a difficult climb to reach the hut which is unwelcome at the end of a long day.

My mountain boots were very stiff which were great for vertical ice climbing but not so great for traversing glacial terrains. At the end of a 12 hour day, it was a relief to peel off my boots and air my feet. This also revealed some huge blisters on the back of each of my heals. I had taped up my heals as a precaution earlier in the day but the boots had worn through the tape to my skin. Our guide drained each blister and we were careful to apply disinfectant to prevent any infection. We doubled up on the dressing by using blistex and trusty gaffer tape. A beer helped numb the pain!

Konkordia HutKonkordia HutA very refreshing beer after a very long day!

We slept in until 6am when we descended the 780 steps and crossed into a nearby valley for a steep climb up to the pass at Grunhornluke. It was very cold in the morning light but at least the sun was slowly becoming warmer. It was hard ice so we roped up and dug in with our crampons. We saw some other climbers for the first time in a week crossing over the pass. We couldn't understand why there weren't many other climbers around in the peak of the climbing season.

Another descent to Fieschergletscher yielded more crevasse crossings. These were some of the larger crevasses and we had to change our course on a number of occasions as we came to dead ends in our route. As it was another dry glacier we only had our crampons and no ropes.

OberaarjochOberaarjochClimbing down from the hut

As we descended we could see across to Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn to the south. We had another climb to the Oberaarjoch and our final mountain hut of the trip. As it was midday, the sun was very warm for our climb. Some jet fighters came out of nowhere to give us an awesome display right above the Studergletscher. The air display lasted for a good 15 minutes and was a welcome distraction from the hot climb we were facing. We continued on towards the hut. The steepest part of the climb was at the end of the day. Then there was the scramble up to the Oberaarjoch Hut itself over a rock crag. Fortunately there was a ladder to assist but again there was no room for any mistakes with the large drop below us. 

The Oberaarjoch hut had a terrific view across the glacier we had just climbed and we enjoyed some very refreshing beer as we watched other climbers. This was probably the busiest hut we'd stayed in. 

There was mist coming up the valley for our last day which provided very atmospheric views across the mountains as we prepared for our final descent down the Oberaargletscher. It was a straightforward walk down the glacier. We took our ropes off partway down and enjoyed the view which opened up across the valley. 

OberaarjochOberaarjochHeading down our last glacier

We reached Oberaarsee Lake and saw some day walkers who were the first "normal" people we had seen in a week. A miscommunication with our taxi company meant we had to walk an extra 10km down the road past the carpark to Grimselpass. My feet were very sore in the mountain boots but fortunately they survived. We were at Grimselpass by lunchtime and had shared some beer to celebrate completing our trip. Motorbikes and cars were everywhere which was quite a change from the quiet of the mountains we'd enjoyed for the past week.

Harder Kulm over InterlakenHarder Kulm over InterlakenJungfrau and the Eiger in clouds in the distance

A bus and train from Grimselpass took us into Interlaken where our kit bags of clean clothes allowed us to have a shower and look respectable again. We had a good meal that night and sleep well with the satisfaction of successfully completing a challenging trek through the Swiss Alps.

The next morning we had a brief tour around the stunning Interlaken and the Harder Kulm lookout in sunny skies. The pouring rain settled in for our train trip back to Zurich. We were very lucky with the weather!

It was a great trek to complete. We had some amazing mountain landscapes to ourselves for much of the trek and it's always a privilege to experience an alpine environment. 

More photos from our trip are in my photo gallery: http://elly.net.au/bernese-oberland

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(Elwyn Campbell) Alps Eiger Jangfrau Konkordia Mountaineering Mountains Switzerland Trekking https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/5/bernese-oberland Thu, 15 May 2014 09:31:53 GMT
Anzac Day https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/4/anzac-day ANZAC Memorial ServiceANZAC Memorial ServiceWest Australian War Memorial, Kings Park Today is Anzac Day. It's the day the nation remembers those who sacrificed their lives during the war. 

We went to the 5pm memorial service at King's Park. My great uncle Lindsey died during World War II in a Lancaster bomber which was shot down over Germany. We always remember him on Anzac Day.

The Ode is read during the memorial service:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Lest We Forget

ANZAC Memorial ServiceANZAC Memorial ServiceWest Australian War Memorial, Kings Park ANZAC Memorial ServiceANZAC Memorial ServiceWest Australian War Memorial, Kings Park

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(Elwyn Campbell) Anzac Day Australia Memorial Perth Remembrance https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/4/anzac-day Fri, 25 Apr 2014 09:16:51 GMT
Penguin Island https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/4/penguin-island Penguin Island is a small island off the coast of Shoalwater, a town south of Perth in Western Australia. It's part of the Shoalwater Islands Wildlife Park. Most of this marine park is protected from the large swells of the Indian Ocean which makes it a safe destination to explore with kayaks. Even though it's only a short trip from Perth, I'd never visited the island before.  Kayking towards Penguin IslandKayking towards Penguin IslandShoalwater and the mainland behind us. Penguin Island beachPenguin Island beachWe left our kayaks on the beach and walked around the island.

We borrowed a couple of kayaks to explore the marine park. It was a bit choppy from the swell that resulted from a storm to the south of Australia a few days ago. It only took about 30 minutes to paddle across to Penguin Island. As Penguin Island is part of a marine reserve, there is an abundance of birdlife and sea life on the island. We walked around the island on a nature trail.

West side of Penguin IslandWest side of Penguin IslandOutside of the protected bay of Shoalwater There is a penguin discovery centre on the island.  Rescued penguins which are deemed unfit to return to the wild live in discovery centre where the public can have a close view of these rescued penguins. We watched a short show about the penguins in the discovery centre and watched them feeding. 

Fairy PenguinFairy PenguinIn the visitor centre We got back in our kayaks and started paddling north to Shag Rock and Seal Island. We came across a sea lion (seal). It jumped out of the water several times only a few metres away from our kayaks. It was a bit alarming as sea lions can be over 200kg but fortunately it decided to keep swimming away from us. 

We continued paddling up to Seal Island through the relatively open water between the islands. There was noticeably more swell coming through but it was manageable as we continued into the more sheltered bay on Seal Island. No people are allowed to land on the island. We could see a few sea lions on the beach and a couple of of males were fighting / playing in the water. We decided to keep our distance!

It was only a 15 minute paddle back from Seal Island to the mainland for a well earned lunch. Penguin Island was fun to explore and I recommend visiting it!

Kayaking past Shag RockKayaking past Shag Rock Seal IslandSeal Island

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Indian Ocean Kayaking Perth Western Australia https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/4/penguin-island Mon, 21 Apr 2014 03:21:04 GMT
Lunar Eclipse https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/4/lunar-eclipse Lunar EclipseLunar EclipseLunar Eclipse during moon rise over Perth, April 2014

 

Lunar Eclipse during moon rise over Perth, April 2014.

Fortunately there was a break in the clouds at the vital moment.

 

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse Moon Moonrise Perth https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/4/lunar-eclipse Wed, 16 Apr 2014 04:21:03 GMT
Settling in Perth https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/4/settling-in-perth After travelling halfway around the world, I'm settling in Perth!

Here's some statistics of all my flights from London to Perth over the past few months:

  • 14 flights (and airports!)
  • 42,000km. That's more than the Earth's circumference at the equator (approximately 40,075 km)
  • 56 hours in the air
  • Largest plane: Qantas Airbus A380-800, 484 seats (Los Angeles to Sydney)
  • Smallest plane: Air New Zealand Beech 1900, 19 seats (Auckland to KeriKeri)

I have a round the world ticket which is valid for 12 months. I can therefore use the rest of my flights before January 2015 to travel from Perth to London, or any places in between.

I've been living in England since 2005. Perth has changed a lot since then so it'll take a while to settle back in. One thing hasn't changed: the weather. It hasn't rained more than about 5mm over Perth's summer. 

 

Perth CityPerth CityFrom South Perth

 

 

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Flights Perth Planes Sabbatical Statistics Trekking https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/4/settling-in-perth Sat, 12 Apr 2014 04:30:03 GMT
Tour de Perth https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/3/tour-de-perth

 

I watched Stage 4 (Perry Lakes) of the Tour de Perth yesterday. It's not quite the Tour de France but there were some very fast cyclists and organised teams. This group broke away to win a sprint. 

 

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Cycling https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/3/tour-de-perth Sun, 30 Mar 2014 01:05:20 GMT
Rafting the Pacuare River https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/3/rafting-the-pacuare-river Here's a youtube video of rafting the Pucuare River during our Costa Rica Traverse in January 2014. 

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(Elwyn Campbell) Central America Costa Rica Pacuare River Rafting Sabbatical https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/3/rafting-the-pacuare-river Tue, 25 Mar 2014 09:15:38 GMT
Tasmania https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/3/tasmania Woodbridge Hill HideawayWoodbridge Hill HideawayThe view from outside the heated pool. Bruny Island in the distance.

I spent a few days at my aunt's property which is near Cygnet in south-east Tasmania. I flew four hours from Auckland in New Zealand to Melbourne, then had a one hour flight down to Hobart. My aunt had broken her ankle a couple of months ago so I was expecting to be given a list of chores to help her with!

My plane arrived about about 8pm and by the time we were on the road it was well after dark. Tasmania has plenty of wildlife due to its relatively cool climate compared to the rest of Australia. As we drove through the bush south of Hobart, a wallaby (a small kangaroo) suddenly appeared in front of the car. There was no time to swerve so we hit the wallaby. We stopped and quickly ran back to the animal to see if it was still alive. Unfortunately it had died so we pulled it off the road. It was a male so it wasn't carrying a joey (baby wallaby) in its pouch. So within a hour of landing in Tasmania I'd been involved with killing some local wildlife. 

We went for a morning swim at Woodbridge Hill Hideway. This is a relatively new development on top of a hill overlooking Bruny Island and the D'Entrecasteaux Channel. We hired the pool to ourselves and it was a nice sunny day. Perfect!

Hartz LakeHartz Lake We drove around the Huon River, through Geeveston into the Hartz Mountains National Park. This is a relatively quiet national park which offers views across Tasmania's wilderness, a World Heritage Area. The World Heritage Area is unique, relatively untouched wilderness which covers 20% of the state of Tasmania. I hiked up past Lake Esperance and Lady Tarn. It was a relatively easy hike until the steep climb and scramble up to Hartz Peak. It was a clear day so there as a terrific view south to the Southern Ocean and west to the South West National Park. The iconic Federation Peak was also clear in the distance. 

A small Echidna appeared beside the road on the way back. We stopped for a while to watch it attempt to eat some ants. They are strange-looking creatures, very unique to Australia. Fortunately we didn't run it over! 

Naturally there were a few chores on my aunt's property which included loading a trailer full of donkey poo and stacking two tonnes of firewood. The upside was well-earned dinner of organic vegetables freshly harvested from the property. 

Huon RiverHuon River On the way back to the airport we stopped at Salamanca Markets in Hobart. These are famous markets next to Constitution Dock, the finishing line of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Wild Thing, a 100' super maxi, was still in the dock having completed the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race a few months ago. I enjoyed a plate of fresh Tasmanian oysters from the markets . As the ocean is so clean here the seafood is delicious!

I had spent plenty of time in the Tasmanian wilderness on previous holidays, including hiking the Overland Track, the South Coast Track and rafted the Franklin River. It was great to be back to have a short taste of Tasmania and catch up with my aunt. I'm sure I'll be back there soon. 

I've uploaded some photos from Tasmania to my photo gallery

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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Hobart Sabbatical Tasmania Travel World Heritage https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/3/tasmania Wed, 19 Mar 2014 09:39:43 GMT
Sailing in the Bay of Islands https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/3/sailing-in-the-bay-of-islands Otaio Bay, Urapukapuka IslandOtaio Bay, Urapukapuka Island The Bay of Islands is on the northern tip of New Zealand and offers a great variety of islands (obviously) and bays to explore in a relatively small area. The Bay of Islands opens onto the Pacific Ocean and has abundant sea and land life. It's the site of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the Maoris and British in the early 1840. Many yachts call in here after they've crossed the Pacific Ocean. I have always been curious to sail here so we chartered a yacht for a week in late February 2014.

Our charter yacht was called "Boheme", a 40-foot Beneteau. We picked it up from Opua, spent a couple of hours loading it with provisions and headed out to explore the Bay of Islands. We were greeted by a large pod of dolphins as soon as we entered the bay. There was time to cruise past a few of the islands before we headed for our first anchorage at Opunga Cove, next to the ominously-named Assassination Cove. A group of about 20 ducks quickly came to visit us and were disappointed by our lack of food scraps so they continued to the other boats anchored in the bay.

Piercy Island & The Dog, Cape BrettPiercy Island & The Dog, Cape BrettThe fog cleared for an amazing view The forecast was for strengthening easterly winds and we managed to visit some more islands and saw more dolphins on the way around to Omakiwi Bay. The bay was surrounded by tall trees right down to the sea shore. Gale force winds for the next couple of days meant we stayed in Omakiwi Bay which allowed us catch up on reading, cooking and eating. We could only venture ashore in the dinghy. The lush rainforest had some very large treeferns thick undergrowth. 

Finally the weather lifted enough for us to venture back into the bay and we had a soggy sail back around to Opunga Cove. We could hear owls calling across the bay overnight. We sailed out past Motorua Island and round Motukiekie Island before we anchored in Otaio Bay on Urupukapuka Island. All these Maori names took some getting used to!

Urupukapuka Island is a large nature reserve with plenty of wildlife. We rowed the dinghy ashore and climbed up a nearby peak. It was still quite misty but we managed to see the surrounding islands. As the weather continued to improve, we motored out through Albert Channel. Some penguins greeted us as we continued to Cape Brett. The clearing mist offered spectacular views of Cape Brett and the natural archway through Piercy Island. The sea life was even more abundant here. A giant "bait ball" of fish surfaced near our yacht, probably stirred up by either sharks, tuna or some other large fish. Dozens of birds attempted to catch all the fish in the bait ball. We decided to stay clear of the bait ball in case there were whales nearby which could have easily tossed our yacht around. Roberton IslandRoberton IslandThe bay on the right is where Captain Cook brought the Endeavour on the way to Australia in 1769

We sailed around to Roberton Island, dropped anchor and rowed ashore. We passed lots of people snorkelling in a lagoon as we climbed up to a lookout. This lookout is the hill which Captain Cook climbed to survey the first landfall after sailing the Endeavour across the Pacific in 1770. The sunny weather allowed us to see right up to Cape Wiwiki and across the Bay of Islands. It was a short trip across to Hurangi Inlet where we anchored overnight. My attempts at fishing continued to fail as the fish happily ate any scraps we sent overboard but the smart fish refused to eat anything attached to a hook.

The next day offered terrific sailing conditions. We managed to sail a single tack 10 miles across the bay to Motoroa Island. After a quick lunch stop, we sailed back across the shipping channel and were greeted by another large pod of dolphins. This was the most spectacular dolphin display of the trip. They were jumping in front of several tourist boats and a few swam alongside our boat. We were very lucky! Our sail continued back to Parorenui Bay. We enjoyed a sunny evening overlooking Te Rawhiti Inlet. The sky remained clear overnight and we had an amazing view of the stars since there was minimal light pollution. We could see the Milky Way, plenty of constellations and a few shooting stars. The rarely seen Magellanic Clouds were also visible.

Our last day offered more sunny weather so we continued our cruise of the Bay of Islands and anchored for lunch in Motohawea Bay. The winds died out which was handy for cleaning the boat as we motored back into Opua to return our charter yacht.

It was a very enjoyable week in the Bay of Islands. I've uploaded plenty of photos in the photo gallery.

 

 

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(Elwyn Campbell) New Zealand Sabbatical Sailing Travel https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/3/sailing-in-the-bay-of-islands Wed, 12 Mar 2014 09:41:14 GMT
Wanaka, New Zealand https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/2/wanaka-new-zealand Mount Roy summitMount Roy summitThe track to the summit can be seen on the ridge line. We stayed in Wanaka in the Southern Alps of New Zealand for a week. It was a great base to see the wilderness of New Zealand's South Island. Wanaka has grown considerably over the past decade but is still quieter than the adventure capital, Queenstown. 

We did a short walk around Diamond Lake offering a view across Lake Wanaka. The lake is about 300m deep, which actually makes it deeper than sea level. We then drove up the Matukituki River, mostly rugged farmland leading up to Mt Aspiring National Park. The valley is surrounded by some high mountains: Mount Aspiring, Shark's Tooth and Cascade Saddle which is a steep climb out of the Matukituki valley into the Dart River. It's main entry point for mountaineers to climb Mount Aspiring, which is the highest mountain in the region. 

The road to the north of Wanaka leads to the west coast of New Zealand. We drove up this road to the Wilkin River. This is the base for the Wilkin-Young Track, a challenging 3-4 day hike over Gillespie Pass near Mt Awful and Mt Dreadful. A jet boat ride took us up the Wilkin River and we spent the afternoon walking further along the Wilkin River. It was a civilised walk through classic New Zealand beech forest and was definitely the wilderness! It had a distinct "Lord of the Rings" feel to it but we didn't see any hobbits or Orcs. We didn't see anyone else all afternoon but there were plenty of sand flies to keep us company. The jet boat picked us up for a fast trip back to the main road.   

Lake PukakiLake PukakiView to Mount Cook I spent an afternoon climbing up Mt Roy, a peak to the south of Wanaka which overlooked many of the nearby mountains and lakes. It was a steep 1,200m climb in the warm sun but well worth it for the views. Mt Aspiring even came out of the clouds for a short time.

Another day trip was up to Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. I did a 10 day mountaineering course from Kelman Hut last time I was in New Zealand and climbed over Ball Pass. There was no time for that on this visit so we had a civilized walk up the Hooker Valley for lunch. Mt Sefton loomed over us and we enjoyed views across the valley. We were fortunate to see the summit of Mount Cook later in the afternoon. Its Maori name is Aoraki which means "cloud piercer" - quite appropriate!

After an enjoyable week in Wanaka, we flew up to the North Island for our next adventure.

I've uploaded photos from the Routeburn Track and Wanaka to my photo gallery. Enjoy!

 

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(Elwyn Campbell) New Zealand Sabbatical Travel https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/2/wanaka-new-zealand Wed, 19 Feb 2014 21:52:18 GMT
Routeburn Track https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/2/routeburn-track Routeburn TrackRouteburn TrackThe start of the three day walk I'd last been to New Zealand about 10 years ago so I planned some time here as part of my sabbatical. 
 
After an overnight stay in Queenstown, I caught an early morning bus to the start of the 3-day Routeburn Track. It's one of New Zealand's "Great Walks" so hut places need to be booked months in advance to secure a place. The Routeburn Track is also one of the wettest places in New Zealand so it's a gamble on the weather when it's booked so long in advance. 
 
Fortunately blue sunny skies greeted us at the start of the walk. As with all walking ("tramping") in New Zealand, everyone must carry their own sleeping bag, clothes and food for the duration of a multi-day hike. There had been snow only a week before so we had to ensure we were prepared for any weather conditions.
 
The walk climbed up through a steep canyon on the Route Burn river. It was covered in beech trees and there was plenty of bird life. The track flattened out to a wide valley. A campsite had views up a side valley while the main track climbed up to Routeburn Falls Hut. It was a relatively short day to start but a good warm up as my pack weighed around 15kg. 
 
The hut warden mentioned the stoats, which were introduced to New Zealand to eradicate another introduced species, rabbits. Unfortunately the stoats are now a threat to New Zealand's bird population. Stoat traps are now laid in an effort to control the stoats and therefore save the native birds of New Zealand. A New Zealand parrot, the kia, is also proving to be a pest. They are very smart, strong and can rip windscreen wipers off cars! The kia population has figured out that the stoat traps have tasty eggs as bait inside and they can rip the top off (which is nailed on!) to steal the bait and not get trapped. It's a constant battle between the national park rangers and the kias. We were warned not to leave anything outside overnight due to the danger of kias.
 
Mist filled the valley overnight so we delayed our start as the forecast was for the weather to improve during the day. The mist lifted slightly and we climbed up Harris Saddle. Unfortunately the mist lingered so we couldn't see the views across Lake Harris. We waited in the Harris Shelter until after lunch and finally the mist cleared. We climbed up Conical Hill and could see right across Fjordland and up the Hollyford River to the Tasman Sea. Apparently it's quite unusual to see that far so we were lucky!
 
The rest of the afternoon we walked through the alpine plants above the Hollyford River around to Lake Mackenzie. The next hut was there and it was warm enough to have a swim in the lake. The sun set across the Darren Mountains and we had hour-long talk from the hut warden who we think had been there a bit too long (20+ years) and had a few loose screws. 
 
We were back in the beech forest the next morning and continued the walk towards Lake Howden. There were waterfalls coming off the high mountains and lots of birds along the track. A worthwhile side trip was up Key Summit. It was a steep climb again but worthwhile views in the continued good weather. 
 
The last part of the walk was a gentle descent to the Divide shelter. We could hear the sound of traffic on the Milford Highway gradually come nearer and finally we were at the end of the track. There were lots of "normal" people there (ie. people who hadn't walked for the past few days and had a recent shower) who asked us all sorts of question about the Routeburn track.
 
It was a four hour bus trip back to Queenstown. We are staying in Wanaka for the next few days and will see plenty more of the South Island. Hopefully the good weather will continue!
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(Elwyn Campbell) New Zealand Sabbatical Travel Trekking https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/2/routeburn-track Tue, 11 Feb 2014 23:38:30 GMT
Sydney https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/2/sydney
Taronga ZooTaronga ZooDrop Bear After a couple of days in LA, I had a long flight across the Pacific to Sydney. I was fortunate to receive an upgrade which made for a relatively comfortable 14 hour flight. It was a Qantas A380 so there was plenty of space and it was nice to be surrounded by Australian accents after being the only Australian while I travelled through the States. Australian immigration only took about two minutes. Handy with an Australian passport. I'd left LA on Sunday and arrived in Sydney on Tuesday morning so had lost Monday. That's probably the best day of the week to skip!
 
We hired an apartment in Darling Harbour which is just to the west of Sydney's city centre. It was a quiet day for me recovering from the long flight and jetlag before my parents arrived from Perth in the evening. I looked at the Maritime Museum for a while which included the Endeavour replica. The Endeavour is the boat Captain Cook discovered Australia in. The Maritime Museum also had a database of passengers who had migrated to Australia over the past two centuries so I searched for a few of my ancestors. It's proving difficult to find the right James Campbell who sailed across from Scotland in the 1850's as we have at least five people in our family named James Campbell, let alone all the non-family James Campbells! After giving up on the family tree search I headed to the local supermarket to stock up on some Australian essentials I'd missed: Vegemite, Weetbix and Milo. 
 
We caught the ferry across Sydney Harbour to the famous Taronga Zoo. It's on the north side of the harbour and offers fantastic views back Sydney Opera HouseSydney Opera House across to the city, Opera House and Harbour Bridge. There were plenty of koalas, kangaroos, snakes and spiders along with lots of non-Australian animals. Our ferry ride back stopped at Circular Quay and the North Shore so we saw much more of the Opera House and went under the Harbour Bridge. We had dinner with one of my friends from uni that night.
 
Our second day in Sydney was spent with relatives in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. It was a super cheap two hour train trip there. We stocked up on some essential BBQ ingredients on the way back and enjoyed a sunny evening on our rooftop terrace overlooking the city.
 
A few photos of a Sydney are in the photo gallery.
 
I had a plane to Queenstown in New Zealand the next morning. It was only a 2.5 hour plane trip which was nothing compared to the long Pacific flight. I'd had enough time in Sydney to recover from jetlag and it's now time for the next adventure!
 
 
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(Elwyn Campbell) Australia Sabbatical Travel https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/2/sydney Tue, 11 Feb 2014 23:13:34 GMT
Los Angeles https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/2/los-angeles MalibuMalibu After a quick stop in Miami, I had a couple of days in Los Angeles. I stayed in Venice which is near Santa Monica. I arranged an all-day tour of LA which started viewing some of the mansions in Malibu. We were then in the Pacific Palisades where lots of the Hollywood celebrities live. That included the homes of Bill Cosby, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steven Spielberg to name a few. We also saw a lot of big front gates, fences and hedges!

We passed the Playboy Mansion on our way to the premier shopping strip of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Nothing in any of these shops (Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc) displayed any price tags in a place where clearly money is no object. It didn't take long to spot any plastic people either. We managed to sneak into the luxury Beverly Wilshere hotel where Pretty Woman was filmed. We went up to the Griffith Observatory which offered great views across the city and the famous Hollywood sign. Then it was the weird world of Hollywood Boulevard with the Dolby Theatre and Chinese Theatre. The last part of the tour was past the Sunset Strip. 

Griffith ObservatoryGriffith Observatory My second day in LA was spent around Santa Monica. As it was a Sunday morning there were plenty of fitness fanatics on Muscle Beach. Venice Beach was busy too with plenty of skateboarders and sideshows. I was invited to a SuperBowl party where there was more interest in the half time entertainment than the actual game. We ate plenty of chicken wings!

It was then time for the long flight to Sydney but I received an upgrade which helped :-)

All the photos from my trip through LA are in my photo gallery

 

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(Elwyn Campbell) California Los Angeles Sabbatical Travel USA https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/2/los-angeles Thu, 06 Feb 2014 10:39:18 GMT
Antigua Holiday https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/1/antigua-holiday Pigeon Beach, Falmouth HarbourPigeon Beach, Falmouth Harbour After finishing my Yachtmaster course, I had intended to sail to Grenada to take part in a regatta. Unfortunately I the boat I'd planned on joining couldn't recruit enough crew members. I therefore changed my travel plans to have a few quiet days in English Harbour in Antigua before heading over to Los Angeles via Miami. It's been a busy few weeks so it's been nice to have a break for a short while.

There was plenty of entertainment as some more Transatlantic rowers finished their crossings. The first morning of my stay in Antigua I leant my phone charger to a lady who was desperate to track her brother rowing across the Atlantic and had run out of batteries. Only in the Caribbean! 

I've finally managed to upload my photos with a decent internet connection. Check them out in my photo gallery.

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(Elwyn Campbell) Antigua Caribbean Sabbatical Sailing Travel Yachtmaster https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/1/antigua-holiday Fri, 31 Jan 2014 14:38:11 GMT
Sailing Antigua https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/1/sailing-antigua In early 2013, I did the RYA Yachtmaster Theory course with the intention of completing the full practical course and test in the Solent during 2013. Unfortunately that didn't happen. As I was planning my sabbatical travel for early 2014, I had the idea of completing the Yachtmaster course in the Caribbean as January is the start of the main season. That would be much warmer than the Solent! A search through a number of RYA sailing schools lead me to one in Antigua that offered a Yachtmaster course that fitted in with my travel dates.
 
Antigua is part of the Leeward islands and has a very British history. That was evident landing at the airport as there was a BA plane next to ours and a slow immigration queue! I made my way to Falmouth Harbour and prepared to start the five day sailing course. Falmouth Harbour is next to English Harbour and now offers a large dock for superyachts. During the peak season, the number of people on board the superyachts far outweighs the town's population.
 
Deep BayDeep Bay The RYA course instructor was a local Antiguan who is a cousin of non other than the great Viv Richards. Our yacht for the week was a 39ft Dehler which we lived on for the duration of the course. Most of the week was spent on a combination of navigation, sailing skills and theory as we took turns as skipper. There was plenty of man overboard drills where we had to pick up a buoy under sail power only. The Caribbean is known to offer "barefoot sailing" and we hardly wore shoes all week. The temperatures were in the high 20s and winds steady at 15 - 20 knots, perfect for sailing!
 
We made our way around the west side of the island and had time in Jolly Harbour (can't think of where they named that from), St Johns and finally Parnham Harbour on the north side of Antigua. That was next to Long Island which has some exclusive resorts which are US$10,000 per night. Our yacht moored right next door for a much cheaper rate.
 
We called into St Johns on the way back to the south side of Antigua and tacked between two large cruise liners. The dock offered duty free shopping, English beer and Premier League football on TV. Very tacky. Yuck. Fortunately we didn't stay there long as we waited for the cruise liners to leave and then headed out for our night sail. Navigation was with a chart, compass and depth meter only, no GPS allowed. It was a challenge as we negotiated a narrow channel between a long reef and the mainland which had no navigation lights. We survived!
 
It was a very intensive week as we were overloaded with information that was hard work to digest. We were all a bit weary by the weekend which was even more intense as it as a two day practical exam as we had to demonstrate we had learned the skills sufficiently to demonstrate we were good enough to be qualified as Yachtmasters.
 
The exam was assessed by an independent RYA examiner. He was a contrast to our laid-back Antiguan instructor as he was English and very strict with the requirements required to pass the exam. One of the sailing school staff ominously said that he was very strict and wished us luck for the weekend.
 
The exam itself was much the same as during the week but obviously we received no help from the examiner. He gave us a number of sailing challenges both with skills and navigation and then took us aside individually to ask chart and theory questions. In my wisdom (or stupidity) I had booked the course and exam to finish on my birthday. I skippered the last part of the exam as the sun set across the Atlantic and we came back into Falmouth Harbour. 
 
We had to all wait and see if we'd passed as the examiner spoke to us individually about our results and feedback. Fortunately I'd passed! Out of the four students assessed only two of us passed so I was very relieved. We all headed out to celebrate and commiserate with some obligatory rum. To make the evening even better the Australia vs England one day game was on TV where England managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory :-)
 
 
 
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(Elwyn Campbell) Antigua Caribbean Sabbatical Sailing Travel Yachtmaster https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/1/sailing-antigua Tue, 28 Jan 2014 23:07:44 GMT
Costa Rica Traverse https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/1/costa-rica-traverse
DominicalDominical I'd noticed a Costa Rica "Coast to Coast Traverse" a few years ago and liked the idea of a continental traverse using various forms of human-powered transport. Finally the dates of the World Expeditions trip fitted in with my travel plans in January 2014. We arrived in San Jose from various different parts of the world: seven Australians and one Norwegian.
 
The first day was spent driving west from San Jose to Dominical on the Pacific coast. We stayed in a jungle lodge in Dominical, which is a surfing town. We made the most of the nearby beach and went for a swim late in the afternoon. There was a huge tropical downpour which stranded us in a beach shack for over an hour. Eventually we decided to walk back in the pouring rain rather than get stranded for longer. Good decision as the rain continued for a while afterwards.
 
Pacific OceanPacific OceanThe start of our traverse across Costa Rica from Dominical The first day of our coast-to-coast crossing was on mountain bikes. Initially we rode along the coast highway then turned onto an off-road track following a river (Rio Savegre) up into the mountains. After a lunch break, we continued to climb some large hills which was a challenge in the heat and humidity. Eventually we arrived at our campsite in Esquipulas just before the afternoon rain arrived. There were no showers so we found a waterfall in a nearby river which offered a very good replacement.
 
We had an early start the following day and hiked further into the hills. Our support vehicle had to drive for several hours around to meet us on the other side as the path became impassable for vehicles. There were plenty of butterflies and birds. As we were climbing higher the vegetation had changed from coastal farmland into cloud rainforest. Part way along the walk, we came across a couple of young bulls on a narrow part of the track. I continued to walk through and one of them started to chase me. Not sure what to do I jumped off the side of a steep part of the track so the bull decided to stop chasing me. Phew! Our last part of the walk was down into Naranjillo to set up camp.
 
WaterfallWaterfallNo showers at our camp but this waterfall was handy.
Our walk the following day was up through coffee fields and across several rivers. We continued to gain altitude as we were heading east to the continental divide. It continued to be very hot and humid so we were grateful for any shade we could find. Our support vehicle met us a the top of a hill and we welcomed our bikes for a fast downhill run to lunch. After lunch we had a long climb into Santa Maria where we stayed in cabins for the night. After a couple of days camping we were happy to have decent showers to clean off all the sweat, sunscreen and insect repellent! 
 
The next morning we were up for a 5am start to ride up a 700m climb to cross the continental divide at 2,300m. It was a relentless climb with plenty of twists and turns and it was hard to find were the top was! Fortunately we all made it up within a couple of hours and we celebrated with a huge breakfast to try and recoup some a calories. The vegetation was more open again. We had a long decent on some decent gravel tracks which offered terrific views across the other valleys. There were some very steep dirt tracks which require us to walk our bikes down in some parts. We had a quick lunch and continued into the Orosi Valley which offered plenty more good coffee. An early night for everyone after a long day, 47km on the bike in total.
 
FlowerFlowerI don't know what kind of flower. The next day was the toughest day of the trip. It was another full day on the bike where we had to cover 66km and finish with a steep climb. There were also steep climbs to start the day but we were fortunate that the weather had become drizzly which meant it was relatively cool for our exertions. The initial part of the day was on bitumen which allowed for relatively quick riding but then we turned onto dirt tracks which were very rough as we continued. The bikes were showing a few signs of wear and tear but with a bit of mechanical help and we were able to continue. There was another steep climb before lunch and we were relieved to have another big feed! The climb continued up a rocky road and we all resorted to pushing our bikes to the top of the hill. A quick decent and just one more hill before we finished. We stayed with local families in the village of Mollejones for the evening in an attempt to speak some Spanish. The locals even put on afternoon tea and a dance for us after they watched us push our bikes up their hill. As most of us were exhausted from the day's cycling we were all in bed by 9pm.
 
MontjolleMontjolleA nice sunrise after our home stay. The last morning of hiking as we walked down to the river. A 6am start and we were on foot to descend to the Pacuare River, the best river for rafting in Costa Rica. We started on a dirt track which took us down to a bridge over the river. The track narrowed and we were soon walking through some thick mud. We had hired a local to help guide us along the valley as the track stopped and we needed to get through the thick vegetation and hilly terrain. He brought a machete and hacked out a path for us. We reached the road head and soon our support vehicle appeared along with some rafts.
 
We loaded up the rafts with enough provisions to last for a couple of days. One raft had all our food and clothes and two other rafts were for all of us. It took a couple of hours to reach our jungle camp at El Niño del Tigre. We negotiated some grade two and three rapids. The rafting included surfing a wave at the bottom of a rapid, something I hadn't done in a raft before!
 
River crossingRiver crossing Our jungle camp was awesome, tucked away in a quiet, steep valley. There was no power and we only used candles. There were outdoor showers and we had our own tents. There was heaps of wildlife around and we could see toucans in the distant trees along with lots of spiders. A tarantula lived in a tree right next to the kitchen so I gave it a wide berth. We had a rest day at the camp and had a short walk up to a nearby waterfall for a swim.
 
After a refreshing day off, we were back on the rafts for a full day on the Pacuare River. The rapids were at a higher grade and we managed to negotiate them without too many incidents. We jumped out of the rafts to float down a canyon before having lunch on the river bank. There were only a few more rapids before we crossed under a main road bridge which meant we had left the wilderness behind. We had another camp at Finca Pacuarito to enjoy before our last day of exertion. 
 
RaftingRafting We were back on the mountain bikes for the next day. The terrain had flattened out and we negotiated some rocky roads through large banana plantations. These weren't the quietest roads as there were large trucks full of bananas driving back to the main road. After only a couple of hours, we made it back to the river to pick up our kayaks for the last leg of the trip. They were sit-on kayaks so it was easy to pair up and paddle downriver with no rapids. We spotted more wildlife, including a sloth, monkeys and an alligator. Incentive not to fall in! We could hear the sound of waves which meant we were close to our goal of the Caribbean coast. Finally, we rounded a corner and could see the ocean! We celebrated on the beach with champagne and took plenty of celebratory photos.
 
Our kayaks were loaded on to motor boats and we enjoyed a boat trip through some canals back to the road. It as a strange feeling being driven somewhere after spending the past couple of weeks making our own way across the country. There was one more surprise on the way back: a moving sloth! We had searched for a non-sleeping sloth for most of the trip and our eagle-eyed guide spotted one swinging in the trees.
 
We left the power boat and got on the bus to drive back to San Jose. Not long after we started, there was a torrential downpour. Perfect timing as we were nice and dry inside the bus. We had been very lucky with the weather for the entire trip and our luck continued right until the last day.
 
The finishThe finishAll eight of us finished the trip! With our guide, Maurice. It was a very enjoyable trip. I've been to wilder places and climbed higher mountains but the combination of the friendly local people, the physical challenge, the wildlife and the excellent organisation made it a memorable expedition. Now I'm in Miami for a couple of days then on to Antigua.
 
Here's our statistics for the traverse:
  • 283km total 
  • 196km cycling
  • 48km hiking
  • 30km rafting
  • 11km kayaking

More photos from the traverse are in my photo gallery.

A video of our rafting is available on YouTube:

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(Elwyn Campbell) Costa Rica Sabbatical Travel Trekking https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/1/costa-rica-traverse Sat, 18 Jan 2014 22:06:30 GMT
New York https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/1/new-york I had a very short stay on Manhattan as part of flying to Costa Rica. I've never visited New York before and thought I'd made the most of the opportunity on the way through.

With the news of all sorts of weather warnings, I flew from London to New York. The pilot told us that JFK airport was shut and we might be re-routed to another airport. Fortunately that didn't eventuate as JFK airport opened only half an hour before we landed. It was very foggy and we only saw the runway as we landed heavily. There was plenty of snow around and lots of machinery clearing the surrounding airport. Delays as we waited for planes to be de-iced but at least we had made it!

I was staying near Grand Central Station which was very handy for walking around and seeing lots of iconic New York sites. Grand Central station itself was quite something and seemed much more grand than just a train station. It includes the famous Campbell Apartment which I had to visit. The Chrysler Building was almost next door and built for $15m almost 80 years ago. Quite a feat of engineering. I'd never seen so many high-rise buildings before and I spend a lot of time looking up! 

Central Park was covered in snow and ice making a precarious walk but offered good views of the city. Then it was up to the Rockefeller Center to see the famous Christmas tree and the "Top of the Rock", a glass-topped elevator ride to the top. Despite the fog, this offered awesome views across the city. Unfortunately the visibility meant that only Manhattan could be seen. There was quite a wind up high so plenty of warm clothes were required! I walked back past Times Square which was inundated with tourist traps before heading to a steak house for dinner. I had New York cheesecake for dessert of course. 

The following morning I battled peak hour on the subway to the World Trade Center. There is plenty of building on the old site plus the 9/11 memorial. The heavy rain put me off entering the memorial. It's right next to Wall Street and has an interesting mixture of old and new buildings. I had to visit the three-storey REI outdoor shop on the way back.

As I write this in JFK airport, CNN is reporting on the extreme cold weather that is heading towards New York. I am thankful that my flight is on time and I'm leaving before the harsh weather returns. It's time to head for the warmer climate of Costa Rica!

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(Elwyn Campbell) Manhattan New York Sabbatical Travel USA https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/1/new-york Mon, 06 Jan 2014 20:17:54 GMT
Sabbatical https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/1/sabbatical I've booked a few months off work from January 2014. I have a round-the-world plane ticket. Current plans are as follows:
  • 24 hours in Manhattan
  • Mid-January: 12 days in Costa Rica on an expedition from the Pacific Coast to the Caribbean Coast. This will be with World Expeditions: http://worldexpeditions.co.uk/index.php?section=trips&id=1343
  • A few days in Miami
  • Late January: Yachtmaster sailing course in Antigua
  • Boat delivery from Antigua to Grenada
  • Late January - early February: Grenada sailing regatta 
  • Early February: a few days in Sydney
  • Mid February: New Zealand, South Island, mainly around Wanaka / Queenstown. Hope to walk the Routeburn and Wilkin-Young tracks.
  • Late February: just over a week sailing around the Bay of Islands, New Zealand North Island
  • Late February: a few days in Cygnet, near Hobart in Tasmania
  • Early March - Mid April: back in Perth recovering from all my adventures!
I'm aiming to update this blog with stories and photos from my sabbatical so watch this space :-)
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(Elwyn Campbell) Sabbatical Sailing Travel https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/1/sabbatical Thu, 02 Jan 2014 19:17:44 GMT
Patagonia https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/1/patagonia In December 2012 I flew to Santiago in Chile for the start of a 3-week road trip with Dragoman into Patagonia. We met our guides and Gus the truck who would be taking us to some very remote locations. I'd always wanted to travel to Patagonia to experience one of the most remote locations on Earth and I wasn't disappointed! Walking in the Huerquehue National ParkWalking in the Huerquehue National ParkHuerquehue National Park, Chilean lake district

We left Santiago and headed south towards Patagonia. The first few days were fairly civilised but we had a lot of rain which made it a challenge as we were camping. We spent a few days in Pucon which was in the Chilean Lake District. Very pretty and our plans to climb the Villarrica Volcano were dashed by some heavy rain. Instead, we did a day walk in a nearby national park. As the rain fell and we climbed higher it turned into sleet and snow. We were walking through a semi-alpine environment which was stunning and very atmospheric with the low clouds. Being in the clouds and trees meant lots of different turns looked the same and we managed to get lost. Fortunately we found our way back to the start of the walk and awaited other members of the groups to come back before we headed to the nearby hot springs. Unfortunately other members of our group also got lost and returned much later than the agreed time so we missed our chance to visit the hot springs which would have been much appreciated after spending a whole day in the rain, sleet and snow. A warm dinner helped and we returned to our campsite to attempt to dry all our soaked clothes.

We awoke the next morning to sunshine. Finally! As we left Pucon we could finally see the Villarrica Volcano we were supposed to climb the day before. We continued our drive south and officially entered Patagonia. Our plan was to catch a ferry leaving at midnight but unfortunately it was delayed until around 8am the next morning. Not many of these ferries run so we had to make sure we caught it! Olly managed to arrange staying at a nearby campsite where the rain returned. A disco scheduled n the camp kitchen meant we had to cook in the owner's kitchen, helped by the resident cats. We sheltered from the heavy rain on the front porch before an early night. ChaitenChaitenIncredible sunset as we docked

Our plans for an early start changed when we returned to the ferry terminal the following morning to find that the ferry had been delayed. Again. Boredom had set in before we finally got underway in the early afternoon. There was a sense that we were entering a very remote area as we left port into the Chilean fjords. And rain.

The ferry pulled in to a very small town to pick up a few more passengers and we could see plenty of birds, penguins and seals. The clouds broke up and we were treated to views of the incredible wilderness surrounding us. An amazing sunset greeted our arrival into Chaiten at around 10pm. Finally we'd reached our destination about 12 hours later than we planned. 

Although that wasn't the end of the day. There was still a 4 hour drive along the rugged Carrera Austral to our home for the night. We were all very tired and grumpy but our drivers did a great job along the rough road in the darkness to our destination. Only about 4 hours' sleep before we had to get up continue driving south. Daylight brought incredible views of the surrounding fjord and mountains. We drove up to the Colgante Glacier and had a well-earned breakfast. An hour's walk up to the lookout was across a large river and forest. 

We continued on the rugged Carrera Austral towards the Argentinian border. Stunning landscape as we crossed the Andes into the windswept plains of Argentina. We crossed the border late in the afternoon and camped in a large cow shed so we would be protected from the strong winds. 

It was another early start to get to Perito Moreno, the last major town before a large uninhibited area. There wasn't much open since it was Christmas Eve. Not many of us had Argentinian dollars so we had trouble finding a cash machine. The only one available only could be used after 10am so everyone (including the whole town!) had to queue up to get the local currency. Our cooking group struggled to buy much with their budget as food prices had gone up significantly since the last trip. 

Fortunately we managed to get ourselves organised before heading south towards Mt Fitzroy national park. There were plenty of miles to cover before we reached our destination for the night. We reached the end of the bitumen road and it was on to the gravel road for a "South American massage": the truck bouncing around on a corrugated gravel road for hours and hours. 

Then the road turned muddy. Our driver Olly was worried as he'd got bogged here on a previous trip. Gus the truck slid all over the place as we slowly progressed along the road. There were hardly any other cars around. We came across a big German tour truck which was badly bogged. It was a much heavier truck than ours so it was much deeper in the mud plus they had a large trailer. We stopped and offered to help but there wasn't much we could do so we continued. It was painfully slow progress but Gus kept going and finally we made it to the bitumen road to everyone's cheers. There was still a long way before El Chaiten but at least we could start enjoying Christmas Eve since we knew we'd actually make it to our destination. We could see the sun set across the snow covered Andes, providing an awesome view for the last couple of hours in the truck. 

El Chaiten campsiteEl Chaiten campsite We arrived in El Chalten after 11pm. Everyone was relieved to arrive safely before Christmas Day. There was only time for some soup for dinner before we set up camp. The notorious Patagonian winds did not arrive and we had an awesome view of the moonrise across the Fitzroy mountain range. 

Christmas Day was a slow start for everyone after the previous day. The weather had cleared up to offer sunshine and temperature in the mid 20's. Smaller groups went on walks around El Chalten and some of us walked up to a lookout offering views of Cerro Torre and Mt Fitzroy. It took most of the day but was well worth it after many hours travelling on the bus and sunny weather. We arrived back in time to eat a whole roast lamb for dinner, an Argentinian speciality. A very memorable Christmas! 

The next day, most of the group headed up to walk the loop past Mt Fitzroy. The weather was still stunning so we had awesome views as we came closer to Mt Fitzroy. There was a steep climb up to a glacial lake. We stayed up there for lunch in the cold winds off the mountains. The walk continued back down to El Chalten. We walked around 25km, well worth it for the scenery. 

Mt FitzroyMt Fitzroy Most of the group organised day trips to the nearby Viedma glacier. We had to take a boat ride up the glacial lake. Only then could we see just how big the glacier was. We stopped to get all our ice climbing gear and spent the day climbing on a small part of the glacier. To finish, we were treated to Baileys with glacial ice. 

The weather closed in the next day. We walked up to Laguna Torre but unfortunately the clouds had come in so we couldn't see the view. Crepes and icecream back in town helped lift our spirits. 

>We drove to El Cafate the next day. We had a stop at a ranch where apparently Billy the Kid had stayed in his exodus. We stayed in a hostel and went out for dinner for our first Argentinian steak. Awesome! 

We had a day trip to the Perito Moreno glacier. I have never seen a glacier so big! The mouth of the glacier was around 3km wide and it was several hundred metres high. We had a few hours on the viewing glaciers so we could watch parts of the glacier gradually fall off. We were lucky enough to see a large part of the glacier come off which generated some large waves across the lake. 

Torres del Paine National ParkTorres del Paine National Park We were back on the truck the next day for a long drive into the Torres del Paine national park. There was another border crossing back into Chile. The blue skies were back and we could see views of Torres del Paine as we came closer. We stopped in the last town before the national park, Puerto Moreno, to stock up on supplies for the next few days. As it was New Year's Eve this included plenty to drink! As the weather was perfect, we could open up the roof seats on the truck and see views across the mountains as we drove to our campsite. It was a brilliant location, right across a lake with views of the Torres del Paine massif. We were treated to an awesome sunset to see out 2012 and welcome 2013. 

The group separated into smaller groups for different activities over the the next few days. I joined a handful of people to do the "W" walk over the next 4 days. We were dropped off at the base of Lago Grey and caught a boat up to the top of the lake to start the walk. As it was peak season I couldn't stay in any of the huts so I carried a tent. We walked up over a ridge which had views of the Grey Glacier. We came across other people on the trip who were walking in the other direction to go sea kayaking at the base of the Grey Glacier. Fortunately it was a relatively short day to get used to carrying a full pack. The good weather continued. 

The next day we walked though the area of the national park which had been badly damaged by a fire only a couple of years ago. We left our heavy packs and headed into the French Valley which was a steep climb into a valley surrounded by rocky cliffs. We headed back down and reluctantly put on or bags to get to our next hut. The hut was full so we had to wait for our dinner slot but we could appreciate the surrounding mountains. There was only one tent spot left which I was fortunate to find. The notorious Patagonian winds had finally appeared and it was an interesting night as I hoped my tent didn't rip or get blown away! 

Torres del Paine National ParkTorres del Paine National ParkFrench valley lookout We were getting into our stride and made good progress around to our last hut for the "W" walk. Yet another steep climb with full packs. We reached our destination around mid afternoon and it was still relatively clear weather. The forecast was for it to close in the following day so we decided to climb up to the Torres del Paine lookout where we could make the most of the view before the weather closed in. It was close to a 1000m climb up a rocky valley. The towers only came into view at the top and it was one of the most amazing views I'd ever seen. We didn't stay long due to the cold winds but took plenty of photos! 

The next morning was clear but the forecast was still for the weather to close in. We decided to walk up the valley the most of already being relatively high rather than climbing all the way up from the carpark where the rest of our group were coming from. We got to the path to the Torres del Paine lookout and I decided to climb up there again as the morning sun was shining on the mountains and it as too good an opportunity to miss. We were able to spend more time at the top and enjoy the view than yesterday. 

Torres del Paine National ParkTorres del Paine National Park On the way down, we saw more members of our truck group who we hadn't seen for a few days. They had climbed all the way up from the hotel carpark to attempt to get to the lookout before the clouds came in. They continued upwards while we returned to the hut and ate a big lunch. We had plenty of time to get back down to the carpark and meet the rest of the group and have a well-earned rest on Gus the truck. We cooked dinner and shared stories of our adventures over the past few days. 

The next day we said farewell to Torres del Paine and it was back though Puerto Moreno to drive down to Tierra del Fuego. We had a lunch stop by an abandoned sheep station on the Straits of Magellan. It was a straightforward crossing on a car ferry. We had our best "South American massages" for the trip as we travelled across some very rough roads. It was such slow progress that we had to camp right next to the border crossing back into Argentina. Not the nicest campsite but convenient at least. 

Overnight it started raining very heavily. We quickly packed up our tents and drove south first thing in the morning. We didn't want to hang around in the cold and wet! Unfortunately we couldn't see much but we made good progress. It was very cold and we were struggling to keep warm. The rain started to clear as we descended into Ushaiua, the southernmost town in the world. We had arranged to stay at a hostel and could see fresh snow on the surrounding mountains. I arranged to go on a boat trip on the famous Beagle Channel. There was lots of wildlife and the boat stopped to see some seal colonies on the way. We celebrated our last night as a group. 

My flight to Buenos Aires was delayed by 6 hours the next day so I had some bonus time to look around the town. Overnight in Buenos Aires then I was lucky enough to get a free upgrade to premium economy for the flight back to London :-) 

It was an incredible trip. I had signed up so I could see the wilds of Patagonia and we certainally saw our fair share. We were also very lucky with the weather. After a very wet start to the trip, it cleared up for the most spectacular parts of Patagonia we visited. 

Click here to see a full selection of photos in my gallery

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(Elwyn Campbell) Argentina Chile Fitzroy Patagonia South America Torres del Paine Trekking https://elly.net.au/blog/2014/1/patagonia Thu, 02 Jan 2014 19:16:51 GMT
K2 and the Gondogoro La https://elly.net.au/blog/2012/10/k2-and-the-gondogoro-la In July, 2006, I was forced to take a couple of months holiday thanks to UK immigration law. What a shame. I dropped into Pakistan for a few weeks on the way back to Australia and did a 3-week trek through the Karakoram, seeing K2 amongst other huge Karakoram mountains and climbing over a pass called the Gondogoro La.

We were fortunate upon arrival in Pakistan to get on an internal flight from Islamabad up to Skardu, the largest town near the Karakoram. This was no ordinary flight. Our Boeing 737, no tiny plane, gathered views of the ever-heightening mountains as it travelled north. Upon reaching Nanga Parbat (a mountain over 8000m high), it took a right-hand turn and commenced its descent into the huge gorge preceding Skardu. Fortunately, the pilot had flown this route before and we made a safe landing after navigating the gorge.

Another day's drive and we were at the start of the trek. We were in very old but reliable Landcruisers and spent the whole day clinging on for dear life as the 4x4s were thrown around the relatively new road/track which is under constant pressure from landslides off the surrounding mountains. As an indication of the state of the road, it took 8 hours to travel 100km.

Finally, we started the trek alongside the local support crew. Temperatures had been 45 degrees (C) in Islamabad so it was a relief to be trekking in the relatively cool mid-30s. Our path was well-trodden but across difficult terrain as these steep valleys have been carved out by huge glaciers and rivers. Several river crossings were made, and our prayers were answered by safely crossing the raging rivers across wobbly bridges.

Over the next week, the trek took us up the Baltoro Glacier towards Concordia. On the way up, we passed a few groups who couldn't get over the Gondogoro La due to bad weather. Would we make the pass? But this meant it was cooler for us walking up the valley.  We passed the well-known Trango Group and Cathederal Peak, relatively small Karakoram mountains of 6000m high.

Concordia is one of the most amazing places on earth. It is at the junction of a number of huge glaciers and has views of several 8000m peaks. Not too bad at all. We had been walking for well over a week and the only time we saw K2 was literally for the last 5 minutes walk into Concordia, as there are so many other huge mountains around that hide its view, even though it''s the world''s 2nd-highest mountain.

There is a helicopter tale to tell from this trip. No, I didn't need to be rescued this time. A Pakistani army helicopter landed at Concordia and a group of western men in far-too-clean outfits stepped out. We were curious to see who they were and it turns out they were Dallas oil tycoons! The story gets better. They had flown to Pakistan for only a week to visit Concordia so had thrown an insane amount of US dollars at the Pakistan Army to fly them up here. They were trying to figure out where K2 was so we pointed out that it was the highest mountain (well, duh!). I think we could have told them we'd climbed K2 and they would have believed us! Having trekked for well over a week (ie. no showers) we were looking a little shabby so one of the Americans asked if we were getting "real jobs" when we were back in civilisation! Fortunately they only stayed for less than an hour so we had Concordia to ourselves once again.

We spent several days at Concordia just gazing at the awesome surroundings. We had a day trip up to K2 base camp, which at 5000m high is bigger than anything in the Alps!

Unfortunately, it was time to leave Concordia all too soon, and we walked up the Vinge Glacier to Ali Camp, the last camp before crossing the pass. A left-hand turn would have taken us to the Siachen Glacier, at well over 5000m it is the highest battle ground on earth. Every now and then, tensions flare between Pakistan and India so fighting occurs here.

A midnight start meant we were on top of Gondogoro La at sunrise to see the clouds clear up for an awesome view of the huge mountains surrounding. Gondogoro La is somewhere between 5,600m and 5,900m high depending on which guide book you read. Then down the other side which proved a bit of a challenge as it was icier than usual. Everyone made it safely and we had a welcome day's rest at camp in the valley underneath.

We gradually made our way down the valley to a village called Hushe. We made a few side-trips on the way down to make the most of our time there. The weather remained perfect for the rest of the trip so we were very lucky to make it over the pass. But the monsoon had hit Islamabad, so we couldn't make the exciting plane trip from Skardu, and had 2 long days driving down the Karakoram Highway (KKH). We were running late, so arrived at an army checkpoint after sunset. They were insistent on giving us an armed escort as we were driving through an area known to have Taleban influence in the dark.

Upon opening the bathroom door at our luxurious hotel on the KKH, I was greeted by lots of cockroaches - something like out of an Indiana Jones movie! So we thought better of having a shower (having not had one for several weeks) and waiting just one more night....

All in all, a great trip!

See a full selection of the photos from this trek in my gallery

Our trip leader posted this trip report on the Jagged Globe website. 

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(Elwyn Campbell) Himalaya K2 Karakorum Mountaineering Pakistan Trekking https://elly.net.au/blog/2012/10/k2-and-the-gondogoro-la Thu, 11 Oct 2012 20:02:01 GMT
Indian Himalayan Trek - Nanda Devi https://elly.net.au/blog/2012/10/indian-himalayan-trek---nanda-devi Indian Himalayan Trek: Nanda Devi April - May 2004

I booked a 4-week trip to India in 2004 involving an exploratory trek off the beaten track.

I arrived in Delhi late one night and made my way through the masses to find my lift to the hotel. First impressions of Delhi... dusty, dirty and smelly! Having been to Nepal before, it wasn't too much of a shock, just a lot more crowded. There was a whole range of vehicles on the road, from trucks down to entire families on a single motorbike; cows and camels made appearances as well.

Met the fellow trekkers the following morning, quickly packed and hopped on the bus for a 2 day drive up to the start of our walk. Delhi by daylight was a different matter, now I could see the surroundings. Homeless beggars at every street corner, people sleeping in the middle of busy roundabouts. It heated up quite quickly, here on the Indian  plains it regularly reached 40C this time of year.

Our second day on the road produced a flat tyre which took a few hours to find a fix. The road got very narrow very quickly due to the rough terrain but we had a great driver who somehow fitted the bus around sharp corners with trucks heading in both directions. The plains of india were very crowded around the main road, but up here the Himalayan foothills made things a little more difficult. It was well after dark when we wound our way up a 2,000m pass. Fortunately we couldn't see the road which was very narrow and there were sharp drops and landslips everywhere. We were in thatched huts that night - sleeping required moving the beds to the middle of the room away from the walls which had plenty of critters and spiders nesting in them. Gori Ganga Gorge

Our porters and guides appeared the next morning and we left the bus and were on the road down to the Gori Ganga river. This river is fed by a glacier on the Chinese border. Not many westerners come up this valley so we drew plenty of interest from the locals as we walked through some small villages. It also drew the attention of Indian army soldiers who were patrolling the valley. China tried to invade India through this valley back in the 1960's so the defence force patrols this area. It is a little disconcerting approaching an army outpost full of fully armed soldiers when our only form of defence was our trekking poles and ignorance. But we drew plenty of smiles and handshakes from the soldiers who were clearly on a boring post.

The valley became steeper as we headed into the Gori Ganga Gorge. It had rock walls thousands of metres high on either side, and steep side valleys feeding waterfalls into the main river. Our path we followed was an old trading route which is only used in summer. Previously the Indians used this valley to trade with the Tibetans. It is a relatively "easy" valley to access Tibet (China), with three 5000m passes around the border. There are deserted trade villages along the way which are now only populated by shepherds in summer.

It was relatively warm in the valley but got steadily colder the higher we climbed. Our days weren't too long, but with 5am starts it was nice to be in camp mid-afternoon. As we climbed out of the gorge we could see more of the higher mountains surrounding us. The sheer scale of them all was amazing, especially for a WA girl. All of the other trekkers were from the eastern states who had at least some snow experience. The group was an incredible bunch who had each travelled far and wide so it was a great delight to share this amazing place with them.

We headed up a side valley towards Nanda Kot and to a base camp to be used for the next couple of days. There was a snow storm overnight but the next morning we were treated to a clear view of the surrounding mountains covered in fresh snow. A few hours were spent playing in the snow with our ice axes and crampons in preparation for our 5800m mountain climb the following day. It was actually night since we were climbing at 1am the next morning. We saw the most amazing view of stars alongside bright shooting stars. The first signs of daylight were welcomed a few hours later. Climbing certainally got harder as we climbed well above 5000m. But the day remained clear as we made our way to the top and a great view up the valley and into Tibet and Nepal. Some people brought their skis and tried out the slopes which probably had never been skied upon before.

Trekking to Nanda Devi basecamp The next part of the trip was up another side valley towards Nanda Devi, the highest mountain in India. Next to it was Longstaff Col, made famous by the Himalayan explorers of the early 20th century. Now we were off the path and made our own tracks up the valley. One fellow trekker had an unfortunate slip and sliced open the palm of his hand on an extremely sharp rock. Fortunately there was a surgeon on the trip who stitched it up on the spot. But it was a serious injury which required him to get "proper" medical treatment as soon as possible. The satellite phone was called into action and we arranged to meet the helicopter in a couple of days at a good landing site - Nanda Devi base camp.

Indians are mad about cricket so all the porters took delight in playing cricket at high altitude. They all know Australian cricketers, so they love any mention of Ricky Ponting or Adam Gilchrist. At base camp, we made a cricket bat out of all things, an ice axe. An unfortunate slip sent it flying and into the head of an unlucky porter. Fortunately it was only a glance rather than an implant and required a couple of stitches. So no more ice axe cricket for a few days. It snowed all the next day which stopped any more cricket.

We moved on from base camp and headed up to Trail's Pass which would provide access to the Pindari Glacier and the next valley. All the fresh snow was making slippery climbing and before I knew it, I'd slipped on some ice and smashed my knee on a sharp rock. Seeing blood coming through my trousers was not a good sign and tearing them open revealed a large gash right across the front of my knee. I saw a nice display of my kneecap and tendons. Looking at the injury I realised this would be the end of the trip for me. Nanda Devi Basecamp

The surgeon was called into action again and no anaesthetic meant things were a little painful. He was excited to see my knee insides but I had enough of the anatomy lesson and asked him to hurry up and stitch it up. We had to get down to base camp where I hoped to get on the helicopter which was already on order. A couple of the trekkers helped me on the way down as I was on one leg in the snow & ice. The rest of the group headed up to the pass so it was a very difficult and rushed goodbye - one minute I'm climbing up the mountain and the next I'm due for helicopter evacuation. One of the leaders helped me out and we talked things through since I'd never been in a situation like this before, let alone so far from home.

A couple of very boring days in an amazing place at the base of Nanda Devi waiting for the chopper. A good time for reflection since I was incapacitated, something I'm definitely not used to. A relief to hear the chopper heading up the valley after a long wait. I'd never been in a helicopter before so was quite apprehensive. But it was a perfectly clear day and I forgot about being scared as soon as the helicopter left the ground. Unbelievable views of the mountains which can't be put into words. I hoped to be back one day but knew that it might be a long wait. I just made the most of this flight.

We landed at a small base right next to the Nepalese border and got into a larger chopper which took us to a town at the base of the Himalaya which offered a large hospital. I'd rather be back in the mountains for treatment after being admitted here. It was so dirty compared with the western hospitals we are very lucky to have. About 15 doctors were excited to see us and keen to operate on my knee. I refused, pointed out it was already stitched up and they were a little disappointed. But looking at the stitching needles on offer, I wasn't!

A drive to Delhi and a few days' recouperation in a hotel. And a culture shock having seen no-one other than the trekking party for at least a week, now I was stuck in a city of over 10 million people! Even then, I felt very alone. I hadn't planned on being here alone which made facing up to India very daunting. I received a phone call from the Australian High Commission after Indian newspaper reports of Australian mountaineers "lost and seriously injured" who were rescued by the Indian Army. I cleared up the story, no serious injuries and we were far from lost. He warned me not to go outside alone in Delhi at night being a single female in foreign culture.
Taj Mahal, Agra
I had to decide what to do next - go back to Australia now or do some sight-seeing around here until my original end date. Then another option crept in my head - have a few quiet days around Delhi and drive back to the mountains to try and meet up with the group I didn't have a proper chance to say goodbye to. The doctors had said that I'd only need a week of rest before starting exercise again. The third option took priority ñ I would probably never get a chance like this again. I arranged with the tour operator to spend a couple of days in Agra before driving for a couple more days back to Munsyari.

The Taj Mahal provided some much needed spirit. Anyone who has been there will know what I mean ñ there is a very special aura around it. Then I literally bumped into an old friend, Claire, at breakfast after seeing the Taj Mahal. I hadn't seen her for a couple of years since she'd been working in Africa. It was a great surprise seeing a friend having seen no one but strangers for a few days. She was sight seeing on the way back to Australia and had tours around the same attractions as well.

A drive back to Delhi, a short rest. Tried out some stair climbing to check out my fitness and the hotel staff thought I was mad. Off in a taxi the next morning and I couldn't wait to be back in the mountains and seeing the group I'd left. It was quite hot down here, had been up to 45C. Still a couple of days on my own but this seemed worthwhile considering the goal at the end. Had a nice stay in a campsite near a lake. It was good to be out of hotels and under the stars.

I got to know the road to Munsyari very well. I was hoping we'd picked the right place to meet up since we'd heard nothing from the group of their progress. Also I wasn't sure how I'd go walking up the valley by myself. I just made sure I got up there as soon as I could for the best chance of meeting the group.

We were almost at Munsyari when I saw one of the trip leaders on the side of the road. The group was camping right nearby! It was a great surprise since I didn't think I'd see them for at least a couple more days. So I raced up the hill to the campsite and there were smiles all around. They'd radioed in earlier that day and only found out then I'd be back. So they knew to keep an eye out for me on the nearby road. What amazing luck.
Bear prints
We traded stories of the last week which seemed like a lot longer than only seven days. The weather had turned very bad after the helicopter evacuation and they couldn't get over Trail's Pass. They'd been running from the weather for the past week back down the Gori Ganga. There was certainally a lot more snow around here than the start of the trek.

The next morning we were up at 3am for one last climb. It was a nice ridge top climb to a 4000m peak. The weather was the clearest it had been for at least a week. There was an amazing view of Nanda Devi and the surrounding mountains we were immersed in earlier in the trek. It was a special moment considering I was choppered out only a week before.

Things wound down after that. We had a couple of days camping in the mountains and slowly made our way back to Delhi over a few more days. We had a civilised stay in a mountain resort town. Our hotel must have been the Indian equivalent of Fawlty Towers but no one minded having experienced the past few weeks in the tough Himalaya.

This was one amazing trip. Plenty of people have asked if the knee injury spoiled the trip, but I got a lot more out of the trip having gone through that experience. India is one incredible place which has literally left its mark on me. Whenever I look at my scar I'll remember the incredible people I met and the mountains that made me feel right at home. I know I'll be back in the Himalaya sometime soon.

See a full selection of the photos in my gallery.

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(Elwyn Campbell) Himalaya India Nanda Devi Trekking https://elly.net.au/blog/2012/10/indian-himalayan-trek---nanda-devi Thu, 11 Oct 2012 19:52:00 GMT