Tuesday, 19 March 2019

NSW Coast Walk : Tathra to Victoria Creek

The Big 4 Tathra campsite is very convivial, I get free tea and cake, plus a chance meet the other residents - all elderly Aussie holidaymakers.  They seem impressed by my crazy walking, and the owners even call their son, who has walked the section north of here, he is going to pop over and advise me.  I do the normal zero day stuff, shopping, clean clothes, and decide to stay at camp and cook meat tonight.  Visiting the bowling club where I had dinner last night, and apparently the only place around that sells alcohol, they offer a sixpack of small bottles of beer for twenty dollars, or four and half litres of wine for eleven dollars... I am confused.  The owners' son, Mark, turns up, he seems to agree with my planned route, though he reckons I will do about fifteen kilometres tomorrow.  I then drink too much wine...

There follows a 10am start, this is not great, the morning goes well enough though, a mix of beaches and good paths.  I do have to swim another inlet, well, the water is maybe chest high, perhaps I could have waded.  I am fine with the swimming, but the wet bag is very heavy after each dip, and I find that I chafe unpleasantly walking in wet pants...  Things go downhill after lunch, the paths are less well used, this section includes the wallaby tracks, and indeed fence hopping, that Mark warned me of.  There is another swim too, I really don't need two in a day.  Then gruelling, barely visible track over headlands and down into numerous coves, going is very slow, I end up camped in one cove, it is just too dark to keep walking, but I am several kilometres behind plan.

I try to make up the distance next day but it is hard, I need to cross another inlet, I'm able wade this one so the bag stays dry at least, but then there's a long section of rocky scrambling, it's slow work.  I get lunch in the liitle town of Bermagui, from of all places Woolworths!  Good to see some countries still have them.  Then some long beaches, separated by headlands, I need to climb over those of course - descending one at around 7pm, I can see the water of Victoria Creek below, I'm not going to swim now so no choice but to pitch up here... still three kilometres short of plan.

NSW Coast Walk : Hegarty's Bay to Tathra

From my camp at Hegarty's Bay (suitable for experienced bush walkers only, as the signs have it) I continue onto the second half of the Light to Light walk, it's just as nice, fine cliff walking, more deserted beaches, all cool.  I spot a couple of big lizards, two or three feet long, and less welcome, some massive spiders, as big as my hand, their huge webs stretched across the path, even when it is wide enough for vehicles.  End of the marked path is Boyd's Tower, built by a Scottish entrepreneur in the 1840s, after that I am back to a line on the map that in theory, at least, somebody has walked.  This soon goes wrong, the line leads me to private land, high fences block the way, I work around on gravel tracks built to allow access to the electric pylons around here, this makes for some very steep climbing.  Then down to another water hazard, this one seems wider, also the current tries to drag me away from the finger of sand I am aiming for, but I make it.  I then walk a mile or so of sandbar in my pants, as you do, but cover up before reaching the small community of Boydtown, yes, founded by the same man.  There is a pub, yay, I obtain beer and Aussie speciality Chicken Parmigiana, or 'parma / parmie' - there seem to be a variety of short forms.  Anyway, it is a breaded chicken breast, topped with tomato sauce, a thick slice of ham plus cheese, many calories are involved.

The next morning there is more beach, but no path - after a while I find myself clambering along rocks at the base of a cliff, this is very hard, at one point I have to drop down a sheer face into the sea, only a foot or so deep at least.  It proves hard to get into Eden this way, a big fenced off area blocks my path requiring a lengthy detour..  Good to get to a proper town anyway, I do a bit of shopping, but then it is tricky getting out too, after more sandbar I follow the only way forward, and end up in someone's (giant) garden.  The afternoon goes rather better, there's a nice path through woods, then a few miles of beach, but of course a sting in the tail, I have to swim a broad river, but in fact it is actually fun, and the look on the faces of people on the other side as I emerge from the water is priceless.

Next day brings a fine morning of walking, beaches of course, a stroll through the small town of Merimbula, and some pleasant woodland paths.  After an 8am start I am halfway through my planned day's walk by lunch at midday, this is all good.  But then the Kangarutha trail turns out to be a bit of a trial, there is so much steep up and down, surely more than can possibly fit into the supposed nine kilometre distance.  At least today there is no swimming, and in the end I make it to camp for 6pm, time for a rest, then to a bar for fish and chips and a 'schooner' or two of beer.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

NSW Coast Walk : Genoa to Hegarty's Bay

My first day of walking in Oz is an easy one, just twenty-three kilometres of road to Mallacoota.  I feel it afterwards though, seems I am a little out of shape, I guess this little stroll by the sea should do me good.  There are nice, grassy surroundings, cows graze, it is quite reminiscent of England.  Of course there are mosquitoes, but rather more excitingly, kangaroos - a whole mob of them hanging out by the campsite that is my destination today. Also plenty of birds here, many of them making some odd noises.  Mallacoota is located on the shore of a large lake, separated from the sea by a long sand bank, I need to get onto that tomorrow, hopefully this can be done without swimming.  The evening sees me drinking more pricey beer, but I decide my budget doesn't stretch to eating out, pasta at the camp kitchen it is.

I walk around the lake, spotting a large jellyfish at the water's edge - a local assures me it is not poisonous.  Well, for now I need not worry about dangerous marine life, it seems that currently the lake is cut off from the sea and I can simply walk down to the sand, and then indeed for a long way along the beach, it is all rather splendid, and not unlike the beginning of my walk in New Zealand a few years ago of course.  I pass a couple of islands, stop for a paddle, then it's time for some tough walking on dunes of soft sand.  Then an actual path, it is little used and quite overgrown, but interesting as many of the plants are bristle cones - they are indeed bristly, with numerous open seed pods like strange mouths between the bristles.  I camp by a lake, a lovely spot for a little swim, many black swans paddle about as I collect some water - it's a bit salty, but I am sure it won't kill me.  Time to build a fire and cook up some noodles!

Next morning the path is still very overgrown, this makes for slow going, then things get even harder as I need to do a bit of bushwhacking, this is hard work, I am glad to emerge on to the Wilderness Coast Walking Track.  It also seems little used, I see no hikers, but the path improves over the course of the day.  Aussie woods seem more like England than NZ, the occasional termite mound notwithstanding.  I ascend some big hills, then down to Wonboyn where there is a garage that sells me chocolate, a campsite and little else - I think I need to get a bit further, and end up wild camping in the bush.

A little more beach walking, then a short bushwhack, and then I encounter my first water hazard of the trip, Wonboyn Lake inlet.  In the event the swim is easy enough, and my waterproofing holds, this is good.  I worry that I now have half a mile or so of trackless bush to get through, but in fact there is a clear path, and then a road to Green Cape Lighthouse, this marks one end of the Light to Light Walk, a proper signed path, with actual other hikers!  It is fully thirty kilometres long, signs gravely warn me that if attempting to hike the whole trail, I should let someone know what I am doing - I don't think they really do long distance walking in this country.  It is a fine walk anyway, through trees and scrub, then bare rock, all within earshot of the sea, and I find a nice grassy campsite, complete with an actual fire pit.

NSW Coast Walk : Intro

More adventure!  Well, it is about time, so, off to Australia, not quite a new country for me, but I've never been further than Melbourne Airport here.  A huge place of course, I have a month here so barely time to scratch the surface.  My plan is to take a couple of buses seven hundred kilometres south from Sydney, just over the border into Victoria state, then walk the coast back up.  This is not any kind of official route, there will not be signs, but it has been done before by at least a few people, one of whom has recorded their route so I know more or less where to go.  What can go wrong?

Well, it sure is a long way to the start, I could do without spending much of a night at Singapore airport, though clearly they are set up for it.  Then to Sydney, a bit of hassle buying a SIM card that turns out not to work, then a bit of a trot to my hotel, and a nearby bar for beer and burger.  Beer is pricey here, also looks like they do the same thing as NZ, only special 'liquor stores' can sell it at all, annoying.

Next day I have a long bus ride to Eden where I find a nice campsite, do some shopping, food here is not too pricey at least.  One beer in a bar, but there is no food there so it's back to camp with a pizza, though of course I can't buy a beer to take back with me, all the town's liquor stores having shut, fortunately a generous fellow camper comes to the rescue.  A night in the tent, one more hour of bus to the historic, but tiny, settlement of Genoa, and it is time to start walking!

Saturday, 5 January 2019

More Hanoi

Just a few of the many Halong Bay islands.
Still in Hanoi then -  I have to visit the Thai embassy to hand in my visa paperwork, this turns out to be not as easy as I'd hoped, the lady behind the window says I should have brought a printout of a bank statement, first I'd heard of this, finding somewhere in Hanoi I can print the thing out at turns out to be tricky.  And then she refuses to accept the Thai money I've brought specially for the fee, nor can I pay with local currency, rather she insists on US dollars.  More fun ensues as I visit an ATM to withdraw a couple of million in Vietnamese Dong (oh yes), and then manage to find a street full of shops that I realise must be money changers, as two separate people have directed me here... there is no English signage, nor any of the lists of exchange rates you might expect, but never mind, in the end I get all the documents handed in with around seven minutes to spare.

Back in a kayak!
I have time for more sightseeing, visiting various parks and lakes, in each case it is good to get away from the traffic.  I am a little surprised to not really see anything in the way of impressive temples here - one of the lakes has a little island which allegedly contains a small temple, after I pay thirty thousand Dong (around one pound) to get onto the island the thing turns out to be entirely fenced off and pretty much under construction rather than restoration.  I rather suspect this country is only just emerging from a period during which religion was oppressed, and the temples largely demolished - perhaps to make room for giant statues of Uncle Ho, of which I see a few.

View from the boat.
There is good food here, interesting stuff to buy on the street, I get a savoury pancake one day, and some sort of deep fried pork omelette another.  Of an evening, the local speciality 'cha ca la vong' - catfish fried with spices - is rather tasty, and I of course get some spring rolls.  Not totally convinced by the bland, cold rice vermicelli that seems to be the standard accompaniment but never mind.  On the plus side I get to visit the cafe that invented Vietnamese egg coffee... there's time for cultural stuff too, at the weekend there is traditional dancing happening in the street in the old town, and I also do the 'water puppet' thing which is a local tradition.  Most entertaining, a series of vignettes covering legends and pastoral scenes, with kings, rice farmers, fish and fire breathing dragons emerging from the water to do their thing.

Thien Cung (Heavenly Palace) cave.
On my last day in Vietnam, with the Thai visa all sorted out, I'm able to get away from the city on a very long day trip, to Halong Bay.  It's maybe two hundred kilometres away, but the bus sure takes its time getting there and back, it is totally worth it though as this is an incredible place, some accident of geology has resulted in, our guide tells us, around one thousand seven hundred steep sided islands rising dramatically from the waters of the bay.  The scenery is breathtaking, with new vistas opening up as I travel among the islands on a very comfortable boat, one of a large fleet catering to hordes of tourists - mostly more or less local, my own group is composed of Filipinos, Japanese and Koreans, plus me.  We get a fine meal of seafood fresh from the bay, I get to do a bit of kayaking, paddling around and through a couple of narrow entrances to find circular 'hollow' islands, and then we're back on the boat to visit an incredible complex of caves, carved by the elements into the interior of yet another island.  I realise I need to come back and do a multiple day trip here... there are trekking trips you can do in the north of the country too, apparently this can include scaling the highest mountain in the three countries of what was French Indochina.  Well, some other time...

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Hanoi Christmas!

Floral display by Hoan Kiem Lake.
More blogging!  Well, the cycling in Thailand was fun, but I really did want to get to a new country - and in fact, I do now have to leave Thailand, again, to get yet another new visa, so, virtue out of necessity once again, I am off to Hanoi.  Well, I may as well use the Vietnam visa I bought in the hope of cycling there...

First impressions of Hanoi?  Honestly not the greatest, a pall of pollution hangs over the city, I get off the bus from the airport thinking I can see the river that my hotel is near, but it turns out to be a massive lake, also pretty badly polluted judging by the numerous dead fish floating on the surface.  I now of course have to walk pretty much all the way around the lake, it is pleasant enough, barring the constant swarm of fast moving, horn beeping mopeds that clog the roads here.  Getting towards the old city these things become a real problem, just crossing the road here seems to mean taking your life into your hands, and walking beside it isn't easy either, while there is a pavement, the locals seem to think it is there for them to park those mopeds on.

In the Ho Chi Minh museum.
Things seem to be kind of small here... my hotel is small, as is my room, the streets are lined with little, box like shops, cafes and bars, with wares and seating spilling out onto the road.  Indeed, I end up spending an evening at a bar where the music - which is excellent - consists of a band set up on the opposite side of the road.  There are lots of tourists about, local children dance around in the street, and adding to the party atmosphere are the fires that people are making out of scrap cardboard and so forth in the street, as you do.  All quite fun anyway.

Uncle Ho's mausoleum.
There is of course a lot of sight seeing to do here, there are many interesting museums for instance.  I visit the old palace complex, not many of the original buildings survived - apparently the French demolished many of them - but there are many exhibits, with a lot of finds from a nearby archaeological site which I also wander around, it is certainly a nice escape from the traffic.  The presidential palace complex is not quite so exciting, I peer at Ho Chi Minh's old house while many Chinese tour guides herd their groups around, and speaking of 'Uncle Ho', his mausoleum is here of course, plus a large museum dedicated to him, all very interesting.  The well preserved body of the father of the nation is worth a look to be sure... from the museum, I get the feeling Ho has slotted right in to the role of virtuous leader, which in Thailand is filled by their many kings.  Indeed, visiting the impressive military museum, the history described there begins with independence from China, around a thousand years ago, progresses through numerous legendary kings, and then segues straight into Ho's battle against first the colonial French, and then the 'American aggressors'.  There's also a large display of tanks, planes and so forth from the Vietnam war, all very cool.

Back to Hoan Kiem Lake, this is the famous Turtle Tower.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Cycling Southeast Asia : 6

Wat Mai in Lampang.  Yes it means 'new temple'.
Is there much to do in Lampang, Thailand's third city?  A quick internet search suggests a national park, and a restaurant I'm familiar with - because it is in Chiang Mai!  Both of these things are over eighty kilometres away...  Never mind, I am feeling too broken for much sightseeing in any case, I manage a little wander along the river, where of course there is a big temple, and then to a museum in a substantial 'ancient house' - over a century old - supported by hundred or so thick teak pillars.  I make an attempt to cure my upset stomach by eating a very large pizza, I don't know if it will work but it is good.  Then off to watch Arsenal play Southampton, in a veritable shrine to English football, there are scarves and flags everywhere - just a shame about the result.

So much teak.
Still feeling bad the next day, I do what I probably should have done a couple of days ago and head to a chemist to buy some pills.  I seem to be able to keep pedalling at least, though not without problems - the bike doesn't want to go into first gear, this is not ideal, I'm pretty sure I will need it today.  I manage to fix it after a fair amount of faffing about, and then first gear is indeed needed, up into the hills I go, crossing the railway line near the Doi Kun Tan tunnel entrance, and then climbing the mountain that the tunnel cuts through.  I manage to pedal pretty well, but have to push for the last mile or two to the top, where I leave Lampang province and enter Lampun - I'm not going to Lampun the town though, have been there before after all.  It is at least all down or flat from here, though for a while the road is unpleasantly busy, and also being dug up so there is no shoulder for me to ride on - I'm very glad to pull off onto a minor road, joining a familiar route by the railway line back into Chiang Mai.

Well this is awfully civilised.
Well this was all good fun, a shame about not getting to Laos but never mind, I certainly had a very interesting trip around the northern region of Thailand.  Good to practice my Thai as well I suppose... and indeed, it was very handy to be able to read the signs with things like 'hotel this way'.  I suspect also that by staying in Thailand I had a much better quality of road, though clearly the Thais are not satisfied with their highway network just yet, there was an awful lot of widening going on.  Still, I can see me doing this again, there is a lot more of the country to explore, and maybe there are other borders that I'd actually be able to cross.  Myanmar isn't far away...

Massive statue of revered local monk Khruba Sriwichai.