Berowra Waters Hiking

Our group’s hiking scorecard to date:
1) Bouddi National Park Walk: Supposed to end at McMasters Beach, we turned around at Little Beach (14km walk). Shortened the walk in favor of eating and drinking. (0/1)

2) Mt Kosciuszko: Supposed to do the 18km trail, we maybe did 5km if even. The weather felled us, so we decided to eat and drink instead. (0/2)

3) Kangaroo Valley: The directions on the map we had was flat out wrong. So we did a steep 12km trail instead of the 16km trail we’d ear marked. The wine post-hike at our camp site was stupendous though. (0/3)

4) Berowra Waters: We were supposed to do the 16km walk from Galston Gorge to Berowra Waters, but after laughing at 2 dudes we met on the trail who had somehow managed to walk a loop back to Galston Gorge, we ended up doing the same exact thing. Karma. Then, we decided to just drive to the end of the trail at Berowra Waters and walk part of the trail from the end. And half an hour in, we managed to get off trail and had spend the next hour bush whacking our way back out to freedom. Maybe 10km. But the post-hike food and drinks made up for it. (0/4)

At least the company and food / wine / cocktails were good.

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Catching Vivid 2016

The verdict’s unanimous – Vivid this year rocks. That’s what everyone has been raving about at any rate, even jaded photographers online who say they are otherwise tired of jostling with the crowds.

So I checked it out. Once, on Wednesday, when I walked home from work. Through Circular Quay and up the Sydney Harbor Bridge. And another time last night with friends. We walked to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair first, thinking that we’d be able to cut across the Botanical Gardens to the Opera House, but it turns out they’d only opened a small portion of the Botanical Gardens for the light festival, so we had to walk the long way around. Still, despite the crowds, it was a beautiful evening to be out.

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View from Mrs Macquarie's Chair

View from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

Loved the video projections on the tree, very Avatar-esque

Loved the video projections on the tree, very Avatar-esque

Intel had a drone light display

Intel had a drone light display

The cathedral of light walk

The cathedral of light walk

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Weekend in the Blue Mountains

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Lithgow Glow Worm Tunnel

We went up to the Blue Mountains last weekend. Because we had made plans to meet friends at the Three Sisters lookout at Echo Point early Sunday morning, I decided we could make a weekend of it and go camping. And get both the Lithgow glow worm tunnel and astrophotography checked off at the same time. Heh.

The forecast was rainy earlier in the day Saturday, but I figured since our main agenda during the day was the glow worm tunnel where it’s covered, a bit of rain did not matter. In any case, by the time we made it 30km past the bumpy gravel road to the trail, the rain had stopped.

The glow worms in the tunnel are much smaller – and sparser – than the giant ones we saw in Waitomo caves New Zealand. So much so that on our first pass through the tunnel, we completely missed them. But once we turned off our headlamps and stood a few seconds in the pitch blackness to adjust our eyes, we could see the blueish glow. Faint, but visible. And I’m stoked I finally managed to get a couple pictures of them.

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Night sky at Perryman’s Lookdown

By the time we finished our walk, night had fallen. We drove in the darkness back out to Blackheath, and ducked into the first restaurant we saw for dinner. Ashcroft Bistro – awesome food, and better money spent than on a couple of overpriced beds. Haha. In fact, we made it back to the restaurant the next morning at 8am!

Initially, I’d picked out Ignar Campsite near Wentworth to set up camp for the night, but given that it’d rained the day before and the reviews warned of a boggy road to the grounds, I decided to scout around for another site. There was Blackheath Glen right around the corner, and a short drive away to Govett’s Leap lookout for good astrophotography. But it was a built up campsite and we wanted something a bit more rustic, so we checked out Perryman’s Lookdown. By then the clouds had miraculously cleared and I was able to get off a couple quick snapshots of the milky way before we retreated to our little strip of woods to set up camp.

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I love our new lightweight tent, but geez, I was somewhat chilly the entire night even in my -15 degree bag. The temperatures went down to as low as 1 degree, just above freezing, but I’ve really acclimatized to the temperate New South Wales weather!

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And in the morning, we made it back out Echo Point in time to catch up with our friends, especially H who is visiting from Singapore for the week. The sun came out in full blast too. What a glorious day!

 

Camping in Central Australia – Uluru, Kata Tjuta, and Kings Canyon

When we started looking at travel options for exploring Uluru and it’s surrounds, I knew I wanted to camp. What better way to experience the Australian outback than sleeping in a swag under the skies?

I quickly decided on joining a tour rather than wing it on our own, usually our preferred option. It just seemed easier to have transportation, food, and accommodation sites organized, particularly since we were rather tight on time.

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Moon rise by Uluru

We went with Mulgas Adventures in the end. Although most of the travel outfitters, by and large, have the same itinerary, right down to the trails and campsites, Mulgas had the best rating reviews on TripAdvisor. Haha, I have to admit though, the first evening after we had settled down to try to get some shut eye for the night and shouts of laughter and chatter were still coming from the bedrolls just a few feet from ours, I wondered if we should have paid a bit more to get a tour with people more in our age group. But maybe few people in their 30s travel anymore, or at least elect to camp?

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Sleeping under the bright moonlight

Subsequently though, after we had much more rest in our system, and gotten to know our fellow travelers, we had a blast. Ours was a good group – everyone happily pitched in to help with the cooking, cleaning, and packing up, and for the most part, were punctual with the set times our guide set us. We had long full days – waking up at 430 usually to grab a quick bite of breakfast before driving to a great spot to watch the sunrise, then hiking for a few hours before driving to our next campsite at dusk.

By the end, we were quite sad to be leaving. If only we had more time to properly explore the surroundings, especially Kings Canyon. It’s really quite an isolated region though. We never did get up Alice Springs, so we don’t know how that town looks, but otherwise we never drove by any sort of settlements at all. I suppose the Aborigines live in communities far off the main highway, and the farmers are also spread out all over the land. All we saw were scrubs, the occasional outcroppings of rock that rise up over the flat landscape, and the few dusty gas stations by the side of the road. It’s a harsh place to live in that’s for sure.

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Kata Tjuta sunrise


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Kings Canyon rim walk

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Garden of Eden in Kings Canyon

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After we’d collected firewood (i.e. uprooted small dead trees), we drove to our private bush camp in the outback

 

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Cooking pasta bolognese, outback style

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Soda bread, fresh out of the cast iron pot

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For mere minutes, the curtain of clouds parted enough to show us the stars

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View from my swag in the early hours. Got up to add more wood to the fire

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Pit toilet with a view of Mt. Connor

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Sunrise over Mt. Connor – we didn’t get a chance to visit this though, only admired from afar

Exploring the Red Woods in Rotorua

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I last visited Rotorua many, many years ago, and my enduring memories of it was the stench of sulphur when we first stepped off the plane and the Maori living village amidst the thermal springs.

These memories came flooding back to me as we drove into the edge of the city from Waitomo. But we quickly realized there was more – quite a bit more – to Rotorua.

It’s such a beautiful place, and just teeming with all sorts of adventures to be had. We had signed up for what seemed to be a promising evening of kayaking to a hot springs to soak in, followed by a BBQ dinner, then, as the sun dipped below the horizon, a peddle through the canyons that housed millions of glow worms. Alas, it was shoulder season, and the drizzly weather meant that the tour didn’t have the requisite numbers signed up for a go ahead. Instead, we decided to check out the patch of redwoods just a few minutes’ drive from the city centre.

The redwoods, originally from California, were planted in 1901, and they have since thrived. It was a most enchanting experience to skip on the soft bed of fallen needles between these tall and regal trees. As the clouds gradually cleared, golden shafts of light filtered through from above, lending a magical glow to the atmosphere. We wished we could have spent more time in those woods. As it was, we lingered till last light.

A week in Hokkaido

This was one of our most spontaneous trips yet. Apart from buying our air tickets, we hadn’t really given the trip much thought. Jeff had booked a week of hotel stay in Sapporo a couple months before, so we would not be scrambling to find a place to stay at, but it was literally only as we headed to the airport that we realized he had also made reservations mid-week at a nearby ski resort in Rusutsu.

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It all worked out in the end though. We managed to shorten our hotel reservations in Sapporo, and spent the couple days in the city wandering around, and mostly stuffing our faces. It may have been the mostly grey skies, but the architecture in Sapporo looks drab and indistinct to us. The super fresh seafood however was such a delight. Our favorite meal of the trip (went again right before we headed back to the airport) was in a little restaurant above the central seafood market North West of the city. There, we feasted on salmon roe so large and juicy that a bite into each burst forth cool savory flavours of the ocean. Uni freshly carved from their spiky shells and so unbelievingly sweet and creamy. Hairy crab cooked in sweet miso broth. Scallop sashimi that melted in our mouths. And sake. Glass after glass of that clear, refreshing off-sweet liquid that cleansed the palate.

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Then there were all the other tantalizing restaurants down the main drag of Susukino, the entertainment centre of the city, the equivalent of Orchard Road in Singapore I suppose, minus the dodgy girly bars. We popped into the narrow Ramen Alley for piping hot broth and chewy noodles three times, stopped by the takopaci stand for a late snack after a filling dinner, and picked up some steamy Chinese buns from a street vendor twice.

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Then it was off to the ski resort. Rusutsu Resort, South West of Hokkaido, doesn’t see as much traffic as Nieseko, which has been described as an Australian enclave, for better or worse. The village of Rusutsu however, is primarily made up of the Rusutsu Resort and the newly rebranded Westin tower, plus a four or five small restaurants set together by the side of the road right outside the main resort area. Besides skiing and eating, there is absolutely nothing else to do.

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Happily for us, that’s what we were there to do. We chose to go in March, which is right at the tail end of the ski season, so conditions were variable. It’d snowed the week before we arrived, and was forecast to snow after we left, but nothing at all the three days we were there. Couldn’t complain though. The temperatures were relatively balmy, about 5 – 8 degrees C, which meant for the most part soft creamy conditions. It felt really good to be back on the slopes again, feeling the burn in our thighs as we cut our way down hill. Missed our usual gang of ski buddies though!

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I’m glad we got three solid days of work out, because otherwise we were literally eating our way through Hokkaido. After leaving Rusutsu, we visited the town of Otaru for a day trip. The highlights of that town are the Russian inspired architecture, and the main historic Street crammed full of seafood restaurants, glass shops, and dessert confectioneries. By gosh, one of my absolute highlights of the entire trip was the camembert cream puffs of Kitakiro Patisserie. Heck, it’s the best cream puff I’ve ever had, and I think my mum’s durian cream puffs are the dream. Just thinking of that hit of gooey camembert mixed in with the smooth egg custard cream just makes my mouth water all over again and my knees go weak. Aaaahhhhhh. It’s utter bliss.

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But yes, for every four shops we walked past in Otaru, we stopped in one for a snack.

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Great trip in all, particularly for one in which we kind of made up as we went along. 🙂

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Weekend traipsing around Sydney and its surrounds

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Good thing we ignored the dismal weather forecast for Saturday and set our alarms for an early morning start at 530am anyway. When we awoke, I peered out the window at partly cloudy skies, with the stars twinkling merrily through. Beat it up to North Curl Curl Beach, where there were about a dozen photographers dispersed about already. It wasn’t yet high tide, not for a few more hours, but the remnants of the cyclone that had recently ravaged Fiji was still showing its might, sending huge swells crashing over the edge of the rock pool that Jeff gamely dipped into. I was busy taking photos, but Chris and T would have none of the swimming. Too cold, they said, and instead contented with watching the sun cast rays down onto the surf.

Afterwards, we tucked into a hearty breakfast at a cafe down the street and explored bits and pieces of the North Sydney Harbor National Park and the Spit to Manly trail. It was fun showing Chris, visiting from Chicago, the gorgeousness that is Sydney, as well as to drink in sights that we have not seen ourselves.

Ended the excursion with some chilled spicy ginger beer, a dip in the pool, and some hearty burgers. Ah summer. Can’t believe today is officially the start of autumn already here in the southern hemisphere.

Early Sunday morning, we whipped up some omlettes on the barbie – the saga with the stove unfortunately is still ongoing – then enjoyed it out on the patio. Love relaxing mornings such as this. Then we packed up some sandwiches, cheeses, and fruit, and headed out to Blue Mountains for a spot of hiking.

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Squeezed in two hikes in Blackheath, one going down to Bridal Veil Falls, where the cooling mist rejuvenated us for the hot climb back up to the top of the ridge. Following a yummy picnic, we then checked out the walk at Shipley Plateau, and the few climbers who were braving the scorching hot rocks. Looking at then, Jeff’s itching to get back to climbing again; reckon we will have to suck it up and hit the muggy gyms soon to get in some practice.

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Great weekend all in all. 🙂

Weekend up in Mount Victoria, Blue Mountains

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My cousin rented a beautiful glass-filled 3-storey cabin in Mount Victoria for a weekend getaway and an excuse to celebrated a delayed Thanksgiving. The 6 of us who went had a most lovely time filled with much laughter, brilliant conversation, and delicious home-made food.

On Friday evening while we drove up, my cousin’s friend L whipped up some home-made pappardelle, mozarella with fresh basil and tomatoes for dinner when we arrived. In the morning, we had poached eggs with smashed avocados on toast. And for a late lunch after our hike to Hanging Rock, salad and salmon. At dusk, as we watched the sun cast its final rays over the valley below, C spatchcocked turkey she’d specially ordered for our Thanksgiving meal.

The kitchen where the magic happens

 

Hiking to Hanging Rock

 

Sunset from our verandah

 

Pre-dinner apertif – 1989 Ayler Kupp Riesling

 

We are grateful indeed, for the delicious meals, for the perfect weekend weather, for the gorgeous cabin and scenery, and for the comradeship.

Milsons Point to Manly Walk

When we met up at Milsons Point station, we could see thick, fast streaming clouds overhead. No matter. It wasn’t raining, the temperatures were mild, and we were going to walk!

Not 20 minutes our walk to Mosman however, the heavens opened up. Happily, we were on Military Road, where there were shopping centers aplenty that we could duck into to ride out the weather. We didn’t have long to wait. As soon as the rain slowed to a drizzle, we were marching off again, towards Balmoral Beach.

By the time we arrived at Balmoral though, we had clear blue skies overhead and I had to stuff my jacket into my backpack.
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And the skies remained clear the rest of our way, as we crossed Spit Bridge and hugged the coastal trail to Manly! In fact, we both weren’t expecting the sun, and so hadn’t slathered (much, in TPR’s case) sunscreen, and ended up a little burnt.

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My friends who have previously done the Spit walk were right – this definitely ranks as my favorite trail in Sydney, ahead of Bondi. For one, the scenery is a lot more varied. We cut our way through bushes, across rocky terrain, and climbed up and down steep hillside sections to sudden vistas of the Gap. We could see the neighborhoods of Manly to the north and Vaulculse to the south, and all the squiggly dramatic coastlines of Sydney. But we mostly had the trails to ourselves, and felt in nature, far away from the bustling streets.

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We felt we had earned a well deserved lunch after our long walk, later mapped out to around 21.5km. 🙂 And so treated ourselves to a lip-smacking meal of corn and sweet potato fritters and salmon, washed down with refreshing glasses of mojito and cider.

Best way to spend what turned out to be a beautiful spring day with one of my oldest, bestest friends. Thank you, TPR.

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Our 21km + route. 😀