Today we set off ! We set off to ride the 406km across 5 days from the London Eye to the Eiffel Tower :).
It’s very exciting, a little daunting but is another adventure in a life that I am lucky enough to be living out loud.
We are taking a set of ‘sustran’ routes that wind their way through South London, down through the Sussex countryside to the town of Newhaven. We than take the ferry across the English Channel to Dieppe. Once across in France, we spend the next 3 days working our way through French lanes and tracks arriving in Paris on Wednesday evening.
Doesn’t it sound romantic and idyllic ? Have you seen the weather reports ? Wet weather gear has been packed ‘just in case’.
So the small bag has been dropped at our friends house (BTW we aren’t carrying our own bags !), the chamois butter is to hand, the trusty hybrid has been serviced and prepped and the go-pro charged for some perfect moments……… off we go !
As I said in my previous blog, recently I saw the movie Tracks, about Robyn Davidson and her adventure walking from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. She used 3 adult camels to carry her supplies during this time, all of which she had personally trained from the wild to join her.
People seem to be slightly surprised to find that camels run wild in Australia – in fact there are more wild camels in the outback than anywhere else in the world.
How did that happen ? When Australia was initially being settled it became apparent that camels were the best way of carrying equipment and supplies through the desert – they are tough, resilient and famously do not need vast quantities of water – and many were imported to do this work. Once other forms of transport arrived, eg trains, the camels were no longer needed and released into the wild and thrived. Unlike the infamous ‘rabbits in Australia’ they have remained healthy and haven’t strayed into the more densely populated communities, therefore allowed to roam.
There is a market in capturing, taming and selling camels. During our road trip from Alice to Adelaide we visited a camel farm which has the reputation for caring for these animals carefully and humanely.
I took a little ride on my ship of the desert, found it a little uncomfortable especially when it broke into a run, but another experience in the rich tapestry of life !
A natural camel lady ? Hmmmm not so sure !
Yeah, not so sure ! Perhaps he didn’t like the hat 🙂
Last week I went to the cinema for the first time in ages ! I rarely go to watch a film as firstly, there isn’t a lot that captures my imagination but secondly, I just can’t sit still that long anymore…….. But there was a movie that had grabbed me, mostly because it brought back my memories of my trip through the Red Center in Australia earlier this year on a small bus with 20 strangers and a crazy tour guide. The movie was called Tracks, and a story about a young woman’s adventure : her 2000 mile walk from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robyn_Davidson#Tracks). It was an enthralling story and brought a tear to my eye !
I had found this tour before l left the UK and it sounded like my type of trip – lots to see, great value for money and took me the way I wanted to go : from Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory to Adelaide in South Australia !!(http://www.groovygrape.com.au/our-tours/tours/rock-2-water).
As ‘Groovy Grapers’ we were going to be on the road for 6 days and 5 nights, sleeping in swags (an outer sleeping bag with the required ‘monster flap’), under the stars with all the wild creatures your imagination can conjure up and a new friend, Simon the scorpion
I don’t think I have really appreciated the vastness of Australia until I embarked on this tour. Australia is big, I knew that ! It had taken me 12 days to work my way from Sydney to Cairns, there was a time difference between the east coast and Alice Springs, but ‘vast’ has a different to connotations to me – it means more than just BIG and the impression came through loud and clear. Miles and miles and miles of red sand, huge blue skies and very few people.
Our first overnight stop after leaving Alice Springs was Kings Canyon. After a short valley walk, we made camp and sat down for dinner – and I have to admit that I was starting to think about what I was going to be like sleeping under the stars, surrounded by surrounded by all sorts of poisonous creatures : spiders, snakes etc. I know, I know extreme thoughts but that’s me……… throughout the night I heard every single noise and managed about 2 hours sleep in total !
We greeted the sunrise the next day with a walk around the rim of Kings Canyon. The photos do not do it justice – fabulous sunrise, rising temperatures and some incredible views. It was definitely worth the 5am alarm call.
After we returned to camp and eating our 2nd breakfast, we packed up and set off in the happy bus knowing that our next stop was Ayres Rock campground to spend a couple of days in the presence of the renowned Uluru.
When I decided my route around Australia I had written a list of things that ‘make Australia, Australia’ and Uluru was right at the top. I can remember seeing it on TV when I was a child and was fascinated by this natural wonder. My visit only confirmed its mystique. The Aboriginal history and customs that surround this sacred location is fascinating and its most recent history will ensure it is protected for generations to come.
We stayed 2 nights on this camp ground and the evening of the first night we took the short walk to a look out point and witnessed the best sunset I have ever seen.
After an interesting night’s sleep having met Simon the scorpion, we headed off to experience an Uluru sunrise. How different it looked in the morning, seemed smaller than we saw the night before. I can’t really explain the emotions or the atmosphere I was feeling – I was very much in awe of what was in front of me.
After eating a substantial breakfast back, we spent some time in Kata Tjuta, I guess you would call her the big sister of Uluru. This was a much larger area to visit and walk around. Unfortunately given the temperature we were only able to touch a small part of the hike – but what I saw took my breath away.
During the afternoon we visited the Cultural centre which was fascinating and then we set off to ‘walk the base’ – a 10km path that takes you around Uluru, pointing out the spiritual stories that have formed the interesting rock formations. The photos can only begin to show the beauty but I’ll let them do the talking at this point I think !
Wow, what an experience !
Then it was off to witness another moment of magic as Uluru disappeared again at sunset !
What a couple of days………….. full of cultural mystique, varying emotions around what I was seeing and experiencing. I know it wasn’t quite the same as Robyn Davidson’s solo adventure, but I felt like an explorer 🙂
At this point in the Outback adventure, I’m going to wrap up this blog. It feels like a good place to stop for a while.
The rest of the trip was different but I think I’ll save that for another blog : long days covering 100s of miles on long straight roads, Coober Pedy with its underground living and opal mining, Flinders ranges and our arrival in Adelaide.
If you had told me a year ago that I would have spent 3 weeks in 2013 on the island of Lanzarote I’d have laughed and told you no way ! But I did and given that I’ve just got back from my first trip there in 2014, it got my thinking why ? Firstly why would I have said no way in the first place ? Then why did I spend 3 weeks here last year and why am I doing more this year ?
The first why is easy – honestly because I can be a little bit of a travel snob ! There you go, I’ve said it, phew glad that’s off my chest ! And my evidence that it wasn’t a great place to visit ? The image of Brits on a drunken, partying holiday was on my mind – I’m sorry we’ve all been there, seen it and wish we hadn’t.
So I built a bridge, got over it and May 2013 was my first time visiting any of the Canary Islands.
The second question was why did I spend 3 weeks here last year ? That’s fairly straight forward too – I found that it’s a great place to do the things you love, if what you love is swimming, biking and running. I’m not saying that it is an easy place to do those things, but it is a great place – now that’s a another blog topic all to itself.
One of the places that help this is the Club La Santa resort (www.clublasanta.com), which is a small (or not so small) oasis on the north-west of the island that caters for many many forms of exercise and sport. I had seen resorts like this advertised before but had considered them out of my price range and only for elite athletes, not age group warriors like me and my buddies. Little did I know that this wasn’t the case ! A week there and you feel like you are in a bubble……. A bubble of swimming, biking, running and many other activities and equipment that are available for residents.
Fancy trying SUP’ing ? You can, grab a board and head to the salt water lagoon
How about a little paddle tennis ? You’ve got it, lots of courts available
Scuba diving ? They have a scuba center that will get you sorted
Golf ? Yes indeed !
Etc, etc, etc
I think you get the picture………
But there is more to the island that I have discovered, mostly from the seat of a bike and it certainly does have some charm ! I have always found volcanic islands fascinating and they remain high on my list of places to visit…… fantastic scenery. Rugged coastlines, long sandy beaches, interesting weather conditions, camels, whitewashed buildings, black land and Timafaya National Park.
So now to 2014 – more than 3 weeks ? Well only by a couple of days ! Tri camp is over for another year (more blogs to follow) and we stayed longer to support a friend and fellow tri-camper in his quest to be an Ironman (now that seriously is another blog – in short wow, what a day ! Then a return to the Running challenge (there are times to beat right ?) and then the swim camp (it will always be my personal battle !)
So I’m back, inspired and full of new blog material and ready to write ! Back soon
For the first 3 months of this year I took a trip ! A little jaunt through New Zealand and Australia which was everything I hoped for and more. Before leaving I decided that I was going to try everything, absolutely everything I could. There was no way I was going to head home with regrets and saying ‘I wish I had done this’ or ‘I wish I had tried that’. This is a blog about one of those times when I had to pull up the big girl pants and dive straight in !
On TV this week was a program about the Great Barrier Reef and it brought my trip back to me – the colours, the wildlife and my strong emotions of being there. People say that there are better reefs in to the world to visit, perhaps there are, but I wasn’t going to Australia and not seeing it – one of the natural wonders of the world. I’ll pay a suitable homage to the Reef in a later blog, and apologies for the self-indulgence, but this is about me and my first scuba dive.
My trip to the Outer Barrier Reef was on a catamaran Passions of Paradise (www.passions.com.au) and we set off on a cloudy morning out to the ocean blue. Part of the package for the day was a free 10 mins introductory dive and in my ‘trying everything mode’ I thought to myself why not give it a go ? Now before I go any further, I’ve only tried snorkelling once, a few days earlier around the Whitsunday Islands and while I feel really confident in the water because of all my open water swimming, there’s always some thought in the back of my mind about big sea monsters with big teeth lurking in the depths…….
After a basic briefing session from an instructor, we arrived at out first dive point, Paradise Reef and the certified divers got all suited up and dived straight in, the snorkelers got all snorkelled up and off they went, while my group waited on the deck for our turn to try this for the first time.
Now perhaps it was the waiting around, perhaps it was the weight of the tanks on my back or maybe it was the thought of the big sea monsters, but I started to have a little teeny tiny panic ! ‘I’m not doing it, I can’t do it, I’m doing it, I can do it’ and then followed by more crazy head-talk ‘I’m a wimp, I’ll regret it if I don’t at least try, I don’t have to do it, it’s going to hurt my ears’….. just a sample !
After some supportive words from my fellow first timers and the crew and a few deep breaths, I found myself heading down the steps to the launch deck, with the biggest pairs of fins I’ve ever seen, as an absolute shaking wreck.
Then I stopped being a big girl and jumped in !!
Instantly my breathing settled and the panic stopped…….. I opened my eyes to find myself surrounded by a shoal of beautiful blue and yellow fish in very clear and warm ocean. And I remember the calmness under the water, it was silent and peaceful after the noise and waves above. That calmness was contagious………. After 10 minutes of further basic instruction and a little descending, I decided that’s it, I’m going to stay for the dive – how could I not ?
It felt like time stopped for the next 30 mins or so. The instructors held onto our arms and off we went for a tour of the reef. Very quickly I got used to clearing my mask and equalising as we descended (ie avoiding sore ears as you go deeper under water) while I was surrounded by many wonderful sights. The visibility was about 10 metres so not as clear as it can be on some days, but there had been storms, it was the start of the wet season after all, but the photos give some idea as to the wildlife and colours – honestly nothing can do it justice !
It was all over so quickly and we came back at the boat. Coming back to the surface is a skill in itself, with valves and weight belts etc, but my excellent guide took care of that as well as the necessary underwater photo – trying to smile with breathing apparatus isn’t easy, I discovered ! Then it was time to climb back on the boat……. remembering to take off the huge fins before attempting the steps – doh, blonde moment !
A quick change back on the deck and I was straight back in the water with snorkelling kit – still so much to see even if the ocean felt much rougher when you are bobbing around on the surface
The rest of the day involved some more amazing snorkelling on Michaelmas Cay and the world-famous bird sanctuary and again it blew my mind. I found myself alongside a turtle, above a stingray and in the company of some amazingly colourful fish…. and if it was possible my smile was even detectable underwater !
This day still makes me smile ! I didn’t download the photos until I arrived back in the UK and going through them took me immediately back to the Great Barrier Reef amongst my new buddies. One photo did make me look twice though……. Is that a big sea monster I spy ?
The first major part of my ‘there and back again’ journey started with a road trip with my mum around New Zealand and an early stop was at the delightful village of Hobbiton, The Shire, Middle Earth. And there was you thinking it wasn’t a real place. This wasn’t on the original plan but as it had rained solidly for about 12 hours we decided to visit and see if we could have some tea with Bilbo and Frodo. (http://www.hobbitontours.com/)
I was first introduced to the Hobbit and LOTR (as those in the know call it !) as a child when my Dad brought home the books and toiled away at the tomes. He did really enjoy them and passed them to his curious daughter who also toiled away at the first opening chapter of the Hobbit ! I wasn’t so determined or patient then and quickly the book found itself back on the bookshelf for another day and there it stayed for a good few years.
Then along came the LOTR movies…………. and like so many others I was re-inspired and purchased a new set of the books with the goal of not watching the films until I had read them – an easy task you may think with 12 months in between each film ! Well to this day I have read the Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring – but have the films on DVD !! Enough said.
Anyway, back to the wonderful world of Hobbiton.
When Peter Jackson embarked on his mammoth task of translating the iconic novels to the big screen he discovered the Alexander’s 1250 acre farm just outside of Matamata, North Island of New Zealand and the rest is movie folklore (or Elven lore perhaps ?). Originally everything on the set was temporary : artificial leaves from Taiwan and attached to trees with wire, the double -arched bridge leading to the Green Dragon was made from scaffolding, ply and polystyrene. At end of the filming everything was dismantled. When it came to the filming of the Hobbit trilogy, everything was rebuilt permanently and still remains, including a tree from silicon and steel – and you would never know !!!
The drive was straight forward to the site, even if the road signs were a little scarce and we booked ourselves onto the next available tour, boarded the bus and set off with our guide.
What a wonderful world awaited us ! There are around 40 Hobbit hole front doors built into various hillsides with such attention to detail : curtains at the windows, front gates, vegetables dug from the garden – all perfectly Hobbit sized.
I could go on and on about the beauty and the detail of the outdoor set, but I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Take a wander……..
One of the highlights was obviously the famous green front door of Bag End. Perfect – but I think my invite to this party had got lost in the post, sigh. Perhaps next time ?
We finished our tour with a walk across the bridge and a beverage in the Green Dragon – a local brew called Butter beer, hope you’ve heard of it ! Unfortunately its only available in The Shire. When we arrived we found a some evidence of others that had called in but they were in need of some privacy as Gandalf and Strider couldn’t be found anywhere.
Putting on my trip advisor hat on from a moment, as a tourist destination it would go on my ‘must do’ list, even if you aren’t a LOTR fan. To hear about the passion of Peter Jackson in his pursuit of excellence was fascinating in itself and perhaps it was because of the recent rain, but the grass in the Shire seemed that little bit greener than anywhere else ! The guides were passionate about the information they were giving and could describe the how certain areas were used in the films. Initially the price seemed a little steep but this was definitely justified, especially when you start to experience other attractions in New Zealand.
Did we manage to go in for tea ? Well I knocked on a few doors but as you know these Hobbits are shy and often taken away on unexpected adventures ! I found one door open and couldn’t resist a little peak.
So was I inspired to finally take those books back from the shelves and give them another try ? Yes I was…… see you in a little while !