Hiking Victorias highest peaks

Early January 2018 , Rowan and I planned to go along with some friends on a multi-day hike from Mt Feathertop to Mt Bogong. Foolishly, I didn’t do any research or preparation prior to committing to doing the hike. I had done a few days bushwalking here and there, including what I perceived to be some really tough ones, and I thought that was it? How much harder can it be to do the same thing for a few days in a row?

Oh how wrong I was. Unbeknownst to me, the Harrietville > Bogong five-day hike is one of Victorias toughest.

The night before the hike, we drove the four-hour stretch from Melbourne to Harrietville, set up our tent at the trail head and bunkered down. It was pouring with rain. Brilliant!

In the morning, after packing up our tent and gear in the rain, we quickly ducked in to the local cafe for one last luxury – a nice hot latte before we headed out. By this point, I was already totally soaked through. My rain jacket was obviously not as waterproof as I thought it was.

Luckily Rowan has a spare raincoat in his car – a high vis jacket he keeps for the coldest, and wettest mornings at work. I was warm and dry again.

We set off. Within an hour of starting, the trail had significantly increased in altitude. we were ascending at a much quicker rate that what I had anticipated. I had new hiking poles, and my friends Megan and Wayne were giving me  a crash course in how to use them effectively, as we continued up and up.

The rain did not let up for the first few hours. Thankfully, the day before, we had seen the forecast and had made a quick stop at Kathmandu to buy some pack covers; so we took comfort knowing our home for the next four nights wouldn’t be sopping wet when we arrived.

As we continued our ascent, I could feel a burning sensation in my heels. I was already struggling with the weight of my pack, the rain, the steep trail, and trying to use these new hiking poles, so I didn’t voice my concerns and told myself I was imagining the pain.

Finally, the sun came out and the rain eased. We all dried off and stopped for a snack in the warm sunshine, before continuing upwards.

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By mid afternoon we reached Federation Hut, near the summit of Mt Feathertop. I cannot tell you how happy I was to see it! Now all we needed to do was set up our tents and relax for the afternoon.

We set up our hike stove to boil some water and make some hot tea, and then sat for a while.

Eventually, I took off my boots to assess the damage. Blisters the size of the palms of my hands were on the heel of each foot. No wonder there was that burning sensation!

After airing out my damp, damaged feet, we whipped out the first aid kit…  We use the antiseptic cream, bandaids, metho and tape, and my feet are looked after as best as they can be while we are out on the trail.

I was well and truly done for the day. We set up our tents, and then headed inside the hut to start a fire and try to dry out some of our gear.

I don’t think I have ever slept as well as I slept that night. Pure fatigue, combined with a tummy full of warm food and a nice cosy tent.

The next morning, we awoke before sunrise and put on every layer of clothing we had (despite being the middle of January, the mornings are still very cool in the Alpine areas). We grabbed our head torches and finished the final steps to reach the summit of Mount Feathertop! Amature hiker Sarah Rourke, totally unprepared and unskilled, had now hiked to the summit of Victorias second highest peak!

Sunrise at Mt Feathertop

I had only learned that Mt Feathertop was our second highest peak about half way up it the day before, so I was pretty proud of my achievement!

We watched the sun slowly creep up over the rest of the Alpine vista ahead of us. We were all so excited to be there together, witnessing such a spectacular sunrise. We wrote our names down in the little book we found with the names of all those who had conquered this peak before us, and headed back to the hut.

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The other thing I had found out the day before, was that Feathertop is second to Mt Bogong (the one we had planned to hike to over the next few days), Victorias highest peak, and that days two, three and four are anticipated to be much tougher than day one. Considering my inexperience, and the baseball sized blisters on my heels, Rowan and I decided to part ways with Megan and Wayne. We went back down the way we came, while they continued on with out us.

 

Giving up on day two was pretty disheartening; we said goodbye to our friends, wishing them well for the rest of their walk. We packed up our tent, had some breakfast and set off down the mountain.

The twelve kilometre descent was still a pretty tough gig, but we got down to the car a lot faster than it took us to get to the top. The weather had improved, and we had a beautiful clear day to walk in and enjoy sweeping views from our vantage point above the valleys below.

View from Mount Feathertop - Victorias highest peaks hike

 

Victorias highest peaks hike Mt Feathertop

Once we’d reached the bottom, the disappointment set in that I had given up. I dreaded answering anyone who asked “How was your hike?” (as if my hobbling around for weeks on end while my blisters healed didn’t give it away) but, despite my first experience at multi day hiking, I am now hooked.

Just like anyone else, who has gone into something totally unprepared, I learned a lot. Basic stuff like what to wear in wet weather, to be prepared for anything, and how to pack my backpack are all things that would have been really handy to know before hand, but I don’t think other people’s advice is ever as good as first hand knowledge, so whatever – at least I know that stuff now!!

The endorphin rush I got when I was standing on top of a mountain I had just climbed is worth every ounce of pain I felt on that hike, and then some. I have memories that will last a lifetime, and now I know I can do it! If I achieved that, with zero preparation, no training, lack of correct equipment, and carrying about five kilograms more than I needed, imagine what I can do with a bit of training!

Victorias highest peaks hike

 

I cant wait to tell you all about my upcoming hiking plans – there are a few good ones coming up!

Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think in the comments below. Am I crazy? Do you want to go hiking now? Did the description of my blisters gross you out?

 

Until next time,

Sarah

xxx

10 easy steps for planning your first overseas holiday

  1. Choose a destination.

Choosing the destination doesn’t need to be a hard task. Use a recommendation from a friend, go somewhere you have always wanted, or stick a pin in a map with a blindfold on! Whatever your method, if you research the destination enough before your travel, you will have a great holiday! Every destination has a lot more to offer than the top ten tourist traps and cookie cutter experiences, no matter whether it’s a far-flung destination in East Africa, or something tried and tested by almost every Australian, like Bali.

Once you have decided where you want to go, start planning! Start a new pinterest board, spreadsheet or notepad in your phone – whatever your method is to keep all of the information in one place. Some key information you should know before you book anything in:

  • The best time of year to go (or at the very least, what the weather will be like when you plan to go).
  • A rough idea of what it costs for flights, transport and a hotel.
  • How far away it is (or how long it will take you to get there).
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Ku De Ta, Bali

2. Book the holiday.

Now is the time to pop in to your local travel agency. Contrary to popular belief, it is not more expensive to get an agent to book your holiday for you. I mean, you could definitely spend hours upon hours researching every flight, hotel, transfer, day tour and general travel advice, but if you can find a good travel agent, they will save you hours upon hours of time and stress.

A good travel agent will spend some time getting to know you, and then make some recommendations for your destination based on what you have said you are looking for. They should be able to put together a glamorous, instagram worthy 5 star sojourn, or help you backpack your way across an entire continent on your desired budget.

My top tip for using a travel agent is to book someone you feel you have a good connection with and that has shown that they have listened to what you want.

I am biased of course, because my day-job is a travel agent. I have been one for ten years! But this just gives me inside information. The way it works (with the company I work for, anyway) is that the airlines, hotels, tour operators etc pay the travel agent after the booking has been made, so there is no booking fee or extra costs. You pay the same amount whether you book it yourself, or via the travel agent.

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3. Passport and visas.

Do you already  have a passport? Great! Check the expiry date. You need a minimum of 6 months validity from the date you return from your holiday to travel to most destinations. (For example, if you get home from your trip on 23rd June, 2019, your passport must not expire before 23rd December 2019). If you fail to pick this up, you are very likely to get denied boarding at the airport before your holiday. It will ruin your trip, and cost you a lot of money.

If you haven’t got a passport yet, or you need to renew it, get it done, now. I have written some tips on how to renew your passport in a hurry which you can find here if you need.

You must make sure the name on your flight ticket is spelled the exact same way as it appears on your passport. (eg. If your name is Timothy on your passport, but your ticket reads Tim you will have a problem). Most airlines don’t need middle names, however in most cases, you are better off to put them in all bookings.

Once you have a current passport, you should check if you need a visa. A visa grants you permission to enter the country, not a credit card. Some visas can be applied for online for a small fee, and others require you to go to the consulate, or have your travel agent send your passport off to them, and can take months to be issued.

At time of writing this, some of the countries that require Australian passport holders to have a visa before entering are: USA, Canada, Brazil, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Russia, Egypt and Israel, to name a few.  Please note this is NOT a comprehensive list, and you should check with your travel agent, or with the consulate of the country you are going regarding your circumstances.

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4. Health and safety.

If you haven’t already, now is the time to buy your travel insurance. So many people leave this until the last-minute, and buy it the day before they travel. Take some advice from me; A few years ago, I had a 4 week South America trip booked. We had spent over $10,000 prebooking flights, tours and hotels. A few weeks before we were due to leave, we received some bad news that my mum was seriously ill. We cancelled the trip, without hesitation, and thankfully our travel insurance reimbursed us for all of the money we had lost (so we can rebook the trip at a later date!).

Your travel insurance will also cover things like if you are in an accident while you are away, or get sick. (It also covers things like when monkeys bite you while you are in Thailand!).

Before you travel you should check with your GP that your immunisation are up to date. Things like Tetanus, and Hep B are so uncommon in Australia, because people get immunised regularly. It’s easy to forget when you had your last booster! Overseas however, there are a lot more risks. You can also check with Travelvax to see if you need any immunisation. Some common ones for South East Asia are Typhoid and Hep A, where in parts of Africa and South America you will need Malaria tablets and Yellow fever vaccinations, the list goes on.

You can check out health and safety alerts on the Australian Government website  Smartraveller. You can also register your own travel plans, so if something goes wrong, someone knows where you are.

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Karon Beach, Phuket

5. Suitcase or backpack?

As it gets closer to your trip, you will need to decide what gear you are taking with you. The first place to start is whether to take a backpack, or a traditional suitcase. The correct gear very much depends on the type of trip you do. I favour my tried and tested Kathmandu Entrada 65 litre lightweight backpack for most trips but if I’m travelling for work, or for a short domestic trip, I sometimes use a standard suitcase.

Once you have picked your choice of pack, you can fill your case! What goes in it will depend very much on where you are travelling, so I wont go into that here, but you will be able to get suitable packing lists from friends or family. (Or, if you need a hand, hit me up in the comments and I’ll give you a hand).

Your nearest travel shop or outdoors/adventure store will also be able to point you in the right direction. My best piece advice though; Less is more. Once you have packed your case, take out 5 things.

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6. Money

If you intend on using your bankcard/credit card overseas, you will need to let your bank know where you are going. Even if you don’t plan to use them, I suggest notifying them anyway, so they are available to you in case of an emergency.

You also need to decide how you want to access your money. I usually carry some cash, but put most of my money on a travel card (I use the one provided by Flight Centre as the fees are really low, but you can get them from your bank or the post office too).

When I was travelling in Colombia on my own, I carried cash only, as ATMs are hard to find. On a night out drinking, I was a super-dork and carried my cash in a money belt, under my dress, and only a small amount in my handbag. (Most of the time I only carry a max of $200AUD of cash, so if I get robbed, it’s not a huge loss). In Bali, and in India I carried AUD, and exchanged it as I travelled around. In Europe, I took a few hundred Euros with me before I left home, but used my international travel card for most stuff. I’ve done the same in USA. Every country you go to is going to require a different approach.

7. Camera

I personally carry my camera almost everywhere I go, but phone cameras are such good quality now, I find I end up using my iPhone almost as often as my bulky SLR, so I am currently considering  upgrading to a smaller, lightweight camera. The list of tech items you might like to bring can go on and on, but this is not a packing list… (Perhaps that could be my next post?!

Orvietto

8. Phone / data

If you are travelling for a significant amount of time, buying a sim card locally that allows you to text and call, and gives a good amount of data is a good idea. If you are going for a few weeks, and not planning on hiking, camping or travelling anywhere too remote, you can probably get by using the free wi-fi provided at most hotels, cafes, bars, train stations, airports, well… most places! When I’m travelling, I usually switch my phones data off, and then put the phone on to flight mode. I then turn wifi back on and search for the free stuff. This is undoubtedly the cheapest method, however if you want to post your insta-worthy travel pic as soon as you take it, without waiting til you get back to your hotel, or need to be able to be contacted 24/7, you should seek an alternative. Check with your own service provider first, as they are pretty competitive for short-term travel. If you are going somewhere far-flung or for an extended period, a pre-paid sim from the country you are in will be the cheapest option.

9. Travel apps

There are so many great apps available now to help every traveller have a better experience. I’ll do another post on my favorite apps later, but until then, my top three  apps that you should have in your phone before you set off are maps.me, been, and Google translate

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10. Go on holidays!

Whether you followed this guide to a tee, packed and repacked, and carefully planned your trip months in advance, or you have just stumbled on this guide and you leave in a few days, don’t panic too much if you are not super prepared. If you forget something, you can probably buy in on your way. Don’t have a camera (or forgot it) well you’ll probably live more in the moment that way. If you get lost, you might just have the best adventure!

Overcoming obstacles while travelling teaches you so much about yourself, and gives you amazing skills that you never would have realised you had otherwise. Live in the moment, and enjoy your hard earned break.

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Until next time!

Sarah

xx

An unplanned perfect evening in Edinburgh

Last year, my friend Liz and I had a little adventure to the beautiful Scottish city of Edinburgh. I had flown over to the UK to visit her, and we tried to fit in as many kilometers into a few short weeks as we possibly could . Our ridiculously packed (but very fun) itinerary gave us one night only in Edinburgh…

 

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After a night out in Liverpool, a late breakfast (and very delicious) at Moose Coffee followed by a walk along the waterfront counting the lamb bananas (yes it’s a thing).  we embarked on a five-hour drive north. It was about 4pm when we arrived in Edinburgh.

After checking in to our hotel and getting changed, we went for a walk around to find somewhere that would serve us some takeaway food for a picnic, and find a bottle-shop to get a bottle of wine. We had a plan. A plan we had come up with an hour ago, when realising we might have enough time… but it was a plan nonetheless.

It didn’t take us long to find a cute cafe that obliged, and made us some foccacias, and pointed us in the direction of the nearest off licence (bottleshop). We found a little minimart with an off licence, and added some fresh berries to our list.

After collecting our bits and pieces, we booked an uber, and headed to our desired location: Holyrood Park.  We figured we had just enough time to walk up Arthur’s Seat, enjoy our picnic, and walk back down before it was completely dark and one of us feel and broke our necks…

In late August, sunset is expected about 8.14pm in Edinburgh. (I regularly use this website to work out things like this when planning adventures).

There are several routes you can take when summiting the 251 metre extinct volcano that towers above the city of Edinburgh. We used this map which we found on google to hazard a guess at which route to take. the plan was to take the steepest, most challenging red route (after the orange route) to get to the peak before sunset, but then take the safer green route back down, as we would be doing it in the dark.

Without having been there before, that map looks like it makes no sense… We we didn’t have much time to plan though so we trusted it, and ended up getting us there just fine. The red route was a little challenging… I mean, we worked up a sweat as we were trying to move quickly to get there before sunset, but anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can do it – it is only 251 meters high, so the hard part of the 4.75km walk is over as quickly as it begins. There was one or two wrong turns, but we realised our error before walking more than 100 metres in the wrong direction.

We had timed it perfectly. Sunset should have been about 15/20 minutes away from when we arrived.

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After arriving at the peak, all we needed to do was find the perfect spot for a picnic and set up. We found a little nook that would protect us from the wind, which is really the only reason to get cold on this beautiful summer night and called it as ours. (there were a few other groups also looking around for their perfect spot to watch the sunset and get some sweet shots for instagram.

Liz grabbed the picnic rug out of her bag, while I dug out the sandwiches, wine and berries. That was about the time we realised our mistake. No cups! But how are we to enjoy the beautiful bottle we have just lugged up this hill?

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We had already tucked into the berries while we were setting up, and without us planning it, turns out they came in the perfect bowl-shaped wine-cup. Great. That’s one… I guess the other one of use can drink straight from the bottle? Quick thinking Liz finishes her water, and uses it instead. Bowl of wine anyone?

Sandwiches for dinner have never tasted so good! We watch the sunset, and joke about how romantic our evening is, before feeding each other berries and drinking more wine…

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While we were packing, I had discovered my head-torch, that I use for hiking and camping back home in Aus. I didn’t plan on using/needing it here, and didn’t mean to bring it. It’s like I planned this…

On our way back down Arthur’s Seat, we met an absolute legend. He was on his way home to Korea, after spending some time in the UK to study. He had one spare afternoon, and really wanted to see Arthurs Seat so he hiked the entire thing with his gigantic suitcase….

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After our 5+ hour-long drive, an unplanned hike, a very-much-planned bottle of red, and the excitement of making a friend who hikes-with-a-full-suitcase-just-to-live-in-the-moment , we managed to get all the way down, without falling! 

After such a great introduction to the amazing city of Edinburgh, what else could top off such a perfect evening?

A cocktail bar…

I wont embarrass myself (Liz) with the details of the rest of our evening. All I can say is, go to Edinburgh. Hike Arthur’s Seat, and definitely hit up 99 Hanover Street afterwards.

Til next time,

 

Sar (rourkeus)

xx

 

Camping packing list

Recently, a friend was telling me about their first camping trip.

They had been invited on a group camping holiday, and the whole family were excited! It being their first time, no expense was spared as they eagerly prepared for their holiday.

After weeks of planning, packing the car, and a long drive out to the campsite, they began setting up. Eventually the kids asked:

“What are we sleeping on?”

Well.

Turns out the air mattresses/ camp-mats had either been forgotten and left at home, or forgotten and never borrowed/purchased in the first place.

This made me remember the first time I went camping with a group of friends (who were also virgin campers at the time).

I’d known my whole life that I’d wanted to go camping and also knew, that given the opportunity that I would enjoy it. But, there I was,  20-or-so years old had still never managed to actually go.  I spent days, weeks, maybe longer, preparing for the trip. I was so excited for our Easter weekend camping trip I had bought everything I thought we would need – a tent, a butane stove, camping cutlery sets, you name it, I bought the budget (cheapest I could find) version of it.

Finally, the weekend came. Buzzing with excitement and anticipation, we packed up, headed off… And drove on to what ended up being the worst camping experience of my life.

One of our friends brought his girlfriend along. She didn’t even make it the first night! Her parents (lucky for her) made a three-hour-drive across town on Easter weekend to rescue her from our nightmare trip.

My boyfriend (at the time of the dreaded trip) had accidentally already (or drunkenly) eaten the food (all of it) that I’d bought specifically for camping, but didn’t tell me until I was starting to pack the esky, and all the shops were already shut for Easter. The lilo I had borrowed from a friend leaked, and went flat after we set it up. I’d forgotten to pack a torch. All five other campers also forgot to pack a torch.

It was a comedy of errors, really. And in hindsight, now that I’m an experienced camper, I know that given our inexperience, all these outcomes were inevitable.

Fast forward to now. After listening to my friend recount their failed camping trip, and reminiscing about my own failed trip, I thought about all the other people I know that have had a similar experience, and have never even wanted to consider going back for round two.

I hate that thought!! Camping is so much fun! For all age groups, and in a lot of cases, you can even bring the dog! Getting outside and appreciating this beautiful country we have is one of my favorite past-times, as I’m sure it is many of yours.

Sarah camping circa 2008

This photo is not from the fateful camping trip I described… We didnt get any photos of that trip (we all wanted to forget it ever happened!) its froma much more memorable trip to Hazelwood in approx 2008… Where we were all still young and less-prepared, but nowhere near as bad as that first attempt.

So, in an attempt to help out anyone who hasn’t been before, or maybe it’s been a while, or maybe someone like me who is a little forgetful (I forgot my head-torch last weekend which led to me falling down a 1.5-metre-deep hole in the dark), I decided to create a basic, printable, Camping Checklist.

You can get a copy of it here

Please feel free to pass it on to anyone who may need it, or even use it yourself. There is also a handy “add your own items” section where you can include anything I haven’t thought of, or you think you might specifically need, and then check off as you are packing. I reckon it’s also a great way to get the kids involved and teach them a little bit about the preparation that goes into camping too.

As always, I’d love some feedback! Is there anything on this list you think is totally unnecessary? Or have I forgotten anything major? Let me know in the comments below.

Cheers,

Sarah

PS – I’m going to put together a few more of these packing lists. Next is a lightweight 5 day hike checklist, as I’m planning a walk from Noosa to Rainbow Beach soon. Are there any other lists you want to see? or examples/photos of our regular setup?

Walking the Cinque Terre

We arrive at La Spezia railway station at about 10:45am. Nice and early to buy the tickets, and get onto the 11:05am train to the Cinque Terre – Five beautiful (and fairly isolated) villages dotted along the coast of the Mediterranean.

I am so excited to see them in March – it s such a great time of year to be in Italy! Although its cold (it’s been getting down to around 3/4 degrees at night, and 11/12 during the day) the days are still long (compared to the end of winter in Melbourne) there has been no rain, and the sky is still beautiful and blue most days, even if its overcast. The best part though, is the lack of crowds. Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world, and welcomes over 48 million tourists every year, most of them between the summer months of June – August.

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Pete, our tour leader comes back over. “Our train has been cancelled. They are striking all day today, so there are no trains going from La Spezia into the Cinque Terre”

Oh.

“We are trying to sort something out… Sit tight, and we’ll let you know how we go”.

I’m on a Topdeck tour. I usually travel independently, and sort out my own alternatives when things don’t go to plan. Right now, all I can do is wait for Pete to come up with a solution for us.

In summer, alternatives would have included the ferry, but it doesn’t run in the off-season. We discuss hiring a car (a few cars) but parking is limited, and road access is only to one town, not all of them.

Pete hurries back over with a grin on his face. He’s managed to get us onto a regional train that should be passing through Manarola, one of the villages, on its way somewhere else along the coast. This is our only opportunity to get into the Cinque Terre. Once we get there, we will have to make sure we are on one of the trains leaving this afternoon (the trains are scheduled to go off-strike between 4 and 6pm, so the workers can get home, both in and out of the villages).

We hurry to the platform and jump onto the train.

Ten minutes pass. We don’t move. Twenty. We look around, and see that there isn’t really anyone on the train, besides us.

A few more minutes pass. Some other people get onto the train. Well, that’s a good sign! At last, we start moving. Everyone on the carriage claps.

The train takes off! We are on our way to the Cinque Terre!

About fifteen minutes later, we arrive in beautiful Manarola.

Manarola is one of the smaller towns, known for its seafood restaurants. I’m okay with that! Our plan quickly changes. What was going to be a day spent at leisure exploring the villages, and then meeting back at the end of the day, changes to a day exploring Manarola, together. Pete makes a reservation for the 20 of us to go to one of the seafood restaurants which gives us some time to walk down to the harbour, then up to the walking path which would lead to the next village along, Corniglia, if it was open.

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Although the path is closed once you get out-of-town, the views you get from where we get to are well worth the visit. If I had to travel all this way just to see that view with my own eyes, and turn around and go straight back home, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

We head back into town, and find the little seafood restaurant on the harbour that Pete has booked for us. So far on this trip, I’ve made friends with two girls from Adelaide, Cheryl and Bek. We had already spent a few days together in Florence, and had already planned on spending this day together as we originally wanted to do the walk between some of the towns during our time here.

The toughest part about travelling in Italy is definitely deciding what to order when you are out for a meal. Luckily, we had discovered that we are all a fan of sharing our food, so we order a few different things but get to taste it all (on second thoughts, maybe that’s why we became friends?). We settle on a seafood platter, a salad, and some salt & pepper calamari, and a bottle of rose. One bottle quickly turned into two before lunch was over. Most of the others headed off to explore the town. (The plan was that we had a bit of spare time here in Manarola, before all meeting back at the train station for the 6.20pm train).

It was only early afternoon. A few others were staying here, so we did too. One more bottle please! What a nice way to pass our afternoon on the Cinuqe Terre!

Some of the others had wandered off to find the “Via Dell Amore” (tunnel of love). To get there, they had to walk back to the rail station, and walk the other way to what we had, out of town towards the next village of Riomaggiore. We had til 6.20pm! Our plan is still formulating over this bottle of rose. I’m sure we’ll be ready for a “tunnel of love” after all of this booze though! All five of us can go, how romantic!

I wandered off to find a bathroom. Across the road and at the back of the other half of the restaurant. A few minutes later, I get back, and Bek and Cheryl are hurriedly putting their things in their bags, and coast and scarves on. “There is a train! We can go to Monterosso! But it leaves at 3:25pm… Which is in six minutes!” I join them in an earnest attempt to meet the train. We throw on our coats and scarves, leave some Euros on the table, and start off for the station; about a ten minute walk uphill.

We left the restaurant with me shouting something along the lines of “We’ll be back for that wine in fifteen minutes if we miss the train! Don’t let them take it”

Seconds out of the restaurant comes the sobering thought… Obviously this the time to run… NOW!

Those three bottles of wine might not have been such a good idea after all?!!!

We make the station just one minute before the train is scheduled to arrive! Our friends cheer as they see us running up the steps to the platform. “Do we need a ticket, or does the group ticket work?” we ask call to Pete. “No… it doesn’t. You need a new one!”

We turn around, and rush back downstairs to the ticket machine, and frantically try to work out how to buy a ticket to Monterosso. The machine is in Italian, so this isn’t the easiest task! Three (slightly inebriated) Australians who have only been in Italy for a few days, and not expecting to even be in this situation is not ideal. Thankfully, another passenger helps us, and we can even purchase all three tickets at once! Melbourne Myki system take note. We run back up to the platform just as the train rolls in, and we jump onto the nearest carriage.

What an accomplishment! We’re on the train! We barely recover from the excitement of the past ten minutes before the train stops and we arrive at Monterosso.

Monterosso is just beautiful! It’s much larger than Manarola. It is the only village accessible by car, and also the only one to have a reasonable stretch of beach – both drawing crowds exceeding most of the other villages purely because of its accessibility. The buildings are newer, nad less unique than those of the other villages. Monterosso is not without its charm; but being a group of five villages, I can’t help but compare them to each other and try to conclude; which one is the best?

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We stop to take a few photos, the observation deck makes a great paragraph and formulate our plan (The fourth one we have devised today!). Our group has dinner reservations in La Spezia at 7pm, so we need to be on the 6.25pm train back to La Spezia. That gives us about two and a half hours to walk to Vernazza, the next village (we just found out the path is open today!!!).

Cheryl ducks into the nearest caffetteria and buys three bottles of water, and three espressos. She is brilliant! We down the coffee knowing the caffeine will help metabolise all of that alcohol we just drank, and we set off! We leave the rest of the group again – nobody else wants to walk the beautiful cliff edges between Manarola and Vernazza. Maybe they just don’t want to miss the potential only-train-out-of-town tonight! Our walk starts well. We head out of Manarola on the only path we see. It leads up past a beach club around the cliff. We start climbing stairs single file, only to discover we are on a path to a restaurant! Back the way we came, past some men playing bocce we find the right path, (we think) and set off again. Bek, Cheryl and Sarah walk to Vernazza – Take two!

The path that we are now on takes up quickly out of town. Most of the path is single file, but being such a popular walk (and what used to be the only way between these villages) the pathway is well-worn. We continue climbing what feels like a lifetime of stairs. They are steep, narrow, and uneven. Why did we order that third bottle? Turning to look back at the village we just left,  we are high above the village. Between us now, on the other side of the gully we just ascended out of are expanses of grapevines, olive groves and paddocks full of rows of lemon trees, dotted with the odd house and of course stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea below.

We continue climbing up, and up, and up again. Whenever feeling-the-burn is just a little too much, we stop, and admire the views. No matter where you look, it is breathtaking.

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The walk continues flat for a while, before we descend into another valley. We are walking away from the coastline now, and for about fifteen minutes, don’t really have any views of the water. We come to a little waterfall, and cross a small bridge, before the path winds back out to the coastline. Our second ascent begins, and it’s not long before we come to a fenced-off cliff that is screaming for us to climb over and take in the views. We drop our bags, scale the fence (made of one piece of wire between two stakes) and take in our first glimpse of Vernazza in the distance.

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While we stop, we do a time check. We guess we are about halfway. We can see there is another uphill and downhill to go, and no real idea of how long it will take to get there. We have an hour and fifteen minutes left before the train leaves, so we pick up our bags and continue on our way.

We climb again. The uphill isn’t difficult, but it gets the heart pumping, I’m regretting my choice of clothing for today. I though the paths were closed, so I wore jeans and a heavy woolen jumper, with a coat and scarf. All three of us are carrying whatever outer layers don’t fit in our bags; appropriate clothing would definitely help with the comfort levels we are all in right now (oh, and perhaps not three bottles of wine pre-hike).

As the sky darkens and beautiful Vernazza prepares itself for the evening, we finally reach the village! It is absolutely stunning! Our final descent into the town is quite a steep one, past little houses whose gates open directly onto the path we are on, their yards filled with citrus trees. We get closer to the amphitheater shaped village, which hugs the port.

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We reach a pathway that looks like it leads straight to the rail station, which we can see by looking back the way we came – its higher above the village centre. Perfect! Cheryl speaks some Italian, and asks the first person she sees where we can buy a drink. This sleepy town is probably filled with caffetterias, ristorantes and wine bars in busier times of the year, but today all the boats are in dry-dock, and one family are watching their kids kick a football around in the piazza.

With enough time to go to the bathroom and buy a cold drink from the bar we got directions to, and to have a few minutes wandering the narrow pathways around the village, we had to head straight to the station. What timing!!

We book our rail ticket like pro’s – we are experts now! A few minutes later the train arrives. We meet up with everyone else and head back to La Spezia. What a perfect day on the Cinque Terre!!

 

On the train back to La Spezia we reflect on our day – it really couldn’t have been any better! The stars well and truly aligned for us today! We share stories with the others from the group (secretly knowing we had the best day of all).

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What to expect on the Mt Batur Sunrise Trek, Bali

While Rowan and I were on holiday in Bali, we decided to get out and do something we love doing back home – hiking!

There is a day tour operated by Buffalo Tours that I sell at work, so we decided to give it a go and see what we thought.

Here is my review of the day tour, of buffalo tours, and of visiting Mt Batur in general.

The day tour starts with a VERY early start. We were picked up from our hotel at 3am.  We get offered a bottle of water each, and before they suggest we go back to sleep – it’s about a 2 hour drive to Mt Batur. We take their advice and catch up on some sleep (after spending most of the day before at Potato Head beach club, its a welcome rest).

We wake up just as they park the car at a small village at the base of My Batur. It’s about 4:40am. This is where we meet up with G’Day, our guide, who will take us up Mt Batur. He gives us each a torch, and we set off.

The trail is single file, but there are hundreds of other tourists all trying to make their way up to the summit of Mt Batur before sunrise, which is expected sometime between 5:50am and 6:15am (its Bali, so you can’t really expect anything more specific than that!). G’Day thinks we might not make it by sunrise, so we hotfoot it, and try to overtake the slower walkers wherever the track is wide enough for us to pass them.

If I had planned this hike at home, I’d be wearing a headtorch, not carrying one, which would make the small amount of scrambling required much easier. After the first twenty minutes or so I didn’t even have it switched on most of the time, as most of the other walkers had theirs on, and that provided enough light to see where we were going. It was only once the real ascent started and the groups started to thin out that I needed to switch my torch back on.

We continue climbing steadily, and try to pass the slower hikers where we can – we don’t want to miss the sunrise! G’Day assures us we will be there with more than enough time – we are moving much quicker than many of the others (and I think he underestimated how quick we would be at the start!)

The single track is steep and rocky, and in the dark it is a challenge to not fall face first onto the ground at my feet, or worst still, into the climber ahead of me. There really are a lot of people here.

We reach the summit of Gunung Batur with about twenty minutes to spare. G’Day sets down a piece of cardboard on top of a damp timbre bench, and sneaks off to make us a cup of tea and a toasted banana sandwich.

Just as the ascent was starting to burn, we had arrived, and it was nice to sit for a few minutes with a hot cup of tea. Within a few minutes, we are cold. I didn’t bring a jacket, so Rowan offers his up, and braves the morning chill alone.

It’s November, which is the start of the wet season, which will run through to March for the island of Bali. There hasn’t been any rain in the week I’ve been here, but it does mean there is a lot more moisture in the atmosphere, and a lot of cloud cover this morning, adding a mysterious element to the anticipation of catching a glimpse of the beautiful sunrise.

The sun peaks up and over Mt Agung, and the clouds clear just long enough for us to take a few photos before the cloud is back.

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Sunrise over Mt Agung, which stands tall above Lake Batur

After we take a few snaps, we eat our banana sandwiches, then G’Day takes us to the central crater, where we can see remnants of previous eruptions. Mt Batur is an active volcano, but last erupted in 2000. He tells us about the four main villages that are not far from Mt Batur. One village was significantly damaged during a major eruption in 1968, and you can still see the black lava field all down one side of the volcano today.

G’Day told us to save any of our banana sandwiches that we don’t want, to feed to the monkeys near the lava field. I don’t want to go near them – it was only two months ago that I got bitten by two monkeys while I was in Thailand. I still have the bruises! I’m not going near these ones.

He feeds the monkeys our scraps, and we take a few photos of the other tourists and guides who are much braver than us – the most confident of the monkeys are climbing on people’s heads and helping themselves to whatever snacks they can find. I’m not interested!

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We make our way down Mt Batur along the old lava flow. I think there are a few different ways to go back down, because there are far fewer people going the way we are. (I think G’Day said something about an easier way and a more difficult one, which we took). The landscape changed quite a few times, considering Mt Batur only has an elevation of 5,633. I guess it has a lot to do with the destruction the lava flow has caused.

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Overall, my recommendation for this trip is to do it! If you are a novice hiker, have never hiked or climbed a mountain before, or have only a moderate fitness level, you can do this! It only takes two hours to walk up, and yes, its steep, but if you have good footwear on you will be fine.

What to bring: A headlamp to keep your hands free. A small backpack with your camera, some water, and a light jacket or raincoat. Shorts or leggings, and a T-shirt or singlet is all you will need to wear, but its cold once you are up the top! Sturdy footwear is a must – runners or hiking boots.

If you are an experienced hiker, and want to be challenged, then Mt Agung is probably a better choice for you. It is 3,033 meters (9,944 feet) high, and will take you 6 – 7 hours. I haven’t done this one yet, but I will if I find myself in Bali again!

Buffalo Tours: Buffalo tours are one of the many tour agencies operating in Bali, that will offer you a guided climb of Mt Batur. The difference between Buffalo and many of the other operators is the quality and comfort of the car, communication, and the rest of the tour (there are several options to do Mt Batur and white water rafting, Mt Batur and Ubud city tour etc). This will all be done by a knowledgeable and friendly guide who works for buffalo tours. I can’t comment on the experience you get with other companies, but I would go with buffalo again next time.

Private or group tour: We didn’t even realise we had booked a private tour, and I don’t think there was a significant price difference. Obviously the trek part of the tour is with hundreds of other people, but each small group or private group will have their own guide, regardless of if you book a private or a group tour. The difference is the time you get picked up from your hotel (we got picked up at 2:50am as we were going directly to Batur. If you are on a tour with 8 other people, you might have an extra hour or two on the bus while you drive around each hotel picking people up). We slept the whole way there in comfort, and the tour to the rice terraces, and a few other sights in Ubud were all able to be tailored to our interests, because we were the only ones there. That was really the only benefit, and I was happy with it, but would probably have been just as happy on the group tour version.

When to go: Best time to go is when the weather is at its best, which is April to September. As Bali is a popular holiday spot for so many, you will probably encounter greater crowds than we did when we went, so I’d suggest the private tour option.

We did this hike in November, when cloud cover is to be expected almost every day. The weather was fine on the day we did it, but it is more humid from October to March, so keep that in mind if you don’t love that type of weather. December to February gets the most rainfall, and I imagine they either close the track all together on wet days, at it would be a major hazard for falls, especially among the inexperienced.

 

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My last words of advise: 1. Tip your guide directly! G’Day, and his colleagues all live in the small villages near the mountains. This is their only source of income, and tips make all the difference to their families. If you tip the main company, or the tour operator who picks you up from your hotel, only a small portion (if any) of your tip will make it back to your mountain guide.

2. Take your rubbish with you. If you have ever been to Indonesia, you will have seen rubbish, from plastics especially is a major issue. Anyone who enjoys the great outdoors should be well versed on the motto, take only memories, leave only footprints.

 

E-N-J-O-Y!

 

Until next time,

Sarah

When you are about to go overseas; and realise that your passport is out of date…

On a morning somewhere mid/late August 2017,  preparing for my last day at work before my annual leave starts, there is a customer waiting out front for us to open the door.

9:00am rolls around, so I walk to the door, unlock it and invite him in. We take a seat at my desk.

“There’s a problem with my wife’s flight booking! I have been trying to do her check-in for her flight this evening and it wont work!” 

This is not an ideal start to my last morning in the office before a three and a half week holiday.

I look into it, and discover its a simple error on the airlines website, and there is nothing to worry about. I fix it up for him, and send him on his way. Less than two minutes to fix the problem – that’s not so bad.

While looking into it, I had discovered I was actually due to fly out on that same flight – so I may as well do my own check-in while I’m at it. After nine years or so of advising my passport details to airlines and tour agencies, I’ve managed to memorise the details… Except the expiration date. That doesn’t matter though, my brother is home from work today.  I call him, and ask him to go find my passport and read out the details to me. 08-Feb-2018. February. February. February. OMG! That is in five months! I need six on my passport to be able to travel!

There’s that sinking feeling again.

Thankfully, I can stay calm in situations that others might have a meltdown. One of my colleagues kept asking me “Why aren’t you crying – you are not going on this holiday!”

Well… I was obviously quite worried that I wasn’t going to get to fly out tonight. I considered my options. They are:

1. Change my flights.

2. Go to the airport as planned, and hope they wont notice (or will turn a blind eye) to the fact that I have FIVE MONTHS AND TWENTY THREE DAYS left on my passport, or;

3. Try and get a new passport issued today before my 11.30pm flight.

Okay… Option 1: My itinerary is to spend 4 nights in Ireland, before flying again over to Manchester to meet a friend for a two week holiday with her.  Maybe I could delay the trip by four days, get my passport renewed, and just fly straight to Manchester. Ireland was going to be solo, so I am only inconveniencing myself.  I look up the change fees, and fare difference. A rough estimation is at least $600AUD in change fees, but probably more like $700. This is a lot, but if I go with option 2 and just front up at the airport, I might get on the plane, but I might also get denied, which will then add on a $500 no-show fee, PLUS the change fees of $600-$700 and I will have lost a day which could have been spend at the passport office getting an emergency passport issued.

I settle on option 3. I have a full day, its only 9.15am, and the office is open til 5.30pm. Its in Melbourne (an hours drive away) but I’ll have to be up that way anyway if I am going to the airport. I haven’t finished packing yet though, as I was going to do it after work.

First things first – I call the passport office and make an appointment. The soonest I can get is in two days time, but I make it anyway, just in case I still need it. I ask if I can just come in and hope to get seen, and they advise me they can’t promise anything, but that its worth a shot. They advise me that I need to bring 2 x brand new passport photographs, and that I need to fill out the passport renewal form online, print it out and sign it, and to also bring any other supporting documentation to show why I need a passport urgently (e.g my flight ticket / booking confirmation).

I rush home, throw the last few bits and pieces into my bag, complete the renewal form and jump in the car. I stop at the local post office on my way to get the new passport photos, and head into Melbourne.

By the time I arrive at the Melbourne passport office, its 2pm. After waiting in line for a fairly short time, I get seen to, and sent down to counter #8. A trainee, on his first day, asks me what I need help with. I explain, as he takes my passport… and asks why I need a new one?… Am I going for 18 months?

OMG! Have I misread the expiration date?!

No – turns out he had miscalculated. A few awkward minutes goesby while he and his trainer go through the steps. A few more errors get made, which I think ends up being my saving grace…. They tell me they will do their best, and that they think I’ll have the new passport by 5pm.

They think I will…

After I agree to proceed, they charge me the $468.00 passport fee (which is made up of $282 for the passport, and $186 for the priority fee) and then cut my old passport up.

Well, I guess if I don’t get the new one issued, I wont be attempting to travel on my old one…! They say they will text me when its ready to collect, but if I don’t get one, just come back before 5pm.

4:55pm rolls around and I haven’t heard.  I head back, dreading the outcome. All I can think about while climbing those steps is the money changing my flights is going to cost me. I have been shaking with nerves all day. Even if I don’t get the passport, I can’t wait to know the outcome so I can have some relief.

The supervisor sees me and beckons me over. As I approach, she smiles at me. Then the new guy smiles at me. He has an envelope in his hand.

OMG I HAVE A NEW PASSPORT!!! I cannot believe I am so lucky! Priority passports can still take 4-5 days (depending on demand I guess) I am so lucky!!!

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I walk out, call Rowan (my boyfriend) who is on a train, on his way in to Melbourne to meet me, so he can take my car home from the airport.

It couldn’t have worked out any better. I have some seriously good karma that’s for sure.

We go out for dinner, somewhere near the airport and Rowan buys me the biggest glass of wine they serve (literally a magnum sized glass with a double pour) and then we head off to the airport for him to drop me off and take my car home.

While in line checking in, I feel nothing but relief. I am so relaxed (I had a second glass of wine that’s probably why!).

Its my turn to go up to the counter. I happily hand over my shiny new passport, and wait to be issued my boarding pass. There is a problem. My passport is so new, it isn’t in some sort of database that she is checking. Will this emotional roller coaster ever end??

I explain that I have come straight from the passport office, and it was only issued at 5pm, and I had to get a new one, because my old one only had 5 months and 23 days left on it, not the required minimum of 6 months. Then… The bombshell…

“You don’t need 6 months validity on your passport to fly to Ireland”…

Are you serious??? Was this stressful nightmare of a day all for nothing? I guess I’ll never know what would have happened if I showed up with my old passport… Especially if I was oblivious to the rule in the first place.

While in the line for customs, I check the site smartraveller which clearly states “make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after the date you intend to return to Australia” so I guess it just depends on who you ask.

My next post is going to be an easy step-by-step guide on what to do if you are caught in this predicament. It will be up within the next few days.

Have you been in a similar situation? I’d love to know if others have traveled on their passport with a closer expiration date than 5 months and what happened.

Please share your stories with me, or let me know; what would you have done if this was you?

 

Hi, I’m Sarah!

Hi, I’m Sarah!

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I’ve been in the travel industry for 11 years working as a travel agent, and have had the opportunity to go to some amazaing places both through work, and on my own holidays.

While travelling I have travelled accross the continents of North and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia. My travel experience, combined with on-the job knowledge makes me an exper in all things travel.

This blog is about showcasing some of the exciting destinations I have been to, along with giving you some ideas of what to do in each place.

Most of the time when I travel I like to get outdoors and get the blood pumping. Some of my favorite experiences so far have been paragliding in San Gil, Colombia, trekking Mt. Batur before sunrise in Bali, and snowboarding the freshest powder in Lake Tahoe, California (to name a few!)

This is not a digital nomad blog.  I have a regular 9 – 5 job working at a travel agent, near home in Melbourne, Australia.

The great part about this, is my passion for travel gets a workout while I’m stuck at home paying the bills and saving up for my next adventure.

My work roster works out that I get a 3-day weekend once a month, so my next adventure (even if its local) is never more than three weeks away!

 

On my days off, I try to pack in as much quality time outdoors as I can. This is usually  hiking, kayaking, camping, hitting the beach, or in the winter, the mountains with my snowboard.

 

 

I hope you’ll stick around and continue reading all things rourkeus adventures!