Tag Archives: hiking

Tam Coc and Hue

Hello dearest reader! We are currently sat in our hostel room in Da Lat, sheltering from a rainstorm. Once again, I’m playing catch up on the blog… One day I’ll be up to date! Imagine that!

After beautiful Halong Bay, we were off on the bus to Nimh Bin. After about six hours, our bus stopped in apparently the middle of nowhere. It was pitch black outside and completely tipping it down. We asked the driver if it was the final stop, to which he nodded and so we jumped off into ankle deep water.

After consulting Tom’s phone we discovered we were in a small town called Tam Coc, miles away from our original destination (and pre-booked hostel) in Nimh Bin. Once again, the travel gods were smiling at us and we managed to cancel our hostel without getting charged and stayed in the hotel next to the bus stop! That was a relief. We ate in the restaurant opposite whilst we watched everyone running around in the rain. We weren’t expecting rainy season whilst in Vietnam, but most days it chucks it down for a couple of hours. In a way this is a good thing, because it clears out the stifling heat!

After some rest, we woke up the next day and realised we were in such beautiful surroundings. The landscape was filled with huge natural stone blocks similar to the ones in Halong Bay, and it was also quite jungly.

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We went downstairs for some breakfast (which was grim) and as I was poking down some kind of cremated egg, a woman on a bicycle pulled up and started screaming and pointing. We were like “what.” (My coffee hadn’t kicked in at this point.) After a whole chorus of people started shouting in Vietnamese we finally noticed the large snake that was in the bush by our table. I was like “do you reckon it’s dangerous?” Tom said “yep!” One of the staff came over with a big stick and poked the snake which leapt a few foot in the air and out of the bush towards our table. Tom jumped on his chair and I started running around the restaurant like a headless chicken. And thus, breakfast was over. Nothing like a brush with death to start your day!

We hired some bicycles from the hotel and went to look for some caves. The cycle was nice because it was flat and it’s nowhere near as hot as Thailand. So, no death threats for Tom this time!
The cave was a bit disconcerting as we just walked around on our own. We were the only ones there, and I couldn’t help but picture that scene in The Descent when the cave collapses. Anyway, we made it out alive and headed up 520 steps to a view point over the river. It was hard work, but worth it as the view was amazing. We could see people enjoying a row on the river, so decided to do that the following day.

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The boat trip was incredible because the woman rowing the boat used her feet to row which I just found absolutely fascinating! The landscape was stunning, and we had a really nice time.

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Weirdly there were all these paparazzi men taking photos of us which we got bullied into buying. (Silly me for imagining you can do ANYTHING in Vietnam without being bloody hassled to death.) oh well, the result is a hilarious photo to put on the fridge. We look so unimpressed!!

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After a few hours of waiting around and rinsing the hotel’s wifi, we got a taxi to the train station. Our taxi man was the smiliest man I’ve ever met, and spent the whole journey offering us pineapple. We arrived at the train station, and boarded the sleeper train with much trepidation on my part.
We found our carriage, slid open the door to find a family of four on the bottom two bunks and the top two bunks clear for me and Tom. After trying to silently shove my backpack under the bottom bunk I faced the challenge of getting onto the top bunk without the help from a ladder. The bunk was at chin height, and those of you who know me will understand that I’m very athletically challenged. I didn’t dare put my foot on the bunk below as it was full of people, so in order to get on to my bed I had to get my foot above my head – think John cleese’s Ministry of Silly Walks with Tom pushing my bum upwards. Utterly ridiculous. Luckily the family were asleep so no one saw the display. I lay there trying not to be sick (damn motion sickness to hell!!) and praying I didn’t need the toilet in the night.

The carriage was okay, very basic, and the sheets weren’t at all clean…. But I value my own life enough to avoid taking the sleeper bus in Vietnam. After a few minutes, the door opened and a guard came in, and gestured for Tom to follow him. I sat and waited for about ten minutes thinking “what the hell is going on?!”
It turns out, Tom was taken into a “posh” carriage, the guard closed the door behind them and patted the bed for Tom to sit down on the bunk opposite. The guard then asked if Tom would like this carriage for fifty dollars. Tom said “it’s very nice but no thank you!” And quickly exited. As he was leaving he saw a rat coming out of the air conditioning vent. I found all this out as Tom and I communicated through texts on our phones as we didn’t want to make any noise. Modern technology eh?

The night was.. Ok. I had about two hours sleep because the train constantly stopped and started all night. I and was lying awake when the guard came at 7am to tell us it was our stop. Phew! For some reason we were super early, so our designated taxi hadn’t arrived. We were pushed into buying some coffee which arrived in the fucking DIRTIEST glass I’ve ever seen whilst some bloke tried to convince us to book a tour with him. I felt like punching him in the head, not only because he was annoying, but I was also very sleep deprived and it wasn’t even 8am, so I definitely didn’t appreciate the sales pitch. Luckily we managed to get in touch with the hotel so they came to pick us up before I committed GBH.

Our hotel was sent from heaven. They gave us cold fresh mango juice and let us into the room hours early, which had two double beds in it. I was so happy! We spent the day chilling out and then walked around the city of Hue (pronounced hway.) we booked a tour for the following day.

Our tour took us to the demilitarised zone which was the no fire zone between north and south Vietnam. We visited the Khe Sanh American military base which is now a war museum. There were lots of remnants from the war including bunkers, helicopters, planes and bombs.

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And in the afternoon the Vinh Moc tunnels. The villagers of Vinh Moc built the tunnel system and hid below ground for six years. The tunnel is essentially a series of long corridors with rooms coming off. The “family rooms” are scarcely big enough for two adults to lie down in. There was a maternity room where seventeen children were born. The tunnels have been widened for tourists, but they’re still incredibly small, I was constantly bashing my head and had to walk doubled over on many occasions. Also it was SO hot down there. I thought it’d be cool. It was a really humbling place to visit. It was so dark. I can’t begin to imagine living my daily life in a place like that. I left feeling incredibly lucky.

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(A bomb crater)

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The Camping Chronicles

DISCLAIMER: No photos in this post due to rubbish wifi. Apologies.

After Abel Tasman, we continued our camping extravaganza with a trip to Westport. We only really went to Westport on the way to the glaciers because I had a strop and told Tom that I wasn’t happy doing a ten hour coach journey on a vehicle with no toilet.

So we jumped off the bus at Westport. It was a town that looked a bit like the Wild West. The best thing about Westport is that you don’t need to look before crossing the road because there’s NO ONE THERE. We plodded to our campsite, or rather, “holiday park,” which was a bit like redneck America. Oh well. There was a good barbeque area at least, so Tom was pleased. The weather was fine on the first night, but I didn’t sleep anyway. Thanks body.

We “awoke” to rain. Rain rain rain. Rain that lasted all day. As there was nothing to do in the town, we stayed put and dry in the TV room and had an internet day. By the time it came to going to bed, it had been raining none stop for well over twelve hours and showed no sign of stopping. We leapt over the puddles around our tent and tentatively stuck our heads through the door flap. It looked rather the same as outside; puddles everywhere, but with the addition of water running down the walls. Luckily we’d had the foresight to keep our valuables with us, so they were all okay, but everything else was pretty drenched. We tried to mop up the damage for a while, then decided it was hopeless, and went to see the manager to see if they had any cabins available that we could stay in.

They were all full, but the kind woman said “if it gets really bad, just go and sleep in the TV room.” We went back to the tent, and after a few minutes of discussing what constituted “really bad,” we made the decision to go inside. Everyone else on the site was sleeping in vans/cabins/their cars, except for a kiwi teenager, who joined our little sleepover. I muttered to Tom “if he is a snorer, I’ll kill him.” And guess what… He snored.

The next day, we were more than happy to pack away our completely sodden tent, and get back on the bus. Seven hours later (I caught up on a lot of sleep on board,) we arrived at the campsite by Franz Josef Glacier. We erected (hehe) the tent and left it out to dry, and then walked half an hour into town to go to the supermarket for some supplies. When we returned, we did some washing, which was a relief as I’d been in the same clothes for THREE DAYS and then went to bed.

That night was bloody perishing! I couldn’t sleep for the cold, any body part that came loose of our shared sleeping bag immediately went numb. Anyway. Let’s just say that I still wasn’t a camping convert. I was delighted to watch the sun come up through the tent wall, what a relief. We got booted up and headed out to do the Franz Josef Glacier valley walk.

For most people visiting New Zealand, this is 1.5hour round trip, but as we had to walk at least an hour to get to the carpark where the walk started, it was more of a day trip. We were quickly beginning to realise that we are in a big minority travelling by bus and foot. When we check in at most places, they ask for your car registration and then look at you like you’ve got two heads when you say you don’t have one. That sounds like a rant, but I actually really enjoyed extending the walk and taking more time to look at the beautiful scenery.

The mountains are huge, and jungle covered. We really enjoyed the walk to the carpark through the rainforest, listening to the crazy birdsong. I sometimes feel like I’m at home in the lakes, but then I see some kind of crazy tree that I’ve never seen before, or I’m stopped in my tracks transfixed by a weird bird. The path to the glacier was rocky, but rewarding when we got to the top. Seeing a glacier that is retreating feels special. I know that if I return to New Zealand it won’t look the same, or might not even be there at all.

In the afternoon we went to the “Glacier Hot Pools,” which we’d managed to book cheaply online. The three pools of different temperatures felt great after a long day’s walk, and it was a really relaxing treat! We returned to our campsite tired, and ready for a rest. Having hired some wool blankets I was feeling more positive, but alas, still frozen, so no sleep. Thank god for coffee!!

The next day we went on a kayak trip across Lake Mapourika at the base of the glacier. In doing this, we realised how lucky we’ve been having grown up in the Lake District or spending a lot of time in the lochs of Scotland. The lake seemed a bit small and poxy compared to Windermere/ Loch Goil. Tom was in charge of steering the two man canoe, and took great pleasure in deliberately crashing us into the other members of the group and then pretending to apologise profusely, which was absolutely hilarious at first but then got a bit awkward when people were getting pissed off with us. At one point we hit the side of a German couple and steered them completely the wrong way and nearly beached them. I was laughing so much, and it only got funnier the more pissed off they got. We saw a rare white heron, which was cool. Then we went on this little detour down a river track. When we had to turn to go back the way we came, we embarked on an Austin Powers style 30 point turn whilst everyone waited for us. I don’t think we were very popular…

We got a lift back to the town and waited for the bus. It was late. Tom checked his phone to discover we had a text: the bus was delayed due to a mechanical issue and would be an hour and 45 mins late. Bummer. Whilst we waited we enjoyed using the most hilarious public toilets: you press a button to open the door and then a recorded voice proclaims “welcome to the toilet! Door will automatically open in ten minutes!” and then some light piano jazz started playing. I’m glad there was a toilet in there because I probably would have wet myself laughing if there wasn’t.

We waited and waited for the bus, and then a bloke in an official looking uniform jumped out of his car saying “hey, are you heading to Fox Glacier? Need a ride?” – turns out he was a bus driver from another company, who when heading home after his shift always heads past the bus stop to see if anyone needs a lift. He was so kind, and dropped us directly at the campsite, which was a massive help. Everyone we’ve come across in New Zealand has been so friendly to us with our huge backpacks. 🙂

We pitched the tent, and then went to hire some kind of blanket from reception and were given a double duvet each! I was in heaven and actually slept well for the first time in over a week. It was so nice to finally be warm enough! Waking refreshed, we headed off to do the valley walk at Fox Glacier.

More stunning scenery that almost made it impossible to not look longingly after the people driving to the car park at the beginning of the walk. Fox Glacier had fewer people, and was actually even more impressive than Franz Josef. The final ascent was steep, and covered with warning signs saying “no stopping” due to the hazard of rockfalls. After our picnic at the top, we began the descent and came across a family surrounding the grandma, who had fallen and cut her head open. There was so much blood everywhere, all down her face and top. Luckily she was conscious! Tom legged it back up the hill, to where we’d seen a guide and sent her down to help. We then carried on our way because there wasn’t much we could do to help. Seeing the accident shook me up a bit. You always forget that an easy-seeming walk is often more dangerous than it looks, and we’re only flesh and blood after all. We returned to the campsite and watched Harry Potter on the telly, and ate chocolate which cheered me up!

So that was me done, I’d seen some of the most beautiful sights ever, survived six nights in a row of camping, and found myself almost looking forward to a dorm room!

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Abel Tasman Coastal Track, or : horrid soup, corned beef, and cold ravioli in paradise

After Picton, the intercity bus took us to our next destination: Nelson. I kept getting muddled between the two because they both sound like surnames.

We’d booked two beds in a dorm room (my favourite!) as things over here are starting to get really jam-packed over the post-Christmas period. This means that I’ve got a billion nights camping and dorm rooming before we leave NZ. Can’t complain too much because I’ve mastered the art of the power nap, and sleeping on the bus.

i really really like the South Island so far. For some reason the North Island feels very similar to the UK, but just with less people and more of the good scenery. The South feels much different. There are even less people, and the scenery is on a massive scale, it’s absolutely stunning and hard to put into words.

Anyway, I digress. Two nights in Nelson in a cool hostel. Millions of people, but there was a pool, and parked at the back of the pool was a huge vintage green bus. Inside was the TV room, and a big bookcase! Heaven! I asked Tom if when I win the Euromillions I could get a reading/TV bus for our garden, but then we figured out it’d probably be a bit cold. Oh well.

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The hostel also kindly offered a free “vegetable soup” in the evenings. “Vegetable soup” is in inverted commas because it doesn’t deserve the proper title… We queued up dutifully, holding our bowls. Meanwhile, a box of bread was placed on the table, and I’ve never seen anything like it. A bun fight pretty much broke out. The “vegetable soup” was some unwashed, unpeeled raw potatoes chopped up in hot yellow water. The water swirled and separated into yellow powder and water, a bit like when you stir a muddy puddle. Basically, they’d put some potato in a pan, added water and an entire tub of curry powder then served it up. Inedible. We felt bad for wasting food so I suggested politely pouring it back in the pan, but in the end we had to just hide it haha.
The rest of time in Nelson was mainly spent preparing for our trek in the Abel Tasman National Park.

New Zealand has many of what they call “The Great Walks.” We’d already tackled one in the North Island – the Tongariro Alpine Crossing that we both absolutely loved, so we were eager to get our teeth into the Abel Tasman Coastal Track (ATCT)
The idea with the ATCT is that you take around four days to hike the whole coastline, stopping to camp or stay overnight in the huts along the route. Each campsite has a set number of spaces, and unfortunately we’d left it too late to book the whole route. Luckily the chap in the Wellington tourist info suggested we book two available nights in the campsite at the very top of the track and plan some walks around there. So what we did in the end was to get a shuttle bus to the start of the track, and then a water taxi to the last boat stop, hike three hours to the campsite. We’d then stay two nights, hike the area and then back down to the place where we were dropped off.

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The water taxi was great up to Totornui, with stunning scenery: orange beaches and blue sea in front of huge green hillsides. We tried to pack as light as possible, but it wasn’t easy – we needed our tent, sleeping bag and mats, and enough food to last the trip. Special shout out to Thomas Copley for being an absolute angel and carrying the heavy gear whilst I was in charge of food and water!

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The first day’s walk was absolutely beautiful. Mostly you are plodding up and down the forrest tracks, in the shade which worked well as it was a scorching day. The track then opens out onto the beaches, which make great lunch spots hehe. We walked pretty slowly as the gear was quite heavy and we were hot. Lots of folk overtook us, but I was happy to be slow and enjoy the scenery. It was so calm and peaceful.

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We finally arrived at the camp ground and were happy to dump our bags. I was a bit apprehensive about the first night sleeping in the tent…. The hut at the Whariwharangi (far ree far rang gi) campsite was a house from the 1800s where a family lived off the land. It was pretty awesome because although there was a proper bog (phew!) and running filtered water, there was no electricity, which meant it felt like it was unchanged and it was really fun imagining the family strolling around in their Victorian clothes and shooting the wildlife.
I was originally gutted that we couldn’t stay in the hut, but when I went and looked inside, I was relieved we weren’t! There was some kind of bizarre bed situation – one really really wide bed where about ten people would sleep side by side…. my worst nightmare! Imagine waking up with a stranger’s head on your pillow… Eurgh.

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Well we set up camp, and it was quite exciting. There were these weird birds everywhere called “weka” or as we referred to them as “veloceraptor bastards.” The walk so weirdly, like dinosaurs. They circle your tent looking for food and watched one try to get its entire beak around our water bottle. Very funny but irritating at the same time. One pecked my toe whilst I was sat on a picnic bench and I jumped about a foot in the air.

For tea we walked back to the idilic bench we had spotted on the way to the campiste. We had a Ruth Shepherd patented corned beef party. (Bread, corned beef and a sparkling beverage…. well we had luke warm water, but it was still good.)

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We watched the sunset with the beach to ourselves, which I’ll never forget.

 

Then got into bed to be surrounded by the sound of SNORERS. I HATE PEOPLE WHO SNORE!!!!!!!! There was also an Israeli couple next to us who had no concept of whispering and just shouted at eachother all night. It was uncomfortable. I fell asleep and woke up what felt like every five minutes to move position because it was so uncomfortable. My hair was everywhere and I was freezing and the sleeping bag we decided to share was pure nylon so I was just sweating and the sleeping bag kept falling off and I was being eaten alive by some kind of biting insect and I needed a wee all night but didn’t want to get out of bed to go to the toilet. Then we were awoken by the dawn chorus of birds that sounded like we were in a zoo and then loads of bloody children started chasing each other round the tent. I overheard the man in the tent next to us saying “children are worse than dealing with ISIS” which really made me laugh. Anyway. Rant over. No sleep was had but it doesn’t matter because we were sleeping under the stars in paradise.

The next day we enjoyed a muesli bar breakfast and then headed off on a two hour walk to a different beach. More beautiful scenery and stunning weather. We had some more corned beef sandwiches for lunch and had a nap on the beach. I’m getting really good at this power-napping business now. Then we walked back to the campsite. After a little rest we decided to do another walk. One of my toes had a blister that surrounded the entire digit. After wrapping it up, we headed on a walk to “Separation Point.”
This was mildly hilarious because we walked for two hours to the point which was just a tiny cliff that had some plastic gannets on it and was playing a recording of gannet sounds…. We just looked at each-other.
We then went on to a cove called Mutton Cove which was actually home to a load of seals, not sheep. It was so cool seeing the seals. They were doing this weird thing where they go in the shallows and wave a flipper at you. I love how big and lumbering they are when out of the water, yet so graceful in the sea. We also saw a big fat one who was barking on a rock, and sounded like a huge dog.

We stomped back to the campsite, and Tom introduced me to his camping special – tinned ravioli, cold from the can, and surprisingly yummy! We got ready for bed and it started to piss it down. It rained all night but luckily this served to silence the birdies, and our stuff remained relatively dry. I was very impressed with our little 15 quid tent! We both slept better, and I felt a lot more human on waking the next day.

The next morning we packed up and began our walk back to the water taxi stop. I was sad to leave the park because it was an amazing experience. New Zealand is definitely one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen so far, and we both feel so lucky to be here. I felt so relaxed to have a few days off the grid and under the stars. I think it’s good for you, and, despite the camping bit, I do want to do it more!

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The Tongariro crossing

After another bus extravaganza, we arrived in Taupo. As we checked in, the chap on the hostel reception asked if we wanted to do the Tongariro Crossing, and if we did, we should sign up for the following day, as the weather was good and it’s often closed due to poor weather.

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The Tongariro is a one day alpine crossing involving a 19km hike. I was really eager to do it so we signed up. It turns out that the crossing was closed for the few days after we did it, so we are really fortunate to have made it!

Up we got the following day at 5am to get the 5.45 bus to the start of the trail. We had to set of early to allow us enough time to make the crossing before it got dark. On the bus was the most passive aggressive tour guide I have ever come across. Hilariously agro for 6am in the morning. I couldn’t decide if he was a cool climb dude sick of tourists or just not a morning person, but he made me laugh so much:

-“well all you guys wearing trainers are gonna have lovely warm and dry toes when you are walking though the snow aren’t you?!”

-“oh I can see those of you who don’t have sunglasses clearly are immune to snow blindness.”

– “the bus will collect you at 4pm. The bus will collect you at 4pm. What time? 4pm. 4pm. 4!!! PM!!!!! Am I being clear enough for you?! 4PM!!!!!!!!”

And so on and so forth.

Tom and I had wrapped up in loads of layers and waterproofs, were wearing trousers, hats, sun cream, had our first aid kits and sunglasses and our big walking boots etc. and had also packed enough food and water for about ten people. So we were absolutely fascinated by a pair of Chinese lads sat on the seats next to us.
Both were wearing trainers, one had on his swimming trunks, the other had huge fashion glasses on with no glass in them. And they had a bottle of Gatorade each and a subway sub each in a plastic carrier bag. We were equally amused and concerned that they had no idea what was going on. We were thinking that they’d be like “holy shit why are we walking across mountains in swimming shorts?!” Needless to say, we saw them at the end and they’d survived it so good for them!

The walk started out flat, and there were quite a lot of people. Everyone was fucking power walking for some reason and I was out of breath trying to keep up, thinking “why the hell do we need to be going so fast on the flat bit?!” But I think it was because the man on the bus had terrified us that we wouldn’t make it back by 4pm!

We walked across the base of the volcano used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings film.

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Then the path started to creep up hill until we reached a section of the walk called “the Devils staircase” – not a very reassuring title!

It was very steep and there were so many steps to climb. It wouldn’t have been too bad had there not been people behind me. If I wasn’t so out of breath I would have loved to turn round and roar “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!” In their faces, but alas, I had to make do with stopping on the edge of a cliff and breathlessly gesturing them past!

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It was amazing to reach the top. We had a banana break. Tom dropped his banana and then jumped up and down on it in anger which made me laugh a lot. I’m a meany. We then entered the snowy part of the walk.

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It was so beautiful!! And warm! Definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. The rest of the walk is hard to put in a timeline because it all blurred a bit into one. The best bits were the views, seeing the volcanic activity, walking across the frozen lakes, and the bright emerald blue lake where we sat for lunch.

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All in all, it took us about 7 hours. We were warned not to stop for long periods because our legs would stiffen and make it hard to keep going. It was one of the hardest walks that I’ve done but definitely the most rewarding. Taking my boots off and lying down on the wooden bench felt amazing once we’d made it!

Try clicking the little link below, it should take you to a 30 second video that summarises our time on the crossing.

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