Bula! Faces of Fiji

I recently travelled to Fiji to escape Melbourne’s winter and enjoy some warmer weather. The plan was to sit by a pool and read as many books as possible, without expending any energy. But, of course, that didn’t happen. I’m not the kind of traveller that finds it easy to just laze around at a resort (even though it always looks great on the brochure). Seeing beautiful places, meeting interesting people, trying new experiences… perhaps add in a bike ride or a hike… this is generally what travel means to me.

So, after a day or two at the resort, I began to explore and, a week later, I came home with memories of Fiji that are less about a tropical paradise and more about the wonderful people I was fortunate to meet.

We enjoyed cultural performers and fire dancers each evening at the resort, but the highlight for me was a visit to the traditional village of Navala. We journeyed through coastal towns and into the picturesque highlands, and then got to spend a few hours with the locals. On arrival in Navala, we donned sarongs, removed our shoes, hats and sunglasses, and then entered the bure (thatched hut) to take part in the sevu sevu and kava ceremonies. Continue reading

Lonesome George

“Whatever happens to this single animal, let him always remind us that the fate of all living things on Earth is in human hands.”

Last year, I visited the Galapagos Islands and one of the highlights was a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz to see Lonesome George, pictured here. But this morning I heard the news via The Age that Lonesome George had died – World loses species with death of tortoise Lonesome George. I had to stop what I was doing and take a moment to look at my photos and remember my visit.

I’m not sure why, but for me, seeing Lonesome George was more exciting than seeing Giant Tortoises in the wild on Isabela Island. Perhaps it’s because Lonesome George has become such an icon for the conservation movement in the Galapagos Islands that it was just a really special moment to catch a glimpse of him.

Lonesome George was discovered on the remote (and rarely visited) island of Pinta in 1971. At the time, it was thought all the tortoises had been exterminated by whalers and seal hunters, so it was a startling discovery. In March 1972, he was taken to the Charles Darwin Research Station and, initially, scientists hoped they would also be able to find some females specimens on Pinta Island for him to breed with. But this wasn’t to be, and, as a last ditch effort, they put two female tortoises from Wolf Volcano in his pen. Unfortunately, Lonesome George just wasn’t interested in them and now that he is gone, the species is extinct.

While I was in the Galapagos Island’s, I purchased the book Lonesome George: The life and loves of a conservation icon by Henry Nichols, which is a wonderful read. The final paragraph reads:

One day, of course, George will give up the tortoise ghost. Even then, he will be of immense value to the Galapagos… Lonesome George must remain in the archipelago, at the research station on Santa Cruz. By then, this is where he will have spent most of his life; this is the place that Lonesome George would call home. Even in death, it is here that he will have his greatest audience.

According to The Age report, the Galapagos National Park Service have said they will be convening an international workshop in July on management strategies for restoring tortoise populations over the next decade, in honour of Lonesome George.

How far would you travel for a convention, festival or special event?

A few weeks ago I went to my first convention – The Hub’s All Hell Breaks Loose III Supernatural convention – which was a one-day event in Melbourne. I had such an amazing time that I’m now planning to travel halfway around the world to do it all again.

Creation Entertainment’s Salute to Supernatural in Vancouver, Canada, is an epic three-day event, which is held annually in August, and I hope to be there in 2013.

In the lead up to All Hell Breaks Loose III, and whenever I mentioned it to family and friends, I almost always had to repeat myself and clarify.

Me: I’m going to a Supernatural convention.

F/F: A super what? Oh… a Supernatural convention. Is that some new-age thing?

Me: It’s an event for fans of the TV show, Supernatural.

And then, in most cases, I’d get a moment of awkward silence or a weird look, as if I’d just told them I was going to the moon. Admittedly, I’m discovering conventions in my 40s instead of my 20s… but hey, what can I say, I’m young at heart… whatever! I don’t need to justify anything… do I?

There are only a few people who understand my obsession with Supernatural and that’s because they are almost as obsessed as I am, so I’m not about to attempt an explanation here…

Well, okay… I’ll give it a try!

Supernatural is a show about two ‘fairly attractive’ brothers, Sam and Dean (played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), who travel across the US in their 1967 Chevy Impala saving people and hunting things (monsters). Or, as Misha Collins (who plays the angel Castiel) says, “It’s a reality show about two underwear-model brothers who hallucinate and shoot at ghosts”.

What’s not to like?

But, I digress. Going back to the day of the convention, the thing that amazed me most was the number of fans who’d travelled huge distances to be there (including a few people who’d flown in from New Zealand for the weekend). It has inspired me to go to the event in Vancouver, particularly as this is where Supernatural is filmed (and also because my brother lives there; a perfect opportunity to visit).

Naturally, I’m curious about how this will turn out. Have you ever travelled a long way to go to a convention? Or perhaps something else… such as a concert, festival or sporting event? Have you ever done something that has made your family question your sanity? What was it? And how did it turn out? Was it worth the time, effort and expense?

Last year, while watching Eurovision, friends of mine decided that it would be cool to travel to whatever country won (to attend the 2012 event). They waited with great anticipation for the announcement of the winner – Azerbaijan – and were really excited by the result. This was a country they’d never considered visiting! Unfortunately, late release of tickets and the sky-rocketing price of accommodation prevented them from going, but they haven’t given up on their dream to get to Eurovision one day.

Also in 2011, my sister-in-law’s niece travelled from Vancouver to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada for the Burning Man Festival. She entered the Thunderdome (as in the movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) and proceeded to beat the shit out of some guy twice her size (with a padded weapon). I still laugh when I think about it… and if you don’t believe me, watch the video on youtube.

There are also some pretty obscure sporting events around the world such as Cheese Rolling (in the UK), Man versus Horse Marathon (in Scotland) and Mountain Bike Bogsnorkelling (also in Scotland). Not to mention festivals, such as the La Tomatina Festival in Spain, where revellers pelt each other with large, red ripe tomatoes.

Compared to some of the above events, hanging out with the stars at a convention seems like a perfectly sane thing to do. What do you think?

Continue reading

Awesome hikes: Hinchinbrook Island

Situated off the coast of Cardwell in northern Queensland, Hinchinbrook Island is part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and is Australia’s largest island national park. With the 32-kilometre Thorsborne Trail winding through this unspoiled wilderness, it’s also a bushwalker’s paradise. Here are a few pics of a truly awesome hike!

The approach to Hinchinbrook Island is awe-inspiring … towering granite peaks rise dramatically from the deep blue waters of Missionary Bay.

Our boat makes its way through narrow channels of tangled mangroves. Dense forests dominate the lower slopes of the mountains on the island.

We begin our hike at Ramsay Bay, walking along a stunning stretch of sparkling white sand before heading inland to traverse a low ridge.

We spend our first night at Little Ramsay Bay. At dusk, Mt Bowen reflects in the waters of this picturesque lagoon.

Our second day of hiking is strenuous as we encounter creeks, rivers and marshlands. But the reward is magically diverse scenery, including beaches, dry open woodlands and rainforest.

At times I feel we are walking in an enchanted world. There’s a tiny blue pond – nature’s sapphire gemstone – encircled by the roots of several ancient trees. Continue reading

Awesome hikes: Crypt Lake

Over the years, I’ve experienced some wonderful hikes in many different countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Africa, China, Peru, Ecuador and the USA. This is the first blog in my ‘awesome hikes’ series, which I hope to add to on a regular basis. If you’ve done a great hike, please feel free to recommend it in the comments section. I’m always looking for new places to explore.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you like sunshine flows in the trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” John Muir, Naturalist

According to the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, sections of the Crypt Lake hike are not well suited to those suffering from claustrophobia, acrophobia or obesity. But rather than deter us, this description actually inspires us to drive south from Banff to Waterton Lakes National Park.

The park is adjacent to Glacier National Park in Montana, USA, and together these parks make up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park; also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Access to the Crypt Lake trailhead is via a 15-minute boat trip across beautiful Waterton Lake and, from there, we set off through a forest of Douglas fir and white spruce. The 17.2 km (return) hike rewards us with breathtaking scenery, including a series of waterfalls and an abundance of wildflowers, as the trail gains 700 metres in elevation. The trail passes close to Hell Roaring Falls (1 km), Twin Falls (3.5 km), Burnt Rock Falls (5.6 km) and Crypt Falls (8 km).

Eventually, after a series of steep switchbacks, we come to a sheer wall that appears, at first glance, to block the path. But it’s not a dead-end. A short ladder leads us to a narrow 60-foot tunnel, where the only option is crawling.

We emerge to an exposed precipice (a death-defying drop) and it’s here that I begin to appreciate the comments in the guidebook. Fortunately, there’s a cable attached to the cliff for anyone who is faint-hearted or suffering from vertigo.

From here, it is only a short walk to one of nature’s most beautiful settings; snow-capped mountains rising majestically above the deep green waters of Crypt Lake. We follow the trail around the lake, mostly so we can say that we crossed the US border into Montana, but also to walk in the snow on the lower slopes of the mountains.

Our trip back to the boat is equally fun, especially as my imagination gets the better of me. I hear some rustling in the bushes and I’m certain there’s a bear in there, waiting to maul us. We quickened our pace significantly (despite the tired and aching muscles) and nervously scan the bushes on either side of us. It’s one of those things about hiking in Canada; there’s a part of me that would love to see a grizzly bear in the wild, but another part of me that would rather not. It’s just an added exhilaration that you don’t get on a hike in Australia, where I do most of my hiking.

The Crypt Lake hike was voted best Canadian hike in 1981 and is arguably one of the most spectacular in the world. It is definitely one of my all-time favourites.

Have you hiked to Crypt Lake? What is your favourite hike?