Category Page: Travel

The Tour For a Cure Story

“I have a brain tumour.”

Not the words you’d expect to hear from your 24 year old mate, a young guy who was fit, healthy and didn’t have any detrimental vices that may impact his health.

Yet that’s what Josh told me on that brisk winters morning back in 2015. I was left in a state of mild disbelief, a million questions running through my head simultaneously… how was he feeling? How was he coping with the news and the future? What would I do in a similar situation? I knew I had to do whatever I could to help.

The next time I saw Josh was at my place a few weeks later, he was undergoing chemo and was starting to really feel (and show) the effects.  I’d been pondering over the best way for me to help him through this ordeal, something to really show my support and make his life a little more enjoyable. I quickly came to the conclusion that providing Josh with a longer-term focus was perhaps the best way to go about this. And what better to anchor that focus than a massive physical challenge? I asked him if he wanted to cycle across Australia once he was given the all clear. It didn’t take him long to agree to the idea. I hadn’t of course, considered the fact that this meant I had to do it too…

Josh and I celebrating the end of his radiotherapy.

Here we are, over 2 years later having completed a successful journey across Australia. 7 riders cycled every metre of the route from Melbourne to Perth and 5 unfortunate souls drove either the whole or part of the way behind and in front of us. What an expedition it was. Along the way we managed to raise over $83,000 for the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation, an organization helping to find a cure for the terrible disease that struck Josh at such an early age.

 

How hard was it? Well, the physical side wasn’t incredibly difficult. We averaged 140km per day, not unreasonable, though we often had headwinds to contend with which meant a lot of time on the saddle. Still, it was a fairly casual pace with enough rest along the way to keep us relatively fresh. The mental side was the bigger challenge.

Having to wake up at 5am each morning knowing you’d be spending most of the day on the bike got a little tiresome. We had to be constantly alert with regards to traffic hazards; what trucks were doing as they overtook, making sure we maintained our line and stayed right on the back wheel of the bike in front. There was also a fairly wide-ranging level of fitness between the group, meaning it wasn’t possible to get into your own rhythm and get into the ‘zone’. Add to that, the scenery throughout most of the middle part of Australia is fairly consistent: absolutely nothing. So it was a bit of a mental drain, particularly as we got into the middle part of the ride.

 

Despite this, everyone maintained a positive attitude for most of it. Not much complaining and no real arguments despite 7 males of varying character spending every waking moment together for 25 days straight. I’d consider this one of the biggest achievements of the whole journey. That’s pretty damn impressive looking back.

We set out from the Yarra River in Melbourne and rose into Fiona Stanley hospital 25 days later, the place where Josh received his cancer treatment. It was an incredible reception, greeted by a crowd of friends, family, the deputy premier and a news crew. We were joined on the last 30km leg by over 60 other riders, causing havoc to the local traffic as we blocked up a lane of major highways. What an experience!

I’m particularly proud of Josh. When I proposed the idea of cycling across Australia, I wanted to give him a focus and vision to help get through those long days of treatment, where only his imagination could take him away. When we made the final ride into Fiona Stanley hospital, I was obviously pretty excited to have completed this challenge on a personal level. That paled in comparison to the excitement I had for Josh and what he must have been feeling after 2 years of preparation in not only getting ready for this event, but doing so with all the other hurdles he had to face. I was incredibly grateful to have been able to share that moment with him.

One of the true beauties of endurance pursuits is the tangible goal they can provide us; a definitive focus which is lacking from many of our lives. This is what I’d learned from the last few years of my own pursuits and this is what I was looking to provide to Josh.

I’m proud to say, it seemed to have worked.

Amazing Reasons to Visit Sydney

If you are currently deciding where to go on your next vacation, one place you should certainly consider is Sydney. Sydney has so much to offer, from the relaxing beaches to the diverse attractions. There is something for all tastes, interests, and budgets, which is one of the main reasons why people travel from far and wide to enjoy what this city has to give. With that in mind, read on to discover more reasons why Sydney is a place you should visit at some point in your lifetime.

 

The beaches are incredible – There is only one place to begin, and this is with the beaches in Sydney. You can find out more about them at TheGuardian.com. Sydney is known all over the world for its luxurious beaches, with Bondi beach being a firm favourite. However, this is merely one of many stretches of golden sand, offering serene surroundings and tranquil views of the ocean.

 

Vivid Festival is one of a kind – This is a festival that takes place in the city over a 23-day period. It is held every year, combining commerce, music, light, technology, and art. There is no other festival like it.

 

Enjoy amazing food and wine tasting – Many people do not realise that Sydney has a lot to offer on the wine and food front. Wine tasting in Hunter Valley comes highly recommended. You can find out more about this at HunterValleyInsider.com. You will be able to enjoy varieties that simply aren’t available in bottle form. If you consider yourself a bit of a foodie, don’t miss out on the opportunity to pair your delicious wine with some of the best food in the area too.

 

Experience some of the world’s most famous attractions – There are many famous attractions that are situated in Sydney. One of the most famous attractions is the Sydney Opera House. Not only are more than 40 events per month held here, but the building itself is majestic.

 

Witness the incredible New Year’s Eve fireworks – Another reason to visit Sydney is to enjoy the New Year’s Eve spectacle. The New Year’s Eve fireworks are incredible, with Sydney coming alive at the start of every year. A lot of people believe Sydney’s fireworks to be the best worldwide, why not experience them for yourself?

 

Be amazed by Taronga Zoo – Taronga Zoo is a must for an animal lover. It is deemed one of the world’s best zoos. Arrive at the harbour-side based zoo by boat and witness the thousands of animals that live here, from giraffes and gorillas to rhinos and sea lions.

 

So there you have it: some of the main reasons why you should consider Sydney as your next destination for a holiday. From the incredible beaches to the food and wine tasting tours, you are bound to enjoy everything the city has to offer and enjoy a trip to remember for all of the right reasons.

Are London and Australia On Your Bucket List?

With the New Year now upon us, something a lot of people will be doing is thinking about travel – and when it comes to travel, we all have a ‘bucket list’ whether it’s written down on paper, on Pinterest, or just in your head.  There are two destinations that seem to come up on most people’s bucket lists… London and Australia.

There’s already a great article on why Australia is a traveller’s paradise and here’s a great link if you’re looking for holiday accomodation in Australia that is a little more special, and bucket list worthy.  In terms of destinations to head for in Australia, aside from the obvious tourist spots of places like the Great Barrier Reef and Ayers Rock… you’ll want to try to make the time to visit the Gold Coast, Melbourne and Sydney – as this should give you a good taste for Australia.

 

Now, for the second item on most people’s bucket lists – and the world’s most visited tourist destination; London!  If you’re planning a visit to London, then you’ll want to be sure to visit each of these three areas, as they are the “bread and butter” of you experiencing the tourist side of London beyond Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.

 

CAMDEN

Camden is known for its vibrant mix of alternative markets, where you can buy anything from new age potions to new rock boots.  The cuisine is just as eclectic with a variety of street food purveyors bidding for your attention as you walk through the alleys of predominantly chinese takeaway vendors, but then when it opens out, you have artisanal street food vans selling everything from pizzas to steak and ice cream.  Camden is a great place for live music, particularly for rock and indie tastes – known as somewhat of a hippy and alternative enclave this little pocket of London is a melting pot of cultural and societal values.

 

COVENT GARDEN

Covent Garden is a great place to eat, drink, shop and be entertained.  It literally has it all.  Covent Garden has some great fine dining options, luxurious hotels, boutique shops, and trendy designers.  There’s a certain buzz to this affluent and exciting area that hosts alfresco entertainment at its heart and a plethora of theatres on its periphery.  There are now an increasing number of chain stores and restaurants moving into the area, yet it is still managing to retain its independent and boutique upmarket vibe.

 

SOHO

Soho is famous for three things, all of which manage to exist side-by-side in this bustling tourist trap.  On the one hand you have the Dinner and a West End Show goers, then you have the late night gay pubs and clubs scene, followed by China Town packed full of Chinese restaurants and specialist supermarkets.  The vibe is busy.  People seem to have a place to be in Soho, whether that’s marching to the gym, cruising around for guys, grabbing something to eat, or rushing before the curtain comes up on their favourite show.  It manages to have a chaotic and hectic energy but in a way that makes you want to linger a little rather than run in and run out.

Off the Beaten Path in Australia

Australia is a vast country with a lot to offer the average traveller. From the Sydney Opera House to the great rock Uluru it is one of the places that everyone should try to visit at least once in their life.

Of course, there is much more to Australia than the big hitters like The Great Barrier Reef and Bondi Beach. If you want to have a uniquely Australian experience and see the sights that so many other people miss out on, you need to get off the beaten path…

 

The Old Melbourne Gaol Ghost Tour

If you’re a bit creepy and kooky and a little mysterious and spooky, then it’s time to add Melbourne to your itinerary. Why? Because it is home to a fantastically spooky ghost tour of the very gaol where famous outlaw Ned Kelly was imprisoned and later executed. Not for the faint-hearted, some of the stories you’ll hear are pretty dark, but it’ll be an experience you’ll never forget.

 

See the Scenic Rim

If you want to get more of a taste of the rustic, rural Australia then you’re going to want to instant book accommodation in Brisbane, so that you can take full advantage of an area of National Park known as the Scenic Rim, which is way off the beaten track and one of the most beautiful valleys with some of the most spectacular views in the county. Oh, there’s lots of horses there

 

River Red Gum National Park

This National Park located in New South Wales isn’t perhaps the best known in Australia, but it is definitely one of the best. When you visit this amazing location, you’ll see koalas and kangaroos happily going about their daily business unobstructed, and have endless opportunities to show off your ‘manly’ side by setting up camp, kayaking, climbing and best of all, mountain biking.    

 

Newcastle, New South Wales

Not as well known as the likes of Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane, Newcastle is the perfect place to go if you want to experience all those big-hitters have to offer without quite so many tourists getting in the way. Often referred to as Sydney in miniature, Newcastle has everything from beautiful beaches and great surfing opportunities to excellent restaurants, and some of the most laid-back people you’re ever likely to meet anywhere in the world.

 

Coober Pedy

This town, which is located in South Australia is the perfect destination for those of you who like your travels to be a little more quirky. The opal capital of the planet, you’ll find no end of interesting gems, mines and museums, and if you like, you’ll even be able to sleep in a cave! If that’s not your thing, why not take in a round of golf on a desert course that is completely grass free or enjoy a drink or three in the town’s underground bar? It’s a fantastic stop to make on your Australian journey.

 

Take the road less travelled – you’ll have much more fun.

The ‘Finest Walk in the World’: New Zealand’s Milford Track

In 1908, British journalist Blanche Edith Baughan  sat down at her desk and declared the Milford Track the ‘Finest Walk in the World’. That’s a rather bold statement in itself. Even more outlandish is the fact that Baughan had never set foot on the track herself. Still, like a newborn lamb grasping at its mothers teat, the Kiwis have latched on to this statement and touted it as a universal truth.

The reality is this; the Milford Track is a pretty damn fine hike. The finest? Who knows.. I don’t know what really constitutes fine in regards to judging a hike. If it’s related to the weather, the Milford wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. During the 3 days I experienced on the track, it stopped raining for approximately 17 minutes. That may be a slight exaggeration, though the clear weather windows were few and far between. Pretty standard for an area that averages 6-8,000mm of annual rainfall. Despite the gushing skies, it was an incredible hike and a thoroughly enjoyable experience overall.

I was joined on the trek by 3 buddies over from Australia; Eric, Matt & Nick, 2 of which I’d just completed the Routeburne with the day prior (stay tuned for the post- some of the best scenery I’ve witnesses). Now, I also want to preface this by disclosing that we did the ‘pampered’ version of the Milford walk, through a company called Ultimate Hikes . We stayed in lodges, had guides, ate like kings and had a drying room for our soggy clothes at the end of the day. Yes, you read that correctly. They have rooms to hang up your clothes so they’ll be crispy warm and dry in a few short hours. It was a guilty pleasure.

 

Day 1: Te Anau- Pompolona Lodge (17.5km, 4hours)

We caught the bus from the lakeside town of Te Anau and then took a short ferry ride through to the start of the track. Needless to say, it was already raining. The track starts off as a well maintained limestone path, leading to a little apprehension on my part that this was to be one of those near ‘wheelchair accessible’ walks, such as the Heaphy track further north.  Thankfully, we were soon walking through mud and my fears were relieved.

For much of the day the path winds through a relatively narrow passage skirted by high, waterfall laden valley walls. The prehistoric plant life is diverse and immense, multiple shades of luscious green, while the sky is blocked by thick fog overhead. It gives the feeling of enclosure, as though trekking through a Jurassic Park exhibit. The closest we came to spotting rare and exotic life was in the form of the elusive blue duck. For Matt, this was probably the highlight of his trip.

Milford_track

Eric scoping out the scenery

Remember how I mentioned earlier we were staying in lodges? Well we strolled into our first one at about 2:30 on the first day and were greeted by fresh towels and the prospect of a warm shower. The guilt was oozing from my pores. That was soon taken care of by the perfectly pressured warm water… I honestly don’t know how I’m going to go back to multi-day tent expeditions after this experience. It may have ruined me.

After a little spiel about why we were doing the trek (we missed the introduction session on the first night, thank god) it was time to eat. Eat we did. Dinner was beef and rice with salmon balls for an entrée. That’s salmon meat rolled up into balls, not.. you get the idea. We promptly polished that off, got acquainted with a few of the other trekkers and hit the sack for an early night.

 

Day 2: Pompolona Lodge to Quntin Lodge + Sutherland Falls (20km, 5.5 hours)

Rising at 7 after a cozy sleep (bit warm actually. Too many blankets..) we hopped across to the dining area and made our lunches. Practically every sandwich making ingredient you can imagine was on offer and I attempted to use every one of them. We polished off a buffet style breakfast (no hashbrowns..) and took off on our way.

Today was to be the hardest of the trek. We were to make our way over Mckinnon Pass, a 600m odd elevation gain that was forecast to receive a smattering of snow the previous night. Leading us over the pass was our blonde, bright and bubbly guide, Veronica. Since this was technically a ‘guided’ trek, we weren’t supposed to be tearing around doing whatever we liked, a guide was supposed to be guiding us. Well, being tall and relatively fit young guys, we naturally liked to move rather quickly. This left Veronica in the position of having to stay ahead of us the whole way, which she handled well. Even more impressively, she was talking the whole time.. although I’m inclined to believe she would’ve pulled a Tonya Harding on us if given the chance.

Milford_track_mckinnon_pass

At the top of Mckinnon Pass, joined by our guides Veronica (left) and Adie (right)

The views from the top are spectacular.. so we found out in hindsight. It was completely fogged over when we were up there and visibility was about 30 metres. We raced down the other side (pretty fun decent down a small river bed) and rolled into camp (‘camp’ being a lodge with scones and coffee). We were ready for some waterfall action.

Sutherland Falls is New Zealand’s largest permanent waterfall, 580 vertical metres of H2O flowing over the side of a cliff. Of course, we had to get under it..

The waterfall attempted to intimate us with it’s roaring sounds and powerful winds we could feel from a good 50m away. We would not be deterred in our quest. We charged down the rocks (slipping several times) and planted ourselves at the base of the icy torrent, for about 3 seconds. We hastily retreated to the safety of the land above and posed for a victorious snap, like the conquering heroes we were. (Note: To be fair to Nick, he actually fully submerged himself in the small pool below the falls. Myself and the squid ran in after him, got blasted by the icy spray and sprinted back out.)

Milford_Track_Sutherland_Falls

The falls are home to a rare bread of squid, a species surprisingly efficient at running marathons..

 

Dinner that night was a Rib-eye steak with a mushroom soup as an entrée and crème brulee for desert. No, I’m not having you on.

 

Day 3: Quintin Lodge to Mitre Peak Lodge (21km, 5 hours)

The third day was more of the same; waterfalls galore. TLC should’ve hiked the Milford Track, she wouldn’t have had to chase shit..

Milford track

The sandflies were also out in force. Seriously, if you ever visit this region, be sure to pack a flamethrower of some sort. There doesn’t appear to be any other way to keep these little suckers off you. I had bites on my face over 2 weeks later from the sandfly attacks here.

We ventured passed waterfall 987 and were blessed with a truly rare sight in these parts. The sun. We basked in the golden rays of this celestial deity for a few moments before it disappeared for the day once more. Good riddance.. who needs it anyway?

We stopped at the end of the track for a lunch break before being herded onto a small boat which was to take across to our lodging for the night. Mitre Peak lodge is absolutely brilliant. It’s this old fashioned, timber based maritime style building which presents pretty incredible views from the majority of it’s twin-share rooms. It has a washing machine, the standard drying rooms and best of all, a pool table. This occupied us for much of the evening. Veronica partnered with me for a couple of games, appearing to deliberately sabotage the teams hopes of winning.. perhaps she was still harboring a little resentment from that day 2 escapade. Who knows. If you’re reading this Veronica, let it go.. Thankfully we still pulled out the win.

Oh yeh and most importantly; our dinner was a rack of lamb with potatoes and brownies with ice cream for desert. I have literally never eaten this well for 3 days straight in my life.

The following day was a cruise around the Milford Sound, taking in the sights that Captain Cook missed as he and his crew sailed straight passed the inlet. I’ll leave you with a couple of pics of the boat ride. Hopefully they’ll provide adequate justice to a setting my mediocre English would fail to sufficiently describe.

Milford_ track_sound

Mitre peak and its reflection provided quite an eyesore..

 

Milford track

Hiking the Heaphy Track: Worthy of Great Walk Status?

The Heaphy Track was the second of New Zealand’s great walks to be ticked off by yours truly, having completed the Abel Tasman a couple of years back. I was up at the top of the South Island once again so I decided to give it a whirl; I’d heard positive reviews so expectations were high. The Heaphy also has a bit of history in my family; my mum, aunt and grandparents having completed the walk over 40 years ago. I imagine it would be almost unrecognisable today.

My very first comment: this is probably the cruisiest type of ‘trekking’ I’ve ever done (tramping as they call it over here).  The huts were perhaps the most impressive I’ve seen on this type of hike (although we camped), while the track was incredibly well maintained. There were machines in operation along the way that looked like they tidied up and compressed the path. I personally prefer a little more ‘wilderness’ in my hikes but I can imagine the work that goes into this track would appeal to many.

Secondly, I was expecting a little more in the way of the spectacular views I’ve come to expect of New Zealand. While the ocean vistas and tussocky planes were certainly appreciated, the vast majority of the walk took place in forest. Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE forest, it just gets a little repetitive after 3 days. There were none of those breathtaking mountain or lakeside views that can make up for hours of trudgery and make a trip worthwhile even for a brief glimpse.

With those observations out of the way, the Heaphy Track is still a pleasant hike, worth a look if you’re in the region. It’s a great fitness booster and could be a decent challenge if you took it on in 3 days or so. We chose to stick to the typical 4 day option and this is how it turned out…

Map_Heaphy_Track

A map detailing all huts and elevations along the Heaphy Track

 

Day 1

Transport to the track from either end can be a bit of a pain in the ass. I was looking at shuttle options which run through Motueka (from Nelson) and cost around $65. Fortunately, I met a German girl who happened to be doing the trek at the same time I’d planned to. She had a couple of friends dropping her off and then picking her up from the other side. Absolute bonus.

I was picked up in Motueka around 10 and we were dropped off at Browns hut a couple of hours later. This marked the start of the track on it’s Eastern end. Practically the whole first day was up a gentle gradient to the Perry Saddle Hut and our campsite for the night. It took us around 4 hours to cover the 17.5km.

dsc_4620

This was the campsite for the night. The highlight came at about 8pm. An older English fellow who was hiking with his son decided it was going to be more comfortable sleeping in the shelter there than a tarp his son had set up. It was raining pretty hard at the time. About an hour after he’d hunkered down to sleep, one of the young girls staying in the hut came out to brush her teeth. She stopped just before the sleeping Englishman and shone her headlamp directly on his head for a good 30 seconds. This of course woke him up and he peered up in a daze to try and work out what the hell was going on. She finally realised what she was looking at and moved on. I’m in tears just writing about the incident.. I don’t know why but fuck it was funny.

 

Day 2

My new tent held up to the rain soaked night and we awoke on the second morning to find a relatively clear sky. This was to be a rare occurrence. There were very few stretches of sunshine throughout the whole 4 days, thick cloud hung about for the majority, usually spewing out hefty doses of rain.

After a light breakfast we packed up at a leisurely pace and were on our way for the day. 2 hours in we were still enveloped in forest and growing a little skeptical about the ‘views’ we’d read about on this track. A few minutes later we were out of the treeline and strolling through tussocked planes stretching across rolling hills for as far as the eye could see.
Heaphy_Track

 

There were also some pretty awesome swing bridges along the way…

Heaphy_Track_River

 

We covered the 24 odd kilometres to James Mackay hut in 5:45, stopping a few times along the way for snacks and pics. Now, I feel like I’ve already done enough complaining in this post already but I have 1 more to make. The ‘campsites’ at James Mackay are in fact elevated wooden platforms. Presumably they’ve done this to level out the fairly uneven terrain at this spot but these wooden slabs don’t make great sites to pitch a tent. Particularly so if you don’t have a sleeping pad..

Besides this minor grievance it was a nice venue with a distant glimpse of the ocean. The sunset was also pretty awesome..

Heaphy_Track_Sunset

 

Day 3

Practically all downhill.. The 21km to Heaphy Hut took us 4 hours 45. Awesome campsite. Completely separate to the hut with a little shelter and fire-pit for those clear nights. We didn’t get one of those unfortunately, although we did get a fire blazing for a couple of hours. At this site, you’re camping in proximity ot the Heaphy river, making for a nice change of scenery. The river also provides a nice little refresher if you’re game. Be warned, it is damn cold.

This was the first time either of us were introduced to the little New Zealand terroriser known as the sandfly. Holy shit. Sitting here writing this 4 days after a night at this spot and I’m still scratching like a meth addict.Those little fuckers are fierce. Completely relentless. Make sure you pack the most powerful insect spray you can find.

Heaphy_Track_campsite

 

Day 4

The final day was probably the most impressive scenery wise. The morning had us walking through palm filled forests with abundant birdlife singing out harmonic melodies. There were also a couple of gigantic fig trees just off to the side of the track..

Heaphy_Track_Trees

Which meant I had to channel my inner Tarzan..

 

This forest trundled lasted about an hour before we finally reached the notoriously rough West Coast ocean.

Capes on capes on capes..

Capes on capes on capes..

Definitely the most scenic part of the trek. A day trek/overnighter from Kohaihai to the Heaphy Hut would be well worth it. A few more bridge crossings and we were finished.

Heaphy_Track_Bridge

The final days hike took us 4 hours on the money. Our ride was waiting for us at the finish and we were promptly on the way to Westport. Just in time for a sneaky pint or two.