Roughing it in the Outback

We had been wondering whether it was worth the trip to go see Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) which is smack in the middle of Australia. We had researched going there but found the cost of flight, car hire etc to be too expensive. So while in Sydney we browsed the backpackers’ travel agencies and came across “Wicked Travel” where we talked to a friendly Brit named Matt. He gave us his pitch about a low-cost tour called “The Rock Tour” that included everything except flights to go see Kings Canyon, the Olgas, and Uluru. The price was attractive and so was the fact that they would do all the driving and provide the food. So we booked the tour and flew from Sydney to Alice Springs.

We were picked up at the airport and taken into a backpacker’s hostel called Toddy’s where we upgraded ourselves from a shared dorm room to a private room at an extortion price of $50 . But the room was filthy and had many other issues. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when we tried to use their free internet. It was not working and they told us it was our device that did not work properly (3 other people had the same issue so we knew it wasn’t our device). After arguing with them and making a few phone calls to the Rock Tour company, they refunded us that night’s accommodation and we booked ourselves in a nice motel next door that wasn’t much more, was clean, and had all the amenities.
Needless to say, we were worried about what laid ahead for our tour!
The next day we were picked up at 5:30am by our tour guide Robbie, and once everybody was on board (total of 21 people), we took off towards Kings Canyon. We were to drive for over 7 hours that day and hike Kings Canyon for 3 hours: a very full day!
To break the ice and meet our mates, we all introduced ourselves through the mic on the bus. Our group was very young (also had a couple of older folks like us) , diverse, and interesting with people from Italy, Poland, Switzerland, US and South Korea.
After making a few stops for lunch and pee-breaks, we arrived in Kings Canyon at mid-day for our 3-hour hike.
The weather was cool but sunny and it made hiking that much more enjoyable. Robbie talked about the geology and history of the canyon as well as the plants that aboriginals use for medicinal purposes.image image image image image image imageNext order of the day was to drive to a spot where we would all collect fire wood just off the side of the highway. We were starting to gather that the tour was really hands-on and that we would have to “work” during these 3 days. We all received fairly minor pokes, scratches, and splinters for our efforts. Mark, a nice fellow from Florida (originally from Sydney) gouged himself pretty good in the calf and poor guy gimped the rest of the trip. We were surprised that the tour operator would allow gathering wood like that given some of the nasties you can potentially run into as well as the potential injuries but it was a refreshing change from all the US rules and legalese.We were explained later that the Northern territory is the wild wild west of Australia where laws are practically non-existent!image imageimageOur first night was our bush camp night near Curtain Springs where we cooked our entire meal on the fire and slept under the stars in a swag (basically a canvass “body bag”).

We arrived there at dark. Our guide got the fire going right away and handed out instructions to everyone to help. Someone made bread, some people peeled veggies, while others took care of the fire and stirred the grub.
image imageAbove: our bread-making crewimage imageAbove: Sylvie resting after helping to cook the meal. Below: our bread slowly cooking over and under the coalsimageWe finally ate our tasty meal around the fire late that night and Robbie had a surprise for us to round-off our dinner. We were to try bush meat, specifically Kangaroo tail that had been cooked in the coals…yuk!!!

Half of the group tried it, and according to James it tasted like mutton.
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We then got a demonstration on how to use our swag and about the critters and sounds we might encounter during the night. One of the preventative measures for snakes was to carve a small trench around our swag as snakes do not like to cross broken ground. Hmm… not very re-assuring but better than nothing so we all worked hard at drawing our “safe circle”. We did spot a “wild” feral cat trying to get into the garbage and heard dingos howling throughout the night, which was very neat. Thankfully no snakes or spiders came to visit. It was a very cold night though (somewhere in the 30’s F) and no one slept much.
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We were awakened around 5am the next morning to get an early start for our tour of the Olgas. Again, everyone pitched in to get dishes washed and dried after breakfast as well as get the van and trailer packed.
The Olgas , known locally as Kata Tjuta (“many heads”) are taller than Uluru (546m versus 348m). They form a striking group of domed rocks huddled together and it was neat to weave in among the rocks. There are 36 boulders shoulder to shoulder forming deep valleys and and steep-sided gorges.
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We finished off the day at The Rock -Uluru- doing a small hike and watching a fantastic sunset giving Uluru an orange glow as we ate our dinner.
imageimage image imageAbove: Uluru at sunset

Uluru is the largest sandstone rock formation in the world that rises out of the central Australian desert. It also extends 6 kms below the surface.
We spent the night at a local campground which this time had facilities such as showers and bathrooms that we all took advantage of. We slept in our swags for the last even colder night.
Again we were up and out of ‘bed’ very early to witness sunrise at the big rock while eating our breakfast. It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the sunset, but still a nice sight. We then visited the cultural center and took the base walk around Uluru. Uluru and the Olgas have deep cultural significance to the Anangu people, who officially own the national park and lease it to Parks Australia. Despite that and the fact it is World Heritage listed, people are still able to climb the sacred rock much to the dismay of the Aboriginals (and our guide). Nobody in our group elected to climb it, content to observe it in a natural state and respect the Anangu wishes.
imageAbove and below: hiking around Uluru with Mark and Erin from FloridaimageOn the way back to Alice Springs, we did a quick stop to ride camels, more for the photo opportunity than anything else. Definitely nothing like riding a horse!imageOverall, our group was as diverse as it was fun-loving. We had a good time singing on the bus, playing jokes on our guide, and sharing experiences from our different backgrounds. The tour that started out on the wrong foot turned out to be a very fun 3 days in the outback.

Above: a short video of what became our tour’s “anthem”. Below: a final group shot as we returned to Alice Springs.image

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Heading West: final days in our campervan

As soon as we got back from our manta ray tour, we decided to drive South that afternoon with Kalbarri and its namesake national park in our sights. Since we had gotten a rather late start, we made it as far as the city of Carnavon where we refueled, bought groceries, and then found a patch of grass to park our campervan on for the night. The next morning, we hit the road early and made it to Kalbarri by early afternoon.
We spent most of that afternoon at the local library catching up on emails, downloading pictures, and updating the blog. Most places in Australia offering internet are either slow, expensive, or both, and the library was no exception. The woman working behind the desk was nice enough to cut our tally in half after admitting the connection was slow due to the bad weather. We’d never heard that one before (internet slow because of bad weather/rain??) but weren’t about to haggle for a higher tab.
With all of our to-do’s done, we drove to a nice campground in town to get our patch of fake grass and called it a day. The weather the next morning was ominous but still provided us with some good pictures as gray clouds gave way to blue sky along the coastal portion of Kalbarri National Park. This portion South of Kalbarri featured magnificent towering ocean cliffs plummeting to the waves below. image image  imageWe then headed to the inland portion of the park where red sandstone canyons and rock formations are accessible down a long washboard and rugged dirt road. We hiked to the main points of interest, including “the window”, “z-bend” and “the loop”.image image imageAbove: posing inside the “window”imageAbove: funny-looking treeimageAbove: view from “z-bend”

Needing to hand over the campervan to the rental company the next day in Perth, we drove back out that late afternoon on the rough road to the highway to try to lop off some of the distance. We drove to a free camping area we’d stopped at on the way to Kalbarri to have lunch. It was a nervous drive as we had been told countless times not to travel at dusk or at night or suffer a guaranteed run-in with a roo or cow. We made it unscathed and joined the throngs of campers at the free campground. At the crack of dawn we were starting south on the highway trying to leave us enough time to fill the tank, fill the LPG canister, and give the van a quick tidying up. Strong winds and deluge rains was the menu for the entire drive to Perth with the campervan dancing all over the highway and leaving our nerves completely frayed. But we made it just in time and turned our home on wheels in to Britz. It was a fun adventure for a month but we were looking forward to sleeping in a real bed! We spent a couple of days in Perth and despite the weather being cold and rainy, we really enjoyed this modern but relaxed city and its myriad of bars, trendy cafes and restaurants. It reminded us of Portland quite a bit. We had the best burger we tasted in a long time at Grilled Burgers and also took in a French bakery named the best in Australia for a tasty lunch. We could definitely see ourselves living in Perth!imageAbove: Perth skylineimageAbove: finishing off a baguette sandwich & cappuccino with the chocolate pear slice on deck.image Above: strolling a section of Perth that looked like a medieval street in Europe.

The next day we flew to Sydney and spent the following couple of days exploring town. We stayed in the backpackers district of King Cross and it was a good location to walk to the main sights (thanks Tracy!). Sydney is the largest and most diverse city of Australia and is built around one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the world. In 2 days, we barely had time to scratch the surface but visited the city’s icons such as the Opera house, the Harbor bridge and Bondi beach, along with Bronte Beach and the Royal Botanical Gardens.image image imageAbove: The Opera house imageAbove: Bondi beach. Below: dolphins body surfing close to shore.image image imageEvery year, Sydney puts on a colossal light show called Vivid. It illuminates the Opera House, buildings surrounding the main harbor, the Harbor bridge, and even ferries and vessels in Darlington Harbor showed off their own dancing LED lights. The downtown area was packed with locals and tourists alike taking in the spectacle and we felt fortunate to have serendipitously been in Sydney for it.image image image image image image image

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Birds and other critters of West Australia

imageAbove: mating mothsimageimageAbove: surprise in our electric box at one of the campgrounds! 2 cute green tree frogs

Below: stick bugimageimageimageimageAbove: death adder snake we came accross while driving in WA, one of the most venomous land snake in Australia and in the world.  imageimageAbove: the weirdest crab we’ve ever seenimageimageimageAbove: double-barred finchimageAbove: brown honeyeaterimageAbove: rainbow bee-eaterimage Above and below: galahimage imageAbove: sulphur-crested cockatooimage image  image imageAbove: rainbow lorikeetimageAbove: blue-faced honeyeaterimageimageimageAbove: kookaburraimageAbove: red-tailed black cockatooimage

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Making our way down the Coral Coast

Just down the peninsula from Exmouth is the tiny town of Coral Bay which also lies alongside Ningaloo reef. We had been told it was also worth a visit so we included it in our stopover plans. We arrived there late afternoon, checked into a campground and then walked the beach the campground was bordering, Paradise beach and Bill’s bay . It was low tide so we decided to wait until the next day to give swimming and snorkeling a try. The next morning we went to the information booth to get the scoop on where to snorkel and other activities available. We started with a recommended snorkel off the beach quite a ways to a place they named Ayers Rock, which is a gigantic yellow brain coral. The other coral we saw on our way to Ayers Rock was incredibly thick and healthy, although not that many fish were visible (maybe they were hiding in all that coral). Ayers Rock itself was definitely an impressive hunk of coral, although we didn’t think it was labeled correctly as a brain coral (but what do we know about corals?).image image image imageThe waters in Coral Bay were much colder than in the Exmouth area, and so we were freezing by the time we finally found the rock. We snapped a few photos and quickly swam back to shore to warm up in the sun. After a quick lunch, we decided to void our rental warranty again and took the unsealed dirt road out to Point Maud and Bateman Bay. When we arrived, we were the only people there and we wondered why no one would come visit such a beautiful and isolated place. We walked the beach for quite a distance and back, taking refreshing dips all along the way and watched dolphins playing offshore. By the time we reached the parking area, there were people arriving to fish off the shore. So much for the isolated beach, so we put our bathing suit and clothes back on :).imageAbove and below: Point MaudimageWe decided to visit Point Maud again the next day to try the snorkeling and hopefully run into our dolphin friends. The snorkeling was disappointing. We only saw one stingray and the visibility was poor. Our dolphins friends didn’t show up either. Since the phone reception was quite good there, we finalized a manta ray tour for the next day. The tour would give us the opportunity to snorkel further out near the reef’s edge and swim with manta rays.

We then went on a little adventure that afternoon. We had heard of a 4WD track that was further out that wound its way further north in Bateman Bay, so we packed up and headed out the bumpy dirt road.
Our poor Britz campervan really got tested. But it’s a Toyota and we know Toyotas never die! After a long washboard dirt road that included negotiating some dicey looking ruts and rocks (the campervan has a whopping 6 inches of clearance), we pulled over when the road had finally turned to sand. We then hiked up and over some dunes, checking for whip snakes with a stick as we went through brush till we finally made it to a rocky lagoon.image imageThe seas were pretty rough and the protected lagoon kind of murky, so we just hiked around picking up shells. The lagoon did have a few baby black tip reef sharks, but James gave up trying to get a picture of them with the visibility being very poor. The day was getting late and we hadn’t made any accommodation plans, so we were happy to spend the night “squatting”at the Point Maud parking area. It was a beautiful night and we gazed at the stars sitting on the beach for a while before going to bed.

For our tour the next day we had great weather although the winds were a bit strong which made the seas a bit choppy and the chill factor high.imageAbove and below: Our chill-factor-sun-protection suitsimageThe first snorkeling stop called the Maze was fantastic: great visibility and heaps of fish (like our mates would say)! The second snorkeling stop was deeper and not as interesting.image image image imageimage image imageThe crew then stopped at a site where a humpback whale carcass was and lots of tiger sharks were hanging around. There must have been at least 10 tiger sharks, some of them of healthy size coming to take a bite. We were all wondering if we were going to snorkel? But no, the crew just wanted to show us and allow us to take a few pictures if we were daring enough to stick our hands in the water.imageAbove: tiger sharks next to whale carcassimageWe finally headed for the manta rays area and got the opportunity to swim with those graceful creatures. The first ray was just doing barrel rolling (it’s how they feed) and the visibility wasn’t great but on our second drop, we swam along an all black manta ray (a fairly rare type) close to the surface which was very neat.image image image image image image image imageimage

 

 

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Our day with the gentle giants of the sea

We set our alarm clock for 6 am for our whale shark tour and woke to thunder & lightning, and a bit later, a deluge. Not the kind of day we envisioned for our once in a lifetime outing with the giants of the sea! We dejectedly ate breakfast and started driving towards the jetty where we were to meet our tour, trying to call the company in hopes they had or would cancel, but we couldn’t get through. We sat in the campervan at the jetty parking lot and watched as other tour operators’ buses rolled in, and then finally, ours. We so wanted to leave and make up some excuse to try to get on the next day’s tour. But we stayed and the 2 girls in charge came to get us. We were not happy campers. Sylvie’s mood especially was as foul as the weather, more than pissed off that it turned out so bad as it could affect the showing of the whales, visibility etc…imageAbove: getting on the boat…crappy weather!

The girls desperately tried to cheer us up as we got on the boat in a cold downpour, but we couldn’t see how this would turn out to be a great day. All we could think of and ask them was: how can the spotter planes (they use spotter planes to see where the whales are and guide the boats) fly in this soup? Are we going to swim in this downpour and not only be cold but see nothing?

Our boat carried 20 passengers, which is the maximum as only 10 people at the time can swim with the giants. After a safety briefing and some information about the whale sharks, our first stop was a snorkel inside the reef. The rain had intensified even more by then and it was cold. We were all to jump in and snorkel (it was a requirement) so they could make sure of our swimming abilities and to test our equipment.imageAbove: one of our girl guides getting ready to snorkel in the pouring rain

Sylvie wasn’t having any part of it. She was cold (wearing a fleece and jacket on top of the wet suit) and the prospect of getting in the cold water with the rain pounding wasn’t her idea of a fabulous day. So she refused to go in and had to smooth things over with our captain, Bill, as it was usually a requirement to be completed before swimming with the whale sharks. He let it go and Sylvie and crew watched as everybody got in the water and miserably snorkeled in the heavy rain for 45 minutes. James saw a reef shark and big angel fish, other than that, nothing too exciting. By the time people were getting back onboard, the rain had stopped and the crew brought out platters of fruit and pastries to go with our tea and coffee (ok, so things were starting to look better). We learned that two other tour operators had given up on the day and went back to the marina, but our skipper was determined and headed outside the reef. With just enough time to get some hot liquids and goodies in our stomachs, they had found our first whale shark! The skies were now even a lighter grey with just a few hints of blue peeking behind. Everyone forgot our trepidus start of the day and scrambled to find and don their snorkel gear. Soon, group 1 was lined up on the back of the boat and jumped in. A few minutes later, our group did the same. Our first sighting was surreal as this giant creature appears to be making a straight line into your snorkeling mask, only to gently and silently gliding by you within a couple metres! We used our newfound adrenalin to keep up with the beautiful fish and easily swam along side it. It was incredible, what a majestic creature!! The visibility was also surprisingly good.  imageAbove: our first sighting – Sylvie to the furthest right in a wet suit and James in the middle in black.

Below: whale shark gliding by Jamesimage imageimageAbove: nice picture opp.  Below: James to the very left getting a good look at this giant and trying his underwater photo skills.imageimageBelow: swimming along…imageWhale sharks are one of the largest creatures on this planet and the largest fish in the world. The largest confirmed individual had a length of 12.65 metres (about 42 ft) and weight more than 47,000 lb although several sightings claim larger ones , up to 18 metres. They are filter feeders and eat enormous amounts of plankton, krill, and anchovies as they swim. They are slow swimmers and usually swim on the surface, moving their entire bodies from side to side.

image imageimageOn one of the “sessions”, we found ourselves in a school of jellyfish and nervously waited for the boat to pick us up after our shark had dove deeper out of sight. And so went the day with each group playing leap frog and the clouds finally giving way to clear blue skies. Who would have thought? These behemoths didn’t seem to mind us dangling around them, even feeding with their enormous mouths wide open. We saw a total of 8 whale sharks (one of which was 10 metres long) along with a manta ray and a dugong (sea cow).imageAbove: dugong

We ate a hearty lunch once the boat was back inside the reef and the sea less choppy and snorkeled a bit more before heading back to the jetty.imageAbove: Alicia, our awesome lead swim/guide. Below: a yummy lunch waiting for usimage imageAbove and below: relaxing snorkel in sunshine after lunchimage imageThere was a pod of dolphins that went by, but we couldn’t catch them being too full from lunch and fighting a strong current. It turned out to be an unforgettable day (for good reasons)!

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From red rock to deep blue

From Karajini, we headed to Tom Price , the closest town to the National Park, to re-fuel and spend the night – the campground was surprisingly nice for such a backwoods town.
The next day we set sail to Exmouth – a six-hour drive towards the coast. Exmouth is not only famous for its proximity to world heritage Ningaloo Marine Park, Australia’s largest fringing reef, but also for the numerous whale sharks who come to feast outside the reef April through July.
On the way, we stopped for lunch at a picnic area that had been washed out, but followed another van around the “road closed” sign to find shade and a picnic table. We shared the site with a nice French couple (Aurelien and Lucie) who were traveling/working for a year in Australia. They told us they had just left Exmouth and had had bad weather and many roads, campgrounds, and touristy things were closed due the recent flooding, which is uncommon for this time of the year. Since they were headed to Karajini, we gave them a park map and some information about hiking there , and they shared what they knew about Exmouth and getting there, so it was a very serendipitous meeting.
We arrived in Exmouth late afternoon after crossing only a few bad sections of road with quite a bit of standing water on both sides. We got ourselves a nice campground, did some laundry that evening and left our garments to dry in the clear starry night. Around 4:00 am the sound of drops on the roof of the campervan bolted us out of sleep and so we made a mad dash to the clotheslines to rescue our laundry. Upon arriving in the drying area next to the laundry facility, we noticed right away two huge gaps in the hanging clothes…where our large beach towels used to be! We cursed as we ripped our remaining laundry off the lines, stuffing them into garment bags, and hurrying back to our home on wheels as the rain picked up intensity. We didn’t fall back asleep as we were greatly irritated that our towels had been stolen. The campground office staff, while sympathetic, didn’t do much to help us. So the next day’s errands included filing a “missing beach towels” police report along with fueling up, grocery shopping (beach towels now on the list), and a stop at the tourist center. As silly as it seemed, we mainly filed the report for insurance purposes since even the cheapo towels we found at the local IGA were still $25 each! We found out the police had been aware of articles walking away from some of the campgrounds (so we weren’t the only ones), and, even had a good guess who the culprits were.
Once done with that, we started reading through the tourist brochures that we collected at the visitor center about swimming with the whale sharks. We were unsure if we wanted to do it. Top concerns were the cost, how good the swimming with the whale sharks would really be, and would that be a detriment for the whale sharks themselves? After doing some more research, we decided to go for it. We narrowed down the tour operator prospects, interviewed them and reserved with our preferred tour operator two days out (the next available slot). With all of our to-do list completed and the weather clearing , we then headed to the beach.imageAbove: Janz beach. Below: Vlamingh head lighthouse with view of the reefimageimageWaking up to clear skies the next morning, we left Exmouth and drove into nearby Cape Range National Park, which forms part of the coastline of the Ningaloo Marine park. Cape Range is home to a large variety of wildlife and it didn’t disappoint. We spotted emus, a beautiful dingo, kangaroos, rock-wallabies, and more.imageAbove and below: the largest bird, the emus, native to Australiaimage imageAbove: beautiful dingo. Below: Kangaroos and wallabiesimage image image imageimage Below: cute echidnaimageAt high tide, we snorkeled a reef called turquoise bay. It was definitely a drift snorkel as the currents were very strong and since we didn’t have fins, it was challenging to stay put and be able to take pictures. Nonetheless beautiful. We ended our day at sandy bay, a nice swimming beach close by.image Above: Turquoise bay, the current was extremely strongimage imageWith all the flooding in the area, many campgrounds in the park were still closed and the few that were open were full. The drive back to Exmouth town would be too long, so we decided to squat- camp in a quiet location (a lookout) for the night. We enjoyed the solitude and had a fabulous sunset to photograph. image imageThe next day was very cloudy and overcast so we took in a short hike and a quick dip at a nice isolated spot called South Mandu. We had over-heard a conversation at the visitor center about this beach and had filed in away in our heads to check out. It was low tide when we got there, but we could see the edge of water was teeming with marine life (reef sharks, sting rays, a couple of octopus, and lots of other sea critters) so we vowed to return in better weather and high tide to snorkel it. imageBelow: South Mandu beach at low tide with overcast skiesimageimageAbove: bailer that washed out on the rocks, we put it back in the water. Below: funky-looking crabs, amazing what you find at low tide!imageimageimageAbove: octopus, below: bluespotted ribbontail rayimageWe were a bit concerned about the weather for the next day (our whale shark swimming day) but tried to ignore it. When we did return to South Mandu to snorkel, it was fantastic and below is a small sample of what we saw…even better nobody was there and didn’t seem to know about this well-kept secret beach.imageAbove and below: South Mandu beach at high tide with clear skiesimage image image image image image image image image imageimageimage

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Testing our mettle in Karajini

After Broome, we headed for Port Hedland, an all day drive and big empty stretch. Nothing to see but dead cows (so many that we started counting to keep ourselves alert and “entertained” ) on the side of the roads and termite mounds. Stretches of vast emptiness are common on the West Coast, so you better always have a full tank of gas and enough water. We stopped at one of the only roadhouses, Sandfire, to top up our gas and use their picnic table to eat our lunch. Some friendly wild peacocks kept us company and cleaned up the bugs on the front of the van.image image imagePort Hedland is not the prettiest place. Railway yards, iron mines and salt mountains make-up the town’s landscape but it was a good stopping point for us to re-fuel once again, stock up on groceries and get a night’s rest after a long drive.imageSurprisingly the town has a great visitor center and we got some good information about Karajini National Park, our next destination. We spent the night at Cooke Point campground which was cramped and not terribly classy but we made do for 1 night. The next morning after collecting some salt at the nearby flat, we drove to Karajini National Park. The drive was a gauntlet of roadtrains each threatening to blow the van off the road.

Karajini is one of Western Australia’s most magnificent destination with its breathtaking gorges and hidden sculptured pools. We started off with the easily accessible Dales gorge, Fortescue Falls, Fern Pool, and ended the hike with a short dip at Circular Pool. imageAbove: Scenery on the way to Karajiniimage image imageAbove and below: Fortescue Fallsimage imageBelow: taking a dip at Circular PoolimageBut Karajini’s best spots are off road so we tempted fate, voided our campervan warranty (that’s only if they find out :)) and decided to take on the 30 kms of mostly unsealed washboard red dirt. It took us over 2 hours to drive that 30 kms but boy was it worth it! Scrambling, rock-hopping, wading, spider-walking, we made our way through splendid Weano gorge and reached Handrail Pool in mid-afternoon where we swam in the cold pool but also in the narrow water-filled gorges (the trail turned into a swim) to reach the next pool at the very end. Then we hiked Hancock gorge, which was as difficult as the previous one but we arrived unscathed at Kermits Pool at the end of the day for our final swim.imageAbove: taking the van off road. Below: part of the “trail” image image image imageAbove: descending into the sky!!image imageAbove and below: swimming at Handrail PoolimageimageAbove: hiking to a lookout where we also squatted for the night. Below: starting our hike to Kermits Pool.imageBelow: the spider-walking was quite challenging and nerve-rackingimage Below: Kermits PoolimageThe next day was equally rewarding as we took in Joffre Falls and Knox Gorge, both rated also as class 5 hikes, meaning very challenging. Joffre Falls’ hike tested Sylvie’s fear of heights with its sheer drop-offs as we were scrambling down the canyon. Knox gorge was less scary and had a nice but very cold pool to dip in. And so we took a brief swim after we ate our lunch there. image image image imageimageAbove: Knox gorge, we didn’t try to go any further, it was closed off. Just as well, would have needed a harness and canyoning gear for this one.imageAbove: Lunch stop. Reflection in one of the pools. Below: coldest swim yet!image

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