Category Archives: Trekking

Mt Allan – false summits, mental games

View from Mt Allan

Mt Allan, in the Conondale National Park, is not the biggest mountain you can climb or trek up in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland. But it is long, and steep, and a little bit tedious.

It’s the three or more false summits that do your head in on this 4.4km climb through the steep hoop pine plantation.

Just when you think you’ve made it, you turn a bend in the path and the trail goes on – and up, and up. In places, if you tipped too far forward, you’d end up with gravel rash on your nose.

But we’ve been coming back here for over ten years. The first time walking this hideously steep trail, I cried. The second time I made it to the top without a whimper and only the mildest of whinges, probably because I knew what I was in for.

The third time, mid-training for Nepal, I climbed to the top then down to Booloomba Creek and to the old Gold Mine, then back up Mt Allan and down to the camping area again.

This time, I’m happy making it to the top, still smiling. EB, of course, has always loved the climb – mostly for the entertainment value I provide I’m sure.

Mt Allan Trail, Conondale National Park

It’s the kind of walk where, on the way down, you inevitably meet cranky or exhausted or slightly desperate walkers on their way up, wanting to know how much further, and is it this steep all the way?

Telling them the truth is no help at all, so we just say “Bistaarai, bistaarai… slowly, slowly” and smile with sweaty serenity. Okay, we’re not that annoying. We do say it’s hard but totally worth it. Because it is.

One foot after the other has been my mantra on every climb here. With the speed depending on whether I’ve been a full-on desk jockey lately or have done some hill walks…

Charlie Morelands camping area, QLD

© Louise Creely

Dare I say, the downhill trek is tougher on your knees. But making it back to camp, with that glowing sense of achievement, is brilliant.

This is my happy place: a glass of pinot noir (or three), a crackling fire, the toc-toc sound of pegs being hammered in, the murmur of voices drifting across the campground, the cackle of a lone kookaburra, a blanket of gorgeous stars emerging as darkness wraps around us.

And EB having occasional hysterics as he re-enacts my facial expressions during the climb.

Troop carrier camper

Taking our troopy camper out for a run… created by Frankie 🙂


The Mt Allan Trail is a Grade 4 track – rough, long, very steep. It’s 8.8km return, with a 9.6m fire tower at the top you can climb for a 360 degree view of the surrounding ranges.

The Charlie Morelands camping area, where the walk begins, has recently been revamped. You can find out more and book camping here. There’s also places to swim and hang out (not in winter perhaps), or shorter walks you can take through the piccabeen palm forest or along the creek…

Charlie Morelands Camping Area QLD © Louise Creely

Charlie Morelands Camping Area QLD © Louise Creely

 


Barcelona bucket-list moments

We’ve been captivated by many fabulous cities around the world. We’re deeply shallow, I know. But Barcelona, you stole our hearts. And you did it so easily…

There’s a lot to love about Barcelona

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria,

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria

Yes, you’ll visit all the must-see places, be awestruck in galleries, channel your inner-chef in city marketplaces, and indulge in Barcelona’s delicious food, wine and hospitality.

But here’s something a little different you’ll kick yourself if you miss – seeing the city by sidecar, a street art tour by bike, wandering the lanes of the gothic quarter at night, and a day-trip by train to the beautiful mountain monastery of Montserrat. Let’s go!

1. Take a sidecar tour of the city

Brightside Sidecar Tour of Barcelona

Brightside Sidecar Tour of BarcelonaGet your bearings in style on this fantastic Barcelona sidecar motorcycle tour.

Sadly, I can’t do the ‘backseat driver’ thing and shout instructions from the side car, since I could easily be wiped off on the nearest lamp post!

First you’ll head up the hill of Montjuic, for great views of the city and harbour.

The day before, when we’d walked up the hill (as you do), we saw six cruise ships jostling in and out of the harbour (mon dieu!).

Then you’ll meander through the streets, along the beach and past Gaudi’s exceptionally innovative and fascinating architectural creations – from Casa Batlló, Casa Milá and the magical Park Güell, to the incredible work-in-progress, Sagrada Familia.

I can’t think of a better introduction to Barcelona, can you?

Gaudi architecture

Where did inspiration for the Star Wars stormtroopers come from? Josep Maria Subirachs’ sculptures on the Passion Facade of course (bottom left). Brilliant!

2. Jump on a bicycle for a street art and graffiti tour

Barcelona is such a busy city, it sounds like madness to jump on a bicycle and head out to the Poblenou area to see exceptional urban artworks and learn about Barcelona’s street art culture. But how could we resist…?

You don’t need to be a street art crazy like me to enjoy every moment of this tour.

Street art on shop shutters in Barcelona

Artist unknown

So why is most of the street art in the city only on the roller shutters? In 2006, some of the world’s strictest graffiti laws were imposed on street artists in Barcelona.

Some ‘legal’ canvases remained, including the shutters of privately-owned shops and ‘painting walls’ where the artists could apply to create their transient works.

But of course, street art is about breaking rules, even if it has gone mainstream, so there are always surprises…

I’d tell you more, but writing notes and taking photographs while cycling are not skills I’ve mastered. Yet. So visit Street Art BCN for all the latest news, artist interviews and more.

#streetartbarcelona

Here are some of Barcelona’s brilliant urban artworks – the smiling fish are by @elpez (other artists unknown)

#streetartbarcelona

A stunning wall by @jorge_rodriguez_gerada

3. Wander the artisan alleys of the Gothic Quarter

Streets of Barcelona's gothic quarter

Artisans in the gothic quarterIn the morning, when the street-art adorned shop shutters are closed, the old town looks sleepy (but never tired). In the evening, it comes into its full quirky glory.

It’s the perfect time to get lost in the labyrinth of narrow alleyways where artisans imagine, create and sell their sensational work.

I admit I’m not a born-again shopper, but these small spaces are full of delight and wonder. You’ll go more than once, I promise.

All that wandering works up an appetite, but you’ll find so many delicious places to eat, drink and be mellow tucked away in the laneways. Who needs sleep?

4. Take the train to Montserrat

Monserrat, Spain

Monserrat, Spain

The Monastery of Monserrat is a place you just have to visit.

Especially if you’re EB and you know there are mountains to climb.

Of course, one mountain is never enough, so once we’d had a quick snack, we had to climb the other one.

My legs felt like I’d done a thousand squats… well, stairs.

I digress. Monserrat is a place where hermit monks live out their days in prayer. Sounds like hell to me, but ‘purpose’ takes on many shapes…

Monserrat, Spain

The Black Madonna at Monserrat Monastery

Funicular at Monserrat

Today, the pilgrimage continues – but many are tourists and those coming to touch the hand of the Black Madonna. Created as a wooden sculpture, the Madonna mysteriously darkened over time.

According to Monserrat’s tourist guide, worship in the Basilica is focused around the Black Madonna.

Beyond the truly awe-inspiring Basilica is a boarding school, museum, gallery, accomodation, restaurants and more. And every day locals set up stalls along the main street to sell their delicious produce.

EB loves dragging me up mountains, but if you don’t want to leg-it to the top, a funicular goes almost to the summit for spectacular views and gentle strolls…

Monserrat 2

Along the mountain trail…

There’s so much more I’d love to tell you about Barcelona, but I’ve run out of puff. It’s a place you have to be – and immerse yourself in. Just be prepared to fall in love…


A splash of colour in Cuenca

Autumn has arrived in Spain – and with it the rain. But nothing can put a damper on the arty, colourful city of Cuenca.

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To say we are blown away is an understatement. From colourful apartment buildings, to hanging houses that look like they will topple off the cliff at any moment…

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cuenca-hanging-houses

…to incredible art in contemporary art museums, on the streets and in ruins we stumbled across on one of the many walking trails around the mountains (and yes, EB found them all – including those endless stairs!).

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art-in-the-ruins

tulipsEverywhere you look, there are pops of colour – even tulips growing among the weeds.

And then there is our hotel, Parador de Cuenca, suspended on a cliff opposite the city, overlooking the River Huecar.

It was originally the Convent of San Pablo, built in 1523 in stunning late Gothic style.

our-hotel-parador-de-cuenca

Access to the city is across a long suspended bridge that spans the ravine. I know right? Heaven can wait…

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Okay, I’m running out of adjectives here. And EB is hopping from foot to foot. There are trails to walk (or run!). And a slight downpour isn’t about to stop us!

cuenca-a-bridge


Off-piste in Granada

I know what you’re thinking… but I’m not talking about Granada’s legendary nightlife. Although I’m told there are 60,000 students at the university here. And they didn’t just come for the studying bit (but don’t tell their parents!).

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This is about getting off the tourist trail, high up in the ‘hills’ above Granada, where a network of precarious tracks meander around the steep edges of slopes – and making way for mountain bikers (jealous!) and trail runners is an interesting balancing act.

We started in the historic centre and walked up past Alhambra, one of the most visited monuments in Europe. We thought we’d take a little wander up the dusty track to check out the mountain biking trails.

Three hours later, we’d wound our way up and down steep hills on some breathtaking trails – and discovered the ancient water channel above the Rio Darro.

Built by the original Arab settlers, the network of channels carried a fresh water supply down to irrigate the extensive Generalife orchards and gardens, through to the Alhambra palaces and back into the river system.

2016-10-06-12-21-29-hdrWe followed the water channel for a while, until it came to a private olive grove – with a full-on sprinkler system going.

After running the gauntlet of water jets turning the steep track to a slippery slide, we decided to head back up and find a drier way down the slope.

This involved a bit of scrambling and, of course, a rather inelegant butt slide by moi.

But we finally found our way back down to civilisation, a well-earned snack… and a drink or three.

…because going off-piste is thirsty work.


I wandered lonely as a cow…

2016-09-11-21-34-03I’m sure that would have been the original version of Wordsworth’s poem – especially if he’d written it in Switzerland.

On our way back down from the stunning Mt Titlis, we jumped off the cablecar at the mountain lake of Trübsee to walk the rest of the way back down to Engelbert (and yes, downhill walking is weirdly harder on the legs and knees than going uphill).

Along the way, the cow-studded hills were literally alive with the sound of … cowbells.

Whether they’re walking or grazing, chewing their cuds or flicking off flies, those bells are full-on ding-dang-dong.

It probably sends them a tiny bit mad, but it’s certainly music to our ears as we make our way down the mountain. Just a brilliant way to spend a few hours in Switzerland…

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View from Mt Titlis

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The path begins winding around the lake at Trübsee

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A perfect place to walk…


First stop, Surry Hills

Copyright: Louise Creely

Last weekend we took a quick trip to Sydney to try out a tandem touring bike (as you do), to catch up with family and, the unplanned bit, to fall in love with Surry Hills.

Located on the city fringe, adjacent to notorious Kings Cross and right near Central Station, Surry Hills was once a bit of a slum area.

Today, it’s a melting pot of cultures, with a delicious retro, arty, entrepreneurial flavour – a happening place that has a village feel and a real sense of community.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Sunday breakfast in Surry Hills

Wander along its tree-lined streets window-shopping, then stop for a coffee (or vino) to watch the world go by.

It’s the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon – and you’re likely to be served by switched-on wait staff, who are easy going and up for a chat.

If you’re keen to see some great parts of Sydney on foot (I’m with EB, so keen or not…) take a stroll past the Domain to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, then walk along the foreshores of Farm Cove to the Opera House, and back through the city to Surry Hills.

Of course, you can always take the civilised option and jump on a train to Circular Quay to catch a ferry around the harbour… but this 1.5 hour easy walk is worth every step.

The ‘civilised’ option comes later at one of our favourite restaurants, Longrain. It’s just down the road from our hotel and a perfectly delicious way to end a great stay in Surry Hills.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Fort Denison is a former penal colony and defensive facility

Copyright: Louise Creely

A swim with a view – a battle ship docked at the Garden Island Defense Base


Coastal wanderings – Crowdy Bay National Park

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I’ve worked out what it is. I’m a natural woman. Not the Woodstock, flower power flavour of natural (although there have been moments…), but natural in a bushland, beaches, rocky coastlines and wildlife kind of way.

I know there are those for whom ‘natural wonders’ equal five stars and a sea horse swizzle stick in their cocktail, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for me, I feel the most at home in a national park somewhere.

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015It’s where I feel my chest expanding and I can finally breathe – even while scrambling up or down precarious rocky slopes (and that’s saying something when you have asthma!)

We’ve just arrived at Kylie’s Beach camping area in the stunning Crowdy Bay National Park.

It’s a favourite place of ours, even though the beach is particularly windswept today and the water is so icy it makes your feet ache.

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015

Australian author and poet Kylie Tennant’s writer’s retreat.

Instead of braving the icy waves and strong rip for too long, we head off along the coastal track.

Along the way, we pass the restored hut that was once the writer’s retreat of Australian author and poet Kylie Tennant.

At the peak of the hill, we leave the trail to wind our way down to a rocky, windswept headland.

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015

Here, the waves disappear into sea caves and burst through an arch into an amphitheatre carved by time and tides.

As we enter the impressive amphitheatre, the ground moves with a thousand crabs that swiftly disappear into secret places among the rocks and seaweed.

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015Back at camp, a wallaby and her joey feed on fresh spring grass.

The joey looks at us curiously, then nuzzles into mama’s pouch for a milky snack. Eventually, she bats him away and hops off, leaving him to feed on the grass alone.

Above us, a kookaburra perches on a branch, watching us sipping our crispy chardonnay.

It soon leaves to check out other campers who may have meaty treats to share.

A red aphid-like bug lands on my arm… and there’s a black fly in my chardonnay.

There’s a song in that, EB says.

All around us, bush creatures wake to hunt, mate and play under cover of darkness. The roll of distant thunder is oddly soothing and the waning moon is rising.

Ah, this is perfection – and, for me, this takes five stars to a whole new level. Just sayin’…

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015


Hanging out in Port Stephens

Copyright: Louise Creely

The most striking thing about Port Stephens, on the NSW coast, is the pristine beaches curving around each bay and cupping the gorgeous aquamarine waters.

Somewhere out there in this huge marine park are dolphins, turtles, sponge gardens, fish and more. While there are dolphin tours for all tastes, I was keen to get in there with them in their natural environment with Dolphin Swim Australia.

Talk about bad timing – and a reminder to book ahead if there’s something you really want to do on your holiday – the boat was out of the water being prepared for the tourist season. So… no wild dolphin swims for me.

This didn’t phase EB. He was itching to get me up a hill somewhere and, on the hottest day so far (of course), we headed up to the Tomaree Head Summit. There are a lot of stairs and a lot of locals panting up and down them with their earphones firmly wedged in place.

If you like to do more than just sweat up and down hills, the panoramic views are worth the effort.

You can also see the historic gun emplacements and other reminders that Australia was once ready to protect its shores from invasion.

In World War II, this natural harbour was an ideal entry point for hostile forces, intent on attacking the aerodrome at Williamstown and, more importantly, the Newcastle steelworks.

Steel was a vital wartime commodity, so Fort Tomaree was built here in 1942. It was a perfect vantage point, with 360 degree views covering the coastlines, headlands and surrounds.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Port Stephens is a great place for a family holiday, with beaches the kids (and you) will love.

I admit I was a little disappointed at not spotting a single dolphin, even from the headlands.

But we did have gorgeous early morning swims, and lots of walking and cycling. So I’m leaving fitter than when I arrived…and that has to be a good thing.

Next stop… Crowdy Bay National Park. 


Road trip – first stop Trial Bay

Copyright: Louise Creely 2015

Some of the most surprising places we’ve discovered lately are actually places one of us has been to in another life, another time.

I haven’t visited Trial Bay on the NSW coast for at least 30 years. And I don’t remember it being quite this stunning.

When you’re a kid, you’re into surf, scenery and wildlife. Just not the same kind of scenery and wildlife as now…

This was once my parents’ stomping ground. Their place in the world.

Copyright: Louise Creely

 

For the first time, I understand why they loved it – with its rugged coastline, wild-flowering coastal heathlands and secluded coves, it is one of the true gems in the North Coast region of NSW.

We are in awe as we take the coastal walk from Trial Bay Gaol to Little Bay.

It’s been the first non-travelling day of our holiday and EB has me up at the crack of dawn, breakfast eaten, and cycling into South West Rocks for espresso.

 

 

A short respite and we’re cycling back for a swim, before walking to Little Bay.

Yep, my usually desk-bound butt is feeling it! Perhaps calling this a ‘holiday’ was stretching the point…?

Copyright: Louise Creely

The best thing about road trips, apart from discovering new and amazing places in Australia, is that I always sleep well at night.

But the day is only half done, the tide is rising in the bay and… it’s time for another swim perhaps?

Common Fringed Lily and a scribbly gum...

Common Fringed Lily and a scribbly gum…


Go wild, in a civilised way:

Camping at Arakoon Conservation Area is a great choice if you love nature, coastal walks, pristine beaches and bays, and history – and you like to be a bit civilised too, with showers, toilets and cooking facilities.


Walk on the wild side – at Binna Burra

Copyright: Louise Creely

Crisp air, sweeping views, birdsong and a nice red… you can just feel the serenity. We’ve arrived at Binna Burra Sky Lodges, in the heart of the Lamington National Park, for some post-wedding R&R.

Copyright: Louise Creely

But it’s not long before EB is scanning the Binna Burra map to find a long, challenging walk for us to do. Clearly ‘relaxation’ is all in the interpretation.

The Sky Lodges are the newest edition to the Binna Burra Mountain Lodge, a nature-based resort founded in 1933, which still has that retro feel.

The beautiful, self-contained lodges are designed to capture the spectacular views across Queensland’s Scenic Rim, stretching all the way to the Gold Coast and the ocean.

EB may have his walking agenda, but I also have mine. So late in the afternoon we emerge, feeling very Zen, from the aptly-named Bliss Massage, to a mountain shrouded in mist – which soon unwraps a stunning sunset. Copyright: Louise Creely

The next morning, we tackle the Ship’s Stern. To say I’m a little anxious is a major understatement. I haven’t done any serious bush walking since we climbed Mt Gower on Lord Howe Island in 2011 and, unlike EB who’s always exercising and has an active job, I spend most days firmly planted at an office desk.

Copyright: Louise Creely

The Ship’s Stern walk descends into the Kurraragin Valley, past towering red cedar, eucalypts and piccabeen palms, and natural viewing spots where looking down makes your legs tingle.

Along the way, dense rainforest gives way to open forest, with sudden transitions to open heathland. In places, the narrow track clings to the mountain edge and the drop-offs are breathtaking.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Pops of bushland colour…

Copyright: Louise Creely

Go fig-ure

When I’m certain we’re nearing the end of the 19km walk, we come across a sign that proves EB right (again). We’ve just passed the halfway point. Ugh.

But surprisingly, my bushwalking legs are back and I’m ready to take on the 9.4km uphill stretch.

Negotiating massive fallen trees and debris on the edge of the precipice along this section of the track soon makes me forget uphill battles and fatigued legs. There’s nothing like the occasional adrenalin rush to keep your energy levels up.

Nature's hieroglyphics

Nature’s hieroglyphics

By the time we reach the end of the walk, I’m skipping – in an exhilarated, kind-of exhausted and lumbering way. I made it – and with far more ease than I expected.

Yes, EB would definitely have arrived at the finish line sooner, but he was very relaxed and accommodating of my slower pace (what a great husband!).

He wasn’t even phased by my constant oo-ah moments, when I stopped to take photos with my iPhone camera (because I wasn’t about to lug my real one on a walk like this!). Copyright: Louise Creely

This was yet another reminder in my life (how many do I need?!) that when you think you can’t do something, you’re often underestimating your abilities because, most times, you can.

Somewhere along the Ship’s Stern, I decided there are so many things in life I can’t not do…

Which leads me to the ‘real’ honeymoon we’ll be taking sometime soonish.

It may involve some serious cycling training… but that’s another story.

Bridal waltzing, lou and EB style

Bridal waltzing, lou and EB style

A wedding postscript: The rain gods cast their blessing on our beach wedding. But, as some wise person once said, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, then (our addition) splash in the gin and hand it around.

So we took the ceremony indoors, and nothing could dampen our spirits as the night turned into one huge party. It really was one of the best days of our life, shared with our fabulous family and friends.

After 19 years together, raising our blended family, we didn’t expect to feel any different. But we do. We’re primed and ready for getting on with this next phase of our lives… on the flight path.

Copyright: Louise Creely

And he walks in fields of gold…