Salento: Valle de Cocora

One of the most popular things to do in Salento is hike in the nearby Cocora Valley (about a 30 minute jeep ride from town). Two options exist: a loop hike which is about 12km and a shorter up and back hike (about an hour or so). Both hikes will give you a view of Cocora Valley’s iconic palm trees. The long hike is rumored to be amazing so I am planning on doing the whole loop today.

I start off early today because I know I am a slow hiker. I inform my hotel I am missing breakfast again and they instead provide me a lovely fruit platter and orange juice to take on my journey. I also stop at the shop on the corner to order a coffee, empanada and some other breads to take with me (one being my new addiction of sausage stuffed rolls – these are amazing when they are fresh). I also carry lots of water.

To arrive at the start I hire a jeep from town square in the morning. They say they leave once an hour but they really leave once they fill up. Mine left 15 minutes early. Luckily I showed up early for the 7:30 am ride.

Made sure to note jeep ride times

The jeep drops us off on a dirt road I am assuming is nearby the trail entrance. There is really no instruction of where to start, I just know that I should start “off to the right” for which direction I plan to go. I should have followed the crowd as the jeep emptied but I decide to try to use the nearby restroom before I start my journey. By the time I got out of the restroom there is no one really to ask which way to go.

I wander around for a bit up and back on the dirt road. The entrance I am looking for should be to the right of the road.

view from the road

I look down at maps.me on my phone and I think I discover the correct way to the start.

I chose doing the loop going counter-clockwise to avoid crowds. Also the journey across the waterway is beautiful early in the day and the inclines are more gradual in this direction.

I head down into the valley and I eventually reach the trail entrance where I pay an admission charge and receive a wrist band.

I pass a small bridge and stop to say hi to some cows.

Entrance to first part of the path.

I start my hike trough a narrow trail in the middle of a meadow. There are cow pastures on the sides of the path. Vibrant green grass blankets the meadow. The weather is slightly cool. It is a beautiful day.

At the edge of the meadow I stop and eat my fruit before I carry onto the next part of my journey.

Fruit box from my lovely hotel

I start the stream-jumping section of the path. The second part of the trail is basically a series of rocky paths that wind around a stream with frequent bridge crossings. The bridges get progressively more scary: meaning the further you go the less maintained the bridges seem to be (I read where one called them the Indian Jones bridges).

This is another amazingly beautiful part of the trail. I enjoy hearing the stream of water while I hike.

Leaving the waterway behind I start climbing uphill towards a hummingbird sanctuary, a pit stop on the trail. I intended to visit the sanctuary but the climb is making me tired. I recall the advice I was given from other travelers a couple days ago and decide to turn back and forgo the visit. I have much further to go and I want to make sure I have energy to complete the loop. I did read reviews later that were favorable but nonetheless I am glad I skipped it because the trail continues uphill in the intended direction and I need all the energy I can conserve.

While on the trail I encounter signs of the different wildlife I may see along the way.

I hope I don’t run into one of these guys
Getting closer to the top
Bamboo shaded rest area

The terrain is changing again and I end up on a sandy path. It is challenging and uphill. I hear the sounds of doors creaking in the trees. I look up and see no birds so I can only assume what may be making those sounds.

I finally reach what I understand to be the highest point. I take the slow zig zags uphill. I stop on the bright green meadow “walls” to lay down and rest because it looks so comfortable.

At the top of the switchbacks

At the top there seems to be a café but it looks like they are only serving a specific tour group. It may be private property but they don’t mind that others are hanging around and resting on the nearby benches. I find Finca La Montaña a place to catch my breath and snack on my breads before moving on. I learn later that it is a coffee farm.

I am past the halfway point now I think.
I watch a dog watching people walk downhill (doing the trail loop clockwise)
Finca La Montaña

As I leave Finca La Montaña I walk by quite a few people going in the opposite direction. It appears the Finca La Montaña I have just arrived at is the final spot at top for those doing just the shorter hike. Unfortunately those walking toward the finca look tired since the journey is mostly uphill and it is now the hottest time of day. I chatted with a few hikers caught off guard with the uphill challenge. My hike is challenging as far as inclines go but at least the uphill parts are broken up by horizontal parts. I am excited to learn the rest of my hike will be mostly downhill.

I walk by some lovely tall pine trees.

only 4.2 km to go. mostly downhill from here.

I notice more beautiful views hiking down. Soon I reach another section where someone is collecting admission to the observation area where I can finally view the tall palms – El Bosque de Las Palmas. I receive another wrist band.

This map makes the path look very simple but it didn’t feel very simple while I was hiking.

Downhill path. It is now hot and sunny so I am thankful.

Finally I reach the upper level of the mirador or viewpoint of the lovely palm trees. It is incredibly windy today.

I walk out a down a series of sandy terraces, each giving a distinct viewpoint of the area.

Entrance if you are entering the trail from the opposite direction. Some people just visit this portion of the area and skip the long hike.
Chill out areas with great views
Tried to follow my location via maps.me. Not sure really how helpful it was.

I head back down what I believe is the street I arrived at this morning. I see a meadow where jeeps are parked. This must be where I catch my return trip to town. I wait for a jeep to become available and hop in the back. Luckily I am sitting inside (even though it is crowded) and not hanging off the back like other adventurous travelers.

Ride back into town

The journey today was long and exhausting but it was highly rewarding. I am adding this hike to my list of memorable hikes.

Abel Tasman and One of those days

Abel Tasman

This morning before starting another long drive I try to check the oil on my campervan after reading in the lease agreement that is something I should be periodically doing. The problem is I can’t find the engine. I’ve never owned or even driven a vehicle like this before. When I open the front hood it is all nonsense inside. Finally I ask a stranger at a gas station. He tells me he isn’t really familiar with the van but he thinks the engine is under the passenger seat. What?!?

Sure enough it is.

Looky there

After checking I am back on the road but I make a pit stop at a park where I read about my favorite bugs (sarcasm).

Apparently I am the filet mignon of humans

I am heading to the north coast and my destination is Abel Tasman. I have a reservation for two nights at a campervan site near the water.

Abel Tasman at low tide

The drive to Abel Tasman is twice as long as the estimate is. Once again I did not sleep well in my van last night so I am tired. Also it is really stressful driving on the steep winding roads heading into the Abel Tasman National Park; traffic is bad and cars ride my tail. I normally pull over to let faster cars pass but there is no shoulder for me to safely pull over. To top it all off I can’t find a place to buy gas that will accept my credit card and I am running really low on gasoline. I stop at a gas station one after another, each spaced far apart, and none of them are able to accept my credit card. I am almost at my campsite and when I discover the gas station nearby will not work as well so I have a mini panic attack.

I know a panic attack about finding gas sounds silly but I am pretty worn down and stressed out at this point. I turn around and end up driving to another town to find a gas station; thank goodness my van made it. This gas station has an attendant where I can make my purchase. I buy gas and three candy bars because I can’t decide if I want crisped rice chocolate, almond chocolate, or chocolate with peanuts so I just buy them all. Isn’t that what you do when you have a panic attack?

I decide that tonight would be a good time to spend some money on a hotel room. I just imagine getting to a crowded campsite with a bunch of screaming kids and end up getting into an argument with another traveler being very inconsiderate (something that tends to happen at these campsites time to time).

So that’s how I end up at a motel tonight. Hopefully I get a good nights rest and I am up for a hike because I’ve been looking forward to a day hike, I just wasn’t looking forward or expecting the crowds. But it is Monday so maybe it won’t be quite as bad tomorrow.

For tonight I have my candy bars ready and decide to go for some delicious veggie pizza at Sprig & Fern Motueka. It is really great veggie pizza. You can tell the vegetables are cooked fresh. Pizza and chocolate makes the world better, right?

Abel Tasman

Today I am doing a hike at Abel Tasman National Park. I wasted a day yesterday so I can’t do as long of a hike as I originally anticipated doing.

Abel Tasman National Park is named after a Dutch settler who had a battle with the local residents. Settlers eventually destroyed the area for logging, etc. They also tricked the native population into giving up their land.

In the mid 1900’s the land was preserved and turned into a park. Now it is a beautiful haven for day hikers, campers, and kayakers. One can spend days hiking from location to location while staying at different campsites.

I am only prepared for day hikes and fortunately there is a water shuttle to assist in that.

Waiting for my water shuttle:

My plan today is to take the shuttle from Kaiteriteri beach to get dropped off at Anchorage and hike back part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track to pick up the return shuttle at Apple Tree Bay. I have the option of walking all the way back to my car if I am feeling real adventurous. This shuttle ride only goes half-way into the park. I could could go further and see other interesting walks; some only available at low tide. I chose the one I did because it seems easily doable by me and I don’t quite trust the New Zealand track rating system; Kiwis tend to be in way better shape than I.

Taking off to Anchorage:

Split apple rock

I have arrived at Anchorage. Upon arrival I see the overnight camp site. Being intrigued I peak in the dorm. There is a nice dorm area to take coverage in overnight. No technology but at least not left out in the elements. I am happy to use the composting toilet before I begin my hike.

Dorm bed building

I start off the hike confused because the directional sign points in the opposite direction from where I believe the trail should start. I guess it is ok because the trail starts by going uphill and across the peninsula and heads back the correct way.

As I walk up the trail I hear lots of bugs. They are very loud but fortunately they all leave me alone.

The first part of the trail is mostly uphill but is well covered by the trees. Soon the trail opens up to a great view. It is warmer up here but at least I can see the water below.

Looking back down the way I came
Looking down at Torrent Bay

It is warm but not too warm, almost perfect for hiking.

I keep track of all the directional signs to ensure I am still going the correct way.

If I want to make it back to my car I am looking at least 11 km walk.
They have the pine issue here as well.
I am getting close to water again

I stop at a pretty beach on Akersten Bay to take a break and eat my sandwich. Hikers can camp on this beach for the night. The trail to get down to the beach is a little steep, unstable and at the end I need to hop over a cute little stream.

Again the sign is pointing in the opposite direction for which I think it should.
But the beach is still on my left so I am good.
At Apple Tree Bay. Do I want to hike another 2.5 hours to my car?

I finally reach the beach where the shuttle will pick me up, Apple Tree Bay. It is only 5.5km or so to walk back to my car. I consider it while I rest on the beach. There are very few people on this beach. I watch a family with their kayaks stop here to rest.

I decide to go ahead and take the shuttle back. It is a nice ride back.

Abel Tasman is beautiful and peaceful (except the main beach on the weekend). I could spend a week here camping, hiking and kayaking. One more thing to love about New Zealand.

Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand

Yesterday we took the train from Kaikoura back to Christchurch. According to the maps it seems like our bed and breakfast is in walking distance to the train station. We set off with our luggage but unfortunately it seems in the wrong direction. We hike over an overpass and seemingly going out of our way. We walk past some office buildings and then finally we see our lodging, Addington Bed and Breakfast.

We booked the cheapest room, the twin room. It is tight for the two of us with all our luggage but the home is nice. The breakfast is quite good and the house is clean. I am happy there is a washer and dryer available so I can do some laundry while I am here. Space is tight but we don’t plan on spending too much time in the room; besides I’ll have the whole room to myself for the third night anyway.

Today we visit Arthurs Pass National Park and seemingly the best way to visit is by train, a couple hours from Christchurch. Accommodation and amenities are limited at the national park so we visit as most do as a day trip by train. There is also an option to rent a car and drive to the pass; in the interest of time we didn’t take this option.

The weather is quite uncertain as it often is. We hope to get some time to look around before the rain sets in.

We start off with a walking tour provided by a park ranger. We meet at the temporary visitor center.

Learn about animals introduced that became pests. New Zealand is very strict about people bringing in foreign plants and animals, even checking our hiking boots on the way into the country. Unfortunately they weren’t always as strict and now they are paying the price with foreign introduced animals wreaking havoc on their ecosystem.

Our guide takes us past a waterfall, a church with a great view and some other notable landmarks.

Only about 30 people actually live at Arthur’s Pass. As far as visitors go I think many who stay the night do tramping (similar to backpacking, the recreational activity of going for long-distance walks in rough country).

After our tour ends we take the hike up to view some waterfalls.

Devil’s Punchbowl Falls (Māori name is Hinekakai) is up and down a good amount of stairs (2.2 mile hike). I may have cursed and whined a little on the stairs but it is worth it.

After the water fall hike I’m hungry so we head to lunch at one the two restaurants at Arthur’s Pass.

Even with no competition, The Wobbly Kea isn’t bad.

I love my halloumi and pear salad.

After lunch we go for a short nature hike. At this point I am focused on seeing a live kiwi but from what we’ve been told it is more likely to see them at dusk. My ears are actively listening but we are unsuccessful in the quest. However we do happen upon some beautiful lichen lined paths that are other worldly.

Wide open spaces

After our hike we head over to the general store and watch a very naughty Kea bird try to steal everything.

We walk back to the station to await the train. It starts raining but fortunately the rain was not able to ruin our day.

While we wait for the train we start chatting with the guys next to us. We find out they are in Christchurch for a quick stop back home (California I believe). They are scientists that work in Antarctica. They are responsible for fixing and setting up important scientific equipment. They are fascinating to speak with.

Our ride back to Christchurch begins and the rain stops to open up some beautiful views.

Once we are back in Christchurch we head to dinner before walking back to our bed and breakfast. My aunt leaves me tomorrow and I am once again alone for at least another month. It is nice to have a companion while it lasts.

Christchurch

Titan arum aka Corpse Flower

I have arrived in Christchurch New Zealand to begin a couple day tour with my aunt and then a multi-week tour in a campervan by myself. I am excited about New Zealand because everyone who has visited before me boasts of its beauty.

We stop in Christchurch for the evening before taking the train to Kaikoura tomorrow.

After we check into the motel I suggest we go walk to dinner nearby at Dux Dine. It is a cute restaurant built in what looks like a former house. I order one of the fish dishes. I am also tempted to try Pavlova, a New Zealand sweet dessert. I order another glass of wine to enjoy with the dessert. I’ll be a while so my aunt leaves before me to walk back to the hotel.

Walking back toward the hotel I come across a walking trail with some wall art.

Brockworth Street Art Gallery

I head back to the hotel where I again meet up with my aunt. She has gone for a walk and discovered the nearby botanical garden where a corpse flower has begun to bloom. She knows I have been awaiting corpse flowers to bloom all over the USA and just seem to miss them. This is my chance to see one in action. The admission is free at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

We walk to the botanic garden which is not far from the motel (Aalton Motel). The path to the conservatory contains many interesting looking pines.

The corpse flower or titan arum is fun to catch in action because it only blooms every 7-10 years.

As we wait in the line for the plant I can start to smell the signature smell, a smell some compare to rotting corpse stench. But the smell doesn’t bother me too much; perhaps because I am not catching it at full bloom.

The conservatory is open until late tonight so I could come back to try to catch it at a fuller bloom but I choose to just be satisfied with my viewing.

We catch some roses on our way out. A great way to cleanse the nose palate.

Our visit to Christchurch is short but we will be back in a day or so. In that time I will learn more about the effect the earthquakes of year 2011 caused on the south island. The effects of that earthquake are felt far and wide, including the destination we head to tomorrow, Kaikoura.

New Year in Sydney

Sydney Opera House

It is new year’s day in Sydney Australia. We get a late start today because we were up late. Luckily I am not hungover from last night’s celebrations.

After visiting both Melbourne and Sydney I decide Melbourne is more my style but I think I would like Sydney more if I didn’t visit in the middle of their darn summer! It is quite warm here – as is most of my travels lately. However it is nice to be with family though. It is also nice to travel with someone who is compatible with my travel style right now. Prior to my sabbatical I would take 2 week or shorter trips where I would book every moment moment possible with stuff to do. I cannot do that type of travel on this trip or I will burn out. It helps to travel with someone who has already been to Sydney and doesn’t have an urge to see everything that can be seen.

We didn’t just sit around during our visit though: We crossed off a bucket list item by booking tickets for show at the Sydney Opera house on New Years Day. We witnessed great performers singing opera hits.

What an experience!

Bondi to Coogee

Easily accessible by train and bus we took the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk. It is a beautiful and warm day and the views of the coast are great.

Along our walk we see Sydney ocean pools some of which were constructed in the late 1800’s. They are a very interesting concept. I enjoy looking at them and the different rock formations along the coast.

Are you my friend?

Still in Sydney for a couple more days. I’ll talk more about my visit in one more post!