The Grampians

Hiking adventures only 3 hours from the city.

Three hours drive away from the city of Melbourne lies an incredible and rugged mountain range - the Grampians. This National Park boasts an array of adventure, hiking, camping, and even some food and wine from local producers and nearby vineyards. At the heart of the Grampians lies Halls Gap, a perfect spot to grab a bite to eat before a day of exploration begins. We recommend Harvest, a cute little cafe (come provedore and accommodation) delivering a number of hearty brunch choices and, of course, coffee.

No matter how long you spend at the Grampians, the trip is not complete without hiking the Pinnacle. This trail is an easy 2.1km with a short 2 hours return time. Starting at the Wonderland car park, follow the signs and walk over the bridge. The start of the trail is predominantly bushwalking and stairs. As you ascend, steep sandstone walls with spectacular layers will tower above you on both sides - this is Australia's very own Grand Canyon but, obviously, much smaller in scale. As you reach the top of the canyon, a green sea of Australian forestry as far as your eyes can see will be on your right. On your left, a trail leads you further up to the peak (aka pinnacle) where you'll find a magnificent 360° panoramic view of the Grampians. 

For more awesome views, head to Boroka Lookout. For some waterfall scenes, check out Mackenzie Falls. Both of these are only a 10 minute drive from Halls Gap.

Wild kangaroos are aplenty in the Grampians, so you'll be sure to see some hopping about.

Grampians National Park, Victoria

www.visitgrampians.com.au

 

Tempelhof Airport

Abandoned airports make the best parks.

The biggest park in Berlin is Tempelhof, which until recently was a fully functioning airport terminal. The park is split in two by a long, concrete runway and a huge Nazi-built terminal looms at the end of it. With BBQ areas, ice cream and coffee stands and the dwarfed Berlin skyline in full view, Tempelhof Park is a unique green space that’s definitely worthy of a visit.

A lot of the original, yellow airport signs are still in place and there are chalk drawings on some areas of the runway. In a far corner of the park, there’s an old plane covered in weeds and used as a perch for various birds. Without flower beds or park benches, Tempelhof sits perfectly with the aesthetic of the rest of the city, in an eerie, sci-fi esque way.

Almost three times the size of London’s Hyde Park, we recommend renting bikes or taking a longboard so you can see as much as possible. There’s talk of landscaping the space ready to host the International Garden Show next year, so head there whilst you still can!

www.visitberlin.de

Flughafen Berlin Tempelhof, Bayernring, 12101, Berlin

 

Emerald Lake

A must-see for anybody visiting Banff is to take a short drive and check out the mesmerising Emerald Lake (just an hour and fifteen minutes west of Banff on Highway 1) in Yoho National Park. This is one of the bluest and greenest lakes your eyes will ever see. Emerald Lake was founded by chance back in 1882 by Thomas Wilson, a Canadian Pacific Railway packer. Whilst rounding up his wayward pack horses near the town of Field, Wilson, rather luckily, happened to stumble upon Emerald Lake. Upon discovering this natural beauty, Wilson was instantly hypnotised by the emerald-blue colours of the water and the surrounding mountain backdrops, leading to its name - Emerald Lake. An interesting fact is that Wilson first named the now-known Lake Louise as Emerald Lake, but this was later changed to ‘Lake Louise’ in honour of Queen Victoria's fourth daughter and wife of John Campbell (Governor General of Canada at the time), Princess Louise Caroline Alberta. 

But why so blue? As spring rolls around, glaciers begin to melt and deposit glacial silt (aka rock flour) into nearby mountain lakes. This rock flour is extremely light and stays suspended near the top of the water for a long time. As sunlight hits the surface of the water, the rock flour distorts the wavelengths of light, reflecting back more blues and greens in the colour spectrum. Because of this, we see a spectacular lake of these intense colours. The blue and green colours are most vivid during the height of summer (July & August).

And if just seeing Emerald Lake isn’t enough, there are a couple of outdoor activities that you can do too. Surrounding the entire lake is a short and easy 5.2km trail where you can take in all of the lake’s angles and jaw-dropping views alongside vibrant wildflowers. If you want to get on the water, canoe rentals cost $40 per hour, which may seem steep but this is slightly cheaper than renting at Moraine Lake or Lake Louise. One of the great things about Emerald Lake is that it is lesser-known compared to its counterpart, Lake Louise, so you won’t bump into as many herds of tourists. 

 

Hiking Cascade Mountain

If you've ever been to Banff (or seen a photo at least), you've probably noticed a perfectly placed mountain at the end of Banff Ave. This did not happen by chance. Back in the late 19th century, the town of Banff was consciously designed to illuminate the majestic Cascade Mountain in all of its glory. Standing at an impressive 2998m height, Cascade looks like a snow-covered misplaced pyramid in the Canadian Rockies. The dense tree line reaches less than half way up this colossal mountain whilst the rocky jagged peak soars high into the sky. Waking up every morning to a view of this mountain never gets old. And what makes it even better - is knowing that I’ve reached the summit of this bad boy!

To start this pretty strenuous all-day hike, head up to the Mount Norquay ski area and grab an empty spot at the parking lot. The trailhead begins at the Mount Norquay Ski Lodge and from here you want to follow the signs towards the Cascade Amphitheatre. Parks Canada signs will guide you to the Cascade Amphitheatre, but no further. The reason for this is because of the high risk and danger that hiking to the summit of Cascade Mountain can ensue. From the Ski Lodge, walk past the bases of the ski lifts until you get to the Mystic chairlift (0.8km). As you pass Mystic on your left, there is a sign to the Cascade Amphitheatre which leads you into the valley to Forty Mile Creek (2.9km). Cross the bridge and then the five hour upwards climb begins. First, you are treated to some pretty arduous switchbacks through wonderfully green and dense Canadian alpine forestry (2.3km), which can sometimes feel never-ending. The end of the switchbacks leads to a spectacular opening to the beautiful Cascade Amphitheatre. Towering limestone cliffs encompass an extensive polychromatic alpine meadow with fresh vibrant wildflowers scattered as far as you can see. Standing in the natural amphitheatre, the summit of Cascade looks pretty close but it is here that I learnt that appearances can be very deceiving. The false peak from this angle is stupidly obvious, but as soon as you get to the ridge line it is definitely not-so-obvious.

To the right you will see a steep path through scattered trees leading upwards, head this way until you get to another clearing. The next stage of the hike (top of the amphitheatre to the ridge line) looks like a never-ending trail of rubble in the form of huge boulders. It is here that your pace will probably begin to slow down as you have to think carefully about every step you take forward. From this point of the hike, there are no more Parks Canada signs. Instead, you are guided by fluorescent orange spray paint marks on scattered rocks – be sure to look for the next orange tag before you leave the one you’re at! As you make your way across these boulders, you'll often see a trail of scree (small loose rocks) that will lead you along the most popular route to the next orange point. As you traverse across the mountain, cute chubby marmots play hide and seek with their friends. You'll see them resting every now and again to take in the stunning view of Mount Norquay with its luscious green snow-less ski runs carved perfectly in-between the trees. 

Once you get to the ridge line, it is now you're turn to tower over the humungous Cascade Amphitheatre - looking down from this point can be somewhat scary. It is here that you will see the easily mistakable false peak. To avoid getting stuck atop of the fake summit, follow the faint zig-zag switchbacks upwards that seem to hug around the right side of the false peak. Once you pass the false summit, it is easy to see the ridge line again and get back on track for the real summit! Although it looks close, the final ascension to the top is still pretty far away. But at least from here, the end is in sight! 

After about an hour of ruthless upwards climbing on very forgiving scree, you reach the summit of Cascade Mountain. And this view is nothing short of spectacular. On one side, you have an incredibly blue Lake Minnewanka surrounded by beautiful mountains. And on the other side, there is a breathtaking panoramic view of a mighty Mount Rundle standing in-between Canmore on the left and Banff on the right with a never-ending supply of mountains in the background. (I was kicking myself for not taking my SLR on the hike with me, so these are all just photos taken from my iPhone.)

If you're in Banff for a couple of days (and relatively fit), I'd definitely recommend this hike. The feeling that you get from climbing a mountain as grandiose as Cascade, which is topped off with an awe-inspiring view is out of this world. 

Round trip: 10 hours (give or take, dependent on fitness and how many stops you take)

Length: 18km (approx)

Elevation: 2998m

 

Moped Around Bali

Stopped at the traffic lights on Jalan Sunset Road you would think that this would be a time of tranquility, a time for everyone to take a deep breath and enjoy the beautiful sunset Bali has to offer. This was not the case. I sat static on my moped, whilst a dozen sweaty Balinese locals surrounded me on their mopeds, yelling their native tongue, impatiently beeping their horns, weaving uncaringly in and out of the few whom were stationary in the traffic. Everyone fought to get to the stop line, even those with five surfboards on their head or a 6-person family aboard their motor (believe it!). The black and white curbs on the side of the road made it unquestionable that this was anything else but a Super Mario Kart race in real life… I was just waiting for the bananas to be dropped on the floor in front of me. The lights turned from red to orange, the revving of engines grew louder and the honking of horns became defeaning. And GREEN! The race was on. Locals whizzed passed tourists, whilst tourists flurried to get their mopeds going at even half the speed of the Balinese bikers. This was the rat race of Bali. And it was behind moped handlebars with adrenaline pulsing through my body and chaotic traffic all around me that I felt immersed into the Bali way of life.  

If you hadn't already guessed the most popular way to get around Bali, for locals and tourists alike, is via moped - and this exotic island is nothing short of these crazy little things. Renting mopeds is super easy - there is pretty much a 'hire a scooter' sign or a local Balinese shouting 'motorbike?' on every corner in Kuta. To hire one, all you need is an International Driving License and you're good to go. We rented a moped and helmets from our hostel (Kayun Hostel - review coming soon) for around $10 for the entire day - bargain! Remember to check the moped for any scratches or dents before you head off (take a photo), as you don't want to be charged for any damages you didn't do! Helmets on, mopeds ready, map in hand, we were ready to check out all of the stunning white sandy beaches in the most southern part of Bali. Except, maybe not. The map was more confusing than a rubik's cube.  Luckily, a friend of one of the hostel workers just happened to be passing by, we got chatting (the warmth of the locals is seen by their love to talk to new people) and before we knew it we had a tour guide for the day - Leon. Leon guided us along the bewildering Balinese roads and navigated us through the intertwining maze of locals to a number of blissful locations including Dreamland beach, Padang Padang beach, Uluwatu Monkey Temple and Jimbaran Bay (the latter two we will save for later in their own separate blog posts).

Our favourite stop on Leon's private tour was a beach that is tucked nicely away in Pecatu Village called Padang Padang - home to the Rip Curl Surf Cup every year. As you near the beach, small wooden make-shift signs with the words 'beach this way' carved into them will pop up directing you to this little treasure. Parking is located just off of Jalan Labuansait, and was free when we went but this may have changed now. From here, atop of a bridge, you get a breathtaking view of Padang Padang in all its entirety. The 100 metre white sandy beach is encapsulated by beautifully eroded limestone cliffs, wild green forestry and giant crashing waves from the aqua clear Indian Ocean (the waves at Padang Padang are pretty powerful so are most suited to intermediate or pro surfers). To get to this piece of paradise, you must descend a set of narrow stairs that cut right through a crevice in the cliffs. After about 100 stairs, you'll find yourself stepping onto the warm soft sand greeted by an array of different characters on the beach - local vendors trying to sell colourful mandala-printed sarongs, warungs offering fresh juices straight out of coconuts, tourists soaking up the rays of the sun, and surfers riding the humungous swells of the Indian Ocean. We wanted to be a part of it, so we laid down our newly bought sarongs/towels and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon the Padang Padang way.

Exploring Bali via moped is an invigorating, fun, cheap, and even a little hair-raising at times, experience that you should put high on your bucket list when visiting this Indonesian island! 

 

Quarry Rock Hike

Just thirty minutes from downtown Vancouver nuzzled in the quaint Deep Cover neighbourhood in North Vancouver lies this beautiful little hike called Quarry Rock. We didn't have the best weather for the hike but nonetheless we powered on through the drizzling rain to get to the must-see lookout. 

Beginning at the parking lot on Panorama Drive, there are numerous signs indicating the path to follow for the Baden Powell Trail. Quarry Rock makes up only a fraction of the Baden Powell Trail. The complete Baden Powell Trail is 48km and covers a whole range of Vancouver's North Shore region from Deep Cove all the way to Horseshoe Bay. Follow the Baden Powell trail signs, which will take you along Panorama Drive until you get to a set of wooden stairs on your left. This is where the hike begins. Shortly after a few steps, you'll come across a pretty relentless uphill path covered in exquisitely intertwined tree roots. The hike leads you through one of Vancouver's many temperate rainforests with Hemlock and Douglas Fir trees aplenty. The trail begins to level out after about ten minutes, once you get to a wooden bridge. The next thirty minutes of the hike is a steady incline along paths and wooden boardwalks until you reach a fork in the Baden Powell Trail. Merge right through the tree clearing and you'll hit solid rock - this is the Quarry Rock summit. From here, you can enjoy scenic views of the Indian Arm inlet, Deep Cove harbour, and the skyscrapers of a faraway downtown Vancouver.

Quarry Rock is an awesome little hike if you want a bit of exercise before the day begins or if you're just in Vancouver for a couple of days and have lots to cram in!

Round trip: 1.5 - 2 hours

Length: 3.8km

Elevation: 100m

 

Tower of Babel Scramble

So I stumbled across this hike (which was more of a scramble) after a friend showed me some amazing photos from the peak and decided it had to be done. Tower of Babel is probably one of the most rewarding hikes I've ever done, but little did I know what was in store to get there...

Tower of Babel was named by an early explorer of the Canadian Rockies, Walter Wilcox, who thought the mountain had a strong resemblance to the biblical 'Tower of Babel' that reached to the heavens. It's hard to argue with this name when you're standing at the bottom looking up at the prodigious peak.

To begin the hike, head left from Moraine Lake and follow the trail towards Consolation Lakes. Follow a footpath with stairs until you reach a huge rock pile. Look up, see the two peaks, find the gully and that's where you want to get to! There's no right way to climb up this mountain, just aim for the gully in-between Mount Babel and the Tower of Babel. The start of the ascent involves a lot of big rocks that are easy enough to step on one-by-one without any give. As you get a little bit higher, these big rocks turn into smaller looser rocks also known as scree. You'll now find yourself using your hands a lot more as you need more balance and control as the rocks begin to give way below you - the faster you move, the easier it will be. Whilst ascending, I found holding onto the walls of the gully helped me to keep sturdy. As you climb further into the gully, more solid rock becomes available for you to climb and navigate yourself to get to the very top. As you reach the end of all the rock-climbing, turn left and follow the trail for no more than 5 minutes to get to the peak. Sit back, relax and enjoy that view! 

Lake Moraine is one of the most photographed lakes in Canadian Rockies - every tourist jumps off their tour bus, takes a quick snap of the jaw-dropping surreal clear blue water and gets back on their bus - but to see it from way up high from a completely different perspective after a vigorous two hour scramble was nothing short of incredible. The glacier fed lake looks even more blue and the Valley of the Ten Peaks as grandeur as ever.

On the way down, you'll see the most popular paths that have guided other people to the peak that you wish you could've seen on your way up. I was definitely expecting a difficult hike for the Tower of Babel, not a 5 minute walk and a 2 hour scramble to the top. Regardless, I am so glad I did it. As a side note, I would definitely recommend wearing a helmet - I had to duck a few times to avoid being hit by somersaulting rocks that had become loose from hikers above. If you do see a rock start to tumble, always shout out ROCK to let anyone below you know.

Round trip: 3.5 - 4 hours

Elevation: 2360m

To get to this hike from Banff, take the Trans-Canada Highway 1 westwards towards Lake Louise and then turn right onto Moraine Lake road until you reach Moraine Lake and the free parking lot.

 

Primrose Hill

Regents Park is home to the beautiful Primrose Hill, a serene escape from the exciting but relentless buzz of the city. Sit yourselves down on picnic blankets atop the grassy slopes which offer a perfect vantage point over the London skyline. The Shard, the London Eye, the Gherkin and St Paul's Cathedral reach into the clouds across the horizon, but surrounded by 50 acres of lush greenery, the city couldn't seem further away. 

We came armed with goodies from Borough Market, but a great way to enjoy a late summer afternoon would be to bring a bottle of bubbly and watch the world go by. 

The nearest tube station is Chalk Farm (on the Northern Line), which is a mere couple of minutes walk away. Follow the signs (or the dog-walkers) to Regents Park. Also if you fancy a wander, Camden is an easy 15 minute walk away down Regents Park Road and Chalk Farm Road. 

 


Lussier Hot Springs

A recent camping trip to the breathtaking White Swan Lake Provincial Park, BC allowed us to stumble upon the hidden gem that is Lussier Hot Springs. Whilst driving along the windy and treacherous White Swan Forestry logging road, you'll pass a huge sign for the hot springs along with parking spaces, and even a changing room! A short downwards trail (less than 5 minutes) into the valley allows you to easily access these majestic mineral water hot springs. 

The Lussier Hot Springs are very different to that of the Banff Upper Hot Springs and Radium Hot Springs as they lay naturally in a beautiful wilderness setting alongside the fast-flowing cold water rapids of the Lussier River. The hot springs are divided into three separate shallow pools by huge rocks, each one ranging in temperature depending on its closeness to the river - the hottest one stays at a toasty 110°F. Possibly the best thing about this place is that it's absolutely free! We'd recommend going in the morning if you want the hot springs all to yourself, as it can get pretty busy during the day. 

Back in the day, Kootenai native people frequently hunted around White Swan Lake. To soothe their bodies and feet they would take a dip in the hot mineral waters of the Lussier Hot Springs. 

To get to these remote hot springs, drive along highway 93/95 and turn east onto White Swan Forestry road. Follow this gravel logging road for 18km to reach your wilderness destination. Remember to be extremely cautious of the large trucks hauling past whilst on this windy narrow road. (From Banff, the journey takes about three and a half hours but it is definitely worth it!)

For more information, check out the White Swan Lake Provincial Park page here.

 

Cycling the Atlas Mountains with Maroc Nature

On our third day in Morocco, we decided to explore a little further than Marrakech, to some of the highest peaks in Northern Africa - the Atlas Mountains. The day trip began with our guide, Hassan, picking us up in a spacious 4x4 with our mountain bikes securely strapped onto the roof at around 8:00am right outside our riad, and then one more pick up at a nearby hotel. It was a good hour and a half drive to our destination, yet didn't feel it at all due to the amazing views and spectacular landscape transformation from flat city to epic snow-capped mountains. Hassan was very knowledgable, explained to us how the day would go, and told us wonderful stories about Berbers - the indigenous people of North Africa who reside in rural areas, far-off corners of the country, like the Atlas Mountains. Berbers refer to themselves as 'Amazigh', which means 'free men'. Upon nearing the village where we would begin our cycle, the roads twisted and turned with numerous stomach-churning hairpin bends until reaching the high pasture of Tizi n'Tichka pass. We stopped in a tiny little Berber village 1300m above sea level, whereby Hassan lowered the dual-suspension bikes from the roof and gave them one last check before handing them over to us. Our previous cycling experience was in Ubud, Bali and involved a lot of downhill cruising - we were NOT prepared for what was about to happen. Nevertheless (with no knowledge of how difficult it was going to be or how unfit we were), we embarked on the 30km cycle with the vigour of enthusiastic children. 

The ride took us through isolated Berber villages, via dirt paths, past extensive pastures where local farmers cultivate their land and shepherds watch their herds. There was also the occasional passerby riding casually astride a donkey, women washing clothes in bubbling streams and children playing amongst themselves. The Atlas Mountains and their inhabitants have a somewhat timeless feel to them - it was nice to step back from everything and take it all in. The journey also had us pedalling through canyons, whizzing through river crossings and charging down steep slopes. It is not for the faint-hearted, and we'd recommend being at least semi-fit (unlike us) before attempting this particular trip. However, if you're not a very strong cyclist, fall tired or do hurt yourself in this remote area of Morocco, it's not a problem as the Maroc Nature 4x4 follows closely behind just incase anything happens. 

About a third of the way into the cycle (roughly 10kms), we stopped in a remote Berber village for some lunch in a traditional family home. The whole family were extremely welcoming and invited us into their home with Moroccan mint tea and almond shortbread. The sun had been warming our backs whilst cycling so we decided to sit out up on the rooftop where we could admire the fantastic panoramic view of the Atlas Mountains in all its glory. It was breathtaking being able to see Marrakech's beautiful backdrop so close up. Shortly after a photo session, the mother of the house brought out a huge home-cooked chicken tagine along with traditional Moroccan flatbread. Considering we had gained a sizeable appetite from our efforts, leaving us feeling like our stomachs were eating themselves, the wafting aromas of the citrusy, lemony chicken drenched in a fragrant, spice-rich sauce speared with cloves and dried fruits were irresistible. It didn't take us long to devour the lot, and soon we were just mopping up the remnants with the flatbread. After a delicious lunch and an unlimited supply of mint tea, we hopped back on our bikes for the remaining 20 kilometres. Hassan didn't mind us stopping and taking photos at every opportunity possible, giving us water along the way. The last leg of the trip had us cycling through the town of Amizmiz until we finally made it to the Anougal Valley where the 4x4 was waiting for us.

Our bike trip with Maroc Nature was awesome and for only 80 Euros we'd definitely recommend this trip to anyone - great company, extremely accommodating, and they are more than happy to create a completely new route that suits your needs or wishes. For more information, check them out here.