Feet First Australia

exploring Australia on foot


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Keen for a Winter Walk? Head to Tasmania!

Don’t delay going bushwalking in Tasmania because the island state has a reputation for harsh winter weather. While many of the classic walks are snowbound, and suited only to experienced hikers, hundreds of kilometres of less challenging cold-weather leg stretches await you. (The oysters are at their best in winter too!)

One way to appreciate Tasmania’s winter on foot is to explore the coast; five of my favourite coastal walks are:

Three Capes Track – 46km, one-way – moderate

Tasmania’s southeast coast can be wild and woolly in winter but that only makes its heath covered moors and sea cliffs, the tallest in Australia, even more spectacular. The 4-day lodge-based Three Capes Track is over-engineered in places, and some may welcome the occasional legs that aren’t stepped or boardwalked, but the scenery will leave you open mouthed and each day’s walk ends at welcoming rain- and wind-proof accommodation.

 

Freycinet Peninsula Circuit – 42km, 4 days – moderate-hard

There’s much more to Freycinet than its headlining Wineglass Bay. Circumnavigating the east-coast peninsula on foot takes you through she-oak and eucalypt forests, around pink granite boulders festooned with lichens, along white beaches impressed with the footprints of plovers and oystercatchers, and over mountain tops presenting dramatic 360o views over land and sea. Sheltered camp sites protect you from some weather but beware the possums, which have learned to undo pack zips to find food!

 

The Docks to Killiecrankie – 8km A-to-B – easy-moderate

Boulders burnished orange with lichen feature in every photo spread of Flinders Island, off Tasmania’s northeast coast, and rock is the star of this Bass Strait island walk. There are cliffs that attract rock climbers with pitches called Toblerone and Trust Me I’m An Idiot; natural granite paving; rock formations resembling modern artworks and intergalactic travellers; and a layered, fractured archway cut by the sea.

 

Rocky Cape to Sisters Beach – 19km loop – Moderate (with lots of rock hopping)

Rewarding the careful step work necessary to navigate the rocky coastline injury-free, this all-day loop hike through Rocky Cape National Park takes you from treeless hills gifting views east and west along Tasmania’s north coast to shoreline paved with fingers of paper-thin layered rock reaching into the sea. Along the way you visit caves once used by local aborigines and pass through Tasmania’s only stand of saw banksias.

 

South Cape Bay – 15km return – easy

Treading the South Coast Track in winter tests endurance and survival skills, but it’s worth driving as far southwest as roads go in Tasmania to tread the first/last leg of the famous wilderness trek. Leaving from Cockle Creek, this walk meanders through eucalypt forest and traverses button grass moors on its way to a shaly black bluff overlooking the Southern Ocean, South Cape Bay, and South East Cape, continental Australia’s southernmost landmass.

Have you got other favourite winter walks in Tasmania? Tell me about them.

These five walks are described in detail and mapped in my new book, Top Walks in Tasmania, published by Explore Australia, due out September 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Treading a different Spanish trail

The Camino de Santiago is not the only walk in Spain. And, while online and printed travel blogs and journalism can suggest otherwise, kilometres of walking trails across the country lead to places other than Santiago de Compostela. 

The following is an article I wrote about walking in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, almost as far from the well-trodden pilgrims’ route as you can get.

Buying 3kg of Spanish weaving is a foolish final preparation for a two-day walk in the Sierra Nevada. But the blanket, worked in green, red, yellow, white and black, will perfectly cover our cat-shredded settee at home, so my new husband chivalrously offers to carry the souvenir in his backpack over the 26.5 kilometres ahead.

Simon and I have come to Las Alpujarras, the valleys and ravines on the Sierra Nevada’s southern flank, at the end of our honeymoon, for a taste of rural Spain after overindulging in cities. And the mountain town of Pampaneira, where we disembark the Granada bus, could not be more different from the Andalucian city that wears the Alhambra as its crown. Pampaneira’s modest landmark is the steeple of the whitewashed 16th century Iglesia de Santa Cruz.

A prosperous silk-producing region during Muslim times and the last Moorish stronghold after Granada fell to the Reconquista in 1492, Las Alpujarras was repopulated by Christians from northern Spain, yet its white towns retain their Berber look. Facing south, away from the worst weather, two-storey houses with flat roofs and chimneypots are wedged shoulder-to-shoulder along twisting alleys. And a few steps from the shops and cafes around Pampaneira’s Plaza de la Libertad, villagers still live in first-floor rooms above their animals and manure smears cobbles outside wooden ground-floor doors.

Pampaneira was almost blindingly white in the sun shining on our arrival but it’s raining now so I hug my paper-wrapped blanket protectively and splash back to our iron bed on terra cotta tiles in Hostal Pampaneira (www.hostalpampaneira.com/en/). In the hotel restaurant, through a door off the busier bar, we tuck into croquettas, rabbit casserole and honeyed eggplant under the glassy stare of a wall-mounted boar’s head.

Ours is the gentler, and lower altitude, of two Alpujarras walks in Lonely Planet’s “Hiking in Spain” guide, a walk on village trails and way-marked long-distance footpaths through towns, farms and national park. With hiking poles, guidebook pages and maps bought in Madrid, we set off after breakfast, climbing from Pampaneira (1055m) to Bubion (1300m), the second of three towns stepped up Poqueira Ravine. Above us are only Capileria and the Sierra’s autumn snow.

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Having taken a last look at the three white towns from a ridgetop (1809m) – and caught our breaths – we enter pine and oak forest, emerging from trees above a broader valley, all green leaves and golden poplars beneath blue sky and wisps of white cloud. Pumpkin patches and leafy corn stalks and trees thick with mulberries and almonds line our way. Dogs bark. Roosters crow. Simon yelps when he turns his ankle on a hard, green walnut hidden under softly spiked fallen chestnuts. (We should have worn boots rather than walking sandals and runners.)

Red geraniums and strings of drying peppers festoon the houses in tiny Capilerilla and Pitres, where it’s market day. We buy oranges in front of the village church before refuelling with cheese-and-tomato bocadillos (sandwiches) at the nearby bar.

Fifteen minutes further on foot is Mecina, the largest of three clustered villages. Leaving Simon to rest his ankle in Hotel de Mecina Fondales (http://hoteldemecina.com/), I continue, down through Mecinilla and Fondales, and more steeply down a muddy track to an Islamic-era stone bridge over Rio Trevelez.

Daydreaming about the bridge builders, the men who worked the adjoining ruined mill, and the people and animals that have crossed it since, I am nearly skittled by five mountain bikers careering through history.

We have booked dinner at L’Atelier (https://www.facebook.com/lateliervegrestaurant/), a vegetarian guesthouse and cooking school on Mecina’s edge. Then-chef/owner Jean-Claude Juston greets our marginally early arrival with stereotypical French censure, “This a guesthouse, not a hotel!” But between seating us and retrieving menus from his kitchen, he becomes a charmer. He soon proves his culinary prowess, too, with chestnut soup (“I gathered them this morning,”); parcels of spinach, pinenuts, onion, raisins, rosewater and cinnamon; and a vegetable paella as delicious as the seafood one in Madrid’s Plaza Major was disappointing.

A stroll to the town of Busquistar first thing on day two warms us up for the zigzag cobbled walk down to the river and up the far side in the footsteps of silk traders and pack animals, like the handsome donkey at the road junction up top.

With Simon choosing the ankle-kinder bitumen route to the next town, I solo down to Notaez, a hamlet below a red bluff from which a mountain goat with don’t-mess-with-me horns observes my descent: through aromatic wild thyme, fennel, and rosemary, past olive groves, grape vines and vegetable beds. I walk to the rhythm of irrigation waters and sheep bells.

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The track beyond Notaez is poorly marked and I briefly lose my way but a prickly uphill scramble to rejoin the track is rewarded with a walker’s-only view of the town of Castaras, sat on a rocky outcrop ringed with poplars. I rejoin Simon outside the lone bar, behind the church, and watch a dog move grudgingly from the middle of the road four times to let cars pass during a lunch of crusty bocadillos.

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A woman patiently waits for me to photograph the age-old village spring in Nieles before collecting the water she needs for her kitchen, and from there we start up and down. The air is ripe with quinces and sheep. We pick a pomegranate and eat its juicy seeds. Then we are wading across Rio Guadalfeo and starting our last climb.

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I am relieved to reach Alqueria de Morayma (www.alqueriamorayma.com/en/) but equally sad, for foolishly we have booked only one night in this renovated farm complex before an early bus.

Our timber-beamed room is too small to swing a jamon and the only barrier between sleeping area and bathroom is an Alpujarras woven curtain much like my recent purchase, but we need nothing more except a shower followed by refreshment in the main house.

The barman easily persuades us to toast our walk with the property’s organic syrah and as we drink, four people behind us chat over a shared plate of fish and an older couple reads beside the crackling fire. Worn farm implements hang on the walls and long-life eco bulbs illuminate old lanterns.

Dinner starts with jamon, olives and cheese. Pumpkin and yabby soup follows. And the chicken cooked with fig, quince and prunes is, Simon declares between mouthfuls, “As good a plate of food as I’ve ever had.”

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Twenty four hours after spooning the last crème caramel and boozy sultanas from a terra cotta pot in the old farmhouse, we are in Cordoba’s Parador hotel, drinking Pedro Ximenez and watching satellite television, both of us wishing we were back in the mountains.

GETTING THERE:

Alsina Graells/ALSA (www.alsa.es/en/) operates buses to the Alpujarras; Granada to Pampaneira takes 2h and the return trip, from Cadiar to Granada (passengers can board at Alqueria de Morayma’s front gate) takes 3h.

WANT SOMEONE ELSE TO DO THE PLANNING:

If finding your own maps and plotting your own route sounds too much like hard work, you can join a wonderful self-guided walking tour of the Alpujarras with Outdoor Travel:

http://www.outdoortravel.com.au/content/pdfs/2017/Spain_Alpujarras_Sierra_Nevada_SG_walk_2018.pdf

 


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Watching My Step on African Shores

Ten minutes’ walk from where ceiling fans stir potted plants as diners savour steak brochette and seafood bisque, women wrapped in multicoloured fabrics wade out from a riverbank slimy and stinking from decades of drying and salting fish, to meet a pirogue returning with a late catch. Such are the disparities of life in Saint-Louis, in the Republic of Senegal.  And herein lay the frustrations and fascinations of this West African country.

dsc_1763Senegal The Ghambia

Senegal meets few of the requisites for a relaxing holiday or a “normal” honeymoon. Travelling is not easy here, even in a group; rather, my new husband and I are visiting Senegal, and the Gambia, which it enfolds, for an adventure in cultures very different from our own.

Day three of a two-week Peregrine tour of Senegal and The Gambia puts eight travellers and guide Mohammed in a Toyota Coaster heading north from Senegal’s sprawling capital, Dakar. (Peregrine’s ground tour operated only this once; they now run adventure cruise tours that do not visit Saint-Louis.) Sharing the smooth-ish bitumen with donkey carts, trucks, and crowded public mini-buses with live sheep on their roofs, we drive through towns swamped by plastic rubbish and bristling with satellite dishes, and pass clusters of solar panel-capped thatched huts set amid harvest-ready corn and millet. We see countless weaver birds attending bauble-like nests on acacias and a trio of vultures hunched over road-kill before we cross Gustave Eiffel-designed Pont (bridge) Faidherbe and stop outside Hotel de la Poste in Saint-Louis.

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Founded in 1659, on the river island of N’Dar, Saint-Louis was the first permanent French settlement in Africa. It became a wealthy centre for trade in goods and slaves, with a vibrant metis (Franco-African Creole) culture. The capital of Senegal until 1957, three years before the majority Muslim country’s independence, Saint-Louis was briefly capital of French West Africa but its status waned from 1902 when Dakar took that title.

Saint-Louis was also a fuelling stop on the colonial airmail route to Africa and South America, and the pilots, including Jean Mermoz, who made the first trans-Atlantic flight between Africa and South America in 1930, stayed at La Poste. Period posters and photographs decorate the hotel’s walls and the dining room ceiling is painted with a map of the mail route. Aeronautical nostalgia continues in the rooms, with B&W portraits of pilots and air conditioners that sound like propeller engines.

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An hour after checking in we regroup in the lobby for a walking tour.

Saint-Louis has long since outgrown N’Dar island, colonising the mainland and the Langue de Barbarie Peninsula, a sand spit running 600km down the Atlantic Coast. From Place Faidherbe, the town square and main venue for the renowned Saint-Louis Jazz Festival, held each May, Mohammed leads us across the muddy Senegal River to the sand-spit suburbs.

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Dozens of colourful pirogues stripe the riverbank. Afternoon sun gilds children dripping from a swim while others chant verses in an open-air Koran school. And sheep and goats are everywhere, oblivious to their roles in the upcoming Tabaski Festival, which celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to prove his faith, before God provided a sheep instead.  Moslems are expected to buy the biggest sheep they can afford, says Mohammed, who spent $100 on an animal for his family in Mali. “And God knows if you don’t pay enough!”

Grazing among the sheep to be killed, their meat then shared with family and friends, are robust red-collared animals. These lucky sheep are pampered because the longer they live the better their owners’ fortunes.

Further along the sandy road are new homes that Mohammed says cost over $150,000; they belong to fishers who started with one boat and now run half a dozen. The women who dry and salt their catches day after day for local sale and export earn dramatically less, however, yet the three we come upon working amid racks of fish heads and fillets covered in flies still smile broadly for photographs.

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We escape the squelchy fish market in need of a lungful of sea breeze however a chorus of voices and rhythmic drumming divert us. It’s an all-singing, all-dancing dusk wedding party for twin brides married in the mosque earlier (our language skills don’t run to finding out where the new husbands are). There is gold and beading everywhere and I feel embarrassingly underdressed in sandals and fisherman’s pants.

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At 2km long and 400m wide, Saint-Louis island is easily explored on foot, but horse-drawn carriages are popular too so our second afternoon is spent clip-clopping the town’s length.  We stop at the 1828 cathedral and the twenty-years younger Grande Mosque with its distinctly Christian clock tower. Everyone admires, and some of us buy, lengths of Manjak (Catholic ethnic minority) textiles at Ateliers d’Art. Weavers string looms across a small yard around the corner, two days’ work selling in the shop for about $20.

And every street we roll along is lined with double- and triple-storey buildings with wrought iron lace-trimmed wooden balconies and shuttered ground-floor doors outside many of which sit women roasting peanuts in hot sand over braziers. The nuts are scrumptiously dry and crunchy.

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Saint-Louis was World Heritage listed in 2000, but while some buildings have been/are being restored, many need urgent work. What we need, though, is refreshment, so it’s back to Hotel de la Poste’s Safari Bar for a very colonial gin and tonic among glass-eyed animal heads.

FACTS:

Emirates flies to Madrid, Spain, from where Iberia connects to Dakar via the Canary Islands.

Stay at Hotel de La Poste: https://www.hoteldelapostesaintlouis.com (French only)