The Blooming Himalayas

Across the foothills of the Annapurna massif, the forest is changing colour. The greens are turning red and pink, stretching into bands of bright colour that cast a blush across the dense forest. From afar they look like autumnal tones – New England or Kyoto in fall – except that it’s spring in Nepal and these are flowers.

Rhodo3

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Long Walk, Little Legs

Andrew Bain with daughter Kiri on the Overland Track

For all the dozens of hiking trails and thousands of kilometres I’ve hiked, one experience stands high above all others. It was the week I spent walking Tasmania’s Overland Track in the company of my then nine-year-old daughter. It was probably the heaviest pack I’ve ever carried, and the slowest I’ve ever walked, but there was something entirely refreshing and revealing about seeing the world through young eyes again. Over the course of 65 kilometres and one week, I watched a child absorb the wilderness and come to feel at one with it. Continue reading

Friday Foto: Hidden Tongariro Valley

Tong valley

Walking on a trail can be like threading a line between words in a book – you only see part of the story. Move off the line – read the entire page – and a place expands and changes, developing new shapes, angles and experiences as you step through untracked land.

In a forest or in heavily mountainous country, you quickly sense the possibility of this change if you were to step away from the trail. On my recent visit to New Zealand, however, I discovered there can be just as much shift in an open, barren landscape such as that around the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park. Continue reading

Friday Foto: Blyde River Canyon

Three Rondavels

How long is a piece of string? How large is a canyon?

Visit almost any great or grand canyon in the world and there’ll be some kind of chest-beating claim about its size. It’ll be the largest in the world, or on the continent, or its depth will be compared to the Grand Canyon since we’re all desperate to know how it measures up against the most famous slot of all. Continue reading

Friday Foto: Three Hummock Island

Three Hummock

Every adventure deserves a cosy cave in which to recuperate at the end, and few places stand more enticingly off the modern grid than Three Hummock Island.

Pinched between King Island and the northwest tip of Tasmania, in the wild waters of Bass Strait, it plays to the notion of the deserted island that sits deep in the travel psyche. Only its two managers, John and Beverley O’Brien, live on the 70-square-kilometre island, surrounded by dense mobs of kangaroos and squadrons of Cape Barren geese. One night I bumped – literally – into a little penguin wandering past my room. Planes land in a propeller-churned flurry of feathers and roo poo in a former paddock, and 30 empty beaches ring its edge, all lined with bouldery headlands.

It’s a place that inspired a rather famous Italian named Guiseppe Garibaldi to quixotically write: ‘O desert island of the Hunter Group – how many times have you pleasantly excited my imagination. When tired of this civilized society, so full of tyrants and gendarmes, I have often transported myself in my imagination into your gracious bosom.’

Last week I spent a few days on the island and, to me, you can keep the likes of Bermuda, Boracay or the Maldives. I’ll take the wildlife, vast night skies and utter solitude of Three Hummock Island any time.

Friday Foto: Mt Roland

View along the summit plateau of Mt Roland, Tasmania

Think of great mountains across northern Tasmania and most people think only of Cradle Mountain. But to reach Cradle Mountain, you invariably drive past another imposing and isolated line of rock that is the breastplate of Mt Roland, a mountain that’s arguably the equal of its more famous neighbour.

To most who drive through here, Mt Roland is just windscreen scenery, a moment of ‘I wonder what that mountain is called’, before it’s forgotten in the quest to reach Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain. Continue reading

Friday Foto: The Wombat that Crashed

Wombat

Narawntapu National Park is rather fancifully known as the ‘Serengeti of Tasmania’ for the profusion of its wildlife. The critters in this park on Tasmania’s north coast, once known less romantically as Asbestos Range National Park, aren’t lions or elephants, but most commonly wallabies and wombats that browse each dawn and dusk through its open, grassy plains.

A few days ago, approaching dusk, I lay in the grass and flowers observing this wombat, one of around half-a-dozen that were in sight. I lay still for so long that the wombat eventually forgot I was there. As it grazed, it moved to within a metre of where I lay, the sound of the tearing grass growing louder as it came. Something happened, something outside of the wombat and me – a twitch in the wind? the distant movement of a wallaby? – and the wombat bolted. It did so without looking up and, before I had a chance to move, it ran headlong into my camera and my shoulder.

I’d been attacked (of sorts) in the Serengeti and I lived to tell the tale…

Top 10 Mountain Treks: (#1)

It seems suitable to wrap up the year with the final, and top, pick in my selection of the 10 finest mountain trails I’ve had the privilege to trek. My favourite trek over the many pairs of boots I’ve worn out is in Ethiopia, atop the mountain range known as the Roof of Africa.

The Simien Mountains aren’t the highest peaks in Africa, though at 4550m Ras Dashen is often claimed as the fourth-highest on the continent (which conveniently overlooks a few unnamed peaks in the Ruwenzori). But it’s not the head-spinning glory of altitude that elevates the Simiens to the head of my list. It’s the headiness of its escarpment, combined with the life – both human and animal – that’s scratched out on its plateau. Continue reading

Top 10 Mountain Treks: (#2) Monte FitzRoy

It’s a pretty short journey from No 3 in my list of mountain treks to No 2. From Torres del Paine National Park you need only skip across the border into Argentina to find yourself at the foot of Monte FitzRoy, less than 200km away. Perhaps the single-most impressive mountain I’ve had the pleasure to ogle, FitzRoy is an enormous bubble of rock – its summit escarpment is more than 1km in height – rising out of the fierce Patagonian Andes.

It’s been 10 years since I hiked here, and still the walk and the landscape live with me. It was a hike of both expectation and frustration, since I walked for almost a week in FitzRoy’s shadow before the clouds parted to grant a glimpse of the mountain I’d travelled half the world to see. Continue reading

Top 10 Mountain Treks: (#3) Torres del Paine

I’m getting towards the pointy end of my list of favourite mountain treks…and quite literally with this entry. Chile’s multi-pronged Torres del Paine are one of South America’s pin-up images, with the massif’s sharp peaks rising as bent and broken as a fisherman’s fingers. Continue reading