Gheerulla Valley hike day 2

 photo IMG_20170525_140224_510_zpszkyjkgmm.jpg
I didn’t even need the bivy last night, simply sleeping under the stars in my sleeping bag. It was warm and no dew set in. I enjoy some time staring at the sky framed by trees; the sky changing from a star studded black through grey to blue. We eat breakfast and pack casually before hitting the trail around 8.45am.
 photo 20170525_090043_zpscwyushd8.jpg

 photo IMG_20170525_135045_535_zpskosb34oo.jpg
We start by descending back down to Gheerulla Creek. The descent on fresh legs is much easier than the climb was yesterday.
 photo 20170525_091331_zpsbpfouodk.jpg

 photo IMG_20170525_134855_003_zps4ltawij6.jpg
We reach the creek quickly and are soon dropping our packs at the junction leading to Gheerulla Falls. The falls slither down the face of a slabby rock face before dropping like a veil into waterhole. I can only imagine the thousands of people who have swum and drunk in and from this pool over the millennia.
 photo IMG_20170525_135315_479_zpsenkn2fnb.jpg

 photo IMG_20170525_135607_757_zpsre7czast.jpg

 photo IMG_20170525_135737_343_zpsbf5mfsby.jpg
Leaving Gheerulla Creek we start the long climb up the range. We take it easy, stopping to eat snacks and take photos. There’s loads of mushrooms in white, purple, red and yellow. There’s also a random old Catepillar tractor sitting in an overgrown driveway (part of the trail follows a gravel road).
 photo 20170525_114126_zpshyz6yzqq.jpg

 photo 20170525_120459_zpstw9fnvlh.jpg
And then we’re at the top of the ridge walking. It’s sensational up here where the forest is open and views can be glimpsed almost constantly. When we come to lookouts we can see where we’ve walked and where we’re going; I love this type of walking best.

We reach Thilba Thalba Walker’s Camp around 2pm and settle in for a relaxing afternoon. I love this particular camp. There’s a lookout and open forest. Around 4pm we are joined by a group of school boys and their teachers.  It’s interesting to watch their interactions. The boys are 17 years old and in their final school year. They are respectful and friendly. Their teachers talk loudly long after the boys have crashed out in their tents.
 photo 20170525_200900_zpsv4i2m8mp.jpg
Again I sleep outdoors. A cool breeze blows so I lay inside my bivy. Stars twinkle as I close my eyes. Another wonderful day with my mum.

Gheerulla Valley hike day 1

 photo IMG_20170524_061609_332_zpswknjbqaz.jpg
I wake in my bivy looking at stars through tall gum trees. Mum is sleeping nearby in the tent. It’s early but I’m keen as mustard to get hiking. I’ve been looking forward to this trek since we agreed to go about a month ago. We’re camped at the Gheerulla Trail Bike camp near one of the trail heads for the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk.  I completed this hike in March over two rushed days but am back now to trully savour the area with my favourite hiking buddy: my mum.
 photo 20170524_085534_zps3v2diahu.jpg

 photo IMG_20170524_124428_764_zpsjyrglnnm.jpg
We hit the trail around 9am to properly start our adventure. The valley is deep but fairly wide at this point, allowing open forest and rocky outcrops to dominate the landscape. Despite the heavy rains last month, the creek is only flowing sluggishly with a modest volume of water. But it has obviously been washed through since the last time I walked through here just two short months ago.
 photo IMG_20170524_122933_243_zps1iwahe9a.jpg

 photo 20170524_100401_zpsyvnx2zwj.jpg

 photo 20170524_102704_zpsslhahdzv.jpg
Mum sets a cracking pace. She’s an experienced bush walker who has spent most of the past three decades exploring South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales on foot. Before long we are deep in the narrowing Gheerulla Valley walking through palm trees and other rainforest species; stopping to eat morning tea on a small concrete bridge over Gheerulla Creek.
 photo IMG_20170524_124633_804_zpswupjxwv4.jpg

 photo IMG_20170524_124800_073_zpsppf9fuzn.jpg
As we near the head of the valley the trail turns away from the creek. We rest here before starting the 1.8km (1 mile) climb to Ubajee Walker’s Camp far up above us on the top of the escarpment. The trail zig zags from the rainforest-lined creek bed through increasingly drier forest dominated by gum trees and she-oaks. We are both happy to arrive at camp and dump our packs. It’s only 11.45am so we have all afternoon to enjoy the serenity.
 photo 20170524_142659_zpsizrckzny.jpg
This is one of my favourite things about through walking: relaxing at camp. We while away the afternoon reading, eating, taking in the views at the lookout and snoozing. A dinner of satay chicken amd vegetables with noodles makes the perfect end to a long day before Mum hits her tent and I slide into my sleeping bag to sleep with just a canopy of stars above me.

A place to call home 

Spontaneity is something I’m known for. Today Paul and I bought a place to call home. We bought a townhouse just 120m from where we are renting. It’s a great place to live in the 9 months a year we’re home between travels.  The perfect layout for hosting Couch Surfing guests. And close to work. Settlement is in July subject to all the usual checks and conditons. 

Our final day in New Zealand (Auckland, New Zealand)

 photo IMG_20170423_150101_155_zpsd0kmhqnm.jpg

It’s our final day in New Zealand and I wake with mixed emotions. While I’m ready to go home and prepare for the next adventure, I would dearly love to stay in New Zealand and keep exploring. After packing our gear into the car we set off for one final drive. We randomly select Bethell’s Beach as our destination. Bethell’s Beach is one of Auckland’s Western Beaches and we think we found a bit of a marvel.

 photo IMG_20170423_150340_769_zpssgvjv80g.jpg

We spot the massive cave from the far end of the beach. It draws us like a magnet; as it does the other people visiting the beach. We walk across the black sands to the huge opening. The tide is slowly coming in and we can see exactly how this cave has been created. The incoming water pushes strongly up the beach through the barricade of rocks towards the cave entrance. It might still take an hour or two to reach into the cave and that’s why we can enter.

 photo IMG_20170423_150535_512_zpsgcmk5na0.jpg

 photo IMG_20170423_150724_548_zpsidhmnfqf.jpg

 photo IMG_20170423_151236_239_zpsayeeo0zj.jpg

Now that we’ve explored the cave, we find ourselves noticing the small things that make this beach so amazing. There’s long ribbons of bright yellow sea weed. Green moss tumbles from rock pools like soft waterfalls. And muscles cling to rocks in their hundreds.

 photo IMG_20170423_151013_402_zpsc57eeuut.jpg

 photo IMG_20170423_150920_936_zpsfkaphsfs.jpg

The beach looks like it has been influenced by New Zealand’s volcanic past with large boulders balancing on big rocks. Black sand is becoming familiar to us now. I still don’t feel drawn to the water on this black sand beach but am not sure whether that’s the season or the sand. But I do love to walk on this black sand beach and like the way it frames the other colours.

 photo IMG_20170423_170041_434_zpstnhzzwjo.jpg

We had intended to see a few more beaches but spend so much time enjoying Bethell’s Beach that we already have to head to the airport. We watch our final Kiwi sunset as our plane is prepared for the flight. As usual, Air Asia fly us home in comfort.

We’ve loved our time in New Zealand. It’s been the perfect blend of nature and culture. We found Kiwis to be a friendly folk. It’s an expensive country to travel but we managed to keep costs manageable by renting places where we could cook instead of having to dine out. We also avoided all the tourist traps (the New Zealand tourist industry is expert at extracting money from foreigners) but still had an amazing experience in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Auckland (Auckland, New Zealand)

 photo IMG_20170423_095947_683_zpszte8sprw.jpg

We are both feeling a bit blah when we get up this morning. We actually don’t know what to do. I know I feel a bit discombobulated being in the city after such a long time in the countryside. There’s also the disappointment of the relatively rubbish Air BnB after the absolutely gorgeous places we’ve stayed throughout our trip so far. And, perhaps, we’re tired from fitting so much into each day for the past two weeks. Had we been staying somewhere nice we would have just had a day in but today we don’t want to stay at our overpriced dive so we head into Auckland city.

 photo IMG_20170423_095804_995_zps63um0abs.jpg

 photo IMG_20170423_095843_209_zpskaf04h4w.jpg

 photo IMG_20170423_095646_276_zpskicujb1q.jpg

 photo IMG_20170423_100017_436_zpsye9s5b86.jpg

We wander around the CBD for an hour or two. It’s not an ugly city but it’s also not that interesting. There’s the same strings of shops and advertising that exist in almost every city we’ve been to, the same chain restaurants and coffee shops, and tourists carrying Lonely Planet guide books. Perhaps the city is just too small for us. It’s not hectic and crazy like South East Asia nor historic like Europe. That’s not to say Auckland isn’t a nice city but it is a bit boring for us. We find some nice moments and have a nice day. But it’s not awe inspiring like our other days in New Zealand were.

Waingaro to Auckland (Auckland, New Zealand)

 photo 20170421_081434_zps05sbpvi7.jpg

 photo 20170421_101918_zpsdl3trhiw.jpg

 photo 20170421_101951_zpsfzsyo0h6.jpg

I wake to a heavy dew on a morning just warm enough to avoid a light frost from forming. I walk outside to talk to the alpacas and goats that live in our hosts’ paddocks. While curious, the alpacas only come so close to me. But the goats are fairly well climbing the fence for a pat. Our hosts got them from a children’s petting zoo so that probably explains the friendliness. We talk with our host again this morning and take ages to leave on our drive.

 photo IMG_20170421_175019_139_zpskinyqvcl.jpg

But before we drive to Auckland we take a scenic detour towards Raglan, just south of Waingaro.

 photo IMG_20170421_175327_830_zps2jppbisl.jpg

 photo IMG_20170421_180409_334_zpslwnj1ub7.jpg

A detour from our detour takes us to Bridal Veil Falls. My cousin told us about these falls two weeks ago but we didn’t have a chance to get here. Now that the sun is shining and we have plenty of daylight to make it to Auckland we can come here. The short walk to the top of the falls is easy. The 261 steps down the the base of the falls is a little more challenging and I’m glad my hip has settled a lot. And then there’s the 261 steps back up to the top of the falls. Thankfully the waterfall is so stunning that it’s no real hardship.

 photo IMG_20170421_175752_890_zpsesss23qo.jpg

 photo 20170421_120603_zpskvsngh3b.jpg

 photo 20170421_154748_zpsckwnkczh.jpg

We drive on to Raglan. This popular surfing town on the west coast is buzzing with backpackers. They are everywhere doing what backpackers do. This is the first time we’ve been in a Kiwi place that’s so popular with backpackers but that’s probably because we’ve stayed in random out of the way places without hostels. There’s an informative museum near the iSite. It’s not hugely impressive but worth a visit and tells a good story of the town. The surfing exhibition is my highlight. In a way the town is similar to many backpacker towns around the world. Everything has a price, the same tours are advertised on every corner (surfing classes, diving, caving and boat trips), and backpackers can be heard phoning ahead to hostels further along their journeys looking for dorm beds. It makes me think about that move The Beach with Leonardo di Caprio. That’s not a bad thing – it just is a reality. And it makes me glad we had a car and found ourselves in random out of the way places far from the tourist rat race. That said, we have a good laugh and enjoy an absolutely delicious burrito at a tiny hole in the wall place – one of the benefits of backpacker towns is generally the availability of fresh hipster inspired food that generally tastes great.

 photo IMG_20170421_180110_738_zpsuhnbag55.jpg

 photo IMG_20170421_180158_220_zpsfhtmbiqj.jpg

We spend the rest of the day following Highway 22 to Auckland. I want to stop after every bend to take photos but have to resist or we won’t get anywhere.

Auckland comes as a shock to the system. After two weeks in rural New Zealand the traffic and close proximity of houses is crass and harsh. We have rented an Air BnB in Titirangi. Unfortunately, we arrive to discover it is nothing like what was advertised and the reviews are clearly fraudulent. It’s frustrating and annoying. We consider leaving but Auckland is so expensive and we don’t want to pay another $200 a night after we’ve already paid this place. Our mood does improve though after we find an amazing Nepalese restaurant in nearby Blockhouse Bay. It’s packed and takes over 50 minutes for us to be served our food but the time passes quickly watching the restaurant buzzing and discussing the highlights of our holiday. The food is so worth the wait. From memory the restaurant had the word Everest in the name.

Whitianga to Waingaro (Wiakato, New Zealand)

We pick up two hitch hikers as we leave Whitianga. They are an American and Canadian traveling New Zealand between outdoor guiding seasons in their home countries. They are good company and it’s interesting to learn about the best places to visit in Canada, a country we definitely want to make our way to at some point. We back track down roads we’ve traveled a few times the past few days until we cross the range into Thames where we part ways with our hitch hikers.

 photo IMG_20170420_184041_929_zps7tqlybpx.jpg

Thames is a groovy town. At first it looks like a rural service town, providing support to local farmers requiring goods and services. But a shift of eyesight to look at the upper facades of the buildings quickly shows that this is a town with plenty of colour. The facades are bright and show the town’s century or more of history.

 photo IMG_20170420_183847_504_zpsr4cxwuap.jpg

 photo IMG_20170420_183658_281_zpsv3zrgis9.jpg

 photo IMG_20170420_184545_915_zpsqsxef5de.jpg

At ground level the town is creative and fun. Op shops and eateries make up most of the storefronts. But the footpaths is where the action is at. There’s a massive teddy bear cafe complete with elderly bears sitting in wheelchairs. And someone has built a motorbike completely out of random spare parts, mostly from military weapons. We spend about two hours wandering town eating and browsing the shops.

 photo 20170420_133035_zpsbu4mkkns.jpg

Leaving Thames we re-enter the Waikato basin with its rolling hills, green pastures and dairy cattle. This is the area we have liked best so far in New Zealand. While the mountains and coast are stunning, the rolling pastures feel homely. But then, despite being travelers, we do have an attachment to a homely sense of calm.

We visit my aunt in Te Aroha. I haven’t seen her in many years so it’s lovely to catch up. We missed her two weeks ago because she has a life (which is awesome 🙂 ). She has baked us a delicious apple tart and we sit chatting over the tart for about two hours. I learn more about her life than I ever knew before. It’s a blessing to spend this time with her.

 photo IMG_20170420_185129_751_zpsfuz7cq7l.jpg

The sun is sinking low into the western sky as we leave Te Aroha for Waingaro. There’s quite a bit of traffic on the road for a rural area. Clearly lots of people work in towns and live on farms because the cars disappear down isolated driveways as we get farther from each town.

 photo 20170420_193405_zpsbrlpfz7z.jpg

Our Couch Surfing hosts aren’t yet home when we arrive. It’s cold and dark but we find their home easily. It’s in the middle of nowhere but there is a small town with just a camping ground, hot springs and pub about 10 minutes away. The pub is quiet but serves quite good steaks at a reasonable price and the kitchen is still open. Steak and chips are served with fried eggs and salad here in New Zealand. That’s what we buy. At home, steaks are often over cooked in pubs but here in New Zealand the chefs seem to err on the side of under cooking. I know which I prefer and it’s not the Australian way. Getting a medium-rare steak that is still on the rare side of pink inside is a real treat because at home medium-rare steaks are almost always on the well done side of medium.

We meet our hosts at their home and are still awake at almost 2am talking. We cover everything from criminal justice and social work (we all have experience in these fields) to international politics (a subject usually off limits to Australians) and our mutual favourite of travel. There’s something special about strangers opening their homes, lives and stories with us; especially when the sparks of friendship develop. Paul and I both hope we meet our hosts again somewhere in the future to continue the conversations.