Geocaching and running the Goreme landscape (Cappadocia, Turkey)

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I wake up in my bivy bag to the incredible sight of hundreds of brightly coloured balloons lifting off the ground in the Red and Rose Valleys below the camping ground. It is absolutely spectacular. I’d head that there were lots of balloon flights here in Cappadocia but was not prepared for it to be this stupendous. What a sight! An invigorating way to start the day.

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After a good 4-5 hours of work I head off to explore the nearby landscape. There are a couple of geocaches hidden in the nearby area that have my name on them. The first leads me to a mammoth rocky outcrop with magnificent views of the villages and castles in the distance.

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I had to walk about 2km to arrive at this point, including quite a long crossing of prickly grasses. It seems like a good moment to get my first jumping in Turkey photo. I realise I haven’t taken one yet so now is a good time (thank goodness for self-timers on cameras).

After collecting the geocache I run down towards Goreme following some random trails through valleys and little farms. My run includes the amazing Sword Valley. I took a video, which I think shows it better than sharing a million photos.

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Though I will share this one of me climbing down one of the big drops in the Sword Valley. Good thing the rocks are grippy or it would have been scary in places.

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After a simple lunch in touristy Goreme I walked back up the road towards the camping to find another geocache hidden with a view of some gorgeous fairy chimneys.

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Instead of continuing on the road, I explored some of the trails around the fairy chimneys along the road. This is a pick your own adventure place. You can rush by tour bus to the Open Air Museum and pay money to see the chimneys or you can just pull on a sturdy pair of shoes and explore at your own discretion. There is so much free stuff to see here. I spent about two hours meandering around between Goreme and the Kaya Camping, just 2km from the town. It was magnificent. Sometimes I’d take high trails and others low ones. And at times I did both because there was more to see.

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I mean, check out these rock formations.

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And the way the area is not just an old museum; it’s a real place where people live and work. There were cattle tethered behind some of the mounts and bales of hay stored in others. Epic stuff.

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I think this is my favourite photo of the trip. Maybe even of the past eighteen months.

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If you come to Cappadocia, do it like a turtle does: slow and steady. I didn’t see any of the underground cities or museums. And I spent almost nothing. But yet I had a wonderful time. The landscapes are stunning, the atmosphere at Kayak Camping was brilliant with loads of overlanders with epic stories of crazy travels through the Far East. I could have stayed a week but decided that tomorrow I will push on north.

Sydney Coast and Harbour Walk: First Impressions (Manly, NSW, Australia)

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After a long two hour motorbike ride in the rain and a short bumpy one hour flight I look out the plane window to see that most famous coat hanger the Sydney Harbour Bridge straddling the water and the big white sails of the Sydney Opera House shimmering under an overcast sky. I feel excited about the week ahead. I have five days set aside to explore sections of the Sydney Coast and Harbour Walk, two nights to visit friends further up the coast in Newcastle, and then a couple of nights holidaying with my sister and her family who are holidaying in Sydney for the weekend (would you believe they bought return airfares for a family of 6 for a total of $120 from Brisbane … not $120 each but $20 each return).

When I arrive in Sydney I get a pleasant surprise, my other sister lives here part-time and calls to say that she’s picking me up from the airport. She’s on her way past the airport to have lunch as Sushi Train in Bondi Junction where you have to line up outside to get a seat. The wait is worth it because the sushi is fresh and delicious; not like the suburban stuff I’ve eaten in the past. And then I’m off on the train to Circular Quay and the famous Manly Ferry. This is a must do here in Sydney and I discover why as I’m on board. However, I forget to take photos as I find myself talking with a lovely elderly lady who insists I take the forward facing view because she has taken the ferry many times.
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Half an hour later I am in Manly. After checking into my hotel (do not stay at the Boardrider Hostel and Budget Hotel because it is more boarding house than hostel so is filthy and noisy) I head out for a short 5km run. The beach is beautiful and just a few hundred meters away. It reminds me a bit of Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast but with better waves for the surfers.
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The surf culture is thriving here. There are plenty of surfers in the water, both on the beach break and the points. I love watching surfers in action. There’s something amazing about the way they can stand on the water and move on the waves. I have taken lessons in the past and enjoyed it but found that the act of dropping down a wave freaked me out a bit. So I think I will just watch the wetsuit-clad crowd do their thing from the relative safety of the shore.
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The walking path here along the coast is well-signed and easy to follow.
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It takes me past quiet suburban beaches where homes proudly boast ocean views and rocky headlands are criss-crossed from decades of surfers and walkers taking short cuts to their favourite spots.
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A rough but well-trod bush trail takes me up onto the headland. It feels good to be running along trails again after such a long break. I am not a good runner but I enjoy it when I get into it. And today I am definitely getting into it.
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Some of the rough-hewn steps through the rocks remind me of The Great North Walk (which I walked in 2013) and I can’t help but wonder whether Sydney is the best city in Australia for bushwalking because there are so many kilometres of these paths within easy reach of public transport. It’s difficult to believe I am just a half hour ferry ride from the Australia’s busiest CBD and less than a kilometre from the nearest suburban maze.
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At the top of the climb I am rewarded by amazing views over that other fantastic Sydney icon: the coast’s sandstone cliffs. I am always drawn to headlands and mountains. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the views they promise or maybe it’s something more mystical than that. But I just have to get higher and closer to those big rocks and that’s exactly where the path takes me.
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There’s a huge sandstone wall at the top of the trail. It runs from the suburban houses to the edge of the cliffs. I’m not quite sure what it is but it sure does make an impression. A low hole has been broken in the wall to allow people to walk through and up to North Head. This is where I turn around on my afternoon jog. I will continue from here later in the week with Mum because I imagine North Head will be a fabulous walk.
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On my way back to Manly I stop to watch the surfers off the end of a point. It feels surreal that this is some people’s every day life: surfing and watching surfers. The surfers here are ending their rides on top of shallow rocks and I can’t help but wonder at how many broken bones and near drownings it took for them to get good at their craft. A part of me envies their courage and wants to be out there living that dream. Maybe I will find a quiet safe beach somewhere to take lessons and gain confidence.
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I stop to take a few photos before heading back into Manly to meet my cousin and his family for dinner. They are from Holland but have lived in Shanghai for over a decade and I haven’t seen them since I was in their city in 2009. It’s funny because I only learned this morning that they are in Australia and, by coincidence, they are also staying in Manly tonight. We while away the night catching up and eating at one of the many fantastic restaurants near the Manly Wharf. Later I return to my hotel and am glad I have to knock over a lot of work because the noise from someone playing shoot-em-up games on his big screen television doesn’t end until after 2am and the drinking noise coming from another room continues well into the morning. I can usually sleep well at any place but “backpacker hostels” that are actually boarding houses are not my cup of tea and should  be forced to register as boarding houses not hostels. But, I manage to pump out a heap of work meaning that I now have a couple of days to just relax and enjoy some time with Mum exploring all Sydney has to offer.

Flower run

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The sky is grey and the air is crisp. I feel like I’m in a foreign country, a feeling I always get when I’m in Australia’s southern states. While I was surfing in shorts and bare chest at Baffle Creek two weeks ago, I find myself out running in trousers and softshell here in Adelaide. It’s invigorating and new. Everything is different here: the architecture, the lush green grass, the scent of woodfires coming from chimneys and the deciduous trees.
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I leave my friends’ place and walk for the first ten minutes. They say that you should train the way you want to race and I have decided the best aproach for me in the Surf Coast Century is to walk the first ten minutes so I don’t get caught up with the actual runners. I walk briskly letting my body aclimatise to the chill. I enjoy this way of starting a run; it’s less stressful on my body than stepping out my door and running.
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White-backed magpies hunt for worms. I like how clean they look compared with the black ones we get in Brisbane. They stand out against the deep green grass and dark grey sky. I wonder where the boundary is between the land of the white- and black-backed magpies.
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But my favourite part of today’s run are the flowers. They bring joy to the grey skies and drizzle.
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The red flowering gums make me think of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, two characters from an Australian children’s tale. It makes me happy as I run along the trail.
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The wattles are out too. I love their sweet scent, even though they make me sneeze. The run is fantastic and by the time I return home I am warmed up and starting to feel comfortable in this new place. I don’t know what South Australia will bring but I am just going with the flow until I work it out. For now, I am loving being here with my mate and in this new place.

Wreck Rock to Agnes Water trail run

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The sun is shining, the air is cool and there’s a gentle sea breeze. It’s an absolutely perfect day for a long run/walk. I ride my motorbike 20km along fun dirt roads to Wreck Rock. I’ve never been there before so it seems like a good place to start today’s adventure. The beach is gorgeous with clear water and small waves rolling in crisply around the rocks. I run down the beach towards Wreck Rock itself, which I climb up to look up the beach towards Agnes Waters. Little do I know just now that my run/walk will take me all the way up there.
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The beach sand is soft and more gravelly than I am used to around Brisbane. It’s almost as though there are more rocks here in the sea and not enough time or force to allow the water to break them down. I realise quite quickly that I’m going to have a serious workout today; something for which I will probably be grateful during the Surf Coast Century trail run in September. But while the beach is tough on my legs, it is food for my soul. To my right the clear water stretches far out to the horizon while orange coloured sand dunes roll down towards me from my left.
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After I leave Wreck Rock, I have much of the beach to myself. It gives me the space I crave to be alone with my thoughts. A space that allows me to observe the simple beauty that Mother Nature provides.
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I’m running on joy as I make my way up the beach. I have no destination in mind, other than to continue for about two hours before turning around. In the past I would have been anxious to ensure my training was exactly that: training. But today, as I prepare to tackle my first real 100km ultra in September, I am simply focused on the experience. I walk and run as my body allows, and take the time to walk up the dunes to find pretty places from which to view the beach.
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Before long I reach a large rocky headland. Looking back I can see I’ve travelled a long way and that Wreck Rock is but a mere speck on the horizon. I don’t know how far I’ve travelled but I still feel fresh after almost two hours on the move so I decide not to turn around just yet. Instead I scramble up the rocks to the grassy slope where I can see some flattened grass. As the grasses around the headland don’t look like kangaroo fodder, I guess that the grass has been flattened by people, which means there will be a path or roadway higher up. I scramble up in bare feet (my feet are too sandy to put my shoes on). The grass is dry and the ground underneath is rocky but it feels so good to stand on bare earth. I come to the road at the top of the headland and follow it into Agnes Water. From here I run down the main road and back onto the sandy Deepwater National Park road.
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The Deepwater road makes for challenging but beautiful travel. The sand is deep enough in places that I sink until my entire foot is covered. Yet, in others, it is totally runnable. Visually, I am surrounded by masses of contrast: deep glossy green and spikey palm groves nestle between tall smooth grey gums that tower so high I need to crane my neck to see their leaves and yellow-flowering wattles whose messy branches contrast their beautiful sweet scent.
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It takes me four hours to complete my circuit. I estimate that I’ve travelled somewhere between 25-30km (15-18 miles). I’ve enjoyed the experience and didn’t really hit the wall until about 3:45 into my adventure, which bodes well for the Surf Coast Century. On my return to Wreck Rock beach, I sit down in the cold sea water to cool my now aching legs in the hope of a speedy recovery.

The mullet (the fish, not the hairstyle)

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The little black tip shark’s tail fin and tail cut through the water not far from shore. It was doing spins and moving with agitation. I couldn’t see it’s body from where I stood on the beach; that would come later as I moved closer to this fascinating but scary creature of the sea. As I walked closer, I noticed a lump moving on the shore and the seagull standing nearby. The seagull seemed confused and frustrated as he stared at the large flapping lump. The seagull didn’t actually make a move towards the lump; the scavenger of the beach actually seemed a little confused as to what to do.

Suddenly I recognised the lump as a fish. It had probably swum too close to shore to escape the black tip’s hunger and found itself washed onto the beach where the seagull was trying to work out how to carry this quarry that was many times the seagull’s weight and size. And that’s when I stepped into this food triangle, snatching the fish from under the seagull’s nose as the black tip shark searched the small waves in a frenzy.

And that’s how I came to carry a large fresh mullet down the beach for 7km from where I caught it back to camp. It tasted absolutely delicious fried on the campground barbecue and served on top of a simple leafy salad.

As for the story of how I came to be 7km from camp? Well, I have entered the 100km Surf Coast Century trail run in September. I find ultra running and endurance events useful in trying to work out whether the answer really is 42. This afternoon I went out on a 3 hour run/walk training session from Amity to Adder Rock and back. I followed sandy 4WD tracks behind the dunes for a while before running on the packed sand of low tide collecting pippies that I thought I would eat for dinner. I caught the fish at about 2:35 into my run/walk and just walked my way back after that. Even without the fish, it was a magnificent and magical afternoon:
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Do you see the butterfly?
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Beach grasses blowing in the wind.
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The view back towards Amity from Adder Rock.
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I just love random driftwood and dead trees on the beach; they make fantastic shapes.