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The Blue Mountains: Katoomba, Australia

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A two hour train ride outside of Sydney, you can find the tourist hamlet of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Tourists have been coming here since the turn of the century (1900). Katoomba itself reminds me of West Virginia in its old coal town turned bust turned tourist vibe. You can now find hipsters and artists in residence.

We took the train out in the morning and spent several hours walking from the train station to a trailhead, down the cliff face, and back up again.

Highlights on the mountain visit include the three sisters, the giant stairway (976 steps!), waterfalls, and the steepest railroad in Australia.

We started our morning at Sydney central

The two hour train ride is a little long. The tourist center by the train station is well worth a visit. That is where we finalized our plan.

8things cafe. Great food and super service

Cassiopia coffee (recommended)

We walked from the station to Echo point (2.3 km).

The Echo Point visitors center

This is where we first caught sight of the famed three sisters. Which we saw many times throughout the day.

Three sisters from Echo Point visitor center

Three sisters from the echo point trail

Three sisters from the trail

Three sisters from just above

Honeycomb cave (at the three sisters)

Three sisters from below on the Federal trail

Three sisters from Scenic World gondola

Here’s what happened in between. After honeycomb cave, we entered the giant stairway. Lots of stairs down (976 in fact). Amy did not do them all.

This is an alternative way to get down the stairs (not recommended by our attorney)

Not here

Here

Flowers and bromiliads

Amy

AMY

A tiny fiddlehead against the mountains

Down

Flowers on the mountain

Looking down 500 feet

The blue mountains

Amy contemplates

Cliff hangers

Amy takes the stairs with a monk

Cliff hangers and rare species

Eventually, we entered the rain forrest at the bottom of the cliff.

The giant stairway is well named. It has been there a while.

Rainforest ecology

Amy rounds the bend

Ferns and trail. The rainforest shift is striking

A very big tree indeed

Katoomba Creek falls

After the falls, we were back in what passes as civilization. Scenic world was first contemplated by coal miners. Just take the train thingy up.

And, why not? Try the cable car too.

We walked back from scenic world (another 2.5km). All told we may have hiked around 5 miles. We deserved a beer.

After a long day hiking, it was high time for a beer!

The 2 hour train ride back to Sydney was slightly too long.

Living Art: The Remarkable Little Paradise Art Lodge. New Zealand

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Highway to Paradise

There are magic places in the world, created under intensity so focused that nature absorbs and reflects the power of the creator. The Little Paradise Art Lodge is one of those places.

Put together over 26 years by a Swiss artist who is both intense and incredibly human at the same time, the grounds are nothing short of remarkable.

We were not able to stay during this trip due to a birthday (paradox) conflict. But we will be back for sure. Even a short visit is highly recommended. We stayed for about an hour, enchanted the entire time.

You’ll be caught in the web little tourist

Enter the property

The lodge itself is hand built in such a quirky and delightful and natural way, it is hard to describe. Primitive, and yet so very planet earth.

Bedroom

Bathroom full of skipping rocks

Hand carved headboard

Living table

A couch fashioned from one piece of poplar

Though the lodge is a sight to see, the six acres of curated gardens are astonishing in their willy-nilly natural order.

We have always talked about a tree house like this

Lawnmower

The artist, touched

Fin

How to Milford Sound: Adventure Day in New Zealand

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New Zealand is a wilderness paradise, and Milford Sound is the best of the best.  We set out to do some water-based adventure on one of our days.  It went something like this.

Milford Sound

We started way early.  So early, in fact, that the only person who had breakfast was me.  The morning rendezvous at the water’s edge was set for 8:00am.   The boat that Descend runs is pulled out of the water to load and unload which is kind of interesting.

The sand flies were out in force in the early morning (and repellent, natural or otherwise, just failed to work).  Nevertheless, we tried on our 8 mil wet suits just by the boat on a tarp laid out over the dusty gravel and hopped on the boat while it was still in the parking lot.  Besides the 4 of us, there were two other divers, one of whom was completing a dry suit certification, and 3 crew members. This was Jack’s first dive!

The water in Milford Sound is cold, so three layers on the torso is mandatory.  We looked like a family of space people.

Underwater, Milford Sound is interesting and unique. Many of the species you can see above 22 meters are usually only found much deeper. Because of the ecology of the sound which includes lots of brackish fresh water from the glaciers, black coral has been thriving for centuries and is a sight to behold.

We completed a first dive near seal rock. I had real trouble with my bouyancy and was (as usual) the first diver up. 8 mil suits are floaty and sinky at the same time and the saw tooth was too much for me to control. Eli spent another 15 minutes below.

Amy and Gary underwater

Eli is the only diver with great form in our family

Next, Jack did an assisted dive.

Then we moved on to a second dive location. Eli dove with the dry suit crowd. I did an assisted dive with an instructor that was just incredible. Nothing like worrying about nothing to preserve air.

We passed by the Stirling waterfall on our way in.

Stirling Falls

Family dive

We just had time for a touristy lunch at the Milford Cafe and a walk by the water before it was time to Sea Kayak. We were a bit concerned about the wind, but in the end showed up to don more “gear belonging to other people.” Our guide Ben was a talkative, high energy guy.

Not our usual clothing

Rosco’s sea kayaks take you out on a power boat and you paddle back home. Our crew included two french canadians. We started just past the waterfall at the “usual spot,” and were soon back at the Stirling Falls with time to kayak under them.

Oh, and all of this happened on Thanksgiving day. Our “turkey” dinner was postponed until 10pm when we had lemon, butter, and garlic chicken at Knobs Flat.

Glamping in Tanzania with African Environments

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This posting is cross-posted on noplasticshowers.com

During our 15 day trip to Tanzania in September, we saw some remarkable things about as up close and personal as you could get. We hiked over 70km in four national parks. And we stayed in tents. But don’t let that last bit fool you, we were “glamping.”

So what, exactly is “glamping” anyway? That’s the subject of this posting. There are 92 pieces of media in this posting.

If you are going glamping, you will need a truck

This is the passenger seat. Just for the record.

On the way to our first tent, we did a game drive for a few hours and saw many things. Including an albino baboon. But that’s another posting.

Without further ado, our first tent in Arusha national park.

The tent in Arusha

These tents have multiple rooms, double beds, and non-plastic showers.

This bed is better than a thermarest pad

Of course, readers of noplasticshowers are going to want to know about the bathroom area. There was a chemical toilet. And some sinks that drained directly outside.

Sinks without water

Mirrors in a tent?! Dang.

The shower also had no running water. It was somebody’s job to put 3.5 liters (not quite enough, that is) into the dispenser just before a “glamping shower.”

Those little handles control the water flow.

The shower from outside

Home for a couple of nights

Then there was the food situation. Just great. Really. No camping food here. Fresh fruits and veggies. Great chefs. Delicious.

Our first lunch. This is a theme we will return to.

Of course, some lunch spots were better than others. Like, say, this one. No bees and only one land shark sighting.

 

The fig tree in Arusha is famous. This is a staged video.

 

Lots of stuff happened between camps. By the time we got to Ngorongoro crater we had seen elephants fighting, black hippos, and more. See this posting for all that nature stuff.

Driving between parks

The roads in Tanzania vary widely. This one, recently completed by a Japanese engineering firm was all shiny and new. We stopped for gas. That’s because in Africa, the cars take gas, just like ours.

Gas station. Mostly familiar.

 

We’re here for the tents, though, and so tents it is. These tents are manufactured in Arusha. They are sturdy and must weigh several hundred pounds. Fortunately, whenever we arrived, they were already set up.  Oh, and the best part about the tents?  The views.

 

 

Another cushy double bed

In the morning, hot coffee was always delivered here. Just outside the door, er, flap.

There was a lunch, this time close to some bees.

Denis does not serve honey near bees

 

 

Base camp with the Maasai includes solar panels

Our little panel pales in comparison

The Ngorongoro base camp was another two night thing.

This lion is checking the exhaust system

More lunch is in order.

Fresh

Product placement opportunity

Did we mention that lunch was great?

Lunch was at hippo-land. I counted 53 trucks.

After Ngorongoro, it was off to the Serengeti for a completely different thing.

You go, Denis!

Your faithful crew enters the Serengeti

Pre lunch yoga

Yeah, there was lunch.

More lunch

Our guide Denis was by this time a great friend.

The roads in the Serengeti get some serious use. And so they also get repaired.

Road repair happens

Our third tent in the Serengeti looked suspiciously similar

We arrived at sunset and were delayed when we came across a pair of mating lions less than a kilometer from camp. For more about the lions, see this posting.

 

The camp lions. We saw this pair 4 times.

Solar

Our tent was cushy

The common areas in the Serengeti base camp were all hipster and very cool.

Firepit. The sand had lion tracks in the morning.

The Living Room tent, charging station and location of cold beer

Stuff

The mess tent

Breakfast was also good

Hitchhiker. This guy forgot his towel.

Make sure that you make up some Pele Pele for every meal. It is best if it stews in the sun for a week in some vinegar.

Dinner setting in the Serengeti

Base camp was great, but our plan was to do some hiking. Actually, it turned out to be mostly a walk in the park.

 

 

 

The scariest thing we came across on foot was this.

Camp was set up each night. Two different camps within walking distance.

Serengeti field camp

Even in the field, there was wine.

 

Who needs civilization?

Our tent in the afternoon. Sweltering.

Reading

Sunset was spectacular everywhere we were. This view from a Kopfe was typical in its atypical beauty.

 

 

Sundown on the Serengeti

Though the walking camps were less cushy than the base camps, they were still pretty cushy. Like, they were all set up, there was no carrying in stuff in a backpack, there were field showers with warm water, and so on. Yeah. We’ve backpacked 65 miles in Montana. This was definitely not the same thing.

Home glow

Field camp 2

Oh, and even when walking the Serengeti…there was lunch. This time buffalo.

Hiking lunch

Grill

The guys tried to surprise us with lunch, but we had binoculars and a sense of what was up.

Lunch was trucked in

James was our walking guide

Everyone was armed, though they were not really paying much attention to their rifles.

Morning at field camp

Then it was back to base camp for a night.

Glamping involves chairs and a fire at sunset

We had another lunch. Just under these bees.

And holy cow. On our way to the Hadza bushmen, there was this cheetah. In a tree. Remarkable. Cheetahs do not climb trees.

 

 

Sometimes there were goats in the road

Fire at night in the Hadza camp

Denis was a very serious person

 

 

Even while hanging around in camp, the Hadza were busy. Making arrows.

On occasion, one must stop for onions.

Onion stop!

Street vendors. Read the signs.

Another lunch shot. Because lunch!

Our last camp in Tarangire was at a tent lodge. The lodge had power, running water, a bar, and a pool. There was net too. Talk about glamping!

Civilization

A pool

Of course we were still, technically, in a tent.

The luxe tent

Which had a view.

View from the lodge

Though the showers were not all that, they did have LOTS of hot water that did not stop after 2 minutes. Woo hoo!

Not the best shower in the world, but hot water.

Anyway, that is pretty much what glamping in Africa is like. African Environments makes everything incredibly easy and fun. If you’re a real camper (like we are), it will seem unbelievably luxurious.

More product placement. We cannot recommend this firm any more highly.

Arusha HQ of African Environments. Where we had…anyone? anyone? Lunch!

Our guide Denis Mollel made the trip outstanding. Best guide in Africa. Ask for him by name.

Eagles and Econolines: The Shenandoah River in July

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Back in May we paid a visit to the eagles lining the Shenandoah just north of our house. They’ve all grown up and are now flying around. On our latest trip down the river (it flows north, so just how to put that is kinda tricky), we saw 7 eagles. A few of them were captured on film.

The day itself was majestic and crystal clear.

The Shenandoah River

All of the eagles’ nests we know how to find along the route (three) were empty this trip, but there were lots of eagles flying around up and down the river.

spot the eagle

the view

spot the eagle

Oh and we ran across an Econoline 360 too. No doubt left by the big 2018 flood. This is perfect for our friend TC Boyle.

Econoline in the river

Amy paddled over to check it out

But really, the eagles.

turns out there were two in this tree

fly away

Shenandoah Flood of 2018

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Puck senses danger. Tail up!

We started flood preparation in earnest the day before the flood crested (assuming that it crests today, that is). Fortunately, the great people at NOAA have a hydrograph that is extremely helpful for flood preparation. Here is the sensor nearest us at Millville.

The Millville hydrograph was wrong this time

Predictions said that the river would crest at 7am on June 4th at 15.6 feet. The prediction was off by 2 feet so far, but as far as we can tell from observation, the crest will happen soon.

We moved the boats up and rescued the submerged tables.

prep time minor flooding

the garden still above water

river peninsula already under water

truck full of table

Amy took out her kayak. The dogs followed.

Then it was time for a cocktail. The Last Word…hmm.

Last Word, hopefully not appropriately named

mogli got a workout in the flood

The flood in earnest started overnight. First major indication of prediction error was that the car bridge submerged around 10pm. Jack and Eli arrived from DC (Jack came down from NY) around 11. We ignored the road closed signs, drove in the back way to our car bridge and forded the now lake-like creek in the dark.

In the morning, we woke up to discover that the crest had not yet happened. Time to move the cars!

getting close to the cars

The river is getting very close to the house now. About 2-3 feet of vertical elevation left before the basement floods. This calls for some kayaking.

the new lake house

garden down

solstice fire spared

driveway or boat ramp?

road sign

visiting the neighbors by kayak

solstice fire, from the new lake

checking the fence line

garden swampland

the house

the new driveway

Cerro de los Siete Colores (Seven-Color Hill): Purmamarca, Argentina

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A cycle around town in Purmamarca, Argentina provides really good views of Cerro de los Siete Colores (Seven-Color Hill) in an 8 kilometer very easy walk that starts in town. The Andes are incredibly interesting from a geological perspective. Seven different layers come from a remarkable range of dates stretching over 400 million years. Each color of rock is a different age.

 

If you are too lazy to walk the loop, there is a small hill in town that provides a good view.

 

Purmamarca itself is a small town situated around a market square. Crafts from all over Central and South America are available.

Purmamarca well

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