Tag Archives: Pacific Island

Mapping My Journey So Far

Sixteen months on the road is a long time. During that time I covered quite a distance and did many things. While I’ve been ‘resting’ in the United Kingdom, I’ve put together a step by step rundown of my trip including maps.

South East Australia

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In a van called the Pointy Brick I…

Antarctica, Chile and Argentina

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From Brisbane, I flew to Auckland and spent 3 weeks with family before flying to South America where I…

Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador

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From Buenos Aires I…

Colombia, Central America and Mexico

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From Ecuador I…

The Full Map. May take some time to load.

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The World Wanderer

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Volcán Barú, Panama

Barely 37km from the border of Costa Rica is Panama’s tallest mountain, Volcán Barú. At just under 3,500m, it’s still considered high altitude but is really just a molehill compared to 6,000m tall mountains of Andes. Volcán Barú is commonly climbed for the rare possibility of seeing both the Pacific Ocean to the south and the Caribbean sea to the north. It’s rare because the view to the Caribbean is often blocked by a layer of clouds.

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There’s two ways to the top of Volcán Barú, either taking a 4×4 vehicle tour or to hike. The hike is difficult and long at 13km from the trailhead to the peak (with a 1,750 climb in altitude) before 13km back again. What makes it a challenge is most people begin climbing at midnight, aiming to see the sunrise from the summit after walking 6 hours in the dark. Hiking 26km makes for a long day at the best of times, but beginning at midnight makes it just nasty. I even tried to nap in the afternoon, but only managed an hour, which was nowhere near enough.

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Getting to the trail head is fairly easy, with one of the hostels offering transport for US$5. Then after a very short briefing, we were pointed off along a wide track and told to just keep climbing no matter what forks in the trail we see. Except for 3 short descents, the 13km was a steady climb along the wide rocky trail. When you’re hiking at night all you have is your head torch and the ground directly ahead of you to look at.

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We were lucky to be walking under the full moon, so it wasn’t always necessary to use the head lamps. But even in daylight there would be little to see, as there are trees along both sides of the trail. We did come to several locations where we looked down upon the township of Boquete. The lights were beautiful but fleeting and too distant for good photos.

Getting to the summit for sunrise was not my aim, so I took is more slowly. When sunrise did hit, I was still half a kilometre from the summit but was able to watch it, seeing the same view as I would have from the top.

Unfortunately it was around this point where altitude sickness struck. It felt like someone had split my head in half and prodded at the insides with their fingers. As I climbed the last of the trail to the radio tower buildings at the top it grew worse and I started to feel ill.

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The last 500 metres was steeper than the rest and when I made it to the top I found the howling wind rough. I found a secluded spot and put on some warm clothing. When dressed, I looked around the buildings and took photos of the surrounds.

To the south was the city of David and the islands in the Gulf of Chiriqui beyond.

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To the west, Costa Rica.

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On the other side, I discovered the buildings were not at the absolute summit, as there was a rocky outcrop that climbed perhaps 30m higher. To get to the top was a rocky scramble, but with the state of my head and stomach I decided against it. The cross on top is the highest point in the country.

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From the northern side of the summit I was out of luck with seeing the Caribbean sea but instead clouds fading away into the distance.

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While I sat huddled out of the wind, one of the girls from my hostel found me and sat with me while I brewed a cup of tea using my hiking stove.

The walk down was very long but straightforward. The trail descends for most of its length except for three points where it climbs. Half way up the first and longest of the three climbs, my tiredness gave out and I lay down on a large rock for a power nap, letting my friend walk on alone. I woke forty minutes later slightly refreshed and no longer feeling the altitude.

The rest of the walk was more of a stagger although I did manage to catch my friend again. We discovered there were many wild flowers growing along the trail but was too exhausted to take photos beyond this one…

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We passed some of the lookouts and caught daylight glimpse of Boquete…

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We eventually made it to the end of the trail and exhausted, booked a taxi through the ranger before being whisked away back to the hostel for a shower and a well deserved sleep.

Overall, the hike up Volcán Barú was okay. I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t suffered altitude sickness at the end and if we’d started at a more reasonable time. While walking at night was fine – it’s cooler out of the sun and there isn’t much to see anyway – the main difficulty is the length. To make the hike more enjoyable, I would make it a two-day hike, camping just below the summit, climbing to see the sunrise early on morning two before the long walk back again.

The Lone Trail Wanderer.

Looking Back, Part 3 – Northern South America

Peru

As I left Bolivia I made my way around Lake Titicaca and along the Andes to Cusco, capital city of the Inca Empire more than 600 hundred years ago. Cusco was built in the image of the Puma, a holy symbol of the Incas.

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Cusco’s a popular tourist destination because of it’s closeness to Machu Picchu. To get to the ruins many people walk one of the expensive hikes in the region: the infamous Inca Trail, The Salkantay Trek or The Jungle Trek. While these hikes are said to be amazing, the expense and length of time needed to prebook put me off. Instead I caught the train to Aguas Caliente, the township at the base of Machu Picchu mountain, and climbed the near 2000 steps to the ruins. At altitude, these steps are still hard going. The ruins felt like Disneyland because of the huge number of tourists but it was still beautiful to behold…

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After Cusco, I travelled to the city of Arequipa, the southernmost city of Peru. Near Arequipa is the county’s third most popular destination, Colca Canyon. Colca Canyon is one of the largest canyon’s in the world, twice as deep as The Grand Canyon. The hiking there is very cheap and doesn’t require a guide. I explored the canyon for three days, including the final climb, a kilometre straight up.

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After Arequipa I headed down from the Andes for a time, stopping at Huacachina, a small town near the ocean renown for its massive sand dunes. I spent an afternoon sand boarding down the slopes.

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Next was a visit to the capital, Lima. I stayed in the tourist zone of Miraflores which felt like I was in the centre of any other city in the world. I then moved to the historical centre and this was more to my liking with great architecture and a distinct lack of tourists.

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I continued north and back into the Andes to the city of Huaraz nestled between the Cordilleras Blanca and Negra. From Huaraz a group of us hiked the four-day Santa Cruz trek, with one of the hardest climbs I’ve ever completed.

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From Huaraz, I made my way to the far northern coast and the country’s second most visited destination, Mancora. Mancora is a beach town where I stayed for four days in a cabaña 20 metres from the Pacific Ocean. After the Santa Cruz hike, it was great to just sit and enjoy the beach for a few days.

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Ecuador

I left Peru and headed across the border to Ecuador’s capital, Quito, where I made plans to visit the Galapagos Islands. Two days later I was on a plane – my first since arriving in South America – and a few hours later landed on the famous archipelago. After booking a four-day cruise around the islands, I made friends with a Uruguayan guy at the hostel and spent the days prior to the cruise exploring Santa Cruz island with him, including a great swimming hole and the Giant Tortoise sanctuary.

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The cruise was amazing, I enjoyed snorkelling through the icy waters and swimming with penguins, fur seals, sea lions and sea turtles. On land there were many bird species including Blue Footed Boobies, the smaller water iguanas and the large land Iguanas.

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Back in Quito, I met some friends at the hostel and explored the city with them, including some amazing architecture, the original site of the equator and the newer more technologically accurate equatorial site. I had also prearranged with some locals to hang out with and spent a week enjoyed their company.

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With my friends from the hostel, I headed north for a weekend to the adventure town Minca buried in the rainforest, where we hung out with Hummingbirds, zip lined ourselves crazy and generally enjoyed our stay.

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Next, two of us travelled south to the city of Riobamba where we hiked to the amazing crater lake of a collapsed volcano called El Altar. Most hiking in Ecuador must be done with a guide, but the two of us enjoyed the three-day hike without one.

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Then we headed south to the southern city of Cuenca where my friend headed into Peru and I explored Ingapirca, the ruins of an Incan Fortress.

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Colombia

Then it was back to Quito for a last few days before I headed north into Colombia, to the city of Cali where I stayed for three days. I explored the city via a walking tour, learning its history, and climbed one of the hills to the local statue of Christ.

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From Cali I headed north via a very winding mountain road where the bus driver thought he was formula one driver. After the humidity in Cali, Bogota was cold. I’d prearranged to meet some people in Colombia’s capital and they were so friendly I stayed for three weeks to spend more time with them, including attending a huge Pop Culture Festival…S.O.F.A.

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Bogota is not well set up as a tourist destination but during my stay I caught a cable car up to a temple of the hill giving awesome views across the city.

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Then with general sadness at having to leave my friends in Bogota, I headed north to Medellin, a more popular city for tourists and home town of the late Pablo Escobar. I hung out at a New Zealand owned hostel and between a couple of nights partying I took a walking tour, both with a group and a separate one with a couple of guys from the hostel.

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Next I headed to Cartagena, a city on the Caribbean Sea where I hung out for a few days in the extreme humidity. Cartagena’s Old Town has a great stone wall around it that once protected it from pirate attacks 500 years ago. The entire old town is a world heritage site.

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Further along the coast is a small beach town of Taganga where I stayed for a few of days. It was a quiet little town away from the bustle of the larger Colombian cities.

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From Taganga I booked and walked the four-day jungle trek to find the Lost City, an amazing ruins of the local tribes that had been abandoned 500 years earlier. The trek was humid and sweaty, and this made the long climbs up clay trails more difficult. Swimming in the icy rivers were highlights of the sweaty days.

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After a couple of recovery days in Taganga, I headed back to Cartagena to say farewell to South America. After 9 and a half months of amazing adventure, it was sad to say farewell to the continent, although my travels were not yet at a conclusion. In Cartagena, I booked a cruise on a yacht with 11 others to make my way through the Caribbean Sea to Panama, and the beginning of my Central American adventures.

This will be an adventure I will never forget.

The World Wanderer

Galapagos Islands, Equador – Adventures

The Galapagos Islands is an archipelago of volcanic islands about 1,000 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador. While they’re technically Pacific Islands, they don’t have the same tropical islands feel like that of Tonga or Fiji. There are no palm trees here, for example.

Most people travelling to the Galapagos come for a cruise to see the diverse animal species. Most cruises are organised from the mainland before arriving and can be expensive. So, I decided to book a flight to the islands and to look for a ‘last minute’ deal when I got there, like I had for Antarctica 7 months ago. If you have time to spare, this is the cheaper way to go.

After an hour in a taxi from the hostel to the airport, a 30 minute stop off in the port city of Guayaquil and a 90 minute flight, I finally arrived on the islands. The airport is situated on a desert island, not the sandy romantic type, but a more rough dry vegetation type. What they don’t advertise is the US$100 entry fee into the National Marine Park – which covers all of the islands. Luckily, I had just enough on me, otherwise they would have taken my passport and I would have had to pay and collect it somewhere in town.

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I caught a bus to the ferry pier, caught a ferry to Santa Cruz Island, and another bus to Puerto Ayora. After my early flight I napped for the hour and a half it took to cross the island. I woke as I arrived in the port town…

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At the hostel I met a Uraguayan guy, Ernesto, who I ended up hanging out with for the rest of my time on the islands. We were greeted by the owner Kevin, from the US. Kevin took us on a free tour of the town introducing many of the aspects that were useful to know. At the end of the tour, Ernesto and I booked a 4-day cruise at a fairly good price. It was a couple of days away, so we explored some parts of the island.

Giant Tortoises
At the top of the island is a sanctuary for the massive giant tortoises that can only be found on these islands. They wallow in mud, chew grass and take very leisurely strolls down the side of the main cross island road. While fencing is used to separate properties on the islands, the tortoises are allowed to go anywhere they want, albeit slowly.

A taxi to anywhere in town is US$1 by law, but to get to the Giant Tortoise sanctuary it costs US$30 and the driver who takes you up there becomes your impromptu tour guide – thankfully Ernesto could translate. At the end of the tour, the driver takes you to several other places before dropping you back at your hostel.

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The reserve on Santa Cruz Island isn’t large but we met many of the tortoises who were just sitting around munching grass or drinking muddy water. The very large ones are the males (some 1.5m long) while females are smaller. There were several young aged 3-5 years, which were about the size of normal turtles. You’re not allow to approach to within 2 metres of the animals, but even at 5 metres some of them pull in their heads and hiss. They could no doubt give a nasty bite, so we kept our distance.

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Lava Tube
After visiting the tortoises, the driver took us to a large lava tunnel and dropped us at the start before going to wait for us at the exit. Stairs descend into the tube, which was slightly taller and wider than a train tunnel. The tube is nearly 500m long and is lit by sporadic lights.

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Near the end the tunnel roof descends, giving only a crawl space for about 2 metres. After crawling through on our bellies we met the taxi and were taken back to town.

Swimming Hole
While it’s not steaming hot in the islands, it can be a little muggy first thing in the morning. The day before the cruise was cloudy but warm, so we decided to find the swimming hole we’d been told about. Just prior to leaving, an English couple arrived at the hostel and we invited them to join us.

From the pier at the centre of town a water taxi takes us across the small harbour for 60 cents, zig-zagging through the yachts.
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We then walked across volcanic rock for 20 minutes to a natural fissure in the rock about 40 metres deep. The bottom 10 metres is filled with water.

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A pair of bikini clad girls from Florida at the edge of the swimming hole told us the water was cold. Of course the best way to get into cold water is to dive. But, the water wasn’t as cold as expected and the four of us ended up swimming for an hour, occasionally climbing up the sides and jumping from the rocks.

Eating
Puerto Ayroa has plentiful restaurants and being in the Pacific, seafood is common. For the three nights we stayed we ate in three different places. Firstly, at the pier where the boats bring daily fresh catches. In the morning they sell their catches of fish and crayfish, then in the evening they have a cheap seafood fry up. Very tasty.

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On night two, we discovered a street where all the small restaurants block the road by setting up plastic tables down the middle. At one particular restaurant, I ate a local fish dish – Caviche – where they slowly cook raw fish in a lime throughout the day. Yum!

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Day three, with our new English friends, we ate at a normal restaurant. Boring, but still tasty.

Tortuga Bay Beach
Lastly, on returning from the cruise, we decided to head to Tortuga Bay beach, a 30 minute walk along a 2.5km path. The day we went was warm but very cloudy and when we arrived at the beach it was beautiful but rather cold.

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As we walked we spotted several black Marine Iguanas wandering down the beach. Middle right in the above picture. When necessary, he uses his long tail to swim through the surf. Then, at one end of the beach, we also found an Iguana pile…

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As evening approaches, the Iguanas head a special location and pile on top of each other to conserve heat during the night. The Marine Iguanas are the only species of in the world that do this, and at a half a metre long each, that’s a big pile.

Next, the 4-day cruise around the islands.

The Trail Wanderer

Vava’u – Swimming with the Whales

Today is my last day in Tonga and I must admit that I’ve rather enjoyed this little backwater Pacific Kingdom. While Vava’u has been the most commercialised of the islands groups, it’s not really that commercial at all. Tomorrow I face a flight to Tongatapu, a long wait at the international airport until my midnight flight to Auckland. I arrive at 2am and sleep in the airport until my 7am flight to Brisbane and home, well what home I have left there.

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Every year as part of their breeding migration, Humpback Whales arrive in Tongan waters. This has led to a commercialised ‘swim’ with the whales all throughout the kingdom. No trip to these islands should be done without going on of the swims. I’m not sure I agree with the idea – some of nature’s creatures should be left to just get on and live, not be harassed by we humans. So, I’ve held out from going for most of my stay. But on my second to last day – yesterday – I caved and organised a trip. As I said, you can’t come to the islands without swimming with the whales.

The first objective of the captain is to find where the whales are, then get up ahead of them and send the swimmers into the water. The whales will often hang out and ‘play’ but if they move away, we get back on the boat and try again. We only try twice before ‘getting the hint’ and finding another set of whales. Because there are many operators, they often work in conjunction with each other to locate the animals and to share time with them.

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We headed out to the west side of the islands and quickly located a pair of juveniles playing. We hung out around them for a while, watching them and getting the boat into position before getting into the water. In our snorkelling gear we were able to watch these animals go past. It’s magnificent to see such huge animals in their native environment. They weren’t that playful, however, and moved off. So back on the boat, we followed them and had another go. They moved away quickly again, so we left them alone.

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We received a call from the other side of the islands. A crew working in conjunction had spotted a mother and her newborn. Like a tag team crew, we arrived at the specified location as other boat and it’s cargo of swimmers and they headed of – they’d been swimming with the whale for an hour – so it was our turn. We were in the water as the great juggernaut of the mother flowed past us with it’s baby – only a few days old and twice my size. The beauty of the mother just hanging there in the water was immense and we swum for a few minutes watching her interact with her baby before they swum off. Back on the boat, we followed and tried again. This time we managed only a glimpse before they give us the hint.

While I would have liked to have swum with them for longer, the mother and her calf were the last set of whales we saw for the day. We did a bit more snorkelling around the coral gardens and Swallows cave. It was a very sunny day today and the coral just shines in all its colours in the sunlight.

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Not many photos of this, unfortunately, as I did not have an underwater camera today.

Back to Brisbane tomorrow and time to organise more trail walks.

The Trail Wanderer

Vava’u – Kart Safari

Today the sun came back out and the mugginess kicked in again. Having acclimatised to Queensland, I was thankful for the heat. While it hadn’t been cold, just not hot.

Today was a day I’d been looking forward to for much of my time on Vava’u… the Kart Safari day! It started in the afternoon, so I spent the morning just hanging out and relaxing in the backpackers.

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I headed down to the Kart Safari place for 1pm and met with the guy who was taking me on the tour. We waited for a couple from Melbourne to arrive and then 5 of us headed out on the tour in 3 carts. I was pleased as I had one to myself.

After a very brief training session: this pedal goes forward, this pedal stops, this is how you turn it on. And that’s it, easy! We strapped in and headed off. We followed the sealed road for a while taking a road I had not been along which quickly turned to dirt…

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Then to track:

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We drove to one of the most northern lookouts of the island. Great, because I had not been to the north as yet. As I had expected, the lookout was amazing, vast cliffs in both directions, hidden beaches and the raging blue of the sea.

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After a while at the lookout, we headed off back along the track to the dirt road to the sealed road and to the east, heading to Keitahi Beach – a place I’d been on the scooter tour. There is a steep hill leading down to the beach that was crazy on the scooter, but awesome in the buggy.

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We sat for a while and chatted to the guy who had leased the entire beach front and was building a new resort. Back in the karts, we headed up the hill and took a track which headed along the cliffs to another lookout. Again with amazing views.

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And the raging seas:

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We watched flying foxes circle in the air – I love these beautiful creatures having worked in a bat hospital over christmas.

We headed out and drove down the dirt road to ‘Ene’io Beach again – I’d been there on my scooter tour also – for a beer. Then we returned to the backpackers.

Overall, it was a fun afternoon in the Karts although it could have been longer. Tomorrow I will climb Mt Talau again, this time with my Canadian friend, then on Wednesday – my last full day in Tonga – I’m off to swim with the humpback whales.

The Trail Wanderer.

Vava’u – Mt Talau National Park

So, it’s Sunday in Vava’u and like everywhere else in the Kingdom of Tonga, Vava’u shuts down and everyone goes to church. I decided to have a partial relaxing day and just hang out in the backpackers for most of it. There’s a nice common room, I know a few of the people, so I grabbed a book, my phone and just hung out on the couch.

By lunchtime, I felt terribly lazy and decided to get out of the place and do something a little physical. Since I’ve not hiked on Vava’u, I decided to go for a walk. At the end of the harbour, Mt Talau stands quietly in all its mountainness. I’d say splendour, but at barely 132m from the base to the top, there isn’t any. But it’s close to town, so why not. It’s actually a fair walk to get to through the sometimes steep streets of Neiafu. By the time I reached the base of the mountain, I was sweating. A good start. I located the sign along the dirt track and kept following it.

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The track grew thinner and led into the bush. I kept walking until I ran out of track. Had I gone the wrong way? Instead of heading back, I chose to climb up the side of the mountain. It had mildly rained for the last few days, so the side of the mountain was a little slick and soft, but I went up anyway, hanging on to trees and roots as I went. It wasn’t difficult going and I soon spied a track when I reached the top. Heading in one direction for about 5 metres and I found another track that went to a set of steps leading down. I had obviously missed a track leading up the mountain. Nevermind.

I continued along the track and it lead around the top of the mountain to a small building with a satellite dish and then on to a lookout: a fantastic view of the harbour

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I walked on and found a track leading to another path down the mountain, this one with ropes to help with the climb. I guess I missed that one too. Ignoring it, I continued on to another lookout giving a view of the town:

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Then on to a third lookout at the end of the track on the north side of the mountain:

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I retraced my steps back to where I had climbed up and headed back the other way. I was hoping to find a lookout to the west, but the track petered out. So I headed back. (I came back again on Tuesday and redid the climb with my Canadian female friend. We pushed on into the bush and eventually found a lookout on the west side:)
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I headed back to the steps near where I had climbed up and headed down. The steps lead to a roped section of path that leads to a split in the rock that you climb through. Again the dirt was a little wet and soft, but I went down anyway.

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I have to say that the climb was more difficult than I expected. There were only a few places to hold on to and many places to slip. I took my time and came out of the bottom of the split in the rock to a short rock scramble down to the ground. I walked through some trees and came to a wire fence. On the other side was the original track I’d walked along.

I was heading past the Mt Talau sign when I heard voices on the side of the mountain. This must be the other way up. I headed into the bush and found the path, it actually starts about 10 metres before the sign. The good ole start the trail before the sign trick. So I decided to climb it. It was roped the entire way to the top and took me all of 5 minutes to get up. I then climbed back down – another 5 minutes – and then back to town.

Tomorrow, I’m off on a Kart Safari!

The Trail Wanderer