Whether it’s a 10 day grueling mountain adventure, or an easy one hour hike through the rainforest, I search out hiking trails on pretty much every trip I do. Being surrounded by nature is one of the best ways to reconnect with yourself, concentrate on the present and clear your mind, but it can also be a challenge, both physically and mentally. And when you reach the top of the mountain, or the end of the trail, there can be an amazing sense of achievement. Here are three of my most memorable hiking experiences:
Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal:
My trek starts from the pretty town of Pokhara, where my trekking company Purna Yoga and Treks has its main office as well as a yoga retreat centre. The 7 hour bus ride from Kathmandu is hair-raising but gives some great views along the way. However, it’s the kind of thing I only want to experience once, so on the way back, I opt for the 50 minute flight instead.
My group, including three other trekkers, a yoga teacher, a guide and four porters, is driven to the small town of Naya Pull where we put our legs into action. The start of the trek is mostly along cobblestone alleys which wind their way up through pretty villages, past restaurants, shops and schools. Village children and adults alike greet us with hands in prayer coupled with the call of ‘Namaste!’
The pace on the first day is slow and steady as we give our bodies the chance to adjust to the higher altitude. The scenery is spectacular; the cliff side villages give way to mountain greenery, waterfalls and swinging bridges covered in colourful prayer flags. But the ease of the first day gives me a false sense of security....I have no idea how tough some of the days are to come.
Reality certainly hits on day 3 of the trek (which later we laughingly refer to as The Unmentionable Day). It starts at 4am in the freezing cold and pitch black as we climb up Poon Hill (elevation 3210m) for sunrise. Climbing at this altitude leaves me struggling for breath, but watching the sun slide up from behind the snow capped mountains, bringing the world to life, makes the climb absolutely worth it. Unfortunately, it’s on the way down again that I realise I’ve made a tactical error; I haven’t brought any walking sticks.
Anyone who’s done a lot of trekking will tell you; it’s not going up that’s the hardest, it’s coming down. And on day 3, there’s a lot of coming down. In fact, there’s over 1,000 metres of coming down. Add rain, then hail, on top of knee pain and my limits are being tested. But when we reach our stop for the night and our yoga teacher takes us through a practice, I'm soon feeling less grumpy.
The following day, with stiff joints and walking sticks now in hand, we continue to move toward our goal of Annapurna Base Camp (elevation over 4,100m). By day 6, Base Camp is in sight. We trek the final hours with snow crunching under our feet, but the sun warming our backs. Struggling up the last few steps, we are rewarded with spectacular 360 degree views of snow capped mountains and a crisp blue sky. The majesty of the surroundings is accompanied by the sound of avalanches rumbling in the distance, giving the whole experience an other-worldly feel.
After spending a cold night at base camp, the scenery on the trek down is just as impressive. The snow capped mountains give way to dense forest and before we know it, we are back to seeing little villages dotting the hills. A soak in the hot springs right next to a river is just what we need after so many days of trekking (and very little showering).
What we don’t really need, however, is the transport strike that greets us when we reach Naya Pull, the place we’d started from 10 days before. But somehow our guides manage to find a driver who will smuggle us back to Pokhara in the middle of the night, a very exciting way to end our trek!
For the full story on my yoga trek, click here.
Cradle Mountain, Tasmania:
We stayed at Peppers Cradle Mountain lodge, just on the border of the national park, which makes it the perfect base to explore the park. Our first hike was an easy 45 minute walk along the King Billy Track. The entire walk is along wooden boardwalks, which are covered in chicken wire to prevent slipping. The forest the track winds through is nothing short of breathtaking. The King Billy Pines which give the track its name are ancient, with some estimated to be up to 1,500 years old. The whole place makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time (or onto the set of Game of Thrones).
The Enchanted Stroll was our next short hike, which was also accessible from Peppers. The track, which also contains section of wooden boardwalk, meanders along the banks of the Pencil Pine river. The track passed through several different types of vegetation, from button grass plains to teatree thickets and eucalypt woodlands. There’s also a little waterfall which you can stop on the bridge and admire.
The next day, we tackled the slightly longer Dove Canyon track. The start of the track was easy, and again is along wooden boardwalks and stairs. The first stop is the beautiful Pencil Pine Falls, which falls in two straight, distinct lines. The track continues on to the slightly bigger Knyvet Falls. On the way, we saw several wallabies grazing in the moss-covered terrain.
We pushed on along the Dove Canyon track, which at times was barely more than scampering up an escarpment, looking for the next marker to show us we were on the right path. In some parts, we were scaling up rocks, under tree branches and through stunning forest. One part of the track revealed views 60-70 metres down the cliffs that gave way to the Dover River. The hike is a circuit and brought us back to where we started about 2 hours later.
On day three, we made the mistake of driving to the Information Centre carpark to catch a shuttle up to Dove Lake. After spending a couple of days out in nature, we weren’t prepared at all for the busyness of the carpark. The place was absolute mayhem, with cars just about as far as the eye could see in both directions. We quickly hopped back in our car and decided we would hike the whole way to the lake from Peppers instead.
The start of the hike was along the Cradle Valley Boardwalk, which began in the ancient forest and then opened out to grassy plains. More than an hour in, we were still hiking through the same terrain when out of the blue we came across an echidna, foraging right next to the boardwalk. I’d never seen an echidna in the wild before, so it was very exciting! The little fella was a bit camera shy though, so he tried to burrow his head into the soil under the boardwalk (I think he figured if he couldn’t see us, then we couldn’t see him).
The boardwalk led to Ronny Creek where we continued on until we reached our next surprise, a wombat, right under the boardwalk. I haven’t seen a wombat before either, so I was equally excited to watch the little guy feasting on the grass around the boardwalk for ages. When we looked up, we could see a couple of other wombats around, as well as another echidna.
The amazing thing about the next part of the hike was variation in the terrain; it was constantly changing. First we were in button grass plains, then we were in mossy forest again, hiking alongside a river complete with several waterfalls, then we hiked over rocks before we reached the stunning crater lake. The climb up along the edge of the lake was just breathtaking (in more ways than one), until finally we came to the top where we could look out over Cradle Mountain, Dove Lake and Wombat Pool.
The way down around the pool was pretty steep and rocky at times and again, the terrain kept changing. We finally made it down to the shore of Dove Lake, where we were rewarded with a stunning view of Cradle Mountain. Here we decided that since we’d spent the last few days covering big distances on foot, we’d cheat a little bit and get the shuttle bus back to the hotel (for a long hot soak in our spa bath).
Mount Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo:
The first thing to know about a trek up Mount Kinabalu is that it’s not something you can do on a whim – it requires planning, permits and an accommodation booking, which generally have to be requested months in advance. The permit system in Malaysia is very strict, with only 135 issued each day, and only those who have pre-booked are allowed to climb the mountain.
I set off for Kinabalu from the nearest city, Kota Kinabalu, in a public minivan that was carrying mostly locals and had no set departure time – it just left when it was full. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know where I was going, and we drove straight past the village I’d planned to spend the night in, so I got dropped at the next town instead. Wandering around, I quickly realised I was the only Westerner in the whole place, and that barely anybody spoke English. But happily, despite their being a distinct lack of places to stay, I managed to find a little hotel that wasn’t too bad and settled in for the night.
The next morning, after negotiating with the hotel to get me back to the Kinabalu national park, I presented all my paperwork at the office and was assigned a guide. Young, smiling and fit, Afiq was the perfect companion, letting me set the pace, chatting happily and offering me plenty of opportunities to rest. The hike started in Malaysia’s trademark steamy conditions, but it didn’t take too long before that changed. By the time we reached the overnight stop at Laban Rata about 4 hours later, the weather had turned cool and misty.
The resthouse is the only one on the mountain offers mostly dormitory accommodation. The rooms are basic, and since I was travelling on my own, I was put into a room with a lovely, albeit very loud, Korean family. Unfortunately, one of the children in the family got sick in the middle of the night, and the light was thrown on and the room erupted into a noisy discussion. Since my alarm was set for 3am to facilitate the trek to the peak for sunrise, this was not a welcome development. Just as the family had all settled back down, and I’d finally closed my eyes, my alarm started singing happily and it was time to get up.
With no sleep and no hot water for a shower, I stomped off to make a stiff brew of milo and coffee before starting out for the summit. Since everyone staying at Laban Rata takes off at pretty much the same time, the trek to the top is shoulder to shoulder, and reminded me a little of my days living in London in winter, trudging off to the tube station in the dark, freezing cold and rain. The last part of the trek was so steep that ropes were secured to the mountain side to help the climbers pull themselves to the top.
Reaching the peak at around 4,000 metres in a couple of hours, I was shocked at how freezing it was! Luckily, Afiq found me a crevasse to wedge myself into to get out of the biting wind. Lending me his second pair of gloves (for which I will be eternally grateful), I managed to hold on until sunrise without contracting hypothermia. Unfortunately, and despite all the effort it took to get there, the day was cloudy and while the molten lava glow of the sun rising was beautiful, it wasn’t the most spectacular sunrise I’ve ever seen.
But once the sun began to illuminate the land below, and the clouds parted, the view was absolutely breathtaking. And yes, it was a view which made all the hard work worth it.
After admiring the vista for as long as I could stand the cold, I headed back to Laban Rata for a quick snack before heading off down the mountain. The trek became easier as the crowds began to thin out, and we managed to push on without stopping. Occasionally, we had to make way on the path for someone who’d made it to the top, but then couldn’t quite manage the climb back down and was being carried on a stretcher instead. After briefly considering joining them, we instead pushed on and made it to the base of the mountain about 5 hours later.
After reaching the bottom, hot, sweaty, exhausted and sleep deprived I realised I’d made a slight tactical error; I hadn’t considered how I was going to get out of there. Luckily, I managed to flag down a taxi carrying a lovely Chinese family who offered me the front seat, and then peppered me with questions about Australia all the way back to KK (a 2 hour drive).
For more info on these three trekking destinations, see: