I am a very lazy person. I only wash my hair once a week and even that is a considerable test of my strength and endurance. Conversely, I love multi-day hikes.
I only came to this realisation a few years ago. Up until that point my only association with long-distance walking was the horrific 18-hour overnight walk from Otford to Bundeena I was forced to complete at 12 years old.
Let me tell you, that 30km hike through south-Sydney national park was no walk in the park! I’ve harboured a mistrust of venturers, sea scouts and anyone of that knot-tying ilk ever since. They told me we were just going to the beach for a swim! Scout’s honour my arse.
I remember thinking as we stopped for a nap in the damp sand at 2am, that I was so exhausted, there was nothing for it but to radio the chopper. However, somehow, more driven by shame than stamina, I kept going.
I cursed and raged internally, muttering all the best swear words I knew, like ‘fuck knuckle’ and ‘fat moll’. Simultaneously, I sunk to a titanic level of self pity. I was fully submerged. I was Atreyu in the Swamp of Sadness.
But despite my misery I survived. I made it to Bundeena and then caught the ferry to Cronulla, where I met my parents, had a cry, and felt a lot better.
I seem to relive a version of this walk in every multi-day hike I complete. There are still moments of physical and mental misery, but they are always worth enduring for the glimpses of sublime natural beauty I receive in return.
Even on that first walk, unwittingly undertaken and hard won, I caught such a glimpse. I woke up on the beach from a faltering sleep, freezing in my little sand bunker. As the sun slipped over the horizon my Sony Walkman started to play U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’ and I was deeply charmed, by the serendipity of the song and the beauty of the blue dawn.
While I’ve more or less outgrown U2 and explicit D&M scenes, I still crave #views. So I want to keep hiking the most beautiful trails I can find. So far we have completed the Three Capes Track in Tasmania, the Routeburn Track in New Zealand and the Salkantay Trek in Peru.
This whole post is really just an excuse to share our amateur photos.
Three Capes Track, Tasmania
Beginning at Denman’s Cove near Port Arthur, we walked 48km over four days to Fortescue Bay, staying in perfectly appointed cabins along the way. Sticking mostly to the coast, we searched for whales and wombats, and found stunning sunsets, dramatic clifftop views and dolerite sculptures.
We got caught in a storm out on the Blade – the rocky precipice of Cape Pillar. This was totally exhilarating, but also quite terrifying as the park ranger had warned us that people are regularly blown right off the top by the strong winds.
Pros: The ticket price includes accomodation, entrance to the historic Port Arthur site, an eco cruise and a fantastic storybook to read as you walk, describing different trail points.
Cons: They’ve created a paved stairway for the climb up to the top of Cape Huay on the fourth day. By the end of the trip my knees felt like crumbling tombstones.
How my body broke: I hurt my knee on the third day, with a twitchy nerve thing that made every step hard work. Gareth wants it known that he had to carry my bag that day.
Routeburn Track, New Zealand
The Routeburn is considered to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. This ain’t hype. We drove all around New Zealand’s South Island, and saw a great many gorgeous things. But if we hadn’t completed this 32km track through Fiordlands National Park, well I shudder to think… You see magical fairy forests and pools, you camp in glorious meadows with snow-capped mountains in the background and arcing rainbows. You see crystal clear alpine lakes and waterfalls. It is beyond.
Coming from a mostly flat, dry country, my jaw dropped at some of the views, and I haven’t pick it back up yet. It will stay unhinged now, like a hungry snake waiting for more scenic noms.
Pros: You get to see the Alps without crossing the equator. It feels like you’re behind the scenes in some of the most scenic LOTR shots – because you are.
Cons: It is so popular that it can be hard to book cabin or campsite spots. We had to do a mixture of both, which meant we had to carry all the camping equipment for only one night, and hustle to the next cabin spot, essentially doing two days’ walk in one. Also as it’s a hike through, not a circuit, you need to leave your car at one end. We paid a hefty sum to have it picked up from Glenorchy and delivered to the trail head at The Divide, but that was still better than the very slow bus back to Queenstown.
How my body broke: Knee pain again. Also my feet swelled in my boots and rubbed. Gareth swapped boots with me for the last half day of the trip. To this day I don’t know how he managed this, given my boots are a size or two smaller than his.
Salkantay Trek, Peru
I have always wanted to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. However reality caught up with my romantic fantasy when I realised how busy it was – you essentially spend four days dodging wads of used toilet paper. So instead we picked the five day Salkantay Trek, which takes the long way round to Machu Picchu, hiking 70km past the striking peaks of Salkantay, Humantay, and Ausangate, and through jungle filled with tiny coffee plantations to Aguas Calientes.
It was our first guided hiking tour, and we felt very spoilt (and slightly guilty) having all of our meals prepared for us, and most of our stuff carried. The glacial moraines and mountains were absolutely stunning, and the 4650m altitude definitely made the first part of the hike very difficult. I had trouble breathing at the peak and decided to take a horse up the ‘gringo killer’ instead. Best decision ever.
Pros: Machu Picchu seemed like a bonus given all the incredible things we saw and did on the hike to get there. We swam in thermal pools, slept in sky lodges in the snow, hurtled across a river in a tiny metal box and drank the freshest most delicious coffee ever. I’m getting excited to do it all over again!
Cons: Getting into Machu Picchu itself was a bit pants. After walking 70km over 4 days, you had to wake up at 3am to line up for bus tickets, and then get in the bus queue (which stretched down the street) in order to get to the Machu Picchu gates at dawn. The alternative is walking up the mountain in the dark…
How my body broke: Aside from a little bit of altitude sickness, I nailed this one! I had purchased hiking poles beforehand, and they made such a difference on my knees. By the end of the five days I was leading the pack of 20-somethings while they trailed behind with aching joints.
So where to next? Now that we’re based in the UK, I was thinking the West Highland Way in Scotland, or something in the Pyrenees. Any recommendations hiking chums?