I’m Trekking to Petra!

We may be in lockdown now but adventure awaits! I’m thrilled to say that in April 2021, I will joining 50 other people from my local area on a gruelling desert adventure in aid of a charity that’s very close to my heart!

This trip has been in the works for almost a year and I joined the team back in November 2019, but it’s become even more important in the current crisis. The charity we’re trekking in aid of is the Stars Appeal (registered charity no: 1052284), which is the in-house charity at Salisbury District Hospital. The Stars Appeal funds projects within the hospital which offer direct and practical support to patients and their families, over and above what the NHS is able to provide. Every year they require around £1million of funding to make patients’ hospital experiences as positive as they can possibly be.

The projects they fund include one-off items – like creating a brand new birthing centre, or purchasing state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment for cancer patients – and long-term projects and services which need to be funded every year, including free WiFi for patients and their families, maintenance of the award-winning Stars Appeal Breast Cancer Unit, and purchasing toys and games for children in the Sarum Children’s Ward.

Have a look here for a comprehensive list of what the Stars Appeal hopes to achieve in fundraising this year: http://www.starsappeal.org/our-wish-list/

I volunteered my time at Salisbury District Hospital’s radio station, Radio Odstock, for two years and got to see for myself some of the amazing things that the Stars Appeal have provided. I was born in this hospital 22 years ago, as was my sister 5 years after that. Almost 30 years ago, my Mum suffered a spinal injury and having the specialist spinal unit, partially funded by the Stars Appeal, saves her travelling miles to a specialist hospital for the check ups she still requires every year. I have friends and family who’ve had long and short stays in this hospital and I’ve been a patient there myself on a number of occasions. What I’m saying is that this charity means a lot to me because the work they do effects everyone in my local community.

Right now, the hospital, along with every other NHS hospital is facing its biggest challenge ever, but the great news is that the money I raise ahead of the trek doesn’t wait until after the event to reach the Stars Appeal. The moment you donate, it goes straight towards the work they’re doing right now to make sure patients and staff are having the safest, most comfortable experience they possibly can during this time.

To that end, I am asking that you consider following this link to my JustGiving page and making a donation, however large or small you can manage, towards my fundraising goal of £3500. If you can’t donate, please share the link and tell your friends – particularly if you’re from the Salisbury area, have friends or family here or even if you visit often – you never know when you might need the benefits that this funding provides!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/hermionepetra

I had lots of plans for fundraising events which of course have had to go on hold, so right now, sponsorship is the best way for me and my fellow trekkers to raise the hugely important funds required to continue giving the people in my local community the best care possible, making their experiences comfortable and efficient, and easing the pressure on our National Health Service.

I will of course, as with all my other mad projects, post updates here and on my Instagram (@hermionerose) as they come. This will include more information on the actual trek and what it is I’ll be doing next April – today I just wanted to share with you all how important this cause is to me. In the meantime, I’m going to keep asking nicely for sponsorship (pretty please, with a cherry on top??) and start walking up some hills in preparation for the desert trek that lies ahead!

The Blue Mountains

Everything about yesterday was wonderful.

I spent the day at the Blue Mountains National Park, which is located about a two hour train journey west of Sydney.

I caught the train to a town called Katoomba where I purchased a hop on/hop off bus pass with a company called Blue Mountain Explorer Bus. Let me just tell you, this was an amazing way to see the area! There are a lot of companies who run guided tours, even picking you up from your hotel/hostel in Sydney, but I wanted to go it alone and do the day at my own pace, which is why I chose to catch the train.

When I bought the ticket, I was given an amazing little guidebook, which actually is the ticket – you just wave that at the bus driver when you hop on. The book had a map of the bus circuit, an full index of all 31 stops, an example itinerary for getting the most out of your day, detailed information about all the stops and attractions, and smaller maps of each area which could be used for the walks. Furthermore, the drivers was so friendly and informative; I can’t say enough, how awesome this service was!

Anyway, the first place I hopped off was Katoomba Cascades. The whole area is full of waterfalls and streams, so this was the first of many that I came across. I walked for an hour or so, through to ‘Scenic World’, where I stopped for a sandwich. Scenic World is an amalgamation of the Skyway, Cableway, Railway and Walkway. I didn’t go on any of these due to the price and the fact that I wanted to see as much as possible rather than linger over one area, but it’s definitely one I’ll add to the list for next time.

Katoomba Cascades

Here, I hopped back on the bus to Echo Point. This is where you can get the best views of the Three Sisters, the main attraction of the Blue Mountains.

First glimpse of the Three Sisters from the Prince Henry Cliff Walk
From the Honeymoon Bridge, Three Sisters on the right hand side

Mount Solitary

Having walked down to the bridge where you can actually touch the Three Sisters, I got back to the bus stop to find that a bus had left about 5 minutes before. (This was admittedly my own fault for not keeping an eye on the time or checking the timetable which was literally in my hand…). The buses run every 30 minutes, so rather than sit twiddling my thumbs for 25 minutes, I decided to walk round the escarpment to the next stop. Somewhere along the way I must’ve misread the map, because two hours later, I’d walked all the way down into the valley, and back up again…oops! Though to be fair, it was a beautiful walk and it didn’t take long for me to realise my mistake, at which point I chose to just carry on, rather than walk back on myself. For anyone who’s familiar with the area, I walked from the Three Sisters to the Leura cascades, and for anyone who’s not, I walked a bloody long way!

All the steps, first down to the valley, then back up to the top, we’re this steep! Some like this, and some cut into the cliff
Leura Cascades

When I eventually got back to civilisation, around 4pm, it was nearing the time of the last buses and it looked like I wouldn’t have time to do much else without missing the last bus. I asked one of the drivers what he’d suggest and without a second thought he recommended Wentworth Falls. This is a little further out from Katoomba and Leura, and the explorer company run a shuttle there; you get off the bus at Stop 21, and immediately get on another, which takes you to Wentworth Falls at Stop 31. Pretty nifty. This was the last shuttle out there, but the Wentworth Falls train station was a short walk away and on the same line as Katoomba. I was sold.

Off I went to Wentworth Falls and it was so worth it. If I’d admitted defeat and finished the day at Leura, it would still have been awesome, but Wentworth Falls was a perfect round-off.

Wentworth Falls from the lookout

I put my bathers on and went for a swim at the Fletchers Lookout, before heading back. I had two options here; either walk in a straight line down the main road until I reached the train station, or take the Charles Darwin Trail through the forest. Since I had no time limit, I obviously chose the scenic route! The Charles Darwin trail follows the stream back up and was a nice easy, mostly flat walk, unlike the many many steps of my earlier hike. What turned out to be a major ego boost is that the official estimated time for this trail is 1 hour and 15 minutes – I managed it in 40! *muscle flex emoji*

Back in Wentworth Falls, I got on the train back to Sydney, and after a shower and some dinner, I crashed out for a good 12 hours! (Note: my legs are definitely feeling it this morning!)

Charles Darwin walk – at times I felt like I was in the English countryside!

I chundered in a Pharmacy

Tuesday = worst day ever.

I woke up feeling dreadful, and within minutes of drinking a large glass of water, thinking it would make me feel better, I threw up.

My first thought was that I must be hungover from the day before – but even this seemed odd, because I didn’t think I’d drunk enough to warrant this reaction. Nevertheless, I went back to bed to sleep it off. I was actually meant to be checking out this morning as well, so that was an added complication.

My bed was booked out for that night so come 10am, I had to pack my stuff and vacate the room. Shoutout to Nicole for letting me sleep in her bed for most of the day!

Long story short, the vomming didn’t stop all day and I decided to go to the doctor and get a certificate, so I could change my flight and claim the money back on the insurance. He also prescribed me some antisickness tablets so I could actually drink some water and have it stay in my system; I was well on my way to dehydration by this stage.

Unfortunately, while waiting in the Pharmacy, I went again. The poor staff member looked a bit shocked when I interrupted her conversation to say “I need a bag, I’m gonna be sick!”. The staff were very sweet and professional, and one of them showed me to the staff bathroom so I could wash up. Thank you nice lady from Priceline!

I checked back into a different room at the hostel for the night and got straight into bed, where I slept from about 6pm until the next morning. Thankfully, I woke up feeling much better (if a little weak and weary from not having eaten anything the day before) and jumped on a plane to Sydney… that comes with its own story though!

Yarra Valley Wine

What better way to spend my last day in Melbourne than touring the Yarra Valley tasting wines?

It was another early start, catching the bus at 7:45, and heading first to the ‘Gateway Estate’. Here, we were shown around the indoor Capsicum farm (a capsicum is a bell pepper, who knew!), where the owner told us about the growing and farming process, which sounds dull but was actually super interesting! However, the tasting was a lil more exciting! Three types of strawberry liquor, strawberry jam, capsicum chutney – not bad for a first stop!

Throughout the day we visited the Napoleon cider-house and brewery, the Killara winery, Punt Road winery and the Yarra Valley chocolate factory and ice creamery.

At Killara, we had the most delicious provided lunch. Italian tapas to start, which honestly could’ve filled me up by itself! Followed by a choice of Pizza, Pumpkin Salad, Gnocci or Tortoloni for mains. I went for the Gnocci but did a classic switcheroo with one of the people in a little group of 5 of us who were the same age, so he had some of mine and I got some of his pasta. It was all bloody delicious!

The Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road is a famed must-see here on the South coast. Without the time or the means to go and roadtrip it on my own, I visited a Backpackers Travel Shop down the road from my hostel and booked a day trip to go and see the main sites.

Having slept until 8:30/9:00 most mornings since I’ve been here, it was a slight shock to the system having a 6am alarm, but was definitely worth it. The tour I took was actually referred to as the great ocean road ‘in reverse’; most tours start at the Melbourne end, stopping at various places and then making the long trip back in one go. We did the opposite – drove all the way out to the end and then stopped at the sights on the way back. One of the main advantages of this was that it was much less busy everywhere, as we got to places at different times to all the other tours that go out.

The first place we stopped was Port Campbell, a little seaside town where I met a lovely lady who runs a souvenir shop called ‘Spence’. It wasn’t your average tacky souvenirs though, but unique products designed by herself, her daughter, and other local artists.

Port Campbell beach

The main attractions we saw throughout the day were the Loch Ard Gorge, The Twelve Apostles, The Otway Rainforest and Kennett River.

The coast that the GOR runs along is split into two sections; the Shipwreck Coast and the Surf Coast. The latter is named for obvious reasons; the former is named for its notorious history of ships running aground. These ships include the Loch Ard, which was coming in from Scotland in 1878. When a thick fog came down, the captain was unable to see how close they were to land, and they ran aground on a reef. There were only two survivors; a young boy who swam to shore, and a young girl named Eva Carmichael. The boy heard Eva’s cries and went back out to rescue her. They came ashore at what is now known as Loch Ard Gorge, later named to commemorate those who had died in the wreck.

Loch Ard Gorge

Next, we saw the Twelve Apostles… of which only eight are left! There actually was only ever nine apostles, and I don’t think anyone’s quite sure why they’re named the Twelve Apostles. They used to be referred to as Sow and Piglets, but this was changed to something more appealing when the site became more popular with tourists. The Apostles are a collection of sandstone stacks, caused by the erosion of the cliff face. The ninth apostle collapsed in 1990 and eventually, the other will as well, as the sea erodes away the sandstone over time.

The Twelve Apostles. Well, some of them anyway!
The Twelve Apostles feat. Me

After this point, the Great Ocean Road goes slightly inland and cuts through the Otway Rainforest. This was a particularly cool part of the trip, probably because a rainforest just isn’t what you think of when you think of Australia! Our tour guide took us on a walk at a point called Mait’s Rest, and talked about the wildlife and the symbiotic nature of the rainforest, where none of the plants can really survive without the others. His explanation made me nerd out and go ‘argh, nature is so cool!’.

There are two interesting things about this tree. No.1: The hole underneath. Many moons ago, this tree would’ve grown out of an old dead fallen down tree, using that for its nutrients. As the dead tree decomposed, and this one kept growing, this hole underneath formed. No. 2: This was known by the Aboriginals as the fertility tree. It was believed that if a woman walked in one side, when she came out the other she’d be pregnant. Safe to say, I stayed well away!
These ferns can’t survive without the canopy of the tall trees above, protecting them from the harsh direct sunlight. But those tall trees wouldn’t have anything to root themselves in without the soil which is formed of the fallen leaves from the small fern trees. Symbiosis everybody!

In Kennett River, the idea was to see Koalas in the wild, but I only managed to see one, way high up in a tree. Which seems unfair when you find out that someone else in the group saw one on the ground right in front of her! I did get plenty of attention from the wild birds though!

I made a friend (but really he just wanted me for the food I was holding)

We finished the day with pizza and drove back to Melbourne.

Surprise, I’m in Melbourne!

Look. I know I said I wasn’t coming to the East, but after the clustertruck with the car, I reserve the right to change any and all subsequent plans!

After the Contiki Tour, I flew from Alice Springs to Melbourne. It feels pretty weird to be back in a big city, having spent a few weeks in the outback. Add to that the fact that I hadn’t planned any of my movements post-flight and the first half hour or so of my time here was a little overwhelming..! But I soon found my way onto a bus and into a hostel.

I’m staying at Flinders Backpackers, right in the CBD (which means Central Business District, as I learned a couple of days ago, despite having been in this country for two months!). Tired from travelling, I aimed to get an early night my first night here, but I ended up acquainting myself with two of my dorm-mates and going for a walk with them. Nicole from Glasgow and Tom from Cambridge met in Sydney and then came down to Melbourne together, and since I arrived they’ve taken me under their wings also. Tom came home to bed but Nicole and I stayed out wandering the town until past 11…oops!

The last couple of days have consisted of about 50% sleeping and 50% sightseeing. For some reason, I’ve been feeling very fatigued over the last few days, which I’m not at all happy about. This is something I struggled with back home but, save for the jet lag, haven’t experienced while I’ve been out here. I seem to be slipping into a routine of getting up around 8:30 for the free breakfast at the hostel, going back to sleep for a morning nap, waking up around lunchtime and then spending the afternoon sightseeing. Not ideal, but I wouldn’t say I’ve not made the most of the time I have been awake!

In the three days I’ve been here, I have:

  • Explored Bourke Street Mall (including the biggest bloody H&M I’ve seen in my life!).
  • Been up to the Eureka Skydeck to see the city from the 88th Floor.
  • Visited the Immigration Museum, which was immensely interesting and thought provoking.
  • Spent the evening at the Victoria Street Night Market, upon entering which, my first thought was ‘This is like Covent Garden, but better!’
  • Lit a candle in St Paul’s Cathedral (yes, they’ve got one here as well).
  • Been to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), a museum all about the history of film, TV and video games, including a whole tonne of interactive areas.
  • Had a mooch around the National Gallery, Victoria.
  • Visited the Eureka Skydeck again at sunset.
  • And done a whole lotta exploring the city on foot!
View from the Eureka Skydeck, 285m over the city of Melbourne. The lift takes you up 88 floors in 38 seconds!
One of the more interesting mirror selfies I’ve taken in my time.
That pointy thing is Melbourne’s Arts Centre!
Posting my Mummy a post card from Australia’s highest postbox.
Feeling smiley in the sun!
The sheds of Victoria Street Market, home of The Night Market. (It looks dead cause I took this on my way out, after the market closed/ended.)
Sat listening to these amazingly talented guys for a good half hour. Go check them out on Instagram, they’re planning to release an EP soon.

I’m loving Melbourne; it’s been voted the world’s most liveable city something like 8 years in a row, and is dubbed the cultural hub of Australia. There’s something about the gentle hubbub of Melbourne, combined with some beautiful architecture in amongst the skyscrapers that make it feel homely rather than overwhelming.

All that being said, I am wanting to explore further afield while I’m here on the south coast, so this afternoon I went to a Backpackers travel shop and booked myself onto a couple of day trips over the weekend; on Saturday I’ll be taking on the famous Great Ocean Road, seeing the likes of the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge and the Otway Rainforest, and on Monday I’m off to the Yarra Valley Wine Region for a day of wine and cheese tasting – yes, please!

After what I think will be a much needed lie in Tuesday, after all the wine, I’m catching a late-afternoon flight to Sydney, where the adventure continues! Of course, I will let you know in detail how all of this pans out, but for now, I’m going to sleep!

The Contiki Tour – Part 3: Champagne Sunset

So far you know that I overslept, watched the sunrise, walked around the base of Uluru and spent some time in the Cultural Centre – all  before 10am!

On our return to the hotel, I took a nice long nap, and followed this with a swim before getting dressed up to head back to Uluru for a Champagne Sunset, organised by Tom, our lovely trip manager, and Dave, our driver.

Don’t ask which I preferred between the sunrise and the sunset ’cause I honestly couldn’t decide. Tom and Dave kept the champagne flowing and provided us with chips and dips and various other nibbles – the whole evening was just lovely. As it was the last night we’d all be together, we said our thank yous to Tom and Dave, and everyone posed for photos with everyone else in front of Uluru! Even in the four short days that I’d been with these people, I’d had such a wonderful time, made some lovely friends and shared such a unique experience with them. I said this in the caption of one of the photos I posted on Instagram and it’s true: I will never forget those moments or the people I shared them with.

The sun went down and I left feeling happy and calm and positive. It’s amazing how a beautiful place like that can make you feel.

The evening’s fun only continued when we got back to the hotel, as there was live music in the outdoor bar, which we stayed up listening and subsequently dancing to into the night.

I’m so grateful to have been on that tour; Uluru itself wouldn’t have been any less amazing if I was on my own, but the people I shared it with just made it!

Thank you to my very first Contiki Family, I’m sure that won’t be my last Contiki tour.

The Contiki Tour – Part 2: Uluru

Hey, that rhymes! Simple things please simple minds, eh?

So, when I left off, I was on the coach on the way to Yulara. Yulara is the only town in the vicinity of Uluru/Ayers Rock. Previously, there was nothing there in the way of civilisation, but due to people illegally camping close to the rock, disrupting the wildlife, disrespecting this sacred Aboriginal site, and causing danger to themselves.

Heard of the ‘dingo ate my baby’ story? No, neither had I until I got to this country – but it turns out it was quite famous, and a completely true story. In August 1980, a family were camping at Uluru when a dingo snuck into the tent, took and killed their two month old baby. The body was never found. Situations like this one led the Northern Territory government to build the town of Yulara so that people had a safe and regulated selection of places to stay. It was owned by the government at first and then later privatised, and the whole town, save for the bank and the post office in owed by the same company!

We arrived in Yulara and checked into The Outback Pioneer resort, with three or four of us to a dorm room. The first thing any of us wanted to do was go for a swim, but just our luck, the pool was closed for 24 hours for cleaning. After we spent half an hour whinging about the lack of pool, I suddenly realised: the whole town is owned by the same people. Surely, this meant we could just go into one of the other hotels and use their pool! I was right. Naturally, myself and a couple of others chose the most expensive hotel to go and crash, and preceded to spend the afternoon here. Five stars an’ all!

It was another early start on Thursday to go and see the sunrise at Uluru. Though not as early for me, given that I didn’t wake up until about 6 minutes before the coach left, and even then only woke up because one of the others phoned me to find out where I’d got to. (Thanks Cam!) I was a little miffed that my room mates hadn’t woken me up, but when I spoke to them later, it turns out they had tried…multiple times! They turned on the lights, told me it was time to get up, told me we were leaving soon… at one point I even responded, but alas was dead to the world, until 05:24. I got out of bed and threw some clothes on simultaneously, and hotfooted it to the coach, where I collapsed into a seat and practically fell back to sleep for the half hour ride to Uluru!

And then, finally, the main event! Everyone knows how big and beautiful and impressive Uluru is, but you never quite appreciate it until you’re there. I have no words to describe it, but I did take plenty of pictures.

After the sun rose, we walked around the base, taking in the sheer size and beauty of this giant red rock. There were some parts which are considered sacred sites by the aboriginals and therefore you’re not allowed to take photos of them. The parts that I could take photos though, I mostly did, except for those moments when I just stood there and soaked it all in. It really was bloody beautiful.

By the time we’d done this, I was starving, having missed breakfast, so I grabbed a ham’n’cheese toastie in the café a few kms away (bizarre thing to eat in 40 degree weather, let me tell you!) and then had a wander around the Cultural Centre; a museum of sorts which has lots of information on the meaning of Uluru to the indigenous people and some of their traditions and customs. I’ll write about what I learned there in a separate post, as there was so much interesting stuff that this one might turn into a novel!

Next up: the Champagne Sunset…

36 hours later…

I’m very happy to report that I have made it to Alice Springs!

Jane drove us through to Katherine in pretty much one go, save for a few hours between 1am and 6am when she stopped to let the horses have a walk about. I laid down for a kip in the cab of the truck and subsequently got eaten alive. (Don’t give me that look Karen, I swear I thought I had enough Mosi-Gard on!). Suffice to say, I’ve learned my lesson on that front, and the itching is a constant reminder of my errors. I have so much Stingoes on me, I look like I’ve bathed in the stuff!

Around 1pm on Monday, we finally pulled up at the transit station in Katherine. After thanks and goodbye, Jane went on her merry way.

I had until 5pm before I needed to get on the Greyhound bus to Alice Springs. Desperate for a shower and with no clean underwear left, I sought out the Backpackers Hostel in town and they kindly let me use their shower and laundry facilities. Fast forward a couple of hours and I was clean, dry, dressed, content and just waiting for the dryer to finish so I could be on my way.

Then it was the overnight Greyhound bus to Alice Springs. I fell asleep after a few episodes on Netflix and woke up in Alice Springs.

09:18 was the time. I knew that the coach for my excursion was leaving Alice any minute now, so I phoned up Tom the tour manager, who said they’d already left but if I could jump in a cab and get to the airport, they’d turn around and pick me up there. Cue me hotfooting it to the taxi rank with all my stuff and quite literally jumping into a taxi!

It all came together in the end, I rocked up at the airport and 5 minutes later, so did the Contiki bus, and that brings us up to now. I have another couple of hours on this coach before we get to today’s destination, so excuse me while I doze off again!

Escape from Fitzroy Crossing!

I spent all of Saturday lurking around a petrol station and later a hotel lobby, making phone calls, posting on Facebook groups and desperately trying to find someone to give me a lift to anywhere!

Mum and I came up with a theory about how a surprising number of young women have come to be working in Fitzroy: clearly, they’ve all been stranded, just as I was, by flood waters and terrible public transport. They get trapped for so long that they start to feel like they should be doing something with their time and lending a hand to the community. They develop a form of Stockholm Syndrome that tricks them into thinking Fitzroy is a nice place to be, and that’s it. They’re stuck. Never again to see the rest of the world!

Hey, I just wrote my first conspiracy theory piece!

Around 5pm, I decided to call it a day and check into the hotel. Different hotel from the night before, more expensive – and I did have to pay this time – but much nicer! I made the most of having a relaxing night in a room all of my own. Had a long shower, washed my hair, put on a face mask, and sat watching Netflix in bed. I was asleep by half nine and slept through til 8 o’clock this morning!

From my bed, I checked the road conditions and phoned Greyhound to see if their buses were running today. No such luck. When I got up, I packed my things and headed once again to the Shell garage to pick up a lift. After a couple of hours, a strange twist of fate came along and made my day.

A gent who thought I’d have more hitchhiking luck in a different part of the town offered to drive me there, but once we got on the main road we spotted the Greyhound bus! We turned the car round and followed it for a few minutes until it stopped. It had come from Darwin and was headed for Broome, but terminating in Fitzroy because of the closed roads. I asked if they were turning around and heading back to Darwin but they told me not until tomorrow. Another dead end, I thought.

But then! A lady who was getting off the bus overheard me and said she was driving to Katherine (only about 300km south of Darwin) and could give me a ride! She’d come to Fitzroy to pick her truck and horse box and was driving to Katherine this afternoon.As I write this, I’ve been on the road about an hour, and I’m sat in the front Jane’s truck, with our four-legged-friends in the back, feeling like the stars have finally aligned for me this week!

Tomorrow is a new day, a new week, I’ll get to Darwin by lunchtime and from there I’ll have many more options!