A Cape to Cape Christmas

Christmas holidays?  What are they again?  Yep, the festive season passed so quickly this year that their existence feels like a dream.  Perhaps that’s why it has taken me so long to write this blog.

Our original plan for Christmas this year was to head off to sunny Ireland for a castle wedding of the gorgeous Clare and Mairtin.  Unfortunately, leave and languishing bank accounts forced us to abandon that idea so, instead, I took just the three days between Christmas and New Year and we headed down South for some hiking.

The Cape to Cape Track runs for 135 kilometres along the Leewin-Naturalist Ridge, between the lighthouses of Cape Naturaliste (near Dunsborough) and Cape Leeuwin (near Augusta) in the far South West of Western Australia.  You can do the track in stages, or in one big block.

If you had the funds, you can also do it in relative luxury, with tour operators and hotels arranging courtesy pick-ups and drop-offs along the way and overnight stays in a real bed.  Because we relish a challenge (and don’t have the funds), we chose to spend 8 days doing the whole hike sans the frills.

Thanks to a tip-off from one of our friends, we decided to take the road less travelled and walk the track from South to North (rather than North to South).  This helped us avoid any strong Southerly headwinds which, by the looks of hikers coming the other way, was a good decision.

Our other game plan was to start hiking in the early hours while it was still cool, reach a shady spot for lunch where we could eat and rest, and then knock off another couple of hours in the late afternoon as cooled down again.

Setting out

Day 1 (23 December) – Cape Leeuwin to Deepdene (18km)

With that in mind, we headed off to Cape Leeuwin at 6am on 23 December, replete with enthusiasm.  It only took about 15 minutes for the weight of the packs (mostly water) convinced us that stopping to smell the tea trees was over-rated. However, the repetitive sound of Manyoni’s drum hitting one of the backpack’s straps, served as a metronome to help us get into our stride.

As the lighthouse slowly disappeared from view, the track took us into shrub where we glimpsed our first wildlife – black cockatoos.  Further along, the ocean came back into view, and with it a huge pod of dolphins playing around.  The final stretch of the day was along Deepdene beach: first scrambling over shale, and then onto the beach proper for a good 4km until we reached the Deepdene campsite by midday.  I was knackered.  Already.  We had our heat-of-the-day rest, then decided to just enjoy an early dinner and sleep rather than do anything stupid like walk some more.

Long walks along the beach…

Day 2 – Deepdene to North end of Boranup Beach (19 km)

Just to be clear – hiking tents are not designed for comfort, especially when there are two of you and one likes to spread out.  Needless to say, I awoke rather sleep-deprived with the summer warmth already casting its hand at 6am.

We had a short beach walk, before heading back onto the cliff tops where we were greeted with superb views of a crystal clear ocean from Foul Bay Lighthouse.  Our morning stop was Hamelin Bay, where we frolicked with the sting rays, and whiled away the hottest part of the day boiling drinking water, sneaking in an illegal shower, and rolling out the camping mat under a tree in the carpark.  Classy.

A ray of sunshine

As afternoon came, we pushed on further along the beach.  It was then that I realized that people who say they like “long walks along the beach” have no idea what they’re talking about.  Beach walking is hard.  Stupidly hard.  I dare say it’s even harder with 15kg of luggage on your back.  And with each sinking step, the blisters under the toes, on top of the toes, and on the side of the feet just grew bigger and bigger.

By the end of this 6.5km this stretch on Boranup beach, I was utterly exhausted and couldn’t even walk enough to scout out a suitable camping spot.  So, we pitched our tent on the top of the small dune where I had collapsed, and watched the sun set over the ocean as the wind swept sand into our hair and dinner.

The road from which we came

Day 3 (Christmas Day) – North end of Boranup Beach to Bob’s Hollow (20 km)

We must have picked a good camping spot. After all, 5,428 mosquitos can’t be wrong, can they?   Yep, when we woke our tent was covered in the little vampires.  Fortunately, the net had managed to keep most but a few out, and I had a few moments of fun taunting them with the smell of my finger against the netting – just far enough to prevent their proboscis from getting a taste.  They would get their own back, though, as we inevitably had to exit the tent and pack it up.   Thank goodness for industrial-strength DEET.

Our hike started with a steep climb up the sand dune and, eventually, into towering karri forest.  While we lacked the ocean breeze, the shadow cast by the great canopy was welcomed, not just by us, but by the 2m dugite (venomous snake) and large bangarra (goanna) we almost stepped on along the way.


Our midday rest spot was Conto’s campsite, where we replenished our water supplies and tried in vain to communicate with the outside world.  We set off again in the late afternoon and hiked along the stunning clifftop, almost stepping on a giant rat thing (the technical name), and passing popular rockclimbing areas with caves that looked like great camping spots to me, and death traps to Manyoni.

Heading out of Conto’s campground

We eventually headed back down to the coast where we agreed to pitch our tent on an awesome and protected flat spot of ground nestled among tea trees.  We had made it in time to cook up a hearty Christmas dinner of miso and noodles, which we devoured while sitting on the rocks watching the sun go down into the sea.

Merry Christmas!

Day 4 – Bob’s Hollow to Prevelly (16 km)

Our Boxing Day hike started by slogging it out in more sand along Redgate beach, before following Boodjidup Brook inland.  I am usually relieved when we turn inland and off the beach, except this time the track continued with more sand, only dryer (read: more sinky) and steeper.

Heading inland at Boodjidup Brook

Still, I should have been grateful, as the next stage of the hike was a mere 355 steps straight up (not 300 as the book suggests!).  Apparently, we can thank a dedicated crew of Green Corps for this, after they carried all the materials in by hand to assemble the steps in 1999.

Back on top of the hills, we continued along fire breaks, smiling at the fringed lilies along the way, before reaching civilization in the form of poached eggs and avocado on sourdough bread, washed down with iced coffee, at the White Elephant Café in Prevelly.

That afternoon we took a break and rested at a friend’s place in Prevelly.  We had a real shower, restocked our food supplies, futilely attempted a jigsaw puzzle, checked out Margaret River’s surf spots, enjoyed some Christmas leftovers AND slept in a real bed.  Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Day 5 – Prevelly to North of Gracetown (24 km)

We were up again at the crack of dawn and heading North across Margaret River mouth or, in the case of Manyoni, sinking suddenly into Margaret River mouth.  Fortunately, he managed to clamour out before the pack got soaked, no thanks to me.  We continued along Kilcarnup Beach, before heading into some thicket and a couple of kangaroos who were as equally startled to see us as we were to see them.

Who’s that?

By lunchtime, we had made it to the Ellenbrook camp where we chilled under a tree, before leisurely wandering to the beautiful, but largely dry, Meekadarabee Cave and Waterfall.  From there, it was along the paved path to the historic Ellenbrook House that was, unfortunately, closed for renovation.

With no reason to hang around, we continued on through the scrub, before reaching civilization again in the form of Gracetown by mid-afternoon.  I relished the opportunity to break up my daily diet of noodles with a home-made meat pie and milkshake, also giving us a welcome rest.  With light fading fast, we had to make camp so clamoured up the rocks at North Point and found another hidden camp among tea trees about 2km North of Gracetown.  This time – after our biggest day of walking yet – we didn’t even make it to sunset before hitting the sack.

Refreshing Biljedup Brook

Day 6 – North of Gracetown to somewhere just South of Injidup (22 km)

We started out again walking through shrubbery but, this time, our hike involved spectacular views of perfect, yet deserted, surf breaks right along the coast, coupled with colourful boulders, a cool foot wash in Biljedup brook, and a lazy carpet python that really didn’t want to move off the track.

Outta my way!

Despite being one of the prettiest days of hiking so far, it was also one of the mentally toughest for me.  Thanks to all the scrambling over boulders, I had started to develop a muscle tear in my left quad and, by mid-morning, I had also begun to develop incredible pain around my right achilles.  Fearing a premature end to my hike, I may have shed a wee tear as we walked into Moses Rock campsite for our lunchbreak.

The rest helped a bit, and in the early afternoon we decided to set off again, albeit very slowly.  We managed to cover another 8km, which included coming into the vicinity of a huge mob of at least 50 kangaroos, and hiking past a waterfall-less Quinninup Brook.

Just north of Quininup, Manyoni found a fantastic campsite nestled, once again, among tea trees.  However, stubborn Isabel felt it was still too early to camp so insisted we carry on.  That was the last campsite we came across for miles and, as we worked our way back to the cliff top, our chances of finding a suitable site became slimmer and slimmer.  Exhausted and in pain (me, not Manyoni), we eventually just set up the tent by the side of a 4WD track.  With no desire to wait until nightfall, we had a quick dinner then retired to the tent where my beloved put his magic massaging hands to work on my ankle.

Day 7 – Somewhere just South of Injidup to Mt Duckworth campsite (19 km)

Wow!  Did I mentioned Manyoni’s magic massaging hands?  I woke up with barely any pain around my achilles, and a sense of hope that, perhaps, I could finish this thing.

Not really sure of where we were on the map, we were happy to discover that we were not far from Cape Clairault.  It quickly became clear that we were also heading closer to civilization, with more people on the track, more surfers in the water, and more carparks and toilets along the way.

Buoyed by the prospect of what was to come, we crossed over Wyadup Brook, took in the sights at the Rotary Lookout, and scrambled over rocks.  By 10am, we were feeling rather unwashed and out of place among the Smith Beach Resort’s residents, but still managed to enjoy brunch, coffee and a replenishing of water.

The “road” to Smith’s Beach

From there, it was less about the hiking and more about the food.  After just another hour of beach walking we had made it Yallingup, and quickly settled into the Shaana Café where we enjoyed lunch and coffee, and even checked out a photography exhibition.

Then it was just another hour to the Mt Duckworth campsite.  Arriving early and well-fed, we were able to relax completely and make our commemorative bracelets – the achilles disaster being a distant memory.

Nothing to see here

Day 8 – Mt Duckworth Campsite to Cape Naturaliste (11 km)

Our last, and shortest, day of hiking.  The walk to Kabbijgup, and then to Sugarloaf passed by with the usual beautiful cliff-top views.  Knowing we were close to the end, we even took slight detours along the way into nooks and crannies between giant boulders.

By 9am, we had reached Sugarloaf rock and, from there, the track was paved the whole 3km to the lighthouse.  We were so close we could smell it.  In fact, we even decided to change out of our sweaty 4-day old clothes into something fresher, so that we didn’t scare away any tourists at the lighthouse.  However, it seems we had jumped the gun.

Paved or not, 3km is still 3km, and in the hot morning sun, with no breeze and a million flies, it seemed like it took forever.  Needless to say, our “fresh” clothes were covered in sweat by the time we reached the lighthouse, but we felt triumphant and super deserving of our ice-cream and sugary drinks.

We made it!

After catching a taxi back to a friend’s house in Busselton, we spent the rest of the afternoon massaging oversized blisters and walking as little as possible.  We then spent the next three days, leisurely making our way back to Geraldton after checking out the Busso markets and jetty, bringing in the New Year by walking around Thrombolites at Lake Clifton and sharing cheese and drinks with friends in Mandurah while watching the sunset, and stopping at the Pinnacles near Cervantes.

I returned to work the following day exhausted, but in awe of this country’s beautiful South West.



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Rock ‘n’ Roller Derby

Since moving back to Australia, I have to re-establish a number of my social networks as friends have moved away or, quite honestly, moved on from me.

Rock and Roll

The first thing I did was get back into the Rock and Roll dancing.  I was expecting to turn up and see the same familiar faces doing the same familiar moves, but no:  Batavia Rockers underwent a revolution in my absence.  Sort of.

There were still some of the familiar faces, of course (many of which hadn’t even realized I’d gone anywhere!).  However, the club had new instructors, and had managed to lower its mean age by about 30 years.

Not only is this fabulous for the sustainability of the club, but it also means that there are some strong, fit blokes in there with more stamina to dance faster tunes, and even a willingness to try a jump or two.  Woohoo!

The new committee has also done a bang-up job in ensuring we can get our dancing fix every weekend, with pub nights, RSL nights, and the reintroduction of fortnightly Rockabilly classes.

Most recently, the club has also been involved in bringing up teachers from Perth to expand our range of dancing manoeuvres.  I have already mentioned the fabulous Swing dancing day held in October.  Over the last weekend, we also had a couple of teachers helping improve our rock and roll, and rockabilly techniques.

Needless to say, dancing is now a regular feature on my weekly social calendar.

Roller Derby

Another thing that happened in my absence was the establishment of Geraldton’s first Roller Derby club: the Sin City Rollers.  Now before you get your knickers in a knot about my reckless choice of dangerous sports, rest assured that there was no way anybody was going to get me into a pair of skates.  No, no, no – memories of a broken ankle are far too fresh in mind, while deeper scars of childhood injuries and clutching to railings at the Rocky Rollarena still plague my nightmares.  However, a number of my friends had joined the team, so it was only prudent that I go and support them in their annual Geraldton bout.

I’ll be honest and say that I had no idea what a Roller Derby bout should look like, and hence I had no idea when I should cheer or boo.   What I did find mesmerising, though, was watching people skate around the track so fast and gracefully that it was like a beautiful dance.  Then, when they join the rest of the pack, it was a bit more like a footy scrum.  I love dancing.  And I love footy.  Dancing.  Footy.  Dancing + Footy.  Oh fine, sign me up.

Before I had a chance to back out of my “unhinged” decision, I had paid my fees and was crawling around the library carpark clutching onto the trainers for dear life.  Over the next few weeks, through some fabulous encouragement and tuition from Ms T Fire and Kitty Hurl (along with others, in particular Conquer Nut & Rearview Rocket), I managed to learn how to stand on my own eight wheels, move forward on them, stop (sort of), fall safely, and even learn how to jump.  After six weeks, it was time for the Level 1 test.  I failed.  Just.  However, I had seen how far I had come and was not going to give up.

So, over the next six weeks, not only did I manage to pass Level 1, but I smashed the Level 2 Assessment (okay, that may be an exaggeration).  This means that I can now skate at speed, and while squatting, I can do cross-overs and C-turns, glide on one foot, and weave 10 cones in six seconds.

What’s more, it means that I can now start learning the contact side of the sport – remember those scrums I mentioned?  I was also extremely humbled to be awarded the Gemma Allen award (and a pair of bamboo socks!) at our Derby wind-up for my vast improvement as fresh meat (beginner).  Awww, shucks.

So why am I telling you this, other than to reiterate my awesomeness?  Because I learnt a really important lesson from this.  I feared skating, and I really couldn’t do it.  Rather than using that as an excuse not to do it, I challenged myself to face my fears and my incompetence, and tackled it bum on.  In doing so, I discovered that almost anything is possible with some good guidance and encouragement.  Plus, who knows what you will discover about yourself along the way?

So, to all my friends out there who are saying “I can’t” – in particular, my male friends who refuse to come dancing with me because they have “two left feet” (that’s what lessons are for, duh) – stop making excuses.  Stand up, rock up and face your pessimism – you may even surprise yourself.

Holding my Gemma Allen award, and checking the authenticity of my Level 2 certificate.



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A very Gero birthday

Someone once said to me that when your birthday ends in a ‘0’, the digit before the zero is the number of weeks you should spend celebrating.  While I didn’t turn a ‘0’ this year, I reckon I spent almost 3.7 weeks celebrating thanks to awesome events happening in our ‘hood at the time.

It kicked off on 6th October, with a Friday evening of culture.  First stop was the community art gallery for the launch of the ‘Hard Pressed’ exhibition – lino printing on a grand scale thanks to the help of some road rollers and determination.  From there, we hotfooted it to the theatre for the Yamato Drummers of Japan.  Not only was the drumming a sight and sound spectacular, but I enamoured by the cast who smiled so large the entire time.  Oh, and then there were abs.  Who knew drumming was such a good workout?  Whoooweee.

The following day, Geraldton hosted a day of swing lessons, courtesy of Swingtopia Dance from Perth.  I do love a good dance, and five hours of Shim Sham, Lindy Hop, and the Big Apple was enough to send me away flying high and just a wee bit fatigued.  Mind you, it didn’t stop me from heading off to a friend’s housewarming in the evening, where I got to catch up with some kiting mates of days gone by, and meet a bunch of new fun-filled folk.

The rest of the weekend was filled with plans, from foreshore yoga, to beach clean-ups and live music by the sea but, by that stage, all I could muster up was a day on the couch followed by a night of rock and roll at the local pub.

The festivities continued throughout the week.  On the Monday, we had a visit from a friend from Swaziland days and her family.  It was the perfect excuse for home-made pizza, and a little tipple.  Then on Tuesday, I hung out with some cool folks at our local co-working space to discuss coastal tourism potential in Geraldton.

Finally, on Wednesday, our local TAFE restaurant put on a three-course vegan menu just for me (okay, maybe not just for me).  Full credit to the hospitality and cooking students – I literally inhaled the crusty carrot bread with dukkah, zucchini pasta putanesca, and sweet potato and chickpea falafels for entrée; then devoured the marinated cauliflower steak with spicy cucumber salad, and spinach buckwheat gnocchi with basil pesto and grilled mushrooms for mains; and, finally, couldn’t fault the raspberry sorbet with fennel seed praline, or Russian poppy seed cake for desserts.  At just $30 per person, we waddled home as two very content human beings.

A week before my birthday, another opportunity for an evening dance came up.  This time, I was asked to be the date of a very dashing 60-something-year-old.  I got to rock out to rock’n’roll, rockabilly, ballroom and line dancing, while having supper with my beautiful friends from another generation.

Two days later, I was off to Darwin.  While it did take a good 12 hours to get there – via Perth and Alice Springs – I dare say that it was nice to be back in the warm, suffocating humidity of the tropics, but only because there was a gigantic lagoon pool outside my back door.

I was in Darwin to attend a conference on suicide prevention, organized by Wesley Mission.  Admittedly, most people shudder at the idea of three days of discussion about suicide, but it certainly brought out an amazing bunch of diverse, strong and awesome individuals from around the country that I had the pleasure of meeting and learning from.

All that networking left very little time for sightseeing.  I did manage to fit in an afternoon run through a nature reserve to the local Lee Point beach, where I kept a steady eye out for crocs and lamented not having a mountain bike on hand to explore further (and faster).    On the final day, we also had a chance to check out the new RFDS Tourist Facility in Darwin, which gave a fabulous technology-filled insight into the start of the RFDS, and the bombing of Darwin in 1942.

From there, we had the evening to explore the Mindil markets.  With over 200 stalls, and 59 food stalls alone, there is enough there to keep you occupied and eating for hours.  The best part, though, was being able to catch up with a mate from Solomon days, and her family, in the VIP section by Mindil beach.  Thankfully, her offer of a lift home was perfectly timed as the summer storm made a hefty deposit about 10 seconds after we left.

The trip back to Geraldton was another 12 hour affair.  I did, however, have a nice six-hour stopover in-between, enabling me to catch up with a dear friend, get lost in the airport, eat delicious lunch, and be dragged flinching and hyperventilating into the freezing Fremantle ocean.

Finally, after all that, my birthday arrived!  I kicked the day off with a sleep in, and our usual couple of hours at the community garden.  There, the crew unknowingly and serendipitously celebrated my day (and a few others’ birthdays) by bringing cake and home-made scones.

I then spent the afternoon fielding beautiful birthday calls and facebook messages, before enjoying a lovely evening with my husband at the cinema, followed by a tasty Thai dinner.

All-in-all, not a bad few weeks for this old girl.  Thanks Gero for once again coming through with the entertainment.  It’s still good to be home.

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The Return

Yes, I know it has been a long time between blogs!  And it would probably be even longer if my dear Aunty hadn’t reminded me of my online obligations.

Since the last time I wrote, life has been a bit of a whirlwind.  Manyoni and I spent a fabulous few weeks travelling along the East Coast of Australia, catching up with as many friends and family as possible, putting on some hefty kilos from all the delicious feasts, and readjusting to sub-30oC temperatures.  I know that we didn’t get to see all of you, but the good news is that you now get to come and see us!

Also since the last time I wrote, three important things have happened:

  • Firstly, I got a job! In Geraldton!  Which, in this economic climate, is no mean feat.  I am now the Mental Health Promotion Coordinator for WA’s Midwest, with a focus on suicide awareness.  Admittedly, working in mental health isn’t quite as humorous as working in faeces, but I am learning a lot in an area that has long been close to my heart.
  • Secondly, Manyoni received his Australian residency visa – albeit a temporary one. I will admit that this experience was one of the toughest of my life.  After 16 months of banging into brick walls, I finally upped the ante, which thankfully paid off.  My attention has now turned to doing the little I can to help others avoid the same utterly demoralising and disempowering experience.
  • Finally, I have now moved back into my little house on Evans Street. The last few weeks have been spent pulling boxes out of the shed, sifting through them to find which ones the rats have nested in and destroyed (which appears to be all my stuff from Africa!), which ones are salvageable, and slowly turning my house into something resembling a home.

Tomorrow, Manyoni arrives back from Zambia, which means that the whirlwind may finally end and the calm settle.  Or will it?



He told me to write a poem

But I don’t know what to write

Not much has happened of late, you see.

It’s a sad and sorry plight.


5 years ago I left my home

To Swaziland I flew

Best known for a King with many wives

And a gorgeous, mountainous view


I worked with inspiring women

Spent weekends on a hike or bike

Sometimes I’d drive to Mozambique

For beaches & prawns – there wasn’t much to like


From there it was to Zambia

Where elephants & giraffes do roam

I even found a husband

But it’s all too tedious for a pome


Occasionally I’d voyage through Africa

To distract from my drab existence

Kenya, Botswana, Namibia

And sites of apartheid resistance


I holidayed in Rwanda

Watched REAL gorillas in the mist

Ate patisserie on Lake Kivu

It’s a pretty mundane list


A year later I was in the tropics

Where life was a bit hum drum

I snorkelled pristine waters

Swum in waterfalls ‘til I was numb


Yeah, not much has happened of late, y’see

No material for a poem

I guess the excitement is about to start

Now that I’m back home.

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The name debate

Once you get married, one of the first and most frequent questions to pop up is “Are you going to change your name?”  Such a seemingly simple question.

Back in my young, feminist days (as opposed to my old feminist days), I always thought that when the time came to marry Mr. Right, we would sit down and have a very civil discussion about what name we thought was best and, therefore, which one we would both use – his or mine.  Having an option for the man to adopt the woman’s name is a true sign of gender equality, no?  So why aren’t more male pro-feminists adopting their wives names?  Perhaps I was naïve, or perhaps I was just too ahead of my time.

So here are some of the arguments that I have come up with in the name debate.

On the Ross side:  A number of my married friends – mostly ones who’ve been married a while – have told me that if they had their time again, they would keep their maiden name.  Too much cumbersome paperwork, they say.  Plus, for a woman who has worked hard to build a career, making a name for yourself would work much better when you have just one name.  Besides all that, I like the name Ross.  It’s a good solid name, short to write (and sign), and easy to spell.  Or so I thought.  Over the last 5 years abroad, I have been called Rose more times than I’ve been called Isabel, and my lifetime of certificates sport a range of variations, from Isabelle Rose, Isabella Ros, and my personal favourite, Isobel Roff.

On the Banda side:  A number of my married friends – most of who are more recently married – have told me they consider a name change important so that any future children share the same name as their parents (although when parents don’t share the same name, the discussion about which parent’s name the child takes seems conspicuously absent from gender-equality debates).  I can’t say I’m entirely sold on this argument.  However, a name change is important for the person I love the most in this world: my husband.  According to his culture, by adopting his name, I would be solidifying his status as a man, and as the head of the household (and honestly, I am happy to relegate that role to him – he will make a much calmer and loving head than me).  Banda, too, is a good solid name, short to write (and sign), and easy to spell.  I can imagine explaining it as such:  “Like panda, but with a B for bear”.  It’s somewhat endearing, and may not encounter the same surprising range of variations as the monosyllabic Ross.

Despite this, there is still one issue that stands above the rest.  For those that don’t know, Banda is a quintessentially Chewan name (from Eastern Zambia and Malawi); much like Ross is to the Scottish.  Take one look at me, and it is pretty obvious that I’m not Chewan.  Even if I was to spend the next 40 years in Zambia, take up Zambian citizenship, and become fluent in chiNyanja, the good people of Australia, and the good people of Zambia and Malawi will not see me as Chewan.  Identifying myself by a Chewan name, therefore, feels a little fraudulent.

Of course, I have selfishly considered how this fraud could benefit me: Perhaps it could boost my “foreign” credentials for international development jobs.  On the flip side, it could hinder my chances in Australia, where patriotism (read: racism) seem ever-more present.  (You can try, but can’t deny that both biases exist).

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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A weekend in the woods

With the joys and challenges of Solomon Islands behind us, the first thing on my agenda was some rest and relaxation amongst the trees.  Someone suggested Atherton, so without much thought we booked a weekend in the woods.

Since we were going to be there doing not much, we also decided to use the time to legalise our marriage.  With a big wedding already occurring in Zambia last year, our plan was to keep this as simple as necessary to satisfy any legal requirements (Yes, yes, I know. You are all upset that you didn’t get to come, but this way, I get to visit you all and celebrate one-on-one.  That’s so much better, right?).

So, in addition to the bride and groom, we needed two witnesses.  I chose one witness – Liz, the Maid of Honour and my best mate of 35 years – while Manyoni chose the second witness – Pip, the Best (Wo)man, and a friend of ours from our time in Zambia.

The four of us met together in Brisbane for the flight up to Cairns.  Despite my plans to make as little fuss about the (second) wedding as possible, Liz and Pip had other ideas.  Firstly, Liz informed the lovely staff at Virgin Airlines about our upcoming nuptials, who proceed to shout us all a bottle of wine for the journey (Thanks Katelyn and Jeff!).   Once we were in Cairns, Pip couldn’t help herself but tell Marika at Thrifty car hire, who then gave us a great discount and an upgrade.  There are some perks to this wedding thing.

After a quick shop in Cairns, we headed up to the gorgeous Canopy Treehouses in Tarzali, near Malanda.  Being a raised wooden pole house, nestled among virgin rainforest on three sides and rolling hills on the other, the 3-bedroom Bower House was completely secluded and the perfect place for some R&R.   The first night was spent listening to the rain, catching up with each other, eating nshima (yep, clearly no concern about how I would fit into a wedding dress), and feeding the resident possums and birds.

The following morning, I woke up to a view of rolling hills, pademelons…and rain.  It wasn’t looking promising for our festivities.  Not that it really mattered, because this was clearly no normal wedding day.  Apart from the rain, my wedding day started out with a job interview, made all the more exciting by a head cold and razor blade throat.  I doused myself with drugs while the others went into town to grab some lunch.  Then everything magically fell into place.

Firstly, the rain stopped and the sun came out.  By about two hours before the wedding, the pain killers were kicking in, and we all decided that perhaps we should get some flowers.  Of course, being a no-fuss wedding, I hadn’t organized any of this before so we jumped in the car and drove along the street until we spotted some vegetation that we liked.  Grant was more than happy for us to take clippings from his trees and even tried to grab a bunch of Tamarillos for our special day, except the possums ate them all.


Thanks for the flowers, Grant!

With a basket full of freshly picked flowers, we had an hour to get ready.  Again, my no-fuss plan barely extended beyond throwing on a dress, so Liz stepped in and offered her wonderful hairdressing skills.  If anyone knows what it’s like to work with dreads, you will have full appreciation of what she managed to achieve with my knotted locks.  Add to that some beautiful handmade Australian native hair pieces from Karen Pierson on Etsy (the one thing I did organize in advance), and I have to admit, we kinda scrubbed up alright.  Meanwhile, Manyoni quickly finished off our home-made rings, and fashioned a ring box out of a sanitary napkin container.  That’s my man!


The time for the wedding finally came (actually, it came and went.  It’s obligatory to be late, right?).  We picked out a tree in the area to give us some shade, and wandered down in bare feet to where Barry, the celebrant stood.


Where it all happened (Photo by Brendan MacRae)

The succinct 15-minute ceremony, crafted by Bazza, captured our sentiments while skipping the superfluous stuff, and left plenty of scope to laugh and joke our way through1.  Which we did.  In fact, Bazza himself commented how nice it was to be at a wedding that was so entertaining, and not at all serious.  Aww, thanks Baz.  I think.


Entertaining, alright.  Don’t even ask. (With Bazza)

Post-ceremony, we headed back to the lodge to pop some champas (yep, great stuff for a bride on antibiotics), and chill out even more.  Then we went and frolicked in the grass as a brilliant sunset lit up the sky, and the brilliant Brendan MacRae and his wonderful wife and able assistant Rosanna banana snapped our smiles.2


Our photography peeps, Brendan MacRae and Rosanna banana

As nighttime came, we reluctantly parted ways with our photographers, and were left to enjoy a take-away vegan feast courtesy of the awesome Earthly Bakes in Cairns:  Spicy corn soup, beetroot and leek pie, chickpea curry, quinoa and mango salad, nutty broccoli, mixed green salad and, of course, a vegan blueberry cheesecake for desserts3.  A great way to end a great day.


Vegan blueberry cheesecake.  Thanks Earthly Bakes!      (Photo by Brendan MacRae)

Now that the formal stuff was over, the rest of the weekend was really just for relaxing.  We slept in most mornings, then spoke philosophy while sipping coffee on our balcony.  Then we did small road trips to the sights of Atherton Tablelands:  A swim at Millaa Millaa falls, stops at Zillie and Elinjee falls, lunch at Mungalli Dairy Farm, wandering around Curtain Fig, drinking coconuts at Malanda markets, searching for platypus and feeding turtles, eating a feast at the local Indian joint.  It was just what this sick, coughing and spluttering, girl needed.


The lesser-photographed Elinjaa Falls

The only thing that remained was a road trip to catch up with our nearest and dearest, and celebrate one-on-one.  First stop, Mum and Dad’s.  Next…a trip to see you!


1 Barry Waugh, ladies and gentlemen.  Wedding celebrant extraordinaire.  Look him up if you’re planning on getting hitched up that way.

2 Brendan MacRae is a man that loves his photography.  Plus he makes such a cute team with his wife.  If you’re just after portraits, or wedding photos, he’s your man.

3 Think vegan isn’t tasty?  Think again.  These guys do amazing pies, salads, smoothies.  Like, really amazing.  And well priced!  If you’re in Cairns, I highly recommend you visit them.

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The baby Jesus bird

Saying goodbye is always a difficult thing.  There are those people that you’ve really grown fond of, and are going to miss deeply.  There are those people you didn’t realise you would miss until you actually said goodbye.  There are those people that you are not going to miss at all.  And then there’s the bird.

The story of the bird starts a long way back.  You may remember my blog from 2 years ago, when I mentioned our pet pigeon, Itchy.  At the time, Itchy and I were not the best of friends, and he made me doubt my potential parenting credentials.  Sadly, my relationship with Itchy did not get any better, and as he became more aggressive and started attacking me when I tried to give him food, we knew it was time to send him back to “the farm”.  I thought our birding days were over.

150108 Itchy (3)


I was wrong.   It wasn’t long before my bleeding heart husband surprised me with…….a pet parrot.  Surprise! Not just any pet parrot, an itty witty baby parrot that was clearly ripped from its nest too early and then paraded around the hot streets of Honiara in a cramped wooden cubicle in the name of income generation.  Sadly, this bird didn’t last long enough to receive a name:  we found the poor little pet dead in his cage after just three days.  With self-esteem in my parenting skills hitting rock bottom, I thought this event would finally cement our bird-less future.

Wrong again.   It seems my husband’s compassion for birdlife knows no bounds.  In February last year he surprised me with yet another pet parrot.  The same size as the first, cramped in the same small bamboo cage and dehydrated in the hot sun for the same time, I didn’t really foresee a bright future for this one.  However, unlike me, Manyoni was determined to make it work.

I shouldn’t have been surprised then when I came out to the verandah and found Manyoni with the bird nestled in his hand, feeding it masticated food directly from his mouth.  This continued for weeks.  Oral hygiene became the number one priority in our household from that day on.

160222 Kara_Manyoni (11)

Clearly his devotion was having the desired effect because the bird started to grow.  Realising that it may be around for longer than I thought, we decided to give it a name:  Kara, meaning Parrot in morovian – one of the Solomon Island’s languages.  While the morovian word, Kara, is gender neutral, the English version is not.  Given the fact that we had no idea what sex our baby bird was, poor Kara grew up in a very gender-confused environment being labelled she, he, and it.

Despite this, he/she/it continued to grow, and then started to attempt to fly.  Now, I have never attempted to learn to fly (barring leaps off the verandah when I was a child), and it became clear that it can be a little scary, even for birds.  Whenever I was cradling baby Kara, she would try to break free, resulting in her almost falling.  Her response:  a big poop.  Clearly, this built up an association and she just commenced pooping every time she tried to fly, and every time I came near.  Yep, that’s class A parenting right there.

Despite the shaky start, Kara did begin to fly.  She flew into walls, windows and people.  It was around this time that we observed her becoming lethargic and unable to lift his head.  Given its recent flying attempts, we thought that perhaps she had misread his ability to stop when flying towards a cement wall, and had injured itself.  Sadly, Kara just got worse and one morning I went onto the verandah to see her lying dead on the floor.  Unable to bear the sight of her, I found a sheet to drape over his lifeless body.  As I did so, it let out a squawk.  He wasn’t dead!

160306 Kara (1)

A dying Kara

Manyoni, the doting Dad, decided to take her to the vet in a final attempt to prevent our third bird murder.  The vet prescribed milk and antibiotics to be administered through a syringe.  The doting Dad did so, every few hours as required, even during the night.  Within just a few hours, our baby Kara bird had risen from the dead.  She began lifting her head, then he began walking, and within days, it was flying around and smacking into walls once again.  It was a miracle!  Hence she was dubbed the baby Jesus bird.

That near-death experience helped us all bond as a family, and I began to take my parenting role more seriously.  Every day, we spoiled Kara with an unreasonably huge serving of milk, rapidly depleting my personal rations.  We celebrated when she spoke her first (and only) word:  Kara.  She became playfully aggressive, flying on top of our heads and squawking in our ear, occasionally doing a happy poop while there (trying to get that stuff out of dreads is not easy!).
160730 Kara_Isabel (2)

The most exciting thing was watching our little gender-confused bird grow into a juvenile superbird with its own personality.  Some days, she would just stand on her perch and do a side-to-side dance, with or without music.  Other times, I would catch it contorting itself around the cage, with one leg holding herself from the roof, and his other leg and beak lifting up two separate coconut shells (like some sort of prisoner, body building thing).

Kara (11)

007 music rings in the background

When released, Kara would run along the swinging clothesline, like a stealth army commando; or she would just swing upside down like a wannabe bat.  The cutest, for me, was when she would try to bathe himself in the teeny tiny drinking bowl (because if we gave it a bigger bowl he would just tip it over), making her looked like a drowned rat.  All of this was possibly a result of psychosis from being in a semi-permanent state of solitary confinement, but we found it endearing.


A drowned bird

Much less endearing was when she would make a rapid attempt to fly over our heads into the house, which ultimately ended with me breaking my ankle in an effort to turn and catch her while on the edge of a step.  We won’t dwell on that.

With such fondness for our miracle bird growing, it was sad to have to put her into foster care during our month-long visit to Africa.  However, Kelvin is the biggest bird lover I know, so I knew she would be in safe hands.  Indeed, when we arrived back in Solomon Islands, Kara was doing well, so we didn’t feel the need to collect it straight away.

As Murphy’s law would have it, that night Kara disappeared.  We are still yet to determine if it was a case of birdnapping, or if Kara had just got smart enough to let himself out of the cage, but poor Kelvin was beside himself.  (I, personally, thought it solved us a lot of problems).  In contrast, Manyoni had a sense that that was not the end.  Indeed, after three days, Kelvin found Kara happily perched on the shoulder of the neighbour’s child, and she was quickly returned to its cage and into our care.  The miracle bird strikes again.

Whatever had happened with Kelvin, or with the neighbour’s child, had changed Kara.  For the first few weeks after his return, she was the most placid and pleasant bird-child I had ever encountered.  I thought, perhaps, that she had finally reached maturity.  But I was wrong.  Sombre Kara was clearly just a mask for the fully aggressive Kara that would come soon after (which makes me certain it has something to do with our parenting style).

However, with only a couple of months before our Solomon adventure was to come to an end, we also had to find a new residence for our multiple-personality child.  As in many cases, relieving yourself of a burdensome pet can be easily achieved by sending them to “the farm”.  This is exactly what we did, except that we sent her to a real farm – Modi’s farm – in a new, bigger cage, surrounded by trees, dogs, and other parrots in cages to talk to.

Prior to our Solomons’ departure, we visited her there and he has settled in well and started talking more (Yep, we clearly were the worse bird parents ever).  It was an epic parenting adventure with our miracle gender-confused multiple-personality baby Jesus bird.  May she/he/it one day spread its wings and fly.


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Turtle power!

It took three days to recover from the exhaustion of Kolombangara, which was achieved by sitting on a friend’s balcony in Gizo, ironically overlooking a cloud-covered Kolombangara.

However, once recovered, it was time to get moving again.  First stop was Munda, where we spent a lovely couple of nights hanging with the beautiful Duttons, snorkelling / diving in the area, and being “entertained” by Ashleigh almost chopping her finger off amongst the excitement of cheese and home-made pizza (requiring a late-night trip to emergency and five really interesting-looking stitches).

We didn’t dwell on that, though, and before we knew it, we were on our way to the weathercoast of Rendova for Manyoni’s and my last Solomons adventure.  Our aim was to see leatherback turtles.


Leatherback turtles are descendants of a sea turtle species that evolved 110 million years ago in the Western Pacific ocean.  They are the largest of all the turtle species, with the biggest one recorded weighing almost a tonne!  On average, though, they’re a “mere” 300-500kg, with a carapace length of between 165-190cm (ie. longer than me).  Their flippers can grow up to 2.7 metres:  the largest in proportion to its body among sea turtles.

As the name suggests, leatherbacks don’t have a hard shell like other sea turtles, but instead are covered in a rubber-like, leathery skin that has five long ridges running down its back.  Their body is teardrop-shaped, making them super hydrodynamic.  This, along with their constant movement that generates body heat (giving them a body temp of up to 18oC higher than the water they’re in), explains why they also have the most extensive migration range of any living reptile, and can reach depths of up to 1km.

Despite these advantages, when they first come out of the shell they are scarcely larger than any other sea turtle hatchling, averaging around 6cm long and weighing about 46grams.  As little babies, their diet consists of nothing but water, however once they get older, they survive on delicious-sounding diet of gelatinous organisms (mostly jellyfish – around 50 large ones a day – but also sea squirts, salps and pyrosomas. Mmmm).

Sadly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, leatherback turtles are also critically endangered.  Their population has declined by 95% since the 1980’s, which can be squarely blamed on humans.  Excessive egg harvesting, poor fishing practices and huge amounts of plastic floating in our oceans are our hideous contribution to the leatherbacks’ demise.

With fewer and fewer leatherbacks about, one of the best places to catch them in the Pacific is in Baniata, where we now found ourselves.  Baniata is a small village of around 300 people on the weathercoast of Rendova Island in Western Province (Solomon Islands).  There’s no phone reception within a 2 hour walk, and the school has been closed for the last five years.  However, the village is not letting this get them down, and has been busy establishing coconut plantations for copra, weaving kastom bags for sale, and setting up an organically-certified ngali nut industry. They are now, also, trying to establish a tourism industry around their turtle conservation efforts, which is how we found ourselves here.

The beautiful thing about turtles (from a tourism perspective) is that they are pretty specific about when, and where, they nest and hatch.  After their first trek to the ocean as little hatchlings, the male leatherback turtles will never venture on land again.  However, once females reach sexual maturity at the age of 20, they will return and nest every 2-4 years at roughly the same beach where they were born.  Baniata has the beautiful charcoal-black sand that leatherbacks love for nesting, as it keeps the eggs at a super comfy temperature and helps with camouflage.


In each season, a mummy leatherback can lay 4-6 nests, each one exactly 10 days apart.  In each nest, there’ll be about 110 eggs, with the fertilization rates starting at about 90% and decreasing with each subsequent lay.  Those eggs will hatch 60 days later.  So while we ventured to Baniata at the end of the peak season, we had good reason to believe that our dates would coincide with some hatchlings and, perhaps, a nesting or two.

As the first official tourists to Baniata, we were greeted by half the village on our arrival.  Due to the steepness of the shore, we were unable to land, so had to jump from the boat in between crashing waves.  We were led to our comfortable little homestay in the middle of the village – complete with pour-flush toilets, well-equipped bucket baths, mosquito nets, mattresses, and a healthy fire ant population.


Our digs: Baniata homestay

As us girls settled in, Manyoni wandered off by himself to check out the surrounds.  Half an hour later, he came back and nonchalantly mentioned that he had just seen a baby leatherback turtle.  Astounded, we grabbed our camera and ran.  The turtle wasn’t going anywhere.  About a month old, one of the local families had felt he was a little weak when he hatched, so decided to keep him in a bucket until he was stronger.  Whether this is good or not, it didn’t stop us from being totally enamoured, handing the poor little tyke around so we could all get an over-excited (read: crazy smile) photo.  This was just the start.


Crazy smiles!

Later in the afternoon, our guide Johnson invited us to the hatchery to see today’s batch of emerged hatchlings.  Within the fenced yard, we found about 7 brand new babies wandering aimlessly among the coal-black sand.  A whole lotta oohs, aahs, giggling and exclamations of “So cute!” ensued.  After a million photos each, we then got to carry the hatchlings down to the beach.  We washed them in a bucket first to try to remove the baby turtle smell that sharks love, and set them on the sand to make their journey to the sea.


The hatchery

What a journey!  Tumultuous.  Overwhelming.  Exhausting.  The baby turtles took a little while to get their navigation into gear, but once they were headed in the right direction they then had to drag themselves a sizeable distance (given their itty bitty size) across the soft, uneven sand.  About half way, they reach an exciting little obstacle called erosion, where the sand has been washed away from the last high tide forming about a 1m cliff.  Without fear, they plunge over the edge, inevitable rolling all the way down and landing on their backs.  They then squirm a lot in an effort to get the right way up, and continue on their journey.


Outta my way!

As they reach the water’s edge, huge waves bowl them over, push them back, drag them forward, and basically give them a mighty good shake-up before they finally get dragged into the big, blue sea.  From there, they are on their own.  Kind of.  They still need to navigate the sharks.  Since most hatchlings at Baniata now come from the direction of the hatchery, the clever sharks have learned that this is the place to hang out at dusk for a delicious hatchling entrée.  In response, the people in Baniata have developed an even cleverer shark-dispersion method:  surfing.



Yep, every evening as the hatchlings enter the sea, the elders of the village encourage all the youngsters to get out into the waves.  Around 40 young bodies, and 80 dangling legs, do their bit to scare the sharks away by getting naked, running and smashing into the dumpy breaks, then swimming out further with a small piece of a timber that they then use to bodysurf back to shore.  Occasionally, the older boys will grab their wooden canoes and demonstrate their prowess by surfing the same waves…hopefully without capsizing.  It is truly mesmerising to watch, and made all the more magical by the glorious sunset that is happening in the background.


Another boring sunset

After returning from the beach, and on a hatchling high, the ladies in the village had prepared us a veritable local feast to indulge in.  With bellies full of five types of carbs, we then had an early night in preparation for the next activity.

At midnight, we woke up, dressed, grabbed our torches and headed to the beach.  Here, we joined Johnson (and occasionally his team…unless they had missed their alarm) to patrol the beach in search of mummy turtles dropping a batch.  We walked one section of beach, laid down our mats to rest, while Johnson went and walked the next section.  This would continue until 4am, when we would head back to bed for a long sleep-in and lazy day in the village.

This ritual continued for the next three days:  Wake up, eat breakfast, sleep some more, eat lunch, read while the afternoon showers kick in, release hatchlings, play in the sea, bath, eat dinner, sleep, wake up at midnight for a four-hour beach patrol, sleep at 4am.  Occasionally the schedule would deviate with a small walk to one of the nearby sights:  WWII plane debris, small waterfall, football match, or to take a boat to the next village to make some phone calls and catch a giant kingfish.


Much tastier than turtle

On one day, it deviated even further as a squad of riot police – complete with shields, tear-gas guns and a massive power trip – walked through the village and arrested a number of men who had been involved in protesting an illegal logging operation on their kastom land (59 people from a couple of villages were arrested over the course of two days).  Sadly, I doubt officials from the logging company faced the same treatment for their illegal behavior.  Injustice in this country is rife.

Before we knew, it was our last day, and night, in the village.  Although we had enjoyed seeing leatherback hatchlings every evening, an adult nesting leatherback at night still eluded us.  As the main nesting time is between 1am-4am, we decided to delay our wake-up by one hour, reaching the beach at 1:15am.  It seems after 3 nights of patrolling, everyone else had slept in, so we decided to patrol the beach ourselves.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.

After 1 ½ hours, at 3:30am, Johnson came running to us, “Did you see the turtle? Hem go finis.”  Our jaws dropped.  What Johnson meant was that, despite our continuous patrols, a leatherback had managed to come up on land, spend 2 hours laying her eggs, and return to the water before we had a chance to see her.  Either we had walked straight past her (my shoe prints were literally 2 metres away from the nest) or she had come up and done her business before we even reached the beach.  We couldn’t believe it.  In fact, I refused to believe it until Johnson showed us the really clear track marks, and the huge nest that she left behind.  He then proceeded to dig up the freshly laid eggs as further proof – 45 fertilised and 47 yolk-less.  Perhaps her last lay for the season.

I was flummoxed, and a wee bit devastated that after four nights of constant patrolling, a leatherback had finally nested on the beach where we were and we missed it.  At the same time, I was also excited that a leatherback had finally nested on the beach where we were and given another 45 eggs a chance at bringing the species back from the brink.  Godspeed little ones, Godspeed.



POSTSCRIPT:  For any readers out there who would love to see these amazing, and critically endangered species in the wild, I highly recommend a trip to Baniata.  Peak season is November/December, with another season June/July.  Call Harol on +677 7420 400 about a month before you plan to come – he will find out the dates with the highest chance of seeing nesting / hatching.  He will also arrange transport from Munda, and all other logistics.  It would be a perfect additional couple of days for anyone travelling to Tetepare.  The best news is that your tourist dollars will help to build Baniata’s self-sufficiency, and cement the value of conservation in this area where traditional practices of turtle harvesting are still highly regarded.

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The lady is sleeping

It was a bad week of immigration nightmares and a cancelled Shaggy concert.  Clearly, I needed to get away.  What better place than to Kolombangara?


Kolombangara is a volcanic island in Western Solomon Islands that last released a fiery furnace 10,000 years ago. Now it is home to Solomon Islands’ 2nd, 3rd, and 4th highest peaks (the highest peak in SI is Mt Popomanaseu in Guadalcanal at 2,335m – higher than Kosciusko). It is also known as the sleeping lady because, if you look closely and a little cross-eyed, the island resembles a sleeping woman.

Being volcanic, the island is able to grow lots of good stuff and has naturally become a popular site for forestry and logging. In 2008, the indigenous people of the island formed the Kolombangara Island Biodiversity Conservation Authority (KIBCA) and established rules to protect all wildlife and vegetation above 400m altitude. This makes it the largest conservation area in the country covering 19,400ha.

A month earlier, I had emailed KIBCA and was assured that all preparations were in place for our 3-day hike. On Friday, we arrived at the island, but no-one was there to meet us. So we asked the only person we saw: “KIBCA?” He responded by stretching out his arm, pointing in a random direction and saying “Up top.”  With only one other building that we could see, we headed in that direction until he stopped us:  “Not there. Up top.”

With that handy bit of advice we had no option but to head in the direction of his directionless pointing.  After 10 minutes of walking in the hot sun with 4 days’ worth of camping equipment and food on our backs, a car passed that we were able to flag down. We asked the driver where KIBCA was, and his response: “Up top.”  This was gonna be tough.

“Up top” turns out to be Ringgi town, about 2km from the “Marine base” where we started walking. The driver first took us to Ferguson, the coordinator of KIBCA who expressed that he was unaware of our booking. So then we sought out Mayson, the person I had been conversing with through email. Fortunately Mayson was aware of our booking, but had done nothing about it.

“So do you want a guide?”

“Um…yes…your rules say we have to have a guide. Remember, we asked for Moffat?”

“There are lots of guides”.  Turns out there aren’t. After a recent recruitment attempt the 12 potential guides all pulled out after trying to summit Mt Veve, vowing never to do it again. Moffat remains the only one crazy enough to scale Veve more than once.

“Moffat doesn’t have a phone. He may not be around”  In walks a lady with Moffat’s phone number. Moffat answers. He is around, and he’ll be here soon – just needs to paddle from his village.

“And a porter, please”

“Yes, yes, we’ll find you one”. Except that, like guides, there is no-one willing to do the climb more than once.  More on that later.

“Oh, and how do visitors normally get from the marine base to here?”

“The man at the marine base has a radio to tell us to pick you up.”  So you mean he isn’t meant to just point and say “up top”? Apparently not.

While waiting for Moffat, we took a walk through the one-horse town of Ringgi, before jumping in the truck and heading to Imbu Rano. Meaning “mist from Rano”, this beautiful and basic wooden ecolodge is set among the rainforest and has views to Mt Tepalamenggutu and Mt Rano, the island’s 2nd and 3rd highest peaks, respectively. Here we would spend the night before commencing our hike the next morning. At least that was the plan.


View of Mt Rano and Mt Tepa from Imbu Rano lodge

After reaching the lodge, I thought it best to confirm Mayson’s other helpful advice.

“Just to confirm, you said there are sleeping huts along the way?”

“Yes, yes” says Mayson.  “No no” says Moffat, “They all broke down over a year ago.”

“Okay. Is there a tent here we can use?”

“Yes, yes” says Mayson. “No”, says Moffat. “I tried to use it two weeks ago and it was broken”.

“Never mind”, says Mayson. “The weather looks good, you won’t need one.”

“You definitely need one”, says Moffat.  After all, Kolombangara has its own weather system, where it rains more often than not.  Not to mention, it’s also wet season.

So we sent Mayson off with the task of finding a tent and a porter in time for a 7am departure.  In the meantime we waited, relaxed, slept, and storied about the (we hoped) upcoming adventure.

We waited beyond 7am the next morning. Finally, around 8am, Mayson arrived. Francis, a Malaitan employed by the logging company, had been roped into the role of porter at the last minute and, having never climbed the mountain before, clearly had no idea what he was in for. Sadly, we still had no tent, which threatened the entire trip.  Moffat quickly managed to pull together bits and pieces from several tents to form one vaguely functioning one.  By 9am we were off.

We started the walk at a cracking speed, I assume to make up the 2 hours already lost that morning. However, only 30 minutes in, our poor, reluctant porter admitted that he could no longer carry the bag. Quickly, we did a reshuffle and Manyoni shouldered the heaviest pack, while Francis was bestowed with the lightest. We continued on, and as we walked, my mind became wonderfully lost in the lush green rainforest and soft, mossy, decomposing ground that felt like we were walking on cushions.  We also came across one of Manyoni’s wantok: a rasta grasshopper!


Bob Marley’s reincarnation

Those tranquil thoughts didn’t last long. Soon, we started climbing…up a mountain. Up a very, very steep mountain. Up. Mountain. Up. Mountain. Up. Up. Up. Mountain. Mountain. Mountain.

After 2 hours we made it to Camp 1, where we stopped to refill our water. Francis, the porter, was already lagging behind. Then I was handed the heavy bag, which I bore for the next two hours to Camp 2. By this stage, I was utterly exhausted. Not as exhausted as Francis, though, who was so behind that we all thought he had done a runner. After a light lunch of crackers and tuna, a refill of water, and some psychological counselling, I was almost prepared for 4 hours of hiking yet to come.


Manyoni & Moffat among the fluffy trees

What I wasn’t prepared for was the change in terrain.  Where I had once felt like I was walking on cushions, I was now walking on a flying carpet. Everywhere we stepped, underneath was a big cavernous space (ie. a volcanic crater) overlayed with a thin network of roots, and leaf litter forming a false floor. Should you step anywhere without a solid root, you would fall into the crater.

As if that wasn’t enough, the “trail” (in inverted commas because we were pretty much just bush bashing) just seemed to get steeper and steeper. Steps were now leaps, requiring us to haul ourselves (and our packs) up using whatever exposed roots or branches we could find.

By mid-afternoon we had reached the summit of Mt Tepalamenggutu, the second highest peak in Kolombangara at 1,708m. In other words, we had just climbed over 1,330m. Here, we took in the amazing view of the crater, for we were among the lucky ones that had dry weather and no clouds.


View into the crater from Tepa

However, we didn’t linger long, for we still had 2 hours to go until we reached our camp for the night. As everyone knows, what goes up must come down, so the ensuing 2 hours involved stupidly steep descents, sliding on our bums from root to root, holding ourselves up with nearby trees: like Tarzan but with much less finesse.

We finally reached Camp 3 at 6:15 pm, 9 hours after we had started. Suzanne and I collapsed, but with light fading fast, Moffat and Francis quickly set up the tents. Then they took off further down the hill to fetch water.

Each campsite along the route was carefully chosen for its close proximity to water. Walking along the rim of the crater meant that there were no streams or springs to take advantage of. So when Moffat and Francis returned an hour later, empty handed with “bad news, the pool is dry”, we knew we had a slight issue on our hands.  Despite the recent rain, this was the first time the pool had dried up since Moffat had started walking this route 10 years ago.

The good news for us was that Moffat is the Solomon Islands’ version of Bear Grylls. He immediately started looking for nearby bamboo stalks filled with fresh water.  Unfortunately, they were all dry too.  With not a drop of water in our possession, he did what any crazy, non-human robot who had just hiked 8 hours would do, and ventured back towards Camp 2. Three hours later, at 11pm he returned to camp carrying five 3-metre lengths of bamboo filled with water. How he had managed to carry that, in that terrain, in the dark, I will never know, but I will be eternally grateful.


Filling the waterbottles with bamboo water…the next big thing in boutique water

The following morning we filled our bottles with whatever water remained, and headed off towards the summit of Mt Veve – Kolombangara’s highest peak. Being the first people to attempt the summit since November last year, the thicket had refilled any spare space and a new path had to be cut as we went. The steepness remained abhorrent and it took 2 hours to go a mere 1.5 kilometres.

As we reached the top, the pain was briefly forgotten as we celebrated our feat (despite trees blocking all views). Even poor Francis, the unknowing porter, seemed bolstered by his achievement.


With the oldest woman, and first African, ever to summit Mt Veve

On the way back down, we made an executive decision to remain at Camp 3 that night, based on our inability to comprehend an additional 4 hour walk to the next campsite. To overcome the water issue, we would, instead, have to carry bamboo from the heights of Mt Veve to our campsite.  It was only then that I had a true appreciation of what Moffat had achieved the previous night. By the time we made it back to camp, after 3 hours carrying heavy bamboo, I was utterly spent and ready to cry.


Carrying life-saving bamboo… down.. down.. down.. down

We spent the afternoon napping and cooking all the food in our possession to lighten the load home. Slightly revived, I was able to enjoy the crater’s silhouette in the evening’s sunset, and after dark, I was enraptured by the plethora of stars in the night sky. All of this was thanks to yet another unusually clear day on Kolombangara.


Crater rim at sunset

We awoke before sunrise in an attempt to give us plenty of time to complete the hike’s third, and final, day. We filled up on bamboo water and made good time to the summit of Mt Tepa, and to Camp 2. It was only after departing Camp 2 that we experienced our first bit of serious rain, giving us a cooling shower while also adding an extra element of slipperiness, and danger. We persisted, and despite exhaustion, dehydration and blister-filled feet we arrived back at the lodge around 4pm.

We enjoyed our last evening surrounded by the rainforest, with our last views of Kolombangara. That night, the heavens opened and remained that way for the next two days.

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The bat cave

Hikes are one of the things that Honiara does best.  So when I was invited to a hike at the “newly discovered” (by the expat community) Parasaia Cave, how could I resist?  Unfortunately, the evening before the planned hike, a low pressure system was forecast and the organisers hastily cancelled.  However, threats of a downpour and flash floods couldn’t stop me*, so I found two new friends to join me the following morning.

Parasaia Cave, also known as bat cave, has only recently come on the radar, so our small group had no real idea of what it entailed.  Except we knew it had bats, in a cave.  We’re intelligent like that.

It was an overcast morning, without a drop of the anticipated rain, when we drove East out of Honiara and up past Tenaru to Paraingiju Lodge.  As our hike had been cancelled, we had to wait for the organiser to rustle up some new guides (ie. get them out of bed) and then we were on our way.  Our guides were 10 year old Thomas – the only one who had actually been to the cave and who, bless the young chap, guessed my age as being 17.  There was also Steven Jnr, Amanda and Rodney, who were coming along to learn the ropes.

Due to some radiator troubles, we decided not to drive to the starting point, and instead macheted our way through some thick jungle to the road below.  This cut out about 1km or so.  Once we reached the road, we were fortunate to have a car drive past that was able to drive us the other 3km to the bridge.  This is where the hike really started.

A leisurely walk

A leisurely walk

The entire walk follows the Balaha (?) River, but when I say “follows” I mean it repeatedly zigzags across the sometimes chest-deep and rather strong-current river, interspersed by short stretches on land that was more akin to rock scrambling than hiking.  There were a few hairy moments, where I almost got swept over some small falls, and other rock sliding moments that left me with bright blue splotchy souvenirs on my skin.  The scenery, though, made up for it all.  The water was a perfect aqua blue, cutting through a green leafy gorge, with waterfalls and cascades the whole length of the hike.

Passing by a wee, itty, bitty tree that was blocking our path

Passing by a wee, itty, bitty tree that was blocking our path

After 2 hours, we made it to the entrance to the cave, marked by a towering and stunning cascade.  We spent a short while taking selfies with the scenery, before heading for the said cave.  Yep, one of the unique features of this walk is that you can walk through the bat cave.

The falls

The falls

Entering the bat cave...

Entering the bat cave…












It may surprise you that feeling along the slimy bat-poo walls and boulders to avoid stumbling over the submerged and uneven rocks in pitch black is not as enticing as it sounds.  Even less enticing is having to slide down a bat poo-covered tree trunk on your butt, because there was so much bat poo that it was too slippery to walk down it (and when I say bat poo, I’m not referring to the dry squishy guano that I’m used to – this stuff is seriously big, chunky and goopy).

The view inside the cave

The view inside the cave

It is quite the relief when you see the light at the end of the tunnel.  That is, until you see the masses of bats flapping around the entrance like moths to a flame.

I see the light!

I see the light!

Like bats to a cave entrance...

Like bats to a cave entrance…












If you persevere, you will eventually find yourself upstream of the bats, where the water is poo-free, where there’s no danger or copping one in the eye if you look up, and where the waterfalls provide a much-needed head and back massage.

Oh yes

Oh yes

Here we sat for a bit, allowing our bodies to recover before making our way back through the cave, up and down the boulders, left and right across the river, and back to the main road.

The stunning gorge

The stunning gorge

Did I mention there were bats?

Did I mention there were bats?










We were only able to hitch a ride part of the way along the main road, so had to walk a good 2-3km back to the lodge.  We arrived at 4:30pm, 7 hours after we started.  We were covered in poop, and feeling pretty pooped, too.  At least the lodge understood a hiker’s needs and quickly set us up with some SB.

Despite the exhaustion, and the attractive bruises, I am so glad I ignored the weather warning and did the walk.  To anyone else with very little sense, I suggest you get out there and do it now.  Batman awaits.

* Just kidding, Mum!  I take all proper precautions.

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