Sunday, April 20, 2014

48 Hours in Malacca


 We decided to escape the bustling big city of KL for the more tranquil and smaller UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 2008) of Malacca (or the Malay spelling Melaka). It is known for its historical and cultural background from Portuguese, Dutch and British rule. It was an easy and comfortable bus journey of under two hours from KL. We made our way by cab to our accommodation – Hotel Hong (can be found on Facebook). It was only a small place, a hall of rooms, but we received a welcoming and friendly service. The cosy room was spotlessly clean with a new bathroom, fierce air con (required!) and brilliant, speedy Wi-Fi. We left our bags, armed with a map supplied from the front desk and via a well plotted short cut, we set off.

First, Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, literally a stone’s throw away from our hotel. Apparently it’s the oldest Chinese Temple in Malaysia. Ornately decorated and fully of ambience, atmosphere and the essence of incense, it’s certainly worth a visit. Walking along the streets, we realised we were right in the centre of the old city and all the action! Most of the houses and shops are nearly a century old, built by Chinese traders.  Many have fantastic details, such as beautifully painted plaster reliefs. Definitely worth a photo or two.

We found Jonker Street easily, it’s the heart of the old city and crammed with shops, cafes, antique stores, as are most of streets leading off it. Along with mosques, temples and houses, there was so much to look at. We came across the river and the bridge and then saw the fabulous sight of Christ Church, red in colour with the Dutch square in front of it. There is a fountain and more or less opposite it, the Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower – also painted in red. It was very picturesque and bustling with people. It was also where the Trishaws congregated, and seeing is believing! They are decked out in bright colours, decorated with fake flowers, and a few stuffed soft toys! Hello Kitty seems to be most popular! They are hysterical and are certainly a hit with children and tour groups, as they cycle off for a city tour complete with loud music booming out of an attached speaker!





There is something for everyone here, a Maritime Museum with a huge ship docked near the river, the Peoples Museum, Islamic Museum and Naval Museum. We went with the Architecture Museum, as we like architecture. It was housed in a lovely old red building and it was free!

We wandered around, enjoying the ambience and the sun. Within minutes from the Christ Church, we found ourselves in the modern part of the city, full of shopping malls. After a quick visit to one to escape the humidity and have a cold drink, we wandered back to the old city!

We passed the Duck Boat (just like the one in London UK) and also the striking Taming Sari Revolving Tower that takes people up 110m and offers them 360 degree views of the historic city and the coastline. It looks futuristic, but somehow there’s something a little 1970’s about it!

Eventually we surrender to the sun and humidity and call it a day!

The following day was allocated as shopping day! Firstly, we went to the city’s Little India, full of colour and activity. We also visited Saint Paul’s Church. Not another church I hear you cry, but this one is on a hillside and gives us fantastic views of the city and the coastline – who needs to go up in a revolving tower! The church itself is actually a fabulous old relic, dating back as far as 1521 and then became a fortress - which makes sense considering its position. It is worth a wander around. A few local artists have set up shop up there, plus a few friendly stray cats and a few kittens too, always a bonus! And then the Masjid Kampung Hulu – the oldest functioning Mosque, built in 1728. Lovely white building.

And now to the shopping, and its plentiful. There is a thriving local artists’ scene, plus many antiques, even a few boutique shops and plenty of places to grab a drink if the heat gets too much.


We stopped at the Geographers Café for something to eat. It had a kind of funky ambience and was playing a real assortment of music from Celia Cruz to Manu Chanu to one of Ku’s favourites, Joni Mitchell! The little girl serving was smiley and efficient and we were treated to some fabulously tasty food, veggie curry, naan bread, chicken satay, rice and fresh spring rolls – yum! If in Malacca, definitely go! You can find them on Facebook.


We had a fantastic time in Malacca, and it was worth staying for a couple of days. Hotel Hong’s owner even gave us a lift to the bus station, helped us buy our bus tickets and got someone to escort us to the correct terminal, all for free. It topped off a lovely a couple of days for us.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

T and Ku hike the Abel Tasman Costal Trail!

We returned to Nelson, where we stayed with our friend, Steve, for a couple of nights prior to setting off on the Abel Tasman Coastal Trail.  The day before we were due to leave, we wandered around Pac n’ Save, the local supermarket, stocking up on supplies.  Basket overflowing, we couldn’t believe just how much we would need for a four day hike.  Cheese, eggs, coleslaw, tomatoes, carrots, apples, almonds, crackers, bread rolls, Nutella, tortilla wraps, hummus, chocolate chip cookies, granola bars, a party mix bag of sweets and of course bottles of water all went in the basket.  We certainly wouldn’t be going hungry!  But would we be able to carry it all, along with our camping gear and everything else?!

We usually travel light, so Steve leant us a huge tramping bag.  Into this, we packed our tent, roll mats, tarp, duvet and clothes.  The other bag, a 30 litre day pack, contained food, water and everything else.  Although we had completed the Inca Trail in Peru a few years back, on that occasion we didn’t have to carry our own gear.  This would be different.  Fully packed, the bags were barely manageable.  We weren’t confident we would make it to the bus stop, let alone to the end of the 46.5 km trail!


Day 1

On the long awaited day, we set off at 7.15 am on the twenty minute walk to the main road, where the bus was picking us up to take us to the trailhead (Yes! We did make it to the bus stop!)

About an hour or so later, we were dropped at Marahau, the tiny village, where the trail begins.  We were surprised to find a café there, and decided to enjoy breakfast before hitting the trail.  The café was cool with hippie vibes, and the delicious breakfasts went down a treat.

And then we were off!  The trail wound itself around beautiful bays, glimpses of which we saw through the native trees.  If it hadn’t been for the weight we were carrying, it would have been a walk in the park.  The trail was fairly undulating, but Ku, not being accustomed to the weight was feeling pressure in certain areas after an hour or so.  Even though the trail became increasingly challenging, the twinges disappeared after the first day, so it was probably just a case of physically adjusting to carrying the heavy pack.

We passed Tinline, Coquille, Appletree, Stillwell and Akerson Bays.  12.4 km after we started, we had a late lunch of cheese rolls on Anchorage Beach.  We were just half an hour from our final destination for the day, Te Pukatea Bay, where we would be camping for the night.

Te Pukatea was a great choice of campsite.  From our tent, we could see the golden sands and rocky headland of the small bay.  There were cool rocks on either side of the beach, and the water was incredibly clear.  We sat on the rocks, feet in the sea, enjoying the coolness of the water and watching a school of tiny fish.  A small prawn-like creature nipped T on her big toe.


The day had started off overcast, but by the time we reached Te Pukatea, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  That night, we had the most amazing view of the Milky Way we had ever experienced, and fell asleep to the sound of the waves lapping at the beach.

Day 2

As we packed up the tent, the sun came up in spectacular style over the Tasman Sea.  We left Te Pukatea at 8.00 am and were planning to cross the Torrent Bay Estuary.  When we arrived, not only were we early for low tide, but it wasn’t very obvious as to where to cross.  We therefore decided to take the high tide track trail which was a little hilly, but we took our time, had a breakfast stop and enjoyed the scenery.

Again, we had glimpses of enticing beaches below.  The vegetation was lush and we passed rocky waterfalls and crossed over small streams.  Birds sang and sometimes flew alongside us!  The weather was fine, just a little cooler than the previous day.  The packs were already feeling lighter.  We knew we would be able to obtain filtered water at the next two campsites, so we drank fairly freely.

At Falls River, we crossed the first of two swing bridges.  We decided not to visit Sand fly Bay for obvious reasons!  We had only just recovered from our last assault from these mini Draculas when camping near Milford Sound.  We knew we would be encountering them again at some point on the trail, but thought a visit to Sand fly Bay would be asking for trouble!


We made it to Bark Bay by lunch time, where we pitched up, had something to eat and sat on the beach for a while.  It was a little chilly, so we retired to the tent early and read by torchlight.

Day 3

Again, we left at 8.00 am and took the high tide track, rather than cross at Bark Bay Estuary. We didn’t want to hang around another couple of hours for low tide and it only took us about fifteen minutes longer to walk around the bay.  We crossed our second swing bridge.  Between Tonga Quarry and Onetahuti Bay, the trail looked down upon the most sublime turquoise water we had ever seen.  On the beach, we came across a dead albatross, its wings spread as though in flight.  It was huge.  We sat on the beach (not too close to the dead albatross!) for a break.  Walking along the sand carrying a heavy pack was quite exhausting!  Not the same as a barefoot stroll!

The trail then headed up, up and over to the large Awaroa Inlet.  It was toughest climb yet.  As the trail levelled out, we spotted a sign for Awaroa Eco Lodge.  Offering open sandwiches and all sorts of delicious food, we were tempted enough to go off trail and find the remote lodge.  After a detour of about half an hour, we arrived, only to discover they weren’t serving food!  We settled for a coffee and a coke, and headed back to re-join the trail.

We eventually hit Awaroa Inlet, and continued to walk along the sand until we came to our campground at around 2.30 pm.  We pitched up and tucked into cheese and tomato tortilla wraps, followed by chocolate chip cookies for dessert.  We had found ourselves a nice sunny spot and spent the afternoon recovering from our 15km walk (including detour) and fighting off sandflies.


Day 4

Awaroa Inlet was the one place on the trail that didn’t have a high tide track, so we had to wait for the tide to withdraw before we could cross.  At about 12.00 pm, we walked across the wide stretch of sand to the water and prepared ourselves by taking off our hiking boots and socks.  We waded into the unknown, knee deep, the tiny shells hidden in the sand, sharp against our feet.  We made it to the other side in about twenty minutes or so, and then trudged through a mud-like substance into which we could feel ourselves sinking if we lingered a second too long.

The trail continued through the bush and was fairly level, coming out at Waiharakeke Bay, where we walked along yet another perfect golden sand beach.  The final beach we hit was the lengthy Goat Bay, where we passed interesting rocks and native sea birds.

The last leg was over the hill to Totaranni, our final destination.  As is often the case, the last part was the toughest.  Due to erosion, a lower track had been closed and we were forced to take a more elevated route.  A series of seemingly never ending steep slopes took us to the summit and finally down again into Totaranni Bay.

We had made it!  We had completed the Abel Tasman Trail without any rain, injuries or mishaps! We had one more night in the tent before being picked up the following morning, and had just enough food left! 

That evening, a family of wekas came to visit us.  They are extremely inquisitive birds and checked out our belongings thoroughly!

The beauty of the trail certainly lived up to expectations.  Although it was only a few days, it was wonderful to escape from traffic and technology for a short while.  Being in nature gives a sense of peace and detachment which is impossible to find in everyday life, and the Abel Tasman Trail provided nature and beauty in abundance.