Experience the Himalaya Mountains – Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Nepal

November 2005, after a two-year stint living in the UK, I packed up and flew to Kathmandu in Nepal to meet my best friend, Kell, for an adventure of a life time – to trek part of the Himalaya Mountains – the Annapurna Base Camp Trek (formerly Annapurna Sanctuary).

We were fortunate enough to have our very own local guide for a few days, Kell’s beautiful Aunty Lenore, who had been living and teaching in Kathmandu for several years – local knowledge is so powerful when travelling. We spent two days touring Kathmandu locally with Lenore, before joining our Intrepid tour group to see more sights.

Touring Kathmandu and surrounds

We went to the most important sight for Hindu’s in Nepal called Pashupatinath. It was a place to worship and mourn the dead, where people were cremated soon after them passing away, then their ashes were put into the running Bagmati River. We spent an afternoon in Patan Durbar Square which is Patan’s Palace square; lots of temples, great culture and beautiful and friendly people. We wandered the smaller streets and walked a part of Lenore’s school evacuation route for her school.

We negotiated Kathmandu traffic by bike to get to Swayambhunath, a site for Buddhists. The tourists refer to Swayambhunath as Monkey Temple, due to the number of monkeys there. It was such a buzz – exciting and a little bit scary! We went to Kathmandu Durbar Square and to see the home of the living goddess (Kumari) who happened to be the cousin of Lenore’s close friend.

We spent the morning in old town of Bahktapur which is about 15km out of Kathmandu. We toured the city in the morning, seeing all the sights and walking small winding streets. We ate great food, shopped in secret jewellery stores Lenore had shown us, had some down time in preparedness for what was ahead.

The Himalayan Trek, Nepal – Annapurna Base Camp

Kathmandu to Pokhara

We got a local tourist bus to Pokhara from Kathmandu. The roads have a lot to be desired, therefore the 200km we had to travel took 7.5 hours! I was sick with a cold so managed to sleep most of the trip away. At one point I woke to gasps from my fellow travellers. Over the side of the bridge that we had currently been stopped on, was an over turned tanker and a bus that had gone over the edge. As we neared our arrival point, through my sleepy eyes I was blown away by what was surrounding us, the Himalayas – things just got very real!

We spent the afternoon in Pokhara wandering the streets, trying to indulge in the last food options and activities, like apple crumble from the bakery (which was to-die-for, I might add)! Dinner was at the hotel where we watched a performance of Nepali dancers; interestingly, this was our first of many experiences of seeing men really enjoying the music and dance as much as the women. Music and dance is such an important part of the Nepali culture and daily life.

Pokhara to Tikedhunga – Annapurna Base Camp Trek

Early morning rise and a bus to Birethanti where we met our porters who strapped two packs (max 30kg) together and swung them over their backs or heads to carry them for us for the next 11 days! ELEVEN DAYS – what on earth was I doing???? The day was glorious as had been predicted. It was hot and we just loved being outside enjoying the walk.

There was a bit of up and down, made for an interesting walk. After an hour and a half, we stopped for lunch, Kell and I were already tired, but we did our best not to show it. We all had to try to order similar foods at lunch so preparation didn’t take up too much of our day. After lunch we were off again, but this time UP! It hurt, particularly the stairs that took us up to the teahouse – a welcome resting point. The scenery had been beautiful, walking along rivers and through fields, past school kids who would easily do this same walk every day.

On arrival in Tikedhunga we had warm showers, making the most of this luxury! Then had a wander around the village, took some photos, just in time before it began to rain. Shankar (our guide), assured us that if it rained at night, it would NOT rain during the day. During dinner when it was pelting down outside, we were all more than happy, as it was NOT going to rain the next morning.

Tikedhunga to Gorepani, 2750m – Annapurna Base Camp Trek

Torrential rain all night, and just as Shankar had predicted, it stopped just as we were about to have breakfast…only to begin again when we packed up our stuff and got ready to go. Out came the poncho’s and plastic bags to waterproof everything. Fortunately, Kell and I had already waterproofed all our gear before we started the trip, which we were hoping was going to be unnecessary, but as it turned out, was VERY necessary.

Off we go. Shankar says to us, “Two hours and we’ll be over the top of that hill”. Well for starters that ‘hill’ was no hill, it was a mountain, and as for the two-hour thing, we had to climb 3000 steps to get to the top of “that hill” – my mind was not going to positive places and I could well and truly see it taking more than the predicted two hours…particularly when it was bucketing with rain! After 1 hour of continuous up, we were soaked.

My water-resistant jacket was not cut out for the weather, that’s for sure! My travel pants were not dealing with the weather either. After two hours our feet were drenched and we were certainly NOT THERE! The 3rd and 4th hours were the worst! Apart from the fact that Kell and I were the stragglers of the group, we later found out that they reached the lunch spot a whole hour and a half before us. I was completely wet from top to toe, from skin to bone. Not a dry part of my body. I was freezing! I could barely walk, I was out of energy and all I wanted to do was sit on the ground and cry. Why was I doing this to myself???? No views, rain pelting down, so so cold. Kell who was a little drier than me, she had a dry top thanks to her Dad’s poncho; she stuck with me while I struggled up the stairs and through the jungle. We were basically walking up a river bed. Some parts you couldn’t avoid the ankle-deep water. Poor Shankar, I don’t think he quite knew what to do – it was only day two!

We finally got to the lunch stop. Everyone else was already sitting around the big pot belly ‘heating system’. The first thing I did was strip off all my clothes, down to my underwear. Put a dry jumper on and someone else’s jacket over my legs to try to hide them from offending the locals. I spent lunch time attempting to defrost myself and dry some of my clothes.

After lunch Shankar said we had 2 hours to go, maybe 1.5. I was determined to make it the latter, so with all the energy I could muster, Kell and I soldiered on. Got into a rhythm and powered on as fast as we possibly could. We were no longer at the back. I had never been so cold in my life and I wanted to make the second part of the day as short as possible. More uphill and stairs, more rain, still cold and wet, but this time I walked with the bag over the top of my head. To our great surprise and joy, we got there in 45 minutes! We were not the first there, Shankar had said 2 hours based on my performance earlier in the day.

The teahouse rooms were freezing, but taking off all my clothes made me about 10 degrees warmer. We dried ourselves, put dry warm clothes on and headed to the dining room which was turned into a drying room with some chairs and tables. Every person’s boots, clothes and underwear were in there trying to dry. It made for an interesting afternoon of drinking warm drinks trying to get the blood flowing again, finding feeling in my toes, and constantly turning clothes and boots so they wouldn’t burn or melt! I did not think I was going to make that day – it was a horrendous and horrible feeling.

For dinner we ate like you wouldn’t believe…and then rewarded ourselves with dessert – a ‘snicker roll’, a deep-fried snickers bar – heart attack on a plate, but very yummy! As we went to bed, it was still raining but we were all praying for it to stop as we were to get up at 4am to go to Poon Hill for sunrise.

Gorepani to Tadapani, 2700m – Annapurna Base Camp Trek

We woke up at 5:30am; so much for Poon Hill. We looked out the window, the rain had stopped. I guess we were thankful for that, but disappointed that we missed out on the sunrise.

Our walk started uphill, tough, but there was a clear view of some mountains in the area so we were happy. It was nice to be able to stop and take photos along the way. We lapped up as much of it as we could, just in case we didn’t see anything else. It was pretty misty and very overcast, but we could see mountains so couldn’t really complain. UP UP UP! Kell and I, along with 3 others made up the ‘back of the pack’! We had a little bit of Nepali flat – up and down, up and down, nothing too steep in either direction through the jungle for a couple of hours. We loved Nepali flat by the end of the trip.

Kell and I talked the whole way, beginning our catch up on the past two years, it was great. We then followed a gully down for an hour, which was quite steep. Landslides – they were muddy; it certainly made for an interesting trip. We learnt Shankar’s favourite saying, he used it every time someone complained or questioned something – ”What to do, Kathmandu”. We were entertained by Shankar as much as I think we entertained him – we got along very well. We crossed some bridges, typically Nepali bridges – they were a ‘little bit scary’.

We had 30 minutes of ‘steep up’ to the teahouses, where we had a hot shower and found ourselves with a ‘room with a view’, not that there was really any view with the cloud cover. The teahouses were cold and had tin walls and roof. I bought a yak pashmina and some socks which were probably a couple of my best purchases for the trip. Whilst waiting for dinner, Shankar explained the current Maoist situation to us, and that he had to pay US$15 per person for us to be there.

Tadapani to Chomrong, 2177m – Annapurna Base Camp Trek

Once again, torrential rain when we went to bed the night before. Kell woke me during the night and much to my annoyance made me look out the window. I’m glad she did – there was clear sky, eerie sky and mountains – REAL MOUNTAINS and we were completely amongst them. Amazing – we were so excited at what the day ahead would show us. Our room with a view certainly proved to be that!

Up for sunrise, mountains were beautiful but the sunrise itself wasn’t that impressive. I took a minute whilst brushing my teeth to realise exactly where I was and what I was doing, one of those pinch me moments. So incredible and a little bit overwhelming.

The first part of the day was steep steep, down. We were to get to Chomrong by lunch and spend the day there. Half way down the steep and the sky began to cry! From then on, the day was a chore – no views, aching muscles, pain and not really enjoying it. We got to the bottom and then had to head straight back up. The ‘going down, to go back up’ was so physically and mentally painful, such a challenge! There was some Nepali flat, but most of it was gruelling. However, we did plough on through and managed to get there in the specified time of 5 hours, in time for lunch.

The afternoon was spent recovering and preparing for the days ahead. For the next few days we were heading up to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) and would be back tracking our path on our way back – so we knew what we would be going up, would mean that equally, we had to come back down.

People played cards, chatted, enjoyed the dry air (of course the rain stopped when we did!). Kell and I thought we deserved a massage, so we both indulged and had a one hour Nepali massage, what an interesting experience! I wasn’t very relaxed, it was a bit too funny to be relaxed. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable and took my mind off what was ahead. Having a laugh was perhaps the better sort of medicine we needed at that point in time anyway!

There were tears that day – tears of pain and tears from laughter.

Sunset that night on the mountains was amazing. We could see where we were going, quite a daunting thought, but simply amazing – it made us all really excited! Kell and I sat in our room and had a good chat and catch up before dinner. Another snicker roll was ordered; this time we had one each – hahaha – I’m sure we deserved it! Another early night. We were averaging on 7:30-8:00pm each night. We needed all the sleep we could get!

Chomrong to Doban, 2670m – Annapurna Base Camp Trek

We had a tough day ahead of us, 7 hours Shankar said. He was pretty much spot on most of the time so it was a fairly good indication that we were in for a big day. The first part leaving Chomrong was great, all downhill, steep down for one hour. Pretty cruisy until it dawned on us that we then had to go up to what we had just walked from and beyond!

We reached the river that ran through the valley at the base of Chomrong and we started to head UP! “Steep-steep” up, for probably 1.5 hours. I was not having a good time going up. I wasn’t feeling good walking at all and therefore was not enjoying it. Kell was powering along which was great…for her! When you have a rhythm, you have got to stick with it. So off she went. There was a bit of Nepali flat which was a good relief on the aching muscles. More jungle walking, it was mostly a nice day so we could enjoy some of the views. As the day went on, my mood, outlook and feeling improved. After a couple of hours of Nepali flat we then hit a very steep descent which took us to Bamboo for lunch. I was walking on my own for most of the morning, mainly because I didn’t want to talk to anyone, as I don’t think I would have had very much to say that was nice – I needed some mental ‘time-out’ to re-energise and focus.

After lunch, I was ready to go with some new-found energy and motivation. Kell and I did our best to keep up with the front of the pack, only to find ourselves slowly but surely falling behind as soon as we hit an incline….and incline we certainly did! It was virtually climbing a ladder in parts, it was insane. I experienced my first headache early in the afternoon, but unfortunately it was one of many along the trip. It took 3 hours that afternoon to get to the Himalaya Hotel, so we were exhausted and certainly felt like we had put in a good day of walking! We had a ‘hot bucket’ that night which basically means that we stand in a freezing cold open air ‘shower room’ and wash ourselves from a hot bucket of water. As horrible as that sounds, it really was sensational!

It got really cold that night. Obviously the higher we moved into the mountains the colder it was going to get. Also, the higher risk of altitude sickness. I began my new diet that night of potato and garlic soup. I was told garlic helps/prevents altitude sickness. When we went to bed that night, the sky was clear and the stars were out. It was amazing. Apart from the stars in the Sahara Desert, it had been a long time since I’d seen any like that.

Doban to Machhapuchhare Base Camp (M.B.C.), 3700m – Annapurna Base CampTrek

Another early morning start. Gurung Bread (or Tibetan Bread) for breaky, up and ready to go. Shankar told us we had 4 hours of walking that day. A pretty cruisy day, to be at M.B.C. by lunch. We had to walk slowly because of the risk of altitude sickness. The first two hours to Deurali were tough going. Mostly steep up with a little bit of Nepali flat for us to re-energise our muscles. We walked through bamboo areas and forests; it really was a stunning day.

The whole group walked together for most of the day which was great. When we stopped for drinks we’d all laugh and talk about what we doing and how hilariously insane it sounded that we were walking for 7 days to get ‘somewhere’ to see ‘something’. With blue skies, a running river to walk alongside, massive snow-capped mountains, how could anyone want to be in any other place!?

From Deurali the walk along the river was gorgeous. Nice to hear water and it not come from above. We took some spectacular photos that day. Amazing views, lots of pinch-yourself moments. As we grew closer to M.B.C. we began walking past small patches of snow, which slowly increased until we were right amongst it.

Of course, this brought on a snow ball fight instigated by our guide Shankar. For the last hour up to M.B.C. we were right in the thick of the snow. The track which had been created, or broken-in, by people earlier that morning, became very ‘slippy‘ (as Shankar would say!). All I could think of during this walk was Shankar’s warning to group – “Your next mistake could be your last” – thanks Shankar!

We got to M.B.C. by 12ish and all sat outside admiring the views and our surroundings. It really was quite incredible. We had hot drinks and ordered our lunch and by the time lunch was served it was too cold to sit outside any longer, so we all moved ourselves inside to the warmth. Kell and I were rugged up in our ‘pashi’s’ sitting by the window enjoying the outside (from the inside!). While we were chatting and admiring the monstrosity of the mountains, we realised that we were at the mountain that featured on the front cover of the Nepal Lonely Planet. We were in awe of where we were and the enormity of the experience we were having.

It was time for the sun to set. We rugged up and went outside to watch the sun set on Machhapuchhare. It was utterly incredible watching the mountain change in colour. Something you have-to see to believe! It was truly mesmerising.

Dinner time rolled around again. It was pizza for Kell and I, a good one too – it’s incredible what fabulous food is able to be produced in such remote kitchens – we were very grateful to the hospitality we received from the lovely locals on the mountain! Another early night in preparation for our final leg before reaching Annapurna Base Camp. We went to sleep that night excited!

M.B.C. to Annapurna Base Camp (A.B.C.), 4130m – Annapurna Base Camp Trek

Absolutely freezing start to the morning. The enormity of the mountains means the sun doesn’t come up and out until quite late. At 7:30am we were ready to begin our 1.5-3 hour walk up to ANNAPURNA BASE CAMP – the pinnacle of this trip!

We were all frozen to the bone, we were excited and nervous as we were about to walk up a mountain through the snow. Even though we had a short walk that day, we had to leave early so the snow would be crispy and less slippery. I felt like I was on some kind of Survivor-show trekking through the snow – spoken from someone who has experienced very little snow in their life! It was dark and we were all walking together in a line along the man-made path. It was awesome, we had a massive adrenaline rush, we were pumped and loving it!

At around 9am the sun came up and over Machhapuchhare, it looked as if it were on fire, unbelievable! For the next hour and a half it was stifling hot! The suns reflection of the snow was burning! I could feel myself getting burnt but was loving the experience too much to care. The ‘track’ we were walking on was insane, you couldn’t take your eye off the ground while walking. You could see where people had stepped and fallen knee to waist deep into snow. It was very narrow for most of the walk, so when it came to passing people on route coming the other way, it was a challenge. I could hear Shankar’s warning in the back of my mind – ”this might be your last mistake”.

As we got closer to A.B.C. the group split up a bit and once again Kell and I brought up the rear, absolutely lapping up the view and enjoying every minute. We took photos, hundreds of them, we played, we laughed – it was THE BEST! I was so fortunate to share it with my best friend, it was absolutely one of the greatest experiences of our lives.

In the end, I think it took us two and a half hours to get to A.B.C. which sat at 4130m in altitude. It was a spectacular walk and an amazing feeling to reach the top. The sun was shining again and the skies were completely blue. We sat in the sun and took in the views whilst having a celebratory beer.

We were having the time of our lives! We were knee-deep in snow, completely surrounded by mountains in the Himalayas, the sun was shining, the sky was a vibrant blue and the air was as fresh as it could be. We were (almost) on top of the world!

We had lunch (more potato and garlic soup) and enjoyed the sun and views before it got unbearably cold and we had to go in again.

That night we spent chatting again and laughing about the epic and awesome things that had happened on the trip and all we had achieved. It was ‘simply the best’.

A.B.C. to Bamboo, 2335m – Annapurna Base Camp Trek

The morning was dark and cold. It was hard to get motivated for the day ahead when we were in such an incredible part of the world; an extra night here would have been great. But, we had to be up and at it to beat the sun melting the snow, which would make our trip down more challenging.

After breakfast, we were asked for a passport photo. Our photos were to be posted on a wall, alongside people who had trekked to A.B.C. and for others to join us in years to come. Just as we saddled up, it started to snow; it was beautiful, majestic.

I was concerned about walking steep down, in the snow, but thanks to Shankar and his great ‘sock idea’, I had no trouble. He recommended wearing socks over the top of our boots and assured us that it would stop us from slipping. It seemed such an odd idea that none of us believed him; however, we did do it and to our great surprise and pleasure, he was spot on – we were no longer slipping and sliding, we just ended up a pair of socks short!

Back down to M.B.C. where we stopped to have a break. Similar to the day before, it was cold before the sun came up, but once it did, our already sunburnt faces felt the pinch.

From M.B.C. we powered on down to Himalaya Hotel for lunch. I think every ten minutes, during conversation, either Kell or I would say to each other “I cannot believe that we walked up this the other day”. It was seriously unbelievable.

I was probably in more pain walking down than up, my legs were going to jelly. We had lunch at 12pm; by 12:45pm we were off, soon after it began to rain again. It was like someone up there had said they would give us 2 good days, thankfully the ones that were most important and the rest would just be miserable! It was annoying, but we were all so thankful that we had such perfect days at M.B.C. and A.B.C. We donned our waterproof gear and off we went!

It was moments like these that showed the difference in our preparedness, experience and physical conditioning. For some of the group, waterproof gear consisted of proper clothing, others had poncho’s or in my case, a garbage bag over the head with holes in it for my arms – you can’t say we weren’t resourceful! Down, down, down to Bamboo for the night. Still the whole way we couldn’t believe that we had walked up in the opposite direction. How did we do it???

By the time we got to Bamboo, having descended to 2300m in altitude, I was once again fully drenched, not a dry piece of clothing on my body. I was aching and looking forward to getting warm. We decided to get a hot bucket as once again Shankar had promised us hot water…there wasn’t any. We were so disappointed, but as he said, “No sun, no solar, no hot water – what to do?”.

That night I think was the first in 3 days that I didn’t have potato and garlic soup, but instead indulged and had fried potatoes with egg and cheese – good choice, it was so nice to have something hearty and warm! We played cards with the guides until about 9:30pm – quite a late night for us! It was probably one of the best nights of sleep I had the whole trip, perhaps my mind was at a little more ease, we had almost made it – there had been times throughout the ascent that I did genuinely wonder whether I would get there.

Bamboo to Jhinu Danda, 1780m – Annapurna Base Camp Trek

A few days back when we got to Bamboo, I remember thinking, Oh My Gosh – I have to walk back up what I just walked down. Leaving Bamboo was steep up from memory, and I certainly wasn’t feeling ‘it’ first thing in the morning. However, much to my surprise the steep up wasn’t so bad after all. Probably because what we had done heading up to Base Camp was so much harder, this now seemed like a walk in the park. We had some more Nepali Flat and then up again. It really was a pleasant walk and we were all walking ahead of schedule which was great.

The next part I was not looking forward to – hundreds of steps up into Chomrong! We had to go back to the same teahouse to pick up a few things that everyone left behind when we were there last. Again, it was easier than we expected, but we would have been happy to never see another step! Kell and I set goals for ourselves the whole way up, which was kind of fun and made it a little more bearable on our tired legs. Once we reached Chomrong, we repacked our bags (ie. stuffed everything in on top) and sat down for a well-deserved break and serious sugar hit – snickers and Sprite!

The plan that day was to get to Jhinu Danda for lunch, which meant about 5 hours of walking. Like I said we were ahead of time, until we left Chomrong! It was to be one-hour steep down to Jhinu Danda. Kell and I both had strained our achilles over the past few days, all the pressure going down was just too much. This steep down was mighty painful and not enjoyable at all. Most of the group were way out in front of Kell and I, in fact probably a good half an hour in the end! In this last hour, we came up with a new saying, ‘Nepali nearly’. Shankar had been telling us, ‘nearly nearly’ that we were almost there…and for the most part we never ‘nearly’ there! So instead he started saying Nepali nearly, then when we were 5 minutes away, it became ‘Aussie nearly’, which we preferred much more! Despite our pain and grievances, we were very grateful to have Shankar, our fantastic guide, to keep us on track, motivated and laughing (through gritted teeth).

We took it slowly and eventually got there, it was so nice to finally be able to put our feet up and relax! We had some lunch then all got kitted up, bathers, towel and flip flops; and, headed down 20 minutes to the hot springs!

There were three hot springs next to a very fast flowing river. It was sensational! Beautiful setting and the perfect way to end our day. A few of us enjoyed a beer in the springs, and had a quick dip in the freezing river! After an hour there, we slowly headed back to our accommodation. We decided on our way back up, walking down in flip flops, probably wasn’t the best idea, it was slippery and difficult. It made us realise how incredible the porters are who carry 30kg plus with flip flops on, or in bare feet! We had to pass a buffalo on our way back, not that it was unusual; we probably had to do it almost every day, but this time it was almost on the track.

That night at dinner, the guides showed us how to party Nepali style! We had heard all week how great our guides were at dancing, so this was the night to show their stuff. We all got up and had a dance at some point in the evening, but it really did become the ‘Shankar Show’. It was a great night, until Shankar decided it was getting late (8pm) and we were sent off to bed!

Jhinu Danda to Pothana, 1970m – Annapurna Base Camp Trek

We had about 6 or 7 hours of walking to do that day; it was fortunate we were in bed early the night before! We started off by walking steep down for one hour, to cross over a fast-flowing river on a slightly rickety Nepali bridge, one of many for that day. We walked up, steep up, to then walk some Nepali flat for a little while which was nice; before going back down to the river and up the other side. I was getting tired (physically and mentally). More Nepali bridges, Nepali flat and of course steps! It was exhausting, although the scenery was stunning! The final stretch into lunch was simply up, which I had begun to prefer despite still being challenging. We walked through rain forests and fields which was so beautiful and enjoyable.

My body had held up well for the trip considering how, in all honesty, under prepared I was. That day was a real struggle though, my achilles was not loving what we were doing and it was hard to cope mentally with the pain I was experiencing. There was one final hurdle, almost literally – a massive step up, just as we were coming into lunch. I could barely put pressure on my foot, let alone push off it, so I slowly and very painfully gritted my teeth and up I went. At lunch, my shoe came off, I elevated and rested my foot. I asked Kell to massage some anti-inflammatory gel into it, and there came my first tears of the trip! I was overwhelmed with pain, exhaustion and just general emotion. Thankfully we had quite a long break that lunch so I sat in the sun, foot elevated and tried to focus on making it through the rest of the trek. It wasn’t far and knew I would do it, but it was going to hurt.

Following lunch, we headed off, slowly for me – we had 2 hours to go. According to Shankar we were heading up and over our last mountain of the trek. It was tough and long, but a satisfying and proud part of the trek. The scenery was gorgeous. Towards the end we walked through gardens, which reminded me of the botanical gardens in Melbourne. We cruised along at the back with Shankar and enjoyed the last part of the days walk. By the time we got there, there was already a long queue for the solar shower, but I decided that today was going to be the day that I washed my hair, regardless of the temperature. It had been 10 days after all!

A fellow group member, Stacey, had kindly offered me her conditioner and moisturising cream, my face was peeling at a ridiculous rate from the sun and blowing my nose so often. I felt like a new woman – amazing, I’ll be forever grateful to Stacey for making me feel human again.

That night we all decided to have a Nepali Night at dinner. We all ordered Dahl Baht, rice, curry and a lentil type soup. The porters ate with us as well, and we ate it Nepali style…with our hands! It was fun and an experience I won’t forget!

At the end of dinner, we had a final briefing from Shankar where he was “going to tell us something about tomorrow”. It was a little sad as it was all coming to an end. All the guides and porters then got up and very proudly sang us their National Anthem. It was so lovely and a great honour, overwhelming really.

Later, the tunes were on again and the Shankar Show returned! Everyone danced, we had some local kids dancing for us and with us, as well. We must have all been having a bit too much fun as Shankar got in trouble for us being too loud, so once again, we got sent to bed!

Pothana to Pokhara – Annapurna Base Camp Trek

We had a mere 2 hours to walk; however, they were to be steep down. I was not looking forward to it to be honest, the pain I was in from the day before was too fresh in my mind. But at the same time, we were too excited to let it get in my way. As we walked, we watched Machhapuchhare and the Annapurna’s get further and further away.

We asked ourselves how on earth we had done, what we’d done! For the first hour of walking, it was actually Nepali flat which was a nice surprise. We walked through small villages and kids who were singing songs and blocking our path. A festival was just beginning and the children were all excited.

The last hour was as Shankar had said, steep down! It was tough and very painful, and getting very hot! The countryside, however, was beautiful. There were more kids singing the whole way to the bottom, it was very cute, some walk along with us. When we reached the end of our trek, it felt so good! Amazing in fact. My boots were the first thing to come off!

We gave our porters tips and gifts; I gave mine my sleeping bag and Kell gave him her trainers. We then had to say our goodbyes, it was very sad. We had just spent the past two weeks with them, and they were such a great group!

The rest of the group, trekkers and guides, jumped on a bus, some up on the roof top and the rest inside, and headed back to Pokhara. I couldn’t believe it was over! The afternoon we spent wandering around Pokhara, had some lunch (ice cream and cake!), did our Intrepid feedback on the trip and then went to buy a few things, including having a skirt and top made for a total of $10 for our ‘night out’ in Pokhara. We also made a quick and last minute dash to a place to have our laundry done, a very good idea! We also put together a bag of all our unwanted clothes (to our horror, dirty or clean) so Shankar could pass them onto a village in need.

We all went out for a last dinner together, said our “thankyou’s” to the guides and in particular Shankar who had spent a great part of the trip with Kell and I, at the back of the pack. A group of us stayed on and livened up the crowd in the Amsterdam Bar, and proceeded to take over the dance floor. It was a great night and a very fun way to finish the tour.

Pokhara to Kathmandu

We had a fantastic night of sleep and woke up ready to see what our next adventure might bring us. Over breakfast, we heard news of the bombings in Delhi, quite scary considering we were going there the next day. Lots of things running through our minds, but more importantly at that time were our rumbling stomachs.

Kell and I had breakfast with our new friends from our tour, Stace and Gabe at Mike’s restaurant, which was by the spectacular Phew Lake. It was a beautiful setting, and a nice way to finish our trip. We said our goodbyes and Kell and I enjoyed our last wander around the town, picked up our washing, repacked and headed for the airport for our flight back to Kathmandu. In the airport, we checked our bags in and waited for our delayed flight. The aeroplane was small but safe, although very loud. It was nice to see the mountains from above, but didn’t compare to what we had seen walking through them.

It was such an amazing trip! I loved it all, despite the moaning and groaning and pain. We made new friends and experienced something lots of people will never have the opportunity to do. As far as Kell and I go, this trip was an absolutely incredible adventure and only created a stronger friendship between us. There really is something very special about finding a friend who you can share such experiences with. Soulmates for life.

Erin and Kell’s Nepali Trek Facts:

Km’s Walked – 84!!

Hours of Walking – 52!!

Best Purchase:  E – Water bladder, aka – camel, K – $20 cargo/2nd H2O bottle

Best borrowed Item: E&K – Walking sticks

Best Item Lent to you: K – Poncho, E – Socks

Best Purchase During Trip: K&E – Pashi – so warm

Worst Moment: E – Day 2 – dying in the rain, K – Chomrong – another rainy day – know how they feel on survivor “I didn’t expect it to be this hard”

Most Painful Moment: E – Achilles on 2nd last day, K – Hip Flexor on 3rd day

Favourite Saying: E – “Not DEALING”, K – “Oh my giddy”

Favourite Shankar Saying: “What to do?” (in Kathmandu); “Nepali flat”; “Nearly nearly”

Most Dirty Item of Clothing: E – Black pants worn for 12 days, K – ‘Yak Poo Pants’ worn for 12 days

Most Days no shower: 7 days – Peew!

Longest without washing Hair: E – 10 days, K – 3 days

Best Moments: Reaching the ABC Base camp in waist deep snow; being up on rock above a Glacier; the hot springs; sunrise on Machhupuchhare.

Medication Taken: # of Imodium – E=3, # of anti-diarrhoea – E=3, # of fibre drinks – K=1, # of panadol – E=12, K=2

Missed Most: K – Pillow, E – couch/heater

Favourite Meal: Enchilada + Snicker Roll

The Best White Christmas in Europe

Soll, Austria.

Are you dreaming of having the best white Christmas in Europe? I know we are!

Experiencing a European White Christmas, is on the bucket list for so many of us based in the Southern Hemisphere. Who doesn’t want to experience the magic of a white Christmas, the lights, the snow, the markets, the beauty.

Soll, Austria for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by me (Love To Travel, Stay-Eat-Do)!

While living in London in my earlier, pre-kids years, I was fortunate enough to have my first European white Christmas; and, it truly was as awesome and as magical as I hoped it would be. I bought a 7 day ski package and stayed in a beautiful town called Soll, where we literally had the Austrian Alps at our doorstep. The town was lit up at night, festive during the day and had an exquisite Christmas feel – it was perfect. The people were friendly, the local food was amazing and the apres-ski was fun! Snow did not fall on Christmas day, however, we had the best of both worlds – freshly fallen snow the day before and beautiful blue skies to ski the Austrian Alps – all day long! Soll is just a short trip from Innsbruck (read more below) another buzzing and magical town at Christmas, with so many unique opportunities, including tobogganing and a visit to the 1964 Winter Olympics bobsleigh run.

There are some magnificent parts of Europe you can visit for a white Christmas experience. Be inspired by these fabulous contributions on where to spend your first or perhaps your next European White Christmas – I know we will need to have many European Christmas trips to be able to have all of the experiences on our bucket list!

Innsbruck, Austria for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Laura from Travelers Universe.

Innsbruck at Christmas, Travelers Universe.

Whenever I think of a white Christmas I’m taken back to Innsbruck, Austria. I don’t think I’ve seen so much snow in one place ever in my life! My husband and I arrived in Innsbruck on a cold December day. There was no snowflake in the air so we were slightly disappointed (although the city was charming regardless). When we woke up the next morning, however, Innsbruck was covered in a fluffy layer of snow. It was surreal!

We then took the cable car up the Nordkette and spent the whole day at 6,250ft playing in the snow and sipping hot chocolate while enjoying the views. It was the best Christmas present we could ask for!

Back in Innsbruck, we visited the markets (truly some of the best Christmas markets in Europe), walked under humongous Swarovski crystals, tried to spot all the fairy tale characters decorating the streets and warmed ourselves up with steaming cups of mulled wine.

Of course, eating is an important activity at any Christmas market, so we also took care to stuff our faces with delicacies like roasted chestnuts and hot doughnuts with Sauerkraut.

As for accommodation, I recommend you to find a hotel in the Innenstadt because you’ll be within walking distance of all the attractions, including the Nordkette Cable Car station. Bonus points if you book a room with views of the Alps (it shouldn’t be difficult!).

Salzburg, Austria for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Sara Miller at Journey of Doing.

Salzburg at Christmas, Journey of Doing.

Nestled at the foot of the Alps is Salzburg, Austria. Whether you visit the chapel where Silent Night was first performed, take a sleigh ride, or visit the many Christkindlmarkts, there is no more magical place to spend a white Christmas in Europe.

I recommend staying in the aldstadt (Hotel Goldgasse and Hotel Goldener Hirsh are my favorites!) to truly experience the magic of historic Salzburg. You easily will be able to explore the Christmas markets in Residenzplatz and Domplatz before taking the funicular up to Hohensalzburg Fortress for the beautiful views (and another Christmas market). When you come down the Moschburg, stop at St. Peter’s Abbey for the most serene sight in Salzburg’s old town.

By then you’ll be ready to warm up from the cold. Head to Getreidgasse, Salzburg’s famed shopping street and stop at Sporer to try traditional schnapps. If that’s not your style, Café Tomaselli is a short walk away and offers delicious coffee and cake.

If it’s too cold or too wet to take the bus to the Hellbrunn Palace and Christmas market, you can learn to make traditional Austrian Christmas cookies and apple strudel through this delicious hands-on cooking class. In addition to taking the leftovers home, you will also enjoy a delicious goulash soup for lunch. Other traditional restaurant recommendations are Zum Zirkelwirt and Gasthof Wilden Mann.

In the evenings you can take in a classical concert, join the ice skaters behind Residenzplatz, or continue your shopping at the Christmas markets. Salzburg is beautifully lit in the evenings; don’t forget to take a stroll through the romantic Christmas lights.

Rovaniemi, Finland for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Diana from The Elusive Family.

Rovaniemi at Christmas, The Elusive Family.

Rovaniemi, known officially as the hometown of Santa Claus is one of the most unique Christmas experiences in the world.  It sits in the middle of Finland in the region known as Lapland, and draws in thousands of visitors year-round.

In the winter there is an abundance of winter activities and things to see and do. Husky sledding is one such experience.  Husky dogs pull visitors on a sleigh ride across the white snowy countryside for miles and show off their endurance and dedication.  Husky riding is a family friendly activity and many tour operators provide this experience, ranging from 15 minutes to several hours.

Riding on a reindeer sleigh is another wonderful experience for families and this can happen on a reindeer farm, or out in the countryside.  One great place to do reindeer sleighs for smaller family members is at Santa Claus Village.  Santa Claus Village is a top accommodation to stay at as well as it has reindeer, huskies, and Santa’s on site.  It is also very easy to book excursions in Lapland directly from the hotel.  When we went to Lapland with our kids our experience at Santa Claus Village was amazing and we were able to have a wonderful holiday, particularly since the Village accommodates families incredibly well.

Northern lights tours, ice fishing, ice floating and numerous other activities are available in Rovaniemi. Rovaniemi is a very unique family experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity for experiencing a magical experience with your family.

Reykjavik, Iceland for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Ania from The Travelling Twins.

Reykjavik at Christmas, The Travelling Twins.

Last year we visited Iceland in December and found ourselves in Reykjavik for seven weeks in the middle of last winter almost by accident. But that’s another story.  What we experienced when we were there was the most lovely Christmas with children ever. We were house-sitting for a family who has kids roughly the same age as ours. The place was already decked out with everything but the tree before we arrived.  We settled in, and fed the contents of a box of Christmas CDs into the stereo, and did some research about what to expect. No Santa Claus.

On our first foray into the centre of Reykjavik, we found a great illuminated model of a pussy cat – how sweet!  The information panel located by its rather sharp claws told us that this is the cat that eats lazy children. Hmm.  We then discovered that our house would be visited on the thirteen nights before Christmas by as many trolls, the sons of a fearsome ogress.  We had better learn each brother’s likes and habits and leave an appropriate gift for him, and so it went on. It turned out that the Yule Cat and Yule Lad myths are embedded into everything during December.  Of course, our kids, and we bought into all of this. As Christmas drew near, we met more and more friendly natives falling over themselves to explain to us what we had to do and eat and see. There is a free skating rink erected in the middle of the old town where we spent another delightful evening, soaking up the Christmas spirit.

We had a very cosy family Christmas enjoying these different traditions.  We saw the Northern Lights at last, swam in geothermally heated water, and ate a delicious Christmas dinner of lamb.  Then as the New Year broke, we sat in the middle of the most astonishing firework display we had ever witnessed. We were in the middle of it simply because all our neighbours for miles in every direction had invested in what seemed like megatons of explosives and pyrotechnics.  The show continued not for hours but days – that’s one of the strangest facts about Iceland – they spent the enormous amount of money every year on fireworks. 

Want a different Christmas and an exhilarating new year?  Go to Iceland and soak up the local traditions.

Switzerland for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Roger Timbrook from Expert World Travel.

View over Lake Lucerne, Mt Pilatus, Expert World Travel.

Switzerland is an absolutely stunning destination for a white Christmas, for oh so many reasons. First of all, it is filled with mountains, so that alone makes the experience that much more picturesque and dramatic. Even if the weather is not playing along and the now in the cities is yet to fall, you can always head uphill and get yourself a truly white experience!

Some of the best places to go during the Christmas period are actually the cities like Lucerne, Geneva and Zurich. Why? Because they are filled with wonderful Christmas lights on all the main streets, and, of course, fun Christmas markets. The markets are great because they have enticing stalls with wonderfully warm comfort food and handmade delights to buy as presents. Be on the lookout for Gluhwein, a hot spicey wine drink, and other warm cheesy offerings like Raclette, and Fondue – Swiss classics you should be sampling anyway. Oh, and Zurich itself, the financial capital of the county, puts up a giant Christmas tree in the middle of their market too. But not just any old tree, it’s filled with Swarovski crystals, from head to toe! So, it’s worth making a detour to see that alone.

And if you want to take things a step further and head up into the mountains, “white Christmas” takes on a whole new meaning. Everything is white, as far as the eye can see. And that also means you can partake in all sorts of snow and ice-related activities like ice skating, tobogganing and even skiing and snowboarding if you are so inclined. Such Swiss mountain gems as Zermatt, Saas Fee, Davos and Crans Montana are worth spending putting on your bucket list. After all, there is nothing better than having a white Christmas in the mountains surrounded by snow!

Copenhagen, Denmark for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Derek Hartman from Robe Trotting.

Copenhagen at Christmas, Robe Trotting.

I moved to Copenhagen a few years ago from Philadelphia. I’m looking forward to my fourth Christmas there this year. When it comes to the Christmas holiday, Copenhagen, Denmark is a fabulous and festive place to enjoy the Christmas season. With warmer temperatures over the last few years, a Copenhagen white Christmas may be rare. However, when there is a dusting of snow in the city, it is remarkable. There are also adorable Christmas markets, gorgeous decorations all over the city and the Christmas magic of Tivoli Gardens.

The best area to stay and access all the Christmas majesty is Copenhagen’s Nyhavn neighborhood. Nyhavn is the name of the iconic Copenhagen harbor with pastel merchant houses and quaint cafes. There are many Airbnb and hotel options in the area. The streets here are crisscrossed with hanging lights and evergreen boughs. It’s also close to one of the best Christmas markets in Kongen’s Nytorv. The Christmas market there is beautiful. You can walk around the vendors and shop for keepsakes while drinking glogg. It’s a famous Scandinavian winter-time drink – warm mulled wine with raisins and almonds stirred in. In Kongen’s Nytorv you’ll also see the Hotel D’Angleterre. It’s a gorgeous hotel where the facade is covered with LCD screens and turned into a Christmas advent calendar. 

Another winter highlight is Copenhagen’s famous amusement park, Tivoli Gardens. It’s a must-see attraction any time of year, but it’s magical at Christmas. The decorations, light displays, and Christmas vendors make it a spectacular stop. There is also a fabulous Christmas cabaret each year at one of the theatres inside of Tivoli. This show is an annual holiday season tradition for locals and the only English-language feature of the year. 

If you’re looking for a Christmas season winter getaway, consider Copenhagen. There’s no shortage of holiday fun and beauty. The Danes love Christmas. Even a workplace Christmas party is like nothing I’ve experienced outside of Denmark. You can see more about their Julefrokost (Christmas party) in this post about my biggest surprises after moving to Denmark.

Freiburg, Germany for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Hannah Golton from Hannah’s Happy Adventures.

Freiburg at Christmas, Hannah’s Happy Adventures.

Freiburg is a beautiful city nestled at the foot of the black forest. I was fortunate enough to spend a year living and working in Freiburg. I must say, I fell completely in love with the city. Christmas was my favourite time of year. The city is regularly covered with a blanket of snow and the nearby mountains are transformed into a winter wonderland. Temperatures regularly reach lows of -10°C, so be sure to wrap up warm before heading out to explore.

While the German Christmas markets are on the smaller side, they offer a more authentic local feel and are significantly cheaper. Several markets are littered throughout the city centre. My personal favourite is the market centred around the Munster. The cathedral provides the perfect backdrop for a festive Christmas evening. Enjoy a mulled wine with amaretto, or perhaps a scrummy bratwurst. The best place for German food in Freiburg is MartinsBrau. I spent many evenings here. I recommend ordering schnitzel with pan fried potatos and a mushroom sauce.

After exploring the city, It’s now time to enjoy the surrounding mountains. I recommend visiting Schauinsland. Take tram line two to Dorfstrasse, then switch to bus 21 which will take you to Schauinsland Tal-bahn. Take the cable car to the top to go sledging, skiing or hiking. Moreover, the restaurant at the top offers stunning views and a delicious marshmallow hot chocolate – exactly what you need after a day in the snow!

I’m in no doubt that you will love Freiburg just as much as I did. If Freiburg interests you check out the top 10 things to do in the city here. Where to stay in Freiburg? Budget: Black Forest Hostel; mid-range: City Hotel Freiburg; or, luxury: Novotel Freiburg Am Konzerthaus.

Berlin, Germany for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Smita Bhattacharya.

Berlin at Christmas, by Smita.

Berlin at Christmas time is bone-chillingly cold, but I believe, also the best time to visit. The Christmas markets in Germany are quite something else. Nothing else compares; the best place to start enjoying it is in Berlin.

Start with a free Sandeman tour of the city to get your orientation. Enjoy the sights of Brandenburg Tor, Checkpoint Charlie, Alexanderplatz, and the famously quirky, 1.3 km long East Side Gallery. Stay or visit the Kreuzberg neighborhood. Kreuzberg, formerly a part of West Berlin, has transformed from being one of the poorest quarters in the late 1970s to one of the city’s cultural hot spots today. It is home to a large migrant population and also to the city’s hippest clubs and restaurants. Eat at Curry 66 (on Grünberger Str. 66) along your way—best currywurst ever. Or go to the Currywurst museum for a tutorial on the invention of the city’s favorite dish and learn about its evolution over the years.

Finally, the best part of the trip, the reason you came. Go to WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt, arguably the best Christmas market in Berlin. It’s a party at these Christmas markets, I swear. They charge 1 or 2 to get in, and inside the revelry is infectious, especially after a glass or two of Glühwein or Eierpunsch, the glasses which you can keep as a souvenir. Then pick up currywurst or bratwurst and watch a choir perform on stage or a group of people dance madly or buy a locally handmade goodie from the stores which look like straight out of a fairy tale. That’s a white Christmas you’re never going to forget.

London, England for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Coni from Experiencing the Globe.

London at Christmas, Experiencing the Globe.

When you think of a white Christmas in Europe, London doesn’t come to mind because usually there’s no snow, but let me tell you, it absolutely makes up for it with decorations and vibe. Winter Wonderland is the  most Christmas-y place on earth! Hyde park dresses up for the holidays in green and red, creating a magical place that will turn even the Grinch into a Christmas fan. There you’ll find delicious food, beautiful ornaments, fun games, the UK’s biggest open-air ice rink, and you’ll be able to visit the jaw-dropping Ice Kingdom that features  an ice bar. Fun for kids and adults alike!

If you want to get into the celebrations without going over the top, head to Victoria Park’s Winterville. A bit outside the city centre,  you’ll find less tourists and just as much charm. If all you want is great food and maybe to get a present or two, your place is the Christmas Market of the South Bank. For shopping, go to Oxford street. The street itself is full of lights, and the store windows are works of art. Visit in the evening for a full /wow/ effect. If you want to get into the festivities royal style, visit the palaces in London and around it. Hampton Court has an ice-skating rink just in front of the palace, giving you the perfect photo opportunity for a Christmas card (or Instagram post!). For a more meaningful experience, attend mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I’m not religious at all, but I spent a few hours before midnight handing coffee to people on the street waiting to get inside the church, and I got to marvel at the incredible choir singing in my favourite building in London. It’s a perfect way to spend Christmas in a foreign city!

Two Days in Vientiane.

A visit to Laos, without exploring is Vientiane, is an incomplete trip to Laos. Although we had travelled to other South East Asian countries prior to going to Laos, this capital city instantly told a different story. Vientiane is the largest city in Laos and sits on the bank of the Mekong River, overlooking Thailand. There are aspects that are impressive and glamorous – the palaces and the temples; however, there is a rich feel of history and devastation which must be acknowledged and honoured.

We stayed in the heart of Vientiane, at Champa Garden Hotel, which is in walking distance to many local restaurants, the Mekong River and the night markets. We love being able to explore by foot as much as possible, despite the pair of little legs we have on board with us these days! We love to eat in local restaurants, the friendly faces in Laos were so welcoming, we often returned for a repeat dining experience and were so happy to see the owners faces light up when they remembered us from the night before. As well as walking, we enjoy the fun of a Tuk-Tuk, so on our first night in Vientiane we travelled out to Kong View Restaurant and Bar where we watched the sunset over the Mekong River and Thailand, this was such an incredible way to start our adventure, one of those ‘pinch yourself moments’. We spent three nights in Vientiane and loved being able to take our time to wander the streets, find a playground for the kids, travel by local bus outside the city centre, navigate our way around some of the tourist spots and one of the highlights for our boys was seeing Monks, of which they had heard so much about in the lead up to our trip.

Day 1 – The Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan)

For us, going to the Buddha Park, was a full day outing! Getting to the Buddha Park was an adventure in itself and one we’re very proud to be able to say we surprisingly managed, without having to go to ‘Plan B – get a taxi’. We navigated our way to Talat Sao Bus Station and somehow managed to get on the correct bus out to the Buddha Park. It was an unsealed, bumpy road and what we imagined would be an easy one-way 25km trip, ended up an hour and a half each way on a not-so-comfortable ride; that said, the experience and adventure was worth it in the end!

The Buddha Park is an open-air sculpture park which was founded in 1958 by a monk and local sculpture artist, who studied Buddhism and Hinduism. The park features an incredible array of statues of Buddhas, Hindu gods, dieties, demons and animals from both beliefs. One of the highlights of the park was the large pumpkin structure near the entrance where the opening was made to look like a demons mouth, with a ladder inside taking you to the top where you had panoramic views of the entire park. The 40 metre reclining Buddha was also very impressive. We took a picnic lunch as there was plenty of space to pull out a rug, however, there is also a cafe at the back of the park serving light refreshments.

Day Two – C.O.P.E. Visitor Centre, Patuxai Victory Monument and Pha That Luang.

C.O.P.E. Visitor Centre

Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. Since the foundation of C.O.P.E. in 1996, the organisation has helped thousands of people with mobility related disabilities; allowing and enabling mobility and dignity. It is estimated that 50,000 people have been injured or killed, to this day, as a result of the UXO incidents since 1964; C.O.P.E. have worked hard to support survivors; as well as to provide prosthetic and orthotic devices, clubfoot treatment, physio and occupational therapies and related surgical procedures.

The Visitor Centre was eye opening for all of us, an education for our children but a reality to all of us, the trauma and devastation that individuals in Laos have and continue to experience is very apparent. A brilliantly set up museum and free to wander through, it is definitely worth a visit. The exhibits cover the history of UXO, how C.O.P.E. works to assist the people of Laos and improves the quality of life of individuals to go on and live a valuable life.

An interesting fact – the need for prosthetic has increased since helmets for motorbikes has been introduced – more people are surviving accidents, however, not without injury.

Patuxai Victory Monument

Patuxai, a war monument, was built between 1957 and 1968. The Patuxai has been dedicated to those who fought in the fight for independence from France. It is also commonly known as the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane as it resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Pha That Luang

From Vientiane

WITHIN LAOS: Get yourself on a bus to Vang Vieng for some great fun, adventure and natural beauty. Or fly to Luang Prabang for great culture, French inspired Laos food, city exploration, relaxation and just generally a fantastic time!

OUTSIDE LAOS: Fly or get a train into Thailand to experience more South East Asian greatness!

Coffs Harbour – The Best Things To See And Do.

There is so much to do in and just outside Coffs Harbour – food, beaches, attractions, adventure activities, walks and so much exploration. The first part is focused on sites and delights within very close proximity to central Coffs. Be sure to keep reading until the end, as I think some of the real treasures are well worth a short drive!

Coffs Harbour Fishermans Co-Op

If you are seafood lover, you cannot go to Coffs Harbour and not get yourself a meal from the Fishermans Co-Op. It is situated in the heart of the Coffs Harbour International Marina, surrounded by other cafes and restaurants, boutique shops, ample car parking and is directly next to the walk way which takes you over to Mutton Bird Island. We shared the seafood basket for two and a serve of fish and chips, it was not only fresh and delicious, but an enormous amount of food. After lunch, we meandered towards the Island, enjoying the beautiful clear waters, spotted thousands of fish of a range of sizes and came across a spectacular spot to swim and snorkel.

Charlesworth Bay Beach

Just a short 10-minute drive north from the Coffs Harbour Marina, you will find Charlesworth Bay Beach, a quiet little beach with most divine coloured rocks and stones of all sizes in the water. Such a fabulous time can be had exploring the rocks and pools and splashing through the waves.

Dolphin Marine Conservation Park

We all had the best time at Coffs Harbour Dolphin Marine Conservation Centre! It is a small centre which offers an intimate, up close experience with some beautiful marine animals. We saw a range of fish, turtles, fed penguins and fish, received kisses on the cheek from a dolphin, were mesmerised by the grace and wow’d by the seal and dolphin display, all along with a strong message, to save and care for our marine life. For more information on the conservation, education and how they care for the beautiful animals, have a look at their website – it is excellent. Our family ticket was close to $100, however, once we were there, we got to experience all of the above mentioned ‘add-ons’ for no additional price, which is a real bonus – keep an eye out for a $10 off voucher in one of the tourist mags! Food was available to purchase at the well priced cafe, there was a sausage sizzle available, picnic tables and grass space for you to also bring a packed lunch. When the boys are older and more confident in the water, we would love to bring them back for a swim with the dolphin experience – there is so much to do and see at this beautiful little conservation park.

Sealy Lookout Bruxner Park, Sky Pier

Do yourself a favour and take the 6km drive off the Pacific Highway (north of Coffs Harbour) through the banana plantations and into the lush green Orara East State Forest. We had the most crazy weather the day we visited, tropical rains, sunshine, cloud and rainbows! Sealy Lookout is 310m above Coffs Harbour and the view is spectacular, giving you great perspective of the area, including the Solitary Islands Marine Park; on a clear day you can see 100km to the south. The Sky Pier itself is an impressive structure, it projects 21.6m from the original lookout. A novel idea for our boys, they were most excited by the size of it given there was “nothing holding it up at one end”. There are toilets, picnic tables and the day we were there, there was also a coffee van! For the adventurous individuals, the Tree Tops Adventure Park is close to the Lookout and does look like a lot of fun, our kids thought it looked a bit scary, maybe when they’re a bit bigger!

Big Banana

Big Banana, Coffs Harbour

You cannot miss the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour! It is located roadside heading north on the Pacific Highway, not only can you not miss it visually, but you have also got to go in and have a look around. To be honest, it was far more impressive than I was giving it credit for prior to going! There is so much to do there, so much flexibility in buying tickets for the different attractions, which is fantastic for families traveling on a budget! There is lots of parking behind the Banana and the entire complex has a very happy and friendly atmosphere. The choices of attractions are endless – a cafe, water park, cheese-making, ice skating, laser tag, toboggan rides, race slides and so many more! There really is something there for everyone, even if it is just a cheesy photo in front of the Coffs Harbour icon!

Harbour Side Markets

Harbourside Markets, Coffs Harbour
Lunch time at the Harbourside Markets

Every Sunday from 8am until 2pm, the Coffs Harbour comes alive for the Harbourside Markets. You will find the Jetty foreshore covered in marquees and bustling with people – rain, hail or shine; rain, as it was on the day we visited! I love a market and I had heard great things about this one so I wasn’t missing out – despite the soggy ground, enormous puddles in the roof of the marquee we chose for lunch and the need for an umbrella when we didn’t have one! The market was bursting with creative arts and crafts, local produce, live music and a variety of cuisines on offer for lunch. Their motto ensures a quality unique experience for everyone locally made, locally grown. We loved our Mexican and African for lunch, the boys had their usual market favourites!

Now grab yourself a car and enjoy the greatness that surrounds Coffs Harbour. There are beaches a plenty, so many to enjoy and explore; or head inland and discover some little Australian gems.

Bellingen

Bellingen

Bellingen, just 30 minutes south from Coffs Harbour you will find ‘Mello Bello’ and it is exactly that! A very cool, bohemian style country town; Bellingen is a must for any food lovers, the choices of eateries are endless!

The Old Butter Factory Shopping Village, located next to the golf course, is a fabulous stop on the way into town. The Café is in a beautiful old building with high ceilings as well as outdoor table settings; the choices for meals were extensive, family friendly, easy parking and lots of space for kids to wander if they are of curious mind. The boutique stores within the village consisted of leather, homewares, woodwork, gift ware and a lovely community gallery.

We were in serious food heaven in Bellingen and we found it so difficult to choose where to spend our afternoon. The very chic, 5 Church St, won out and served us the most amazing homemade cakes to share – the chocolate beetroot was rich and delicious, but the carrot cake with a hint of ginger was the winner for us – divine! The coffee was also spot on and the kids hot chocolates were served so beautifully, it made them feel very special.

We planned our visit to Bellingen on our way through to Dorrigo National Park (see below for more info!), although we could have spent more time at both places, it was a great way to see a couple of spots in close proximity in the same direction from Coffs Harbour.

Dangar Falls, Oxley Wild Rivers National Park & Dorrigo National Park

Dangar Falls
Dangar Falls, Dorrigo National Park

We love rainforests and waterfalls, so as an add-on for our visit to Bellingen, a trip to Dangar Falls was a no-brainer. You’ll find the Falls located just 1.2km north of Dorrigo, the car park is at the top of the falls and there is a small lookout from there, giving you a spectacular front-on view from above. There is a mostly-made walking track to the pool of the falls, it is not a difficult walk, however, there are some stairs and slippery un-made tracks at the bottom. We were fortunate to visit just after some heavy rainfall in the area, so there was plenty of cascading water to enjoy. Back at the car park there is a toilet block, playground, plenty of room to picnic and a little way along the walking track, you’ll find a labyrinth. If you’re there in Spring time, you will be lucky enough to see the cliff lines filled with wildflowers. A trip to Dangar Falls, through Dorrigo National Park is well worth it and will not disappoint.

Dorrigo National Park is located just an hour from Coffs Harbour, you will find the beautifully rich, World-Heritage listed Gondwana Rainforest, Dorrigo National Park. You could simply spend days exploring the natural wonders – walking tracks, waterfalls, wildlife, lookouts and picnic areas. The drive up the mountain through the rainforest was stunning; steep and maybe a little narrow in parts but lush, green and very fresh. 

Coramba Hotel

If you are looking for a great country pub to have a meal, look no further than the Coramba Pub, a 20-minute picturesque drive north west from Coffs Harbour. The food was fabulous, the kids serve of fettucine bolognaise was enormous and wholesome, the service was great, and the beer garden comes with spectacular countryside views and lots of room for kids to run around. They have lots of specials including a $12 lunch menu where there was certainly no compromise on quality! It was quiet and had a relaxed casual feel, a fantastic spot to take the family for a great affordable pub meal. The Coramba Pub advertise regularly on their Facebook page, look out for their specials and special events which often feature live music.

Woolgoolga

Twenty-five minutes north of Coffs Harbour, you will find the fun, upbeat, casual, family friendly, coastal town of Woolgoolga. We were welcomed to the town with a big “Welcome to Woopi” by a local as we walked onto the beach. We instantly fell in love with the laid-back feel to the place that is known by the locals as Woopi. Surfing, jet skiing, beach cricket, rock pools, body boarding, walking tracks, free barbecues, a beach side playground and caravan and a main street full of cool cafes and coffee spots – it is any wonder it is a popular place to visit. White Salt came highly recommended to us as a lunch stop, so White Salt it was; melt-in-your-mouth seafood, fat chips and amazing potato scallops.

From the patrolled beach, head south along the 1.7km stretch of Woolgoolga Beach and make your way to the Woolgoolga Lookout; the expansive views north and south of the Headland are simply stunning. We were fortunate enough to see sail boats out on the water and enjoyed the company of some lounging kangaroos alongside the walking tracks. During the whale season it is a prime vantage spot for seeing humpbacks cruising by. You can also access the Lookout by car and enjoy some shorter walking trails from the car park. Woopi also features the Woolgoolga Lake where you can practice your skills on a stand-up paddle board or kayak.

Heading south from Coffs Harbour?

Be sure to stop in at Port Macquarie, there are so many more fabulous places to visit, things to do and beaches to enjoy!

The best things to do in Port Macquarie

Bago Maze and Winery

Twenty-five minute drive from Port Macquarie

A visit to Bago was one of our most favourite outings from Port Macquarie. We love food, wine and a bit of fun adventure – this visit had something for everyone, in fact more than that, it was fantastic! We loved getting lost in the 2km well cared for hedge maze, enjoyed a picnic we’d packed on the massive grassed area under a shady tree, us adults sampled the cheese platter featuring local cheeses, followed by some tastings of the unique range of whites, reds and fortified wines; all of this while the boys ran around on the grass and in and out of the cubby house. They have live music once a month and Baba Lila Handmade Chocolates is also onsite! You cannot go wrong with a visit here!

While you’re on the road to or from Bago, take the short drive into the Burrawan State Forest, the home of the ‘Old Bottlebutt’. Enjoy the 600m rainforest loop to see the ancient Red Bloodwood tree, which is astonishingly the biggest recorded species of it in the world. Our boys were highly amused by the name, if you need to convince your kids to take the extra trip, tell them the name of the tree, it worked for us!

Dunbogan

Thirty-eight minute drive south of Port Macquarie

We instantly fell in love with this beautiful coastal town on the Camden Haven Inlet. The quiet town has stunning views of the river, loads of picnic spots, a well constructed walking path and the fabulous Dunbogan Boat Shed and Marina. We loved our coffee experience at the Boat Shed so much, we returned the following day to hire a boat to explore the river and enjoy a picnic lunch on the water. You can also hire kayaks or a SUP and they are fully stocked for all of your fishing needs. When you visit, make sure you have a look at the thousands of fish, if the light is shining nicely, you will see some beautiful coloured fish. They also have frequent visits from some dolphins, we missed out on seeing them but we were guaranteed they are around!

Hat Head

Fifty-nine minute drive north of Port Macquarie

If there was ever a beach town to visit for a complete unwind, low key, family, beach town getaway on the mid-north coast – this place would be it! About an hours north of Port Macquarie, through the Macleay Valley, you will find the most exquisite beach town, Hat Head. We fell in love with this place, whole-heartedly, in fact, I believe it may be our new favourite beach in Australia – a big call given how many amazing beaches we have here!

Hat Head Gap was simply stunning – rocks to scramble and climb, lookouts, crystal clear waters, walking paths and views to die for! We walked from the Gap to Connor’s Beach, we were the only ones on the track and beach the entire time we were there – we felt like we were on a deserted island! Our only regret, we didn’t carry our picnic lunch! Instead, hunger set in and we had to find the somewhere else to park ourselves – what a shame (*insert SERIOUS sarcasm*) – we found the main swimming beach!

Oh my! The beautiful gentle waves were beach-magic for our boys to play in, in fact it is the first time they have braved ‘the deep’. The water was clear, the temperature was perfect, you could surf, swim, SUP, float or play! The town itself consists of a holiday park, several holiday rentals, a general store, boat access and a fish cleaning area, the pristine Korogoro Creek and the native surrounds of Hat Head National Park.

Crowdy Head

Fifty-six minutes south of Port Macquarie

The coastline along the mid-north coast of Australia, is undoubtedly stunning. We would recommend a trip to these two beautiful spots about an hour south of Port Macquarie. The unexpected stops are quite often the best, aren’t they? We were headed into Harrington for a pub meal for lunch by the river, only to be stopped due to the desperate plea to go to the toilet by one of our boys. Arriving in Crowdy Head, conveniently there were public toilets and Sunsets Cafe, attached to the Crowdy Head Surf Life Saving Club. We had a sensational feed in a stunning location. It surprised us that there was even a cafe open, it was that quiet. Apart from a lonely stand-up paddle boarder out on the sea, we were the only ones at the beach – it was heavenly!

We visited the Crowdy Head Lighthouse and were completely ‘beach-struck’ to the south, where we could just see masses of sand and surf! The Lighthouse also boasts a great spot for sighting whales during the right season. Needless to say, we had to go check it out! Harrington Beach State Park is a great spot for 4WD and for having a quiet beach to yourselves! The boys loved running around, in and out of the massive waves, building sandcastles and running from the crashing waves! We loved the extensive sand, water and tranquillity!

North Brother Mountain

Thirty-three minute drive south of Port Macquarie

North Brother Mountain is located in the Dooragan National Park and offers some stunning views of the area in Camden Haven Inlet, Camden Haven River and down to Crowdy Head in the south. For a challenging walk, you can access the Laurieton Track at the base or you can drive to the car park at the top of the mountain where you will find toilets, picnic tables and some easier walking tracks for the whole family. The vast views from the top were stunning, even on an overcast day like we had. We enjoyed the trails of the rainforest loop which took us to several other look outs to enjoy views to the north west and west of the mountain. It is well worth the trip to gain some perspective of the area and the spectacular outlook.

Miss Nellie’s Cafe

Twenty-five minutes south of Port Macquarie

The home of homemade greatness, Miss Nellie’s Cafe boasts a beautiful setting, in the small country town of Kendall; if you’re a sweet tooth, it is a sure stop! It is only minutes off the Pacific Hwy, so if you’re driving past, do yourself a favour! We were very impressed with the great service, dedication and commitment to their business. We were introduced to ‘ruby chocolate’ for the first time and were given a thorough explanation upon service. The ruby chocolate cheesecake was divine – it has a sweet yet sour flavour. Miss Nellie’s is a country-style cafe, serving homemade cakes, delicious coffee, light meals, a kids menu and cosy comfortable table and chairs indoors and outdoors.

Koala Hospital

Central Port Macquarie

You will find the Koala Hospital in the Macquarie Nature Reserve, a beautiful green natural parkland. Established in 1973, the Hospital came together as a place to rescue, care for and treat injured or unwell koalas; staffed by a number of paid professionals as well as 200 volunteers. They have 14 intensive care units (8 outdoors) and 33 rehabilitation yards which include large gum trees where they learn to climb again as part of the rehabilitation programs.

Our boys were very concerned about the cuddly koalas and were very intrigued to hear some of the stories as to why they were each there. Some were due to being in car accidents, dog attacks, chlamydia, fires. Each enclosure had a story about why they were there, as well as explanations about the process of how they’re released into the wild. This little guy (pictured) is a repeat offender, he was back this time with a bacterial infection in his eye. If you’ve got young kids like we do, they will be entertained by the fun facts dotted around the hospital – do you know how many poos does a koala do every day?

Tacking Point Lighthouse

Eleven minutes south of Port Macquarie centre

Tacking Point Lighthouse, Little Bay and Lighthouse Beach. The Lighthouse, is Australia’s thirteenth oldest and is situated just 8km south of Port Macquarie. We drove to the stunning headland, however, you can actually walk the full distance along the coastal walk from Town Green Foreshore in Port Macquarie – this will definitely be on my to-do-list next time we visit the area. From Tacking Point Lighthouse you will enjoy panoramic views of the mid-north coast of Australia. To the south you can wander down to Lighthouse Beach (see below), to the north you can explore the rugged coastline and rocks of Little Bay. We had hours of fun at Little Bay climbing over the rocks, searching for starfish, crabs and fish and watching the crashing waves of the expansive Pacific Ocean.

Lighthouse Beach has an extensive 7km stretch of sand, a brilliant location for those of you, like me, who love to walk on a beach. Simply stunning coastline! We entered the beach near to the impressive Watonga Rocks, where there was more than enough exploration opportunities for the boys and so much for us adults to sit back and appreciate. The squeaky sand, shells and array of coloured rocks that wash in make a beach wander very enjoyable. What was even better was the rare sighting of any other person, we felt like we had the whole beach to ourselves.

Hasting River and Town Beach

Central Port Macquarie

We just love exploring a town on foot. After parking our hire car in the main hub of Port Macquarie, we wandered to find a nice spot to have a picnic lunch. We walked straight towards Hasting River and followed the very colourful and creative rock art along the path all the way to Town Beach Park. We were fortunate enough to spot two dolphins gracefully swimming along finding their feed, they’re such beautiful creatures!

River side, we found a fabulous cafe called Little Shack, they made a great coffee (with the choice of two different brands of soy milk) and offered a relaxed and trendy stop for food and drinks. The Park included a very popular skate park, playground, path suitable for bikes, blades and feet! Town Beach itself offered spectacular coastline, patrolled beach, rocks for the kids to scramble over and pools to splash in; as well as beach side parking, toilets and the very convenient, yummy and well priced Salty Crew Kiosk.

Shelly Beach

Seven minutes south of Port Macquarie

Yet another one of the several beautiful beaches along the Coastal Walk from Port Macquarie Town Beach to Tacking Point Lighthouse. If you are intrigued by a bit of wildlife, get yourself to Shelly Beach and keep an eye out for a goanna! We were lucky enough to have this beauty wandering around under our feet while we were eating lunch (note the kids were sitting on top of the table!). There are picnic tables, a toilet block and plenty of parking to go with this lovely little beach. We loved exploring all over the rocks, looking for sea life, splashing in and out of the rock pools and enjoying another part of natures playground.

Where to stay in Port Macquarie

We loved our stay at Ultiqa Village Resort. It is the home of 32 luxury three-bedroom bungalows. The Resort has an indoor swimming pool, sauna, clubhouse, gym, tennis courts, mini-golf, canoeing on the lake and fish feeding. There are BBQ facilities, outdoor lounges, free WiFi, games rooms and board games/puzzles/toys/DVDs all available from reception. Our bungalow offered us more than enough space for the four of us.

Amenities were at our finger tips reducing expenses while in Port Macquarie. This enabled us to cook and do laundry with ease, allowing us to enjoy outings and special treats. The lake area had a lovely feel, very relaxing in the mornings and full of life later in the day. Our evenings consisted of fish feeding for the kids and happy hour by the water on a picnic blanket. The Resort was very family friendly and the service was impeccable, staff attending to our needs very efficiently. We would definitely look to stay there again on a return visit!

Heading north from Port Macquarie?

Do yourself a favour and arrange some time in Coffs Harbour. There is so much on offer for the whole family on the coast and inland.

Coonawarra Wine Tour

Coonawarra Wine Region

For the best of the Coonawarra Wine Tour, look no further than the masters themselves – Coonawarra Experiences.

The Coonawarra Wine Tour Specialists

We had the most fantastic wine experience while holidaying in the Coonawarra region as a family. Simon and Kerry, owners of Coonawarra Experiences, collaborate with local businesses to be able to provide their guests with the best of the Coonawarra.

The Coonawarra Highlights Winery Tour

Our choice Coonawarra Experience was the Highlights Winery Tour, which was a generous 4 hour tour visiting four different cellar doors. Simon took us on tour for the afternoon; he was very friendly, full of conversation and we loved hearing his own story and all about their journey to get to where they are now. Our two boys, aged 5 and 6, were suitably entertained with totem tennis, toys, colouring, blocks to play with and made some new friends along the way. Simon and Kerry tailored our tour to suit our group needs.

Coonawarra Wineries On Tour

Our day began at Brands Laira, where we enjoyed the perfect lunch, delighting on the local produce platter, in the cellar. They even made up a mini platter for the kids to share, which was a really nice touch and they loved it!

A great highlight for all of us was a photo opportunity at the Coonawarra Railway Siding which was built in 1898 and is a great landmark for visitors to the area to get yourself a great photo for the memory book.

Coonawarra Railway Siding

On our Coonawarra Experience Highlights winery tour we also visited Wynn’s Estate, Raidis Estate and Rymill Winery. We had the most memorable experience, tasting some beautiful wines, making some purchases and we loved the relaxed yet professional approach from Simon. We were introduced to many of the winery employees, had fascinating conversations about wines, vines, specialities, processing procedures and the Coonawarra Region itself. It is very unique to be able to explore a wine region, on tour, with children (and at a good price) – we love being able to explore and share as a family, so this was perfect for us. We’re so grateful that there are services such as this which allow us as parents, to be able to enjoy the things we love – with the kids in tow.

Accommodation for your Coonawarra Wine Tour Experience

Simon and Kerry were the perfect hosts. Their accommodation was clean, well presented, functional and well maintained. They were easy to communicate with, very accommodating, helpful in all aspects of our trip, super friendly and were fantastic with our kids.

Contact Coonawarra Experiences to see what great accommodation options they have on offer. Simon and Kerry work collaboratively with a number of other fabulous local businesses to give you the finest regional experience.

A Coonawarra Experience; Alexander Cameron Suites Experience; Mayura Station: Coonawarra Motor Lodge.

Coonawarra Experience OFFER just for you!

Penola Township

Contact Simon and Kerry directly on 1800 861 190 mention this blog post on Love To Travel, Stay-Eat-Do and you will receive a 10% discount on your full or half day tour booking with Coonawarra Experiences.

Penola and the Coonawarra Region

During our stay in Penola, we explored a number of other wineries, which were all unique in their own way. Being the Parker’s we had to visit Parker Coonawarra Estate, the boys found this to be particularly exciting! We had a lovely tasting at Zema Estate while we were out on the bikes one day; a great stop into Bellwether Wines, this was one of our favourites, mainly for the uniqueness of the cellar door, the cottage garden and play area outside.

Walk or Cycle in Penola, Coonawarra Region

We enjoyed cycling around Penola itself, the town is full of lovely little streets. Our favourite of course being Penola’s hidden gem, National Trust Petticoat Lane which retains some original gardens and cottages from the 19th century. A stop in at the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre is worthwhile to learn some of the history of Mary MacKillop and the foundation of Australian Sisters of Saint Joseph in 1866. If you are a building lover, find St. Mary the Virgin, Anglican Church in Penola, where the foundation stone was laid January 8th 1872 and opened for worship in July 1873.

The Lions Club have constructed a great path which you can use for bikes or on foot out to the Greenrise Arboretum. It is an easy ride from the Penola township, starting on some back streets heading towards Mt Gambier, keep an eye out for the Lions Club track! It is perfect for families, roughly a 5km round trip, depending on which end of town you are staying. There is a BBQ area at the other end of the arboretum which you’ll find by wandering through the nice paths created. Camping is available by donation at the Penola Coonawarra Information Centre.

From Penola

Head towards the coast to beautiful Robe.