Coastal Walk: Down Under Style

It’s been a while since I traipsed across parts of England’s Southwest Coast Path.. I was ecstatic to do a similar walk in Australia.

For a friend’s birthday celebration, we traversed the Coogee-Bondi walk. Well, they say “Bondi to Coogee Walk.” We opted to go the other way around because I wanted to finish off the walk with a swim in the Iceberg Pool. More comfortable to finish the day dripping wet from the pool than to walk in that state, don’t you think?

Our first stop was gelato to kick-start the walk. Well, the girlfriends stopped for gelato. I, the lactose intolerant, got to admire some hot beach volleyball players as I waited. Next stop, Giles Baths. The walk is marked by a whole bunch of rock pools/baths, where a natural rock or stony beach is turned into a built-in pool with little effort. Waves supply the sea water. So Giles Baths.. problem:

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Yeah. We didn’t think to check the tides.

Moving on.

The walk takes us winding through some coves. All of which afforded beautiful views. Path tends to dip down towards the inside of the cove to allow for access to the water and ascend back up the cliffs where the land jutted out towards the ocean.

 

We got caught in a downpour as we were approaching Clovelly Beach. We tucked under a nearby building’s awning and tried to wait it out. As the rain fell heavier, much to some of our surprise, a bunch of swimmers came out of the woodwork and went right in. Well, if you’re going to be wet anyway.. it wasn’t so much the rain that made us pause. The surf was strong.. the ocean was quite opinionated at the moment. As a swimmer, I was a little jealous of them.. but as someone who is content with my chlorinated box with a blue stripe in the bottom, I admit the waves were intimidating.

Clovelly pool is interesting. The cove is almost perfectly rectangular, because they had poured in straight cement ledges on the long ends, making it into one gigantic ocean pool. I didn’t even see the separate elevated lane pool until later.

We took the longer-than-expected rainfall as a hint. Time to break for lunch.

The sun came out by the time we finished eating and we continued on. We had fun with what we call “Lion King moments.” Some of the jutting cliffs had extended rock formations and we may have been a little silly with our posing.

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How can you now with a spot like that? No, that wasn’t our “Lion King” pose.. one of the girls just snap-eager while I was making my way out. The wind was no joke, though.. so we were venturing only so far. Side note: I never understood people’s need to leave their mark. Look at the carvings on the stone. It was not a soft stone.. people had to work on those.

So several of the rock pools were out due to the raging surf (at least for us). But the Iceberg pool was an absolute must for me. I had to go to one.. and the girls were agreeable to chilling out over a pitcher of sangria while I got my over 1500k swim in. I was *not* prepared for how cold the water was. The waves were lower by the time I went in, but I still felt the swaying. Actually, I felt it more when I got out, with land sickness and swaying as I walked. It took only a few minutes to recover, but I was gripping onto walls and surfaces. An unexpected pleasant perk in swimming here? Being surrounded by equally serious swimmers. I’m used to being the swimming in a recreational pool. This is a swimmers’ pool.

One con? They nickel and dime you out to go to this pool. Admission, I understand. Towel? $2. Lockers? Another $2.

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Total Tally:
– Weather: Occasional gusty winds, alternating between bright sun and heavy down pour. Drizzly more than not.
– End points:
33°55’08.4″S 151°15’30.8″E
33°53’41.9″S 151°16’27.4″E
– Path conditions: mostly varying concrete pathways, some dirt path

Highlights: Beautiful views, rock pools, and an amazing swim to finish the day off.

Krabi

Krabi is the most beautiful beach area I have seen to date in Southeast Asia. Beach preference is really a matter of personal taste, I get that. But, scenically, it’s going to be hard to beat the view of the rock islands and the three football field lengths of white sand that surfaces on our beach when the tide drops evening evening in time for sunset. Unlike most of the other destinations- Phuket, Phi Phi, Samui, Bali- Krabi is part of the mainland. A coastline lined with cliffs, beaches, rocks, a varied but gorgeous geology.

My highlight, as if all that wasn’t enough, was rock climbing. Having dabbled with some indoor climbing, I was finally pushed to give outdoor a go. My initial concern about safety in Thai standards were waves away by many avid climbers who said they were impressed by the professionalism and expertise of the climbing companies in Krabi, especially King Climbers.

What a huge difference it is between indoor and outdoor climbing. Indoor climbing routes have colored grips screwed on. It wasn’t a matter of where to reach for but how. In the outdoor, everything looks like to me. When I made the comparison the one of our instructors, he quipped “just follow the white.” Groan. The limestone wall is white, silly.

I thank our good instructors. Each of us had, at multiple points, called it quits. Too tired. No strength. Baffled on strategy. And the instructors, we would later find out, have their counter-strategy. They first would pretend to be busy talking, smoking, not paying attention. Then acknowledge our request to be let down and sympathetically call out “Go ahead and rest first.” After we hang for a few minutes to rest, they would then order us to give it another try. Because of their subtle and not so subtle pushing, I finished all three routes.

Each climb was a cacophony of shouting from the various instructors belaying all the climbers. Left! Right! Right foot left! Left hand higher on left! Guiding us where to find our next foot or handholds, and how to position ourselves for our next move. Somehow, I managed to hone in on our instructors’ voices amidst all the yelling and the echos. I almost burst out laughing at times. The instructors were all Thai.. and each had a different variation of an accent in their English, dependent on where and how they learned their English. All were very fluent, enough to make and understand nuanced jokes. And some even knew phrases and directions in other languages for the European visitors.

My third climb took me over the trees. And up to get an unobstructed wide view of the entire expanse of the cove. I so am sorry that I was not able to bring a camera up. My skill was too basic to risk damaging the camera. What a beautiful view. Postcard perfect. The beautiful beach, the wooden boats lined up near the shore, the lush green trees offsetting the towering limestone cliffs.  Did I mention this place now tops the list of favorite beaches?

Ang Thong National Marine Park

Sea kayaking in Ang Thong Marine Park was hands down one of the most enjoyable experiences I had in my multiple trips to islands and beaches in Southeast Asia. The concept of a protected water are is so startling.. and even more so to find that the Thais generally do respect the restrictions. The water, although murky, was quite clear of litter. The islands gorgeously green and untouched.

The kayaking, I went with Blue Stars. The outfit was heavily German focused. I suspect the 70% of the group that day I went came from an organised German tour. Considering one of the founders/guides is German, I wasn’t surprised. We were split into two groups to rotate use of the kayaks. The German group was led by the German guide, and the English group was really the non-German group led by a silent Thai guide. We didn’t get much narration from our guide, but given that our kayaks were paddling in single file, I don’t feel like we missed out on the experience.

Ang Thong is largely composed of rock islands. We weaved between tunnels and crevices around the rocks on our first paddle. After lunch, we moved southward to the larger islands. The saltwater lake was largely non-event, more so when we weren’t allowed access to the lake directly, just a view from a vantage point. The beaches looked gorgeous and quiet, away from the hubbub of Samui and its rowdy scene.

It’s a pity we didn’t have time to wander in some of the islands. I was sun-xhasted by the end of the trip, but I would imagine the islands offer a more lush and nature wildlife viewing than the more tourist trampled rain forest treks in Samui or mainland Thailand.

Koh Samui

Koh Samui validated my ability, as unnatural as it felt, to enjoy a beach getaway.

I generally am not a beach-goer. I have an inexplicable phobia of swimming in open water. During a family vacation to Maui years ago, my father was mortified to discover I hadn’t the courage to go snorkeling, an outing he arranged especially for his swimmer daughter. I have long since tried to overcome my dread.. competing in the swimming segment of a triathlon relay, returning to Maui on my own with a snorkeling trip, snorkeling in Bali.. but beaches still don’t quite agree with me.

Until Koh Samui. Picking a hotel right on the Lamai Beach, I forced myself to swim out in the bay daily, taking advantage of a nice long dock the hotel laid out to the water. The water was extremely shallow. Standing up, the waterline barely hit my hips, making for a very awkward swim with coral so freakishly close to my body. shiver

I learned the key is to have a good hotel. One with both the option of not doing anything or doing something. Being right on the beach was fantastic. Being in a villa-style room with a patio also was fantastic. Being in a resort with inclusive activities keeps boredom at bay.

I *did* confirm my inability to stay put for long. Despite lounging most of the first day, I still went for a walk to downtown, which was a sticky thirty minute walk each way. Lamai apparently turns into a sketchy bar strip for the classic old farang with barely over teenage Thai women crowd. Walking through the daytime, it was dead. The vendors sold the usual sun dresses, knock offs, uninteresting stuff. The second day I joined a tour of Samui, including an elephant ride, ATV riding, and a waterfall visit (the last was a bad idea at the end of the dry season…). The third day, an all-day trip to Ang Thong for sea kayaking. See the theme here? Cabin fever gets to me.

I had a wonderful time in Samui. The smallness of the island opens up access to more options for things to do versus the larger Phuket. My take away from this trip is to find a good resort in a good location. Sounds obvious, but, knowing my tendency and my preference, it can make or break my beach trip, especially if I travel alone.

Kicking off the American summer



Solely to make you all jealous, I’m posing a couple of snapshots of sites from my weekend. I had celebrated Memorial Day which usually coincides with my birthday like a typical American- escaping to the beach. Only the beach I visited is Phuket, a popular and pretty famous beach destination, especially amongst Europeans. My weekend composed of doing nothing but sitting by a pool all day, learning how to wind-surf, and getting a nice long Thai massage in a waterfront spa. Next time, I’m off to Koh Phi Phi.