VIEWS & VINEYARDS // Grampians National Park, Australia

Our final stop of our tour of the Northern Grampians was the Balconies. This is hardly a hike, but more of a 2km return wander to some of the most stunning, yet easily accessible views in the Grampians. There are even some great viewing points from the carpark!

Despite a rather misty start in that morning, the weather was perfectly clear all day. By mid afternoon, we had fantastic views at the Balconies.

The below rocky outcrop is technically off limits, but as per usual it was still being used by visitors for photo shoots. I am sure it would be a stunning shot, but at a risk!

We had a peaceful afternoon and evening at our cabin in Halls Gap, before getting up early to join a local fun run. I don’t know what was going through my head when I let Chris convince me to run 12kms, but it ended up being a great run through the valley from Halls Gap to Lake Bellfield, aided by the stunning views.

After such a big run in the morning (for me anyway!) hiking was off the cards for the remainder of the day. We set out in our car and explored some the regions wineries, which were beautiful with the backdrop of the mountains.

That evening, we also stopped off at the dam wall of Lake Bellfield, which was just up the hill from our caravan park. I still have no idea what I am doing with my camera 99% of the time, but I do kind of love how these evening photos at the lake came out.

The dam wall provided an unexpectedly fantastic view back down the valley towards Halls Gap, with the Pinnacle up to the left.

Despite almost being winter when we were up in the Grampians, there were still plenty of visitors in town. Sure, it was a bit cold and we weren’t always guaranteed perfect blue skies, but it was still a great time to visit. Oh, and we got to fit in one more hike…

– Reanna


MT ZERO & HOLLOW MOUNTAIN // Grampians National Park, Australia

What’s that? More hiking content? I am back today to share our recent getaway to one of my favourite parts of the Victoria, the Grampians National Park. Located a three hour drive away from Melbourne, it makes for more than a quick weekend trip, so we snuck an extra day off work and treated ourselves to a long weekend. We stayed in the town of Halls Gap, which is a great base for exploring the region.

Having previously visited the Grampians and taking on some of the main walks, such as the Pinnacle and Mackenzies Falls, we decided to spend a day exploring the northern region of the park. We headed about 40 minutes north of Halls Gap to our first stop, Mt Zero. I have a strong recollection of hiking up Mt Zero as a child, and remembered it being an epic adventure. However, in reality it was a pretty easy 2.8km return trek from the carpark to the top of the below peak!

Despite the short distance, the view offered by Mt Zero is spectacular. We had relatively clear skies for our view back towards Mt Staplyton and Hollow Mountain.

After a quick decent, we drove a few kilometres down the road to Hollow Mountain, where we completed a further two short walks.

The first was a quick stroll to Gulgurn Manja, an Aboriginal art site. Meaning ‘hand of young people’, this site features a series of rock paintings that tell stories and lore of Jarwadjali people.

After a picnic lunch in the sun back at the carpark, we did the 2.2km return hike up Hollow Mountain. The walk towards the mountain took us past a series of cliffs and rock formations that were very popular among rock climbers. We watched a few ascents, before deciding that rock climbing was most definitely not for us!

We knew nothing about the track, and assumed it would be relatively straightforward like Mt Zero. After following the above trail for a few hundred metres, we were faced with some more rocky terrain, before eventually coming face to face with the below sheer rock face. An arrow pointed the way forward – up!

It ended up being a fantastic climb of rock scrambling, crevices, and eventually stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

Not your average 2km stroll, but it was fun little adventure! Though of course, nothing compared to what the nearby rock climbers were taking on.

We explored the above rock cave/formation/terrifying balance act on the way back down. The trek back down the rocks we climbed up was slightly more difficult, but we safely made it back to our car in one piece.

Whilst not conquering any big hikes in the Northern Grampians, these series of short walks made for a diverse and fun day of exploration. There is so much on offer in this region!

– Reanna

HIGH COUNTRY HIKING PT. 2 // Bogong High Plains, Australia

Check my first post for part one of our hike, where I left off at the end of a steep descent at the Big River. Which, as you can see, was quite a big river! We were required to cross, which involved wading through knee deep, freezing cold water in our bare feet whilst carrying our heavy packs.

It was an adventure, but we all safely made it across under the watchful eye of my brother.

From Big River, it was a grueling 4 kilometres of climbing to the Bogong High Plains. This was undoubtedly the toughest section of the hike, and possibly one of the toughest hikes I had ever done!

After two very, very long hours we made it to the high plains just as the mists began to roll in. We bunkered into Roper Hut for a late lunch.

The remaining 6 kilometres would have been an easy stroll along the high plains, but due to the snow the trek was substantially more difficult! Our pace was hampered by constantly sinking into steep sections of snow that had built up along the track. At least the landscape was beautiful!

The clouds again obstructed our view of Mt Bogong, and rolled across the plains in front of us, creating an eerie atmosphere.

We were treated to some fantastic views at exactly the right time, so we quickly ran off the track to admire the view over the valley below.

It was at this point that my camera ran out of battery, so I have no photos of our very cold night at Edmondsons Hut! We camped outside of the cabin, and my brother introduced my mother and I to the concept of Nalgene hot water bottles. Revolutionary.

My brother snapped this shot of Mum and I on our last morning, with Mt Nelse in the background. We only had 5kms to walk out, and it was a very easy stroll along the main trail to the Falls Creek catchment area.

Despite more difficult weather (and snow!) than anticipated, not being able to summit Mt Bogong, and sore bodies, it was such a wonderful weekend. I feel truly lucky to be able to get outside and do the things I love with my family, and we hope to do more hikes in the future. Perhaps in the summer though!

– Reanna

HIGH COUNTRY HIKING PT. 1 // Bogong High Plains, Australia

Whilst my backlog of posts from our holiday to the Caucasus and Middle Easy might finally be over, I seem to have accumulated even more photos since arriving back in Australia. This year has been incredibly full and busy, and despite feeling overwhelming at time, it has been so rich and fulfilling. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to live this life.

Whilst I have been slowly getting into the hiking scene over the past few years, 2018 has seen me commit to the goal of completing the 52 Hike Challenge. I have been out hiking most weekends, with Chris, the girls from Melbourne Girls Outside, or by myself. My hiking is generally limited to half day hikes, but recently I had the opportunity to take on a three day/two night hike in the Bogong High Plains with two of my favourite people – my mother and my brother.

My brother works as an outdoor education leader, and did all the leg work in terms of preparation, organising all the gear I needed and planning a route around Mt Bogong, the highest mountain in Victoria. After a long morning of driving and car shuffling, we didn’t end up starting our hike until around 2pm, departing from Camp Creek near Mt Beauty. And it was foggy!

Despite only being May, it had been unseasonably cold the weekend before. As a result, snow began to appear across the trail the closer we got to the summit of Bogong.

A glimpse of the mountains ahead!

Catching our breath at the ridge leading up towards Mt Bogong, we were treated to a brief moment of views onto the surrounding Alpine region.

Temperatures plummeted as soon as we reached the ridge line leading up towards the peak. It was hard enough clambering over the rocky trail, but as we reached a saddle near the summit, we came across a snow drift! My brother admitted that he had not been expecting this, but was able to safely lead us across. It was an exhilarating and terrifying experience!

From the top of the snow drift we decided to forgo attempting to summit Mt Bogong, due to the fading light, roaring winds and thick cloud. Instead, we attempted to cover the remaining 4km to our overnight stop as quickly as we could through the thick snow covering the track. It was almost dark by the time we stumbled up to Cleve Cole Hut for the night.

After a wonderfully warm night in the hut (luxury!), we were able to get a better view of where we were in the morning. My brother is a regular of the hut during winter, but I found the entire experience a great novelty.

The weather conditions were picture perfect that morning, as we came away from the snow and headed towards the Bogong High Plains.

After an easy few kilometres, we faced a gruelling 4km of steep down hill tracks, which were often covered by fallen logs and branches. At least the views were worth it!

Our downhill trek eventually brought us to the Big River, which required a very cold and mildly stressful river crossing – but more on that shortly!

– Reanna


Finally, two months after returning from our holiday, I have finished going through all my photos and writing the corresponding blog posts! These pictures are from our relatively laid back final days in Baku.

The most important photos first – more delicious Azeri food in gloriously tacky underground restaurants, completed with local wine and bread. I am hungry just looking at this!

We spent our last night being awfully touristy, and taking in the stunning night time views of Baku from atop the Hilton in their rotating bar. Admittedly when Chris suggested we check it out, I was a bit unsure, but it ended up being great fun. Entry was free, and drinks were not ridiculously expensive (around $6 AUD for a beer). Even if you came up and brought a can of soft drink it would be worth it for the views of the city on a clear day or night. Plus, they gave out free pringles with drinks purchased!

Our last day saw us with the morning to kill before our afternoon flight back to Australia, so we fit in one last walk into the city centre.

We walked from our hotel up to Şəhidlər Xiyabanı, a cemetery come park located near the Flame Towers that offers great views over Baku.

The park is quite interesting to explore as well, featuring memorials to public figures and an eternal flame.

The park also offers views over the suburb our hotel was staying in – as you can see, nowhere near as glamorous as the city centre!

Eventually the sun came out to treat us for a few hours, as we walked along the boulevard overlooking the Caspian Sea.

Chess is incredibly popular in the Caucasus, so it was not uncommon to find sets established in public spaces, and a small crowd standing on watching a match.

Chris complained that I took approximately 100 different photos of the Flame Towers. But hey, it isn’t my fault they were so photogenic!

And that brings this long-winded recounting of our adventures through the UAE, Oman, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan to an end! It was such an amazing holiday, taking us through some countries I would never have ever imagined previously visiting, but I am so glad that we did. From the desert in Oman, to the mountain tops of Georgia, and the high rises of Dubai – I truly feel so lucky to be able to travel this world.

– Reanna

PETROGLYPHS & VOLCANOES // Gobustan, Azerbaijan

Despite our short two nights in Azerbaijan, we were able to fit in a small tour outside of Baku. The most popular day trip from the city is to visit Gobustan (also spelt Qobustan), a historic national park located about 60km away from the city.

A few notes on visiting Gobustan:

  • Getting there: A tour is the best way to visit the area. We used Bag Baku, a local tour company that be easily contacted and arrange tours. Despite being convenient, we had a pretty average experience with our guide. Our tour took us to the Gobustan museum, and arranged a taxi to take us out to the mud volcanoes.
  • Facilities: Bring snacks! There is little else out in the area other than the natural attractions and some smaller villages.

Our first stop was the Qobustan Petroglyph Reserve, a UNESCO- listed area showcasing thousands of stone engravings dating back 12,000 years.

After a quick tour around the museum and learning about the history of people in the area, our guide took us along a walking track to explore the engravings in the thousands of rocks. It was admittedly very poor weather conditions when we were visiting, due to freezing cold wind, but we were able to spend some time spotting the petroglyphs and deciphering what they depicted.

Some of the petroglyphs were incredibly clear – for instance, the horse in the above photo (bottom right).

The reserve is located at the top of a very square mountain, which usually offers views of the surrounding countryside and nearby Caspian Sea – but we weren’t in such luck!

The second part of Gobustan that is a must see is a collection of very strange mud volcanoes. Getting there was a mission in itself – we were ushered from our relatively modern car into the awaiting 100 year old taxi, driven by a toothless driver of a similar age. The track to the volcanoes is essentially a muddy trail, which definitely required a 4WD, but our driver took it all in his stride and thought my gasps and panicked exclamations to Chris were positively hilarious.

Yes, that was our taxi! How we survived this trip, I will never know.

The volcanoes themselves are an unassuming and strange collection of small muddy mounds, that when approached reveal bubbling grey mud at the top. The mud is cold and can be touched, and occassionally volcanoes would ‘erupt’ and have mud slide out of the top. Over half of such volcanoes in the world are located in this area in Azerbaijan!

It honestly felt like being on another planet in this eerie place!

Eventually the cold wind became to much to handle, and we climbed back into our taxi for another terrifying drive back to town.

Due to the poor weather our tour ended up taking only half a day, though it could be extended a bit longer if the weather was nicer and allowed for more exploration. Neither of the sites we saw were what I anticipated seeing in Azerbaijan, but it goes to show that one should never set their expectations early!

– Reanna

OLD & NEW, EAST & WEST // Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku – this city can only be described as a place of constant contradictions, with different things to see around every corner. It is at once modern, yet still crumbling in places. It is technically European, but feels Asian. Our tour guide challenged us to make up our own mind about Azerbaijan and its place in either the East or West as we spent a few hours exploring this city.

We arrive in Baku in the late morning, after catching a very long overnight train, which featured a rather stressful border crossing (as a consequence of us having Armenian stamps in our passport – but that is a story for another day!).

We unwittingly booked a very bad hotel that was a few kilometres out of the city centre. It was walkable, and we enjoyed walking through the rather grey and Soviet area we found ourselves staying in.

It wasn’t long before the iconic flame towers of Azerbaijan appeared.

Our first stop was lunch. Almost all of the restaurants we ate in were cavernous underground affairs that were decorated quite extensively. Despite looking tacky, all of the food we ate in Azerbaijan was excellent, with a far broader variety of options than anticipated.

We joined a free walking tour, which took us through the ‘old city’ of Baku. Our tour guide was excellent, and offered many insights into the complexity of Azerbaijan’s identity. The above statute represents the competing ideals of European and Asian culture in how Azerbaijan sees itself.

The old city is a walled area within the city centre, with meandering laneways and older, traditional buildings. The former palace of kings past remains, in addition to mosques, sulphur baths, and rather colourful terrace buildings.

The contrast in architecture further exemplifies the cultural clashes of Azerbaijan.

Parts of Baku feel incredibly European, at times giving the feeling that one could be walking down a Parisian street. Our guide told us that once the oil boom brought wealth to Azeris, their children would study abroad in Europe and bring back grand ideas about how the city should look.

After an afternoon of explorations, it was of course time for more Azeri food. One of our favourite dishes was sadj, a kind of hot plate that comes out still sizzling. We typically order the vegetarian one, though meat options were available. Oh, and bread and dolma were obviously mandatory with every meal.

The city centre of Baku was easy to explore in half a day, with extended stops for food. It was amazing to walk around the city and be walking along a modern shopping mall in one moment, the passing by a mosque, before turning down a European street, which ended near a Soviet building. You can sense so much of the history of this nation just from walking around and taking in your surroundings.

– Reanna