A Cultural Swim with a Difference

The first swim of a swim trekking experience is full of excitement and anticipation and nerves in equal parts.

There was no need for nerves on this trip. Yves, Matthew and Lizzie our guides had planned a great first day.

It was a sunny wind free day so we headed across the island in mini buses where the boats met us for the 20 mins ride to Emao a fairly remote island with 6 small villages and two primary schools.

We arrived to the wail of a conch shell. A local dressed in leaves was blowing a greeting to us.

We unloaded and made our way up the grassy slope to be met by a group of leaf covered men who danced a welcome.

Yves said these people had not had western visitors before. They greeted us in song and dance and everyone lined up to shake our hands as a hibiscus was placed behind our ear.

We were so moved by this beautiful greeting. Yves presented the village chief with books, pencils, paints poster and things for the children.

Then it was swim time. We creamed up and hopped in the banana boats for a ride along the coast. The coral reef was visible in the crystal clear water.

Safety instructions and then into the water. Unlike any swim trek I’ve been on – we swam as one group. A guide in the front middle and at the back to keep us contained and away we went.

Conditions were perfect. Warm, calm and current assisted we swam comfortably along the coast. We swam over coral, alive with little coloured fish. Parrot fish, striped sea snakes, electric blue star fish a turtle and lots of coral.

The reef was damaged in the big storms Vanuatu experienced recently as were the villages. The one we visited on Emao lost all but 3 buildings So sad for people who really don’t have much to start with.

We swam and swam stopping for a chat and a regroup.

It was exhilarating. Everyone was quietly pleased with their effort.

Some towed little floats for safety. Well done John, Colleen and Shean for helping us.

Our boatmen did a little fishing. And

We finally returned to Village and had some downtime. Lunch – rolls for most salad for the gluten free.

Suddenly it was time to leave so the village chief farewelled us and gave a blessing!

Home via the sand island. A little mystery.

Now we’re sitting at Breakas sipping gin and beer.

A good day.

Swimming Vanuatu. Fins, friends and fun.

Today we are on our way to Vanuatu a group of some 83 islands in the Pacific Ocean. We aren’t going to laze by a pool or dip our toes into the lagoon – even though that sounds great. No, we’re going to swim. Along coastlines, around small islands enjoying the water, observing the fish and feeling the sheer pleasure of being free in the ocean.

Steve & I won’t be swimming alone. No that’s far too dangerous!

We are joining a group called Swim Trekking. Our leader, organiser, guide and friend, Yves, who spent quite a few years growing up in Vanuatu has put together this trip for us. And we invited a few friends along to share the fun.

What is it that keeps taking us on swim trekking holidays?

This is our 8th swimming holiday! I took up swimming to be able to go along with my husband on our first one in Sardinia in 2013. I was terrified but loved it. Now I love swimming. I’m not fast. I still use fins. But I can keep going and love how it makes me feel.

What is a Swim Trek holiday?

We got on to our first Holiday through SwimTrek a company operating out of Brighton in the UK.

We joined a group of like-minded people from a handful of different countries. We had two guides- our first guide being Francesco from Rome. (he owns a company called Swim Trekking) And each day for a week – with a boat driver & Francesco we swam along picturesque coastlines, into caves and across from one island to the other.

I was scared but exhilarated. I’d found something I loved.

Since then we’ve swum in Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, Italy, Spain and Galápagos. All different but all wonderful. We’ve met some fantastic friends. If you read my recent blog about New York you’ll have heard about our swim trek friends who came to meet us there. What a holiday !

This one is different. Only a short flight from Brisbane. With a group of people we already know and a guide who is a friend.

It will be terrific.

If you’re coming to Vanuatu there are direct flights from Brisbane and Sydney. It’s only a few hours and it’s a beautiful group of islands.its a tropical paradise.

We’re staying at Breakas resort. In little Bures lining a white sandy shoreline.

The sound of the waves will lull us to sleep under the mosquito net over our bed.

So after orientation by Yves and Lizzie we had a group dinner and planned our first day.

A 7am breakfast so we can head of. In the bus to our boats to swim a more remote island.

We can’t wait.

Our view friends m the Bure

Ki Ora: welcome to New Zealand

779B8097-8378-4664-9069-39BCCF08BE45We love our mini breaks and visiting our swim trek friends in NZ is one of our favourites.
For the past few years we have taken the easy 3 hour flight on Emirates’ 380 to Auckland to meet up with Kim & David Parker. We travel with our friends Chris & Jill Wilson and started the journey with Moët at the airport. It may only be 7.30am but it’s a great way to start our holiday.
We landed at around 3 pm picked up our hire car and headed towards Mellons Bay where Kim & David have a lovely home with spectacular views across their garden to the water.

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This year the Wilsons are staying with them in the house and due to shortage of rooms it was our turn  to book into a nearby motel at Buckland’s Beach. It’s such a pretty spot we’ll look forward to a walk around the bay tomorrow.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening sharing lovely NZ wines, a wonderful tapas plate and lots of chat and laughs.

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Swimming has taken us to many places around the world and made us many new friends. We swam with the Parkers & Wilsons in Greece in 2014 and so we started our little mini breaks to ‘ have a swim’ followed by a bit of sightseeing in a different party of the country.
Last year we swam in Pahia (look back at those posts) and visited the Bay of Islands. The year before a local swim in Auckland followed by the Coromandel Peninsula.

This year we are swimming the Blue Lake near Rotorua. We’re very excited as lake swimming is beautiful. The downside is that our party of swimmers is decreasing due to injury or illness. Steve has a shoulder problem requiring an op in a few weeks. Kim has an eye problem after having had a detached retina. Jill has had stitches in her head and can’t go in the water and Chris has a heavy cold. So it looks like David & I! If I can fit into the wet suit!

So stay tuned for news of our adventures as we drive south to Rotorua – city of smells!

Pushed to the limit on the last day of swim trek

img_1566The last day is always sad. We’re all getting to know each other. It doesn’t matter that this was a slightly shorter trek or that we knew most of the swimmers before.

We hopped in the water and off we went. After a few days swimming you know who you swim best with. Someone with a similar pace. My wing man is Olivier. He’s from Paris.

My wing woman in Galapagos was lovely Betty from the USA and in Montenegro it was fun Sophie from England, now living Tarifa in Spain  I’ve loved swimming with all these great people

Today Steve  decided to stay with us. I like this because he becomes the sighter and I can relax and swim! He guides us in the direction we need to go which is pretty important on the crossings from island to island.

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We started with  one of these crossings. Then  we hit a tough patch of choppy water and a strong current running against us. Ricky gathered us on the boat and moved us onto the end of the island and we started another crossing.

Relaxing on the boat before the final swim.

One of the crossings from island to island. Steve in yellow cap out front.

From here on it was smooth swimming and we stopped every half hour for some food – this really helps with distance swimming.

Finally we finished. 8 km! Yes, me – my personal best distance  oh boy …

Congratulations from Steve. 8km!

We stopped at a lovely bay at the top of Ugljan island and had our last lunch together at Konoba Dali.

It was a pretty restaurant with terrific views and even better food. We had a Peka. This is a traditional dish of the island . Some had meat and the other octopus.

The 🐙 had just been caught that morning , boiled, tenderised and then cooked in a clay pot over hot coals. It was the most wonderfully tender octopus I have ever had.

 

They served it with potatoes and zucchini and lashings of olive oil.

Fantastic with a local wine – Rose.

It will be sad to leave our friends at swim trek. It was all made possible by Chris Masek, our friend from our first trek in Sardinia in 2013 when I could only swim about 1 km. He also organised the big swims Steve got to do. One the crossing from Corsica to Sardinia and the other from Spain to Morocco.

Chris, sadly didn’t get here at all for the trek. Business interfered at the last moment and he couldn’t get away.

In the evening we had the end of swim trek dinner. Photo opportunities of new friends.

Guide Neil, myself, Yves- former guide now friend, Steve and Ricky our guide here and from Greece 2 years ago.

Ricky, Dan Garr from LA, Neil, myself and swim buddy Olivier, and Dan’s two sons Luke and Max and wife Isabelle

Julien with the ‘jeans style’ swim togs given by Steve. Quite a novelty.

Clowning around with Yves. Neil sitting.

As usual , Awards were given. I got mine for being a ‘record breaker!’ Setting new distances each day.

It was a great few days of swimming. Usually swim treks are 5-6 days of swimming but this one was longer distances over 4 days. Exhausting!

Tomorrow we move on to Zagreb.

We take a ferry at 9.15 back to Zadar then a comfortable bus to Zagreb.

 

 

 

Day 3 Swim Trek 

Once again breakfast with the  boys and we were off and away.


Today Dan our American friend, inventor , funny man , foodie and all round good guy brought his wife Izzey and two sons Max and Luke along on the boat. They aren’t really swimmers but were prepared to give it a go. So off we went for a crossing and a lovely swim along some more beautiful coastline.

It’s a magic day – but before we go we get the vasoline treatment!

The beautiful waters of Croatia.

The two boys did a bit of the swims and then jumped back on while Izzey  became the photographer for the day.

Lunch by Ricky & Neil

Perfect summer bar

Informal waterpolo. Training the stars of the future.

We had another great lunch provided by our guides Ricky and Neil. They provided a variety of salads and assorted fruits. Very spoiled.

The last swim today was along the coast ending in a little bay with a great bar along the waters edge overlooking a waterpolo area netted off for the local kids to practice their skills.

No wonder Croatia do well at waterpolo. The kids playing informally were very skilled and fun to watch.

We made our way back to the boat to return to the hotel to do a quick change before we headed our for dinner at Konoba Roko for dinner.

Day 2 Swim trek

Once swim trek starts there isn’t much more to report than what goes on during the trip day.

It’s all about the trip to the boat, the journey to the start of the day’s swim. The examining of the map, the applying of the vasoline to stop chaffing (believe me you don’t want chaffing from all this salty water! It’s very painful)


Then it’s off and away.

Our group is small but we’re getting along just fine. Four French men and Dann our American, Yves our ex guide and friend, and Steve and I. Lucky me , only girl.


Today we motored down the back of the island we are on and moored in a little bay which sparkled in the morning light. The water is the  most exquisite blue.

We set off to cross the channel. It can be busy so we had to stay together.

It was 3.5 km across and fortunately the conditions were perfect. We had a few little stops – for boats or water and then at the end a snack of banana. Then we swam around a little island entered the channel and swam along the coast for another km or so. We took a break in a little bay with a village along the shoreline. People must wonder about us as we swim up past their boats or into the village where they have umbrellas scattered along the shoreline.


We pushed on and finally finished after 6.4 km. All in one swim which for me is the longest distance I’ve done in one swim.

We were given our swim trek t-shirt. And everyone sat around chatting about the swims and the shirts!

This afternoon we may swim on to make it 8 km.



At the end of a great day the guides Neil and Ricky sit with all the gear in the back of our van! The ever smiling guides.

Farewell Slovenia. Hello Croatia. 

We had a wonderful last night in Bled. After the storm we made it to the little church island. It was quiet and beautiful. The church of the Assumption is mostly white with a restrained interior and a bell you are invited to ring and make a wish. I had wondered about the number of bells I’d been hearing!

Inside of the bell tower. Wonderful wooden staircase.

Had a great last dinner at  villa on the edge of Bled town. Phillip the waiter was very helpful and friendly which was in contrast to the trip advisor comments on the restaurant.

As we walked back along the lake we decided we’d had the perfect amount of time in Bled. For all it’s beauty unless you want to hang out at the lake swimming or do bush walking then two days is probably enough. We were ready for Croatia.

So bright and early we made our way to the little bus station. Thank goodness Villa Pavlovski was only a 3 min walk!

We got the bus back to Ljubljana and changed to one for Croatia. It was to take 5 hrs all up. The scenery was good and we knew we’d arrived in Croatia because things were not quite as green and there were rocky outcrops everywhere. Very rugged landscape here. Which contrasts amazingly well with the Blue of the sea.

Just north of Zadar. Contrasting rugged landscape and the sea.

We arrived in Zadar at 1.30 ready for lunch with Tracey a friend from Melbourne. We met last year in Montenegro and it turns out she’d just finished two treks. First in Sardinia then in Croatia. She is great fun and has made great progress with her swimming. She went in a fun swim today in Zadar with 4 of the swim trek guides – 5 km -and won her age group and “First Australian over the line”! She’s amazing.

By 4.30 we were riding the ferry to Ugljan and the township of Preko. We were met by one if the hotel staff and whisked along to a modern looking complex of little 2 bedroom apartments. The hotel overlooks the very pretty, very busy  bay. Only problem- none of the apartments have a view of the sea. The good thing is we are away from the party night noise.


Preko is a summer holiday haven. All around Ugljan there are bays and beaches and we’ll be swimming them with guides Ricky and Neil.

Land of summer fun. Preko Bay.

We had a swim and the water is gorgeous. And salty! After  fresh water Lake Bled it was a bit much for the eyes with no goggles.

Then I walked and people watched. Summer anywhere brings the crowds. The families, friends, dog lovers, eaters, teenagers in packs. All getting along. Playing and splashing (not much swimming!) and eating gelato. All shapes and sizes with almost all the women in two pieces. Including me! And I didn’t feel anyone even noticed me. In Australia I definitely wouldn’t wear one, but here, why not! If I’d had my bright training swimmers from Funkita on they may have noticed me.

Restaurants and boats. Just the right mix.

There is a walkway that follows the waterline along – in and around the beaches and bays. You get to a section where there are restaurants lined up together. Not with the cream umbrellas of Ljubljana but with either smart furniture or plastic. Doesn’t make much difference.

We returned for a walk heading for dinner around 9pm and there were still groups splashing and playing. The children seem so carefree. The moon was coming out and the colours of the sky so soft and beautiful.


I know we’ll have a good week here. We’re looking forward to our friends arriving tomorrow.

This  trek will take us to the quiet isolated parts of this island and to explore other islands in this area. Lucky us.

Summer around Lake Bled

If you want to beat the crowds you have to get up early! Hence the saying … ‘The early bird catches the worm’

We got going and walked up the steep hill as well as  the 300 steps to reach the castle. I think we were almost first there . The climb really tested the knees!

The last little bit of uphill. All worth it.

The view back over the lake was beautiful.


We met a nice Israeli man who asked me to take his photo. Well at least 30 photos in various locations around the castle made me want to hide! Or charge a fee. Especially after the prayer position in the Chapel.

The castle is very small by the standard of other castles in Europe and was extensively damaged in two earthquakes back in the 1600’s and 1700’s. It’s been rebuilt with new uses in mind and is therefore very pretty for a castle. There are also workshops set up in some of the rooms, a blacksmith, and we met the loveliest young printer. I must say the men here are very handsome.

Lovely young printer in the print shop. Born and bred in Bled.

After coffee we left the castle and made our way back down the very steep hill to join the walkway around the lake. It’s a 5 km walk and we didn’t hurry. This left time to observe the lake from all angles, observe our fellow travellers, see the activities people get up to, have a swim and of course a gelato.

A novel way of keep cans cool. The little waterfall just keeps flowing over the cans which turns the bucket they are sitting in.

There were a number of interesting sculptures.

I particularly liked this sculpture of a rower. Rowing is huge over here. The world championships are coming up soon.

There were a number of people fishing. Mind you we didn’t see anything being caught. Their gear was all very coordinated and we wondered if they had hired it?


We reached a little beach. Lots of families were paddling and swimming so we moved around the corner and set up our things for a swim. Steve headed off and I sat for awhile before hitting the beautiful water and swimming out to the island. It was about 1 km and was just lovely. I joined a group of teenagers. A swim camp I think but after a bit they pulled away from me! I wonder why?

Just past our swim spot I noticed all these little fish enjoying their swim

When we’d finished we were enjoying the sun and the quiet when along came the local scout group. There must have been 60 little kids around 6-10 years old who carried rolled up mats, little scarves around their necks and bags stuffed with swimming gear. They wasted no time in discarding clothes and putting on their swimmers. All very relaxed.

They hit the shallows and no body seemed to be overly concerned that most didn’t seem able to swim. They stayed with in their depth and splashed around and most didn’t even put their head under.


We continued our walk and saw lots of little groups splashing around when they could get into the lake safely.

Of course I spotted a wedding.

Quite the meringue style dress but she looked lovely. Note the hydrangeas. They are everywhere around the lake.

A few more views of the castle and the church – which we visited earlier today.


We finished and enjoyed a beer and salad before heading back to our apartment. Then it clouded over, the wind blew, the thunder came, and we’ve just had a beauty of a storm. When it blows over we’ll head out for the boat ride to the church on the island.


This little bird joined us on the deck for lunch!

Take off tomorrow! 

The night before take off is always busy.

The clothes are out on the spare bed. The essentials are checked and double checked.

I try and stick to my rule for packing.

Pack things in lots of 3.

I have 3 bottoms ( 1 pants, 2 shorts, ) 3 dresses ( oops… I have 4!) 3 shoes, 3 tops and swimmers, goggles and all the other “stuff” for swimming.

We are flying with China Southern air. This will be a new experience. Let’s hope it’s a good one. Quite a wait in Guangzhou before heading to Paris then onto Ljubljana. A long way. So luckily we are being picked up at the airport. A prebooked GoOpti car service.

Then a nice little apartment in Ljubljana, a city we are keen to explore.

So enjoy my stories and pass this along to other friends. The more readers the better.

Kia ora : hello in Maori

Last night was like sleeping on a boat in a little ship’s cabin. Our cosy room was indeed cosy but so comfortable. We woke to foggy skies and a feeling our trip around the Bay of Islands was going to cloudy and foggy.

Breakfast was in the old fashioned dining room and Steve was  most upset that bacon and eggs were off the menu as it was Monday!

Down the wharf by 9am we waited in the quiet of the misty morning.

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The boat started in Paihia and arrived at Russell for us and another couple and as it drew close we could see it was crowded. Turns out there were nearly 270 people on board. So we scored an inside seat. 😬Not so bad as we were able to move around and catch the sights. And there were a lot of sights to see.

This area is magnificent. The Bay of Islands lives up to its name  There are 140 island  88 of which are genuine Islands  all shapes and sizes with vegetation and animal life living happily together. And very few people.

We headed north and before too long came across a pod of dolphins playing and feeding. They put on quite a show, circling the boat and drawing ‘ohhs’ and ‘arhs’ from the crowd on the boat.

We headed off across the Bay towards a really pretty island with a blue lagoon  and rippling waves.  I couldn’t help thinking what a wonderful spot for a swim trek. I’ll be emailing Simon and suggesting it!

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We motored towards the famous Hole in the Rock.  It’s wonderful. Everyone rushed to the side of the boat and I thought we might tip! But our funny Maori captain had it all under control.

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We couldn’t go through the hole. Too much swell. Sensible but sad I say.

Along we went past some more islands  before stopping for a lunch! We had our bananas – we’d been carting them around for at least a day so thought it was time to eat them. We were saving ourselves for our return and a a late lunch of famous Mangonui fish and chips. We had 30 mins to walk up to a lookout and it was worth the climb. Views both ways across the many islands that make up these Bay of Islands.

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Back on the boat we arrived back in Russell by 1 and set off with a coffee in hand for Mangonui and a fish and chips.

Only a little detour along the way. The Stone Store in Keri Keri which has been operating since 1830. It’s set in the most beautiful grounds of what used to be a Mission Station.

Finally time for ‘fush an’ chups’ at a well organised little shop sitting alongside the Bay. What a hit!  We inhaled our delicious hapuka, a local white fish along with our choice of chips – fat , thin or hand cut!

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Finally we finished lunch by 4.30 and headed to the nearest supermarket for our cheese, biscuits & wine to go with the prawns we bought for our late supper tonight. We always have food on our mind.

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Our room tonight , despite being the same cost as cosy room last night is actually a 3 bedroom villa at Peppers resort on the KariKari peninsula. It’s gorgeous. We started with a swim in the infinity pool before freshing up and having an aperitif on the verandah at sunset. Around 7.45pm.

Bliss. Tomorrow is our last night before returning on Wednesday.