Swimming the Pond at Hampstead Heath

Today it’s catch up day with friends made through our swim trek in Montenegro several years ago.

Somehow swimming is a social sport- something I didn’t realise until I took it up several years ago.

We’ve now been on about six Swim Trek holidays. They involve a week of swimming with like minded people. We’re there for fun, exercise a holiday.

This group from Montenegro: 6 came from England, 1 each from France, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. And us!

We’ve kept in touch and the ones from England, France and Switzerland have all caught up and swum together. So when we said we’d be visiting London we organised a catch up.

And where better than the pond / lido ( as pools are called here in England) at Hampstead Heath. You may have been there so let me know if you have. This area has featured in a few movies including one last year starting Diane Keaton. It looked great so I was keen to visit The Heath.

We caught a bus there. I prefer a bus if the traffic is flowing as you can see where you are going. We arrived at Hampstead for coffee then walked down some charming streets towards the Heath.

It’s a beautiful area to visit. Both the village and the Heath.

There were lots of people out walking, most with dogs, as we made our way along the track leading up the mixed pond. There are three bathing areas: a mixed pond, a women’s pond and a men’s. We were meeting at the mixed pond in case Steve wanted a swim. He didn’t!

I’ve heard the women’s pond is amazing and I bought a book in a book store which is a collection of women writers writing about their swimming experience st the Ladies Pond. Anyone read it?

Well the two brave girls, Lucy and Catherine jumped in ! not a problem. Water temperature was 18! Yeeks.

When they got out they had to have a cold shower !

Brrr. We must be soft Qld swimmers.

We then went to the nearby pub – the Freemasons Arms , where we were joined by Ellie, Rosie and Lexie. And that’s where we stayed all afternoon.

Steve was the only guy there – Chris couldn’t make it today so we’re seeing him tomorrow.

What a great group.

Day 4: Swimming Greece to Turkey

Around day 4 we all start to get a little tired ! Lots of swimming, sun, dinners out, talking , walking, not to mention the odd Gin & Tonic. It all adds up.

In fact, instead of Swim Trek, Ali and Helen call it Gin Trek! Love it.

Sensibly, Swim Trek have built in a rest half day. Knock us out with a big swim in the morning, great lunch, then an afternoon off.

Perfect.

Our goal today was to swim from Greece to Turkey. See the map above.

Looking out from Kas, in the distance you can see an island. It’s actually a Greek island and we are going to swim from it towards Kas. Two crossings from island to island then along the coast to a lighthouse.

We set off at 8.30 and the conditions were perfect. Calm waters. Barely any chop. We motored across from Greece.

Pink group first, then the mighty orange group followed by the yellows ( the fast swimmers!) The idea is we all catch each other and finish together.

Off we went. We touched the rocks of Greece and set off. It was perfect.

The swim went according to plan and we all more or less finished together. What an exhilarating feeling.

But not everyone rested!

Free diver Diana gave B1 a lesson on how to free dive. She’s amazing in diving deep. Pam lost her googles overboard and Diana was the only one able to go deep enough to rescue them.

Today we had not only a beautiful lunch but a beer ! No swimming this afternoon.

Eoin produced a brochure for a spa not far from the hotel. Who was going to have a Hamam? A Turkish spa treatment! Yes said 9 women.

Something to look forward to.

After arriving back at the Marina, Betty and I walked to the Friday markets. Good idea, until we got a little lost and walked further than we should in the searing heat. Finally we found it and were impressed by the variety of beautiful coloured fruits and vegetables.

I bought a Turkish towel and some Turkish delight and we made our way back to the hotel to prepare for our 3pm spa Hamam.

Four of us left together Sth African Pam, US Betty, Irish Noirin and myself. The others were coming later.

The spa was in a modern building near the marina. We were greeted and shown to the change room and then into the sauna wrapped in striped Turkish towels. Ten minutes was more than enough for me.

Next was the wash room. Two marble slabs awaited Pam and I. Onto the slab in the buff and the exfoliating began. She had on what looked like a pair of Brillo gloves. It was harsh! Then came the cream wash and lots of buckets of water. Next was the bubble treatment.

Not us! Photos from the brochure.

A large bag was filled with water and then swung around and emptied onto you until you were covered with bubbles. The massage continued until ……… I felt her grab my ankles and pull. Wow. I was as slippery as an eel and flew along the marble slab. I thought I’d end up on the floor. Then she pushed and back I flew the other way. This happened three times. I screamed I’m not sure why! But it was fun! And scary.

Next step was being helped up and sat next to the fountain and having containers of water sloshed over my head.

Next Pam & I were shuffled out under a bucket of icy water which was tipped all over us. Brrrr.

Recovery time on a lounge wrapped in a towel was a treat from the trauma.

Next up a great massage and face mask. Much more restful though she found my poor aching swimming muscles.

What an experience. When in Turkey try a Hamam. You will be refreshed and entertained all at once.

An hour of recovery time at the hotel before regrouping and heading off to a beach bar for dinner.

Last swim day tomorrow

Kas Turkey. Let the swim Begin

Getting to bed at 2.30am doesn’t make it easy to get going in a new place – but we were up and enjoying breakfast on the terrace of the Linda Hotel by 9am.

Most of our fellow swimmers had arrived. It’s always exciting to meet the people we’ll be sharing our swimming week with. There’s 16 all up and two guides.

John we met in Montenegro a few years ago and he’s great, and the other is lovely Irish Eoin who is on his fourth season. He has the biggest smile and a beautiful accent!

These guides move from location to location over the summer season. They have to love it because it’s very full on for them. They look after all aspects of the trip including us. But on this trek they don’t do the lunch! Lucky them.

We were a little apprehensive meeting some of the others. There are 7 who went to Milos in Greece last year and got on so well they are repeating it.

Swimming attracts a certain kind of person. The love of swimming is the first thing – being relaxed and happy is another and this group looks great.

It’s a bit like a new class at school. There are the jokers, the shy, the quiet, the caring, the mothers, and encouragers but no complainers thank goodness.

Betty, our friend from our Galapagos trek let it be known I write a blog! So people are worried about how I describe them. I promise to be kind!

We had ‘instruction’ time followed by a ‘get to know you’. It’s interesting hearing a little about each person. There are some who are taking up a challenge, those who are pushing themselves after health issues, some getting away from busy jobs, reenergising after relationship problems or simply choosing a holiday involving exercise.

There are two guys from the US who are great friends, great stirrers and fabulous swimmers. They swam for College in America. Currently getting medals at Masters swimming. Enough said!

Zippy Barry and the Silver Speedo are going up keep us on our toes both in the swimming and the stirring department. Then there’s Alison – the fish; Noirin – a surfer girl from Ireland; Lesley – a swim teacher from England; New Yorkers Vanessa and George; South Africans Pam and Adrian; English Diana, Helen and Rachel; another Australian Janty – but no Germans this time!

Dinner in the village was absolutely awash with holiday makers. It had a great atmosphere – restaurants packed with tourists both local and from afar. Seafood featured on the menu. We ate well and cheaply and made our way home up hill!

Tomorrow the swims begin.

Scenes from Kas! Not bad at all.

First stop Sydney

Welcome back to my travel tales.

We’re off again!

This time London , Turkey and back to London.

But first a mini stay in Sydney as Steve has a board meeting before our flight tonight.

Last night we met up with my sister Catherine and David, nephew George and niece Helen.

Today a gorgeous ferry ride to Double Bay to visit my sister at her school, Double Bay Primary, where she works as a teacher librarian. So no lunch with her!

Then lunch with nieces Pip and Clare and little Max. We were so busy talking I forgot to take a photo.

But the ferry ride was wonderful so lots of photos. It’s a world beater ride. The views in the sunshine are breathtaking.

I haven’t been to Double Bay in years. It’s still has it’s Village feel but there are as many Beauty bars as espresso bars.

The little beach next to the ferry wharf is a beautiful place to chill.

The public Library is another place to spend time. It’s so inviting. Libraries are not dead!

I’m waiting on the ferry back to Circular Quay , meet up with Steve then out the airport. A Qatar flight to London.

So follow along for the next few weeks as we rediscover London and swim along the coastline of Turkey. Another swim trek based in Kas.

Celebrating our Swimtrekking Success.

Our celebration – end of Swimtrekking dinner was held at the Waterfront restaurant. This time the atmosphere was right, the staff friendly and everyone was in a great mood. Naturally the fish curry was terrific.

Yves gave us a great farewell message followed by Lizzie giving out the awards.

There was Coral Colleen who seemed so attracted to coral cuts; pocket rockets Jenny & Wendy; no complaint Shean despite his shoulder injury; calm caring yoga Carmel; action-woman Kathy and action-man John with calm eyebrow raising Margaret !

Our youngest swimmer Bec for her fun approach- the comedian who is happy to write any letters of comments of complaint!

Tarzan Frankie for her spectacular rope swing into the lagoon and Pavarotti Ralph; kickboard Steve kicking ass everyday; a swim converted Greg who surprised himself with his strong swimming and maybe even enjoying it! Native dancer Maryanne; nurse Monique (a true Vanuatu local of the Watt family) for cheerfully dabbing all our coral cuts, and smiley Soosi for her never give up attitude soldiering on after injury, and Janice – most improved swimmer, who was awarded half price if she returned on another swim holiday.! I was awarded the best group organiser with a ‘joie de vivre.’ Thank you Lizzie for a wonderfully delivered awards ceremony.

We reciprocated with our group thanks and gift to the guide team especially Yves who put the trip together. To Lizzie the friendliest most helpful guide around and to Matthew the local who added so much local knowledge to each day and kept us safe.

Then the group had a huge surprise for Steve and I. He was named King Neptune and me, Amphitrite – his wife.

They had made crowns of thanks for us for pulling them together for this wonderful adventure.

As much as we loved our crowns we can’t take them home to Australia so gave them to Matthew and his wife for safe-keeping on the island Vanuatu for our return.

Definitely a swimtrekking success. One we’ll never forget.

A Fun Last Swim in Paradise. Vanuatu. Land of Smiles.

The last day is a mix of renewed energy, a dash of tiredness, extra chatting and lots of laughs.

No yoga this morning and I missed it! I really need to get into the habit of doing my own yoga. I know many of the moves Carmel does with us. So it’s over to me! Just do it ! Who out there reading this does their own yoga practice each day? Leave me a comment in the box to inspire me!

Onto the bus which this morning we hijacked and stopped at Tanna Coffee for a last day hit.

This morning we’re going to Lelepa Island 🌴. Another Survivor island spot. This time the guides found a better launching spot. Not a jetty! But not quite as much coral to hobble over. I’ve taken my reef shoes to all my swimming holidays and hardly used them. Here we walk around in them most of the day. The beaches are gorgeous but quite rocky with white pebbles.

Today another choice. Difficult decisions so early in the morning. 1. What type of coffee do I want and 2. How far do I want the swim. 5km? Or half that?

There were 4 of us who took the challenge today. Once again Kathy, Ralph and myself were joined by the machine man John. So with lovely Lizzie guiding us we set off.

The 4 members of the 5km challenge.

Yesterday’s 6 km challenge team. I did both challenges !

Oh how beautiful it is to swim these waters. Clear beautiful blues with a garden of coral underneath buzzing with fish life and an extra bonus every now and then. Today it was a stingray. Big and round with a pointed tail.

On and on we swam – most of it smooth swimming. Kathy took the challenge further and took her fins off. John added bigger fins for better glide but took awhile to adjust. Rule #64 on swimtrekking. ‘Don’t change your gear over on a longer swim!’ But John persevered and swam strongly.

We caught the larger group toward the end of their swim which turned into a 4 km for them and we finished strongly before climbing aboard the boats and heading for our aptly named Survivor beach.

Lunch was a feast prepared by our guide Matthew’s wife, mother and sister. It was beautifully prepared local foods. Fish, chicken, salads, fried banana, fried taro pieces and rice coconut balls. Then the most mouth watering fruit. All delicious.

We sat under palms on rocks and tree stumps and thought how lucky we were to be experiencing this special part of Vanuatu.

Then was time to wind our way through the trees climb up the hill and find the most amazing sandstone caves. These caves are very important to Vanuatu and have protection from hoards of tourists. You must come with a guide.

This is in Chief Roi Mata’s Domain. We had heard about the chief when visiting Hat Island’s small burial place a few days ago.

And it was magnificent. There are 400 year old cave drawings in this cathedral sized cave. Acoustics made it magnificent for singing and Ralph ( our Tatty Tenor) didn’t disappoint.

Back to the beach for some swimming and snorkeling- or just lazing.

John decided he wanted to up his swimming distance to join the ‘6km club’ so headed off on his own. Only problem – instead of following the coastline he headed straight out. He was stroking along – blissfully unaware of the shouts from the guides to stop and return.

He was headed for rip which could possibly carry him off to Hat Island in the distance.

Everyone on the beach yelled to him but perhaps he thought we were cheering him on? Finally he stopped , turned and made it safely back. Then he received what he called an “ administrative reprimand “. The guides are serious about safety and definitely didn’t want a last day mishap!

For the last time we entered the boats each one carrying flags. An Australian one on one, Vanuatu flag in the next and one of each on the third. No French flag! Getting ready for Australia v France in the football.

Our last stop was the cava hut where Matthew told us the reason cava is drunk by the islanders.

We indulged and agreed it wasn’t for its taste! But for its numbing, calming qualities. Better than alcohol which can lead to aggression and bad behaviour.

So feeling slightly sedated we had our last bus ride along the island.

A sleep in.

A slow start.

Yoga!

Day 4 of a SwimTrekking holiday is always hard. Tiredness is setting in. So Yves gave us a slow start.

Carmel gave a group of 7 of us a lovely stretching yoga.

Then a more leisurely breakfast and a quiet read in the hammock.

A visit to the town of Port Vila where we split into little groups of market wanderers and coffee drinkers. Hard decision. But the people at the markets were so friendly and not at all pushy when trying to sell their products.

There were the usual things. Colourful happy pants, sarongs, shirts, kids clothes and woven bags, hats and fans. And flowers , the most beautiful colours. And bunches of peanuts. All sold – or not with a smile.

Steve, Wendy & Soosi we’re taken with the iguana jewellery- but they were real slightly sedated iguanas.

As 12.30 arrived we heard tooting if horns and banding of drums as a parade started through town.

The World Cup is starting tonight and football is huge here so people are showing their support. There are local Vanuatu flags, French flags and Australian flags. Loyalties are split for the Australian v France game.

Our next stop is at Yves’ uncles house he is an artist. Emmanuel Watt. He lives in a house that is both gallery and home. He’s a charming man – a French speaker ( no English) so Monique, Yves sister did the translations.

His main art is sculpture. He takes wood he finds and turns into a representative piece. So clever. His works have been exhibited in New York, Paris, London, Brisbane just to name a few.

He showed his pride of Yves achievements by have a laminated article and photo of Yves completion of the English Channel. There is so much pride in this beautiful Watt family.

This sculpture depicts the volcano

Our last stop on this ‘down day’ was the Blue lagoon. It’s a fun lagoon- very pretty with a couple of ropes high in the trees for only the most game/brave/silly to try.

Guess who was first up the tree. John! He may be 70 but he is fit and brave. He did a few big jumps before being joined by Bec. Yes they both took on the challenge on the jumping castle the day before. Shean might have had a go but he was carrying an injured shoulder.

Frances D was amazing. She brought it home for the girls with height and distance. Bec was another champion with her ‘walk on water’ style.

Dinner was a small disaster. Reefers restaurant in the waterfront did not live up to its reviews. Food ok but expensive and a problem with the bill and lack of efpost which had ‘just shut down’. Apparently there is a back story to the owners. Anyway warning. Don’t go there.

But we smiled through it on the bus. Used humour to recover. Had a debriefing with Ralph.

So off to bed!

Melanesia Day.

Beginning a new day with a quiet yoga session is a treat on a swimtrekking holiday. We are lucky to have Carmel from Brisbane offer us yoga.

We did 20min on the beach yesterday and this morning another session facing the ocean. Downward dog never looked so good.

Muscles are starting to become sore so massage kindly offered by ‘Healing Hands’ Jenny and Yoga by Carmel are helping. Thank you ladies.

Breakfast, a briefing on the days program and away we went. A slightly shorter trip today. Through the town centre and up to the lookout and a secret road to the water. Into the boats to Hat Island which does indeed look like a hat!

Reef shoes are needed today for the walk across the low tide rocks into the boats and away.

This island is a special one in Vanuatu. No villages here at all. But there is a very old cemetery. It’s a significant one.

We arrived at the beach, left our things then continued along the coast for a few kilometres. The ocean is a darker blue and a little rolling. Very inviting.

So off we went. Our group is bonding both in and out of the water. Some like to zip to the front following the leader. Others lurk at the back really enjoying the views of the reef. I prefer to hover mid group – in my own space with a swim buddy. Today it was Margaret. We were keeping a steady rhythm – until we turned a corner of the island and it became lumpy and challenging.

We swam over coral reefs with lots of little fish flitting about. A multitude of blues and purples and pink tipped coral. Bright blue starfish, schools of black & white or yellow fish 🐟.

And Kathy, Soosi and I got out in our

S, M, L matching swimmers!

Back to the beach for lunch. A walk to the ancient cemetery led by a local through a rocky grassy path shaded by pandanus before turning right into the island. Matthew one of our local guides offered a gift to the dead in friendship.

A little nap was needed then before the final swim of the day.

All up we swam 2.7km in the morning and 2 this afternoon. Quite an effort.

Matthew caught a turtle during our swim. What an experience

It’s a really amazing experience here with Yves , his sister Monique and the people of Vanuatu. It’s as much a cultural experience as it is a swim trekking holiday.

Tonight is Melanesia night. Starting with Kava. It’s a full on week and everyone is getting tired!

Yves with his sister Monique

So Yves has scheduled a late start tomorrow morning.

We’ll have yoga at 7.30, breakfast then a rest before a visit to the marketplace in town. Then in the afternoon a visit to a lagoon.

Perfect swimming in Vanuatu.

Yesterday we said it was perfect but today the swimming was even more beautiful.

Swimtrekking- it just keeps getting better.

We had our briefing for the day at 8am after a breakfast of tropical fruit and for some of us eggs- for energy!

Into the two buses by 8.15. One slightly more comfortable than the other, so it was decided we’d mix it around a little tomorrow.

Good coffee was missed yesterday so on the way to the boats we stopped at the Tanna coffee house. The manager gave us a tour and we enjoyed a lovely coffee. Most of the coffee is grown on Tanna Island and 90% is exported – so look out for it particularly in Australia at the Oxfam shops. It tasty and the locals deserve support.

There was also essential oils production. They use mostly Sandalwood and combine it with other oils- ginger and lemongrass. I bought some delicious smelling soap with lemongrass lime and coconut. I’ll have to try not to eat it.

I also bought some oil for sore muscles! There won’t be enough for the number of sore muscles we’re going to have after our lovely long swims.

We continued onto the banana boats and headed off towards today’s destination Pele Island. Another new swim destination for Yves and the swimtrekking group.

Again we were met by the chief and welcomed but no dance of welcome. Just as well as we were keen to get going. The water looked gorgeous.

The curious children came down to see what we were up to but the village people didn’t turn out to welcome us. They have other tourists here from time to time.

And it’s no wonder. It’s a tropical paradise.

Into the water we went. Water temperature ✔️ perfect. Clarity of the water for vision ✔️beautiful. Excitement levels of swimmers 🏊🏻‍♀️ ✔️✔️✔️.

And off we went. Today everyone settled a little, swimming straighter lines, following the leader. I swam with Bec just at the back of the pack. ( ahead of Steve on his kickboard) We got into a nice steady rhythm and maintained a good pace. Until her goggles started to leak. Such a swimmers curse. Leaking goggles!

We all swam past our landing point because we felt so good!

Just over 2km later we pulled in for lunch.

Under the trees we sprawled on towels or red chairs. Lunch was provided by the lovely friendly village people. Grilled chicken, rice, salads delicious fruits. All tasty and much appreciated.

Spying the rather strange looking jumping , climbing, blow up contraption- the sort used in one of those Gladiator TV shows we set a few challenges. Fun and games started. The limber, focused, determined swimmers took on the challenge. Greg, John and Shean versus Kathy, Maryanne, Bec and Colleen.

Lots of laughs as they tumbled, rolled , pulled and climbed their way to the top! There’s always an accident and today it was Shean twisting his shoulder. Let’s hope he can still swim tomorrow.

A short, Carmel led yoga session on the beach followed by a nap under the trees reinvigorated us for the afternoon swim.

Off in the boats down the pretty coastline- into the water to swim back.

It was beautiful. We saw a giant turtle pass the boats and while swimming along saw a smaller turtle wizzing underneath us.

More excitement when Matthew our guide spotted a dugong. He was thrilled as he lives here and hadn’t ever seen one.

Back on the beach we packed up for the 20 min boat ride back to the buses on the main island.

This is the downtime of the day. During the hour long bus ride some sleep, some chat and I start writing.

We also see some spectacular views and an amazing sunset.

Now it’s into our Bures to freshen up for dinner. I’m enjoying the outdoor shower in our room. A great end to a great day!

We’ve enjoyed dinner at Cafe Villa just along from where we are staying. The fish curry was superb.

We really must try and get to bed early.

But Jenny massages, John’s cigars and the Scotch and Baileys are holding us back!

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!