Kampot – day 368

With a little confusion over what time we needed to be down in reception for our tour, we got up early. The sleepiness and general haze lifted instantly when our breakfast – consisting of frosted corn flakes bathing in milo – hit our tongues. Raring to go, we were full of energy from the sugar, in hotel reception, at 07:40. The bus didn’t turn up until 08:50. We came down from our high chatting to the girls in reception. The daughters and cousins of the owner were all milling about, practicing their English and asking as many questions as they could before we left for the day. I somehow managed to swap my phone case with one of them for theirs – very artistic. The bus arrived, Corinna was already in the passenger seat next to the driver and we swung around the town to collect Sharyn from Mad Monkey and packed lunches from a quiet stall down a side street (maybe the drivers wife?). 
The drive up the mountain was longer than expected. We felt relieved that we had opted for a tour instead of riding up the long, windy road in slippery conditions. Plus, there was nowhere visible to purchase petrol so that would have proved a dilemma. 
We stopped at the old King’s residence under the Sitting Lok Yeay Mao Statue. I don’t think either the residence or dining area down the trail were the Bokor Palace referred to in the guide book. The derelict buildings were abandoned in 1926 (if memory serves me well) and the views are supposed to be spectacular. Except the clouds that we drove through earlier obscured the picturesque landscape 1km down. We carried on to the old temple, Wat Sampeau Moi Roi (Five Boats Temple), passing the new casino en route. The blight on the hillside provided the funding for the road (which is amazing), but have shot themselves in the foot by charging too much for their rooms and have never gained the business they hoped for. They also contributed to the fact that trekking is now banned in the national park due to all the development in the area. Anyway, we wandered around the temple, saw none of the monkeys that normally hang on the cliff railings, but enjoyed the mist rolling over the roof of the temple, the decorative interior and the rocks and boulders painted into the likeness of crocodiles. It was a short jaunt around the corner to the Catholic Church where we got a bit of a history lesson about Bokor. I regrettably don’t remember all the facts he gave about the place, but it was more informative than the guide book and explained ‘why’ the civil war and genocide began. The key facts followed the ownership of the hill top, with the French originally occupying and managing the area. They left for WW2 and returned again afterwards. Then there was the Khmer Rouge, then the Vietnamese. There was then independence from Vietnam sometime in the ’80s (I think, should look it up, but I’m not going to) and with the hill station by then a ghost town it took some time before investment and attention brought tourists to the area trekking and staying overnight. The double edged sword of the new casino has killed the trekking industry, but perhaps it brings more tourists to the area. Maybe the quieter jungle is helping protect the threatened leopard, Indian elephant, Asiatic black bear, Malayan sun bear, pileated gibbon, pig-tailed macaque, slow loris and pangolin. Probably not!

Back to the Catholic Church… the Khmer Rouge held out here during the fighting against the Vietnamese in 1979. There was no sign of the bullet holes that were shot from 500m away at the Bokor Palace. There was no sign of the fragments of glass at the nave windows. It was covered in the brightest orange lichen and the altar was vibrant with fresh bouquets of flowers. A little up the hill behind the church, one is supposed to have stunning views of the rainforest. We didn’t have any luck in that direction, but looking back at the church, the cross on the tower was striking against the rest of the hill. The old casino was quite impressive. Especially for a derelict building, flooded with water and covered in algae. There was an idea of the grandeur of the place and walking around the bare rooms it was obvious that more time was spent gambling than sleeping. We even got some rare glimpses of the sea and forests below, a break in the clouds showing how beautiful it must be on a clear day. Not included in the tour price (always something) was the entrance to the Popokvil Falls that are privately owned and maintained. To enter, you must buy a water, fair enough. Except they were out of water and we had to buy sugar cane juice for slightly more. When we got in to the restaurant to claim said drinks and enjoy them with our packed lunch of fried rice, there was a counter full of hundreds of water bottles. Ugh! The water was flowing incredibly fast and the ugly brown colour didn’t lend any favours to a nice photo. We watched as people jumped across the rocks to areas where they could get better photos. Slipping and posing on the edge of a sheer drop wasn’t fun to watch so we left. Kamikaze selfie photo takers should be given the Darwin Award. Back in Kampot I may have had a bit of a snooze. I think 40minutes is allowable. I may have been hit several times to wake up… apparently. So we strolled down to the water front, chilled out for a bit with the weather being nice and mild and then hopped on board a boat for a sunset and fireflies cruise.  There was no sunset, but we went upriver a bit enjoying the scenery, the changing landscape around ever bend in the river and we searched for fireflies in the hope of seeing a few even in the drizzling rain. We found a few and it was like a mini Christmas. A nice meal in the Rusty Keyhole of baked potatoes for moi and fish for Katherine was accompanied by an incredibly sour lime soda. Walked Corinna back to her guesthouse after saying goodbye to Sharyn. We struck it rich when the guesthouse next to Corinna’s had mini golf. For paying customers use, it was like we were meant to have ice cream. A ridiculously fun game of golf in the flooded course followed by chilli chocolate and ginger & lemongrass ice cream had a perfect end to a lovely day. Sunday 9th October 2016

Mount Field National Park – day 329

Another early start as we did our usual morning routine and headed out to our 54th UNESCO site, Mount Field National Park, part of the Tasmania Wilderness and, fortunately, an easy drive from Hobart. Mount Field National Park was founded in 1916, making it, along with Freycinet National Park, Tasmania’s oldest national park. The drive out of town was easy and we got to see the changing scenery as we zoomed past in the car, as well as passing (what looked like) a cherry farm. Shame there was no fruit growing on the trees as the ones within arms reach may have been stripped bare! There was also several vivid rainbows.Purchased our permit pass from the visitors centre and, wanting to avoid the crowds that usually turn up on day coach trips from the capital, headed straight for the popular Russell Falls walk. Considered one of Tasmania’s best knew scenic attractions, the 10 minute level ground walk dropped us right in front of the magnificent waterfall. Green and graceful ferns lined the track edges while giant eucalypts towered overhead. The tiered-cascade waterfall itself was absolutely stunning and gushing with water. So much so, it was hard to take a photo as our camera lenses kept getting wet and we needed to wipe them with a tissue after every shot to remove the water droplets. Walking up the slope and some incredibly slippery steps, we arrived at the top of Russell Falls where you could appreciate the rush of sound that came from the amount of water passing through it every second. About 100 metres further upstream we arrived at another tiered-cascade waterfall, Horseshoe Falls. Not as big as Russell Falls but equally as captivating, Jayne managed to play around with some of the shutter speeds on her camera to get some nice shots of the waterfall.Continuing on with our walk in the National Park, we entered into the Tall Trees walk which took us through a forest that features the world’s tallest flowering plants and one of the tallest trees in the world, second to the coast redwood – the magnificent swamp gums. A straight-trunked tree with smooth grey bark and a stocking of rough brown bark to 5–20 metres above the ground, it regularly grows to 85 metres, with the tallest living specimen, the Centurion, standing 99.6 metres tall in Tasmania. The trail took us about 30 minutes during which time we saw a pink breasted robin and a pademelon (a marsupial endemic to Tasmania). We then completed the circuit with a visit to Lady Barron falls. Another tiered-cascade waterfall named in honour of Lady Clara Barron, the wife of Sir Henry Barron, who was the Governor of Tasmania from 1909 to 1913, and Governor of Western Australia from 1913 to 1917.


Back at the visitor centre car park we decided to drive up road to Lake Dobson. The lady at the desk had assured us that the road was suitable for a 2-wheel drive car but once it started raining, the drive got a little scarier. I was able to distract myself slightly as the tyres slid about on the mud by the diversity in vegetation, ranging from tall swamp gum forests and massive tree ferns at the base of the mountain, through rainforest along the road, to alpine vegetation at the top – this park really did have it all!Finally arriving at the top of the road, we headed into the hut to eat our lunch. Colder inside than it was outside, at least we had some shelter from the rain whilst we ate. Deciding to put on our rain jackets and brace ourselves against the wind, snow and rain we headed out to walk around the lake. Jayne found enough snow on the ground to make a snowman (Tommy the Tasmanian Snowman) although my hands were too cold to even consider removing them from my coat pocket!The walk around the lake is called the Pandani Grove walk and it is named after the remarkable Pandani, which is just one of many subalpine plants found in Tasmania and nowhere else on Earth. Along the walk we encountered numerous alpine plants and, it seemed like, there was a greater diversity of plants at the top of the mountain than at the base. At the end of the lake, we entered into a stunning patch of forest dominated by a mixture of pandanis and pencil pines. Pencil pines are one of a number of ancient conifers that are endemic to Tasmania. Got chatting to a local lady who was also walking around the lake and chatted about her heritage being from UK and how she came up to this region every winter with her kids to take them skiing. Continued walking around the lake, keeping an eye out for the elusive platypus that can occasionally be spotted in the lake, especially around dawn and dusk. It must have been our lucky day because the afore-mentioned lady came charging back down the path telling us there was a platypus near the waters edge. Cue, the three of us standing in the cold rain looking into the deeps of the dark lake trying to spot him again – we must have been quite a sight! Fortunately, our patience (and soaking wet feet) paid off and we got to watch him for about thirty minutes, scavenging for food along the fallen branches in the water. When he started swimming across to the other side of the lake, we said goodbye to the lady and returned to the car to blast hot air onto our soaking wet and freezing cold feet. An easier drive back down the mountain and into Hobart. Stopped by the Botanical Gardens to have a quick look around but they closed slightly early than we had realised as it is winter! Managed to get a quick peek just past the gate but didn’t want to venture too far for fear of being looked in for the night. Drove back to the YHA where we had the usual battle to find some space in the kitchen to prepare dinner before jumping into bed to watch half of ‘Miss Congeniality’ – I was too tired to finish it and Jayne was frustrated that I had chosen the film and couldn’t even finish it… Oops! 

Wednesday 31st August 2016