1000 steps Kokoda Memorial

Hiking the 1000 steps in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges

The 1000 steps is well renowned in Melbourne for being a place where the fittest of the fit go to test their mettle each weekend. It’s located in the Dandenongs, and is a memorial walk (I use the word walk very loosely!) dedicated to the memory of the Australian soldiers that served in Papua New Guinea on the Kokoda trail. The trail is 5km up and back, and Ash and I thought it would be a good short training hike to help us prepare for the Everest Base Camp trek.

The first weekend that we decided to give it a go, we were both suffering from a pretty nasty cold that was going around. I made the decision that we were going to go and give it a try anyway, as I’d made a commitment to myself that I was doing a training hike that weekend and was determined not to back out given that Everest was getting closer and closer by the day.

So off we drove to the Dandenongs, and soon found ourselves standing at the memorial statue at the base of the hill, watching the many people just starting or completing their walk. There was a whole range of ages and fitness levels, so we figured that even though we were sick, we should be able to make it to the top easily.

1000 steps track start
The start of the track – it’s much steeper than it looks here!

How wrong we were. The path was steeper that I had ever imagined, and very soon my lungs were burning with every step and my heart was beating out of my chest. Ash and I looked at each other struggling, and decided to take a rest stop, feeling very inferior as sprightly grandparents raced past us. We continued struggling along, taking regular rests and hoping that the gradient of the path would flatten out. Once we reached the 1km mark, we had to admit defeat. We were exhausted, and had to come to the realisation that it just wasn’t our day, particularly in the sickly condition we were both in. We were determined to come back and make it to the top though!

Fast forward to 2 weeks later, and we again stood at the bottom of the track, looking up with trepidation. I was bit nervous that we wouldn’t make it all the way to the top of the 1000 steps again even though we were fully fit this time. Maybe we just weren’t fit enough and we wouldn’t make it all the way up to Everest Base Camp.

1000 steps

Those fears were soon put to rest as we started climbing up the track. It was a lot easier this time, and I found that we did not need to stop anywhere near as much to catch our breath. I was so pleased, it really felt like all the early mornings we’d been spending training were worth it. We made it up to the top with little trouble, and had lunch in the glorious late winter sun lying in the grass at the picnic ground there.

The descent gave us little trouble as well, and we were feeling ready to take on the world! It was amazing to see the improvement in our fitness, having kicked our illness and started training hard. We’ll soon see if it was all enough to prepare us for Everest!

Have you been to the 1000 steps? How many attempts did it take you to reach the top?

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Out plane window AirAsia

AirAsia X Premium Class Flight Review

I was really excited for this plane trip, so much that I almost didn’t mind that our holiday was over and we were heading home! It was the first time that I had travelled internationally in anything other than economy class and I was really looking forward to it.

AirAsia is an airline that I fly with quite frequently while I’m overseas. The prices are always right, I’ve never had an issue with long delays (touch wood!), and I always get friendly consistent service. When we were finding flights for our trip home, I discovered that AirAsia not only had the cheapest fares to fly back from Ao Nang (via Kuala Lumpur), but also that they had some super cheap fares on the Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne leg in their Premium Class. Given it wasn’t going to cost us that much more than the usual economy fares, we decided to book it in!

The experience started as we arrived at Kuala Lumpur’s low cost terminal. Being used to travelling on the cheap, we headed straight over to the self check-in kiosks and printed out our tickets and bag tags. However, when we lined up to go through to the bag drop counters, the security guard told us that we were in the wrong place and that we needed to go and check in at the AirAsia service desk. We moved over there, and discovered that we needn’t have even printed all our own documentation, as part of our fare meant that we got express check-in. We must have looked a little out of place walking up to the Premium Class desk with our shabby backpacks that have been all around Asia!

AirAsia X Plane

With check-in completed much sooner than we had thought, we had plenty of time to grab a bite to eat in the airport terminal. With AirAsia being housed in the low cost terminal, there are no lounges or anything like that, although I don’t think that lounge access is included in the Premium Class fare even if there are lounge facilities at the airport.

It was finally time to board our flight. Ash and I had selected seats 1A and 1B, so we were right at the front of the cabin with plenty of legroom (a must for Ash as he’s 6’3”!). The seats in Premium Class on the flight we took were in a 2-2-2 pattern. The seats are much wider than your standard airline seat, and I could safely say it was probably the comfiest plane seat I’ve travelled in.

AirAsia X Premium Class Seat
My seat upright…

The real selling point of the Premium Class seats was that they were lie-flat beds, something that’s usually reserved for Business Class in full service airlines! Although the seats did flatten out completely out, you are still lying at a slight angle to the floor, but this didn’t bother me in the slightest. The footrest and headrest were also fully adjustable using an easy panel in one of your armrests.

AirAsia X Premium Class Seat lie flat
…and fully reclined later in the flight!

Each seat had a decent sized table that folded away into the armrest, and an individual reading light which was easily adjustable. Each seat also had a small privacy screen that you could pull across in between the set of 2 seats, in case you wanted a bit of alone time. Additionally, there was also a power outlet so you could charge your electronics and ensure they lasted the whole flight.

When we boarded the plane, each seat already had a quilt and pillow on it, ready to go for you to make yourself comfortable. These were so comfortable. The pillow was just like a normal pillow that you’d get in any decent hotel (albeit slightly smaller to fit the seats comfortably), and instead of the polar fleece type blankets that you generally get on budget airlines there was a decent sized proper quilt that was so snuggly without being overly warm.

There is no entertainment included with the fare, however AirAsia does have entertainment units for rent at a quite low price. Given that I travel on budget airlines a lot, I’m always prepared with my own entertainment anyway, so this did not bother me in the slightest.

Meals were included in the ticket price, and we were able to pre-select our choices from a menu online when we booked the fare. Unfortunately something had gone wrong, and our selected meals were unavailable on our flight. We were given alternative meals, which was a bit of a shame as being allergic to nuts I have to be quite careful in what I eat. Naturally I received a meal that contained nuts, which Ash was kind enough to swap with me for his nut-free meal. The meals were really nothing to write home about, and we were glad that we had eaten at the airport before we left. Snacks and beverages could be purchased throughout the flight if you got peckish.

The service on the flight was great, attentive but not intrusive. When I laid my seat flat and snuggled into my quilt, an attendant was quick to offer to close the window blind for me, and they made regular rounds throughout the cabin offering drinks and snacks or collecting rubbish.

I would definitely fly AirAsia X Premium Class again, it was one of the best flights I’ve been on. The extra cost is well worth it, and I’ve found the fare prices are a lot of the time comparable to a normal economy seat on a full service airline. Do yourself a favour, give AirAsia X Premium Class a try!

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School of fish and reef diving Ao Nang

Under the Sea – What it’s really like to Scuba Dive for the first time Part 2

Back to where we left off last week, I had just tried scuba diving for the first time and it hadn’t really gone as planned! But Geow, one of the instructors made it his mission to make sure that I succeeded!

Geow first started off with having me hold on the anchor rope of the boat, and taking me underwater little bit by little bit. We would descend slightly, and just stay there, Geow keeping eye contact with me and holding tightly to my hand to reassure me all the way. Each time we descended a little deeper, he would check in that I was feeling ok. This was fantastic, as I soon felt more comfortable under the water, and before I knew it we were down deep enough to be close to the reef.

Descending with Geow diving Ao Nang

Checking in that I was ok once more, Geow started swimming off, still clutching my hand tightly. He towed me around like this for the whole dive, pointing out sea life and constantly checking in with me to make sure that I was still feeling comfortable. Going around like this, I soon relaxed and started to enjoy exploring all the beautiful sea life that you don’t normally see so close up when only snorkelling.

Parrotfish Diving Ao Nang

When we returned to the boat, the other divers hadn’t seen us as we were diving on a different part of the reef to them. Remy was so pleased when Geow told him that I’d been able to dive and gave me a huge high five!

Feeling elated that I’d been somewhat successful, we set off in the longtail for our second dive site for the day. We had a filling Thai coconut curry and rice for lunch that the dive company had provided, and chatted amongst ourselves about all the things that we’d seen on the dive.

We soon arrived at the second dive site, where Geow hoped that we’d see some seahorses, as this was a popular area for them to be. There was a reasonable current at this site, which made my heart sink a little knowing that I’m not the strongest swimmer. I was determined to get back in and give it another shot though!

As there was quite a current, Remy suggested that I try to enter the water with all the scuba gear on this time, as I’d successfully done the dive entry backwards off the boat at the other dive site. I got all my gear on and was sitting on the edge of the boat, but I just couldn’t do it. I felt frozen to the spot, and even though I knew the buoyancy vest was filled with air, my mind kept telling me that all of this gear was way too heavy and that I would sink. Remy saw that I was struggling and quickly took off the vest. I entered the water without it and he dropped it in to me, directing me to swim over to the rest of the group with it.

Geow helped me to put on my gear, and everyone was soon ready to dive. As Geow started deflating my buoyancy vest, I felt that familiar fear rising in me, and as soon as I’d get underwater, I’d kick to the surface in a panic. I was so disappointed, thinking that I had overcome the sensation on my last dive and anticipating that this second dive would be much easier. Geow was once again so patient with me, and eventually I managed to descend down to where the rest of the group were waiting for us. What I found really helped me, was rather than descending in a upright position, I put my face underwater and started breathing with the regulator before starting to deflate my buoyancy vest – it meant I felt like I had a bit more control over what was happening.

Lionfish diving Ao Nang
Can you spy the lionfish hiding in this coral?

Our second dive was just as great, and Geow stuck with me the whole time, constantly checking in on me and pointing out all the wonderful sites there were to see. As Geow was really familiar with these local islands, he knew all the little nooks and crannies to peek into, and we were lucky enough to see a pregnant seahorse! While on the second dive, I did still have some moments of panic where I would suddenly realise how far under the water I was or if another diver would come too close to me, but Geow always brought me back by looking me in the eye and asking if I was ok. Each time I took a couple of deep breaths to calm myself, and realised that I was alright.

Fish eating jellyfish diving Ao Nang
A school of fish feeding on a dead jellyfish

All too soon the second dive was over, and we were heading back to Ao Nang in the longtail. I was so happy with what I’d achieved that day, and resolved to continue diving to become more and more comfortable underwater. We farewelled Remy and Geow, and I thanked them so much for their help.

Surfacing after diving in Ao Nang
Feeling pretty happy with myself after surfacing from my second dive!

So I’m going to chalk up scuba diving as a success! I did enjoy the day, and I couldn’t have picked a better company than Scuba Addicts to go with for my first dive – the instructors were so patient and never made me feel like I was being a hassle or holding them up. They really did devote themselves to making my first dive successful, and I really couldn’t thank them enough. I see a couple more discover dives in my future to increase my comfort levels in the water, and then hopefully an Open Water certification at some stage!

Have you tried scuba diving? What was your first dive like?

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Ao Nang Local Islands on Dive Trip

Under the Sea – What it’s really like to Scuba Dive for the first time Part 1

Scuba diving was something that I had wanted to try for a very long time, but just never really got up the guts to do it. In my research for this holiday I had been reading a lot of travel blogs that were new to me, and discovered the blog of Alex in Wanderland. Her stunning underwater pictures from her dives and the enthusiasm and love that she speaks about diving with, really inspired me to finally take the plunge (so to speak!) and make it my mission to try scuba diving for the very first time on this holiday.

I knew that I wanted to go with a PADI centre, as Ash has his Open Water Certification through PADI and I figured it was best if we both went with the same company. I didn’t have the time to do a full certification (an open water course takes 3-4 days, which would have left us not time for any other sightseeing) and I wasn’t 100% sure how I would go scuba diving so didn’t want to commit to a full course just yet.

I’ve never been a really big swimmer, as having grown up in an inland town meant that most of my swimming was done in a pool. I’ve always been a bit cautious around the ocean, so I was a bit concerned that may get the better of me. I’ve only really learned how to snorkel in the last few years (which I now love!), so going on a scuba dive was a really big step for me!

I had done a small amount of research before our trip as to the dive companies in town and read some reviews, but I hadn’t set on a place as I wanted to speak to the people in the shop and feel comfortable. I had also heard that a lot of dive shops aren’t that fond of taking people on discovery dives, and instead will try and talk you into a full course.

Luckily, the first shop we entered, Scuba Addicts, made us feel comfortable right away. Tim (the owner) was in store, and when I asked about a discovery dive he didn’t even blink. After chatting to him for a little bit about how it would work and our options, we booked in for a dive to the local islands around Ao Nang for the very next day!

Ao Nang Harbour

Bright and early the next morning, we were picked up at our hotel by Scuba Addicts, and taken to the shop in the main street to meet our dive instructors and sign in. There were only 3 other people coming along with us, 2 who were certified and one other on a discovery dive like me. We were greeted by Tim, and introduced to Remy Dielemans and Bang Geow who would be our instructors for the day. Remy would be looking after the two of us on discovery dives, and Geow was going to take the certified divers. We were soon back in the van and off to the harbour to set out in a longtail boat for the local islands.

On the boat trip, Remy took us through everything that we would need to know for a safe dive. We learnt skills such as how we would replace and clear our regulator, retrieve it if it was knocked out of our mouth, and how to clear our mask. We were also taught some of the standard hand signals that are used underwater to communicate. I really struggled with some of the hand signals as a thumbs up for me (being Australian) automatically means ok, but underwater it means that you want to go back up to the surface!

Ao Nang Dive Boat and Local Island

Once we arrived at the first dive site, we donned our wetsuits and flippers and jumped in the water. Remy suggested that it was easiest for us non-experienced divers to put our buoyancy vest etc on while we were already in the water, which he assisted us with. Now it was time to put into practice the skills that we had learnt on the boat in the water with a skills test. Remy took the other discover diver first, as this was her second discovery dive so she was familiar with what to do. She completed hers quickly, and it was soon my turn.

The first skill I had to demonstrate was to go underwater (Remy was controlling my buoyancy so that was one less thing I needed to learn), take my regulator out of my mouth, replace it and clear it so I could continue breathing through it. The first go at it, I surprised myself and managed quite easily! We surfaced and Remy asked me to try it again, just to double check that I had it down.

The second time around, I managed to easily replace my regulator once again, but then I panicked. I don’t what happened, I was just suddenly overcome with fear and rushed to the surface. I think it just hit me that there I was breathing underwater, with only an oxygen tank to rely on. I had a couple more tries, but just couldn’t get over the fear. Remy was so patient and explained that it was normal, reassuring me that it can take a few tries to become comfortable with being underwater. I didn’t want to hold up the other discovery diver, so offered to stay back and try again on the second dive. Remy suggested I snorkel around in the water using my regulator, and getting used to the entirely alien sensation of the dry air filling my lungs underwater.

Whilst I was doing this, the qualified divers who had started on their dive with Geow had returned to the boat to see where we were. Geow offered to stay with me while Remy took everyone else diving around the reef. He had seen me snorkelling with my scuba gear, and was determined to help me have a successful dive.

Stay tuned next week to see how I went on the remainder of my discovery dive!

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trekking in Gorak Shep

Everest Base Camp Trek Preparation

I can’t believe it’s here already, but this weekend all of my 18 months or so of planning and dreaming will come to fruition as I jet off to Nepal and start on the Everest Base Camp Trek! To mark the occasion, and to help everyone who may be looking to plan their own trek, I’ve put together all of the information on my preparation for the trek. I’ll be away for a while, but the blog will still keep ticking on – I have plenty of posts scheduled to keep you all entertained! To follow my travels in real time, I’ll be posting updates (where internet access is available) on social media. Don’t forget to follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

I’ll also be trekking with my friend Danielle Marsh who is the reigning Mrs Australia. She won this title by tirelessly raising funds for ovarian cancer and raising awareness of this insidious disease. In November she’s off to compete in the Mrs World competition in America to continue raising ovarian cancer awareness. Check out her website (www.daniellemarsh.com), and if you can lend a hand or donate she’d be eternally grateful!

Everest Base Camp Trek Preparation

Fitness preparation for the trek – when I was doing all of my research and planning, I really couldn’t find much information about what people had done to prepare themselves from a fitness perspective for the trek. Here’s what I did, I’ll soon find out if it was enough!

Packing list for clothing and packing list for other gear – these were so long I broke the information up into 2 posts! All the clothing and gear that I’m taking, plus the reasons why.

Tips from the TAAN – I randomly popped into a travel expo one weekend and as it turned out there were some representatives from the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN). We spent quite a bit of time talking to one of the lovely gentlemen there, and he gave us some great tips that should help us along the way on our trek.

Choosing a trekking company – Here’s all of the details about the different options that you have to do the Everest Base Camp trek, and I also go into details about how I narrowed down the thousands of trekking companies out there to select the one that we went with.

Training hikes (here and here) – As part of our fitness regime, we did a few day hikes locally around Melbourne to try out some of our gear and get used to whole trekking thing! Here’s a couple of the ones that we went on if you’re looking for trek ideas in the area as well.

If you have any last minute tips to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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Header photo credit: Creative Commons License Everest Base Camp – Gorak Shep – Nepal. by lampertron is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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