Armchair Travel: 10 Books about Sailing Adventures

I’ve compiled a selection of my favourite books about sailing adventures, both real and imagined, idyllic and horrific. 

This instalment of the Armchair Travel series is brought to you with a healthy dose of Vitamin Sea.  Like travelling (and sailing), these books could bring you complete escapism, teach you new skills, and ideas or throw you in at the deep end.  So hoist the mainsail and catch the wind, and head off into the sunset with ten of my favourite books about sailing adventures…

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What to Pack for a Tall Ship Voyage

Tips on how to pack for a once-in-a-lifetime sailing voyage on a traditional sailing ship.

You’ve booked a once-in-a-lifetime voyage on a beautiful sailing ship, and started dreaming about life during the golden age of sail or even rounding the Horn in a force nine.  But as your date of departure cruises closer, what do you actually need to pack?

I’ve sailed on a few tall ships; short voyages around western Europe, island hopping in the Pacific, on long ocean crossing passages, and in the Tall Ships races, so from my experience, here are some recommendations to add to your packing list.

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Crossing the Arctic Circle under sail along the coast of Norway

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8 of New Zealand’s Greatest Long Distance Tramping Routes

The most outstanding long-distance tramping routes you’ll find in New Zealand.

I love hiking when I travel. It’s an affordable way to see some of the most magnificent places in a country, and a great way to meet like-minded people when you’re travelling solo. In New Zealand, multi-day hiking is referred to as tramping, and is popular with both Kiwis and visitors from further afield.

From seemingly endless beaches and surf-crashed coastlines, through rolling farmland and forested ranges of hills, to lunar volcanic landscapes, soaring peaks and high mountain passes, the country is spectacularly diverse for such a small area. New Zealand has thousands of kilometres of tramping trails, including ten that are known as the Great Walks and journey through some of the most iconic Kiwi landscapes.

Tramping allows you to get outdoors and explore the country in a way that no other travel experience can match. Not only that, but you’ll also be treated to incredible nature encounters, the freshest air, and the freedom that comes with being wild and remote. But which route should you choose? I’ve compiled a list of what I think are some of the most outstanding hiking trails in New Zealand, some I’ve walked for myself, and others which remain firmly on my to-do list for when I next return.

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New Zealand has some of the best hiking anywhere in the world. Photo Credit: Jose Luiz Gonzalez via cc

The routes vary greatly in character, from waymarked hut-to-hut trails like the ever-popular Queen Charlotte Track and Tongariro Northern Circuit to epic challenges aimed at experienced backpackers with plenty of time on their hands, like the Te Araroa Trail.

These routes all take multiple days to complete, and due to the remote nature of the country they cross, there’s usually little opportunity to break them down into single days or weekends trips. Once you start a route, you’re often committed to seeing it through. However, most of the routes have excellent facilities, and there’s plenty of advice and information available from the Department of Conservation (DOC) to help you prepare.

If you aren’t quite ready for the challenge of a multi-day walk, or just fancy a taster of what New Zealand tramping is all about, have a look at my list of the best day hikes for inspiration.

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11 Great Day Hikes in New Zealand

A selection of some of the best one day tramping tracks in New Zealand, plus a couple of options for overnight hikes.

Few places in the world can top New Zealand for stunning, dramatic scenery. A little bit of everything, from rolling hills and lush forests, to majestic rivers, raw volcanic landscapes, sweeping coastlines and soaring mountains tempt hikers from around the world to pull on their boots and explore the great Kiwi outdoors.

Known as tramping by New Zealanders, hiking is the best way to explore the country in a way no other experience can really match, and available whatever your travel budget. Routes are generally well waymarked, the quality of mapping is excellent, and people are welcoming and glad to provide advice. And the best part is that wild land is easily accessible in New Zealand, and it’s possible to feel a sense of remoteness just a couple hours from cities and towns.

Whichever routes you chose, you’ll be treated to fresh air life outdoors, spectacular views, and that feeling of freedom that comes with hiking in wild places. My experience of hiking in New Zealand is you never quite know exactly what to expect, or where the trail might eventually lead you.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien

But which tramping trails are right for you? I’ve compiled a list of what I think are some of the best short hiking trails in New Zealand, for whichever part of the country you’re visiting. Or add them to your plans for an epic New Zealand road trip. Some I’ve walked for myself, and others I’ve added to the list for when I return next. My suggestions for multi-day tramping routes can be found here.

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Tramping the Tongariro Alpine Crossing: A guide to the best day hike in New Zealand

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing lays claim to the title of the best single day hike in New Zealand, and perhaps even the most awe-inspiring anywhere in the world. Winding through New Zealand’s oldest National Park, a dual World Heritage Site for natural and cultural significance, this atmospheric hike is a classic Kiwi experience.

The route traverses glaciated valleys, cinder-filled deserts, and meadows of unique alpine vegetation to enter an otherworldly landscape of steaming geothermal vents, ancient lava flows, jewel-coloured crater lakes in the fiery heart of a volcanic caldera.

Possibly the greatest single day hike anywhere in the world? The views are spectacular.

Known just as the Tongariro Crossing until 2007, the name was changed to more accurately reflect the mountain conditions hikers encounter, but it remains a firm fixture on many New Zealand bucket lists. The huge popularity of the route means it can get busy on the trail, but also that there’s a great support infrastructure for hikers keen to take on  the challenge.

After completing the hike for myself, I’ve compiled a guide to hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with all you need to know to plan your hike.

Tongariro Legends

Known to Māori as Te Kahui Tupua, the sacred peaks, this wild volcanic plateau in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island has a deep significance. According to legend, the volcanoes of North Island were once a band of great warriors who gathered on the shores of Lake Taupo. The male volcanoes were all deeply in love with the beautiful Pihanga, stunning in her cloak of forest green.

One night they all fought for her love in a mighty battle, belching forth their smoking anger and turning the sky dark. The earth shook for days, and fire and ash and ballistics rained from the sky. When the skies finally cleared, Tongariro was revealed as the victor, with the lovely Pihanga standing close by his side. Ngāuruhoe and Ruapehu acknowledged Pihanga’s choice of Tongariro, and retreated back a respectable distance.

Taranaki took defeat particularly badly, and wild with grief and jealous rage ripped up his roots to follow the setting sun to the west, gouging the deep scar of the Whanganui River on his way. He sits to this day on the coast, brooding in splendid isolation. Though who knows if one day in the future he may return to claim the heart of Pihanga?

Admiring the beauty of Pihanga, lying across Lake Rotoaria from Tongariro.
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Armchair Travel: 10 Books for a Wild World

I’ve compiled a list of my favourite books set in wilder, remote locations or featuring wildlife as the main theme, including nature writing, biographies, travelogues, and fictional tales. 

For the second edition of my Armchair Travel series, I’m going back to nature.

Inspired by the Wildlife Trust’s #30DaysWild campaign, I’ve been thinking about some of the nature writing that has inspired me over the years. Not just to travel and spend time outdoors, but in my chosen career: I’ve worked in wildlife and nature conservation as a ranger and environmental education officer for several years.

So lace up your hiking boots and grab your field glasses, in this instalment we’re heading for a close encounter with ten books to go wild with…

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Why you should try birdwatching

BirdwatchingHello. My name is Vicky, and I am a birdwatcher.

I have many and varied interests (well, don’t we all?), but one thing that makes my heart go a-flutter more than most is grabbing my binoculars and keeping tabs on the local birdlife. It started as out a necessity, a university research project mapping the food web of an intertidal mudflat. Just work out who eats what…, and my interest grew slowly from that.

I’ve watched spear-sharp gannets dive for fish on the Scottish coast as I sailed by. I’ve hiked into a kauri forest in New Zealand at night searching for kiwis shuffling through the undergrowth. I spotted an improbably balanced toucan in a kapok tree as I set up a bivvy in the Belizean jungle. And every autumn I watch out for skeins of brent geese, like squadrons of aircraft, returning from the Arctic to my local coast.
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What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?

David Attenborough

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What I’ve loved this season | Spring 2018

Hi, there vagabonds!

Spring has been a transitional time for me over the past few years.  My seasonal ranger contract on the Isle of Wight ends, as the overwintering birds I work on start their migration journey to the high Arctic, and I find something new to keep me occupied through the following months.

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I’ve hatched out of my winter shell, ready to head to sea for the spring!
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Why I Think You Should Travel

I’m often asked why I feel the need to travel so often, so extensively, and to places that don’t really feature on the radar for many people as they plan their holidays (Hello Mam!). Often I can’t explain exactly why somewhere appeals to me, just that it does, and I can get there. So this is an attempt to draw together my thoughts, and give a bit of justification for developing this blog.

Travelling is the very soul of These Vagabond Shoes (pun totally intended!), and it’s my belief that the opportunities travel provides for new experiences, exposure to new ideas, and feeling that flux state of being on the move is a good thing for everyone.

Meeting other people, particularly people from a different culture or background to yourself, talking with them, listening to their stories, and sharing their food goes a long way to extending our understanding of each other, and diminishing that deep fear of the different and unknown. It also challenges our tightly-held perceptions, provokes questions, and tests our own resilience. It’s the first tentative steps towards changing the world for the better.

My hope, idealistic as it may be, is that you, dear readers of this blog, might start to think of opportunities available to you, to travel widely and openly, and embrace chances to step outside their comfort zone now and again. And for my friends that perhaps face greater barriers than most, the chance to join me vicariously on my way to some places they may be unlikely to ever visit.

So to that end, I’ve compiled an epic list of reasons I think that travel is a winner, inspired by my own experiences and those of other writers, bloggers, and people that I’ve met along the way. I might dip into it now and again, to take a deeper look at an idea, and it’s not a definitive list by any means, so expect it to grow over time too.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, or get in touch on social media.

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In the Garden of Eden: A guide to exploring the Eden Project

A detailed guide to getting the best from the Eden Project experience in Cornwall.

Hidden in an old china clay pit near St Austell in Cornwall are three enormous interlinked geodesic domes, like the secret greenhouse hideaway of a malevolent horticulturist from a Bond film*: the Eden Project. In my opinion, its one of the best visitor attractions in the region, especially for families, and worth including in your Cornwall travel itinerary.

*The huge biomes were actually used for the filming of Die Another Day, doubling for the villain’s diamond mine and ice palace in Iceland.

Describing itself variously as the world’s largest conservatory, an exciting educational playground, and an inspiring environmental resource, the Eden Project is a huge botanical garden, both outdoors and inside, which highlights our human interconnectivity with the natural world. The well considered exhibits explore our place on this earth, and our roles in shaping the future of the planet.

Here’s my guide to exploring the Eden Project.

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