Guide to Fiji’s best nature-based activities

by Fiona Harper

[vc_row][vc_column][penci_container][penci_column width=”11″][vc_custom_heading text=”Fiji’s best nature-based activities” font_container=”tag:h1|font_size:42|text_align:center|color:%233a3a3a|line_height:1.2″ google_fonts=”font_family:Playfair%20Display%3Aregular%2Citalic%2C700%2C700italic%2C900%2C900italic|font_style:400%20regular%3A400%3Anormal” css=”.vc_custom_1635977598878{padding-right: 50px !important;padding-bottom: 15px !important;padding-left: 50px !important;}”][vc_separator color=”custom” border_width=”3″ el_width=”10″ accent_color=”#d89145″][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1635978228655{padding-right: 50px !important;padding-left: 50px !important;}”]When serial adventurer and author Paul Theroux lobbed into Fiji while paddling the Pacific he observed in The Happy Isles of Oceania that ‘loud laughter was the Fijian way of conveying the bad news that something was impossible.’ It’s hard to imagine good-natured Fijians being disagreeable. Along with their trademark ‘Bula’ greeting, Fijians are known for warm hospitality – wide-mouthed smiles that invariably precede laughter.

Their easy going nature almost guarantees that a Fiji holiday is going to be good fun. Toss in an island archipelago with an abundance of natural beauty and Fiji’s heart and you’ve found Fiji’s heart and soul. Here’s our top picks for getting your nature fix in a tropical paradise.

Hike to the Wailing Rock & send a message on the coconut telegraph

Long before mobile phones dominated our lives, Fijian warriors were using nature’s own coconut telegraph to communicate. Using a hollow wooden log Tui Lawa elders would strike a wailing rock called Vatu Tagi, much like a drum and which has a distinct ringing sound, to send messages during times of war. The sound would reverberate around Malolo Island, informing elders to convene for a chiefly meeting.

There’s a Fijian saying that translates to ‘Malolo is where the sun comes to rest’ based on a belief that it appeared that the sun was resting as it set behind Malolo Island. The wailing rock is located on a large rocky outcrop high atop the summit of Malolo and is accessed via a narrow track. The hike is popular as a pre-breakfast appetiser or at dusk to witness the sun rest upon the Pacific Ocean.

Get there from Malolo Island Resort

Celebrate an ancient turtle calling ceremony

Villagers at Namuana Village on Kadavu Island perform an emotional sacred turtle calling ceremony high on a headland above Udelevu beach. Legend has it that a princess and her daughter were out fishing when they were captured by warriors and tossed into the boats’ hold. When a storm threatened to capsize the vessel the women morphed into turtles and escaped.

Today, colourfully dressed women summon their descendants by dancing, chanting and singing to call turtles home. When a turtle surfaces and makes its way shoreward the laughing, singing and chanting reaches fever-pitch as the whole village celebrates the reappearance of their ancestors.

Get there via a Lau Island Cruise with Captain Cook Cruises[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”14913″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1635978474296{padding-right: 50px !important;padding-left: 50px !important;}”]

Get castaway on an uninhabited island

Tom Hanks along with his bearded bedraggled character Chuck Nolan have a lot to answer for. Ever since he washed up on uninhabited Modriki Island (also known as Monuriki) after a plane crash, travellers have been flocking to the island he was marooned on in the 2000 movie Cast Away. It’s understandable. Beyond the obvious ‘Insta boasting-worthiness’ of the islands serene beauty, a forest clad peak tumbling into a swathe of white sand kissed by an emerald sea are the drawcard. Snorkelling, swimming, beachcombing and daydreaming of an uncomplicated life on a tropical island keep most visitors enthralled.

Get there on a day trip from Likuliku Island Resort.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”14915″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center” css=”.vc_custom_1635978527711{padding-right: 25px !important;padding-left: 25px !important;}”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1635978569870{padding-right: 50px !important;padding-left: 50px !important;}”]

Wash away your cares in a therapeutic mud bath

There’s no denying the allure of therapeutic warm spring-fed mud pools at Sabeto Mud Baths. Fed by geothermal spring water from an inland volcano, the outdoor baths have a distinct sulphuric aroma typical of therapeutic pools.

The mud bath ritual is not for the squeamish. Wearing a swimsuit (tip: do not wear white!) visitors step into the warm muddy waters of a small pool as soft mud squishes between their toes. After soaking in tepid waters bathers are then lathered in mud the colour of dark chocolate and the texture of clotted cream. It’s then a matter of standing around in the sun for around 20 minutes while the mud bakes firm and dry. Then it’s back into the pool to wash away the mud before hopping into a much cleaner and larger pool to soak away your cares (and any remaining mud).

Is the mud bath therapeutic? It’s hard to say, but it’s certainly good clean (eventually!) fun. It’s certainly relaxed in true Fijian style.

Get there by private car from Nadi or Lautoka

Hike to waterfalls in the rainforest

There is no better place to cool down from tropical heat than in a fresh water pool fed by a tumbling waterfall. Head to Tavoro Waterfalls in the Bouma National Heritage Park on Taveuni Island where a three-hour hike will take you to three waterfalls. The first swimming hole is a mere ten minutes from the trail head and has a large pool fed by a waterfall plunging about 25 metres. Leave the crowds behind and carry on hiking the forest trail where you’ll come to two more falls and swimming holes. The smallest waterfall has a pretty pool at its base inhabited by fresh water prawns. The trail can get a bit overgrown and slippery so sturdy hiking shoes are a must.

Nearby Lavena Coastal Walk is another splendid hike complete with coastal views, a swing bridge river crossing, and a waterfall reached by a short swim-through a grotto.

Get there from the Taveuni coastal road[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”14914″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center” css=”.vc_custom_1635978357549{padding-right: 25px !important;padding-left: 25px !important;}”][/penci_column][/penci_container][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner]

Roanoke, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia USA
Roanoke, Virginia | USA

Running the Conquer the Cove Marathon

Would you travel 14, 900km just to run 42km? Fiona Harper flew from Queensland Australia to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia USA to run a challenging trail marathon. It turned out to be less stressful than leaving her Roanoke hotel.

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What is your Emergency?

‘Nine one one. What is your emergency?’

‘Um, hi,’ I stammer, trying to keep a lid on rising panic.

‘I am in a lift, and it’s stopped moving,’ I say slowly. Trying not to sound hysterical, I enunciate each word carefully. In the six days that I’ve been in Virginia, I’ve notice that some people cannot understand my Aussie accent. Blank looks or confusion have met my questions or observations. Always politely, I might add. Without exception, southern Americans are nothing if not impeccably polite and respectful, thank you Ma’am.

‘The lift stopped on the way down, and now it seems to be hanging in mid air,’ I explain.

Roanoke, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia USA
Hotel Roanoke, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia USA. Image Fiona Harper

The operator’s reassuring voice is confident and calming. She speaks with careful precision, asking me questions to find out where I am.

The truth is, I don’t really know where I am. Oh, I know what city I’m in. And my sense of direction is usually pretty good. But trying to explain where I am from visual observations proves a little tricky. I flew into the city of Roanoke, Virginia from Australia five days ago. Moments ago I had walked through the lobby, then the gilded front doors of the Hotel Roanoke. Waving a cheery hello to the bell boys (who had made casual conversation about my accent, seemingly laying private bets on it origins), I’d walked across the elevated walkway straddling the train tracks, pressed the lift button to go down three levels, stepped into the lift and watched the doors close.

Roanoke, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia USA
Roanoke, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia USA. Image Fiona Harper

It's deadly silent as the elevator hangs in mid air

Now, the mechanical whirring has been replaced by silence. I think I can hear my heartbeat, but perhaps I’m imagining it as adrenalin speeds up the blood coursing through by body.  Then the lights go out. I will myself not to panic and take deep breaths. Making myself stay calm, I slide gently down the wall, my legs folding beneath me until I’m kneeling on the floor. My quadriceps and butt muscles scream in agony. I shuffle around on my knees to ease the pain.

In the past few days I’d walked straight past this lift, always eschewing it for the stairs, whether I was going up or down. It was only three floors. I’m a runner – we don’t take lifts, we always take the stairs!

Roanoke, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia USA
Conquer the Cove Marathon. Image Jay Proffitt

With marathon-weary legs, I take the lift instead of the stairs

But, after running a marathon yesterday I ignored the stairs and took the lift. The Conquer the Cove Marathon’s course took me up some pretty steep inclines in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a tough trail run with plenty of elevation on tricky trails. The day after the race my legs, nay my whole body, was feeling weary. Conversely,  I felt I had a metaphorical spring in my step as I planned a leisurely walk around downtown Roanoke as a sort of ‘recovery effort’. I was still feeling the runners high, fuelled by the exhilaration that comes from crossing the finish line of a marathon. That endorphin fix is no myth and is what keeps endurance runners going back for more.

I’d heard about the Conquer the Cove Marathon while planning a trip to the USA as COVID-19 released its hold on travellers. The timing worked perfectly, slotting in nicely with plans in North Carolina and Florida. Perusing the event information online, and talking to friends who knew the area, I was excited to sign up for the run. A challenging trail run taking runners through the magnificent scenery of Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia is just the sort of challenge I relish.

I’d never visited Virginia, and knew little about the state beyond its intriguing tag line ‘Virginia is for lovers’. The Blue Ridge Mountains with their forest-clad hills woven with hiking, mountain bike and running trails looked like my kind of place.

The Blue Ridge Mountains formed some of soundtrack to my childhood which was swamped with American and country music crooners. The likes of Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and of course John Denver thanks to Dad’s musical tastes were etched into my DNA.  Mention Blue Ridge Mountains and my brain immediately connects it with Shenandoah River. Start singing ‘take me home’, and I’ll finish the line with ‘country road’. John Denver’s ode to country roads is waltzing through my head as I’m typing.

Joining a couple of hundred runners on the start line in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the tune was on repeat in my mental soundtrack. The marathon course took us from Carvins Cove reservoir through the delightfully named Happy Valley where forests filtered the air and every leafy shade of green was on display. Up until the mid-1940s Happy Valley was home to nearly 50 families who lived in the village of Carvins Cove. A thriving community complete with a school, church, farms, orchards and all their homes once stood beneath the lake lining part of the course. William Carvin was the first white settler in the area, setting up home in 1746. The Cove Baptist Church hosted weekly sermons as early as the 1890s.  Carvins Cove cannery had been canning tomatoes, green beans and apples since 1915. Today, generations of family graves and the remnants of chimneys are all that remain. The village and its history was submerged when the valley was flooded in 1946 to create a water catchment reservoir.

Conquer the Cove Marathon. Image Fiona Harper

Conquer the Cove marathon traverses the Blue Ridge Mountains

Looking over the lake at the start line, I chatted with other runners, trying to get an insight into the the hills  (were they mountains or merely hills, I wanted to know) ahead of us. I was intimidated by the course profile, which had two significant climbs, the larger of the two at the business end of the marathon. I love running hills and had incorporated hill training into my plan, but who was I kidding? I’m a 57 year-old jetlagged woman, here to have fun and just make it around the course without breaking any bones.

I’d flown almost 15,000km in order to run 42.2km, and was going to take as long as it took. Though admittedly, it took longer than I anticipated, requiring all the determination and single-minded doggedness that I could muster to cross the finish line. My right knee blew up in some sort of agonising protest, willing me not to go on. When the ‘sweep’ caught up with me, it was the push I needed to keep going and not throw in the towel. I limped across the finish line in a pained shuffle, tears welling in my eyes with relief.

The pain receded once I stopped running, but now that I was kneeling down in this elevator, the agony of post-marathon muscle damage returned. But the pain in my legs was overruled by my need to stay calm. 

Stuck in a dark, unmoving lift, I was in a pickle. Bizarrely, not for the first time since I’d flown into the USA, I felt like I was playing out an American movie. Fed an endless diet of American sit-coms, drama, movies and pop culture since childhood, the lines had often seemed to blur between cliches and real life America. Calling 911 definitely fell into that realm.

FIONA HARPER_Roanoke-Virginia_220529_0097 (1)
Conquer the Cove Marathon. Image Fiona Harper

'The fire department is on the way'

The light on my phone highlights a red button with ALARM spelt out in capital letters. I press it and hear pealing bells. It’s loud and piercing and I imagine people running towards it. But when I release my finger, I hear no footsteps. The silence, to coin a cliche, is deafening.

The operator tells me reassuringly that she’s in contact with the fire department. When I tell her about the elevated walkway from the hotel across the railway line she says she knows exactly where I am. Hunched down on the floor, I take more deep breaths and relax a little when she says, ‘the fire department is on the way.’

Then, without warning, the lift chugs back into life. The box I’m suspended in whirs and shudders. It makes reassuring lift-like sounds. Without preamble, I feel the lift descend ever so slowly, shuddering slightly as movement stops, as though that was our intention all along. Magically, the doors slide open and I’m bathed in dazzling light.

Rising unsteadily to my feet, I’m unsure whether to laugh hysterically or burst into tears. A young guy waiting for me to vacate the lift before he steps in looks at me oddly. I step over the lift threshold and into the foyer. Still clutching the phone to my ear, I let the operator know that I am safe, that I am out of the lift, and I thank her for being so kind.

‘You have a nice day, ya hear,’ she drawls politely, as I step deliriously into magnificent sunshine beaming down upon the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. John Denver pops back into my head…  ‘almost heaven…’ he croons.

Later, returning to the walkway which will take me across the tracks and to hotel I’m confronted with a decision. Do I take the lift or the stairs up to the third floor?

Recalling yesterday’s gritty marathon and the mental games I played with myself, I press the up button. Getting right back on that horse seems like my only choice. While I’d hardly ‘conquered the cove’ with my six-hour finishing time, I had at least conquered my pain. Mentally my game was strong, even if my body had wavered.

Despite the soreness in my legs causing me to walk like a hundred-year-old woman, I seriously consider walking up three flights of stairs. Yesterday’s marathon suddenly seems easier than the mental ping-pong I play while plucking up the courage to ride the elevator again.

I take a deep breath and step into the lift. 

Image Jay Proffitt

Fiona Harper travelled to Virginia USA and Conquer the Cove marathon as a guest of Virginia Tourism and Mountain Junkies. 

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Fiona Harper travel writer and Travel Boating Lifestyle
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Cistern Chapel, Maryborough Queensland Australia

The stories behind the photographs

Capturing photographs from my travels around the world, I love the serendipity of heading out for an adventure to see what I may discover.

In the historic Queensland city of Maryborough, a daggy old public toilet block has been completely transformed. This public loo, dubbed the Cistern Chapel, is adorned with magnificent artworks in both the mens and ladies toilets and the parents room. Click on the images to see the Cistern Chapel, Maryborough’s fabulously colourful public toilet in full colour.

The equipment I use

My main camera is a Canon 5DM4 with my go-to lens being a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 ( I absolutely LOVE this lens!). I also travel with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L which works for wide-angle, as it did in the shot of Fred in his woodshed.

Usually I travel with a Manfrotto tripod, though in this case I didn’t have it with me.

For calibrating my screens once I start the editing process I recommend either of these products:

Calibrate ColourChecker (sells for approx AUD250)

Datacolour SpyderX Pro (retails for approx AUD260)


Shop at mitribe.shop for activewear and leggings by Fiona Harper

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Savusavu Fiji anchorage at dawn
Savusavu Fiji anchorage at dawnFIONA HARPER-Maheno-shipwreck-Kgari-Fraser-IslandOriental Boat Harbour, North Carolina. Image Fiona HarperOriental Boat Harbour, North Carolina. Image Fiona HarperOriental Boat Harbour, North Carolina. Image Fiona HarperOriental Boat Harbour, North Carolina. Image Fiona Harper

The stories behind the photographs

Capturing photographs from my travels around the world, I love the serendipity of heading out for an adventure to see what I may discover. Boats are definitely my thing, whether it’s being on them, walking around them dockside or pottering around waterways looking at boats. Take me to a marina, a boat harbour or an anchorage and I’m one happy sailor.

This gallery is a work in progress and is being constantly updated.

The equipment I use

My main camera is a Canon 5DM4 with my go-to lens being a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 ( I absolutely LOVE this lens!). I also travel with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L which works for wide-angle, as it did in the shot of Fred in his woodshed.

Usually I travel with a Manfrotto tripod, though in this case I didn’t have it with me.

For calibrating my screens once I start the editing process I recommend either of these products:

Calibrate ColourChecker (sells for approx AUD250)

Datacolour SpyderX Pro (retails for approx AUD260)


Shop at mitribe.shop for activewear and leggings by Fiona Harper

Travel tips & packing hacks

Packing light and compact is essential when your trip involves multiple types of travel. If you’ve got a couple of flights, maybe a bus, train or ferry trip involved too, moving around with luggage is one of those tiresome things about travel. I’ve found from much exeperiences, that it pays to travel with as little luggage as possible. Though I don’t always follow my own advice, I too employ a few tactics to make travel easier.

PACKING HACK #1

Use compact or compression cubes within your luggage to keep things organised. The upside to using packing cubes is that your clothes don’t end up in a crushed mess of crinkles and wrinkles.
For less than AUD30 these Compression Packing Cubes are an awesome bargain.


Compression packing cube

PACKING HACK #2

Use a lightweight bag that’s tough enough to withstand the rigours of travel. Luggage gets a hard time as its tossed in and out of aircraft cargo bays, onto carousels, onto buses, trains and ferries. Not to mention the amount of time it gets dragged around behind us.

North Face make some of the most durable luggage. But what I really like about North Face gear is that comes in a range of colours. It makes it easy to pick out my luggage from a luggage carousel. Not to mention the joy that bright colours bring! My red rolling North Face duffle bag is my go-to choice of luggage when I’m getting off the beaten track.

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Mountain man Fred at Lansing North CarolinaAbandoned farmhouse in West Jefferson, North Carolina USAAbandoned farmhouse in Lansing North CarolinaAbandoned farmhouse in Lansing North CarolinaMolly Chomper Cider, Lansing North CarolinaAbandoned farmhouse in West Jefferson, North Carolina USAPicking blueberries at Old Orchard Creek Farm, West Jefferson North Carolina USAPicking blueberries at Old Orchard Creek Farm, West Jefferson North Carolina USAPicking blueberries at Old Orchard Creek Farm, West Jefferson North Carolina USAThe General Store in Lansing, North CarolinaOld Orchard Creek Berry Farm, Lansing North CarolinaOld Orchard Creek Berry Farm, Lansing North CarolinaOriental Boat Harbour, North Carolina. Image Fiona HarperOriental Boat Harbour, North Carolina. Image Fiona HarperOriental Boat Harbour, North Carolina. Image Fiona HarperOriental Boat Harbour, North Carolina. Image Fiona HarperOriental Boat Harbour, North Carolina. Image Fiona HarperOriental Boat Harbour, North Carolina. Image Fiona Harper

The stories behind the photographs

Capturing photographs from my travels around the world, I love the serendipity of heading out for an adventure to see what I may discover.

On one road trip through North Carolina, I was exploring the high country around the foothills of the Appalachian mountains northwest of Raleigh with a friend. He had mentioned there was what looked like an old mill he’d seen many times and was keen to have a look at it. We stopped by and met Fred Stykes, who lives in one of the houses, next to others that have been long-abandoned. We chatted for a while and learned that Fred seems to be a kind of caretaker, maintaining the grass and keeping the place in order. He’s turning 80-years old soon and has lived here all his life Fred proudly showed us his woodshed where he’s been steadily stockpiling fuel for the cold winter ahead.

Meeting Fred was one of those rare moments as a traveller, storyteller and photographer that I treasure.  On this same road trip I discovered what I firmly believe is North Carolina’s best chai latte which was an unexpected surprise.

On another adventure from Raleigh, we drove to the Atlantic Coast and Pamlico Sound, calling into coastal communities of Oriental and Beaufort as well as New Bern and Wilson. Poking around Oriental on a rented boat, Oriental’s fishing boat harbour lured us to its character-filled vessels. However, with no fishermen to be seen, these working boats kept the stories of their crews concealed, leaving us to imagine what lay behind their intriguing names, their complex rigging and their hulking hulls.

The equipment I use

My main camera is a Canon 5DM4 with my go-to lens being a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 ( I absolutely LOVE this lens!). I also travel with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L which works for wide-angle, as it did in the shot of Fred in his woodshed.

Usually I travel with a Manfrotto tripod, though in this case I didn’t have it with me.

For calibrating my screens once I start the editing process I recommend either of these products:

Calibrate ColourChecker (sells for approx AUD250)

Datacolour SpyderX Pro (retails for approx AUD260)


Shop at mitribe.shop for activewear and leggings by Fiona Harper

Travel tips & packing hacks

Packing light and compact is essential when your trip involves multiple types of travel. If you’ve got a couple of flights, maybe a bus, train or ferry trip involved too, moving around with luggage is one of those tiresome things about travel. I’ve found from much exeperiences, that it pays to travel with as little luggage as possible. Though I don’t always follow my own advice, I too employ a few tactics to make travel easier.

PACKING HACK #1

Use compact or compression cubes within your luggage to keep things organised. The upside to using packing cubes is that your clothes don’t end up in a crushed mess of crinkles and wrinkles.
For less than AUD30 these Compression Packing Cubes are an awesome bargain.


Compression packing cube

PACKING HACK #2

Use a lightweight bag that’s tough enough to withstand the rigours of travel. Luggage gets a hard time as its tossed in and out of aircraft cargo bays, onto carousels, onto buses, trains and ferries. Not to mention the amount of time it gets dragged around behind us.

North Face make some of the most durable luggage. But what I really like about NOrth Face gear is that comes in a range of colours. It makes it easy to pick out my luggage from a luggage carousel. Not to mention the joy that bright colours bring! My red rolling North Face duffle bag is my go-to choice of luggage when I’m getting off the beaten track.

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Nepal-Everest-Base-Camp-Fiona-Harper
Himalayan Mountains | NEPAL

Hiking to Everest Base Camp | Nepal

Almost one year after the earthquake that rocked Nepal, Nepalis were back on their feet rebuilding homes and livelihoods, with tourism back in business. Fiona Harper hiked to Everest Base Camp and is struck by the strong spirit of Nepalese people.

What we'll be covering

Hiking to Everest Base Camp

‘I was in the lobby of a hotel when there was a loud roar, the floor started rocking and a large vase crashed to the floor. I ran outside and kept on running but it was hard as the road was rippling like a wave’, recalls Ganga Thapa, his eyes sad as he relived the terror of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April 2015.

Mid way through our Everest Base Camp hike, respected leading tour guide and co-founder of Nepal Hiking Team, Ganga talks softly about the day when Kathmandu moved three metres southwards.

Hiking to Everest Base Camp Nepal Image Fiona Harper

As I look over Ganga’s shoulder the snow-clad summit of Mt Everest pokes above Mt Nuptse. Against a cobalt blue sky, a cloud of powdery snow forms wispy tendrils blowing off the upper peak. Having seen so many photographs of this famed mountain over the years, tears well in my eyes the first time I catch sight of it. Known as Sagamatha by Nepalese and Chomolungma by Tibetans, nothing prepares me for seeing it in the flesh. It is majestic. The craggy twin peaks of Alma Dablam, which Ganga affectionately calls the ‘beautiful mountain’ dominates the foreground. At 3,440m above sea level, the air is crisp and clear. Though it’s a few weeks into winter the sun on my face is as warm as toast. Multi-coloured Buddhist pray flags flutter softly. Pausing during our chat to admire the stunning mountain landscape before me, the silence is absolute.

Hiking to Everest Base Camp Nepal Image Fiona Harper

Himalayan Mountains & hiking to Everest Base Camp

We’re sitting outside a teahouse bathed in winter sun at the top of the ridge overlooking the village of Namche Bazaar. Nearby, a bronze statue of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, his ice pick raised skyward, commemorates legendary Sherpa who grew up in the Khumbu Valley and went on to summit Everest on his seventh attempt. He is especially revered in these parts. In his autobiography Norgay says that people think he must have three lungs because he has so little trouble at great heights. ‘I think that I was born not only in, but for, the mountains. I climb with rhythm. it is a natural thing for me. The high places are my home. They are where I belong,’ he says.

We’re three days into a 12 day hike to Everest Base Camp, taking the opportunity for an acclimatisation day to absorb the mountains bathed in winter sun. Nepal sits at the juncture of two volatile tectonic plates. The process of releasing pressure was responsible for creating the Himalayan Mountains a gazillion years ago.

Hiking to Everest Base Camp Nepal Image Fiona Harper

Kathmandu’s UNESCO-listed buildings topple in the earthquake

Ganga describes the road rising of its own accord beneath his feet making it difficult to run down the road as he searched for a clear space. All around him in downtown Kathmandu buildings were cracking and toppling. He estimates the ‘earth was moving’ for about two minutes. Almost 9,000 people died. Millions were left homeless. Historic Durbar Square, where royal palaces have stood since the third century, granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979, was in ruins.

One year later, when I visit this spiritual heart of the former Kathmandu Kingdom, ancient walls are propped up with timber struts & scaffolding. Many people still live in makeshift shelters battered by monsoon rains, buffeted by winter storms. A fuel crisis makes matters worse with Indian border blockages preventing fuel deliveries into landlocked Nepal. Blackmarket prices for fuel have skyrocketed. One woman I spoke to said she had been trying for one week to purchase a LPG bottle so that she could cook meals for her family. Everywhere there are lines of vehicles at petrol stations that stretch for kilometres. Resigned Nepalese shrug their shoulders and ask what else can we do?

Kathmandu was in ruins after the earthquake

Walking down a lane on the way to dinner in Kathmandu the bitumen ends abruptly in a cavernous hole. I peer down and see footings of a building that once stood here. A new path has been forged over rubble. I readjust my stride as I step over all that remains of the hotel, unable to imagine the terror that must have ensued as it came down.

But the Nepalese are resilient, finding plenty to be grateful for. Ganga says he is thankful that the earthquake struck on a Saturday, the only day that children don’t attend school. With approximately 7,000 schools destroyed or significantly damaged, he says many more lives would have been lost.

Community spirit pulls Nepalese people through

45 homes in Ganga’s village, including his own and that of his brother Balaram, were totally destroyed on that April day. His neighbour, the mother of his childhood friend, perished in the quake. The entrepreneurial brothers, who set up Nepal Hiking team back in 2007, were instrumental in getting the village back on its feet. They quickly sourced supplies of rice and lentils for distribution amongst villagers who hadn’t eaten in the days following the quake. With their trekking business temporarily shut down as tourists cancelled bookings, they returned to their home village to help rebuild homes, roads and basic infrastructure.

‘When our relatives are in trouble we must help,’ Ganga said. Despite their own heavy financial losses they helped to build 45 new homes which have become semi-permanent dwellings for villagers one year on from the disaster.

As we progress towards Everest Base Camp we occasionally see the remnants of collapsed homes. At these high elevations buildings are traditionally constructed from rocks secured with a mortar of mud and yak poo. External walls are rendered in the same mix hardened by the sun. Villagers wealthy enough to afford modern materials are building replacement homes out of plywood and colourbond sheets. With no roads, men and mules physically carry all materials up the steep mountains. Porters are paid by the weight they can carry – the more the weight, the more they earn. I pass a 16 year old boy resting on the trail who tells me the load of colourbond sheets on his back weighs 91kg. He will earn the equivalent of 57USD. He says he is happy to have the work. Nimble-footed and lean, he will return down the mountain to pick up similar loads for as long as there is a need for raw materials higher up the mountain.

His fortitude makes me feel rather pathetic as I gasp to catch my breath in the thin mountain air. Tenzing Norgay Sherpa says that when he was similarly aged as I am, the word Chomolungma meant ‘the mountain so high no bird can fly over it’. The same could be said for the soaring Nepalese spirit.

Fiona Harper travel to Nepal and Everest Base Camp as a guest of Nepal Hiking Team.

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Fiona Harper travel writer and Travel Boating Lifestyle
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Abandoned farmhouse in West Jefferson, North Carolina USA
North Carolina | USA

Where to pick blueberries in North Carolina's high country

Travelling through the USA for one month I was endlessly disappointed whenever I ordered a chai latte. Americans, it seems, just don't know how to make a good chai. Then I stumbled upon a foodie gem in the high country northwest of Raleigh and found a cafe who knows how to make chai!

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Hammock swinging is almost an Olympic sport in the Appalachian mountains

Heading northwest from Raleigh, we’re bound for West Jefferson at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The only thing I know about our destination is that there will be a hammock strung between two trees. Not for sleeping in, mind. No, it seems that hammock swinging on the side of a mountain is a contender for a burgeoning Olympic sport in these parts. I’ve no complaints. In fact quite the opposite and I make a mental note to bring my best hammock game to West Jefferson.

As the late afternoon sun filters through the leafy canopy overhead, we string a hammock high on the ridge and have a calming view down through the valley and across to forest-clad mountains in the west. After a busy couple of weeks travelling through eastern USA, attending a crazy-busy travel media conference in Orlando, contracting COVID-19 and coming out of recovery, a long weekend in the mountains was exactly what my body and soul needed.

As enticing as it was to laze around watching clouds skid across the sky, there were mountains to be explored. Mountain men to meet. Blueberries to be gorged upon. And North Carolina’s best chai latte to be discovered – what an unexpected surprise that was! (hint: you’ll find North Carolina’s best chai latte at The General Store in Lansing). There was also delicious Pie on the Mountain Pizza to be devoured, Molly Chomper Cider to be slugged down and an adorably cute puppy at our friends’ home which needed cuddles and a lap to lounge upon. Who am I to deny such a creature such attention?

As to the rest of the long weekend traipsing around Lansing and North Carolina? Well, there was so much to see and do, I’ll let these pictures tell a thousand words…

Enjoy these photos from Lansing and West Jefferson amidst the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.

Exploring the mountains of West Jefferson & Lansing, North Carolina

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Fiona Harper travel writer and Travel Boating Lifestyle
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Fiona Harper sailing to Lizard Island, Queensland

FIONA HARPER fell in love with sailing in Western Australia’s Kimberley region as a teenager while backpacking around Australia. She’s since had countless adventures – and misadventures – at the helm of her own yachts or while delivering other peoples boats across the oceans.

I’ve been on this far-flung Pacific island for less than 48 hours and am in rather a pickle. The trouble began with a bloody fist fight in the Marianas Yacht Club. Though, truth be known, our problems started a few thousand miles back after dropping the dock lines in Tonga. Now, I find myself an unwitting accomplice to a mutiny. I have jumped ship and am an illegal alien. I am bunkered down in the red light district of Guam in a windowless hotel room, complete with scarlet velour wallpaper and a black marble bathroom. My unlikely co-conspirator is a sun-worshipping Italian sailor I know only as Carlo. We are not in a relationship yet are sharing the only bed in this seedy room.

Fiona Harper sailing in Fiji
Fiji remains one of Fiona's favourite sailing destinations.

I have no money. No air ticket. And now I am also a sailor without a boat. There is no stamp in my passport authorising my arrival into this US-ruled territory. I try not to think about the fact that besides the man who picked up two bedraggled hitchhiking sailors, pushing aside an Uzi sub-machine gun to make room on the seat of his pickup, Carlo is the only person in the world who knows where I am. My boyfriend back in Auckland believes I’m delivering a yacht to Japan and will be home soon. He’s probably yet to receive the letter posted weeks ago from Nauru, where I explained we were delayed when the skipper was hospitalised with alcohol poisoning. Imbibing medicinal alcohol from the first aid kit will do that.

A pickle indeed. On the upside, I’ve safely escaped an intoxicated (if somewhat bloodied, thanks to Carlo) skipper with my possessions hastily stuffed into my backpack. So, it’s not a complete disaster. But the small matter of missing the vital entry stamp in my passport needs to be resolved fairly urgently. It’s a long way from the illustrious career path I imagined as a sailor.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d always been keen on the adventure aspect of the marine industry. Part of the allure of becoming a professional sailor was the opportunity to travel the oceans of the world, delivering cruising yachts here, racing yachts there, entertaining charter guests and showing them the time of their lives before the next group flew in and we’d do it all again.

Fiona Harper sailing in Fiji
Sailing over the horizon towards the tantalisng unknown is one of the attractions of bluewater sailing

The raw power of wind against cloth, waves against hull, of being acutely attuned to the elements excited me. Departing on an offshore passage bound for harbours over the horizon tickled something deep in my soul. Standing watch on the dawn shift witnessing the transformation from night into day touched me deeply. It was exhilarating and made me feel alive. When the weather gods played nice, I’d sing to the waves, bid adieu to the stars and babble happily to the rising sun.

When the weather turned nasty, I’d cuss and swear like the salt-hardened sailor I thought I was, shrieking at the ferocious waves, begging the terrifying, towering liquid Himalayas to back off and allow me to survive until daybreak. Often the seas scared me so much I literally could not look at the ocean and would steer with my eyes closed, in tune with wind on my cheek and the yacht’s motion to guide us up and over the crest and safely through the trough before rising again. As exhausting as it was exhilarating, I was like an addict on crack-cocaine, savouring the highs like salt coursing through my veins. After a challenging passage I swore I would stay home and get a ‘real job’, yet invariably signed up for another one before my salt-encrusted wet weather gear had dried out.

Fiona Harper sailing to Lizard Island, Queensland
Sailing is all about living in the moment, enjoying the good sun-kissed & calm weather days

Besotted, nay, obsessed, I devoured sailing books at night and awoke with a head spinning with dreams. I absconded from my honeymoon to deliver a superyacht to Singapore, falling hopelessy in love enroute despite a newly minted marriage certificate, but that’s another story. I had a yacht tattooed on my shoulder, so as to not lose sight of my dreams after a motorbike accident dropped me into long-term rehab. Living in the sailing-mad city of Auckland, weekends were spent racing. On weekdays I stitched sails at a sail loft, embarking on forays into the South Pacific moving yachts around for owners who had neither the time or the interest for ocean passages. My Kiwi workmates sailed with the likes of Sir Peter Blake and had gigs on elite Round the World racing campaigns, the America’s Cup and the Sydney to Hobart races. I was both envious and enthralled. Like a sea sponge lolling on the tide line I soaked it all up. As my experience grew and confidence developed, I aspired to join the ranks of the likes of Tracey Edwards, who led a ground-breaking all-women racing crew on Maiden around the world.

But who was I kidding? Self-doubt and an uneasy imposter syndrome often replaced the bravado I felt onboard where I could hold my own. I didn’t come from a yachting background. I hadn’t even stepped on a boat until I was 18-years-old. What the heck was I doing mixing with New Zealand’s sailing royalty?

Fiona Harper sailing in Queensland
Fiona's travel writing career emerged from a 5-year-long voyage around Australia on the yacht she fitted out with her former partner

I’d stumbled into sailing years earlier. Serendipitously, it became my career, my sport, my hobby and a lifestyle I’ve happily flitted in and out of for 30-plus years. Like any self-respecting life-changing moment, this one began over beers in a pub. As a teenager, I’d hightailed it from Fremantle to Broome with few plans beyond deepening my suntan. Playing pool in the front bar of the Roebuck Bay Hotel, a friend mentioned a yacht that was looking for crew to sail to Darwin. Despite my complete lack of experience, the couple who owned Beehive welcomed me aboard their 44ft home, thus laying down an unwavering path.

I saw the Kimberley through the eyes of an explorer in unchartered waters. Viewing rock art tens-of-thousands-of-years old I felt like I was discovering unknown treasure. We clambered up cliffs to swim in rock pools beyond the reach of crocodiles. Surrounded by ochre-hued sandstone cliffs we watched the water disappear in mammoth tidal flows that left the yacht barely floating in a small pool of water. Crocodiles basked on beaches. Whales shadowed our hull. Dolphins rode our bow. Flying fish skittered across the sea before plopping onto the deck where I’d find them stiff and lifeless at daybreak. We partied with iron-ore miners on Cockatoo Island. Built bonfires on nameless beaches. Drank too much wine from cardboard boxes. I was attuned to the sun, the sea and the tides where nature called the shots and only the foolhardy ignored her demands. By the time we sailed into Darwin six weeks later, I was completely hooked.

Fiona Harper's yacht Nilubon
Nilubon anchored within a silky sea on the Great Barrier Reef

Returning to Fremantle I placed my faith in the universe, as you do when you’re a naive 19-year-old seeking answers to life’s big questions, like ‘should I buy a yacht?’ While walking on the beach a blue ribbon twisted around driftwood caught my attention. It was the same colour and spotted design as the curtains of Dot Dancer, the 18ft yacht I’d inspected a few days earlier.

I took that as a sign to buy the yacht. Dot Dancer led to many more yachts owned, repaired and sailed, oceans crossed and adventures aplenty. Thankfully, troublesome pickles like the one that landed me in that seedy hotel room in Guam were rare. I’d like to share the solution that eventually legitimised our compromised immigration status, but it’s probably best I keep that to myself.

The blue spotted ribbon lays next to my keyboard as I type. When I lift it to my face, I still see that blonde-haired teenager with a lifetime of salt-kissed adventures  ahead of her.

About the author: Fiona Harper is a Queensland-based travel writer – follow Fiona at Travel Boating Lifestyle and Her.Holiday

Fiona Harper sailor
Fiona as a 20-year-old sailing her first yacht & the blue ribbon which inspired the purchase
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New York Marathon Staten Island Bridge

Travel writer Fiona Harper will run through the five boroughs of New York in the 2022 New York Marathon alongside 50,000 runners starting on Staten Island and finishing in Central Park New York.

The 2022 New York City Marathon is the world’s largest marathon, with interest this year at an unprecedented level. After the 2021 event was scaled down due to the global pandemic, the race is back to full capacity with 50,000 runners expected to line up on the start line on 6 November 2022.
More than 84,000 applications were received for the non-guaranteed entry drawing – a ballot system – where just 12% of applications are allocated to ‘age-groupers’ from around the world who do not qualify as elite athletes.

I am thrilled to be allocated a place in the 2022 New York Marathon! On my first visit to New York I will join 49, 999 other runners on the Staten Island start line for what is considered the world’s greatest foot race, the New York Marathon. 

Fiona Harper will run the 2022 New York Marathon

The New York Marathon is one that I’ve wanted to run since taking up running ten years ago. I was allocated a place previously but couldn’t make it work and didn’t nail my training – there will be no bailing out in 2022!

Having a goal race is just the motivator I need, though I’ve no illusions about how tough it will be to make it to the start line fit and healthy. During the pandemic I ran 5 marathons in 7 weeks, and last travelled overseas for a big race to run the Paris Marathon.

Honestly, I cannot wait to land in New York and soak up the vibe amongst runners and spectators. All I have to do is keep running. How hard can it be?

Fiona Harper has run 12 marathons

Fiona Harper has run marathons and half marathons around the globe, writing about her experiences in the travel media.

New York Marathon
The world’s largest marathon, set for Sunday, November 6 2022, is one of New York’s most iconic annual events, attracting the sport’s top professional athletes and runners of all ages and abilities from around the world. It will return at full capacity with 50,000 runners this year for the first time since 2019.

The New York Marathon takes runners through all five boroughs of New York City, starting on the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge on Staten Island and passing through Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx, before finishing in Central Park. 

Musicians line the streets and New York City residents line the course in their tens of thousands, offering support and encouragement for the runners, creating an exciting atmosphere.

New York Marathon

Since 1970, the TCS New York City Marathon has seen more than 1.3 million total finishers. As part of (organiser) New York Road Runner’s  commitment to health and safety during a global pandemic, the 2021 marathon had a modified field size of 25,010 finishers.

For the 2022 race, many event elements which make the New York Marathon such a city-wide celebration will be restored, including the legendary on-course entertainment the event is famous for.

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Fiona Harper caught up with Jackie Parry recently to find out about the exciting new projects she has in the pipeline  – Jackie always has something interesting happening! 

It turns out she’s been developing a new series of marine training courses to help boaters stay safe on the water.

My path has crossed several times with Jackie Parry, who is a maritime trainer, sailor, author, adventurer and all-round inspirational woman. We are kindred spirits with our common interests in boats, travel, and writing.

Fiona: Nice to catch up with you again. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jackie: I’ve sailed around the world one-and-a-half times, explored the European canals on an old Dutch Barge, written 11 books, set a sailing record, worked internationally on commercial vessels and have trekked part of the Bicentennial National Trail in Australia with five horses for several months. Now I own a maritime training company.

Fiona: Whoa! How do you fit that all in?

Jackie: I’m not sure. I keep having ideas and I can’t stand giving up on anything. Perhaps it’s because I am stubborn! When I say to my husband Noel, “I’ve got an idea,” he sticks his fingers in his ears and sings really loudly until I give up trying to tell him my idea.

Fiona: Which is your favourite activity? Sailing, horse-riding, writing, or training?

Jackie: That is hard, it depends when you ask me. On a great sailing day nothing beats, it. A great horse ride, nothing beats it. I love writing (although there are some things that beat that!), and training, I am passionate about training and most things can’t beat it. Equal first are sailing and riding horses but the other two – training and writing –  are very close second place.

Fiona: It’s great to have a full life that you love. But what parts don’t you love?

Jackie: That’s easy – accounts. I love numbers if they are part of navigation or radar, or formulas for boating. But financial accounting turns me into a petulant child having a big temper tantrum. I like, and love everything else. I even enjoy the marketing aspect of running a business.

The other thing I don’t like is not having enough time. Running your own business pulls you in every direction 24/7. You have to be the expert at everything, all the time. It is relentless, demanding, and exhausting. But there’s something I like about that. A big day (they are all big) provides the satisfaction of making it work, having successes and helping people.

Fiona: What’s your main focus right now?

Jackie: Personally it’s to get one of my fat horses to lose weight. Too much grass for horses is bad and I’ve just bought us a new (new to us) saddle, so we’re having fun learning together. I’ve been backing him for about two years now. He’s becoming a good mate.

Professionally, it is the launch of the Emergency Preparedness Workshops. I’ve teamed up with eight other facilitators and experienced mariners, and we are holding Workshops all around Australia! It’s a mammoth project. Much bigger than I predicted. But it is coming together and it’s really exciting.

Fiona: That sound tremendous! Have there been many challenges?

Jackie: Every single project has challenges. This has been heightened a bit though. I feel a huge responsibility to all participants of our courses and now to the facilitators as well. The Emergency Preparedness Manuals took over a year to write. We’ve collaborated with rescue experts, skippers, and many other professional mariners. I gave my Editor quite the task to straighten it all out in a useable format!

Now I am super proud of it as it’s unlike any other course. We’ve brought commercial and recreational knowledge together and have done much of the work, so participants only have to fill in the information on the templates we’ve supplied.

The workshops are based around Learn-Discuss-Share. The facilitators have gone through training with me and we are ensuring the program around the country is aligned and the standard maintained. The participants just have to turn up, apply their ‘personal’ knowledge (ie details of their boat/set up/equipment/crew), and when you put all those ingredients together, a brilliant Emergency Response Manual is created.

I was thrilled with the Beta Workshop I held a month ago. The participants clutched their Response manual and said “this is GREAT!”

Fiona: You mentioned your Editor earlier. You’ve written memoirs as well as practical manuals –  are there any other books in the pipeline?

Jackie: Not at the moment. I have so many ideas (cue: Noel to plug his ears!). But this last manual took a lot out of me, I wanted it to include everything possible and for it to be really useful and different. I want to actually help reduce incidents on the water and keep people safe. It was a true labour of love and I need a bit of a rest! That said, I am keen to get back to story books… maybe a non-fiction (just don’t tell Noel!).

MORE INFORMATION

Emergency Preparedness Workshops  

SisterShip Training 

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