Winter sunset in Canberra

After dark

Pale limbs extending

those moody winter sunsets

glide, as graceful ghosts

Advertisements
Winter trees by the Lake Ginninderra

Winter walks

Wandering by the lake
on a warm winter afternoon
the ground still reeking of dew
last night’s mist lost for good
taking one step after another
the sun burning my face
and shivering breeze
nuzzling my neck, ruffling hair
from its designated place
I saw
what I’d never seen
trees
as yesterday, they stood
leaves now browner,
falling faster
shedding
as though a snake its skin
showing off
whimsically their ashy limbs
once hidden behind gravy barks
sticking up oddly in angles
as a dead mosquito victim of spite
like chartered children
unwanted they stood
pale, shaken, deprived
still housing burgundy leaves
under their bosom,
the protective shell,
a new home on the ground
for those fallen from above
awaiting another home
down under this time
again
to rise high as green as ever
circling back
I retraced my steps homeward
just like nature


Photo: Winter trees by the Lake Ginninderra

Backpacker in Bondi

“Is Bondi Beach worth visiting?”

“Not if you’re not a surfer or a couple.”

So, yes.

I was in Sydney for work, and stayed in the central business district. Bondi was a good 50 minutes away by public transport. It was my last day in the city and I had a flight back home at 5 pm.

Piece of cake, you’d think. True. If you take an Uber, spend about an hour lounging in the beach, and take a cab back.

But what’s the fun in that?

The real fun lies in taking the train halfway, walking crazy distances, gaping at the ocean waves crash against the rocks, and resting on a cliff just for the thrill of it. The real fun is in hunting great food hidden in the nooks of intersections, wolfing down a pie uncaring about appearing a barbarian—and buying more pie to go. The real fun in travelling, is cherishing every moment of it.

And that’s exactly what I did.

When I left my hotel at 9 am, it was foggy. It was about 15 degrees Celsius, but towering buildings were shrouded in a mist unlike any I’d seen in Canberra. Not at that hour, at least.

Bondi junction on a foggy morning

But the best thing about living in Canberra is that my body has adapted to cold. I was the only person walking around jacket less (or in a light jacket at times), and appearing like a complete jackass to the locals. I didn’t care, though.

When I exited the train at Bondi junction, I knew I had a long way still to go. Buses run from the junction all the way to the beach. I stood in the queue for about three minutes before realising I’d rather hike all the way. It was only a 30-minute walk, after all. I love when my mind makes spontaneous choices like that. Bonus—because I left the station, I got hot chocolate to go with my walk. Sweet.

And so I walked sipping my drink. What’s better than having smooth, extra dark hot chocolate for breakfast? The beach only made my day better.

Bondi Beach

When I arrived at last, the mist still hung around. So were enthusiastic surfers and beach goers. Everywhere I turned, eager tourists captured photographic memories while kids in shorts ran amok into the water. Volleyballers spiked at each other and laughter echoed with the waves.

My heart soared. The last time I was at a beach was during a brief, half-day, team trip with my colleagues, and I don’t even recall the time before that. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed watching the sea spray at my face. Then I turned around to the walkway along the coast—the next thirty-minutes featured sensational views, active runners, dog wakers, couples, sightseers, and me.

It’s amazing how much energy you have when you enjoy what you do. I walked about 15 kilometres that day and I although my feet killed me two days later, I didn’t feel a thing while I scaled the Bondi path. Excitement and expectation masked pain and hunger. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.

From the beach, I walked over to a famous pie shop. Funky Pies is renowned for making (and distributing across Australia!) delicious vegan pies for unreasonably reasonable prices. I had to stuff my face. And so I did.

Funky Pies

But not before I spent a good ten minutes deciding which pie to order. The variety is insane. When I did order, it arrived at my table steaming with peas and gravy on the side. I skipped the mash. Not long after I started eating, I knew I could’t stop with one. So I got one to go as well. It’s an understatement to say it was good.

When I finished, it was just past midday. Though the airport was a long way off, I ended up walking all the way back to the junction to get on the train from there.

Sydney has pretty good footpaths. Yes, it’s annoying to wait for the signals to turn green because they take much longer than they do in Canberra—thanks to the sheer amount of vehicles on the streets. Despite that though, walking was fun. It was nice to look around at the various little stores selling thousands of trinkets I’d never splurge on. Row after row were sign boards advertising cuisines from all over the world, broadcasting the incredible number of cultures that reside in Sydney.

You’ll never experience all of that on an Uber. Or a private vehicle. You’ll never enjoy a city’s true nature when you’re busy trotting along in groups, chatting away in mindless abandon. The only way to understand a city, a locality, to feel its pulse, is to take it by foot.

A walk in the forest

During the one month that I’ve lived in Canberra, and for many before I moved, I’ve watched—with growing envy—the city’s locals share glorious pictures of the National Arboretum.

On photos it seemed such a vast area of green nothingness brimming with so much liveliness. Trees smothered brown and yellow during sunsets, mist hanging over unknown mountains, sneaky sunrises playing games of colour in the sky—every picture piqued my curiosity and intensified my urge to be there, live it, and relive it.

Except, I found out soon, the National Arboretum is unreachable by public transport. Although, somewhere in my subconsciousness, I knew I couldn’t just take the bus up there—the many jaw-drop moments I’d seen in photos revealed towering altitudes. Still, it came as a disappointment.

But rejection only makes us want something even more. And when we do get it, at last, we’ll savour it for the rest of our lives.

I will, the Arboretum.

View from the National Arboretum, Canberra
View from the National Arboretum, Canberra

Thanks to a bored brother and a good friend’s decent car, we cruised uphill with my eyes open bright and soul screaming wide. As we went higher and higher, I felt lighter. Trees have that impact on me.

When we stopped and stepped out, I grabbed my jacket to shield myself from the icy breeze. It was the first day of winter and though the sun shone bright, coldness pressed against my skin, tingling my t-shirt, and teasing my boldness to go thermal-less. It wasn’t nail biting, but just enough for me to appreciate the weather without developing a raging hatred towards winter. Nature knows how much to offer and when.

National Arboretum, Canberra
National Arboretum, Canberra

While the cold remained subtle, the views were more pronounced. As far as my eye could reach, I saw nothing but trees—steps upon steps of luscious greenery that refuse to die even in winter. From way above, I was looking down at massive branches appearing to be nothing more than bushes. Ah, Bush Capital indeed.

Amidst the sea of wood, I spotted, like deer in a jungle, benches and footpaths inviting humans to stray away from their handphones and into the amassing wilderness ahead. It wasn’t just a remedy for screen eyes, but rather an invitation to experience the vision of this great green city. With neat guidelines, pathways, and dedicated clearings to enjoy the view from, the Arboretum is the ideal environment for people to take a moment alone with nature without contaminating it with their innate humaneness.

Pine forest at the National Arboretum, Canberra
Pine forest at the National Arboretum, Canberra

As we walked down the path—a path—we came by a large row of pine trees extending to a forest behind them. While the sun prepared to step back for the day, a faint glow erupted from within and beyond the forest, emitting a clarion call for the crazy.

We heard it and heeded it. It’s enchanting to walk into a forest that’s both dense and airy at the same time. It was light enough to see through the trees, but also mysterious and unmoving. The deeper we went, the further we wanted to go. Pine trees always give each other enough space to grow and expand. Like the best of friends. And although they’re upright on a slope, they’re so well rooted that they don’t sway in threatening ways. We could walk quite far into the pine forest and still glimpse the last of the sunset through the branches.

Sunset over the National Arboretum, Canberra
Sunset over the National Arboretum, Canberra

Sitting idle at home two days later, I realised the Arboretum is more than a collection of trees in natural habitat. It’s a trove of magical views, mystic thoughts, and ground breaking moments—a much endearing, must visit.

Pine forest at the National Arboretum, Canberra

Growing

Even life’s a slope

stay upright, and do what’s right 

and like pines you’ll thrive


Photo: Pine forest at the National Arboretum, Canberra