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Te rōpū hikoi o te pae maunga o Tararua   -   Celebrating 100 years of tramping

Trip Reports 2024-0-0-Overseas

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This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper Volume 94, no 4, May 2024

Hiking in Timor-Leste: the final frontier!

If I ignore all my senses other than sight I could almost be in Wellington, with lush green bush-clad hillside stretching down to a city on the waterfront. However, the 30C plus temperature, 80% humidity, noise of barking dogs, crowing roosters, and horn heavy traffic, and a near absence of wind reminds me that I’m not!

I’m in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, one of the least visited countries on the planet. I’m here thanks to the amazing efforts of Volunteer Service Abroad. Mostly funded by MFAT, they are supporting my partner and I to spend a year volunteering with Oxfam and HAMNASA (a local health NGO) respectively. While there is plenty of work to be done, there is time to explore this fascinating country.

In some ways Dili is an excellent place to hike, with almost no one on the trails, impressive and varied views, and a surprisingly good public transport system. On the other hand it is so hot and humid that one needs to start hiking around 7 a.m. and finish by late morning. There are plenty of loud (if not overly aggressive) dogs protecting every home, and there is literally no signage and very little information available online about where to hike.

Thankfully there is a sort of TTC equivalent, the Dili Saturday Walkers’ group, which has been running for around a decade. Around 20-30 people meet every Saturday morning at 7 a.m. to do one of the 25 or so walks that have been identified over the years by intrepid hikers. The group is like the United Nations, with many Koreans, Japanese, Timorese, British, American, Kiwis, and even a few Australians turning up.

The current group leader, Mr Yang from Korea, has been running it for over five years now, and despite being one of the oldest in the group, is the first up every hill! It was a novel hiking experience for me when we walked up a remote valley to the mouth of a river to have a picnic, at which point Mr Yang ran a Korean paper, scissors, stone competition, with prizes including beautiful calligraphy!

I have also ventured out on my own a few times but spend most of the time terrified of running into dogs, getting lost, or suffering from heat stroke. All of which are easily possible / highly likely here!

Owing to the climate, most of the walks last around three hours, but I did venture over to Atauro Island, which is like an adventure version of Waiheke Island, with none of the tourists. It is the most touristy place in Timor-Leste, but good luck finding a restaurant, or relying on the ferry service!

I spent five days with a local guide hiking around the island, enjoying beautiful deserted beaches and a ruggedly hilly interior, though not the tropical storm that coincided with my visit and resulted in torrential rain every afternoon (thankfully after I’d finished hiking). I stayed in some of the most basic home stays I’ve ever visited (and I’ve been to Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia…). These gave an insight into real life in Timor-Leste, where 80% of the population live off subsistence farming, in the poorest country in Southeast Asia.

I returned from Atauro Island with both the tropical disease Chikungunya and a bad entamoeba infection. This annoyed my partner who came back from a different trip at the same time with Covid. So while sick, she only had one illness, and therefore had to look after me!

In the fortnight it took me to recover in bed, I developed www.exploringtimor.com. Before coming to Timor-Leste I did some online research, and discovered that basically there is almost no information online about Timor-Leste! I’ve tried to address this with the website, and accompanying TikTok (@exploringtimor) channel which has proved popular with young Timorese (with over 400,000 views in two months!) and a YouTube channel (Exploring Timor-Leste) which is probably more accessible for TTC members. I’m here for at least ten more months, including the dry season, so have plenty to look forward to. I’ve planned a nine-day coast to coast hike across the width of the country, including the highest peak (the 2,986m high Mt Ramelau), as well as a six-day hike following the trail of Australian commandos in WW2. So I hope to have a few more stories to tell the club when I return to the more agreeable climate of Wellington!

Party members
Jonty Crane (scribe).

Page last modified on 2024 May 15 01:06

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