Arduous Annapurna trek highlight of quickfire OE

Raglan teen Amelia Penfold may have just hit the high point of her big OE – trekking an arc around a massive mountain range in Nepal.

She’s about halfway through the 19-day adventure known as the Annapurna Circuit which climbs to giddy heights of almost 18,000 feet, making altitude sickness a very real possibility.

The former Hamilton Girls’ High student – as a schoolgirl a common sight busking downtown with her guitar – has been on the road for more than three months with boyfriend Andrew Lloyd from Hamilton.

They’re now on the last leg of their journey before heading home in a month via southeast Thailand.

Amelia talked to the Chronicle from Naples in southern Italy earlier this month, before heading to South Asia and losing the luxury of WiFi. The pair had travelled all over the UK before venturing to Europe, and were looking forward to trekking in Nepal.

“I didn’t have too many expectations,” Amelia said of her long planned-for trip straight out of school. “I just wanted to be a sponge and soak it all up.”

Which is exactly what she’s done.

“We jumped around a little bit (initially),” the 18 year old explained almost apologetically of their time in the UK. Amelia speaks with a hint of the English accent she had at the age of six on migrating here with her parents Jenny and Trevor Penfold.

In a way she’s gone back to the UK first to explore her heritage, reinforcing the original concept of the big OE – a term popularised by NZ cartoonist and columnist Tom Scott in the mid 1970s – for Kiwis venturing ‘home’.

She got to spend Christmas with her extended family in Scotland before exploring the Scottish Islands, then it was off in search of the elusive Loch Ness Monster.

“I saw some suspicious ripples,” Amelia joked of the lake beside Urquhart Castle where the couple stayed in the historic Scottish Highlands region.

Then it was down to England and to Snowdonia National Park in Wales where they treated themselves to an “amazing” illuminated underground zipline adventure at the Llechwedd Slate Caverns.

Despite the mid winter temperatures in Britain at the time there wasn’t much snow around, Amelia lamented, so she and Andrew then took themselves off to a dry ski slope in Southampton to get in a bit of skiing practice before heading to the Continent.

But the artificial surface – a kind of plastic matting – was “brutal”, Amelia complained. “You do not want to fall off!”

The one-time Te Uku School pupil also caught up with family and a few old kindergarten friends in Exeter, southwest England, where she used to live.

The couple celebrated Valentine’s Day at the top of the Eiffel Tower in France, then travelled on to Italy to also do the tourist thing.

There they skiied in the Italian Alps, took in the sights of Como – with its Gothic cathedral and funicular railway – and spent “hours and hours” exploring the streets of Venice.

Amelia also reckons she got a bit tipsy in the Tuscan countryside on a guided wine-tasting tour on horseback.

But the famous Lindt Chocolate Shop in Florence was her “favourite part” of Italy. It had 20 different flavours of the fine Swiss chocolate for which it’s famed and Amelia tried every one. “All amazing,” was the verdict.

A five-day visit to the vast archaeological site of Pompeii was followed by five days exploring the city of Rome before Amelia and Andrew flew to Kathmandu to organise their guided Annapurna mountain trek from Nepal.

They thought they would visit the sun bear – or “honey bear” – sanctuary in southeast Thailand on their way home next month.

Then Amelia’s back in Raglan and adamant she’ll be “working on my music”, having been a star student of local muso Dave Maybee over the years.

Edith Symes