Q is for Qatar

 

First let me say that the closest I have come to the actual city of Doha is the airport.  I transited there is September last year en route to Europe whilst flying with Qatar Airlines.  Coming down the ramp from the plane the city sits a tantalising distance away on the horizon.

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If like me you did not have time to make Doha a stop, what you will see is Hamad International Airport.

It is huge, very modern, and very expensive.  A small Greek salad and a small orange juice cost me over USD20 so be warned.   If you do have time and you are lucky, you can join a free city tour.  By lucky I mean you cannot pre-book, they only run at set hours and if they are full you can’t go.  If the hours don’t work because of your flight times you are going to get a comprehensive look at the airport facilities.

The trains to the far concourses are fun and will give you something to do after duty free looking gets boring and they do have nap rooms to stretch out in.

If you have a long layover you can book a tour of the city.  The company will pick you up from the airport and you will have a chance see the city.  The free city tour, the museum of Islamic art and the souks will give you a brief introduction to the city.  If you actually make Doha a stop you can obviously see much more.

As with all the Emirati states a trip into the desert will connect you with what is still the heart and soul of the country.  The silence, the vastness of the desert forces you to re-examine your relationship with the natural world.  It is salutary and humbling.

 

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T is for Taiwan

Up and coming destination for those in the know.

Taiwan is the island off mainland China formerly known as Formosa – named by the Portuguese who discovered the place.  Taiwan is easy to navigate. compact in size and full of surprises.   A visit to the National Palace Museum is a must with over 5000 years of imperial arts and crafts that await you.  See the Chiang Kai Shek  Memorial Hall as well.

Spend a few nights in Taiwan and explore the night markets for snacking and shopping – two of the Taiwanese’s favourite pass times.

Out of Taipei Taiwan abounds in culture and scenic beauty.  The famous Sun Moon Lake will enchant and the Taroko Gorge take your breath away.  Indulge in hot springs all over the island for relaxation and explore the spectacular east coast for rugged rock formations and surprisingly good surf beaches.  You may have the entire beach to yourself!

You can cycle, you can take the train or take a tour.  However you go, just go!

High Season Blues

For many people travel is restricted to high season simply because they work or have children in school at other times.  This means that flights and often accommodation are at premium prices  and that makes it harder to get away at a reasonable price.

There are ways around the worst of this if you are clever.

First – book early.  You can book 11 months and 11 days out from from your date of return so if you know your dates, book as soon as you are able and you should be able to get the best available fare.  The closer to departure date you leave it, the more seats will be sold and the higher the prices will be.

Second – try airlines that go through different places.  If time is not at issue, having an airline that takes you through two different transfer points will often be cheaper than the direct lights with just one change.  And you will be able to take advantage of different stopovers if you wish.

Third – frequent flyer seats are the cheapest if you have sufficient points because you just pay for the taxes.  Getting in as soon as the flights are available is the only way to go at peak times because seats are limited and WILL sell out.

Travelling on Christmas Day is often cheaper than at any other time in December since almost no-one wants to fly on Christmas Day.  That means there will be more seats and prices will be lower.  If you are travelling to the USA, Canada, South or central America you will actually arrive on the same day as you leave so you get two Christmas Days.  It can save you significant amounts of money.shortbread-002

A bit of pre-planning can make the difference between having a great trip without breaking the bank, or even travelling at all.

Local delights

I have spent two days out locally in recent weekends, one Saturday in the McLaren Vale wine region south of Adelaide and a lovely cruise Sunday afternoon in Mannum along the River Murray.  We are so lucky to be within a hour or so’s drive from these  great regions and blessed with fabulous sunshine on the days we went.

The architectural wonder that is the D’Arenberg Cube was the reason we headed to McLaren Vale.  Opened this year, the cube is a Rubik’s cube on five levels twisted this way and that to change the views from the platforms and challenges how we see architecture.

Cube and Mannum cruise April May2018 1167

The decor may not be to everyone’s taste – the art works are eclectic to put it nicely! and the couches fabulously colourful, but the sheer inventiveness of the building and the views from the top floor tasting room are worth the $10 fee which includes the tastings.  And they are happy to let you taste a $70 bottle of red.

We indulged in lunch and then headed to one of my favourite wineries Wirra Wirra.  The new viewing platform out towards the vineyards gives a lovely view over the area and the wine is as good as ever.  Woodhenge – the massive fence and gate made from huge red gum tree trunks is an added bonus. We finished with a trip to Red Poles, a winery, eatery come art space.

Just an hour and a bit from the city, we had a great day out.  Check out your local area.

P is for Peru

South America as a continent is vast.  To give you a sense of scale, Australia fits inside Brazil which is just one of the many countries in South America.   Peru lies on the west coast of South America and is home to Spanish influenced cites, the Quechua people and the fascinating Inca culture.

Fly into Lima, the capital and you are on the coast of the Pacific.  Try the local seafood restaurants for a range of delicacies from the sea that goes way beyond fish and crustaceans.  The history of Peru, as with much of the continent is strongly influenced by the Spanish conquistadors who came seeking gold and trading opportunities.  They left behind some horrific actions, but some beautiful architecture especially the 16 and 17th century churches. See the royal palace and the main square.

For most people seeing the Amazon is a must, and Peru offers the river at its beginning.  Unlike the famous Manaus wedding of the waters, in Peru you can still see the one side of the river from the other.  Go upstream from Iquitos and stay in one of the jungle lodges and there is a good chance of seeing the pink river dolphins.  Try your hand at pirahna fishing but keep your hands well clear of their teeth.

Pink dolphins Amazon

The jungle is amazing.  Green everywhere,  insects the size of cricket balls and tarantulas the size of the bottom of a bucket.  Birds abound, as do monkeys, snakes and even the occasional jaguar.  It pays to have a very good guide.  If you are lucky you may experience a tropical storm.  Experienced at night, I saw the jungle lit green by lightning.  Incredible.

Jungle lodge Peru

The other must see, and for most the reason to travel to Peru in the first place is to see the Inca culture at Cuzco and Machu Picchu.  Only the most experience pilots fly the Cuzco route and only in daylight – and when you see the airport runway you realise why.  Cuzco perches 11000 feet up in the Andes, surrounded by mountains,  and you need to rest and acclimatize when you arrive.  The city is beautiful – red tiled roofs and stunning drystone walls dating to Quechua times.  On the town tour you will see the stone that has 14 sides and fits perfectly with its  neighbours.  The skill is breathtaking, and it is not just the thin air.  In Cuzco you can try the local speciality of guinea pig – think stringy and quite tough.

Cuzco

From Cuzco the train takes you down 3000 feet through Ollyantaytambo and the sacred valley where the corn is delicious to Aqua Calientes.  This is the town at the bottom of the hill that the once lost city of Machu Picchu sits on.  Undiscovered for several hundred years this spectacularly well preserved ruin raises as many questions as it answers.

machu Picchu

Walk to the Sungate for the view as the locals would have seen it from the Inca trail.  If you want to do the walk make sure you book through a tour company as the numbers are controlled by permit.  The bus takes you up a switchback road to the top.  There are still flower beds planted by the inhabitants that bloom.  And definitely stay overnight so that you have the city at its best in the quiet of early morning and you can explore at your own pace.

There is so much more to see in Peru, but this will have to serve as a taste.  Peru is a smorgasbord to be savoured in all its colours.

O is for Oman

Where do the people of the Arabian Peninsula go for holidays?  To Oman.

And why wouldn’t they?  Oman is a hidden treasure of delight and unexpectedness that beckons travellers with the promise of something truly special.

The capital is Muscat.  Unlike its neighbour to the west Muscat does not have high rise buildings scraping the stratosphere.  In Muscat the buildings may not be taller than the famous towers guarding the city, so it is user friendly and not overwhelming.  The souqs will delight and if you have a platinum card it could get a workout!

Muscat souq

But there is so much more to see than just the capital.  To the north is Musandam.  Explore the mountains here and go on a dhow cruise to visit Telegraph Island and swim in warm waters.  Take the ferry down to Muscat and the cruise is very like the fjords of Norway.

Musandam

South of Muscat you can visit the nesting sites of the green turtles in the right season (September) and south again is Salalah that I will return to.

Most people think of the Arabian Peninsula as desert.  Oman will confound that expectation.  While the Empty Quarter will give you the desert experience (and sleeping under a million stars in the desert sky in a tent having been feasted by the local tribespeople is an experience that will remain with you always),  there is so much more than that.  Oman boasts mountains over 3000 metres high.  Apricots, dates and nuts are grown along with many others and the wadis offer refreshing waters.  Ancient towns like Nizwa with give you an insight to a history that dates back millenia.

Empty quarter Oman

And if that is not enough, Salalah in the south has rainforest!  The place the Muscovites escape to in the heat of summer Salalah offers green vistas and great birdwatching.  It is also home to the frankincense trade that has linked the Arabian Peninsula to Europe.

Boswellia trees frankincense

Bu most of all, Oman offers warm and welcoming hospitality to everyone.  Travellers and tourists will be welcomed, western culture is accepted, and the hotels and resorts are to die for.  Put it on your bucket list now!

N is for New Zealand The North Island

New Zealand offers something for everyone.  Compact enough to see in three weeks, diverse enough to spend six months and still not see everything, it is a treasure trove of things to see, do, experience and explore.  Like Canada, this will be a two parter.

If you are going to visit New Zealand and want to do it over two trips, start with the North Island.  Auckland is the main gateway in ( but not the capital city) and the North Island is beautiful in its own right.  At the top of the island the land stretches into the Pacific Ocean with countless beaches and bays and abundant birdlife.  Most tourists will go as far as the Bay of Islands, known for the Hole in the Rock cruise, dolphin spotting and some very classy getaway homes.  It is also home to the Waitangi treaty grounds where white settlers and Maori people forged an alliance to settle the land and to lovely Russell a ferry ride from Paihia great views and some fabulous craft shops.Hole in the Rock Cruise

The coastline will keep surfers happy and walkers fit.  Try Ninety Mile Beach!

Auckland is set on two bays and is as much about water activities as it is about city living.  Known as the City of Sails you can go for a sail aboard an America’s Cup boat or take the regular ferries to waterside suburbs for a look around the craft shops and a coffee at one of the many cafes.  If you are a thrill seeker have a go at the bungy jump in downtown Auckland.  New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world.

Rotorua is famous the world over for its geothermal activity, hot springs and thermal mud pools.  Soak is natural hot water, have a mud pack or massage at one of the spas, and take in the geysers and mud pools at one of the many areas around town.  This is also where you will experience Maori heritage – sample the hangi feast cooked in the ground as it has been for thousands of years – and delicious.
If you want an authentic and less touristy experience of Maori culture the Eastlands area is 50% Maori and a great place to find Maori art.

rotorua-trilogy

Within a 90 minute drive of Rotorua you will find Mata Mata, home to the setting and filming of The Hobbit and the Hobbiton area for The Lord of the Rings films.  Take a tour and a ride on Gandalf the bus to the filming area and see the period vege patches, the hobbit holes (doorways anyway) and the tree they tied thousands of leaves to, and marvel at the magic of film.

bag-end-hobbiton-movie-set-matamata-nz.ClFWmQ

About the same distance away is Waitomo and its glowworm caves.  There are in fact three caves to explore.  South of Rotorua is Lake Taupo and dominating the landscape Ruapehu /Mt Tongariro.  Walks abound here in this world heritage area, the impressive Huka Falls are worth a look and the activities on the lake are endless.

If you head across to the East Coast from Lake Taupo make sure you fill your tank as there are no fuel stations on the two hour drive across.  Napier on the coast is world renowned for its Art Deco architecture, built after the massive earthquake of 1931 and do take the walking tour which is the best way to see the city.  Birdwatchers will enjoy the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers and Hawke’s Bay nearby has wineries specialising in cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot.

More wineries further south in the area around Martinborough, but if you take the first road signed to Martinborough from the north you will miss the vineyards.  You will however come across a quirky New Zealand landmark – a southern hemisphere version of Stonehenge  Aotearoa.  Oddly enough it is worth the modest entry fee to see the rest of the site and explore the connections to Egyptian, Babylonian and Indus valley astronomy,  Polynesian navigation and Maori Star lore.

The wineries are well worth exploring.  Surfers will want to visit Taranaki and Surf Highway 45 with 100 kilometres of beach and great breaks.  WOMAD is held in March  in New Plymouth along with garden festivals and sporting events.  Check out the galleries and the Te Rewa Bridge.

South again to the capital city of New Zealand  Wellington.  Known affectionately as the windy city, it is home to the Te Papa Museum – absolutely a must see to learn about the seismic activity of the islands as well as its natural history.  Take the cable car ride to the top of Mount Victoria for great views over the city and to visit the Botanic Gardens.  The Zoo is small enough to enjoy in two to three hours and big enough to keep you interested.  You will be able to see endemic fauna here.  The Beehive building is the New Zealand parliament, and close by is the gorgeous Old St Paul’s church, Gothic revival in style with some beautiful stained glass windows.  Like all capital cities Wellington has arts and culture, sporting venues and a waterfront best explored by bike or on foot.

In keeping with the film culture WETA Cave is the New Zealand’s Hollywood, a must see.  And check out the World of Wearable Art festival that has been running for 25 years.

So much more is on offer in the North Island but that would take another entry.  Get out and enjoy it, and if you need help planning and booking your holiday,  I am an email or phone call away.