Category Archives: Wild and Wonderful

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

N is for New Zealand -South Island

If you only ever intend to see one island in New Zealand (and both are definitely worth it) then the South Island delivers bang for buck.

Home to the best sauvignon blancs in the world in the Marlborough region, spectacular fjords, glaciers, and some lovely rail journeys, the South Island will give you a good overview of the country and its people.

The crossing from Wellington on the North Island to Picton on the North Island by ferry is three and a half hours of lovely scenery.  If you are hiring a car the car company will take your vehicle used in the north and give you a new one in the south island on arrival, so remember to take all your belongings out of the car.  Exploring Marlborough Sound gives you access to some great coastal walks as well as vineyards and a burgeoning food and wine experience.

Marlborough wine country

Travelling across the island and down will bring you to Greymouth, the end point of the TranzAlpine railway that runs from Christchurch.  Check out the local brewery, and if you are into adventure activities, quad biking is just one of many activities available.

Continuing south along the west coast and you travel through Hokitika, crafts and jade or greenstone country, down to Franz Josef Glacier, one of two on this coast.  The glacier is right by the road so very accessible.  A little further south and Fox Glacier is the second accessible glacier.  Here you can walk on the glacier with crampons after hiking through forest, and the helicopter ride is great fun.  South again and you will need your camera charged as the views to the Tasman Sea unfold on this gorgeous stretch of coast.

Haast Pass takes the road inland towards Queenstown and across the mountains.  Again, the camera will be working overtime as the views around every corner are breathtaking.  Mountains, lakes, valleys – gorgeous.  Wanaka is home to both the lake for which the town is named, and to great skifields.   It is also the site for Warbirds over Wanaka, an airshow of international repute.   Next stop Arrowtown just out of Queenstown.  Adventure seekers will try the jetboats; those preferring less getting drenched and more cultural pursuits will enjoy the local craftshops.

Everyone who goes to Queenstown regrets not staying longer. Plan for at least four nights here.  The town sits between two lakes and is surrounded by mountains and in the winter ski runs.  Filled with great souvenir places, all kinds of different restaurant options, including the restaurant at the top of the chairlift to the top of the mountain, and hub for day tours out of the town, Queenstown is lively, friendly and in the heart of everything.  This is where the bungy jump (using a cord not vines) was born and  it is close to several sites  where Lord of the Rings was filmed.  You can take a four wheel drive tour to Skippers Canyon – not for the fainthearted!  Or if a bygone era is more your style, a trip on the Earnslaw, a steamer boat is a lovely option.

Two hours south is the little town of Te Anau.  If you plan to see Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, consider staying in Te Anau.  It cuts off two hours travel time in each direction and makes for a far more relaxing experience.  Most tourists will see Milford Sound – smaller, more dramatic and closer to Queenstown that Doubtful Sound, but be prepared.  There is generally one good day in four so you are most likely to see it in cloud and with local waterfalls.  On a  good day, the reflections are spectacular of Mitre Peak in the sound.

Milford Sound

Doubtful Sound is less often visited on a first trip, but is a must for a second visit. Bigger than Milford and with a wealth of wildlife, the Sound offers New Zealand fur seals near the ocean, and curious dolphins that follow the ship.  Bird spotters will also be able to check out the local inhabitants here.

This area also has some world famous hiking trails – tramping in New Zealand parlance.  The Milford Track and the Hollyford Tracks are just two – there are many in New Zealand on both islands.

South again brings you to the southernmost part of New Zealand’s South Island.  Invercargill boasts the most consistent weather in New Zealand – permanently cold!  Try fishing, watersports, birdlife and the trip to Stewart Island the most southerly part of the country will give you a chance to see kiwis in their natural habitat.

Across to the east coast and the Scottish-feel city of Dunedin.  University city, home to Cadbury’s Chocolate factory and a brewery, you an also see Lanarch castle – indeed you van stay there is you wish.  Bird watchers will find the Albatross Centre here.

North to the centre of the island and Mount Cook , the highest mountain in New Zealand offers great views on a clear day.  If not, the hot chocolate is good.  Onward to lake Tekapo and the tiny church on the lake’s edge. North again to Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island and renowned for the earthquakes that flattened much of the city including the landmark Christchurch Cathedral.  It is taking some time but the city is rebuilding, and in the meantime see the popup shops and restaurants housed in shipping containers.  Twin city to Adelaide ( my hometown) and planned by the same Colonel William Light, the city has a beautiful park and the River Avon lets you try punting.

If you are flying out of Christchurch and it is an afternoon flight, a great thing to do is visit the Antarctic Museum.  Have a ride on an actual Hagglund vehicle used on the ice, check out the wildlife on the Antarctic and experience a blizzard.  Well worth a couple of hours.

The transcoastal railway runs from Christchurch north.  Just check that earthquake damage has been repaired.  Visit Kaikoura for dolphin encounters – there is a population of dolphins permanently in the bay, whale watching and swimming with seals.   And if relaxation and spoiling yourself is part of the agenda, the mineral and hot springs area of Hamner Springs will soothe and replenish you.

You will need it if you try to do everything New Zealand has to offer!

Safe Places to travel in 2018

As we draw towards Christmas and some much needed downtime, thoughts turn to plans for 2018 and travel.  In a world increasingly beset by terrorist attacks, volcanic ash and other disasters it can be difficult to pick a place you feel is safe and worth seeing.  So it is good to have an independent source name the top 5.

A recent survey has named the following countries as the world’s five safest to visit.

The latest top 5 safest places are as follows
1. Finland – 6.65
2. UAE – 6.6
3. Iceland – 6.57
4. Oman – 6.49
5. Hong Kong – 6.47
All great destinations. Oman and Iceland are at the top of my list with Finland close behind. I have been to the UAE and Hong Kong so I can give you first hand knowledge and experience here.

Finland offers elegant modern design, fascinating culture and easy proximity to Russia and the rest of Scandinavia, and Finnair hubbing through Helsinki is one of the most efficient airports on the planet.

Many people have hubbed through Dubai especially since direct flights began several years ago out of Adelaide, but take the time to visit.  Plan your visit for November to February for the coolest time of year, but even in summer – which can be brutally hot, everything is air-conditioned right down to the bustops.  A desert dinner under the stars will reconnect you with the vastness of the night skies and the silence of wild places.

Iceland has been on my list to see since I discovered Game of Thrones use it for a great deal of their filming, but fan or not, this is a spectacularly beautiful place.

I put together a tour to Oman a couple of years ago that did not gain traction, but it is time to revisit and put this on your list.  Beautiful, surprising, welcoming and safe, it is  FABULOUS destination.

And Hong Kong is Asia writ large – tall building, tiny villages, a bustling harbour, incredible shopping and fantastic food.

Let me help you plan a great trip to a safe place.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a safe happy break and see you in the new year.

 

N is for New Zealand

New Zealand is one of Australia’s nearest neighbours and our links go back to the ANZAC tradition and before.  Regularly referred to as across the ditch, New Zealand is a few hours flight from Australia and one of the greatest places to go for all sorts of reasons.

Showcased by New Zealand director Peter Jackson in the trilogy Lord of the Rings and again in The Hobbit New Zealand is spectacular in scenery, rich in history and Maori culture, is home to the best sauvignon blancs on the planet (just my opinion but I haven’t tried a Marlborough sav blanc I haven’t liked) and home of the adventure and adrenalin junkies best fixes.

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Auckland is the largest city and main gateway, but Wellington in the south of the North Island is its capital.   Auckland is on two harbours and water sports are a way of life.  Take a ferry across the bay and explore a local village neighbourhood.  Take a sail on an America’s Cup boat.  Explore the city on the morning tour and climb an extinct volcano.  Adrenalin seekers can try the Auckland Tower.

North of Auckland is the Bay of Islands area.  Check out the dolphin cruise from Paihia or Russell and view the Hole in the Rock as well as some very upmarket homes.  While in this region visit the Treaty Ground and explore historic Russell, on a island a three minute ferry from Paihia and if you enjoy a walk and don’t mind a bit of a climb, the views from the lookout are spectacular.

Hole in the Rock Cruise

Check out the glowworm caves at Waitomo south of Auckland, and make time to visit not just the main cave, but one of the other two as well.  Two Dogs cave is fascinating as is the history of how they found the cave ( the hint is in the name) and there are glowworms here too.

Rotorua is the centre for Maori culture.  Enjoy a hangi and savour superbly cooked food done in a traditional earth oven – yum.  Visit the thermal centres in the town and also nearby.  See the world the way it was when it was young – New Zealand is relatively young and still quite geothermically active.

rotorua-trilogy

Let the cares of the world wash away in the hot springs and have a mud scrub and massage for relaxation and rejuvenation.

Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand is there is permanent snow nearby.

If architecture is of interest to you it is worth the drive ( but fill up in Lake Taupo because there are no petrol stations on the road) to Napier on the east coast.  Devastated by earthquake in 1930 the city was rebuilt in Art Deco style and the walking tour is absolutely worth doing.  South after lots of very rural scenery – extremely contented cows and sheep –  is the town of Marlborough, a wine making area worth a look.  If you take the first signpost to the wineries you won’t find the wineries, but you will find a New Zealand quirk – their version of Stonehenge for the southern hemisphere.

Over the pass and south to Wellington.   Capital, affectionately called the windy city,  it is home to a fabulous museum, a sweet little zoo and great views from the cable car top station.  It is quite hilly so be prepared for some climbing or use the lifts that go up the hill usually found in shopping malls.

Wellington city-views

Wellington is the departure point for ferries to the South Island, but I have gone on too long already.  I will keep the South Island for next.

K is for Kenya

If Africa is on your bucket list, Kenya may well be at the heart of it, and for good reason.

The annual migration between Kenya and Tanzania and back again sees literally millions of animals and birds follow the rains to fresh water.  It is a sight few will forget.

The main point of entry to Kenya is the capital Nairobi.  You can stay at the Giraffe Hotel and have these lanky giants pop their heads in the windows to join you for breakfast. The very long almost prehensile blue tongues will make short work of anything left nearby.

Giraffe Hotel Nairobi

Most travellers will head out quickly from Nairobi to explore the  Serengeti plain, and experience life as it has been lived for thousands of years.   The grass eaters – antelope, impala, wildebeest and zebra, to name just a few graze the plain and gather in the Ngorongoro Crater, and with them the predators.  Lion, cheetah and leopard  lie in wait and help cull the weak and old of the vast herds, strengthening the rest for the survival of the fittest.  And behind then come the scavengers, cleaning up the plains.

Ngorongoro crater

On the lakes enormous flocks of flamingos turns the blue to pink.

Flamingos Lake Nakuru

The Masai Mara have lived traditional lives on the plains of Kenya for thousands of years. Wealth is measured in cows, but water is the most precious gift of all.  Experiencing the red clad warriors performing their high jumping dances will remain with you.

Masai Mara

The migration follows the rains, but most likely viewing is between July and September.

Known as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the wildebeest migration in Kenya and Tanzania will leave you awestruck, and amazed.

E is for Ecuador

Named for the Equator this South American country is one of those somewhat overlooked places.

The capital Quito, built on the ruins of an Inca city,  is one of the highest capitals in the world, perched in foothills of the Andes Mountains at 2850 metres.   With its Spanish conquistador history and impressive colonial churches  and fascinating old town area, one of the delights of Quito is the colourful local markets with great fruit and brightly decorated ceramics.  Further out explore ruins of ancient civilisations.

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Take a drive to the equator itself and you have an impressive monument of the actual line of the equator and several museums recounting the history of the exploration of the equator.  You can straddle both hemispheres here.

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Ecuador is home to one of the most remarkable island systems on the planet – the Galapagos Islands.  A flight due west from Quito will bring you to the main island and from there the best way to see the islands is on a cruise.  Manned by expert guides who will explain this unique island chain and ecosystem, you will explore several islands and meet the local marine iguanas, bright red crabs, multitudes of seabirds, and possibly the amazing equatorial penguin.   Nowhere else can you get so close to wildlife.  Not hunted by men or feral animals, you can literally walk centimetres from birds on nests and past sealions basking on the steps on the back of your boat.  It is the place that crystallised Charles Darwin’s work Origin of the Species and revolutionised our understanding of how life evolved on earth.  Check out the blue footed boobies, again unique to these islands.

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Let Ecuador delight you in so many ways.