South Island, New Zealand – April 2013

A quick two-week getaway to New Zealand’s glorious South Island. We had wanted to do the Kepler Track for some years and thought the sooner we did it, the better. It’s a stunning track in good weather, and we were lucky that for us the second day was perfect conditions. In rain, wind or worse it would be very challenging indeed! The views were wonderful in all directions. The descent at the end of the day was rather a killer, though. It seemed endless and it took some days for our toes to recover. Of course you can never guarantee the weather so we had all the gear and only needed some of it (better than the other way round!). The huts were very cosy, as always. Thanks to the wardens who had a nice fire going in the common rooms when we arrived, though the bunk rooms were very chilly! There were lots of families with kids, and European backpackers – made for an interesting experience.

We bookended our hike with visits and walks in Christchurch, Akaroa, Wanaka, Arrowtown, Queenstown, Mt Cook and Kaikoura. The autumn colours were gorgeous (all introduced trees, but no complaints). A lovely break.

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Posted on Tuesday June 4th, 2013, tagged with events | 2 comments

Bournda – December 2012

A quick two-day escape to Bournda, where we hadn’t camped for years, with Ange and Rohan. Some things have changed – more camping sites, louder bellbirds and the beach seems to have been reshaped and eroded. But it still rains there, and the lagoon and island are much as we remember them. Ah, memory lane!

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Posted on Wednesday December 19th, 2012, tagged with events | 3 comments

Peru and Bolivia – May, June 2012

In May, Peter, Stephan, Ange and Rohan flew to South America for six weeks of adventure in Peru and Bolivia. We arrived in Cusco, Peru, and spent three days there acclimatising to the altitude (3,400 metres) and enjoying its lively tourist scene. Then we went on a 7-day trek, first around the enormous mountain Salkantay and then joining the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This longer version of the route to Machu Picchu puts you half a day ahead of the other 500 people who walk the Inca Trail each day, and ensures you have peaceful walking and choice of the best campsites. Highly recommended. We had two days at Machu Picchu, which was good planning as the first day was rather wet. The second day was much better and it was a fascinating and memorable experience to be at such a legendary place.

Not content with one trek, we then travelled to Huaraz in the heart of the Peruvian Andes, the Cordillera Blanca, and started a second, 10-day one, called the Alpamayo Base Camp trek. This took us into the most beautiful wild scenery you could imagine, with jagged mountains, glaciers, lakes and green valleys with abundant wildflowers. It also took us over no less than eight high passes, between 4,400 and 4,860 metres, where the thin air made it very challenging. The main highlight was seeing the almost perfect, pyramidal, ice-creamy summit of the mountain Alpamayo (5,947 metres) lit by the sunrise, but on this trek, every day is a highlight.

For a complete change, the next destination was Iquitos, in northern Peru, from where we took a speedboat three hours up the Amazon River and then along a small tributary to Muyuna Lodge, an intimate retreat with thatched huts on stilts in the jungle. Here we spent three days on excursions by foot, boat or canoe into the rainforest or the wetlands, seeing caimans, dolphins, monkeys, sloths, iguanas and all manner of birds. We even caught (and ate, in Peter’s case at least) some small but still toothy piranhas.

We then flew to La Paz in Bolivia, an extraordinary city that grows out of a canyon and up to over 4,000 metres above sea level. It’s also worth visiting for its llama steaks and beautifully colourful textiles, including alpaca wool clothing. From here we visited Lake Titicaca, staying for one night on the Isla del Sol, where we stumbled upon a local festival with people drinking and dancing and wearing costumes that you’d need to be drinking to consider wearing.

The last part of the trip involved a 20-hour journey by local bus and train to Tupiza, in southern Bolivia, from where we took a five-day tour by 4WD into the remote and other-worldly landscape of the southern Bolivian altiplano. Here, in a cold and windswept volcanic world , we saw lakes of green, red, blue, black and silver, deserts of red, orange and sulphur, rivers frozen with ice, bizarre rock formations, the world’s largest salt pan…. and pink flamingos. We also descended into a 300 year old Spanish silver mine, visited a cave with 500 year old mummies and stayed in a hotel made almost entirely from salt. You don’t write a list like that every day!

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Posted on Sunday July 8th, 2012, tagged with travel | 5 comments

Northeastern Victoria – March 2012

Towards the end of March we joined other members of the extended family for a camping weekend at Porepunkah, near Bright in northeastern Victoria. It’s a beautiful area in autumn, and the weather was kind. On Saturday we explored Mt Buffalo. Magnificent views in all directions, though the Horn track was unfortunately closed for reconstruction. The second full day some of us climbed the Eskdale Spur of Mt Bogong and walked along the ridge to Cleve Cole Hut, before returning the same way – many hundreds of vertical metres in one day, as our knees were keen to let us know! It was cold and windy on the ridges, quite wintry in fact, but beautiful views once again. We returned home the next day via Hume Dam and up the Hume Highway.

I’ve included some historic shots of the same area from the seventies, including the epic trip we did with the two babies just before Christmas in 1979. Don’t we all look young!

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Posted on Wednesday May 2nd, 2012, tagged with events | comments disabled

Southeastern NSW and Victorian coast

In mid-November we took a week to mosey down the coast from Merimbula to Wilson’s Promontory before heading to Phillip Island and Melbourne. The weather was lovely and we took the opportunity to camp some of the time and see some places we hadn’t visited before or not for a long time.  Some we are going to have to visit again! First stop was Ben Boyd National Park – we explored the section south of Eden. Just loved the spectacular red rocks, beautiful coastal scenery and lush vegetation. We had a few wildlife encounters as you will see in the photos!

Then a drive down the Pacific Highway to Cann River, where we turned south to Point Hicks, the first point on the Australian mainland spotted by Captain Cook’s crew in 1770. Apart from the lighthouse it probably hasn’t changed much- a lovely stretch of coast! Drove to Marlo that evening and the next day headed inland to Buchan, famed for its limestone caves, which didn’t disappoint. We also checked out the Snowy River, flowing impressively after a major release of water from Lake Jindabyne.

On to Paynesville, from where we headed west, then southwest the next day through beautiful Tarra Bulga National Park (wonderful rainforest, thankfully spared by the 2009 bushfires, unlike the country that we drove through to get there, still scarred and bare.) Finally west and south again to Wilson’s Promontory, also just recovering from disaster, but this one a devastating flood early in 2011 that meant much of the park was still out of bounds. However the campground and beaches were accessible and we spent two very pleasant days walking and enjoying the scenery. However, we were a bit taken aback by the behaviour of a local wombat who thought it was quite OK to break into our tent at 2 am and get into our food containers. He wasn’t exactly inclined to leave, either! The next night we withdrew to a cabin. We will pay more attention to warnings about wombats in future!

We headed west to Phillip Island after that and spent quite a bit of time at the Rookery, Woolamai beach and Churchill Island heritage farm, but the highlight was the Penguin Parade, watching hundreds of little penguins returning from 3-4 days at sea, waddling up the beach in tight-knit groups and dispersing amongst the sandhills. Very cute! We were the last to leave. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to photograph the penguins so no photos for the blog. Finally we headed to Melbourne to stay with the fam and celebrate a Significant Birthday, stopping briefly for a look at Cranbourne Botanic Garden on the way (not quite finished but very impressive!)

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Posted on Saturday January 7th, 2012, tagged with travel | 2 comments

Norway/Sweden – May 2011

Having visited Norway in July 1975 as part of our big overseas trip, we were keen to travel there again, as it held such strong memories for us. We’d loved the countryside for its spectacular scenery and variety, and its wild, rugged and underpopulated feel. We had met our friends Kym and Sue in Oslo and spent a good two weeks travelling around with them, punctuated by breakdowns of our Commer van (a lemon if ever there was one) and the necessity to all fit into one van – cosy! So this time we vowed we’d have a reliable vehicle at least.

Mike and Meg were happy to join us for the adventure, and we had fun fitting the four of us, plus camping gear and lots of food into the relatively small Renault Megane. It was a red letter day when we could reduce the number of duffel bags in the middle of the back seat from two to one! We set off from Kiel and were able to leave some stuff at Emmy’s, or we would never have fitted. Our route took us through Denmark (stopping only for lunch) and up the Swedish coast. By Day 2 we were at Odda, after a wonderful drive across the southern part of the country through green spring countryside, towns, tunnels, forests, past thundering waterfalls and along half frozen lakes, up into snow country and back down to fjord level. This pattern continued as we explored the fjords and coast. The scenery was often awe-inspiring, and we were impressed by the roads with their numerous tunnels, bridges and ferries tying the country together.  We camped when the weather looked OK, and stayed in a Hytte (cabin) when it looked like rain.

As we headed further north from Trondheim it got colder and starker, less spring-like and more like winter. (We certainly beat the rush, tourist-wise!) The Lofoten islands, past the Arctic circle were our northernmost point,and here we were lucky enough to see the midnight sun -a very special moment! We also brought out the down jackets and woolly hats. On our way back south we headed across to the Swedish Baltic coast and visited the famous High Coast or Hoga Kusten (still rising after being weighed down by huge glaciers in the most recent Ice Age) and then inland past lakes and forest back through Denmark (stopping once again for lunch) to Germany.

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Posted on Wednesday November 9th, 2011, tagged with events | comments disabled

Germany – May/June 2011

We’d decided it might be fun to join Mike and Meg for some part of their long bike tour of Europe (but not on  bikes!!), and Norway seemed to be a good place to do some travelling together (also somewhere that wasn’t particularly easy to travel by bike.) So it made sense to go to Germany as well, and catch up with some of our dear relatives and friends that we hadn’t seen for quite a while.

Frankfurt was the obvious place to start, and we spent the  first few days with my lovely cousins Birgit and Uta and their partners, and had a quick catch-up with Emmy and her Mum. The hard part was deciding which route to take as we headed north towards Kiel where we would meet the kids. We stayed off the autobahns and enjoyed wending our way through the beautiful German countryside – fresh and green, with bright yellow fields of canola contrasting with dark forests and blue sky.  So many wind turbines and solar panels on roofs – very impressive. We took in some forests, villages, castles, medieval town centres, magnificent gardens in the city of Kassel and winding river valleys on the way north, camping as we went. In Kiel Emmy looked after us so well, and we spent a few days seeing the sights and getting organised.

Norway and Sweden will be a blog post on their own – watch this space! ……

Three and a half weeks after leaving Kiel, we came back from Norway and Sweden, exhilarated by the beauty of those countries and the rather bracing spring weather we’d encountered there. It was summer in Germany, the green fields were drying out (a bit, nothing like here!) and the weather was warm and the days long. After a couple more sunny days in Kiel, we headed off to Berlin. We spent a week there, superbly looked after by our dear friends Peter and Christel, seeing the sights and visiting Kathy’s aunt. Berlin is such an interesting city – there is always a lot happening and historic buildings everywhere you look, but it’s also pretty and green and full of parkland.The kids joined us there for a few days before we parted ways again.

Pete and I made a quick day trip from Berlin into Poland to visit the town where my Dad was born and grew up. It’s been Polish since 1945, and we weren’t quite sure what sort of a state it would be in. We were pleasantly surprised, in general. Some parts were run-down, but there has been quite a bit of restoration. We found Dad’s old school, the house where he lived and the town centre, and visited a wonderful restored castle just north of the town, before heading back to Germany.

We meandered across the old East Germany, checking out “Saxon Switzerland”, Colditz Castle, the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains), Jena and Weimar before visiting two more wonderfully hospitable cousins Jochen and Christjana and their partners, cleaning and giving back our trusty Renault Megane, aka “Asterix” and heading back to Oz, and a few days of jet lag.

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Posted on Sunday November 6th, 2011, tagged with travel | comments disabled

Marlo and Cape Conran – April 2011

We joined Mum and Stephan and family for a relaxed week’s camping at Marlo, which is roughly equidistant from Melbourne and Canberra. The weather was, to say the least, changeable (ie often rainy, windy, cloudy, occasionally sunny) but we were able to shelter in Mum’s cabin whenever it got too cold and wet and every evening. Cape Conran Coastal Park is just a few kilometres to the east and it has some wonderful coastal scenery, rough rocky capes, long windswept beaches, dense bushland. We loved the bright orange and yellow lichen-covered rocks, the pounding surf and having whole beaches all to ourselves. Interesting to see where the Snowy River flows into the sea – would not be easy to spot from a few miles offshore. We went for quite a few walks, and a longer drive to Bemm River, Pearl Point and Orbost. And most of us learned to play whist – and even got quite good at it!

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Posted on Thursday April 21st, 2011, tagged with events | comments disabled

Swampy Plain / Geehi – March 2011

The annual family camping weekend this year was a long weekend at Swampy Plain campground, on the Alpine Way. There’d been heaps of rain over the summer and everything was green and lush. The river had clearly flooded not long ago – lots of debris on the banks. We found a lovely grassy private spot by the river. There was some late overnight rain and one morning, but not enough to spoil the weekend, thankfully. Had fun crossing the river to get to Dr Forbes’ Hut – all still looking good there. We had a lovely swim in the (cold) river at Keebles’ Hut, did some walks and drives in the surrounding area. The Main Range occasionally revealed itself through the clouds (1800 vertical metres) and we had one brilliant starry night. No mobile phone reception so the outside world didn’t intrude, very relaxing. We drove home via Khancoban and Cabramurra. Memory lane for some of us!
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Posted on Thursday April 21st, 2011, tagged with events | comments disabled

UAE, Greece, Jordan – November 2010

Our latest adventure was a trip to the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Greece and Jordan for a month in November. We have wonderful friends in Dubai with a magnificent house and guest room so their place became our base for seeing Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and the northern part of Oman, and from which we headed off for longer forays to Greece and Jordan.

Dubai has to be seen to be believed. Everything is on a grand scale and thankfully some of the crazier projects have been put on hold as a result of the global financial crisis. Still, it is like a city on steroids, like something out of a science fiction movie. Lots of interesting, unusually shaped high-rise buildings, an ultra-modern above-ground railway, an indoor ski slope (!) and malls that look like palaces. There is still an old part of town near the Creek, with its port and spice, textile, gold and other markets – fascinating! The Burj Khalifa, currently the highest building in the world, is an elegant spire, quite breathtaking in its beauty.

A highlight of Abu Dhabi was the amazing Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Great Mosque. It is a magnificent building and no expense has been spared in embellishing all its surfaces with the intricate patterns so typical of Muslim architecture. There are plans for a major cultural centre at Abu Dhabi, including a Guggenheim Museum, Louvre, Performing Arts Centre and Maritime Museum, which will make it a magnet for tourists in the years to come.

We enjoyed the wild coastal scenery of the Musandam Peninsula in Oman from a tourist dhow we had all to ourselves and Suesy took us “wadi-bashing” up a rocky and inhospitable gorge. In Sharjah we took in the Museum of Islamic Civilisation and the Blue Soukh as well as a traditional courtyard home and school, preserved as museums.

We’d visited Greece in 1975 and this time around we found that some things had changed and others hadn’t. There are still a lot of ruins! In Athens they’re still restoring the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis, but have completed a magnificent new Acropolis Museum down below – truly outstanding. We visited several museums in Greece and found that just about all of them are watched over by middle-aged lady attendants who spend the whole time talking (loudly) on their mobile phones. Most annoying!!

Athens was fascinating – we stayed in Monastiraki, near the Acropolis- and we were surprised to see how many tiny little shops there still are in the narrow streets. We enjoyed shopping at the food markets and walking or catching the new Underground to the various sites.

Then it was off to the Pelopponese – Mycenae (Mykenai), with its magnificent Lion Gate (sans lions) and impressive walls , a lovely little village called Dimitsana overnight and then through many more picturesque villages to Olympia. Alas the Olympic Games site from antiquity was closed due to elections (Bah!). Back through more rugged and scenic country to Nafplion – a beautiful historic town, at one time Greece’s capital, situated on a wide bay. The next day we looked at the theatre of Epidaurus before driving to Delphi – what a beautiful setting on the slopes of Mt Parnassus! Spent many hours looking at the remains of the temples, treasuries, stadium , gymnasium and theatre there, and the museum, before driving to Meteora, much further north. Here there was a magnificent sunset over the monasteries perched on their granite tors, but alas, the next day the whole area was shrouded in cloud.

Back to Athens and a flight to Crete, where we stayed at Archarnes near Heraklion (in a lovely restored old courtyard apartment), visiting the Minoan palaces of Knossos and Phaestos, the Archaeological Museum and driving through the truly picturesque autumn countryside, full of orchards, vineyards and olive groves. Crete as a whole is rather rugged and the southern coastline particularly so. Chania in the northwest is a beautiful historic port; we stayed a couple of nights near the cathedral in the town centre and wandered the streets on foot (not really a place for cars!)

We returned to Dubai to regroup and spend a lovely day and evening with our friends before flying to Amman, for the last leg of our trip. We met our very friendly and competent driver /guide Wa’el and after a night in Amman, set off on our seven day tour of Jordan. Highlights included Salt, the Jordan Valley, Umm Qais with its view to the Sea of Galilee and the Roman ruins of Gardara, Jerash (another Roman town spectacularly preserved), three massive castles from Crusader times perched on steep arid hilltops (Ajlun, Kerak and Shawbak), the churches of Madaba and Mt Nebo with their early Christian mosaic floors, the Dead Sea (where you can float without effort and have mud baths!), Wadi Rum with its spectacular desert scenery.

But the jewel of the tour, of course, was Petra. What an amazing place! Everyone has seen pictures of El Khazneh (the so-called Treasury) which is a breathtaking sight at the end of the gorge known as the Siq, but there is so much more to explore beyond, a whole city in fact (mostly hollowed out or built by the Nabataeans and later added to by the Romans.) And the cliffs are such spectacular colours and patterns! We could easily have spent longer than the one and a half days (including one evening) that we had allowed. Alas, it was not to be. Back to Amman, Dubai, Brisbane and home to the greenest we have ever seen this part of the world – full dams and lush growth- lovely!
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Posted on Tuesday April 5th, 2011, tagged with travel | 2 comments

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