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

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

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

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

Nepal – November/ December, 2009

A group of eight family and friends – ourselves plus Ange, her boyfriend Rohan, and four friends around our age (Fred, Andrew, Sue and Tina for those that might know them) had signed up for this adventure. After almost twelve months of planning, reading, organising, worrying (some of us!), accumulating gear and training, we left on 7 November for Kathmandu and started the trek on 11 November after a couple of days sightseeing and making final arrangements in Kathmandu (where there was also the saga of the wrongly dated visa for one of our party to be sorted out!)

We had chosen a remote and challenging area to visit – the Manaslu Circuit to the west of Kathmandu. The trek involved 16 days of walking, starting at Arughat, 500 metres above sea level and ascending to the Larke La (pass) at 5130 metres before returning to around 800 metres again – with barely a piece of level ground anywhere along the way! It is without a doubt the most adventurous and unforgettable thing we have ever done. There are so few places to provision along the way that our crew consisted of 26 porters, five cooks and five sherpas.

Everyone completed the circuit without major difficulty or the intervention of helicopters and survived the cold and lack of oxygen at the high altitudes. Along the way we followed steep river gorges, saw terraced fields, scores of waterfalls, beautiful forests, 8 000 metre mountains, glaciers, monkeys, donkeys, yaks, more dung than you could think possible, primitive Buddhist villages, adorable (but snotty) children and barely twenty other Westerners (until we joined the very popular Annapurna Circuit, near the end).

Finally we had a few days R & R in Pokhara, which included several hot showers,a day of golf (memorable), some gift shopping, wining and dining and, for some, sunrise over the magnificent Annapurna Range, before returning by bus to Kathmandu.

We will always have a special admiration for the hardy, friendly, gentle Nepali people in our crew who dedicated themselves to ensuring our safety and enjoyment throughout the trek. All in all an unforgettable journey.

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Posted on Saturday January 2nd, 2010, tagged with travel | 8 comments

Queensland – July / August, 2009

For our annual escape from the rigours of a Canberra winter we headed north to Queensland, checking out some places in NSW we hadn’t been to before  (Orange, Hill End, Mudgee, Coolah, Lightning Ridge, Angledool, Goodooga). After a rather cold start in NSW, and cold nights but lovely days in inland Queensland, the weather became warm and sunny, beautiful one day, perfect the next. Among the highlights of the trip were Carnarvon Gorge, where we hiked overnight to Big Bend and thus had much more time to appreciate the beauty of the gorge; Hinchinbrook Island, where we did a day trip by boat, including a 5.6km hike along beaches and through bush; lovely rainforest in various parks; the Central Queensland Gem Show at Monto (for Kath) and Australia Zoo (for Pete) which despite all the “Crikey” moments is beautifully presented and deservedly popular.

Our plans to do lots of hiking were somewhat shattered when while walking at Jourama Falls, Kath twisted her foot, which took two weeks plus to return to normal. So there was a bit of reading on beaches, looking at parks and gardens and the sights of Townsville (very nice, we decided!) and generally not straining oneself, which is what a holiday should be about anyway! We finished with visits to a friend, David, who generously showed us around his permaculture farm near the Bellinger River and the surrounding area, and cousin Shirlie and husband Ian, who once again regaled us with good food and fine wine.

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Posted on Wednesday September 16th, 2009, tagged with travel | comments disabled

Bushwalks – 2009

2009 is going to be the year of the hike, as we try to get our legs and bodies in a condition to trek in Nepal for 3 weeks. So far we have done some lovely hikes – to Camelback Ridge in Tidbinbilla reserve, up (and down) Mt Taylor (many times already), to Mt Ainslie, up and down Mt Tennent, and to Gibraltar Rocks in Tidbinbilla, with most of our friends from the trekking party.

There’ll be many more of these outings, and lots more photos taken – it’s a good excuse to stop for a breather occasionally, I’ve found!

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Posted on Monday May 11th, 2009, tagged with travel | comments disabled

Western Australia – July & August 2008

After hitting an unfortunate kangaroo near Hay and having to return to Canberra (see the previous post), we left the Pajero to be repaired and a few days later flew to Perth, where we hired a car, determined to have our Western Australian holiday anyway! And we are so glad we did! It is such a beautiful state, with so much variety of scenery and vegetation. We were lucky to have good weather just about everywhere.

We started our journey by heading up the Great Northern Highway through Mt. Magnet and Newman, watching the country quite quickly change from lush green fields to dry red-soiled plains, and regularly overtaking massive trucks with wide loads on their way to the mines. Our destination, Karijini National Park, is an absolute gem (at no. 1 on the map below), with stunning gorges cut deep into the plateau, featuring cool flowing creeks edged with gums, paperbarks and bright green grass beneath high red cliffs, narrowing into canyons with hidden pools. Some of these are quite a challenge to negotiate, others more accessible, but all beautiful and unique. We stayed here four days before reluctantly leaving for the coast, which we then followed south all the way to Perth and beyond, with a few deviations.

We enjoyed exploring Ningaloo National Park near Exmouth (2 on the map) with its fringing reef very close to the shore, bright white beaches and clear aqua sea, and a highlight was a whale-watching trip where we saw several pods of humpback whales, one of which even waved goodbye to our boat as we left. At Coral Bay we looked at the coral through a glass-bottomed boat. Further south at Shark Bay (3) we saw stromatolites (an extremely ancient but not terribly attractive life form) at Hamelin Pool, a vast beach consisting solely of tiny white shells, and dolphins being fed at Monkey Mia. From here on south we encountered patches of multi-coloured wildflowers by the road for several hundred kilometres- stunning!

We did our first long hike at Kalbarri (4), following a loop in the Murchison River along a colourful gorge. We saw many interesting flowering shrubs here and further on – the region is a “biodiversity hotspot”! After Geraldton we did a bit of meandering in our attempts to see as many wildflowers as possible. A highlight was Lesueur National Park (5), a botanist’s paradise. We also visited the Pinnacles (6) at sunset when the shadows make this interesting landscape even more photogenic.

South to Perth and Fremantle, where we stayed for four days, visiting the sights and spending a day exploring Rottnest Island on bikes. Perth is a beautiful city and Fremantle has a lot of historic buildings and great fish and chips! Leaving Perth, we headed toward the Southwest region (7) on a rather cool windy day, exploring the coastline at Cape Naturaliste, the majestic karri forests and passing many vineyards. Heading west through more of the tall forests we encountered more cool rainy weather which cleared by the time we got to Albany.

The coastline near Albany features smoothly rounded granite outcrops, white sandy beaches and deep turquoise water, with jutting headlands covered in interesting flowering shrubs, including the biggest banksia we have ever seen! Leaving Albany we visited the Porongorup Range (also granite) before continuing on to the Stirling Ranges (8) a short distance further north. Here we climbed Bluff Knoll (tallest mountain in the Southwest) and Mt Hassell, and admired the amazing range of colourful flowering shrubs as we climbed.

Finally we drove back north towards Perth, stopping to admire the Dryandra Woodland Reserve north of Narrogin and to visit Albert Facey’s house at Wickepin (his autobiography “A Fortunate Life” tells what life was like as this country was just being opened up, early last century.)

After a concerted effort to wash the remaining red dust off the car and give away some of our acquired camping gear, we flew back home, determined to come back again to WA, see the bits we missed and revisit some of our favourite spots again in the not-too-distant future!

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Posted on Monday September 29th, 2008, tagged with travel | 1 comment

Lakes Walk – February 2008

The traditional annual family weekend in the mountains this year took us to Jindabyne again. On Saturday morning we headed off to Charlotte Pass, to attempt the 22km Main Range walk, via Blue Lake, Lake Albina and Mt. Kosciuszko. Superb weather, beautiful views and masses of wildflowers (different ones from December) made it a memorable family walk. Our feet were however very tired by the end. By popular demand, Sunday was spent in a much more leisurely fashion!

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Posted on Monday April 14th, 2008, tagged with travel | comments disabled

Snowy Mountains – December 2007

Just after Christmas, those of the family who weren’t gadding about elsewhere went to Jindabyne for a few days, to reacquaint ourselves with the Snowy Mountains in summer. Mum hadn’t been there for a while and we spent three fine days visiting old haunts. On Day One we all went to the top of the chairlift at Thredbo, and Teepar, Stephan and Jess did the walk to the top of Mt Kosciuszko while Kath and Mum admired the flowers and the scenery at our own pace. On Day Two, Mum and Stephan and Jess had a look around new and old Jindabyne (and watched a bit of cricket) while Kath, Pete and Teepar, and a lovely young lady we met on the way, did the walk to Blue Lake and back via Hedley Tarn. On the last day (a pretty hot one!) we all went up to Charlotte Pass, Spencer’s Creek and Sawpit Creek to enjoy the views, the wildflowers and the crystal clear streams before heading back home.

We stayed in a lovely multi-level townhouse on the hill in Jindabyne with great views of the lake. Our spare time was spent preparing food, eating, chatting, watching (what else?) “Jindabyne”, watching cricket, reading, sitting on the balcony, playing Scrabble (a close one!), eating some more and finally sleeping. A very pleasant way to spend a few days!

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Posted on Monday January 14th, 2008, tagged with travel | 2 comments

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