March 30, 2014

Struth! Light dims in Spain

SOMETHING you've always wanted – your own lighthouse.
This one at Cabo de Palos near Cartagena is one of over
300 being put up for sale by the cash-strapped Spanish Government.
(Photo: Keeping-tabs.blogspot)

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says authorities in Spain have been overwhelmed with enquiries to buy over 300 lighthouses the government's put up for sale to help its ailing economy.

There are some 387 lighthouses in Spain, but today only 50 or so of these still have full-time light keepers living at them – the rest have either been turned over to automatic operation that only require occasional maintenance visits, or have been replaced by more compact and cheaper-to-run lights.

The country's Ministry of Public Works put the rest up for sale or lease in early December 2013, and says it's been "inundated" with enquiries from those interested in turning the buildings into everything from permanent homes to holiday rental accommodation, mini-hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and even art galleries.

Some of the lighthouses date back two to three hundred years and have cottages or apartments large enough for several families to live in them, as those originally living in the larger ones also maintained other nearby lights; others had only basic facilities for single light keepers who worked weekly rotations.

Whatever new use they're put to today, those occupying or visiting them can be assured of grand views – including at some, regular, if fleeting, illuminated glimpses at night.

Muratie Wine Estate - an unusual love affair


David Ellis


BE they fact or fancy, countless seem the tales of romance that live on to be told over and again orally, in print, or on screens both large and small.


The 12th century's teacher-philosopher Abelard and his beautiful student Eloise, Shakespeare's fanciful Romeo and Juliet, real life's Mark Antony and Cleopatra, legendary Lancelot and Guinevere… these make up but a miniscule snapshot of the romances of fame.


And if ever there's another worthy of being up there with the immortals, it's from 17th century Africa, and is a tale little known about outside its homeland – a tale of extraordinary love between a white German soldier and a black slave-girl.


Soldier Laurens Campher was stationed at the Dutch East India Company's Cape Town fortress known as the Castle, and one day caught sight of an attractive female slave working in the Company vegetable gardens. She had been born in the Castle to a slave, and like all others who came into the world there, had been given only one name – in her case Ansela – with the automatic "surname" Van de Caab given all Castle-born slaves, and meaning "of the Cape."


For the soldier and the slave-girl it was instant love, and soon they were meeting secretly at night in the Castle's squalid slave quarters. But despite his love, Laurens Campher longed to be a farmer not a soldier, and in 1685 convinced authorities to grant him a farming block at the foot of the fertile Simonsberg Mountain – a long 64km away.


Unable to simply forget Ansela, Campher repeatedly sought permission to marry her, but was constantly rebuffed with the withering official excuse that she was "a heathen slave."


But rather than give up on his love, the extraordinary Laurens regularly trekked the 64km from his farm back to the Castle to spend time with Ansela, an arduous 3-day return walk he undertook monthly – sometimes more – for fourteen long years, fathering three children, Cornelius, Agenetjie and Jacoba to her in that time.


And bizarrely in 1695 an influential, church-going white woman in Cape Town heard the gossip of the soldier and the slave-girl, bought  Ansela from the Castle for her own household…  and helped orchestrate her baptism into the Lutheran Church, which meant that as a now-Christian she could be freed as a slave and thus able to marry Laurens.


The wedding took place in June of 1699, Laurens delightedly making his last 64km trek back to the farm – that he'd called De Driesprong – with his wife and children, now aged 9, 5 and three.


Laurens had himself already built them a simple yet sizable stone home, and next to this Ansela planted an oak tree on her arrival to bless their marriage – that oak and the old house still standing there to this day.


The Campher family was the first to plant wine grapes in the Stellenbosch area, and after Laurens died in 1729 Ansela and their son Cornelius continued to run the farm for five more years, producing some 600 litres of wine a year and other produce, before finally selling out.


In the 1760s a Martin Melck bought the farm for his daughter, Anna Catharina (Beyers) and it remained in the Melck-Beyers family for over a century, after which it had several owners including for a short time from 1909 the colourful society hostess Lady Alice Sarah Stanford to whom every event was reason enough for a party – and therefore putting Lauren's vineyards and winery to exceptionally good use.


Eventually the farm was given-up on and fell into disrepair, until artist George Paul Canitz and his wife, while horse-riding in 1926, took a wrong turn and found themselves confronting the old farm's tragic-looking manor house.


Canitz pictured it not as a ruin but as something of tranquillity, and bought and re-named it Muratie from the Dutch murasie meaning "ruin." The family lived there for 32 years – daughter Annemarie ultimately inheriting it and becoming one of the first-ever female vineyard owners in South Africa.


And remarkably in 1987 the wheel turned an amazing 360-degrees with Muratie going back into the hands of the Melck family some 150 years after they'd walked-off it – and with the most extraordinary results.


NEXT WEEK: The rise and rise of Muratie Wine Estate.






[] THE house that Laurens Campher built himself for his beloved Ansela.

[] INSIDE today's Tasting Room at Muratie Estate Wines.

[] THE Tasting Room as seen from the outside.

[] BIG crowd for lunch at Muratie during Harvest Season festivities.

[] BUBBLY drop to help celebrate – Lady Alice would be pleased.

[] SOME of Muratie Wine Estate's many delightful reds and whites.

(All Images Muratie Wine Estate)

March 22, 2014

Struth! Cunard captain walks on water

When photographer, James Morgan asked the skipper of Queen Mary 2, Captain Kevin Oprey if he would pose for a photo in front of the vessel's bow, he didn't quite have in mind the security of standing on a nice safe wharf.

He wanted Captain Oprey to stand on the bulbous bow of QM2 as the massive vessel was anchored a kilometre out to sea off Bali, while recently on her way from Asia to Australia. (The bulbous bow juts out in front of a ship's bow, minimising the effects of waves and currents and helping the vessel move more smoothly and speedily through the water.)

And while Captain Oprey readily, and bravely, agreed it took some weeks of planning to achieve, and some hours on the actual day for sea conditions to be perfect for him to step out of a small boat and onto the bulbous bow. Two safety boats were also on hand throughout the photo shoot.

Sydney-based photographer Morgan says that when he first proposed the idea, "people looked at me like I was a tiny bit mad. But the fact something like it had never been done before, was why we had to do it… and Captain Oprey came through unscathed and with flying colours."

The photo will be used as part of tenth anniversary celebrations of the launch of the 151,000 tonne Queen Mary 2 in May 2004.

March 19, 2014

Blooming Madness – Calcutta's famous flower market

Flower sellers mingle at the Calcutta flower market
by Roderick Eime in Calcutta

Since 1780, thousands of Bengalis have thronged into the famous Mallick Ghat flower market on the bank of the Ganges in Calcutta (Kolkata).

Located at the foot of the famous Howrah Bridge (built 1943), these days the tradition of chaotic enterprise continues amid a continual din of bidding, bargaining and bustle.

Between 6am and 9pm every day of the year, more than 1500 tonnes of marigolds, sweet peas, roses, orchids, sunflowers and gladioli are traded by around 2500 busy traders and merchants at any one time.

The flowers aren't grown in Calcutta of course. Instead they are transported around 60kms from villages like Paskura where growers will sell their produce to merchants who then travel by train or road to Calcutta.

One kilo of marigolds costs around 60 rupees (about $1) and a bunch of 25 roses about 200 rupees ($3.50). Pre-made garlands for weddings and religious events are popular and can costs up to 400 rupees ($8) for the more intricate ones using tuberose.

Visitors can expect a wholly authentic experience. Be prepared to be jostled as you navigate the narrow ad hoc passages between the produce laid out on the muddy ground or in the dark corridors of the pavilion.

At the rear of the market, along the banks of the Ganges, the faithful come to pray, bathe and perform other bathroom activities in the holy waters.

It's an assault of the senses for sure. On one hand there is the fragrant perfume of tonnes of flowers while on the other there is the ever-present aroma of one of India's busiest and most densely populated cities.

Mother Ganga cleanses all!

March 12, 2014

It’s whale shark season again at Ningaloo Reef

Image: James Morgan

Bucket list swim with the whale sharks of Ningaloo

Graeme Willingham reflects on his swim there last year.

Inadvertently, I was just a few metres directly in front of the gulping mouth of the 6.5m long whale shark, cruising one metre below the surface at Western Australia's near shoreline Ningaloo Reef.

I was in his food bowl, but this juvenile male fish wasn't about to suck me into his gaping gullet because he was singularly concentrating on the micro size plankton thriving in these waters between April and July, the coral spawning season.

A hand grabbed me from behind on the collar of my wetsuit and pulled me to one side with the muffled instructions to gently swim on my back away from the mouth, but without breaking the surface with my giant flippers, a panic action which might frighten my new friend in to retreating to the dark blue depths below. Then none of my swimming party of 10 would enjoy snorkelling alongside this magnificent fish.

It wasn't really my fault, I reckoned. While swimming the last few strokes to reach our guide in the water, the shark changed directions so I was suddenly in front of the fish instead of being alongside with the guide and everyone else.

In the water with our group of 10 were two fit young crew guiding us so we get the best views without being head-on. We swim just 10m from the big brown fish. One guide had a video camera, capturing us with the whale sharks for our souvenir DVD and for recording the identity of each fish. Other crew were back on the boat with the second group, along with the skipper who manoeuvres our boat, Keshi-Mer, away from the meandering whale sharks, located by spotter aircraft.

Image: Tourism Western Australia
 After about five minutes co-owning the ocean with our fish, we are directed back to the boat so the second group has its turn.

With the return of the second group, we depart, for another fish.

In all, we snorkelled with five fish over a two-hour period in what was a fabulous "bucket-list" experience. No, it was an awesome experience.

Our guides told us you can have multiple swims of four minutes or more to being with one whale shark for half an hour.  It all depends on how many whale sharks are sighted on the day, how long they spend on the surface, how fast they are swimming, if swimming with or against the current and the skills of the swimmers. How far the boat needs to travel to find them also determines the overall time of the outside reef experience.

We had an easy day, but if there are humpback whales, manta rays, orcas or dolphin pods around we would have spent more time outside the reef.

Our first was the biggest, but they do grow up to 14m in their 70-100 years lifespan. In 2012, 186 different whale sharks were identified here. Ningaloo Reef presents one of the largest, most significant and reliable aggregations of whale shark in the world, boasts Ocean Eco Adventures which was operating our swim.

In between swims, we kept our wetsuit on, in readiness for the call to get to the landing ASAP.

Motoring off to another location, we took advantage of the self-serve hot and cold drinks as we joined two other tour boats cruising behind two humpback whales on their way north.  We stay 100m away.

Moderate flipper force is enough to keep abreast of the whale sharks. However, a slight deviation by these big beautiful white-spotted brown fish means you slip from a parallel posi to tail-trailling and that prompts propelling freestyle strokes to keep up. So it helps to have some level of swimming competency, although that is not mandatory. Ocean Eco Adventures provide universal access to its cruises, accounting for language barriers as well as physical and mental disabilities. They'll work hard to make it happen, with safety always in mind.

We wear neck-to-ankle wetsuits which provided buoyancy. The temperature in this 40m deep water was 24.

On the short ride to the reef edge, we complete the obligatory disclaimer, acknowledging health issues, as well as swimming ability and snorkelling competency.

Sea conditions vary of course, from calm to swells bigger than we experienced, and with or without currents. On average, only six cruises are cancelled because of bad weather or big swells.

Later, a generous buffet lunch was served back inside the calm turquoise waters of the reef where we earlier tested our wetsuits, flippers, snorkels and goggles in a gentle swim with scores of spectacular fish living off the coral. As we discovered, there was no time during a swim with the whale sharks to stop and adjust the gear or unfog goggles. After lunch we have a snorkel around the coral immediately below our boat.

Our party was staying at the stylish beachside eco Sal Salis sand dune retreat and we were booked with Ocean Eco Adventures for the swim. Novotel Ningaloo Reef on the beach at Exmouth where we stayed pre and post package offers the choice of all tour operators in town. The Novotel is the smartest accommodation (stylish restaurant, forecourt pool) in Exmouth which services the Learmonth Airport, 20 minutes away, as well as the local fishing, mining and tourism industries and naval, air and communication bases.

Exmouth has some good eateries, ranging in style from upscale restaurants (like Novotel and Whalers) to take-aways (like Blue Lip fish and chips). Kallis' freshly cooked local prawns are best consumed with a glass of bubbly at sunset viewing at the Vlamingh Head lighthouse at the entrance to Cape Range National Park, 10 minutes or so out of town and on the road that runs between the rugged limestone range and spectacular white sand beaches and turquoise Ningaloo Reef water down to Coral Bay.

Snorkelling with the whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef truly deserves to be on the bucket list.

The author funded his trip.


March 10, 2014

Pet Friendly cruises on Cunard's Queens


David Ellis


WHEN super-luxury Queen Mary 2 that's currently in our neck of the woods gets back to Southampton in a few weeks' time, there'll be one small group in particular waiting most-excitedly to go aboard the first of the very popular sailings she makes across the Atlantic between Southampton and New York every May to December.


For these special dozen it will most likely mean doing the crossing in both directions – Southampton to New York and New York back to Southampton – providing a chance to catch up with old mates from crossings past.


And so VIP are they that they'll have a choice of bed sizes and blankets awaiting them, nightly bed turn-down, gourmet cookies fresh-baked every evening for supper, a personal QM2-logoed warm coat in the event of cool days on deck at sea, and a memento group photo to take home 'til next they meet…


But sadly they'll not be able to really communicate their appreciation of all this indulgence with the you's and me's… For they're in fact the pets of human guests who regularly take their best-friend companions along with them on their own annual QM2 trans-Atlantic holidays.


And there are plenty who do so, year in, year out, and quite often more than once in the season.


QM2's owners Cunard Line have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure pets' comfort and well-being on these sailings, including an air-conditioned Pet Centre with a dozen kennels/cages, a full-time "Pet Master," additional "Pet Walkers," and even poles and posts for scratching and other matters.


And a "playroom" full of pet toys, their very own food dishes for feeding-times – even individually-fitted lifejackets.


And in the event of an emergency, a one-on-one crew member nominated to get each pet safely out of the Pet Centre day or night.


Food is premium-brand only, of course, and there's an exclusive section of deck set aside for dogs to meet-up at different times daily with their owners for socialising and walkies in the fresh air (but cats are confined to the Pet Centre, being more Houdini-capable in the outdoors than dogs.)


And while pets today on QM2's Atlantic Crossings are confined to cats and dogs only, Cunard in the past allowed all manner of critters aboard their vessels until a decade or so ago.


The Line's first ship, Brittania had three cats on her maiden voyage in 1840, and other pets have ranged from canaries to a boa constrictor.


Travelling circuses have also put their fair share of the unusual on board, including elephants, lions, tigers, monkeys, horses and others needed for shows in England one month, and across the Atlantic in America the next. Try that with Quarantine today.


Britain's Duke and Duchess of Windsor never travelled anywhere without their beloved pugs Mr Disraeli, Mr Chu, Trooper, Imp and Davy Crockett, and at the Duke's behest the company would even install a second-hand London lamp-post on the deck of whichever of their ships the Windsor's were next booked aboard with their dogs.


Actress Elizabeth Taylor in the 1950s took her puppies with her whenever she travelled with Cunard, exercising them several times daily around the Boat Deck… and giving the galley recipes for different seafood dishes each night for her pups, and not hesitating to drop in to ensure they were getting what she'd ordered.


Silent-era cowboy movie star, Tom Mix and his horse Tony were amongst the most-regular "pardners" on Cunard's Atlantic crossings in the 1930s, as they travelled between America and England to perform their "Miracle Rider" western shows – Tony having special rubber "galoshes" over his hooves so he wouldn't slip on the gangways and polished decks.


And the world's only trained golden eagle, Mr Ramshaw made twenty-one trans-Atlantic voyages with his British falconer owner/trainer and exhibitor Captain Charles Knight, while canine super-star Rin Tin Tin was another regular Cunard trans-Atlantic passenger.


Today birds, horses, boa constrictors and animals other than cats and dogs are a No-No, and for cats and dogs Cunard has strict conditions, including requiring a vet's Certificate of Good Health, all manner of vaccinations – and a Pets' Passport.


And it costs owner's US$500-$700 for their dog's 7-night one-way crossing, and $1000 for their cat's (as cats need one cage to sleep in, and another for litter.)






[] SPOILED for choice: pets on QM2 get a choice of bed size and blanket and other treats. (The Road Unleashed)

[] TUCKED-in for the night. (The Road Unleashed)

[] ELIZABETH Taylor took her pups with her on Cunard crossings from New York to Southampton – giving the Chef recipes for the pups' favourite dishes. (Cunard Line)

[] A DOG Walker takes Cunard Line's mascot, British Bull Terrier, Handsome for walkies on the deck of QM2. (Cunard Line)

[] OWNERS meet up with their dogs for socialising several times a day on QM2's Atlantic crossings. (The Road Unleashed)

[] PETS have their own lifejackets on QM2 and a one-on-one crew member to get them to safety in the event of an emergency. (Nikki Moustaski)


March 03, 2014

Struth! Charles makes Bench-mark in travel

LION encounter… the writer and his wife get up close and personal
with this lion on one of Bench International's most popular Southern Africa wildlife opportunities.

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that when a tennis-loving young Brit named Charles Bench came here from England to play the game in the 1960s, he sensed on the potential to get adventure-seeking Aussies to visit South Africa – something he'd done with quite some success with equally-adventurous fellow young countrymen while working in London with South African Airways.

So, young as he was, he set up a travel agency in Sydney – and had others in the industry quietly chuckling when he set himself a target of 100,000 Australians to Africa within the coming 50 years.

Today it's Charles who is doing the quiet chuckling: the first clients of his fledgling Bench International went off to the wilds in 1969, he launched into the group-travel business to South Africa with some dedicated wine and food enthusiasts just three years later in conjunction with an Aussie foodies' magazine, and had his 50,000th Aussie into Africa in the mid-1990s.

And last month the 100,000th client of Bench International jetted-off there – in the company's 45th year, a half-decade before Charles' own confident prediction.

Guess who is now doing the chuckling?

(For free colour brochures about the diverse attractions of South Africa and other parts of the African Continent, freecall 1300AFRICA, or visit

March 02, 2014

The People of Papua New Guinea

by Ann Mallard
Jacaranda Press 1969
NLA link

When the first Europeans sailed into the Pacific Islands hundreds of years ago, they found many people here, a strange mixture of races whose origins have tantalized historians and anthropologists ever since. Everyone agrees that the Pacific Islanders must have migrated here, probably in several different waves, but as the people themselves have no written records, no one can be sure where they came from and when.

The most widely accepted theory today is that the original inhabitants of New Guinea and some of the other Melanesian islands were Negritoes, small people with Negroid features and frizzy hair. These are thought to have migrated down from South-east Asia at the end of the last ice age, 20,000 to 25,000 years ago, when the sea was much lower than it is today and the continental shelf which links Malaya with Australia was probably at least partly dry land. These Negritoes were probably followed about 8000 years ago by a taller Negroid people who travelled by canoes along the coasts of the land masses. These larger people may have forced the Negritoes into pockets in the mountains and themselves settled on the coasts of New Guinea and other islands of Melanesia as far east as Fiji.

The last two waves of migration only touched New Guinea briefly. The first of these was the great migration of the Polynesian peoples who came into the Pacific in their great canoes between one and two thousand years before Christ. Although in the main they settled in the islands east of Tonga and Samoa, one can see among the Trobriand Islanders and some of the Papuans on the south-east coast the influence of these Polynesian sailors. On the north-eastern edge of the New Guinea islands and the Solomon Islands is a chain of tiny islets, the Tasmans and the Mortlocks and several others which support a pure Polynesian population--stocky, light-skinned people with wavy black hair and a Polynesian language. Possibly these are the offspring of Polynesians whose canoes became lost or separated during the original migration.

The last migration of peoples into the Pacific Islands was fairly recent. The Micronesian people look in many ways like the Polynesians only they have a much more dominant Oriental (Mongoloid) strain. These people probably entered the Pacific from the Philippines. The Micronesians settled on the large groups of tiny islets and atolls to the north. The islands known as the North-western Islands, which lie west and north of Manus Island in the Territory of Papua New Guinea have a predominantly Micronesian population. Even the Natives of Manus have some Micronesian characteristics.

Thus it is now easier to see why there is such a fascinating welter of racial types and cultures in the island of New Guinea. The mountainous country split these people still further, as impassable rivers, vertical cliffs and trackless swamps made communication almost impossible. Suspicion, hatred, and continual raids and fighting erected even stronger barriers, until practically every large village or group of hamlets became its own little unit, speaking its own dialect, and fighting constantly with its neighbours on every side. These village groups are too small to be really referred to as `tribes'. Anthropologists use the word 'clan' because this also indicates the complex social structure which ruled the lives and controlled the land ownership in each group. Except in the Trobriand Islands there was never a system of great chiefs, as in other parts of the Pacific. The peoples of New Guinea were hopelessly fragmented and torn by such constant fighting that no leader ever seemed to have a chance to unite a group large enough to form a seat of power.

Tourist buying souvenir. Trobriand Islands. (Robin Smith)
In the traditional village life the men were the warriors, constantly on guard to protect their homes and families. The women traditionally did most of the carrying, usually in large bags of woven fibre called 'bilums' carried by a band over the forehead. This meant that the man was always free to use his weapons in defence. Today, despite the fact that there is now no need for it, one often sees the women carrying tremendous loads on their backs while their menfolk may carry almost nothing. Most New Guineans are gardeners, and much of this work is done by the women. The men made most of the simple tools and weapons and usually tried to supplement the diet by hunting and fishing.

All the inexplicable things in the world to the New Guinea villager were attributed to magic and the spirit world. The sorcerer, who had some control over this spirit world, was the most important and the most feared man in the village. Death and illness were usually blamed on the sorcery of a rival village; often this was the cause of another small war, or a pay-back raid of revenge. When Europeans first came most of the village houses were built on the ground and the people suffered badly from hookworm and other diseases. But fear of sorcerers made it very hard to convince them to change; sorcerers can get under a raised floor! Even today people really die because of the magic of sorcerers, and so real is their power that dying men have been cured by magic when a trained doctor could not do anything with modern medicine. Now of course sorcery is against the law, and sorcerers, when found and proven guilty (not easy), are subject to prison terms.

There is a rhythm to life in the New Guinea village, from season to season, the hard work of clearing and planting to the time of harvest and festival. The working year was generally broken by several big festivals and celebrations; some of these still continue and can be seen by visitors. There are the yam festival seasons in the Trobriand Islands (Milne Bay District) and in the Maprik area of the Sepik District, and there is the pig-killing season in the Highlands. Dancing and feasting could go on for days without stopping and in the recent development of the Highlands, several airstrips were finished off when the government organized a sing-sing and the area was pounded flat and hard by thousands of dancing and stomping feet.

Now in many villages the Christian church has replaced the earlier men's cult house or magical-religious centre. A familiar sight in villages on a patrol route is the government rest house, built well off the ground and generally equipped with a rough shower recess, latrine and cook house. There may be a mission or government school in the village or nearby. Also in­creasingly common are the medical aid-posts staffed by a medical orderly and stocked with basic medecines. There may be a trade store selling cloth, tinned goods, tobacco, kerosene, and steel tools. Slowly but very certainly, the New Guinea village is becoming a part of the modern world.

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