September 08, 2019

Seeking Count Dracula in Transylvania

Len Rutledge Goes Exploring Transylvania for signs of Dracula

We are driving along narrow, winding roads through dense, dark, ancient forests and over steep mountain passes through the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania. Tales of the supernatural have featured in Romanian folklore for centuries and the countryside seems so right for this that we now find it easy to be caught up in the Dracula story. Certainly, Transylvania evokes powerful images of vampires and Gothic castles.

Dracula House
Bran Castle
We are here now because we want to visit some sites associated with Dracula and try to sort legend from truth. When Irish writer Bram Stoker wrote his famous novel, he started something which is now a great tourist attraction.

Count Dracula, a fictional character in the Stoker novel, was inspired by one of the best-known figures of Romanian history, Vlad Dracula, nicknamed Vlad the Impaler, who was the ruler of the Romanian province of Walachia in the mid 1400s. As we travel around, we find some physical evidence and hear many stories about him which have vague connections with the Count.

Sighisoara is at the heart of the Count Dracula legends. This was founded in the 12th century by Transylvanian Saxons, but it's Dracula that has put the town on the map with today's visitors. Designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the town is full of cobbled streets and ornate churches.

Sighisoara is the birthplace of Vlad Dracula. You can visit his birth home which is now a restaurant and museum. As we climb the narrow stairs to the museum in almost complete darkness, something falls on my neck causing goose bumps all over my body. Emerging into a darkened room we come face to face with a vampire in a coffin. As we approach, his arm springs out causing muffled screams from several visitors. For one second I almost believe in vampires.


Not too many people can call vampire acting their full-time occupation!

Brașov is the largest city in this part of Romania. It is fringed by the Southern Carpathian Mountains and resplendent with glorious architecture and historical attractions. It was founded by Teutonic Knights in 1211 on an ancient site and was settled by the Saxons as one of their seven walled citadels.

We stroll around the old Town Hall Square where we admire colourfully painted and ornately trimmed baroque structures. We go inside the Black Church, the largest gothic church in Romania, named for damage caused by the Great Brașov Fire of 1689, when flames and smoke blackened its walls. The interior is impressive and it houses one of the largest pipe organs in Eastern Europe.

Part of the defensive wall, once 13-metres-high, two-metres- thick and over three-kilometres-long, can still be seen today. So too can Rope Street, the narrowest street in Europe, at just 1.3 metres wide.

The relationship between Vlad Dracula and Brașov was problematic over a number of years. At one point he invaded southern Transylvania and destroyed the suburbs of Brașov, ordering the impalement of all men and women who had been captured. It is said that Brașov has the distinction of seeing more stakes bearing Dracula's victims than any other place. Fortunately, there is no evidence of this today.

Sibiu is the other city in this region. The heart of the city is its medieval centre complete with open squares, stone wall defences, towers, and centuries-old buildings and churches. Staircases link the Lower Town with its small, colourful houses and the Upper Town which was inside the main fortifications.

From 1451 to 1456 Vlad Dracula lived in Sibiu yet just four years later he mercilessly raided this region and killed, impaled and tortured 10,000 of his former fellow citizens and neighbours. I wonder if Count Dracula would be impressed.

Dracula House
Vlad Dracula's house in Sighisoara

Perched on top of an 80-metre-high rock, Bran Castle owes its fame to its imposing towers and turrets as well as to being the castle Stoker used in his book. While the association with Dracula is dubious, the castle continues to hold a strong attraction for all fans of the Count, so naturally we have to visit. We find narrow winding stairways and torturous passages lead through some 60 timbered rooms.

While Bran Castle is the spooky place that inspired Stoker's tale, it's really Poenari Fortress about two hours west that is considered to be the real Dracula's Castle. Poenari Castle was erected around the beginning of the 13th century then later was abandoned and left in ruins. In the 15th century, Vlad the Impaler repaired and consolidated the structure perched high on a steep precipice of rock, making it one of his main fortresses.

The ruins of Poenari Fortress are all that are left today. If you decide to climb the 1,462 stairs, you'll be able to touch pieces of the walls and towers that are still standing.

Did we find Dracula?

We encountered a make-believe vampire and learned much about Vlad Dracula and his exploits. While vampires may not be real, there is no doubt that Stoker's Dracula has become a powerful reminder of the rich and authentic Romanian folklore, and a great tourist attraction and money-spinner for the country today.



Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

September 03, 2019

Alaska's new 'Gold Rush' - with Fiona McIntosh

Ian and Fiona McIntosh find not all that glitters needs to be gold in Alaska

Stage one of our Air New Zealand flight to Vancouver is over - we are in a very comfy terminal talking about how good the experience was. Lovely flight attendant, both welcomed by the flight director, comfy leather seats - plenty of leg room and we were seated just behind the entrance door to the 777 200. It is a short flight from Sydney to Auckland - around two and a half hours but we had a massive tail wind and rolled to the terminal nearly half an hour early. We left on time and drinks soon arrived - I had a glass of bubbly - pity it was in a plastic cup though. The simple menu looked very promising - to begin a beetroot and goat cheese salad with balsamic and beef gel, toasted hazelnut crumble. Did it live up to expectations? Absolutely. - appetising to look at and all the real flavours were there. Bread variety includes sourdough loaf and walnut loaves served with extra virgin olive oil and yes the bread was warm. What a start. Drinks are served with the main course - I naturally chose a sauvignon blanc from Villa Maria, New Zealand's most awarded winery. I now know why it earns the gongs. The real treat followed - braised beef short rib with potato puree, sage, buttered carrots and parsnips, creamed Swiss chard with horseradish jus. Adding to the experience was NZ butter and cheese. After more than 40 years of looking forward to main courses on airlines I know how easy it is to be disappointed. Very, very disappointed. Not today folks. The meat pulled away and each veg made a contribution. We were very happy. The movie selection is ok - the screen on the small side but picture quality is excellent. To finish lunch the offering was flourless dark chocolate cake with vanilla bean cream. What did the chef (she who must be obeyed) think? Good enough as one of the small treats for the wedding of one of our sons that is coming up next year. High praise indeed.

The little township of Skagway Alaska was super busy today thanks to a maximum of four cruise ships clogging the harbour - but the thousands of visitors hardly rated a ripple compared to the influx during the Klondike Gold Rush. More than 100,000 hopefuls arrived after gold was discovered in 1896. Madness is the only word for what followed - men and women - even children made a life-threatening journey across treacherous, icy valleys and harrowing rocky terrain. We saw part of it today aboard a vintage railcar as it traces the track from Fraser to Skagway. The railway was built to make the journey to the goldfields easier - but the gold had petered out by the time it was finished in 1900. The White Pass and Yukon Railway clatters through increasingly hostile valleys and mountains - how anyone managed the trek during summer let alone winter is a mystery you are left to ponder from the comfort of your train seat. The 3 ft (914 mm) narrow-gauge railroad linked the port of Skagway with Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon. The trip on the section from Fraser is interesting enough - before we boarded we braved a suspension bridge over a raging river way below. While you marvel at man's ability master nature to blast the railway out in the first place, you could be forgiven for getting a little bored as the journey rolls on. Most memorable, as i said before, is pondering just how people managed to tame some of the most inhospitable country on earth.

Less than half of those who started the trek to the Yukon arrived and after that monster effort they stood little chance of finding gold.

Out soon from Fiona. Click for more info.

It was discovered by American George Carmack in 1896 in Rabbit Creek (later renamed Bonanza Creek), a Klondike River tributary that ran through both Alaskan and Yukon Territory. Canadian authorities required every prospector to have a year's worth of gold mining equipment and supplies before crossing the Canadian border which made the trek along a narrow path all but impossible for pack horses. It's estimated 3,000 of them died on White Pass. After crossing Chilkoot or White Pass, prospectors had to build or rent boats and brave hundreds of miles of winding Yukon River rapids to reach Dawson City. No one knows how many died during the river trip - only about 30,000 weary stampeders finally arrived in Dawson City to discover reports of available Klondike gold were greatly exaggerated. By the end of 1898 countless miners had already left Yukon Territory penniless, leaving cities such as Dawson and Skagway in rapid decline. These days fortunately the gold boom is back - but it has been renamed tourism.

Fiona ponders her next blockbuster. Will our heroine find love and
adventure amid the icy wastes of the Gold Rush-era Klondike?
Today we woke up to see rugged, ice capped mountains and hurried to dress and get out onto the top deck because we were about to confront the Hubbard Glacier. I visited the San Rafael Glacier in Patagonia many years ago but this sort of natural, ancient brilliance never gets old. And the bridge mentioned that they often sail here into a misty or rainy day but we were blessed by a sparkling, sunny morning where the ice winked and glinted at us, as did the freezing waters. It was unnerving to see so much ice broken and thawing and I tried to reassure myself it was summer but a fellow next to me who had been here at least half a dozen times let me know that the glacier used to be much, much bigger with huge icebergs all around. I'm assured it continues to thicken, defying other glaciers around the planet, but even so, he seemed determined it was larger with towering ice pillars breaking off 'back then'. 

The 450 year old glacier remains awe inspiring and so very beautiful to gaze upon, which we did for an hour. Everyone was hushed - it demanded silence from us all. No wildlife, not even birds around although I gather it supports a population of grizzlies and the rare, silverblue 'glacier' bears. The glacier flows for more than 120 kms with a 120 metre or so 'snout' and is embraced by 24 million acres of wilderness - hallelujah. It's famous for its swift surges and has been known to suddenly move forward up to 30 metres a day - that was back in the mid eighties. This is the largest tidewater glacier in North America.

A special day in a far flung spot called Hoonah. 
Talk about isolated. Today we arrived at Icy Strait Point Hoonah Alaska. Beautiful day - and we were the only ship at the tiny destination designed to lure more tourist dollars into the area by the Huana Tiingit people. To say I was impressed is an understatement. The ship was tied up to one large pier - and the gangway allowed passengers on Oceania's Regatta to walk straight into the settlement. Its green colour and simplicity meant it blended straight into the thick natural undergrowth and forest of pines. While having breakfast in the outdoor restaurant we saw our first bald eagle - perched at the end of the mooring area consuming what I assume was a salmon. It stayed there for a while and then joined a mate in a tree nearby - we assumed they had a nest. 

When you arrive after a short walk down the gangway you are greeted by an interesting collection of attractions - ranging from shops to the old cannery factory and a zip rider. Kids roar down from a 1,300 foot mountain hitting speeds for more than 60mph. There are buses for the elderly - the site is super clean and tidy - a great example to any destination wanting to lure tourist dollars. We were on a special tour tracking bears - but the guide was very honest with us saying the morning tour had failed to spot any of the famed four footed locals. After a short bus ride we went from lookout to lookout with the same result - nothing - and then as we could hear the bus motor starting in order to take us back - a bear finally appeared. Amazingly he strolled down the river right past us and kept going until he discovered a bald eagle eating prey. Naturally enough, the eagle decided to move giving us another glimpse of life in one of the most remote parts of the world. We returned to the ship delighted with our day. Even if the bear had not appeared - it was enough to wander through narrow tracks between virgin forest - the light every now and then illuminating the group.

Follow Ian and his travel treasure hunts at his website

August 29, 2019

History of the Barossa Valley

Colonel William Light
The Barossa Valley has been admired from the earliest times. Colonel Light wrote in his diary in December 1837:

Wednesday December 13: Left our camp at 6.00 am and travelled nearly in a NE direction over high, undulating ground of rich soil for about six miles when we came to some parts rather boggy. On descending into a beautiful little plain we met with plenty of fresh water. Stopped about 9.30 am at a small river running in a tortuous form from the eastward ... At length, about 5.00 pm, we came to a beautiful valley which I named Lynedoch Vale after my much esteemed friend, Lord Lynedoch.

The history of the Barossa Valley is fascinating and can be bound to the fortunes and enterprise of one particular man, George Fife Angas. Angas was a merchant, banker, landowner and philanthropist. He initially became interested in Australia through his correspondence with Lieutenant-Governor Arthur in Van Diemen’s Land, Captain Irwin in Western Australia, and through Baptist missionaries, of whose church he was a member. In 1832, he joined the committee of the South Australian Land Company to promote systematic colonization rather than the founding of colonies based upon transportation. The initial proposals for settlement in South Australia were refused by the Colonial Secretary. However, Wakefield, Garth and Torrens persisted and success was finally realized with the establishment of settlements on Kangaroo Island and at Adelaide. Both these colonies were only part of Angas's enterprise. His belief in systematic colonization of South Australia remained undeterred. He lobbied the Colonial Office, subsidized authors and published magazines and pamphlets to recruit settlers, amongst whom were pious dissenters and non-conformist ministers. The largest groups of devout families which he persuaded to immigrate to the new colony were the German Lutherans under the pastorship of

Kavel. The scheme for German immigration to Australia did not receive official recognition, but this did not deter Angas who personally advanced £8,000 to the German group for their migration.

German settlers in Bethany (National Gallery of Australia: JW Giles)

The German settlers arrived and many of them became tenants on the Angas Estate at Klemzig, and later at Angaston. Angas's chief clerk was Charles Flaxman who accompanied the German immigrants to Australia. Flaxman was lavish in spending Angas's money. In one dealing he ordered seven special surveys on the Rhine and Gawler Rivers in the Barossa for £28,000. He was recalled to London where he was in debt to G. F. Angas & Co. As a result, in 1840 Angas took Flaxman's interests in the Barossa but it was not until 1848, due to ill health, that Angas decided to live in South Australia. By this time the German settlers were beginning to pay their rent. Angas was greeted warmly in South Australia and built his magnificent Georgian homestead at Lindsay Park, near Angaston. His efforts can still be seen today.

In 1838, another expedition was undertaken by Messrs Hill, Wood, Wilks and Oahahan. The following notes from Light's diary are of interest in the description of this fertile region:

March 2: Crossed over the River Para. We then directed our course to the eastward, passing over a pretty range of hill country. At 4.00 pm arrived in a valley with plenty of Kangaroo grass and a rivulet running through it. Here we encamped for the night. The valley was swarming with cockatoos, seven of which we shot. We gave it the name of Cockatoo Valley.

March 3: At 4.00 am left the valley and passed through a thick scrub; course - north east. Started a dozen Kangaroos, but did not kill one. The country much similar to that we saw the day previously-good and indifferent by turns. At 9 o'clock we arrived at Lyndvale Valley - a beautiful place, good land and plenty of grass, but no springs or running water. Saw many Kangaroos during the morning.

A letter in the Glasgow Argus of May 1891 by “one of the most active and experienced surveyors in the province' stated:

Go beyond the Mount Lofty ranges ... you have, with very insignificant breaks, a line upwards of 100 miles long of the finest land in the world ... of the six surveys taken by Mr Flaxman to the north and east of the Barossa range, being the northern limit of the stretch of country already mentioned, too much cannot be said. They lie in one block or contiguous to each other, and are of the most magnificent description.
Amongst those who were sent out to the colony by George Fife Angas in 1836 was Menge, a German geologist and mineralogist. His letter of 9 March 1840 was prophetic:

You are surprised, perhaps, that I delayed so long my reports to you respecting New Silesia (Barossa Valley) and named after the district from where the German Immigrants came. 

Now, since I saw not only the Gawler but also the Para running with fresh water in the midst of the dry season, I can give you the assurance: first, that all the land on both sides of the Barossa range may be brought under irrigation and kept producing grapes all the year round and second, that New Silesia will become the first wining country in all Australia ...

Flaxman Valley abounds in opal of every colour; moreover, in onyx, chalcedony, jasper, cornelian, catseye, asbestos, etc. It abounds in white marble, in iron, copper and tin.

The German settlers flourished and the vision of the Barossa Valley as a Garden of Eden became a reality. The Germans settled in village-type groupings and nowhere in South Australia are the hamlet and village settlements so numerous and so delineated. The persistence of Germanic customs is shown paradoxically in the tremendous ardour of their religious differences. Initially, settlements clustered around the church, but doctrinal schisms created new churches and therefore new settlements.

Until the First World War, German was the language of the Valley. With its disappearance went many relics of German culture which had long differentiated the Barossa society from its Anglo-Australian neighbours. The Lutheran Church remains as the only real tie of Deutschtum, and this is mainly in the support of schools and maintaining the corporateness of individual settlements.

From: 'The Barossa Valley' by Nola Totham. Macmillan. 1978. Golden Fleece Regional Series.

August 28, 2019

Rediscovering the Barossa Valley

The new Barossa Food and Wine Experience Tour uncovers secrets even the locals are only just discovering. Roderick Eime tags along.

Like the rich red terroir itself, the Barossa is in my blood. My father’s family were among the first pioneers to settle here in the mid 19th century, setting up farm at Concordia, just outside Gawler. While I’ve never lived in the Barossa, I’ve always had relatives to visit and I even learned to drive on the quiet, scenic backroads behind Tanunda.

My last few visits have been as a tourist and my most recent excursion was with Sealink, the Kangaroo Island Ferry people who have expanded into the tourism business proper with tour buses, cruises and resorts.

Some people are starting to think the Barossa Valley is getting over-exposed, throwing shadows over the neighbouring, lesser, wine regions of the Clare and Eden Valleys. But the Barossa has always remained relevant with new ways to entice the visitor and it’s great to know that after a lifetime of visiting the place of my roots, it can still surprise.

Here are three new locations I’d never visited (and one I had) for me to commend to you.

We begin at Pindarie where winemaker Wendy Allan and husband Tony share the story of this stunning property that has evolved from a run-down and over-cleared family farm to a sustainable and totally regenerated property. The couple have planted over 12,500 trees in the last 20 years alone and are now producing wines that can hold their own among some of the big South Australian names. Their ‘Risk Taker’ Tempranillo is a stand out performer with the dark Spanish grape gaining momentum despite it being unfamiliar among Barossa vineyards. Apparently this exotic varietal is finding the warm climes of South Australia appealing and produces a richer, darker wine than it does at home on the Iberian Peninsula.

Wine tasting at Pindarie (RE)

Next is Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop which, I must confess, is now my third visit, reinforcing the success of this celebrity chef’s entrepreneurial skills and natural leadership abilities in the gourmet food arena - all culminating in this busy little outlet. If you are visiting on your own time, lunch is a must in daughter Elli’s eatery next door. But be sure to book, as it’s chockers every day of the week.

Our hot lunch, meanwhile, is at the eye-popping Lambert Estate winery at Angaston. The story behind this unusual property is unique in the Valley in that it is not founded by one of the old families, rather an American businessman who brought his family here from, of all places, Winsconsin. Better known for Milwaukee’s beer and big motorcycles, Lambert fell in love with the Barossa in the 1990s and decided to grow grapes on 100 acres of fabulous soil. Today his ultramodern cellardoor is a winery, tasting room and restaurant with super quality food and wine.

Lambert’s 2015 Shiraz ‘The Commitment’ is a knockout and a credit to winemaking son Kirk and Peruvian daughter-in-law Vanesa. Step up to ‘The Family Tree’, one of the best premium, old vine, single vintage Shiraz under $100 you will find anywhere. I couldn’t decide, so I bought one of each.

Oodles of fine chocolate at Barossa Valley Chocolate Company at Tanunda

As a fitting send off, we capped our day with a visit to the brand new premises of the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company at Tanunda where we sit down to a flight of local Vineyard Road wines and a selection of divine chocolates, with an expert to guide us in the mysterious (to me, at least) art of wine and chocolate pairing. The new ‘ruby’ flavour is a surprise to my tastebuds, that’s for sure. Come back in your own time and take one of the chocolate making classes or hold your special event.

After our tasting, we stumble past more than 250 chocolate products in dark, milk and white with a healthy sampling ringing the till at days’ end.

Fifty years ago there wasn’t a great deal besides the big wineries of Seppeltsfield and Kaiser Stuhl and the faint hints of old Barossa Deutsch in the sidestreets. Today the Barossa is world famous for more than just superb wines. It’s a destination in itself and one you should visit at the earliest opportunity. My great-great grandfather would be pleased.

The Facts

The Barossa Food and Wine Experience Tour is priced at A$135 per adult and includes morning pick up and evening set down at selected Adelaide Hotels, full-day guided small coach tour with expert commentary by local driver/guide, lunch, all activities and tastings.

The tour departs at 9am from the Adelaide bus terminal (near the Central Market) Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, returning about 5pm.

For further information contact Adelaide Sightseeing on T: 1300 769 762 or visit www.adelaidesightseeing.com.au

August 25, 2019

USA: Stunning Bryce Canyon National Park is out of this world

(c) Phensri Rutledge

Len Rutledge finds there are few more stunning places on earth than the great National Parks of western USA. 

The concept of a park or nature reserve under state ownership is believed to have originated in the United States in 1870 but Australia was not far behind as we established our first park and the world’s second national park in 1878 just south of Sydney.

I have just returned from a visit through six of the U.S parks and I am very impressed. Each is different and it is impossible to say which is best. Bryce Canyon in southern Utah was the first I visited so this seems a good place to start.

The first thing you have to understand about Bryce is that it is not a single canyon (unlike say the Grand Canyon) but a series of huge amphitheatres carved into a high plateau. They are gigantic. The most famous of these is the Bryce Amphitheatre which is filled with irregular eroded spires of rock called hoodoos. These are formed when ice and rainwater wear away the weak limestone rock. Hoodoos exist in many places but here is the largest concentration found anywhere on Earth.

The starting point for a park visit should be the Visitor Centre. Here you will find information at the ranger help desk, exhibits, interactive consoles and a prairie dog maze, a 22-minute award-winning film which plays on the hour and half-hour, and publications, maps and souvenirs available for purchase through the bookstore. There goes the first hour!

(c) Phensri Rutledge

Over two million visitors come to experience Bryce Canyon National Park each year, most between March and early October. Every visitor to the park will spend at least some time marvelling at its four main viewpoints, all found within a few kilometres of the visitor centre. Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point all provide stunning views into the amphitheatre with Sunset Point being my personal favourite.

Here you can gaze into the most awe-inspiring sections of the park. Between April and October, a free bus shuttle service is operated in this area of the park to reduce congestion but you can also walk or drive between the points.

I strongly suggest the easy 1.6-kilometre paved trail along the edge of the amphitheatre between Sunset and Sunrise Points for marvellous views. Then if you have the time and energy, take the 2.9-kilometre trail from Sunrise Point to Queen’s Garden. Walking amongst the huge hoodoos is an amazing experience.

(c) Visit Utah

Time permitting, I also strongly recommend catching one of the free ranger activities. You can join a Ranger and in 30 minutes hear the current scientific explanation behind Bryce Canyon's unique geologic history from ancient lakes to the power of erosion. Great views, fascinating plant and wildlife stories, a touch of geology and a wealth of cultural history is available for those who join the 1.5-hour rim walk from Sunset Point.

Because there are no external light sources, the park night can be very dark. Rangers run astronomy tours which include a 1-hour multimedia presentation then stargazing with telescopes. Then on full-moon nights rangers offer very popular hikes where torches are prohibited and lugged footwear is required.

There is a free twice-daily guided tour to Rainbow Point, during the April-October period operated by the Bryce Canyon Shuttle. This 3.5-hour round-trip tour covers 65 kilometres with stops along many of the park's scenic viewpoints. You need to dress appropriately for the weather and bring lunch, snacks, water, etc. This tour is also ideal for backpackers wanting to be dropped off at any of the park's backcountry trailheads.

In spring, summer and autumn, Canyon Trail Rides wranglers lead 2-hour and 4-hour horse and mule rides into Bryce Amphitheatre along a dedicated horse trail and the Peek-a-boo Loop Trail.

Because Bryce covers 650 metres of elevation, the park exists in three distinct climatic zones: spruce/fir forest, Ponderosa Pine forest, and Pinyon Pine/juniper forest. This diversity of habitat provides for high biodiversity.

The canyons and plateau of Bryce Canyon National Park are home to many animals, including migratory Hummingbirds, nesting Peregrine Falcon, Rocky Mountain Elk, Mountain Lions, Coyotes, and Pronghorn Antelope. Most are not easy to see so we had to be satisfied with Ground Squirrels, Chipmunk and one Prairie Dog in the far distance.

There are no large cities close to Bryce Canyon but there is plenty of accommodation choice. Within the park the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge and its surrounding structures offer 114 rooms including lodge suites, motel rooms and cabins. Reservations are highly recommended. Just outside the park and close to a shuttle pick-up point there are several hotels, inns, motels and lodges. We stayed in St George, a nice city of about 180,000 and the fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S. in 2018 but this is about a 2.5-hour drive from Bryce Canyon.

Campground (Visit Utah)

Bryce Canyon National Park has two campgrounds, located in close proximity to the Visitor Centre. To bring a car here you need to pay the US$35 park entrance fee then the applicable camp ground fee.

Words: Len Rutledge   Images: Phensri Rutledge
Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

August 18, 2019

Glamorous glittering Dubai

Sandip Hor finds that when someone mentions a glittering city, Dubai strikes his mind instantly.

It’s the second largest city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which lives with the never-ending desire of building icons, best described with superlatives such as tallest, largest, first, only and so on. Here large is the stepping stone for largest and luxurious is only a brick in the world of luxury.

It’s the haven for shopaholics, the commercial nucleus of the Gulf and hub of Emirates Airlines, which flies to almost every corner of the world from this desert city.

Obviously, the city has no shortage of hotels to provide a bed for the increasing number of visitors. However, among many,  the plush and glittering Taj Dubai stands out distinctly to many visitors because of its convenient location, ultramodern facilities and par excellence hospitality.

Lobby of the Taj Dubai (supplied)

The hotel is a grand fusion of extravagance, heritage and trendiness with over 3000 pieces of exquisite paintings and sculptures elegantly studded to it proclaiming its rich artistic traditions.

The Indian themed hotel has 296 rooms and suites, each tastefully decorated with grand furnishings, offering views of either the city skyline or Burj Khalifa Tower, the world’s tallest building.

The location in the heart of the Business Bay is a plus for the business travellers while Dubai Mall, one of the city’s top-rated shopping complexes, is only minutes away. The hotel runs regular shuttle services between the hotel and the shopping sanctuary where a major attraction is an indoor aquarium and the outdoor dancing fountain. The international airport is only 15 km away.

Bombay Brasserie

“Spoilt for choice” is perhaps the factual slogan to express the eating experience at any of the hotels seven restaurants and bars that entice guests with an authentic culinary journey through a great mix of cultures and countries. Experienced teams deliver an authentic experience through the culinary delights of each restaurant with Taj’s world-renowned service ensures a memorable meal for each and every guest. Bombay Brasserie is popular with curry lovers while Miss Tess serves many recipes from other parts of Asia- China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan. Breakfast is served at the Tesero where the buffet spread includes items from the kitchens of India and China, in addition all the other usual items from a variety of juices, fruits, cereals, salads, cold cuts, and bakery products to sausages and eggs prepared to orders.

The hotel offers many facilities to relax, keep fit and shed off those extra calories gained. These include the Jiva spa, swimming pool and state-of-the-art fitness centre.

For the business-minded, the hotel is perfect for all types of meetings, conferences and banquets.

Life can be delightful when sleeping at the Taj Dubai.

More information: www.tajhotels.com

Words: Sandip Hor

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

August 13, 2019

Remembering the early Variety Club Bashes

The Redex Variety Club Bash attracts many a persistent "rapscallion", Ben Seehusen of Epping Real Estate being no exception. He's participated in all five "Bashes", surviving fire, flood and frustration, and managing to have lots of fun along the way. Ben tells some of his stories to Linda Emslie.

Ben's passion for motor-sport began in the late sixties when he rallied a VW in the Southern Cross events. He also gained some road racing experience in various events at Warwick Farm, Amaroo and Oran Park, preferring a Volkswagen Sports Sedan as his competition vehicle.

After hearing Dick Smith talk on the radio about the revamped Redex Trial (The Variety Bash), Ben was keen to enter. The first firm refusal was no obstacle; "Dick was only organising it for a few of his mates." Neither was the $1000 "to show our good intentions“. Repeated phone calls and letters saw Ben and his manic mechanic added to the list of fifty-three participants.

In 1974 Ben's old "woppy" sports sedan had blown up in a training run. Since then he hadn't participated in motor-sport for one reason or another. So this new adventure in 1985 called for a new car. Or, rather an old car. (One of the pre-requisites for the Variety Bash was to have a pre '66 model car.)

As Ben's "rather keen on the old Vee Dub" he went for a '58 Beetle. This valiant vehicle was pitted against other old timers such as a 1928 soft top Alfa Romeo, driven by the dinner suited Len Evans. Other hot favourites were huge 'yank tanks', Mercedes, and a Holden "built like a wine bottle, about which we thought if it ever rolled it would never bloody stop. 'There was even a London taxi one year. The little VW, however, was a match for any of these even though it only had room for two team members. That meant all costs were split just two ways, upping the expenses just a little.

Ben has competed in each succeeding Bourke Bash, and has witnessed many funny incidents. Annual amusement is supplied, without fail, by the tumble-troubled George who, Ben tells us, hasn't survived a single rally without either blowing up his car, or rolling it. "But, that's George every year."

One of the funniest incidents Ben remembers was the time they lost their oil cooler somewhere near Bourke.

Ben and his navigator were slowed down by some black soil plains. Torrential rain had turned the black plains into a slippery, treacherous quagmire. Ben's navigator was out bouncing up and down on the rear bumper bar for traction, while the Beetle crawled along at 15km/h. They decided they wouldn't make it through to Bourke on this route, so headed for Brewarrina instead. The local copper opened up the service station for them. (Sunday afternoons in Brewarrina are pretty quiet). They were told that the road to Bourke was closed. However, seeing as they had made it through on the Brewarrina road they would probably get through on the Bourke road.

"I'll just follow you through and make sure you get onto the bitumen," the friendly policeman said.

"It was teeming with rain and there were sheets of water everywhere over the road. Mud and junk everywhere." The copper ducked home to grab his wife for a Sunday drive and followed the Beetle out onto the muddy plains in his paddywagon.

Ben barrelled along doing 70 or 80 miles an hour, slewing sideways through puddles, making the most of the empty slippery road. When Ben looked in the rear vision mirror he saw the old copper's wagon doing the same thing!". Ben recalls it's the only time he's been able to do 80 mile an hour "where I've had a copper two foot up me clanger...He was having a ball." Sixty miles out of Brewarrina the oil cooler hose came off and Ben's WW lost all its oil. No problem, the policeman gave them the ride of their lives in the back of the paddywagon to get some more oil. Without him they would have been "up the creek without a paddle". The necessary repairs were completed in record time, and the Beetle continued its rally. This year's Bourke to Broome bash almost saw the end of the battling Beetle, however. The daunting entry fee of $10,000 didn't pose much of a problem,

to be contd

August 11, 2019

Return to Sri Lanka

‘AYUBOWAN’ The lovely greeting salutation, which is Sinhalese for Long Life

I was invited by the Sri Lankan Government to return and review the tourism side of the after effects of the April terrorism atrocities. My previous visit was in 2016, following an official invitation from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to represent Australian travel media at their special conference; Tourism: A Catalyst for Development, Peace and Reconciliation in Passikudah, Sri Lanka.

I joined up with a group of Australian travel agents and one trade media lass for a 10-day exploration of the major tourist destinations.

Arriving at Colombo, the first thing noticed is the very obvious increase in security, which gives one the feeling of safety. Tourism is one of the main industries for this tiny island nation – about the size of Tasmania – but with a population of over 21 million.

From Colombo, we headed North East to Sigiriya, then to the coast and Trincomalee. Next we headed back to the heart of the country and Kandy, then further South to Ella and back to the East coast town to Galle, before leaving for Mt Lavina and returning to Colombo. Many a kilometre!

What had changed? It is very obvious that the people of Sri Lanka have formed a unified bond, forgetting about various religious differences and merging as one to overcome the tragedy. All places of worship were open and people were smiling and going about their daily chores. Even the various political groups seem to be onside for the recovery.

Everywhere we went the hotels and resorts were showing good occupancy and we managed to bump into Aussie travellers at most of them, who all expressed that they felt totally safe and were all enjoying their holidays.

As we all know, things can change, so always check at: https://smartraveller.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx for the latest advice!

Reasons why you should go ….

Sri Lanka – The Wonder of Asia

A land of many colours, attractions and opportunities for travellers.

A tiny country, once known as Ceylon, with a huge history.

About 2,600 years of recorded history dates this civilisation. One such is the Ramayana, when the island was called Lanka and was a fortress for King Ravana.

Buddhism was introduced in the 3rd century BC, to become the dominant religion.

Around the 6th century BC the Sinhalese arrived from Northern India and a substantial civilisation evolved. They established various kingdoms and continued to prosper until the 16th century.

Then the Europeans, looking for exotic spices started a series of invasions. The Portuguese in the 16th century, the Dutch took over in the 17th century. Then followed the British in 1796 who then took over the whole island in 1815. Leading to most of the island became a British colony in 1902,

In 1948, then known as Ceylon they became independent and changed their name to Sri Lanka in 1972.

Natural scenic beauty from golden beaches with crystal waters, to mist-covered valleys covered in ethical tea plantations.

Heritage – Sigiriya, the Eighth Wonder on the World, a fifth century AD fortress and a water garden displays some of the most futuristic elements of landscaping and some of the oldest murals recorded in the country.

Wildlife - Ignoring its small size Sri Lanka boasts of one of the highest rates of biological endemism in the world whether in plants or animals and is included among the top five biodiversity hotspots in the world. Of the ninety-one species of mammals found in Sri Lanka Asian elephants, sloth bear, leopards, sambar and wild buffaloes engages the majority of the attention of wildlife enthusiast.

Despite the mighty elephants and rare amphibians found in the country, birds are the glory of Sri Lanka’s wildlife. Boasting nearly 433 bird species of which 233 are resident Sri Lanka holds 20 endemic species while another 80 species have developed distinct Sri Lankan races, compared to their cousins in Indian mainland.

Accommodation – As tourism is one of the mainstays of the economy, a full gambit of accommodation is on offer, from top-level resorts and hotels to modest budget opportunities including homestays.

Cuisine – With such a wonderful and varied cultural background, added to by an abundance of wonderful fresh produce, you will find some of the most delicious food I have sampled anywhere in the world.

The People – Sri Lanka is a melting pot of cultural variety, predominantly, as one would expect from an Indian heritage, blended with the various visitors and invaders from over the centuries. A beautiful and friendly nation of multi-national people, who are delighted to be of assistance to travellers. In particular to Australians, all you have to do is mention cricket and you will find a passionate local expert, who enjoys the chance to have their team taking on the Aussies.

Words and images: Michael Osborne.

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

August 10, 2019

Starry nights at Lake Tekapo

Observing the brilliance of a million and more stars, Sheriden Rhodes is privileged to enjoy a UNESCO-supported heritage reserve some call the ‘park in the sky’.

I’m gazing into the blackness atop Mt John Observatory at what is possibly the clearest night sky in the world. As we stand 300m above NZ's Lake Tekapo, with its translucent aquamarine hue caused by glacial silt, we are blanketed by millions of stars. Even with the naked eye, it’s impressive. The air is crisp, there are no lights to detract from the celestial view and around me I hear “oohs” and “aahs” as happy astro-tourists take in one of the world’s best views of the southern sky.

The observatory – home to the most southerly permanent optical observatory and the country’s biggest telescope – is the main site for astronomy research in the country. Just a short drive from Lake Tekapo, Mt John offers an uninterrupted 360° panorama of towering mountains, lakes and ancient glacial deposits. Most importantly it sits below one of the clearest and darkest skies in New Zealand.

Four years ago UNESCO launched the Starlight Initiative to protect the clearest and darkest skies from light pollution – a sight fast disappearing due to industrial light and pollution. Next came the move to set up a World Heritage Starlight Reserve.

50 to 60 million stars out there

On a clear night, Graeme Murray, who runs Earth and Sky stargazing tours, says the Mt John telescope looks at 50-60 million stars using an advanced form of space research called microlensing. The observatory has discovered a number of planets but its big breakthrough came about six months ago when astronomers were the first to discover rogue planets in deep space that are not attached to any solar system or sun. The latest prognosis is that there are twice as many of those rogue planets out there as there are stars.

After looking at various constellations, star clusters and Saturn through powerful telescopes, we move inside to the warmth of Mt John’s Astro Cafe to learn what makes the night sky here unique. Hot chocolate is served as we watch a presentation by astronomy guide Kristian Wilson.

“There are lots of places in NZ where it’s awesome to look at the night sky, but the weather is different. Here we have a dry location with minimal light pollution, dust, moisture and clouds. You can pinpoint particular stars and clusters with crystal clear accuracy, something you’ll never see in the city,” Kristian says.

Mt John is at the forefront of securing the first UNESCO listing for its night sky. The local Mackenzie Council has for two decades enforced strict lighting bylaws to protect the observatory and subsequent economic and tourism activity. Lighting is shielded from the sky and beamed down. Floodlighting is restricted and outside lights must be turned off between 11pm and sunrise.

Not everyone is happy about it. Some local farmers and business operators who need light to work at night, understandably, are against the push for what locals call the ‘park in the sky’; others do not want to be told by the United Nations how to run things. Graeme, however, argues that the UNESCO listing will protect Mackenzie’s pristine night sky for generations to come and put the Mackenzie district on the map.

Aside from some of the world’s best stargazing, Lake Tekapo’s surrounding snowcapped mountains and turquoise lake offer a spectacular backdrop for a bunch of fun Alpine activities. There’s skiing at resorts including Roundhill and Mt Dobson and bathing in hot pools, tubing and ice skating at the Alpine Springs and Spa Winter Park. An absolute must if visiting the area is a Grand Traverse flight with Air Safaris – fly eye-height with Mount Cook and Mount Tasman and over the 29km Tasman Glacier.

This story originally published in
Get Up & Go - Summer 2012
There are numerous places to base yourself while in Lake Tekapo, but my pick is Parkbrae Estate’s Aldourie Lodge, Tekapo’s oldest house with views of the lake and the much photographed Church of the Good Shepherd. After soaking in the local hot pools, we gather around the fire, drinking wine and chatting into the night. Eventually, I drag myself off to bed, but not before stepping outside one last time and gazing upward, grateful that something is being done to preserve this astonishing celestial view for my children’s children.

August 07, 2019

Greek Islands: Sumptuous Santorini

Surrounded by the indigo Aegean, Santorini is a glorious blue and white testament to the island beauty that is typically Greek.

Before the Latin Empire named it in the 13th century after the cathedral of Saint Irene, Santorini was known as Kallist, which translated as “the most beautiful one”. Seems there’s been unanimity for centuries. Not just the best Greek island but the ‘best island in the world’, said the BBC in recent times.

First impressions count for a lot and mine was not many notches below spectacular. A direct flight from Heathrow had me on the ground at Monolithis Airport late in the afternoon and a brief dash from the airport positioned me on a ridge above the caldera just as the sun was setting. For something that happens every day this took on all the elements of an exquisite occasion, complete with lines of folk and choruses of sighing exclamations (more than a few in antipodean accent). For while sunset tends to reliably draw an audience in tourist locations all across the big blue marble, the Santorini setting is pretty much peerless.

This island had one of the most dramatic volcanic explosions in recorded history some 3600 years ago (in a region where volcanic activity goes back millions), which resulted in the vast three-side rectangular lagoon with soaring three hundred metre high walls. So deep that almost every ocean craft in the world can enter its protected domain – with up to four a day bringing in agog visitors in peak season. The tumultuous activity left the island with a crescent shape that lends weight to the popular theory that this was the fabled realm of Atlantis. As part of a generation who had come of age listening to Scottish troubadour Donovan recite and sing Atlantis I found myself easily musing upon how “All the Gods who play in the mythological dramas in all legends from all lands were from far Atlantis”. Of course.

The spell was never allowed to be broken. A room boy shouldered my suitcase and set off at a loping pace along a high winding path near Imerovigli village just a couple of kilometres from Fira (or Thera) the island’s main town, to Grace Santorini, a boutique property etched in the caldera wall.

Lifelike doll's face stares out from a
Santorini boutique (Roderick Eime)
Santorini is one of only two islands in Europe with a hot desert climate. Within the Cyclades group, of which Santorini is the southernmost member and ferry-reached Mykonos has the loudest parties, there is an appealing architecture style of low-lying cubical stone houses either whitewashed or coloured by volcanic ash, with some rooms (or produce/wine cellars) dug into the surrounding pumice for effective all-season insulation. My room at the Grace Santorini gave the impression that it had been tunnelled into the cliff, with wooden shutters opening onto the ever breath-taking view. I had a small spa pool but a level up, exerting an almost hypnotic pull, was the shimmering infinity pool that features in almost every published image of the hotel.

Once you tear yourself away from all of this, there are quiet villages, tavernas, museums, cave houses, castles, walks along dusty paths to dive in the deep waters of Ammoudi, the rebuilt 13th century BC city of Akrotiri, thermal springs, scuba diving, boat rides, old harbours and blue domed churches. For some, certainly, after the sun has so dramatically slipped from sight – it is a primarily gastronomic experience. The island is famed for succulent cherry tomatoes and caper berries sold preserved in oil in jars by street vendors. There are sesame-coated almonds, pistachios, yoghurt with honey and walnuts, fresh fish and the ever-present gyros on pita rolls. This is bread-basket, fruit-of-plenty land.

And while the cruise liner flow ensures that there are the requisite rows of souvenir stalls, there is a startling number of one-off boutiques, emporiums and craft shops with unique items not duplicated all along the road.

Like most of the Greek Islands, Santorini is a world apart from Athens and the mainland. It comes alive in high season and seems to stand apart from the nation’s heavily-publicised travails, though an absolute reliance on tourism on the part of 15,500 residents makes one conscious of a certain fragility and constant attention to preservation.


Originally published in Get Up & Go Magazine Summer 2015

August 04, 2019

Hunter Gatherings: a day of wine and food in the Hunter Valley

click to view video
Words by John Maddocks
Images by Roderick Eime and John Maddocks

It's an early start in Sydney for our group of wine and food lovers, but no-one's complaining. In fact, there's an air of anticipation as we board the brand new, custom-built luxury coach and settle in for the two-hour journey north to the Hunter region. After all, we're headed for three exceptional estates in the country's oldest wine producing region and lunch at an award-winning restaurant. And when the wine tasting is over, we won't have to worry about driving.

John and James Lusby of Tintilla Estate
Taking a day tour makes sense in other ways too. With over 150 vineyards in the Hunter Valley, some expert guidance is needed. A lot has happened here since James Busby came back from Europe in 1832 with 20,000 vine cuttings and inspired the founding of vineyards that currently boast some of the oldest vine stock in the world. And while most wine buffs know that the Hunter has long been renowned for a unique Semillon and famous Shiraz, a new breed of young winemakers is now producing Sangiovese, Fiano and Tempranillo styles as well.

After turning off the Pacific Motorway, we enjoy the attractive Hunter landscape of rolling hills, endless vines and numerous olive groves. Soon there are several sightings of kangaroos. Reaching Pokolbin, we enter the tree-lined driveway at Tintilla Estate and are soon greeted by our hosts, John and James Lusby. Here we taste a range of whites and reds, starting with a Spritzanti and moving on to a Semillon called The Angus. Tintilla also boasts a highly rated Shiraz, an excellent Merlot and a distinctive Cabernet Merlot. The Lusbys were central in pioneering Sangiovese in the Hunter, producing a Rosato di Jupiter and a blended style. The tasting is accompanied by some delicious Tintilla olives.

Tintilla Estate wine tasting

The striking thing about our next stop, Bimbadgen, is undoubtedly the amazing view. In fact, the name itself derives from an indigenous word for 'place of good view'. Bimbadgen is well known for several other reasons too, including world-class concerts in the 'Day on the Green' program and the multi-award winning Esca restaurant. Our lunch choices at Esca are matched with appropriate wines, so the Char Siu Duck, for example, is matched with a Bimbadgen Fiano and the delicious St Agur dessert of figs, lavender, honey and meringue is accompanied by a Merlot.

Char Siu Duck at Bimbadgen
Our last stop is Leogate Estate, which needs no introduction to wine connoisseurs. The original Brokenback Vineyard was planted under the direction of a syndicate headed by the late wine writer Len Evans, and what is now Leogate Estate produces some of the finest examples of Hunter Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz. The wines are so good, in fact, that Leogate's 'The Basin' Reserve Shiraz and 'Brokenback Vineyard' Shiraz have been selected for Qantas First and Business Class wine lists. Needless to say, the wine tasting here was memorable.

The writer travelled courtesy of AAT Kings

Getting there: AAT Kings runs a Hunter Valley Harvest Wine Experience from Sydney. See https://www.aatkings.com/tours/sydney/hunter-valley-harvest-wine-experience/


Tintilla Estate
725 Hermitage Road, Pokolbin NSW
Tel: (02) 6574 7093

790 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW

Leogate Estate
1693 Broke Road Pokolbin NSW
(02) 4998 7499

See John's new book Against the Odds: surviving the world's worst tsunami and overcoming trauma at www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07CZCHX8S/

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

August 03, 2019

Full Steam Ahead with Australia's first female steam engineer [video]

Our railway buff, Roderick Eime, travels to Queenstown and meets a special lady aboard Tasmania’s historic West Coast Wilderness Railway.

One of the tourism icons of Tasmania’s rugged and isolated West Coast is the namesake Wilderness Railway. It seems everyone has heard of this famous little railway, but not so many of us have actually ridden these very special rails.

Driven by an ingenious system devised by the Swiss railway engineer, Carl Roman Abt, the line first opened under controversial circumstances in 1892 and ran regular services through the stunning mountain scenery to the mines and dam works until 1963, when road transport superseded the steam infrastructure.

After a period of neglect, the railway was revived as a tourism and heritage attraction after a multi-million dollar renovation and resumed tourism services in 2003. The railway hit another speed bump in 2013, but the ball was picked up by the Tasmanian Government and, after yet more repairs and rehabilitation, reopened along its full 32.5 km length in 2014.

Now sparkling like a new pin, the Abt locomotives chug merrily up the 1 in 15 grade through freshly painted stations at Dubbil Barril, Rinadeena and Lynchford. At Dubbil Barril, the train is reversed on a classic turntable and the entire complement of passengers turn out to watch the spectacle of high-pressure steam and clunking cogs.

As I jostled for position with my camera, I noticed something a bit unusual. One of the overall-clad engineers was a woman. It was hard to tell because she swung the heavy mallet and pushed on the heavy levers just like any bloke, but what gave her away was her massive smile. Here was someone having a ball.

With the engine swung around and reattached to the rolling stock, I introduced myself to Allie Hume, Australia’s only licensed female steam engineer.

“I started off selling tickets and doing commentary and then an opportunity came up to get up on the footplate in 2005,” Allie tells me, casually wiping the grease from her hands, “and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”

Obviously, there’s quite a bit to do to gain a position up the noisy end of the train.

“You start with a boiler ticket and become a fireman to start with, then you need to sit a special exam for this railway to get the next ticket.”

But everyone wants to drive a train, so what did you have to do then?

“To be a driver you need to know what’s called ‘reciprocating steam’, then a few more tests before your final driver’s exam.”

Allie’s no amateur, she’s been on the ‘footplate’ (a flat metal plate that serves as the floor of the cab) for ten years. So did she always wanted to be a train driver?

“My brothers used to have train sets as kids and I was never interested in dolls, so I’d play with them more than the other kids. Later on, I got into high-performance vehicles and racing cars. But it was really just this particular railway that has a special attraction and when the opportunity came up I grabbed it!”

And who can blame her? The West Coast Wilderness Railway is one of those special engineering feats that brings railway enthusiasts from all over the world, and with enthusiasm like Allie’s, it’s always great fun for everyone.

For more information about the WCWR, schedules and pricing, see www.wcwr.com.au

July 29, 2019

Machu Picchu side dish: Guinea pig on a plate


Sailing along the South American coast was the beginning of a pilgrimage to the ancient glory of Machu Picchu – fortified by gourmet guinea pigs.

Why am I feeling so guilty about eating a guinea pig? The dilemma isn’t that bad after all. Not since my chat with the chef at the Inkaterra Hotel where the train from Cusco pulls into Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu in Peru. One of the special dishes here is roast guinea pig served with mashed potato, drizzled in a mandarin jus. So, when I buy my guinea pigs (cuys) from a roadside barbecue in the Secret Valley, I’m told by my local guide that I should serve them with the latest in food fashion, quinoa, with over 350 varieties. Since the 1960s, efforts have been made to increase consumption of the ‘cuy’ outside South America and these days Andean immigrants in New York City raise them for major ethnic restaurants.

The meat is high in protein, low in fat and similar to the dark meat of chicken. It’s served fried (chactado or frito) or roasted in pieces (al horno) but in Cusco, it’s baked whole, like a cute, small, suckling pig garnished with pomegranates. For me, it is an instant hit. Funny though, it’s not featured on cruise menus.

If anyone had told me that after a nine-day sophisticated cruise on a posh Ponant ship, Le Boreal, along the South American coast, I’d be lugging an el cheapo backpack on the train to the ruins of Machu Picchu, I’d have said they were bonkers. But both experiences were equally fantastic and vastly different.

Our cruise starts in Puerta Caldera in Costa Rica and we head towards the palm-fringed Cocas Island on our way to Guayaquil in Ecuador, the real and only home of the Panama hat, first woven in 1630 and now, still handwoven, exported worldwide. From the minute I step on board, I feel at ease with the French flavour of Le Boreal. All 132 cabins have ridiculously comfy beds and pillows. The bathrooms feature full-length glass panels so I can shower while ocean gazing. Facials and fitness are available at the spa and gym, which also take advantage of sea views.

A la carte dining takes on a new meaning in the elegant La Licombe where the passengers, mostly French, dress to the nines as they devour their frogs’ legs and foie gras. On deck six at La Boussole, breakfast, lunch and dinner are enjoyed buffet-style, indoors or beside the pool.

Latin American musicians put us in the mood for arrival in Lima, Peru, a multiethnic nation formed over five centuries before the Spanish Conquest in the 16th Century. Lima has much to intrigue the first time visitor. Barranco is favourable for accommodation so I choose the only real boutique hotel, the very arty Hotel B. Located a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean and a short waterfront walk to the shopping mecca of Miaflores, I pass the Parque del Amor scattered with monuments and mosaics devoted to love.

The ruins of Machu Picchu and the beautiful city of Cusco is somewhere I’ve yearned to visit. At 2400m, after a one hour flight from Lima, I spend two days acclimatising in Cusco and soaking up the pulsating atmosphere in this city of half a million, where the houses climb up the hillsides. The main square explodes with people and Spanish buildings and traditionally clothed women clutch baby alpacas to earn a few cents for tourist photos. Shopping for handmade fabrics and jewellery at the markets is fun and good value.

Machu Picchu is 130km from Cusco so, in a mini-bus, we drive via the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo for our scenic and comfortable train trip to overnight in Aguas Calientes. We’re up at 6.30am to beat the first tourist train and catch the shuttle bus up the winding roadside to the crowning jewel of Inca architecture.

Known as ‘the lost city of the Incas’, and perched high in the Andean Cordillera, it remained hidden until 1911 when archaeologist, Hiram Bingham, revealed it to the world. Thought to be built around 1440 and abandoned before the Spanish invasion of 1532, it was used as a secondary palace for the emperor with temples dedicated to Inca divinities in the main courtyard and other annexed buildings for servants looking after up to 750 inhabitants. Surrounded by mountain peaks, Machu Picchu is a city of granite, so grey amongst greenery but overwhelming on first sight. Two days, partly guided and partly exploring alone, was ideal. It still remains shrouded in mystery as the Incas left no trace, either written or oral, to explain their departure. As part of a 325km square nature reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983, it’s a magnificent world wonder, worth every second of waiting for trains and boats and planes.


Originally published in Get up & Go Magazine Winter 2016

July 28, 2019

Challenge yourself with a 3 Sisters Adventure Trek and help empower the women of Nepal

3 Sisters Guides

By Jennifer Doherty

Looking for a challenge in retirement, then start training for a trekking adventure in Nepal and join one of the many treks offered by the 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking Company.   At the same time, you will be helping to empower the girls and women of Nepal to a better life. 

3 Sisters Adventure Trekking was set up in 1998 by the Chhetri Sisters – Lucky, Dicky & Nicky who are now seeing the benefits of training and empowering a new generation of strong, confident women of Nepal who can contribute to the future of their country.

Soon after setting up the trekking company they set up the NGO, Empowering the Women of Nepal (EWN) to work in partnership to train and encourage more Nepalese women to become self-supportive, independent, decision-makers.

Once trekking operations in Nepal were only led by men, but the very capable, well- trained and experienced guides of 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking truly can make your trek a very special experience.

With our guide Sita Rai, we took on the challenge of the 10 day Annapurna Base Camp (ABC)  trek and soon learned many things from her, how to climb up steps and not be breathless (and in Nepal there are endless stone steps leading up and down the mountains), how to stay motivated when times get tough and how to succeed in your challenge to make it to base camp and feel that great sense of achievement when you do.

For first time trekkers like us who are reasonably fit and walk a lot, we suddenly realized that trekking in the Himalayas is much different stamina wise to a bush-walk in the Blue Mountains.   It’s the challenge of walking day on day for ten days that requires more than just physical strength.

The ten-day Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek takes you through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery you could imagine.   We trekked in the month of April which is Springtime in Nepal and the spectacular rhododendron forests were in full bloom and the mountains were swathed in pink & red foliage.

Walking every day is different and exciting, sometimes through farmland, bamboo groves, lush rainforest and then alpine scenery once you reach Macchapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) and finally Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) about two hours further up.  Along the way you can enjoy the beautiful trees and foliage, and pretty wildflowers that bloom right up to Annapurna Base Camp.

Fewa Lake. Pokhara

And you can actually see beautiful birds you’ve never seen before in your life and hear beautiful birdsong every moment of your trek along the Modi Khola river gorge which leads up to Annapurna Sanctuary & Base Camp.  We were delighted to see a brilliant turquoise and black Grandala on the track to Annapurna Base Camp as well as the little forktail, spotted forktail, barbets, bush chats as well as a woodpecker and a cuckoo in the birch forest.  As we called back to the cuckoo it moved from tree to tree following us for more than twenty minutes. We were told by our guide Sita who is an avid birdwatcher that there are 883 species of birds in Nepal.

We were also very lucky to see the silver-grey black-faced langur monkeys who live in the rainforest jumping from tree to tree above our heads.  Trekkers have encountered them sometimes on the track in the forest in a surprise encounter.

The villages along the way where you stay each night are basically a number of lodges and restaurants that cater well to the trekkers passing through.  Most of these have the main dining room where you eat your meals and meet trekkers from all over the world.  The diet is mostly good trekker’s food with lots of carbs like pasta, pizza, rice and curry as well as the Nepalese staple dal bhat which consists of curry, vegetables, lentil soup and rice.  3 Sisters Adventure Trekking provide the backpacks and limit them to 10kg for their staff to carry, and then you just need to carry your daypack with water, protein bars and chocolates for some high energy snacks along the way.

Along the route, there are amazing views of the Himalayas right from the third day at Ghorepani where you can trek up Poon Hill to see the sunrise.  The balcony of our lodges at Tadapani and Chomrong provided sensational views of the Himalayas

But of course the best views are stupendous when you reach the end of the river gorge and enter the Annapurna Sanctuary and Base Camp where you have 360c views of the Himalayas including Annapurna South (7,219m), the world’s tenth highest peak Annapurna 1 (8,091m), Annapurna 3 (7,555m), Machhapuchhre (6,997m) which is well known as Fish Tail mountain, and the Mardi Himal (5,553m).  The massive Annapurna South Glacier carves its way to the edge of basecamp which we were told might have to be moved sometime in the future.

Most treks usually include one night only at Annapurna Base Camp because of limited accommodation, there are four lodges and restaurants based there, but if nothing is available at ABC trekkers stay at Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) and do the 4.30am trek up to Annapurna Base Camp for the sunrise.

Now, to say the Annapurna Base Camp is as easy as ABC would be stretching it, it takes a lot of effort, sometimes up to eight hours a day walking up and down those stone steps but the reward when you reach the Annapurna Sanctuary with the incredible views of the Himalayas are truly spectacular and worth the effort.

For recovery, you can spend a few days in the relaxing surrounds of lakeside Pokhara where you can enjoy boating on the beautiful Phewa Lake, have a massage to ease the muscle pains at the wonderful Middle Path Spa and refuel at top restaurants like Rosemary’s Kitchen and OR2K.

For detailed information on all the treks being offered by 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking visit the website:  www.3sistersadventure.com

You can even donate or volunteer your time or skills with the NGO, Empowering Women of Nepal
Words and images: Jennifer Doherty

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au