Thursday, 14 December 2017

Is snorkeling on Ningaloo Reef overrated?

Turqouise Bay Ningaloo Reef
Ningaloo Reef is one of the largest fringing reefs on the planet. It extends for 260 kms (162 miles) along the coast of Western Australia from Red Bluff, near Carnarvon to Bundegi Beach just north of Exmouth. The turquoise blue waters are stunning, the fish and other marine animals prolific and, best of all, much of the reef can be accessed by stepping straight off the beach. What is there not to love? I am a self-confessed snorkeling addict married to an otherwise perfect husband, who doesn't swim. Being able to snorkel by stepping straight off a beach ought to be nirvana for me. It saves me going out alone on long boat trips to reach the coral.  Perhaps my expectations were too high but having nagged David for years to take me to Ningaloo Reef, I was disappointed.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Where can you see penguins in Sth Africa?

African penguinPenguins in Africa! It sounds like a contradiction in terms but there they were, on Boulders Beach, right where our guide book said they would be, dozens and dozens of African penguins. Also known as jackass penguins, because their call sounds a bit like a donkey, African penguins live along the south-western and southern coasts of Africa between Namibia and Port Elizabeth.  If you want to see them and you are in Cape Town just head out to Boulders Beach, Simons Town, a mere 45 minutes by car. Combine your visit with a trip to the Cape of Good Hope for a great day excursion.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Madi-Madi - A Luxury Safari Lodge in the Klein Karoo, Sth Africa

Executive Riverfront Cottage Madi-Madi
It is late afternoon in the Klein Karoo, five hours drive from Cape Town along South Africa's captivating Route 62. We are sitting on our private terrace at Madi-Madi Karoo Safari Lodge hoping to catch sight of some of the wildlife which populates Madi-Madi's private game reserve. We are not disappointed. As if on cue, a herd of springbok wander into sight. With their striking markings and regal bearing they are unmistakable.  An antelope with a predilection for pronking (leaping), the springbok has a habit of suddenly launching itself into the air in leap after elegant leap, cruising several metres before hitting the ground and repeating the performance. The springbok in our field of view remain, frustratingly, firmly anchored to the earth, much more interested in quiet grazing than giving us a show of their physical prowess, but this is Day 1 of our stay and I am confident they will perform for us eventually.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Kirstenbosch - Is this the world's most beautiful botanic garden?

Sunbird on protea
Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden in Cape Town is one of the great botanic gardens of the world. Nestled against the slopes of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch is 36 hectares of pure flower heaven. Somehow we missed seeing Kirstenbosch on our first trip to Sth Africa -  honestly I don't know how that happened, but this time it was so lovely we went back twice.

Take my advice and go in spring. We visited in the first week of October and then again in the last week. The flowers, especially the magnificent yellow proteas, were slightly better in the first week but any time in October will give you a stunning display.

Friday, 3 November 2017

72 Hours in Cape Town: The best things to see and do.

Bo Kaap
Cape Town has drawn us back. A year and a half after our first experience of the capital of South Africa's Western Cape, we couldn't resist another visit. What is it about Cape Town's eclectic mix of African and European culture which is so compelling?  Last visit we had only two days to explore the city, much of it spent in a jet-lag induced haze. This time, armed with a couple of Cape Town Passes, we were determined to see all the things we missed.

Our Cape Town Passes gave us entry to the city's best attractions and the phone app which came with them worked like a travel guide with descriptions and photos of each attraction and turn by turn directions showing how to get to them.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Pinnacles and Stromatolites: Ancient formations and living fossils on Western Australia's Coral Coast.

The Pinnacles
The Pinnacles Desert and the stromatolites of Lake Thetis make a great day trip for anyone with even a vague interest in what the earth may have looked like in primordial times. The Pinnacles may be as old as half a million years, while the stromatolites show life as it was at the dawn of time - 3.5 billion years ago. Bored to tears by geology in high school, I found the Pinnacles Desert and the Stromatolites of Lake Thetis fascinating.

No one knows quite how long ago the eerily, striking natural structures of the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park, Western Australia were formed, but today they draw 250,000 visitors every year. Pillars of time-warn limestone, some several metres tall, jut out of the surrounding sand dunes like a petrified, paleolithic garden. Every structure seems to have its own unique, weather-beaten shape.

The stromatilites of Lake Thetis are babies by comparison. While the organisms you see are estimated to be only 3,500 years old, they are living descendants of the earliest life-forms to appear on earth - literally living fossils.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Hutt Lagoon, Western Australia: A pink lake you can drive to.

Hutt Lagoon a pink lake
Hutt Lagoon near Port Gregory on Western Australia's Coral Coast is a brilliant effervescent pink - or at least parts of it were on the day we visited. I have been chasing pink lakes for a while now and I finally found one which is easily accessible. You might remember, last year David and I went all the way to Esperance on Western Australia's far south-east coast looking for pink lakes and sunbathing kangaroos. We lucked out on both scores. You can read about our search at Esperance: Pink lakes and kangaroos on the beach. This time we hit the jackpot. Hutt Lagoon was a bright shiny pink, just sitting there waiting to be instagrammed.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

El Questro Station Bungalows: The best kept secret in the Kimberley.

El Questro sign
The Kimberley in Western Australia is one of the last true wilderness areas of the world. I wanted to go there forever. David was not so keen! Being a wilderness, the Kimberley is a little short on reasonably priced, mid-range to luxury accommodation - the kind we usually stay at.

There are generally three types of travellers in the Kimberley. Those who pay a small fortune (think upwards of $2000 per night) to stay at an all inclusive resort, those who join a tour (all the tours involve camping) or those who have kitted themselves out with monstrous four-wheel drives. This last group sometimes camps and sometimes travels with an equally monstrous caravan. They have a rudimentary knowledge of how to fix things if they break down. They know how to pitch a tent, unhitch a caravan and cook on a campfire. They can ford rivers and 'lock diffs' (Does anyone know what that actually means?). None of these things are in our skill sets - and - David doesn't camp, full stop, end of story. He refuses even to contemplate the idea.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Mantra Geraldton on Western Australia's Coral Coast

Mantra Geraldton
David has a golden rule when it comes to holiday accommodation. Find the best place in town and stay there - who can argue with that - and so we found ourselves at Mantra Geraldton on the Coral Coast of Western Australia. This was meant to be a quick stop over on our way further north but Geraldton turned out to be a hidden gem. Four and a half hours from Perth by road, it is the last large town for more than a thousand kilometres. It has a 'leaving civilisation' kind of feel to it. You want to stay somewhere nice because it might be a while before you get the luxury of good accommodation again.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Abrolhos Islands with Shine Aviation: Stunning snorkelling and the bloody story of the wreck of the Batavia.

Abrolhos Islands

A few hours before dawn on 4 June 1629, the Dutch East India Company ship the Batavia, struck Morning Reef off the Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia. The Batavia was neither the first nor the last ship to come to grief in the treacherous waters off Australia's uncharted and unforgiving west coast but the tragic fate of her survivors has ensured she is the best known.