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.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Emma Gorge in The Kimberley: There is something you need to know!

Emma Gorge Pool
Have you ever been to Emma Gorge? Only an hour's drive from Kununurra in Western Australia's Kimberley region, it is one of the easiest gorges to get to and one of the prettiest - but there is something you need to know. Before you start imagining yourself floating alone in a perfect rock pool under the southern sky, revelling in the warm waters of the Australian outback (it never gets cold in Australia - right!) consider this. Emma Gorge Pool is deep, very deep - and it is in a gorge. The red rock cliffs surrounding the water hole are 65m high - much of the pool never sees the sunshine. All this means that stunning as it looks, Emma Gorge Pool is cold, very cold - icy is a word which comes to mind.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Whales in Paradise - Whale Watching on Australia's Gold Coast

Whales in Paradise boat
Every year from April to November humpback whales turn the east coast of Australia into a whale migration super highway. In the southern hemisphere's summer humpbacks gorge themselves on krill in the waters off Antarctica, then as winter approaches they head north on a 10,000 kilometre journey. The females give birth in the warm sub-tropical waters before returning to their feeding grounds in Antarctica. This makes Australia's east coast a world class venue for whale watching. Combine that with a near perfect winter climate and south-east Queensland must be one of the best places on the planet to see these magnificent creatures.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Willie Creek Pearl Farm and the Perfect Pearl.

Pearl in an oyster shell
Have you ever heard the expression, 'you don't choose the pearl, the pearl chooses you.' At first blush it sounds like just another advertising slogan - except this time it's true. On our first trip to Broome in Western Australia, way back in 2004, David gave me an Australian South Sea Pearl. Out of hundreds of pearls on display, that pearl was the one I fell in love with. It remains my most treasured piece of jewellery. A single, tear-drop shaped white pearl on a simple gold chain - I wear it everywhere.

David decided to buy it for me when he saw me admiring the pearls in the showroom of Willie Creek Pearl Farm.  With not a lot of time to see the sights of Broome on this trip, the one thing we did not want to miss was a return to Willie Creek and its tour of how these exquisite gems are produced.