Wednesday, May 23, 2018

An African Adventure part 3 - West Coast

So our next stage of this epic holiday was an expedition cruise up the west coast of Africa. We travelled with Silversea and could not have been happier. Here is our ship, the Silver Cloud Expedition.

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Our jumping off point was Cape Town and after a day of sailing our first stop was Luderitz in Namibia. We visited the Number 7 sand dune:

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And then a town called Kolmanskop, which is an abandoned diamond mining town that the desert is slowly reclaiming. The last people left about 60 years ago and although the buildings are still standing, they are not what you'd call inhabitable.

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We had to stop on our way back to the ship to see the most famous plant in all of Namibia - the Welwitchia. Apparently they can live for 2,000 years and only ever grow two leaves (which then split into lots of strands so it looks like they have way more). They only grow in a very specific part of the country and no-one has been able to propagate them anywhere else in the world.

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Personally I think it looks like a wilted lettuce.

Our next stop was Walvis Bay where we visited a part of the desert known as the Moon Landscape. As you can see, it really does look like the surface of the moon, and not a single living thing exists there, just sand and rock.

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Day two in Walvis Bay we took a scenic flight over the Sossusvlei. This is an amazing desert landscape where there are red and white sand dunes, and never the two shall meet.

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They are separated by an underground river and as the sand gets slightly wet it becomes too heavy to cross the river, so the red and white parts never mix.

There are also a lot of ship wrecks along this part of the coast.

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Our next stop was Namibe in Angola. We visited a place called the Arch Lagoon, and none of the guides with us said that they had ever actually seen water in the lagoon before.

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Our next town was Lobito, and everywhere we went we had a police escort.

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We visited an old fort and some other historical places.

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Our final stop in Angola was the capital, Luanda. No foreigners had ever been allowed inside their brand new parliament house before so we felt very special. It's a lovely new building.

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We actually got to go into the chamber and sit in the seats where all the politicians sit. I did ask if I could sit in the President's seat but they said no. So Kendall and I pretended to be the leaders of the minority party instead.

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After departing Angola we spent three days sailing to St Helena, which is famous for being the final place Napoleon lived before his death, and also for being literally in the middle of nowhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

Longwood House, where Napoleon spent his final years:

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The view from the top, with our ship looking tiny in the harbour:

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Next stop, after another two days of sailing, was Ascension Island. Before we arrived, we were informed by the harbour master that we would not be able to land on the island as their supply ship has been delayed and was arriving several hours before us. There was only room for one ship in the port and they thought getting food and fuel was more important than a bunch of tourists wandering around, which is fair enough. So we sailed around the island instead, and honestly I don't know that we missed much by not landing.

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Our next stop, after another three days of sailing, was Cote d'Ivoire. It was an very interesting country and I really don't think they get many tourists there. But the local village king in Abidjan gave us a traditional welcome with a ceremony, and then we happened to be outside a school when lunchtime arrived, so the kids were very excited to see us.

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Our final visit was to Takoradi in Ghana. We visited the local fishing village and market, which is a big part of the local economy there.

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In summary, in three weeks we visited seven countries and travelled 4,887 nautical miles. Silversea was wonderful and I would highly recommend them if you ever want to do some cruising.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

An African Adventure part 2 - South Africa

We flew from Livingstone to Mpamalanga (Nelspruit) in South Africa, then drove for two hours to our next stop at Londolozi, bordering Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park. I am not sure I have ever stayed at such a luxurious place, even in the middle of nowhere. Everything about Londolozi is amazing, from the rooms to the food to the staff and the game drives. It is truly magnificent and everyone should go there if possible.

Getting up at 5am for a game drive sounds like a terrible idea, and the first time you get woken up at that time it really feels like a terrible idea, and you wonder what kind of madness you have agreed to. Then you get in the Land Rover and five minutes later you hear a lion roar and your tracker says "that way" and then you spend the next 30 minutes following a lion around, and the 5am madness seems not so mad after all.

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And then you say to your driver that afternoon that you'd really like to see some hippos, and then you see this…
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And you might even say the next morning that you haven't seen any elephants yet, and your driver and tracker find this for you, and the elephants even pose nicely:
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There is quite a cute story behind the pipe those two are holding. These two adolescent males had found a water pipe (they can smell water from miles away) that was used to fill watering holes in times of drought, and dug it up. There were a few kinks in the pipe and they spent quite a while trying to make the water come out. Eventually they managed to straighten it and water gushed out all over them. They both freaked out, ran a few metres away, trumpeted at the pipe, picked up sticks and threw them at it, and then they ran away. It was so entertaining. And all the time the water was pouring out and they'd made a lovely mud hole for themselves which they had a great time playing in.

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In the evening when your driver says he has a surprise for you…

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Honestly it was just the best experience. This very large bull elephant got extremely close to us:

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We saw hyenas feasting on a buffalo:

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And we saw loads of birds:

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Zebra, wildebeest, more leopards:

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There are a LOT more animal photos in my FlickR photo stream, just click on any of the photos above and you'll be taken to the album.

After a truly glorious time at Londolozi it was time to move on to Cape Town. We stayed at Ellerman House, which was delightful. We had this magnificent view from our balcony:
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The staff at Ellerman House were so wonderful, I would definitely recommend a stay there. We also went up to Table Mountain, which was quite spectacular.

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The view is something else:
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In summary, do an animal safari if you ever get the chance. It is AMAZING. And visit Cape Town, it's just lovely.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

An African Adventure part 1 - Zambia

This year, we decided to go on an epic adventure in Africa. Well actually, we decided this back in 2016 when we booked the first part of our holiday. It started out as a three week trip and ended up as an eight week odyssey.

Stage one was Zambia. We decided that Victoria Falls was a must-see, particularly as I am obsessed with waterfalls. So we flew from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi (Etihad Air, not that fantastic) and then on to Johannesburg (the accommodation there was not even worth mentioning) and the next morning flew up to Livingstone. Our accommodation was the glorious Royal Chundu Island Lodge, and if you ever go to Zambia I highly recommend you stay there. Aggie and Hessan are the hosts and they seem to be put on this earth to make sure you have the best time possible in Zambia. The villas are gorgeous, and when you are sitting on your deck sipping your morning tea and watching the birds swoop over the Zambezi River, you might well be the only people on earth. The food is pretty bloody good too.

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(view from our deck)

Every evening the trackers take the guests on a sunset cruise, looking for birds and wildlife. Drinking champagne (or whatever you feel like on a particular evening) and watching the world slip by, spotting elephants in the undergrowth on the Zimbabwe side of the river, and hearing hippopotami grunting from the river banks, is a pretty nice way to spend an evening. And then when you get back to the lodge and there is a gorgeous meal waiting for you, well, it's hard to not want to move in!

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If you do the Zambezi canoeing trip you will be treated to a wonderful time, and the most glorious picnic meal along the way. I say picnic, but basically it was a 10 course meal created by the lodge chefs and transported for us to a very picturesque spot for lunch. So do the canoe trip, it's great fun.

Of course the whole reason to visit Livingstone is to see Victoria Falls. And what a sight it is.

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I have never gotten so wet in my life without getting into a pool.

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That might look like a bit of spray but actually it's a total deluge. The spray splashing up from the bottom of the falls is like being rained on really hard. It's quite the experience.

This is the view from the back side, over the river.

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Taken from a helicopter, it looks a lot calmer. And I definitely recommend you do the heli ride over the falls and through the gorges on the other side. During the wet season, the rapids are too dangerous to even try white water rafting.

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In summary: go to Zambia, see Victoria Falls, visit a local village, have a wonderful time.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Another domestic adventure 2: the train

We are big fans of train travel, it's an excellent way to see places without having to drive in unfamiliar territory. But we have never done a train trip in Australia, until now!

The Indian Pacific is named for the two oceans it connects. A four day, 4,352km journey that takes you from one side of Australia to the other. You travel the longest, straightest stretch of railway track in the world as you cross the Nullabor Plain, which is in stark contrast to the beauty of the Blue Mountains.

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Departing from Perth, our first stop was in Kalgoorlie, which is home to the staggering 3.6km wide Super Pit - an open-cut gold mine that has yielded riches 24 hours a day since 1989.

Those mining trucks are unbelievably big:

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(Sorry, no photos of the pit itself, it was too dark!)

The next stop is a town called Cook, and calling it a town is a bit of a stretch of the imagination. It's actually an abandoned town and serves only as a fueling stop for the trains that pass through on their long journeys across the continent.

Here's our train:

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The next stop was Adelaide, it was freezing cold and pouring with rain so there are no photos of that lovely town. The final stop before heading into Sydney was Broken Hill.

This is not actually what Broken Hill looks like, but what it is surrounded by:

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We went to the regional art gallery in Broken Hill and were highly impressed by the collection there.

After leaving Broken Hill we travelled through the night and next morning into Sydney. The trip through the Blue Mountains is very picturesque.

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All in all it was a great holiday. The train travel was really fun, although sleeping on a fast moving train, even in a bed, is always challenging. It's a great way to see the countryside, and you get to eat excellent food and drink wonderful drinks along the journey!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Another domestic adventure

So back at the end of June we went to Perth (Western Australia) for a few days, before boarding the Indian Pacific train (train trip details in the next post).

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency and it was quite nice. Centrally located and easy to get to everything.

The main activity on my list for Perth was visiting Rottnest Island, home to the world's cutest little animals, the quokka. Rottnest Island is lovely and well worth the visit if you ever get the chance. You can walk around or there is a small train that pootles along.

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To get there you can get a ferry from Perth, or do what we did and go by helicopter, which is much faster and way cooler. We travelled with Rotorvation Helicopters and if you ever need a helicopter flight somewhere in the Perth area, I highly recommend them.

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I mean, can you even?

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Even sleeping on their heads they are adorable!

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So with that awesome task done, we decided to have a couple of days of artiness. We visited the Perth Mint, which was very interesting. The Mint provides premium gold, silver and platinum products and services to markets throughout the world. You can see gold bar pouring demonstrations, and an interactive experience allows you to realise just how heavy gold actually is. Definitely recommend a visit.

We also visit the Art Gallery of Western Australia, which has the finest collection of Australian Art that I've seen in one place. Also well worth a visit.

The other notable experience we had was dinner at a restaurant called Wildflower. Holy cow the food was amazing, the setting was lovely, and the service was impeccable. You should absolutely go there if you are ever in Perth.

After a few days in Perth it was time to head to the train station for the second part of our holiday, travelling on the Indian Pacific from Perth to Sydney.