Wednesday, September 6, 2017

ROTTNEST ISLAND, WA



ROTTNEST ISLAND
WESTERN AUSTRALIA


We have frequented Rottnest (Rotto) for the 20 odd years we have lived in Perth. Just 20km from Fremantle (30 mins by boat), it is a must for a day trip, long weekend or extended break. As Willem de Vlamingh wrote in his journal when he landed on the Island in 1696:

"I had great pleasure in admiring this island, which is very attractive, and where it seems to me that nature has denied nothing to make it pleasurable beyond all islands I have ever seen, being very well provided for man's well-being, with timber, stone, and lime for building him houses, only lacking ploughmen to fill these fine plains. There is plentiful salt, and the coast is full of fish. Birds make themselves heard with pleasant song in these scented groves. So I believe that of the many people who seek to make themselves happy, there are many who would scorn the fortunes of our country for the choice of this one here, which would seem a paradise on earth".

On Vlamingh's arrival he saw a giant jarrah, numerous quokkas (a native marsupial), and thinking they were large rats he named the island "rats' nest" (Rattennest in Dutch) because of them. The quokkas still inhabit the island and don't shy away from having their photo taken. 

Our day trip this spring, was like no other. Rotto is currently being upgraded and we were pleasantly surprised to see an installation of nature walks which take you off the beaten track and connect you with the history of the island.

The five walks interconnect and you can use the transport network to help navigate the different areas. We chose to walk the Gabbi Karniny Bidi. The near 10km, well signposted walk traverses the salt lakes, showing off the dramatic landscapes of the coastal dunes and woodlands.

Bikes are not permitted on the nature walks and bench seats are well located so you can stop for a drink, photo opportunity or even bite to eat. Just remember that there is nowhere to refill your water bottle along the way, so make sure you carry plenty to drink.



Most of the walks are on uneven pathways, so watch your step and beware of snakes and other reptiles.

Don't forget to take your swimmers. Although you can't swim in the salt lakes, the Gabbi Karniny Bidi traverses the beautiful beaches of Geordie, Fay's & Longreach Bays, The Basin and Pinky's.
Geordie Bay


Hats off to the Rottnest Island Authority for this spectacular way of seeing an old destination!







Wednesday, August 23, 2017

PORONGRUP RANGE WA AUGUST 2017

PORONGRUP RANGE
WESTERN AUSTRALIA
AUGUST 2017

It's been cold and wet in Perth, year 12 final exams are looming for our eldest, so we decided to make a tree change for a long weekend and visit the Porongrups. Located 360km southeast of Perth, 40km from Albany and 15kms from Mount Barker, the trip from Perth took us approximately five hours down the Albany Highway (with a couple of stops along the way).



We booked an AirBNB - Woodlands Retreat - for the weekend. It was everything we could have asked for; a cosy two bedroom with ensuites, laundry, kitchen, fireplace, and a fabulous spa room with glorious views of the huge granite formations which make up the Porongrup Range. An entirely unique property.

The Porongrup Range was formed with Gondwana and is recognised in the National Heritage List. Giant karri trees and open jarrah forests cloak the granite mountain range, which houses a magnitude of fauna and flora.


Taking advantage of the breakthrough fine weather we headed out to Balancing Rock and Granite Skywalk.

The level 5, 1.5km walk takes a good hour or so return, so make sure you wear appropriate footwear/ clothing. Hiking up through the bush and then climbing a steel ladder, you reach the Granite Skywalk; a suspended walkway that hugs around Castle Rock. The views from the top are breathtaking. From here you can see all the way to the ocean off Albany over the fields of canola in full bloom.


Day two, the weather didn't look particularly inviting so we headed down to Albany.

Albany was the first European settlement established in Western Australia and signs of the town's history can still be found in the Heritage precinct.

Middleton Beach Boardwalk is a 5km walk from Ellen Cove to Stirling Terrace in the city. The dual pathway offers stunning views of coast and Frenchmans Bay.

Ellen Cove & Middleton Beach Boardwalk
One experience not to be missed when touring Albany is a visit to the National Anzac Centre.
Located in the Princess Royal Fortress, the interactive museum overlooks the harbour where over 40,000 Anzacs departed for the Great War.

Day three and the weather had fined up enough for us to take on the challenging three peaks. Starting at the Tree-in-the-Rock carpark we followed Nancy Peak Walk (3.7km), taking us past Hayward Peak, Nancy Peak and Morgan's View.

The walk isn't for the faint hearted, however the views from Hayward Peak across to the Stirling Ranges and then from Nancy Peak towards Albany are well worth the effort. With all the wet weather we have had, parts of the walk were slippery and slow going, so again make sure you wear good walking shoes.

Nancy Peak Walk
Nancy Peak Walk

Views from Hayward Peak













Devil's Slide is a side trip from where Nancy Peak Walk meets Wansbrough Walk. The 730m walk zig-zags through the bush and over rocks until it opens up onto the rock slide. It's a more challenging walk (especially in the wet) than the Nancy Peak Walk.

Devil's Slide Walk


All up Nancy Peak Walk with a side trip up Devil's Slide and returning to the carpark via Wansbrough Walk and walking at a relatively fast pace took us just over 2 hours.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

CAPE LEVEQUE & BROOME WA

CAPE LEVEQUE & BROOME

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

JULY 2016


As a winter break to escape the cold and wet we chose Cape Leveque and Broome, Western Australia. Broome is located 2,240km north of Perth and is a coastal pearling and tourist town in the Kimberley region of WA. Cape Leveque is around 200km further north of Broome on the Dampier Peninsula.

An early morning direct 2.5 hour flight from Perth to Broome, we welcomed the 27 degree heat and headed to the shops for supplies before heading up to Cape Leveque. The road to Cape Leveque is an unsealed, red dirt highway. Travelling at a speed of around 80km/hr is advised as although it looks flat, there are many unseen bumps and holes.
The 200km dirt highway to Cape Leveque

Half way to Cape Leveque a visit to Beagle Bay Aboriginal Community is a welcome detour and a nice place to stop for a picnic lunch under the well established trees. Beagle Bay is well known for its Church which was completed in 1918. For a $5 donation visitors are welcome to visit, but please don't ring the bell!


5 Bed Ensuite Cabin
We had booked to stay at Kooljaman a100% Indigenous owned facility which offers a well appointed camp ground for those travelling with their own camp gear or there is are "glamping" options for couples and families. We chose not to transport tents, billies and sleeping bags and opted for a five bed, ensuite cabin, complete with BBQ, full sized fridge/freezer and linen.

Kooljaman is a dry community, all alcohol is BYO and although there is a shop on-site, it doesn't offer a huge amount of supplies, therefore it is advised to shop in Broome. Petrol and a larger shop can be found at One-Arm Point (approx 20km from Kooljaman).

There is a swimming beach on the east side of the Community with 4WD access. Compressed air is available on your return to camp so you can re-pressure your tires. The Western Beach is closed for swimming due to strong currents and tidal movements. I think it is also a way of keeping "explorers" off the stunning rock formations.

The sunsets are to die for and best viewed from either the balcony overlooking Western Beach or from the beach itself. Raugi's restaurant offers a fine dining menu using local indigenous ingredients or there is a more casual wood-fired pizza outlet.

Dinka's cafe is open during the day for casual dining, coffee and refreshments. Beach chairs and umbrella's are also available for hire from Dinka's.


















As previously mentioned this part of WA is famously known for its Pearling Industry. Not far from Kooljaman is Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm. Pioneers of pearling in the region, the farm offers a range of tours, a licensed restaurant, accommodation and of course a selection of pearls for sale in the boutique.

We opted for the Pearl Farm Discovery Tour which gave us an informative insight into the history of Cygnet Bay Pearls, the pearl farm and production.


One-Arm Point Community (Ardyaloon) is located on the point of the Dampier Peninsula. The Community is open Monday - Friday and an entrance fee is payable. The Ardyaloon Hatchery is open to tourists on the weekend as well as the surrounding beaches.

Our return trip to Broome seemed a lot quicker along the dirt road. We had booked into Cable Beach Club Resort and were glad to wash off the red dirt. We had stayed at Cable Beach previously and found the resort very comfortable and well located. Within the resort there is a good selection of restaurants, so leaving the resort is very hard to do.

We did venture out and visited the Malcolm Douglas Wilderness Wildlife Park. After the tragic passing of Malcolm the park moved to a new location. Open from 3pm - 5pm daily, we were collected from the resort and transported to the park in time for feeding. Watching the huge snapping crocs had everyone move away from the fence very quickly, while baby crocs were passed around for cuddles and photos.

We didn't spend any time in Broome Town apart from the day we arrived. Broome is a typical tourist town with souvenir shops, museums and alike. It also boasts a popular racing carnival and some good restaurants.

The No 1 attraction of Broome would have to be a camel ride along Cable Beach. The camels are on the beach in the morning and for sunset and are popular with young and old.






Friday, February 5, 2016

CHINA - CHENGDU TO SHANGHAI

CHINA
CHENGDU TO SHANGHAI
VIA CRH HIGH SPEED TRAINS
27 DECEMBER 2015 - 10 JANUARY 2016




This December/January our travels took us from Chengdu in Southwest China 1630km across the country to Shanghai in the East. We achieved this by travelling by China's High Speed Rail network which spans 28 of the 33 provinces and travels at an average speed of 200km/hr.

We were the usual brood - two seventy-somethings, two forty-somethings and two teenagers, along with our very flamboyant Chinese interpreter and friend Sissi from Shanghai's BG Interpreters.

Visas: Prior to arriving in China, you will need to visit your local Chinese consulate and obtain a visa. These can also be done online. As part of the application you will be required to show hotel confirmations, so be sure to have booked a place to stay before applying.

Vaccinations: Check with your GP for the recommended vaccinations and make sure you have them at least a month prior to departure. 

Chinese Gov. Controls: The Chinese Government have strict controls/firewalls on internet connections. If you rely on certain applications ie: Google Search, Facebook, Google Drive, Instagram, Maps, Gmail or if you have a Google phone, these won't work in China unless you have a VPN (Virtual Private Network). We learned the hard way, as although we hired a mobile hotspot wifi for the duration of our stay, we didn't unlock the VPN (which needs to be done outside China) so we were unable to access any emails. Fortunately, we could access the internet via Yahoo and Baidu, however if you rely on the cloud to access confirmations and itineraries, then make sure you print a hardcopy! Don't rely on the hotels wifi or business centre for access either.

My husband had previously travelled with our interpreter Sissi on business, so we were very grateful when Sissi agreed to accompany us on our family adventure. Prior to our arrival Sissi organised all our airport/railway transfers, car hire and deposits, restaurant bookings and made numerous phone calls on our behalf. 

The majority of people in China don't speak any English, so catching taxi's, ordering food or buying tickets can be a very frustrating game of charades. We even found that some taxi drivers had no idea where the hotels were or could comprehend the hotel business cards written in Chinese! Our experience with taxi drivers didn't differ between Chengdu and Shanghai.

Car & driver hire: An 11 seater van and driver averaged around AUD $200-$300 per day depending on the rental time and distance you travel. This included all tolls, parking and lunch for the driver. None of our drivers spoke any English so Sissi proved invaluable when we needed to contact the driver to collect us or if we had a change of plan. I also had all the names and addresses of the destinations on our itinerary written in Chinese. Most of these I was able to copy and paste from Tripadvisor.



HSR Tickets: High Speed Rail tickets can be booked online via C-trip. Tickets can be booked a maximum of 60 days prior to travel and can be delivered to your hotel, however someone must be there to sign for them. Alternatively, you can book online and collect your ticket at the train station. We collected the tickets for all our train trips the afternoon prior to our first departure. We queued for at least 40 minutes and then waited another 40 minutes for the tickets to be issued.

The trains don't wait for anyone, so make sure you are at the station with time to spare as not only do you go through a security and passport check, your platform could be a 200m (or more) walk from the security point. 


Note: High Speed Trains are G, D or C trains. Each of these have different types of seats. G trains and some D trains have Business Class seats.


CHENGDU

成都市




Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan Province. Home of traditional spicy sichuan hotpot, giant Pandas and brocade, the city has grown quickly to accommodate the influx of visitors arriving via air and rail.

In Chengdu we chose to stay at the Sofitel Chengdu Taihe through Booking.com.

Winter in China is usually dry, foggy and moderately polluted with fewer hours of sunlight. At 7.00am music started playing outside like an alarm clock to wake the city up. The day was still just coming to light at 8.00am when we joined for breakfast.

Day one of our adventure had us collected from the hotel around 9.30am and taken to the Jinsha Site Museum. This archeological site was discovered in 2001. Dating back to the Shu Kingdom it is a huge discovery for the city and gives a lot of explanation as to the sudden disappearance of the bronze age Sanxingdui culture. 
The main gate to the museum is the South Entrance, however the Exhibition Hall at the North Entrance showcases the variety of artifacts that have been unearthed. Viewing all the gold, ivory, jade, pottery etc. and reading about the history of the people and culture before moving to the Relics Hall puts the burial site, residential site and palace foundations into perspective. The gardens are also particularly lovely to wander through.

Relic Hall, Jinsha Site Museum

Note: Be sure to take ID with you when visiting museums in China. Entry is free for those over 70 and teenagers under 16 are concession. Don't put your passport away too quickly however, as although the ticket office have issued you a ticket, you will need to show your ID again and again and again at any guarded door or gate.

The Song Xian Qiao Antique Markets are the second largest in Chengdu and a good place to shop for souvenirs. Located near the Du Fu Thatched Cottage and Wu Hou Temple, it is best to visit late morning when it really gets into full swing. This is also a great place to practise your bargaining skills. It is also a nice place to stop for a bite to eat overlooking the river.


A bead stall at the Song Xian Qiao Antique Markets
Chengdu was not only the birthplace of the first widely used paper money, it was also the origin and major production base of Chinese Silk which was traded along the famous Silk Road. The Chengdu Shu Brocade & Embroidery Museum gives you an amazing insight into the history of Chengdu, silk production and the different types of brocade. Even if you aren't interested in embroidery, try not to miss this museum.



Jinli Old Street is a great way to end a cultural day. It buzzes with locals, tourists and foodies dining out at the food stalls. It is one of the oldest streets in the province and showcases the architectural style of the residences in western Sichuan Province.

Other famous streets to visit in Chengdu are Kuan and Zhai Xiangzi (Wide and Narrow Alley). Both are close to the People's Park which houses traditional teahouses and is a nice place to people watch.




Steamed snow pear with peach sap
Yu Zhi Lan Restaurant is a must in Chengdu. Located at No. 24 Changfa Street, Qingyang District Ph: 028 6249 1966 email: 1600567582@qq.com. Make sure you book in advance for this gastronomic degustation. The set menu is from RMB 600 per person and includes tea. A wine list is available on request. 

Handmade 'golden silk' noodles





MOUNT QINGCHENG


青城山



Mount Qingcheng is about an hour and a half drive west of Chengdu. Located here you will find the Dujiangyan Irrigation System which dates back to 256 BC and Panda Valley.






Panda Valley is one of China's best kept secrets and tours of the Giant Panda base can be organised via the Six Senses Mount Qingcheng Resort. (Panda Valley is not to be mistaken with the Chengdu Panda Research base located in Chengdu.) There are only around 20 or so Panda's housed at Panda Valley and on the day we toured we had the whole park to ourselves. It was an absolute treat to be able to watch these amazing creatures in a natural environment and learn from our very knowledgeable guide Olaf, from Six Senses Resort, all about the research, rehabilitation and conservation program, the history of the Panda and general information.


After our visit with the Panda's, we headed to Six Senses where we had a very nice lunch at the F2F Restaurant after a tour of the recently opened resort. With magnificent views of Mount Qingcheng, a fabulous spa, pool and organic garden, we suddenly wished we had booked to stay a night or two. Six Senses also offers tours of the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, Mount Qingcheng and the history of Taoism.

Six Senses Luxury Indoor Pool
Views of Mount Qingcheng from Six Senses

Mapo Tofu is one of Chengdu's traditional dishes and comes highly recommended. Unfortunately, after our huge day out we didn't make our booking and instead had a very nice japanese dinner at Fuji Restaurant located on the second floor of the Sofitel Chengdu Taihe.


YUANTONG OLD TOWN

元通古镇



Sichuan  province is home to a dozen historical towns, so we took the opportunity to visit Yuantong on return to Chengdu from Mount Qingcheng. 


Yuantong is about 40km from Chengdu and has a history of more than 1,600 years. Along the river, rich traders built their shops, warehouses and homes which can still be seen today. 

A traditional teahouse in Yuantong






YICHANG

宜昌

We arrived in Yichang mid-afternoon so took the opportunity to visit the Chinese Sturgeon Museum. Producers of the increasing popular chinese caviar, the sturgeon's habitat and migratory patterns were interrupted by the construction of the Yangtze River Dam. Now a state-protected animal, the conservatory institution houses various species of sturgeon and other marine life found in the Yangtze. 

In Yichang, we chose to stay at the Crown Plaza. On our first night we had a very nice dinner at the hotel Teppanyaki Restaurant on the 2nd floor. 

Map of the Three Gorges Dam area



Yichang is the second largest city in Hubei province and the Three Gorges Dam is its number one attraction. 

Spanning the Yangtze River at Sandouping around an hours drive from downtown Yichang, the Three Gorges Dam is the world's largest hydropower project.






Visitors to the dam are bused from the visitor reception centre to the scenic area. Where you can view the two-way five-step ship lock. 185 Platform is located on the left bank where you can get a birds-eye view of the whole dam. Across the bridge is the Memorial Park where you can see the lower side of the dam wall.







Views Xiling Gorge from Fangweng Hanging Restaurant

The Three Visitors
Xiling Gorge is the longest of the Three Gorges and has some of the best cave scenery in the area. 

Sanyou Cave and is named after Three Tang Dynasty poets and officials. The stairs down to the cave are quite steep, so only go if you know you can get back up the stairs! 


Lunch or dinner at Fangweng Hanging Restaurant is not to be missed. The main part of the restaurant is in a cave, however balconies protrude the cave with a couple of tables on each. Make sure you book and request a window or outdoor table as the views of Xiling Gorge are amazing. We had one of our best meals at Fangweng whilst we watched bungy jumpers bravely throwing themselves off a platform on the opposite side of the gorge.





















WUHAN
武汉市

Wuhan is the capital of Hubei Province and was just a lunch stop as we had to change trains to Nanjing. With a couple of hours to kill, we visited Hubu Alley. It was New Years Day when we visited, so the famous food street was full of visitors and the food didn't disappoint. Everything from poultry, seafood and dumplings were on offer. After fighting the crowds, we found a quite table and tucked into freshly made dumplings. 
















NANJING
南京

Originally known as Nanking - Southern Capital, Nanjing is one the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China and boasts an extensive history. 

In Nanjing we stayed at the InterContinental which is the largest skyscraper in the city at 88 levels. It can't be missed, however taxi drivers did struggle with the name and location card distributed by the hotel!

The best place to start your visit to Nanjing is at the Nanjing Massacre Museum where you learn how over a six week period from December 1937 - January 1938, the Japanese rapped and murdered 300,000 civilian Chinese people. It also tells the history of Nanjing and the layout of the city along with a moving tribute to those who fought and lost. It a definite must do!

People start queuing to visit the memorial from 8.00am for the 8.30am opening. I suggest you get there early as once the tourist buses arrive the queues become very long. 

Nanjing is a very pretty city with wide roads and plenty of open space. It has a young student population. Nanjing University is one of the oldest in China. It is a really picturesque place to visit with avenues of trees and old buildings still in use today. The markets and food streets near Nanying Yanging alley on the Shanghai Lu side of the university are also a great place to wander. 

The Confucius Temple and Fuzi Miao Scenic area is popular with tourists and boast good food stalls. From here we also visited the Ruins of the Ming Dynasty Palace.

Seleccion Espanola was a nice change to Chinese food. Owned and operated by two young Spanish backpackers who decided to "give it a go", the restaurant is small and simply furnished. The food (cured meats, pincho's and paella) and atmosphere was very good and although the service was a little slow, there were a couple of reds on the wine list we were happy to try, so the wait time was well spent.


Zheng He was an explorer in 1405 and made 7 voyages around Asia and Africa on huge treasure ships built in Nanjing. Today the Zheng He Treasure Ship Park has a replica ship and information regarding the designs, building and voyages. The park is another example of Nanjing's peaceful open spaces.


Gan's Grand Courtyard is a large, once private, residence located in central Nanjing. Gan was an ambassador educated in England and France in 1866 and he and his family lived in the residence. You can wander through the impressive gardens and courtyards and get a feel for how the family lived. Some of the rooms have been left set up as living, bedroom and kitchen, while the residence is now mostly used for cultural classes.

If you are looking for a fun, noisy, traditional meal go no further than Nanjing Impressions. Set up as a tea house with waiters in traditional dress and live cultural entertainment, the food was delicious. We visited the Nanjing Impressions at Deji Plaza, Nanjing.

We really enjoyed visiting Nanjing and would love to return and visit the Zhong Mountain Scenic Area, Xuanwu Lake Park and the Yuejiang Tower Scenic Area which apparently has a beautiful temple, however is no where near as touristy or busy as the Confucius Temple.