Easter in Australia is traditionally spent camping – I know Victoria looks forward to what’s usually our last gasp of good weather. I had every intention of going camping this long weekend: the trip to Vietnam had been cancelled for months, to be replaced with a bit of camping on our roadtrip up northern NSW.
Before the virus hit the fan, I interviewed a camping pro from outdoor gear supplier Anaconda: you might think, why are we talking about camping when we can’t go anywhere? For those of us lucky enough to have a back yard, there’s your campsite right there! And some of camping pro Damian Kennedy’s tips are still perfectly relevant, such as buying the right tent with the right accessories. I’m a big fan of balconies that hang from the apex of the tent, so you can reach up and grab your torch when you (inevitably) hear something go bump in the night.
So treat this time to dust off the tent, get your pegging practise in and start planning when life eventually returns to normality.
Click here to read Damian’s top tips on how to go camping and love it, published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers. The print section is currently in slumber, dreaming of its next destination.
It’s a strange think to talk of lack of time when time is all we’ve got at the moment as we while away our time in self isolate.
Yet time is always precious: I wrote this short piece about a new air tour of two of the Northern Territory’s most popular national parks – Litchfield and Kakadu, just before this COVID-19 virus took hold of our country.
The little local airline – NT Air – says the best time to visit this part of the Top End is now, just after the Wet, when the territory is deluged by monsoonal rain, and everything is green and glowing.
The Wet will come again, this virus will pass. Those benefiting are not just shareholders in gold, supermarkets, toilet paper manufacturers and face mask factories. Nature, too, is benifiting from our global lockdown: she will heal as we stay away from our most loved destinations, including our national parks.
So put this trip on your inspiration list, to fly via light aircraft between the so-called Lost City rock formation in Litchfield to the billabongs and dramatic escarpments of Kakadu.
Click here to read the full story, published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.
During winter, snow-laden winds sweep across lakes and tundras of Finnish Lapland, freezing all in their wake. Reindeer forage for lichen in the chilled earth, and the brief minutes the sun rises above the horizon are bookended by a deep blue twilight that heralds the return of the polar night.
A thousand kilometres south, there’s no snow on the footpaths of the Finnish capital, Helsinki, but it retains its connection with the drama of the deep north through Lapland Hotel Bulevardi, in the chic Design District.
Let me tell you: breakfast buffets, I’ve had a few. But this one – inspired by the food of Lapland – is one of the most intriguing.
To read my story, published by Essentials Magazine, click here
To get through the departure gates at Ashgabat airport, in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan, I had to have my passport scanned.
And my fingerprints.
And my thumbprints.
And my retinas.
They’re taking no chances in this airport. Not that there would be many me look-alikes here. There just aren’t that many people, full stop. And most of the women are swanning about with impossibly high headdresses and long, vivid gowns that sweep the already immaculate white marble floors.
Should you find yourself in Ashgabat any time soon, click here to read my review in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.
Over Christmas and New Year, I spent my days leaping in and out of saunas like a lemon into a G&T in Scandinavia. My first dip was in the Allas Sea Pools on Helsinki’s waterfront.
Dashing from the sauna to the outdoor pools is an exercise in fortitude when there’s a stiff wind coming in off the Baltic Sea, and you’re clad in nothing but wet swimmers. I then worked up to dashing out of the sauna and rolling in the snow, further north in Oulanka National Park. And finally, in Stockholm, cooled off by leaping into a lake at Hellesgarten, on the Stockholm archipelago.
Never have I been so clean. I also learned a few tricks and faux pas – for a start, you can ditch the swimmers inside the sauna, though most people slip on swimmers to go into the pools or snow.
I took the chance to chat with Maia Söderlund, of Allas Sea Pool, for the fine print on sauna etiquette.
Author John Brierley spends every spring and autumn following in the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims making their way to the medieval cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in far western Spain. He has been walking the Camino de Santiago for 25 years.
When he is not walking, he is at home, writing and playing with his grandchildren. John has written dozens of guides for pilgrims from all walks of life, who plan to walk some of the than 80,000 kilometres of authenticated and waymarked routes that lead to , on which every nation on Earth has set foot.
But it’s not about counting your steps, monitoring your heart beat, he says.
“To experience the Camino directly, you have to listen to your heart,” says John. “Listen well; it might only come as a whisper. But beware! If you have truly heard the call, you have become infected by a disease which will become fatal to your limited ego identity.”
I interviewed John for my The Knowledge column in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning and The Age newspapers, and his passion is infectious. I do believe that was his aim: to get me on the route.
“Our troubled world is crying out for solutions to the war and injustices that are raging everywhere we look,” he told me in our interview while he was in Australia recently. “But we have been looking for answers in the wrong direction. We have been looking out, not in.”
“The Camino asks us to step out of our comfort zone and to take some risks.The solutions we seek can only be found in the stillness of our own hearts and minds. ”
“That is the incredible gift of the Camino – it provides time in the silence of nature to empty out our outworn belief systems and allows time new insights to arise in the spaciousness of higher Mind.”
It’s the prettiest town in Kosovo, and the centre of Prizren is its Shatërvan square. Its cobbled streets are lined with cafes, snow-tipped mountains send snowmelt rushing down the river through the town’s centre, a Byzantine-era fortress keeps a watchful eye over all: what’s not to love?
If you’re venturing into the Balkans, my advice is to skip staying in little Kosovo’s rather drab, earnest capital, Pristina, and instead make Prizren your base from which to do day trips – to the vineyards, to the mountains, to the capital city.
DISCLAIMER: I travelled as a guest of Intrepid Travel.
A couple of years ago, I found myself on the Vava’u archipelago, in Tonga, ready to jump into the water with a whale.
With that gigantic dark shape moving around in the water below, I confess I was pretty nervous! No, we did not cavort, the humpback mum and her humpback calf decided they weren’t in a playful move, and, in the blink of an eye, one of the world’s largest animals simply sank down to the watery depths and disappeared.
Recently, I chatted with Carmen Ellis of Majestic Whale Encounters, for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers. She says that if they don’t want to play, whales just don’t hang around. Drawing on her experience running whale swimming tours in Tonga, French Polynesia and Norway Carmen says, “If they don’t want to be there, they just turn their pectoral fin and, within seconds, they can be gone.”
However, every experience is amazing, she has had bumbling calves simply bump into her (the calves totally ignoring each country’s exclusion rule that applies about swimming with wild animals), and says that even sub-adults and dolphins are such curious creatures, they will interact with swimmers.
She has swum with orcas in Norway and pilot and humpback whales in Tahiti, where she’s also seen the unusual Reeso dolphins, while in Tonga, she has spotted the false killer whales (which are the same dark grey as an orca, but without the white patches), and lots of stingrays, sharks and turtles all round.
Her company’s next tour destination is Sri Lanka, swimming with blue whales. “We’re not the first, years ago, there was an industry shut down because it wasn’t being respectful to whales, but a new industry is developing in the country’s north, in Trincomalee.”
To read my story in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on swimming with orcas, humpbacks, pilot and other whales, click here
A perfect day in Torres del Paine, Patagonia from sunrise to sunset, starts with dawn with the dirtiest Jeep, and continues with chasing guanacos through the highlands, nose running while clinging to a bolting horse tearing across icy plains, and all day watching snow clouds gather through the towers and teeth of the Paine massif on a winter adventure.
But the real reason we’re here is for the pumas of Patagonia. Nicknamed ‘ghost cats’ because they’re so elusive, they’re the reason we’re braving sub-zero temperatures, snowy afternoons and chill winds that tear down the Patagonian ice fields to claw at our faces.
I’m lucky enough to be able to say that it’s my second time in Torres del Paine national park, and my third time visiting Patagonia, twice on the Chilean side, and once on the Argentinean side.
This time, I travelled with Quasar Expeditions,
If you’re after a chilly, nose-running read on spotting these beautiful pumas, click here and (hopefully) enjoy!
Quasar Expeditions runs five-day Secret Season itineraries from $4300 a person. Puma-tracking itineraries cost from $5540, including a tracking fee and four- or five-star accommodation. See quasarex.com
I’m not great with tunnels – I don’t like the idea of the weight above me. So I was pretty surprised that I was so keen to get into the Bent Pyramid, the earliest of Egypt’s smooth-sided pyramids, out in the deserts past Cairo.
The tunnel down into the heart of the pyramid is 79 metres long, double the distance of the tunnel in the Great Pyramid. It was so low that I actually scraped my spine, as I was so doubled over.
The pyramid was a practice run ordered by the pharoah Sneferu, father of Cheops (who went on to build the Great Pyramid in nearby Giza). It earned its sobriquet because the architect in charge of its construction realised that the calculations of a 55-degree angle for the pyramid was wrong, and changed it half-way through construction, for a rather wonky look, as you can see.
Still sporting much of the white stone cladding that would have let it shine in the desert, the Bent Pyramid recently reopened for the first time in 53 years, and with Saqqara and Giza, makes up what is known as the Memphis Necropolis, a royal burial ground for Egypt’s kings, queens and nobility (also, lots of sacred bulls, just FYI).
Click here to read about the three burial sites, and how they all link in, in my story published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers. Enjoy!