Monday, 21 October 2013

Why Choose Rhodes For Your Perfect Holiday?

The Island of Rhodes

It seems that no sooner than we take down the Christmas decorations that we have to decide where we are going on our summer holidays.  So where are you planning to go this summer? If you are thinking of a Mediterranean holiday on one of the Greek Islands, why not consider travelling to the beautiful island of Rhodes? 

Rhodes is a Greek Island in the Dodecanese that sits approximately eleven miles off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea.  Rhodes is one of the larger Greek islands, covering some 1398 square kilometres and with a coastline of 220 kilometres, and has a population of around 117,000. The interior of Rhodes is mountainous and the slopes are covered with forests.

Entrance to Harbour, Rhodes Town
Entrance to Harbour, Rhodes Town

Rhodes has a history of human habitation stretching back to Neolithic times.  Early settlers came from Asia Minor and there are traces of Mycenean habitation.  They were followed by the Dorian Greeks, and the state of Rhodes was founded around 408BC when the three major cities on the island, - Ialyssos, Kamiros and Lindos joined forces and forged a political union.  The next three hundred years were the golden age of Rhodes, and it was during this period that the famous Colossus of Rhodes was erected.  The Colossus was one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, and was a representation of the sun god Helios.  It was the work of the Lindian sculptor Hares, and took twelve years to complete.  The site where The Colossus once stood can still be seen today at the entrance to the harbour in Rhodes Town.

Rhodes became a province of the Roman Empire and after the split of the Empire in the beginning of the 4th century AD became part of the Eastern, or Byzantine, Empire.  In the ensuing centuries Rhodes was invaded by the Arabs and in 1309 was sold to the Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem.  The Knights were established to nurse pilgrims to the Holy Land and the Crusaders who fought there.  In 1522 the island was conquered by the Ottoman Turks after a long siege.  Rhodes was part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912, when it was occupied by Italian troops, and then at the end of the Second World War was incorporated in Greece along with the other Dodecanese islands.

Why is Rhodes Such A Good Place To Holiday?

The Airport

Rhodes is one of the Greek islands that have an international airport.  During the summer season there are many charter and low-cost flights to Rhodes from the United Kingdom, and regular scheduled flights from Athens and other major Greek cities.  So if you like your holidays to be straightforward and the travelling short, there is no need to fly into Athens and wait around for a ferry.

Lindos, Rhodes

The Climate

Rhodes is an island of sunshine, with the ideal climate for basking on the beach.  The average temperature during the summer months is around 30 degrees centigrade, with temperatures in the winter rarely dipping below 10 degrees centigrade.  It also very rarely rains during the summer months of June, July and August; the bulk of the island’s rainfall occurs during the winter.  There are local variations in temperature and Lindos, due to its position, is often a good 10 to 15 degrees centigrade hotter than other parts of the island.

The Beaches

There is a beach on Rhodes to suit everyone, from tiny little coves with very few people and no facilities, to long sandy beaches with large crowds, sun beds, umbrellas and lots of cafes and bars.  Perhaps on of the most dramatic beaches is Prasonisi on the southern most tip of the island.  On one side you have calm waters and shelter from the wind and on the other side wild waves, wind and surfers.  There is even a beach called Anthony Quinn, after the Hollywood actor who bought that part of the island when he was on Rhodes filming ‘The Guns of Navarone’.

The Beach at Lindos, Rhodes
The Beach at Lindos, Rhodes

The Resorts

Like the beaches there is a resort on Rhodes that will appeal to everyone.  The resort of Faliraki is best known for its loud, bustling nightlife, but it also has a 5 kilometres long beach, lots of shops and is home to the Faliraki Water Park, one of the largest in Europe.  The resort of Lindos is a beautiful old town clinging to the cliff as it leads down to the sea.  There are a multitude of shops, cafes and tavernas, many with roof terraces where you can dine under the stars looking out over the sea or up to the illuminated ancient Acropolis.  There are many resorts to choose from; offering accommodation from all-inclusive 5 star hotels to simple rooms in tavernas or private homes.

Empty Beach, Rhodes
Empty Beach, Rhodes

The Archaeological Sites

Rhodes has a long and interesting history, and boasts many impressive archaeological sites.  These include the ruins of the ancient towns of Kamiros, Lindos and Ialyssos.  At Ialyssos there are remains of a temple dedicated Athena Polias, a Doric fountain house, some Byzantine fortifications, remains of a Minoan settlement and Mycenean cemeteries.   At Kamiros you can wander around the remains of the old city, which was rediscovered in 1929 and is sometimes known as the Greek Pompeii, as it is not known why it was that the city was deserted and buried.  Lindos, with its magnificent Acropolis towering above the town, is arguably the most famous of the three.  You can either walk up the steep path from the town or take a ride on one of the donkeys, and enter the fortifications and the ruins of the temple of Athena Lindia.  There is also an ancient theatre in Lindos and various ancient funerary monuments.  There is an excellent Archaeological Museum in Rhodes Town containing many interesting artefacts, although many of the rich finds from Kamiros are in the British Museum and the Louvre.

The Interior of the Island

The hills of Rhodes are covered with trees and vegetation.  There are magnificent views down to the coastline and there are many little villages and towns dotting the landscape.  There are also numerous churches and monasteries and you can visit the picturesque Valley of the Butterflies.

Interior of Island, Rhodes
Interior of Island, Rhodes

Rhodes Town

The jewel in the island’s crown is Rhodes Town itself.  It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, and is also the financial and cultural centre of the south eastern Aegean.  The old town of Rhodes is a maze of around 200 streets and lanes, encircled by the town walls.  You enter the old town through one of the great gates, and can visit the ruins of the Temple of Venus, the Municipal Art Gallery, the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Archaeological Museum, the Church of Our Lady of the Castle and the Palace of the Knights.  There are many shops, cafes and tavernas.  Outside the walls is Mandraki Harbour with its two deer statues where it is believed stood the mighty Colossus of Rhodes, the larger harbour where the cruise ships tie up, the Casino and along the beach is the Aquarium.

Rhodes Town
Rhodes Town

There truly is something for everyone on a Rhodes holiday, so why not book your tickets today and look forward to long, sun-filled days and nights of moonlight, dancing and great food.

All images my own

Monday, 5 November 2012

Explore Cervantes and the Pinnacles Desert in Western Australia

Cervantes is a small town on the coast of Western Australia, some 245 kilometres north of the state capital Perth.  Chances are that you may never have heard of Cervantes, but if you are looking to explore the natural beauty of Western Australia, it would be a mistake to miss out on staying in this small coastal town and exploring all that the region has to offer.  Along with Jurien Bay and Leeman, Cervantes is one of the main towns on Western Australia’s Turquoise Coast, which offers tourists pristine, silver sand beaches, abundant wildlife, a profusion of wildflowers in the spring, great fishing and cray fishing, ancient stromatolites, and of course the incredible Pinnacles Desert.  This is a town that was only founded in 1962, when the land was taken from Nambung National Park and still only has a population of around 500 people.

Cervantes, Western Australia - own image
Cervantes, Western Australia

Cervantes enjoys sunny, warm summers and mild winters, so can is good for a visit at any time of the year. The main industries are cray fishing, and the town’s population almost doubles during the cray fishing season, and to a lesser extent tourism.  The town got its name from an American whaling ship that was wrecked on its shores in 1844. As this region was very remote at that time, the survivors had to make a gruelling walk south to the port of Fremantle, at the mouth of the Swan River. Many of the streets are named after the famous book Don Quixote written by Miguel Cervantes.

So how do you get to there?   It is around a three hour drive from Perth along the Brand Highway, so is easily accessible by car or camper van.  If you do not wish to stay the night, there are day tours that leave from Perth that take in all the main sights and the Pinnacles Desert.  Cervantes and the Pinnacles are also one of the stops on many of the longer tours, and these tours range from luxury, accommodated tours through to basic, backpackers camping tours.  The town is also serviced by the Greyhound Australia service that runs between Perth and Darwin. Being a small place, there is not a huge range of accommodation available, but there is a 4 star motel close to the centre of town that offers a restaurant, swimming pool and a BBQ area.  There is also a caravan park and a backpacker’s hostel.

So what can you do in Cervantes?  If you are a beachcomber, you will find beautiful, clean beaches of silver sand, washed by crystal clear waters.  There are many safe spots to swim, as the beaches are protected by an inshore reef.   There are also BBQ facilities that you can use close to the sands.  Windsurfing has become an increasingly popular sport in Cervantes, and the town hosts the annual Slalom Windsurfing Carnival.  Fishing is a very popular activity, and you can fish from the jetties, the beaches or offshore. You can fish for tailor, mulloway, herring, or even sharks.  If you like walking there are some good trails in the Nambung National Park, and you can look out for the prolific wildlife.  Species that you may be lucky enough to see are western grey kangaroos, emus, carpet pythons, white-tailed black cockatoos and honey possums.  Down on the beach you may get to see the local seals playing in the water; the jetty is a good spot as the seals hang around while fish are being cleaned.  There is also a huge variety of plants and the area is carpeted with gorgeous wildflowers in the spring.

Lake Thetis Stromatolites, Cervantes, WA - own image
Lake Thetis Stromatolites, Cervantes, WA

One of the most unique walks that you can take in the area is the one around Lake Thetis.  Lake Thetis is one of the few places in the world where you can see stromatolites, which are the earth’s oldest life form. Stromatolites look like boulders, but they are really sedimentary structures formed by blue green algae together with other bacteria and algae. Some of the oldest living stromatolites are believed to be more than 3,000 years old.

But of course, no trip to Cervantes can ever be complete without a trip to the Pinnacles Desert.  The Pinnacles were virtually unknown to the outside world until the late 1960’s, but nowadays around 250,000 tourists visit the Pinnacles every year.  The best time to view these spectacular limestone rock structures is at dawn and sunset, when the shadows cast by the sun can create amazing ripples and markings in the sand.  The Pinnacles formed over thousands of years from a combination of limestone, sand, quartz and water. You probably need at least a couple of hours to wander around these fantastical rock formations, and it is estimated that there are around 150,000 Pinnacles some of which are up to five metres tall.  As you walk around, see what shapes you can see in the Pinnacles?  Do some of the Pinnacles look as though they are shaped like animals or even faces?

If you want to explore further afield, spend some time around the Jurien Bay Marine Park. Jurien Bay Marine Park covers a section of the coast between Wedge Island and Green Head and includes several of the offshore islands.  Jurien Bay Marine Park contains important Australian sea lion and seabird breeding colonies and abundant marine life.  It is recommended that if you want to view the Australian sea lions that you join a professional guided tour, so that the sea lions are not disturbed.  You can book onto one of these tours at the Pinnacles Visitor Centre, where you can also book tours to the Pinnacles Desert if you do not have your own transport. You can also explore Lesueur National Park, which is exceptionally rich in plant species and wildlife.  Lesueur National Park comprises an area of sand plains, salt lakes and ridges, and there is a range of trail and a picnic area and interpretation centre.

Pinnacles Desert, Cervantes, WA
Pinnacles Desert, Cervantes, WA

So include Cervantes and the Pinnacles Desert in your Western Australia holiday plans.  It is an area of amazing natural beauty, and it is a region where it is still possible to find yourself wandering along a deserted stretch of beach or walking the trails in the National Park drinking in the stunning scenery without another person in sight.

Sunset over the Pinnacles Desert, Cervantes, WA - own image
Sunset over the Pinnacles Desert, Cervantes, WA

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Unique Boab Trees of the Kimberley

Boab trees are one of the most famous icons of the Kimberley region in North Western Australia.  Their squat, bulbous trunks and spindly, often leafless branches lead them to being called the ‘upside down’ tree, as it looks as though it is the branches that are driving into the earth and the roots that are reaching up to the sky.  The Aboriginal legend concerning the boab tells that they were once destined to be the most beautiful tree ever created, with the tastiest fruit and the prettiest of flowers. But as the tree grew, its flowers were unattractive and the fruit tasted bad and gave off a bad smell.  The Tree God was very angry at this, so he pulled the boab out of the earth by its roots, and rammed it back into the soil upside down.

Boab Tree, Oscar Ranges, The Kimberley - Own Image
Boab Tree, The Kimberley

They are deciduous trees, losing their leaves in the dry season (March to October) and growing new leaves and large white flowers in the early part of the wet season.  Their binomial name is Adansonia gregorii and they are a member of the Malvaceae family.  The ‘gregorii’ part of the their name is to honour the Australian explorer Augustus Gregory, who undertook four major expeditions between 1846 and 1858 into the Australian interior, including one to try and find out what had become of the famous explorer Ludwig Leichhardt.   The Aboriginals have various names for the boab, including gadawon, larrgadiy and larrgadi.  They are also colloquially referred to as ‘bottle trees’, ‘gouty stem trees’, and ‘dead rat trees’. 

The Aboriginal people had uses for several parts of the boabtree.  Water was obtained from the tree’s hollows, the leaves had medicinal uses, the fruit was used to carve or paint on, and the white powder found in the seed pods was used for food.  Some parts of the tree, including the seeds, contain very high levels of vitamin C.  They are now grown commercially in the Kimberley as a food source, and it is the roots that are used.  They are harvested at between six to eight weeks of age when the root is roughly the same size and shape as a large carrot.  They are then sold in bundles like carrots and then after peeling can be sliced or grated.  Apparently they are crunchy and have a texture similar to a carrot or water chestnut.

They are very slow growing, eventually reaching a height of between 9 – 12 metres and developing a very squat, large trunk as they get older.  They can live to be many hundreds of years old, and it is estimated that some of the oldest are at least 1500 years old. The diameter of the trunk has been known to exceed five metres.  Some trees also appear to be split and it looks as if they have two trunks, which is caused by the young tree originally throwing out two shoots.  The trunks can also hollow out with age, and have been known to be used as dwellings or hiding places.

Boab Tree, Oscar Ranges, The Kimberley - Own Image
Boab Tree, The Kimberley

Boabs are the only species of Baobab that is endemic in Australia, and its range extends from the Kimberley into the eastern part of the Northern Territory.  Boabs that you see in other places in Australia have been transported there, such as the specimens that you can see in Broome and the boab in Kings Park in Perth.  All the other baobabs are endemic to the African continent, with six species coming from Madagascar and one from mainland Africa.  It is not known how the boab came grow in Australia, but it is believed that the seeds could have been washed over from Africa by the currents of the Indian Ocean, brought by sea birds or even early human visitors.  There is also a theory that they are a remnant species that has survived since Australia and Africa were both part of the ancient continent of Gondwana over 65 million years ago.

Boab Tree, Courthouse in Broome - Own Image
Boab Tree, Courthouse in Broome

There are several famous boab trees, and probably the most well known is the Boab Prison Tree, just south of Derby.  This is a large hollowed out tree that was used in the 1890’s as a lockup for Aboriginal prisoners, as they were being transported to gaol.  It is now a major tourist attraction and has been fenced off to deter vandalism.  The site has excellent information boards that tell the story of the Prison Tree and the Aboriginal prisoners, and of the natural history of the boab.

So while you are travelling through the Kimberley, look out for these beautiful and unique trees, and marvel at the natural icon that is the boab tree.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Exploring Lake Argyle and the Ord River in the Kimberley

Travelling the Kimberley

If you are planning your dream Australian vacation, then be sure to include the Kimberley region in your holiday itinerary. The Kimberley covers an immense area in the north west of Australia and encompasses a huge variety of different habitats and scenery. The Kimberley is an ancient landscape, and it is thought that the first Aboriginal peoples walked this land as long as 40,000 years ago, leaving behind them in their unique rock art, haunting and evocative images of our long-ago past. The thing that you will notice first when travelling into the Kimberley is how empty it is; it is still a region where you can easily escape any signs of other people and modern living. Then there are the stunning red-hued hills, dramatic gorges, pristine pools of crystal clear water fringed with lush green vegetation, the endless silver sand beaches and the amazing variety of wildlife. The sunrises and sunsets in the Kimberley are sensational, and it is one of life’s real privileges to watch the fruit bats fly out across the darkening sky to start their night’s foraging for food and then watch the stars come out and light up the night sky. I have never seen a night sky as big as it is in the Kimberley, or stars that are so bright.  The best time to visit the Kimberley is during the Australian winter months from April to October, as this is the dry season. During the rest of the year the Kimberley experiences the wet season, with violent rainstorms, high temperatures and humidity and with roads being frequently flooded.  However, there is one part of the Kimberley that even in the middle of the baking hot dry season has plentiful supplies of water, plenty of greenery and productive farmland. This is the area around the town of Kununurra that has been created by the Ord River Irrigation Scheme or ORIS.

Lake Argyle

Ord River Irrigation System

The vast majority of the Kimberley is uncultivated, open savannah, covered by low scrub and dotted with the iconic boab trees. Much of the region is divided into vast cattle stations, but in  1963 the Ord River Irrigation Scheme was started, and now much of this area is now fertile, productive farmland where over sixty types of crop including, perhaps surprisingly, a great deal of sugar cane. Initially, most of the farms grew cotton, but there were big problems with a pest caterpillar called Helicoverpa armigera. The farmers started to use a lot of chemical pesticides, but the caterpillars became resistant to them which caused the cotton yields to fall. This combined with a dramatic drop in world cotton prices, led to cotton farming being abandoned in the region. The Ord River Irrigation Scheme was formed by utilising the waters of the Ord River, which flows for 320 miles through the Kimberley, starting beneath Mount Wells and then skirting the Purnululu National Park, home of the famous Bungle Bungles, through Lake Argyle and past Kununurra before emptying into the Indian Ocean on the Cambridge Gulf. The creation of ORIS also led to the building of the privately owned Ord River Dam Hydro scheme, which provides some of the electricity needed in the eastern Kimberley.

Lake Argyle

Lake Argyle was also formed by the creation of the Ord River Irrigation System, and it is the second largest artificial lake in Australia. Lake Argyle covers an area of around 1000 square kilometres, and an important wetland area called the Lakes Argyle and Kununurra Ramsar site was also created under the Ramsar Convention.  Lake Argyle has rapidly become a haven for wildlife, and now contains thousands of freshwater crocodiles and many different fish species such as barramundi, bony bream, archer fish and sleepy cod. The huge saltwater crocodile is also occasionally found in Lake Argyle, although as experts disagree on how many are present it would be wise to be cautious. A less welcome addition to the native fauna is the cane toad, a destructive invasive species of amphibian that arrived in 2008, having spread from faraway Queensland.  Lake Argyle and the Ord River are also a birdwatcher’s heaven, as there are so many different species of birds that can be spotted, such as White Quilled Rock Pigeons, Gouldian Finches, Purple Crowned Fairy Wrens, and Yellow Chats.  You can also witness the amazing site of pelicans nesting in trees, as they have to protect their nests from the voracious freshwater crocodiles.

The Ord River

Things to Do On Lake Argyle and the Ord River

This amazing part of the Kimberley has a huge amount to offer the tourist.  If you like messing around on boats, you can book great cruises on either the lake or to travel down the river.  Taking a cruise on Lake Argyle is one of the best ways of drinking in the beauty of the lake, the clear blue skies and the rugged landscape. There is a wide range of different Lake Argyle Cruises to choose from, ranging from early evening lake cruises to watch the sun setting over the magnificent Kimberley scenery, daytime cruises lasting a couple of hours and fishing charters can also be arranged. On all of the Lake Argyle cruises the skipper gives an informative commentary about what you are seeing and how the lake and the Ord River Irrigation Scheme came about, and delicious refreshments are provided. If you prefer to go cruising down the Ord River, you can jump on a cruise that takes you down the river giving you the opportunity to spot freshwater crocodiles, birds and enjoy the beautiful scenery, returning to Kununurra as the sun drops down over the horizon, bathing the land in deep red and orange light.  If you prefer to take to the air, why not splash out and take a scenic flight to enjoy the panorama of seeing Lake Argyle from high in the sky. You can also take longer scenic flights that fly over the huge Argyle Diamond Mine, the truly unique Bungle Bungle range, and the stunning Carr Boyd Ranges. This part of the Kimberley has so much spectacular scenery to offer, that you are bound to fall in love with it and return time and time again.

The Durack Homestead

As Lake Argyle is an artificial lake, when it was created it flooded a large area of land, covering any sign of the scanty human habitation in the area. However, there was one historic homestead in the region due to be flooded that in 1971 it was decided to preserve. This is the amazing Durack Homestead that was originally built on Argyle Downs Station by the Durack family in 1895. The Durack family were one of the original pioneering families who opened up the Kimberley for cattle ranching back in the late 19th century and if you want to know what life was like back in those times then Mary Durack’s famous book ‘Kings in Grass Castles’ is the book to read. The Durack homestead, a beautiful building constructed of limestone blocks, was dismantled and moved to its new position above the flood waters, and all of the original contents of the house have been placed back into the rebuilt house. Even the family graves have been saved and put into a quiet corner of the pretty garden surrounding the restored homestead.  The Durack Homestead is now open as a museum, to show how these early pioneering families lived, and a visit is included in several of the tours to Lake Argyle.

The Durack Homestead

How To Get To Lake Argyle and the Ord River

Lake Argyle and the Ord River are situated in a very remote part of Western Australia.  Many people visit when they are taking a year or so to travel around Australia in a camper and there are also many tours that include these destinations, ranging from simple backpacker camping tours through to luxurious escorted tours. The main town in the region is Kununurra, which can be reached by sealed roads, although you need to be prepared to drive a 1000 km from Broome or 500 km from Katherine in the Northern Territory. If you are travelling from the Northern Territory, please remember that there strict quarantine laws when entering Western Australia, so fruit, vegetables and other agricultural items cannot be brought over the state border. Kununurra also has a small airport, and you can get flight from Broome, Darwin, Argyle and Perth through Airnorth and Skywest Airlines.

Accommodation Around Lake Argyle and in Kununurra

If you want to stay right beside the lake, you will need to stay at the Lake Argyle Village. This great tourist facility has everything you need for your stay, including a general store, fuel, a licensed restaurant and a visitor centre.  There is an area set aside for camping and caravans or you can hire one of the comfortable Lake View cabins. And just to make it even more special there is a new infinity pool set on the hillside, where you can swim and enjoy the spectacular scenery of Lake Argyle. If you prefer to stay in Kununurra itself, then you can choose from a great selection of great accommodation, ranging from plush hotel resorts, to self-catering apartments, camping and caravan parks and basic, friendly backpackers resorts. Kununurra is a small town, but it offers you a choice of places to eat, a great coffee shop, and several art galleries featuring the work of local Aboriginal artists.

Sunset on the Ord River

So what is not to love about the magnificent landscape that is the east Kimberley? Lake Argyle and the Ord River offer you everything that a tourist could possibly want, whether it is beautiful views, swimming, fishing, boat cruises, scenic flights, hot sunshine, great food and stunning wildlife. Add Lake Argyle and the Ord River to your Australian travel itinerary and I promise that you will not regret it.

All images my own

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

History of Pearling in Broome

Pearls are exquisite organic gemstones that have been cherished and sought after throughout history. Some of the most dazzling pearls in the world are the South Sea pearls and especially those that emerge from the sparkling, clear turquoise waters around Broome in Western Australia. The history of pearling in Broome really began when the large, pearl containing Pinctada maxima oysters were first found in Roebuck Bay in 1861.  These are very large oysters, with some of them being as big as dinner plates, and back then they were harvested for the mother of pearl lining to their shell rather than the pearls that they contained, and within a very short time Australia was producing around 75% of the world’s mother of pearl.  Any natural pearls that were found were welcomed as an extra bounty from the sea.  The newly founded town of Broome was to become the centre of this emerging pearling industry and South Sea pearls were initially called ‘Broome Pearls’.

Pearl Luggers, Broome

 In the early days of diving for oyster shell and pearls, before there was any specialist diving equipment, young Aboriginal men and women were used to do the diving and they had to dive naked which led to their being known as ‘skindivers’. They dived for the oyster shells in water that was up to 12 metres deep, without any oxygen, masks or snorkels, and with absolutely no protection from dangers like sharks. Many of these young Aboriginal people had been rounded up and forced away from their families and were held in very harsh conditions, and certainly did not receive very much reward for their dangerous labour.  Their brutal treatment and the dangerous diving that they were forced to do, led to the deaths of many of these young Aborigines, and this slavery continued until the oyster beds in the shallower waters had been almost completely denuded due to over harvesting and equipment had to be introduced that allowed diving in deeper waters.

It was the introduction of this specialist diving equipment that really caused the boom of the oyster shell fishing industry.  The invention of diving suits made of vulcanised canvas, with heavy boots weighted with lead, and huge bronze helmets, meant that the divers could go much deeper than before, and could spend more time on the sea bed enabling them to collect more of the precious shells. The pearling boats or ‘pearl luggers’ were mainly owned by white Europeans known as Pearling Masters, but with the advent of diving suits the divers themselves were no longer Aboriginals, but were mainly Japanese men.  Most of these Japanese divers were indentured labour.  They owed a debt, usually the cost of their passage to Western Australia, and dived for shell to pay off that debt and hopefully earn some money to take home to their families.  However, the Japanese divers were paid by how much oyster shell they could collect, and accidents and fatalities were common, so very few of the divers ever did manage to pay off their debt and return home. There are reports that say that as many as 50% of the Japanese divers died, with shark attacks and the bends or decompression illness being major causes of death. Another cause of death and injury for the divers and crew of the pearl luggers was the unpredictable Australian weather, and whole fleets of pearl luggers were destroyed by cyclones while at sea.

The pearling industry in the seas around Broome boomed in the early years of the 20th century, and by 1910 there were approximately 400 pearl luggers and 3500 people involved in fishing for oyster shells in the pearling industry. Broome was a thriving and rowdy frontier town, with a vibrant, multicultural population comprising of Aborigines, Europeans, Malays, Chinese, Filipinos and Japanese.  When the pearl lugger fleets returned to shore after weeks at sea, much of the crew member’s hard earned cash would be spent in the taverns and eating houses that thronged around the docks of Broome.  In 1922 the Australian government became very worried that the new development in Japan of producing cultured pearls was a potential risk to the market for natural pearls, and banned them from being produced in the waters of Western Australia. But by the 1930s there was a severe danger that the Pinctada maxima oysters were going to disappear due to over harvesting of the oyster beds.  Diving for pearls and shell virtually ceased during the two World Wars, and in the 1950’s the development of plastic buttons, cutlery handles and ornaments substantially lowered the demand for mother of pearl, almost destroying the pearling industry in an instant.  The ban on producing cultured pearls in Australia was overturned in 1949 and this was what proved to be the saviour of the pearling industry and the pearling industry was buoyed up by the introduction of cultured pearls in 1956 by a joint Japanese-Australian company called Pearls Proprietary Limited at Kuri Bay some 420 kilometres north of Broome.

The production of cultured pearls in Australia grew over the following decades and these days 60% of the world’s South Sea cultured pearls come from the pearl farms sited in the seas around North West Australia. These South Sea pearls are renowned for their size, lustre and colour, which can range from pure white through creams, pinks, silver-white and gold. The average size of a South Sea pearl is around 12mm, although there have been pearls produced that are as big as 20mm. Cultured pearls are created by seeding an oyster with a spherical piece of foreign material such as shell.  This bead then acts as an irritant and encourages the oyster to coat the sphere in a thin layer of nacre which builds up slowly over time. The hope is that when the oysters are harvested after a couple of years, the pearl farmers will find an abundance of very high lustre, completely round and flawless pearls, although the reality is that on average only about 20% of the harvested pearls will be flawless. The overall high quality of Australian South Sea pearls, however, is such that they do not have to be tinted, dyed, bleached or skinned.  They are just removed from the oyster, cleansed of salt and accumulated debris and graded for sale; their soft, glowing beauty needing no further embellishment. There are many showrooms in Broome displaying beautiful jewelry made from Australian cultured South Sea pearls, so go and wander around Paspaleys, Linneys or Willi Creek Pearl Farms showrooms to find your perfect pearl necklace, earrings, ring or bracelet.  If you want to find out more about the history of pearl diving in Broome, spend some time at Pearl Luggers or if you want to see where it all happens go on a trip to the Willie Creek Pearl Farm.

Willie Creek Pearl Farm, Broome

So what is the future of the pearling industry in Broome?  Unfortunately, the ongoing global financial crisis has dramatically cut the demand for South Sea pearls, which has led to the pearl growers in Western Australia stopping pearl seeding and production of pearls has fallen by about 40%. To produce a pearl the oyster shell has to be maintained in favourable conditions in the water for about two years, which is an ongoing investment in time and money. The pearl farms have done this to cut costs and survive, but the worry is that if demand for South Sea pearls suddenly goes up due to an improving worldwide financial picture that the pearl farms will not be in a position to produce enough pearls to satisfy the market. But Broome and the pearling industry have survived many catastrophes and unfavourable world events in the past, and will hopefully go on producing these beautiful pearls from the sea for us all to enjoy.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Why Choose to Visit Western Australia?

Why Western Australia?

Australia is a dream holiday destination for many people, but most travellers are drawn to the hugely iconic Australian destinations of Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, the tropical paradise of the Whitsunday Islands, Uluru, or the majesty of the Great Ocean Road.  However, the often overlooked Western Australia, which is the largest state of Australia and occupies the whole of the Western third of Australia, has much to recommend it as the perfect holiday destination.  Western Australia covers an area of around 2.5 million kilometres, and is bounded by South Australia and the Northern Territory to the east and the Indian Ocean to the north and west.  Western Australia has a vast range of climates, habitats and geographical features.  There are miles of silver sand beaches to be enjoyed in Western Australia, abundant and diverse wildlife to be watched, forests to be hiked through and hot, burning deserts to camp in.

Perth, State Capital of WA

About Western Australia

The state capital of Western Australia is Perth, and of the approximately 2.2 million inhabitants of Western Australia, 85% of them live in Perth and the south western part of the state. The coastal region of the south west has a Mediterranean climate and was originally forested and is the home of the Karri tree, which is one of the tallest trees in the world.  This part of Western Australia is now an important area for agricultural production, and has many different eco-systems and a huge range of native species, many of them now, unfortunately, under threat.  The central parts of Western Australia are arid semi-desert or desert.  These desert regions have very few inhabitants and the major industry is mining. The temperatures in these desert areas can be very extreme, with the hottest temperature recorded in 1998 in the Pilbara being 50.5 degrees centigrade. In the extreme north of Western Australia, lies the ancient region of the Kimberley, which has a tropical climate with a rainy season and a dry season.

Windjana Gorge

Western Australia's First Inhabitants

There is a lot of academic controversy on when the first humans arrived in Western Australia, but estimates vary between 40,000 to 60,000 years ago.  The Kimberley region especially has many ancient Aboriginal rock art sites.  The first European believed to have first set foot in Western Australia is Dirk Hartog, a Dutch adventurer who made landfall in 1616.  The British and French started to explore the coast of Western Australia during the 18th century and settlements were founded at what is now known as Albany and on the Swan River, later becoming known as the towns of Perth and Fremantle.  The growth of Western Australia was given an enormous boost in the 1890s when gold deposits were discovered around Kalgoorlie. Some of the major industries of Western Australia today are agriculture, mining and tourism.

Ord River

Travelling Around Western Australia

So how do you get to Western Australia and then travel the huge distances between destinations when you arrive?  International flights into Western Australia mainly arrive into Perth, with a few arriving in Broome.  Perth is a vibrant modern city, with a good public transport system and plenty of hire cars and taxis available.  If you want to travel on from Perth, there are domestic flights available to the other major tourist destinations in Western Australia such as Kalbarri, Broome, Monkey Mia, Kalgoorlie, Albany, Exmouth and Kununurra from Skywest, Virgin Blue and Qantas. For those who prefer to watch the scenery go by, Greyhound Australia runs frequent services between Perth and Darwin that stops at all major centres on the route, though be warned the journey from Perth to Broome takes around 34 hours!  Perth is also where the Indian Pacific Railway starts its long journey across the Nullarbor to Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.  The more adventurous can hire a car, a four wheel drive or a motor home.  There are excellent campsites throughout Western Australia, and this is an excellent way of exploring the region.  There are also a wide range of organised tours that you can book on.  These tours generally depart from Perth or Broome, and can range from basic backpacker camping trips through to luxury accommodated tours.

Pinnacles Desert, WA

Tourist Attractions and Things To Do

So where can you holiday in Western Australia and what can you do?  Perth, the state capital, is a beautiful city situated on the Swan River.  Perth offers excellent shopping, dining and night life.  Walk through the beautiful King’s Park, take a boat trip down the river to Fremantle and Rottnest Island, or go and watch a major sporting event.  If wine is your thing, visit the beautiful Margaret River area and visit the wineries and revel in the stunning scenery.  Travel up the coast stopping of at the Pinnacles Desert and at Kalbarri for swimming, fishing and the natural wonders of the Kalbarri National Park.  Marvel at the dolphins at Monkey Mia and go whale watching or snorkelling in the pristine, clear waters of the Ningaloo reef at Exmouth.  Travel inland to explore the Pilbara and Karijini National Park.  Further north, relax in the tropical climate of Broome, the gateway of the Kimberley.  Learn about Broome’s pearling history, ride a camel on Cable Beach or take a trip to Cape Leveque.  Travel through the ancient landscapes of the Kimberley, to visit the Gorges, drive the Gibb River Road, take a boat trip on Lake Argyle or investigate the famous Bungle Bungles.

Cable Beach, Broome

There is truly something for everyone in Western Australia.  There is a huge range of accommodation to choose from, ranging from luxury resorts and hotels, to remote eco resorts, self catering apartments, basic backpackers, to camping and caravan parks. You can see crocodiles, kangaroos, whale sharks, emus, dolphins, whales, turtles and pelicans.  There is excellent hiking, fishing, diving, cycling and surfing.  Eating ranges from sophisticated restaurants with international cuisine in the towns to cooking dinner on a fire under the stars.  Learn about the indigenous aboriginal culture and visit the excellent museum and art gallery in Perth.  Western Australia is so vast that it is unlikely that you will ever be able to see it all, but it is never too soon to start!

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Kimberley WA - Holiday In Beautiful El Questro Station

Vacation in the Kimberley

Zebedee Springs, El Questro

The Kimberley is one of those parts of the world that creeps into your soul. It is vast, empty and ancient, awakening the wilder part of ourselves that remembers a time when we lived in closer relationship with the earth and nature. The Kimberley is far away from the noise and bustle of modern life; a part of north western Australia where you can truly be alone, with only the clear blue sky above you and the wind rustling through the branches to keep you company. But, being human, we still need a place to stay and eat when we are on vacation and stock up on necessities such as fuel and groceries. And one of the best places to kick back, relax and drink in the stunning views is at El Questro Station. If you are looking for a wilderness holiday, you will find that El Questro Station is one of the most unique resorts in Australia.  It is a place where you can choose to revel in upmarket luxury at the El Questro homestead or, if you prefer, simply pitch your tent under a shady tree beside the Pentecost River.

Chamberlain Gorge, El Questro Station

How Did El Questro Station Get Started

Although El Questro is in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, it was actually the brainchild of an English aristocrat called Will Burrell and his wife Celia. The couple bought the property, which was then run as a cattle station but was in a very dilapidated condition, in 1991 and then decided that tourism may prove to be more profitable than running cattle, although even today around 8,000 cattle are run on the station. El Questro covers some 10,000 square kilometres to the west of Kununurra and is situated on the famous Gibb River Road. The station is mainly scrub savannah, intersected by red-hued hills and cliffs, dramatic gorges and four important river systems. This abundance of water means that El Questro is a haven for wildlife, including the fearsome salt water crocodiles. The Burrell’s sold El Questro to the Voyages Group in 2005, but it has now been owned and operated by Delaware North Parks and Resorts since 2010.  The first tourist accommodation to be constructed was at Emma Gorge during the wet season of 1992, and the wilderness park had its official opening in May of the same year. The next project was the building of the super-luxurious El Questro Homestead, which was completed in October 1992. This was followed by The Station in May 1993, which, with its stone bungalows and camping areas, is now the focal hub of El Questro.

Getting To El Questro

El Questro is open during from the middle of April to the end of October every year, which is the dry season in the Kimberley. Most people who visit El Questro arrive by road, and the wilderness park is 110 kilometres away from Kununurra on the Gibb River Road. Kununurra has a small airport that is serviced by flights from Perth, Darwin, Broome and Argyle, and El Questro does run a transfer service to pick up visitors who arrive by air or bus in the town. If you only want to visit El Questro for the day, you can also book a day trip in the Kununurra Visitor Centre. Of course, if you are very rich and planning your stay at the El Questro Homestead, you can pop in on your helicopter or private plane!

Emma Gorge

Emma Gorge offers a stunning hike through the rocky gorge and along the creek. The scenery is spectacular, and there is a huge variety of plants, insects, butterflies and reptiles to be seen as you walk. Your hike is rewarded at the end of the gorge by a beautiful turquoise waterhole fringed by a waterfall that tumbles down the red sandstone of the rock face.  This waterhole is the perfect place to swim and relax, and let your cares be soothed away by the hot Kimberley sun. The hike back along the gorge brings you to the resort, which consists of comfortable safari-style tented cabins, set in swaying green palms and lush gardens. To make sure that you don’t go hungry after your exertions, there is a restaurant and a bar, and there is also a general store and a laundry room. If you still have any energy left, you can splash around in the swimming pool or walk through the gardens.

El Questro Station, The Kimberley

Zebedee Thermal Springs

Have you ever been anywhere that reminds you of a land before time, a real Garden of Eden? Well one of those very special places is Zebedee Thermal Springs at El Questro Station.  Zebedee Thermal Springs is a series of small pools and waterfalls, set in the rocks and surrounded by green palm trees and lush vegetation. The water that bubbles up from deep beneath the ground is warm and comforting, and all you have to do is find a pool to yourself and stretch out to feel that you have truly entered paradise. There is a parking area at Zebedee Thermal Springs and a visit is included in many of the tours.

The Station

The Station is now the heart of El Questro, and is built along the banks of the beautiful Pentecost River. There are different types of tourist accommodation to choose from at The Station, and you can opt to stay in a comfortable stone bungalow or pitch your tent on one of the 25 campsites, all of which are very private and secluded. There is an excellent swimming hole to cool off in and the Steakhouse restaurant to grab a hearty feed in. The Station is also the hub from where many of the many activities start.

El Questro Homestead

El Questro Homestead is situated high above the Chamberlain Gorge, and offers excellent views down the gorge and of the abundant wildlife. The Homestead retains its air of exclusivity by being well away from the other accommodation at El Questro, and only guests and staff are allowed in its grounds. Only twelve guests at a time can enjoy the privacy and luxury of the El Questro Homestead, and all of the rooms are en-suite with a terrace. The most prestigious accommodation at the Homestead is the superlative Chamberlain Suite which offers spectacular views from all of the windows as the building is extended so that it makes it seem that the Chamberlain Suite hangs over the very edge of the Chamberlain Gorge. The El Questro Homestead is set in very beautiful and very private tropical gardens, containing a swimming pool and tennis courts. If you book into the El Questro Homestead you are guaranteed to receive superb, personal service from the staff, gourmet dining under the stars and a choice of tours and activities tailored to your needs.

Activities at El Questro Station

Of course you could come to El Questro, find yourself a shady tree and just snooze your afternoon away.  But if you feel a bit more active there are many different activities to take part in. One of the most popular is taking a cruise down the stunning Chamberlain Gorge.  As you go for a gentle cruise between the rugged, red sandstone cliffs, you will be given an informative commentary on the geology and formation of the gorge, the wildlife and plants in the gorge, and the history of the Aboriginal people who were first people to live in the area going back thousands of years. If you are really lucky you may see a large saltwater crocodile poke their head above the surface of the water, so don’t trail your fingers over the side of the boat! If you are keen on fishing you can join in one of the 4WD fishing tours and catch yourself some barramundi to fry for supper, or if you are a twitcher join one of the fascinating bird watching tours. To really get the feel for what it would be like to work on an Australian cattle station, you can go horse riding on a two hour guided trail around the property. Of course, one of the very best places to fully appreciate how spectacular the stunning Kimberley scenery really is, is to take to the air and see it from above. At El Questro you can choose from a variety of scenic flights or tours by helicopter that take you to some spectacular sites that cannot be easily accessed on foot or by road.

So as you have seen, El Questro Station encompasses all of the romance and beauty of the Australian Outback and then some! As you watch the sun slip down behind the magnificent Cockburn Ranges, with a cold beer or wine in your hand, you will be so happy that you are enjoying time in one of the most beautiful and unspoiled places left on our planet.

Emma Gorge, El Questro, The Kimberley

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Visit Alice Springs in Australia’s Red Centre

About Alice Springs

Have you ever dreamed of spending your vacation in Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territory? Do you want to visit the town that is at the very heart of the country of Australia and enjoy great trips to Uluru, Kings Canyon, and Kata Tjuta? Alice Springs or ‘The Alice’ has something to offer for every traveller however discerning; great hotels and resorts, an interesting history, great shopping and markets, aboriginal culture and art and, of course, access to the amazing natural beauty that is the Australian Outback.  This is a region that offers remote desert landscapes to explore, deep and mysterious gorges to hike through and fascinating Aboriginal communities.  Alice Spring’s is the second largest town in the Northern Territory, after Darwin, and has a population of around 27,800.  Alice Springs is almost equidistant between Darwin and Adelaide, and is situated in the region called Central Australia or the Red Centre of Australia.  This part of Australia is called the Red Centre because of the amazing rich, red colour of the soil, which creates a wonderful colour contrast between the bright blue of the sky and the green of the vegetation. The region is mainly semi-arid desert, with very little rainfall and huge fluctuations in temperature. The temperatures in Alice Springs can vary by as much as 28 °C (50 °F) during the year, with the summer being very hot with a maximum average temperature of 36.6  °C (97.9 °F) and the winter months being considerably cooler with an average minimum temperature of 7.5 °C (45.5 °F).

Alice Springs, NT

History of Alice Springs

Alice Springs is situated alongside the MacDonnell Ranges and has been built up along the Todd River, which unusually for a river is normally dry.  The area around Alice Springs is the traditional homeland of the Arrernte, who have inhabited this region for around 50,000 years, and the Aboriginal name for Alice Springs is Mpamtwe. When the European settlers arrived in Australia, the first expedition to find an overland route from the south to the north was led by John McDouall Stuart in 1861-62. Ten years later a settlement was built on the site that was to become Alice Springs, in order to build the repeater station for the Overland Telegraph Line that allowed communication between Adelaide and Darwin.  The Overland Telegraph Line was finished in 1872 and the region started to be settled by Europeans when gold was discovered just east of the Alice in 1872. The opening up of this remote and inhospitable area was greatly facilitated by the Afghan Cameleers who delivered vital supplies to Alice Springs by driving their camel trains overland for 600 km from the Oodnadatta rail terminal.  The rail link from Adelaide to Alice Springs was not completed until 1929, and in 2004 it was extended on to Darwin.  What is generally not known is that Alice Springs was originally known as Stuart, and the name was not changed to Alice Springs until the early 1930’s. Alice Springs was the name that had been given to the waterhole that was discovered in 1871 and was named after Alice Todd who was the wife of the Superintendent of Telegraphs.

Alice Springs Cultural Centre

Getting to Alice Springs

Australia is a huge country and the distances between towns can be huge.  Alice Springs, being situated in the very centre of the country, is a long way from everywhere!  You can hire a vehicle and drive to the Alice from Darwin, Adelaide, Sydney or Melbourne, but be prepared for your journey taking at least several days.  If you are planning to drive, you also need to be well prepared, as there are long distances between fuel stops, so you will need to ensure that you are carrying enough petrol, water and fuel for your journey. As most travellers are short of time, the best way to get to Alice Springs is to fly. There is an airport just outside Alice Springs which has daily flights from most of the major Australian cities. Qantas and Virgin Blue are the biggest airlines that service Alice Springs, but check the schedules for direct flights, as connections only increase your flying time.  Alice Springs is also serviced by the famous ‘Ghan’ railway service which runs between Adelaide and Darwin via Alice Springs. The full rail journey takes two nights, but many passengers break their journey at Alice Springs, so that they can explore and enjoy this unique Australian destination.  Alice Springs also features in many overland tours, and these can range from very basic backpacker camping trips to luxury camping trips or accommodated trips.

Alice Springs Telegraph Station

Alice Springs Hotels and Accommodation

If you decide to stay in Alice Springs there is a huge selection of accommodation to choose from. If you are lucky enough to be on a luxury vacation there are some great 5* resorts for you to enjoy in Alice Springs, such as the Crowne Plaza Alice Springs which offers an award winning restaurant, great swimming pools, a spa and comfortable rooms or the Chifley Alice Springs Resort. For the rest of us there is a great range of mid-priced hotels, self-catering apartments and also some great basic backpacker accommodation if you are on a budget or just want to relax into the party vibe! When you are choosing your Alice Springs hotel have a look at where it is situated on the map, as the town is pretty spread out and some hotels and resorts are a fair distance from the CBD and shops. There is a local bus service and some resorts offer a shuttle bus service, but if you like walking and being close to the action be sure to book your accommodation close to the action.

Alice Springs Baby Kangaroo Centre

Things To See In Alice Springs

There is a lot to do and see in Alice Springs and the surrounding areas.  If you are short of time, you can book some excellent city tours that are either ½ day or full day tours that take in all the major tourist attractions.  So what does Alice Springs have to offer?

Alice Springs Desert Park
If you are interested in the wildlife and plants of the Australian deserts, you will be fascinated by the Alice Springs Desert Park.  You can see some of the amazing creatures that live in this arid region and learn about the trees and plants that make up the sparse desert vegetation and how they all survive in such a harsh environment.
Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre
If you want to experience and learn more about the ancient culture of the Arrernte people, than a visit to the Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre is a must. Learn about Aboriginal art, culture, religion, food and society.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service
As Outback Australia is so vast, medical services are delivered to remote communities and cattle stations by the iconic Royal Flying Doctor Service. Visit the RFDS in Alice Springs to find out how the service is run and the history of these unique flying doctors.
School of the Air
Many children in this region simply live too far away to attend school every day, so they are taught by the School of the Air.  Visit the School of the Air to see how the lessons are carried out and learn more about the history of this fascinating educational service.
Alice Springs Reptile Centre
The Red Centre of Australia is home to many fascinating reptiles. Visit them at the Alice Springs Reptile Centre, where you can see and learn about many different species of reptile. Marvel at the Gecko Cave and be careful around the crocodile!
Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve
See where it all began by visiting the Alice Springs Telegraph Historical Reserve, where you can explore the restored stone buildings and learn about the history of the Telegraph Station
Old Ghan Heritage Railway and Museum
If you enjoy the romance of the railways, visit the Old Ghan Heritage Railway and Museum. You can explore an old train and carriages, take a train ride on Sunday mornings or get a group of friends together and book dinner on the Old Ghan train.


Uluru and Kata Tjuta

 Uluru truly is the iconic heart of Australia’s Red Centre, and along with Kata Tjuta, is a sacred place for the Aboriginal people.  Uluru is a quite a distance from Alice Springs, but can be done in a day trip – just be prepared for a very early start and returning in the early hours of the morning.  Many people, however, go for a couple of days so that they can enjoy the spectacle of the sun rising and setting over the huge red rock formation, and to have longer to enjoy walking around the base of Uluru, enjoying the Visitor’s Centre and exploring Kata Tjuta.  There is a range of accommodation at Uluru to suit all budgets and there is also an airport, so that you can fly directly in.

Sports and Activities in Alice Springs

Alice Springs is a magnet for hikers and bushwalkers, and there is also an 18 hole golf course to enjoy if you cannot leave your clubs at home.  Alice Springs must be the only town that holds a regatta on a dry river, but you can join in the fun at the annual Henley-on-Todd Regatta every August, where most of the boats are made from beer cans!  If camels are more your thing, July hosts The Camel Cup featuring camel races and camel polo.
So as you can see, Alice Springs offers everything that you could need for a great vacation.  Include Alice Springs in your Australian holiday plans, and experience amazing landscapes, fabulous wildlife, fascinating Aboriginal culture and art, and a truly relaxing, enjoyable vacation.