Relaxing in the Al Hajar Mountains

“Nestled in the rugged mountains it was like an oasis with far stretching views and abundant birdlife”

Hatta,  United Arab Emirates

A visit from family had us looking for things to do and places to show them what Dubai was all about. We also wanted to see places that we had not yet visited or that the everyday tourist would not normally add to their itinerary.  We were off to Hatta!

Hatta is an enclave of Dubai, in the Al Hajar mountains, so totally different from the beaches and nightlife everyone comes to Dubai to explore.

Our journey took us about 2 hours, slightly longer than predicted as we could just not find the road we needed to be, going on a loop after loop with the sat nav trying to take us on the road through Oman which is only open to GCC nationals.   We eventually got on the right road.  Breathing a sigh of relief and relationship intact, we drove through contrasting scenery, changing from skyscrapers to rolling orange coloured sand of the desert to finally the rocky mountains.

We stayed at the JA Hatta Fort Resort, which felt like an oasis and perfect for a few days relaxing in the hot temperatures but away from the humidity we had been accustomed to on the coast.  The newly renovated hotel had an air of peace and charm about it with the mountain view rooms cool and light.  Both restaurants, one near the pool open for breakfast and lunch and the main restaurant in the hotel, Jeema, had good quality food.  Once told, they also remember any dietary requirements you have! The sunset bar was just as described, a great place to enjoy the bright orange hues of the sky turn to pink as the sun set behind the mountains.

The hotel was very quite – we were staying the Sunday and Monday evenings, but this did not worry us too much as we managed to get in for some great massages at the very small spa and it all added to a peaceful atmosphere.

There are a few activities available at the hotel such as archery and a very simple 9-hole mini golf course, but with the temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius, we opted to spend the afternoons cooling down at the turquoise blue pool.

Hatta itself is a small village and I would highly recommend visiting the Hatta Dam with its emerald green waters.  Constructed in 1990s it took about 2 years to fill the dam and even now it does not look overly full.  There is a good viewing platform and although closed the day we visited you can hire kayaks and pedlos to take out on the water.  I would check on other facilities as if you are spending a fair amount of time on the water you might want to bring some food and water supplies.

Hatta also has a newly restored heritage village, that is open free of charge to wander around the 30 buildings and discover what the traditional mountain rural life was like. As a historical monument that depicts the 18th Century village, I can imagine that the festivities on UAE national day would be quite remarkable.

The village is surrounded by two round watch towers built in the 1880s – they are quite fascinating as the entrance is 2.5m above the ground and required the guards to climb on ropes to get to the entrance.  We visited around midday and I would have been better in the mornings when slightly cooler as there is limited shade. Definitely worth a visit.

It was great to escape the humidity of coastal Dubai and wake up every morning to the rugged mountains looming above you along with abundance of birdlife.  My favourite were the brightly blue coloured wing span of the Indian Roller (they were too quick to take a photo) and the bee-eaters.

Would I visit again?  Definitely, maybe next time in the cooler months so we can explore one of the hiking routes along the winding wadis at the foothills of the mountains.

JA Hatta Fort Resort – beautiful rooms and eating facilities with a variety of options for breakfast.  All hotel staff are very attentive ensuring you get the best from your stay.

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No wellies in Wales

Gower Peninsular                               Swansea, United Kingdom


One of my good friend’s birthday falls around the time of the May Bank holiday weekend – and it seems to have become a tradition that a group of us go camping. Good weather in the UK is never a sure bet but out come the tents and the barbeque’s in anticipation anyway.

This year we decided to explore a little bit of Wales and it was off to the beautiful coastline of the Gower. The Gower Peninsular is located in the south of Wales and is about an hour and a half drive away from Cardiff. The drive from Swansea onwards if very scenic and can be a bit hair-raising as cars squeeze past each other on the country lanes and in some cases come face to face before deciding who has to reverse first. I think we lost the stare down every time and our little Corsa got very used to moving backwards.

Our base for the weekend was the most southerly point of the Gower – Port Eynon. Port Eynon is a quaint little town full of character and cute cottages and offers some great cliff walks where the views are just spectacular. The beach is a little bit rocky but that did not stop us from having a game of rounders before exploring the rock pools in search of starfish. The weather remained good to us and we all enjoyed our first camping barbecue along with some tasty local Gower potatoes.

The next morning the weather was good to us again and I woke up to gorgeous sunshine. I had the perfect view of the campsite and ocean from my tent and was quite content to have my breakfast while watching the antics of the campsite.

As much as I liked Port Eynon it would be a waste of a weekend not venturing around the other parts of this dramatic limestone coastline. So we hopped in the car and drove to Rhossili Bay. This area is largely owned by the Natural Trust to preserve its beauty and you can see why with it’s 3 mile sandy beach and the prominent Worm’s Head. Access to the causeway to reach Worms Head is only possible 2.5 hours either side of low tide. As we arrived in the morning we decided to venture what we thought would be an easy walk across but turned out to be a bit of rock scrambling. It was worth all the effort just for the views.

I never did get to the tip of Worms Head though as it was the birds nesting season. I was happy enough to sit near a bird watcher and let him tell me what birds he could spot through his binoculars. A real big shame that hundreds of other people ignored the sign and went marching on. Lets hope nature has a way of coping with the disturbance and maybe the National Trust will monitor people’s walking around nesting season more closely.

I could not believe how packed the town of Rhossili had become while we were at Worms Head. Which was a shame as it took away the eerie feeling of the skeletal remains of the Helvetica ship wreck on an almost deserted beach. It also meant that I could not try some faggot at the local shop. No, is not a rude word but a traditional dish found mainly in the midlands in England. To sum it up it is like a meatball but made from meat off-cuts and offal. (I guess not everyone’s taste!)

After having enough of the crowds we went searching for a more quite spot to have our lunch. We chose Llangennith beach, known as a surfing beach and apparently a frequent haunt by young party people the locals would say it is far from quite! But if you find a spot amoung the dunes everything becomes still and you can watch all what is happening unseen.

When I eventually caught my £5 Megabus back to London, I reflected on how lovely my weekend was and what beautiful scenery Wales has to offer. I was also grinning to myself thinking Wales without the wellies was a good experience and it just goes to show that contrary to everyone’s belief the sun does shine in Wales.

Nominated for the Visit Wales Blog Awards 2009

Sun, Sand and Sydney

Sydney, Australia


Sadly my Australian journey has come to an end. It has taken me approximately 17555km of travelling to get back to Sydney. Most of it was on the road and I only cheated twice by flying from Perth to Cairns and then from the Gold Coast back down to Sydney – pretty good going hey? I have collected so many of my own stories and have had so many unique experiences yet I was still pretty excited to finally get to Sydney to see the city for myself. But first let me tell you about a few adventures along the way.

After Airlie beach I slotted right back on the typical tourist route with my next destination being Fraser Island – the largest sand island in the world. But to get there I first had to master the art of cracking a whip at the Kroombit cattle station before lassoing and catching goats. These sneaky little creatures obviously have had more practice in dodging the rope than I have had at throwing one so it took a little time before success. Filled with adrenaline I then climbed up sunset hill to get a good look at the outback. Stretching for miles and miles I could quite well understand how people could get lost here and think how amazing the story of the Rabbit Proof Fence was where three aboriginal children walked over 1500 miles through the outback to get back home.

Leaving the outback behind I headed back to the coast to explore the World Heritage Fraser Island. I explored Fraser Island the budget way by going the 4×4 route with a bunch of strangers – having a mixture of nationalities on board meant there were a few sticky moments generally caused by communication problems but all in all we had a good time. And we were a great team when it came to pushing our 4×4 out of the soft sand. Fraser island was a beautiful place where the beaches extended for miles and miles. The sea did look rather tempting from time to time but what with rips and sharks circling around it was best to stay away (actually warned to do so) and rather swim in one of the many freshwater lakes. The 75 mile beach was great to drive on, you just had to watch out for the dingoes and make sure there were no aeroplanes landing as we were effectively driving on their runway.

On my last day we had a long drive up to Indian Head which is a famous place to go and look down at the clear waters below to see sharks, turtles and if you lucky whales. Unfortunately the weather was not kind to us that day but it was still an exceptional view.

After spending three days on this island I was still not tired of beaches so when leaving Fraser Island I made my to Mooloolaba and Byron Bay to spend some more time relaxing on the beach and swimming in the sea. Both were beautiful places and it was nice to be out in the sunshine every day.

It was now onto my final city in Australia, the Harbour City, Sydney. What a great way to end my Australian part of my journey in such a vibrant and exciting place. The Sydney Opera House certainly stands out at the edge of the harbour and it is just one of those city sights that you just could not stop taking photos of – during the day, at night, at sunset… I think you get the picture. I did as much on my list as possible in the 5 days that I was there which included a ferry trip across to Manly and a bus trip out to Bondi Beach The water was much colder here than further up the coast. I found this out after making a dash for it between the waves – I think it took me about 2 hours to warm up again. Along with all the must see sights I was lucky to spend time with some friends who took me to the some cool eating places and bars.

I was sad to leave Australia but I am sure one day I will return – after all I left out the south west and Tasmania. Tactical? Maybe.

Backpackers Inn on the Beach at Byron Bay – 29 Shirley St, Byron Bay, Australia
Mooloolaba Beach Backpackers – 75 Brisbane Rd, Mooloolaba, Australia
Frasers On Rainbow Beach – 18 Spectrum Ave, Rainbow Beach, Australia

Exploring the top end

Kakadu National Park, Australia


It is the middle of winter and the temperature reached almost 30 degrees. I was at the top end of the Northern Territory in Darwin looking longingly at the ocean wishing I could cool down, but the mere thought of accidentally bumping into a box jellyfish kept my toes well above the shoreline. It was not the only dangerous thing to look out for on this trip as every waterhole, billabong, river and small pool held the threat of ‘Salties’ (Saltwater crocodiles) or according to the locals if you were lucky the non-human attacking ‘Freshies’ (Freshwater crocodiles). Either way I was determined not to go anywhere near the water let alone swim! Having said that I still did venture into the plunge pool at Wangi Falls in Litchfield NP. Liz and I must have got the record for the quickest cool down swim ever.

From Darwin my friend, Liz, and I and our new found friend, Wicked Maureen, headed in the direction of Litchfield and Kakadu National Park. Wicked Maureen provided us with transport, camping equipment and a comfy bed (well after 3 weeks maybe not so comfy) and a bright bodywork design that everyone felt the need to take photos of. Her only faults were her gluttony for car oil and the occasional wobbly she threw when going over 90km/h. But we loved her anyway as it was a great way of getting around and stopping wherever we wanted.

Litchfield NP was very peaceful with lots of waterfalls and pools. It was also home to the fascinating termite mounds that towered above you. Two types stood just across the road from each other – the common cathedral mound and then the magnetic mound that resembled a cemetery across the plain. It was in Litchfield that we camped for the first time with Wicked Maureen. The campsite was run on a honesty system so we popped our money into the box and went and found a spot as close to the ablutions as possible so we did not have to venture too far in the dark. We had a lovely meal of Chilli ConCarne made from kangaroo mince. At 98% fat free it became our favourite at our camp dinners as we cooked hamburgers, more con-carne and had some fantastic Kangaroo steak on the BBQ.

Leaving Litchfield we stopped off at the Famous Jumping Crocs. It was closed when we got there in the afternoon so we had a nose around and met one of the employees who gave us permission to camp the night. We were offered the use of his kitchen and the best yet – a hot shower. The evening was very entertaining as we listened to our host tell us stories of other travellers and his job at Jumping Crocs. Having spent the night on the premises we were first in line and got the best seats on the boat so we could watch the show.

The guides were very knowledgeable as they told us about the nature of the ‘Salties’ and how they are one of the oldest surviving animals from prehistoric times. It was fascinating watching them jump their own body length out of the water to grab the piece of pork dangling in front of them. I am however unsure how I feel about partaking in the feeding of wild and dangerous animals. I have strong views of the practice of feeding sharks for the tourist cage dives in South Africa and would never condone it, yet here I was doing something very similar in Australia! A long drive to Kakadu NP let me battle with my conscience .

Kakadu NP was filled with beautiful landscape from billabongs and wetlands that were the home to colourful water lilly’s, birds and naturally crocodiles. We explored as much as possible on a 2WD and walked up to viewpoints, through forests and to see some great rock art that included the lightening man. Not sick of National Parks yet it was on to Nitmiluk NP that is home to Edith Falls and Katherine Gorge. We had a good relaxing time at Edith Falls before going on a 8km walk around Katherine Gorge. Leaving the National Parks behind we started on our long and desolate drive to the Kimberley’s.

It was from here that you notice how isolated you feel on the long roads and hundreds of kilometers that separate each town (which was normally a petrol station and roadhouse) and attractions. We were pleased to have ‘Wicked Maureen’ with a well stocked food cupboard and water supply. Kununurra was the biggest town we stopped at and the first town to have mobile network coverage in days. It was the start of the Kimberley’s with terrain that changed every so often from flat to rugged and then flat again. It did feel like there were vast amounts of nothingness as we drove but looking back we still managed to see and do quite a lot like visit :

  • the big croc and dreamlike statues in Wyndham,
  • the hidden valley which housed the mini bungle bungles and the head-lice dreaming statue (not sure why one would be dreaming of head lice though)
  • Boab Prison Tree near Derby and
  • Halls Creek.

Halls Creek was entertaining not just for the China Wall, the old ghost town and the fascinating story of an aboriginal, Jack Jugorie who operated on his friend while following instructions sent by Morse code by a Dr Tucker who was based in Perth, but for the road that got us there. Suitable for 2WD the tourist information insisted, we made our way along the unsealed road only to have our teeth rattling from the start – it was like driving on corrugated iron and driving fast or slow did not seem to help the effects. We forgave Wicked Maureen after that for her now and again wobblies that were mild in comparison to the rattling experienced on this road.

Our last night in outback of the Kimberley region we stayed at one of the free camps on the cliffs and watched the sun slowly set and cast a beautiful red tinge over the landscape. It would be our last night in such a setting as we headed further west to the ocean – gone was the dust!


The Red Blitz

The Red Blitz
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia

You don’t realise how big Australia is until you get here – the world map does it no justice and it is only when you start comparing that you notice it is practically the size of the USA. It also made me realise that I had set one big challenge -getting from Adelaide to Darwin in just four days!

Excitingly for me my friend, Liz, was joining me for 4 weeks while I was in Australia and after spending a day and a half in Adelaide exploring the art scene and working out just how we were going to see the much talked about ‘Big Rock’ in just 24 hours we boarded our bus for a 20 hour journey to Alice Springs. As the sun starting coming up we soon realised we were in the back and beyond and the start of red dust country. There was not too much to see on the road other than small one building towns, a few shrubs, warning notices to not fall down old mining shafts, road trains and of course lots and lots of red dust.

Arriving in Alice Springs we dashed with our backpacks to the car rental place where we picked up the only car left to hire – a Ute. Bagging our backpacks in black bags we flung them in the back and hoped they would not take off when we whizzed at maximum speed down the road only stopping to see the camels on the side of the road and to fill up the car with some expensive petrol. We had quite a journey in front of us and it was made shorter by the fact that you could not drive too late at night or in the early morning because of the Roos that like to bounce across the roads.

I was unsure just how spectacular Uluru was going to be and did wonder if this rush of a journey was going to be worth it – In my mind it was just going to a big rock sticking out of the ground. But as it come into view I was genuinely surprised at how big and over powering it seemed to be and I was equally awed by the dream-time stories and the importance of the rock to the aboriginal people. Every hole and shape is depicted in their stories with my favourite being about the snakes – Kuniya and Liru – which I have shared with you below:

A long time ago a young woma python (Kuniya) boy was sliding along when he was surprised and ambushed by a group of Liru (poisonos snake). The Liru were not very friendly and started throwing spears at the Kuniya and murdered him. They threw the spears so hard that the spear heads made the big holes that you can still see in Uluru today. The Boy’s aunt a Kuniya woma python woman was so angry she chased the Lirus. She slid along the rock and caught up with them and killed the one Liru with a blow to the head. You can still see where the Kuniya woman Python slid along the rock as a dark wavy line in Uluru.

We only a few hours to get around the Rock and look for the signs of the Kuniya and Liru before we had to head back to Alice Springs – so straight forward I thought until one last picture resulted in us getting stuck in the sand! It took a lot of persuading for us to get a ranger to come and pull us out of our sticky situation as it was not their policy. With less time to get back to Alice Springs we made the mad dash hoping all the way that the Kangaroos would stay off the road and not add anymore dramas to our day. It turned out to be a mad but fun journey and I do think we were both pleased to get on that bus to Darwin even though it would be another 20 hours before we got there.


Full Steam Ahead

Rotorua, New Zealand


Hot steamy baths, bubbling mud and erupting geysers were the focus of my next explorations in New Zealand.

I had the privilege of being able to borrow a friends car which not only saved me some money but also gave me the freedom to roam where I chose and at leisure. The drive along the Thermal explorer highway from Auckland was pretty much standard and it was only once I reached the Huka Falls near Taupo that I felt like things were starting to get interesting. I watched the bright blue water of the falls for a while before heading off to see my first official thermal activity at the craters of the moon. I looked into a smokey landscape – puffs of white cloud steaming from the ground with the odd eggy smell wafting past.

Leaving Taupo (pronounced Toe-Paw) I headed towards my friend Ang’s parents farm, Omahamui for 2 very cosy nights. My treat at the farm was being able to kayak on a glass looking river and see plenty of geothermal activity along the way. Stopping to explore and feel the warm water was wonderful, it did however mean that the trip back to the farm around 6pm was very cold and the 4km felt a lot longer.

Wai-tapu was the next destination and is known as the most colorful of all the thermal wonderlands. It lived up to expectations as I passed green, copper, yellow pools puffing with steam. It certainly was a good adventure plus the added fact that I got to see Lady Knox geyser erupt at the set time of 10:15am – with the help of a little soap, very sneaky.

Rotorua was not such an amazing town but it certainly was at the centre on what was on offer. The weather was not wonderful either but I got to see some Kiwi birds at the Kiwi Encounter and hear all about the breeding program they have in place. Such cute little birds it would be sad to see them become extinct in the world and this organisation are doing a wonderful job by having hatched over 1000 eggs this summer.

It was back to the beaches in the Bay of Plenty and Coromandel after all this thermal activity. I fell in love with the Mercury Bay area and decided to stay 2 nights in Hahei so I could walk along to the famous cathedral cove and later watch with interest the people building their own little hot pools on hot water beach. So not totally moving away from thermal wonders I found it fitting to end this part of my journey in Miranda on the seabird coast with a long soak in one of the hot pools.

Cactus Jacks Backpackers – 1210 Haupapa Street, Rotorua, New Zealand
Tatahi Lodge Motel – Grange Road, Whitianga, New Zealand

My visit to Rapa Nui


“One of the most remote inhabited places on earth, some 3800km from the closest civilization”

Easter Island, Chile

I walked along the green and brown grassy plains, while the wind wrapped around me. The view in front of me was magnificent, navy blue and aquamarine foamy waves constantly crashing into the rugged coastline. A coastline that seemed to go on forever – well I guess I was on an island! Isla de Pascua (Easter Island) to be precise, one of the most remote inhabited places on earth, some 3800km from the closest civilization. I wanted to stop and keep looking, take in the views slowly but something made me keep walking and then I saw him – Ahu Ko te Riku – one of the biggest Moai´s on the island noticeable by it’s red hat and white eyes. Impressed – most definitely and this was only my first day!!I have spent about 5 days on the island so far and there has been so much to take in and so much to see that I am still trying to decided between a number of things what my favourite place was and what activity I enjoyed the most? Was it…

Thinking @ Playa Pea
Aptly named Pea – it is probably one of the smallest beaches on the island. It became my haven for hours while I put my thoughts together so that I could share some of the magic of the island with you.

Relaxing @ Anakena Beach
Well you should all know me by now – if there is a beach around I will find it. Anakena is the most beautiful beach on the island, I spent the day relaxing either staring at the turquoise water or admiring the Ahu Nau Nau Altar – the best preserved alter on the island only for the fact that it was hidden for many years under the sand.

Driving @ slow speed
Maximum speed was 60km on the tar road and there is only two! I was lucky enough to meet some lovely people at the hostel and hire a 4×4 for the day. I drove around the island for about 8 hours stopping at some wonderful sites: Maoi, Ahu, fallen Maoi, volcanoes and beaches all the time giving ourselves enough time to take photos, explore and have lunch – far more than if we joined a tour for the day.

Taking Pictures @ Volcano Rano Raraku
Nicknamed the ´Quarry´ or the ´Nursery´, this is where it is believed the statues were built and you can still see many in different stages of development. My favourite part of this site was walking into the volcano to see the many undisturbed statues amoung the yellow flowers and of course taking lots and lots of photos.

Just looking @ Ahu Tongariki Alter
The most well known or photographed alter, standing tall with 15 statues. These remarkable Moai´s have twice been toppled in their life time – once during inter-war fighting and then again when a tsunami hit the island. You must admit they are in pretty good shape for taking such a beating.

Exercising @ Volcano Rano Kau
Taking a 1½ hour walk along the coast and through many trees up to this Volcano was great exercise. All made worthwhile by the beautiful view – a blue and green crater reflecting in the sun.

I have not mentioned everything on the island you will be pleased to know! There are about 900 Moai and 270 Ahu´s scattered around the coastline and judging by my photos I have done a good job in trying to snap them all. Probably it was a good idea not having captured them all but I will definately be leaving this spiritual place feeling relaxed, content in knowing that I have experienced all the elements the island had to offer. But it will seem that I will still be leaving the island asking myself one question – Why do all the statues face inland?

Where I stayed:
Kona Tau Youth Hostel

Moai = Statues
Ahu = Alters