Ephesus- Monday 14th May 2012


Captain has owned this 45 foot yacht since she was built over 20 years ago, near the beginning of his retirement. Every year, he sails her around Europe. Beginning in the North West, around Britain, France, Scandinavia, and then over to the East, via Italy, Croatia, Cyprus.
These days he sails it for two seasons. From May to July and from September to November. Every fortnight a different crew arrive to cook and support the sailing, doing heavy work, but enjoying themselves hugely.
We know Captain through friends of friends.
However, the beginning of each season is fraught with the need to maintain the boat and she needs at least another day of serious engineer time.
As crew, we are redundant. The ancient site of Ephesus is a long taxi ride away and would cost order £100 so we opt to hire a car and drive off.
Best preserved after Pompeii and more visited than any place in Turkey, after Istanbul, Ephesus dates back 7 millennia. The roads, public toilets, amphi-theatre, library have been restored to something of their former glory, although photographs show just how ruined it must have been at the turn of the 20th century. Not all the restoration is a success. Frequently, the overuse of concrete, the mismatch of remains creates a strange, rather ugly.

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In some areas, the remaining stones line up awaiting for their turn to complete the city further.

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The library shows the elegance and grandeur of the city in days gone by.

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There are streets with houses and even public toilets to admire!

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The scale of the place is very impressive, even with the coach loads of tourists. Surely it must be far more crowded during July or August.
Near the main site is a rather lovely legend of seven Christians who were entombed for their faith. Some two hundred years later, they emerged to tell the tale of their ordeal and shortly after died. I was eager to see this and am so glad we did, as we found a fabulous restaurant just by.

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Driving down the road, we came across a tortoise! What country do tortoises come from? Was it wild or an escaped pet?

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Close to the marina, we stopped at Didima to see the famous Medusa’s head and found another great restaurant for our evening meal. The food was cooked in a wood oven just by us and tasted wonderful.

Fremantle – Saturday 31st March 2012


I could live in Fremantle, it’s brilliant! The buildings are well proportioned and older than we have become used to in Australia. There’s a sense of solidity, grandeur even. But, on the other hand it is a very manageable size, has lots of art galleries and two lively markets, where things are really a good price. It buzzes with energy.
Initially we are attracted to the shops and the markets. Time to buy a few things to take home! All the while I look at the sky; huge clear blue, with a massive pattern of white cloud gently laid over it.

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This homecoming work of art graces the area near the E-shed market. Love it!

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I love the way the artist has provided a seat for interaction here.

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Throughout Fremantle we find groups of teens undergoing the same kind of team building we had seen with business men and women in Perth. Seems to be a big thing here. This tall ship was also used by teens on a team building exercise prior to going to sea for a while.

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Little Creatures Brewery has a great range of ales and offers a sand pit and toys for little ones while Dad and mum have a beer together! Great idea!
Opposite the brewery is an ‘eye’: well that’s what we call it in London.

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It’s easy to spend the day in Fremantle: honestly I would have loved to spend a week there but…

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On the way back we stopped at Cottesloe beach where we saw a wedding being photographed. Perhaps a little chaotic but lots of fun.
Once we got back to Perth, the serious work began. We have to find somewhere to stay for Easter weekend. For about three hours we scour the websites and maps to make a meaningful link within our journey of available accommodation. Sometimes we find ourselves dragged into the pros and cons of one particular place, endlessly we consider the price, always we look for somewhere with a kitchen to keep our costs down.
Motel rooms, hotel rooms, cabins, YHA are all considered.
Slowly the jigsaw forms a picture which we can live with. There is only three days missing from Easter Monday to the Wednesday but I am sure we have cracked the worst of it.
Breathe a sigh of relief and go to sleep exhausted!

Albany: a town with history -Friday 23rd March 2012


So, it was a commercial campsite,and it was windy, but the view from the van door over the estuary is so lovely. Hundreds of ducks, scores of black swans and tens of pelican inhabit these waters with many migrating companions.

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We feel refreshed after our two night stay. As a final destination with the van, we want to head to Albany, and it’s only 50km away.
Proves to be a very large town, sprawling with history.
What a strange concept, for someone brought up in England. In UK things date back to 1066, well even earlier because there’s Stone Henge and Roman towns like Bath and remnants of Roman roads and Saxon kings and Sutton Hoo…so, local history has always been long, for me.
Albany goes back to 1840 with the first consecrated ground in Western Australia, an early goal, a whaling station (no longer used, of course) and a brig on which the first Europeans arrived (sadly a replica). Even things from 1926 are worthy of merit as part of their local history.
There is a large area dedicated to WW1 and the Battle of Gallipoli, where ANZAC landed in 1915.

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This pie shop serves excellent pies but we are not persuaded to stay the night. Camp fees are twice what we have been paying and they seem overcrowded and unappealing.
Our strategy is to
1. Find some more sun- but the forecast is not favourable
2. Find somewhere pretty with space to stay
3. Find somewhere cheap

We end up far further East than we had intended at Cheyne Beach, 19km off the highway with immediate access to a beautiful white sand beach. At one end of the beach a mountain of seaweed has built up, but at the far end, it goes on forever, white, clean and squeaky. It’s true, the purest, finest white sand really does squeak underfoot when dry!
We walk for miles enjoying the space and tranquility.

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Back at camp a family of kangaroos graze and it’s warm enough to have the van doors open while we cook. Things are improving but, we really want to end our travels with more sun. Tomorrow we consider heading back to Perth and then further North to find more warmth.

Captain Cook and the Coromandel – Monday 30th January 2012


The Coromandel Peninsula was made famous (to Europeans) by Captain James Cook, when he pulled up the Endeavor on a patch of this newly discovered land, to observe the transit of Mercury across the sun. By doing this he helped work out an exact position on his charts for the longitude of New Zealand so that others might find it in his wake.

(for those just dropping into this blog for the first time, John has been reading Cook’s diaries. He can tell you lots, I paraphrase!)

The important bit is that we are now near Cook’s Beach on Mercury Bay and all the road names have reference to Cook’s crew or their mission. Surely there must be a monument? Well, yes, there is. But a very inauspicious one: no more than a slab of concrete to mark the occasion, close to the beach and a small wooden board which gives the bare bones of the story. John is clearly disappointed!

But all is not lost! Up on Shakespeare’s Cliff (Cook named this too, thinking it looked like the Bard!) a slightly better stone slab affair refers to the navigational milestone and offers excellent views.

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There are also gannets, hurling themselves into the sea, spearing fish. They fold their wings at a particular angle to enable them to plunge, maybe even to swim deep into the sea. Their aerobatic display is remarkable. You can see the bubble trail as they dive, and watch them eat their catch as they sit on the water before taking off to dive again. You can also see the shoals of fish move across the bay, desperate to get out of their way. But the gannets’ arial view beats the fish every time.

We walk down from Hahei after finding parking rather a problem, to Cathedral Cove, made famous, I believe from clips of the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe series of films. Perhaps this was the Caspian Sea?
It’s an easy walk but I wouldn’t want to be pushing three young children in a buggy as one brave man does. It takes us nearly an hour from start to destination.
And it is stunning! The arch so wide! A waterfall cascades at the far end of one of the beaches. No wonder so many people have made the effort.

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Back up the stair, we divert to visit Gemstone Bay, a small rocky bay which is, nevertheless, picturesque. And Stingray Bay, although we see no stingrays. There are some lovely red crabs some 10 cm across which amuse us.

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But all this time, even though we have had a fantastic time, with good walking and lots to see, we have actually been waiting: for the tide to turn! We have our shovel, and our old towels, so kindly provided by our host at the Aotearoa Lodge, but the time has to be just right.
And now it is!

We head off for the biggest event in the area.
Hot Water Beach as the tide becomes low.

It’s not difficult to find the correct spot on the long beach, everyone is there. They all seem to know where two hot water springs bubble constantly up through the sand and can be found at low tide. If you get too closets the source, it’s too hot to stay. Your feet burn! So we gather together to create our very own spa pools.

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Even the sea has hot spots! The frustration when a final wave batters our dam down. The fascination to see the hot water bubble through the sand at one or two points. The surprise when you stand on a hotspot! The sense of unity amongst all these strangers from so many far flung places around the globe! They should do something like this for world peace!

Dolphins and the hole in the wall – Monday 23rd January 2012


As part of our motel deal at Triton Suite Motel, we have a tour to see the famous Hole in the Rock. The company, Fullers Dolphin Cruises seem to have cornered the market and offer a wide range of tours including swimming with dolphins.
We leave Russell in a large catamaran and sail towards Motuarohia. The crew already know where the dolphin are today, so that is where we go.
I’ve seen dolphin before, miles off from a boat in the Greek Islands and freshwater pink dolphin in the Amazon but, I’ve always wanted a close encounter with the bottlenose.
We saw some swim round the corner of Mornington Peninsular near Melbourne, as readers of this blog may remember, leaping the strong currents with strength, making good speed.
But I wanted to get closer.
Today, a huge pod of dolphins were playing with a group of tourists who were to swim in the sea with them. When the dolphin saw our boat approach they leapt clear out of the water in 2s and 3s, and swam right up, and under, the boat.

When I first saw a lion in the Rhuaha, in Tanzania, tears came to my eyes for the magnificence of the beast and the honor of being able to see him in the wild. Exactly the same thing happened now! All I wanted to do was look! The thought of glimpsing this from behind a camera lens seemed too awful. I wanted to drink it in! Those lithe, playful dolphin were so aware of us. Totally wonderful!

All too soon we moved on, swept off to the hole in the rock. This massive tunnel just allowed our huge vessel to crawl through leaving just 2 meters each side for maneuver. I was impressed. Neat driving!

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We stopped off on Urupukapuka island, the only one in the Bay of Islands where you can send the night, if you wish. Up one hill, see the view, up the next hill – more views. But what views they were! Spectacular!

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For the afternoon we were dropped off at Paiha, toured the shops And bought John a new baseball cap. Then had fish and chips at Vinnies Takeaway out of plain newspaper. (massive portions and very good) Yes, I know that is fish and chips, two days in a row, but I have been told that this is the place to eat them, so its now or never!

We walked along the beach front and crossed the bridge to Waitangi to visit the Treaty Grounds.
Following the outrageous behaviour of the Brits in New Zealand, Busby was sent out to ‘sort it out’ and worked on a treaty between the original Maori settlers and the British. Captain William Hobson came to sign on behalf of his Majesty in 1840. This treaty holds good still, although it offers a point of disagreement for some Maori descendants even today.
It’s well worth a visit and makes an aspect of history that I had not been aware of, very clear. I especially liked the introductory film.

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I was surprised how small Busby’s original house was, but he certainly chose a fantastic location

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The most beautiful Moari canoe was housed here, apparently in the Guinness book of records as being the longest! The meeting house was really interesting as the carving represented all the tribes and areas around New Zealand
We ended our day with a walk to Long Beach with the idea of a swim, but as we approached the shore we saw two large Sting Ray cruising along looking for left over bait. We decided it was wise not to go in, just in case!

Te Papa- Wednesday 11th January 2011


It feels terribly civilized to wake in a hotel, shower, dress, to go down to breakfast and choose from a buffet of at least 4 courses, if you so desire. Hotel life has not featured highly on these travels.

Te Papa – everyone says you MUST visit Te Papa and it’s just over the road from us. As in Australia, I am so impressed by the meeters and greeters. You can even book a personal tour! They help orientate you and suggest a few highlights to make the most of your visit.

The geology area has clear depictions of volcanos and earthquakes, and hardly surprising because poor Christchurch is still experiencing after shocks today. There is a house you can enter to experience seismic activity.
There are so many audio and visual explanations, lots to try and to do. It’s attractive and engaging!
The Natural History section has a specimen of a giant squid, pickled for all to see. The video records how a fishing vessel had pulled it from the sea, alive, with a large fish attached to its mouth. It was some 4 meters long. I felt unsure why, or how it died.

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There is a fantastic display of Maori artifacts. Amazing meeting houses, food stores and a beautiful canoe were spectacular.

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It was great to walk through New Zealand as a floor display of arial photos.

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John was particularly impressed with the cannon rescued from the bottom of the sea, which had once been thrown overboard by Captain Cook because they needed to reduce the weight of their boat, in order to free themselves of the Great Barrier Reef.

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But you cannot take it all in! So we leave and return to our hotel for a cup of coffee, before the next leg of our discovery.
Up the hill by cable car to the botanical garden and the Carter National Observatory.
Their planetarium is brilliant. Incredibly factual and incorporating the most up to date information, this show comes in two parts. The first a tour of our solar system, exploring the weather on neighbouring planets and the second exploring the night sky of the Southern hemisphere. After this we went round their museum, which was full of interesting audio visual aids to support learning. We loved the telescope

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All worth a visit!

Ballarat – Friday 23rd December 2011


Ballarat sounds such an inauspicious name, but add gold fever to the mix and it grows a particular magnetism.

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It’s so much easier to drive West from Melbourne than East! It takes about 1.5 hours on the freeway to Ballarat.

The town itself is far more noble than the name implies. Mr Urquhart laid out the town grid system and Sturt Street is a stunning 60 meters wide, festooned with statues down the middle. Much of the 1800 architecture is preserved and gives an elegance to the city. Iron makers must make their fortune there as so many houses have ornate filigree ironwork decorating their verandah or balcony.

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Sovereign Hill is a living museum, capturing life of the gold rush. There are opportunities to go down mines and witness their shows. The power of the battery sheds, which used to crush the quartz to powder to release the gold, was awesome. It penetrates your whole frame.

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The High Street of working shops are served by costumed characters, small bands play violin in both the street and the pub. The frequent passing of the horse and carriage adds to the ambience and life of the place.

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The whole day is punctuated by timed events – the red coats marching through the town and firing their muskets, a gold ingot being smelted, boiled sweets being made and fashioned.

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The site is divide into Chinese camps, the goldrush tents, the more established houses with schools and churches, coffee shops and saddles.
It is quite easy to spend three hours there and if you have children you may need longer, especially if they pan for gold, a free activity with real gold micro sized chips to be found and kept. Actually, there were many adults who got that particular itch.

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There is an excellent gold museum just opposite and included in the price. This offers insight into the gold economy and how the town has grown with the mining. It also has some interesting information on gold as a religious icon and as decoration denoting wealth. I liked the underground diagrams of the mines which showed horse hospitals! The ticket for both events cost $42.50

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