Tag Archive | travel

Come Sailing With Me

In 1606 Captain Willem Janszoon and his crew sailed along the northern coast of Australia in the little Dutch ship Duyfken – Little Dove. They journeyed from the Spice Islands of the Dutch East Indies to the Gulf of Carpentaria and mapped 330 kilometres of the coastline of Cape York as they went. They made the first recorded European landing on the Australian mainland and met the local aboriginal people as they travelled along the previously uncharted coast.

To do some travelling of your own, take a trip back in time by visiting the replica Duyfken at Fremantle in Western Australia. The replica was built using traditional 17th century methods at the Western Australian Maritime Museum in the 1990s and the design came from three known sketches of the original Duyfken. It is berthed at the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour and when it’s not out on sailing expeditions the ship is open to the public.

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We are given a guided tour of the ship by volunteer guide Ellie who, like the Duyfken, is Dutch. She tells us about her childhood home in Amsterdam, built in the 1600s from the same durable timbers as the sailing ships. The ship is fully fitted out with rigging, sails, a masthead and maritime tools typical of the past.

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In the galley it’s as if the sailors are just about to come for a meal, and below decks in the hold there’s a load of precious cargo.

The floor of the hold is lined with Dutch bricks, carried as ballast before being sold in the East Indies, and chests and hessian sacks are filled to the brim with precious spices. Spices were highly prized and valuable and members of the crew were never allowed in the hold because of the risk of theft. “One bowl of nutmeg could buy a house in Amsterdam in the mid-1600s,” says Ellie.

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The musky scent of spices, the creaking of the rigging and the gentle lapping of water on the side of the ship all add to the feeling that we’ve left the 21st century behind. At any moment we might hear sailors calling as they raise the sails. The Duyfken is ready to leave on another voyage and we could be tempted to join the crew!

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You can go sailing on the Duyfken. Read more at www.duyfken.com

The Capital That Never Was

Canberra – it’s Australia’s national capital. The nation is governed from this city and it’s full of busy public servants and beautiful public buildings. Dalgety – it’s a tiny town in southern New South Wales with a population of just over 200. What could these two places possibly have in common? Surprisingly they share a historic link dating back to federation.

When the Constitution of Australia came into being on 1 January 1901, the six independent colonies of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania formed the nation of Australia. There was considerable  discussion about where to place the national capital, and both Sydney and Melbourne lobbied heatedly for the position until a compromise was reached. The Australian Capital Territory would be created with a new purpose-built city planned and constructed inside its boundaries. The search for a suitable site ended in southern New South Wales, where Canberra is now located.

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It’s a little known fact however that the site where Canberra was established was not the first choice for our capital city. In 1903 the small town of Dalgety was chosen as the location for the new national capital. Its position on the Snowy River and its mild climate made Dalgety the perfect place for a city of such importance, but the Parliament of New South Wales, in typical Sydney-Melbourne rivalry, complained that Dalgety was too close to Melbourne and too far from Sydney. In actual fact, it was situated almost exactly half way between, but Parliament got its way and a site only 288 km from Sydney and 647 km from Melbourne was selected.

Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin, architects from Chicago, won the contest to design the city and construction began in  1913. Today Canberra is a picturesque city of parks and gardens, monuments and government buildings with the beautiful lake named after Burley Griffin at its centre.

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The Australian War Memorial

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The flagpole over Parliament House

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The Captain Cook Memorial Jet on Lake Burley Griffin

Canberra’s forgotten rival, Dalgety, is a tiny town with a few permanent residents, a single hotel  and its original police station.

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The old police station, no longer in use

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Buckley’s Crossing Hotel, on the main street of Dalgety

 An imposing timber and iron bridge spans the gentle waters of the Snowy River but, apart from our vehicle, the wide main street is deserted.

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Dalgety Bridge

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The Snowy River

Canberra and Dalgety – they’re worlds apart but linked forever by a common thread going back a hundred years. Where would you choose to live?

Walking to the Top of Australia

When I was young, my family went on a caravanning holiday to the Snowy Mountains. While we were there we climbed Australia’s highest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko. Dad was able to drive to within 700 metres of the peak, and we left the car at Rawson’s Pass to walk up the track to the top.

That was more than 40 years ago and things have changed since then. Now, the closest car park to Mt Kosciuszko is at the alpine village of Thredbo and the mountain is almost 7 kilometres away. Thredbo is 1370 metres above sea level and it’s almost another 1000 metres higher at the summit.

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The journey to the top of Australia begins with the Kosciuszko Express Chairlift and it’s not just hikers who take advantage of the easy way up.

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There are 35 kilometres of mountain bike trails in the area and thrill-seekers take their bikes up on the chairlift and ride the twisting mountain trails down to the valley floor at hair-raising speeds.

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In contrast the chairlift takes 15 minutes to travel the 1.8 kilometres to the top of the ridge.

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A footbridge across Merritts Creek marks the start of the walking track to the summit and from here it’s a 6.5 kilometre hike, most of which is reasonably level. The metal pathway is raised off the ground and allows walkers to enjoy the heathland and alpine vegetation without causing any damage.

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DSCN1813Mt Kosciuszko, still bearing patches of snow in mid-summer, first appears in the distance about a third of the way along the track. From the Kosciuszko Lookout the mountain looks no higher than the surrounding peaks and has none of the craggy appearance of other peaks in the world. These ranges are some of the oldest on Earth and over millions of years they have worn away so that the highest point is only 2228 metres above sea level.

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The walking track makes its way across the alpine slopes past the headwaters of the Snowy River and Lake Cootapatamba, Australia’s highest lake and one of its five glacial lakes, to Rawson’s Pass where it meets up with that old road I remember.

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From there, it’s a short but steep walk up the original track for the last 1.67 kilometres. It spirals around the mountain until, finally, the summit is up ahead.

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For the second time in my life I’m standing on the top of Australia. It’s a great feeling…now I just have to walk back to Thredbo again.

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The Palace of the Nation

At the northern end of the Parc Royal in Brussels on Rue de la Roi stands an elegant, neoclassical building set behind a high wrought iron fence.

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We knew it was a building of importance because there was a security guard on duty at the gate, but nowhere could we find a sign to explain the significance of the building. The guard, sensing our curiosity, and perhaps feeling a little curious himself, came over to talk to us.

He explained that the building was the Federal Parliament, home to the government of Belgium. His pride in this beautiful building, known as the Palace of the Nation, was evident as he spoke of its history and its magnificent interior. “You must do a tour of the Parliament,” he told us. “It’s full of gold inside.”

This was an unexpected opportunity too good to pass up so we walked for quite a distance around to the visitors’ entrance on the other side of the building. What the guard had neglected to tell us was that we needed our passports as proof of identity in order to enter the Parliament. Luckily we were carrying our drivers’ licences with photo ID and the guards on the security desk at the door were satisfied with those. So with photocopies made and paperwork signed, we were finally able to join a tour.

When Belgium’s provisional government was formed in 1830 the National Congress took up residence in the Parliament building. The government investigated different parliamentary structures and finally chose to follow the Westminster system. The two houses of Parliament are decorated accordingly, with the Chamber of Representatives in green and the Senate in red.

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The staircases on either side of the peristyle are also colour coded. The green one leads to the Chamber of Representatives and the red staircase to the Senate.

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Along the corridors are meeting rooms and small offices, complete with beautiful paintings showing historical sittings of the Parliament and chandeliers covered with gold leaf.

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That friendly guard on the gate was right. The Palace of the Nations truly is a beauty, and if he hadn’t told us we would have missed it. Weren’t we lucky!

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Street Life ~ Carfree Sunday in Brussels

You know those Armageddon themed movies where the streets of the city are silent? Have you ever wondered what it would be like in a city with no cars? If you’re in a European city on 22 September you’ll find out – it’s Carfree Sunday!

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European Carfree Day began during the oil crises of the 1970s. Car driving was banned on Sundays in an attempt to save fuel. Since then Carfree day has become an international day to celebrate walking, cycling and taking the train. The only vehicles allowed are Emergency Service Vehicles and buses; that’s when the cyclists and pedestrians take over.

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Brussels embraces Carfree Day wholeheartedly and from early morning thousands of cars remain parked while their owners find other ways to enjoy the city. There’s standing room only on trains and buses and bicycles fill the streets.

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From a vantage point looking over the city the atmosphere is eerie. The only sounds to be heard are birdsong, laughter and children calling to each other. Festivals in the parks attract large crowds and people take advantage of the empty streets.

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It’s a strange feeling to be walking in the middle of a main road and instead of looking out for cars it’s bikes and rollerblades you have to avoid.

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At 18.00 the prohibition on cars comes to an end and it doesn’t take long for the streets to become busy again. The utopian vision of life without cars comes to an end but hopefully more people have been inspired to find alternate ways of travel. Give the environment a break – don’t take your car!

For more on Carfree Sunday, click here.

Bruges by Night

More than 120 000 people call the city of Bruges home and another 3 million visit every year. During the day the atmosphere in the central area around the Markt and its surrounding streets is vibrant, and the shops and cafés hum with activity.

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In the evening, after the day-trippers leave, the streets are practically empty. The medieval buildings light up and the carillon in the Belfry continues to play into the night.

It’s simply magical.

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Nothing To See

When we checked out of our unit on our final morning in Akaroa we asked the manager about the best route to take to State Highway 1. On the map it looked as if we would have to drive all the way back to Christchurch before we headed southwest towards Wanaka. He was very helpful and gave us detailed directions which were easy to follow. His parting comment was: “It’s not a very interesting drive though. There’s nothing much to see.”

We left Banks Peninsula behind and headed west towards the highway. Once we turned left onto the highway we found ourselves travelling parallel to the Southern Alps. After cool overnight temperatures a fresh snowfall adorned the mountaintops.

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Rakaia is the salmon capital of New Zealand and home of the Giant Salmon, Salmon World and Salmon Tales Café. The choc chip cookie I had for morning tea in the café rivalled that salmon for size.

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After a long drive along the Fairlie-Tekapo road we rounded a corner and there was Lake Tekapo. The beautiful turquoise colour of the lake is caused by “rock flour” – particles of rock ground by glacial movement and suspended in the water.

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The Church of the Good Shepherd, the first church in this area, stands on the shore of Lake Tekapo. It was built in 1935 and is placed to take full advantage of the glorious view.

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Near the church is a bronze statue of a collie dog which pays homage to the work of the sheepdogs of Mackenzie Country.

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Lupins grow wild in this part of New Zealand and there are places where the roadside is a sea of purple, pink and cream. Their colours brighten the stark landscape of the highway between Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki.

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Finally we reached Wanaka and its lake. Here too the mountains surrounding Lake Wanaka were blanketed with snow and unlike the other lakes the water was a deep, dark blue.

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Was the manager correct in his assessment of the five hour drive from Akaroa to Wanaka?

We think not!

Bienvenue à Akaroa!

At a distance of more than 18 000 km New Zealand and France are almost as far apart as it is possible to be. Visit the little town of Akaroa on the South Island of New Zealand however and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve somehow ended up in France.

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On the drive south from Christchurch to the Banks Peninsula your first view of Akaroa and its harbour is breathtaking. The harbour was formed 9 million years ago in a volcanic eruption and is one of the world’s best examples of an eroded crater.

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Maori people were the first to settle on the Banks Peninsula about 700 years ago. In 1769, Captain James Cook and the crew of The Endeavour were the first Europeans to sight land here although they continued on their voyage without stopping. They were followed by European whalers in the 1830s. In 1838 Captain Jean François Langlois persuaded the local Maori to sell most of the peninsula to him for 1000 francs. He returned to France and established a company with the purpose of setting up a French colony on the peninsula. By January 1840 the ship Comte-de-Paris set sail from Rochefort with 53 French and German colonists on board. A naval warship L’Aube, under Captain Charles François Lavaud, sailed from Brest to provide protection for the settlers.

The colonists arrived in Akaroa on 17 August 1840 only to find that their plans for a French settlement had been thwarted by the English, who had claimed the South Island of New Zealand as a British colony under the Treaty of Waitangi. Captain Owen Stanley of the Britomart had raised the Union Jack at Green’s Point just six days before.

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The colonists were undeterred and decided to stay, and Akaroa became the only town in New Zealand to be settled by the French. Today their influence is evident in the names of the streets and businesses in the town.

The old French burial ground on L’Aube Hill is marked by a plaque which acknowledges these pioneers and their contribution to the town.

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So as you wander along Rue Lavaud munching on your freshly baked baguette, or sip a coffee at one of the many cafés, close your eyes and for a moment you might just be transported to a tiny village in the heart of France.