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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Botswana Rising

Remote, yes. Home to the fictional Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, yes. And thanks to a low volume tourism policy, Botswana remains blissfully unspoiled.

And yet, it is a country whose star is clearly on the ascendancy. Anointed by Lonely Planet as one of the ‘Hot Destinations for 2016’, its popularity as a safari destination continues to grow. This month also marks its 50th year of independence, with the landlocked African nation hitting the big screen with the launch of high-profile film, A United Kingdom, starring Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Tom Felton and Laura Carmichael, which tells the story of Botswanan prince Seretse Khama, who later became Botswana’s first democratically elected president.

So what makes Botswana so special? Well for start, it’s hard to go past beautiful landscapes and the quality and abundance of wildlife. Then there’s its rare combination of desert and delta. The Kalahari Desert makes up more than 80% of this landlocked country, and the vast sponge into which the swollen Okavango River disappears each year creates the largest inland delta in the world – the Okavango Delta. And in the northwest of Botswana, lies Chobe National Park, home to the largest population of elephants in the world.

Over 17% of the country is dedicated to national parks, and in 2014 the Okavango Delta became UNESCO's 1,000th World Heritage Site. That means a Botswana safari offers up varied safari holiday across a broad expanse of savanna, desert, saltpan and wetland in one of the most pristine wildlife destinations in Africa.

In what is also one of the most sparsely populated countries in southern Africa, a safari here is an intimate experience where close-up game viewing is the norm and boutique safari camps the ultimate home-away-from-home. There is a multitude of ways to acquaint yourself with the wildlife - on a gently poled mokoro (traditional dug-out canoe) trip through the waterways, by open 4WD vehicle, from the air and on foot – you won’t be disappointed.

Ten great reasons to visit Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula this summer



Located an easy hours’ drive from Melbourne, Geelong and its neighbouring peninsula - The Bellarine, are the ideal destinations for a day trip, weekend getaway or extended summer holiday. Here are 10 reasons to add this beautiful part of Victoria to your must-visit list this summer.

Destination dining – Geelong and its surrounding areas are home to some of the best regional dining you will find in Australia. A must visit location in Geelong is Aaron Turner’s IGNI, which has won numerous accolades since opening earlier in the year. On the Bellarine, you will find Jack Rabbit Restaurant, Oakdene Vineyards Restaurant, The Shed Restaurant at Terindah Estate and the Vue Grand Hotel. To the north of Geelong, Matt Dempsey’s Gladioli has well and truly put Inverleigh on the gourmet trail, while his second restaurant in Geelong, Tulip, continues to impress guests from near and far.

Old becomes new – as Geelong moves further away from its industrial past, old manufacturing spaces are being taken over and converted into hip new cafes, bars, restaurants, accommodation and attractions. The new Devlin Apartments, which opened in April this year, boasts 37 luxury self-contained short stay apartments and rooms and is located in the heritage listed former Gordon Junior Technical School. Nearby, Little Creatures Brewery and White Rabbit Brewery & Barrel Hall have firmly imprinted themselves at the site of the old woollen mills. The Old Paper Mills at Fyansford, established in the 1870s and located along the Barwon River, has quickly established itself as an arts and culture precinct with an onsite gallery and an onsite winery and function centre set to open soon. Back in town, Boom Gallery located just off Pakington Street, is a vibrant contemporary art and design gallery housed in an historic woollen mill.

Cool urban precincts – Geelong boasts two inner city precincts where visitors will find cool cafes, wine bars, restaurants and designer shops. In the heart of the city, along Little Malop Street, you will find some of the best coffee in town at Coffee Cartel, an impressive selection of local wines at Geelong Cellar Door, Nashville-style chicken at Aaron Turner’s Hot Chicken Project and decadent late night desserts at Armageddon Cake. Just outside the city centre, Pakington Street is home to many of the most popular venues in town, including King of the Castle, Zigfrids Dining Hall &Bar and Geelong Fresh Foods, just to name a few.

Amazing beaches – All summer long, visitors flock to The Bellarine to enjoy the region’s beautiful beaches. Avid surfers head to popular surf spots such as 13th Beach or Raffs Beach in Barwon Heads, while beginner surfers can enjoy a surf lesson at Ocean Grove beach with Go Ride a Wave or Sea Earth Adventures. Families can take advantage of the pristine sand and gentle waves at the Ocean Grove main beach, considered one of the safest in Victoria. Whereas the mouth of the Barwon River in Barwon Heads is the ideal location for paddling in the shallow water, exploring rock pools or gliding over the smooth water on a stand up paddle board. Other must-visit beachside locations include exploring the rock pools at Point Lonsdale and the sheltered and family friendly bay at Portarlington.


Bountiful local produce – The Bellarine is home to an impressive collection of boutique wineries, farm gates, provedores and establishments serving up dishes featuring local produce. The best way to discover them all is by picking up a Bellarine Taste Trail map, which will take you on a delicious journey through the region. Or check out the detailed website, which includes all the information you need to plan your gastronomic journey in advance.

Untapped wine region – the Moorabool Valley, to the north of Geelong is home to quaint villages, rolling hills, beautiful scenery and award-winning wineries. The region has a history stretching back to 1842, when Swiss immigrants planted the first vines. It is now considered one of Australia’s finest cool-climate wine growing areas, which can easily be explored on a leisurely weekend away. Top wineries to add to your must-visit list include Clyde Park Vineyard and Bistro, Lethbridge Wines, Moorabool Ridge Vineyard and Austins & Co.

A water lover’s paradise – with a spectacular coastline hugging the region from Geelong right through to Barwon Heads and beyond, it’s no surprise that you will find plenty of water based activities to choose from. You can discover the region’s rich maritime past and get up close to nature on a tour with South Bay Eco Adventures, swim with the dolphins with See All Dolphins Swims or cruise between the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsula’s aboard Searoad Ferries. For underwater adventures, Dive Victoria offers diving trips to explore the ex HMAS Canberra which was sunk into Port Phillip Bay in 2009. Tours depart from Queenscliff Harbour.

Outstanding public golf courses – The Bellarine is a golfer’s paradise, boasting four outstanding public courses which are consistently rated as some of the best in Australia. Take your pick from Curlewis Golf Club, Barwon Heads Golf Club, or one of the two courses at Thirteenth Beach Golf Links. Add golf courses at Queenscliff (sitting on the scenic Swan Island), Portarlington and Point Lonsdale to the impressive list of courses on offer and you will see golfers truly are spoilt for choice in this part of the world.

Two wheeled adventures – whether you prefer loose shorts or lycra, the Geelong Bellarine region is home to various cycling trails suitable for all abilities. The You Yangs are the go-to place for mountain biking, boasting two designated mountain bike areas with 50 kilometres of track. The Bellarine Rail Trail is a scenic 35 kilometre trail that winds from South Geelong to Queenscliff. This mostly flat trail provides easy access to many of the regions attractions and villages. Meanwhile, thousands of visitors flock to Geelong in January every year for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Cyclists can join Cadel himself in the People’s Ride which starts and finishes in Geelong.

Endless family fun – in both Geelong and The Bellarine you will find ample activities to keep the family entertained. In Geelong, the stunning waterfront truly comes alive during summer, the youngest members of the family love discovering the old world charm of the beautifully restored Geelong Carousel, while the older kids will love the diving boards at the historic early century beach promenade at Eastern Beach. All members of the family will enjoy exploring the colourful Geelong Waterfront Bollard Trail, comprising 104 bollards, each representing a different character from Geelong's history. Out of town, you will find the hugely popular Adventure Park, which houses a diverse array of water and land-based rides that cater for the whole family. The wider region also boasts a large number of award-winning, family friendly holiday and caravan holiday parks, providing the ideal place to base yourself for a few days, a week or longer.

For further information go to www.visitgeelongbellarine.com.au.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Africa's The Great Migration - your questions answered



The Great Migration is undoubtedly one of Nature’s most unforgettable spectacles: 1.5 million wildebeest accompanied by 200,000 or so zebras are engaged in a never-ending journey, following the rains in a circular 1,200-mile route, through a wilderness that takes in the Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve.

After working as a naturalist for many years, Abdul Karim joined award-winning Sanctuary Olonana Camp eleven years ago where he now leads a team of six dedicated Sanctuary Retreats guides in the Masai Mara. One of Kenya’s most experienced guides, he answers some of the most frequently asked questions about the Great Migration to help you on your way.

Where is the best location in the Masai Mara to experience the Migration?

“There are five river crossing points that we regularly visit near Sanctuary Olonana Camp, which amongst the best places to experience the drama of the great Migration. Crocodiles and other predators such as lions, leopards and cheetahs also know where to wait and so usually see a kill at the crossings. The nearest crossing is at Kichwa Tembo airstrip, which is only a short drive from our lodge. “

Do the wildebeest cross the river once or multiple times?

“The wildebeest are excellent at knowing where to find food. They can, quite literally, smell the rain from quite a distance, and know that where there’s rain, there is going to be grass for them to eat. In the Masai Mara it’s such a large area that it usually rains in one part and not in another, so the wildebeest often have to cross the treacherous Mara River multiple times during the migration to get to the pastures. Great for predators and spectators – not so great for the wildebeest!"

How is the weather during the Migration?

“We had the long rains this year from March to June, and now we are in what we call the ‘Kenyan winter’ – which basically means fresh and chilly mornings and evenings. It’s also quite cloudy, and showers aren’t uncommon. On the plus side, that means there is lots of food for wildebeest and zebra, which is why they are here in such huge numbers right now. However, it’s an El NiƱo year and this has meant the weather has been fairly unpredictable, and the long rains came in quite late.”

When is the best time of day to photograph the Migration?

“From long experience, I think the best time is either in the morning before 9am or in the afternoon after about 4pm. We usually go to the first crossing point quite early and, if it’s quiet, we’ll move on to the next one until we find one with the most activity. Of course it’s certainly possible to take good photographs in the middle of the day, but you need to be more of an expert photographer to get the best shots. If you are an amateur photographer like most of us, the light is much better in the morning and evenings – meaning better photos, which is what we all want.”

When is the Migration in the Masai Mara?

“This year, we first saw the Migration in the Masai Mara on 14 June, which is when we started to see wildebeest crossing the border from Tanzania and the Serengeti National Park. The crossing point into Kenya is about a half-day from Sanctuary Olonana Camp. Normally the wildebeest head back in late October, but can sometimes stay here until November or even December depending on how strong the season is.”

What do guests like best about the Migration?

“One of the most popular activities with Sanctuary Olonana guests is a bush dinner held on site close to one of the river crossings. There is something quite surreal about indulging in some gourmet fine dining against a background of wildebeest gurgling and grunting nearby. Guests also enjoy picnicking close to a crossing where they can relax and sit back and enjoy the what are quite literally, front row seat to the Great Migration. And of course, a traditional ‘sundowner’ or two at about 6:30pm is everyone’s favourite time on safari, especially during the Migration!”

What have you noticed about the Migration, having experienced it for many years?

“Well I always think it’s extraordinary that there are a couple of established bridges which cross the Mara River, and the wildebeest never use them! They always choose to take their chances with the crocodiles and the predators, and cross through the waters. I guess it’s just nature – and the survival of the fittest, at work. I’ve also noticed that 2016 seems to be an especially big year for the Migration, with all the guides saying they have never seen so many wildebeest in the Masai Mara.”

What other wildlife do you see in the migration?

“Apart from wildebeest, zebra also get swept up in all the excitement, as do topi antelope, and they all make the river crossings together. It’s quite predictable where the animals will cross and crocodiles know where to wait so that they can make their kills. Usually, they scare the wildebeest by attacking them as they cross, and then the wildebeest back off and rest for a while, before starting up again in the hope that the crocodiles have moved on. But of course, they are still patiently waiting for their next meal! And we always see many lions, leopards and cheetahs at this time of year as well.”

Monday, August 1, 2016

Shopaholic's bliss - Malaysia's end of year sale




Malaysia's fabulous 1Malaysia Year-End Sale is back – bigger and better, with events and happenings in hundreds of shopping outlets all over the country.

Malaysia's biggest annual retail event kicks off on 1 November and runs for two months, finishing on 31 December. From malls brimming with some of the world's favourite brands to open-air markets selling traditional crafts and souvenirs, the country offers up some of the best shopping and leisure experiences in South East Asia.

And one of the best places to secure yourself some fabulous bargains is the nation's capital, Kuala Lumpur. Voted by CNN as the world's fourth best shopping city after New York, London and Toyko for the last couple of years, KL is home to over 120 malls throughout the city, plus a diverse and eclectic mix of shopping precincts selling everything from luxury brands through to local handicrafts and batik. Add to this duty-free shopping and competitive prices, and the city has clearly emerged as South East Asia's new retail nirvana.

While the shopping is great at any time of the year, the 1Malaysia Year-End Sale is the perfect time to experience some of Malaysia's best shopping and dining, including year-end promotions and school holiday specials for the entire family – and some amazing Christmas and New Year sales.

And there is no doubt that shopping is big business for a country keen to attract tourists. The End of Year Sale is now one of the three major sale campaigns in Malaysia, alongside the Mega Sales in March and June, all of which have significantly boosted tourist numbers to the country, with shopping now the second biggest share of tourist expenditure after accommodation, constituting over 30% of annual total tourist expenditure.

Some of Kuala Lumpur's best retail bargains are to be had at the Pavilion and Suria KLCC shopping centres. Two of the city's biggest malls, both offer privilege cards for tourists that provide great discounts at many of the retail outlets located in each one.  Work up an appetite at the Pavilion (168, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur) before refueling across the road at Lot 10 Hutong ( LG Floor, Lot 10 Shopping Centre, 50 Jalan Sultan Ismail, 50250 Kuala Lumpur), which houses over 30 of KL's best hawker stalls under one roof. Then take a pleasant 10-minute stroll along the undercover walkway to the Suria KLCC located at the base of the iconic Petronas Towers. And when you have satisfied your retail fix, head up to Marini's on 57 on the 57th floor of Petronas Tower 3 for a restorative cocktail while gazing upon KL's iconic Petronas Towers.

And for some well-deserved rest and relaxation after all that shopping, head to the exclusive Ritz-Carlton! Located at 168, Jalan Imbi, Pudu, in the heart of the Golden Triangle district, you can indulge in soothing spa treatments, award-winning cuisine or simply relax in the exceptional comfort of their rooms and take in the best that KL has to offer!

So, get the jump on your Xmas present list or simply treat yourself to an early festive treat, and head to KL now for some great retail therapy. What have you got to lose!

- Erin Sing for MY Tourism

Monday, July 25, 2016

Lake Macquarie: A perfect winter lakeside getaway



With an inspiring array of outdoor activities, winter is the ideal time to enjoy the natural beauty of Lake Macquarie – and take advantage of smaller crowds. Make the most of sunny winter days with brisk hikes, brilliant birdwatching, fabulous fishing and coastal cycling, then retire to cosy accommodation to enjoy regional wines and local cuisine on a wonderful wintry break by the lake.

Breathtaking Bushwalks

Crisp winter days are made for exploring on foot and Lake Macquarie is bursting with bushwalks ideal for every ability, from strolling through to heavy-duty hiking. Enjoy diverse scenery including lush rainforests, rugged headlands, pristine beaches and the lovely lakefront with these top picks:

Caves Beach Coastal Walk

Running from the iconic sea caves through the Wallarah National Park, this 6km bushland trek boasts viewing platforms and high cliff lookouts making is the perfect pick for those hoping to catch a glimpse of migrating whales as they slap, breach and blow along the coastline below.

Gap Creek Falls, Watagan Mountains

Gap Creek Falls Trail, Watagan Mountains

Nestled deep within the Watagan Mountains, this lush 1.7km trail features red cedars and strangler figs as it winds its way to one of the Hunter region's most spectacular waterfalls.

Belmont Lagoon Walk

Set between ocean and lake this 5-kilomtre return trail teems with wildlife, especially during winter mornings and late afternoons when birdlife is at its most active. Scout for black swans, spoon bills and – if you're lucky – the migratory Bar Tailed Godwit, as well as a range of swamp and marine life.

Scenic Cycling

For those who prefer two wheels to two feet, you'll find cycling paths galore. Taking in winding coastal roads, pretty villages, stunning lakeside scenery, dense forests and heaps of heritage, there's a cycling adventure suitable for everyone. And the best part? You don't even need your own bike! Lake Mac Kayak and Bike Hire and Boomerang Bikes deliver bicycles direct to your door – or your chosen path. Local favourites include:

Warners Bay Foreshore

The ideal path for beginners, this track follows the lake via the elevated Redbluff Boardwalk. Commencing at Warners Bay, this track is perfectly located by an automatic Boomerang bike hire station, so you can ride for as little, or as long, as you please.

Fernleigh Track

This intriguing 16km path follow an original restored heritage railway corridor, taking in stunning wetlands and an iconic bush landscape between Lake Macquarie and Newcastle.

Wangi Wangi Point Flora and Fauna Reserve

With rides from 500 metres to two kilometres long, the Wangi Wangi area is renowned for its bushland and gorgeous lake views. Listen for kookaburra calls, and keep an eye out for koalas as you ride…

Fantastic Fishing

Weekend warriors, seasoned anglers and novices with a line and reel will all find a happy hunting ground in the tranquil waters of massive Lake Macquarie – especially during winter when it teems with bream, mullet, tailor and garfish galore. Try your luck at some of the local's special spots:

By boat

The Drop Over, Marks Point and Pulbah Island are terrific picks for those keen to fish the deeper waters of the lake. Follow the feeding birds for schools of bream, whiting, flathead, jewfish, tailor, kingfish and prawns.

On shore

Make the most of the region's jetties, parks and reserves at Shingle Splitter's Point in Balcolyn; and Lucy's Wall at Swansea Heads where you can also access the nearby sea caves. Common catches in these parts including flathead, whiting and bream.

Family favourites

Let the kids drop a line in from Pelican Foreshore Reserve, the Swansea Channel with its nearby sea caves and picnic tables, the patrolled beach at Blacksmith's Beach, or Speers Point Park. If you're lucky you might snare some flathead, bream, whiting, jewfish, tailor or kingfish in these parts.

Cosy Keeps

There's a wide range of cosy accommodation from which to begin your Lake Macquarie getaway, from mountain hideaways to lakeside retreats and some hot holiday packages to ward off the winter chill:

The Esplanade Motel, Warners Bay

Shack up lakeside in the newly renovated Esplanade Motel, conveniently situated just a stone's throw from the boutiques and restaurants of Warners Bay, and a short stroll to the northern end of the lake. Book by the end of August and enjoy free on-demand in-room movies and wifi, a $10 discount on all nightly room rates, and complimentary continental breakfast for a two-night+ stay in a Queen Room.

Bluebell Retreat

Set on the eastern shore of the Lake, Bluebell Retreat is the ultimate relaxation retreat. Enjoy the expansive bushland setting and prime water views to watch the winter sun set at this eco-award winning house, which accommodates up to six. Prices start from $250 per night for a midweek getaway, min 2-night stay and conditions apply.

Selby Cottage

A turn of the century charming blue weatherboard, nestled on the banks of Lake Macquarie, is the perfect place to relax and unwind. Selby Cottage is a self-contained private cottage surrounded by luscious gardens with water lapping the verandah. Prices start from $125 per night for a midweek getaway, min 2-night stay.

To plan your winter escape, or discover more great accommodation, log on to: http://www.visitlakemac.com.au or free call 1800 802 044.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Legendary Gulf railway celebrates 125 years



Rail buffs riding the legendary 'Tin Hare' Gulflander rail motor are in for a treat today, as the Normanton to Croydon railway rings in 125 years of service.

Queensland Rail Executive General Manager Travel and Tourist, Martin Ryan, said a trip on the Normanton to Croydon Railway was on the bucket list of many rail enthusiasts and tourists to the outback.

"Built in 1891 to connect the port of Normanton with the Croydon gold fields, the railway is one of the world's most unique rail experiences and the Gulflander railmotor is a piece of living history," Mr Ryan said.

"Much of the line is still the original rail and sleepers, with the innovative sleeper design created to lessen flood damage really standing the test of time.

"The line was never connected to the state rail network and remains the only one in Queensland still measured in miles."

The Gulflander, also known as the 'Tin Hare', is a 102 horsepower Gardner diesel engine railmotor which was built at Ipswich Railway Workshops in 1950.

Officer-in-Charge Ken Fairbairn said he never tired of driving the Gulflander.

"There's a rich and diverse beauty to this country. With wetlands and grasslands through to arid Savannah, the Gulflander rattles through an area full of pioneering history," Mr Fairbairn said.

"There is the preserved Victorian architecture at Normanton Railway Station, Burke and Wills' most northerly camp just 30 kilometres south west of Normanton and Croydon's gold mining history."

A fitter and turner by trade, Mr Fairbairn's career has focused on antique machinery giving him an arsenal of skills that most of today's apprentices no longer learn.

"I teach my crew on the ground the necessary skills to maintain the Gulflander, so there is a succession plan to ensure it can continue into the future.

"Many of the original tools for the old trains are within the Normanton Railway Station museum and I've borrowed them at times to use on the Gulflander.

"The old blacksmith forge is still workable and I had to use it once on an engine component. I use the old copper irons for soldering the brass windows of the Gulflander."

The 125th anniversary celebrations today (Wednesday, 20 July), include breakfast with the Normanton community before the scheduled Gulflander trip, a birthday cake at the Blackbull siding during the journey and an evening community BBQ at Croydon.

The Gulflander carries just 111 passengers and on-board Savannah Guides share stories about the area and point out different flora and fauna species.

The Gulflander runs from mid-February to mid-November, with about 2,000 passengers making the famous journey every year. Visitors often stay to enjoy other tourism experiences, creating an economic flow on for the Gulf communities.

 

queenslandrail.com.au

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Top Ten Whale watching tours in Australia


Make the most of the whale watching season before the majestic marine animals move on. TripAdvisor®, the world’s largest travel site*, today reveals that Australia’s top whale watching tours are in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia, as rated by travellers around the world according to the Popularity Index.



The top ten whale watching tours in Australia are as follows:

1. Freedom Whale Watch – Hervey Bay, QL
2. Blue Dolphin Marine Tours - Hervey Bay, QLD
3. Legend Charters Deep Sea Fishing and Whale Watching – Augusta, WA
4. Naturaliste Charters – Augusta, WA
5. Whalesong Cruises – Hervey Bay, QLD
6. Imagine Cruises – Nelson Bay, NSW
7. Coolangatta Whale Watch – Tweed Heads, NSW
8. Cat Balou Cruises – Eden, NSW
9. Whales in Paradise – Surfers Paradise, QLD
10. Tasman Venture – Hervey Bay, QLD

“Australia offers some of the best opportunities in the world to see whales up close in their natural environment during the annual migration,” said Jean Ow-Yeong, TripAdvisor spokesperson. “This whale watching season, TripAdvisor travellers have uncovered the top tours in Australia for that memorable marine wildlife experience.”

Queensland is the most renowned whale watching spot, laying claim to five of the top ten Australian tours, namely Hervey Bay’s Freedom Whale Watch, Blue Dolphin Marine Tours, Whalesong Cruises, Tasman Venture, as well asSurfers Paradise’s Whales in Paradise. Humpback Whales rest and play with their young in the sheltered waters of Hervey Bay, also known as the Humpback Whale watching capital of Australia, from mid-July to late November. As whale watching in Queensland typically peaks several months later than NSW and Victoria, it is a great option for the upcoming months.

Western Australia’s Augusta is popular for sighting both Humpback and Minke Whales as they seek shelter in the waters of Flinders Bay each year before continuing north for the breeding season. Travellers rank Legend Charters Deep Sea Fishing and Whale Watching and Naturaliste Charters as best bets for a closer look.

Featuring 3 of the top 10 Australian tours, New South Wales offers the opportunity to view a huge variety of species, from Humpback Whales to other rarer breeds such as Fin Whales, Sperm Whales, False Killer Whales and even the Blue Whale. Imagine Cruises in Nelson Bay, Coolangatta Whale Watch in Tweed Heads and Cat Balou Cruises in Eden offer just that and completes the list of top ten whale watching tours in Australia.