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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Best whale watching in New South Wales

From May to November the waters along the NSW coastline become a living, moving spectacle as thousands of humpback, southern right, fin and other whale species make their way north. The NSW coastline becomes the world's best place for whale spotting and encounters, or to join the Saltwater Indigenous people celebrate this annual migration through Whale Dreaming ceremonies, festivals and experiences.

Destination NSW Chief Executive Officer Sandra Chipchase said, "Each year thousands of whales migrate north along the waters off the NSW coast, providing locals and visitors alike with the chance to see these majestic creatures up close and in their natural environment. It's exciting for young and old to spot a whale tail slapping or breaching its full body from the water".

"NSW has plenty of great whale watching experiences including fast boat cruises, lookouts and vantage points from stunning coastal walks, whale festivals and Whale Dreaming tours. With whale numbers increasing, it's not surprising that the State is often known as New South W(h)ales," she said.

The long association between Aboriginal people and whales is reflected along the NSW coast where rock art sites document the powerful relationship with these creatures. In fact, the whale is an important totem for numerous Aboriginal groups.

South Coast Indigenous Tourism Operator, Ngaran Ngaran Culture Awareness, runs Whale Dreaming Tours to explain the importance and significance of whales. Operator Dwayne Bannon-Harrison, a descendant of the Yuin people said, "The connection to saltwater and sea creatures is of utmost importance to many coastal First Nation's people. In our creation stories the whales are elders of the sea that once walked from the land into the ocean. Whale Dreaming Ceremonies sing the safe passage of the whale migration, and ensures the connection and respect continues on. We perform these ceremonies in May and October."

Other Whale Dreaming tours and events taking place along the NSW coast include: Unkya's Gurruuja Juun (Whale Tail) Tour, Five Lands Walk on the Central Coast on 24 June 2017, and Whale Dreamers Festival at Norah Head on the 2 July 2017.

In addition to the importance of Whale Dreaming during whale season, NSW is home to some top notch whale watching spots and experiences. Here are just a selection of some of the great whale experiences available in New South W(h)ales:

·         Whale Count Days – This year visitors are invited to take part in the annual ORRCA whale count, which takes place on Sunday 25 June at Cape Byron Lighthouse, Tacking Point Lighthouse near Port Macquarie, Crackneck Lookout on the Central Coast and North Head in Sydney Harbour National Park near Manly.

·         Ballina – On the North Coast, Ballina Head Lookout, located between Shelly and Lighthouse beaches, offers panoramic views over the sparkling blue water out to the Pacific Ocean. Enjoy the whale spotting from this headland or stroll down onto the surf patrolled beach and watch the whales go by as you swim or as you enjoy breakfast or lunch at the cafĂ© above the surf club at Lighthouse Beach. Another great spot in Ballina is the Black Heading viewing platform, which is easily accessible on a short walk through an old growth littoral rainforest.

·         Iluka and Wolli – Iluka Bluff is a dedicated whale-watching platform that offers 360 degree views along the coast. While local tour operator Wooli Deep Sea Tours runs whale watching tours that includes cruising in the beautiful Solitary Island Marine Park, home to a rich diversity and abundance of sea life including dolphins and turtles.

·         Port Macquarie – Home to the second most easterly point in NSW, whale watching in Port Macquarie ensures close-up encounters just metres off the coast and tours that provide less travel time out to open ocean to find the whales. The 9km Coastal Walk from Town Beach to Lighthouse Beach hugs the coastline and offers stunning vantage points and a number of seats at different headlands along the way for whale watching encounters. For those looking for some adrenalin filled whale watching, Port Jet's Wave Rider can reach speeds of up to 100km/hr, making it one of the fastest commercial boats offering whale watching cruises.

·         Port Stephens - For land based whale watching, set out with your binoculars to locations like Tomaree Headland, Barry Park at Fingal Bay, Fishermans Bay, Birubi Point and Stockton Beach, but one of the favourite spots that offers great whale sightings is the Boat Harbour headland, off Noamunga Street. Look for a 'V' shaped puff of spray as the whale surfaces. Humpbacks are the most surface active of all the whales, so you might even see tail slaps, pectoral fin waves, body rolls and the mighty 'breach.'

·         Newcastle – Book at tour with NOVA Cruises, departing from Newcastle Harbour which is only a short trip out the heads and into open water to find the whales. For land based spotting in Newcastle try Shepherds Hill Lookout, a popular spot with the locals.

·         Lake Macquarie - With spectacular ocean views for most of the way, Caves Beach Walk is just the spot for whale watching, this picturesque coastal bushwalk traverses the cliff tops south from Caves Beach to secluded Pinny Beach in the Wallarah National Park. Also not to miss are the views from Redhead Bluff, a red rocky headland that offers views that stretch across the ocean and south over Nine Mile Beach towards Blacksmiths and Swansea. A prime whale watching location!

·         Central Coast – The whale is the totem of the local Darkinjung people of the Central Coast, which plays host to a series of Whale Talks at Crackneck Point over a number of weekends and is run by National Parks and Wildlife Service, to find out details call the local National Parks and Wildlife Service office on the Central Coast.

·         Jervis Bay - Jervis Bay marks the half way point for the 4000km whale migration, so it is no wonder many use the bay's waters as a resting point and a place for the newborn calves to learn, play and rest. Jervis Bay Wild provides whale watching tours that get you up close to these majestic animals as they enjoy the calm still waters of Jervis Bay. For land based viewing you can't go past Penguin Head at Culburra and the viewing platform in Booderee National Park, located at Cape St George Lighthouse.  Whales have also been spotted from Caves Beach in Booderee National Park, a popular camping spot.

·         Montague Island and Narooma – Narooma Charters runs regular whale watching tours to the stunning Montague Island which sits off the coast of Narooma. In recent years Southern Right Whales, Fin Whales, Brydes Whales, Sei Whales and Blue Whales have also all been seen off Narooma , as well as several sightings of the extremely rare albino humpbacks known as Migaloo and Mini Migaloo. In 2011 Mini Migaloo was photographed off the coast near Montague Island by Daryl Stuart of Narooma Charters, in a stunning lunging pose. The angle of this cheeky pose has been of great help to scientists in identifying the sex of Mini Migaloo. We believe in 2017, Mini Migaloo will be seven years old - not so mini anymore.

·         Broulee & Moruya Head – A top spot on the South Coast is Broulee Island at Broulee, which is joined to the mainland by a sandbar so is always accessible. Whales in season and dolphins all year round may be sighted from any side of the island which takes about an hour to walk around. Also not to miss is Toragy Point at Moruya Heads, this lookout offers whale watching views north along the coast and interpretive signage about whales and marine life.

·         Eden – Renowned as one of Australia's best spots for whale watching, Eden's calm Twofold Bay offers respite for the young calves before making their final leg of the journey south and is one of the few places in the world that Humpback Whales feed on their southern migration in Spring. The Eden Whale Festival, 3-5 November, is the perfect time to celebrate all things cetacean. The festival is the chance to get out on the water with Cat Balou or Freedom Charters for a sea based whale experience, join a land based whale spotting tour, visit the historic Davidson Whaling Station to hear about the strong history of Eden and its whales, as well as feast on local produce and enjoy entertainment, music and film.

To find out where the whales have been recently spotted and tips for great vantage points along the coast download the Wild About Whales app. Even better, you can even share and log your own sighting.

Share your favourite NSW whale watching experience with us on social media by using the hashtag #NewSouthWales and #ILoveNSW. For more information visit and

Pic: Port Macquarie Port Jet whales double breaching. CREDIT: Port Jet, Port Macquarie.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

70th Anniversary of first ski lodge built at Falls Creek Alpine Resort

One of the more interesting aspects of how Falls Creek was created is the construction of the alpine resort’s first ski lodge 70 years ago.

It was a humble beginning to what is now a vibrant European-style ski village that attracts thousands of snow enthusiasts of all abilities each winter season.

An intrepid number of like-minded State Electricity Commission (SEC) staff including Ray Meyer, the chief surveyor of the Kiewa Hydro-Electric Scheme, had a common interest that revolved around the skiing potential of the snow-covered high plains that included what is now the 450-hectare resort of Falls Creek.

The six SEC employees Toni St Elmo, Ray Meyer, Jack Minogue, Lloyd Dunn, Adrian Ruffenacht and Dave Gibson (together with their families) banded together to secretly build a 'hut' that was the first ski lodge at Falls Creek.

Using a road built in 1930's to gain access to Falls Creek the hut project was quite a bold move and was carried out in secret owing to earlier efforts by other skiers being stymied by HHC Williams - the engineer in charge of the Hydro Scheme.

Another significant event in the erection of the first ski lodge at Falls Creek was a trip to the Lands Office in Melbourne by Ray Meyer in 1946 (the same year the name of the resort was officially changed from Horseshoe Creek to Falls Creek). It proved to be a masterstroke, he came away with a 99-year lease on three acres that was ideally suited for a hut designed by Lloyd Dunn.

Adrian Ruffenacht (Design Engineer for the KHS) had suggested where the group should build owing to easy access to a spring for water and much of the building material required was scavenged from derelict huts on the high plains.

Owing to the need for the work on the lodge be kept as secret as possible, because H.H.C Williams was not particularly supportive, they toiled away in the evenings and weekends knowing very few SEC staff would be about.

Another significant aspect of this remarkable feat was the decision to rename the hut. During the building period the group had met at Echidna Rock (now known as Eagle Rock) where Skippy St Elmo announced "This is my favorite "Skyline".

Adrian Ruffenacht, agreed, saying it would be an appropriate name for our club. Toni St Elmo suggested it was a time when the name Hut should be dropped and replaced with Lodge.” Hence it became 'Skyline Ski Club Lodge' the first ski lodge at Falls Creek.

All images: Fred Griffith Collection


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Explore the Okavango Delta.

Named by Lonely Planet as one of the 'Hot Destinations for 2016', Botswana's star is definitely on the rise. So what makes it 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.

Gazetted as UNESCO's thousandth World Heritage Site in 2014, the Okavango Delta, with its vast and diverse wildlife species, is one of Africa's premier safari destinations, providing a truly unique wilderness experience. Forming part of the Kalahari Basin, situated at the southern periphery of the Great Rift Valley, it covers a staggering 22,000 square kilometres. And while the periphery is semi-arid, the Delta itself is a patchwork of cool clear streams, lagoons, floodplains and forested islands. The result is one of the world's most diverse wildlife habitats, home to over 200,000 large mammals, 400 bird species and 70 species of fish, most spectacularly on display in the dry winter season as vast numbers of wildlife flock to where the floodwaters infiltrate the surrounding plains.

At the heart of the Okavango Delta lies the world-renowned Moremi Game Reserve, providing a peaceful haven where animals have been protected for decades. Known as the 'predator capital of Africa', the Moremi is famed for its big cat and bird populations, and also for large herds of elephant and buffalo, giraffe and other plains game – and occasionally Africa's rare wild dogs, that roam the savannah.

But no visit to the Okavango Delta is complete without a mokoro ride. One of the most iconic symbols of the Delta, the mokoro was originally the only form of transport for fishing or transporting people and goods around its channels. Still used by the 'river bushmen' or BaYei people, these canoe-like vessels offer up a unique way to explore the Delta's waterways.

For much of each year the Okavango Delta is a labyrinth of lagoons and streams where hippos fight for bathing rights and crocodiles wait for unwary antelope to linger too long over a drink. Poling through the byways created by the floodwaters is an unforgettable, serene experience that allows passengers to get breathtakingly close to big game and to see the world from a totally different angle. It's a chance to sit back and relax as you glide through lily ponds, seeing eye-to-eye with a buffalo as it laps water from the river, watching crocodiles sunbathe on the banks or cruising past a pod of hippos as they lie in a pool.

Specialist safari operates three unique luxury boutique properties in exclusive private concessions in the Okavango Delta – Sanctuary Baines Camp, Sanctuary Stanley's Camp and flagship property, Sanctuary Chief's Camp. All three offer mokoro rides seasonally based on the water levels of the Delta.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Take a trek through British Columbia’s wilderness with Google Maps and BC Journeys

British Columbia Canada is getting put on the map, literally. Through a partnership with Google, stunning imagery from British Columbia’s wild places has been added to Google Maps, complemented with interviews with BC locals, imagery, drone footage, immersive 360° video, and featured businesses on the new BC Journeys platform

Using Google Street View, people from around the globe can now virtually hike in some of the province’s vast wilderness and be inspired by the powerful nature they see around them. 

British Columbia joins a select group of bucket-list Google Street View Trekker destinations such as the Pyramids of Giza, the Grand Canyon and the Galapagos Islands.

There are currently 176 new British Columbia Google Street View Treks now featured on Google Maps, with 14 more to be uploaded by Google. Here is a sample of the Treks:

Sunshine Coast Trail
Kettle Valley Trail (Myra Canyon)
Blackcomb Mountain (Decker Loop)
Lake Magog (Assiniboine Lodge)
108 Lake Accessible Trail
Anthony Island, Gwaii Haanas
Bridge Glacier
Pacific Rim (Schooner Cove Trail)
Windfall Lake (near Tumbler Ridge)

Find treks in British Columbia by reviewing the BC Explorer platform or through Google Maps, by searching for BC’s Google Street View Treks.


Marsha Walden, CEO, Destination BC
“There are over one billion monthly users of Google Maps. Through these Treks and our new interactive platform, BC Journeys, we can give people a window into our wilderness like never before – creating a connection before people even leave their homes. Combining this powerful, immersive video footage with compelling, authentic stories creates an augmented reality experience that is a pretty potent recipe for driving visitation.”

Nicole Bell, Google Street View Trekker Expert
“We’re incredibly proud to partner with Destination British Columbia in this Trekker project. We’ve worked together for years to bring the world to British Columbia and bring British Columbia to the world. These new Street View images, especially some of the more remote locations in BC, are an important part of Google’s goal to create the world’s most comprehensive, accurate and usable map. More than one billion people around the world use Google Maps every month, and we are thrilled to share some of British Columbia's iconic landscapes.”

Here’s how you can see BC’s Street View Treks:
  • Search for a place in Google Maps. Drag the yellow ‘Pegman’ to a place on the map.
  • The blue areas on the map show where Google has collected ‘Street View’ content.
  • To move around, hover your cursor in the direction you want to go. Your cursor becomes an arrow that shows which direction you're moving. To see where you might go next, look for the “X”; click once to travel to the “X”. To look around, click and drag your mouse. You can also use the arrows to the left and right of the compass. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Winchester Mystery House - a strange obsession

Located in the beautiful Santa Clara Valley in San Jose on Winchester Blvd. and I-280 near the intersection of I-880, this beautiful but bizarre 160-room Victorian mansion was built by Sarah L. Winchester, widow of the famed Winchester rifle manufacturer’s son. Crushed by the untimely deaths of her husband and infant daughter, Mrs. Winchester designed and supervised the construction of this strange $5,500,000 mansion by keeping carpenters busy 24 hours a day for 38 continuous years until her death in 1922, all in the hope of perpetuating her life and consoling (or confusing) the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle. Rambling over 4.5 acres with 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 13 bathrooms, 47 fireplaces, 2,000 doors, & 10,000 windows, the house is so complex that even Mrs. Winchester and her servants required maps to find their way around.

Brent Miller, caretaker of the Winchester Mystery House from 1973 to 1981, entered one particular room, and “in the unearthly silence of such a vast, empty place, heard someone breathing. There was no one there.”

On another occasion, Brent heard footsteps and followed the sounds to the room in which Mrs. Winchester died. Again, no one was there.

One night shortly after being hired as caretaker, Brent was awakened by the sounds of someone unscrewing a screw and it hitting the floor and bouncing up onto the carpet runner. When he went to check, he found nothing there.

A friend of Brent’s, Gary Parks, was invited over one New Year’s Eve and was taking pictures with a new camera he had received for Christmas. After developing the film, he found one picture with strange moving lights “and a ghostly figure of what appears to be a man in coveralls in the middle of the room.” The strange images occur only in one negative while the rest of the roll is normal.

Victorian Gardens

A visit to the Winchester Mystery House™ is not complete until you have strolled through the beautiful Victorian gardens that surround it. Great care has been taken to restore the grounds to that time when Sarah Winchester had a full-time staff of eight gardeners, and imported trees, shrubs, and flowers from all parts of the world. Nearly 14,000 miniature boxwood hedges, large flowering Carolina cherry laurels, plants, and flowers have been replanted to provide beautiful color year-round. Numerous handcrafted lead statues and elaborate fountains have been restored.

You will see the original mythological statues including Mother Nature, Cupid, a cherub, hippocampus, American Indian, deer, egret, frogs, and swans. You can help make a wish come true for those in need by tossing a coin in one of the five fountains on the estate; 100% of the proceeds are donated to a local charity each year.

Wheelchaired guests are invited to tour the Gardens and Historic Firearms Museum as our guests at no charge (unfortunately the Mansion and the Behind- the- Scenes Tours are NOT accessible to wheel chairs or infant strollers).

The Winchester Firearms Museum

The “Gun that Won the West” is the main attraction in the Firearms Museum, one of the largest Winchester Rifle collections on the West Coast. See the collection of guns that preceded the famous Winchester Rifle, including B. Tyler Henry’s 1860 repeating rifle that Oliver Winchester adapted and improved upon to produce his first repeating rifle, the Winchester Model 1866. Learn about the Model 1873 which came to be called the “Gun that Won the West.” See a collection of the Limited Edition Winchester Commemorative Rifles including the Centennial ’66, the Theodore Roosevelt, and the renowned John Wayne.

The home became Registered California Historical Landmark #868 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Tours of the mansion interior are given daily from 9am (closed only Christmas Day). Last tour departure varies with the seasons. Included in the admission are the self-guided Garden Tour, Historic Firearms Museum, and the Specialty Gifts and Products Museum.

Winchester Mystery House, LLC
25 S. Winchester Blvd. San Jose CA 95128
T-(408) 247-2000/F-(408) 247-2090

Friday, March 31, 2017

Phuket Hotels: The Amatara Wellness Resort, Cape Panwa

by Roderick Eime with material supplied by World Hotels

If you've been considering catching up with the increasing trend for cruises in Southeast Asia, you will have noticed Phuket in Thailand appearing more frequently in the itineraries of cruise lines operating in this territory.

The island of Phuket, a short flight south from the capital, Bangkok, is renown for a boisterous night life in the downtown district, but also for a wide range of ultra-luxurious resorts and spa properties catering to those more inclined to a peaceful stay in this attractive destination. Visitors can enjoy any number of seaside resorts offered by all the major brands in international hospitality ranging from secluded private villas to expansive, integrated resorts catering to more than 1000 guests.

The port of Phuket is located at the southern extreme of the island only a few miles from the bustling city, but also near the idyllic Cape Panwa precinct where several high-end resorts enjoy expansive views over the sea while retaining the convenience of proximity to the port.

I recently joined a Silversea cruise from Phuket and was delighted to stay at the recently rebranded Amatara Wellness Resort which enjoys a breezy location overlooking the port where you can keep an eye out for your cruise ship as well as enjoy superior amenities.

Below is a summary of facilities offered at Amatara Wellness Resort


There are 105 pavilions, suites and pool villas, all featuring scenic and expansive views of the Andaman Sea. Rooms start at a spacious 60sqm for pavilions, up to a generous 150sqm for pool villas. All are equipped with at-call butler service, extended sundeck areas and a private balcony.

Wellness and cuisine:

Eight private treatment rooms, all overlooking the seascape, feature the signature Amatara Spa treatments. All Cuisine is specially prepared by Executive Chef Justin Baziuk with each dish made from 100 per cent organic ingredients and is carefully prepared with the aid of a nutritionist to fit each of Amatara's treatment programmes. The all-inclusive programme integrates accommodation, nutritious and organic food, along with personalised leisure and wellness pursuits.


Recognised as one of Thailand's top restaurants,"The Grill" offers fresh seafood and prime cuts, and serves up an informal fine dining experience. At the "The Restaurant" guests can enjoy international specialities and local cuisine that is incorporated with authentic Asian influences.

Amatara Wellness Resort
84 Moo 8
Sakdidej Road, Vichit
Cape Panwa, PHUKET 83000


For reservations or information, visit where toll-free numbers can be found for all the world.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Where to see Africa’s big five

African safaris are usually top of most people's wish list when it comes to wildlife viewing. Its multitude of national parks, reserves and conservation areas number amongst some of the most beautiful places on the planet, and are home to an astonishing variety of wild animals, ensuring that a wildlife safari will undoubtedly be a major highlight of your trip.

And with so many exciting wildlife experiences to be had at in different destinations and indeed, different times of the year, any visit to Africa is guaranteed to be full of close encounters of the animal kind. But for many travellers, coming face to face with Africa's 'Big Five' – lion, leopard, elephant, black rhinoceros, and African buffalo, remains the pinnacle wildlife experience.

Originally a term coined by big-game hunters to describe the five most difficult African species to track and hunt on foot, today a 'hunt' for the Big Five is typically with camera and binoculars only.

But where are the best places to see them? Well, while animal viewing possibilities abound, the reality is there's no guarantee you'll see each one while on safari. Knowing animals' habits – as well as where to stay and what to do while on safari – will greatly increase your chance of success. 

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

First on the list is the inspirational Serengeti, a classic Tanzania safari destination and one of only a handful with populations of all five species.

Lying in a high plateau between the Ngorongoro highlands in northern Tanzania and the Masai Mara Reserve in neighbouring Kenya, Serengeti National Park is considered one of the best places for safari for one very specific reason – the Great Migration. This annual event sees hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra pass through the park in search of food – and with the herds of grazers, come the predators. One of the best times to visit the park is in May when the grass becomes dry and exhausted and the wildebeest and zebra start to mass in huge armies offering a spectacular wildlife show.

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Next up, is the Ngorongoro Crater, another classic Tanzania safari destination. The breath-taking Ngorongoro Crater is a geographical wonder in its own right, with the caldera's high, steep walls looming steeply over the valley below. And it's these steep walls that also lead to the incredible abundance of wildlife in the crater, as they trap a rich assortment of large and small safari animals within.

With two rainy seasons – the long rains fall in April and May (into early June) and the short rains fall in October and November, the best times to visit are December, January, February or late June through to early October. And one of the very best places to catch all the action is Sanctuary Ngorongoro Crater Camp. Located right in the heart of the Park on the crater rim, and offering spectacular views of the crater and surrounds, it's also home to one of the largest populations of animals in the Park including zebra, buffalo, warthog, wildebeest, hippo and elephants – not to mention an amazing assortment of predators – lions, hyenas, jackals, cheetahs and the even elusive leopard.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

With a well-deserved reputation as one of the best all-round safari destinations, the Okavango Delta forms part of the Kalahari Basin, situated at the southern periphery of the Great Rift Valley, and covers a massive 22,000 square kilometres. Although the periphery is semi-arid, the Okavango Delta itself is a patchwork of cool clear streams, lagoons, floodplains and forested islands.

Covering almost a third of the entire Okavango Delta, the Moremi Game Reserve comprises a diverse habitat where the desert and delta meet, comprising forests, lagoons, floodplains, pans and woodlands. Because of its unique terrain, the area contains the full spectrum of game and birdlife including all of the Big Five, as well as cheetahs, hippos and crocodiles and plenty of bird life, and offering up superb game viewing.

Moremi is best visited during the dry season, from July to October, when seasonal pans dry up and vast numbers of wildlife flock to where the floodwaters infiltrate the Delta, providing one of the world's most spectacular sights. June to August is peak season for most safari areas within the Okavango. But September and October when temperatures really start to climb, leads to even higher concentrations of game around the few available water sources.

Masai Mara, Kenya

The final destination on our list is Kenya's most popular game park, the Masai Mara. The Kenyan extension of the Tanzania's famed Serengeti, the Mara is one of Africa's most famous safari destinations and also plays host to the famous Great Migration. Considered the birthplace of safari, Kenya offers up amazing game viewing experiences, not to mention plenty of opportunities to experience the Big Five.

The migration is usually present in the Mara between July and October each year. During this time, dramatic river crossings are the order of the day, with crocodiles lying in wait for wildebeest and zebra.

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