Wilsons Promontory – A Winter Wonderland

Wilsons Promontory – A Winter Wonderland

Sometimes you don’t have to travel far to experience the wonders of nature, the serenity of a country lifestyle and the amazing beauty of pristine beaches. Just pack your bags and take a road trip towards the coast.

In our instance, we made a spur of the moment decision to spend a weekend away at Wilsons Promontory (or the Prom as it’s affectionately known), a delight for outdoor enthusiasts and a great destination for a relaxing break.

Wilsons Prom is the southernmost point of mainland Australia and is located 206km from the heart of Melbourne, or just under a three hour drive. The Prom coast region is a world away from the fast paced life of city living. But the area is the ideal location to chill out and unwind and is as spectacular in the winter season as it is in the warmer months of the year. Just be sure to rug up and switch your mind to cruise control in order to appreciate the laid back atmosphere the Prom is renowned for!

The best way to see the highlights of the national parks as well as the surrounding rural landscapes and the stunning ocean views is to take a leisurely drive. We meandered through the towns of Sandy Point, Foster (where we stocked up on tourist brochures at the Visitor’s Information Centre) and Fish Creek. We had no specific plan, we were just winging it, stopping at lookouts (Norman Lookout & Glennie Lookout) and other scenic spots scattered along the highway to soak in the sights.

Norman Lookout

Glennie Lookout

Of course we couldn’t leave without our loyal four-legged friend, Winston the Wonder Dog, who once again happily joined us on our latest escape from life in suburbia. Keep in mind that if you’re bringing man’s best friend to Prom country, then be aware that pets are not allowed at the national parks.  There are pet friendly accommodations available whilst you are in the Prom including Sandy Point Getaway and PromClose Cottage.

Sandy Point

Our insight into the region began at Sandy Point which is a quiet holiday haven for families. Before viewing the nearby surf beach, we stopped off at the General Local Store & Café for a quick bite to eat. I vividly remember this area as it was the town where we stayed the first time I visited with family and friends, many moons ago! I recall going for short strolls along the beach and climbing towering sand dunes at dusk.

Waratah Bay

To cap off the afternoon, we stopped off at Waratah Bay. I love Waratah Bay. During winter you’ll find yourself strolling in solitude along the golden sands that stretches endlessly ahead of you, listening to the waves lapping up against the shoreline. The location is such a beautiful spot to take in the serene coastal landscape, the pristine views and to take in the sun setting in the distance.

 

Fish Creek & Waratah North

We stayed at Prom Coast Lodge, situated in Waratah North. The self contained unit can accommodate up to six people and is even wheelchair accessible. To top it off, with a little charm and charisma, I persuaded the owner to allow Winston to stay with us. For dinner, we couldn’t go past KO’s Bar & Grill located in the town of Fish Creek (just opposite, the Fish Creek Hotel – with the giant mullet sculpture on the roof). KO’s hearty country meals and especially their chocolate tarts were too irresistible to pass up.

Wilsons Promontory National Park

On our second full day we spent our time exploring Wilsons Promontory National Park, which is the heart and soul of Prom country. Famous for its network of interlinking walking trails that vary in length and difficulty, the tracks are a delight for avid hikers or even those (like me) who prefer short rambling strolls. If you love life in the great outdoors, take advantage of the camping facilities positioned at the foot of the mountains along Tidal River, which is the perfect spot to start discovering the amazing native flora and fauna. Follow the paths that lead you to panoramic views overlooking the bay and mountains sweeping across the region. Whilst on the road, go easy on the accelerator to enjoy the wildlife roaming the streets. You’re bound to spot a few emus, kangaroos and wombats during the journey.

 

Squeaky Beach

Just a short drive from Tidal River is Squeaky Beach, which is noted for its quartz sand that ‘squeaks’ with each step you take. It almost feels like the earth is crumbling or shifting beneath you. The stunning unspoilt coastal scenery is capped off by weathered rock formations, with copper earth tones, that form rock pools at high tide.

 

Picnic Bay

A short distance from Squeaky Beach is Picnic Bay, which also features amazing rock formations dotted along the beach, that’s great to explore when waves are calm, particularly at low tide.

Agnes Falls

On our last day, we opted to take the long way home, via Toora to stop off at Agnes Falls which, according to the Prom Country Official Visitors Guide, ‘is the highest single span waterfall in Victoria with a drop of 59m’. We made the most of the viewing platforms which gave the best views of the stunning waterfall cascading down the gorge, set amongst a backdrop of luscious native vegetation including ferns and gum trees.

Cape Liptrap

We continued along the coastal route towards the Cape Liptrap Lighthouse. The road leading to the lighthouse is unsealed, so expect slightly rough terrain but the drive is worth it when you experience the striking panoramic views of the ocean. You’ll be mesmerised by the rough, turquoise coloured waves crashing against the cliff face.

Venus Bay

Our last stop was Venus Bay, an idyllic coastal escape which is a favourite amongst beach goers. Again, you’ll delight in the long stretch of pristine sandy shoreline and the rippling waves.

It’s been several years since my last visit to the Prom, which left me with memories of rolling hills, rugged mountain ranges and unspoilt beaches that stretched for miles beyond view.  Luckily, nothing much has changed in this tranquil, charming area.

The Grampians – A Great Escape

The Grampians – A Great Escape

If you’re hanging out for a relaxing weekend, away from the hustle and bustle of the big smoke and longing for an escape ideal for young and old (including the furry four legged variety), then the Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park is certainly worth visiting.

The Grampians are a leisurely three hour drive from Melbourne. As one of Victoria’s more casual, laid back tourist destinations, the Grampians are characterised by awe-inspiring landscapes permeated by rich bushland, rolling hills and lakes. During a brief weekend getaway, my partner and I took the opportunity to bring our beloved dog Winston to explore the rugged mountain ranges that stretches across the region.

Given the limited time we had, we focused on the main attractions the Grampians are famous for, most of which are in close proximity to the town centre of Halls Gap, a quaint village nestled at the heart of the national park. We took the scenic route along Mount Victory Road in order to view the handful of lookouts dotted along the way including Reed Lookout, The Balconies and Boroka Lookout. We capped off the day with a visit to MacKenzie Falls, which was the ultimate highlight.

At each location, we opted to wander through the network of walking trails that zigzagged across the parklands, preferring the shorter leisurely strolls rather than the full day hiking treks suited for the more adventurous types. It must be pointed out that the tracks are ideal for even those with limited mobility and in most parts, is also wheelchair accessible. The trails opened up to panoramic views of the surrounding bushland, and as an added bonus, dogs are permitted in most areas of the national park.

Boroka Lookout

Our first stop was Boroka Lookout where you can capture stunning views of Halls Gap and beyond, including the picturesque Wonderland and Mount William Ranges.

Reed Lookout

As we continued along Mount Victory Road, we headed towards Reed Lookout which overlooks the Victoria Valley, Serra Range, Lake Wartook and the Mount Difficult Range, showcasing some of the regions diverse landscape.

The Balconies

A short stroll from Reed Lookout is the Balconies, the perfect location to soak up the breathtaking sights of the Victoria Valley. Here you’ll also find massive sandstone boulders protruding from a cliff face. Follow the walking trail where you’ll continue to come across some amazing rock formations. If you’re daring enough, sit down with your feet hanging off the precipice and ‘live on the edge’.

MacKenzie Falls

An approximate forty minute drive from Halls Gap is MacKenzie Falls. Take in the spectacular scenic views of the entire gorge at each of the observation platforms strategically positioned along the pathway leading to the base of the falls.  It’s a steep descent from the peak of the cliff tops, as you meander through the walking trail that winds its way to the foot of the gorge, but it’s certainly worth it as you stand in awe at the water cascading into a deep pool. If you struggle with the walk going down, it’s a bitch working your way back up! Keep in mind that this is one area where dogs aren’t permitted.

Accommodation

We opted to stay at the Grampians Getaway Resort, just outside of Halls Gap. The property is unique in that it features six pyramid shaped, self-contained units, each with three bedrooms (with a queen bed upstairs, double bed downstairs and two bunk beds in the third bedroom), wood fire, TV/DVD, kitchen, spa bath and a large lounge area that opens up to an outdoor patio with a barbeque. Furthermore, it’s a pet friendly resort! The property is ideal for families, with its own private lake where you can go canoeing, yabbying and fishing amongst the geese and ducks that wander the area.

You’ll wake up to the dulcet tones of native birdlife and as you venture into the town centre, you’ll be charmed by the local wildlife including kangaroos and wallabies who freely roam the main streets of Halls Gap.

The Grampians are a wonderful destination to chill out, relax and recharge the batteries. What we experienced is just the tip of the ice-berg of what the Grampians has to offer. Don’t forget to pack your camera to capture sweeping vistas that showcase the diverse landscape of the region.

To our overseas friends, if you’re in Melbourne, take the opportunity to explore the regions outside of the city. Embrace the refreshing beauty of nature and the rich rugged bushland that Australia is renowned for.

For more information, visit: www.visitvictoria.com

Egypt – The Jewels of the Nile – Part III

Egypt – The Jewels of the Nile - Part III

The final article in this series explores the gems of Luxor including the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and the astonishing Temples of Karnak and Luxor, before reaching a climatic end at the monumental Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx.

As we forged ahead on our journey, the cruise headed north from the region of Aswan towards Luxor, where we continued to enjoy the ever changing scenic landscapes of the Nile, from the reddish earth of Nubian lands in the south, to luscious green dunes that flanked the river banks, which was capped off by glorious sunsets at dusk.

Luxor

Luxor Temple

Luxor was once known as the great city of Thebes and for centuries was the capital of the Egyptian Kingdom, and it is in this city that the Temple of Luxor was built11. ‘The entrance of the Luxor Temple is marked by the great pylon, which stands at 65m wide. In front of the pylon there used to stand two obelisks of Ramses II (each towering at  25m in height), but today only one remains, the other was erected in the centre of the Place de la Concorde in Paris in 1836.

The entrance is flanked by two giant granite statutes representing the Pharaoh at 15.5m high’12. Beyond the grand entrance is the courtyard of Ramses II, dominated by columns that look majestic lit up in full glory at night.

Temple of Karnak

‘Approximately three kilometres from the Temple of Luxor are the monuments of Karnak, which is the largest of any temple in the world. Among its splendours is the hypostyle hall which is 102m long by 53m wide, featuring 134 columns each 23m in height.

Beyond the hypostyle hall stands the obelisk of Tutmose I towering at 23m high and weighing 143 tonnes. It is believed that 81,322 people were involved in building the site’13. One can only imagine the scale of this temple in its original form; its immensity is awe inspiring.

Valley of the Kings

When I first arrived at the Valley of the Kings, I saw nothing but mountainous sand. It’s difficult to fathom that under these hills are underground channels leading to tombs, where pharaohs have been buried. To this day, archaeologists continue to dig up tunnels in order to unravel relics and hidden treasures.

‘The Valley of the Kings is the burial place of many of the New Kingdom Pharaohs. Its history began with Tutmose I, who wished to be buried in a secret place, thus setting a precedent which was followed by all successive pharaohs. A well-like tomb was excavated in an isolated valley and then a steep stairway was carved out of the rock leading down to the burial chamber’14. The highlight of this tourist site is the opportunity to enter the tomb of Tutankhamon and view his mummified body. (Be warned, cameras are not permitted inside; the stairway is steep and narrow and is not ideal for the elderly, people suffering from breathing difficulties or claustrophobia).

Valley of the Queens & the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

‘Just over one kilometre away from the Valley of the Kings is the Valley of the Queens, where eighty tombs have been discovered, mostly dating from the period 1300 to 1100 B.C. Within the valley is the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, which consists of a series of vast terraces, which by means of ramps led to the sanctuary’15. As you reach the first terrace, you’re greeted by enormous statues of sphinxes that guard the entranceway; I guess in today’s world, we’d jokingly refer to them as a posse of ‘door bitches’.

Colossi of Memnon

We made a quick photo stop at the towering Colossi of Memnon, located along the west bank of the Nile. ‘These two giant seated figures are all that is left of Amon-Ofis III mortuary temple. These two gigantic statues are 20m high and were cut out of single blocks of sandstone’16.

Giza

To save the best for last, the tour reached its pinnacle with a guided excursion of Giza where we stood in awe at the enigmatic Sphinx and the monumental Pyramids of Cheops, Chephren and Micerinus.

The Great Pyramids

‘The Pyramids of Cheops, Chephren and Micerinus are arranged diagonally, in such a way that none of them hides the sun from the others. The pyramid of Cheops is the largest of the three, standing at 137m high but has completely lost its protective facing that covers the internal blocks. Chephren’s pyramid is the only one which still has, at least at the top, the smooth external facing. The smallest of the three is the pyramid of Micerinus, at barely 66m high. In front of Micerinus’s pyramid there are three satellite pyramids’17.

I was gobsmacked by the sheer size of the Pyramids. The word monumental or colossal doesn’t begin to describe the scale of these sites.

‘Each pyramid is square at the base, the length of each side being 246.26 metres, while each stone block is at least 9.24m long.  It took 10-20 years to build this astonishing man-made structure, using 100,000 men’18.

For a few laughs, why not take the opportunity to ride a camel with the Pyramids as a backdrop. I can guarantee a few Kodak moments.

The Sphinx

‘About 350m from Cheops’s pyramid stands the Great Sphinx. At 73m long, this colossal statue represents a lion with a human head which some believe to be a likeness of Chephren standing guard over his tomb. The defacement of this monument is due in part to erosion by the wind and the cannon of the Mamelukes who used it for target practice’19.

Memphis

To top off the afternoon, a final stop is made at Memphis where we viewed the massive statues of Ramses II. ‘Carved from a single block of alabaster it is 4.5m high, 8m long and weighs, it is believed, at least 80 tonnes’20. This is where the tour comes to a finale. As they say, all good things must come to an end.

Writing this day by day account of my 11-day tour of Egypt felt like a gargantuan task, in addition to selecting and editing the stunning pictures for each piece. It’s almost reflective of the colossal, monumental and ancient structures that Egypt is renowned for. In summary, I was awestruck by Egypt and its jewels along the Nile. As a tourist, you’re presented with some of the most amazing sights built by the hand of man, all of which were created thousands of years before Christ. This was my Ode to Egypt, I hope you enjoyed it.

References

Chalaby, A. All of Egypt – From Cairo to Abu Simbel, Sinai. Florence, Casa Editrice Bonechi, 2010

Citations on Request

Egypt – The Jewels of the Nile – Part II

Egypt – The Jewels of the Nile - Part II

We delve into the stunning attractions of Cairo, Alexandria and Aswan in greater detail and include extraordinary pictures capturing the amazing beauty of Egypt and its gems, all of which are man-made monuments built thousands of years before Christ and a testament to man’s ingenuity.

We kicked off our trip on New Years Day 2011 with a flight to Cairo, which was slightly marred by a drunken female passenger going through a mid-life crisis, who mistakenly sat next to us.  Nevertheless, her crazy rants about her ex-husband and her new Turkish lover didn’t dampen our excitement but merely added a little humour along our journey.

Alexandria

Before you begin any exploration of Egypt, start with an excursion of Alexandria which is a three hour bus ride from Cairo. Alexandria doesn’t have the grandeur of the capital, but there are enough attractions to pack a full-day’s worth of sightseeing. As per my previous blog, the most memorable sites were the Roman Amphitheatre, Pombey’s Pillar and the Quayet-Bey Fortress. But our guided tour also included a visit to the Roman Catacombs and a stop at the Mosque of Abdul Abass, both of which are worth checking out.

Cairo

To wet the appetite, we began our main tour of Egypt with a glimpse of Cairo, visiting the Saladin Citadel and the Mohammed Ali Mosque in the heart of the city. We then tested our haggling skills at the lively Khan El Khalili bazaars, a market full of colourful trinkets and locally made goods.

The day concluded with a visit to the Egyptian Museum, exhibiting Pharaonic treasures and artefacts, the best of which was the gold coffin of Tutankhamon (Be warned, cameras are not allowed inside the premises and three hours is not sufficient to view the entire collection of masterpieces, some of which date back to the Ancient Kingdom1).

Aswan

Temple of Abu Simbel

After a short, but rickety flight to Aswan, we headed further south by bus to Nubia where we boarded our cruise boat on Lake Nasser. In the late afternoon, we headed off to the majestic Temple of Abu Simbel, which would have to be one of the ultimate highlights of the trip. Words cannot begin to describe how impressive this monument is, which measures ‘38 metres wide by 65m long, carved out of a single piece of rock’2. You’re confronted by four colossal statues of the Pharaoh Rameses II, each towering at 20 metres high, while the complete façade is some 31 metres high3.

‘The smaller Temple of Hathor, built for Rameses’ wife, Nefertari, is also guarded by six 10m statues. Inside the temple are paintings depicting Rameses and the Gods that are over 3200 years old’4.

If you travel in early January, rug up as it does get a little chilly, particularly if you attend the sound and light show in the evening, where you witness Abu Simbel lit up in all their glory.

Wadi El Sebou, Avenue of Sphinxes & Temple of Al-Dakka

As we continued along the journey, we stopped at smaller ruins including Wadi El Sebou – ‘the Valley of the Lions’. According to our handy itinerary, the site was named after the great Avenue of Sphinxes which leads to the Temple of Rameses II’5. This region is 194kms south of Aswan and features the Temple of Maharraqa, Wadi El Sebou Temple and the Temple of Dakka.

Temple of Kalabsha

‘Approximately 50 kilometres south of Aswan is the Temple of Kalabsha, built by the Roman Emperor Octavius Augustus and dedicated to the local fertility god Mandulis’6. A few other monuments surround the temple, including the Kiosk of Qertassi, whose silhouette looks stunning against the sunshine.

Temple of Philae

We took a motorboat ride to the Temple of Philae, which is ‘located on the island of Egelika. The Temple of Philae serves as a sanctuary sacred to the goddess Isis’7. The site has a touch of mystique as it’s a monument perched on an island rising from the waters of the Nile. This is further reflected by the columns of the Pavillion of Trajan, which look majestic up against the contrasting blue sky with the river as the back drop.

As part of an optional excursion, we got to experience life in a Nubian village where we mingled with the locals, sipped tea at their home, played with their pet crocodiles (which are considered sacred) and had henna tattoos painted on our hands.

For a change of mood, the group embarked on a relaxing ride on board a traditional felucca where we were surprisingly serenaded by local kids, who paddled towards our boat and sang for donations.

Temple of Kom Ombo

As the cruise headed north, we visited Kom Ombo ‘(situated between Edfu and Aswan) to view the only Egyptian temple dedicated to two gods – Horus the Elder and the crocodile headed Sobek’8. One section of the temple is dedicated to the god Sobek, who according to legend is the creator of the world, while the other section is consecrated to the god Horus, the solar god of war9.

To top the evening off, a Galabea party was held where we witnessed some belly dancing and listened to Egyptian music, while dressed up in traditional Egyptian costumes.

Temple of Horus

‘The Temple of Horus is located in Edfu (positioned half way between Aswan and Luxor) and is the best preserved temple in Egypt. Because of its imposing dimensions it is considered the most significant after Karnak. Built during the Ptolemaic period, the monument is 137m long and 79m wide with a pylon 36m high.

Two black granite falcons guard the entrance to the temple, depicting Horus in the form of a falcon god’10.

Get ready for Part III of Egypt – The Jewels of the Nile series; this is where the tour heads further north and the monuments get bigger and grander. The final article explores the gems of Luxor including the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and the astonishing Temples of Karnak and Luxor, before reaching a climatic end at the monumental Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx.

References

Chalaby, A. All of Egypt – From Cairo to Abu Simbel, Sinai. Florence, Casa Editrice Bonechi, 2010

Citations on Request