Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ghana: The adventure begins again

I've been home now just on a week and, having finally found my feet, I've begun the gruelling task of updating the Bradt Travel Guide to Ghana. While many people assume a guidebook author's work is done when they return home, this is in fact when the real work begins. From visa regulations and bus schedules to the descriptions of new hotels and restaurants, every little detail of a trip needs to be revisited as you transcribe your notes on everything and then add them to the current text (not to mention, marking up and redrawing maps). Just to keep myself on my toes, I've set myself the ambitious deadline of 20 December for my initial hand in date hoping I might be able to make it to shops just before Christmas to buy a few presents. I'll still have months of edits and queries to wade through, but this means I now have 42 days to update 420 pages (actually 41 if you don't count today). Impossible?... I'm thinking POSSIBLE. Mind you, considering I'll probably only emerge from my study to refill my tea cup, I may not have much of a social life over the coming weeks! Luckily my friend Margi, who accompanied me for the first three weeks of the trip, has decided to chronicle our adventures in her new blog Ghana road trip. In her first two posts, Margi recounts our journey from Jo’burg to Accra and our first day trying to come to grips with Accra's hectic public transportation.... Hmmm...I wonder if she has time to update a chapter or two? ;-)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cape Town: Shop 'til you drop

With today my penultimate day in Cape Town (well, in Africa for that matter since I'll be spending most of Saturday hanging out at Jo'burg airport or in the air flying homewards), I was at a bit of a loss as of what to do this morning. The options I came up with were: A) Cry (since I don't want to leave); B) Go shopping for souvenirs in the City Centre (since I'm sadly lacking in the present department); or, C) Soak up the sunshine in Kalk Bay (well, just because I love Kalk Bay really!). In the end, I decided to hold off on Kalk Bay until tomorrow and save crying for the airport and caught a train to the City Centre to indulge in a little shopping. Cape Town of course has long been known for its three 'S's': sun, surf and sand. But thanks to an excellent exchange rate, it is also one of the best destinations for that other great 'S' – shopping! Whether you prefer large sprawling malls a la the Victoria and Alfred (V&A) Waterfront, more innovative shopping zones like Long Street, or rummaging through a flea market like Greenmarket Square, there are scores of shops around the city offering all kinds of unique and unusual treasures. From replica radios expertly constructed from wire to world-class wines, here are a few of my favourite Cape Town buys.

Beaded beauties
For a gift that gives twice you can't beat the cheeky hand-beaded dolls from Monkeybiz. Each doll is a one-of-a-kind work of art made by disadvantaged women from surrounding townships. With the proceeds going to their designers, you'll be uplifting others when you buy one.
Where: 65 Rose Street, City Bowl
Find out more:

Divine wines
No shopping trip to Cape Town is complete without sampling the region's superlative wines. One of the best-known labels is Fleur du Cap. Their signature Chenin Blanc is bright, fresh and perfectly balances fruit and wood flavours. It's also exceptionally good value at around $10-$20 (AUD) for a bottle.
Where: Available from most grocery and liquor stores
Find out more:

Table magic
For almost 20 years, Carrol Boyes has been crafting pewter, aluminum, and stainless steel into sophisticated, functional art. Her eye-catching pieces, featuring fluid human forms, include cutlery, frames and bowls. With designs like these to take home, tableware need never be mundane again.
Where: Shop 6180, Victoria Wharf, V&A Waterfront
Find out more:

Wired for sound
Wire art is everywhere in Cape Town, but the best place to find quality artwork is at Streetwires. With characteristic inventiveness, Streetwires combines wire, beads and other recycled goods to create everything from key rings to chandeliers. Designs like their signature fully-functioning radios are not only unique, but also environmentally friendly.
Where: 77/79 Shortmarket Street, City Bowl
Find out more:

Cherrie on top
Launched in 2000, Stoned Cherrie is South Africa's hottest clothing line. This street-savvy range celebrates Afro-urban culture with remarkable flair and exuberance. Intelligent and self-reflective, the line reclaims the past for the present giving African culture the recognition it so richly deserves. Trademark designs include slogan T-shirts featuring images from the iconic Drum magazine and Xhosa inspired A-line skirts.
Where: Available from Woolworths Department Store at the V&A Waterfront
Find out more:

In the bag
Bag yourself a bargain with one of Africa Nova's unique 'Hip-Pip' handbags. This colourful range of hand-made bags are made from 'Zambane' (potato printed) fabrics and decorated with leather, beads, wood, felt, and buttons. With the focus on small intimate designs, each bag is individually created to ensure exclusivity, so you’ll never have to worry about running into someone else bagging your style.
Where: Cape Quarter, 72 Waterkant Street, Green Point
Find out more:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The world's best cityscapes

Whether they are surrounded by natural beauty or dotted with modern architectural wonders some cities just scream: location, location, location! With this in mind, I recently compiled a list of my top seven favourite cityscapes for a slideshow/article for MSN NZ Travel. My top pick? Cape Town of course! The first thing everyone notices in Cape Town is beautiful Table Mountain, a flat-topped stone behemoth slap-bang in the middle of town that rises above the city, dwarfing even the tallest skyscrapers. But there's more to the city than its picture-postcard profile. From glorious sun-soaked, sandy beaches and rolling vineyards to a vibrant mix of cultures and a variety of top-notch restaurants and nightclubs, South Africa's 'Mother City' is an electric, cosmopolitan city that has it all. If you don't believe me, check out Xander's posts over at Primitive Culture - an online ode to the city if ever there was one!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Bradt Travel Guide to Tanzania released

While I was off galavanting around Ghana, the new Bradt Travel Guide to Tanzania which I helped Philip Briggs update last year was finally released. It's so nice to see the final product after months of blood, sweat and tears. The new 608 page guide is jam-packed with practcal information for both independent and upmarket travellers on everything from how to oragnise a safari and tips on photographing wildlife to how to avoid trouble with hippos, crocodiles and snakes, and interacting with the local people. It also provides detailed coverage on Tanzania's world-famous national parks, including the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, the lusciously laid-back islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia, and the country’s rich history and culture. Click here to find out more.

World's most disappointing tourist attractions: #3

Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but sometimes it's just plain wrong. So my third pick for the world's most disappointing attractions is The World's Biggest Pineapple. Located in the small town of Bathurst, this giant fibreglass pineapple is famed as being the largest pineapple in the world. While it certainly looms large on South Africa's tourist landscape, it is in fact a rip-off of The Big Pineapple on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. The Queensland idea was copied by a couple of South Africans who couldn't resist the chance to finally top the Aussies! At 16.7m high it's only a mere 70cm higher than its more famous counterpart. And, perhaps it's just my Queensland colours shinning through, but without the macadamia nut mobile it just isn't the same!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tales from the road II: New course in travel writing

Following on from the success of my first travel writing workshop, I'm running a second one in November when I return to Australia. The one-day course, Tales from the Road: An Introduction to Travel Writing, will be held in Mullumbimby on the Far North Coast of New South Wales, on Saturday, 14 November. The course itself will take a practical approach to travel writing, giving an overview of the market from writing for newspapers, magazines and on-line, to authoring guidebooks. Students will learn how to evoke a sense of place, how to dress up articles with photographs and how to approach an editor with the perfect pitch.

Date: 14 November
Time: 10am - 4pm
Cost: $60 Full Fee; $54 Concession

If you happen to be in the Byron Bay area around this time, I would love for you to come along!

Picture: Me hard at work in Ghana (not Togo as the flag may lead you to believe) August 2009.

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World's most disappointing tourist attractions: #2

From the land imaged with werewolves and vampires comes my second pick for world's most disappointing attractions; an attraction that really bites – Dracula's Castle in Romania. With Transylvania renowned as the setting of Bram Stoker's 1897 gothic novel Dracula (loosely based on Vlad Tepes, the revered prince from the Middle Ages who impaled his foes on stakes) Bran Castle has become synonymous with the Dracula myth. Yet despite what the guides may tell you, neither Bram Stoker nor Vlad Tepes ever stepped foot here. What's more, the castle, with its whitewashed walls, red-tiled turrets and fairytale towers, is far from frightening. You're more likely to find Rapunzel rather than Dracula lurking inside!

Monday, October 12, 2009

World's most disappointing tourist attractions: #1

Uluru, Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China; some tourist attractions certainly make your jaw drop. But not all live up to the marketing hype. Overrated and overpriced, some attractions leave you feeling more than a little underwhelmed. For my latest article for MSN NZ I share my thoughts on the world's most disappointing attractions. My number one? Skywalk, Grand Canyon. This controversial glass-bottom, horseshoe-shaped walkway which cantilevers 1.2km above the canyon's Western Rim, might provide the kind of vertigo-inducing views only ever seen before by Wile E Coyote, but even Wile would be pushed over the edge by the cost. The US$20 parking fee is just the beginning. You have to buy a US$29.95 package tour which allows you to take a short bus ride (on a perfectly good road which you could have walked or driven down yourself) to the edge of the rim. It's then another US$29.95 to actually walk on the Skywalk and you can't even take your camera with you. Of course you can have a photograph taken of you on the bridge at an additional cost if you choose! Give it a miss and visit the Southern Rim instead.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Just another day in paradise?

I swear I must be walking around Ghana with "I'm updating a guidebook" stamped on my forehead. Yesterday I was set upon by a group of curio sellers as I was jotting down a phone number outside Cape Coast Castle who angrily claimed that they didn't hassle tourists as most guidebooks stated. One even declared that he was going to kidnap me so that I wouldn't write any more 'lies' about them. I didn't even have a guidebook on me – just a pen and paper – and I certainly didn't tell them that I was updating a guide. Needless to say I made a very hasty retreat! Oddly enough I also had a similar experience outside Vic Baboo's Cafe in Kumasi a few days ago where I was harangued by a group of touts who gave me no end of grief for the unkind words that had been written about them by previous guidebook authors. I must admit it has certainly been very surprising just how clued-up everyone here seems to be about travel guidebooks and the impact they can have on business.
Picture: Sunset, Biriwa Beach, Ghana

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The long, hard road

Sorry for the long silence. Sadly, I haven't been able to post as regularly as I had hoped while I've been travelling around Ghana. The greatest problem has been lack of internet access and of course time (I am working after all!). My journey around Ghana updating the Bradt Travel Guide though, has been progressing well. I've met numerous wonderful people (must send a big shout out to all of Ghana's fantastic PCVs – thank you, thank you, thank you!) and have some fabulous experiences – I danced under the stars at the opening of a new night club in Kintampo, learned how to weave kente cloth in Kpetoe and went walking with elephants at Mole National Park. Mind you, there have been a few nasty bumps in the road I wish could have been avoided – I was accidentally hit in a punch-up between local community members in Larabanga fighting over tourist dollars (I promise I will post a blog about my experience as soon as I can), my driver almost rolled our car during a heavy rain storm on the dirt road between Mole and Tamale (we did a 180 and slammed into a ditch; we'd still be there if we weren’t in a 4WD) and then yesterday he sadly hit a cyclist who swerved in front of the car on the road Yendi (thank God the man was OK!) and just today some rogue traffic officers in Tamale tried to make me pay a bribe because my driver inadvertently went to drive the wrong way up a one way street (I just played stupid and pretended I couldn't speak English). But as always, the life of a travel writer is not an easy one, but it is certainly an adventure!

Monday, September 7, 2009

It's a small world

Travelling on the road from Ejisu to Lake Bosumtwe in the Ashanti region of Ghana yesterday I spied this truck in front of me with a heavy load that was tied down by a large tarp. It took me a couple of seconds but I suddenly realised I recognised the writing on the tarp even though it was upside down. It said "Kate Ritchie is moving in with Merrick and Rosso, 9 am weekdays". For anyone who doesn't know, Kate Ritchie is an Australian soapie star and she quit acting last year after 20 years of playing Sally on Home and Away to join Merrick & Rosso (a Australian comic duo) in hosting the morning program on Nova FM in Sydney. Sally was a much loved character on the soap (especially since she was one of only two remaining original cast members), so Kate's decision to leave was big news in Oz.....and perhaps in Ghana too by the looks of things!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Goodbye Byron....Hello Ghana

Hi everyone. I've now left my beautiful home in the hinterland hills of Byron Bay and am on my way to Africa for the next three months for work. First stop Singapore (where I am currently), then Johannesburg before I continue on to Ghana to update the Bradt travel guide to the country. I am sure my postings will be sparadic, but I'll endeavour to keep updating my blog as much as I can as I go along. In the meantime, you can now follow me on twitter. Also, before I left, I wrote a guest post on my favourite places in Byron for Anja over at Ever the Nomad; you can view it here.

Happy travels!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tears in Tobruk: The tears flow on

Today I had a moment. No, not an Oprah light bulb moment, but an "OMGH how cool is that?!" moment. Quite by accident, I discovered that the Australian Government has quoted me on their official website. The quote they used is from an article I wrote last year about travelling to Tobruk in Libya to celebrate ANZAC Day. This was a very emotional and personal journey for me – my grandfather, Private John Joseph Alman, was a member of the 9th Battalion who, against all odds, held Tobruk for an astounding 240 days during WWII; unfortunately he died before I was able to make it home to tell him about my trip – and as such it was a hard article to write. So I have to admit that I'm kind of chuffed that they quoted me. For anyone who is interested, you can read the article here.

Picture: That's me (in green) delivering my grandfather's speech at a small impromtu service on ANZAC Day in Tobruk, Libya.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

The parent trap: How to travel with your parents

Why is it there are numerous articles around that highlight the joys and challenges of travelling with children, but very few that deal with how to travel as an adult child with your parents? Hoping to fill this gap, I recently shared my best tips on how to survive travelling with your parents for a new article for MSN NZ.

The last time I remember going on a proper vacation with my parents was when I was 10 years old, packed into the back of a Holden station wagon along with my three siblings for a cross-country road trip to see our relatives. Fast forward some 30 years, I unexpectedly found myself going on a road trip across Southwest USA with my parents at the end of last year. Considering I'm much more independent and well-travelled than when I was living under their roof - and not forgetting that I now work as a full-time travel writer and so am very controlling when it comes to organising travel itineraries - it certainly made for an interesting trip. My parents and I of course had our moments (we were already arguing before we made it to our first destination!), but I can honestly say that this was one of the best trips I've ever taken.

THANK YOU Mum and Dad!

Picture: That's Mum and I trying to do our best alien impersonations in Kingman, Arizona, on Route 66.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tales from the road: An introduction to travel writing

As has probably been made fairly obvious by the slowdown in my blog postings over recent months, I've been keeping myself very busy with work (which is a blessing for a travel writer in today's economic climate!). Not only have I been continuing with my regular writing assignments for both Ninemsn and MSN NZ as well as organising my research trip for my next guidebook assignment in Ghana, I've also been working hard to break into several new markets, finally cracking The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age....But that's not all. I've also been secretly organising a new travel writing course for the Byron Bay Community College.

Following on from the feedback and queries I received after my guest lecture on travel writing at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, I decided to put my knowledge and skills to good use with a series of new workshops on travel writing. The first two-day course, Tales from the Road: An Introduction to Travel Writing, will be held in Mullumbimby on the Far North Coast of New South Wales, over the weekend of 1-2 August. The course itself will take a practical approach to travel writing, giving an overview of the market from writing for newspapers, magazines and on-line, to authoring guidebooks. Students will learn how to evoke a sense of place, how to dress up articles with photographs and how to approach an editor with the perfect pitch.

Date: 1-2 August
Time: 10am - 4pm
Cost: $120 Full Fee; $108 Concession

If you happen to be in the Byron Bay area around this time, I would love for you to come along!

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Monday, July 13, 2009

We're gonna go to Ghana

The countdown is now most definitely on for my upcoming trip to Ghana. With little over four weeks to go before I depart, I have been busying myself with my final trip preparations. While I'm certainly looking forward to hitting the road solo, yet again, it's always nice to be able to share your travelling experiences with someone. So when one of my old Cape Town cohorts, Margi Sutherland, asked if she could join me for the first few weeks of my eight week journey around Ghana, I was thrilled. Before we set off on our first travel adventure together, I thought it wise to ask a few questions. Here are Margi's answers:

Name: Margi Sutherland

Occupation: I have my own business - we are service agents for H2O Water Purifiers in Cape Town.

Why did you decide to join me on this trip?
I recently turned 40! [Same here! Kim] Apparently this explains it all? I haven't travelled a lot, priorities were different in the past, and now I want to catch up, be a little adventurous, explore new places and cultures. I have been to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Malawi, and always used to dream of an overland Africa trip. I'm over that now, but when Kim announced that she was looking for a travel buddy I jumped at the opportunity! Also, I dealt with West Africans on a daily basis at my previous job - we had clients from Senegal down to Angola, and the guys that came to Cape Town for product training (which was what I did) were just the sweetest, friendliest, most positive people. I wish I could remember the name of the technician from Ghana that I used to speak to so often!

What are you most looking forward to?
Besides a break from the rat race? And this freezing winter? I am looking forward to a completely new experience. To a different pace, to spontaneity and unpredictability... where I won't have to be in control, I won't have to check the time(!), and where Africa is really Africa.

What's the best piece of travel advice you’ve been given?
Well, Mum always gave us kids a tummy pouch wallet type thing, and told us to make sure our passports and money were on us at all times... no matter which country we were visiting. Oh, and wear long sleeved shirts, hats and sun block on the river (Zambezi) because the sun burns even through the clouds... which is what we all did and we didn't get sun burnt at all. Thanks Mum... I will take those same shirts with me on this trip!

What's your favourite destination and why?
I love Italy; have been there twice and WILL go back. It is possibly my favourite place only because I haven't yet been to France... I will find out in 2013 when I have my gap year. And Malta, although it is to be avoided during a heat wave.... Such incredible history, and beauty, I will be back.

Then again, I think it has to be anywhere along the R62, Montague, Barrydale, down to Outshoorn... then Hogsback... and the Garden Route (Nature's Valley, the Tzitzikamma Forest, Knysna...) we live in an amazingly beautiful country. [I'm with you on R62 Margi! Kim] Even the stark Karoo, which we travelled through by train recently, is stunning in its own way.

Where else is on your 'top places to go list'?
Next trip is a road trip through the UK with Dad, with the aim of writing his story, visiting his place of birth, his schools, meet some of his old friends, try to trace something of his father who was born in Scotland. As the only child of only children, his history stops with him unless I make the effort to journal it. I just hope that he gets slightly LESS cantankerous with age, not more so!! I'll try do most of Europe in 2013, but after that it has to be China, Japan... and Russia... Although I have recently had the urge to spend just one Christmas in the States, with snow, and carollers, and houses draped in Xmas lights... maybe one gets more sentimental with age? Of course there is still so much of SA that I haven't experienced yet - Drakensburg, and the Kruger area, must still be visited. And I want to take my boys to Namibia next year, during the World Cup, if that doesn't sound too unpatriotic!

Is there anything you try to do wherever you travel?
I buy a decoration for my Christmas tree! I also love to explore the back roads... just get into the car and head off somewhere that isn't necessarily on route to somewhere big. I always mean to take masses of photos, and to keep a travel journal... this time I will!

Finally, since we are going to be spending a large amount of time together, do you have any strange travelling quirks that I should be aware of?
Strange? I don't know how strange it is, but I do like to take a break and read a few pages of a novel every now and then... I enjoy quiet time. I also like to explore craft markets, which is not everyone's favorite pastime I've noticed! Kim, if you pick up any really strange quirks, let me know so that I can warn my next travel buddy!

Will do Margi. Though, perhaps you'd best have a talk to Dan; he'll fill you in on all my bad travel habits! By the way, I'm still looking for a travel buddy for a road trip from South Africa to Namibia in October. So if anyone wants to join me, give me a shout. Kim

Friday, June 26, 2009

Seven tips for dealing with loneliness on the road

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: travelling solo is one of life's greatest experiences. While there are numerous reasons why you should hit the road alone, the downside is that you run a greater risk of experiencing feelings of loneliness than you would travelling with a partner or friend. I recently complied my top seven tips for how to beat loneliness when travelling for MSN NZ and thought I'd share them here.

Keep busy: The best way to overcome loneliness when travelling is to keep busy. Some people like to write or read, but these in themselves are very introspective and lonely pursuits. I find it's better to plan a couple of days of full-on sightseeing. Set your own itinerary and pack your day completely seeing all the local sights. You'll be so busy trying to locate the next destination on your tour or working out the public transport system you won't have time to be lonely.

Go for a walk or run: Doing some exercise is an excellent way to keep active and clear your mind of any thoughts of loneliness. Going for a run or a long walk will not only raise your spirits, but also give you the opportunity to explore areas of a town you may not have seen.

Go to a local bar or coffee shop: Grab a book or your journal and head to a bar or cafe. Find one that is frequented by locals and then deliberately choose a seat where you can maximise your chances of striking up a conversation with other patrons. Most people enjoy talking about themselves and what's important to them, so this is a great way to learn a little more about the local people and the place you're in.

Join a tour: Travelling solo is a fantastic experience, but it doesn't mean you have to spend all your time alone. Whether you take a day-trip or a join multi-day tour, getting out and about with a group of other travellers is a great way to meet people.

Volunteer: A sure-fire way to meet other people is to find work as a volunteer. Whether you help out in a soup kitchen or teach children at a local school you'll not only keep loneliness at bay, but you'll also enhance your travel experience by making a greater connection with the community.

Stay in a hostel: While staying in a hotel with your own private bath and room service might be a tempting option, it can also be very isolating. Hostels on the other hand offer plenty opportunities to interact with like-minded travellers. What's more they're only a fraction of the cost. Most hostels have communal television or computer rooms - some even have bars. So you never know, you might even make a new friend or find a travel buddy for your next adventure.

Communicate with the world: With so many gadgets and gizmos at our disposal these days, it's certainly not hard to stay in touch with family and friends when you’re on the road. Whether you reach for a pay-phone to call home, send a text message on your mobile or log-on to the internet to catch-up with your friends on Facebook or to update your blog, connecting with friends and family is a good way to beat the loneliness blues. A word of warning: just make sure you don't allow technology to get in the way of making real connections with real people.

Get a good night's sleep: One of the biggest sources of loneliness is over-tiredness. At the same time, over-sleeping can also make you tired and lonely. So make sure you get around eight hours of sleep each night and be careful not to hide in bed all day.

Happy travels!

Picture: Taking it all in, Malolotja Nature Reserve, Swaziland

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Life is a highway

This last week I've been planning my itinerary for my upcoming trip to Africa which got me reminiscing about the greatest travel tradition of all – the humble road trip. Road trips of course aren't merely about the destination. Their appeal, as is often noted, lies in the journey itself. For me it's the people you meet, the dinky little one-horse towns you stay in and the experiences you have along the way which makes them so memorable. So as I prepare to hit the road again I thought I'd share a few of my all time favourite journeys (all tried and tested of course!):

Route 66, USA
Distance: 4000km
Route 66 is arguably the most famous highway in the world. No other stretch of asphalt has been eulogised so frequently and fervently by movies, songs, books and television shows. In fact, Route 66 has been mentioned in so many songs it’s earned the nicknamed the 'Rock 'n Roll Highway'. Starting in Chicago in Illinois, America’s 'Mother Road' crosses the country through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before ending at the beaches of Santa Monica in Los Angeles, California.

Trans-Fagarasan Highway, Romania
Distance: 90km
Said to be one of the highest roads in Europe, the Trans-Fagarasan Highway charges up and over the crest of Romania's Fagaras Mountains. Climbing up to 2000m, the dizzying road twists and turns its way between the jagged peaks of the country's highest mountains - the Moldoveanu (2,543m) and Negoiu (2,535m) - and passes through its longest tunnel (887m). If that’s not enough, you also can stop at the castle of Vlad the Impaler, the revered prince from the Middle Ages who inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Great Ocean Road, Australia
Distance: 243km
Recognised as one of the world’s most scenic drives, the Great Ocean Road hugs the rugged south-eastern coast of Victoria. Starting in Torquay, it stretches westward past the windswept limestone pillars of the Twelve Apostles, to the historic seafaring village of Warrnambool. Built as a memorial to the 'Diggers' of World War I, the rough-hewn road winds along cliff tops, up breathtaking headlands, down to the edge of beaches, across river estuaries and through lush rainforests offering panoramic views at every turn.

Route 62, South Africa
Distance: 450km
I have to admit I have a real soft spot for this road trip. Often overlooked by motorists who tear up South Africa's N2, Route 62 is a stunning inland alternative to the much-hyped coastal Garden Route. Showcasing some of the country's most magnificent scenery, the road, starting just outside Cape Town and running to Port Elizabeth, meanders through scenic spa towns, past vineyards and fruit farms and over breathtaking mountain passes. It's also reputedly the longest wine route in the world with 69 wine farms dotting its path...I'll drink to that!

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Africa calling

By now you all should be aware of my affection for Africa. So it should come as little surprise to learn that I am about to pack my backpack and return to the continent in August. After my mammoth world-wind adventure last year which took in three continents and seven countries including Tanzania, Cuba, and the United States, this time I’ll be devoting my entire three month trip to Africa taking in Ghana and South Africa with a possible side trip to Namibia.

While much of time in southern Africa will be spent catching up with old friends, in Ghana I will be updating the 5th edition of Ghana: The Bradt Travel Guide for author Philip Briggs. So for eight weeks over August and September I'll be driving, bussing and bush taxiing my way around the entire country covering everything from the busy streets of Accra and the string of forts and castles that line the former Gold Coast to the lush mountains of the Eastern Highlands and game-rich savannah of Mole National Park in the north. It's been a few years since I was last in Ghana – I stopped by briefly on my way to cover Togo and Benin for the 5th edition of Lonely Planet's West Africa - so I'm really looking forward to reacquainting myself with the country. If anyone wants to join me for my latest wild adventure, drop me a line!

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

African butterfly: An interview with Angelique Kidjo

I recently had the great fortune of meeting and interviewing Grammy Award-winning world music songstress Angelique Kidjo. The fiery diva, who hails from Benin in West Africa, was in Byron Bay to perform at the Bluesfest. During the interview I asked her questions about her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and the founding of The Batonga Foundation through which she supports the education of young women in Africa.

According to Ms Kidjo the greatest threat facing women today in Africa is the lack of education. "When you are a girl born in Africa you have no identity, you belong to your family – your mother and your dad have the right to decide on your life. That's why there are so many early marriages," Kidjo explains.

"We have to change Africa," she argues. "We need women leadership. We need women to be empowered in order to save the life of their children. So we need to educate the women...Because you have to have that protection of education in order to be a leader wise enough, and strong enough, and powerful enough to make the men of your country realise that we are not enemies, we are partners."

To find out more about The Batonga Foundation and how you can help out visit:

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Santa Fe style

Yes, I know it's been ages since my last post. Needless to say, I have numerous, not so good, excuses. Not only have I been working, but I've been off celebrating my 40th birthday (yes, I really am THAT old), attending Byron Bay's Bluefest, tripping around the countryside for parties and weddings, and I've been sick with the flu the last few weeks to boot! To get back in the swing of things I thought I'd share a recent slideshow of my photographs I put together on Santa Fe, New Mexico, for MSN New Travel. Enjoy!

Often referred to as the 'City Different', Santa Fe, New Mexico, lives up to its reputation as a truly a one-of-a-kind destination. Dominated by adobe buildings and pueblo style architecture and lined with rows of chic art galleries and superb restaurants, it is consistently rated one of the world's top travel destinations. Set against the stunning backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and with an elevation of 7000 feet, Santa Fe is not only the United States' oldest state capital but its highest. Standing at the cross-roads of Spanish, Mexican and Native American cultures, this charming southwestern town has created a unique style and ambiance all of its own. Home to around 70,000 people, Santa Fe has long been a rich source of original American design. Founded in 1610 by Spanish colonists, European traditions were quickly adapted to the Pueblo Indian building materials and methods, creating an architectural style that is one of the most distinct in the world.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

The what NOT to do travel guide

When it comes to travelling everyone has a list of 'must dos' such as learning a new language, experiencing the culture or perhaps even going bungy jumping. But there's another travel list you should pay heed to – the 'what NOT to do' list. I recently compiled my top 10 list of travel dont's for a new article for MSN NZ and thought I'd share them here:

1. Use or carry drugs
Unless you fancy spending your holiday taking in the view from a jail cell, whatever you do, don't use or carry drugs. In some countries drug possession carries severe penalties. Indonesia in particular has some of the toughest laws and currently has around 20 foreigners including three Australians sitting on death row for drug offences. It's simply not worth the risk.

2. Carry someone's bag
Never ever offer to carry someone else's bags or belongings in or out of a country for them. Just ask French national Michael Loic Blanc; he's now serving life in prison for smuggling 3.8 kilos of hashish through Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar, found in a bag of diving gear he claims he was carrying for an acquaintance he met in Bali. Unfortunately for Michael, his 'friend' disappeared once the discovery was made.

3. Take photographs of official buildings
In many countries it's against the law to take pictures of anything that might be considered of strategic importance such as military installations, airports, bridges and government buildings. Be aware of what's acceptable and what's not at your destination. If unsure, it’s best to err on the side of caution rather than risk being arrested.

4. Outstay your welcome
Never stay longer in your destination than your visa permits. The penalty for doing so can range from a hefty fine to actually being detained. Bear in mind your embassy will not be able to help you in this kind of situation, so leave when you're supposed to.

5. Bribe officials
Admittedly this is a phenomenon that does exist in some form or another in every country. The problem however is that bribing the wrong person – even if they make the first move – could land you in serious trouble. Don't risk it.

6. Assume immunity
When you're in another country you're a guest and you must abide by their laws. Don't assume you'll receive special treatment because you're a foreigner and remember consular assistance cannot override local laws. Take Michael Fay, the 18-year-old American who ran afoul of the law in Singapore for graffiti; he was jailed, fined, and given four lashes of the cane for his crime.

7. Leave your bags unattended
Never leave your luggage unattended. All it takes is a few seconds for a thief to swipe your bag or rid you of your valuables. It’s also not unheard of for drugs or other contraband to magically appear in your bags, so make sure they’re locked and secured against tampering.

8. Flaunt your wealth
While you might be scraping by on a shoestring budget, as a western traveller you're still richer than more than two-thirds of the world's population. Conceal your wallet, hold on to your purse, and don't flaunt your wealth by flashing your money and jewellery. Also be discreet when using hi-tech gadgets like digital cameras, laptops and iPods.

9. Dress inappropriately
Some cultures find it an offensive or even enticement, for women to wear short skirts, shorts and bathing suits and many even frown upon men wearing shorts. So ensure you pack appropriate clothing for the places you are visiting.

10. Assume everyone can speak English
Guess what? Not everyone in the world speaks English. In fact, English comes in a distant third to Mandarin which is the world's most common native language. So, no matter how loudly or how slowly you speak, you'll always be better off learning the local language.

Picture: View looking out over The Wild Coast, South Africa

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Guidebook vs Tour guide

This morning I received a press release which criticised guidebook giant Lonely Planet claiming that they'd "lost touch with the zeitgeist" and were being forced out of the market by e-travel websites like OurExplorer. (Interestingly the press release was written and supplied by OurExplorer, so there's no bias there of course!)

The basis for their claim was an article written by British-born travel writer Tristan Rutherford, Battle of the Orient-Guidebook vs Tour Guide, in which he compares the enjoyment of using a Lonely Planet guidebook versus a local tour guide booked through OurExplorer. The city in question was Istanbul in Turkey and when summarising his experience of having a tour guide, Tristan argued that "A thousand guidebook words couldn't convey her emotion." Because of this one report, the writer of the press release (again, an employee from OurExplorer) proudly announced that Lonely Planet had been "slain" and that the death of the guidebook was nigh.

Really, what a load of rubbish! In my opinion comparing a guidebook with a local tour guide is like comparing apples and oranges. There is no comparison! A local tour who lives in and grew up in a city will naturally convey more emotion about a place than a guidebook. As a guidebook author I've used local tour guides on numerous occasions while researching and updating the books I have worked on. Not only do they help with collecting the most up-to-date and accurate information, but they also give you a more personal experience of a place – something a guidebook can never do. As I've said before on this forum, a guidebook is not a bible. It is merely a tool used to enhance your travel experience. To use it alone and base your whole trip on it is very foolish indeed.

So, do I believe e-travel websites will "push guidebook companies like Lonely Planet into the history books"? Well, there is certainly scope for e-travel websites to give guidebooks a run for their money. The problem however is that you can't trust the information that is posted on these websites – you have no idea who wrote it, when it was written, and where the information came from. At least if you buy a guidebook written by a respected author, you can feel safe knowing that they have some authority on the subject. If you're in any doubt read Lara Dunston's recent postings on Cool Travel Guide where she critiques the information suppied on Dubai by the new travel website Offbeat Guides - her findings are truly scary!

Just for fun I thought I'd quickly test out the Ourexplorer website. I put in the city of my birth, Brisbane in Australia, and said I was interested in "shopping". Would you believe that the first local "expert" who popped up was a 53 year-old male who hails from the US and uses a photograph taken in Sydney to highlight his expertise in Brisbane! I can't say that I'm confident he'd make a very good shopping partner.. And I'm cerrtainly not willing to hand over 200euro a day to find out!!

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Interview for Women on the Road

Over this last year I've been privileged to have interviewed some amazing and inspiring women including seven times world surfing champion Layne Beachley and Australia's favourite jungle girls Bindi and Terri Irwin. Recently though, the tables were turned and I became the subject of a similar interview for Women on the Road. Edited by Leyla Giray, Women on the Road is a fantastic website aimed at women who love to travel. Along with practical information on planning, safety and money, the website features interviews with inspirational women travellers who share their experiences and philosophies on travel. Other interviewees have included Hilary Bradt, the co-founder and chairperson of Bradt Travel Guides, Beth Whitman, publisher of Wanderlust and Lipstick (another great website for wild, wandering women), and Fawzia Rasheed, who is the author of Rough Guides' new book, Travel with babies and young children, so I'm certainly in good company. You can read my full interview here.
Picture: That's me standing on John Ford's Point in Monument Valley, Arizona.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Women CAN read maps, men just DON'T listen

I've just finished writing an article for MSN New Zealand titled Are men better travellers than women? (yes, a minefield I know, but I can't wait to see the reader comments on that one!), and one of the arguments that kept popping up time and again in my research against women was the old Women can't read maps chestnut.

While this notion has certainly been bandied around for as long as I can remember, it was made popular by Allan and Barbara Pease in their 2001 book, Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps. It was then given more credence by a report released by the University of Warwick in 2007 that claimed that women are apparently genetically predisposed to remain forever lost.

Really, I'd just like to say what a load of rubbish! I for one am very adept at reading maps (road maps, that is) and love nothing more than plotting a route and hitting the highway with a map close at hand. Perhaps it is because I've spent so many hours following and drawing up maps for the travel guidebooks I have worked on, but I pride myself on being able to get from A to B without getting lost. I've even, with my trusty map in hand, managed to have a fight with a GPS and been proven to be right (it's a long story).

Personally, I think it is more a case of men not listening to the women who are reading the maps. I have had this happen to me on several occasions while travelling for work, when in spite of the fact that I had a perfectly good map and was providing accurate directions to the destination I was seeking my male driver refused to listen to me and instead continually stopped to ask other men for directions. In one particular instance, the driver had blindly driven past the place we were trying to find, but rather than following my advice to turn around and go back he simply ignored me and continued on down the road in the wrong direction!

So what do you think? Can women read maps? Or are men, as the University of Warwick claims, genetically predisposed to be better travellers than women?

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Will your relationship pass the travel test?

By now you all should know that I am a strong proponent of travelling solo. While I love the freedom I feel when grabbing my backpack and setting off to explore the world alone, there are of course those times when I want to share the experience with someone else. Few things though, test a relationship like travelling together. Whether you are travelling with a friend or a romantic partner, the challenges you'll face being on the road together 24/7 will be unlike anything you'll have ever faced at home. So here are my five tips on how to ensure that your relationship passes the travel test:

1. Communication: The key to avoiding disappointment is communication. Discuss what you both expect from the trip and from each other. Determining these things at the start will prevent you from getting into unnecessary arguments and playing the blame game later if the trip doesn't go to plan.

2. Money: Before you think of packing your bags, make sure you have an open conversation about money and your spending habits. How much money are you both taking? Will you be travelling on a shoestring, moderate or top end budget? Who will control the money? Will you split all costs, or rely on one person?

3. Time apart: Travelling in such close proximity for an extended period is bound to drive you a little stir crazy. So before cabin fever sets in, make sure you plan some time apart. Whether it's a short stroll or a quiet cup of coffee or you want to try a different activity or need a few days to go off exploring by yourself, spending some time alone is a great way to recharge your relationship batteries.

4. Sociability: You need to be clear from the start about whether you are seeking exclusive one-on-one time together or are after a more social travel experience. And if you do want company set boundaries for new friendships to avoid upsetting or betraying your partner.

5. Compromise: You're not always going to want to do the same things or go to the same places – you might want to spend the day lazing on the beach while your partner wants to go trekking in the mountains. No matter what the situation, if the travelling partnership is going to work you both need to make some compromises. The key of course is striking the right balance.

Happy travels!

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Friday, January 30, 2009

World's best hotels announced

Popular hotel review website TripAdvisor has announced the winners of their 2009 Travellers' Choice Awards, for the world's best hotels as determined by their readers. Fittingly this year they've highlighted the Top 100 Best Bargain Hotels along with the Top 10 Family Favourites and Top 10 Hidden Gems among others. You can download the list here.

In light of their announcement I thought I'd put together my own 'Top 10' list of favourite hotels based on places I personally stayed in this last year (these are in no particular order and cover everything from homely pensions to luxurious tented safari camps and hotels):

1. MeetingPoint Tanga, Tanga, Tanzania
Run by the indefatigable Mama Ruth this inspiring new community-integrated centre is the ideal place for socially conscious travellers interested in more than just your average beach holiday. The focus here is all about the community experience with all profits reinvested into various local projects such as HIV/AIDS education and guests encouraged to "make a difference" by sharing their knowledge and skills during their stay. Find out more here.

2. Tunza Lodge, Mwanza, Tanzania
This lusciously laidback lodge is located right on the edge of Lake Victoria around 8km from the town of Mwanza. Between the beach, the bar, the staff and the sunsets over the lake, I found it hard to tear myself away. Find out more here.

3. Mkoma Bay Tented Lodge, Mkoma Bay, Tanzania
This is fabulous tented camp run by a lovely Danish/American couple has a stunning location in large, landscaped grounds that sprawl down to a swimming pool on a low cliff overlooking the deserted beach at Mkoma Bay..... Bliss! Find out more here.

4.Casa de Jorge Coalla Potts, Havana, Cuba
In my humble opinion, this homely place is one of the best casa particulares in Havana. It's located in Vedado, just two blocks from the infamous Hotel Tryp Habana Libre. And owner Jorge, his wife Marisel, and their daughter Jessica are such great hosts. Find out more here

5. Inn and Spa at Loretto, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Sadly, I only stayed here one night, but the Inn and Spa at Loretto certainly lived up to its reputation as an oasis of tranquilly and style. Just one block from the historic heart of Santa Fe, it's noted for its traditional pueblo architecture. Find out more here.

6. Utengule Coffee Lodge, Mbeya, Tanzania
Located on a rambling 500 acre property about 20 km west of Mbeya, in the shadow of the 2,834m Mbeya Peak, this attractive lodge is situated on one of Tanzania's oldest coffee estates. The estate is centred on a delightful manor house built and whitewashed in the classic colonial style, reached via a long dirt driveway lined with rows upon rows of fragrant coffee trees. Find out more here.

7. Ruaha River Lodge, Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
Run by the Fox family Ruaha River Lodge is the longest-serving camp in Tanzania's second-largest national park. All the chalets here have balconies that literally overhang the Great Ruaha River, so you don't even have to leave your room to go game viewing! Find out more here.

8. Hideaway Resort, Coral Coast, Fiji
A tropical island, azure seas, swaying palms, colourful cocktails, pampering spa treatments; need I say more? Find out more here.

9. Vuma Hills Tented Camp, Mikumi National Park, Tanzania
Also run by the Fox family this classic tented camp is set on a wooded hillside in the southern half of Mikumi National Park. Find out more here.

10. The Knutsford Court Hotel, Kingston, Jamaica
This cookiecutter business class hotel in the heart of Kingston wouldn't have made my list if it wasn't for the staff. They went above and beyond the call of duty when I arrived at their hotel sick, with one staff member in particular not only personally taking me to hospital but staying with me until I was admitted (some five hours later!) and then coming to visit me during my three-day stay. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! Find out more: here.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Recession proof your travel

The global economic crisis is biting hard, making travel seem more and more like a luxury. But there are still ways you can take off for your well-deserved break without breaking the piggy bank. Here are a few simple ideas:

Swap your house
Have you seen the movie The Holiday, where Cameron Diaz's character swaps her flashy mansion in Hollywood for Kate Winslet's cute little farm cottage in England? Okay, so swapping homes is little more complex than the movie makes out, but the basic plot is the same: you simply choose your ideal destination, find a match, then swap your house for theirs and you both get to stay for free. Naturally, you'll need to check references and should make out a contract that covers bills and damages. Also while some home exchange websites are free, many charge a small joining fee, running from around $60 to $250 (AUD). For starters try Intervac and Home Exchange. For more information see my article: The first timers' guide to house swapping.

Crash on a couch
Crashing on a stranger's couch in a foreign country or welcoming someone you've never met into your home might sound like a crazy idea, but as thousands of people have discovered Couch Surfing is a great way to meet new people and see the world for free. With a choice of more than 260,000 couches in some 216 countries, you'll never be short of somewhere to stay. As either a host or couch crasher, you can choose your pairing based on profiles that include languages spoken, location, and interests. Other networks include Global Freeloaders and the Hospitality Club.

Volunteer your services
Taking part in a volunteer holiday program is a great way to save money and do something positive for the environment at the same time. While some volunteer programs charge participants for the chance to work without pay, there are still those that will happily accept anyone willing to work and don't charge a cent. From working with disadvantaged kids in South Africa to clearing hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains, there are plenty of opportunities available. In most cases you'll usually only pay for your flights and transfers to a destination, with your accommodation and meals generally free.

For other ideas check out my Top 10 tips for saving money on holiday costs. Apart from that, cross your fingers let's hope this recession doesn't last long! (Just for the record Australia hasn't yet slipped into a recession, though it may not be far off if tonight's news update is correct.)

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hanging ten with Layne Beachley

Perhaps it is the summer sunshine or the fact that I can smell the ocean from my hideaway here in the Byron Hinterland of Far North Coast NSW, but I've been feeling a little beachy lately. Then again, maybe it's because I recently snagged an interview with seven times world surfing champion, Layne Beachley.

2008 was a very busy year for Layne. She released her autobiography, was nominated for Australian of the Year, announced her retirement from surfing, and became engaged to her long-time partner INXS musician, Kirk Pengilly. During my interview with her for Ninemsn she chatted to me about her favourite beach breaks, her new book, Beneath the Waves, and what the future holds.

So where is Layne's favourite beach break, I hear you ask? Well, while she admitted that there were too many to just name one, she did say that one of her favourite spots to surf in Australia is Angourie which is near Yamba on Far North Coast NSW. If you want to know where she likes to go to relax or where her ideal romantic escape is, you can read the full interview here.

Though, if you want a laugh, at my expense of course, you can read about my feeble attempts to learn to hang ten like Layne a couple of years back in an article I wrote for Ninemsn: Let's go surfin' now, everybody's learning how.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Far North Coast NSW insider goes live

In my mad rush to finish all my work before the Christmas holidays, I forgot to mention that I had been working on an Insider's Guide to Far North Coast NSW for Ninemsn. In a bold new move the company has changed the format of their travel site to feature a wide range of insider's guides to well-known destinations, both in Australia and around the world, that have been written by in-the-know locals.

In my humble opinion, my region, Far North Coast NSW, is the closest place to heaven-on-earth that you'll find in Australia. While officially the North Coast of NSW tumbles from Newcastle, just north of Sydney, all the way to Tweed Heads on the border of Queensland, the region I specifically cover is the Far North Coast which stretches from Yamba to the Tweed encompassing a heady mix of sun, sea, sand and sumptuous national parks (not forgetting the country's most celebrated utopian paradise - Byron Bay). But instead of giving you a list of time honoured tourist sights and attractions, I give you the lowdown on where NOT to go and let you in on a few tips on what you can discover near the beaten track.

As part of my work for the guide I will be doing a live one hour chat on Tuesday, April 14 from 5:00pm Eastern Standard Time. For those of you on Facebook you can register here to take part.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Home for the holidays

Hello everyone, I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and New Year! I had a lovely time celebrating the holidays at home with my family.

One of the most frequent questions I was asked by my family and friends over the holidays was when was I off on my next trip? When I replied that, for the time being, I was planning on staying put (well, at least for the next few months) they all seemed rather disappointed. Well, I suppose that is what I get for spending most of my time off gallivanting around the world, but you'd think that they'd be happy that I'd be staying close to home for a little while (??).

For my part, I have to admit that after the world-wind year that was 2008 - which saw me go underground in Cape Town, help Philip Briggs update the Bradt travel guide to Tanzania, discover the wild side of Nairobi, hang out in Havana, crisscross Southwest USA and lay about on Fiji's Coral Coast, not to mention land in hospital in Jamaica - it has been nice to finally unpack my bags. That said, the traveller in me will never be quelled, so I'm sure I'll be packing them up again sometime very soon.

In the meantime, I've resolved that for 2009 when I'm not on the road working, I'll regularly pull out a map and set about rediscovering the region where I live. Considering I live in one of the most beautiful places in Australia – on the north coast of New South Wales – it certainly won't be a hardship! What's more, I've recently been named Ninemsn’s Insider for Far North Coast NSW, so I have even more reason to do so now (more on that in my next post).