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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.