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February 25, 2017

On being coverted to a Motorhome Holiday, having resisted for many years

On being coverted to a Motorhome Holiday, having resisted for many years
Motorhome by Okanagan Lake Canada

Okanagan Lake Canada

It was at delightfully named Peachland in British Columbia, that I knew I was hooked. Sitting on a folding chair, ham salad on lap, gazing out across tranquil Okanagan Lake, surrounded by mountains, the early summer sun shining, all was right with the world. Our motorhome waited patiently in the lay-by, ready at any moment to take us further on our journey across Canada. But for now, we sat and enjoyed the view and appreciated the simple pleasure of lunch al fresco on the journey of a lifetime.

Beside Okanagan Lake Canada

Enjoying the view

Prior to the Canada Road Trip, I had never driven anything bigger than the school mini-bus and very little experience of motorhome travel. My grandfather had an old Bedford campervan but never took us on trips in it. I’d been on a couple of caravan holidays when I was a teenager; in those days caravans were fairly basic and I remember the rain dripping in through the roof on a stormy night in Wales. More recently I’d travelled to Cornwall in a friend’s campervan on a family holiday but we’d not stayed in it. Though a VW campervan is synonymous with cool surf-dudes, I had a bias against caravans and motorhomes, thinking they were a bit fuddy-duddy, for ‘oldies’ and definitely not ‘my thing’.

VW Campervan at Caravan, Camping & Motorhome Show NEC Bormingham

VW Campervan at Caravan, Camping & Motorhome Show

Rocky the RV changed all that. Photographer Ali Bailey and I travelled over 3,000 miles from Vancouver to Calgary via the Rockies, in a Cruise Canada RV (Recreational Vehicle) and felt so attached to our motorhome that we gave him (oh yes,) a name. What I loved was taking everything with us, not having to unpack and pack every night, being able to stop in the middle of nowhere and rustle up a meal (or use the loo) and the cosiness of having our own ‘home on the road’.

BBQ by motorhome in Jasper Rocky Mountains Canada

Eating out in the Rockies

I was nervous about driving such a big vehicle but surprisingly quickly got used to it and by the end of the trip was actually enjoying it. We stayed at some lovely campgrounds; Canada is well set up for motorhome sites, which are usually ‘fully-serviced’ ie with electricity, water and sewage connections. They’re also very convivial places. Highlights included waking up on our first morning to a glorious sunrise over Osoyoos Lake – our pitch was on the water’s edge.  Chatting to the ‘good  ol boys’ from mid-west America about the upcoming elections beside Osoyoos Lake, eating kebabs and burgers cooked on our BBQ in Jasper, waking up to hear elk wandering around outside the motorhome and drinking beer as sun set over the Rockies in Banff.

Motorhome memories in Canada

Motorhome holiday memories

Since returning to the UK I’ve been extremely envious of anyone who owns a motorhome … Two of my best friends bought one a couple of years ago and rave about the freedom of the road and the fun they have getting away as often as possible. They’re fanatical cyclists and simply strap the bikes to the back of the ‘van’ and off they go. So when I got an invite to this year’s Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show at the NEC Birmingham I leapt at the opportunity. Five halls crammed full of every kind of caravan, motorhome, campervan, tent, holiday home and accessories you could ever wish for.

Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show NEC Birmingham

The Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show

On the first day of the show, the ‘Caravan Club’, founded in 1907, announced its brand new name, ‘The Caravan and Motorhome Club, in line with the increased interest and motorhome ownership in the UK and around the world. Chairman Grenville Chamberlain explained, “We’re responding to today’s market and becoming more inclusive whilst retaining our core values and heritage.” Marketing Director Harvey Alexander was clearly very excited about the changes. “Our new logo and name reflect the evolving nature of the club. It may take some members time to get used to the change but so the overall response has been incredibly positive.” Everyone I spoke to thought it was an excellent idea and would will encourage more people to join ‘the biggest touring community in Europe’.

The Caravan and Motorhome Club - new name and logo

The Caravan and Motorhome Club

I think it’s a very positive move. As a recent convert to motorhome holidays, I can vouch for the pleasure to be had taking a luxurious ‘home from home’ on the road and choosing different places to stay along the way. Find out more about The Caravan and Motorhome Club here.

Arctic Adventure Caravan

The ‘Arctic Adventure’ Caravan

As I was leaving the show, I had a quick look at the #ArcticAdventure Caravan. It will soon be setting off to the Arctic Circle, 5,000 miles through 12 countries in just over two weeks. Now that really is quirky travel. Wonder if they need a travel blogger to go with them …

Take a look inside our Motorhome

January 18, 2017

7 top holiday places – with a difference

7 top holiday places – with a difference

7 top holiday places around the world

Dreaming of getting away from the grey skies of Britain for some sunshine? Fancy a classic road trip adventure? A wildlife experience second to none? A city break closer to home? If you’re planning your next holiday, here are 7 top places to inspire you to travel differently this year.

1.  Gorillas in Rwanda, West Africa

Gorilla family in Rwanda West Africa - photo zoedawes

Gorilla family

There are many reasons to visit Rwanda, including its stunning scenery and friendly people but undoubtedly the main attraction is the mountain gorillas. To be close to a huge silverback and his young son munching on bamboo right in front of you is to totally unforgettable. You have to book well in advance, get a permit and be prepared for a hike up a fairly steep (extinct) volcano, but it is well worth the time, effort and yes, expense, for a genuine ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday experience.

Read my memorable encounter with gorillas in Rwanda.

2.  Idyllic beaches (and flamingos if you’re lucky) in the Caribbean

Eagle Beach Aruba

Eagle Beach

Tyuly turquoise sea, really white sand, virtually guaranteed sunshine, enormous cocktails, a dash of history and a little light entertainment. Perfect ingredients for a relaxing sunshine holiday. Aruba has everything the hedonist could wish for, plus a sense of fun that livens things up every day. When you get bored with lying on a gorgeous beach, you could learn to paddle-board, go on a 4×4 safari or take a wander through their desert-like National Park. It’s very popular for weddings and couples. There are plenty of top-class hotels to choose from and some great package deals to be had all year round. (If you want to see the pretty flamingos you’ll have to stay at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino so you can visit their private island.) Check out my Top Fun Things to Do in Aruba.

3. Explore the ancient city of Lancaster

Lancaster Castle tour

Lancaster Castle

Take a break in one of the UK’s known cities, Lancaster, in the north west of England. Lancaster Castle is one of the most interesting castles in Britain because, until recently, it was used as prison and still functions as Lancashire’s Crown Court. With a 1000 years of history it is the most popular sight in the city, but the rest of the city is worth taking time to get to know. Visit the Judges Lodgings to see where legal eagles used to reside, wander along the Lancaster Canal and have a drink at the Water Witch or walk up to the Ashton Memorial for superb views across to Morecambe Bay. Nearby Leighton Hall is home of the Gillow family, famous furniture makers. Find out about the Light Up Lancaster Festival here.

4. A road trip through the Rocky Mountains, Canada

RV by Medicine Lake Jasper Canada - image zoe dawes

RV by Medicine Lake

If you’d asked me a couple of years ago what I’d think of driving a motorhome anywhere, never mind through the biggest mountain range in Canada, I’d have probably laughed and said, ‘No Way’. But when I was invited to go from Vancouver to Calgary in an RV (Recreational Vehicle) last year, I was persuaded that I could, and I’m so glad I did. It was the best fun ever, and now I’m a total convert! The roads are easy, the scenery stupendous and you’ll probably get to see some amazing  wildlife along the way. It really is an unforgettable holiday. Find out more in my 10 most memorable moments on a Canada road trip.

5. Take a selfie at the most popular landmark on Instagram

Paris - infographic cewe photoworld

Paris – cewe photoworld

And now for something completely different. Do you know what the most popular #hashtag landmark on Instagram is? The clue in the photo. With its famous steel girders standing proud over the city of Paris, the Eiffel Tower has been instagrammed over 3 million times. Take a lift to the top and join the ultimate selfie crowd on the ultimate French icon. In this infographic by cewe photoworld you can find the Top 10 Most Instagrammed Places in the World.

6. Discover the Causeway Coast of Ireland

Portstewart Northern Ireland at sunset

Portstewart at sunset

If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you’ll already be familiar with the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland as it features in many episodes, especially in the first few series. However, there is so much more here than the spooky Dark Hedges (aka The King’s Road). It’s a culinary treasure trove of fresh and imaginatively cooked food and home to renowned Bushmills Whiskey. You mustn’t miss the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site or the beautiful beaches along the coastal road. Still need persuading? Here’s my Top 10 places on the Causeway Coast – go on, go on, go on – you’ll love it.

7. Take time out in Western Australia

Tip holiday ideas - Perth Harbour - Western Australia - photo zoe dawes

Perth Harbour

Planning on visiting relatives in Australia? Consider lengthening your holiday with a stay in or around the lovely city of Perth. Capital of Western Australia, Perth has a relaxed cultural scene, beautiful harbour and lively cafe society. Nearby Fremantle is now a focus for hipsters, foodies, artists and history buffs. Popular holiday destination Rottnest Island with its quirky quokkas is a short ferry-ride away. Love wine? Further south you’ll find some of the world’s top quality wineries in the very attractive Margaret River region.

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Top Holiday Places with a difference

This article is brought to you in collaboration with cewe photobooks. They make a wide range of photobooks , calendars, cards and prints so why not upload your travel photos and create a lasting souvenir. Find out more about the CEWE Photobooks here.

December 6, 2016

Top 10 memorable moments from a Canada road trip

Top 10 memorable moments from a Canada road trip
At the top of Sulphur Mountain, Banff Canada

Zoe and Ali at the top of Sulphur Mountain, Banff

When you go on an RV road trip in Canada, you’re guaranteed a great many memorable moments, whichever part of the country you visit. But when you drive through British Columbia and Alberta via the Rockies from Vancouver to Calgary these moments tumble over each other almost every hour. Here are just a few that stand out, but there were many more …

1. Walking in the desert at Osoyoos

Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre - Osoyoos - Canada

Osoyoos Desert – Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre

The heat is the biggest surprise. The sun beats down as we walk though scrubby bushes and stunted trees. The heady scent from a herby shrub wafts past, bringing back vague memories of the wilder parts of Greece. Travel companion Ali is wearing a hat to keep cool as we walk through the desert. Yes, we’re in Canada, not a place you think of as really hot or with a desert, but at Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre we learn about this unique ecology and wildlife, including the Western Rattlesnake and the Cayote. We learn about the Osoyoos Indian Band, who run the Desert Centre and nearby RV Park and admire Smoker Marchand sculptures. It’s fascinating, surprising and very hot.

2.  Eating cherries on the road

Cherries from a farm shop in Okanagan Valley Canada

Cherries at the farm shop

We buy a kilo of big, fat, sweet and oh so very juicy cherries from one of the farm shops along the Okanagan Valley. It’s late spring and the whole area is bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables in this very fertile part of southern Canada. We’ve been told to get the cherries as it’s the best crop for years. We’re on our way to the Rockies but have a long way to go and these deep red globes of delicious goodness keep us going all the way to Revelstoke. Fortunately there is a market and we can stock up again; luckily they last until our first glimpse of the Rockies.

3.  The Pipe Mountain Coaster, Revelstoke

The Pipe Mountain Coaster Revelstoke

Ready, steady, go …

‘Keep off the brake. Don’t be a chicken!’ The words of the bearded Canadian guy in the queue, resound in my ears as I zoom down the sheer drop VERY fast. I desperately want to pull brake, but two things stop me.

  • I’m worried I’m going so fast I’ll tip out
  • I don’t want to be a chicken.

I’m on the Pipe Mountain Coaster in Revelstoke, British Columbia. Riding up in the gondola, the Monashee Mountains and Columbia River spread beneath us. Whizzing down the mountain, I’ve no time to look at the view. Fir trees flick past as the little cart twists, turns and at one point appears to shoot off the edge, accelerating past a ski run on its way down 1.4km of track at up to 26mph. All too soon, I’m at the end, exhilarated and wanting to do again – me no chicken!

4  BBQ at Dutch Lake Resort, Clearwater

BBQ burgers at Dutch Lake Resort Canada - photo zoedawes

Burgers for dinner

The sound of wood chopping has stopped and there’s smoke wafting in through the door of the RV. Ali’s got the BBQ going and I’ve finished preparing the salad and opened a couple of beers. Beef burgers from a local butcher sizzle merrily on the metal rack we’ve just bought from Dutch Lake Resort shop. A couple of guys from the RV next door come over to chat whilst we wait for the burgers to cook. The sun’s setting over the lily-strewn lake and frogs start croaking in the shallows. The tantalizing smell of onions and burgers get the taste buds going. Love eating outdoors in Canada …

5.  The Rockies from the top of Whistler Mountain

The Rockies and Jasper Sky Tram - Whistler Mountain - Canada - photo zoedawes

The Rockies and Jasper Sky Tram

At last I’m here, on top of Whistler Mountain gazing out across the most famous mountains in North America. Their pointed tops ripple across the horizon, perfectly mountainy. Snow glitters in the late afternoon light and a ribbon of river ripples through the wooded valley. A lake of startling blue water glistens and winks upwards. Quirky Jasper town curves alongside the railway track and birds glide on the chilly thermals. Neither words nor photos can do justice to this awesome sight.

6. Relaxing by Medicine Lake

Wild flowers by Medicine Lake in the Rockies - photo zoedawes

Wild flowers by Medicine Lake

The calm waters ripple briefly as a duck floats serenely past. At the end of the lake tower the jaggy peaks of the Rockies, reflected in shimmering symmetry. I drink in the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Medicine Lake in the heart of Jasper National Park, in Alberta. Delicate white and yellow wild flowers bend their dainty heads in the gentle breeze and overhead a large bird wheels its way across the cloud-flecked sky; too far away to see if it’s a bald eagle. A stone lands with a resounding splash to my left and two children giggle; the spell is broken and it’s time to move on and explore more …

7.  Driving the RV along the Icefields Parkway

RV on the Icefields Parkway The Rockies Canada - photo zoedawes

RV on the Icefields Parkway

After hundreds of miles we are finally driving along one of the world’s most spectacular roads, the Icefields Parkway, from Jasper to Banff. Every twist and turn reveals more mountains until we feel completely surrounded. We are running parallel to the Continental Divide from Jasper National Park to Banff National Park stopping off at the Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Pass, Stutfield and Athabasca Glaciers, Peyto Lake, Wildfowl Lake and Lake Louise.  We see mountain goats, many birds, wild flowers and tourists. It could take us a few hours; it actually takes us all day, every mile a miracle of natural wonder and delight …

8.  The unbelievable blue of Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake Alberta Canada - photo zoedawes

Peyto Lake

You have to see it to believe it …

9. Cocktail at the Banff Springs Hotel

Cocktail on the Terrace Banff Springs Hotel Canada

Cocktail on the Terrace

After all the driving, staying in campgrounds and sightseeing it’s so relaxing to have a Mojito on the terrace of the splendidly luxurious Banff Springs Hotel. With panoramic views of the Bow River and the Rocky Mountains, it’s a suitably fitting place to absorb scenery and reflect on our epic road trip through the Rockies …

10. To boldly go – to Vulcan

RV outside Trekcetera Museum Alberta

RV outside Trekcetera Museum

From the sublime to the … well, not ridiculous, but definitely surreal. Walking into a room with wall-to-wall costumes and artefacts from Star Trek, being shown round by a flamboyant and highly entertaining TV and movie enthusiast, dressed as a 19th C dandy cowboy, is a really quirky contrast to the natural wonders we have seen over the past couple of weeks. The Trekcetera Museum in Vulcan (the town name came first) has the largest collection of Trekkie memorabilia in Canada and we feel vaguely hysterical as we leave to find a bottle of wine for our last night sleeping in our trusty RV. Live long and prosper …

Trekcetera Museum Vulcan

Trekcetera Museum

#ExploreCanada Road Trip

I visited British Columbia as a guest of Explore Canada as part of a Travelator Media campaign, driving the RV from Vancouver to Montreal. Many thanks to Alison Bailey for her unfailing good humour, practical advice and excellent driving. Much gratitude to all the people we met along the way who made it such a memorable trip.

memorable-canada-pinterest

Read more about our Canada RV road trip:

The Quirky Traveller: History in the Rocky Mountains

Heather on Her Travels: Foodie Adventures – Ontario and Quebec

Travel with Kat: Top 10 things to do in British Columbia

On the Luce: Calgary to Toronto – Unforgettable Moments

November 22, 2016

A rippa of a day in Margaret River, Australia

A rippa of a day in Margaret River, Australia
Canoeing on Margaret River Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Canoeing on the Margaret River

“It’s a rippa of a day. Hope you’re enjoying yourselves. It’s so beautiful here and hardly anyone ever does this.” Apparently ‘a rippa of a day‘ means ‘absolutely fantastic’, ‘here‘ is Margaret River, after which the nearby town is named, in Western Australia, and ‘this‘ is canoeing along the river. We’d just had a brief rain shower and now the weather was clearing as we paddled slowly along the wide and tranquil stretch of water. The roots of huge trees entangled the shores and their tops towered over us, swaying gently in the breeze. I was in a canoe with our guide for the day, Sean Blocksidge, who runs the Margaret River Discovery Company and food blogger Niamh Shields. Also on our tour were a honeymoon couple from Australia and another couple from America.

Paddling canoe on the Margaret River, Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Paddling our canoes

After our canoe trip, we went to the waterfall on Margaret River, in full spate due to an exceptionally wet winter. We sat down beside it and Sean explained its significance to local Aboriginal people as a tribal camp ground. He’d brought along some bread and three types of honey for us to try. “This is honey-gold. It’s called Karri, from the local Karri tree [eucalyptus diversicolor], which grows round here. It has strong healing properties and is highly valued.” They all tasted good but this one was a real winner.

Karri honey at Margaret River waterfall Western Australia

Karri Honey

We headed off in Sean’s 4X4 to Prevelly for a quick coffee at the White Elephant Cafe and to have a look at one of the area’s premier surfing beaches, Gnarabup. This area had also been hit by big storms so the weather was unseasonably cold and wet. Even so, we could appreciate it and see why, in the summer months, it is one of the most popular places not just for surfing but also to relax and enjoy this lovely coastline.

Gnarabup Beach Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Gnarabup Beach

Having been refreshed, we set off to explore some of area’s countryside and Sean regaled us with tales of his life and local history. including the horrific bush fire of 2011 that destroyed a vast swathe of the area. Luckily no-one was injured, but one of Western Australia’s oldest homes, Wallcliffe House, built in 1865, was gutted. It was an important example of early colonial architecture and home to one of WA’s finest collections of antique furniture. Driving on through the lush countryside, we passed dozens of vineyards. Margaret River is famous the world over for the quality of its wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonney but increasingly for other, lesser known wines and blends. With its consistent growing seasons, mild winter, pleasant summer, good rainfall and fertile soil, it is home to over 150 wineries – and the number is growing.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling Margaret River WA

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling

The previous day, Niamh and I had experienced an excellent Wine and Food Tasting at the Leeuwin Estate, one of the five founding wineries in Margaret River. Not only do they produce superb wines but they have a unique collection of modern art, which they use for the labels on their very distinctive Art Series wines. (Watch out for more in my next article on Food and Drink in Western Australia.)

Fraser Gallop Estate Margaret River Western Australia

Fraser Gallop Estate

Now we were visiting Fraser Gallop Estate, an up and very much coming winery that’s already producing some distinctive award-winning wines. Francine Davies showed us round. “The Fraser Gallop Estate winery is custom designed to process a maximum capacity of 300 tonnes of grapes, particularly designed in layout and size for the fermentation of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends.” We then had an informal lunch of local food, including octopus, duck and chicken liver pate, smoked trout and venison chorizo. Sean explained each wine and we sipped glass after glass with much relish. A big favourite was the splendid 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Just suck it up,” said Sean in typical Aussie fashion – and we did! NB: this estate is not usually open for public visits.

Wine-tasting at Fraser Gallop Estate - Margaret River - Western Australia - collage zoedawes

Wine-tasting at Fraser Gallop Estate

After such a hedonistic lunch, it was time to get some fresh air and we headed back to the coast. The Cape to Cape Track is a 135km route beside the Indian Ocean  from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste, past dramatic seascapes and pristine beaches, along undulating paths. We parked up and set off a steady pace, walking through a vibrant patchwork of plants, shrubs and trees. This part of Australia is known for its wild flowers and in spring they burst with colour and scent. (We were visiting in October, the perfect time to see them.) Beneath us waves crashed against the shore and overhead seabirds wheeled. Sean told us to look out for migrating whales; we saw none, possibly due to the stormy weather. Sea spray brought the zing of ozone and the ocean was dappled with sunlight.

Spring flowers on Cape to Cape Track Margaret River - Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Cape to Cape Track Margaret River

After about an hour we had to turn round, but not before Sean had taken a photo of each of us perched on a rock above the cliffs. Windblown and happy, we then returned to the vehicle, making the most of our time out in this glorious scenery. Back in the town of Margaret River, Niamh and I said goodbye to Sean, who suggested we drive to a road near where we were staying, to see kangaroos having their evening meal. Here they are …

Kangaroos at Margaret River

We stayed at Basildene Manor near the town of Margaret River. This beautiful boutique hotel was built by Percy Willmott, a lighthouse keeper at Cape Leeuwin, in 1912. He created a splendid home resembling a relative’s grand country estate in England. It’s welcoming, luxurious and delightfully quirky, with lovely grounds and truly scrumptious home-made cakes.

Basildene Manor Margaret River Western Australia

Basildene Manor

I travelled to Perth, Fremantle, Rottnest Island and Margaret River courtesy of Tourism Western Australia #justanotherdayinWA and would like to thank everyone, including a great bunch of fellow bloggers, who made this such a memorable adventure.

Zoe Dawes aka The Quirky Traveller on the Cape to Cape Track - Margaret River - Western Australia

Happy memories …

More about my trip to Western Australia: Rottnest Island in search of the quirky quokka and Top Places to Eat and Drink in Fremantle.

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The Quirky Traveller Top Tips for Margaret River - Western Australia

November 4, 2016

To Western Australia in search of the quirky quokka

To Western Australia in search of the quirky quokka
In search of the quokka - Rottnest Express - Fremantle - image zoedawes

The Rottnest Express in Fremantle

What on earth is a quokka?

Aye, that is the question. I get an email outlining the itinerary for our blog trip to Western Australia and there, on Day 1, it says we’ll be visiting Rottnest Island, with its ‘casual atmosphere, picturesque scenery and some of the world’s finest beaches.‘ Sounds lovely but I’ve never heard of Rottnest Island. As soon as I type Rottnest Island into Google, the words ‘quokka‘ and ‘animals‘ come up. I am intrigued. I need to know more …

Parker Point Rottnest Island Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Parker Point on Rottnest Island

Western Australia website says, ‘… you’ll meet the cutest mini marsupial, found only in Western Australia, the world famous quokka, as well as many unique plant and animal species. Apparently, Rottnest Island Golf Course is being ‘plagued by an explosion of quokkas.’  It’s described as the ‘happiest animal in the world’ and the internet is alive with photos of grinning quokkas.  Good heavens. What on earth is a quokka?

The quokka - happiest animal in the world.

The quokka – ‘happiest animal in the world’. Photos from internet

The Quokka

The quokka is small macropod about the size of a domestic cat. Like other marsupials in the macropod family (such as kangaroos and wallabies), the quokka is herbivorous and mainly nocturnal. It has a stocky build, rounded ears, and a short, broad head. Although looking rather like a very small kangaroo, it can climb small trees and shrubs. Its coarse fur is a grizzled brown colour, fading to buff underneath. Wikipedia

Even more intrigued, I am now really looking forward to seeing one of these quirky creatures.

Quokka eating a leaf - Rottnest Island in Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Quokka eating a leaf

Rottnest Island

We board the Rottnest Express in Fremantle on the west coast of Australia and in less than half an hour we’ve arrived in another world, where life moves at a more leisurely pace, bicycles replace cars and the elusive quokka has taken over the golf course …

Thomson Bay on Rottnest Island Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Thomson Bay

We get on our hired bikes and pedal off towards the Visitor Information Centre. Whilst a helfpful guide shows us where to go on a map, all I want to know is where the quokkas are. Will I get to see one easily? Are they shy? Where’s the best place to see them? ‘Oh they’re all over the place. You’ll see plenty in and around town and they’re not at all shy. You can take photos but please don’t touch them or feed them.’ I’m starting to feel quietly excited …

Rottnest Settlement and quokka - collage zoedawes

Rottnest Settlement and quokka

Downtown Rottnest (the Settlement) is a short tree-lined walk of shops, cafes and a bakery. We leave our bikes and there, next to the bike stand, is a chubby quokka fast asleep under a tree. I stoop down to take a photo and the quokka wakes up. It gives me a quick stare then starts grooming its tummy. Looks cute but definitely more rat than cat-like! Outside the bakery a quokka is on the table eating crumbs, surrounded by ooohing and aaahing admirers. In front of the supermarket, one is hopping along looking vaguely shifty; there’s a big sign saying No Quokkas.

No quokkas here - Rottnest Island

No quokkas here

I set off with the other bloggers on a bike ride round the island, but it starts to rain so I decide to go to the little Museum, housed in one of the Victorian buildings left from the days when Rottnest was a prison island for Aboriginal People. There is an excellent exhibition telling the sad story of these prisoners, as well artefacts from the days when the island became a holiday resort. In the middle of the room is a cabinet with a stuffed quokka, bearing the title, The controversial Quokka. 

Stuffed quokka in Rottnest museum

Stuffed quokka in museum

Rottnest Island (known as Wadjemup to the local Noongar people and Rotto by many), was named Rotte Nest (Rat’s Nest) by a Dutch explorer in 1696. The island was overrun with quokkas but the introduction of foxes and destruction of their natural habitat meant their numbers dwindled almost to extinction. The island is now a designated protected area and there are about 12,000 quokkas living on Rottnest.

Quokka on the town - Rottnest Island - photo zoedawes

Quokka on the town

When the rain stops, I get the Hop-on, Hop-off Explorer Bus which goes round the coast. The island is ringed with gorgeous, sandy beaches and enticing bays. I get off at Parker Point and go for a paddle in the shallow, translucent waters of the Indian Ocean. It’s a bit chilly but the sun’s out and I can imagine how refreshing it must be in the height of summer.

Rottnest Island Beaches Western Australia - collage zoedawes

Rottnest Island Beaches

Walking on round the coast, people pass on bikes, waving hello as they glide by. I flag down another bus at Salmon Point and we head off past Wadjemup Lighthouse towards Cape Vlamingh at the western end of the island. At the bus-stop a group of tourists are gathered round a quokka on its hind legs, begging for food. Cameras and videos capture the moment; these little creatures are real super-stars of Western Australia.

Quokka near Cape Vlamingh Rottnest Island - photo zoedawes

Quokka near Cape Vlamingh

The bus winds its way past the Salt Lakes and holiday homes before arriving back at Thomson Bay. I get off and have a look at the historic buildings. As well as the old prison Quod, there’s a chapel and a quaint little Picture House, showing Roald Dahl’s ‘The BFG’. Quokkas are everywhere, particularly under the Island Tea Tree and Rottnest Island Pines, where they find their favourite food. I see a group of them in a wooded area near the Picture House and sit down to watch them. One wanders over to have a look at my rucksack, which has some fruit inside. This curious chap clambers all over my bag and camera trying to get at them. He’s very close and the temptation to reach out and stroke his furry back is almost overwhelming. I grab my iPhone and video him (or maybe it’s a her?). I take a photo; my hand is shaking at being so near, not wanting to scare him away …

Up close with a quokka - Rottnest Island - photo zoedawes

Up close with a quokka

Eventually he gives up and potters off. It’s time to meet up with the others at Hotel Rottnest for a bite to eat before we leave the island to return to Fremantle. I’ve not managed to get the famous ‘quokka selfie’ but I have got VERY close to one of the world’s rarest and cutest wild animals. It’s our first day here and already I’m a bit in love with this part of Australia, but even more, I’m totally besotted with the quirky quokka.

The Quirky Quokka of Rottnest Island Western Australia - photo zoedawes

The Quirky Quokka of Rottnest Island

You can see more of beautiful Rottnest Island in this Quirky Travel Guide video, which also features the quokka clambering over my rucksack!


I travelled to Perth, Fremantle, Rottnest Island and Margaret River courtesy of Tourism Western Australia #justanotherdayinWA and would like to thank everyone, including a great bunch of fellow bloggers, involved in making this such a memorable trip.

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In search of the quirky quokka - zoedawes

 

October 19, 2016

Top Tips for your RV road trip in Canada

Top Tips for your RV road trip in Canada

It looked a lot bigger than I had imagined. It also looked a lot prettier, covered in views of Canada’s splendid scenery. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Once you get on the road, you’ll soon forget its size and be enjoying yourself behind the wheel.” I was at the Cruise Canada pick-up centre in Vancouver, about to set off on a two-week RV (Recreational Vehicle) road trip to Calgary via the Rocky Mountains, with photographer Alison Bailey. Luckily, Ali was familiar with driving a camper van and took in all the instructions from the very helpful guy at the depot.

Cruise Canada Standard RV

Picking up Rocky – Cruise Canada Standard RV

He was right. Once we were on the road and got used to driving Rocky (we were going through the Rockies so it seemed appropriate to name this hunky vehicle), it did become much easier. We had the Standard version, which is 25′ long, sleeps 5 and comes with a gas cooker and sink, fridge-freezer, plenty of cupboard space, water, electricity and sewage connections, a shower and big beds. For two weeks we travelled across Canada in this RV (motorhome), including the stupendous Rockies, staying in RV campgrounds of varying standards and facilities, met some lovely people along the way and found out more about the Canadian ‘culture’ of the RV road trip. You can follow our route on this map. Here’s what I learnt.

Map RV Road Trip from Vancouver to Calgary Canada

RV Road Trip – Vancouver to Calgary

RV Road Trip Tips

1.  Book a vehicle that’s big enough for your RV road trip

Nk'Mip RV Park Osoyoos Lake

RV beside Lake Osoyoos

Yes, I know it sounds obvious but actually it’s easy to just go by the number of sleeping spaces and think that’s going to be fine. We were doing our trip on behalf of Explore Canada who’d booked the trip and I had assumed, as there were only two of us, we’d get Cruise Canada’s smallest RV, the Compact, which sleeps three ie with one double bed and one single made up from the dining table. Thank goodness we got the next size up. Apart from both needing a decent size bed each, we didn’t have to keep shifting the table and also there was way more space inside for all our things. If you’re going for a weekend then maybe a smaller size is fine, but for longer, then go for the bigger size if you can afford it. Had been actually been 5 of us in the Standard RV it would have been VERY cosy …

Nk'Mip RV Park Osoyoos Lake

Our first 2 nights were spent in Osoyoos on the Canada/USA border in the excellent Nk’Mip RV Park and Campground. We were lucky to get a pitch by the lake, and as you can see, Rocky was most definitely NOT the biggest kid on the block. Some Canadian and American RVs are HUGE!

2.  Make sure your RV has enough storage space

Interior of Cruise Canada Standard RV

Ali getting the lowdown on the interior of the RV

This follows on directly from Tip 1, but is relevant whatever size RV you get. If you’re on a long road trip, you’ll probably be taking quite a lot of stuff with you. Canada’s climate is very changeable, depending on where you are and what season. We travelled in early summer and got everything from hot sunshine in Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley and Calgary, to sleet and cool winds in the Rockies. Our RV had loads of storage, as you can see from this video, not only for clothes but also for food and cooking utensils. There was a fridge and also a freezer, which was really useful as we cooked almost every day during our trip. On the outside of the RV there was a large storage space which had our picnic table and chairs, spare wood for BBQ plus extra food.

Food and drink in RV

Food and drink in RV

The second stop on our road trip was at the Williamson Lake Campground in quirky Revelstoke, a railway town with a vibrant winter sports scene. It rained quite heavily here and it was great to have plenty of space to make a meal, eat at the table and then relax ‘indoors’ in the evening. You can see the RV interior in this video.

3.  Familiarise yourself with all the ‘technical things’

RV driver cab storage

The Driver’s Cab essentials …

There’s no getting away from it, a motorhome or RV has a lot more things to get to know than a car or even a simple camper van. If you’re British, you may not have driven an automatic before and there’s something called the Tow Hold for going up (or was it down?) hills. You need to be clear about the electrics for the interior lighting and heating but most important is the Hook-Up. This is where you get to connect the electricity, water (and sewage if you’re lucky) to the mains on your RV pitch at the campground. It’s not difficult, just a matter of remembering which way to turn things, but it is really IMPORTANT. Watch Ali demonstrating the Cruise Canada RV Hook Up in this video.


Here’s where I make a confession. During the whole trip I didn’t once do the hook-up. Ali very kindly did all that every time we arrived and departed – and got VERY quick at it. You can see more of super-star Ali here as she demonstrates UNHOOKING the Cruise Canada RV in this video.


NB: Make sure you know what noise the smoke/gas detector makes. Ali had gone for a walk and I was in the RV parked by the Columbia River in Revelstoke, writing my journal when suddenly there was a very loud and continuous noise. I couldn’t work out what it was or where in the RV it was coming from. Fortunately Ali came back in time; I’d not turned off a gas ring properly and it was the alarm telling me to get out before I succumbed to propane gas fumes … Thanks Ali!

RV at Columbia River Revelstoke

RV beside the Columbia River, Revelstoke

4.  Cook and eat outdoors

Lunch overlooking Lake Okanagan - RV road trip Canada - image zoedawes

Lunch overlooking Okanagan Lake

One of the huge pluses in an RV Road Trip is being able stop when you want, rustle up a snack, get out the chairs and enjoy the view. Most memorable was lunch on a sunny day driving from Osoyoos to Revelstoke when we stopped beside Okanagan Lake. As you can see, we really did relax. Nearly all the campgrounds we visited had a fire-pit or BBQ plus a bench beside each RV pitch. If there is a site shop, it will usually sell wood and charcoal. If not, stock up on some at the local supermarket. Ali was a dab hand at chopping wood, borrowing an axe from whoever was parked nearby, and could get a fire going, even in the rain. We ate outside as often as possible, using the fire-pit when we could or just rustling up something inside and eating it beside the van. It’s very sociable as many others will be doing the same.

BBQ meal RV Road Trip Canada

BBQ dinner at Dutch Lake Resort

At tranquil Dutch Lake Resort and RV Park in Clearwater, near Wells Gray Provincial Park BC, we had a great time cooking burgers and then enjoying them with a beer overlooking the pretty lake.

5. Enjoy the drive

Zoe Dawes driving on RV road trip Canada

Driving the RV

Canadian roads are generally wide and easy to navigate. Our RV had very big wing mirrors, split in two (see photo above by Columbia River) so we could see all along the side to the back of the vehicle. After some initial nerves about the length and width of our RV, I soon forgot about it and felt (amost) as comfortable driving Rocky as I did my own car back home. One warning; Canadian road signs are pants! They seem to assume you know where you are going and hardly ever seem to give directions for where you need to be. Our Cruise Canada RV didn’t have satnav – thanks heavens for Google Maps.

The Rockies - RV Road Trip Canada - image zoedawes

On the road to the Rockies

 If you’re doing the Rockies in your RV (and that is such a great way to see this iconic mountain region), then be prepared for some seriously great scenery round every corner. Apart from the initial route out of Vancouver, we mainly drove along the flat,  not OVER the mountains, which was a pleasant surprise. Ali and I took it in turns so we could enjoy the view and take photos through the van window. Once we got to the Jasper National Park we could barely speak for excitement at the views. (The signage improved too.)

The Rockies in Jasper National Park - RV Road Trip - image zoedawes

The Rockies in Jasper National Park

We spent one memorable night in the pouring rain at Gregg Lake Campground, in William A Switzer Provincial Park. It was notable for the limited facilities (we had no water or sewage pipe but there was a shower block) and the abundance of pine trees. On the way there we saw the most splendid rainbow arcing over the Rocky Mountains.

Rainbow in the Rockies - RV Road Trip Canada - image zoedawes

Rainbow from RV window

6.  Keep your eyes open

Rocky Mountain Sheep at Miette Hot Springs - RV road trip Canada - image zoedawes

Rocky Mountain Sheep at Miette Hot Springs

Keep your eyes open, not just so you don’t fall asleep but also to spot the vast array of wildlife you’ll see along the way. We saw mountain sheep at Miette Hot Springs and TWO black bears beside the road in the Rockies. Tip: if you see a number of vehicles pulled up by the roadside, chances are there’s a wild animal nearby.

Black bears in the Rockies - RV road trip Canada - image zoedawes

Black bears from the RV

“Zoe, wake up. There are elk all round the RV.” It was about 6am  in Whistler’s Campground near Jasper and Ali woke me up to see these elegant animals, which were sleeping, eating and totally unbothered by all the RVs and two avid photographers nearby.

Elk in Whistlers Campground - RV Road Trip Canada - image zoedawes

Elk beside the RV

Click on link to see more elk at Whistler’s Campground – not the best quality video but you get an idea of how close we were!

7.  Plan your trip carefully

Banff town signpost - RV road trip Canada - image zoedawes

Banff town

I’ve left this to last as it is possibly the most important. Before you leave home, have a good look at a map and talk with anyone who has been to the area you’re visiting. Your hire company can help too. Hopefully you’ll have lots of stops and time to explore, but remember the distances can be great, there are strict speed limits (National Parks max 90 kms ph), and there is so much to see you’ll want to stop often. We could have driven the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff in about 3 hours. It took us all day; it truly deserves its reputation as one of the world’s top road routes.

Stutfield Glacier - Icefields Parkway Canada - image zoedawes

Stutfield Glacier – Icefields Parkway

You’ll need to take time out to rest as sometimes you’ll probably have long distances to drive. On our RV road trip we drove over 3,500 kilometres in two weeks from Vancouver to Calgary, which meant just about every other day was a long drive. Sharing the driving really helps. When you’ve got your route clear, choose your campgrounds carefully. They usually have more facilities than UK ones, and are geared up for big RVs but some have more amenities than others. You may want a shop or restaurant and a launderette is very handy. Our shower was small so we used the wash blocks on all the sites we visited. At Spring Creek RV Campground in Canmore, not far from Banff, there was everything we needed, though it was more crowded than some others. BOOK in ADVANCE, especially during high season or in popular areas like the National Parks.

Spring Creek RV Campground - Banff Canada

Spring Creek RV Campground

And finally …

Our last stop was in the really quirky town of Vulcan, which is the Star Trek capital of Canada … in some ways it was a very suitable place for our last night with Rocky. No mountains, rivers or glaciers, just the wide prairies of Alberta and a space ship! The sun set as we had our last meal (sausage and sweet potato mash with red wine) as we reminisced.

RV in Vulcan Alberta Canada

RV in Vulcan

Ali and I loved every minute of our RV Road Trip and we were  really sad when we handed Rocky back to the Cruise Canada depot in Calgary. I hope you get a chance to experience something similar – if I can do it, anyone can …

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Top Tips for Canada RV Road Trip

#ExploreCanada Road Trip

I visited British Columbia as a guest of Explore Canada as part of a Travelator Media campaign. Many thanks to Alison Bailey for her unfailing good humour, practical advice and excellent driving. Much gratitude to all the people we met along the way who made it such a memorable trip.

Read more about our road trip:

The Quirky Traveller: 24 hours in Calgary

Heather on her Travels: How to drive an RV from Toronto to Montreal

Travel with Kat: Vancouver Island Road Trip

On the Luce: First timer’s guide to driving an RV

July 13, 2016

‘Oh, the places you’ll go!’ Life’s adventure with Dr Seuss

‘Oh, the places you’ll go!’ Life’s adventure with Dr Seuss

Dr Seuss Oh the places you'll go

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

The opening words of ‘Oh, the places you’ll go’, a delightful little book by Dr Seuss, are positive and life-affirming. They also epitomize the philosophy of many of us who choose to set off to Great Places as often as we possibly can. These places may be real; a holiday on a sun-kissed island like Menorca, a trek through the Australian Bush, a train journey through the Swiss Alps, a boat trip to watch bears in Canada or a meander beside an English lake. But they could equally be places we go metaphorically. The word ‘journey’ is hugely overused these days, but life really is a journey, with all the attendant ups and downs that any literal journey brings …

‘Oh, the places you’ll go’ is advice to a young boy who leaves home to explore the world. He’s told that he’s in charge of his own life and can make his own decisions on what direction to his journey will take.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

The book, written as a poem, takes the lad through highs and lows, assuring him that, ‘You’ll be on your way up, You’ll be seeing great sights, You’ll join the high fliers who soar to the heights.’  But then there are the lows and attendant problems.

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

We’re all familiar with the ‘Waiting Place’ where people are just,

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting …

Escaping from this dreary place, the boy is told he’ll escape to find the, bright places where Boom Bands are playing’ and he’ll ride high. And so he will go on, becoming successful and seeming to have everything in life until one day, whether he likes it or not, ‘Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.’ It’s very unusual for a children’s book, for that is what ‘Oh, the places you’ll go’ was written as, to address loneliness. Yet that is something most of us will experience at some time in our lives, and some people are lonely a lot of the time.

All Alone from Oh the places you'll go by Dr Seuss

However, in the realistic but upbeat tone of the book, Dr Seuss says he will overcome the things that scare him right out of his pants, in spite of getting mixed up with ‘strange birds’ and the ‘frightening creek’. Through it all he’s counselled to, ‘Step with great care and great tact’, and to remember that ‘Life’s a Great Balancing Act’. The story ends with these positive words,

So…

be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So … get on your way!

Dr Seuss Oh the places you'll go - book

So, what are you waiting for? Today is YOUR day, your mountain is waiting … now get on your way 🙂

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