“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 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.
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.
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 CabernetSauvignon 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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
A hiker strides out into the wilderness of one of North America’s most renowned regions. He is Tête Jaune, the legendary pathfinder of the Yellowhead Pass through the Rocky Mountains in Canada. Part Iroquois and part European, (Métis) Pierre Bostonnais was a fur trader and worked with the Hudson Bay Trading company in the Rockies. He is now the logo for the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives, an excellent little museum in Jasper, Alberta, showcasing the fascinating history and culture of the area.
Jasper Museum exhibition
Explorers and traders forged a way through the Rocky Mountains, in the pioneering days of the early 1800s. Trading with the local First Nation people, they were intrepid adventurers whose everyday life is recreated in tableaux throughout the museum. When Jasper Haws took command of a small provisions depot in 1815 it became known as Jasper’s House and became the centre for a small community responsible for meeting transportation and supply needs, caring for horses grazing in the valley, and trading goods for meat and furs with Aboriginal groups, including Iroquois and Métis peoples. Grainy black and white photos show earnest men wielding guns and tools, digging, fishing, building and relaxing, in what must have been extremely inhospitable conditions. Even today, Jasper has a ‘wild-west’ feel to it, enclosed by the mighty Rockies and prey to every kind of weather, often in one day.
Jasper Trading Post
The railway brought huge changes to Jasper and surrounding area, connecting it to the outside world so much easier. As the population of the town grew, the good times rolled and prosperity boomed. The opening of W.S. Jeffery department store meant locals did not have to wait months for basics and luxuries. More women came, bringing style and elegance and music and dancing became popular. The first tourists began to arrive, eager to see experience the ‘wilderness’ for themselves.
There’s a fairly lengthy but highly informative film ‘Jasper – Just Passing Through’ which tells the story of Jasper from the very early days of civilization, to the arrival of surveyor David Thompson and the Hudson Bay Company, up to the present day. Equally important is the life of the First Nation peoples, who first traversed the Athabasca Valley through the Rocky Mountains, using the land that is now Jasper National Park, as seasonal hunting and gathering grounds. There are some lovely objects on display, including moccasins and beautifully embroidered bags.
First Nation objects
Visitors who arrive by rail or vehicle will invariably find themselves at the Jasper Park Information Centre. The oldest building in the town, it’s officially designated as a Canadian National Historic Site. Built in 1913-1914 as Jasper National Park administration building, it became the visitor contact centre in 1972. It was one of the first rustic style buildings to be built in a Canadian national park. The staff there are extremely helpful and if you are stuck for accommodation (book ahead if you can) or want to know what to do and where to go, this is the place.
Jasper National Park Centre
Opposite is one of the most famous landmarks in the town; the Two Brothers Totem Pole. Erected in 2011 to replace the original one, it was made by the Haida people, it is 13.7 metres tall and painted in traditional Haida colours of red, black and blue. Splendid carvings include a grizzly bear, a frog and a raven, topped by a Brother gazing out over the Rockies, ‘ … represents the timeless values that will help present and future generations of Canadians to connect with national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas.’
Jasper Totem Pole
At the opposite end of one of the world’s top roads, the Icefield Parkway, is Banff, a more genteel mountain town than Jasper, and the home of Canada’s first National Park. When the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built, railway workers discovered hot springs in 1883, though known by local First Nation peoples for thousands of years. Realising they would become a visitor attraction, the president of CPR built the Scottish baronial style Banff Springs Hotel and the rest is tourism history. To protect the springs from over-commercialisation, the area was declared a National Park and the Cave and Basin National Historic Site is hugely popular with tourists today.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
To get an insight into the First Nation culture and pioneer history of the Rockies, there’s not better place than Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. It’s an accessible size with interesting objects well-displayed. The original collection was started by locals Peter and Catharine Whyte and includes, ‘artifacts that help tell the stories of Aboriginal people, artists, immigrants, guides and outfitters, climbers, surveyors, hikers, explorers, adventurers, skiers and residents of the town and area. Artifacts pertaining to the development of Banff National Park are also included.’
Rocky Mountains Park Exhibitions
There are a couple of art galleries with changing exhibitions; they showcase local and national artists with a very eclectic and often thought-provoking slant. This very attractive and seemingly innocuous sculpture of the Rocky Mountains, a road and some mountain sheep appears very innocuous until you see the blurb. It’s actually a protest by Denise Smith against the controversial Glacier ‘Skywalk’ the Icefields Parkway.
‘Skywalk’ by Denise Smith
There are plenty of other places to get a feel for the history and culture of the Rocky Mountains in Banff, including the taxidermy heaven of Banff Park Museum. Dating to 1903, the timber-framed building was designed to house a unique collection of all the animals found the National Park. Along Banff Avenue are a number of historic buildings from the early days of rail travel, which add to the town’s heritage charm. For a glimpse into its luxurious past and present, take the Historical Tour at the imposing and stylish Fairmont Banff Springs.
Sir William van Horne and Banff Springs Hotel
A knowledgeable guide explains how the hotel came into being, takes you through various majestic halls, ballrooms, corridors, restaurants and bars, telling amusing anecdotes about the hotel’s founder, staff, visitors and ghosts! Thanks to my charming guide Tom.) Have a cocktail on the terrace overlooking the sinuous Bow River and mighty Rocky Mountains and feel a part of the unique fabric of this towering region of Canada. Unforgettable …
Cheers from Banff Springs
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.
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.
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.
RV Road Trip – Vancouver to Calgary
RV Road Trip Tips
1. Book a vehicle that’s big enough for your RV road trip
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, 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 …
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
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
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 RVinterior in this video.
3. Familiarise yourself with all the ‘technical things’
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 beside the Columbia River, Revelstoke
4. Cook and eat outdoors
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.
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.
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
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 from RV window
6. Keep your eyes open
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 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.
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
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
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
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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#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.
Famous for its white sands and sunshine, Aruba is popular with couples, honeymooners, families and visitors of all ages looking for a relaxing holiday or action-packed break. Just off the coast of Venezuela in what was formerly known as the Dutch Antilles, Aruba has more sun than most other Caribbean islands and many visitors return year after year. I spent a relaxing week exploring the island with a group of fellow bloggers, soaking up its friendly, lively atmosphere. Yes, there are lots of gorgeous, sandy beaches on Aruba but there are plenty of activities if you fancy a change from sunbathing.
Fun things to do on Aruba
With international resorts, year-round festivals and sport competitions, a wide range of restaurants and bars, many tours and activity centres, an intriguing history, unique natural landscape and a vibrant night-life, there really is something to suit every age and taste.
Watersports and Boat Trips
Kitesurfing on Palm Beach
Refreshing breezes blow most days (and sometimes much stronger winds) making Aruba a windsurfer’s delight. The Windsurfing World Championships were being held whilst we were there and it was wonderful to see both windsurfers and kitesurfers whizzing across – and above – the water like enormous seabirds. My fellow travellers had a go at stand-up Paddle Boarding with Dennis Martinez of Aruba Surf and Paddle School and did very well, especially as a rainstorm hit just as they were getting into their stride. (Turns out the island has been suffering a drought and more rain fell in that half hour than in the past 18 months. It was the only rain we saw all week.) Frigate birds and pelicans add an exotic touch to the scene.
Paddle Boarding lesson
Swimming on Aruba is a joy, as is snorkelling. I’ve never seen so many colourful fish. Irridescent pink and purple, lime green, zingy yellow, scarlet, apricot, sapphire … stripes, spots, splodges … opalescent scales glimmer and flicker in the shadows. Drifting slowly over a coral reef is to enter another world of rainbow silence. I went snorkelling over the wreck of the WWII warship SS Antilla during our Jolly Pirates Boat Trip along the coast of Aruba.
Jolly Pirates Boat trips
You could try SNUBA, an underwater breathing system that combines snorkelling and swimming. There are many Diving Schools with expert tuition for every level from beginner to advanced and other watersports include wakeboarding, kayaking and paragliding.
De Palm Island
On De Palm Island, not far from the airport,you can try theirunderwater Sea Trek and Power Snorkelling and lots of other activities, with plenty to keep children happy. I braved the Banana Boat – never again! I much preferred lying back on one of the sun loungers …)
Off-road Safari Tours
De Palm Tours Land Rover Adventure
One of the most popular ways to see the island is on a 4×4 Safari Tour. We did the half-day Natural Pool Land-Rover Adventure with De Palm Tours. They pick-up from all the major hotels in downtown Oranjestad up to Palm Beach; check time and place so you don’t miss the start like we did! Travelling in convoy with four other vehicles our tour included California Lighthouse, Alto Vista Chapel, Wariruri Beach, Bushiribana Gold Mill and and the ruins of Natural Bridge, which had been the largest natural bridge in the Caribbean until storms destroyed it in 2005.
Adventure Safari Sites
The final stop is the Natural Pool. After a breath-taking bumpy ride over the rocks and sand dunes of Arikok National Park, we walked down a long flight of steps to a large rock pool on the north coast. It is not quite as idyllic as it may sound as there were many other tours at the same time. You’re given a snorkel and life-jacket and enter the pool in a big group; it’s difficult to enjoy the fish when you’re worried about being being kicked by a nearby swimmer. I’m assured that going early in the morning or later in the afternoon you can avoid the crowds and then it is no doubt lovely.
The Natural Pool
Arikok National Park
One of the surprises on Aruba is how dry it is. Due to its southerly position, it has much less rain than some other Caribbean islands, meaning it’s a hot, sunny destination all year round. In Arikok National Park, which comprises 20% of the Aruba’s surface area, you can see examples of the island’s geology, flora and fauna. They include rattlesnakes, lizards, iguana, many exotic birds, cactii of all shapes and sizes, the wind-hewn divi-divi tree, aloes and wild flowers.
Guide in Arikok National Park
Book a guide to make the most of your time and to learn more about the park. There are also historic sites including 1000 year-old cave paintings by the Caquetio Indians. The island’s oldest cactus (150 years) towers over other spiky monsters and in the restored adobe farmhouse bats flitter across the ceiling.
Adobe Farmhouse and Divi-divi Tree
The Bon Bini Festival
Every Tuesday evening there’s a lively show in the courtyard of Fort Zoutman, the oldest building in Oranjestad. Now home to Aruba’s historical museum, the Fort was built in 1798 by the Dutch and is the oldest building in the capital. A cheery compere introduces local singers and folk dancers, along with marching bands and there’s a wonderfully informal Carnival Parade complete with sparkly costumes and splendidly ornate head-dresses.
Bon Bini Festival
The audience is mainly tourists but on the evening I was there, the compere shone the spotlight on one of the island’s Ministers, casually dressed, enjoying the show with friends. He looked quite embarrassed to be picked out but smiled and waved to the crowd.
Fort Zoutman Museum is well-worth visiting during the day. It has some interesting Aruban art and exhibits covering the early history and development of the island, including the story of weaving and hat-making. If you ask, it is possible to get up on the roof, where there’s a great view of Oranjestad and its charming Dutch Colonial buildings from the Clock Tower.
Oranjestad, capital of Aruba
Sitting at a table on the beach, cocktail in hand, silky-soft sand between your toes, watching the sun go down as you wait for your dinner, being serenaded by the resident singer … what’s not to like?
Cocktail on Eagle Beach
This is the dining experience offered by Passions on the Beach, a restaurant on famous Eagle Beach, just one of the many excellent eating-out experiences to be had on Aruba. Whilst we there, we saw a wedding on the beach; perfect place to tie the knot.
Celebrating marriage on Eagle Beach
Another great place to eat is the quirkily named Screaming Eagle Restaurant. As well as indoor and outdoor dining you can be pampered with a ‘Dinner-in-bed’ experience on their very comfortable lounge beds. I had the best food on the island here. Chef Erwin Hüsken serves a superb variety of French-fusion cuisine. The Caribbean Journal voted Screaming Eagle the #1 Restaurant in the Caribbean on their Top 50 list for 2015.
Food photography by Screaming Eagle Restaurant
Other places I ate at include Moomba Beach Bar on Palm Beach (delicious seafood chowder), Papillon Restaurant in the Village Mall near Palm Beach (salty oysters), Seasalt Grill in the Renaissance Marina Mall, Oranjestad (tasty Caribbean and seafood dishes), Pinchos Grill& Bar on Surfside Beach (super steak and grilled fish) and for breakfast and great pastries, Huchada Bakery in Santa Cruz.
Breakfast – and more – at Huchada Bakery
Top of the Caribbean dining experiences for me was lunch at The West Deck on Governor’s Beach. Set on a wooden deck overlooking the sea and airport, it’s very popular with locals and tourists. Informal and fun, they serve freshly-caught fish, shrimp, crab and lobster as well as chicken and steak cooked simply with a strong Caribbean influence.
Oh yes, there are pelicans too …
Pelican at The West Deck
Aruba Travel Facts
I travelled to Aruba with KLM, which flies daily from UK airports via Schiphol Airport. I stayed at the luxurious Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, which has a great roof-top pool overlooking Oranjestad Marina. The hotel has excellent amenities but its unique attraction is the Renaissance Aruba Private Island. You get there by launch from INSIDE the hotel lobby and it’s home to the island’s only flamingos. It truly is a little piece of Caribbean paradise.
Flamingos on Renaissance Aruba Private Island
If you’d like to find out more, visitAruba websiteand follow their hashtags #discoveraruba and #onehappyisland on Social Media. Special thanks to our host Amayra Boekhoudt, who looked after us on behalf of Aruba Tourism with kindness and good humour all week.
Everybody loves a holiday, but why not try something different and exciting rather than staying in a hotel? Camping has become a popular getaway option for many and it is not surprising. Camping allows you to experience the outdoors, be one with nature and make memories to remember at an inexpensive price. If you haven’t been camping before, then don’t worry, Amber Leisure is here to make sure you have the best experience possible and look like a pro in front of your fellow campers! Become a camping expert and follow our campsite hacks with the tips, tricks and advice in the infographic below.
Some of the most charming and very definitely quirky artwork to come out of Australia is made by the Potters of Hermannsburg in the remote Northern Territory. Various utentsils including pots, vases and bowls are decorated with just about every type of native Aussie creature from the kangaroo to the witchety grub.
In 1990, senior law man Nashasson Ungwanaka invited accomplished potter and teacher Naomi Sharp to come and teach pottery to families, many of whom at this time were living on their traditional country at outstations.
“I started driving out for three days and back in for two days. I had a kiln in Hermannsburg, made in the early 1960’s. That is what we started with; that was in the shack that we are still in at Hermannsburg. But I was hired originally as an oustation project. So that is why I loaded the car with clay and glazes and went out to outstations.”
About 130 km south of Alice Springs, the drive to the tiny village where the pottery is situated, takes you through spectacular Outback scenery, past straggly eucalyptus trees, scrubby bush and misty mountains. Arriving in Hermannsburg Historic Precinct is to enter a little world caught in a time-warp. Low-level white-washed buildings were built when this area was a Lutheran Mission centre in the 19th c. The German church still stands, alongside a school, houses and numerous outbuildings. There’s a little shop and an Art Gallery exhibiting paintings by one of Australia’smost renowned artists, Albert Namatjira.
On our visit we had excellent scones and jam in the quaint Kata Anga Tea Room before wandering around the little settlement. The blazing Aussie sun beat down relentlessly and the noon-day air was still and mesmerising. Rusting tractors and ancient farm implements were scattered about the village. Huge red gum trees and date palms gave welcome shade.
Green refuse bins against the picket fence seemed somehow incongruous at this historic site …
The Potters of Hermannsburg
Wandering over to the Hermannsburg Pottery, we entered yet another world, this time of whacky figures adorning colourful vessels painted in vibrant colours. Seated at tables littered with paints, brushes, pots, paper, scissors, newspaper and cups of tea, the Aboriginal women of the Aranda tribe sat quietly creating unique masterpieces. They are shy but used to visitors admiring their handicraft. Dawn Wheeler Ngala showed me her pretty turquoise scenes (see above) and Hayley Coultard Panangka demonstrated how she made the standing figure on her table.
Everywhere we looked there were gloriously quirky objects. In the middle of one of the trestle tables was a large white cockatoo and a grey kangaroo with a tiny joey peeping out of her pouch. These were the creations of Judith Inkamala Pungkarta; she was mixing paint for the stripes on the kangaroo’s tail. (Yes, stripes – and no, I’ve never seen stripes on a kangaroo’s tail either, but that’s what makes these such original artworks.) You can see profiles of the Hermannsburg potters here.
In a store room off the main art room was shelf after shelf of pottery ready to be shipped over the America for a big exhibition. Price tags on some of the works showed just how commercially successful this venture is; one large vase was priced at $1,500. All profits are shared between and the artists and ploughed back into the Pottery venture.
Having spent an hour or more admiring the work of the wonderful Potters of Hermannsburg, I emerged into the afternoon sunlight feeling inspired and strangely rejuvenated. There is something childishly impish about this pottery that brings a smile to all who see it …
It’s the end of the year and, along with many others, I’ve been looking back over the past 12 months and reflecting on all that has happened. On a personal level it was a big year as my son finished school and started university in Liverpool, so much of the time seemed to be spent nagging him to revise. I was also redesigning my training and coaching business zoedawes.com to focus on the tourism, hospitality and creative sectors. But there was time for some top travel trips and very special memories in 2015. Here are my favourites; some unsual ideas for your own holiday next year..
Top travel experiences of the year
Getting up close and personal with grizzly bears in British Columbia
I have never experienced anything like it. To go grizzly bear watching and get within a few metres of these huge, furry beasts as they make their way along the shores of the Great Bear Rainforest is truly wonderful. I can still picture the misty, rain-dappled waters of Knight Inlet and see powerful paws delicately turning over stones to find tasty morsels hidden below. With highly knowledgeable, friendly guides, a variety of transport modes, clothing, equipment and excellent meals all provided by Knight Inlet Bear Lodge, there is really nothing to think about except enjoying every moment.
Being without internet connection and far from ‘civilisation’ is also a great for a ‘digital detox’; much needed in this day and age. If you love wildlife, the outdoors and bears this will be perfect.
Finally visiting Petra and floating in the Dead Sea, Jordan
In Autumn this year I fulfilled TWO life-long ambition on a memorable trip to Jordan. I first saw a picture of Petra and of somone floating in the sea reading a newspaper when I was a child. Since then I have wanted to experience both., but had no idea they would both be possible in the same country – Jordan. The ancient city of Petra didn’t disappoint, being much bigger and more impressive than expected. The Dead Sea was very different. The whole area is now a big resort with large modern hotels catering for holidaymakers from Jordan and further afield. It has the air of a posh Blackpool, though many of the hotels were half empty due to the current situation in the Middle East. We stayed in great luxury at the Kempinksi Ishtar Hotel (NINE swimming pools!). ‘Swimming’ in the Dead Sea is a highly organised activity, with help in covering yourself in mud (very gloopy) and floating for a few minutes. It’s very difficult to stay upright and the water stings like crazy if you get it in your eyes. But I did it and have the photo to prove it!
There are many other sights to see in Jordan, we had no problems in Jordan and I would highly recommend visiting now, subject to the usual Foreign Office advice.
Discovering British Royal Heritage on first trip to Germany
Have you been to Germany? I hadn’t until this year, when I went to explore sites relating to the Hanoverian royal family. I stayed in Hanover (Hannover) which is only a short flight from the UK and a very buzzy city. Highlights of the Lower Saxony trip included the baroque beauty of Herrenhausen Gardens, historic Celle with its beautiful castle and medieval town, beautiful Buckeburg Castle and a guided tour of charming Marienburg Castle.
If you’re looking for a weekend break with a difference, pop over to Hanover and you’ll discover a city of vibrant culture, relaxed night life, good food and drink in a historic region with very regal connections.
Wherever you are and whatever you do, have a VERY Happy New Year full of quirky travel and much joy.