Breakfast of Champions

8 06 2009

Oxpecker mw

“Can’t we go somewhere else for breakfast? I always feel someone’s watching me here.” (Masai Mara)

My Mum has always said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, although we didn’t always see eye-to-eye on just what constituted a good breakfast. For the record, I see nothing wrong with twiglets and Coke.

Many travellers would certainly agree that breakfast is extremely important. It is the fuel that keeps legs pumping during sightseeing, and a great way to avoid expensive lunches – or at least eat less at mid-day. There’s also a certain magic to breakfast that’s possibly due to the excitement of anticipating what wonders the rest of the day holds in store, or of finding yourself in beautiful surroundings so far removed from a quick stale muffin devoured on a cramped subway train on your way to work.

There are many breakfasts that stick in my memory as being nigh on idyllic. Anything on a sun-dappled terrace, patio or balcony overlooking the ocean always qualifies for instant consideration as a Top Ten spot. The daily ritual of a large platter of fresh fruit and miniature oven-warm pastries in Fiji still brings a smile to my face. Daily breakfast in the garden of the Pink Baobab in Victoria Falls accompanied by the roar of the water – and a nearby fence crushed by a wayward elephant during the night – will always be remembered fondly. And for a touch of civility, who could ever challenge a vast spread of cheeses, meats, jams and croissants in a palazzo overlooking a quiet canal in Venice with enormous French windows ushering in the fresh morning air and the sound of church bells?

But the most memorable breakfast ever was simple picnic fare in Kenya’s Masai Mara.

As anyone who has ever been on safari knows, the best wildlife viewing takes place in early morning and late afternoon. The higher the sun, the lower the animals stay trying to avoid the oppressive heat and conserve their own energy. Morning game drives generally set off in the dark, just as the orange glow of dawn seeps along the horizon. At such ungodly hours, a full breakfast is generally out of the question and a simple plate of biscuits and cup of tea is more customarily followed by a hearty brunch upon return. Occasionally though, there is an opportunity for a picnic along the way. Not only does it provide sustenance to quell growling stomachs that might otherwise scare away particularly nervous wildlife, but it also provides some of the most unique and memorable breakfast spots on earth!

After several hours of exploring the Mara’s savannah and being captivated by prides of lions and herds of elephant, we pulled to a stop in the shade of a large acacia tree. The engine was turned off and a large picnic basket removed from the back of the Landcruiser and placed on the hood. From within were withdrawn foil-wrapped cold sausages and hardboiled eggs, bread and jams, bananas and pastries, juices and flasks of tea. No champagne, no gourmet omelettes – but who needed luxuries with such a view?

All around us the great African plains rolled to rocky outcrops and thickets of trees. With naked eyes we could see elephant and buffalo, giraffe and impala, zebra and Tommies. Apart from the metronomic ticking of our cooling engine, the only other sounds were the lonesome song of African mourning doves and our silent devouring of breakfast. Even now, I can still taste those cold sausages and remember the wonder of that perfect morning.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009


Weather Warnings!

12 05 2009

Serengeti storm mw

“Well, look on the bright side: at least you won’t get a sun burn!” (northern Tanzania)

There’s nothing quite like a thunderstorm on a hot, humid afternoon. The heat builds to a crescendo and black clouds slide in and the sky echoes with a mighty crack of thunder. The first spots of rain are big and heavy and release the heady scent of hot, dry dust from pavement and parched soil. The wind picks up and no sooner does the storm begin and the streets swim with water, than it moves on leaving cooler, fresh air behind.

Nobody wants their vacation spoiled by rain, but few would argue against a cleansing thunderstorm to drive away a day’s worth of sapping humidity. There’s something magical about daily downpours that breathe life to lush vegetation and make sleeping easier, but sometimes, a tropical storm can raise a more than hair!

Fiji is a tropical nation whose mountains are covered with dense rain forest and brown jungle rivers. On the white sand beaches, the only respite from the cloying heat comes in the waters of the South Pacific or from gentle sea breezes which rustle the palms that provide a token of shade.

It had been a typical autumn day in paradise but as evening approached so did heavy clouds. As the light faded and the setting sun glowed in orange cracks through distant clouds, far flashes of lightning could be seen illuminating the darkening horizon.

A party had been planned on the tennis courts over which an enormous marquee had been erected. Covering three courts, the huge white tent had taken the better part of two days to raise and was still a hive of activity as final preparations were made. By the time the party started, the wind had picked up to provide a refreshing breeze outside, while inside huge fans were circulating the warm air.

With music pounding and voices filling the space, it was only when guests ventured to the facilities a few hundred metres away that the arrival of the storm was evident.

Rain lashed and bounced knee-high off the surrounding courts and paths. People sprinted for the washrooms but within a few steps were completely soaked. The party soon took on an air of reckless abandon as everyone continued their fun in saturated linen and cotton. It wasn’t long before the driving rain and roaring wind drowned out even the music. The weather had turned from an afternoon thunderstorm to a virtual cyclone.

The massive marquee began to literally rise and fall with each growing gust. The ropes that tethered the huge structure strained as they attempted to prevent the tent from becoming a balloon. The weather worsened and sopping guests began to brave the horizontal rain and sprint away, wetter than at any time since they’d stepped from their showers that morning.

Finally, a fire engine arrived to evacuate the rest of the party as the rising and falling tent became a hazard in the violent storm. As the guests were shepherded away, the firemen attempted to better anchor the thrashing and heaving canvas. Hurrying back to the hotel, the swaying lights illuminated palm trees that snapped violently in the gale, bending almost horizontally at each limit. The ocean pounded ashore, crashing into the beach and the reef beyond with a malefic anger.

A notice had been slid under my door warning of the tropical storm and advising guests to take shelter. The high roof creaked and groaned under the elements. The rain lashed against my windows and pounded the wooden shingles mercilessly. The fronds of the palms scraped and slapped as the storm intensified. Water began to run beneath my door and spill across the tiled floors until dammed with a large towel. There was no television signal and the electricity soon went off too. I lay in the darkness listening to the wrath of nature. Eventually, I fell asleep.

The next morning, somewhat surprised to see sunshine, I stepped outside and surveyed the carnage. Small trees and bushes had been blown over while coconuts and palms were strewn everywhere. The beach was covered with seed pods and driftwood and a few large branches had broken off. The air was still and clear and the sky a flawless blue.

It was simply another day in paradise.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

A to Z of Adventure Travel: F is for Fiji

17 02 2009


    “Is it possible to PVR this evening’s sunset?”                  (Viti Levu, Fiji)



You know your vacation has truly begun when you land at your destination and are greeted at the airport by a band of musicians and singers. Not necessarily a full brass band or symphony orchestra, but just a small group of locals singing traditional songs and handing out lays with smiling faces and warm and welcoming greetings. When you see a separate immigration queue for seniors and families, you know you’re somewhere special. 


For most people, the name Fiji conjures images of sun-soaked jungle-covered tropical islands with white sand beaches lapped by warm, clear waters…and for once, the product matches the billing.


Located in the South Pacific approximately 3 hours flying time from New Zealand and 10 hours from Los Angeles, Fiji is comprised of 322 islands of which 106 are inhabited. The two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu are home to 87% of the country’s population as well as its capital and its international airport.


Fiji does indeed offer some of the world’s greatest reefs, clearest waters and best beaches. Much of the islands are jungle-covered adding to the feeling of tropical bliss and with a slower pace of life, it’s hard not to quickly find yourself immersed in mandatory relaxation and rejuvenation. The Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands offer some of the world’s most beautiful and luxurious resorts either hidden amongst the trees on the edge of private islands, or suspended on stilts above the water itself. If a helicopter transfer and full spa is a little beyond your means, Fiji’s hospitality is just as warm as its weather for even those on more modest budgets and offers unforgettable hostels and inexpensive simple beach-front bures, or cabins.


It would be a shame to visit Fiji and just stay on one idyllic beach for the duration, however. It’s possible to take a cruise and visit many of the smaller islands in a week or less, or to purchase a hop-on/hop-off boat pass and spend a couple of nights on different islands travelling as the mood takes you. Whether your idea of a vacation is to remain as inert as possible and move only when the next umbrella-adorned drink arrives beside your recliner, or to engage in every sport known to humanity, Fiji can offer both with excellent scuba diving, snorkelling, windsurfing, horseback riding and many other activities.


Although difficult, it is highly recommended to pull yourself away from the beach and veer off the beaten path for at least a few days. The Fijian people are renowned for their warmth and hospitality and any trip that didn’t include a visit to a village, an arts centre, a school or church would be an opportunity lost. While away from the coast, you can also further satisfy your thirst for adventure with a challenging hike up the rain forest-shrouded mountains or a spot of whitewater rafting on jungle rivers.


With a diverse culture, Fiji is also a great destination for food-lovers. Whether the freshest seafood imaginable or superb curries, Fiji has something for everyone and doesn’t forget those with more timid tastes.


Fiji can easily and inexpensively be visited on the way to or from Australia or New Zealand but is an excellent destination in its own right and one that will truly never be forgotten.



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan

Coup de Jour

25 06 2008


One if by land…      (Fiji)


As a youth, I read so many Frederick Forsyth thrillers that I long thought it would be cool to be caught in the middle of a coup. Not that I had a deathwish or wanted to streak in my undies from my hotel towards a hovering helicopter under a hail of gunfire, but the notion of lying on the plush carpet of my air-conditioned upscale hotel room, coolly sipping Perrier and eating chocolate-covered strawberries while all hell let loose outside did have more than a little appeal.


Once I began travelling, I realised that my lust for that particular brand of excitement was rather misplaced. My more practical side tended to dampen my irresponsible enthusiasm with thoughts of the cost of emergency repatriation, the struggle to replace an abandoned passport, the inconvenience and expense of losing all my luggage and possessions and the genuine risks of such danger


So you can imagine my trepidation when on two occasions I very nearly did find myself caught in coups.


The first was in Kenya. I had been on safari for several weeks and was returning to Nairobi for a good wash, soft toilet paper and the ability to properly clean my ears. As we approached the city we encountered a police roadblock with a spiked chain stretched across the hot tarmac and a few heavily armed officers watching us warily. While they inspected the vehicle we learned there had been an explosion at a construction site. The president was overseas and there were immediate fears that the blast marked a coup. The army was mobilised, sensitive sites secured and a curfew imposed. I am sorry to say that I found it all rather exciting…until I remembered that my hotel was beside the radio station which would certainly be a hot spot during any uprising. My enthusiasm evaporated quicker than a punctured balloon. Fortunately, the fears amounted to nothing and I left unscathed the next evening.


The second close call was too close even for a wayward wanderer with a vivid imagination and a deranged sense of romance.


I had arrived in Fiji to news reports of a growing disagreement between the president and the leader of the military over a planned amnesty for those who had led a coup several years earlier. The military declared that any such amnesty threatened the security of the nation and they would do whatever was necessary to ensure peace and stability. The two sides lined-up nose to nose…so I resorted to extreme measures and stocked my mini-bar with bottled water and chocolate.


Over the coming days, the tension mounted. Fijian news was full of pictures of the military in full combat gear on ‘manoeuvres’ well beyond the confines of their barracks. Late one evening, there was a report of military vehicles surrounding the house of an outspoken government minister. The police were dispatched, and the armoured vehicles trundled off before they arrived. I bought potato chips and fruit.


This was getting serious.


The following day, the president was due to visit my hotel for a conference. It was obvious that the fragile causeway that linked the hotel to the mainland would be blown-up by helicopter gunships during his visit, he’d be whisked away by Ninjas and the infinity pool and breakfast buffet would be subjected to martial law.


I began to dig a trench beneath my bed and applied camo make-up to my cheeks.


The president arrived at the appointed time. He came in an impressive motorcade of two very ordinary 4WDs and had doubled his security detail to a pair of very large men wearing sulus. He made the rounds, shook a few hands, stayed for dinner and then drove back to the capital. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief and headed for the bar…or back to their bunkers.


Eighteen months later the military did stage a coup, the same president was ousted and the same head of the military took power. There was great uncertainty and moderate mayhem for a few days, but thankfully no bloodshed. The television news featured film of bedraggled tourists mobbed by journalists as they arrived home from the besieged country.


Although now well-travelled, experienced, practical, sensible and mature, I must confess that part of me watched it all with perhaps the merest twinge of jealousy and adventure-envy!


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008

Mana, Vomo, Malolo, or Malolo Lailai? Fiji’s Best Island Resorts

18 01 2008

FIJI. Just say it. Already the visions of teal blue ocean waves, swaying palm trees, bare feet in white sand, neon-orange sunsets and frosty umbrella drinks are filling your head. The Fijian islands are chock full of excellent accommodation choices, whether you are looking for a honeymoon getaway, a backpacker layover, a family vacation, or a cultural adventure. I visited over twenty resorts on nine islands and saw many others and these are my picks for travelers of every persuasion.

Pack lightly! All you need is sunblock, sandals, a sarong, and reservations at one of these amazing resorts.


Namale Resort on Vanua Levu Island: There are other resorts as insanely romantic and extremely isolated as Namale, but it is the small touches which raise it above the rest. You arrive at your room to find your name carved out of wood on the door and Bula Bula spelled out in frangipani leaves on your mosquito-net covered bed. Grab a Fiji Bitter (included, of course) from your fully stocked fridge and have a wander around the immense grounds; chances are you won’t run into anyone other than the golf-cart driver who asks if you would like a ride. Before going for a delicious, candlelit dinner in the immense but somehow cozy main bure, hang out in one of the many private pools and hot tubs overlooking the ocean, have a champagne picnic brought to you in the spa, or maybe go horseback riding on the beach at sunset. And when you leave Namale, you will create a garden stone, pushing seashells, pink rocks, and your initials into a wet concrete block that will become part of the resort’s immense garden grounds, for travelers to admire and for you to find when you undoubtedly return to Namale.


Vomo Island Resort on Vomo Island: The white sand of Vomo Island sinks like cheese as you walk and is the definition of a perfect beach, whether you are on the calmer, swimming side of the island or on the wilder, rougher, water sports side. Just offshore Vomo is some of the most brightly colored coral in the world; snorkel or SCUBA to your heart’s desire and recuperate in a hammock overlooking the South Pacific. Cocktail hour is at “The Rocks”, an ocean side bar with front-row seats for the sunset flight of hundreds of fruit bats home from the neighboring island. After your spa or gourmet breakfast, hike up to the island’s highest point for a god’s-eye view, visit the baby sea turtles and learn about the resort’s breeding program, or return to your room decorated in Fijian minimalist style, and share with your sweetie the bottle of wine that is chilled and waiting for you.


Malolo Island Resort on Malolo Island: This resort caters to lucky, lucky, children and the adults who are paying their way. While the ‘rents enjoy fizzy blue drinks that match the bright water of the beach side bar, the kids can play in the giant playhouse and tree house, throwing around car-sized bouncy balls and stuffed animals, all under the watchful guise of the hotel’s nannies. The spa here is a jungle spa, meaning that while you lay face down getting your flesh massaged, half of the room you are in is actually the dark green Fijian jungle- those tropical bird calls are no recording. Rooms have recently been renovated in a perky blue and white theme, and your most pressing decision will be from which hammock to watch the seaplanes splash down.


Musket Cove Resort on Malolo Lailai Island: This giant resort is not as luxurious as many, but it is a center for world cruisers, and people sailing around the world tend to add spice to the nightlife in a country where most travelers are coupled off. The beach is fantastic, the stock store is fun for browsing, and the sailboats tied up are great for dreaming. Even the pool boasts a real sailboat (it was explained to me in one word: “Canadians”). Musket Cove has several bars, one right over the water offering $2 beer that must be the world’s most perfect setting to watch the sun sink into the salty South Pacific. Though the grounds of Musket Cove are large and spread out, there is not a big-resort feel and you are not sharing your beach chair and Mai Tai with the screams of children and stomps of their older brothers.


First Landing Resort on Viti Levu: Sure, Denarau might be a few minutes closer to Fiji’s international airport, but do you really want to spend your first or last night in paradise in the “Waikiki” of Fiji? If you need a place to crash when you first arrive or the night before you depart, stay at the place where legend has it the ancestral Fijians first landed. The beautiful private villas have private pools with private waterfalls, and you can take dinner with the resort’s hosts overlooking the yet another picture-perfect beach. As you watch your first (or last) Fijian sunset out on the foot-shaped peninsula before returning to your villa, you will understand why those first Fijians never left, and you might just decide to join them!


Maravu Plantation Resort on Taveuni Island: This family-friendly hotel might be across the road from the beach, but what it lacks in instant ocean access it makes up for with a genuine Fijian experience. Taveuni is the garden island of Fiji and the jungle greets you warmly; here you can hike past palm trees and streams dotted with purple spotted crabs to multiple hidden waterfalls. Return to the resort and relax in your traditional bure nestled in the thick green lawn, or come up to the main lodge and check out all of the Fijian artifacts. The bartender mixes special cocktails each night to go with a buffet dinner with piles of lobster meat a foot high and a ridiculous amount of desserts. Whatever you do, don’t miss the evening show, the best in Fiji, starring the resort workers’ children. The very young ones sit in the laps of their parents and sing their hearts out, the young ladies tell an ancient story with their graceful dance, and the boys perform a warrior chant with such passion you cannot fail to be moved, and just maybe get a glimpse of the true Fiji as well.

Shilo Urban

Bula Bula and Broken Hearts

20 12 2007

They say only time can heal a broken heart- obviously “they” have never been to Fiji. It is impossible to be sad on these islands as the air drips with the smell of tropical flora, the fresh seafood is served with handpicked flowers, and the musical Fijian hello, Bula Bula, floats through the air along with songs of hello and goodbye. I tried crying into my Mai Tai on the white sand beach, which was almost as hard as sulking in my stone-lined private pool. Pouting while snorkeling really didn’t work, as the incredible house-sized fluorescent orange brain coral makes you automatically say “WOW” which forces the bottom lip down, not out. Hiking through the jungles of Taveuni across streams up to hidden waterfalls takes your breath away as well as your anger, and getting lost in the mangrove swamps is so much better than getting lost in emotion. Why be morose when you can be massaged?

Like most tropical destinations, the farther you go and the smaller the island (and the more you spend), the more you will be able to remove yourself from “civilization.” In Fiji some hotels are on their own private isles, some hammocks have views to the island where the movie Castaway was filmed, some have neon purple jellyfish washed up on white sands for a couple of hours every afternoon. But everywhere you will find warm, friendly, smiling faces- not just in the uber-resorts for rich honeymooners, but in the taro fields, walking along gravel roads, and riding to school in bright blue dingies. You can’t miss the infectious warmth of the Fijians, anymore that you can’t miss…what was his name, anyway?

Shilo Urban