A to Z of Adventure Travel: V is for Victoria Falls

12 06 2009

 Vic Falls aerial mw

 

There are lots of spots around the world that have been dubbed ‘Adventure Capitals’ either for the activities available or the rugged wilderness that surround them. The adventure capital of the world is arguably Queenstown, New Zealand. The adventure capital of Australia would be Cairns. And the adventure capital of Africa is definitely Victoria Falls.

 

Not only are the Falls one of the natural wonders of the world, but the area is one of the finest adrenalin capitals and even if you venture there solely for the sights, it’s difficult not to be lured into at least one unforgettable activity!

  

Victoria Falls sits on the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia. In past years, the centre of the tourist trade was most definitely the town of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean side, but due to recent political unrest and economic problems, much of that has shifted to Livingstone, Zambia.

 

The Falls themselves are every bit as magnificent as any photograph suggests. During the rainy season, the cascade of water over the steep precipice is positively breathtaking – if you can actually see it through the billowing clouds of drenching mist. In the dry season, the flood is reduced to a comparable trickle, but this not only allows a less-wet viewing experience but also provides a look at the chiselled rock cliffs that stretch almost as far as the eye can see. Even veterans of Niagara or Angel Falls can’t help but be impressed by Mosi-au-Tunya, or ‘The Smoke That Thunders’, as it is called by the locals.

 

For many visitors, Victoria Falls’ most captivating feature might well be its relative lack of commercialisation. There are no enormous skyscraper hotels towering above it and no neon-strewn casinos crowding its edges. Instead, there is bush stretching in every direction and only the most basic of paths and most rickety of fences preventing visitors from tumbling over the edge and into the frothing maelstrom.

 

This modest development has ensured that the area is still healthy with wildlife and the even the town centre has its baboons, watrthogs, birdlife and occasional stray elephant. Lion tracks are sometimes seen in the early morning in the soft sand that lines the paved road and pedestrians are warned to watch out for buffalo…all this within sight of hotels and curio stands.

 

The two most famous of Victoria Falls’ adventure activities are the whitewater rafting on the Zambezi – regarded as the best one-day rafting in the world – and the 111 metre bungee-jump from the bridge that spans the chasm, both within view of the Falls. However, there are also helicopter and microlight flights over the Falls and surrounding river and bush, sunset boat trips above the drop and game drives in the neighbouring parks and wild areas. You can embark on horseback or elephant back safaris, or take a walk with unleashed domesticated lions. There are night game drives in open-back 4WDs and guided hikes with armed rangers.

 

Both Victoria Falls and Livingstone have international airports and can also be reached overland by vehicle or train from larger centres – if you have the time and spirit of adventure. Both sides of the river offer basic campsites, budget hostels, deluxe riverbank tented safari camps and luxury hotel accommodation.

 

Most visitors today tend to use Zambia as their base and sadly often never venture across the border to its neighbour. Although not immune to the turmoil that has plagued Zimbabwe in recent years, the town of Victoria Falls has remained an island largely isolated from the political violence…if not the rampant inflation and basic shortages.

 

Victoria Falls provides something for everyone from the magnificence of the Falls themselves to wildlife and adventure.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

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A to Z of Adventure Travel: Q is for Queenstown

7 05 2009

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Queenstown, New Zealand is commonly regarded as the Adventure Capital of the World for it was here that a Kiwi named A J Hackett took the sport of bungee jumping – created in Vanuatu centuries earlier and resurrected by Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club –  and made it a commercial enterprise. Unlike its participants, it has been soaring ever since and a whole adrenaline industry has sprung up around it.

 

Situated on South Island, Queenstown sits on Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Although it began life humbly as an 18th century gold mining camp, today its wealth lies in the visitors it attracts from New Zealander and all over the world drawn by its ski slopes and other outdoor activities.

 

As if the skiing, fly-fishing and mountain biking weren’t enough, A J Hackett’s influence led to Queenstown’s coronation as Adrenaline Central. River surfing, aerobatics flights, jet-boating, canyon swings, ziplining, hang-gliding, heli-skiing, hot air ballooning, quad biking, skydiving and paragliding all flourish surrounded by the area’s natural beauty.

 

Queenstown also offers some of the best hiking in the world. There are dozens of well-marked routes that range from a few hours to several days or more. Although hikers must carry all of their own equipment and provisions, the Department of Conservation maintains more than 950 backcountry huts along these trails. There is a small fee to use the huts with those on more popular routes generally require reservations, especially during peak season. Regardless of the trail that is chosen, all tracks guarantee spectacular scenery and lots of fresh air.

 

Many visitors also head to Milford Sound, a breathtaking fjord within Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site. Once referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by Rudyard Kipling, the Sound is located 295 kilometres from Queenstown on the country’s west coast. Not only does it have the distinction of being New Zealand’s wettest inhabited spot, but also with more than half-a-million tourists each year, its most visited. The Sound runs 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea and is surrounded by sheer cliff faces that rise upwards of 1,200 metres on all sides. The boat tours that are offered are not only highly recommended in order to properly experience the remoteness and stark beauty of the area, but also often feature in rankings of the best day trips in the world.

 

Queenstown also offers some of the best accommodation in all of New Zealand with luxury 5-star wilderness lodges providing seclusion and unrivalled views equally popular with discerning travellers and international celebrities alike. And if after a busy day of adventure or simple sightseeing you want nothing more than a relaxing evening with a nice meal and wine, there’s no shortage of great restaurants, clubs and bars in which to recharge.

 

Queenstown can be reached by road from Christchurch, or is connected by air from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney as well as most New Zealand cities.

 

 

Photo by: Destination Queenstown

Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009





A to Z of Adventure Travel: N is for North Island, NZ

16 04 2009

 waitomo-caves-wm

 

     Got a flat tyre? Call the Waitomo Caves Pit Crew! (Waitomo, New Zealand)

 

New Zealand’s North Island is the 14th largest island in the world and home to 76% of the country’s population and its biggest city, Auckland. While its South Island is renowned as one of the world’s great adventure and outdoor playgrounds, the North Island should never be overlooked.

 

Auckland is a cosmopolitan city of hills and extinct volcanoes on the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea. Having several times hosted the America’s Cup, at any given time, its harbour is filled with some of the most impressive and expensive private and racing yachts in the world – with the latter often available for charter or sightseeing trips. Restaurants, pubs and nightlife abound making it the perfect starting point for exploring this South Pacific nation.

 

To the north of Auckland almost at the northern-most point of the country lies Paihia and the Bay of Islands with its spectacular coastline. Boat trips are offered in search of dolphins and whales as well as skydiving, parasailing and scuba diving.

 

The geothermal capital of New Zealand is Rotorua, located south-east of Auckland. Rotorua is a wonderland of spas, bubbling mud pools and geysers, providing you don’t mind the smell of sulphur! Rotorua is also the centre for Maori culture and offers plenty of opportunities to learn more about New Zealand’s first nations through visitor centres and cultural villages.

 

For those seeking something different, there’s Zorbing! Created in New Zealand, Zorbers roll downhill in enormous clear-plastic spheres…a bit like being trapped in a large bubble machine except with gravity. If you want to try something that your neighbours haven’t and that doesn’t involved flinging yourself off a bridge, this is it!

 

Beneath Waitomo lies a vast network of caves displaying stalactites, stalagmites and glow-worms as well as the cave weta – a spider that even horror film directors couldn’t exaggerate! The subterranean world can be explored by abseiling from ground level and then wading and swimming through eel-infested waters before wriggling through narrow openings into chambers that seem undiscovered and untouched! Alternatively there are boat tours through the glow-worm caves or cave rafting down underground rivers. Great for the adventurous…but not for the claustrophobic or squeemish!

 

If after all your giant spiders, eels, geysers and zorbing you just want to relax and enjoy some beautiful scenery, North Island offers something for everyone from Wellington and Napier all the way to Cape Reinga.

 

 

Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

Photo by: Doug Fry





A to Z of Adventure Travel: F is for Fiji

17 02 2009

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    “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





The Prime Minister’s Bottom

24 11 2008

 

From time to time we are all touched by famous people…but it is not often that we touch them…especially world leaders, and particularly on the bottom.

 

I was attending a travel trade show in a large arena in Christchurch, New Zealand.  On the second day, Prime Minister Helen Clark paid a visit and was taken on a tour by the organiser. Accompanied by her minister of tourism and a small entourage of aides, assistants and security personnel, she made her way up and down the aisles visiting the different exhibitors at their display booths.

 

Late for a meeting, I was hastily making my way up one of the aisles when I encountered the Prime Ministerial party blocking the way. I slowed down and was about to return the way I had come when I spied a shaft of light through the throng and, accepting that I really had no time for such a detour, forged onwards.

 

The Prime Minister was on the edge of a booth as I approached and the rest of her entourage was loosely staged around her and across the aisle. Under the watchful eye of her security detail, I continued forward and with Excuse Me’s whispered beneath my breath, my body streamlined sideways and one hand extended forward as a pathfinder, began to politely slide through the pack. My arm worked like an icebreaker and carved my way through the crowd with my body following suit. With eyes lowered for obstructions, my outstretched hand suddenly made contact with someone moving backwards and brushed long and languorously against them. My eyes quickly looked to see what had been encountered.

 

There, at waist level, my hand was pressed against a 90% wool 10% cashmere bottom. As if in slow motion, my eyes followed the hand upwards to discover that the bottom belonged to none other than…the Prime Minister. I snapped my hand back and glanced about me, hoping that my brush with the seat of power had gone unnoticed. Alas, I was out of luck: a security officer was eyeing me malevolently, his earpiece twitching, his hand hovering near the bulge that was his concealed shoulder holster.

 

I smiled weakly, whispered another Excuse me, slipped through the remainder of the crowd and, never looking back, sprinted down the carpet and out of sight around a corner. 

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





Lessons Learned the Hard Way: No. 97

12 05 2008

Before retrieving foreign currency leftover from previous trips, kindly ensure that all is in order.

 

During a brief early morning stopover in Auckland after the very long all-night flight across the Pacific, I headed straight for the Cafe Espresso. I carefully surveyed their appetising display of pies, wraps, sandwiches, pastries and fruit. From my pocket, I removed the small zip lock bag containing all the New Zealand change I had left over from my previous visit a year earlier. I carefully counted it, all the while the tantalising aromas of fresh bread and warm food tickling at my nose and causing it to twitch with excitement. I selected a delicious looking provolone and plum tomato toasted panino and a bottle of fresh orange juice, my hands shaking in eager anticipation of the mini-feast to come. I reached the cash register and presented my selection. The total popped up and I earnestly counted out the exact amount from my brimming hand-full of coins. My arithmetic had been spot on and I was left with just 20 cents. As the attendant gathered my payment, my mouth watered and I could almost taste my banquet.

 

“Is this all you’ve got?” she asked, pointing at my money.

 

I answered in the affirmative, my stomach gurgling and a panic setting in. Had I miscalculated? Had I counted incorrectly?

 

“Sorry love, these coins were pulled from circulation last year. They’re no longer legal tender.”

 

Utterly gutted, I re-pocketed my useless coins, bid a sad and tender farewell to my orange juice, caressed the sandwich that had so nearly been mine, and headed to my gate for the onward connecting flight to Australia.

 

Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008





Hokitika Wild Foods Festival: Worm Sushi and Seaweed Smoothies

3 03 2008

Have you ever wondered what wildflower fudge might taste like? How about a bunny burger? Venison tongue? Larvae ice cream? If you like to taste your adventures, you live to eat, and you have an iron-clad stomach, then get thee to Hokitika, New Zealand for the annual Wildfoods Festival, taking place this year on March 8.

Hokitika is a tiny, beautiful town in the middle of the wild, cold, wet, and did I say wild? West Coast of the southern island of New Zealand. Billed as the “Greenstone (New Zealand Jade) Capital of the World,” the oceanside town is not much more than a few cute espresso shops and a beach reputed to wash up jade along the shore. But every spring over 15,000 travelers, tourists, locals, and freaks descend upon the village to put their mouth where their money is and eat all manner of cuisine from the forests, farmland, and ocean waters of New Zealand.

The crazy festival (any festival in on the South Island is going to be straight crazy) is not only a celebration of the bounty of the land, but also a festival of libation and a shout-out to the pioneering spirit of the land. Had the early gold-rushers and Maori before them not eaten huhu grubs and paua (abalone) fritters, the West Coast may not ever have been settled and Hokitika might not exist.

The Wildfoods Festival takes place this year on Saturday March 8; besides all manner of food flora and fauna there will also be plenty of music, activities for children, cooking demonstrations and live performances. The real attraction, though, is the menu. How many would YOU try?

  • lamb’s tails
  • whitebait fritters (whitebait are very small fish, sold in pint jars and cooked whole in cornmeal patties; like a crabcake except with lots of whole little fish instead of crab meat)
  • horse, bunny, and dolphin burgers
  • elderflower champagne
  • grilled mutton bird (a New Zealand sea bird)
  • worm truffles
  • deep fried crickets, wasps, beetles, and grasshoppers
  • eels on lettuce with cream cheese
  • mussel kebabs
  • fish eyes
  • Viagra slushy (a wild food? perhaps)
  • duck giblets
  • crocodile and kangaroo
  • huhu grubs (New Zealand grubworms)
  • deep fried shark
  • rose petal wine
  • mountain oysters (sheep’s testicles)

How many would you try? Here from behind my lovely laptop screen I say I will try them all- but find me in Hokitika and see how gustatorially brave I am then!

Hokitika is a great stop along the west coast any time of the year- in fact, I would definitely recommend staying in Hokitika over Greymouth, Westport, or at Punakaiki (the Pancake Rocks). It is a much more interesting town with better restaurants and the best shopping for Greenstone along the west coast. Enjoy the beach and keep an eye out for New Zealand jade!

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post and photo by: Shilo Urban