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Two Day Expedition to the Wahiba Sands

The Arabian Desert beckons

sunny 32 °C
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A must do in Oman is to venture out and stay overnight in the desert and my chance to do it had arrived. I booked myself a personal driver/guide with a Toyota 4WD Landcruiser and booked a night at the 1000 Nights Camp about 20 odd miles into the desert (corny name but this is the land of Sinbad after all!).

A Map of the route to our overnight camp in the Arabian Desert

A Map of the route to our overnight camp in the Arabian Desert

First of all there was the little matter of getting there, Wahiba Sands is about 150 miles (240 kilometres) from Muscat. We drove for about 3 hours south through Ibra before turning east into the mountains to stop at the famous Wadi Bani Khalid Pools for a couple of hours to have lunch.

These pools are basically a beautiful oasis in a very arid area and I went for a refreshing swim in a rock pool up near the waterfall. We then returned to the lowlands and headed towards the Desert.

Wadi Bani Khalid

Wadi Bani Khalid


The natural pool below the waterfall above Wadi Bani Khalid where I went for a swim

The natural pool below the waterfall above Wadi Bani Khalid where I went for a swim


A quiet spot to phone home from and make the family jealous :-)

A quiet spot to phone home from and make the family jealous :-)

I could tell this was going to be in a different league to anything I had experienced before as I became aware of the enormous sand dunes in the distance and we stopped at a garage to have our tyres deflated to 18 psi.

Garage specialising in deflating/inflating tyres coming on and off the soft sands of the desert

Garage specialising in deflating/inflating tyres coming on and off the soft sands of the desert

As we started off my driver said we needed to change the mood of the music and as we turned onto the soft sand and headed at speed for our first large dune we had techno on full blast! Then ensued some serious dune bashing as we roared up higher and higher sand dunes; it was a serious adrenalin rush with our landcruiser floating like a boat on a river with a mind of its own as we tore up the soft sand; it often felt like we were going to turn over as we climbed higher and higher dunes the deeper we got into the desert.

My first view of the soft sands of the Arabian Desert

My first view of the soft sands of the Arabian Desert


We encountered some fellow travellers as we made our way across the desert

We encountered some fellow travellers as we made our way across the desert

This was a particularly large sand dune that eventually beat us and we had to give up trying to climb it in case we got stuck

This was a particularly large sand dune that eventually beat us and we had to give up trying to climb it in case we got stuck


My driver - Jekyll and Hyde character, steady on/off road but an evil maniac once let loose on soft sand!

My driver - Jekyll and Hyde character, steady on/off road but an evil maniac once let loose on soft sand!

After a while we reached a Bedouin House and stopped for coffee, obviously a tourist stop with the bedouin women selling a few small handmade trinkets but not over done. I have had it a few times now and have developed a taste for the local Kawah, a small coffee flavoured with cardamom and normally served with dates.

Arriving at the Bedouin House on the way to our overnight camp

Arriving at the Bedouin House on the way to our overnight camp


Kawah (Coffee with cardamom) and Dates with the locals

Kawah (Coffee with cardamom) and Dates with the locals


There was another small group visiting the Bedouins with us

There was another small group visiting the Bedouins with us

We then carried on and after a while reached our overnight camp. After unwinding for a bit I was determined to see a desert sunset and we drove up a large sand dune to see it. A few others joined us and the orange hues as we watched the sun set on the desert horizon were every bit as amazing as we had been told to watch out for.

My driver then decided I needed another adrenalin rush and instead of going back the way we came went straight over the top of the dune which felt like a near vertical drop! Initially we got grounded but with a bit of help we were soon floating down the front of the dune in the landcruiser. You would never dare drive down a slope that steep normally but soft sand is very forgiving.

Pesky Camel, get out of my way! We need to get to the top of the sand dune before sunset

Pesky Camel, get out of my way! We need to get to the top of the sand dune before sunset


Me on top of a sand dune waiting for the desert sunset

Me on top of a sand dune waiting for the desert sunset


It got quite busy on our sand dune

It got quite busy on our sand dune


Sunset in the Desert - it was worth the wait

Sunset in the Desert - it was worth the wait

My tent was right at the edge of camp which I thought was great as it meant I would have a more authentic feel of sleeping in the desert. My tent was pretty much just a woollen bedouin tent, a couple of beds and a open to the sky toilet/shower but anything more would have spoilt the experience.

My Sheik Tent in the Desert

My Sheik Tent in the Desert


Inside my tent

Inside my tent


The view from my tent in the morning - that isn't a member of the vulture family is it?

The view from my tent in the morning - that isn't a member of the vulture family is it?

For dinner the camp arranged a Bedouin special of lamb with spices cooked for 24 hours in a charcoal pit covered over with sand. While a big deal was made of digging it up, when I tried it I didn't think it was anything special and wish I had stuck with the chicken biryani and fresh hummus that appears to be the national dish. While we ate we were entertained by a small troupe of musicians playing Bedouin music.

After cooking for 24 hours in a hole in the ground, time to dig up dinner!

After cooking for 24 hours in a hole in the ground, time to dig up dinner!


Dinner is ready and is taken in to be served

Dinner is ready and is taken in to be served


We had Bedouin music to accompany our meal

We had Bedouin music to accompany our meal

The generators at the camp were turned off at 10 o'clock and there was a lovely light pollution clear sky, one of the many attractions of the desert. A bit later after the moon had set I saw the stars more vividly than I have ever seen them before in my life; all the constellations were clear as if on a page of an astrology book - the Great Bear, the Lion, the Virgin, Orion - I have never before seen them as clearly as that.

In the morning we decided to have breakfast early and start back; I was tempted to try a ride on a camel first until I saw another tourist have a go and saw how uncomfortable they evidently were and decided for the time being to give camel riding a miss!

A couple of camels waiting for the tourists

A couple of camels waiting for the tourists


A fellow tourist having a ride on a camel - it looked like torture!

A fellow tourist having a ride on a camel - it looked like torture!

As we made our way back across the desert I had a chance to take in the scale of the landscape around us, it was awesome with very large sand dunes as far as the eye can see.

The endless desert

The endless desert


The Sun beating down on the desert, lest we forgot how dangerous a place the desert can be

The Sun beating down on the desert, lest we forgot how dangerous a place the desert can be

We also chanced upon a group of locals trying to race their Wrangler Jeeps up a particularly steep sand dune and stopped for a while to watch.

Wrangler Jeeps doing a spot of sand dune climbing

Wrangler Jeeps doing a spot of sand dune climbing


This Jeep looks like he is going to make it!

This Jeep looks like he is going to make it!

After a final swipe of a few sands dunes with the landcruiser before re-inflating the tyres for tarmac we headed to the coast for 1.5 hours to Sur, a major trading port before the Suez Canal and famous for the building of Arab Dhows. Unfortunately the tide was out when we got there so we didn't see Sur at its best but we passed the famous Al Ghanja Arab Dhow outside the Sur Maritime Museum and visited the famous Sur Boatyard where there were several Dhows under construction.

A view of Sur Harbour including the Al Ghanja Arab Dhow outside the Maritime Museum

A view of Sur Harbour including the Al Ghanja Arab Dhow outside the Maritime Museum


An Arab Dhow under construction at the Sur Boatyard

An Arab Dhow under construction at the Sur Boatyard

We then headed north-west along the coast towards Muscat 93 miles (150 kilometres) with a few stops and lunch along the way. The first stop was Wadi Tiwi, a beautiful spot but with very narrow winding roads especially through the village. We then had lunch and stopped for a rest on White Beach (a popular beach in Oman but only accessible by 4x4) before moving on to Wadi Shab, a larger but equally beautiful wadi a bit further along the coast. Unfortunately my photos don't seem to do justice to what idyllic settings these Wadi were.

The road upto Wadi Tiwi

The road upto Wadi Tiwi


Wadi Tiwi

Wadi Tiwi


The White Beach between Quriyat and Tiwi

The White Beach between Quriyat and Tiwi


Wadi Shab

Wadi Shab


A Pickup Truck making its way across a ford in Wadi Shab

A Pickup Truck making its way across a ford in Wadi Shab

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in Oman Tagged beaches animals food oasis desert harbours sunsets tour videos 4wd solo bedouin outdoor_pursuits boatyards Comments (0)

Khao Yai National Park

Elephants and other animals

sunny 35 °C
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I had 2 things on my must do list for the few days I had in Bangkok; see the iconic buddhist temples and to go for a ride on an elephant. I had done the temples, now it was time to travel 3 hours north of Bangkok out into the countryside to see the elephants at the Khao Yai National Park.

First stop about an hour into our trip was the local market at Nakhorn Nayok. I had concerns that this was going to be a hard sell gem store and souvenir hard sell tourists are warned about but I needn't have worried. It wasn't that sort of market, instead it was filled with fresh local produce (much of which was still moving!) and they were buying our lunch.

Jack Fruit being prepared at Nakhorn Na Yok Market

Jack Fruit being prepared at Nakhorn Na Yok Market


Fresh Shellfish on sale at Nakhon Na Yok Market

Fresh Shellfish on sale at Nakhon Na Yok Market


As on other stalls the fish in these buckets moved and were very much still alive!

As on other stalls the fish in these buckets moved and were very much still alive!


Yes I think that is Frogs on sale at the front!

Yes I think that is Frogs on sale at the front!


Hot spices anyone?

Hot spices anyone?

After an educational and entertaining wander around the market we went to a local farm for a ride in an ox cart. It was a sedantry bone shaking ride and we had to wear thai farmer straw hats similar to those I had seen in the Siam Museum in Bangkok the previous day.

Me on the back of the Ox Cart - in my Thai Farmer's Straw Hat!

Me on the back of the Ox Cart - in my Thai Farmer's Straw Hat!


View riding an Ox Cart

View riding an Ox Cart

We than continued on our way towards Khao Yai National Park passing through small villages on the way. Going through one village we had to wait while a local farmer unloaded his Rice Harvester into an adjacent paddy field while in another we stopped and watched a couple of races at the sports day of the local school.

A local farmer unloading a rice harvester into his paddy fields

A local farmer unloading a rice harvester into his paddy fields

Water Buffalo grazing beside the road

Water Buffalo grazing beside the road


Sports Day at a local Thai Village School

Sports Day at a local Thai Village School


The race for the finishing line!

The race for the finishing line!

We then reached the entrance to the Khao Yai National Park and made our way to the famous waterfall at Haew Narok. It was not as spectacular as it can be when full of water but impressive and an idyllic spot none the less.

Fence to stop the Elephants getting through on the way to the Harew Narok Waterfall

Fence to stop the Elephants getting through on the way to the Harew Narok Waterfall


The steps down to the Waterfall

The steps down to the Waterfall


Haew Narok Waterfall

Haew Narok Waterfall


Me by the Haew Narok Waterfall

Me by the Haew Narok Waterfall


Chamelon on a tree on the way back from the Waterfall

Chamelon on a tree on the way back from the Waterfall

We then moved deeper into the National Park heading towards a viewpoint over the Forest and soon began to encounter gibbon monkeys along the road.

Our first sight of a Gibbon at the side of the road

Our first sight of a Gibbon at the side of the road


The Gibbon seemed unsure if he was happy to see us!

The Gibbon seemed unsure if he was happy to see us!


We then encountered a whole troop of Gibbons including some young

We then encountered a whole troop of Gibbons including some young


A view of the Forest at the Khao Yai National Park

A view of the Forest at the Khao Yai National Park


At the viewpoint a few Gibbons took a particular interest in a pair of mopeds

At the viewpoint a few Gibbons took a particular interest in a pair of mopeds

However the highlight and main purpose of the day was to ride an elephant and after a stop for lunch (much of which had been bought earlier in the day by our guide while we were at Nakhorn Nayok Market) we were introduced to a large elephant called Cherry. I was sharing her with a mother and daughter from upstate New York and I initially sat on Cherry's neck, it was a long way down! We then spent three quarters of an hour lumbering through some woods, ducking branches and walking down streams; great fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The mahout gets out of the way as we set off through the forest on Cherry the Elephant

The mahout gets out of the way as we set off through the forest on Cherry the Elephant


Yep, they initially put me in the driving seat on the back of the elephants head

Yep, they initially put me in the driving seat on the back of the elephants head


The elephant sprayed us with a bit of water as we walked through a small stream

The elephant sprayed us with a bit of water as we walked through a small stream


Me feeling cool on the back of Cherry the Elephant

Me feeling cool on the back of Cherry the Elephant


Our final view of our two elephants before we began our long drive back to Bangkok

Our final view of our two elephants before we began our long drive back to Bangkok

Posted by FrancisRTW 03:00 Archived in Thailand Tagged waterfalls trees animals food markets tour videos solo Comments (0)

Hobbiton and Rotorua

My visit to the Shire and the Pohutu Geo Thermal Valley

sunny 23 °C
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Pretty much Number 1 on my list of places to visit in New Zealand was the Hobbiton Movie Set and Air New Zealand conveniently had The Hobbit as their inflight movie on the way over from Perth. First stop was the local town of Matamata with its hobbit hole inspired tourist information centre and "Welcome to Hobbiton" sign in the Main Street. We then drove up to the movie set itself which occupies a few acres on a large 1250 acre sheep farm originally identified by the film producers when they flew over it in a helicopter.

The tourist information centre in the local town Matamata is built like a hobbit hole

The tourist information centre in the local town Matamata is built like a hobbit hole

Me sat in a Gandalf shaped seat on the main street in Matamata, the nearest town to the movie set

Me sat in a Gandalf shaped seat on the main street in Matamata, the nearest town to the movie set

The tour began with a walk down Gandalf's Cutting to the first of 37 hobbit holes on the set. At the start of the Lord of the Rings they made Frodo look smaller riding beside Gandalf in the cart down this cutting by using a 12 year old boy as his double. We then passed the Scarecrow that Bilbo runs past when he announces that he is "going to have an adventure" at the start of The Hobbit.

Gandalf's Cutting on the way down into Hobbiton

Gandalf's Cutting on the way down into Hobbiton


Hobbit Hole by Gandalf's Cutting

Hobbit Hole by Gandalf's Cutting


A scarecrow guarding a field in Hobbiton

A scarecrow guarding a field in Hobbiton

We then began our climb upto Bag End where Bilbo and Frodo lived, stopping on the way to have our photo taken in a hobbit hole. All of the hobbit holes on the set are actually only a few feet deep as all the internal shots are taken at movie stages elsewhere.

Me in the doorway of a Hobbit Hole

Me in the doorway of a Hobbit Hole


Classic view up to Bag End from the Party Field

Classic view up to Bag End from the Party Field

The exception is Bag End itself which is the largest and highest of all the hobbit holes but even Bag End is only a room deep. The views everywhere were amazing, so much so it didn't feel like a movie set at all. Indeed when the Lord of the Rings was completed in 1997 they began demolishing the set almost immediately to return the land to the farmer as promised only to get a call from him asking them to stop urgently as he was already getting inundated with calls from tourists asking to be shown around.

Bag End where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins live

Bag End where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins live


Me stood by the front gate of Bag End

Me stood by the front gate of Bag End


The view across to the Green Dragon and Mill from Bag End

The view across to the Green Dragon and Mill from Bag End


The road sign at the bottom of the hill up to Bag End

The road sign at the bottom of the hill up to Bag End

The set was partly rebuilt and made more permanent for the Hobbit so it should now last 50 years as a tourist attraction. We carried on down the hill past Frodo's friend Samwise Gamgee's hobbit hole and passed over the bridge to the Green Dragon Pub.

Samwise Gamgee's Hobbit Hole

Samwise Gamgee's Hobbit Hole


The bridge into Hobbiton between the Mill and the Green Dragon

The bridge into Hobbiton between the Mill and the Green Dragon


The Green Dragon

The Green Dragon

Inside the Green Dragon is a full functional pub serving free beer specially brewed for it in Auckland and I quite liked the dark ale. There was a carving of a Green Dragon above the bar as well as a hobbit inspired food menu although I didn't see anyone order anything!

Inside the Green Dragon Pub

Inside the Green Dragon Pub


Anyone fancy a Beer?

Anyone fancy a Beer?


Bar Menu and Carved Dragon above the Bar in the Green Dragon

Bar Menu and Carved Dragon above the Bar in the Green Dragon


Me at the road sign leaving Hobbiton

Me at the road sign leaving Hobbiton

Pretty awesome but the day was by no means over, we then drove on for another hour to Rotorua - New Zealand's most famous tourist destination. Rotorua itself with its pervasive eggy sulphur smell sits beside a volcano's crater lake with the cone forming Mokola Island. Like Taupo a bit further south that I was drive through a couple times later in the week, it has vents of steam that seem to appear randomly out of the ground all over the town.

Lake Rotorua and Mokola Island (note the steam venting from the water in the foreground)

Lake Rotorua and Mokola Island (note the steam venting from the water in the foreground)


Black Swans, Paddle Boat and Float Planes on Lake Rotorua

Black Swans, Paddle Boat and Float Planes on Lake Rotorua


Rotorua Museum and Government Gardens

Rotorua Museum and Government Gardens


Rotorua's Rachel Spring

Rotorua's Rachel Spring

However what we had really come to Rotorua to see was the famous Pohutu Geyser at Te Puia, a Maori Cultural Centre close to the town. After a chicken and kumara sweet potato hangi lunch (hangi is an underground pit used for traditional Maori cooking) and unexpectedly seeing a live pair of Kiwi's strutting around in the darkness of a Kiwi House (they are nocturnal, the ones I saw were larger than I expected coming up to my thigh in height and surprisingly fast if ungainly on their feet) we walked down to the geothermal valley. Our first stop was the Ngamokaiakoko Mud Pool, plopping and bubbling away beside the path on the way to the geysers.

The Ngamokaiakoko Mud Pool at Te Puia

The Ngamokaiakoko Mud Pool at Te Puia


Close up of the plopping mud

Close up of the plopping mud

Danger! Active steam vents, be careful where you sit!

Danger! Active steam vents, be careful where you sit!

The geysers themselves are only a short distance away with a large purpose built viewing bridge close by. The largest and most famous of them is the Pohutu Geyser that erupts 2 to 3 times an hour and can reach heights of up to 90 feet (30 metres). I managed to catch it erupting several times while I was there and at one point got quite wet from the spray when the wind unexpectedly changed direction! Just below Puhutu is the slightly less active and predictable Prince of Wales Feathers Geyser but even it obliged by erupting a couple of times while I was there.

The Pohutu Geyser erupting

The Pohutu Geyser erupting

The Prince of Wales Feathers Geyser just below Pohutu is thinking of erupting to

The Prince of Wales Feathers Geyser just below Pohutu is thinking of erupting to

Me in front of the erupting Pohutu Geyser

Me in front of the erupting Pohutu Geyser

I also took the opportunity to see another Maori Cultural Performance at the Rotowhio Marae that forms part of Te Puia. This time the dance troupe was larger but we were also subjected to Wero (Challenge) as a precursor to the Pohiri (Greeting Ceremony). One of our group was selected as our " Chief" and then one of the Maori warriors approached him and lay down a stick as a gift to see whether we came in war or peace. On picking up and accepting the gift we then all moved slowly towards the Marae's meeting house being careful not to overtake our chief while the rest of the Pohiri Welcoming Ceremony was performed on the steps of their meeting house in front of us. When then went inside and watched the cultural performance including the famous Poi and Haka but for me the highlight was definitely the Pohiri we were subjected to outside!

Before entering the Marae we were subjected to a welcoming ceremony

Before entering the Marae we were subjected to a welcoming ceremony


The Pohiri (Welcoming Ceremony) in full swing, be careful not to cross the line!

The Pohiri (Welcoming Ceremony) in full swing, be careful not to cross the line!

The Ladies of the Maori Dance Troupe do the Poi

The Ladies of the Maori Dance Troupe do the Poi


Male Maori Dancer performing the Haka (War Dance) - you wouldn't want to upset him...

Male Maori Dancer performing the Haka (War Dance) - you wouldn't want to upset him...

Posted by FrancisRTW 04:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged lakes birds food beer tour geyser concerts maori videos lord_of_the_rings solo nz_north_island film_locations Comments (0)

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