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Jebel Shams

The Mountain of the Sun and the Grand Canyon of Arabia

sunny 24 °C
View 2013 Round the World Trip on FrancisRTW's travel map.

The last major excursion of my visit to Oman was to Jebel Shams ("Mountain of the Sun" in Arabic), the highest mountain in the country. On the way we again past through Nizwa and its spectacular fort about 2 hours out of Muscat but this time we stopped to have a look. What I had expected to find was a museum with well laid out grounds and old canon; what we found was a virtually deserted Souq.

It turns out what Nizwa Souq is famous for is its livestock market especially of live goats but we had chosen the wrong day, we needed to come on a Thursday. Never mind, what I did stumble on unexpectedly instead was the specialist gun area of the Souq and it initially shocked me to see guns so openly on sale.

Nizwa Fort

Nizwa Fort


Street scene in Nizwa by the Souq

Street scene in Nizwa by the Souq


Gun shop in Nizwa Souq

Gun shop in Nizwa Souq

We then began our drive up to Jebel Shams with a photo stop at the vacant village of Ghul at the mouth of the canyon and became aware of the goats - more on both anon!

The vacant village of Ghul at the mouth of the Canyon

The vacant village of Ghul at the mouth of the Canyon


Goats at the side of the road on the way up to Jebel Shams

Goats at the side of the road on the way up to Jebel Shams


The road to Jebel Shams

The road to Jebel Shams

Despite being the highest mountain in Oman (10,089 feet, 3,075 metres and site of a military radar station that can apparently see as far as the Mediterranean Sea) what Jebel Shams is really famous for is the spectacular 6,000 feet deep gorge that runs along side it. Known locally as the "Grand Canyon of Arabia" it is so leg wobblingly deep that it is impossible to convey this in a photograph - although I did have a try!

Looking over the edge at Jebel Shams

Looking over the edge at Jebel Shams


Me next to the canyon edge at Jebel Shams

Me next to the canyon edge at Jebel Shams

In addition to a few Bedouin women selling handmade trinkets, there soaring above us were eagles; we must have seen about 6 - mainly sea eagles but also a brown eagle - and then there were the goats. These appeared out of no where and loved to be fed the apple we had brought up for them. A handful of German tourists took loads of photographs of me oblivious to what I thought was the far more spectacular sight I was trying to point out to them of eagles circling only a few feet above their heads.

The goats at Jebel Shams do like to be fed apple

The goats at Jebel Shams do like to be fed apple

We then made our way back down the mountain the same way we came up to the village of Ghul at the entrance to the canyon we had been looking down into and began our drive in. None of the precipice edges to the road this time but a challenging 4WD none the less. Eventually we reached a small village which was as far as we could go and looked up at the gorge rim we had been at looking down from only a couple of hours earlier.

After exploring the village I accepted the offer of taking over the driving, my first experience of off road driving and enjoyed it more than I expected - even if there was the constant worry of misjudging and hitting a rock! We then drove back to Muscat and this time I was able to share the driving taking over just beyond Nizwa.

The entrance into the Gorge

The entrance into the Gorge


Our road through the Gorge

Our road through the Gorge


This was as far as the road would take us in the gorge

This was as far as the road would take us in the gorge


Looking up at the Gorge rim - we were up there looking down less than 2 hours ago!

Looking up at the Gorge rim - we were up there looking down less than 2 hours ago!

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in Oman Tagged mountains animals birds markets canyon forts videos souq 4wd Comments (0)

Rottnest Island

Chasing Quokkas on Rotto

sunny 27 °C
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Rottnest (or "Rotto") is a small island 12 miles off the Fremantle coast famed for its wildlife (and in particular "quokkas", cat sized marsupials) and used as an idyllic holiday retreat by the locals. The day started with catching the early ferry from the Barrack Street Jetty in Perth and then an hour long cruise down the Swan River past West Australia's equivalent of Millionaires Row to Fremantle.

Perth from the Barrack Street Jetty

Perth from the Barrack Street Jetty


View from the ferry on the Swan River between Perth and Fremantle

View from the ferry on the Swan River between Perth and Fremantle


Fremantle Harbour

Fremantle Harbour

Having berthed up beyond the "Costa Deliziosa" Cruise Ship (the big cruise ship currently in port) and loaded up with more tourists, bicycles and ballot boxes (for the imminent state election), the ferry sped past ships queueing to berth up in Freemantle Harbour. Arriving on Rottnest Island about 30 minutes later, we then got on a RIB (Rigid Inflatible Boat, apparently similar to those used by the SAS) for a 90 minute "eco-tour" right around the island stopping at coves to see the wildlife along the way.

Bicycles and Ballot Boxes being loaded on the Rottnest Ferry at Freemantle

Bicycles and Ballot Boxes being loaded on the Rottnest Ferry at Freemantle


Approaching Rottnest Island on the Ferry

Approaching Rottnest Island on the Ferry


The RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) we were on going around Rottnest Island

The RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) we were on going around Rottnest Island


On the eco-tour RIB speeding around Rottnest Island

On the eco-tour RIB speeding around Rottnest Island

The ride bouncing along at up to 35 knots outside the speed restriction areas was fun and we saw lazy New Zealand Fur Seals, nesting Ospreys and well as foraging Stingrays but I must admit I had hoped to see more as dolphins and seas lions are often also seen on the trip I took.

New Zealand Fur Seal at Cathedral Rocks on Rottnest Island

New Zealand Fur Seal at Cathedral Rocks on Rottnest Island


Kayaking and snorkeling amongst the seals on Rottnest Island

Kayaking and snorkeling amongst the seals on Rottnest Island


New Zealand Fur Seal floating on his back on Rottnest Island

New Zealand Fur Seal floating on his back on Rottnest Island


Osprey perched high up on a cliff on Rottnest Island

Osprey perched high up on a cliff on Rottnest Island

On returning to Thomson Bay (the main settlement on the island) I hired a bicycle for a couple of hours to explore the island's interior as with cars non-existent this is the recommended way to get around. I managed to reach the Oliver Hill Guns (WW2 Battery installed to defend Freemantle Harbour), Wedjemup Lighthouse and ride past some of the salty pink lakes (4 times saltier than sea water and like the Dead Sea you naturally float in them) before I had to return back to make sure I was back in time for my ferry.

The WW2 Gun Battery on Oliver Hill

The WW2 Gun Battery on Oliver Hill


Wadjemup Lighthouse on Rottnest Island

Wadjemup Lighthouse on Rottnest Island


A pink lake on Rottnest Island

A pink lake on Rottnest Island


Me exploring Rottnest Island by bicycle

Me exploring Rottnest Island by bicycle


Geordie Bay full of yachts on Rottnest Island

Geordie Bay full of yachts on Rottnest Island

Back in Thomson Bay I made a quick visit to the museum and "Quod" (old prison now hotel, Rottnest was used as an aboriginal open prison during the 19th century) was beginning to worry the only quokka I would see would be the one sleeping by the surf boards at the bicycle hire shop. I need not have worried, literally just before I got back to the boat one wandered out in front of me and good as posed for my camera!

The Quod (Old Prison) at Thomson Bay

The Quod (Old Prison) at Thomson Bay


The Old School and Chapel at Thomson Bay

The Old School and Chapel at Thomson Bay


Quokka posing for me as I am about to board ship

Quokka posing for me as I am about to board ship


The Ferry back to Fremantle and Perth

The Ferry back to Fremantle and Perth

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in Australia Tagged beaches animals birds museums lighthouses boat forts cruise_ships harbours tour perth marine_life videos prisons solo Comments (0)

Auckland "City of Sails"

Volcanoes, yachts, NZ bush and black sand beaches

overcast 22 °C
View 2013 Round the World Trip on FrancisRTW's travel map.

Auckland is built on a narrow istmus where you can walk from the east to west coast in about 4 hours. It is also pitted with about 50 volcanic cones and craters and half the city seems to spend their free time jogging up and down them trying to keep fit. The most famous of these are Mount Eden (Auckland's highest volcanic cone) and One Tree Hill of U2 Joshua Tree fame and whose tree was chopped down by a maori activist in 2000.

One Tree Hill - minus the famous tree on its summit chopped down in 2000

One Tree Hill - minus the famous tree on its summit chopped down in 2000

One Tree Hill from Mount Eden

One Tree Hill from Mount Eden


Auckland including the Harbour Bridge and Skytower from Mount Eden

Auckland including the Harbour Bridge and Skytower from Mount Eden


The summit of Mount Eden at sunset

The summit of Mount Eden at sunset

In my opinion however the cone with the best view of Auckland is Mount Victoria on the North Shore of the harbour above the naval base at Devonport. On top of it is Fort Victoria and its disappearing gun built in 1899 in response to the threat of Russian expansionism in the Pacific. Offshore and dominating the view out to sea is Rangitoto, the largest and youngest of Auckland's volcanoes which last erupted about 600 years ago.

The disappearing gun at Fort Victoria overlooking Auckland Harbour

The disappearing gun at Fort Victoria overlooking Auckland Harbour


The spectacular view of Auckland Harbour from Mount Victoria

The spectacular view of Auckland Harbour from Mount Victoria

The Fossil Forest exposed on Takupuna Beach in front of Rangitoto, Auckland's largest and youngest volcano

The Fossil Forest exposed on Takupuna Beach in front of Rangitoto, Auckland's largest and youngest volcano

Just like Freemantle when Australia won the America's Cup in 1984, Auckland's harbour side attracted a lot of investment and got a major revamp after New Zealand won the Cup in 1995 and 2000. Several multi-millionaires have their luxury yachts in the Viaduct Harbour (one 5 star hotel even offers them berths!) and the New Zealand and Italian America's Cup Teams are still based here.

New Zealand's 1995 America's Cup winning yacht NZL32 "Black Magic" in the NZ Maritime Museum

New Zealand's 1995 America's Cup winning yacht NZL32 "Black Magic" in the NZ Maritime Museum


The luxury yacht Ulysses moored in Auckland's Viaduct Basin

The luxury yacht Ulysses moored in Auckland's Viaduct Basin


The Headquarters of the New Zealand America's Cup Team

The Headquarters of the New Zealand America's Cup Team


The Italian America's Cup Team are also based in Auckland

The Italian America's Cup Team are also based in Auckland

Thousands of yachts are moored in the Marina and demand for berths is so high that one company even offers multi-storey berths promising to have a customer's boat in the water within an hour of receiving a phone call. Across the mouth of the Viaduct Basin is the $3.7 million Wynyard Footbridge which opens to let boats through and is popular with tourists and cyclists.

The Skytower viewed behind a forest of yacht masts in Westhaven Marina

The Skytower viewed behind a forest of yacht masts in Westhaven Marina


Whatever next? A Multi Storey Boat Park down on the waterside in Auckland

Whatever next? A Multi Storey Boat Park down on the waterside in Auckland


The Wynyard Footbridge across the Viaduct Harbour

The Wynyard Footbridge across the Viaduct Harbour

The Wynyard Footbridge is raised to let a private yacht out to sea

The Wynyard Footbridge is raised to let a private yacht out to sea

Also by the Viaduct Harbour is New Zealand's Maritime Museum which in addition to galleries on the arrival of the Polynesians, early pioneers, immigrants and the America's Cup also has twice daily sailings around the harbour in the Ted Ashby, a modern reconstruction of ketch-rigged deck scow typical of those used to transport cargo around New Zealand's coasts 1870-1920.

Hoisting the Sail aboard the Ted Ashby in Waitemata Harbour off Auckland

Hoisting the Sail aboard the Ted Ashby in Waitemata Harbour off Auckland


View of Auckland from the Waitemata Harbour

View of Auckland from the Waitemata Harbour

While sailing on the Ted Ashby we sailed under the Auckland Harbour Bridge completed in 1959. Originally it only had 4 lanes which was very quickly found to be inadequate and by 1969 a Japanese construction company had been engaged to add a further 4 lanes which ever since have been affectionately known as the Nippon Clip-ons. It is also possible to do a bungy jump from a bungy pod close to the southern pier of the bridge; we narrowly missed catching someone jumping as we passed underneath!

Me approaching Auckland Harbour Bridge aboard the Ted Ashby

Me approaching Auckland Harbour Bridge aboard the Ted Ashby


The bungy pod close to the south pier that they jump from underneath the Auckland Harbour Bridge

The bungy pod close to the south pier that they jump from underneath the Auckland Harbour Bridge


Returning to port aboard the Ted Ashby off Auckland

Returning to port aboard the Ted Ashby off Auckland

Not far to the west of Auckland is the 70 square miles of the Waitakere Regional Park with its visitor centre at Arakati with views of Manukau Harbour, Auckland's second harbour facing west connected to the Tasman Sea.

The Arataki Visitor's Centre in the Waitakere Regional Park

The Arataki Visitor's Centre in the Waitakere Regional Park


View across to the West Coast and Manukau Harbour from Arataki

View across to the West Coast and Manukau Harbour from Arataki


Me in a picture frame of the view of Manukau Harbour from Arataki

Me in a picture frame of the view of Manukau Harbour from Arataki

The Park was formed in 1940 to protect the remaining local NZ bush and allow what had already been lost to regenerate. This includes the Kauri Tree (which can live for 2000+ years), Rata Tree (which start as vines growing up other trees) and New Zealand's national emblem the Silver Fern. At Karekare there is a waterfall in a glade that was used for scenes in the Oscar winning film "The Piano".

Rata Tree near Piha in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park

Rata Tree near Piha in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park


Karekare Waterfall in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park

Karekare Waterfall in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park


Close up of the Karekare Waterfall and the beach used in the film "The Piano"

Close up of the Karekare Waterfall and the beach used in the film "The Piano"

Our final stop was Piha, famous for its iconic vista over the beach and Lion Rock. Beaches on New Zealand's west coast facing the Tasman Sea have iron rich black sand originating from volcanic dust while those on the east coast facing the Pacific are a more usual sand colour.

Me sat at the Lookout overlooking Piha Beach and Lion's Rock

Me sat at the Lookout overlooking Piha Beach and Lion's Rock

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged waterfalls beaches bridges trees volcanos museums boat forts harbours city sunsets tour videos outdoor_pursuits americas_cup nz_north_island Comments (0)

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