Jungfraujoch is a vantage point 11,782 feet (3,571 metres) up in the Swiss Alps & is about a 2 hour drive South West of Zurich.
Sign at the Sphinx Vantage Terrace at Jungfraujoch
Jungfraujoch was always going to be a highlight of my few days visiting Zurich and I had been monitoring the weather forecast for the previous week trying to identify the best day to go. It is marketed as the "Top of Europe" and on the way up we were warned to be wary of altitude sickness by taking it slowly and keeping ourselves well hydrated & fed.
First stop was Interlaken where we were dropped for a 40 minute comfort break by some high value tourist shops (Swiss watches, designer handbags, etc); I was expecting blatant selling like that later in Thailand but not on the Swiss leg of my trip! Interlaken has some lovely Victorian hotels but is very touristy if thankfully quiet (like most of Switzerland) on a Sunday. The best bit of Interlaken was watching the paragliding down onto the Hohe-Matte Park in the centre of town from a ridge high above.
Paraglider about to land in the centre of Interlaken
We then began our epic trip up the mountain on the historic cog railway (100 years old in 2012) to the highest railway station in Europe.
View from the train back towards Lauterbrunnen
Trackside house on the way up from Lauterbrunnen
Sun on the High Alps
We had to change trains at Kleine Scheidegg which was a hive of activity with skiers scurrying everywhere carrying their skis and trying to get to the slopes. As our train continued up the Mountain the already spectacular views seemed to get better around every bend in the track.
Skiers de-train at Kleine Scheidegg Station
Cable Cars and Skiers near Kleine Scheidegg
Classic view from Kleine Scheidegg
Once we reached the top the views were awesome! Apparently on a clear day such as the one we were there you can see as far as Italy, France and Germany.
Me at the Sphinx Vantage Point at Jungfraujoch
The Sphinx Vantage Point at Jungfraujoch
The view from the Sphinx Vantage Point
From the vantage point it was backdown into the mountain to make our way to the Glacier Plateau passing through ice tunnels and carvings of ice.
Me inside an Ice Tunnel
Yvonne and Mary, a couple of new friends I met on my trip to Jungfraujoch
Ice Carvings in the Ice Palace
Venturing out onto the Glacier Ice Plateau it was bitterly cold, the gauge read minus 22 degrees Centigrade but the views of the mountains (Eiger - 13,026ft, Monch - 13,475ft and Jungfrau - 13,642ft) and the Glacier can only be described as awesome. The Aletsch Glacier that flows from Jungfraujoch is 14 miles (23 kilometres) long making it the longest glacier in Europe.
The Glacier Ice Plateau
Me out on the Plateau - minus 23 degrees Centigrade!
View of the Aletsch Glacier from Jungfraujoch
Having survived going out on the glacier ice plateau all that remained to do was to return to the train and make our way back down; 45 minutes mainly underground to Kleine Scheidegg and then to change trains to get down to Grund where our coach back to Zurich was waiting for us.
Getting back on the train at the highest railway station in Europe
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
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
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 :-)
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
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
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
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
Kawah (Coffee with cardamom) and Dates with the locals
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
Me on top of a sand dune waiting for the desert sunset
It got quite busy on our sand dune
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
Inside my tent
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!
Dinner is ready and is taken in to be served
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 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 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
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
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 White Beach between Quriyat and Tiwi
A Pickup Truck making its way across a ford in Wadi Shab
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 from Mount Eden
Auckland including the Harbour Bridge and Skytower from Mount Eden
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 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
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
The luxury yacht Ulysses moored in Auckland's Viaduct Basin
The Headquarters of the New Zealand America's Cup Team
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
Whatever next? A Multi Storey Boat Park down on the waterside in Auckland
The Wynyard Footbridge across the Viaduct Harbour
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
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
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
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
View across to the West Coast and 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
Karekare Waterfall in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park
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