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Two Day Expedition to the Wahiba Sands

The Arabian Desert beckons

sunny 32 °C
View 2013 Round the World Trip on FrancisRTW's travel map.

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)

Walk around Perth

How many courthouses? No wonder Australia is full of the descendants of convicts!

sunny 24 °C
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The first place we visited in Perth was the Mint founded in 1899 as a result of all the gold being mined locally in the Western Australia's eastern goldfields. It is the oldest operating mint in Australia and one of its top exporters responsible for refining nearly all Australia's annual production of gold. Unfortunately with all that gold around we weren't allowed to take any photographs but the highlight of the tour was watching gold being heated up and poured in the Melting House to make a gold bar. Apparently they have been cooling and re-melting the same gold bar for their gold pouring displays for years!

Perth Mint

Perth Mint


Recreation of Prospectors' Campsite at Perth Mint

Recreation of Prospectors' Campsite at Perth Mint


Me by the statue of a couple of gold prospectors outside Perth Mint

Me by the statue of a couple of gold prospectors outside Perth Mint

Next up was the grand "Beaux Arts-style" General Post Office in Forrest Place. The GPO building itself is now listed and the square in front of it is popular for events and festivals. Murray Street and Hay Street seem to be the main shopping streets in Perth and include London Court, a mock Tudor Shopping Court built in 1937 by a wealthy gold miner and financier. The restored Town Hall is located on the corner of Hay and Barrack Streets.

The General Post Office on Forrest Place, Perth

The General Post Office on Forrest Place, Perth


London Court Shopping Arcade, Perth

London Court Shopping Arcade, Perth


Shops along London Court, Perth

Shops along London Court, Perth


Perth Town Hall

Perth Town Hall

We then stumbled upon the Old Perth Fire Station which unexpectedly had quite an interesting museum and heritage centre. Downstairs we some old fire engines and equipmnet but upstairs there were displays about all the different types of disasters the Western Australia Fire and Emergency Services might have to deal with - bush fires, cyclones, tsunamis and earthquakes; very well done but is it safe to live here?

Old Central Fire Station, Perth

Old Central Fire Station, Perth


Old Fire Tenders at Old Central Fire Station, Perth WA

Old Fire Tenders at Old Central Fire Station, Perth WA

Just up the road from the Fire Station was St. Marys RC Cathedral; the originally building built in 1863 is quite pretty although I think the jury is still out on the recently added extension on the righthand side.

St Marys Cathedral, Perth

St Marys Cathedral, Perth

Talking of jurys... it was at this point I began to notice a theme - almost every second building seemed to be some sort of courthouse! I found this quite amusing bearing in mind Australia's convict past (even if West Australians proudly point out that unlike the eastern states they were not originally a convict colony). First up we passed the District Court as we made our back down Hay Street, I didn't bother photographing that. Then we reached Perth Concert Hall, a fine auditorium built in the early 1970s - with the Commonwealth Court nestled beside it on the left.

Perth Concert Hall with the Commonwealth Law Court beside it

Perth Concert Hall with the Commonwealth Law Court beside it

We then continued along St George's Terrace past Government House and the impressive Council House where had my photo taken by the statues of a mob of Kangaroos outside Stirling Gardens. Not surprisingly this is a very popular photo site with tourists!

Government House, Perth

Government House, Perth


Me by the Mob of Kangaroo Statues on St George's Terrace, Perth

Me by the Mob of Kangaroo Statues on St George's Terrace, Perth

Across Stirling Gardens is the Supreme Court with hidden behind it the Old Court House. This is a lovely old building (the oldest in Perth) which was originally built in 1836 and in its early years also doubled up as a boy's school, church and concert hall.

Supreme Court, Perth

Supreme Court, Perth


The Old Court House, Perth

The Old Court House, Perth


The Courtroom at the Old Court House, Perth

The Courtroom at the Old Court House, Perth


Me in the dock at the Old Court House in Perth

Me in the dock at the Old Court House in Perth

Our final port of call on our walk around Perth was the Bell Tower at the bottom of Barrack Street by the jetty. It was opened in 2000 as Western Australia's Millennium Project and contains bells from St. Martins-in-the-Fields in London's Trafalgar Square. The oldest bells date from 1550 and are referred to in the nursery "Oranges and Lemons" with the words "you owe me five farthings say the bells of St. Martins".

The Barrack Street Bell Tower

The Barrack Street Bell Tower


The Bells inside the Bell Tower

The Bells inside the Bell Tower

We finished off the day in true Perth style with a drink in Maylands watching the sun set over the Perth City Skyline.

Sunset over the Perth City Skyline from Maylands

Sunset over the Perth City Skyline from Maylands

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in Australia Tagged churches markets city sunsets perth prisons mints 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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