Thursday, June 4

First light in the East

 Cape Byron is the easternmost point of the Australian continent. The cape sits on a narrow and rocky point less than three kilometres from the popular resort town of Byron Bay. The cape is capped by three hillocks.  Atop the eastern most, and highest, of these peaks sits Cape Byron Lighthouse.  Built in 1901, this dazzling white, 23-metre high, structure is Australia's most powerful lighthouse (A staggering 2.2 million candela).

The light continues to operate.  More than a century later it's still shining a beam that's visible up to 50 kilometres away.  It's also become one of the surrounding region's most popular attractions.  More than half a million people visit it every year. During Summer its popularity peaks as the cape is an ideal location from which to watch whales migrate up the Australian coast.  A local dolphin pad can also seen frolicking around the cape throughout the year.

This morning, shortly after dawn, I was lucky enough to be taken on an hour long trek around the Byron Cape headlands.  As we walked we spotted the local dolphins and plenty enthusiastic surfers.  It was perfect morning to experience the cape for the first time.  The lighthouse was simply dazzling in the morning sunlight, while all around, perfect feathery white surf curled its way along the shoreline.  Even the odd wallaby was taking time out to enjoy the nation's first light for today.

Monday, March 16

Insurance that works

I've always been a little skeptical about travel insurance.  Over the years numerous anecdotes have convinced myself that insurance companies will do everything to avoid paying a claim.  I've even witnessed a health insurance company terminate coverage for breast cancer therapy midway through a patient's treatment plan. 

However, in the last 18 months, I've seen a couple of straight-forward travel insurance claims paid in full. Perhaps my cynicism is misplaced.  The first occurred two years ago when my parents made a claim for hospital treatment my father received while were in Montreal.  

We'd rushed Dad to the hospital after he'd woken with severely swollen legs.  At the time doctors suspected he was suffering from DVD.  In the weeks preceding his admission we'd made four flights, including one trans-Pacific flight and a trans-continent flight in Canada. After a series of blood tests, anti-clotting injections and an elaborate ultrasound scan the doctor's could find no clots. 

Dad was cleared to fly and urged to keep his legs elevated for the remainder of our road trip through Ontario. Extended periods of elevation eventually reduced the swelling and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Dad's treatment cost several thousand dollars.  Mum made a claim on travel insurance and was delighted when it was paid in full. 

More recently, the rental car that Mum and I used in Cape Town received a minor, but visible, scrape on its rear bumper. I'd declined the rental company's insurance policy as American Express claimed that it would cover any such damage under a policy attached to my card. For years its encouraged cardholders to refuse rental company insurance.

Earlier this month I received a final bill from the rental car for repairs to the bumper.  The final cost was a little over $300.  I called American Express and asked if this cost could be reimbursed.  They said it would and I duly submitted a claim.  Last week the claim was paid in full.  It's the first time I've ever claimed on a travel insurance policy.  I was delighted by this payment and the relatively straight-forward process for making a claim.

Sunday, January 18

Beverly does Africa

That's it.  Beverly has done Africa. Overnight we departed Victoria Falls to join our connecting flight back to Sydney.  Our return flights went without a hitch and we both slept like babies on our flight across the Indian Ocean. Mum is now waiting at Sydney Airport to board her final flight home to Auckland.

We made the most of our final day in Africa with a grand finale helicopter flights over the Victoria Falls. Weeks ago we booked the day's first flight hoping that the weather would play its part. We weren't disappointed. The morning dawned with lightly overcast skies and calm conditions.  It was near perfect weather for flying..

Our helicopter took off shortly after 9am on a flight route that took about 20 minutes to complete.  The tour company is based at Elephant Hill, about six kilometres north of the falls.  The hill a low-profile mound rising from ancient floodplains that follow the Zambezi River towards Victoria Falls. Several years ago an impressive five-star resort complex was built on its crest.

As we took off a distant rain shower gave the landscape a wonderfully African flair.  The view was spectacular. We traced the Zambezi river's path towards the falls.  Our route took us over the berths for dozens of boats we'd seen traversing the river two day before and on towards the falls themselves. 

A curtain of white mist hangs perpetually over the falls. For last two days we've watched this "cloud" drifting from our hotel dining room. At times the wind had swirled the mist into a jagged mushroom cloud reminiscent of a fading atomic bomb testing image.  However, from the air, the mist proved insignificant.  It obscured only a small section of the falls giving us an unobstructed view of its majesty and its equally impressive neighbourhood.

Our helicopter pilot flew us in a leisurely circle of eight around the falls, the Zambezi Gorge and the frontier bridge. The falls stretch an incredible 1,708 metres. Only from the air is it possible to conceive of just how far the falls extend.  However, the trailing gorge that's been carved over millennia proved equally spectacular.  A series of jagged Z-shape ravines scar the surrounding plains for more than seven kilometres downstream.

Our flight included ten minutes of safari flying over a nearby national park.  From the air we spotted several giraffe herds grazing on the tree tops, as well as a large herd of elephants rambling through the bush.  It was very cool to see the animals from this perspective after spending so much time viewing at ground level. Mum loved every moment of our flight. She told me it was one of the highlights of her entire Africa adventure.  The perfect way to finish an incredible vacation.

Saturday, January 17

Almost homeward bound

Tonight is our last night in Africa.  Tomorrow afternoon we'll begin retracing our steps back to the Antipodes and real life.  It's been an amazing vacation.  Mum has learnt so much about Africa that her head is at risk of exploding.

The images posted here were taken earlier today.  After our morning Elephant safari we returned to the Falls National Park to complete a walk along the crest of the falls.  Our first attempt had been thwarted yesterday by a drenching tropical downpour so we were pleased that the weather played its part today. The falls are truly dazzling in direct sunlight.

Friday, January 16

Victoria Falls - a photo essay

The last couple of days have been a whirlwind of sightseeing.  We've taken two separate walking tours along the crest of the falls, gone bush with African elephants and traversed girders of the local frontier bridge.

Today's excursion to the falls was perfect timed. We arrived at the national park entrance just as the sun broke through the clouds. As a result, the fall had delightful sheen and vivid rainbows were visible from several vantage points.

There's honestly nothing I could write that would tell the story better than the images I've posted here.  Therefore, I'll leave you in peace to admire the scenes we've been enjoying.

Elephants at dawn

Thursday, January 15

Wednesday, January 14


Today we explored two extremes of human history.  Our day started with a tour of Sterkfontein Caves , 60kms northeast of Johannesburg. The caves are famous for the discovery of early humanoid fossils found inside them. This includes “Mrs Ples”, a fossil skeleton at least 1.5 million years old and “Little Foot”, an almost complete Australopithecus skeleton dating back more than 3-million years.

Mum loved the caves.  They're huge with large spacious caverns.  We even saw an archaeologist examining the rock face and could see an active excavation site carefully mapped out in an orderly grid. A small museum at the entrance houses some excellent exhibits on early humanoids.  Its artifacts include some replica skulls cast from the original fossils found here.

We then made our way to Pretoria.  We spent almost two hours at the monolith Vortrekker Memorial standing on a hill overlooking the city. We also visited Church Square and looked inside the old Parliament Building before making our way up to Union Hill.  This is home to the nation's Administrative branch.  Outside in the gardens can be found a new, giant statue of the late Nelson Mandela.