Monday, 27 February 2017

Kamchatka - Land of Fire and Ice

One of the many volcanoes in the UNESCO-listed area

By Brett Goulston

I’m fortunate enough to have visited the land of fire & ice on a few occasions. It’s a destination that few people can pronounce and even fewer know where to find. Kamchatka is a peninsula in Russia’s Far East forming part of Southern Siberia. It lies between the Pacific Coast and the Sea of Okhotsk. Look on a map and you’ll agree it’s remote, which is its main appeal. 

Whilst the occasional expedition and cruise ship pull into the capital’s docks – Petropavlovsk – you really have to spend a few weeks in the region to see the best of what Kamchatka offers. If this was New Zealand, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, there would be heaps of hotels, restaurants and hordes of tourists. But that could not be further from reality of Kamchatka and its raw wilderness.  There are just two major towns in the entire region – Yelizovo and Petropavlovsk – and just one main road that traverses the entire 300,000 square kilometres from south to north. Ex-army helicopters are used to fly visitors to the destination. Don’t expect friendly flight attendants or tasty snacks and definitely don’t expect the regular safety procedure demonstration!

There are dozens of reasons to see this region. You can get close to the Kamchatka brown bears and there is plenty of other bird-life, sea creatures and animals. The scenery is simply stunning – lakes, forests and mountains in every direction and thanks to the numerous helicopter transfers, you get to see it in great detail. There’s peaceful rafting down pristine rivers, picnic lunches with salmon and vegetables, boat trips on the stunningly beautiful Avacha Bay and if a little light trekking is your thing, you will think you have arrived in heaven.  Plus there are 20 active volcanoes on the peninsula, some of which you can trek into! 

Service does not necessarily come with a smile in Kamchatka (nor the rest of Russia for that matter) but that’s okay 
 you don’t go for the service ... you go for the most amazing wilderness experience you can imagine.  

Come join one of our tours to Kamchatka and find out for yourself.  Next tour is in August 2017 - Click here.

The 1,250km long Kamchatka Peninsula in Far East Russia

A Kamchatka brown bear - woo hoo!

Pristine lakes and waterways abound

Kamchatka flights - ex-military helicopter is the standard mode of transport

Do you think this hat works for me?

Boiling water from these geysers spurts 20 metres into the air

Caviar is in abundance in North Eastern Russia

Rafting down the pristine waterways

One of the many carnivores to be found in Kamchatka

The Kamchatka Ridge forms the spine of the peninsula

Waterways criss-cross the landscape

A Kamchatka bear

Volcanic stream emerges from the many fissures

Monday, 20 February 2017

Hornbill Festival of Nagaland

By Brod Brennan

The north east frontier of India has always been a remote outpost even during the rule of the British Raj. Whilst the famous Assam tea plantations saw early colonial interest in the north east, much of the hill tribes were left to their own devices, due partly to the ruggedness of their mountain homes on the Myanmar border and in no small part to their fierce reputation as head hunters and warriors.   

Following many years of missionary penetration and christian conversion from their animist faiths, the north east hill tribe states of Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh initiated an annual celebration of tribal culture and this has now evolved into the Hornbill Festival. Held in Kohima, the state capital of Nagaland, the week long festival is a riotous coming together of 14 ethnically diverse tribal groups. 

Each tribal group is centred around a traditional morung or long house where the young males were initiated into the tribe. These initiations were brutal affairs and included inter tribal raids culminating in violent and lethal clashes. Whilst the inter tribal violence is now a thing of the past, the festival has once again ignited a sense of tribal pride amongst young Naga men and women. 

The festival showcases  the tribal dancing, chanting and singing along with friendly competitions in wrestling and poll climbing, bringing together the highlights of their respective cultures. We were privileged to witness several spontaneous outbursts of dancing and chanting from tribal members as they proudly displayed the passion for their ancient spirits.       

Another surprise was a stone pulling event that brought together 3,000 young Angami men. Their task was to haul a massive stone monolith some 3 kms to a sight where the stone was to be erected to mark the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Naga sports competition. The sight of the village chief standing on top of the rock monolith urging his young stalwarts to pull together on massive wines wrapped around the monolith was such a primeval event, that it felt like we were witnessing a throw back to Easter Island or the building of the Egyptian pyramids. Yes India is indeed a very diverse place ! 

Travel to Nagaland so you can experience the Hornbill Festival in 2017 in real life with Blue Dot! Click here.

Where is Nagaland in India?

Different tribes of Nagaland

Stone pulling event

Monday, 13 February 2017

Guatemala – A lesser travelled gem of Central America

Antigua Women
By Brett Goulston

We all travel for different kinds of reasons. Some people like ancient history, others prefer more recent colonial history. Some folks love to photograph wildlife, while some would rather eat their way around a country.  You can do all of this in Guatemala, and more. 


Not many Australians travel to Guatemala. Rather, if they head to Central America, they tend to visit Costa Rica or Mexico first. In my view, Guatemala is the true gem of the region and there are many reasons. Here are just a few…

Guatemala is the most indigenous country in Central America with 60% of the population having lived there for many generations. This means that the locals have retained much of the culture over the years. An example is, the traditional clothing that most of the mature age folks get around in. The colours and style make for fabulous photos. Having said that, many of the people are shy so getting a photo with a local smiling, is not that easy!  

There are so many places to visit in Guatemala.  The scenery, especially around the spiritual Lake Atitlan is stunning. On a clear day, you can see all three of the volcanoes that surround the lake – Volcán Atitlán, Volcán San Pedro and Volcán Tolimán. Small villages with traditional houses surround the lake making the ideal setting for the perfect photo.

Mayan history is equal to that of Mexico. You can spend many days wandering through the ancient and now UNESCO listed ruins of Tikal, the Mayan’s capital city, dating back to the 4th century BC. Your Guatemala travel guide will probably ensure that you suffer from information overload! But don’t despair, if leaving the ruins with all that new knowledge is too hard, there are places to camp overnight. I can’t guarantee you’ll get much sleep from the howler monkeys and bird life though!

Still plenty of time to book your small group tour to Guatemala plus Cuba, Costa Rica and Honduras with Blue Dot in June 2018! Click here.  

Men in their traditional clothing

Women gifted in the tradition of cloth weaving at the local markets

A typical scene in Guatemala - a man and his trusty donkey

UNESCO listed ruins of Tikal

The exotic and eye-catching toucan of Guatemala

Guatemalan women washing clothes in Antigua

Some of the colourful mementos on offer in Guatemala

The ladies preparing tortilla in the Chichicastenango markets of Guatemala
Lake Atitlán features Atitlán volano

Monday, 6 February 2017

Picturesque Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa is one of those destinations that ticks a lot of boxes. Wildlife, food, wine, beaches, mountains and culture. A highlight of most travellers is the coastal city of Cape Town, located near the Cape of Good Hope - Africa’s most south-western point. Flanked by the impressive Table Mountain, it is an incredibly picturesque city.

Cape Town is also a very multi-cultural city. Various religions and cultural groups co-exist peacefully, creating a melting pot of culture, which is reflected in the cuisine that is readily available. Partnering with a buzzing foodie scene, is the nearby wine regions of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, where you can taste some of South Africa’s finest wines, including their signature Pinotage wines. This region, too, is extremely beautiful with a mountainous backdrop and gorgeous colonial architecture.  You may conclude that there are many things to do in Cape Town.

Another big tick is the amount of animal reserves close by where you can view what Africa is famous for, it's wildlife. In particular the Big Five - the lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. No trip to southern Africa is complete without a safari expedition and it truly is amazing witnessing the local wildlife on their home turf. 

Animal spotting doesn’t end on land either, with an epic coastline, South Africa is also home to an abundance of sea life such as whales, seals, sharks and penguins and Cape Town is the place to see all of these with ease.

As you can see, there is something for everyone in South Africa, and especially Cape Town.

Book your trip to Cape Town, plus Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls with Blue Dot! Click here.

Cape Town Harbour

Table Mountain Cape Town in background

Exploring Table Mountain
Local musicians

Cape Town harbour


Heading into the wine regions near Cape Town