Monday, 29 January 2018

Nalychevo National Park - Kamchatka - Far East Russia

Photos Blue Dot Travel

Lonely Planet claims one of the most accessible attractions for hearty independent travellers is this nature park encompassing lovely Nalychevo Valley and the twelve volcanoes (four active) that surround it.  It earned its UNESCO World Heritage Site listing due to its natural beauty and offers visitors hidden thermal and mineral springs, comfortable walking tracks, magnificent mountain views, a main base area with accommodation of new huts/chalets, a camping area, information centre and museum, plus armed Park Rangers who maintain the pristine area and act as protection against the (supposed) many brown bears.  

The water of the natural thermal and mineral springs gives health, energy and quite simply, puts people in a good mood. Mind you, we were already in a positive frame of mind after our helicopter arrival when on settling in to our digs, we were pleased to have our own basic but clean huts nestled in a perfect place to hibernate in warmth during the snow season.  We had our own dining area and a lady who had specially come with us on the helicopter had the important task of feeding us.  She excelled with all the meals that included salmon, caviar, fresh salads, chocolates and more.  

There are no showers here but who needed them?  We had several walks through low fields of flowers to the river and the three thermal pools where we all swam.  Our guide smeared what looked like slime on her face and assured us it was good for the skin but we all decided we were past looking beautiful and left her to it. 

With the fresh air, wonderful scenery and our small compatible group of travellers we enjoyed many a stroll through the floral fields, taking the time to stop along the way and look for special flowers, pick berries and mushrooms and take photos.  

It's hard to describe the rare beauty of this place and the feeling of good fortune in having experienced it first hand, truly out in the middle of nowhere. And while doing nothing particularly exceptional, we all relished the privilege of experiencing nature at its very best in such a rare and remote setting.  

Our next Blue Dot Travel adventure to this wonderful place is in August 2019.  Interested?  click here for more information.  

Monday, 22 January 2018

Ile Sainte Marie or Nosy Borah, Madagascar

Words and photos by Brett Goulston 

Off the north east coast of Madagascar lies the tropical island of Sainte Marie, a place where bragging rights are assured because you can almost certainly be sure nobody you know will have heard of let alone this majestic island.  The word paradise simply doesn’t do it justice!

This best way to reach this small island - barely 50km from top to bottom and very narrow - is to fly from Madagascar itself. Air Madagascar flights are frequent but frankly, not known for their accurate departure and arrival times.  Book a minimum of two nights on Ile Sainte Marie but three or four is even better!   

I first travelled to the island with a small group. We booked into the Masoandro Lodge and checked into a delightful bungalow. Run by French woman Anne Baruch Huguet, this is basic but very comfortable accommodation and certainly all you need. The food is great and the views from the restaurant balcony are stunning.  During your stay you can choose to chillax but if you are the more active type, then there is plenty to see and do.    

Around July and August, the humpbacks come to the warm channel to breed. We spotted dozens very close to our boat. My photos may have been average (I'm blaming the stability of the boat) but regardless, it was amazing watching them breach and come up for air. Rent a bike from any of the hotels and, depending on your level of fitness, ride the length or just a section of the island. There is just one road up and down the island so do take care! Make sure you take a tour to the pirate cemetery and book the services of a guide so you can learn the fascinating and somewhat scary history from a few hundred years ago. There is one absolute must-do on the island: head to its southern tip by 4WD to the smaller island of Ile aux Nattes. Canoe or take a small boat across the channel of 200-300 metres, depending on tides. There are a few small villages and a bar or two serving lunch. The bar where we lunched served lobster which was to die for! Our cook assured us it was caught that very morning and judging by the freshness, I doubt he was fibbing!  

Blue Dot Travel's next small group tour to Ile Sainte Marie and Madagascar departs August 2019. Do yourself a favour and hop on board. Click here for more information.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Odisha India - with it's complex history, enticing tribal culture and natural beauty

Words and photos by Brett Goulston  

Over 40 million people live in Odisha (pronounced Orisha) - one of India’s 29 states.  Sitting in the north east on the Bay of Bengal, it is generally regarded as India’s poorest state, but don’t let this tag put you off visiting. It’s a hidden gem, not on westerner’s travel list. However, it should be because it has wonderful cultural sites, fabulous food, very friendly people and great hotels! There are numerous must-see places of interest in this state and on a recent trip I was blown away by three of the best… 

The Konark Sun Temple is a 13th-century Hindu Temple about an hour’s drive from Puri, a lovely coastal town on the Bay of Bengal. The temple is attributed to King Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty. Dedicated to the Hindu god Surya, the temple complex is about 30 metres high and was designed like a chariot.  A closer look at the magnificent stonework reveals horses and wheels all carved from stone. This beautiful building is a photographer’s dream, especially in the morning or afternoon when the sun hits it.  

Jagganath Mandur, is also a masterpiece of Hindu architecture and one of the most important pilgrim sights in India for the Hindu faith. You reach the temple after a fascinating walk through the town of Puri itself, which, is highly entertaining and could be considered “classic” India. Look out for cows, tuk tuks, bicycles, rickshaws and the occasional car. One of the best views of the temple and the streets below, is from the balcony of the old colonial style library across the road.  

Bhubaneswar is the capital city of Odisha and has many temples, markets and other places of interest. Top of the list is the Lingaraja Temple – a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva and built during the 11th century. It has about 50 shrines in the same complex so allow ample time to stroll.  

On Blue Dot Travel's small group tour through North East India, we spend 5 days in the state of Odisha seeing the best on offer. Visit our website for more information 

Monday, 8 January 2018

Epic landscape of Sossusvlei, Namibia

Words and photos by Brett Goulston 

How can a heap of sand dunes and dead trees lying in a salt pan, make for interesting sight-seeing? Trust me, it can… and in fact for many who visit Namibia and see the amazing Sossusvlei dunes, it’s one of the highlights!  

The first thing that strikes you about this ancient region is the vastness of the sand hills and their colour. The area is massive and the colour reminded me a little of the Kimberley (but it’s sand, rather than rock). 

There’s an opportunity to climb many of the dunes however there are a few more popular ones for good reason. Dune 45, which is a star dune (so called because it is 45 kms from the park gates) is definitely worth the effort. The view from the top is amazing as you can see as far as your eyes will allow. It’s quite an effort – even for the fitter among us - but you are rewarded for your hard work.  When you get to the top, you will hear… well… nothing. It’s silent at the top and this adds to the experience.  Allow a good 45 minutes to an hour to climb, enjoy the views and return. 

The other main dune to trek to is called Sossusvlei. There are a few ways to get to the top. I tried the hard way (which I only found out later was the difficult route) by traversing from the salt pan with all the dead trees at the bottom. The easier route is from 
nearer to where the cars park and is a more gentle ascend . Regardless of which way you climb, you’ll need to allow two hours minimum and three is better if you plan to go all the way to the peak. 

Importantly, you can still enjoy this natural wonder without trekking to the top. A 1km walk to the area with the dead trees is also a must-do.  One of nature’s most interesting places to visit!
One final tip: beat the heat by leaving early. Gates open around 7.00am – Africa time, meaning give or take 30 minutes. 

Join Blue Dot Travel’s small group tour to Namibia, Botswana, Vic Falls and Cape Town.  Click here for more information.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Kolkata - India's second biggest city

Words and photos by Brett Goulston

It’s very loud and very busy and some parts (but not all) are dirty. It could be best described as chaotic, but its utterly fascinating and if opening your mind through travel is your thing, then it simply must been seen! 

Welcome to Kolkata! This is a city of around 15 million people ... who all seem to be going somewhere at the same time either by bicycle, bus, car, train, taxi or walking. There’s a plethora of things to see and do in this town but make sure you plan for the traffic because a simple 5km trip may take close to an hour.  

The most famous place to see – and well worth the effort – is the fabulous and colorful flower market where you'll see wholesalers preparing bundles of brightly coloured flowers for the city's retailers to buy in the thousands. Roses, marigolds and many more sell for around – wait for it – 2 rupee per flower ... or about 4 cents each! Tip… wear old shoes and take a walk through the markets down to the Ganges and watch the local men bathe – and brush their teeth  in the muddy water! The views over the Howrah Bridge are classic India.  

There is some spectacular colonial architecture in town, the most stunning being the Queen Victoria monument building. Head there for the sunset for the best photos. A visit to the Rabindra Bharati university and museum requires at least a solid hour. It’s in honour of India’s most famous creative brain  writer, artist and poet Rabindranath Tagore – and some of the key displays are in English. Make a special effort to see his large portraits. Take a walk down the Artists' Laneway – or Potters' Market as it's known locally – to see dozens of tiny shops with artists making mud figures of all shapes and sizes for upcoming festivals.  

There’s a whole lot more. Kolkata is three full days of sightseeing. Mention Ricky Ponting or Steve Waugh and you’ll have new best friends.  Blue Dot Travel takes in Kolkata as part of our Nagaland and North East India small group tour. Click here for details.

Train travel in India

Our friend the Indian taxi driver

Flower market in Kolkata

Victoria Memorial Kolkata

Everyday life in Kolkata

Artisan community in Kolkata

Forty winks