Hello, my name is Gilda. I was born in the South of Brazil, my grandparents were Italian Immigrants and from an early age I was told many tales about Italy. My grandmother, who was also called “Gilda”, used to speak to me in Italian sometimes and I was fascinated by the idea of speaking, Read More
Hamilton Island is a little piece of heaven in one of the most beautiful of Australian landscapes …The Whitsundays archipelago, lying just off the coast of Queensland next to the Great Barrier Reef. Its credentials as being in the centre of the action is what puts this gorgeous Island in everyone’s must-visit list.
The island is served by its very own airport, which is small, but perfectly formed. We flew from Brisbane to Hamilton Island on a very small plane, using our Qanta’s “walkabout pass” . The journey was beautiful with views over the Whitsunday Islands and The Great Barrier Reef.
On arrival in the Island a transfer from the airport to the hotel takes no longer than 5 to 10 minutes. It is all very well organised and slick; upon arrival your luggage will quickly be unloaded from your aircraft and within a few minutes you are reunited with your belongings and aboard one of the courtesy mini-buses to whisk you off to your accommodation. If you’re staying in one of the exclusive resorts (not us) they will take care of your luggage for you.
Paradise does come at a cost though, although Brian and I did manage to find an apartment with a view that did not require for us to remortgage our house in order to afford it. The apartment was at a stunning location with some of the most beautiful views we have ever seen. Stepping out into our balcony we could not believe our luck since in front of us the white sandy beach was gently hugged by the calm turquoise waters of the bay, and in the distance we could see the green peaks of other Islands surrounded by lush vegetation.
We wished we could stay forever, and could not believe how large our apartment was with an open plan kitchen, dinning/sitting room area and a large en-suite bedroom, it would be enough room for a family of 5 people. Unfortunately we were there only for two nights, before moving on to Airlie Beach… probably not the best decision we have ever made. With hindsight we should have stayed in this Island for the entire 5 days that we had allocated to explore the Whitsundays and The Great Barrier Reef. When we were planning our trip we decided to split our stay with 2 days at Hamilton Island and 3 days at Airlie Beach, we thought it might be too expensive to stay in the Island for the whole 5 days and were hedging our bets by staying in two places in case one was not so great. It turned out that expense was not really a factor, the excursions to the Great Barrier Reef and Whitehaven beach would have been easier from this Island, also our flight to Sydney was from Hamilton Island, so we did waste time going back and forward, although on the upside cruising around this beautiful part of the world is no hardship.
In any case we did make the most of our time on the Island during our two day stay. Our apartment was just opposite Catseye Beach where there were many water activities on offer such as windsurfing, snorkelling, kayaking etc. For ages we have been wanting to try stand up paddle-boarding and therefore this was the perfect place to do it, with very calm and warm waters.
There are virtually no cars in the Island, most people get around by foot (it is a small Island after all) , hopping on one of the free shuttle buses that do loops around the Island, or renting one of the golf buggies that can be easily hired. There is no need to book in advance, we just walked in to the conveniently located shop a two minutes walk from our apartment and come out with the keys for our very own buggy. Just need to show a valid driving license. It was a lot of fun and so easy to drive around exploring the Island which is perfectly laid out for golf buggy use… there are plenty electric points to recharge the buggy and it is so easy to park it everywhere. We particularly enjoyed going up to One Tree Hill, one of the highest points on the Island, to catch one of the most spectacular sunsets over the Whitsunday Islands.
Don’t expect to have the place to yourself since it is a very popular spot to see the sun go down behind the beautiful Whitsunday Islands whilst sipping a cocktail or two, the views are truly magical. People sit on the grass and bring a picnic for the occasion. There was a guy gently strumming his guitar and playing some soothing music. People chatted, but mostly there was a lovely and calm atmosphere of contemplation for natures spectacle.
During our short stay in the Island we did not have enough time to do much hiking, but had we stayed longer I would have loved to do some bush-walking trails, particularly the one up to Passage Peak Trail which it is known to have fabulous views to the North and South of the Island. Hiking trails can be downloaded onto smartphones within the free Hamilton Island app.
The main hub of the Island is the Marina, where there are restaurants providing fine dining or more budget friendly options such as the Popeye’s fish and chips, Bob’s Bakery for some tasty pies, or Manta Ray for a take away pizza. There is also a pharmacy, a small but well stocked supermarket, clothes and souvenir shops. The Marina it is a good place for people watching whilst eating a fish and chips, tasty pie or pizza take away, sitting at one of the picnic tables available by the water front. Watch out for cockatoos though who are very quick at grabbing hold of your food and legging it.
After the sun had gone down we returned to our apartment for a night time swim in the warm waters of our hotel pool, under the light of a full moon, and fruit-bats flying over our heads it was pure bliss… we did not want to wake up from this dream.
But wake up we must and we got on a ferry with Cruise Whitsundays from Hamilton Island Marina to Airlie Beach one early morning, the journey took us about one hour sailing through the Whitsunday Islands on the most blue sea I have ever seen.
It was raining when we arrived at Airlie Beach, although it stopped pouring just long enough for us to walk from the harbour to our bed and breakfast hotel. We were again impressed with our accommodation, although it did not have the fabulous views we had just left behind at Hamilton Island, there were sea views nevertheless, the room was extremely comfortable and spacious. The bed and breakfast owners were a lovely couple from Tasmania, who had just bought it as a small business. They gave us a lot of information about the area and the excursions that we had planed for the next few days to the Great Barrier Reef and Whitehaven Beach.
We opted to sail to Whitehaven on a Tallship, the Providence V a 62-ft gaff rigged schooner…. not one of our best decisions, since the wind was blowing from the wrong direction for the sails to be deployed and we ended up chugging along at five knots per hour and getting soaked every few second by the rough seas. But the journey out was a highlight in itself, as we sailed through Hook Passage, beautiful Islands covered in lush tropical vegetation, pretty little coves and reefs. Food and drink was provided, the crew were extremely friendly and on the way back when the wind was blowing in the right direction we helped them to get the sails up and finally we got a taste of sailing the Whitsundays.
We arrived at the Whitsunday Island and anchored at Tongue Bay where we boarded the small inflatable boat that took us ashore. From the beach we walked the short up hill walk through bush-land to the lookout at Tongue Point, the best place to see the swirling sands of Hill Inlet. The walk through the bush-land is not particularly strenuous and there are parts covered by a board walk. Australian’s appear to love their boardwalks, we found many great ones during our trip of discoveries Down Under.
The white silica sand shifts through the waters, creating the swirling patterns. The bright white colour is due to the high silica content of 98% silica. Great for polishing your jewellery, not so great for you photography equipment or mobile phone, so keep it safely stored away from this fine sand.
Protected by the Whitsunday Island National park the 7 km stretch of impeccably soft, white silica sand, turquoise, blue and green water, it has been voted many times as one of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the world and the number one beach in Australia. But there is danger lurking in these waters….jellyfish. There are two main species; the Irukandji which is a small jellyfish whose sting can cause serious illness or even death and the Box jellyfish which is larger and has more tentacles, the stings cause immediate severe pain. Vinegar can help to ease the the pain, but medical help might also be necessary. Before arriving in the Island we were given stinger suits to wear, in case we wanted to swim. We did not have enough time for a swim, but we did enjoy walking around and soaking up the beauty of this place. We saw turtles, rays, and lemon sharks in the crystal clear waters.
The Great Barrier Reef
We also chose to take a trip to Reefworld with Cruise Whitsundays to visit their pontoon at Reefworld Hardy Reef on the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the great wonders of the natural world and it has been on our bucket list for years. We boarded the very large and modern Cruise Whitsundays Catamaran at Airlie Beach Harbour. The journey was very smooth, we stopped over at Hamilton Island to collect a few more tourists before continuing our trip out to the floating pontoon which is securely moored alongside coral walls at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. Before arrival there were various presentations on board covering snorkelling and diving techniques, food and drinks were also served by the very friendly staff.
This stretch of coral is well protected from the Pacific Ocean currents, making it perfect for safe snorkelling and diving. The use of wet- suits, masks, fins and snorkels are all included, the gear is well marked with many different sizes available.We soon donned our fashionable stinger suits, flippers and masks for the reef exploring of our lives. There was plenty of amazing coral formations and sea creatures to see, a breathtaking underwater world. The fish were just as curious about us as we were of them coming very close to us for a good look and inspection. We have done scuba diving before many times, but decided to snorkel here instead, worried that diving here might be a bit too sanitised and feel more like Disney World of diving. We would like to be back here one day and do a live-aboard trip for a more satisfying diving experience.
Soon it was time to leave the sunshine state of Queensland, and we left Airlie Beach on a ferry back to Hamilton Island for one more cruise around the stunning Whitsunday Islands. From Hamilton Island we boarded a small Qantas aircraft to Sydney, via Brisbane again. We were sad to leave this beautiful corner of Australia, but already very excited about what discoveries Down Under were wanting for us in New South Wales.
My next blog post will be on our time in Sydney. Have you been to the Whitsundays? What was your time there like?
Brian, Yvonne and I boarded the Qantas flight from Perth to Brisbane and after about 5 hours crossing this huge country from West to East we landed in Brisbane, capital of the sunshine state of Queensland, Australia. Cousin Carol (Yvonne’s sister) was waiting at the airport terminal to whisk us to the seaside town of Caloundra, just an hour’s drive away from Brisbane.
We had never met Carol before, but over the following few days we got to know her well since she allowed us a glimpse into her life and entertained us with many stories about their family move to Australia as “ten pound pom” migrants. She is a storyteller with a big personality and a very generous heart, we stayed at her lovely home in Caloundra from Thursday 9th of February to Monday 13th of February.
The “ten pound poms” was a term used to describe British migrants who were part of the “Assisted Passage Migration Scheme” designed to substantially increase the Australian population and supply workers for the country’s booming industries. The scheme lasted from post WWII 1945 until 1972 and attracted over one million people from the British Isles. The cost of travelling was subsidised by the Australian government charging £10 for the fare ( in 1945 £10 would in 2015 be the equivalent of £ 389) per adult, and children travelled free of charge. Many migrants found that on arrival in Australia many of the government promises of better housing, jobs and a better lifestyle in general were not so readily available.
Carol and Yvonne remembered their arrival as being quite hard for their parents, their father Alec didn’t find employment in Fremantle and Perth where they first arrived and eventually the family of five ( mum, dad and three kids) moved to Geelong, near Melbourne, where Alec got a job at Ford. Carol tells us that her mum Rita missed Scotland a lot and took her over 20 years to fully embrace life as an Australian.
Carol organised a great exploring itinerary for us, starting with the 100 acre Australia Zoo, made famous by the late Steve Irwin whose wild life series “The Crocodile Hunter” was a favourite of my son James as he was growing up. Steve died in 2006 aged only 44 after being stabbed in the chest by a stingray barb during filming of one of his underwater documentary films at Batt Reef, Queensland. The zoo is now owned by Steve’s widow Terri Irwin, although it was originally founded by Steve’s parents Bob and Lyn Irwin in early 1970’s when it was called Queensland Reptile and Fauna park. Steve’s passion for animal’s and conservation is evident throughout the park, there are pictures of him wearing his signature khaki shorts frolicking with crocodiles and other animal’s all around the Zoo. He considered conservation the most important part of his work.
For me a visit to the Zoo was also an opportunity to get very close and personal to the elusive Koala. The Koala has big fluffy ears, and very soft skin. I was delighted to be able to hold and snuggle up to a Koala for few minutes, even though she did give me an unwanted present…a small poo that I just gently let it go from the hand that was under her bottom.
There are plenty of marsupials, mammal, birds and reptiles to see; it is a great day out, with a small train that can take you around the park since it is a very large place with lots to see, in fact we did not manage to see it all in a day.
We also visited the Australia Zoo hospital, dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating all wildlife in need, where the highly skilled team provides a free service to all sick and injured wildlife, from road accident victims to stranded marine animals etc.
On a road trip up the mountains we visited the small town of Montville, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, part of the the Blackall Range around 400 metres above sea level. It is a charming place that in many ways reminded me of my home town of Canela, high up in the hills with charming wineries, craft and speciality shops and restaurants with great views out to the Glass Mountains and the coastline in the distance. We stopped for lunch to have a meal with a view.
I am from the South of Brazil, gaucho land where having a barbecue is a huge part of our culture. Here in Australia it appears that they also have quite a culture of outdoor barbecues and most beaches and parks will have a barbecue pit. Carol and her son Ian organised a fantastic barbecue at a great location with ocean views and a stunning sunset to boot. What could be a nicer thing to do in a warm summer evening?
There was few picnic tables, but not many freely available, but this nice couple with the dog (above) were so friendly and offered us their table since they had just finished their meal and needed to go home to feed their other animals. We found all the Australians that we met on this trip to be extremely friendly, sociable, fun and easy going. It must be the sunshine that just cheers everyone up.
We had many delicious and memorable meals during our journey around Australia, but it was particularly nice the time we gathered around the dinner table with family to just chat and have a laugh together. In Caloundra Carol booked us a table at this great restaurant near the seafront and we had the opportunity to meet Carol’s granddaughter Beyoncé (yes…named after the R&B American singer) who joined us for the evening.
We did not want to leave Queensland without a little exploring around their Capital city of Brisbane, where on arrival at the town centre we took a ferry to South Bank.
The South Bank Parklands is situated on the Southern banks of the Brisbane River, it has 17.5 hectares of canopied walkways, rain forest, a Nepalese peace pagoda, a 60 metre high “Wheel of Brisbane”, lush laws, eateries, bars, an events open air theatre and a fabulous man made beach boasting a sparkling lagoon style swimming pool complete with a white sandy beach and sub-tropical plants. What is not to like?…such a shame we did not bring our swimming costumes.
It was the hottest day we had so far, with temperatures at around 35 degrees C, but since having a dip in pool was not an option we cooled ourselves down inside a lovely pub for a well deserved meal and a very cold drink.
Our time in this part of beautiful Queensland was soon ending and we were moving towards the next leg of our journey Down Under. Carol and Yvonne drove us to Brisbane airport for our flight to Hamilton Island. It was very emotional to say good bye to our cousins, in particularly knowing that it could be some time before we meet again. It had been an amazing time spent together, not only because of all the wonderful places we visited, but particularly to be able to reconnect with the long lost part of our Scottish family. Thank you so much for having us, we were so well looked after and totally spoiled.
My next post will cover our time on Hamilton Island, Airlie Beach, The Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef (Luckily before Typhoon Debbie struck!). Stay tuned for that.
Have you been to Queensland? What are your favourite memories from the Sunshine Coast?
Brian and I were beyond excited with our three weeks planned trip to Australia, not only because it was a dream trip for us, but also because we were about to reconnect with Brian’s long lost Scottish relatives on a three weeks trip that would take us to Perth, Brisbane, Caloundra, Hamilton Island, Airlie Beach and finally to Sydney.
Bleary eyed after a long flight from London to Perth via Dubai with Qantas Airways, we landed in Perth at an unsociable 2 am local time and we were delighted to come out of arrivals straight into the welcoming arms of lovely Yvonne, who kept herself awake with copious amounts of strong coffee to greet us so warmly on our very first trip Down Under….Welcome to Australia!!!
We were in Perth from Saturday 4th of February to Thursday 9th 2017 staying at Brian’s cousin’s spacious modern house in the lovely neighbourhood of Mullaloo, only a few metres from a beautiful white sandy beach which we took full advantage of during our stay, enjoying some nice long walks along the sea front, watching the kite surfers make the most of Perth’s reputation of being one of the windiest cities in Australia. On our first full day in WA we felt like waking up from hibernation, since the dark and damp British winter had taken its toll on us and we were in desperate need of light.
We were surprised to see so many kids on a Sunday morning having group swimming lessons or leaning to be sea rescuers. The local beach was a lively hub of activities and looked like all the kids were having so much fun. It dawned on us how different their lifestyle is with the great sunny weather they are able to make the most of the many outdoor activities available.
During the next few days our hosts gave us a taste of life in Western Australia, we met their 2 daughters, Lexie and Maddie and got to hang out with them and catch a glimpse of their routines and every day lives. John even cooked us our very first Aussie barbecue.
Australia is full of amazing wild life and although part of me knew that our cousins would not have a kangaroo or two living in their back garden, or that we would not see them skipping down a back street in the Perth suburbs, I still did keep my eyes peeled just in case and in the hope that one would see the bouncy little creatures around the next bend on the road. To rescue the situation and placate our disappointment, John come up with the goods. He took us to the peacefully green nearby Pinnaroo Valley Memorial Park, and there among memorial plaques and flowers we found these interesting Marsupials hanging out in groups and carrying their babies inside their front pouches. There were whole families of ‘roos of all sizes and shapes . I am not sure what it is about these implausibly bouncy creatures that makes me giddy with joy, but I think they are just such cool animals. They did not seem to mind us being there and taking photos, as long as we did not get too close.
Seeing a cuddly Koala was also top of my list, but again an elusive little creature that is difficult to spot in the wild, according to the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) these cute Marsupials (they also carry their young in a pouch) are in danger of becoming extinct, since their natural habitat has been destroyed in many areas of Australia. Therefore John and Yvonne took us to Yanchep National Park, 50 Km North of Perth for a chance to see these iconic Australian cuties. Koalas only eat Eucalyptus leaves and they sleep between 18 to 20 hours per day, since this type of diet requires a lot of energy for digestion. Yanchep has had a colony of Koalas since 1938. The park has many walking trails, but we headed straight to the raised Koala boardwalk and we spotted the cuddly creatures sleeping amongst the branches of the Eucalyptus trees. A sight to behold!
When we first spotted this little fella it was sound asleep, but we could not believe our luck when he woke up and started slowly and gently climbing down from the tree branches in search of his breakfast. It did not care about us there staring at him mesmerised.
Chasing Koalas and walking bush-land trails can get very exhausting. We stopped for tea and scones at the charming tea house overlooking the lake, listening out for the noisy birds and watching them flying around us. We kept looking out for Kangaroos which can be seen here in abundance, but they often avoid the hot midday sun and prefer to come out early or late in the day.
One of the highlights of our trip to WA was our day trip to Rottnest Island, “Rotto” as the local’s call it and a chance to meet another of their endemic wildlife. The Quokka is the only mammal which is native to “Rotto”, belonging to the Wallabies and Kangaroos family, it has black eyes and nose with the cutest little round ears. There is a population of 10,000 to 12,000 living in Rottnest Island, although they are mostly nocturnal animal’s we spotted plenty during the day we visited.
We caught the early 7:30 am ferry from Hilary’s Harbour, just a few minutes down the road from Yvonne and John’s house on a fresh and sunny Monday morning. The journey takes about 45 minutes and we were lucky to have pleasant and calm seas. It was lovely that their teenage daughter Lexie managed to come with us. Our party of five arrived at the Island Harbour and made a beeline for the coffee shop, where it did not take very long for a curious Quokka to start sniffing around looking for some crumbs of food.
Very few people live in the Island, since it is a nature reserve. Although accommodation is limited and there is high demand there are a range of holiday chalets, cottages and hotels or more basic accommodation such as small bungalows, cabins and dormitories, I believe prices take a hike in the high season and due to limited availability booking ahead would be necessary. The Island is mostly car free, most people get around by bicycle, by foot or making use of the hop-on-hop-off explorer bus service that stops at many off the unique bays, beaches and coves around the Island.
We bought a day ticket (which comes with an Island map) for the hop-on-hop-off bus from the Rottnest Island Visitor Centre soon after arriving in the Island and we did not have to wait long for a very friendly driver to welcome us into the bus and drive us to our first stop at Little Salmon Bay. The bus circumnavigates the Island, with about 19 stops to explore. Little Salmon Bay is a great place for snorkelling and very safe to swim, we managed to see pretty coral, shoals of small fish and some larger fish in the shallow and crystal clear waters of this secluded bay. The water was on the cool side, but we lucked out again with a sunny and warm day.
Next we stopped at West End, the wild and windy side of Rottnest with beautiful views of the turquoise water. From bus stop 11 it is about a 5 minutes walk to Cape Vlamingh, with some dramatic cliffs and rock formations, a viewing platform. and a board walk from where you can spot wildlife such as lizards, seals, humpback whales, and dolphins (we did spot dolphins, wohoo!).
Parakeet Bay was another great spot for snorkelling although we mostly relaxed and enjoyed the warm sun lying on the white sandy beach, too lazy to move or do anything more energetic than applying the sun-cream, although John did ventured out to sea for a spot of snorkelling.
We finished the day at the main Island settlement for a bite to eat and refreshments, again the wild life around us were a great source of amusement as we watched a fight between a peacock and a Quokka for scraps of food. Feeding them is not allowed, but they walk around unfazed by the tourists and grab food at every opportunity.
Perth Central Business District and Elizabeth Quay
From John and Yvonne’s house in the suburb of Mullaloo it was just a 20 to 30 minutes drive into the centre of Perth’s business district and Elizabeth Quay via a main highway. Perth is the capital of Western Australia, set on the banks of the Swan River, and it is known as the sunniest state capital averaging 3, 000 hours of sunshine per year. We got a birds eye view of its skyline from the 6th floor of the Bell Tower located at Elizabeth Quay. The tower was custom built to house the historically significant bell’s of Saint Martin which date back to the 14th Century, one of the largest musical instruments in the world. The 360 degree view from its open air observation deck offers a great way of getting your bearings of Perth’s CBD area, the Swan River and King’s Park in the distance.
There is a lot of new leisure development and construction work going own in this area, the harbour area is looking modern, with lots to do, great places to eat and hang out.
Kings Park and Botanic Gardens
Another must visit when in Perth is the Botanical Gardens at King’s Park offering great views over Perth’s city centre and the Swan River. The park also offers some great trails on its more than 400 hectares of botanical gardens and wild bush-land on Mount Eliza. It is one of the largest inner city parks in the world, and we enjoyed going for a stroll over the tree top boardwalk among the gum trees and trying to spot the unique wild life. There is also a State War Memorial here dedicated to service men and women who died in World War I and WWII. Mount Eliza was known as Mooro Katta and Kaarta Gar-up by the Aboriginal tribes who inhabited this area long before the European settlers.
A major Australian port city and the gateway into Australia for many of the early European settlers, it has great significance to Yvonne and her family, since it was here that they first arrived after a long sea voyage from Scotland to Australia in the early 1960’s. We parked by the WA Maritime Museum at Victoria Quay to visit the “Welcome Wall” , it features over 400 panels commemorating the names of migrants who arrived by sea to begin a new life in Australia.
The Wright family spent about 6 weeks aboard the Fairsea to finally arrive in Fremantle. Yvonne tells us that it was a difficult journey for her, her mother Rita, father Alec, her older sister Carol and younger brother Bill. After arriving in Fremantle they eventually settled in Geelong near Melbourne where her father found work at Ford. Yvonne returned to Perth many years later after meeting John. They both decided that a new life in Western Australia was the perfect start to their life together as a couple. Her older sister Carol also left Geelong to pursue a new life in Queensland, she settled in Caloundra, near Brisbane (we later had the pleasure of staying at her lovely home and get to know her, her son and one of her granddaughters). Younger brother Bill got married and started a family of his own, he lives in Melbourne (unfortunately we did not have enough time to visit Melbourne and meet Bill and his family, something we would love to do in a future visit to Australia).
Fremantle is a great port city, buzzing with street life, trendy cafes and bars, in many ways it reminded us of the UK, with it’s Victorian architecture and old England charm. We stopped for coffee and a quick bite to eat in the town centre. Before heading home we stopped at one of Australia’s first craft brewery, inside the Sail and Anchor pub set on the water front at Fishing Port Harbour. Apparently it was in the year 2000 that “Little Creatures” started brewing here in a old warehouse, that used to be a crocodile farm and the Australian craft beer was born.
Little Creatures brews a variety of award winning craft beers and ales on site and also serves some good pub grub, we are told the beer garden is one of the top 10 in Australia, but we choose a cosy corner upstairs with port views instead.
Sadly our Western Australia adventure was coming to an end, it totally exceeded our expectations, both in the beauty of these area and the warmth of its people. Our Aussie cousins could not have been more welcoming and generous, to meet and hang out with them was a highlight of our trip Down Under.
Thank you Yvonne, John, Lexie and Maddie for making our stay so memorable, we hope to meet up again in the very near future.
The next leg of our journey will take us to Queensland, where we stayed with cousin Carol in the pretty coastal town of Caloundra. We were delighted that Yvonne was also coming with us and the three of us flew together with Qantas Airline to Brisbane. We used the Qantas “Walkabout pass” for all our Australian internal flights, something that worked well for us both financially and practically. Stay tuned for my next blog post.
Have you been to Western Australia? What is your take on it?
I relish being a tourist in my own backyard and showing off some of my favourite hangouts to visitors. With my sister and brother-in-law visiting from Brazil, I got a chance to give the newly-wed couple a little dose of Dorset and a quick dash across the border into Wiltshire to visit neolithic Stonehenge.
If you have been following this blog, you know that my sister Angelita and her husband Juliano chose Europe as their honeymoon getaway. On my previous posts I wrote about how my other sister Virginia and I gatecrashed their honeymoon and accompanied them to Paris and Amsterdam. On our return from Continental Europe to England we did not lose anytime to get in my car and drive South from London, minus our sister Virginia who had to go back to work the very next day. We arrived at my home in Dorset in the early evening where my husband Brian had cooked us a nice dinner.
Dorset is a County of great beauty. Situated on the South coast of England, it has a breathtaking coastline, golden beaches with sea carved bays and towering chalk white cliffs, and numerous unspoiled little rural villages set against rolling countryside hills. The difficulty is to decide were to start exploring? With a huge checklist of charming places on offer we decided to start at the medieval village of Corfe Castle.
Corfe Castle, Corfe Castle Village – Dorset
A medieval village, with a thousand years old Castle of the same name dominating the landscape. The Castle, in its thousand year history has been a Saxon stronghold, a Norman Fortress, a Royal palace and lastly just a home owned by the Bankes family. Now only the ruins remain after it was besieged by Cromwellian forces during the civil war. I have always loved taking my visitors to explore this little village that looks like it is lost in a medieval time-warp. Everyone enjoys hearing about the many tales of treachery and treason that unfolded here in this little corner of Dorset. We also stopped for an obligatory cream tea with lovely views of the Castle ruins…of course.
Swanage – Durlston Country Park in Dorset
Situated up on a hill above the sea town of Swanage, this 280 acre park and nature reserve is home to some impressive limestone clifftop trails, surrounded by ancient meadows, a diverse wildlife combined with a fascinating geology and history. We walked the clifftop trail towards the “Great Globe”, one of the largest stone spheres in the world it was built in 1886/87 entirely of local stone it weighs about 40 tonnes and is 3 metres (10 ft) in diameter.
There are various trails to choose from with a variety of landscapes, but we decided for the clifftop trail, which although a little fresh with a gentle sea breeze reminding us that Autumn is here, it was actually very pleasantly sunny. We followed the well marked path that takes you to the edge of a very rugged coast with some scary drops down into the cold waters of the English Channel. We stopped for a rest and sat on the grass to admire the views from the cliff top. In the distance we could see the Isle of Wight to one side and the Swanage Lighthouse which was built in 1880, on the clifftop at Anvil Point just in front of where we were sitting. A perfect place for a break and a drink of chimarrão (also known as mate) which we brought with us, plus a flask of boiling water. It is served hot and it tastes a bit like green tea, very traditional of our State of RS in the South of Brazil.
The cliff top walk is not particularly hard, although there is one steepish climb towards the Light House.
We ended our walk with a wholesome lunch at “Durlston Castle”. This Victorian building is not a real castle, but rather intended as a restaurant built by George Burt in 1887 in the grounds of Durlston Country Park for the visitors of his estate, it has sweeping views of the eroding cliffs of Swanage bay. The castle has been extensively restored and the work completed in 2011, it is now also a visitor centre and a hub of all the activities going on in this area. The visitor centre always holds interesting exhibitions including some from local artists.
Square and Compass at Worth Matravers
A short car ride from Swanage, the Square and Compass is a charming old pub situated in a beautiful location overlooking a valley. There are sea views from the terrace tables and that runs down to join the South West Coastal Path at the popular ledges of Winspit. This charming pub is a gem of a place. It has been in the same family for more than a hundred years, but the building itself began life many centuries ago as a pair of cottages. In 1776 it became an alehouse owned by a Wareham brewer. These days it sells simple local food, pasties, pies, locally produced ales and cider, it is a no frills place and the food is served on paper plates via a hatch on the wall in the same way that it has been for many generation’s. Quirky and full of character it is the stomping grounds of local artists and musicians as well its faithful regulars like us who have been coming here for years. After a delicious, warm pastie we walked down the valley towards the Winspit quarry. The old quarry in its hey days has produced stones for many of the London buildings, but it is no longer in use as it was closed down in 1940 during World War II was used as a site for naval and air defences. In more recent years it has been used as film location for British TV program ” Doctor Who” in the episode ” The Underwater Menace”, also as the planet “Skaro” in the serial “Destiny of the Daleks” and in 2012 the Disney film ” John Carter” for the scene location of the “Orkney Dig”.
Stonehenge – Wiltshire
Tearing ourselves away from beautiful Dorset just for one day, our exploring took us across the border into Wiltshire for a quick road trip to Stonehenge and a walk in the footsteps of our Neolithic ancestors. Perhaps the most famous prehistoric monument in the UK, it is also one of the Wonders of the World. There are many theories and stories about the significance of Stonehenge, the most generally accepted interpretation is that this intriguing stone circle is that of a prehistoric temple aligned with the movements of the sun. The very large standing stones are local sandstone but the smaller ones, known as “bluestones”, come from the Preseli hills in Wales Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. I first visited this monument in 1988 on a motorbike road trip with my boyfriend Brian (now my husband) and we parked the bike nearby and walked around getting very close to the stones. Today visitors are not allowed to get so close and certainly not allowed to touch the stones. But you are able to walk around the monument from a short distance away and take as many photos as you wish…we certainly did.
The celebrations of the Summer and Winter Solstice here can also be great fun, my daughter Chloe has been here with friends during the Summer Solstice and loved it.
Salisbury Cathedral – Wiltshire
Just about 8 miles from Stonehenge one of Britain’s finest 13th Century Gothic Cathedral, stands proudly with its tall tower and spire in the city of Salisbury, one of Britain’s quintessential Medieval cities. Inside the Cathedral visitors can also see the best preserved Magna Carta (1215) and thought to be the oldest working Medieval Clock. We stopped by for a visit before heading home to Dorset.
Lulworth Cove And Durdle Door – Dorset
We are not quite done with exploring Dorset yet, another day and lots more to see, and it was great that my daughter Chloe joined us for a coastal walking trail from the charming fishing village of Lulworth Cove to beautiful Durdle Door. Chloe is currently living at home with us and doing her Pharmacy Pre- Registration year here in Dorset, it has been a very tough year for her with very little free time to have fun.
Poole Harbour and Sandbanks
We can catch glimpses of Poole Habour from our home and it is only a short drive away to the shores one of the largest natural harbours in the world. The harbour is the estuary of several rivers, and is extremely shallow with an average depth of 48 cm, therefore larger boats tend to sail down its main dredged channel that cuts through it. Sandbanks is a small peninsula crossing the mouth of Poole Harbour. Real estate here comes at a premium, being the 4th highest land value in the world it is home to some of the UK rich and famous. It has the highest concentration of expensive properties outside London. The shallow waters of the harbour is a mecca for water sports enthusiasts, in particular windsurfing, kite surfing, kayaking and paddle-boarding. We spent some time here enjoying the white sandy beach and walking along the harbour side promenade. Afterwards we took the short ferry ride across to Studland beach and towards the Purbeck hills.
Poole harbour has many small islands dotted around, the largest of which is Brownsea Island which was the location of an experimental camp in 1907 by Robert Badden-Powell to test out his scouting ideas which then led to the formation of the Scout movement in 1908. The Island hosts every Summer a William Shakespeare play in its open air theatre and people gather with a pre- show picnic on the grounds of a protected nature reserve where peacocks and red squirrels are often spotted frolicking around. We have been a few times with friends and have thoroughly enjoyed it.
The week of exploring was nearly over when Virginia arrived to take the newly weds back to London and to enjoy their final honeymoon days in the English capital. We had spent two wonderful weeks together travelling to Paris, Amsterdam and finishing off in the South of England.
Goodbyes are never easy…better start planing our next get together.