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The Travel Map - April 2008

Western Plains Zoofari - Dubbo

April 29th 2008 05:30
A Zoofari at Western Plains Zoo is a fantastic way to get a behind the scenes look at some of the most beautiful and rarest animals in the world. The zoo, which is situated four kilometres southwest of Dubbo NSW is based on an open plan design where the animals have a lot of space to move around with moats rather than cages separating you and them.
We arrived at 3.30pm Friday afternoon for our Zoofari, and dropped off our bags in our lodge, which from the outside looks like a large tent but inside is a tiled floor with under floor heating and your own bathroom. We met our guide at 5.30pm to be taken on our first tour where we saw the elephants being brought in for the night, groomed and fed. We also got views lions, tigers, and African Wild Dogs being fed.

We returned to the lodge area to the restaurant for a fabulous three-course meal which warmed up so we were ready to head out on the night tour, where we got to see another four animals including wolves which daytime tourists would not usually see. After this tour, it was straight to bed for us as the next tour started at 5.30am the next morning, although some guests went back to the restaurant for a night cap. A hint if you are there in the cold weather, lie your pyjamas out on the floor before you go out in the evening and they are nice and toasty when you get back.

At 5.30am the next morning, we all piled into the minivan for our final tour. It was worth getting up at this early hour just to hear the Siamang Apes start their early morning bellowing, which can be heard for 10 -20kms. We had a chance to feed the endangered Rhinoceros, which the public do not even get to see as they are currently breeding them. Finally, we saw the giraffes being let out, and again we had a chance to hand feed them.

Rhinoceros - Western Plains Zoo
Rhinoceros at the Western Plains Zoo

Giraffe at Western Plains Zoo
You get to hand feed the Giraffes

We returned to the restaurant for a hearty cooked breakfast. The tour price includes the three tours, accommodation, dinner and breakfast, bicycle hire and a day pass to see the zoo the following day at your own pace. If you do not want to do the overnight package, you can easily get a day pass and hire some bicycles to see the zoo.

As we drove into Freemantle, I was struck with awe at the beautiful lime stone buildings and Victorian Architecture. We parked the car and walked down South Terrace, which on a Sunday morning was bustling with the brunch crowd, the old buildings surrounding us reminding us of the city’s early beginnings. Freemantle was founded in 1829 and was primarily a port where convicts where detained. In fact, a number of the city’s structures were built by convict labour. One of the most impressive convict structures in Freemantle is, Freemantle Prison.

Freemantle Prison Gates

Freemantle Prison was built by convicts between 1852 - 1860 and served as a maximum-security gaol up until 1991. The prison is now open to the public with guided tours, which run every day. I did the ‘Doing Time Tour’ gives you a good overview of the prison. We were taken through the main cellblock to see the tiny cells where the prisoners were kept.
Tiney cells men called home for years

Inside the main cell block

From there we were taken to the exercise yards where the prisoners spent all day come rain or shine. There was not enough shelter or seating for all the prisoners using the exercise yard so it was not surprising that this was an area where a number of fights broke out between prisoners during the day. We saw the gallows, which remain although I do not think anybody has actually been hung at Freemantle Prison since the 1960s. Throughout the tour, the guide recounts endless stories of life within the prison walls.
The most amazing thing to me is that prisoners were still being kept in these conditions in Australia in my lifetime. If it was in the 1800s I may think, ‘Oh how terrible thank goodness we don’t do that anymore’ and move on, but it was happening in Australia in my lifetime.
The prison is open every day except Christmas Day and Good Friday. Tours leave half hourly from 10am.

If you love good food and fine wine a trip to the Margaret River Western Australia could be just what you are looking for. Located just three to four hours drive from Perth the Margaret River is renowned worldwide for their premium quality wines.
Apparently there are around 200 vineyards in the region unfortunately I did not get around to seeing all of them. We spent two days driving around the area tasting wines (the driver spitting them out of course). Ashbrooke Estate and Amberley Estate are the two vineyards that have stuck in my mind. Amberley Estate not only has some lovely wines to taste they also have friendly staff, fabulous grounds and a lovely restaurant. Ashbrooke estate does not have the restaurant but the cellar door staff are friendly and they know about their wine, and seem very passionate about it, (their Verdelho is excellent if you can get it – 2007 is sold out).
A visit to the Margaret River Regional Wine Centre is well worth it to try some of the wines from smaller vineyards that do not have their own cellar doors. They will also freight a crate of your favourites to you at a reasonable price. It is worth comparing their freight prices with the individual vineyards.
Palandri Estate was a bit disappointing they are a big vineyard and the staff all seemed very bored. They only had their cheap $11 bottles available for tasting which were frankly dreadful. I am not sure why some vineyards only have their cheapest wines for tasting and then expect you to take a leap of faith and buy their more expensive range. This is the only vineyard that I didn’t actually buy anything from.
Once you are done with tasting wine check out some of the food places. One that I personally think is worth a visit is Margaret River Nuts and Cereals. Their cereals you can buy throughout Australia, but they also have a selection of nuts that are great, my personal favourite are the smoked almonds. The owner is passionate about food and loves thinking up new nut recipes. I will definitely be keeping an eye on his website!
Those with a sweet tooth haven’t been forgotten either. The Margaret River Chocolate Factory has a great selection of chocolate, although I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with it myself. I consider myself an expert in this area, and I am happy to spend good money on fine chocolate. I like to try something new and different, and nothing really jumped out at me here. In terms of quality vs. value, my opinion is it wasn’t great value.
One sweet shop that may be worth a visit though is the Candy Cow. They make their own fudge, and you can try before you buy. They also have a selection of chocolate that is of equal quality of what you can get at the Margaret River Chocolate Shop but a lot cheaper.
Once you have eaten and drunk your fill around the wine region you can relax at one of the many lovely beaches. Margaret River is known for their surf beaches but there are also a number of quiet beaches where you can spend the day relaxing or perhaps having a picnic accompanied by your favourite wine!
Food wine, surfing or relaxing The Margaret River is a beautiful region to spend some time.

Gnarabup Beach
Relax at the beach after a hard days wine tasting


Madrid in a Day

April 12th 2008 06:16
The final stop on my last places to visit before leaving the Northern Hemisphere for good was Madrid. One thing that struck me about the place when I was coming from the airport to my hotel in the taxi is how much construction was going on around the city. Madrid like Barcelona had some very old buildings and some very modern ones too. One minute I was racing around this modern city, the next minute the taxi pulls up outside my hotel in the old city and it was as if I had stepped back in time several centuries.
I only had one full day in Madrid so I decided to focus on city’s highlights, starting early in the morning with a tour of the Royal Palace. The Palace, which dates back to 1755, is still used by the king for royal functions but is no longer a royal residence. The rooms are lavishly decorated, although not to my taste I have to say. The wallpaper in every room has strong patterns as do all the ceilings and the furniture there are also huge low hanging chandeliers making the rooms look extra busy.

[ Click here to read more ]

Spain is somewhere I had always wanted to visit ever since I had a taken a six week Spanish language course. The reason I hadn’t gone before is that none of my friends wanted to go, but with three weeks left in the UK before leaving for good I decided to bite the bullet and go by myself. Unfortunately I only had five days so I really only had time to get a quick overview. I spent two and a half days in Barcelona followed by two days in Madrid.
To get an overview of Barcelona I spent the whole first day on a bus tour. The tour began in the morning by taking us to the oldest part of the city, all through the gothic quarter, and Saint Jaume Square. The old buildings are stunning and the area itself seemed so much quieter than the rest of Barclonas busy streets.
Old City

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