Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

A few weeks ago we decided to spend the weekend camping at the stunning Wadi Bani Khalid. I had seen numerous photos of this wadi on Instagram and various Omani travel blogs, even before I left Sydney for Oman. It was at the top of my list of must see places in Oman since I arrived. The wadi is a lot further from Muscat compared to the other wadis we have visited to date, so we had been a bit hesitant to drive all that way. However, with the weather slowly heating up, we thought we’d better make the most of our weekends and visit Wadi Bani Khalid before it gets too hot.

You can reach Wadi Bani Khalid two ways – via the coastal road through Sur, or via the inland road via Ibra. We took the coastal road, as we have driven along this road a few times and really enjoy this route – the landscape is stunning and the road is well built and maintained. There are also some great spots to stop for a picnic lunch along the way, such as Wadi Tiwi or Finns Beach. But in hindsight after speaking to a few people since our trip, we should have taken the inland road as it would have cut almost an hour from our travel time. But it’s a good thing to know for the future, particularly if we plan a trip to Wahiba Sands, which is quite close to Wadi Bani Khalid.

The drive to the wadi from the turnoff is beautiful in itself. The road runs through a valley and then steeply up a mountain, before it continues down to the other side. And like many places in Oman, the landscape is stunning.

As you approach the wadi, you pass through a number of small towns and villages, many of which are encircled by lush green date palm plantations. Wadi Bani Khalid is one of the easier wadis to access, with no need for a 4WD to reach it. The wadi has a purpose built carpark for visitors, the majority of which visit on weekends. We arrived at about 4pm and the wadi was teeming with people enjoying the last rays of sunshine. Luckily for us we had decided to camp near the wadi, so we had the advantage of exploring early in the morning before the day trippers arrived.

We hadn’t really organised where exactly we were going to camp before we arrived. It didn’t look like rain was forecast, so we could have camped in the wadi. (Please note, it’s usually not a good idea to camp in wadis, due to the threat of flash floods). However, we decided against it and drive through one of the villages beside the wadi and found a great spot on the ridge looking Wadi Bani Khalid. There aren’t really any organised camp grounds in Oman and you can basically camp wherever you want, provided it isn’t in someone’s backyard. But we found a spot that looked like it had been set-up for camping by someone – there was fine gravel in the shape of a circle on the ground and remnants of a campfire. The site had a fantastic view over the wadi and was protected from the wind by a rock ledge, so we decide that this was the perfect place to set-up camp. After our dinner, which we prepared before we left home, we snuggled in for the night, without a sound or person in sight.
The next morning we got up early to explore the wadi before the day trippers arrived. We packed our tent and our belongings and headed back down to the wadi. The atmosphere was so different from the previous afternoon – it was so quiet and peaceful. And cool. One thing about arriving at a wadi early in the morning is that you can explore it without worrying about the heat. The walk along Wadi Bani Khalid is quite easy compared to other wadi  walks. But I would recommend you wear sneakers and not sandals, as the rocks can be quite slippery.

Wadi Bani Khalid is perhaps one of the most beautiful wadis I have seen on our travels through Oman so far. As you can see by the photos below, it is an absolutely stunning place. It’s almost difficult to describe how lovely it is – of course the photos don’t do it justice, and like many of these places, you have to visit to really appreciate its beauty. It has a number of deep pools of water, which are perfect for swimming. Just keep in mind that if you decide to swim in the main pool, make sure to cover yourself so you don’t offend the locals. But if you arrive early, like we did, and swim in the upper pools, you can swim quite freely. There is also a cave further along the wadi which you can visit, but the entry is rather dark and narrow, so we decided against it. Enjoying the wadi itself was enough for us.

After having a swim in one of the many pools, which we had to ourselves, and relaxing in the shade of the gorge, we headed back home to Muscat.

We’re heading to Kerala tomorrow, so stay tuned over the next few weeks for some posts from Fort Cochin, Munnar, Thekkady and Alleppey.

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Wadi al Abyad

We have been lazy over the past month or two, spending our weekends in Muscat rather than taking advantage of the cool winter weather to explore the country a bit more. It has been slowly starting to heat up, so we’ve decided to get off our backsides and squeeze in a few weekend trips before it gets too hot to do so.

So a few weeks ago we spent a Saturday afternoon exploring Wadi al Abyad. The wadi is about an hour’s drive south-west of Muscat, along the Nakhal-Rustaq road. The wadi can be reached from both ends – one at the village of Al Abyad (which is about 25km before Nakhal if coming from Muscat), or from the village of As Sibaykha (20km after Nahkal). We followed the Explorer Oman Off-Road guide and entered the wadi from As Sibajkha. Next time we visit, we’ll enter from the other end, as we got into a bit of a fix this time.

The road from As Sibajkha isn’t quite a road, but is rather a mass of loose pebbles and should only be attempted with a 4WD. Although we had a 4WD, we still got stuck along the track due to our low profile tyres which we really should replace. Luckily a local Omani man stopped to tow us out – the Omanis are always more than happy to help whenever you’re in trouble. After finally being able to move the car again, we drove to the end of the track, jumped out of the car and took a walk along the wadi.

We were luck that the weather was overcast and a bit windy – it made the walk much more pleasurable than if it had been hot and sunny. Wadi al Abyad is translated to English as Wadi White, due to the calcite deposits, which create stunning blue pools, as seen in a couple of the photos below. Although there is a lot of water in the wadi, many of the pools aren’t deep enough for a proper swim. Unlike those of Wadi al Khalid, which I will discuss in my next post.

Beside getting the car stuck in the wadi, it was an enjoyable afternoon and I would recommend Wadi al Abyad as a great half-day trip from Muscat.

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Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania – Part 1

Although I only spent one day at Ngorongoro Crater, I am going to discuss it over two posts, as it is such an incredible place and I have quite a number of photos to share too. I really wish we had spent an extra day here as, although the area is quite small compared to the Serengeti, 8000 square kilometres, as opposed to over 14,000, the scenery is breath-taking and the number of animals to see there is amazing. I know it sounds stupid saying it’s all incredible, breath-taking and amazing, but Ngorongoro really is. The crater itself was created two to three million years ago, when a large volcano exploded and collapsed in on itself, and has created a wonderful natural enclosure for many animals. Unlike the Serengeti which was dry and yellow when we visited, Ngorongoro was lush, with deep green hills flowing onto a flat emerald green basin.

We left our campsite, which was located on the rim of the crater, before sunrise (we had to wake up before 5am to pack up the camp in complete darkness) and headed towards the park gate. Driving down the steep and narrow road to the crater floor, we saw the sun peaking over the mountains. As we continued along, herds of zebras and wildebeests stopped in their tracks and watched us pass. The zebras always looked particularly stunning whenever we saw them, as their crisp white and black coast creates a stark contrast to the surrounding landscape, which makes them really stand out.

After fifteen minutes of driving through the flat basin, we came to a small forest area. As we turned a corner, we came across a herd of elephants. The were about ten of them in various sizes. We also saw a baby elephant which our guide said would be no more than a year old. It kept extremely close to its mother, constantly hiding between her hind legs. The both of them, as well as a few other elephants, came extremely close to us as they walked behind our vehicle to the other side of the road. They would not have been more than 5 metres away. It was incredible to see such large animals, let alone wild animals, up so close. I have seen elephants in zoos, but this is entirely different. And it so refreshing seeing animals in their natural habitat, rather than in an artificial enclosure.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Ngorongoro Crater, with some close up photos of majestic female lions.

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Wadi al Arbiyyin, Oman

We had a friend from Sydney visiting us about a month ago, so we decided to take him on a day trip to one of the wadis close to Muscat. The lucky guy is taking a year sabbatical to travel around the world. He has already travelled through South America and Europe, and is now spending time in Asia. He had a week stopover in Dubai, so decided to visited us for a weekend.

Travelling through Oman is all about going off-road to visit wadis and travel through the mountains and the desert. A must buy book when planning any travel through Oman is Explorer Oman Off-Road. The current 2015 edition has 38 scenic and interesting routes to take through Oman. The book can be bought at Muscat airport, bookshops and a few supermarkets.

Wadi al Arbiyyin was our first real off-road experience in Oman. Prior to visiting Wadi al Arbiyyin, we had only driven on sealed roads. But the road, even though unsealed, was an easy drive with absolutely stunning landscapes, as you can see from the photos below. Oman, unlike its neighbour the UAE, is very mountainous. And luckily, roads have be made and maintained, so that visitors can enjoy visiting the mountains and the wadis.

Wadi al Arbiyyin has many small pools along the road, some of which you have to drive through. The pools are shallow, but I would recommend taking a 4×4. The most stunning of the pools is at the village of As Suwayh. This turquoise pool is wonderful swimming spot, and a lovely place to stop after the dusty drive through the mountains. After a dip at As Suwayh, we stopped for lunch at the side of the wadi, on our way towards the highway and the town of Dibab. Packing a picnic lunch and finding a shady spot beneath a tree, is the way to lunch on any day trip. Our small esky has become an essential item.

There are so many wadis to visit in Oman, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to visit a number of them while we’re in Muscat. Wadi al Arbiyyin is a must if you’re after somewhere to visit close to Muscat, with stunning landscapes and a swim in a beautiful wadi pool.

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Essentials:

Getting there:
The entrance to the wadi is along the Muscat-Sur highway, about 125km or a 1.5 hour drive from Muscat. There will be a sign to the wadi, not too far after the town of Quiryat. I’m quite sure that the sign says ‘Wadi al Arbeieen’ rather than ‘Wadi al Arbiyyin’. Like many places in Oman, the name of the wadi is spelt in different ways.

Queenstown & Wanaka, New Zealand

In April this year, we spent a week travelling around the South Island of New Zealand. I had seen many photos of the south island, particularly on Instagram, and wanted to see the beautiful landscapes myself.

The first 2 days of our trip was spent exploring Queenstown and Lake Wanaka. We really enjoyed Queenstown. Being the low season, the town was quite, but it still had a great vibe. We particularly enjoyed walking around the botanical gardens and the food. Queenstown has a number of great restaurants and plenty great food outlets.

Our second day was spent driving to Lake Wanaka and visiting a few of the towns and lakes along the way. Lake Hayes was beautiful, being encased in stunning autumn colours, and we enjoyed wandering through the historic streets of Arrowtown.

Lake Wanaka was a lot quieter than Queenstown and perhaps not as beautiful. But we still enjoyed taking a walk around the lake and sitting on its shores to eat our lunch. We had wonderful weather, being not too cold, with sunny days and light breezes. We also thoroughly enjoyed seeing the autumn colours, which we don’t get in Sydney.

After relaxing by the lakes for a couple of days, we headed towards Te Anau and Milford Sound.

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Essentials:

Getting there:
Queenstown Airport is located quite close to the city, about a 10-15 minute drive. We picked up a hire car at the airport and the way to Queenstown was well sign posted. There isn’t a great public transport system around the south island, so I would highly recommend exploring it with a car.

Accommodation:
We are great fans of Airbnb, so we booked a place in Arthurs Point, called Studio 28, which is about a 10 minute drive from Queenstown. It perhaps isn’t the best place to stay if you want to enjoy the nightlife of Queenstown, but we enjoyed the peace and quite, as well as the beautiful views of the pine covered mountains.

Eating:
We had a fabulous dinner at Sasso Italian. The interior was lovely, with stone walls and timber floor boards, and a fire blazing to make the space warm and cosy. The food was superb. I ordered the pappardelle with rabbit ragu (I love rabbit) and Jonathan ordered the seafood gnocchi. Both dishes were full of flavour and beautifully presented.

Cappadocia, Turkey (Day One)

The next few posts will be about my short time spent visiting amazing Turkey, well more specifically Cappadocia, Pammukale and Istanbul. Turkey is such a large country, with so many amazing  places to visit. I had less than a week to spend in Turkey, so did not really see enough. But what I did see, I absolutely loved, and will definitely make another trip back, most probably to the Turquoise Coast and Eastern Turkey.

After spending just a night in Istanbul, I had an early morning flight to Kayseri and then onto the region known as Cappadocia, or in Turkish, Kapadokya. This rural region in central Turkey has topped most visitors’ must see list due to the interesting land formations caused by spirts of ash as a result of volcanic activity in the area thousands of years ago.

If you don’t have a car, I would recommend taking a day tour (there are many providers which offer day tours from Goreme), over at least two days, of the region, as it isn’t very well accessible by public transport. On these tours you will visit and experience the region’s great walking tracks, magnificent landscapes, friendly people, fantastic food, and the list goes on.

Here are a few photos on my first day in the region, which comprised of taking a walking through the  scenic countryside, visiting a carpet weaving collective, exploring the town of Goreme and witnessing a beautiful sunset over the surrounding landscape.

Stay tuned: The next post will have some beautiful images taken from my early morning hot air balloon flight over Cappadocia. Not to be missed.
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Essentials

Getting there:
Atlas Airlines and Turkish Airlines have regular flights to and from Istanbul to Kayseri. From Kayseri, try to organise a transfer with your accommodation in Cappadocia, as there public transport system doesn’t cater for this route, as far as I know. There are also regular buses to and from Istanbul, and other cities around Turkey from Goreme.

Stay:
There is a plethora of accommodation options in Goreme. Do the touristy thing, and stay in a cave hotel – a hotel which is built into the ashen rock formations which are found throughout Goreme. I stayed at Peri Cave hostel – the rooms were basic, but clean, the staff helpful and the breakfast amazing – I had an entire table full of an array of fruit, fresh bread, a selection cheeses and olives, boiled eggs, cold meats….