Misfat Al Abriyyin, Oman

If there is one place you have to visit in Oman, it’s the tiny village of Misfat Al Abriyyin. There is hardly a mention of it in the Lonely Planet guidebook, but I think it should be noted as one of the top 10 places to visit. We spent a night here, in an old home which has been converted into a guesthouse, and didn’t want to leave. The village and its surrounds are incredibly picturesque, unlike any other place I have seen in our travels through Oman so far.

The old part of the town, in which now only live a few families, is set on top of a mountain and is surrounded by green terraced gardens. The old homes, some of which are thought to be about 200 years old, have unfortunately been left to crumble. It is interesting to wander around the narrow dust covered paths which lead through the villages, but the nicest walks are found in the gardens at the lower part of the village.

We did two of these walks – one which went down and south of the village, and the other which led north and wrapped around the village. There are painted markers on rocks, which look like small red and yellow flags, to guide you and to lead you away from private property.

The first walk we did early in the morning. We followed a path which lead through the gardens on the lower end of the village and veered south. This walk let us down a long set of stairs and into a wadi and then up another set of stairs to the new part of the village. From this point we looked back and had a wonderful view of old village of Misfat Al Abriyyin, which looks as though it is emerging from the rocky mountain and date plantation beneath.

Later that day, we followed the falaj (irrigation system) towards the north. As we walked along the falaj, we wandered through gorgeous date plantations and lush green gardens. Many of the locals were tending their crops, but hardly noticed as as we walked by. The sound of the following water and the crocking of frog, many of which we saw floating though the water, made us feel as though we were in another world.

In the few sentences that refer to Misfat in the Lonely Planet guidebook, it is mentioned that the village is a tourist destination. As much as I urge people to visit, as it is so beautiful, you do not get the sense that the village is much visited by outsiders. We bumped into perhaps 10 visitors at most during the day we spent there, all of which were staying at the only guesthouse in town. There is no sign of tourism, expect for the signs leading to the guesthouse, so it really does feel as though you are visiting an authentic Omani village, which you are.

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Essentials

Getting there:
As there is no public transport throughout Oman, you’ll have to hire a car. The road to the village is seal and can be reached in a regular sedan. However, I would always suggest you hire a 4WD during any road trip through Oman, as there are a number of places you might like to visit which can only be accessible with one.
Misfat Al Abryinni is located about 35km north of Nizwa, along the Nizwa Bahla road. Once you reach Nizwa, follow the signs to Jebel Shams, Al Hoota Cave and Al Hamra. The nearer you get, follow the signs to Al Hamra. Once you are in Al Hamra, there will be signs to Misfat Al Abriyyin, which is a 7km  from Al Hamra. Park your car outside the village, as you can only enter on foot.

Stay & Eat:
The only accommodation and restaurant is Misfat Old House, which can be booked via bookings.com. It is a traditional home, which has been renovated and converted into a guesthouse. The rooms are very simple, but it is a beautiful place to stay. As most places in Oman, it is expensive for what it is, but it’s worthwhile staying in the village and taking your meals on the terrace which overlooks the date plantation and the mountains beyond. If you’re only doing a day trip to Misfat Al Abriyyin, you can also stop by for lunch.

Remember:
You are visiting an Omani village which has been untouched by modernisation. The people are still very traditional, so please be respectful. Wear shirts which cover your shoulders, and skirts and shorts which cover your knees. Always ask to take photos of people and never take photos of the local women.

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Paphos & Akamas Peninsula, Cyprus – Part 2

I was planning to keep this blog up-to-date, but I started working recently (I initially thought I was going to be a stay-at-home expat wife), so have again neglected this blog. It has almost been two months since we visited Cyprus, but here is my final post.

So we spent a wonderful day exploring the Akamas Peninsula. We were extremely lucky with the weather during the time we spent in Cyprus. It was the end of November, but we had incredibly sunny days and the temperature on the coast was a nice 22 degrees celsius. The water was the same temperature, so we also stopped at one of the bays for a swim. Although it was a tad windy, as you can see in the photo below, we could not have wished for better weather.

The bays along the Akamas Peninsula are beautiful, and in November, you can spend a day relaxing by the water and not run into anyone. There were a few people walking along the path from the Baths of Aphrodite to the Blue Lagoon, and one or two other people on quadbikes, but you still felt as though you had the place to yourself.

We headed back to our accommodation in Drousia in the late afternoon. On our way we drove through some of the small rural roads around the village and got some beautiful golden-hued shots of the vineyards and surrounding countryside. The town of Drousia has a population of about 400 people, which swells during the summer months. But in the low season, you can see the locals going about their daily business, tending their fields and wandering through the narrow streets of the village.

We left Cyrpus being very impressed with the country. We spent four fantastic days exploring the southern half of Cyprus. We would like to go back and visit the northern, Turkish administered part of Cyprus some day.

I’m heading to Tanzania next week, so stay tuned for some post from Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater and other places in Tanzania. I will also be updating my blog to include a few other places we have visited in Oman over the last few months.

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Essentials

Stay:
We stayed at KTIMA 1937 Kannides (booked on Airbnb) which is a traditional house which has been renovated and converted into five apartments. It was simple and cosy and less than an hour’s drive to the Akamas Peninsula. There is also a new hotel in Drousia, called Dorusia Heights Hotel, for those who are after a bit of comfort and style.

Eat:
Not wanting to venture out too far, we walked down the road from our accommodation and had dinner at Christo’s Tavern. It is run by a lovely husband and wife team and feels like an extension of their home, with simple furniture and a fire place blazing in the winter months. There is no menu, just what’s available on the day.

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.

Matapouri Bay, New Zealand

A few weekends ago, I visited my boyfriend (who is currently living in Auckland, New Zealand) and we spent a weekend away with some friends in Northland, namely in Matapouri Bay. Many New Zealanders and foreigners alike constantly rave about the south island of New Zealand, but I think the north island is also spectacular (ok, I haven’t been to the south island yet).

Matapouri Bay, and the surrounding bays and beaches was breathtakingly beautiful. Unfortunately, we had a bit of overcast weather which put a grey hue on the landscape, but once the sun came out, it sparkled. This area is perfect for walking, swimming and just enjoying the sunshine. There isn’t a whole lot to do if you need constant stimulation like me, but it’s a perfect place for a weekend away with friends and loved ones.

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Essentials:

Getting There:
We hired a car in Auckland and drive north. There are plenty of road signs along the way, so you don’t even need a GPS, or a map, but these could definitely be of assistance. It’s a leisurely 2.5 to 3 hour drive from Auckland, providing that there isn’t any traffic.

Stay:
Many people rent houses, known as baches, in beachside towns along the north island. Prices and standards vary, but there are plenty of options for every taste and budget. We found our accommodation on http://www.bookabach.co.nz.

Eat:
There aren’t many facilities in Matapouri Bay. If you have self-contained accommodation, stop in a supermarket in Whangarei for supplies for the weekend on your way to Matapouri. For a weekend away with friends, make sure you have a good supply of drinks, chocolate and other nibblies.

Blue Mountains, Australia

We spent two days of the recent Queen’s Birthday long weekend taking a road trip through the Blue Mountains. You wouldn’t believe it, but this was my very first visit to the area, and I’ve lived in Sydney for most of my 27 years. I was so impressed by the place, its natural beauty was beyond description (and the photos believe do not quite do it the justice it deserves). There are literarily hundreds of bushwalks to be done through the Blue Mountains National Park, so I would recommend visiting on more than one occasion to explore different routes. But on your first visit, there are a few things not to be missed:

  • Number one is of course the Three Sisters. Other overly touristic, which perhaps thousands of people visiting on the weekend, the rock formation is amazing, especially when set against such a dramatic and spectacular backdrop.
  • Wentworth Falls. If you’re game, and fit enough, it is worth walking down to the base of the falls. Just remember, it’s a long and steep way back up. Do a few bushwalks around the falls – the scenery is amazing. Not to mention some sections of the path – crossing cascades, walking along stepping stones, walking beneath enormous boulders..
  • The wind eroded cave. To get there, take Hat Hill Road from Blackheath and follow the signs to Anvil Rock.

There are also many interesting shops, great cafes and restaurants in the towns of Leura, Katoomba and Blackheath. It is a great place to go wining and dining, as well as doing a bit of antique shopping.

If you drive back to Sydney via Bells Line of Road, don’t forget to stop in Bulpin to purchase some locally grown apples, as well as home made apple pies and jams.

All in all, it is definitely a worth while weekend road trip from Sydney. It is easily done over two days, but if you want to explore the area in greater depth, an extra day or two would not go astray, especially if you wanted to delve further into the region, or perhaps visit the Jenolan Caves.
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Getting There:
From Sydney there are two main options. You can either take the northern Bells Line of Road from Richmond, or go via The Great Western Highway through Penrith.

Stay:
We stayed in budget accommodation in Katoomba, but there is a plethora of accommodation options, from budget to high end. From hostels, to hotels, guesthouses and bed & breakfasts, you’ll be sure to find somewhere to stay. Just note that many places have a minimum two night stay.

Eat:
We discovered the most amazing cafe in Katoomba, The Common Ground Cafe. Run by a religious community, they serve healthy drinks, snacks and meals. Try the ‘not chocolate’ (a mixture of carob and dandelion) or the apple & macadamia crumble. Their pancakes look incredible, and for those health nuts, try their ‘green drink’.

Jervis Bay, Australia

Last weekend my boyfriend and I did a quick road trip to Jervis Bay, on the southern coast of NSW, Australia. We were fortunate enough to have fantastic weather, which was perhaps the last of the warm days before autumn and winter set in. Having never been to Jervis Bay, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Although I had heard marvelous reports about the place, I was pleasantly surprise to be awe-struck by the natural beauty of the area. The literally crystal clear ocean, which was a beautiful aqua colour as it glistened in the sun; the sandy white beaches, one of which, Hyams Beach, is recorded in the Guiness World Record Book as having the whitest sand in the world; and all the flora and fauna – aside from lush forests, we saw wallabies, kangaroos, dolphins and various sea birds in their natural habitats.

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Here are a few things which are a must do in Jervis Bay:

Visit Booderee National Park: Located at the southern end of the bay, no visit to Jervis Bay is complete without visiting the beaches and walking tracks of this national park. Make sure you pay the $11 entry fee upon entering, to avoid paying a fine, but this is a small price to pay to experience such exquisite natural beauty. The day we visited, a strong southerly wind was blowing, so we kept to the sheltered beached on the bay side of the park. I highly recommend Green Patch and Murray’s Beach as ideal swimming spots. Particularly Murray’s Beach, which is much smaller and I consider to be more beautiful. There are also some spectacular ocean beaches, such as Caves Beach, which we unfortunately didn’t have the chance to experience properly, due to the gale force winds. There are also plenty of bushwalking tracks through the park. Perhaps more enticing in the winter months, when the lure of the beach isn’t so gravitating. For those who like a bit of history, a visit to the ruins of Cape St. George Lighthouse may be on order. One of the earliest lighthouses on the NSW coast, it was built in 1860 on the wrong side of the bay, and was actually a navigational hazard and had to be demolished.

Dolphin & Whale Watching Cruises: One thing that brings many people to Jervis Bay, aside from its beaches and parkland, is dolphin watching in summer and whale watching in the winter months. There are a number of companies, located in Huskisson, the largest town in the bay, which offer cruises around the bay and just outside of the heads, in the hope of seeing dolphins or whales. The chance of seeing dolphins in the bay is relatively high, since there is a population of about 80 dolphins which call Jervis Bay home. During the migratory period of the whales, between May and November, whales can be seen outside of the heads, and during October it is common for whales to bring their calves into the bay itself.

Shopping & Eating: Jervis Bay has a variety of great restaurants and quaint boutique stores. Spend some time sampling the cuisine and doing a bit of window shopping.
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Essentials:

Getting there:
From Sydney, you have two main options for getting to Jervis Bay – the quick option or the scenic one. The quick option is to take the Princes Highway/Motorway, which takes approximately 2.5-3 hours from Sydney CBD. The other option is to take The Grand Pacific Drive, turning off the highway in Surtherland, going through the Royal National Park, along the coast through Wollongong, Port Kembla, Kiama, etc. The scenery on this route is breathtaking, but it adds a good hour or so to the drive. We took a little longer as we stopped to visit Nan Tien Buddhist Temple and the Kiama Blowhole.

Stay:
There is a plethora of accommodation options in Jervis Bay – from camping to five star holiday apartments. I would have like to have stayed at Paperbark Camp, but being a bit budget conscious, we stayed at a small motel in Huskisson. It was close to the beach, close to shops and restaurants, had clean rooms, and all we needed was a place to sleep as we were out and about all day long.

Eat:
We had an amazing meal at The Waterhouse. The food was fresh, creative and beautifully presented. And the atmosphere, decor and table service were second to none. Although a little pricey if you’re on a budget, main meals were around the $30 mark, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend that money on such an exquisite meal.
For breakfast options, don’t go past the Huskisson Bakery & Cafe. They have a vast array of breads, pastries, pies, sandwiches, cakes, yogurts, etc. Perfect for a quick breakfast or a satisfying snack before heading to the beach for the day.

Cadaques & Tamiru, Spain

Whilst staying in Barcelona, we hired a car for the day and did a little road trip up Costa Brava, visiting the small towns of Cadaques and Tamiru. It was a nice break from the hussle and bussle of Barcelona (and cities in general – prior to visiting Barcelona, we spent a few days in Berlin). We enjoyed the open roads, fresh sea air and the small town/holiday atmosphere.

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Our first stop was Cadaques, located about a two hour drive north of Barcelona (take the E-15 freeway and turn off at Figueres. From there you will see signs to Cadaques. Or just simply take a GPS). Once you arrive in Cadaques, follow the signs to the council carpark – although the parking fee is quite high, there are plenty of parking spaces, which are scarce throughout the rest of the town. The carpark is also only a short walk to the town centre. Cadaques is reasonably small and easy to navigate – although, like many small old towns, it’s not difficult to get a little lost in the labyrinth of small, narrow, windy cobblestone streets. Cadaques is a beautiful little whitewashed seaside town. We unfortunately visited on an overcast day, but I can imagine that it would be absolutely spectacular on a clear summer’s day.  It’s little wonder that Salvador Dali, and other well known artists, such as Miro, Picasso and Duchamp spend summers in the town. I’m sure it gave them plenty of artistic inspiration.

To get the best view of Cadaques, take a little walk along the promenade which circles the bay in which Cadaques is located. No visit to Cadaques is complete without tasting their exquisite gastronomy, particularly their seafood. Being originally a fishing town, Cadaques prides itself on the quality of its seafood. Many restaurants serve up a delicious paella, or many have set tapas menus, which often serve up a variety of seafood delicacies. Being so close to the French boarder, many people in Cadaques can speak French fluently. So if your Spanish is non-existant (such as ours was), and your French just a little rusty, it is a great opportunity to practice.

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After Cadaques, we drove back south towards Barcelona and took a little detour to the tiny town of Tamiru. I would have never thought to visit Tamiru (it doesn’t even appear on many maps), except that my friend in Barcelona mentioned it as a friend of ours worked there one summer and said it was one of the most beautiful and untouched little towns in Costa Brava. To get there, follow the signs, or your GPS to Palafrugell. From here, there will be some small signs to Tamiru which you follow (ignor your GPS, as it, like ours, may lead you down a dirt road about 2km from Tamiru with leads to nowhere). As you drive town the steep and narrow pinetree lined road leading into Tamiru (make sure you stay away from the cliff edge), you will get glimpses of the picturesque bay which appears to be hidden away from civilisation. Again, park in the council carpark (at arount 1 euro an hour, it’s a bargain compared to the parking in Cadaques. There isn’t much in Tamiru except for a few houses, a couple of hostels and a handful of cafes and restaurants. But that’s the beauty of Tamiru. We were lucky to arrive as the clouds were parting and the afternoon sun was glistening on the sea. The crystal clear water was so inviting, that as soon as we arrived, we jumped in. We spent the final hours of the afternoon just basking in the serenity of the beach and enjoying some delicious gelato.

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IMG_8759Essentials:

Getting there:
We hired a car from Europcar (located on Gran Via, Barcelona). It’s best to use a GPS if it’s your first time in Barcelona to get out of the city, but once you’re on the E-15 freeway, the drive is quite simple – most decent sized town are market on the freeway exits. This freeway north of Barcelona is one of the most expensive in Spain. I think our total tolls there and back were about 20 euros. Staying on the freeway, although expensive, saves a lot of time, especially if you’re only doing a day trip. But if you have time to spare, taking the coastal road would be a lot more scenic and interesting.

Eat:
Seafood! Costa Brava is famous for its seafood. This is the place to try Spanish paella. Try it in different restaurants, as everyone has there own spin on the all time favourite and iconic Spanish dish. And like everywhere in Spain, tapas is extremely popular in Costa Brava, particularly the seafood options.