This story appeared in eglobal Travel Media in February 2008.
Brisbane to Townsville — Len and Phensri Rutledge take the long way
It seemed crazy driving 750 kilometres west from Brisbane before turning north but small outback towns, some man-made icons and friends on a cattle property all contributed to the choice. Six days later we arrived in coastal Townsville enriched greatly by the experience.
Miles and Charleville
The Warrego Highway rolls through the Lockyer Valley then climbs the range to Toowoomba. The garden city was in full bloom for the Festival of Flowers and despite the drought, the city was a picture. If you have never seen this colour extravaganza you have missed one of Queensland’s premier regional festivals.
Pressing on westward we made our first stop at the Miles Historic Village. This was established by volunteers in 1971 and it now contains over 30 buildings from the early 1900s. They include a hospital, cafe, bank, post office, bakery, hotel, jail, school, church and so on. It is a great opportunity to see how our grandparents lived.
As well as the buildings, there is a railway station and steam locomotive, an aboriginal area, a world-class collection of fossil woods and Australia’s most extensive display of petrified plants from the Jurassic period. If you are out that way, don’t miss it.
Charleville is one of the larger towns in western Queensland. Tourism is a growing industry and the Charleville Cosmos Centre has put the town well and truly on the tourist map. The spectacular clear night skies of Outback Queensland offer some of the world’s best sky watching conditions and the Cosmos Centre takes this to a new level.
The Centre operates both day-time and night-time shows. We did an evening tour which started with a short film then we were taken into a large hall where four telescopes were set up. Magically the roof rolled away and the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. We learned that our galaxy contains up to 400 billion stars. It is one of billions, possibly trillions of galaxies in the universe. It all ended too soon but we will be back.
Barcaldine is 410 kilometres north of Charleville. It is home to one of Australia’s most famous ghost gum trees. Unfortunately, in an act of vandalism, the 200-year-old tree was poisoned in 2006 and all that remains is the preserved trunk under a man-made shelter.
The tree is connected to an important time in Australia’s political development as it was used as the meeting place for shearers during the Great Shearers Strike of 1891. During that strike, a crucial connection was forged between unions and what was to become the Australian Labor Party.
Just around the corner is the Australian Workers Heritage Centre. This was established to remind us of the history and traditions of working Australians who built Australia and fought for freedoms that all citizens now enjoy.
Longreach is the largest town in Queensland’s central west and is 110 km west of Barcaldine. It is home to the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Museum, two major attractions.
The Hall of Fame building is stunning and inside, the five themed galleries display the history behind some of Australia’s greatest and bravest explorers, stock workers, pastoralists, and Aborigines. There is an eclectic mix of objects, images, 12 touch-screen audiovisual films outlining the history of outback life, and open displays. There is also the Hugh Sawrey Art Gallery and the Wool Bale Café for refreshments and snacks.
Some of the highlights of the Qantas Founders Museum are the original 1921 Qantas hangar, an open-cockpit Avro 504K, one of the first two aircraft owned by the airline, a DC3, a Boeing 747 and a Boeing 707. Another aircraft awaiting proper restoration is a Catalina, famous for flying the Qantas blockade buster services across the Indian Ocean during World War II.
It is possible to just visit the museum but I strongly recommend also taking a tour of the two modern aircraft. You get to see parts of the aircraft that passengers never see and there is even an opportunity to do a unique wing walk.
We travelled for 165 kilometres from Longreach towards Winton then followed a sign to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, a working museum which has the most productive fossil preparation facility in the southern hemisphere and the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils.
The tour involved visits to two different areas. It started in the Collection Room where through talks and film we learned how the Winton area has evolved over the last 600 million years, where and how the dinosaur bones are found, and what’s involved in digging them up. Then we visited the Laboratory where fossils were being worked on.
Winton is home to the Waltzing Matilda Centre. Tragically this iconic outback museum was destroyed by fire two years ago but the good news is that it will reopen in April with a four-day music festival after a $22 million rebuild.
Hughenden and Charters Towers
The final part of our 2200km drive was through Hughenden where we stopped to visit “Hughie”, the seven metre-tall Muttaburrasaurus, and an impressive fossil collection at the Flinders Discovery Centre. Our last stop was at Charters Towers where there is plenty to occupy you for a full day and it was then only 120 km to Townsville.
Words: Len Rutledge. Pictures: Phensri Rutledge
This story appeared in Pique News Magazine, Canada in January 2018.
Petra will be a mind-blowing experience
By Len Rutledge
Imagine walking a one-and-a-half kilometre narrow, winding passage through 200-metre high red sandstone rocky cliffs and then coming upon the vast façade of a huge structure precisely carved into the sandstone towering over the young Bedouin men and camels that congregate at its base.
This is your introduction to Petra, Jordan’s biggest tourist attraction, and it is mind blowing. It has world-heritage status and is also known by many for being the setting for the finale of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The entire ruined city is a huge work of art, with a natural stone backdrop that changes colour every hour.
Petra is a honeycomb of hand-hewn temples and tombs carved from sandstone, most 2,000 years ago, overlaid by more recent Roman structures. Hidden by time and shifting sand, it was built by the Nabateans — a nomadic desert people who acquired great wealth from trade between the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas.
The Nabateans remained unconquered for centuries until the Romans arrived in 63 B.C., and this led to a new era of massive expansion and grandiose construction at Petra. Then it was lost to all but the local Bedouins.
Petra was only rediscovered by the outside world when Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt visited in 1812, and even now, archaeologists have explored less than half of the sprawling site.
Petra’s engineering achievements are legionary, including the sophisticated water system that supported some 30,000 inhabitants. You see evidence of this as you walk through the Siq (entrance passageway). It’s the raw beauty of Petra, however, that draws in visitors today.
Tourist numbers are down at present because of the perception many have of the Middle East. In fact, we found it was perfectly safe to visit and because of lack of visitors, the vast classical Treasury building, carved into the rock in the first century BC, and the rest of the site, felt very peaceful. There were no crowds with selfie-sticks and no umbrella-waving tour guides.
While donkeys, camels, and horse buggies are available for travel between highlights, in my opinion, most of Petra’s sites are best reached on foot. Be prepared for a long, hot day though. My wife and I ended up walking about 15 kilometres one day and we didn’t see everything by any means.
We were overwhelmed by the number of beautiful tombs and facades and decided that photographs we had seen before we visited did little justice to the splendour of the site, the monumental architecture and the colour changes of the rock as the day progresses.
It is relatively easy to reach the city’s parched core, the Colonnaded Street and the temple of Qasr al-Bint and there are places to eat along the way in simple shelters. But then you need to be ready to hike some steep terrain if you want to see more.
Apart from the Treasury, the Roman Theatre and the spectacular Royal Tombs, most of the other highlights involve quite a bit of climbing. Some visitors decide not to do this and are content to watch the camels wandering past or listen to a grizzled Bedouin playing a melancholy tune on a one-stringed rababa.
Petra’s biggest monument, the Monastery, sits at the top of an 800-step rock-cut path. It is easy to imagine the months of carving that went into its creation. It was built in the 3rd century BC as a tomb and was probably later used as a temple. From here you have sweeping views across to Israel and Palestine.
The Monastery is similar in design to the Treasury, but it is much larger and much less decorated. The interior consists of a single room with double staircases leading up to a niche. The flat plaza in front was carved out of the rock, perhaps to accommodate crowds at religious ceremonies. The best time to climb to the monastery is in the afternoon when the path is mostly in shade and the sun is shining on the Monastery’s facade.
Even if you decide not to go to the Monastery, it’s worth going up the 670 steps, past tombs and Bedouin houses, to the High Place of Sacrifice — the exposed mountain plateau where the Nabateans performed religious rituals. There are great views and below you will see groups of camels sitting on the ground, and visitors scurrying past.
When we visited, “Petra by Night” was only available two nights a week. This gives you the opportunity to walk the Siq in the dark and then to see the Treasury lit by hundreds of candles and later by coloured spotlights. The effect is stunning but, unfortunately, the arrangements are haphazard and disappointing to some visitors. I still suggest you go to this unique event but keep your expectations low and take a torch with you.
There are many accommodation options in Wadi Musa, just a few hundred metres from the entrance to the Petra site. Some have rooftop bars and cafes. Restaurants are available where you can enjoy hummus, fried lamb meatballs, char-grilled eggplants, stuffed vine leaves and other local favourites.
Petra is a three-hour drive from Jordan’s capital, Amman, and two hours from the Red Sea port of Aqaba. Buses run the route daily, along with organized tours and private taxis. Taking a visit of the site with a local guide is highly recommended.
Jordan has many other attractions worth seeing such as the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum and Jerash. I’ll do stories about these another time but I suggest you give serious consideration to a visit right now.
This story appeared in Travelfore in January 2018.
Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge
Stunning coastline, windswept cliffs, spectacular scenery and fabulous unspoiled beaches are the promise on one of the world’s great road journeys. Unfortunately, all we can see at the moment is fog.
My wife and I are on the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland with high expectations but so far the results have been disappointing. We have crawled out of Belfast and are now peering through the gloom at Carrickfergus’s well-preserved 12th century Norman Castle.
The road heads north and the weather improves. It’s now inland to the charming village of Glenarm then on through flower-filled Broughshane where Saint Patrick is said to have tended livestock in the 5th century.
Bright sunshine appears on approaching Ballycastle. Our spirits have soared and so too has the scenery. We stop at the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge which traverses a 30-metre deep canyon. I am immediately intimidated, however, despite my fears I make it across, as have salmon fishermen for 350 years.
We are surprised to discover that the bridge is more than a kilometre from the car park but the walk along the cliff-top path is exhilarating with stunning views across to Rathlin Island. Spring has brought wildflowers and a profusion of bird life.
Rangers control access to the bridge and we are told that sometimes there are considerable delays for the thousands of visitors who want the challenge of the crossing.
It is now on to Northern Ireland’s top natural attraction, the Giant’s Causeway. Apart from the amazing layered basalt columns plunging into the ocean, there are famous legends and colourful folklore associated with the causeway.
The six-sided basalt columns have been formed when molten lava filled a river valley 60 million years ago, then cooled and cracked. The site is now owned by the National Trust there is an excellent Visitor’s Centre.
The area around the causeway is attractive. Grasslands, heath, cliffs, marshes, the rocky shore and the sea provide homes for a wide variety of plants and animals. We see purple orchid flowers, vivid yellow gorse, colourful stonechats, petrels and peregrine falcons.
The tourism development manager tells us how the causeway is made up of three promontories with one curving gently out to sea towards Scotland. She also points out strange rock formations known as the camel, the organ and the harp.
The historic 1830s Causeway Hotel is serving food but we cannot resist a visit to the Old Bushmills Distillery, Ireland’s oldest whiskey distillery which was granted a licence in 1608. Luckily there are guided tours, a gift shop and a cafe.
A few kilometres, further along, is Dunluce Castle, said to be the most romantic and picturesque in Ireland. The ruined castle has clung onto its dramatic hilltop location since the 14th century. We pay the admission charge then wander around by ourselves fantasising about events long past.
Nearby Portrush has been a fun destination for generations of people and its beaches, hotels, amusements and stimulating nightlife are still here. We stop at the Royal Portrush Golf Club which is home to 2010 U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell and 2011 British Open Champion Darren Clarke.
The club founded in 1888 is one of Ireland’s premier tournament venues and has dramatic physical features that provide a formidable challenge to all players.
Mountsandel Wood is a venue of a different kind. This is the earliest known settlement of man in Ireland dating back nearly 10,000 years. There are an earthen fort and a forest walk.
Next is Downhill Demesne, a stunning landscaped park with sheltered gardens and cliff walks. Close to the edge of a sheer drop stands Mussendon Temple, an 18th century folly based on the Roman temple at Tivoli, Italy.
We drive on to Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s second city but our thoughts are still on the special place we have just visited. As they say here, “When God made time, he made plenty of it!” we have seen it in a day but we could equally have taken a week.
IF YOU GO.
The Irish Tourist Board can provide good information on Ireland and Northern Ireland. https://www.discoverireland.ie/
Detailed information on the region is available fromwww.causewaycoastandglens.com
For details on the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede attractions contactwww.nationaltrust.org.uk
For Dunluce Castle information contact https://www.glenarmcastle.com/dunluce-castle
He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide, and the Nile Guide amongst others.
Along the way, he has started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV Guide, and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award, and other recognition.
He is the author of the Experience Guidebook series which currently includes Experience Thailand, Experience Norway, Experience Northern Italy, Experience Myanmar, Experience Istanbul, Experience Singapore, Experience Melbourne, and Experience Ireland. They are available as ebooks or paperbacks from amazon.com
Image Credits: The Fortress, Sri Lanka; The Alpina Gstaad, Switzerland; Shinta Mani Angkor, Cambodia
Excellent hotels, fabulous tours and exciting experiences are available in most destinations today. It just depends on you to make the most of the opportunities.
The following three destinations may not immediately come to mind when making travel plans but each will reward you with untold memories. I’ve also included some accommodation suggestions.
Those looking for new experiences in South Asia need to consider Sri Lanka. This has emerged recently as an interesting travel destination because of its beaches, wildlife safaris and adventure tours.
Along with its native land mammals – elephants, leopards and wild buffalos – the island is also a great destination for whale and dolphin watching. Sri Lanka also offers top-notch surfing and diving experiences, jungle treks, hikes and rock-climbing adventures.
Colombo is Sri Lanka’s capital and largest city. Stylish eateries, galleries and shops line shady boulevards and there are ancient temples, mosques, and colonial landmarks to see. Accommodation is diverse with everything from five-star to budget available. One place particularly worth a mention is Maniumpathy, a 19th–century jewel offering an oasis of serenity and luxury in busy Colombo but with direct access to art, shopping, entertainment, and dining.
Hill-enclosed Kandy is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. It is a World Heritage Site and has a number of tourist attractions. The city is famous for the Kandy Perahara-a huge cultural pageant that takes place in the month of July or August. It is one of the most colourful processions in the world with thousands of drummers and dancers accompanying a parade of ornamented elephants. The Kandy House is a beautiful example of a luxury Kandy boutique hotel. In the gardens, a stunning infinity pool has been landscaped into the hillside with views of the paddy fields. With only nine rooms it provides a private escape.
Sri Lanka’s beaches are attracting world interest and most are focused on the south coast. Endless stretches of pristine, white-sand beaches and crystal-clear seas await you at the historic town of Koggala. Not far away is the UNESCO World Heritage Galle Fort, the best preserved fortified city built by European colonial powers in Asia. The fort is a small walled town which is home to about 400 houses, churches, mosques, temples, and many commercial and government buildings.
Once again, excellent accommodation is available. The Fortress Resort and Spa is fashioned in the style of a strong fortress, its walls enclosing verdant gardens and water features, a spa, a huge swimming pool, wine cellar, restaurants, boutiques and exquisitely appointed accommodation. The resort is a perfect place to enjoy the beach, the village and the history while providing a quiet escape when you need it.
Switzerland enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide as a country with a great tradition of hospitality. It probably started in the 19th century when the world’s elite started sending their children to be educated in Swiss boarding schools. Every visitor today can quickly see that the reputation continues strongly.
One of the secrets to Switzerland’s success is its diversity. You can visit an enchanted castle or a first-class museum, gaze at breathtaking glaciers and stunning mountains, pass palm trees and grottos, explore World Heritage Sites and enjoy unspoilt natural landscapes and easy-to-manage cities.
Many names are legendary – Geneva, Zurich, Zermatt and St Moritz – but the surprise is the interest to be found in places you probably have never heard of. Take Avenches as an example. Two thousand years ago it had 20,000 inhabitants, and stately mansions and temples protected by a five-kilometre-long, nearly seven-metre-tall wall with over 70 towers. Today you can see the eastern gates and a wall tower, the forum’s thermal baths, the amphitheatre with a capacity of up to 16,000 persons, and temple ruins.
Switzerland has some great modern hotels such as the Alpina Gstaad which opened in 2013 but I also love to experience the grandeur of the more classic properties. The 150-year-old Bellevue Palace in Bern, the Hotel Des Bergues in Geneva, founded in 1834, which is now a Four Seasons Hotel, and the Hotel Splendide Royal in Lugano which is celebrating 130 years, are three of my favourites.
For many people, Cambodia means Angkor, the remarkable Khmer city of stunning temples. I rate this as one of the better sites in the world but the country, of course, has much more than just this.
Phnom Penh is the country’s lively capital city which is blessed with a picturesque riverside promenade and lovely colonial buildings to make a quite beautiful city. From the contemporary restaurants and bars to crowded markets, museums and glittering Royal Palace, there is much to see.
The sparsely populated and wild district of Mondulkiri is rich in a stunning landscape with its valleys, waterfalls, jungles and rolling hills. The wildlife-viewing opportunities, great scenery and cool climate make this part of Cambodia a fascinating place to visit for trekking adventures. Kratie is rich in striking French colonial buildings along the length of the riverfront. This charming area is a perfect place to sit and watch the brilliant sunsets over the Mekong River.
Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s premier beach town is a place to unwind by the beach, enjoy the fresh seafood, take in a snorkelling or scuba trip, and generally slow-down, lay back and chill-out. In recent years, the islands off the coast of Cambodia have become a tourist destination in their own right with new accommodation being built on nearly all of them, along with a host of bars, restaurants, dive shops and so on.
Angkor, near Siem Reap, is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. Highlights include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat, the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom, and Preah Khan and Ta Prohm. All are wonderful examples of Khmer architecture.
Siem Reap has grown dramatically in recent years and now there are an amazing number of hotels from which to choose. If classy interiors, good service and closeness to places of interest are important to you, Shinta Mani Angkor, an upscale boutique property with a pool, soothing spa and dreamy swing-seat dining, may be for you. The hotel enjoys a tranquil and leafy setting within the French Quarter of Siem Reap.
Just a short walk from Shinta Mani you’ll discover Siem Reap’s rising arts’ and culture precinct. Kandal Village is home to a vibrant and eclectic new mix of around 25 cafes, galleries, arty homewares, shops, spas and cool fashion stores. Go explore!
This is from the i2mag facebook page. They do this for all my stories. I write regularly for this publication and appreciate their promotion activities.
Here are four more new editions of Experience Guides for 2018. They are available as ebooks or paperbacks from www.amazon.com.
Take a look at these three new travel guidebooks which cover all the information you will need to decide if these destinations are right for you. With details on how to get around, what to see, experiences not to miss, food and restaurants, shopping, nightlife, accommodation, and much more these books are indispensable before you leave home and while you are away.
Check them out at
Northern Italy — https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078GRH3HW
Thailand — https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078GDR17N