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The Natural and man-made attractions at Chillagoe Queensland
A place that has ancient aboriginal rock paintings, historic mining relics, amazing limestone caves and a unique vehicle museum would attract many people, writes Len Rutledge
Our anticipation was high as we headed 140 kilometres west of Mareeba along the Wheelbarrow Way to Chillagoe, North Queensland and a day later we agreed that our expectations had been surpassed.
Chillagoe was once an ancient coral reef which has been transformed into spectacular limestone bluffs with a network of more than 500 caves. It is one of the most interesting and unusual places in the whole of northern Queensland.
In 1887, two men working for the mining baron John Moffat found copper and silver deposits on Chillagoe Station. Soon after, Moffat began mining in the area but soon realised that his problem was the difficulty of transportation. He solved this by building a private railway line from Mareeba to Chillagoe and Mungana. In 1901 the line was completed and a large copper smelting plant was opened by the company at Chillagoe.
The tall chimneys on the edge of town are part of the former ore smelter which is now a drive-around museum with a viewing platform, walkways and storyboards. The Chillagoe smelter was opened in 1901 and at its peak over 1000 men were employed extracting gold, silver, copper, and lead from ores which were brought from the surrounding area.
The next 13 years was the most prosperous period for the district. Much of the capital backing the companies was German, however, and this was frozen when war broke out in 1914. This closed the smelters. In 1918, the Queensland Government bought the smelters and they continued to struggle on until closure in 1943. They were sold for removal in 1950.
Many of the caves are within the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park. I strongly suggest joining a guided tour with a National Parks ranger so you can learn more about this amazing underground ecosystem. Tickets can be booked on-line and collected from the Chillagoe Hub, a tourist information centre.
There are five caves open for viewing. The Royal Arch, Trezkinn, and Donna Caves are seen by guided tour only. The tours are conducted every day at 9 am, 11 am and 1.30 pm.
The Donna Cave and the Trezkinn Cave are well-lit and have modern walkways and stairways but are relatively small. Visitors descend into the caves by a series of steep flights of steps and each tour takes less than one hour.
The Royal Arch is a series of 11 chambers spread along a 1‑km passage with roots from trees and patches of light reaching into the caves. The cave is not lit so you explore with hand-held lamps.
The Bauhinia and Pompeii Caves can be seen on self-guided tours but you need a torch and you should notify a ranger before entering the caves.
There are a number of interlocking walks which connect the caves, the lookouts and the interesting landmarks. Two that I particularly recommend are to Balancing Rock, and to the Wullumba aboriginal art site. Both are a short walk from the Balancing Rock car park.
15 km beyond Chillagoe is the remains of the old settlement of Mungana which was once the site of two famous copper mines. Two kilometres off the main road is The Archways, an open daylight cave system which I thought was fascinating. I initially wasn’t keen to visit here but afterwards rated it as one of the highlights of the area.
The lack of a guide on this self-guided exploration was more than made up for by the freedom to go at our own pace, and a sense of excitement as if we were discovering the caves for the first time,
On the road into the cave there is an Aboriginal rock art site with a number of interesting paintings on the cave walls. The surrounding rock outcrops are worth exploring and you will come across a timber table which makes a unique tea or coffee stop.
‘Old Fords never die’ says the owner of one of the country’s biggest and most remote private vehicle collections. Beneath an enormous galvanised iron roof, 82-year-old Tom Prior has put together a stunning collection of restored Fords. Tom was born in Chillagoe in 1938 and has remained in the historic mining town all his life.
Tom’s consuming passion for historic vehicles becomes truly evident the moment he starts talking. There are more than 30 pristine cars and trucks, from a Model A to a red-trimmed white 1970 XW Ford Falcon GT 351c, built in Australia. Outside, on the dirt driveway, there are hundreds more rusting relics, ready for some loving care.
A visitor book in his shed is filled with comments from people from all over the world, many of them Ford enthusiasts who have travelled specifically to Chillagoe to see his collection.
Quarries excavating marble are seen all around the edge of town although most are now idle. The Chillagoe limestone has in places been transformed to marble, baked by the extreme heat generated during ancient volcanic activity. The calcium carbonate in the limestone has been melted and re-crystallised and many minerals in the original limestone give the newly formed marble its characteristic streaks and patterns.
Chillagoe has two hotels, a guest house, an eco-lodge, and a tourist village. We stayed at the Chillagoe Cabins which has well-appointed, self-catering cottages and which provides breakfast.
Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge
Vancouver! Canada’s Most Appealing City is A Personal Favourite
Vancouver, Canada’s most appealing city is a personal favourite
Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge
Vancouver Canada, Melbourne Australia, and Vienna Austria seem to vie for the title of “world’s most liveable city” each year. It is perhaps no surprise then that, beautiful Vancouver is one of my favourite cities in the world. The city will appeal to all ages and budget levels with its mountain backdrop, urban beaches, wonderful Stanley Park, and excellent accommodation, restaurant, shopping and theatre/museum offerings.
It was four years since I last visited so when I was there earlier this year, I took the opportunity to reacquaint myself with many of the things that make the city so interesting. Amazingly, most were free.
Once mainly industrial, Granville Island is now a thriving social place with a relaxed atmosphere. You see it best at the Granville Island Public Market which sells fruit vegetables, seafood, drinks, and ready-to-eat items. Aside from delightful food products, this is home to dozens of artisans crafting jewelry, handmade soaps, preserves, candles and more. We love it.
The adjacent area has seen artists and retailers move into converted warehouses alongside theatres, galleries and restaurants. Close by, you can rest your weary feet and grab a table in the tasting room of the Granville Island Brewing Co. and perhaps even join one of their daily tours and see the manufacturing process. Alternatively, take a walk over to Rodgers’ Chocolate which serves up chocolates using 19th-century recipes.
Small ferries connect the island to the downtown area and houseboats and pleasure craft crowd the small harbour.
We walked from Granville Island, past some of the cities prettiest apartments to Kits Point. This is the location of several interesting museums. The Museum of Vancouver is the largest civic museum in Canada. It features displays on the natural, cultural, and human history of the Vancouver region. It shares its iconic domed building with the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, which is part space and science museum, part planetarium, and part observatory.
Nearby, is the fascinating Vancouver Maritime Museum which tells the story of the Pacific Northwest maritime history. Its main exhibition is St. Roch which was the first vessel to sail the Northwestern Passage from west to east and was also the first vessel to circumvent North America.
This is one of the city’s loveliest and busiest beaches but it was far too cold to swim when we visited. Fortunately, it is also a place to walk, bike or roller skate and there are public art installations, shopping and high-end restaurants. On sunny days it is a great place to listen to beach musicians, rent a boat, kayak or see the Laughing Men statues, a wonderful, light-hearted piece of public art.
The place really buzzes for three nights in summer when crowds watch three nights of fireworks set to music as part of the Celebration of Light festival. The fireworks blast off at 10:00 pm each night, but there is also live music and other activities starting in the early afternoon.
This large, lush park has been named the World’s Best Park by Trip Advisor. Eight million people visit here each year to walk the 5.5‑mile paved seawall path that encircles the green space or visit other specific attractions like the totem poles at Brockton Point, the Vancouver Aquarium, and a miniature train.
You can explore on foot, rent a bicycle from one of several outlets in Denman Street or take a slow horse-drawn tour. The one-hour tour departs about every 30 minutes, stops at the totem poles for photographs then goes by the famous Girl in a Wetsuit Statue and the Empress of Japan Figurehead. The ride continues on the north side of Stanley Park with views towards North Vancouver and the Lions Gate Bridge before returning to the stay point. Don’t miss it.
Back to the City Centre
A lovely waterfront pathway leads back to the city. On the way, you see several up-market hotels, numerous boat harbours, the seaplane terminal and some of the city’s famed flowers.
Finally, you reach Canada Place with its unusual roof. This is part cruise ship terminal, part convention centre and hotel, and part hub for sightseeing tours. The walkway provides wonderful panoramic views across to North Vancouver.
Robson Street is several blocks south of Canada Place. This is best known as a shopping centre but it is also the setting for many activities, particularly in Robson Square. This is where you find the Vancouver Art Gallery with its excellent collection of paintings. It’s housed in the former provincial courthouse and its exterior has been used in many films and TV shows.
An oasis of peace and calm in the busy city is found in Vancouver’s oldest surviving church, 125-year-old Christ Church Cathedral. The interior has been completely renovated and the woodwork, the stained-glass windows, the organ, and the altar are all stunning.
This is the oldest part of the city and in recent times it has been gentrified with restaurants, galleries and shops set in carefully restored Victorian buildings. Cobblestone streets and iron lampposts help give the district a distinct atmosphere.
It is named after an early resident and a statue in Maple Leaf Square is a popular place for photos. So too is the nearby two-ton steam clock which uses steam to whistle and shoot steam from its five whistles in its version of the Westminster Chime every 15 minutes. On the hour it also gives a toot from each whistle.
Beyond the ornate entrance gate, interesting Chinatown is a mixture of the old and new. This area was once quite seedy and remnants of that can still be seen but it is safe to walk in daylight hours. A highlight is the pretty walled Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Garden which is modelled after a traditional garden from the Ming Dynasty. This has a C$10 admission fee but the adjacent Dr Sun Yat-Sen Park has some similar elements and is free.
Just south of here, BC Place is called Western Canada’s premier venue for live events and sports. It has a retractable roof which makes it suitable for events in all weathers, and it hosts the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
The driverless YVR Airport Skytrain is the most convenient way to get from the international airport to the downtown area. Buses and Seabus provide good transport around the city.
Monument Valley is A ‘Must-see’ for Movie Fans
Posted on Jun 10 2021
Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge
Anyone who is a cowboy movie fan has seen pictures of Monument Valley. It was originally shown to the world by Director John Ford who used the location for a number of his best-known films. Now it is a popular feature of Instagram. So, is it worthwhile to visit? My answer is definitely yes but international visitors will have to wait for the country to open up fully after the Covid19 shutdown.
It is located on the Arizona-Utah border in the USA and lies within the territory of the Navajo Nation Reservation. Because of this, it is not officially a National Park but the area that is most visited by tourists is known as Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. The main features are clusters of vast sandstone buttes, the largest reaching 300 m above the valley floor.
Monument Valley isn’t close to anything. The nearest airport is in Flagstaff some 300 km away but most international visitors end up renting a car from Las Vegas (640 km away) or Phoenix (500 km away) and driving to the Valley. Access to the Tribal Park is from US163 and you need to pay an entrance fee.
This takes you to the Visitor Centre and the View Hotel and also allows you to drive Valley Drive. Organised tours, which you pay extra for, provide access to other parts of the park.
You can access this unpaved road in your own vehicle or take a tour with a Navajo guide. The drive is 27 kilometres long and typical times for the full trip are 2 to 4 hours. The road can become very busy during summer days, with queues at the major overlooks. I recommend early morning at this time of the year as the light is better for photography and there are far fewer people than later in the day. In summer, the park opens at 6 am and at 8 am for the rest of the year.
There is much to see along the Valley Drive. This part of Monument Valley is one of the most impressive large-scale landscapes anywhere in the Southwest of the USA. The best to photograph are the tall spires and thin buttes, and the contrasting smooth orange sand all around.
The initial descent from the Visitor Centre traverses a steep, rocky hillside via a series of switchbacks, then the road levels out and passes by three of the most famous Monument Valley formations; West Mitten Butte, Merrick Butte and East Mitten Butte. Further on, the Three Sisters are a group of thin pinnacles, eroded remnants of a narrow ridge extending southwards from one corner of Mitchell Mesa.
John Ford’s Point is a promontory at the edge of a plateau overlooking a large area of uneven, undulating desert land with several isolated peaks beyond. This is probably the best overlook in the park and has a large parking area because of its popularity.
A permanent Navajo jewelry store is located nearby, and you might be lucky to see an iconic image of a lone rider on a horse standing at the edge of the viewpoint as there are horses stationed here most of the day just for this purpose. This is the site where the famous Marlboro cigarette advertisement was shot.
The road continues from here as a one-way loop past Camel Butte, The Hub, Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei, Sand Spring, Artist’s Point, North Window, and The Thumb before returning to the crossroads near John Ford’s Point.
Lower Monument Valley tour
This is a popular excursion, recommended for people interested in a thorough visual, historical and cultural insight. As well as the regular scenic wonders, you visit a traditional home where you see a demonstration of traditional Navajo rug weaving.
You also get to experience a traditional music performance with either the traditional drum, customary chant or flute playing in one of the valley’s largest natural arch amphitheatres. Most participants return with a new enlightenment and unforgettable memories.
Mystery Valley tour
If you’re looking for something extra in Monument Valley, you might want to explore Mystery Valley, home to labyrinth canyons, sandstone arches, and ancient ruins. This is only accessible with a Navajo guide who will share an insider perspective of this iconic area and teach you about Navajo culture and tradition.
You visit the ancient Anasazi dwellings and ruins with petroglyphs that look like they could have been scratched into the sandstone yesterday. Another feature is walking under many breathtaking arches.
Eating and staying
Inside the park, The View Hotel has rooms with scenic panoramas and they also have cabins. There are also RV sites or wilderness campsites.
The hotel’s View Restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner with a menu of Navajo inspired dishes and classic American cuisine. The adjacent View Express offers deli sandwiches, hot and cold food to take away, and cold drinks and ice cream.
Guided tours to Monument Valley are available from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix and some other closer centres.
Len Rutledge has been travel writing for 40 years. During that time he has written thousands of newspaper articles, numerous magazine pieces, more than a thousand web reviews and around 35 travel guide books.
He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide, and the Nile Guide amongst others.
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They are the cutest inhabitants of Wrocław, Poland. More than 400 dwarves live on the streets and squares of the city. They are very friendly and like being photographed. This was just one element that made a Wroclaw visit a complete surprise and quite memorable.
It is the largest city in western Poland but it was almost unknown to us when we arrived by car from Germany. We quickly discover that Wroclaw is Poland’s fourth-largest city and a lively cultural centre, with several theatres, major festivals, rampant nightlife and a large student community.
We had chosen a hotel with a car park close to the centre of town and planned to walk around from there. This worked perfectly and is a strong recommendation to all visitors.
While the central square was a big drawcard, we decide to start sightseeing where Wroclaw was born. To reach there, we walk through Slowacki Park and see the Museum of Architecture, the National Museum and the Panorama building before reaching Bastion Ceglarski with its old fortifications overlooking the Odra River.
It is a lovely walk along the bank of the river and across the Piaskowy Bridge to Sand Island and then across the delightful Tumski Bridge to Cathedral Island. This is the oldest part of Wrocław and there are a number of impressive monuments here. When Cathedral Island was first developed in the 10th century the river created a natural defence.
The most interest today is provided by the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist from the 12th century with its 21 chapels, the loveliest of which is the Italian Baroque Chapel of St Elizabeth. A lift will take you to the top of one of the towers for the best vistas of the city.
You should also see the Church of the Holy Cross which is a unique two-storey brick basilica, and the Botanic Garden with its 11,500 plants in 7.5 hectares, from a diversity of climate zones and environments such as tropical, subtropical, underwater, alpine, and wetland.
Looking across to Cathedral Island
Old City North
It is difficult to leave this delightful area but there is so much more to see. We retrace our route across the two bridges then pay a brief visit to the Produce Market, an historic, traditional indoor market, before walking through the northern section of the Old Town.
We find the Baroque-style main Wrocław University building here. It houses the Wrocław University Museum and the wonderful Oratorium Marianum music hall, which has served as a celebrated concert space for more than two hundred years.
The university, which has produced nine Nobel Prize winners, was founded by the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold in 1702. One of the must-sees is the extravagantly decorated Baroque hall, Aula Leopoldina, with a ceiling fresco, gilded stucco, and sculpted cherubs. Close by is the garrison church which is one of the most important city churches and one of the symbols of Wrocław.
Now it is time to head to the constantly hustling and bustling Market Square, which is the very heart of Wrocław. The centre of the square features the Cloth Hall and the Gothic and Renaissance Old Town Hall, which is now the Museum of the Bourgeois Art. The Old Town Hall is actually a group of Gothic buildings bundled together in one complex. On the Late Gothic east facade, look for the astronomical clock dating to 1580.
In front of its eastern façade stands the faithful copy of the medieval Pillory which was a place of punishment for petty criminals, and in front of the western façade is the Aleksander Fredro Monument to a comic playwright.
Like the rest of the Old Town, the Market Square has almost the same layout as it did when it was planned in the middle of the 13th century.
The square is surrounded by beautiful town houses ranging from Gothic to Art Nouveau. Amazingly, most of the buildings here are replicas of how they used to be as the square was completely rebuilt from the pile of ruins that was Wroclaw after the Second World War.
During summer, the Main Square is a great place to soak up the sun with a local beer at one of the many bars and restaurants, and during winter a large ice rink materialises providing the chance to show off some skating skills. There are often concerts, folk dances, photo exhibitions and much more here as well.
Adjacent to the Market Square is Plac Solny. It has buildings with elaborate reliefs and figurines bursting from the facades and is now a 24-hour flower market.
Market Square at Night
Old City South
The Four Denominations District is situated a little south-west of here. Three churches of different denominations and a synagogue are within 300 metres of each other. The numerous restaurants, cafés, pubs and music clubs situated here make it a popular meeting place for locals and visitors.
The nearby Royal Palace, together with its Baroque-style garden, now houses the Historical Museum of Wrocław. The Museum showcases the history of the city and the royal apartments are also open.
Hydropolis, centre of knowledge about water, was opened in 2015. There are many rooms, each with multimedia tablets with interesting details about discoveries of the underwater world, the nature of water and its use in life. It is in an underground water reservoir built in 1893.
A little outside the Old Town, Szczytnicki Park is the largest park in the city. Set up in 1913, the Japanese Garden remains its key attraction. The park with its arboretum, rose gardens, and Japanese Garden, is heritage listed.
Centennial Hall, with its 69-metre-high dome, opened in 1913 for the 100th anniversary of the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig. It can accommodate 10,000 and was recognised as a significant 20th ‑century building when it was put on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006.
But back to the dwarfs. There is an anti-communist protest behind the dwarfs which first appeared in 2001. The first dwarf was displayed in Swidnicka Street, where the anti-communist movement used to gather. Since then many different dwarfs have appeared in the streets and in the front of shops. Visit the tourist office for interesting brochures about them and where to find them all.
Of all the cities we visited on our recent pre-covid19 trip through Europe, Wroclaw was the biggest surprise and we are looking forward to returning and spending more time to get to know the city better.
Images: Phensri Rutledge
Austria has long been a popular destination for visitors from around the world and when international travel returns to some semblance of normality (perhaps not until 2021) Austria is certain to be popular again. The Schafbergbahn began operating again, after a coronavirus shutdown, in early June so if you can get there the experience is available just as it was to us before the shutdown. If you are in this area, you would be mad to miss it.
The steepest, steam cog-railway in Austria has been ascending this mountain since 1893. It takes 35 minutes to reach the summit, climbing 1,190 metres over 5.85 kilometres. Along the way, we pass through forest, rocky terrain and rolling grassland. The views are magical but many of the passengers are concentrating on the little locomotive as it struggles up the track with the help of its cog drive.
The two original cog railway’s steam engines count amongst the oldest working engines in the world as they were built in 1893 and 1892. In 1992, four modern locomotives were built that operate their steam engines with diesel. Older diesel engine locomotives from the 1960s are kept and maintained for emergencies and there are two modern diesel locomotives.
The Schafbergbahn featured in the Sound of Music movie and it is a highly popular day-trip destination among both locals and tourists. The view from the summit (1,783 m) is the most spectacular in this world-famous region. On a clear day, there is a 360-degree panoramic view over the glittering lakes and across the mountains into Germany. All around, the mountains soar majestically, and you have this feeling of being on top of the world.
The rail terminal at the top of the mountain is close to a hotel and several restaurants and it is surrounded by rocky walking paths that test your fitness. Train tickets to the top are purchased for a specific up-hill train, and we learned there is heavy demand for mid-morning departures. For the best views, sit on the left-hand side of the train on the way up and the right-hand side on the way down. You need to book your return journey time once you reach the top.
The construction of the Schafbergbahn dates back to the late 19th century. At that time Viennese aristocrats wanted to spend the summer in the mountains. The railway network had been rapidly developed and an early form of tourism to accommodate the visitors became an important source of income for many locals.
A consortium of investors funded the construction of the mountain railway in 1893. Financial difficulties forced the owners to sell in 1932 then in 1938, it became the property of Nazi-Germany′s Reichsbahn and later of the Austrian National Railway ÖBB. Finally, the Schafbergbahn was sold again in 2006. Since then, it has been owned by the Salzburg AG company and it is operated in association with the boats that cruise Lake Wolfgangsee.
The way down is no less exciting as the engine struggles to control the rate of descent on the steep track. At one point we stop to allow another train to pass and see the train guard feverishly operating the points before we proceed. Finally, it is back to level ground and on to our next adventure.
Hallstatt is some 35 kilometres away. Some regard this as the most beautiful village in the world. The Chinese were so impressed that they produced a replica of it in Guangdong but thousands still flock here to see the original. It is difficult not to be impressed by the real UNESCO-listed version.
From the market square which hosts summer concerts and the Christmas Market, you are just a short walk away from one of the most beautiful photo points in Europe. But it is also the romantic alleyways, cosy cafés, delightful churches and the numerous little souvenir shops that make this place so appealing.
The charnel house or ‘Bone House’ in St. Michael’s Chapel with its unusual collection of over 600 artistically painted skulls is one of the more interesting tourist sites. Because of restricted land area, when an existing grave was reused for a new burial, the old skull or bones were transferred from the grave to the charnel house as part of a second funeral.
The World Heritage Museum is another attraction. Multimedia technology takes you back 7,000 years to the beginnings of this ancient salt mining town. With 3D glasses, you can immerse yourself in the history of old Hallstatt and learn trivia from the beginning of human presence to the elevation of the region to its World Heritage status.
People have been mining salt above Hallstatt for thousands of years and a visit to the mine can be a great experience. You reach it by funicular then enjoy a miner’s slide, a subterranean salt lake and an exciting trip on the mining railway. While here, take a small detour to the Hallstatt Sky Walk. This spectacular viewing platform sits high above the village and offers an idyllic panoramic view of Lake Hallstatt and breathtaking alpine landscape.
Electric boat driving is one of the most popular pastimes on Lake Hallstatt. The fresh air and the beautiful nature of the fjord-like lake combine to provide a relaxing experience. You can either captain the boat yourself or take an experienced driver who will take you to the most beautiful parts of the lake.
Available space is in short supply making parking in the village a problem, so the village centre is traffic-free during the daytime and visitors must park in several car parks nearby. These are within walking distance of all attractions but space is limited and we see late-comers having to queue for spaces as others leave. If you plan to visit, arrive before 9 am if possible.
If You Go: Under ‘normal’ circumstances there are flights from around the world to Vienna, the capital of Austria. Hallstatt and the Schafbergbahn are about 300 kilometres west and are reachable by rental car or train.
Images: Phensri Rutledge