Just Me Travel

Just Me Travel

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Category: Reviews

5 FABULOUS DAY TRIPS FROM BARCELONA SPAIN: Your Reliable Guide

Mountains, Museums, and Medieval Magic: Catalonia Unveiled Through Unforgettable Day Trips for Every Traveller.   Welcome to my travel blog, where I am excited to share with you exceptional day…

Mountains, Museums, and Medieval Magic: Catalonia Unveiled Through Unforgettable Day Trips for Every Traveller.

 

Welcome to my travel blog, where I am excited to share with you exceptional day trips beyond the streets of Barcelona. Join me as I recount my unforgettable experiences on five diverse and awe-inspiring tours from Barcelona. From towering mountains to rugged coastlines, from quaint medieval villages frozen in time to the birthplace of Surrealism, these five exceptional tours take you to another world of Catalonian beauty and wonder.

Catalonia’s diverse landscapes offer a diversity of experiences. Embarking on day trips from Barcelona opens up a world of exploration, where each destination promises its unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Whether you’re drawn to the spiritual heights of Montserrat, the sun-kissed shores of Costa Brava, the timeless charm of medieval villages, the rugged grandeur of the Pyrenees, or the artistic legacy of Salvador Dali, there’s a world of exploration waiting to be uncovered. Catalonia’s day trips have something for everyone!

 

The 5 Day Trips

 

Day Trip from Barcelona to Montserrat

Tour: Montserrat Visit with Ascent by Cogwheel Train

Tour Operator: Julia Travel

Duration: Full day – 11.5 hours

Cost: AUD140.00

I booked this tour from Australia before leaving for Spain.

Julia Travel promotes this small group trip as discovering “one of the most mystic Catalan wonders”.

Montserrat Monastery is an 11th-century Benedictine monastery on Montserrat Mountain (meaning ‘serrated mountain’), 60 kilometres northwest of Barcelona. The monastery hangs onto the side of the mountain 725 metres above sea level.

About 80 monks reside at the monastery, which is famous for the Black Madonna statue in the basilica and one of the oldest boys’ choirs in Europe.

View across the valley of a monastery on the side of a mountain.

Montserrat Monastery perched on the side of the mountain.

 

I took this photo of Montserrat Monastery across the valley at the Cross of St Michael.

The tour as I experienced it:

There were five of us on the Montserrat full-day tour, plus the guide. We travelled on the bus from Barcelona to Montserrat with the morning-only tour participants, separating into two groups (morning-only group and full-day group) on arrival at Montserrat Abbey.

An hour after leaving Barcelona, we arrived at the rack railway (also referred to as the Cremallera) at the bottom of Montserrat Mountain in the small town of Monistrol de Montserrat for the cogwheel train ride up the mountain to the centre of the Monserrat Monastery complex. The five-kilometre, 15-minute ride provided fantastic views of this unusual mountain. As you leave the train, pause to take in the views of the mountain that towers above the monastery and basilica and the deep valley below.

The morning was spent with our tour guide, learning about the monastery, visiting the basilica and Black Madonna, and watching a short documentary about the monastery’s world-famous Boys’ Choir (L’Escolania).

We could not see the Boys’ Choir perform in person as the boys were on school holidays.

A tilted courtyard leads to the carved front entrance of a church.

The Atrium (open courtyard) in front of the Basilica and front facade of the Basilica.

 

A black madonna with baby Jesus sitting on her lap. She is holding a marble ball that people can rub. The figures are behind glass.

The Black Madonna inside Montserrat Basilica.

 

The famous Black Madonna wooden statue sits behind glass at the back of the church above the high altar. We joined the queue of pilgrims and tourists to file past the Black Madonna, where many stopped to touch her hand through a cut in the glass.

According to our guide, the Madonna’s face is black due to a botched restoration in about the 12th century when the wrong varnish was used, turning her face black. It was decided to leave her face black, with locals saying that maybe the Madonna wanted a black face. However, historical descriptions of the Madonna say she has simply darkened over time. This latter theory makes more sense, given that the face of the baby Jesus sitting on Madonna’s lap also appears black.

The guided morning tour ended at 12.10 pm, and we were free to spend the rest of the day as we pleased, meeting again at 6.15 pm for the bus trip back to Barcelona.

With the afternoon free, I was eager to take a walk on Montserrat Mountain, starting at the top and walking down. To do this, I rode the Funicular de Sant Joan from Montserrat Monastery to the summit of Montserrat Mountain, about 300 metres above the monastery. I took the path to the left of the Funicular station that wound around and down the mountain to the Cross of Saint Michael (Sant Miquel)) and back down to the monastery.

The signpost at the beginning of the path indicated it was a 40-minute walk to the Cross of Saint Michael. The Cross was about one and a half hours into my very steep descent down Montserrat Mountain, and I still had about 20 minutes to go before I arrived back at the monastery. But I was in no hurry as I took in the spectacular views of Montserrat Mountain’s unique geological (‘serrated’) formation and the valleys and river below.

A serrated mountain top with a view of farm lands and towns in the valley below.

View from Montserrat (‘serrated’) Mountain.

 

A tall cross monument forms a lookout point for the Vally below.

Cross of Saint Michael and the valley below

 

While the walk down the mountain was not technically demanding (it’s a paved path nearly all the way), I did find the steep descent challenging. There were times when the decline was so steep my back was almost vertical to the path. The heat was another challenging factor. I’m sure I was on that mountain on its hottest day ever recorded!

Back at Montserrat Monastery, I had a late lunch at the cafeteria – a buffet that cost €19,50 and was not worth the money.

My tour review / final thoughts:

According to their website, Julia Travel no longer offers the full-day Montserrat tour from Barcelona that I did. Instead, they offer a morning (5.5 hours) and afternoon (4.5 hours) tour with the cogwheel train at €59 and €51, respectively.

Having done both the morning and full-day tours a few weeks apart, I believe a half-day tour does not allow time to immerse yourself in the beauty of the mountains where the monastery sits. While visiting the abbey and basilica and learning their history was interesting, the highlight for me was the walk on Montserrat Mountain. It would be a shame to miss out on one of the several walks you can take around Montserrat.

People walking on a path around around the top of a mountain.

The Sant Jeroni walking trail on Montserrat Mountain

 

There was a communication issue with Julia Travel on this tour. Arriving in Montserrat, the guide sent us to grab a coffee as she was trying to contact Julia Travel to organise our entrance tickets into the basilica and the Black Madonna, delaying the start of the tour by half an hour. Then, when it came to leaving Montserrat, Julia Travel forgot there were five of us doing the full-day tour and supposedly leaving on the same bus as the afternoon tour. However, 50 people were on the afternoon tour, and it was a 50-seater bus. Consequently, we (the five full-day tour group) were taken off the bus and had to wait for another bus from Barcelona to come and get us. So, instead of leaving Montserrat at 6.15 pm, we left an hour later, arriving back in Barcelona at 8.10 pm. Luckily, it wasn’t dark as I had a 35-minute walk back to the hotel, and people were only starting to come out for dinner in restaurants then.

I found Julia Travel’s communication a repetitive problem. I had booked another tour with Julie Travel to Salvador Dali’s Theatre-Museum and Villages – a tour I was particularly keen on taking. However, arriving at 8.00 am at Julia Travel’s office on the day of the tour, I learned it had been cancelled. I received an apology for not being informed and a refund. However, this was not good enough and amounted to unacceptable customer service.

The setting alone makes Montserrat Monastery worth a visit. But it was the mountain walk that made this tour memorable for me.

View of a valley below Monterrat Mountain in Spain.

Llobregat Valley and River taken from Montserrat Mountain

 

Day Trip from Barcelona to Figueres

Tour: Salvador Dali Museum, Figueres and Cadaques Small Group Trip from Barcelona

Tour Operator: Explore Catalunya

Duration: Full day – 11 hours

Cost: €99,00

Explore Catalunya promotes this small group trip as the “Best tour for Dali enthusiasts, and you’ll see hidden treasures off the beaten path”.

The summer schedule for this day trip (1st July – 14th September) does not include the coastal village of Cadaques, which is included in the winter tour schedule. Instead, the summer schedule takes you to Gala Dali’s Castle in Pubol. I was on the summer schedule day trip.

Near the border with France and about 136 kilometres north of Barcelona, Figueres is famous for being the birthplace of the artist Salvador Dali, an artist I have been a fan of for many decades. It is also home to his world-famous Theatre and Museum.

The Dali Theatre-Museum is a museum dedicated solely to the Spanish artist Salvador Dali, a genius of Surrealism. Built by Dali, it is considered the world’s largest surrealist object and is crowded with his artworks – paintings, sculptures, photographs, and jewellery.

Dali is buried in a crypt beneath the dome of his Theatre-Museum.

The tour as I experienced it:

On arrival in Figueres, we headed to the world-famous Dali Theatre-Museum for a half-hour guided tour with our Explore Catalunya guide. Following the guided tour, we had one and a half hours of free time to explore the three floors of the Theatre-Museum for ourselves.

After leaving Figueres at 12.45 pm, we drove a short half-hour to the pretty, seaside medieval village of Sant Marti d’Empuries on the Costa Brava. Here, we were given two hours of free time for lunch, to explore, or to take a dip in the Mediterranean Sea.

I had a delicious salad at L’Escalapi Restaurant and Pizzeria – a Goat’s Cheese Salad with lettuce, tomatoes, goat’s cheese, walnuts, pine nuts, sultanas, and mustard and honey dressing. Spain does salads so well! I followed up my salad with Sugar and Lemon Crepes. The total cost for lunch was €20 (AU$33).

I walked off lunch by wandering around Sant Marti d’Empuries, admiring its medieval buildings and checking out the beach – a lovely spot to stay a while.

Our last stop for the day was Gala Dali’s Castle in the tiny village of Pubol. The castle is the house Salvador Dali bought for his wife. Salvador didn’t live here until after Gala’s death and had to be invited by Gala to visit.

We were given a half-hour guided tour inside the castle and half an hour of free time to explore its gardens. According to our guide, Gala wanted to design the interior herself, but there is substantial Salvador Dali influence (artworks) inside the castle and its grounds. I particularly loved the Dali sculptures of long-legged elephants in the gardens.

A sculpture of an elephant with very long legs and an eagle on top sits in a garden of green plants.

There’s an elephant in the garden!

 

Gala is buried in the crypt designed by her husband in the castle’s basement.

Leaving Pubol at 5.00 pm, we arrived in Barcelona at 6.45 pm.

My tour review / final thoughts:

I have been a fan of Salvador Dali for many decades, and visiting his Theatre Museum was on my bucket list as soon as I started planning my trip to Spain. And I wasn’t disappointed! As I viewed his works over three floors, I got a glimpse into his unique world and learned so much about the evolution of his artistic styles.

My only criticism of the two hours allocated in the Dali Theatre-Museum is that it wasn’t long enough. Viewing artworks should be a relaxed experience, but I felt rushed as I wanted to take in as much as possible. It also didn’t give me time to view the jewellery Dali designed for his wife or to visit the museum shop, where I had hoped to buy a book on Salvador Dali.

Here’s some trivia: Dali designed the Spanish lollipop Chupa Chups logo. I never knew Chupa Chups were Spanish! Perhaps I need to attend more trivia nights because the question of who created the Chupa Chups logo is, apparently, frequently asked.

Explore Catalunya must ensure the full tour description reflects the actual tour itinerary. Their detailed summer schedule full tour description maintains that Platge de Castell would be our last stop after Gala Dali’s Castle before returning to Barcelona. However, we never visited Platge de Castell, “one of those rare hidden corners you can still find on the Costa Brava”. Instead, we visited Sant Marti d’Empuries on the Mediterranean coast before heading to Gala’s Castle. I can’t say I was disappointed as I knew nothing about Platge de Castell, and Sant Marti d’Empuries was an enchanting village that I thoroughly enjoyed exploring.

I booked this tour because I wanted to see as much as possible about Salvador Dali that was available at the time. As such, I was pleased Explore Catalunya included Gala Dali’s Castle in the tour. I must admit, I found Gala’s home uninteresting but did enjoy wandering through the castle’s grounds. The hour at Gala Dali’s Castle was more than sufficient time to see everything there was.

 

Day Trip from Barcelona to Costa Brava

Tour: Costa Brava Small Group Tour from Barcelona

Tour Operator: Explore Catalunya

Duration: Full day – 10 hours

Cost: €105,00

Explore Catalunya promotes this small group trip as being transported “to one of the most breathtakingly beautiful stretches of coastline in the whole of Europe – the Costa Brava”.

The Costa Brava is a coastal region of Catalonia on the Mediterranean Sea in northeastern Spain. It stretches from Blanes, a city 60 kilometres northeast of Barcelona, to the French border.

The tour as I experienced it:

About an hour’s drive from Barcelona, we arrived in Blanes – the gateway to Costa Brava. We didn’t stop in Blanes (a city of nearly 50,000 people) but drove straight to Cala Sant Francesc – a picturesque small cove with yellow sand and turquoise waters.

Alighting from the bus on the hill above Cala Sant Francesc, our guide gave us the option to spend our two hours’ free time at the beach or walking around the nearby Marimurtra Botanical Garden. I chose the Botanical Garden, described as one of the most beautiful gardens on the Mediterranean.

A dark pink flower with irregular petals

Marimurtra Botanical Garden

 

Marimurtra Botanical Garden is situated on the top of a cliff, providing stunning views of the picturesque Costa Brava with its white sand coves, crystal clear turquoise and aqua waters, and rugged coastline.

Leaving Cala Sant Francesc at 12.30 pm, we headed for lunch at a family-owned typical Mediterranean restaurant outside of Blanes. Our set menu consisted of a selection of traditional local dishes for starters with a glass of Sangria, a choice of several main courses, and a choice of Mel i Moto (a traditional Catalan dessert) or ice cream.

After a leisurely lunch, we drove for about half an hour to Tossa de Mar – a resort town home to the last preserved fortified town on the Costa Brava coast. Upon arrival, our guide took us on an orientation walk through the town and then given over an hour of free time.

I didn’t go for a swim in the waters of the very crowded beach or seek a coffee in the many cafes and restaurants packed with people. I opted instead to walk up the hill to the lighthouse and fortifications on the town’s highest point.

From the lighthouse and fortifications, I could see over the town, the many boats moored in Tossa de Mar’s bay, and a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea with its blue waters and rugged coastline.

Medieval fortifications provide a foreground for a crowded beach lined with multistoried hotels.

Tossa de Mar – town, beach and fortifications

 

Tossa de Mar was our last stop for the day. An hour and a half drive saw us back in Barcelona.

My tour review / final thoughts:

According to Explore Catalunya, the picturesque Cala Sant Francesc is “one of the few remaining coves on the coast that have avoided the crowds of tourists and big commercial developments and are known only to locals”. All I can say is there must be a lot of locals because the cove’s beach was crowded. Explore Catalunya goes on to say we would have the beach to ourselves. I think they need to rewrite their tour description!

A beach of a small cove is crowded with people and beach umbrellas.

“Uncrowded” Cala Sant Francesc

 

I enjoyed wandering around the Marimurtra Botanical Garden and admiring its more than four thousand plant species. However, my highlight of the day trip was the hilltop Garden’s coastal views. The Garden provides the most spectacular views of Costa Brava’s beautiful small coves, crystal clear waters, and the rugged coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.

Pink flowers, green plants, and trees Fram rocks in the sea.

The Mediterranean Sea framed by Marimurtra Botanical Garden

 

Explore Catalunya’s detailed description for The Costa Brava tour states: “After leaving the beach and gardens, we will continue up to the old castle ruins for another amazing view of the coast.” Unfortunately, this did not occur, leaving me disappointed, as I would have loved to see more of Costa Brava’s coastline.

Lunch was delicious. I had a great salad with lettuce, brie cheese, walnuts, and fruits for my mains. Since I am not fond of ice cream, I had the Mel i Moto – a traditional Catalan dessert of Catalan cheese with honey. It was an interesting dessert but not unpleasant, and I could have had another bowl with more honey. Since arriving home, I have tried making this dessert with ricotta cheese, but it doesn’t taste the same (not as good).

My impression of Tossa de Mar is that of a very crowded tourist town, one I would typically avoid. However, I did enjoy the views from the lighthouse and fortifications of Costa Brava’s dramatic coastline.

The Mediterranean Sea crashed against the cliffs of Costa Brava's coastline.

Costa Brava’s rugged coastline at Tessa de Mar

 

Overall, the day trip to Costa Brava was long but enjoyable, and I recommend it.

 

Day Trip from Barcelona to Medieval Villages

Tour: Small Group Medieval Villages Day Trip from Barcelona

Tour Operator: Explore Catalunya

Duration: Full day – 11 hours

Cost: €95,00

Explore Catalunya promotes this day trip as a journey back to the medieval age, visiting the beautifully preserved villages of Besalu and Tavertet and enjoying free time in Rupit village.

The tour as I experienced it:

Leaving Barcelona at 8.30 am, we arrived in Besalu, our first medieval village, at about 10.00 am. Upon arrival, we (there were five guests on the tour) were given 20 minutes for a coffee and a bite to eat. We then headed across Besalu’s most significant feature – its 12th-century Romanesque bridge over the Fluvia River with its seven arches and a fortified gateway at its midpoint. Having crossed the bridge, we immediately entered Besalu’s medieval old town, where our Explore Catalunya driver-guide provided a 20-minute guided familiarisation walking tour around the Old Town.

A view of a town made of stone buildings and a stone bridge built in medieval times.

The medieval town of Besalu and its Romanesque bridge.

 

After the guided walking tour, we had one hour to explore Besalu independently.

Founded in 878 AD, Besalu is an enchanting medieval town in the foothills of the southeastern section of the Pyrenees. It is one of Spain’s most beautiful and best-preserved medieval towns and was declared a historic and artistic site of national importance in 1966.

Today, Besalu has a population of 2,512 (2023) living there permanently.

Besalu is home to an 11th-century church and hospital, a 12th-century monastery, the remains of a medieval castle, and an ancient Jewish Quarter, where you will find the ruins of a medieval synagogue and a 12th-century Mikvka (Jewish ritual bathhouse).

Besalu’s old town is built entirely from sandstone, giving the village a golden, warm hue. Cafes fill the pretty squares, and narrow cobblestone streets wind through the village. As to be expected, souvenir shops line the streets. However, glancing into shops as I walked past them made me think they were of a better quality than most you see.

Besalu’s main square, Placa de la Llibertat, is in the centre of the old town and a great place to sit with a drink or ice cream and people-watch.

A tiled square in a medieval village lined with cafes and restaurants. There are people sitting in the cafes.

Cafes and restaurants line Besalu’s main square

 

I found the wooden chairs attached to the Old Town’s stone walls a thought-provoking addition to Besalu’s medieval architecture. However, I never got an answer about the reason for this art installation.

After about an hour’s drive from Besalu and up narrow, winding roads into the Pyrenees, we arrived at the medieval village of Rupit. A river, forest, waterfalls, and caves surround the village, which is 822 metres above sea level in a valley adjacent to the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park.

Rupit was in stark contrast to Besalu. Instead of the pale stone buildings that give Besalu an air of warmth, all the houses in Rupit are built with basalt stone, giving the village a dark, forbidding appearance.

A cluster of basalt stone houses are surrounded by green shrubs and trees.

The medieval village of Rupert, with houses built in basalt

 

Rupit is smaller than Besalu, with about 160 permanent residents and just two main streets. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has described it as “one of the jewels of Catalonia in Spain.”

Rupit has received two awards in recent years:

  • UNWTO named it ‘Best Tourism Villages 2022’ for its “development of sustainable and responsible tourism.”
  • It has been awarded ‘European Charming Villages’ by the COSME Initiative of the European Union.

Before arriving in Rupit, our driver-guide gave us the option of free time to explore the village or to join him at a local restaurant for a set menu Catalonian lunch. I opted for lunch with three other guests and our driver-guide – a big mistake! Don’t get me wrong, the three-course lunch was delicious and a leisurely affair, but it took all our allocated two hours of free time in Rupit.

Two hours for lunch in Spain is the norm, but we had no time to explore the village. After several guests voiced their disappointment, our driver-guide gave us ten minutes to explore Rupit.

Our final stop before heading back to Barcelona was at a clifftop lookout in the tiny village of Tavertet, overlooking the valley below and the Guilleries mountain range. From this viewpoint, we could see the large Sau Reservoir, villages, and the odd lone house in the valley below.

A valley view in a Spanish mountain range with a large reservoir.

View of the valley and mountain range from Tavertet lookout

 

My tour review / final thoughts:

Besalu:

Grabbing a takeaway coffee instead of sitting down for 20 minutes would have been a better option, allowing more time for the guided walk around Besalu.

I would have liked more time to explore Besalu at a relaxed pace rather than rushing from street to street to see as much as possible and take as many photos as possible.

According to the detailed description on Explore Catalunya’s website, the Medieval Villages tour includes “visit a restored mikveh (an old Jewish bath from the 12th century), and see the remains of a medieval synagogue”. Neither of these happened.

We were discouraged from seeing the old Jewish bath with an explanation that to do so was too hard. We would have to walk back over the bridge (at this point, we were inside the walled town) to the tourist office, get the key for the bath, and then take the key back to the tourist office once having seen the bath. There was also an admission fee involved.

I got the distinct impression that our guide just couldn’t be bothered taking us to visit the restored mikvah and ruins of the medieval synagogue. I found this extremely disappointing as I have a strong interest in Jewish history.

Castellfollit de la Roca:

On the drive to Rupit, our driver-guide pointed to Castellfollit de la Roca village, perched on the edge of a basalt precipice. I have seen several photos of Castellfollit de la Roca on Instagram and have always been in awe of its precarious location. I was okay with not exploring the village but felt incredibly disappointed that we drove straight past and didn’t pull off the road for a photo stop.

Rupit:

Opting to have lunch in a restaurant in Rupit was a missed opportunity to explore the village. It was a shame that our driver-guide failed to advise us that lunch in the restaurant would take up all our free time in Rupit. Had he done so, I would have grabbed something to eat at the bakery and used the two hours to explore the village and walk along the river to discover its pools and waterfalls.

Tavertet:

Explore Catalunya’s detailed description for this tour states that a visit is made to Tavertet village. “With your guide, visit this charming village, which was declared a National Property of Cultural Interest due to its 48 preserved houses from the 17th and 18th centuries. Learn interesting facts about this village as you admire the houses and the 11th-century Romanesque Church of Sant Cristofol.” However, we did not visit Tavertet; we merely drove straight through to the viewpoint on the cliff edge of the village for a panoramic view of the valley below. It was a shame we did not go into Tavertet, as I was looking forward to seeing the houses.

Explore Catalunya advertises that The Small Group Medieval Villages Day Trip from Barcelona lasts 11 hours. However, on this day, it was only ten hours. The additional hour would have allowed the advertised visit to Tavertet village or more time in Besalu.

Final thoughts:

Besalu is a delightful village worth visiting. However, I would have found a full day in Besalu to explore all its nooks and crannies of more value.

Ten minutes to explore Rupit and a short walk along one street to the restaurant was not enough time to make an informed comment on Rupit. However, what I did see had me wanting more.

I cannot comment on Tavertet, as we only drove quickly through the village to the lookout.

I enjoyed the Medieval Villages Day Trip, but I suspect the enjoyment was more about getting out of Barcelona for the day than the trip itself. In truth, I ended the day feeling disappointed and cheated.

 

Day Trip from Barcelona to the Pyrenees

Tour: Pyrenees Mountains Small Group Day trip from Barcelona

Tour Operator: Explore Catalunya

Duration: Full day – 11 hours

Cost: €109,00

Explore Catalunya promotes this day trip as “The only day tour from Barcelona that takes groups into the Pyrenees Mountains”.

There were five guests on this day trip (including myself) and our driver-guide, Steven. The tour’s destination was Vall de Nuria (Nuria’s Valley) in the Pyrenees via Vic and Queralbs.

The tour as I experienced it:

Our departure from Barcelona at 8.30 am had us arriving in Vic (pronounced Bic) about an hour later.

Vic is about 69 kilometres north of Barcelona on the Meder River. It is an ancient city, dating back to the Ausetan Iberians before Roman occupation in the 1st century AD, with an interesting and picturesque medieval Old Town.

On a 20-minute guided walking tour around the Old Town, we passed through several small pretty squares with cafes preparing for the day.

The guided walking tour ended in Cathedral Square at the Roman Catholic cathedral, Catedral de Sant Pere Apostol (Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle).

I found the interior of Vic’s Sant Pere Cathedral to be unlike anything I had seen previously. Huge, almost monochromatic canvases painted by Joseph Maria Sert representing the mystery of redemption cover the walls, making the interior dark and gloomy – an unexpected contrast to the cathedral’s light-coloured stone exterior. It wasn’t a place I wanted to linger! However, your reaction may be very different.

Explore Catalunya’s visits to Vic coincide with traditional market days, which take place on Tuesdays and Saturdays in the arched main square (one of the biggest in Spain). Stalls of every sort filled the square.

Our half-hour of free time had me scouring the market stalls and nearby shops for something suitable for a takeaway lunch. Steven advised us that the food at Vall de Nuria’s café was not the best and recommended that we buy lunch in Vic.

From Vic, we drove up into the Pyrenees to the small village of Queralbs, which sits at an altitude of 1,236 metres. It is the last vehicle-accessible village on the way up to Vall de Nuria (Nuria’s Valley), a beautiful valley in the eastern Pyrenees. The final six kilometres from Queralbs to Vall de Nuria must be travelled by rack railway – a 20-minute journey to an altitude of 1,964 metres. But first, there was a guided walking tour through Queralbs.

Queralbs is an ancient village dating back to 833 AD. With its traditionally built stone houses perched on the side of the mountain, “this impossibly quaint, picture postcard beautiful hamlet is one of the most memorable parts of the day” (Explore Catalunya). I couldn’t agree more! The village was picture-perfect.

The walking tour ended at the Romanesque Esglesia de Sant Jaume (Church of Saint James) – one of Spain’s oldest surviving Romanesque churches.

A stone church with an arched portico and three bells in the bell tower. Green shrubs are behind the church.

Queralbs’ Romanesque St James Church.

 

Time to catch the rack railway train to Vall de Nuria!

Vall de Nuria is a glacial valley in the eastern Pyrenees, 120 kilometres from Barcelona, 1,964 metres above sea level, and surrounded by mountains nearly 3,000 metres high. It is remote and only accessible by rack railway. The ski resort and Nuria Lake dominate the valley, offering spectacular mountain landscapes, winter skiing, and summer hiking trails.

With two hours to explore the valley before catching the train back down the mountain, I decided to hike one of the many trails in the hills around the valley. These trails range from easy to challenging.

Given my limited time, I chose an easy trail, the Way of the Crosses. I was told it would take 50 minutes to walk, but I knew it would take longer as I would keep stopping to take photos and admire the breathtaking views. The trail gets its name from the Christian Way of the Cross tradition, with twelve crosses along the way. I made the hike easier on myself by walking down the mountain rather than up. I did this by taking the cable car to the summit, bringing me to an altitude of 2,170 metres. Consequently, I passed the crosses in reverse – from twelve to one.

We missed our scheduled train back down the mountain to Queralbs because one couple failed to turn up at the meeting point even though Steven’s instructions were clear. No one knew where they were. I could tell Steven was worried, but he handled it calmly. Eventually, Steven decided we would catch the next train and leave the unreliable couple to fend for themselves. Surprise, surprise! When we arrived back at Queralbs Rack Railway Station (45 minutes late), our errant couple were waiting for us. They had decided to forego the meeting point and catch the train on their own.

From about halfway down the Stations of the Cross trail, the sky was getting blacker and blacker. By the time I reached the bottom, thunder was rolling around the mountains.

A valley in the Pyrenees is shrouded in black clouds.

Vall de Nuria – a storm rolls inover the Pyrenees

 

Just as we were about to board our train back down the mountain, the heavens opened, and heavy rain and hail bucketed down. As we travelled the six kilometres from Vall de Nuria to Queralbs, the rain got heavier and heavier. Running from the train to the station building had us soaked to the skin, and I mean soaked. Water was pouring off me, off my hair and my clothes.

Our misfortunes did not end with a missing couple and soaking rain. Shortly after leaving Queralbs for our drive down the mountain, we came to a grinding halt. Traffic wasn’t going anywhere! The river beside the road was a raging torrent, so I thought maybe the road was flooded. After about 20-30 minutes, the male of our errant couple went to investigate what was happening up ahead – to make up for their “misunderstanding” about the meeting point. He told us there was a mudslide with rocks over the road and water pouring down the mountain. People were staring at this catastrophe, immobile. But our errant male (sorry, I will always think of him as such) started moving the rocks, and others helped. We were moving again! Meanwhile, it was sunny and 30 degrees Celsius in Barcelona!

My tour review / final thoughts:

In Vic, I struggled, wasting a lot of time trying to find suitable food for a takeaway lunch. I couldn’t even find a small supermarket in the streets around the main square. I found a bakery that looked promising, but the queue was too long to wait for service. I was conscious about arriving back at the meeting place on time. Had I known in advance about the recommendation to purchase a takeaway lunch, I would have brought food with me. In hindsight, I am sorry I didn’t risk the cafe at Vall de Nuria because the lentil salad I bought in Vic for lunch was pretty ordinary.

Explore Catalunya advertises the tour as 11 hours in duration. However, the tour was 11 hours only because we were late leaving Vall de Nuria back to Queralbs and encountered a mudslide driving down the mountain. I felt cheated because I would have loved more time on the mountain. The additional hour would have allowed me time to walk around the lake, visit the sanctuary, or have a cup of coffee.

I thoroughly enjoyed this day trip to the Pyrenees Mountains. What an adventure!

Don’t get me wrong; I have enjoyed all my day trips with Explore Catalunya, but this one seemed a bit more special. Perhaps it was the breathtaking landscape of the Pyrenees or just being in the mountains? Perhaps it was the enchanting village of Queralbs or the experience of the Rack Railway? Perhaps it was the adventure of getting soaking wet from a massive storm or driving through a mudslide over the road? Even though all the tours were very different and memorable, this day trip to the Pyrenees was special. It was not your ‘usual’ sightseeing tour and, for the most part, was the more relaxed.

 

A word on booking tours with Explore Catalunya:

I booked all my tours with Explore Catalunya in person, visiting their office in Barcelona at Carrer Palau de la Musica, 1. When booking in person, I received a €10,00 senior discount on each tour. However, when visiting Explore Catalunya’s website, I found nowhere that a senior discount can be applied when booking a tour.

 

As we conclude our journey through these five memorable day trips from Barcelona, I hope the experiences I shared have inspired you to venture beyond the city’s boundaries and explore the wonders just a short distance away.

Barcelona is a gateway to extraordinary adventures, allowing you to immerse yourself in captivating landscapes, delve into rich history, and be inspired by world-renowned art. The day trips I took from Barcelona left me with a lifetime of memories.

So, if you find yourself in Barcelona, let these day trips be your guide to exploring the richness that lies beyond the city’s borders, for Catalonia is a region of endless discovery. Allow yourself to be swept away by the allure of Montserrat, the coastal beauty of Costa Brava, the timeless appeal of medieval villages, the majesty of the Pyrenees, and the surreal world of Salvador Dali.

Thank you for joining me on this unforgettable journey through Catalonia’s diverse landscapes and cultural treasures. Until next time, here’s to the endless horizons of discovery and the timeless magic of travel!

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2024. All rights reserved.

 

Have you found this review of day trip tours from Barcelona a helpful resource? Which would be a day trip not to be missed? I love hearing from you. Please leave a comment below.

I look forward to reading and responding to your comments on which day trips from Barcelona you might include on your next holiday to Spain that this post has inspired.

 

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A medieval village with an arched Roman Bridge and a small sandy cove invite you discover the hidden gems of Catalonia, Spain at justme dot travel.

Stone houses in a medieval village and a valley in the Pyrenees invite you to explore Catalonia at justme dot travel.

 

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A collage of photos showing Islamic architecture, a beach, an ancient Roman theatre, and a modern glass and silver tiled building.SPAIN BUCKET LIST: The 47 Incredible Things You Should Not Miss. From historic landmarks to cultural marvels, my Spain Bucket List is your go-to resource for planning the trip of a lifetime. Start planning your Spain itinerary now!

 

 

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UNVEILING THE ETHIOPIAN COFFEE CEREMONY: Experiencing a Perfect Cultural Delight (2024 Updated)

Ethiopia’s Coffee Ceremony is Deeply Rooted in Tradition and Social Significance.   Journey to the birthplace of coffee itself – Ethiopia – where coffee isn’t just a drink but a…

Ethiopia’s Coffee Ceremony is Deeply Rooted in Tradition and Social Significance.

 

Journey to the birthplace of coffee itself – Ethiopia – where coffee isn’t just a drink but a ritual steeped in tradition and social significance. This is the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, where time stands still to honour hospitality and respect, strengthen bonds, and foster conversations.

This post illustrates this timeless ritual, from the meticulous preparation of the coffee to the communal enjoyment that follows. Get ready to be immersed into the heart and soul of Ethiopian culture through its world-renowned coffee ceremony. It is a truly wonderful and unique experience!

 

I love coffee. I have drunk it in many countries with varying degrees of appreciation. Well, now I have found coffee heaven. It’s in Ethiopia, and there is a whole ceremony surrounding its making and drinking.

Ethiopia is the home of coffee. The coffee plant originated in Ethiopia, with the beans first brewed in the 11th century. So, Ethiopians have had a lot of practice doing stuff with coffee, to the point where a whole ceremony developed around brewing and drinking coffee. The coffee ceremony is an integral part of Ethiopian culture and hospitality. It is a significant social occasion.

Ethiopians have a delightful story around the discovery of the benefits of coffee. A goat herder noticed his goats acting excitedly and ‘dancing’ on their hind legs after eating the bright red berries from a particular tree. When he tried the berries himself, he felt energised. He grabbed some berries and rushed home to tell his wife, who told him he must share these “heaven-sent” berries with the monks in the nearby monastery. The monks did not share the goat herder’s elation, believing the berries to be sinful and the work of the Devil. They tossed the coffee berries into the fire. However, the smell of the roasting coffee beans made the monks rethink their view of this sinful drug, and they removed the coffee beans from the fire. They crushed the coffee beans to extinguish the glowing embers and covered them with hot water to preserve them. The aroma of the coffee made all the monks want to try it. After this, they vowed to drink coffee every day because they found the coffee’s uplifting effects helped keep them awake during their holy devotions. And so, Ethiopia’s coffee tradition and culture were created.

I loved the ceremony as much as the coffee itself. Unlike Italy, where coffee is drunk quickly whilst standing, preparing and drinking coffee in Ethiopia is not to be rushed as the hostess must not miss any step.

Wherever I travelled in Ethiopia, the coffee ceremony was always the same. There was something reassuring in this familiarity of freshly roasting coffee beans and the smell of fresh-cut grasses that were invariably laid on the ground. The laying of cut grasses on the floor sets the scene for the coffee ceremony.

When ordering coffee in a Western-style restaurant in Ethiopia, the coffee is brewed following the established ritual in a reserved area of the restaurant and served on a tray lined with fresh-cut grasses.

A tray sprinkled with green grasses and laid with coffee, a coffee pot, a sugar bowl, and hot coals.

Coffee is served on a tray with fresh-cut grasses.

 

Ethiopian coffee ceremony: the traditional steps

A tree branch with green coffee berries growing on it.

Coffee berries growing on the tree.

 

First, the raw coffee beans are rubbed together in water in a pan to remove the skins on the beans. Then, they are roasted over a charcoal brazier, releasing the aromatic oils from the beans. The hostess – I never saw this ceremony conducted by a man – brings the pan of smoking, roasted beans around for you to waft the smoke towards you, to draw in the aroma of the roasted beans.

A woman in a white dress pours water from a pot over coffee beans to remove the shells.

Washing the raw coffee beans.

 

Once roasted, the beans are ground with a mortar and pestle. Traditionally, the mortar and pestle are made of wood.

A woman in a white dress uses a pestle and mortar to grind coffee beans in and Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

Grinding the roasted coffee beans.

 

While grinding the beans, the hostess is boiling water in a terracotta “jebena” over an open fire. A jebena is a traditional Ethiopian clay coffee pot with a bulbous, round bottom, a long, narrow neck topped with a wooden or straw stopper, and a handle.

A traditional Ethiopian coffee pot with its round body and long neck.

The jebena I bought in a local market in Bahir Dar.

 

Once the coffee beans are ground, the resultant powder is added to the boiling water in the jebena. The combined water and ground beans are boiled for a couple of minutes and then rested to allow the coffee powder to sink to the bottom of the pot.

By this stage, if you are a coffee lover like me, the smell of freshly brewed coffee will have your mouth watering in anticipation of what will come.

Finally, the coffee is poured into small, handleless porcelain cups (similar to Chinese tea cups). The pouring is done from as high as possible above the cups – about a foot above the cups. The hostess will usually serve coffee with popcorn or peanuts.

Ethiopian coffee ceremony: a social event

Coffee isn’t just a drink in Ethiopia. It is an essential component of Ethiopian culture and society. Being invited to coffee in Ethiopia is considered a sign of friendship and respect. It is a time to extend the hand of hospitality, promote social relations, and catch up on neighbourhood news.

Ethiopian coffee is drunk sweet, and black. In fact, very sweet – 2 to 3 teaspoons of sugar. Mind you, the teaspoons are minuscule. I learnt to enjoy black coffee. However, by the time I left Ethiopia, I was drinking my coffee with a lot less sugar.

When drinking coffee in Ethiopia, etiquette requires you to have three cups of coffee. The first cup is to welcome you, the second is about friendship, and the third is to say goodbye. Denying coffee at any of the three servings is considered rude. Remember, these are tiny cups, so having three is less in quantity than a mug of coffee.

Ethiopian coffee is the best I have ever tasted. The two women I was travelling through Ethiopia with told me I said, “Oh, that’s good coffee”, every time I had a cup of coffee. This must have driven them mad because we had lots (and I mean lots) of cups of coffee. Finally, one of my travel companions told our diver-guide that Ethiopia needs to change its tourism slogan from “13 Months of Sunshine” to “Oh, That’s Good Coffee”. He just laughed.

So, if you ever find yourself in Ethiopia, immerse yourself in the magical and captivating experience of the coffee ceremony. You won’t be disappointed!

To learn about Ethiopia’s coffee ceremony’s cultural and social history, visit the Institute of Ethiopian Studies Ethnological Museum in Addis Ababa. This well-organised, delightful museum on Addis Ababa University’s main campus is dedicated to preserving, studying, and presenting Ethiopia’s rich cultural heritage.

The Ethnological Museum is open daily, excluding public holidays, with entrance fees charged at different rates for adults, students, and those wanting to take photographs. Engage one of the available guides who provide valuable information and insights about the museum’s collections.

A panel of text telling the story of Ethiopian coffee culture.

The Coffee Story, Ethnological Museum.

 

From the first crackle of roasting beans to the three rounds of shared cups, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony is more than a mere caffeine fix. It is a ritual filled with tradition, hospitality, shared moments, and a deep appreciation for the humble coffee bean. 

The ceremony unfolds in deliberate steps: roasting beans over coals, grinding them by hand, and brewing them in a traditional pot. Each step contributes to the welcoming atmosphere and deep-rooted traditions that define the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. 

Whether you have experienced it firsthand or are curious about it from afar, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony stands as a testament to the beauty of cultural rituals and the power of a shared cup of coffee to bring people together, wherever they may be.

 

Editor’s Note: I originally published this blog post in March 2019 and have updated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2024.

 

Where have you had the best cup of coffee? What made it so great?

I love hearing from you. Join the conversation and leave a comment below.

 

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A woman washing coffee beans with water from a jug and green coffee berries growing on a branch.

A poster with text telling the story of Ethiopian coffee culture and a woman using a mortar and pestle.

 

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Stone huts with thatched roofs in a mountainous landscape.
LOST IN TRANSLATION IN ETHIOPIA – Is that the heater?

International travel will inevitably lead to translation challenges. Read about my communication issue in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains, which I can laugh about now but, at the time, impacted my physical comfort.

 

 

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HOW TO LAND ON A GLACIER IN NEW ZEALAND’S STUNNING SOUTHERN ALPS

Experience Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier on a Helicopter Flight – The Most Accessible Rivers of Ice in the World.   New Zealand’s Southern Alps are breathtaking and home…

Experience Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier on a Helicopter Flight – The Most Accessible Rivers of Ice in the World.

 

New Zealand’s Southern Alps are breathtaking and home to several glaciers. Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier are the most accessible. And what better way to experience their natural beauty than with a helicopter flight over the glaciers and landing on the top of one for a walk around? 

When touring New Zealand’s South Island, I climbed aboard a helicopter for a scenic flight and snow landing. I have mixed feelings about this flight, which become evident in my review below.

 

I was so excited about taking a helicopter flight with Glacier Helicopters over New Zealand’s Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers – an optional extra with Grand Pacific Tours and my New Year present to myself. I will always jump at the option of a helicopter or small plane scenic flight and have taken several now around the world. They provide a unique perspective of an area or site you visit, and I feel a sense of adventure with helicopter flights.

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are in New Zealand’s Southern Alps on the South Island’s west coast, in Glacier Country. They are temperate maritime glaciers that extend well below the snow line. Franz Josef Glacier’s terminal face is 500 metres above sea level, while Fox Glacier terminates at 250 metres above sea level. Though still flowing, both glaciers, unfortunately, are retreating, with Franz Josef vanishing at a phenomenal rate.

Franz Josef Glacier is 12 kilometres long and lies 20 kilometres south of Fox Glacier. Franz Josef Glacier was named after the Austrian emperor but is better known by its Māori name, Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere. The glacier is five kilometres from the town of the same name.

At 13 kilometres long, Fox Glacier (Te Moeka o Tuawe) is longer and faster moving than Franz Josef Glacier and is New Zealand’s longest glacier. Fox Glacier is just five kilometres from the village of the same name. I stayed in Fox Glacier village.

View of a glacier wedged between two mountains. An open plain with several trees is in the foreground of the photo.

View of Fox Glacier taken from State Highway 6 near Fox Glacier village.

 

Grand Pacific Tours had organised the 40-minute ‘Mountain Scenic Spectacular’ helicopter flight with Helicopter Line in Franz Josef village. However, when we arrived, Helicopter Line advised us to fly the next morning because of the current poor visibility. For some reason I never understood, we booked in the following day with Glacier Helicopters for our scenic flight over Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, with a snow landing on Franz Josef Glacier and departing from Fox Glacier village. Unfortunately, because of a strong wind, we couldn’t fly around Mount Cook (Aoraki), New Zealand’s highest mountain (3,724 metres), as per the scheduled flight path. Consequently, Glacier Helicopters reduced our helicopter flight plus snow landing to 30 minutes, and we did receive a small discount.

A snow capped mountain rises above a mountain range devoid of snow.

Mount Cook dominates New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

 

I was disappointed with Glacier Helicopter’s scenic flight. The cabin was cramped inside, and the other passengers obstructed my view. There were three of us in the back, two in the front, and the pilot. Sitting in the middle of the back seat, I found the cramped conditions restricted my arm movements, making taking photos while flying difficult.

I could tolerate being sandwiched between two passengers, but having my views of the landscape we were passing over severely obstructed was upsetting. While flying, the passengers on either side of me continually blocked my sight as they leaned into their respective windows to see the landscape below and take photos. Looking out the front of the helicopter was no better as the heads of the two front passengers were prominent in many of my photos.

These circumstances negatively impacted my overall experience. As a travel blogger and photographer (I rarely disclose my tradecraft), getting good photographs is crucial for my posts. I understand weight distribution is imperative for helicopter flights, but is there no way to guarantee a window seat?

Had I not been seated in the back row’s middle seat, I believe my helicopter flight experience would have been very different – far more positive.

After flying up the ice river that is Franz Josef Glacier, we landed on the top of the glacier to spend 15 wondrous minutes walking on the snow and ice, examining the ice architecture, enjoying the views, and taking photos. The adventure of a lifetime! The landing on Franz Josef Glacier was magical. Who needs a flight around a snow-capped mountain when you can walk on a glacier?

The ice river of the Franz Josef Glacier is view from a helicopter.

Franz Josef Glacier – climbing the ice river

 

New Zealand's Southern Alps at the top of Franz Josef Glacier, viewed from inside a helicopter.

Landing on Franz Josef Glacier.

 

While on Franz Josef Glacier, the pilot took photos of the passengers. He had a printer in the helicopter’s tail, and we could purchase a photograph after landing back at Fox Glacier Heliport.

A red and white helicopter sits on the snow with mountains behind it. The name, Glacier Helicopters is printer on the helicopter's tail. The pilot is looking into the helicopter through an open door in the tail section.

There’s a printer in the helicopter’s tail!

 

I would have loved more time on Franz Josef Glacier to walk further afield than just the top of the glacier, exploring its features in detail. But that’s what the Heli Hikes entail. Next time!

Being in the middle seat behind the pilot and two other passengers on Glacier Helicopter’s small, five-passenger helicopter was not value for money. I had no choice as to which company I took the helicopter flight with, as Grand Pacific Tours organised it. I recommend exploring other glacier helicopter flight companies to avoid disappointment.

 

My helicopter flight over New Zealand’s Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers was a mixed experience. The obstruction of my views during the flight by other passengers was undeniably disappointing. However, the magic truly began when we landed on Franz Josef Glacier. The opportunity to step out on this pristine glacier and explore its breathtaking beauty up close gave me a real sense of adventure. While the flight had drawbacks, the glacier landing left an indelible mark on my memory.

 

Snow covered mountains are viewed from inside a helicopter.

Fox Glacier – on top of the mountains.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2023.

 

My favourite helicopter flights are in small three-passenger helicopters with removed doors. I experienced three such helicopter flights when in The Kimberley, Western Australia. What has been your experience of scenic helicopter flights? I love hearing from you. Please leave a comment below.

 

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The image features two photos. One shows a red and white helicopter sitting on snow with mountains behind it. The other photo is a section of a snow covered mountain range.

 

The image features two photos: a glacier wedged between two mountains with a grass plain in the foreground, and a view of an ice river (glacier) running down a mountain crevice.

 

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The wing of a plane is seen flying over a landscape of red cliffs, white sand, blue ocean and green forestHOW TO SEE HORIZONTAL FALLS AND EPIC TIDES, AUSTRALIA. Take an unforgettable scenic flight over northern Western Australia’s Horizontal Falls. Include an incredible sea safari among giant whirlpools and standing tidal waves. See a horizontal waterfall and ride giant tides.

 

 

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LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK – See 3 Stunning Waterfalls on a Day Tour From Darwin

Breathtaking Waterfalls, Idyllic Plunge Pools, Iconic Magnetic Termite Mounds, and the Australian bush, Litchfield National Park Will Not Disappoint.   Litchfield National Park is one of the Northern Territory’s best-kept…

Breathtaking Waterfalls, Idyllic Plunge Pools, Iconic Magnetic Termite Mounds, and the Australian bush, Litchfield National Park Will Not Disappoint.

 

Litchfield National Park is one of the Northern Territory’s best-kept secrets and a must-see in Australia’s ‘Top End’. Home to spectacular waterfalls that plunge into crystal clear pools perfect for a swim and iconic magnetic termite mounds unique to northern Australia, visiting Litchfield National Park on a day tour at the end of 2022 was the highlight of my six days in Darwin. 

Read on to learn why Litchfield is my new favourite national park and why I recommend the day tour I did with AAT Kings. Hint: I love waterfalls, landscapes, the bush, and the unusual.

 

About Litchfield National Park

Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory (Australia) is near the town of Batchelor, about 100 kilometres southwest of Darwin. The Park was named after Frederick Henry Litchfield, a Territory pioneer who explored areas of the Northern Territory in 1864. Litchfield National Park covers an area of approximately 1,500 square kilometres and was proclaimed a national park in 1986.

Litchfield National Park is an ancient landscape carved by water and is home to 15 waterfalls. The falls flow year-round but are particularly spectacular in the wet and early dry seasons.

As well as an abundance of waterfalls, Litchfield National Park is famous for its magnetic termite mounds and found only in Australia’s Northern Territory.

The Marranuggu, Koongurrukun, Werat, and Warray Aboriginal people consider Litchfield National Park an important cultural site.

A day tour from Darwin

I explored Litchfield National Park with AAT Kings on their Litchfield National Park Waterfalls day tour from Darwin.

I am drawn to waterfalls and the stunning landscapes in which they are located. Any tour that takes me to waterfalls will always grab my attention. So, with AAT Kings advertising a day tour visiting three waterfalls, I quickly grabbed my place.

The three waterfalls included in the tour were Florence Falls, Tolmer Falls, and Wangi Falls. As a bonus, we also saw the unusual magnetic termite mounds.

On a day tour, three waterfalls were an ideal number to visit as it allowed for a leisurely pace to see and swim at the falls. AAT Kings’ Litchfield National Park Waterfalls tour was well-planned, well-timed, and well-executed.

Florence Falls

A segmented waterfall (dividing into two branches) flows over rocks before plunging into the pool below.

Florence Falls photographed from the viewing platform.

 

Florence Falls was my favourite of the three waterfalls we visited. It is a cascade waterfall that becomes segmented before it plunges over the cliff into a crystal-clear plunge pool perfect for a swim and set in a pocket of monsoon forest (a tropical dry forest).

Take the 3-minute walk from the car park to the viewing platform to see Florence Falls in all its splendour.

From the viewing platform, take the 170 steps (135 steel steps, with the rest being stone steps) down to the picturesque plunge pool, where a swim is a must. Here Florence Falls plunges into the pool from a height of about 15 metres before the creek continues over rocks and through the ancient landscape.

Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park. The waterfall with two streams plunges into the pool below.

Florence Falls drops into the plunge pool.

 

A swimmer wearing a hat swims in a plunge pool up to the waterfall at Florence Falls.

Florence Falls Plunge Pool

 

I was pleasantly surprised by the pool’s water temperature. Coming from a town that sits on a river that originates in the Snowy Mountains, I expected the water to be freezing. However, the water was warm, but not so warm that you didn’t feel refreshed from a swim in the pool.

I recommend you walk down the steps to the plunge pool at the bottom of Florence Falls and take the Shady Creek Walk back up to the car park.

Shady Creek Walk

The image shows a pathway through a tropical dry forest in Australia's Northern Territory.

Shady Creek Walk meanders through Monsoon Forest

 

From the plunge pool at the bottom of Florence Falls, walk back to the car park via Shady Creek Walk – a Grade 3 (moderate) walk of one kilometre one way. The well-defined path meanders through the monsoon forest at a steady incline. There are some rock steps to negotiate, which are not particularly challenging and at various points along the way, the path crosses Shady Creek.

A creek flows over rocks through a tropical dry forest

Shady Creek Walk crosses Shady Creek at various points.

 

A small plunge pool on Shady Creek is 50 metres from the car park. Take a final welcome dip before getting back on the bus.

Tolmer Falls

A narrow waterfall drops over the escarpment into a pool below.

Tolmer Falls

 

Tolmer Falls is an impressive plunge waterfall with two drops at a total height of about 40 metres into the pool below. Swimming is prohibited at Tolmer Falls.

It is a 400-metre walk on a steep, sealed path from Tolmer Falls car park to the viewing platforms. The first platform provides magnificent views over the gorge, while the lower platform is the one you want for the best view of Tolmer Falls.

A creek splashes over rocks making mini waterfalls and then plunges over the cliff.

The top section of Tolmer Falls

 

The final drop of a waterfall as it crashes into the plunge pool.

Tolmer Falls crashes into the pool below.

Wangi Falls

Two waterfalls cascade down a cliff before dropping into a pool.

Wangi Falls

 

Wangi Falls is a segmented waterfall with a drop of about 50 metres. It is the most popular in Litchfield National Park as its large plunge pool is the most accessible.

Walking 125 metres along an easy, flat path will take you to the viewing platform, where the falls and plunge pool create a stunning panorama.

There was no swimming for us at Wangi Falls as it had been closed for the season for safety reasons after recent rains. The water had risen over the rocks that form a natural barrier against saltwater crocodiles entering the plunge pool. As such, the Park Rangers could not guarantee there were no crocs in the pool. Therefore, they closed the falls. Good Plan!

Two waterfalls cascade down a rock face before dropping into a large plunge pool.

The large plunge pool at Wangi Falls

 

Our included lunch at Wangi Falls Café consisted of cold meats and salads, with fresh fruit to follow.

Magnetic termite mounds

Termite mounds are found throughout Australia, but magnetic termite mounds are found only in the Northern Territory. And Litchfield National Park has a most impressive sight of hundreds of magnetic termite mounds standing up to two metres high on a vast flat plain. They look like tombstones spread over a large cemetery, all facing in the same direction.

A flat plain with hundred of magnetic termite mounds that look like tombstones.

Tombstone-like magnetic termite mounds

 

Around 100 years old, these peculiar mounds are mysteriously aligned to the earth’s magnetic field. Their thin edges point north-south, and their broad backs face east-west. Thereby, according to current theory, magnetic termites keep their homes comfortable.

“Northern Australia gets extremely hot during the day and cool at night, and researchers believe termites have somehow harnessed the power of the earth’s magnetism to strategically climate-control their homes.”

https://www.amusingplanet.com/2014/01/magnetic-termite-mounds.html

An accessible boardwalk skirts the plain of magnetic termite mounds, giving uninterrupted views.

When to visit

The northern part of the Territory, including Darwin and Litchfield National Park, has a tropical monsoonal climate with two seasons – a dry season and a wet season.

The dry season runs from May to October, with sunny days and cool evenings. The humidity is low, and the average daily temperature is around 32 degrees Celsius.

The wet season runs from November to April. It is a time of spectacular thunderstorms and cyclones. The humidity can rise as high as 98%, and the average daily temperature inland can hover around 39 degrees Celsius. However, balmy evenings provide some relief.

I visited Darwin in late October, at the very end of the Top End’s dry season. As the photos attest, the waterfalls were still flowing strongly.

 

Litchfield National Park is best known for its waterfalls, and a day tour must be on any traveller’s itinerary to the Top End. This is where I recommend AAT Kings’ Litchfield National Parks Waterfalls day tour from Darwin. Their tour was well-organised and conducted at a leisurely, relaxed pace. For once, on an escorted tour, I didn’t find myself rushed to take my photos. However, the tour has whet my appetite to see more of what Litchfield National Park has to offer. After all, I still have 12 waterfalls to explore!

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2023.

 

While Wangi Falls is the most popular attraction in Litchfield National Park, Florence Falls was my favourite of the three waterfalls the tour included. If you could only visit one of the waterfalls I have described and shown in this post, which would it be? Leave a comment.

 

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An image with two photos: a segmented waterfall (two branches) dropping into a plunge pool and a swimmer in the plunge pool.

The image shows two photos: a waterfalls dropping into a plunge pool and a flat plain of termite mounds that look like tombstones.

 

Are you looking for more waterfall destinations in Australia? Then don’t miss these posts:

SEE 3 OF THE BEST WATERFALLS IN THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS, NEW SOUTH WALES

9 BEAUTIFUL BLUE MOUNTAINS WATERFALLS + PHOTOS

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and follow government advice.

 

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THE GHAN LUXURY TRAIN IN AUSTRALIA – GOLD VERSUS PLATINUM SERVICE

Which is For You – Gold Service or Platinum Service on The Ghan Train?   Luxury train travel is popular in Australia. It is not just about getting on a…

Which is For You – Gold Service or Platinum Service on The Ghan Train?

 

Luxury train travel is popular in Australia. It is not just about getting on a train and going from A to B, but about the experience. On The Ghan (as with other luxury train travel in Australia), your journey can be completed in Gold Service or Platinum Service. But which service do you choose? Read on to learn about the similarities and differences between the two services from my unique first-hand experience as a solo traveller on The Ghan train.

 

In October 2022, I travelled on The Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin – a two-night train trip up the middle of Australia from the southern coast to the northern coast.

For the first half of the train trip from Adelaide to Alice Springs, I travelled Gold Service. In Alice Springs, I transferred to Platinum Service for the second half of the journey. Moving from one service to another halfway through the trip was not by design but was my only means of getting all the way from Adelaide to Darwin on The Ghan train on my desired travel date. However, it has allowed me to provide you with an exclusive first-hand comparison of The Ghan’s service levels – Gold Service and Platinum Service – and answer the question is Platinum Service value for money.

About The Ghan luxury train

The Ghan train stopped in the desert to witness the sunrise. People are off the train taking photos.

The Ghan – Sunrise over the South Australian desert landscape

 

The Ghan (operated by Journey Beyond) is a luxury passenger train service in Australia that travels weekly from Adelaide to Darwin (or reverse), covering 2,979 kilometres over two nights and three days. It is considered one of the world’s great train journeys as it travels through diverse landscapes from the southern to northern extremes of Australia – from cityscapes and outback towns to endless red desert and the tropics.

The train is almost one kilometre in length and accommodates 258 Gold Service beds and 25 Platinum Service beds.

The Ghan’s name pays homage to the Afghan camel drivers who helped explore Australia’s remote interior in the 19th century.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: price

I paid AUD2,875.00 for the Adelaide to Alice Springs section of the train journey in Gold Service. This cost included one night’s accommodation in a sole occupancy twin cabin, three meals and all beverages, and two Off Train Experiences.

Had I travelled with a friend or partner and shared a Gold Service twin cabin from Adelaide to Alice Springs, the fare would have been AUD1,595.00 per person.

My Platinum Service cost for the second half of the train trip from Alice Springs to Darwin was AUD5,115.00. This price included one night’s accommodation in a sole occupancy cabin, three meals and all beverages, and two Off Train Experiences.

Had I travelled with a friend or partner and shared a Platinum Service cabin from Alice Springs to Darwin, the fare would have been AUD2,895.00 per person.

Dining, Australian wines, beers, base spirits, and non-alcoholic drinks are all-inclusive for both service levels. However, with Platinum Service, you can have Bollinger Champagne served with your meals.

My Platinum Service fare on The Ghan was almost twice as much as that for Gold Service with identical inclusions of accommodation, meals, beverages, and Off Train Experiences. So, what did I get for my money in Platinum Service that warranted the additional cost? What are the differences between the services?

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: cabin

My Gold Service cabin was a twin cabin, while my Platinum Service cabin was a double cabin, and I had sole occupancy in both cabins.

The Ghan’s cabins are as different in every way.

A train cabin with a three-seater couch. A bag and camera are on the couch. The door handle to the ensuite can be seen and there is a bag on the floor. Water bottles are on a small table attached to the cabin wall.

Gold Service twin cabin

 

My Gold Service twin cabin was compact with a three-seater, firm lounge and sufficient leg room. The cabin converts to a bedroom at night with narrow bunk beds. As I was the sole person occupying my cabin, the Hospitality Attendant only made up the comfortable bottom bunk. My only fear was falling out of bed if I turned over. There is a ladder to assist you in accessing the top bunk.

Storage was limited to a small, narrow shelf and a cupboard where you could hang two or three items. Unlike the space provided in a riverboat cabin, unpacking was not viable. Depending on the size of your cabin bag, it may be stored under the lower bunk or on the shelf above the ensuite.

The cabin’s wood panelling was dark, and the furnishings looked tired and outdated. There were reading lights and a night light, sufficient power points, in-cabin music channels, and journey commentaries broadcasted in the cabins.

My Platinum Service double cabin was spacious, almost twice the size of the Gold Service twin cabin, and more modern in design.

A train cabin with a two-seater couch with cushions. There are cupboards each side of the couch and two tables - one is in the middle of the cabin and one is attached to the cabin wall.

The Ghan Platinum Service double cabin

 

During the day, the Platinum Service double cabin was set up as a private lounge, having a comfortable lounge with cushions, a moveable table, and two ottomans. However, the cabin could no longer be described as spacious if the ottomans (stored under the table) were being utilised. At night, the Hospitality Attendant turned the lounge room into a bedroom with a luxurious double bed.

As with my Gold Service twin cabin, there were sufficient power points, in-cabin music channels, and journey commentaries broadcasted in the cabins. While unpacking was still not viable, there was more storage space in my Platinum Service cabin.

The private ensuite for both services warrants a separate mention.

The Gold Service ensuite was compact. It was, in truth, a toilet, shower, and handbasin in a closet. A curtain pulled around the showerhead prevents the toilet and basin from getting wet. Having said that, I did find it manageable, but you would never get two people in there.

The Platinum Service cabin had a full-sized ensuite; in fact, it was larger than my ensuite at home.

Both services provide complimentary Australian Appelles Apothecary toiletries. However, the bottles were larger in Platinum Service.

The Platinum Service cabin deserves the reputation of being luxurious. The Gold Service cabin, on the other hand, in my opinion, does not warrant a luxury label. Think XPT sleeper cabin without the bathroom closet!

Gold Service also offers single cabins, and Platinum Service has twin cabin options. However, I have not provided any details on these cabin types because I do not have first-hand knowledge of them.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: security

You can lock the cabin door when inside your Gold Service cabin. However, it is not possible to lock the door when you leave the cabin.

Platinum Service cabins are lockable inside and out with hotel-like key-card access.

Both services have in-cabin safes.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: lounge and restaurant

The Ghan has a dedicated lounge carriage (the Outback Explorer Lounge) and an exclusive restaurant carriage (the Queen Adelaide Restaurant) for Gold Service passengers.

A lounge train carriage with tables, leather and material seats and couches. People are sitting on the seats, and drinks are on the tables.

Gold Service Outback Explorer Lounge

 

The exclusive lounge and restaurant (the Platinum Club) for Platinum Service passengers were combined in the same carriage. The restaurant area comprised two-thirds of the carriage, leaving minimal space for lounge chairs to socialise with other passengers.

Gold Service’s Outback Explorer Lounge was the social hub of the train, and I found it to be more conducive to meeting and chatting with fellow passengers. Strangers played cards and board games, shared stories, and made new friends.

On the other hand, the setup of the Platinum Club carriage did not encourage passenger socialisation. If four people were chatting in the lounge area of the restaurant carriage, there was no space for anyone else, which I found quite isolating.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: meals

As mentioned above, all meals are included in the cost price.

Both Gold Service and Platinum Service provide hearty breakfasts and two-course lunches. However, Gold Service dinners are three-course affairs, whilst Platinum Service delivers four-course dinners. Did I really need that fourth course? Platinum Service also offers its guests an in-cabin continental breakfast on request.

I preferred the meals in Gold Service. I am conservative in my eating and enjoyed Gold Service’s choices. Unfortunately, I found the Platinum Service menus challenging. Not only could I not pronounce many menu items, but I found it challenging to decide what to eat because I did not know what I was ordering.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: off train experiences

Off Train Experiences included river cruises, cultural encounters, indigenous rock art tours, camel rides, and helicopter flights. All Off Train Experiences, including upgrade options, were available for all passengers regardless of service level.

The photo shows the end of a canyon overshadowed by towering red cliffs. Rocks, sand and water are evident in this section of the canyon. There are people sitting on the rocks.

Simpsons Gap Off Train Experience in Alice Springs

 

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: Hospitality Attendant

There is no denying the Hospitality Attendants on The Ghan perform multiple tasks. One minute they are directing you to your carriage at embarkation, assisting with luggage, or explaining the train’s operation and noting your selections for Off Train Experiences. The next time you see your Hospitality Assistant, they are serving your meals in the restaurant, drinks in the lounge, or accompanying you on off-train experiences.

I found the Hospitality Attendant in Platinum Service more attentive than that in Gold Service.

In Gold Service, the Hospitality Attendant introduced herself soon after I boarded. She explained the layout of my cabin and how the restaurant organises meals, noted my food allergy, and wrote down my selections for Off Train Experiences. Then I never saw her again except in the restaurant serving meals. Turndown service occurs while you are eating dinner. Luckily, I did not need her!

Platinum Service was a very different, more positive experience. My Hospitality Attendant still performed all the tasks of the Gold Service Hospitality Attendant. However, he was available and ensured my needs were met without being intrusive. Iced tea and biscuits waiting in my room upon my return from Off Train Experiences was a welcome addition. Would I have got this in Gold Service? Yes, if I had gone to the bar and ordered it, but in-cabin service did not exist.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: transfers

Journey Beyond does not provide transfer services for Gold Service passengers joining The Ghan in Adelaide or disembarking in Alice Springs. However, Gold Service does offer a complimentary shuttle bus service in Darwin to selected hotels in the city centre.

Complimentary private transfers are available for Platinum Service passengers at the beginning and end of their journey within 60 kilometres of the Adelaide, Alice Springs, and Darwin rail terminals. As it turned out, my Platinum Service transfer in Darwin was not private but a shared transfer with other Platinum Service passengers in a minivan.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: checked luggage allowance

The checked luggage allowance for Gold Service passengers is 60 kilograms for two bags, with a maximum of 30 kilograms per bag.

Platinum Service’s checked luggage allowance is 90 kilograms for three bags, with a maximum of 30 kilograms per bag.

Journey Beyond recommend you pack an overnight bag for use on the train.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: summary

The image is a compilation of three photos: a drink and biscuits on a table, a menu, and a train

Refreshments served in Platinum, Gold dinner menu, and The Ghan at sunrise

 

There is no getting away from the fact The Ghan is very expensive, whichever service (Gold or Platinum) you decide on for your journey.

Platinum Service offers more luxurious and private cabins, with added amenities and a higher personal service level than Gold Service. But was it worth almost double the cost? In short, this solo traveller says no!

The Gold Service twin cabin was more than adequate, even with its closet ensuite.

On a two-night journey, I found Platinum Services’ additional amenities unnecessary and not worth the higher fare. However, everyone’s preferences are different, and you should choose the travel experience that aligns with your individual needs and desires. For me, Gold Service won out big time over Platinum Service.

  • I did not want in-cabin breakfast but enjoyed eating breakfast with other passengers.
  • I did not need an extra course for dinner.
  • I was more than happy to forego champagne.
  • Refreshments waiting for me in my cabin upon return from an Off Train Experience was a nice touch in Platinum Service. Nonetheless, I preferred having a refreshing drink after an Off Train Experience in the Gold Service lounge carriage, where I could chat about our shared experience with other passengers.
  • I am not into taking a nightcap alone as I believe a nightcap is more enjoyable socially shared.
  • I frequented the Outback Explorer Lounge, the social hub of Gold Service, but felt uncomfortable and intrusive in the Platinum Club. I found Platinum Service quite lonely.

I felt Platinum Service in-cabin amenities (breakfast, refreshments, and nightcaps) promoted social isolation – something I was not looking for. Quite the opposite! As a solo traveller, I enjoy social opportunities to meet new people.

I admit the inability to lock the door when leaving my Gold Service cabin caused some initial concern. However, locking my valuables in the in-cabin safe and in my bag if it was too large for the safe, for example, my camera, eased my disquiet.

I like my luxuries and attentive, discreet staff, but these were not worth the additional cost of Platinum Service on The Ghan.

The Ghan Gold Service vs Platinum Service: recommendation

The Ghan luxury train certainly offers an unforgettable experience in Australia, but it comes at a price.

Not everyone who reads this post will agree with me, but it is my judgement that The Ghan offers the same overall services regardless of cabin class. The answer to the question of “which service is better” will entirely depend on individual preferences and what you wish to gain from your train journey. However, in my considered opinion, Platinum Service was not value for money.

Without hesitation, I wholeheartedly recommend travelling Gold Service on The Ghan luxury train in Australia.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2023.

 

If you were planning to travel on The Ghan, which service – Gold or Platinum – would you book and why? I hope this post helps you make that choice. Leave a comment.

 

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The image has two photos. One is of a train carriage with The Ghan sign on the outside. The other photo is of a lounge carriage on the Ghan train with chairs, tables and lounges.

The image is of two different cabins - Gold Service and Platinum Service - on The Ghan Train in Australia.

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.

 

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HOW TO SEE HORIZONTAL FALLS AND EPIC TIDES, AUSTRALIA

Take An Amazing Scenic Flight And Awesome Sea Safari   Northern Western Australia has some of the best unique experiences you will find in Australia. Air Kimberley’s Cygnet Bay Explorer…

Take An Amazing Scenic Flight And Awesome Sea Safari

 

Northern Western Australia has some of the best unique experiences you will find in Australia. Air Kimberley’s Cygnet Bay Explorer full-day tour covers several bucket list activities in the Kimberley region. Be prepared for a scenic flight over the Horizontal Waterfalls and the stunning Buccaneer Archipelago, a visit to a hatchery managed by the Bardi-Jawi people, a pearling industry discovery tour and a fast boat cruise amongst giant whirlpools and standing tidal waves in the world’s largest tropical tides. So, where am I taking you? Read on to discover and learn more about your next Australian adventure.

 

Over the past 12 months, I have tried twice to join a tour over and through Horizontal Falls in Western Australia. However, on both occasions, the company cancelled the tour. The first cancellation in 2021 was because the seaplanes could not take off due to low cloud cover. The second cancellation (June 2022) occurred when a fast boat had an accident going through the Horizontal Waterfalls, and all fast boat tours through the falls were temporarily suspended.

When I recently found myself in Broome again, and my second-attempted pre-booked Horizontal Falls tour was cancelled, I was resigned to my disappointment. However, one day nosing around the resort lobby, I came across an Air Kimberley brochure. I discovered they did a similar full-day tour that included a flyover of the Horizontal Falls and a sea safari, not through Horizontal Falls, as I had wanted, but out to the giant tides off the Kimberley coast.

The Air Kimberley tour cost, at $985.00, was slightly less than what I was to be refunded from the cancelled tour. I figured, what did I have to lose? And I wasn’t returning to Broome for a third attempt at the Horizontal Falls tour.

Air Kimberley’s tour price covered hotel transfers, flights, morning tea and lunch, and third-party tours at Ardyaloon Trochus Hatchery and Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm.

So, what did I find in that Air Kimberley brochure? Before I answer that question, you probably wonder why seeing Horizontal Falls was so important to me.

Last year, when organising my first ever trip to the Kimberley in northern Western Australia, Horizontal Falls was on my must-see list for several reasons.

  • Sir David Attenborough has described the falls as “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world”, and I thought I needed to see this unique natural attraction that deserved such high praise.
  • The Horizontal Falls are created by a rare ocean phenomenon where powerful, fast-moving 10- to 12-metre-high tidal currents squeeze through two narrow gorges at an astonishing rate, producing waterfalls turned on their side (literally, horizontal). I love waterfalls but have only seen ones with vertical drops. So, I knew I had to see this wonder for myself.
  • Horizontal Falls is in the Buccaneer Archipelago, an untouched region of more than 1,000 islands off the coast of Western Australia. These largely uninhabited islands are known for their rugged terrain, areas of rainforest, and pristine, white sand beaches – a landscape I was keen to photograph from the air even though it would seriously test my camera skills.
  • Horizontal Falls is remote, accessible only by air or boat. I find ‘remote’ appealing – the more difficult it is to get to see or do something, the more I want to go.
  • And lastly, seeing Horizontal Falls came highly recommended by friends and Facebook groups.

Did my flight over Horizontal Falls meet all my expectations? You will have to read on to find out.

Cygnet Bay Explorer

And now, back to my question about what I found in the Air Kimberley brochure.

I found, booked, and went on Air Kimberley’s Cygnet Bay Explorer full-day tour, leaving from Broome.

“Enjoy an adventure packed day experiencing the best of the Kimberley – Overfly the Horizontal Falls, Buccaneer Archipelago, visit Ardyaloon Community and the giant tides and shimmering pearls at Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm.”

While you can check out the details of this tour for yourself by clicking on the link, there were two very different events I was eager to experience – the scenic flight over Horizontal Falls and the sea safari out to the giant whirlpools. But I am getting ahead of myself. What did the tour entail?

I was picked up from my accommodation at 6.30 am and driven to Broome International Airport, where Air Kimberley is based. Four other people (two couples) joined me on the tour. After our flight safety briefing, we boarded a small aircraft (eight-seater, including the pilot) for the 2-hour flight up the Kimberley coast for our flight over the stunning Buccaneer Archipelago and Horizontal Falls.

The Buccaneer Archipelago is a group of 1,000 small islands covering 50 square kilometres, located at the head of King Sound near the Kimberley town of Derby.

The archipelago is a magnificent raw landscape that you can only truly appreciate from the air. While boat tours around the islands offer visits to the beautiful coves and beaches, you would not get the perspective given by a scenic flight of the vastness of all those islands that seem to go on forever.

I must admit, I was underwhelmed with Horizontal Falls. I had read so much about the power of the tides running between the cliffs, causing the water to appear like a horizontal waterfall, but ‘power’ was not evident from the plane. Instead, what I saw was more like Class 1 or 2 rapids.

I suspect the wonder of Horizontal Falls and the power of the tides are best experienced from a fast boat through the waterfalls rather than a scenic flyover.

When we landed at the Ardyaloon Trochus Hatchery & Aquaculture Centre, run by the Bardi-Jawi people on One Arm Point, I asked the pilot if we were not allowed to fly lower over Horizontal Falls. I thought lower would give a better ‘feel’ for the powerful tides. Apparently, there is a height pecking order, with helicopters flying at the lowest altitude, seaplanes next level up, and light aircraft (our plane) flying the highest.

When I got home and reviewed my photos more closely, I felt the image below revealed the power of the running tide more clearly than my eyes could discern. What do you think?

Close up aerial view of a horizontal waterfall

Can you ‘feel’ the power of the Horizontal Falls in this photo?

 

I had joined a guided tour of Ardyaloon Trochus Hatchery on a previous visit to Broome in 2021. However, on this occasion, morning tea of fruit salad, cake, and juice was provided by Air Kimberley.

From Long Arm Point, it was a short, six-minute flight to Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula, where the activities included the Pearl Discovery Tour and a Sea Safari. At Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, Air Kimberley’s involvement was limited to getting us to the pearl farm, seeing we joined the Pearl Discovery Tour, paying for lunch, ensuring we were on the fast boat for the Sea Safari, and flying us back to Broome.

Air Kimberley’s Cygnet Bay Explorer tour price included the tours at Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm.

Pearl Farm Discovery Tour

My previous visit to Broome in 2021 included the Pearl Farm Discovery Tour at the family-owned Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm. However, I continue to be fascinated by the history of pearling in the Kimberley.

Reading tip: If you are interested in learning more about a significant chapter in the Kimberley’s pearling industry, I recommend reading The White Divers of Broome by John Bailey, telling the true story of a fatal experiment.

The tour commenced with an information session on the history of Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm and the pearling industry in what appropriately appeared to be an old school classroom. A live pearl harvest followed the history lesson.

A pearl in an opened oyster

I took this photo of the harvested pearl on my previous visit to Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm

 

The tour concluded with an in-depth session on how pearls are graded.

The Pearl Farm Discovery tour was followed by lunch at the onsite restaurant.

Twice I lunched at the Cygnet Bay Homestead Restaurant with a tour group when the set menu was seafood. On both occasions, Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm was advised of my seafood allergy, and, on both occasions, this information seems to have been lost in translation. The outcome was eating a meal after everyone else had finished because they had nothing prepared for me. I found the restaurant’s forgetfulness disappointing.

Sea Safari

After lunch, we climbed aboard the fast boat for our Giant Tides Sea Safari. During this cruise, we would “feel the power of the world’s largest tropical tides with giant whirlpools and standing waves” created by millions of tonnes of water squeezing between the rocky islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago.

Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm writes about their Sea Safari tour:

“Feel the power of the world’s largest tropical tides as you cruise amongst the giant whirlpools and standing tidal waves. Venture into Escape Passage, recently described by scientists as the fastest ocean currents in the world!

The tides on this section of the Kimberley Coast are particularly large due to the area’s geography. When the sun and moon align on a spring tide, the ocean is pulled towards the north-west of WA and Indonesia, gathering speed as it reaches the shallow continental shelf and bottlenecking as it passes between Australia and Indonesia, creating the exhilarating whirlpools and standing waves we see on the tour.”

My photos can’t express the sense of adventure experienced and don’t do justice to all you see. The whirlpools are probably best viewed from the air.

The Sea Safari was an experience I find difficult to describe as there just don’t seem to be the right words to express how I felt as we powered through the whirlpools and standing waves created by the forceful tides. But let me try. It was a thrilling, exhilarating, exciting, fun, and awesome adventure. To best sum up my feelings, I was disappointed when it was time to return to land. I immediately wanted to go back out again, but there was a plane waiting for me to take me back to Broome.

Beware: You will get wet. How much so will depend on where you are sitting in the boat. Two young girls sitting at the front of the boat got drenched. I was sitting at the back of the boat directly in front of the driver and experienced what I would best describe as several large, fat rain drops.

The flight along the Kimberley coast back to Broome took us over the magnificent red cliffs of James Price Point, famous for its 130-million-year-old dinosaur footprints (but that’s another trip).

Aerial view of red cliffs meeting sand and sea. Forest lies behind the red cliffs.

Scenic flight with Air Kimberley over James Price Point

 

It was a long (approximately 11 hours), enjoyable, satisfying, and exhilarating day providing several unique experiences and so worth it. I can not fault Air Kimberley’s relaxed professionalism, guiding, and communication.

The tour was an excellent itinerary, well organised, kept on time without feeling rushed, and value for money. Without hesitation, I recommend Air Kimberley to readers.

Before our transfer back to our respective hotels, Air Kimberley presented each passenger with special gifts as mementos of our Kimberley adventure – a tour photo, a souvenir Passport & Tour Map to the Kimberley, an Air Kimberley stubby cooler, and a complimentary beer voucher from Matso’s Brewery in Broome. I am not letting out any secrets here, as Air Kimberley lists the gifts on their website.

 

In this post, I have shared my experience of Air Kimberley’s full-day Cygnet Bay Explorer tour up the Kimberley coast over the Horizontal Falls and 1,000-islands Buccaneer Archipelago and onward to a fantastic sea safari adventure in the world’s largest tropical tides. It was a chance meeting with a brochure that brought me to Air Kimberley – one that was to my benefit and yours.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2022.

 

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. Does Horizontal Falls deserve Sir David Attenborough’s description of “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world”?

 

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The image has two photos of aerial views of a horizontal waterfall and red cliffs meeting sand and sea.

 

An image with two photos. One is an aerial view of horizontal waterfalls and the other is a whirlpool in the sea.

 

Are you looking for more ideas on destination Western Australia? Then don’t miss these posts:

23 GREAT PHOTO SPOTS ON THE ROAD FROM PERTH TO BROOME, AUSTRALIA

7 TOP DAY TRIPS AND THINGS TO DO IN AND FROM PERTH, AUSTRALIA

15 PHOTOS TO INSPIRE YOU TO VISIT BROOME, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

SEE 7 BEAUTIFUL GORGES IN THE KIMBERLEY – the ultimate guide

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO 6 SAFE SWIMMING HOLES IN THE KIMBERLEY, AUSTRALIA

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.

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7 TOP DAY TRIPS AND THINGS TO DO IN AND FROM PERTH, AUSTRALIA

A visit to Perth, Australia, is a Journey of Discovery of Unique Things to Do.   Perth is the most isolated capital city in the world, with Adelaide, the nearest…

A visit to Perth, Australia, is a Journey of Discovery of Unique Things to Do.

 

Perth is the most isolated capital city in the world, with Adelaide, the nearest city, 2,104 kilometres away. Perhaps its isolation is part of its appeal. It certainly hasn’t limited what Perth has to offer the visitor for things to do in Perth and day trips from Perth – all unique to this beautiful city sitting on the Swan River. Discover, explore, and enjoy the world’s largest city park, the happiest animal on earth, a massive wave-shaped rock in the middle of nowhere, the largest dam mural in the world, one of the world’s biggest musical instruments, and more.

 

Perth, the capital city of Western Australia, is Australia’s fourth largest city by population. With a population of just over two million, Perth is small enough to feel personal; visiting the city feels like visiting family. I felt I was immersing myself in a community rather than losing myself in an urban jungle. Perth’s ranking as the sixth most liveable city in the world in 2021 was well deserved.

Perth enjoys more hours of sunshine than any other Australian capital city – reason enough to visit. Other reasons why you should visit Perth are:

  • It has a laid-back, relaxed, and welcoming vibe.
  • Being mostly flat, it is easy to walk around.
  • It is a spacious city where you don’t feel hemmed in.
  • As a solo traveller, I always felt safe.
  • Swim in the sapphire blue ocean and lay on beautiful white sand beaches.

My first and lasting impression of Perth is a city of green space, public sculptures, and beautiful architecture.

I stayed ten days in Perth in May 2022. The day trip destinations and things to do suggested in this post are from my own experience as a solo traveller to Perth. Read on to discover seven top day trips and things to do in and from Perth or jump straight to a specific activity.

Take a Perth and Fremantle city tour

When I visit a city I haven’t been to, I like to take an escorted city tour. Whether by foot or bus, a city tour is an excellent way to orientate to the city and check out the places I would like to revisit in more detail.

On my first full day in Perth, I took the Half Day Morning Perth and Fremantle City Explorer with Australian Pinnacle Tours. The drive around the city took us past the famous Western Australian Cricket Ground (WACA) and Optus Stadium. I was particularly taken with the architecture of Matagarup Bridge crossing the Swan River from East Perth to Optus Stadium and knew I would be back to photograph the bridge.

The tour also took in a drive through the more affluent area of Perth known as Millionaire’s Row, past Cottesloe Beach on the Indian Ocean, and the University of Western Australia. However, the highlights for me were the 45-minute stop at Kings Park and the one hour we had to explore Fremantle.

I couldn’t get enough of the spectacular river and city views at Kings Park and knew I would be back for more.

A picture of a view of city buildings on the shore of a river and with shrubs in the foreground

View of Perth City and the Swan River from Kings Park

 

While there, I found the meeting place for free guided walks in the park, operating daily at 10 am and 1.00 pm. I gathered more information at the Visitor Information Centre in the park and put the walk on my ‘must do’ list for another day.

After leaving Kings Park, we headed to the port city of Fremantle. With an hour to explore, I couldn’t resist the historic Fremantle Markets, especially as, by now, I was hungry. The markets have been operating in this heritage-listed building for over 100 years. Focused on food, I found plenty of culturally diverse options for lunch, but I was drawn to the colourful displays rendered by the fruit and vegetable stalls.

People buying and selling fruit and vegetables laid out in stalls

Fruit and vegetable stalls in Fremantle Markets

 

I particularly liked this tour because it wasn’t just driving around Perth and Fremantle, but we left the bus for a decent amount of time at strategic points of interest.

While I saw much more of Perth throughout my ten-day stay, I didn’t do Fremantle justice, only visiting again after this tour to catch the ferry to Rottnest Island and to have lunch with friends I met on the APT Kimberley tour last year. I would have liked to explore the port city in more depth, which is only half an hour from Perth by train and take a tour of the prison. With an area known as ‘Cappuccino Street’, it would seem Fremantle has a better coffee culture than Perth – definitely worth discovering.

Photograph a massive mural on a dam wall

A painting of several people on a dam wall

The magnificent Wellington Dam mural by Guido van Helton

 

When I first saw photos of Guido van Helton’s mural on Wellington Dam on Facebook over 12 months ago, I knew that if I ever got to Perth, I would have to see it for myself, and I wasn’t disappointed. Magnificent! The artwork is one impressive mural, and Guido is one of my favourite artists. [Check out his painted silos at Brim in Victoria and Portland in New South Wales.]

The mural covering 8,000 square metres of the Wellington Dam wall is the largest dam mural in the world. The mural took Guido van Helton, an internationally renowned Australian artist, four months to complete (in February 2021), with Guido camping in the bush for the duration. As with Guido’s silo artworks, local stories, and photographs inspired the Wellington Dam mural. Titled “Reflections”, the mural features images of two migrant workers who worked on the dam build, kids playing in the sand, Aboriginal children playing in the water and a boy with a fish, a dad with two kids, and, finally, an Aboriginal couple.

Wellington Dam is in Wellington National Park, just west of the town of Collie, about two hours from Perth. Rather than hire a car, I took a day trip to Wellington Dam with Australian Pinnacle Tours. The tour included morning tea at Harvey Cheese with a cheese-making demonstration, Wellington Dam, a two-course lunch at Dardanup Tavern (which was delicious), a wine tasting at St. Aidan winery, and a stop at Gnomesville before returning to Perth.

We spent over an hour at Wellington Dam, where I could view and photograph the mural from the specifically installed lookout and walk down to the dam’s base for more photographs.

A painting of children and a man on a dam wall

A section of the Wellington Dam mural by Guido van Helton

 

A painting of children on a dam wall

A section of the Wellington Dam mural by Guido van Helton

 

About Gnomesville

A photo of hundreds of garden gnomes on the ground and in the trees

A small section of Gnomesville

 

Gnomesville has to be seen to be believed. At the roundabout where Wellington Mill Road and Ferguson Road converge (about a 15 minutes drive from Dardanup) and extending along a creek and into the bush, you will find thousands of garden gnomes – over 10,000 at the last count. Legend has it that the first gnome was placed at the site in the 1990s.

Myths surround the creation of Gnomesville – that a single garden gnome appeared at the site and others followed suit or that the workers working on the roundabout created a Gnome Cricket Game and others joined in. The latter seems more fascicle than the former. However, according to the tour bus driver, the story of the creation of Gnomesville goes something like this:

A lady phoned a Perth radio station to say she had many gnomes she wanted to give to a good home, but no one wanted them. Other people then phoned in to say they had the same problem. A farmer, hearing about this, donated land for a home for the gnomes. And people have been leaving gnomes ever since. However Gnomesville started, a tourist attraction was born.

Most of the people on the bus tour had brought a gnome to leave at Gnomesville. I hadn’t, as I knew nothing about Gnomesville and obviously didn’t read the tour itinerary information to be curious enough to learn about it beforehand.

When I told my sister about Gnomesville, she thought it was great fun. Me? I found it bizarre and a bit tacky. Let me know what you think.

Walk over Matagarup Bridge

A black and white steel arched suspension bridge with a stadium behind it

Matagarup Bridge with Optus Stadium in the background

 

On the Perth city tour, I took a liking to the architectural style of Matagarup Bridge and wanted a closer look. So, catching the Blue and then the Red CAT buses (see ‘Getting around Perth’ below for more information), I made my way to Matagarup Bridge on the East Perth side of the Swan River.

Matagarup Bridge (completed in 2018) is a suspension, pedestrian-only bridge crossing over the Swan River from East Perth to Optus Stadium on the Burswood Peninsula. The arches are said to represent a pair of flying black and white swans, with the bridge arches representing the wishbones, a swimming dolphin, or the Wagyl, a water serpent of significant importance to the local Noongar culture – symbolising a coming together of diverse cultures.

Symbolism aside, Matagarup Bridge is a beautiful piece of architecture. You be the judge.

An information panel in the middle of the bridge provides building statistics and information on the design, name, lighting, and more.

A photo of a black and white arched suspension bridge

Matagarup Bridge

 

According to the Perth and Fremantle City Tour bus driver, the bridge was built to get people across the Swan River from East Perth to Optus Stadium. Now, there’s a dedication to football for you!

While I had only set out to photograph and walk across Matagarup Bridge, you can climb the bridge to an open-air viewing platform 72 metres above the river. From the viewing platform, you can ride the 400-metre-long zipline to Burswood Peninsula, reaching speeds of 75 kilometres per hour. The zipline looked like fun. If I had been with someone to share the experience with, I would not have hesitated to do it.

People on a zipline over a metal structure

Zipline from Matagarup Bridge

 

Take a free guided walk in Kings Park and Botanic Garden

A photo of a tree-lined street

Fraser Avenue, Kings Park

 

At 400 hectares, Kings Park is the world’s largest inner-city park – larger even than New York’s Central Park, which is 370 hectares. With spectacular views of Perth City and the Swan River, botanic gardens, walking and cycling paths, a tree top walkway, memorials, cafe, picnic and bar-b-que areas, children’s play area, and more, it is easy to understand why Kings Park sees over six million visitors a year.

Curved silver metal sculpture overhanging a path and surrounded on two sides by shrubs

Sculpture and mosaic at the entrance to the Western Australia Botanic Garden in Kings Park

 

The 90-minute free guided walk in the park is run by volunteers twice daily at 10.00 am and 1.00 pm and takes you through several sections of the wonderful 17-hectare Western Australia Botanic Garden, located within Kings Park.

Western Australia is home to half of Australia’s 25,000 plant species, most of which are found nowhere else on earth. The Western Australia Botanic Garden proudly showcases over 3,000 species of Western Australia’s unique flora in stunning garden displays.

While I am a terrible gardener (I can’t keep anything alive), I get a lot of enjoyment out of walking around gardens. There are interpretive signboards throughout the Botanic Garden. But I didn’t need those as my guide was a wealth of information on the numerous gardens we walked past, each dedicated to a specific region of Western Australia, thereby increasing my knowledge of Australian plants and enhancing my enjoyment.

Red flowers and pods on a red flowering gum tree

Red flowering gum endemic to Western Australia

 

The guided walk in the park included walking the 620-metre long Lotterywest Federation Walkway within the Botanic Garden – a combination of pathways, an elevated walkway in the treetops, and a glass bridge allowing uninterrupted views of the valley floor 16 metres below. The walkway’s highest point is on the glass bridge, providing a panorama of the Swan and Canning Rivers. The elevated section of the Lotterywest Federation Walkway is open daily from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm and is accessible by wheelchair.

A man standing on a metal bridge with glass sides that winds through the treetops

Lotterywest Federation Walkway’s glass bridge in the treetops

 

Kings Park and Western Australia Botanic Garden are free to enter and open 24 hours a day. A digital visitor map is available on the Botanic Garden and Parks Authority website. Printable versions are also available on the same website but will no longer be updated.

There are several means of getting to Kings Park:

  • Kings Park is an easy 1.5 kilometres from Perth CBD.
  • There are two options here, both free. Option 1 > Transperth Bus #935 travels from St George Terrace (Perth’s CBD) into Kings Park. This service operates every 10 minutes on weekdays and 15 minutes on weekends and is free for passengers travelling from the CBD to Kings Park. Option 2 > The Blue CAT Bus travels between Perth Busport and Kings Park via Perth Station and Elizabeth Quay Bus Station. The service is free and runs every 15 minutes. See ‘Getting around Perth’ below for more information on CAT buses.
  • Free parking is available only for park visitors. You are not allowed to park your vehicle and then leave Kings Park boundaries by any other means (on foot, by bus, or in another vehicle).

View a tsunami of a rock formation

A long rock formation with a man standing at its base that looks like an ocean wave

Wave Rock

 

At 15 metres high, Wave Rock towers over you like a tsunami ready to crash on the landscape. This extraordinary natural granite rock formation shaped like an ocean wave (but not in the ocean) was formed more than 2700 million years ago but only ‘discovered’ in the 1960s.

Wave Rock is about four kilometres from the small wheatbelt town of Hyden, but first, you must get to Hyden, which is a four-hour drive from Perth. Rather than drive myself, I decided to travel to Wave Rock in a more relaxed manner and go with Australian Pinnacle Tours on their full day Wave Rock, York, Aboriginal Culture and Seasonal Wildflowers tour.

Note: September is the best month in Western Australia to see wildflowers, and I was there at the end of June and saw no wildflowers.

Our first stop on the way to Wave Rock was in the town of York, where we had enough time for a coffee and a stroll along the main street. Situated on the Avon River and established in 1831, York is the oldest inland town in Western Australia. It is a pretty town renowned for its heritage buildings and colonial architecture lining the main street, and I couldn’t resist the old-fashioned lolly shop.

Having arrived in Hyden, we stopped at Hippos Yawn for a photo stop before lunch.

Hippos Yawn is a 12.6-metre-tall rock formation said to resemble a yawning hippopotamus. You can walk to Hippos Yawn from the Wave Rock car park on a flat, easy 1.7-kilometre return path.

A large rock that looks like a hippo yawning

Hippos Yawn

 

Australian Pinnacle Tours organised lunch at the Wildflower Shoppe Cafe in Hyden. Unfortunately, the buffet chicken and rice were disappointing.

After lunch, we visited Mulka’s Cave to view Aboriginal rock art and handprints significant to the Nyoongar people. In Mulka’s Cave’s three chambers, 452 handprints and paintings have been recorded. Legend has it that the handprints are those of Mulka the Terrible (an Aboriginal evil spirit) who was known as a murderer and cannibal and lived in the Mulka Cave. The tribe eventually killed him after he killed his mother for scolding him for eating children.

Several human handprints on a cave rock face

Aboriginal rock art (handprints) in Mulka’s Cave

 

Wave Rock is a unique and beautiful rock formation with its wave-like shape caused by the water below ground before the rock was exposed by erosion. The ‘wave’ is even more accentuated by the vertical orange, brown, yellow and grey streaks that stain the surface. The colours in Wave Rock, created by water runoff reacting with the minerals in the rock, are magnificent, and even more so when the sunlight hits the rock.

A low stone wall on top of Wave Rock was built by the Water Authority in 1951 to channel water into the Hyden Reservoir. Initially used as an emergency water supply for livestock, it became the town water supply for Hyden in the early 1960s. It is still used for this purpose but is now supplemented by a larger dam out at The Humps.

We had 60 minutes at Wave Rock which was plenty of time to walk along the 110 metres rock face and the top of the rock and to grab an ice cream at the caravan park store adjacent to Wave Rock before boarding the bus for the drive back to Perth.

A long rock formation with flora in the foreground that looks like an ocean wave

Wave Rock

 

Explore Rottnest Island

Rottnest Island is a major tourist attraction with over 500,000 visitors a year and is famous for its native quokka population, said to be the happiest animal on earth. So, I thought I better see for myself what all the hype is about.

Dosed up with sea sickness tablets, I caught the train to Fremantle, from where I took the 9.00 am ferry to Rottnest Island – a 30-minute trip across the Indian Ocean.

Quokkas are native to Rottnest Island but also, less commonly, found on mainland Western Australia. They are found nowhere else on earth. They are also known as the short-tailed scrub wallaby and are about the size of a domestic cat. In my opinion, they look like a cross between a large rat and a small wallaby. I can understand why the Dutch sailors who first landed on Rottnest Island reported to their captain that the island was infested with large rats and named it Rottenest Island (“Rat’s Nest Island” in English). The ‘e’ was later dropped.

A photo of a quokka

A quokka on Rottnest Island

 

Quokkas are mainly nocturnal animals, but tourism on Rottnest Island seems to have flipped their internal clock as they were everywhere around the cafes scavenging food. And no, I did not take a selfie with a quokka – apparently, this is THE thing to do on Rottnest Island!

Rottnest Island is 11 kilometres long and 4.5 kilometres wide at its widest point. Locals describe the island as a favourite holiday destination for Western Australians because of its pristine beaches ideal for swimming, beautiful bays to explore, coral reefs and shipwrecks to snorkel around, and cycle paths (cars are not allowed on the island) and walking tracks.

A photo of a sapphire blue ocean and a beach surrounded by rocks on three sides

Fish Hook Bay, Rottnest Island

 

My visit to Rottnest Island was organised through SeaLink, taking their Rottnest Bayseeker Package. The package included the return ferry with Sealink WA and a 90-minute bus tour of the island, disembarking briefly at a couple of viewpoints around the island. With my bus tour not until 1.45 pm and arriving off the ferry at about 9.45 am, I had several hours to kill. To fill in my time between arrival and the bus tour, I checked out the shops at Thomson Bay, the island’s central hub and referred to as The Settlement, had lunch in one cafe and coffee and cake in another, went for a walk, and visited Wadjemup Museum.

Wadjemup Museum

If you want to learn about Rottnest Island’s unique and diverse history, including its dark history as a penal settlement for Aboriginal prisoners, visiting the Wadjemup Museum is a must. The museum is a delight to explore as it is laid out in easy-to-follow themes, including cultural connections, early exploration, Aboriginal incarceration, and milestones such as how the island was used as internment camps in World War l and ll and as a COVID-19 quarantine station in 2020. A theatrette, audio interactions, an interactive touchscreen for kids, and outdoor sculptures complete your museum experience.

A photo of various sculptures outside on plinths

Wadjemup Museum outdoor sculptures

 

I enjoyed looking through Wadjemup Museum, finding it thought-provoking and engaging. Should you be on Rottnest Island, I recommend visiting the museum.

The museum is in the Old Mill and Hay Store behind the Rottnest Bakery and General Store in Thomson Bay Settlement. Opening hours are 10.00 am to 3.30 pm daily. Entry to the museum is by donation.

While I liked the Wadjemup Museum experience, I was, on the whole, disappointed with my visit to Rottnest Island and, frankly, bored. At one point, I asked myself why I was there. My disappointment stemmed from too much time around Thomson Bay Settlement waiting for the bus tour and a bus tour that made too few stops around the island with minimal time at each of those stops (never a good combination for a keen photographer). In hindsight, I would have been better off taking the Rottnest Express ferry from Barrack Street Wharf over to the island and then using Rottnest Island’s Hop On / Hop Off Bus to explore the island on my own, at my pace.

Chime a massive bell in The Bell Tower

A glass tower with other buildings behind it

The iconic Bell Tower

 

The distinctive design of the towering glass spire of The Bell Tower (resulting from an architectural competition and the world’s only bell tower) has become an icon for Perth and Western Australia. The Bell Tower was custom built to house the twelve historic 18th century Bells of St Martin-in-the-Field (one of London’s most famous churches) and five specially cast bells gifted to the people of Western Australia in 1988 in commemoration of Australia’s bicentenary. The Western Australian Government commissioned a sixth new bell to mark the second millennium, making a total of 18 bells in The Bell Tower.

Eighteen cast bells with rope pull wheels

Bells of St Martin’s

 

The Bell Tower, located in Barrack Square, is one of the largest musical instruments in the world and a unique, interactive Perth tourist attraction. Open Thursday to Sunday from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm, with the last entry at 3.45 pm. Tickets can be purchased online or directly at the Bell Tower.

A General Entry ticket gives you access to the Bell Tower’s six levels on a self-guided tour, with the opportunity to see the St Martin bells ring by the professional bell ringers if you time your visit between 12.00 pm and 1.00 pm on a Thursday or Sunday. The General Entry ticket does not include chiming the bells yourself.

Level 6 is the open-air Observation Deck, where you get stunning views of the Swan River and Perth City.

I chose the 45-minute ‘Bell Tower Experience’ tour because I wanted more than just to learn about the history of The Bell Tower and the famous royal bells. I wanted to step behind the scenes with access to the Bell Tower ringing chamber to chime the historic bells, and I have the certificate to prove I chimed a bell. I learnt that chiming a bell is not just a matter of pulling the rope, but it is about how the rope is pulled. I also discovered how hard it is to pull the rope to make a sound from the bell.

Don’t be disappointed; buy your ticket ahead of your preferred visit time.

For $35.00, couples can announce their everlasting love to the world with an engraved Love Lock and attach it to the chain fence at the entrance to The Bell Tower.

Five rows of love locks attached to chains

Chain of Love Locks at the Bell Tower

 

Australian Pinnacle Tours

You will have noticed I used Australian Pinnacle Tours on serval occasions for sightseeing trips in Perth and beyond. Their tours were well organised with appropriate timing at each stop to explore, discover and take heaps of photos, and the drivers a wealth of information. My only suggestion to Australian Pinnacle Tours is to change the lunch venue on the Wave Rock tour.

Australian Pinnacle Tours’ Perth office in Barrack Square was three doors from where I was staying. When I saw a poster in their window for a tour to Wellington Dam (a place I was eager to visit for its massive dam wall mural), which fitted in with the dated I was in Perth, I immediately went in to chat with the staff. I found the staff above and beyond helpful. Perhaps it also helps to have all your tours booked with one company? The staff rearranged my booked tours to enable me to join the Wellington Dam tour, they looked up the weather to ascertain which days would be best for which tours, and they gave me suggestions as to the best spots to take photos of the mural on the dam wall.

When Australian Pinnacle Tours cancelled my Margaret River tour due to not being able to get a driver because of COVID-19 depleting driver numbers, staff explored every possible avenue available to them to get me on the tour another day. Unfortunately, it was not to be, giving me another reason to return to Perth.

I can’t thank the Australian Pinnacle Tours staff enough for their undivided help and attention, friendliness and professionalism. I highly recommend doing business with Australian Pinnacle Tours.

Getting around Perth

In moving around Perth, I walked (Perth is easy to walk around) and used CAT buses. Transperth’s CAT (Central Area Transit) buses operate in the Perth CBD, Fremantle, and Joondalup. They are free and frequent and use a colour-coding system in each area to identify the different routes. You may get off and on them as often as you like without paying a fare.

Click HERE for CAT route maps and timetables, clicking on the PDF symbol next to the relevant timetable.

On two occasions, I needed to get to Fremantle, and I used the train at those times – a 30-minute ride from Perth Railway Station, leaving from Platform 7. Good to know when purchasing a train ticket: Fremantle is in Zone 2 from Perth. A ‘one-way’ ticket is good for one hour, and if returning more than one hour later, you must purchase a Day Pass.

Where I stayed

A photo of a large spacious hotel room with floor to ceiling windows, king bed, couch, and desk

My room for 10 days in the Doubletree by Hilton Perth Waterfront

 

While in Perth, I stayed at Doubletree by Hilton Perth Waterfront at 1 Barrack Square. I had a deluxe room with a king bed and panoramic river view. Being situated on the corner of the building on the 17th floor with large windows all around, I had fabulous views of the Swan River and Perth City.

The room was light, spacious, and comfortable, and I never tired of the views. It had everything I needed for a 9-night stay, except a microwave, and a microwave would have been useful given the length of my stay. When seeking information, I found the hotel reception staff helpful and knowledgeable.

I first visited Perth in 1981 on my way back to Namibia, where I was living at the time. It has taken me 41 years to return, and I certainly will not leave my next visit for so long as Perth has much more for me to discover, explore and enjoy.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2022.

 

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. Is Perth on your bucket list as my return is on mine?

 

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A photo of a painting of people on a dam wall plus a photo of a city with new and colonial buildings

A photo of a beach plus a photo of a bridge

 

Are you looking for more ideas on destination Western Australia? Then don’t miss these posts:

HOW TO SEE HORIZONTAL FALLS AND EPIC TIDES, AUSTRALIA

23 GREAT PHOTO SPOTS ON THE ROAD FROM PERTH TO BROOME, AUSTRALIA

15 PHOTOS TO INSPIRE YOU TO VISIT BROOME, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

SEE 7 BEAUTIFUL GORGES IN THE KIMBERLEY – the ultimate guide

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO 6 SAFE SWIMMING HOLES IN THE KIMBERLEY, AUSTRALIA

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.

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ENJOY A WONDERFUL HIGH TEA ON A DEDICATED YARRA RIVER CRUISE [UPDATED 2022]

Melbourne’s Best High Tea On The River.   High tea is always a special event. Combine that with a river cruise past Melbourne’s skyline, and you have something unique and…

Melbourne’s Best High Tea On The River.

 

High tea is always a special event. Combine that with a river cruise past Melbourne’s skyline, and you have something unique and truly memorable. Read on to learn where, how, and what you can experience high tea on the Yarra River.

 

I love having high tea and have indulged in a few worldwide. It always makes me feel pampered.

I love river cruises and find them incredibly relaxing. Having been on 15 cruises, I admit I am addicted to river cruises.

Bring the two together and I have an experience made in heaven.

What is high tea?

As offered by luxury hotels worldwide, high tea is, historically and traditionally, afternoon tea.

If we are going to be correct, what we call high tea – finger sandwiches, savoury and sweet pastries, cakes, and scones with jam and cream – is afternoon tea which became a tradition among the British upper class in the mid-19th century. It was a social event of a light meal of bite-sized food and never meant to replace dinner. Whereas, historically, high tea was a working-class evening meal consisting of hearty dishes of meat and vegetables served at the end of the working day.

Why do we call it high tea? Because it sounds fancier and means luxury hotels and the like that offer high tea can attract tourists.

Whether called high tea or afternoon tea, it’s all the same to me, and I will continue to seek it out wherever I travel. It’s the socialisation and food itself I seek, not the name.

A special occasion

The second Sunday in May is Mother’s Day in Australia. What better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than to spend it with my daughter? Her choice of celebration in 2019 showed just how well she knows me. My Mother’s Day treat that year was a high tea river cruise on Melbourne’s Yarra River.

Magic Charters in Melbourne operates the high tea cruise on the Yarra River. The two-hour cruise sails from Victoria Harbour, Docklands to Williamstown, Hobson Bay (return) on selected Sundays from 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm throughout the year. Check their website for details and available dates.

Boarding was done incredibly efficiently by the crew. At the gangway, we gave our booking name, were given a table number, and off we went. Our table was upstairs, and while the boat holds up to 130 people, we were not crowded, with plenty of space between tables. I had held concerns that we might be required to share a table with strangers, and I did not want to do this as I just wanted to spend the time exclusively with my daughter. But tables were set for two, three and four people, with larger groups also accommodated.

High tea was catered for inside the boat, allowing for all weather conditions. However, floor to ceiling glass walls provided uninterrupted views as we sailed the Yarra River. There was also the option to venture outside on one of the three decks.

The tables were set with white linen tablecloths and napkins, ceramic crockery, water and glasses, silver cutlery, and finished with a red rose. It all felt very posh and added to my feeling of being pampered.

Our high tea was a relaxed experience, and the crew were efficient, friendly, and attentive. We even had the option to help the captain sail the boat – a spacious catamaran.

The serving of food was well-paced throughout the cruise. Magic Charters were not stingy over the amount of food, and all that was provided was delicious.

Leaving Victoria Harbour, you cruise under Bolte Bridge and historic West Gate Bridge, passing Melbourne’s industrial area before arriving at riverside parkland and fabulous views of Melbourne’s city skyline.

City buildings with a river in the foreground and a dark, cloudy sky

Melbourne city skyline from the Yarra River under a moody sky

 

High tea menu

As soon as we were seated, we were offered sparkling white wine, which flowed throughout the cruise. Orange juice was an available alternative.

Tiered plates of hot and cold savouries were the first foods to appear on our table, consisting of finger sandwiches, rolls, pies, tarts and arancini balls.

The savoury menu was followed by tiered plates filled with warm scones, jam, and cream (plenty of cream) on the lower tier and various deserts on the top plated level. Deserts included tubs of panna cotta with raspberries, macaroons, chocolate brownies and cupcakes.

A plate of mini tarts, pies, and arancini balls.

High tea savoury menu (May 2019)

 

A plate of cupcakes, biscuits, chocolate brownies, and tubs of pan cotta with raspberries.

High tea sweet menu (May 2019)

 

Tea and coffee were on offer continuously throughout the cruise.

Magic Charters can cater to some special dietary requirements, such as gluten-free and dairy-free. It is essential to advise them of your special dietary requirements when booking.

A note on cost

Magic Charters’ two-hour high tea cruise costs $118.00 per adult. However, booking Magic Charters’ high tea cruise, High Tea On The Sea, directly through their website reduces the price to $79.00 per adult, offering value for money.

Should you have a Sunday afternoon free in Melbourne, I recommend adding the high tea river cruise with Magic Charters to your itinerary for something different to do or plan for that special event, such as a birthday or Mother’s Day. This Melbourne high tea cruise is worth the experience.

 

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in May 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. Photos by Meg Speak.

 

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. High tea or afternoon tea? If both were advertised on the same page at different venues, which would you be drawn to?

 

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A Pinterest pin with two images. One image shows a city skyline taken from a river with a dark, cloudy sky. The second image shows a variety of cakes on a plate, set on a table with a white linen tablecloth.

The image has two photos. One is of pies and tarts on a plate. The other image is of different cakes.

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.

 

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OLD BEECHWORTH GAOL GUIDED TOUR – An Authentic and Educational Step Back in Time

Old Beechworth Gaol – A Horrible History Tour.   The Old Beechworth Gaol guided tour is much more than a walk through a heritage-listed building. It is the perfect way…

Old Beechworth Gaol – A Horrible History Tour.

 

The Old Beechworth Gaol guided tour is much more than a walk through a heritage-listed building. It is the perfect way to explore the gaol and have history come alive. Beechworth Gaol is a time capsule that offers an authentic and educational look into the past. Visit the cells that housed notorious bushrangers, learn about convict life, and uncover some of the gaol’s darker history. Step inside and go back in time with an expert guide.

 

Beechworth is North East Victoria’s best-preserved gold rush town, leaving a legacy of colonial architecture that boasts 32 heritage-listed buildings. Old Beechworth Gaol is one of those buildings, and it is heritage-listed by the National Trust for its historical, architectural, and archeological significance to the state of Victoria.

Getting there

A short drive from Albury (45 kilometres), Beechworth is in my backyard.

For those living further afield, Beechworth is a 3-hour drive northeast of Melbourne (284 kilometres), 4 hours southwest of Canberra (391 kilometres), and about 6 hours southwest from Sydney (593 kilometres).

Don’t have a car? From Melbourne, Canberra, and Sydney, take a train to Wangaratta and then the bus to Beechworth on Wangaratta Coachlines.

Old Beechworth Gaol is located on the corner of Williams Street and Ford Street, Beechworth.

Tours of Old Beechworth Gaol operate daily at 11.00 am and 1.00 pm and take about one hour. You can purchase your guided tour tickets at the Old Beechworth Gaol Cafe located in the gaol wall near the main gates. Alternatively, you can book your tickets in advance online. Please check their Facebook page, The Old Beechworth Gaol, for updates on tours.

Our guided tour of old Beechworth Gaol started with a double vaccination status check. Walking through the main gates, the courtyard provided a venue for Daniel, our tour guide, to give us an overview of the history of Beechworth gaol.

  • Taking approximately six years to build, Beechworth Gaol was opened in 1864 and initially housed men and women.
  • The outer stone walls are granite.
  • The razor wire on top of the gaol’s walls replaced the original barbed wire.
  • The current iron gates replaced the original wooden gates in 1879 when there was a suspected prison outbreak.
  • Beechworth Gaol was a medium-security prison.
  • The prison has a history spanning 140 years, closing in 2004.

From the courtyard, our tour took us to the hard labour yard where male prisoners were put to work crushing granite rocks into gravel for roads and footpaths. The guards in the towers overseeing the hard labour yard worked 12-hour shifts.

A painting on a brick wall of a man in metal armour and helmet with a gun in each hand. Also painted is a man with very muscly arms and chest.

The mural in the hard labour yard painted by the inmate, Woodsie

 

Moving into the cell blocks was like entering a time capsule, where time has stood still since the prison’s closure in 2004. The feeling of being locked in time was confirmed by Daniel when he advised the cells have not been touched since 2004.

A prion cell in an old gaol with toilet, hand basin, bench, cupboard, and iron single bed.

A cell on old Beechworth Gaol – a time capsule

 

In the men’s cellblock, the gallows with the hangman’s noose was visible on death row – the top floor of the men’s cellblock. Eight men were executed in Beechworth Gaol between 1865 and 1881, and they are buried in unmarked graves in the exercise yard against the western wall.

A prison cell block with open doors to cells on the lower floor and gallows and hangman's noose on the upper floor.

The gallows and hangman’s noose on death row in the men’s cellblock

 

Daniel regaled us with stories of Ned Kelly’s misadventures (murder, assault, theft, and armed robbery) that landed him in Beechworth Gaol. Daniel was an entertaining storyteller. See below for details of who was Ned Kelly and his connection to Beechworth Gaol.

An image of four dummies wearing metal body armour and helmets

Effigies of Ned Kelly and the Kelly gang

 

In the women’s cellblock, cell 10 was the designated mother’s cell with its two doors. One door (the front door) led into the cellblock, and a guard could open the back door to allow the mother to let her children outside to play. Daniel explained that the children were not prisoners but were locked up with their mother.

A prison cell with front and back doors

Cell 10 – the mother’s cell with its double doors

 

At the end of the women’s cellblock is the solitary confinement cell where a prisoner was locked in the cell 23 hours a day. The prisoner was allowed outside in a caged area for one hour a day.

A large cage within a grassed and walled area.

The prisoner solitary confinement exercise cage

 

Our final tour stop was the exercise yard, the burial site of the executed men. An empty swimming pool dominates this lawned area.

Image of a lawned area with empty swimming pool, surrounded by stone walls with razor wire and overlooked by a watch tower.

Old Beechworth Gaol and the Ned Kelly connection

Ned Kelly was Australia’s most notorious bushranger and known for wearing a suit of iron armour during his final shootout with police. He was immortalised in the 1970 Ned Kelly movie starring Mick Jagger in the title role.

For those not familiar with Australian colonial history, escaped convicts who used the bush to hide from authorities were the original bushrangers. By the 1820s, the term had evolved to refer to those who took up armed robbery as a way of life, using the bush as their base.

Ned Kelly first became intimately acquainted with the inside of Beechworth Gaol at the age of about 13. Over the ensuing years, he became more familiar with the gaol on at least two other occasions.

Daniel was a wealth of information about Ned Kelly and his time spent in Beechworth Gaol. He held our undivided attention when telling of Ned’s imprisonment for lewd behaviour and assault when he was 16 years old. According to Daniel, Ned sent a package to a lady containing a man’s testicles and later assaulted her husband. There is great truth in the story as Ned did indeed send testicles to the lady. However, depending on your resource will determine the nature of the testicles. A man’s testicles, a calf’s testicles, two calves’ testicles – believe what you will. I suspect the story has grown legs.

For the lewd behaviour and assault crimes, Ned Kelly received 6 or 8 months (once again, depending on your resource) imprisonment in Beechworth Gaol.

Time for lunch

Whether you do the old Beechworth Gaol guided tour in the morning or afternoon, you must eat in Beechworth.

You are spoiled for choice for places to eat in Beechworth. I have eaten at several places and never had a bad meal.

On the day of my old Beechworth Goal tour, I ate at the Beechworth Pantry Gourmet Delicatessen & Coffee Shop on Ford Street. I ordered the Asparagus, Leek and Cheese Quiche with apple and Pear Salad and couldn’t resist the Hazelnut Meringue with Berries and Cream. I left the cafe very satisfied and with bars of fruit nougat in hand for later enjoyment.

My final review

If you plan to visit Beechworth, do yourself a favour and take a step back in time with a guided tour of old Beechworth Gaol. The tour provides all ages with an authentic and educational experience in which local, expert guides bring a dark history to life. It is a unique experience not to be missed and highly recommended.

A corridor with numerous open blue metal doors with heavy metal bolts on the doors. Two set of stairs are in the middle of the corridor.

The female cellblock in old Beechworth gaol

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2022.

 

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. The only other prison tour I have taken was to Alcatraz when I was visiting San Francisco. Where have you taken a prison tour?

 

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Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.

 

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OUIDAH VOODOO FESTIVAL IN BENIN – a joyous celebration with 13 photos to inspire [2021 UPDATED]

An Annual Celebration Not to Be Missed is Benin’s Voodoo Festival in Ouidah   Picture colour, music, singing, dancing, and a joyous party attracting national and international visitors. This is…

An Annual Celebration Not to Be Missed is Benin’s Voodoo Festival in Ouidah

 

Picture colour, music, singing, dancing, and a joyous party attracting national and international visitors. This is not Carnival in Rio de Janeiro or Venice. Add religion and culture, and you have Benin’s Voodoo Festival in Ouidah. With 13 photos to inspire your curiosity, wanderlust, and travel plans, join me in my experience of Benin’s Voodoo Day national celebration.

 

Voodoo Day in Benin falls on January 10 each year. It is a national holiday celebrating the country’s heritage of the West African religion of Voodoo.

Benin (officially the Republic of Benin) is a sliver of a nation in West Africa on the Atlantic Ocean. It borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. Ouidah is a city on Benin’s narrow strip of coastline and was the ancient port of the slave trade.

An image of a map of West Africa

Map of West Africa

 

Attending Benin’s Voodoo Festival in Ouidah was my primary reason for travelling to West Africa.

Voodoo is one of Benin’s official religions, while Ouidah is considered the birthplace of Voodoo. It is probably one of the most misunderstood religions in the world. West African Voodoo is a complex religion rooted in healing and doing good to others. It is not the stuff of Hollywood – of witchcraft and black magic or sticking pins in dolls.

I must admit it was curiosity that fed my travel plans to include the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah. I wanted to witness this annual celebration of Benin’s heritage and traditional culture and to experience a unique festival.

My participation at the Voodoo Festival commenced with a visit to Ouidah’s Temple of Pythons – one of Voodoo’s most revered places and home to some 60 pythons. The pythons are a significant symbol for followers of Voodoo. They are not feared but are revered and worshipped. These pythons were said to be docile, which was just as well because they roamed freely. It was here, through a break in the trampling crowd, that I momentarily sighted the Voodoo Pope who had come to pay homage at the Temple of Pythons.

a group of women dressed in multi-coloured clothing and each wearing many bead necklaces.

Female Voodoo devotees at the Temple of Pythons

 

From the Temple of Pythons, the Voodoo Pope led a procession along the historical, 3-kilometre Slave Road to the ‘Door of No Return’ (of slave trade infamy) on Ouidah’s beach on the Atlantic coast. It was on this stretch of sand that the celebrations of the Voodoo Festival truly got underway.

And what a celebration!

With the dignitaries’ speeches over (this took over an hour), it was party time. But first, the spirits and Voodoo gods needed to be appeased with the sacrifice of a goat. The Voodoo Pope carried out this ritual behind a circular wall of blue plastic away from public view. Animal sacrifice is a fundamental element in Voodoo. No Voodoo ceremony is worth its salt without an animal sacrifice in exchange for favours from the spirits.

Immediately following the sacrifice, the Voodoo Pope made his way to his throne in the shadow of the Door of No Return. I say ‘throne’ because the festival hosts referred to him as “His Majesty the Pope”.

A seated group of men and women dressed in multi-coloured clothing.

The Voodoo Pope (in blue robes) on his throne

 

With the Voodoo Pope seated, the atmosphere changed. The speeches gave way to vibrant displays of dancing and the throbbing of drums. I witnessed ‘exorcisms’ in which a seemingly possessed person would run away from a group of people, only to be caught, dragged to the ground, and sprinkled with powder. The crowd became particularly excited when coloured haystacks appeared, spinning around the grounds. I learned these ‘haystacks’ are Voodoo spirits known as Zangbeto and are the traditional Voodoo guardians of the night – the Nightwatchmen. They are the unofficial police force and dispensers of justice. I did not envy the human police who battled to keep the crowds from encroaching on dancers and Voodoo spirits.

With so much going on around me, I wandered around aimlessly. I didn’t know which group to stay and watch or where to go next. But I was intent on seeing it all. I moved around the festival for a couple of hours until I decided it was time to sit down and people watch.

Overall, the celebration at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah was a hive of activity in which people would swarm from one dance display to another. A kaleidoscope of colour from the attire worn by attendees and a cacophony of noise from the frantic pounding of drums dominated the festival. The crowd was buzzing.

But perhaps, the best way to describe the Voodoo Festival and my experience is to share some of my photos with you.

 

Ouidah’s Voodoo Festival was a never to be forgotten experience.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright © of Just Me Travel 2021.

 

Which festival have you attended that has been a ‘never to be forgotten experience’ for you? Tell us about it. Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

 

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For more posts on Africa, visit Just Me Travel: https://justme.travel/category/destinations/africa/

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.

 

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