Posts from the ‘Driving’ category

Christchurch Pops-Up and is Open for business

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

At 12.51pm on Tuesday, 22 February 2011, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. An aftershock of the larger 7.1 magnitude quake from September 2010, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake was shallower and centred on the city, causing more widespread damage and the deaths of 185 people from 20 different countries.

Christchurch Cathedral, before and after

Christchurch Cathedral, before and after the 2011 Earthquake. Photos by Paul Petch and the NZ Defence Force, Licensed under Creative Commons

Almost two years later, the city is still re-building. Large parts of the CBD (central business district) remain cordoned off. The iconic Christchurch Cathedral, which had been damaged in five previous earthquakes between 1881 and 2010, was so severely impacted by the 2011 quake that the decision was made to deconsecrate the building; demolition work began in March 2012.

As a popular tourist destination, the economic impact of the earthquake in Christchurch was felt beyond the destruction of the day itself. More than 360 aftershocks have been recorded, and while safety warnings have largely been lifted by foreign governments, even neighbouring Australia is still advising citizens to be careful because aftershocks will continue for several years.

Christchurch Shops

Open for Business! Photo by Ed, Licensed under Creative Commons

Always a welcoming city for travellers, the locals here want it made clear that Christchurch is OPEN and as welcoming as ever. So we have no concerns as we begin to explore New Zealand’s second largest city. Cities like London treat ‘pop up’ galleries and restaurants as a limited-edition novelty; Christchurch has embraced the concept and become, in many ways, a pop-up city!

A shopping centre made of shipping containers

Re:START Shopping Experience. Photo by Jane Selomulyo, Licensed under Creative Commons

Our first destination is the Re:START, a mall built from shipping containers and now home to a mix of retail shops, funky cafes, and a vibe that’s hard to describe but wonderful to experience. Use the free wi-fi on site to remind your friends around that world that CHCH (as the locals call it) is still a global destination.

Lunch is had at the King of Snake restaurant – no snakes on the menu, just amazing thai cuisine to be enjoyed in this eclectic establishment.

Normally we avoid double-decker bus tours – in most cities they seem an expensive way to learn in 2 hours what 2 pages of a good guide book will tell you. But we want to hear the Christchurch story – before, during, and after the 2011 earthquake – first hand, and the 1 hour Hassle Free bus tour seems the way to do it.

Kiwi Humour on display. Photo by Violaine Bavent, Licensed under Creative Commons

Kiwi Humour on display. Photo by Violaine Bavent, Licensed under Creative Commons

And then, sadly, it’s time for us to continue our exploration of all that New Zealand has to offer. Our evening drive takes us 4 hours north of Christchurch to the town of Blenheim, in the heart of Marlborough wine country. We’ll stop for dinner on the way, and get a taste for the wine and local seafood at the 122-year-old Pier Hotel in Kaikoura.

How quickly we have evolved from heart-thumping adventure to some of the finest food and wine in the world.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Christchurch is safe. Like any destination in an earthquake zone, visitors (especially those from stable locations) here are advised to take a few minutes and familiarise themselves with the Drop, Cover, Hold routine before travelling.
  • We found that the locals are open to talking about the changes the city has been through over the past two years; but this is a generalisation, and there’s no doubt that the death and destruction will still be impacting the lives of some people you meet.
  • Most international tourists enter New Zealand via flights to either Christchurch (north end of the South Island) or Auckland (North Island), and it’s well worth spending a few days wandering this beautiful city at the start or end of your NZ holiday.
  • Keep an eye on the Pop-up City website for new attractions – http://popupcity.co.nz/

Been to Christchurch before or after the Earthquake? Please share your experience in the comments below.

If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you join them?

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

Travel to Australia and New Zealand from Europe or North America, and you might be tempted to lump these two countries together. Experience them both, however, and you will see that the similarities don’t extend much past funny accents. Case in point: we spent last weekend on an Australia road trip taking in the east coast beaches; this week our New Zealand road trip will involve Whitewater Rafting, and a hike across a glacier!

Our local guide Dene suggests we go easy on our Friday morning breakfast, although he’s promised us “a calm morning white water rafting“. We’re not sure how that could possibly work, but at 8.15am we find ourselves on the banks of the Kawarau River, which is much easier to navigate than the Shotover River we took the jetboat through yesterday.

Rapido Rapido

And this is the beginners guide to Whitewater rafting New Zealand! Photo by Queenstown Rafting, Licensed under Creative Commons

(Lord of the Rings fanatics will observe that the Kawarau looks a lot like the River Anduin that flows parallel to the Misty Mountains.)

With Queenstown Rafting we actually spend a couple of hours cruising the river, and it is an ideal experience rafting for beginners – though the heart rate does pick up as we plunge into the 400m long Dog Leg Rapid. The hot shower and sauna at the end are welcome, and some of us probably wish we could stay here when Dene let’s us in on the next destination…

…Bungy Jumping off Kawarau Bridge!

He seems to be enjoying that!

Bungy Jumping is safe – just scary as hell! Photo by Los viajes del Cangrejo, CC License

Bungy jumping – now available all around the world – actually began on this bridge in 1988. We’re not sure what possessed AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch to jump off a perfectly good bridge, but we’re glad they did! Now can we muster the confidence to follow in their footsteps. (To be fair – it’s not even a footstep – lean forward and let gravity do the rest!).

Any second thoughts we have drop away when we see the person in front of our group calmly step over the edge … completely naked! And if you’re not sure you could do the same, Queenstown’s only tandem jump means you can hand that decision over to another person and leap together.

You don’t really have time to get nervous. Without much fuss you, too, are strapped into a harness and then, quite suddenly, you’re standing up on the platform and there’s nothing in front of you but air. That’s when your heart starts beating faster and your grip tightens on the pole, which is all that anchors you to earth.

Three, two, one, JUMP!

Everything in your body prevents you from jumping, every instinct says no, and yet…

It happens in fast forward and slow motion, the sky, the ground, the river, then SPLASH! Your head is soaked, you’re smiling like a maniac, and you’ve done your first (and maybe last?) bungy in New Zealand.

Going, Going, Gone!

Going, Going, Gone! The first two photos are Adam Selwood; the splashdown photo is by Mat, CC License.

Beautiful Lake Wanaka

View of Lake Wanaka. Photo by Edwin, CC License

We use New Zealand’s long summer twilight to make the short drive out of Queenstown to the town of Wanaka. Plenty of New Zealand tours spend a few nights among the scenery here – we get stuck into “Her Majesty’s” pizza at The Cow Restaurant, before a sleepover and a Saturday morning drive towards the Franz Josef glacier on New Zealand’s west coast.

Some people are hikers, and full day treks across the glacier are available. Some people are more sedate, preferring to experience the 12 km (7.5 mi) long glacier and the nearby Mount Cook from the air. Dene has never seen the point in limiting our experience, so we’re doing both (it’s called heli-hiking)!

There’s a beauty to the scenic helicopter flight across the glacier, but there’s real danger here as well. Unstable ice cliffs mean many hiking tracks are now off limits, and the Maori name for the glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere, which speaks of a tale when Hinehukatere’s lover Wawe was swept to her death here by an avalanche.

Helicopter view of Franz Josef Glacier

Helicopter view of Franz Josef Glacier. Photo by Greg Hewgill, CC License.

It’s hard not to think about those stories as the helicopter drops us off (and disappears over the horizon!). But during the 2 hour hike back to the town of Franz Josef our guide keeps us amazed with the scenery, and also demonstrates the tangible evidence that climate change is having on this World Heritage Site.

Hiking Franz Josef Glacier

Hiking the Glacier. Photo by Edwin, CC License

It is summer, but increasingly the walk is over rock formations carved by the glacier as it recedes under global warming.

The adventure portion of our New Zealand trip is closing, as Dene fares us well. Sunday will be a relaxing day, a four hour drive through national parks to the city of Christchurch. But to help us sleep tonight, and to reward our bodies for the stress of navigating rapids, jumping off bridges, and trekking in crampons across a glacier, we head for an evening at the Glacier Hot Pools.

That’s right – you can immerse yourself in New Zealand’s natural beauty without needing to check your travel insurance first! Now who has the first massage …?

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Queenstown Rafting offer twice-daily adventures on the Kawarau river
  • We always felt that bungy jumping was a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience; and if you’re going to do it once, do it where it all began
  • The most popular helicopter experience in New Zealand is to the top of Mount Cook, allowing you to walk around up top without having to do any climbing. Most of these depart from Glentanner Park, NOT the Franz Josef town (www.helicopter.co.nz/mtcook.asp)
  • The drive from Franz Josef to Christchurch is longer than it looks – it’s due east as the crow flies, but you have to drive 90 minutes north before the road actually turns inland through Arthur’s Pass
What is a Crampon?

Crampons! Photo by Edwin, CC License

Have you toured New Zealand’s South Island? Got your heart rate thumping? What are your memories – Let us know in the comments below.

Road Trip, Sunset Cruise, Joy Flight, Wine Tasting, In Heaven?

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

Beach Sunrise - not just blue

Sunrise in Yamba, northern New South Wales. Photo by Mark Wassell, Licensed under Creative Commons

Australia has a reputation for being a big country. It covers 5% of the earth’s surface all by itself, is twice the size of India (but with just 2% of the population), and is the only country that is coterminous with a continent (we like big words).

Australians also have an infatuation with ‘bigness’, and no Australian road trip is complete without visiting at least some of these … attractions. As we continue our drive down the east coast, we bypass the Big Prawn in Ballina but make sure to stop at the unmissable icon that is Coffs Harbour’s Big Banana.

The Big Banana

Australia’s Big Banana, in Coffs Harbour. Picture by Adam. Licensed under Creative Commons

Since it opened in December 1964, the site has grown into a theme park of sorts and the Big Banana itself has featured on an Australian stamp!. We’re happy to settle for a walk-through the icon, a photo in front, and a banana split (what else?!) in the cafe.

Friday afternoon we arrive at tonight’s pitstop, the beach-side town of Port Macquarie. We’ve missed the May-November whale watching season, but there’s always time to grab a cold drink and enjoy a 90 minute sunset cruise with Port Venture Cruises.

Sunset over the water

Sunset in Port Macquarie, NSW Australia. Photo by Eugene Regis, Licensed under Creative Commons

Saturday morning dawns, and while the humidity decreases with every hour we drive further south, it’s still warm enough to justify an early morning swim before we jump in the car. They call it the Pacific Highway for a reason, as the Pacific Ocean is never too far away.

Until, that is, we turn inland, headed for the regional town of Cessnock. After a few days of relaxation by the water, it’s time to amp up the adrenaline again, and we have just the experience: a 35 minute joyflight in aboard a Nanchang Warbird!

Joyflight - joy?

Joyflight in a 1957 Nanchang Warbird. Picture Copyright Freeman X Experience

The angry flying dragon on the side of the plane speaks to the power the engine creates, as we find ourselves alternating between enjoying the 360 degree cockpit views and feeling the g-forces in manoeuvres at almost 400km/h (250mph). And just when you think you’ve got the hang of this, wham, the canopy opens! It’s intentional – so we can say we truly “felt the wind in our hair” as we zoomed above Newcastle.

Wine Barrel Hunter Valley

Wine Tasting. Photo by Wendy Harman, Licensed under Creative Commons

We’ve earned our drinks on Saturday night, and the town of Cessnock (like all good Australian country towns) offers plenty of local pubs to choose from. We’re really looking forward to Sunday morning, however; Cessnock is the heart of the Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s premier wine producing regions.

So from a heady plane flight yesterday to the heady flavours of a good Hunter Valley red wine – and as a sensible precaution, we’re taking a tour and letting someone else do the driving as we explore 5 of the regions 25+ vineyards … plus a cheese shop and some chocolate after lunch.

Two weeks ago it was Viennese Gluhwein, and here we are drinking a room temperature red wine under the Australian sun. How do you explore a big country? One unique experience at a time.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • The Big Pineapple in Queensland is another icon, though the ‘road trip tourist attraction’ is sadly dying in an era of discount airlines
  • Port Macquarie is a popular stop on the east coast Australia road trip, neatly breaking up the distance between Brisbane and Sydney. A longer alternative is to head inland, via towns like Tamworth, Dubbo, and Bathurst
  • Whale-watching season along Australia’s east coast runs from mid-May to mid-November, but there are never any guarantees even during the August-September peak period
  • 20 minute flights are also available from Cessnock, and there are a range of planes and experiences all around Australia
  • Australia’s 3 best wine regions are Margaret River (Western Australia), the Barossa Valley (South Australia), and the Hunter Valley (New South Wales)

Agree or disagree with our east coast Australia road trip suggestions? Want to recommend a winery elsewhere in Australia? Let us know in the comments below.

Let’s Surf Byron Now, Everybody’s Learning How…

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

Learn to surf to be like this guy

Surfs up! Photo by Sander van Dijk, Licensed under Creative Commons

Nothing cures a Christmas hangover like an early morning swim in the ocean, so when we say farewell to Cabarita Beach in Australia we do so with clear heads full of beach Christmas memories.

We’ve hired a car, as we continue the self-drive exploration of Australia’s east coast, led by our local guide (and everydaydream co-founder) Jacob. There are almost 1,000 kilometres (625 miles) between the cities of Brisbane and Sydney – that’s the distance between Paris and Prague (but with far less Germany along the way).

Today is a much shorter stretch of that road, the drive from Cabarita Beach to Byron Bay. Byron, as it’s more commonly called, is Australia’s eastern-most point, home to an iconic light-house, several surf beaches, and a range of cultural events including the annual easter Blues and Roots festival.

The Lighthouse at the End of the World

Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia’s eastern-most point. Photo by thinboyfatter, Licensed under Creative Commons

We arrive about 11am, and the walk up to the lighthouse is our first destination. Construction began here in 1899, cost £10,042 (those are Australian Pounds; the Aussie dollar wasn’t born until St Valentine’s Day, 1966), and featured an eight-ton French-made optical lens. The lighthouse is still active, and also includes a permanent red light that shines on the nearby Julian Rocks, more famous today as a dive spot than for shipwrecks.

Not in Rome

When in Rome. Photo by Taki Lau, CC License

Obligatory “eastern most” photos taken, there’s a few moments to look out over the ocean and reflect that the expanse of the Pacific stretches here for 11,500 kilometres. Head out in a straight line, and the next land mass you will find is Chile, South America.

Lunch is a casual affair at the Beach Hotel. “Top Pub” to the locals, and situated in the middle of town overlooking Main Beach, it’s theorised that every backpacker who’s been to Byron has enjoyed a beer here, and the chips aren’t bad either.

And then we’re off down to Belongil Beach to learn how to surf with Black Dog Surfing. The basics of surfing seem simple as we run through them on the sand: dangle your feet over the back, pop yourself up with intent in one, quick movement, and then hold your balance.

Best Learn to Surf School in Australia, Byron Bay

Learn to Surf in Byron Bay, Australia. You won’t be the only one! Photo by Viajar24h, Licensed under Creative Commons

The only things to do in Byron Bay

Things to do in Byron Bay. Photo by BudgetPlaces.com, CC License

Sun set, Byron style. Photo by Aidan-Sally, CC License

Sun set, Byron style. Photo by Aidan-Sally, CC License

Actually mastering this while the waves are crashing down around you is a different matter! Thankfully, in this heat, nobody’s complaining about constantly being dumped into the cool blue water. And by the end of our 3.5 hour lesson, we’ve all managed to get upright a couple of times – nothing to challenge local(ish) boy and new surfing world champion Joel Parkinson, but enough to ensure we will leave Australia with some experience of this national obsession.

You can – and many people do – spend an entire holiday in this town. Our afternoon surf lesson is a start – there are even surf schools offering 3 month long intensives, until even the goofy foot can hang ten. For us though, there are other towns further south as we continue toward Australia’s largest city.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Tourists make this trip on wildly varying budgets. One of the cheapest ways to do it is to rent a camper van – transport and accommodation in one expense. Wicked camper vans may not be the cleanest, but they sure are the funniest
  • A goofy foot is actually just a left handed surfer, so it’s not as insulting as it seems
  • Parko is actually a Coolie boy – closer to Cabarita than Byron, but local to Byron when compared with Vienna and Oman
  • Byron Bay hosts the Blues and Roots ‘Bluesfest’ festival in easter, and Splendour in the Grass in July. Different styles of music fans will have their preference; local farmers welcome both because it seems rain is guaranteed every time
  • The Pacific Highway runs down Australia’s east coast, and is a reliable road, although popularity (especially over Christmas) makes it Australia’s deadliest highway – drive safe

Are you a grommit, goofy foot, or newly crowned world champion? Share your surfing tips (or Australian coastline experiences) in the comments below.

The Bedouin aren’t the only Wise Men of Oman

Today’s Itinerary

By Jacob Aldridge

The sun rises over the Wahiba Sands, Oman

The sun rises over the Wahiba Sands, Oman. Photo by Aries Vitan Wong, CC License

There’s something different about waking up to a cool desert morning. Unlike the genuine cold of a Viennese Christmas Market, which bites at your throat and chews your fingers, early risers in our desert camp experience a more invigorating chill. It’s almost as if the cold focuses the mind on the significance of every moment.

Breakfast includes some traditional fruits from the Arabian peninsula, and before we’ve even offered to help with the washing up and taking down the tents we’re ushered back into our 4WDs.

People have lived in the Wahiba region for almost 8,000 years, and while modernity gives opportunities to the next generation, it’s a shame to note that most of the camel trains we pass are ridden by tourists as the locals embrace the air-conditioned benefits of a new 4WD.

Two camels in Oman

Camel photo by Erkan Pinar, CC License

Mid morning we stop to visit a Bedouin house in the desert, an opportunity to meet and talk with some of the proud tribespeople who embrace both their bedouin traditions and the emerging Omani national identity. Livestock remain the key economy here, mostly goats and camels. While tourism is increasingly important, we get the feeling that the clean house and well-dressed, well-spoken people we meet are nothing new – they may be surrounded by 12,500 square kms (4,800 sq mi) of desert, but that’s no excuse for a mess.

 

How friendly are the locals? Check out this video – this group are either being very polite to an Australian tourist, or they actually like the taste of Vegemite!

Official Amouage Gold picture

You can buy Amouage Gold perfume from the source

We arrive back in Muscat by mid-afternoon. There’s plenty of time before our flight to take in more sights and sounds of this city – but it’s the smell we are interested in. More specifically, the smell of the Amouage Perfume Factory. Feted as ‘The Most Valuable Perfume in the World’, Amouage Gold for Women is created from the resin of the frankincense tree and the essence of the rare Omani Rock Rose, plus another 120 ingredients including Myrrh.

That’s right – Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. If you’re looking for an excuse to treat yourself this Christmas time, look no more.

Conveniently, the Amouage Factory is located not far from the airport, meaning we arrive in plenty of time for our Oman Air flight onwards. We will land tomorrow morning in Bangkok, Thailand.

Want to Go? Need to Know…

  • A single entry, one month visa for Oman can be purchased for 20 OMR (about $USD50) at the airport
  • December temperatures in the desert are reasonably mild, but the summer heat and the late winter evenings are especially dangerous
  • Even experienced desert drivers and hikers are reminded to take precautions with water rations and recording your planned itinerary with your consulate and/or hotel in case of accident
  • You do not need to book in advance to visit the Amouage Factory
  • Click here to stay up to date with a free subscription to our daily destinations email

Share your Oman thoughts or desert experiences in the comments below.

Skip Dubai and Abu Dhabi – Oman is the new hot destination

Today’s Itinerary

By Jacob Aldridge

We considered a self-drive tour of Oman, but being mindful that English is less common outside of the main cities (and we don’t speak Arabic) we decided to join a small group tour. And there are a surprising array of tour options and Oman holiday packages – including Turtle Watching! – as Oman aims to compete with (and outperform) the airport hubs of Dubai (Emirates) and Abu Dhabi (Etihad).

Textiles at the Ladies Market

Ladies Market in Ibra – the adjacent souq remains co-ed

At 8am the luxury 4WD arrives at our hotel. There’s a two hour drive ahead of us, as we leave Muscat’s waterside location and head south through the Harjar mountains and inland to the town of Ibra, in the Sharqiyah area. Now best known as a ‘gateway’ town, Ibra also boasts a weekly ‘Ladies Market’ – every Wednesday the souq is open only to women, and run by women, with a focus on household and textiles products.

Al Mansfah Ruins

Some of the ruined mansions of Al Manshah

As we drive away from Ibra the village of Al Mansfah is silhouetted on the horizon, a community of 19th Century mansions that fell with the fortunes of the region into disrepair. At this point we assume Ibra is a gateway to barren desert sands.

How wrong we prove to be, as the 4WD enters the Wadi Bani Khalid ! With several fresh water springs, and year round water, this valley (Wadi is Arabic for valley – we’re learning Arabic fast) is known for the deep blue water at the foot of the mountains. Experienced hikers would be drawn here for the opportunity to explore some of the largest caves in the country, including the underground chamber of Kahf Maqal. We stop for a more relaxed picnic lunch.

 

Desert oasis of Wadi Bani Khalid

Just what we imagined an oasis to look like. Photo by Andries3, licensed under Creative Commons.

And then it’s into the desert, and the Wahiba Sands. Covering 12,500 square kms (4,800 sq mi), what initial looks barren surprisingly reveals itself as an expansive ecosystem. The region is home to the Wahiba Bedouin tribe, and we’re staying here tonight in a desert camp. You may have been camping before – but you’ve never been camping like this!

Driving a 4WD through desert sand

Experienced drivers know how to maximise safety and fun. Photo by Erkan Pinar, CC License

We could spend a few hours enjoying the spacious tent and the food and drinks available in camp – truly, this must be how Bedouin tribal leaders lived despite the nomadic elements of their lifestyle. However, we have one more activity today – and it’s something Lawrence of Arabia could never have imagined: dune bashing in our 4WD! Definitely best led by an experienced sand driver, there’s a real thrill in racing up a mammoth sand dune, with no road in sight, and then cresting over and down the other side. This is why we travel.

So much fun can be exhausting, and dinner and bed beckon. But be sure to take a few minutes to drink in the night sky as the milky way reveals an expanse of stars known to every generation of humans except the modern city dweller. We will fall asleep feeling humble between the innumerable sands below and the infinite stars above.

 

Stars are visible even inside your tent

Night may be falling, but the wonder is only beginning. 4WD and Tent Phots by Erkan Pinar, Licensed under Creative Commons

Want to Go? Need to Know…

    • You can see a list of Oman Air’s holiday packages by clicking here
    • There truly are a range of tour options from other operators if you search for them, from 2 night to 2 weeks, and encompassing a lot more than we thought Oman would have to offer
    • December temperatures in the desert are reasonably mild, but the summer heat and the late winter evenings are especially dangerous – even experienced desert drivers and hikers are reminded to take precautions with water rations and recording your planned itinerary with your consulate or hotel in case of accident
    • Click here to stay up to date with a free subscription to our daily destinations email

Share your Oman thoughts or desert experiences in the comments below.

Driving About Muscat, Oman

Today’s Itinerary

By Jacob Aldridge

Our plane touches down at Seeb International Airport in Muscat, capital city of Oman, just before 10am. Strictly speaking it’s still winter, as it was when we left Vienna yesterday, but here on the Arabian peninsula (and at the same latitude as tropical south-east asia) the temperatures aren’t expected to drop below 22ºC (72ºF) all week.We have a two day Oman Air holiday package starting tomorrow, which means today is all ours – and there are things to do in Muscat, this vibrant city. To make the most of it, we’ve hired a car at the airport – why not, in a city where petrol is regularly less than 40 cents per litre. Drive about Oman on the right hand side of the road!

Why is Oman on our itinerary? Have a look at this video!

Grand Mosque

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, photo by Gary Denham Licensed under Creative Commons

As would be expected of this predominately Muslim nation, Muscat’s skyline is dotted with Mosques. Grandest among these, and one of the few that is open to (respectful) tourists, is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, located on the main road between the airport and the city.

Being careful to avoid prayer times, we remove our shoes and step inside the square prayer hall, which can fit 6,500 worshippers. Modern Islam holds itself to be a religion of peace, and the serenity of this holy place is obvious. Inside, the orderly and spacious nature of the design means we can feel the space much faster than taking in all of the detail. Though there are a small number of individuals praying, it’s clear that they are having their experience and we don’t feel we are intruding. If you’re unfamiliar with Islam, though, it’s hard not to wonder whether you might inadvertently offend somebody just by being here. The Sultanate of Oman, like many middle eastern countries, is working on the balance of cultures.

Back in the car, and we’re heading from the Mosque the Sultan to the Sultan’s official residence, the Al Alam Royal Palace. Not open to the public, we still decide to drive out to the its location on a point of land jutting out into the Gulf of Oman.

A number of Forts mark important points throughout Oman, and though some are recent most are remnants of a colonial past when the country was under Portuguese control. Most famous are the twin forts of Al Mirani and Al Jalali, which stand to attention close by the Al Alam Palace. We walk up the nearby Corniche, to the base of the Mutrah Fort, taking in the view of the twins before ending with an expansive view back over the city.

One of the twin forts

Fort al Jalali, a Portugeuse fort twinned with Fort al Mirani

So far, we haven’t really felt the desert country, and standing by the water as the afternoon progresses we can associate more about Oman’s maritime history than the Bedouin lifestyle further inland. As the nation emerges further as a global destination, diving off its broad coastline is one of the prominent attractions available.

Westerners are advised to understand the local customs, particularly in relation to religion and gender. We’ve found nothing to concern us from having a great experience here. One Australian film-maker created the page Side Trip of a Lifetime about Oman, and has even taken to the streets here to ask other tourists about Oman for Western Women?

Want to Go? Need to Know…

    • While some middle-eastern countries are more relaxed than others in regards to western cultural norms, always be respectful of locals
    • This is particularly important when visiting Mosques – modest clothing and definitely no shoes
    • English can be called Oman’s second language, and particularly in Muscat street signs are translated and English speakers can be found in more tourist locations
    • A single entry, one month visa can be purchased for 20 OMR (about $USD50) at the airport
    • Stay up to date with a free subscription to our daily destinations email

Have you been to Muscat or driven about Oman? Share your experience – and what we’ve missed – in the comments below.