Travel Editor Stephen Scourfield's weekly round up takes us from the Kimberley to Africa, plus a little bit of Austria and India for good measure
OUT OF AFRICA
Africa was the keystone of Gondwana, the mass of southern continents that lived as one piece for nearly 400 million years. Then, about 180 million years ago, the South Atlantic, Southern and Indian oceans began forming and Australia, India, Madagascar, South America and Antarctica broke away. The Kimberley landscape is certainly reminiscent of southern Africa — and I have been in both places in recent days.
BRIDGING THE GAP
The low-level crossing on Great Northern Highway at Fitzroy Crossing is open. Main Roads WA has built a causeway over the now-dry Fitzroy River to get traffic moving. A spokesperson for Main Roads WA says: “Traffic management will be in place on either side of the low-level causeway during daylight hours. Road users are reminded to please be patient and follow the direction of traffic controllers.” Semi trailers will only be allowed to cross between 7am and 5pm.
Design work for the new Fitzroy River Bridge began in late January and is nearly complete. The spokesperson adds: “The new bridge is designed to be six times stronger than the old bridge, with a lane in each direction. At 270m long, it will also be nearly 100m longer than the old bridge.” First site works for the new bridge have begun and it is expected demolition of the old bridge will begin in late May. Construction of the new bridge should start in June.
A TIME TO HEAL
Geikie and Windjana gorges in the Kimberley will stay closed this dry season. Craig Olejnik, regional manager Kimberley for the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, says: “Damage from wet-season floods, flood damage to visitor infrastructure and post-flood visitor safety risks at Danggu Geikie Gorge National Park and Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge) National Park mean they will remain closed for the rest of 2023.
“Dimalurru (Tunnel Creek), Dulundi (Silent Grove), Walarra Mindi (Mt Hart) and Lennard Gorge will open pending confirmation of safe access via Gibb River Road and other local access roads and completion of geotechnical and arborist assessments.”
A DBCA spokesperson says Danggu Geikie Gorge and Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge) are jointly managed with Bunuba traditional owners, “who have requested time for country to heal and for those who speak for country to reconnect with flood-affected areas”. Mr Olejnik adds: “Out of respect for traditional owners, please do not attempt to access closed parks.”
WET AND WILD
Reader Robyn Regan noticed my story about zebras in last weekend’s Sunday Travel. Not only is every zebra different (their markings are as individual as fingerprints), but they surely are a photographer’s delight, as they constantly rearrange themselves into another graphic composition. (The story is at thewest.com.au, and search “zebra”.) Robyn agrees zebras are “the perfect photo subjects”. She adds: “We happened to be in Pilanesberg (in South Africa) about the same time as your latest adventure. Your description of activities was almost identical to ours except our accommodation, Ivory Tree Lodge, was not a tent. The shower was attached to the bathroom but outside. On the final morning a big thunderstorm had rolled in and we showered in the rain! Free rainwater rinse for the hair! Some of our fellow travellers were not impressed but we enjoy these quirky experiences.”
LINKING SOUTHERN AFRICA
Airlink, an independent and privately owned regional airline in southern Africa, is starting new flights between an airport near South Africa’s Kruger National Park (Mbombela, or Nelspruit) and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, from November 28. The new route will complement Airlink’s existing flights between Mbombela’s Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport and Livingstone on the Zambian side of the waterfalls.
ARNHEM LAND ADVENTURE
Outback Spirit still has some spaces on this dry season’s Arnhem Land Wilderness Adventure. The fully accommodated, 13-day tour between Darwin and Cairns is from $10,495 per person, twin share (a saving of up to $4155 per person). This is their benchmark tour, and the result of what I know is a special relationship with traditional owners. It includes a welcome to country performance in Nhulunbuy and is for a maximum of 22 travellers. The group will visit art centres and there will be a bush medicine demonstration. Accommodation is in Outback Spirit’s network of safari camps and wilderness lodges, including three at Seven Spirit Bay and two at Murwangi Safari Camp. outbackspirittours.com.au
SALZBURG WORTH ITS SALT
Salzburg in Austria is probably better known for its connection to the movie The Sound of Music than for the substance for which it was named — salt. But Sandy Guy’s story about Salzburg last Saturday prompted reader Phil Evans to get in touch. Phil says: “My first visit to Salzburg was in 1968 as a driver/courier for Protea Tours.” A highlight of the visit to Salzburg was going to the salt mines. The group were dressed in traditional garb and completed the full tour. Salt was first harvested in Salzburg in the Neolithic period, about 4000BC, and people quickly learned it could be used to preserve meat. By the sixth century BC, there was prehistoric salt mining, with the local Celt tribespeople digging tunnels up to 280m deep and 4.5km long. The first tourists were shown the local salt mines in 1607, and since then 5 million visitors have explored this underground world. salzwelten.at/en
PS Phil kindly adds: “It is lovely to read the articles about places I have been to and those I aspire to.”
CRUISE FAVOURITES RETURN
Crystal Cruises has announced the return of favourite cruise directors as it prepares for its inaugural season under new ownership. Keith Cox, vice-president of entertainment, says each cruise director brings their own style to a cruise: “It is one of the most important roles onboard, and we are so excited to have this group rejoin our team.” Among them is Rick Spath, who will be on Crystal Serenity from July 31. Rick first became a cruise director in 1984 and has been with Crystal for 18 years. He’s also done a stint in the Broadway musical Mamma Mia!.
MOBILE PHONE SAFETY
Most of us try to be helpful — but pickpockets and street thieves prey on that. Mobile phones are an expensive and sought-after item for thieves and, for example, in Budapest, one trick is simply to ask a tourist the time. When they get their phone out to tell them, the thief simply grabs it and runs off. If someone asks the time, ignore them.
ON THE UP
More than 2.8 million foreign tourists arrived in Portugal between January and March — the most in the country’s history for the first quarter of the year.
On April 30, India’s domestic air traffic hit a record high, with 456,082 passengers flying on that day alone . . . on 2978 flights.
We have a West Travel Club tour to India in November.
I will meet the plane when our travellers arrive, spend the first day with them and then leave them in the safe hands of our tour manager and guide, having specially prepared them to look after the group. If you’ve ever wanted to go to India but felt unsure, this may be your moment. westtravelclub.com.au/tours