The Beautiful Birds of Mauritius

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On my many Mauritius holidays the standard entertainment of eating delicious curries and sipping on cocktails, I found became quite boring after the 1298th sip. To bide my time between beach, fishing and catamaran tours I took up another more gentle hobby, that of bird watching.

I’ve always been fascinated with the beautiful variety of bird life. Instead of loafing on the beach, working on my tan, I always liked to instead take my binoculars out for a wander through the national parks and scribble down the names and descriptions of whatever island bird I spotted.

The book I bought at the airport was a Moleskin notebook which it appears was made specifically for bird watching. Here’s a short list of the birds I recorded last I was prancing around in a forest in Mauritius:

  • Wilson’s storm petrel
  • White-faced storm petrel
  • Black-bellied storm petrel
  • White-bellied storm petrel
  • Red-tailed tropicbird
  • White-tailed tropicbird
  • Abbott’s booby
  • Masked booby
  • Red-footed booby
  • Great frigatebird
  • Lesser frigatebird
  • Squacco heron
  • Cattle egret
  • Striated heron
  • Mauritius kestrel
  • Eleonora’s falcon
  • Sooty falcon
  • Peregrine falcon
  • Mauritius olive white-eye
  • Common waxbill
  • Nutmeg mannikin
  • Java sparrow
  • Rose-ringed parakeet
  • Mauritius parakeet
  • Grey-headed lovebird
  • Rodrigues parrot

Not a very extensive list by any means but okay for an amateur such as myself. A more complete list of Mauritius bird life can be found here.

4 World Heritage Sites That Are Worth Slowing Down For

An enchanting country full of beautiful landscapes, picturesque villages, great shopping, even better food, and amazing wine, Italy has something to offer all tastes.  With 49 UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites, some of which are entire city centers, the country’s every inch – from the mountainous north to the balmy Mediterranean south – is permeated with history.

The list includes some massive cities – like Venice, Florence, and Rome – that are host to a multitude of historical attractions.  However, if you look outside these city centers you will discover some UNESCO-listed towns and villages that, while not hosting the same magnitude of world-class attractions, museums and galleries, preserve a distinct Italian character and are deeply fascinating places to visit.  So consider venturing out of the cities to absorb Italy by spending time in some of the following small towns and villages, taking advantage of the chance to slow down, wander through tiny alleyways, and sip on wine in the towns’ atmospheric streets. Remember to bring along a pair of astronomy binoculars for exceptional stargazing during those balmy Italian nights.

Urbino:
Urbino
Photo Credit: Ibolognini

An ancient walled city in the Marche region of Italy, Urbino is famous as the childhood home of Raphael and as an important center of culture during the Renaissance.  A pedestrianised hill town of steep, narrow, winding alleys, weathered houses, and aging palaces surrounded by misty mountains, Urbino carries an enchantment all its own.  One of the cultural capitals of the Renaissance during the 15th and 16th centuries, Urbino is home to some of the most important collections of Renaissance art in the world, and, although it is a small town, a walk through its tiny alleys will reveal an outstanding collection of architecture and museums.  Don’t miss the fascinating Ducal Palace and the National Gallery of La Marche.

San Gimignano:
San Gimignano
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Famous for its 14 beautifully preserved towers (of an original 72!), San Gimignano is a tiny medieval walled village near Florence.  While you’re there, be sure to scale at least one of the towers – the Torre Grossa is the tallest – for a view over the city and the surrounding countryside.  Thursday is market day, so head to the Piazza della Cisterna or the Piazza del Duomo to pick up some lunch supplies before heading outside the walls to find the perfect place for a picnic: circling the city is a trail that provides striking views of the surrounding Tuscan countryside.  To tour some of the city’s gorgeous frescoes, visit the church of Sant’Agostino, which features a set of beautiful frescoes on the life of Saint Augustine, or the Collegiata.  Those interested in literature should be sure to stop by the Museo Civico, which features the Sala di Dante where Dante Alighieri addressed the town council in 1299 to convince them to join the Guelph cause.

Verona:
Verona
Photo Credit: Clod79

The reputed home of Romeo and Juliet, Verona is an incredibly picturesque town home to a multitude of historical attractions dating from Roman times and all ages since.  Although a firmly established tourist destination, it is not nearly as busy as nearby Venice, allowing you to adopt a slower pace and find a quiet corner of the city to tuck into your book in the sunshine.  Drink coffee in the architecturally striking Piazza delle Erbe, go shopping on the Golden Mile, leave a note at Juliet’s House, wander through some of the ancient Roman ruins, and don’t miss the Castelvecchio, a 14th-century fortified castle that also houses the city art gallery, which is home to a rich collection of medieval sculpture and Renaissance art.

Siena:
Siena
Photo Credit: Ho Vista Nina Volare

A medieval Tuscan hill town near Florence, maze-like Siena is full of old medieval buildings and narrow pathways.  With a culture that is quirky, independent, and proud, the city is famous for hosting the exciting horse race “Il Palio,” which is conducted two times each summer and features pageantry and festivities before 10 riders – representing 10 of the different city wards – race around the Piazza del Campo three times.  Leave yourself plenty of time to wander through Siena’s entrancing, mystical alleyways, and keep an eye out for cafés serving delicious local Tuscan food.  Don’t leave without having visited the Duomo, and, for a sampling of the local art tradition, head for the Palazzo Pubblico and the Palazzo Salimbeni, which both house outstanding collections.

The Thrills of Namibia

The southwest African country on Namibia is a delight to visit on holiday. The country is distinguished by the Namib Desert, a vast expanse of beautiful, ghost-like landscape stretching along its Atlantic Ocean coastline. Namibia is home to a unique and diverse collection of wildlife, famous for its significant cheetah population.

Namib desert

Windhoek is the capital of Namibia and was colonised by the Germans. Both Windhoek and the coastal town of Swakopmund have beautiful colonial-era buildings, such as Windhoeks’s Christuskirche, a building build in 1907!

To the north, Namibia has wonderful National parks, home to rhinos and giraffes, such as the salt pans of Etosha.

Activities in Namibia

Many people believe Namibia to be one of the most beautiful countries to visit in Africa, and indeed the world. The country offers many breath-taking sights, but what else is there to do?

  • Rockclimbing at Spitzkoppe: Spitzkoppe has beautiful rounded granite peaks towering 700m over the Namib desert, perfect for rock climbing adventures for the brave at heart
  • Skydiving: Imagine being taken up into the clear skies over the Namib desert and Atlantic ocean? The thrill of skydiving in the region is a popular holiday activity
  • Sandboarding: another popular holiday activity in Namibia is that of sandboarding along the vast and awe-inspiring dunes of the Namib desert
  • Hot air balloon rides over the massive Namib-Naukluft National Park will take your breathe away!
  • Kitesurfing and landboarding: Swakopmund provides a vast flat surface to allow the bravest of the brave to harness the winds of southwest Africa. Experienced kitesurfers/landboarders have long considered this the holy grail of their sport
  • Hiking along the Fish River Canyon will be a highlight of any visit to Namibia.

The above list of activities is by no means extensive, but does give some food-for-thought on what excellent holiday activities are available to the adventurous soul willing to tame the vastt beauty of Namibia.

A Brief History of the Drakensberg

The splendour and beauty of the Drakensberg is seldom rivalled. People from around the world book Drakensberg accommodation months in advance just to get the chance to spend a few relaxing weeks enjoying what this beautiful part of South Africa has to offer.

Before you embark on your Berg adventure it’s always a good idea to learn a bit about where you’re going. We’ve put together this brief history of the Drakensberg that is short and sweet, but should give you food for thought about this historical region on your road trip.

The Zulus call the jagged peaks of the Drakensberg, southern Africa’s highest mountains, uKhahlamba, “a barrier of spears”. Where the lofty summits of the Drakensberg slope down towards the coastline, the unspoiled Wild Coast promises excellent fishing and hiking.

The Bushmen (San)

Some 1,000 years ago the lush, well-watered valleys of the Drakensberg were home to the hunter-gatherer San who stalked antelope with their bows and arrows. The colonizing vanguards of Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaner and British soon drove them from the region, and, apart from the delicate paintings that survive under overhangs and in caves, the diminutive hunters left no evidence of their presence.

Bushman Rock Painting

Bantu Tribes

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Xhosa’s heartland was part of the expanding Cape Colony, while the centre of the Zulu kingdom stretched north of the Tugela River.

Facing attacks on several fronts, the Basotho tribe sought refuge in the high mountains that would eventually become the kingdom of Lesotho.

Conflict

By 1848 the Kei River had become the frontier line between the British and Xhosa, while to the north, the territory between the Mzimkhulu and Tugela rivers was declared the Colony of Natal. Over the centuries, countless territorial wars raged in this fertile region now known as the Midlands, and many of the old battle sites can be visited today.

Surrounding Areas

In 1976, under apartheid, the Xhosa territory of Transkei was officially declared “independent”, but was reincorporated into South Africa in 1994. This is an area of immense natural beauty and splendour.

The enchanted coastline, too remote for modern development, has remained virtually unspoiled and offers secluded bays and beaches, rocky headlands and some of the best fishing to be found anywhere along the coast.

The remote Lesotho highlands and the Drakensberg, southern Africa’s highest mountain range, form the backbone of this region.

Breath-taking views and streams flowing through secluded valleys attract nature lovers, hikers, bird-watchers and trout fisher men. A plateau dotted with traditional Xhosa huts lies between the mountains and the Wild Coast’s sheltered coves and forested cliffs. North of here, in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, a pastoral land scape of green hills and forest patches serves as the perfect backdrop for charming country hotels, myriad arts and crafts enterprises and dairy farms.

Two Beautiful Days in Cape Town

One of the world’s most beautiful cities, Cape Town has an inspirational harbour front setting below the majestic Table Mountain

  • Arriving: All flights land at Cape Town International Airport, 20 km (12 miles) east of the city centre. Taxis are available to take you to the city centre, and there are also cheaper shuttles and buses.
  • A popular way of getting around is the tourist-oriented hop-on hop-off open-top City Sightseer Cape Town bus, which connects the V&A Waterfront to most other sites of interest. There are also normal buses, and taxis are readily available. Organized day tours are also easy to arrange.

Day 1

Morning

The cableway to the top of Table Mountain runs in clear weather only, so if dawn breaks brightly, it’s advisable to start your exploration of the city there.

Allow three to four hours for the round trip, so you have time to follow the well-marked trail system at the summit, which offers spectacular views across the City Bowl to Table Bay, and the opportunity to see wildlife such as rock hyrax, Chacma baboon and various fynbos birds.

And while you’re up there, it will be difficult to resist a late morning snack or light lunch at the scenically located cafe next to the upper cableway.

Afternoon

It’s easy to while away an afternoon in the vicinity of the Company’s Garden, which was founded by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652, and is now the largest green area in the City Bowl.

Bordering the garden, the Iziko South African Museum is notable for its fine collection of prehistoric rock art and a marine section including a mounted whale skeleton.

Other must-visit landmarks flanking the garden are the Iziko South African National Gallery, with its renowned collection of contemporary and classic artworks, and Iziko Slave Lodge, a poignant museum housed in Cape Town’s second-oldest building.

Day 2

Morning

The Iziko Castle of Good Hope, now a museum, is the oldest standing building in South Africa and requires at least 90 minutes to explore.

A couple of blocks away, the superb District Six Museum commemorates the mixed race District Six suburb, which was razed in the name of apartheid in the 1970s.

Afternoon

Following a harbour front lunch at one of the dozens of eateries that line the V&A Waterfront join a guided four-hour tour to Robben Island, the high security prison where Nelson Mandela was detained for 18 years by the apartheid regime, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll be back at the V&A Waterfront in time for a seafood dinner.