India: A 3-day trek from Dharamshala

The beauty of the Indian Himalayas in springtime and the intoxicating air of the mountains made this three-day trek from Dharamshala / McLeod Ganj a wonderfully authentic, low-impact experience.

McLeod Ganj and Dharamshala

You probably know that Dharamshala is the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile and the population of Tibetans is immediately noticeable. McLeod Ganj is essentially a suburb of Dharamshala, named for Sir Donald Friell McLeod (ganj is the Hindi word for neighbourhood) who was a governor of the Punjab province and this was once a hill station where India’s British Raj administrators escaped from the heat of the plains.

We got to McLeod Ganj via the Kangra Valley railway, alighting from the train and walking up the (steep) hill to what is sombrely known as “Little Lhasa” for the Tibetan capital.

We didn’t do much sightseeing here but spent a day and an evening roaming around the town and enjoying the variety of good cafes and restaurants, including Tibetan of course. It’s a bustling place, colourful  with prayer flags and with lovely views of Dhalaudhar peak from cafe terraces.

Trekking from McLeod Ganj Dharamshala India

It was easy to arrange a multi-day trek from McLeod Ganj. We talked to a couple of trek organisers listed in the guidebook and chose one based on not much other than gut instinct. There was a guide and an assistant guide, who took care of everything to do with eating (cooking fresh, simple hot food) and sleeping and met us at our guesthouse shortly after breakfast. We carried light packs with just sleeping bags, clothing, snacks and drinking water.

Day 1: Trek from McLeod Ganj to Kareri Village (5.5 hours)

It was a hot day by mid-morning as we trekked through forests of oak and rhododendron, alongside the refreshing Nyund stream and across lush meadows.

Rhododendron flowers trekking in Himchal Pradesh India

The last part of the day involves a steep climb up a ridgeline to the village. The countryside is beautiful and we passed several tiny villages. I appreciated the opportunity to get amongst rural India rather than just seeing it from a train window at 50 miles per hour.

Kareri Lake trek from McLeod Ganj India

Kareri is an attractive village surrounded by white gold and feathery wheat fields and shaded by walnut trees. The mud and dung-plastered cottages have slate roofs. The snow-capped peaks of the Dhauladhars are snowy to the east and large bounders dot the landscape. We spotted some pretty birds flashing through the trees, including an Indian Paradise Flycatcher.

Harvesting in Kareri Village India

The whole village was occupied with either harvesting (using hand sickles) or spreading a fresh layer of watery dung over their courtyards. These dry to a hard surface in the sun on which the grain can be winnowed.

Kareri Village life trek from McLeod Ganj India

In Kareri village we stayed in the loft of a family home, on camp mats in our sleeping bags under the rafters. After a walk to a quiet field behind the village to relieve myself, I lay in the darkness listening to frogs and insects singing, as well as mice scampering around.

Day 2: Kareri Village to Kareri Lake (7 hours)

In the morning the family was up early and we emerged before 7am for a breakfast of tsampa porridge. Sitting on the porch I watched a hen and her chicks being shooed out from a neighbouring house, followed by two small children. Older children filed past on their way to school, accompanied by a fat black dog with a sticking up tail. He returned a little later, his task for the day complete.

Kareri Village trek from McLeod Ganj India

On the second day the trail sidled around and above the village before slowly climbing up a gorgeous river valley. The track is often steep and crosses the river on swaying wire bridges several times. The stream tumbles through boulders into green and gold pools. Tall thin conifers and rhododendron trees line the hillsides.

It is a valley of ladybirds, you can’t walk two steps without seeing two or three. A pair of magestic eagle hawks soared high, circling, then swooping through the valley. Their bodies are creamy and their wing span huge.

At about 2.30pm it was starting to seem like it must be an endless valley but in fact there was only an hour to go before we reached our destination. Eventually we topped out on the final ridge and found the lake.

Kareri Lake multi day trek from McLeod Ganj India

Kareri Lake is the culmination of this trekking day and this pretty stretch of water reflects the surrounding mountains and feeds spring alpine wildflowers. There was still patchy snow on the hills.

Kareri Lake trek shepherds hut Himchal Pradesh India

Here we sheltered for the night in a stone shepherd’s hut situated on a flat saddle between the lake valley and a steep, wooded drop into the next.

The guides built a bonfire and cooked up supper as we watched about a billion stars slowly emerge. Layers of dry grass spread over the mud floor were our mattress and our night was utterly peaceful.

Day 3: Kareri Lake to Bagga (4.5 hours)

The morning dawned bright and clear (again) and we walked around the lake and up to a low pass, crossing vestigial snow. Purple rhododendron flowers and delicate mauve and white daphne contrasted with the green grass. The air was often thick with insects, including butterflies.

A “shepherd man” and his flock of sheep and goats surged over the brow of the pass just as we arrived to enjoy the view. The littlest ones got a ride in the arms of the shepherds and they even let me cuddle a baby goat. These are the “Gaddi”, the shepherd people of the Chamba and Kangra region.

Baby goats in Kareri Village India

Then it was a tough drop down into the valley (look after your knees) as we left the alpine pastures and entered the lower lands filled with lush spring growth. The new leaves on the deciduous trees were almost autumnal in their gold and orange colours.

Himchal Pradesh forests India

A troop of languars watched us lazily from a sunny rock garden before scampering up the hill to the safety of the trees. The Jacaranda trees were bursting into bloom and the wheat fields were studded with colourful flowers.

Languars Himchal Pradesh India

At last it was back to Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj, via a local bus for the last section. The bus passed the colonial church of St John in the Wilderness in a curve of the road, entirely shaded by mature pine trees.

This trek was a locally-organised, environmentally-friendly travel experience that was just the right level of challenge for experienced hikers who wanted something a bit less strenuous. We had just finished two amazing major treks in Nepal and the fact the highest point of this trek at Kareri Lake is only 2,934m – I loved it!

All too soon it was time to leave this peaceful mountain town and catch the train to Amritsar.

By Natasha von Geldern

Have you trekked in the Indian Himalaya or visited Dharamshala?

Multi Day Trek from Dharamshala India Himalaya

Australia: Weekend breaks in Daylesford

When we were living in Melbourne, Australia, one of our favourite weekend escapes was to the tiny town of Daylesford. Along with its sister town of Hepburn Springs, this is a perfect place to take a break if you are in Melbourne.

Daylesford is nestled in the foothills of Australia’s Great Dividing Ranges and it takes less than two hours to drive from Melbourne. The colonial-era buildings are charming, with weathered timber, brick and iron lace, and the locals are very welcoming.

Originally one of the many towns that sprang up almost overnight thanks to the Victorian Gold Rush of the 1850s, Daylesford has since reinvented itself as an attractive weekend break destination.

Daylesford Victoria Australia

We visited Daylesford, Victoria at many different times of the year and found it gorgeous in each season. Perhaps autumn is the most beautiful time of year to be in Daylesford, with the colours coming out on the trees.

Autumn in Daylesford Victoria Australia

Wandering about in Daylesford

Daylesford is just made for gentle wandering – along the high street, beside the pretty lake, and through surrounding woodland – take your pick!

The picturesque lake was made in the late 1920s and has a tree-lined path to wander around (it takes about 45 mintues) as well as paddleboats for hire and a children’s playground. If you’re by the lake stop for a coffee, an icecream and a browse at the Bookbarn.

Lake Daylesford Victoria Australia

Eating out in Daylesford

Daylesford is a real foodie hot spot in the Australian state of Victoria. Our favourite cafes in Daylesford include Koukla and Gourmet Larder. Don’t miss the fabulously-named Breakfast & Beer!

Daylesford cafes Victoria Australia

Obviously tasting some of Australia’s many wonderful wines must be a priority and Perfect Drop has a great selection. Also, Daylesford Wine Tours offers a boutique cellar door experience.

Daylesford weekend break Victoria Australia

There is also the award-winning Daylesford Cidery.

Daylesford Cider Victoria Australia

Visit Lavandula

Visiting Lavandula is one of our favourite things to do in Daylesford. This Swiss-Italian lavender farm is a stunning location for the annual harvest festival and in summer the lavender fields are glorious.

Daylesford Lavandula farm Victoria Australia

But Lavandula is a pleasure at any time of the year, with delicious food eaten under the trees and a tempting gift shop.

Foodie Australia - Lavandula farm in Daylesford Victoria

It’s an instagrammer’s paradise in Australia…

Lavandula farm Daylesford Victoria Australia

A spa weekend in Daylesford

Daylesford is a spa town so if that’s your thing definitely book a spa weekend in Hepburn Springs, during which you can also enjoy all the delights of the town.

This is one of the few places in Australia where you can drink natural spring mineral water and it has been a spa town for over a century, making the most of the over 65 mineral springs in the area. The Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa, and the Peppers Springs Retreat are two top spa destinations.

Horse riding in Daylesford

We usually stayed in the budget accommodation at Boomerang Ranch in Daylesford and enjoyed many a gentle trail ride through the eucalyptus surrounding forests. The perfect way to enjoy the countryside and fresh air before heading for the cafes and spas!

Boomerang Ranch Daylesford Victoria Australia

Antique shopping in Daylesford

Daylesford has a lovely collection of antique and bric a brac shops and an afternoon spent browsing for treasures is very enjoyable. There are a number of art galleries showcasing the works of the thriving local artistic community.

Daylesford shopping Victoria Australia

Visit the ANZAC tree in Daylesford

War history is not for everyone but Daylesford is the proud location of a special tree. This ‘Aleppo Pine’ was planted as a seedling brought all the way from the Gallipolli Peninsula in Turkey, where many ANZAC (Australia & New Zealand Army Corps) fought and died during the Dardanelles campaign in the First World War. The seedling was from the Lone Pine, a tree that came to symbolise a famous battle in August 1915.

My great-grandfather was a Gallipolli veteran, travelling across the world from New Zealand to fight for freedom. The tragic loss of life  and suffering at Gallipolli became a crucible for self-awareness and nationhood for Australians and New Zealand, as these fledgling countries established their identities independent of Britain.

Lone Pine ANZAC Daylesford Victoria Australia

On a more cheerful note, perhaps the cutest thing about Daylesford is that it was first named Wombat by the European settlers in the area. Whatever it’s called, this little town is all about pleasure so plan a weekend if you’re in Melbourne or include it on your Australia travel itinerary!

By Natasha von Geldern

Have you visited Daylesford in Australia?

Weekend in Daylesford Victoria Australia

Africa: The best safari holiday ideas

Whether you want to travel from the Cape to Cairo, or enjoy a classic luxury safari holiday in east Africa, safari holidays give you an unparalleled opportunity to see African wildlife in its natural habitat. Here are a selection of safari holiday ideas for the best wildlife experience in Africa:

Do-it-yourself Namibia safari holiday

It takes at least three days to explore the main sights of the vast Etosha national park in Namibia. Over 22,000 square kilometres of game reserve is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species and 16 amphibian species.

There are three well-equipped campsites scattered through the park, each offering safe night game viewing at floodlit waterholes.

A matter of minutes from your tent you can watch black rhino, lions, hyenas and the striking Oryx (gemsbok) coming down to drink at night. If you stay awake long enough you may even spot a leopard.

Driving around the park on the network of roads, it is possible to see lions incredibly close up, as well as hordes of animals drinking at the many waterholes, all set in magnificent African scenery.

The Namutoni, Halali and Okaukuejo rest camps all have tourist facilities including a restaurant, a basic shop, a car garage and a swimming pool.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Walking safari holiday

If you’ve had enough of being driven about in 4X4s, get closer to nature in Africa on a walking safari holiday.

In the Namib Naukluft national park there are a number of rewarding hiking trails through the ochre-walled canyons, which are guarded by cautious troops of baboons and studded with the ubiquitous Namibian Quiver tree.

This is one of the biggest national parks in Africa and includes the enormous Namib Desert and the Naukluft Mountains. It is home to many rare plant and animal species.

Namib Naukluft National Park, Namibia

Another walking safari option is in the Okavango Delta of Botswana. Join a group of dugout canoes being poled through the waterways to a remote campsite and walk with your local guide to see stunning birdlife and more…

Egrets in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Also consider a walking safari in Zambia. In South Luangwa National Park, where walking safaris were pioneered, you can walk from camp to camp, arriving to find your bags in your tent and a cold gin-and-tonic waiting.

Affordable South Africa safari holiday

Kruger National Park is one of the most famous wildlife experiences in the world but a safari there is a pricey affair.

Pilanesberg National Park is set amid a beautiful group of ancient volcanic ripples in the earth forming 4 concentric circles of hills. For an affordable family safari holiday within a few hours drive of Johannesburg, Pilanesberg is difficult to beat.

This is a great place to see white rhino, as well as the “big five”. Huge solitary bull elephants stride across the landscape, many of them resettled here from Kruger.

Guided game drives are available at dawn and dusk, as well as night drives. It is also quite easy to drive your own vehicle – exploring at your own pace, enjoy the scenery and observing the animals.

The comfortable campsite is also full of wildlife – troops of baboons mounts scavenging raids on the rubbish bins and hornbills check their appearance in car wing mirrors.

Nearby Sun City with its water parks is another opportunity to keep the kids amused on your family safari holiday.

Bull Elephant in Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa

Catch the Great Migration

The Great Migration is one of Africa’s greatest wildlife spectacles. An estimated two million wildebeest travel from the southern Serengeti to the northern edge of the Masai Mara national reserve every year.

They are following the rain and greener pastures and in August the grasslands of the Masai Mara in Kenya are covered by a mass of moving wildebeest as far as the eye can see.

For a safari holiday experience that will put you in a perfect position to view the migration, stay at Olonana, right on the border of the Masai Mara game reserve, where camps offers professional driver guides for exciting observation drives.

You can also experience Kenya’s rich cultural heritage by visiting the Masai village which is adjacent to the camp and which Olonana supports.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Zambezi safari holidays

The Zambezi River, as it flows through Zambia offers fantastic African game viewing opportunities in a relatively undiscovered African safari holiday destination.

Once you have visited the mighty Victora Falls, try Kulefu, within the Lower Zambezi national park, where tents on platforms have been built overlooking the widest stretch of the Zambezi River.

Guests at Kulefu regularly see lion, leopard and elephant. There are guided game drives in 4X4 vehicles and canoeing trips on the Zambezi, as well as fishing and walking safaris through the valley.

The camp also has a swimming pool on the riverbank and a viewing deck overlooking the river.

Victoria Falls, Zambia

What are your best safari holiday ideas and experiences?

Best safari holiday ideas Africa

UK: Wandering through Leeds Castle (in Kent)

Leeds Castle is self-described as “the loveliest castle in the world”, which is a big call, but it is certainly a beautiful day out in all seasons. There’s just something so romantic about a castle on an island…

With 500 acres of beautiful gardens and parkland, as well as the castle which has enjoyed a rich and varied history, Leeds Castle is definitely worth visiting if you are touring the south of England or as a day trip from London.

Leeds Castle Kent in winter England

Just to avoid any confusion, Leeds Castle is not in the northern England city of Leeds, it’s actually in the southern county of Kent. There is a village called Leeds nearby but that is a red herring. Leeds Castle is named after a chap called Led who was powerful in the court of King Ethelbert IV of Kent back in the late 9th century.

Leeds Castle Kent across the lake England (1)

He built a wooden stronghold on two islands in the River Len and the subsequent structures built on the same spot was known as Led’s Castle.

Leeds Castle gatehouse Kent England

It has been rebuilt multiple times over the intervening centuries and you must watch the film in the gatehouse (just after you have crossed the moat) to really understand (through a clever visual reconstruction) how this place has developed over the centuries from Saxon stronghold to private 20th century retreat for the rich and glamorous (peek over the hedge to see the gorgeous swimming pool where you can just imagine posh types and movie stars drinking G&Ts).

Leeds Castle Kent United Kingdom

The castle is one of those buildings where if the stones could speak we could hear many, many extraordinary stories. For nearly nine centuries this place has been part of the social, royal and political fabric of the country.

Leeds Castle in Kent United Kingdom

Along the way it was used by Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, and no fewer than six medieval English queens have owned the property as their private retreat.

Windows of Leeds Castle KentWindows of Leeds Castle Kent

One of my favourite things at Leeds Castle is the semi-formal Culpeper Garden. Part kitchen garden and part mass of wildflowers, it has been designed by Russell Page to show off beautiful flowers with all their varied colours and shapes as the seasons change.

Culpeper Garden Leeds Castle Kent England

Further afield there is a fun maze to explore and an area where regular falconry displays are held because there is an excellent Bird of Prey Centre here. If you are visiting with children there are adventure playgrounds and a mini train to carry tired legs about the grounds.

Japanese bridge Leeds Castle Kent

There are many beautiful walks through woods and gardens, look out for the rare black swan population.

Black swans of Leeds Castle England

There are also plenty of options for eating and drinking from formal through to completely relaxed. Look out for special events throughout the year, such as summer theatre and concerts.

See the Leeds Castle website for all the information about visiting.

By Natasha von Geldern

Have you visited Leeds Castle? What would you say is the loveliest castle in the world?

A day at Leeds Castle Kent England

Wandering Kiwi’s 2017 Travel Highlights

Although I never feel like I’ve done enough travel, looking back over my 2017 travel highlights the Wandering Kiwi family had a great year!

It’s important to take a moment and be reminded of all the wonderful experiences we have had in the past year.

As well as travels within the UK, to Europe and the Middle East, there were lots of fun days in London, such as visiting the Handel & Hendrix Museum and days at Hatfield House and Leeds Castle.  Here are my 2017 travel highlights:

Ski holiday in Austria

All we managed to do in January was sit tight and wonder at the amazing experience we had just had in Myanmar but in February with hauled out the suitcases with great excitement for our ski holiday. And this year Austria had a special treat in store for us. Our week in Alpbach allowed us to discover one of Austria’s most beautiful villages, an incredibly hospitable community, and fun family skiing. Alpbach is a true gem.

Alpbach village in Tirol Austria

Spring adventures in the Wye Valley

The beautiful Wye Valley lies on the border between England and Wales and its meandering river, rich forests and fascinating history makes it a great holiday destination. We explored the ruin of Goodrich Castle, went canoeing on the Wye River and rock climbed on the crags alongside.

The Wye Valley

Derbyshire rock climbing

Derbyshire and the Peak District National Park are a favourite haunt of ours and this year we spent the best part of a week rock climbing at Stanage, camping and walking. We also had a great afternoon at Chatsworth House, home of the Dukes of Devonshire and squeezed in another historic site by visiting Bolsover Castle.

A day in Stratford-Upon-Avon

The small town in Warwickshire where William Shakespeare was born is one of the most popular tourist destinations in England and well worth a visit to see the various houses where he and his family lived. My favourite has always been Anne Hathaway’s cottage, where his wife grew up.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage Stratford Upon Avon England

Fairy Festival in Cornwall

We made a return visit to the Three Wishes Fairy Festival in Cornwall in June. Amazing costumes, fun creative activities, delicious food, music and more make this a magical weekend for children of all ages.

3 Wishes Faerie Festival Photo by Natasha von Geldern

Via Ferrata hiking in the Italian Dolomites

In the last week of June I went on an early summer trip to the Italian Dolomite Mountains, where I attempted the Alta Via 4 high hiking route that runs from north to south through the Dolomites. Challenging hiking, via ferrata sections and simply stunning scenery every day made this a wonderful week adventuring with my brother.

Tre Cime di Lavaredo - hike in the Dolomites

We also managed a cheeky day in Venice at the end of this trip to Italy because my brother had never been to Venice and because, well, Venice!!

San Giorgio Maggiore Venice Italy

Music and words at Latitude Festival

I haven’t written about my experience at Latitude Festival yet but in my head I’m still enjoying in my head all the transporting music and talks I heard at this very special event in the English county of Suffolk. Talk about food for the soul!

Latitude Festival Suffolk England

Sound of Music in Salzburg

I have been planning this trip for awhile now (perhaps ever since I first saw the Sound of Music movie as a child?) and this summer I finally indulged my inner von Trapp and took my daughter (and husband) to Salzburg for the ultimate Sound of Music experience. We sang our way around this beautiful city in Austria, went on the cheesy bus tour, loved the Marionette Theatre and swam in Lake Fuschl. Essentially we went everywhere Maria/Julie went in the film and we absolutely loved it all.

Mirabell Gardens Salzburg Austria

Action-packed family holiday in the English Lake District

Our summer holiday took us camping in the Lake District this August. England’s lakeland is a rich tapestry of lush countryside and fellside. We camped in the Great Langdale Valley. I climbed England’s highest mountain – Skafell Pike – and we had a very active time gorge scrambling, walking, kayaking, cycling and hiking. On the last day we persuaded Wandering Kiwi Jr up Bowfell Pike.

Climbing Bowfell in the Lake District web

Britain’s Loveliest Castle

This is quite a big claim but Leeds Castle (which is actually in Kent) is very pretty indeed. There is interesting history, beautiful gardens and grounds, falconry displays, a maze and much more Leeds Castle is a great day out.

Leeds Castle Kent United Kingdom

The Great Brussels Beer Weekend (again)

We love this festival so much it was our third visit! Two days of tasting exquisite beers from an enormous range of artisan brewers in the gorgeous setting of the Grand Place in Brussels’ medieval heart. If you enjoy drinking beer, the Great Brussels Beer Weekend event is a must!

Belgian Beer Weekend Brussels

A big bucket list tick in Jordan

In late October we set off for our most exciting trip of the year – Jordan. We have had this beautiful country on our travel bucket list for many years (who doesn’t!) and it did not disappoint. Exploring the ancient ruins of Petra, floating in the Dead Sea, driving the Kings Highway, camping out in the red deserts of Wadi Rum, the impressive Roman city of Jerash… we even managed some rock climbing!

The Monastery Petra Jordan

December in the Low Countries

We finished off the year with a lovely road trip to visit family in Belgium and the Netherlands. We stopped for lunch again at our favourite Trappiste brewery for a delicious lunch and a selection of La Trappe.

I hope your travel year was just as satisfying and that your plans for 2018 are coming together nicely. Maybe my 2017 travel highlights gave you some ideas!

With lots of love and new year’s wishes from,