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2012 ACL Music Festival in Austin: 10 Must-See Artists

October 11, 2012 by  


The annual iteration of the Austin City Limits Music Festival is finally upon us, and Austin is bracing for the influx of amazing musicians and die hard fans that accompany the three-day bonanza. Over 130 bands will be performing this weekend in Zilker Park, across every genre imaginable, as ACL celebrates its 11th anniversary of turning the historic Austin City Limits television program into an international festival.

As with every great music festival, there will be plenty of great local food and art available to celebrate the culture of Texas as a whole, and Austin in specific. Since the last note of Arcade Fire’s finale during last year’s ACL, fans have been preparing for this year, snatching up three-day wristbands and single-day tickets as fast as C3 Presents can release them. This year’s headliners include Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and The Black Keys, but make sure to check out some of these other acts I’m looking forward to!


Delta Spirit

My interest in Delta Spirit is a true-blue ACL success story. Last year my friends and I happened to wander into the Delta Spirit performance just as we arrived at the festival. I remembered really enjoying their rock/soul sound and made a point to buy some of their music after the festival. They’ve released a new album in the last year and I was so excited to see they would be returning to ACL.

Performing Friday at 2:15 at the AMD Stage.


Esperanza Spalding

A Grammy winner from Portland, Oregon, Esperanza Spalding fuses jazz, funk, hiphop, and soul into an amazing and unique style that has been building her fanbase since her debut in 2006. Her latest album made it to the Top 10 in the United States and she’s guaranteed to draw a big crowd this year at ACL.

Performing Friday at 3:30 at the Barton Springs Stage.



A winner of international DJ competitions since he was 15, A-Trak is always guaranteed to put on a show. Winning 5 World Championships is a quick way to get noticed, and A-Trak has taken his turntablism to the mainstream, collaborating with a multitude of artists and remixing songs from all genres. But the heart and soul of every DJ is in performance, and A-Trak will provide the ACL crowd with a killer set.

Performing Friday at 5:15 at the Honda Stage.


Big K.R.I.T.

This Mississippi rapper may be the ACL performer I am most excited to see. After releasing mixtapes since 2005, K.R.I.T. started to gain national attention with his Return of 4Eva project and after another stellar follow-up, released his first solo album earlier this year. With comparisons to southern hiphop legends UGK and Outkast, Big K.R.I.T. has a lot to live up to, but his high-end hiphop sounds more than capable. A must-see.

Performing Saturday at 3:00 at the Honda Stage.


The Roots

The Roots have been making their unique, instrument-based hiphop since 1993, and their latest release Undun from late 2011 proves they haven’t lost a step in 20 years. They perform as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon while continuing to tour and record new music. Their neo-soul sound is timeless, especially in the face of so much electronic influence in modern pop. But don’t think they’re soft, Black Thought is still one of the best MCs alive and is not afraid to speak his mind.

Performing Saturday at 6:00 at the Bud Light Stage.



While Gotye has been recording and touring internationally since 2003, he reached the pop stratosphere with 2011′s “Someone That I Used To Know,” but that song isn’t even my favorite from his most recent release Making Mirrors. Most people will know him for the smash hit, but this is no one-hit-wonder, this Australian is legit and his alternative synth rock sound is perfect for ACL.

Performing Saturday at 7:00 at the Barton Springs Stage.


The Civil Wars

This country/folk duo won two Grammys this year, their debut album flew off digital shelves, and they put a song with Taylor Swift on the Hunger Games soundtrack. Not a bad start. If you’re interested in seeing two real musicians with serious pipes perform some soulful music, then you’ve gotta see The Civil Wars.

Performing Sunday at 4:15 at the AMD Stage.


The Lumineers

One of the latest folk buzz bands (is that a thing?) to gain mainstream recognition, The Lumineers remind me of Kings of Leon, with less arena rock and more Americana. With an appearance at ACL, maybe they will follow the success of KOL and make it big! Definitely worth checking out, so when they are huge, you can say you saw them live.

Performing Sunday at 5:00 at the Austin Ventures Stage.


The Weeknd

When I left ACL last year, I put Weeknd on my list of people I hoped would make the cut for the 2012 festival. When the initial lineup was released, the Canadian R&B singer was nowhere to be seen, but he was added just a few days later. One of the few R&B artists actually trying something new, The Weeknd is a sexually-charged, lush, eclectic blend of trance and hiphop, and his trio of free mixtapes from 2011 is being re-released as Trilogy this fall. He’s gained national attention and is a frequent collaborator with Drake, and will definitely make waves at ACL.

Performing Sunday at 5:15 at the Barton Springs Stage.


Childish Gambino

Donald Glover is a really busy guy, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him listed for ACL this year. Between his role on NBC’s Community and a national standup comedy tour, he somehow finds time to manage his growing rap career as Childish Gambino. He’s had a debut album and several excellent mixtapes, and his edgy lyrics mix with vibrant instrumentals to make a very memorable sound. Lots of people have their own opinions about him, but you should probably show up at his performance and build  your own.

Performing Sunday at 7:15 at the Barton Spring Stage.


These artists are just a small sampling of the mountain of incredible musicians that will be at ACL in Austin, TX this weekend. While wristbands and tickets are sold out, you are guaranteed to find some available on third-party sites, just make sure to be careful and get authentic passes. I’ll be at the festival all weekend, hopefully with enough reception to tweet and Instagram from @djsnakk. Enjoy the festival!

Best Pubs In Europe to Watch EURO 2012

June 15, 2012 by  


With the EURO 2012 football tournament well under way, fans across Europe and the world are tuning in to enjoy some of the best national teams in the world compete. While everyone would love to escape their job for a few weeks and follow their nation’s progress in person, most people have to watch the match on television, and what better way than with other rabid fans at a great local pub? Here are some of the best across Europe, where you are guaranteed to find a cold beer, some good food, and lots of rabid football fans!



Picture a bustling, cavernous barn hall filled with drinkers from every part of the world chanting national songs, while dancing and drinking to their hearts’ content. Picture busty froelines ferrying stein after stein to an endlessly thirsty clientele while oom-pa-pa bands in lederhosen blow Bavarian tunes on brass, fueling the night’s conviviality. If Bavaria is a beer connoisseur’s paradise, and Munich is Bavaria’s beer-drinking consciousness, then Hofbrauhaus is surely the region’s lifeblood. It is an institution providing patrons with an unforgettable experience. Beers here are plentiful and arrive in traditional one liter steins bigger than one’s head. Select from a hearty range of authentic Bavarian Weisse and dark beers, and soak it all up with some rich plates of traditional bratwurst and Hofbrauhaus sauerkraut.
Platzl 9
80331 Munich, Germany

Ireland—Dublin—“Grogan’s Castle Lounge”
Seventies décor, well worn bar stools and threadbare sofas, a friendly crew of old timers and a magnificent pint of Guinness—this is the real Dublin. The craic is mighty at Grogan’s, a well-heralded local institution and ‘auld fella’s pub if ever there was one. Leave all pretensions at the door; Grogan’s is warts n’ all a ‘real’ pub—what you see is what you get, and as far as bar experiences go, it’ll be more unique than anywhere else in town.
15 William St South
Dublin 2, Ireland

Ireland—Dublin—“The Guinness Storehouse

More a tourist spectacle than a pub per se, we couldn’t overlook the inspired glory the Dublin Storehouse’s amazingly fresh, creamy to perfection pint of Guinness. With stunning panoramic views, the freshness of the brew and the aesthetic experience will beat any other in Ireland, or the world for that matter. This truly is the home of the perfect pint.

St James’s Gate
Dublin 8
Co. Dublin, Ireland
01 408 4800

Ireland—Dublin—”Temple Bar

By far the most frequented tourist nook in Dublin, it’s hard to miss Temple Bar, the central hub and core drinking quarter of the city. Cobblestone walkways and alleys line a lively, decorated collusion of traditional Irish pubs (or as the Irish call them, “Pubs”). It is, indeed, a bustling, jovial and wild scene, pretty much every night of the week. It’s an easy pub-crawl at Temple Bar. Take your pick of the bunch and soak up the vibe of Dublin’s historical drinking epicenter.


UK—London—“The White Horse”

Airy ceilings, Chesterfield leather sofas and a slightly upmarket Victorian feel mark this gem as one of London’s finest. Perched in the leafy neighborhood of Fulham, the “Sloany Pony,” as it is known to locals, is an institution with over eight different brews on tap, comfortable surrounds and an ever-diverse clientele. This grande old mare guarantees a tremendous night, and an even greater afternoon session. Sunday’s are big at the WH, and in summer, the outdoor burgers on the barbecue provide a delicious accompaniment to the glorious selections of traditional and organic brews.
1-3 Parsons Green,

UK—London—“Dublin Castle”

Nestled in the guts of the action in edgy Camden, Dublin Castle is a classic olde English watering hole and is well known as the spiritual home of local two-tone upstarts. With oversized portraits and signed photos of the band lining the interior, Dublin Castle is essentially their spiritual home, but all are welcome to revel in the glory. Offering a hearty selection of brews, the Dublin Castle is straight-up pub charm with a cozy vibe, a smattering of history and the perfect, cloistered setting for a good night’s worth of English drinking. The pub also operates as a band venue, with a rear band room, so be sure to check out local listing guides for current gigs and concerts.
94 Parkway,

Czech Republic—Cesky Krumlov—“Horror Bar”

In the quaint, foggy, medieval town of Cesky Krumlov, there lurks an underground cavern on a bed of stone, adorned with bluestone stairs and very little natural light. Folks, this is the Horror Bar—a gothic drinking dungeon fit for humans and the walking dead alike. One can enjoy Halloween all year round with an ample regime of local Pilsners at very little cost, blood red shots in test tubes and the deathly green concoction “Becherovka” that is guaranteed to leave a dent in the morning. Use caution when thanking the bar staff, as even the humblest nod of the head here seems to translate to “another round, please.” There’s nothing horrible about drinking at the Horror Bar.
Nebeské pastviny
Másna Ul.
Ceský Krumlov

Czech Republic—Prague—“Tiki Taky Bar”

In a city brimming with outstanding pubs and incredibly affordable beer prices, it’s inherently difficult to choose the best from the best. This quaint little expat bar, however, certainly sticks out from the rest. You’ll swear you’ve landed in Hawaii circa 1967. This place is a charming nook adorned with bamboo interior, tiki motifs, colorful décor and friendly staff. With a 5 am closing time, cheap, tasty fruit cocktails, and smooth lounge tunes, Tiki Taky is a completely incongruent drinking experience against the Old Bloc feel of the backstreets of Prague 3.
Cimburkova 22
Praha 3, Žižkov

Scotland—Edinburgh—“The Nicol Edwards”
Arguably the most haunted venue of all Edinburgh if not the most famous, this underground cavern is extremely popular with locals and students for it’s handsome drink prices and curiously spooky vibe. Shady, claustrophobic and connected to an underground network of medieval vaults that lurk beneath the street level, the Nicol prides itself on its somewhat dank, dingy reputation. But it’s all a part of the experience, with several hidden nooks, vault crannies and a downstairs bar with live music, the cloistered vibe here satisfies, keeping spines tingling, hairs on end, and pint glasses ever full to the brim.
35 Niddry St
Edinburgh EH1 1LG
United Kingdom

Spain—Barcelona—El Raval District
The Spanish know good cerveza, good wine and good times. Ultimately, there are just too many excellent hole-in-the-wall bars, pubs and cafes to mention in Barcelona, but for a good cluster of options in a concentrated nook, check out the lively multicultural El Raval district adjacent La Ramblas. Smooth, chilled out sunset sessions, communal cervezas in the wee hours in cloistered tapas bars, El Raval provides a vibrant hub of nightly excitement that buzzes with action.

Belgium—Brussels—”Au Bon Vieux Temps

Positioned neatly a good distance from the tourist buzz of the Belgian capital’s many bars and brasseries, Au Bon Vieux Temps is a favorite with locals and visitors in the know. Showcasing a modest yet ample selection of Trappist brews and infused beers, if not the extensive list of hundreds present in some other Belgian venues, the staff is warm and attentive, dedicated to fine brew and providing a relaxed atmosphere. A former monastery in the 1600’s, this really is a pub for locals that features a gorgeous old-style bar with tons of charm.
Impasse St. Nicholas 4,
off Rue Marché Aux Herbes 12


Belgium—Bruges—”‘t Brugs Beertje

A Bruges (in Dutch it is Brugge) specialty beer house since 1983, ‘t Brugs Beertje is a big attraction for tourists passing through, with it’s over 300 different beer selections, a charming, centuries old setting, and sincere dedication to a truly memorable drinking experience. Not far from the main town square, ‘t Brugs Beertje knows how to pour an excellent beer, with humble, helpful service, a regularly rotating draft beer roster and a thoughtful selection of pub snacks.
Kemelstraat 5
B-8000 Brugge

Seeing Savannah: Southern Hospitality and Sweet Dining

June 10, 2012 by  


American towns don’t come much more beautiful than Savannah, seventeen miles up the Savannah River from the ocean. The historic district, arranged around Spanish-moss-swathed garden squares, formed the core of the original city and boasts examples of just about every architectural style of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The cobbled waterfront on the Savannah River is edged by towering old cotton warehouses. If you’re planning a trip to visit this classic American beauty, these lodging and dining recommendations will ensure you get the most out of your time in Savannah.

Photo credit: www.iaes.org.

One of the most beloved hotels in Savannah is The Marshall House. Some aspects of this hotel — especially the second-story cast-iron veranda — might remind you of a 19th-century hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It originally opened in 1851 as the then-finest hotel in Savannah. In 1864 and 1865, it functioned as a Union army hospital before housing such luminaries as Conrad Aiken and Joel Chandler Harris, author of Stories of Uncle Remus. After a ratty-looking decline, it closed — some people thought permanently — in 1957. In 1999, it reopened as a “boutique-style” inn. Despite the fact that this place has some of the trappings of an upscale B&B, some aspects of this place evoke a busy commercial motel. Guest rooms succeed at being mass-production-style cozy without being particularly opulent. Seven of the largest and most historically evocative rooms in the hotel are on the second floor, overlooking noisy Broughton Street, and are prefaced with wrought-iron verandas with wrought-iron furniture. All rooms contain neatly kept bathrooms with showers. The bar has exposed brick, a very Southern clientele, and green leather upholstery.

The Mansion on Forsyth Park is the most opulent and spectacular boutique hotel in Savannah. Its core, known as the Kayton Family Mansion, was built in 1888 of terra-cotta bricks in a high-ceilinged, neo-Romanesque style. This place is international and more of a (tasteful) version of a Las Vegas blockbuster hotel than anything else in southeastern Georgia. Part of its allure derives from the rotating series of more than 400 paintings that sheath the walls of both the public areas and the upper hallways. Expect a plush environment with gilded cove moldings; Beaux Arts marble statues of, among others, turn-of-the-20th-century rococo goddesses at their baths; lavish antique chandeliers; and Versace copies of 19th-century French armchairs upholstered in faux zebra or leopard skin. The hotel’s focal point is a courtyard and a small but artfully postmodern swimming pool. Bedrooms are avant-garde and plush, and among the most spacious in Savannah.

There’s also the Hamilton Turner Inn, which exudes romance and decadence as well.

Photo credit: www.hamilton-turnerinn.com

Savannah is an old, coastal Southern town, and its restaurants reflect this in the traditional southern cuisine and numerous seafood dishes. Local seafood specialties include crab cakes and crab stew, shrimp, and oysters. A traditional low country boil, found on many menus, consists of boiled shrimp or crawfish with smoked sausage, corn on the cob and potatoes. Pecans, grown in Georgia, find themselves in a variety of main dishes, especially in desserts. If you have room, try a slice of pecan pie, or drop by one of the candy shops on River Street for some sugared or glazed pecans.

Photo credit: FastCompny.com.

One of the premiere dining destinations in Savannah is Elizabeth, a Low country restaurant housed in an early 20th-century mansion where the décor may be prissy but the food is anything but. The revered Elizabeth Terry is no longer the chef, but critics still run out of superlatives trying to describe the seafood-rich menu and what is arguably Savannah’s quintessential dining experience. You won’t go wrong with the shrimp and grits with red-eye gravy, traditionally made from leftover coffee, Bluffton oysters served three ways, including raw with tomato-cilantro ice, or snapper with a chewy crust of shredded potato and asiago cheese.  A few establishments commit to providing patrons with a true southern dining experience. The Lady and Sons offers southern food for lunch or dinner on a full buffet or from a menu. People line up daily for the home-style southern food and family style dining at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room.

While many of Savannah’s establishments operate in historic buildings, some have particularly interesting pastas, which makes the experience all the more memorable. The famous Pirates’ House was once an Inn that hosted seamen from ships docked at the nearby River Street port. Fifteen unique dining rooms preserve the old port tavern atmosphere. The Boar’s Head Tavern & Grill , is the oldest restaurant on River Street, established in 1962 when the city began giving a facelift to the old cotton warehouses along the river. The Moon River Brewing Company , Savannah’s only microbrewery, operates in what was once the City Hotel, which operated until the end of the Civil War. The Olde Pink House Restaurant, a romantic Savannah favorite on Reynolds Square, is located in a mansion, circa 1796, which served as the headquarters for General York, after General Sherman and Union troops took the city.

Any coastal town guarantees restaurants offering pleasant views, and Savannah is no different. The variety of waterfront views makes Savannah special. Establishments along River Street provide views of the Savannah River. Here you can watch the huge ships and barges pass by on their way to Savannah’s international port. Savannah allows restaurants to sell alcoholic drinks in plastic cups that patrons may take with them. River Street is a perfect place to grab a drink or an ice cream cone and sit to watch the activity on the water. If you want to get even closer to the river while you dine, the Savannah River Queen offers lunch and dinner cruises in addition to tours.

The Tybee Island area offers restaurants with views of the expansive salt marshes and rivers that wind through them. The Crab Shack , a dockside restaurant and bar, sits on Chimney Creek. Every table on the deck or the screened porch gets a great view of the marsh. On Tybee Island beach, The Dolphin Reef Oceanfront Restaurant at the Ocean Plaza Beach Resort and the North Beach Grill , near the Tybee Island Lighthouse , provide excellent beach and ocean views.

Above photo from Stay In Savannah.com – http://www.stayinsavannah.com. (tons more useful information on their site as well about this gem of a destination).

This is just a sampling of the lodging and dining that Savannah has to offer, and the variety of entertainment in the city guarantees you will have too much to see for a single visit. Regardless of the length and purpose of your stay in Savannah, this picturesque Southern town has a perfect selection of hotels and restaurants to choose from!

!Khwa Ttu: The San Film Festival 2012

June 8, 2012 by  


In parallel with Encounters Documentary Festival !Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Centre hosts an “a la carte” festival of documentary films that focus on San peoples. From 8 – 24 June visitors to the centre are welcome to choose a film to be screened in the auditorium (50-seater), either on the spot or by making a booking: 076-890 8826 (Magdalena). Synopses of films are on the website. All screenings are free of charge.

Special focus weekends have been scheduled for film directors who specialize in the field of first peoples film making, such as Richard Wicksteed, the Foster Brothers and Richard Pakleppa, who have been invited to introduce their films and for Q&A sessions after the screenings. Regular updates will appear on Facebook. For a limited number of aspiring film makers Richard Wicksteed hosts a workshop entitled “Introduction to video production and distribution from remote areas for First People communicators” between 20-23 June 2012. Bookings” 076-890 8826 (Magdalena).

Selected films synopses:

My Hunter’s Heart (2011)

Craig & Damon Foster (SA)

My Hunter’s Heart, shot over three and a half years, the film explores the world’s most ancient shamanic culture which is severely threatened as their traditional way of life and skills have been taken away from them. It tracks the Khomani San of the Southern

Kalahari, the oldest living indigenous tribe in the world, who are genetically linked to every human being on Planet Earth. In modern times, their traditional nomadic way of life has changed and westernisation has severed their link to the land and the animals. The film follows younger members of the clan, /Urugab and his family, as they embark on an epic journey to try to recapture some of the knowledge and skills of their ancestors. the knowledge and skills of their ancestors

Voices of our Forefathers

Tom hart & Lee Garakara (SA) 10min

Integration of animation and real life images, the film focuses on the lives of the Khwe speaking San community in Platfontein near Kimberley. The film revolves around the relationship between a grandfather and his grandson, drawing on the animation skills of Lee Garakara.

Cosmic Africa (2002)

Craig & Damon Foster (SA) 1hr12mins

Cosmic Africa explores Africa’s traditional astronomy of times gone by. It’s a documentary film co-production between Cosmos Studios, Åland Pictures and Rogers’s production that both explores and sheds light on traditional African astronomy and in turn global understanding of the world’s oldest knowledge. During the invention of the film, the team’s heavenly assignment put them in contact with chiefs, archaeologists, storytellers, shamans, star lore experts and many others just to mention a few in different countries. Cosmic Africa introduces African star lore to the world.

Da Terra, do Fogo e da Água (2009)

Richard Pakleppa (Nam) 44min

“Of Land, of Fire and Water- Voices of Angola’s San” examines the lives of the Angolan San exclusively the !Xun community in southern Angola and raises universal human rights issues. According to Dr Vigilio Tyova’s words – he referred to the San in the first part of the film as, “Those who were here first and today are the last on the social ladder…” The government of Angola has finally recognised the !Xun San community as citizens of that country.

The Great Dance (Botswana)

Craig and Damon Foster 1hr1min

“Tracking is like dancing … you are talking with god when you are doing these things.” !Nqate is a hunter. His home is the Kalahari; his people depend on him for survival. This is his story, in his own words. A story of three San hunters at their most extreme limits of endurance, culminating in “the Chasing Hunt” – a ritual that has never before been revealed to the world outside of the Kalahari. Discover the extraordinary spiritual relationship between the hunter and the hunted. Marvel at the incredible wealth of knowledge of San people about the environment around them. This award winning film shares amazing insight into one of the world’s disappearing indigenous cultures and its battle for survival.

My Land Is My Dignity (2008)

Richard Wicksteed (Botswana) 57min

The San have lived in Botswana’s Kalahari since the dawn of time but the Government wants the San to drop their old ways and leave the Central Kalahari. After the negotiations broke down the San took the Botswana government to the High Court to fight for their rights. At the discovery of diamonds in the Central Kalahari Game Reservethe Botswana Government reversed its policy of taking development to San residents in the Reserve and launched a series of forced removals of these peaceful huntergatherers from an area where they have practiced their culture for ten of thousand years. A documentary on the fight by Botswana San/Bushmen to retain ancestral land rights in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Shot between 2004 and 2007

Where the First are Last

Richard Pakleppa & Americo Kwononoka (Angola) 28min

Little was known about the San in the last thirty years. They were the older of first inhabitants of Angola, the hunter – gathers, their linguistic and cultural identity are very different from the numerous Bantu groups. It was thought that many San have fled the country or died in the war. WIMSA, a network of San organizations of Southern Africa, sends consultants to meet with the communities in Angola to ask questions and hold discussions about sources of food, income, land use and rights, health, education and needs.

The needs assessment of San communities in Angola referred to in this video dairy was commissioned by Trocare Angola and WIMSA in cooperation with OCADEC (Benedito Quessongo Advocacy OCADEC)

Fresh From the Ground (2009)

Richard Wicksteed 12min

Documentary report on traditional plant knowledge systems and biodiversity issues in southern Africa, for IPACC and the Global Diversity Foundation (GDF).

Tracking in the Cyber Age (2009)

Richard Wicksteed 12min

Field report on the use of CyberTracker GPS tracking technology by indigenous peoples in ecological and cultural projects, for the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC).

Remapping Africa (2008)

Richard Wicksteed 12 min

Field report on participatory mapping by hunter-gatherer and nomadic pastoralist communities, for the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC).

The Will to Survive (2008)

Richard Wicksteed

Episode one of series titled The Art of God, series director Guy Spiller. Documentary on San cultural heritage and the state of San communities in southern Africa today. Producer: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand. Completed 2007; broadcast by SABC TV.

Bushman’s Secret (2006)

Richard Wicksteed

Exploration of the relationship between San traditional healing and international pharmaceutical systems. Shot in 2003-6; screened at Encounters Documentary Film Festival South Africa 2006. Silver Dhow award at Zanzibar International Film Festival 2007 and Jury Prize for Documentary at Amazonas Film Festival, Brazil, 2007.

Iindawo ZikaThixo – In God’s Places (1996)

Richard Wicksteed

Documentary on the Bushman cultural legacy amongst the amaMpondomise, BaSotho & BaPuthi peoples of the southern Drakensberg.

For more information, visit the festival website.

Dive Into 10 Amazing Caribbean Scuba Sites

May 18, 2012 by  


Ever been curious about the excitement and beauty of scuba diving? If you’ve traveled to tropical locations where the sun, sand and water take center stage, you’ve at least flirted with the idea of taking the plunge. And if you already dive, you don’t need to be convinced. Either way, a Caribbean vacation is an easy proposition as more resorts welcome divers with special packages and amenities that make it safe and easy to blow bubbles in the big blue. Check out ten of these awesome Caribbean spots to go diving!

1. Grand Cayman — This British overseas territory gets my vote for some of the best underwater visibility anywhere, not to mention incredible dive-from-shore sites to fish-filled grottos. With over 200 cataloged dive sites, this central Caribbean island nation is as dive-centric as they come. And so are its many resorts. What makes The Reef Resort a standout is its location away from the bustling Seven Mile Beach, on the more mellow East End of Grand Cayman Island. Every unit of this family-run, 110-suite, all-inclusive resort has sweeping views of the sea. Guests are privy to its exclusive 1,600-foot stretch of private primo beach, where the turquoise Caribbean gently laps the sugar-white shore. Diving? The resort’s on-site dive shop, Ocean Frontiers, makes it easy to visit any of  the East End’s 55 named sites, distinguished by unspoiled mid-reef dives and tarpon-filled coral canyons right offshore.

 2. Cozumel — For me, a Cozumel vacation is the perfect getaway where spicy culture, world-class diving and the laid-back Caribbean vibe come together. Dive brochures list over 30 popular dive sites, such as Palancar Reef, a headliner known for canyons and an abrupt wall where divers scoot like gliders as they ride Cozumel’s famed current. The new 5-star Fiesta Americana Resort puts divers within easy striking distance of Palancar and other famed sites. Located a few clicks south of San Miguel and tucked in a leafy tropical forest, this 224-room resort is a tropical haven with its private beach and lovely shoreside snorkeling. The multiple swimming pools, a jogging trail and other top-shelf amenities make for quality terra firma time. And when the reefs call, divers can suit up on the resort’s private pier, from where multiple daily dive boats head out to sites just minutes away.

3. Bahamas — If convenience and quality are part of a dive equation, you can’t beat a close-to-home Bahamas vacation. This sovereign commonwealth has serious bragging rights that entice divers, and one of the best places to go overboard is from Small Hope Bay Lodge on Andros Island. Family-owned Small Hope is the granddaddy of water-oriented Bahaman resorts, being the first in the region to offer resort course diving instruction and one-on-one dive tours. The informal resort blends perfectly with the Andros — said to be the largest unexplored island in the greater Caribbean — with 21 one- and two-bedroom hand-built cottages right on the beach in full view of the sea and perched beneath lazy, shady palms. Offshore, divers could spend weeks exploring the Andros Barrier Reef’s chasms known as Blue Holes, and the walls descending into the famous underwater canyon known at the Tongue of the Ocean.

 4. Dominican Republic — The thing about the DR that impresses divers is its enormity: two oceans, a system of inland freshwater caves, offshore wall dives, a smattering of satellite islands, protective coral reefs, deep harbors, 437 cataloged shipwrecks, a coastline of over 800 miles and the largest annual migration of humpback whales on earth. There are dozens of good resort choices where divers and non-divers alike will both enjoy their Caribbean vacations. Among those would be the Occidental Grand Punta Cana on the island’s eastern extremity that thrusts into the turquoise Atlantic with powdered sugar beaches. This Spanish style, all-inclusive resort has it all, from 865 luxe rooms, seven bars and lagoon-style pool, to picturesque coconut palms dotting the beach and an impressive list of daily activities, including diving. Daily dives with PADI- and SSI-certified instructors are just minutes away to sites known for manta rays, scores of reef fish species, manatees and more.

5. Bonaire — Get a group of seasoned Caribbean divers together, ask them their favorite spots, and it’s guaranteed Boniare will be at or near the top. In the Dutch Caribbean, Bonaire is famous for over 50 easily accessible shore dives, along with offshore drop zones that put the tally to 86 named sites. Another plus is the variety of dives for rank beginners through highly advanced divers. If you do dive you know what it takes to become a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Gold Palm Resort, which is why Plaza Resort Bonaire is dive-central for so many bubble blowers here. Between dives guests enjoy sizeable suites or villas, spacious pool, classy dining and bars, and nightly dining specials like Lobster and Salsa nights, and an elaborate beach BBQ. When it’s dive time, the resort’s dive staff and five-boat fleet whisk you away to some of the Caribbean’s best reef dives.

6. U.S. Virgin Islands — I credit my first U.S. Virgin Islands vacation with turning me into a diver. Every time I return I’m reminded of why I love “America’s Caribbean.” Of the sister islands (St. Croix and St. Thomas), St. John has the most peaceful quality. Two-thirds of SJ is protected park land, not including nearly 13,000 submerged acres in Coral Reef National Monument. If the idea of diving and staying in eco-style digs is appealing, head to Maho Bay Camps, the brainchild of an eco-resort pioneer who wanted to emphasize low-impact accommodations. Maho’s 114 tent cottages with private balconies are wonderful places, perched in the trees and connected by walkways. A full restaurant and other services are on-site as well, including the Maho Bay Water Sports Center, which offers PADI-certified instructors who lead dives to extraordinary reefs where tarpon, Spanish mackerel and parrotfish are as predictable as they are plentiful.

 7. Utila — Touch down on Utila’s dirt airstrip and you’ll think you’ve entered a time warp. High-rises, shopping malls and golf courses? No, no and no. Indeed, part of the charm of little Utila, among the Bay Islands of Honduras, is that it’s a throwback to simpler days. And it so happens that diving here borders the epic, its gin-clear water flourishing with whale sharks and 95 percent of all marine species occurring throughout the Caribbean. I speak from experience saying the best dive resort is the Laguna Beach Resort, located on an offshore islet huge on the Gilligan factor and similarly big in its quaint, comfortable approach to resort life. Guest count is limited to just 40, who stay in woodsy two- and three-bedroom bungalows with modern conveniences. Meanwhile, the dive shop, its super staff and three large dive boats ensure trips to the world’s second largest fringe coral reef are nothing short of spectacular.

8. Curacao — Curacao — the name alone conjures the elements of island perfection. Another Dutch Caribbean island, this tropical jewel is famous in dive circles for its shipwreck dives and amazingly healthy reefs teeming with coral, sponges and butterfly, French angle and parrotfish. If you aren’t a diver when you arrive, chances are you’ll become certified before your Curacao vacation is over. That’s one of the reasons behind the PADI 5-Star Gold Palm and National Geographic Dive Center at the Hilton Curacao in Willemstad. Besides its well-appointed rooms, suites, two private beaches, sprawling pool, casino, tennis courts, golf and other amenities, the Hilton has a dedicated dive center aimed at recreational divers, and offers a multitude of certification courses to improve dive skills. Dive sites are rarely more than a few minutes offshore, and outings run the gamut from beginner to advanced dives, along with playful encounters with dolphins and stingrays.

9. Turks & Caicos — Lately, this 40-island British Crown Colony has become a playground of the rich and famous. Not surprising with its pristine white beaches, perfectly arched palms, multi-hued water and tony resorts. But these same attributes are there for the rest of us. And if you’re a diver, all the better. Guests at Ocean Club Resort, located at Grace Bay on Providenciales, or “Provo,” can have the best of both words here. Plunked on an immaculate beach, the resort’s simple elegance and casual atmosphere have a way of making guests feel special. Spas, restaurants, a collection of studio and spacious three-bedroom condos and other prim amenities make sure of it. And catering to divers is the resort’s affiliation with Provo Turtle Divers, the most experienced here. Ask about Ocean Club’s “Seven Nights in Diver’s Heaven” package that showcases the islands underwater diversity and offers options for add-on excursions.

 10. Belize — If you dive but haven’t yet visited Belize…well, it’s just a matter of time. This compact, English-speaking Central American nation boasts an 185-mile barrier reef dotted by some 200 cayes spanning 3,000 square miles of protected waters. There are hundreds of world-class dives, virtually all with 100-foot visibility. Marine life is just as epic with some 400 fish species. You can sample a good chunk of it from the Sunbreeze Hotel, an oceanfront property in the heart of lively San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. There are 42 non-smoking seaside rooms, as well as 21 deluxe and five premium rooms with different in-room amenity levels. Spend your days diving though the hotel’s PADI dive shop, Aqua Belize Divers, which shuttles you to dozens of sites along the 25-mile reef just a half-mile offshore. Come evenings, explore the town’s many bars, restaurants and shops that will never cease to entertain.

Think Outside The Coliseum: 10 Roman Ruins Around The World

May 17, 2012 by  


Everyone has seen Roman ruins, in person, or in photos and movies, from the majestic to the humble. Some stand barely untouched by the ages, while others are dilapidated remains of their former grand selves. But all provide a wondrous snapshot into Roman civilization: the gods they worshiped, their architectural prowess, the entertainment that thrilled them, and the decorations and amenities in their homes.

And yet, it’s Rome, with its mega Coliseum, Forum and Pantheon, that’s seen as the epicenter of all ancient Roman antiquities. While it was the capital of the Empire,  the Romans spread their wings across large swaths of Europe, southern Britain, North Africa and the Middle East. These are 10 of the greatest places to check out what they left behind outside of Italy.

1. Merida, Spain


Ruins seem to materialize in the unlikeliest places in this former capital of the Roman province of Lusitania. The Temple of Diana appears behind the tourist information office, and the colorful Los Milagros Aqueduct with its seven standing columns rising not far from a set of railroad tracks.

Stroll along the nearby leafy landscaped expanse that fronts the Guadiana River and you’ll come upon a half-mile long Roman bridge, the longest such structure remaining in the world. This now pedestrian structure that attracts joggers and cyclists alike is within striking distance of its contemporary cousin that’s designed by star architect Santiago Calatrava. Another place to walk among history is along the periphery of the Roman Circus where charioteers once raced.

But anyone who thrills in the macabre should check out Los Columbarios funeral site. Aside from providing a wealth of information on Roman funeral ceremonies, it’s planted with an array of flora, such as cypress, that symbolically refers to death and the afterlife.

2. Leptis Magna, Libya


Your introduction to the extravagant architecture in this city that was once held in as high esteem as Rome is the grand Septimius Severus Arch. Named in honor of their native son emperor who presided over this Roman settlement — the largest in North Africa — during the height of its prosperity, the towering marble edifice is bedecked with elaborate historical and religious motifs.

Walking along the colonnaded street that Severus constructed, you’ll come to the expansive Hadrianic Baths where, thanks to hot and cold rooms, saunas, a swimming pool and marble latrines, the populace probably had plenty of opportunity to luxuriate. The Romans obviously loved their leisure aquatic centers: A long trek brings you to the Hunting Baths with its well-preserved colorful mosaics and frescoes for which it takes its name.

You can spend a good part of a day on the site, but don’t miss visiting Sabrantha, another well-preserved Roman site, that’s a few hours away.

3. Pula, Croatia


You could easily spend four or five hours in Pula where the immense amphitheater dating from the time of Augustus gets all the attention.

With an audio guide in hand, you can roam around the well-preserved arena, tiers, towers and subterranean galleries and visualize the gory entertainment that once captured spectators’ attention. (Present-day events include the decidedly more civilized Pula Film Festival.) The underground corridors that once held beasts and gladiators alike now display stone olive and grape presses and amphora.

A steep walk up to the town’s informal Archaeological Museum of Istria is worth it for its Roman glass exhibit, tombstones and sarcophagi. (Curiously, the latter two are displayed along the hallways.)

Another side of Roman life is evident on the largest island of Brijuni National Park, an idyllic setting that’s a short bus and ferry ride away. What must’ve been an elegant Roman villa is set on a prime piece of waterfront real estate complete with ruins of terraces, temples and even a fishpond.

4. Jerash, Jordan


Set in a placid valley at the base of the Gilead Mountains, Jerash contains such an extensive expanse of ruins that you’ll need to reserve a full day for your visit. And though it’s got a petite hippodrome, you’ll be able to watch daily reenactments of what spectators would’ve experienced thousands of years ago.

Gladiators fight wielding tridents and swords. Roman legionnaires decked out in brown togas reenact battles they might have seen as members of a Roman army. And charioteers race the traditional seven laps around the track.

Running under a mile straight to the city center, the Cardo Maximus — Cardo for short — is the colonnaded main boulevard that allows entrée to many monument ruins. (It itself remains paved with some original stones that are rutted from the many chariot wheels that once rolled across its surface.)

5. Caesarea, Israel


Now a national park, Caesarea was once a resplendent port city that King Herod named hoping to showcase his loyalty to Julia Caesar. Once Jerusalem fell, it became the country’s most prominent city and trade harbor.

The visitor’s center today shows a movie depicting the history of the magnificent city and allows you to ask questions of virtual historical figures. But on a warm, sunny day you have plenty of other choices, whether it’s inspecting the ruins of Herod’s palace, which may have also been used by Pontius Pilot; lunching along the harbor where some of the original stone breakwater remains; or snorkeling or scuba diving in the submerged port (now an underwater archaeological park). Depending on your skill and the route, you’ll spy a Herodian pavement or a late Roman shipwreck.

6. Aspendos, Turkey


Sweeping down from the hillside, the 2,000-year-old amphitheater has such fine acoustics that some people return year after year to hear Verdi’s Aida, a signature piece, and other works by both Turkish and international performers at the annual Aspendos Opera & Ballet Festival. Equally interesting to many is the stage building displaying ornamental motifs and a decorative relief of Dionysus, the patron god of wine and the theater.

You’ll also want to take the time to walk the path adjacent to the theater that winds up to the acropolis. Not only are the views over the Koprucay River and the fertile Pamphylian plain superb, but a mélange of prominent ruins are also visible, including the agora or ancient marketplace and political gathering spot, a once elaborate fountain complex dedicated to the water nymphs (hence the name nymphaeum), and a basilica where the courts were located.

7. Baalbek, Lebanon


Once known as Heliopolis or City of the Sun, Baalbek has a standout complex of shrines, including two lofty and detailed temples.

The grand one dedicated to Juniper, the god of the sky, is constructed of some of the tallest columns in the world — they soar some 70 feet skyward. The interior sanctuary was once restricted to the priests who performed ritual sacrifices on the stone altar. The massive foundation blocks that weigh in at hundreds of tons remain shrouded in mystery. (It’s still unclear how these stones could’ve been moved.)

The smaller but better preserved Temple of Bacchus is really dedicated not to Dionysus (aka Bacchus) but to a different, much disputed deity: perhaps a solar god. Some believe that the curious carved images of poppies and grapes may indicate that wine and drugs played a role in ceremonies. Hence, the god of wine became identified with this temple.

Nowadays, both temples see theatrical, ballet, jazz and other performances during the annual Baalbeck International Festival.

8. Conimbriga, Portugal


A mere 10 miles from the university town of Coimbra that’s also Portugal’s former capital, you can find the most well-preserved Roman settlement in the country. (In fact, it was a finalist as one of Portugal’s Seven Wonders.)

To get the most out of your visit to Conimbriga where most of the information is in Portuguese, first buy a guidebook at the ticket office. Then roam along the 13-foot-wide limestone-block Roman road where the ruts left by ancient carts are still plainly visible.

The most striking thing about the ruins of the houses along the way is the evidence of their former courtyards with richly-hued mosaics displaying all manner of images — some mythological — and bold geometric patterns. The House of the Fountains, a former wealthy Roman residence, is aptly named for the hundreds of fountains that once gushed. (You can still see the functioning waterworks under the now glass-canopied site.)

Nearby, the remains of the House of Cantaber, a nobleman’s house that’s considered one of the largest Roman residences ever discovered in the West, provides evidence of some of the villa’s luxe features, including its baths and colonnaded garden.

9. El-Jem, Tunisia


You can’t miss the monumental amphitheater, one of the largest in the Roman Empire that towers over the modern-day city. But instead of rushing to this behemoth — it’s estimated to hold some 30,000 spectators — first pay a visit to the El Jem Museum that displays its impressive collection of artifacts in a reconstruction of a Roman villa.

The exhibits of goblets, sculptures (like Medusa’s head) and mosaics (such as the Nine Muses) ring a colonnaded courtyard. On this archeological site, the lavish House of Africa, an aristocrat’s villa, depicts a renowned mosaic of the goddess Africa, patron of fertility and wealth.

In the summer, you can join the thousands who come to listen to classical — both European and Arabic — music in the grand amphitheater during the month-long International Festival of Symphonic Music. However, it’s hardly the only amphitheater in town. (It’s actually the third built in El-Jem; the ruins of the other two lie near a railroad line.)

10. Arles, France


Sometimes referred to as the “Rome of France,” Arles, part of the Marseille-Provence region that will be European Cultural Capital 2013, is dotted with a good share of antiquities. No wonder, considering it’s sited on a trade route that once connected Italy and Spain. And long before Van Gogh fell in love with this evocative land, Emperor Constantine constructed a colossal palace, complete with extensive baths. Partial ruins of these, the Thermes de Constantine, still remain.

Once the social and political hub of this former Roman settlement, the cafe- and tree-lined Place du Forum is still the focal point of the city’s nightlife. A couple of columns from a 2nd century Roman temple are embedded in the exterior of the Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus that fronts this lively square.

But it’s Arles’ massive arch-ribboned amphitheater (Les Arenes) that’s the heart of any visit to this old city. Instead of the ubiquitous Roman blood sports, contemporary spectators can see traditional bullfights — obviously bloody in their own right — or the courses camarguaises where the bulls don’t meet their demise as the men (raseteurs) try to skillfully remove ribbons from the animal’s horns.

España Gratis: 10 Free Things To Do In Spain

May 16, 2012 by  


Beautiful Spain has so many amazing things to offer: sun-soaked plazas, sangria and siestas. But best of all, there’s plenty to do in Spain for nada. Whether you’re saving up to make your trip last longer or you’re just a cheap bastard with no excuses, we’ve picked out the nation’s best free activities for your shameless taking.

1. Hike the Camino


Make a dramatic entrance and hike into the country via the Camino de Santiago. This famous pilgrimage, dating back over 1000 years, begins in the French Pyrenees and continues across to Galicia, in Northern Spain. Traditionally, pilgrims hike the route of St James’ Bones to obtain forgiveness for their sins, until they reach the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Walking (for a week) costs nothing (except all those calories and foot blisters), plus accommodation is close to free, with a pilgrim’s passport permitting lodging at special hostels (albergues) for a small fee. With costs so low, be prepared to give up mind, body and soul on this ass-muscle-building, life-changing, challenge.

2. Sunbathe Naked in the South


Lose those tan lines on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches on the Costa De La Luz. The Atlantic “Coast of Light” in Southern Spain offers stretches of sunny golden sand, from hippy havens like Los Canos de Meca to resorts like classy La Barossa, where you can live the high life for free. Watch the kitesurfers run around Valdevaqueros in Tarifa or visit any of the tiny fishing villages like Zahara and Bolonia for gorgeous beaches. Unless you count the sunscreen, you’ll cough up absolutely nothing for a glorious perve-and-tan session.

3. Get Cultured

Big shot artists like Picasso and Dali pioneered works that have been the pride of Spain for decades. Develop your pretentious, fartsy knowledge of the arts for free. Spanish museums offer free admission on selected days of the week or holidays. Barcelona’s famed Picasso Museum doesn’t charge the first Monday of the month and Madrid’s Reina Sofia and Prado museums are free most weekday evenings (as well as some weekend afternoons.) Head to Picasso’s birthplace in Malaga, where his museum is free on the last Sunday of the month. The exterior of the Museo Guggenheim in Bilbao (pictured above) is a free to see architectural wonder. To go inside with everyone else, check out their site for details on free visiting times.

4. “Semana Santa” (Holy Week) – Seville

Seville is awesome at any time of year, but if you’re there during Easter, you get to partake in Holy Week (part holy, large part party). Locals pull out lifelike wooden sculptures, usually insanely old and artistic masterpieces, portraying individual scenes of the Passion or images of Mary. Each church parades their statue through the town, creating a massive street festival that lasts for days, with an atmosphere that will wow even the strictest atheist or agnostic.  Pay nothing to stare open-mouthed at the religious reveling, but make sure you book a hostel well in advance, unless you favor staying well outside town. The Semana Santa is a countrywide Catholic festival, so if you can’t make it to Seville, try a tiny Spanish town and Jesus it up with the local villagers.

5. Take Language Advantage of the Locals


If you’re like most visitors to Iberian shores, your vocabulary is probably limited to hola, gracias, adios and of course, the integral “Dos cervezas, por favor”. Brush up your Espanol by chatting up a local. Language tutors in the states cost at least $20-25 bucks per hour. Take advantage of free Spanish lesson opportunities by striking up a conversation in your local tapas bar. Most Spaniards are flattered to see you take an interest in their culture and will gladly tutor for free, or try a conversational partner swap and teach English in return.

6. Hike the Sierra Nevada National Park


If the Camino is out of your reach but you’re still up for a trek with a view, head to the Sierra Nevada National Park. Located near Granada and the Costa Del Sol, this park features the highest mountains in the country, a wide array of flora and fauna, and stuna-cious views. For easy-peasy hikes that the hardcore will call “walks”, try the gorgeous Andalucian mountains around Ronda.

7. Sabatini Gardens in Madrid


We’ve got King Juan Carlos I to thank for letting us explore his backyard, by opening these gardens to the public in 1978. While Madrid’s Palacio Real requires a small fee, the gardens are yours to explore. Perfectly manicured hedges and trees arranged in wild geometric patterns surround a massive pool with fountains. Grab a crash course in Spanish history by acquainting yourself with the statues of the Spanish kings. Keep your ears open for impromptu flamenco performed by buskers with varying degrees of talent.

8. Ramblas, Boqueria Market and Plaça Reial in Barcelona

The central street in Barcelona, Las Ramblas divides neighborhoods while providing free entertainment for even the most ADD-ridden among us. Loaded with street performers, you can try to dodge the tourists (and pickpockets) or post up at a sidewalk café to watch the world go by. Nearby Placa Reial is not only the home to some trippy Gaudi-esque architecture and a fountain perfect for late-night post-partying dares, but contains one of Spain’s infamous party hostels (Kabul). Across the street, the Mercat de la Boqueria is a penthouse of food porn. Look, don’t touch; you touch, you buy.

If you’ve got a food budget, the Mercat is a great place to get a meal. Just don’t buy the cherries. They will cost as much per kilo as a night at a fancier hostel.

9. Free Wine and Olive Oil Tastings


The Spanish are experts at growing grapes and olives and producing them into delicious wine and oil. The countryside is littered with vineyards and olive plantations, all of which are happy to provide samples to those who stop and ask. While it’s nice to support the economy by buying even a token product, you can also wait for open house events and fill your pockets like a senior citizen at a buffet (although oil is not a buttermilk biscuit and may not do so well in your pocket).

In the countryside of southern Spain, you will see lots of olives growing on trees. These are not the same as the ones you buy in a jar. DO NOT put them in your mouth.

10. The Spanish Mint


If you ever end up in Madrid with no dough, at least stop by the mint and look at some. Free to the public at all times, marvel at all things currency from history, production and eventual distribution. There’s got to be an unlocked display somewhere, right?

This list is just the tip of the iceberg. In a country where free tapas proliferate the south and architectural wonders are everywhere for the marveling, you just need to hang around a pueblo for a day for a cost-free adventure.

Five Fun Things To Do In New Zealand

May 14, 2012 by  


Spend time in New Zealand and it became apparent that many of the best things for tourists to do are free. Most of the gems are too enticing to be kept under raps forever, and locals have started sharing information about the places on websites. All the places described in this article have free entry. Nobody is going to charge you to walk to the top of Rangitoto Island for an incredible view of Auckland.

1. Kerosene Creek

Walking alongside a dirt track beside a steaming creek of geothermally heated water is a natural spa bath, where thousands of bubbles forced down a rockface jet up to the surface. A little further along the fern-lined path in the forest is a small waterfall with a swimming area below, all warmed by Mother Nature to allow bathing during even the coolest months.

Many people who travel to Rotorua sit in concrete pits of heated mud, or swim in artificially heated hot springs that smell like a burnt match. They miss what I consider the true showpiece – Kerosene Creek. Don’t ask the locals too much about it. You will hear a litany of reasons why you absolutely must avoid the place.

“You will catch meningitis if you bathe there” is often told.

In fact health authorities say no-one has ever caught meningitis at the stream, and only two people in New Zealand’s history have ever caught the rare form of amoebic meningitis that can be washed into hot pools from soil.

“The crime rate for people who leave their cars there is incredibly high” is another.

But police in Rotorua say crimes around the creek are not the norm, and certainly not happening on a daily or even weekly basis. Patrol cars are sent to the area regularly just in case.

I was also told it is nearly impossible to find, not worth the effort and dangerous to drive there. It does seem the street signs that help you find the place are regularly pulled down, so it can be tricky to locate the first time, and it is off a dirt road, where public transport will not take you. Even the name Kerosene Creek makes it sound like a toxic waste dump.

Once I made the effort the first time to find it I was a convert. For a place the locals demonise I must say there were a lot of them down there. The water level and temperature changes day to day, but mostly it is possible to walk into the waters and have a swim, or even move behind the cascading flow for an unforgettable memory of Rotorua.

To get there drive south along the highway towards Taupo from Rotorua and after about 30 kilometres turn into the Old Waiotapu Road, which is just after Rainbow Mountain. Drive down the road about two kilometres where there is a strip of grass and walk to the hot springs.

There are no changing rooms.

2. Waitomo Glow Worm Walk

A path that allows you to view the larvae of the fungus gnat may not sound like a tourist magnet, yet the sight of tens of thousands of the organisms, better known as glow worms, is incredible.

Most people who travel to Waitomo, about two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Auckland, pay to go into caves and see the unforgettable sight. Some pay substantially more to go blackwater rafting, which involves floating in tyre tubes through the underground caves where the glow worms live. Both the paid walk and the blackwater rafting are a great way to see the creatures, yet for the budget conscious traveller there is an alternative.

Known officially as the Ruakuri Natural Tunnel Walk, the path that snakes alongside the Waitomo Stream is one of my favourite activities in New Zealand. It is only four kilometres from the Waitomo village, and begins at a car park just off the Tumutumu Road.

During the day it is a fun nature walk, but once night hits it comes into its own. In the pitch black glow worms pack the moist, fern-lined walls. The walk itself takes about 40 minutes to loop around back to the car park, and the centrepiece is the sight of glow worms coating a high-roofed cave.

If you go on the walk remember to take the correct path from the car park, as taking a wrong turn can lead you a short way to a dead-end. Torches are essential. Photographers will welcome the Ruakuri walk because they can spend some time trying to take snaps of the creatures, which is not allowed by most of the commercial operators.

3. Rangitoto Island

Many people in New Zealand for business or in transit find themselves in the nation’s biggest city, Auckland. There is lots to do if you have the cash but there is one option that only costs you the price of a ferry ride. Rangitoto is an island not far from the city, and was created by a volcanic eruption about 600 years ago.

A Maori term meaning “Bloody Sky”, Rangitoto offers breathtaking views of Auckland.

After exiting the ferry into a largely forested wilderness people usually attempt to walk to the top of the volcanic cone. Along the way you can check out the lava caves or even try to spot a bit of New Zealand’s floral emblem, the silver fern, growing. Tourists are told it is an “easy 45-minute walk” to the summit at Rangitoto, but despite walking at a brisk pace along the tough scoria paths it took me more than an hour to reach the top.

If you go remember to pack a picnic lunch, as there are no shops on Rangitoto. There are no rubbish bins either, so what you lug in you have to take out. The island is off-limits to dogs and bicycles and there is no accommodation open to the public. It is important not to miss the last city-bound ferry which departs in the afternoon. Return tickets to the island cost $25 ($A21) for an adult and $12.50 ($A11) for a child.

4. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

New Zealand’s national museum, located in Wellington, is a portal to lost worlds. The natural history section is undoubtedly the best in the country. Te Papa, as it is usually called, boasts displays including a full 21-metre skeleton of a pygmy blue whale, and the world’s largest known squid.

There are replicas of the giant moa, a bird species that roamed New Zealand until they were hunted to extinction when humans arrived, and Haast’s eagle, the largest eagle ever to have lived. Other memorable exhibits include Phar Lap’s skeleton, a piece of possum roadkill used to explain how fossils are formed, and an opportunity to touch a cast of a moa bone.

Te Papa is a good place to gain some knowledge of New Zealand’s indigenous people too. The Mana Whenua exhibition explains the important relationship between Maori and their whenua (land). The museum is open from 10am-6pm daily, and until 9pm on Thursdays. Nearly all viewing is free, but you may be charged to visit some short-term exhibitions.

5. Tongariro Crossing

New Zealanders love a good nature walk, or tramp, as they call it. While the 53-kilometre Milford Track is probably the best known, people looking for a tramping adventure may prefer the Tongariro Crossing. Stretching 19 kilometres most people complete the walk in a single day, although there are Department of Conservation huts along the route for those who want to break up the journey.

Scenery changes dramatically, from the relatively flat lowlands at the beginning to a dusty moonscape, an icy alpine section, and finally a rainforest. The volcanic mountain range is visually stunning with white snowfalls lying atop red and black soil. Bright green lakes set against the dark volcanic sands are eye-catching and during parts of the walk geothermally heated water steams out from cracks in the ground. The backdrop for much of the walk is the striking Lake Taupo.

Tongariro can be done in the winter but it becomes much more dangerous and during this period a guide and ice axes become essential. You have to be reasonably fit to do the crossing and medical help is a long way if you get into trouble, so make sure you set off prepared. Most people who attempt the crossing stay overnight at the Whakapapa Village and catch a bus in the morning to the start of the walking track. Buses cost about $NZ30 ($A25) including a pick up from the end of the track. Driving to Whakapapa Village from Auckland takes about five hours.

Kerosene Creek is close to Rotorua. You can learn about the town and book accommodation at www.rotoruanz.com. To learn about Kerosene Creek, and other hotpools in New Zealand visit www.nzhotpools.co.nz/hot-pools. There is lots of information about Waitomo at www.waitomo.com. You can book ferry tickets to Rangitoto Island at www.fullers.co.nz. Te Papa’s official website is www.tepapa.govt.nz. Visit www.tongarirocrossing.org.nz for more information.

Photo credit: my yummy-mummy.com.

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