BEACH WITH A DIFFERENCE: Top - Four wheel drive vehicles amid the vast dunes at Stockton Beach; and, bottom - Camels make an incongruous sight. PICTURES: Alan Taylor
29th March, 2012
ALAN TAYLOR writes about a trip to the beach on the New South Wales central coast...
“It’s like visiting a different country, except we haven’t left Australia,” said my wife as she approached the beach. It wasn’t the beach that grabbed her attention. It was the kilometres of sand dunes that met the horizon far into the distance.
I couldn’t help thinking the same as we walked towards the pre-arranged meeting place. There were four-wheel drive vehicles, as can be expected on sand dunes. But it was the camels walking over the dunes which gave the impression that we could have been in the Middle East.
The camels were just part of the scene though. The sky was a picture-perfect blue, contrasting sharply with the light golden sand. A cool breeze made the afternoon comfortable. I remember thanking God for His beautiful creation, wondering how it could have been any better when He first formed it. It was a moment of peace.
This picturesque location is called Stockton Beach and is located north of Newcastle in New South Wales and stretches 32 kilometres north to Port Stephens. It is known for its shifting dunes, which change daily. A number of tours take advantage of its fame.
We’d signed up for a tour that morning and were excited to drive over the sand dunes to explore further. Our vehicle was a new Hummer, specially modified with a higher roof. We were glad of that later.
Our driver was careful to follow the ruts caused by other vehicles. He explained that they’d recently had drenching rain for two weeks and a lot of the water was unseen beneath the sand. A number of vehicles had already been bogged.
The going was fairly flat at first and then the Hummer engine screamed as it tackled the first dune. Once we arrived at the top it was a quick travel down the other side. We learned then why the Hummer had a high roof. We bounced up and down in our seats and the woman directly behind me started squealing in my ear. The peace was shattered. Thankfully my eardrum wasn’t.
We stopped and our driver led us for a walk up a dune so large that he wasn’t able to drive up it. It was a test of stamina but eventually we reached the top dune and the view was amazing. My wife, who loves the camera, tried to photograph the scene but the camera could not capture the depth and expanse of the dunes.
In all the tour took slightly more than three hours and included a chance to sandboard down the dunes, and take a look at Tin City - a group of tin shacks built by squatters - as well as the shipwreck of the Sygna which ran aground in 1974.
The afternoon shadows lengthened and we headed back to the meeting place. Our camera appeared as we passed the camels and we marvelled again at how their presence seemed to alter the fact that we were in New South Wales.
As I look through the photos we took, I’m still amazed at dunes so big that they make large vehicles look like toys. And, in my mind, I can see God’s hand shifting the sand and shaping the dunes for our enjoyment.
It was on that tour, standing on top of one of the largest dunes there and looking over that vast place, that I realised my God was far bigger than I could ever have imagined.
PREVIOUS SIGNIFICANT SIGHTS...
HOW A LOVE FOR ISRAEL LED TO BIBLICALLY-BASED TOURS
THE GARDEN TOMB: One of the sites Karyn visited on her trip to Israel.
18th October, 2011
KARYN MARKWELL on her love for the nation of Israel...
I can pinpoint the exact moment when I knew that my future would be intertwined with Israel. It was on Israel’s Independence Day in May 2008 – 60 years after the Jewish nation was reborn – and I was standing with a group of Israeli friends in Jerusalem, singing the national anthem in Hebrew.
As we finished the song – which is steeped with thousands of years of hope – a formation of Israeli fighter jets screamed low over the city, in celebration. In that moment, I knew that the Jewish people’s ongoing battle to live in the land that God had given to them would be my battle as well.
Since that day, my life has revolved around Israel. During my 2008 visit to Israel, I studied Hebrew at a private school and launched my publishing business, Markwell Publishing, which specialises in serving Jewish, Christian, and non-profit organisations. I was staying in a small family-run hotel right in the middle of Jerusalem. Wanting to serve God in every aspect of my life, I stepped out in faith and launched my business from my hotel room, with just one client and a laptop.
After I returned home two months later, my husband Trevor and I opened up our Brisbane home to Israeli backpackers who travel around Australia after serving in the Israeli Defence Forces. We’ve become great friends with these Israelis who spend a few days with us. They’re often amazed that strangers like us will welcome them into their home. But it’s just a small way that we can share our love for Israel. They often cook delicious Israeli dishes and we’ll chat late into the night. By the time they leave, we’ve become friends for life.
In 2010, another exciting opportunity allowed me to continue to share her love for Israel. An Australian Christian travel agency, Uplift Tours and Travel, asked me if I would be interested in hosting a tour to Israel. I wasn’t just interested: I was ecstatic! For months, we developed the itinerary, which I wanted to be different to every other Israel tour. So many tours follow the well-trodden pilgrim trail, which is based on tradition rather than fact. But through the Lion of Israel Tour, we visit only historically and Biblically authenticated sites.
After more than a year in the planning, in May 2011, Trevor and I led our first tour group of 16 Australians to Israel. I was privileged to share with others the experiences that had been such a blessing to me. One highlight of the Lion of Israel Tour was a boat cruise on the Sea of Galilee. We had a boat to ourselves, so we flew an Australian flag and reflected on Bible passages. One of the crew members also taught us an Israeli dance, which we danced on the deck.
But it was Jerusalem that I most loved sharing with her fellow Australians - Jerusalem is the city of my heart. We visited all of the sites connected with Christ, such as the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, but the highlight of the tour for many was the Garden Tomb, which many Christians believe is the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. We entered the tomb - which I’m happy to confirm was empty! - and shared a devotional in the beautiful garden setting. At the Garden Tomb, it’s easy to feel close to Christ and understand the depth of His sacrifice and love for us.
Today, I continue to share my love for Israel through my publishing business, my friendships with Israelis, my involvement with the local Jewish community, and through the Lion of Israel Tour.
Our next Lion of Israel Tour will be in May 2012. Trevor and I don’t receive any payment for running these tours and we rely on word of mouth for advertising. But we believe that people can develop a deeper relationship with Christ by visiting His land, seeing the places where He walked, and getting to know His people.
God has blessed me by allowing me to serve Him through my business, through loving the Jewish people, and now through the Lion of Israel Tour as well.
At the time of printing, a few seats were still available on the Lion of Israel Tour (12th-26th May, 2012). For information, visit www.markwellpublishing.com.au/our-israel-tours or call Uplift Tours and Travel on (07) 3283 1966.
FINDING INSPIRATION IN CAMBODIA
FUTURE HOPE: Martin surrounded by children from Asia’s Hope orphanage as he texts a message back home.
18th October, 2011
MARTIN JOHNSON writes about why Cambodia holds a special place in his heart...
I first visited Cambodia in 2008, travelling with a small group from Bible Society as we visited and I filmed a number of Bible Society projects. I’ve been making television programs and documentaries for more than 30 years and at the time, was communications manager for Bible Society NSW.
I’ve just returned from my fourth filming visit to the country and I realise that despite the heat and humidity, something I loathe in Sydney, Cambodia holds a special place in my heart. Each trip has started with a day visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in the heart of Phnom Penh and then the Killing Fields site at Choeung Ek, a few kilometres out of the city.
Nothing can prepare you for the horror that both sites represent. Up to three million Cambodians were massacred during the Pol Pot era - almost a whole generation wiped out.
Knowing the history of the country is important in helping the western visitor understand the country today. By wiping out a whole generation, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army also wiped out the tradition and knowledge that that generation should have passed on to their children and grandchildren.
It also left a legacy of orphans and unwanted children, some of whom fall prey to the horror of being trafficked into the sex industry and worse.
Despite their history and current economic situation, Cambodia is ranked 129th in the world by gross national product, the people and their culture are one of the things that attract me. At the end of my last visit I read the book Killing Fields, Living Fields by OMF Missionary Don Cormack. His recounting of the coming of Christianity to Cambodia and how it survived the Khmer Rouge is truly miraculous. As Cormack says himself, his book is an unfinished portrait. It should be a compulsory read for every Christian visitor.
MAN BEHIND THE CAMERA:
Jason Berry (L) from Samaritan’s Purse being filmed by Martin (R) in the village of Don Toy
On each of my trips I’ve had the privilege of visiting a range of aid projects started by western agencies but now being led by Cambodian nationals. International aid agency Samaritan’s Purse partners with Cambodian Global Action (CGA) to provide bio-sand water filters. In a country currently inundated by water in the annual wet season, access to clean drinking water is still a huge need. For just $100, every household can have a bio-sand filter that provides them with safe, clean water.
When CGA first visits a village, it can take up to a year to earn the trust of the village leader and the villagers. Only at their invitation do they then talk about the advantages of the bio-sand filter and ask permission to help each household build their own. Its simple technology but this was one of the things that was lost in the era of Pol Pot.
On this and my last trip, I travelled with a team from my local church (Gymea Baptist) who had raised funds to build water filters. They also came to physically mix the cement, pour it into the moulds and then add the stones and special sand that makes the filter work. However in each case, the teams got far more out of meeting Cambodians than they contributed by providing their labour.
I suppose that’s my response also – you go expecting to offer ‘western aid’ but you come away feeling as if you have been ministered to. Seeing how they have rebuilt their country following the trauma of the 70s is inspiring. To then meet young Cambodian Christians, for whom Pol Pot is just a name, and to hear their passion for their country is proof that Don Cormack’s statement that his book is ‘an unfinished portrait’ is definitely true.
My favourite memories? Meeting the children from the Asia’s Hope Orphanage and seeing the joy on their faces as they sang to us, and having great iced-coffee from Mr Bounnarith’s stall in Phnom Penh’s Russian Market.
"MAY IT NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN" - A HAUNTING VISIT TO A PLACE OF DEATH
GATEWAY TO UNFATHOMABLE HORROR: The entrance of Birkenau inside which 1.5 million people were killed. PICTURE: JIM REIHER
8th September, 2011
JIM REIHER recalls a visit to the former concentration camps of Auschwitz...
More than 60 years ago, World War II came to an end. Earlier that same year (1945), Russian forces reached the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp and liberated the small number of survivors who were still there.
I had the sobering experience of visiting Auschwitz in June, 2005. It was memorable, sad, compelling, overwhelming, thought provoking, and deeply distressing, all at the same time. Almost one and a half million people were killed in the cluster of camps collectively called Auschwitz. Most of them were Jews. Their crime: being Jewish.
Others were killed there too: Gypsies (more than 20,000), Russian prisoners of war (about 12,000), captured members of the Polish underground and other political opponents – but the tragedy that surpasses all these tragedies, was the figure of over 1,000,000 Jews killed there.
I came to the realisation that I was standing on the most evil piece of land in all the world. Auschwitz 2 – Birkenau: How many other places can hold claim to having had about 1,500,000 people killed on it? If I could have seen the ghosts of the dead, they would have been hovering shoulder to shoulder and covering the entire area a few times over.
As I walked between the train tracks that travelled from the front of Birkenau to the back (a kilometre or more long inside the barbwire), I slowed my pace and tried to imagine the arrival of the trains with their many carriages of human cargo. I began to see hands reaching out of the small windows and then faces of fear and confusion. Children crying, or looking frightened – wanting a hand to hold. Others snuggling into their mothers or fathers, wondering what was going to happen to them. All of them hungry, tired, and exhausted from the train trip. I was overwhelmed and saddened. My imagination saw the women and children, the men and the their families, being herded off the train. They were then divided: some would be sent directly to the gas chambers (the majority: about 70 to 75 per cent of any train load). The rest would be sent to the barracks for slave labor (they were the “lucky” ones). The indifference on the face of the German officer who was making the life or death decision for each individual, was haunting. How could human beings be so cruel? How could they sleep at night?
The sobering moments included walking through the rooms in Auschwitz 1, and seeing the tragic evidence of the holocaust. A room full of human hair (behind glass now) was one of the most disturbing sights. The (mostly) women who were exterminated were shaved and their hair went to factories for stuffing in mattresses or for making blankets and mats. Some of the final product was on display as well.
Another room was full of shoes: 80,000 shoes were found at the time of liberation. The mountain of shoes struck the viewer with a jolt. Here were 40,000 individuals who had stripped for a “shower” and their footwear stored for some kind of future use by the German army or people. I saw a distinct red shoe that looked quite small. I imagined a little girl receiving her new shoes, and trying them on for the first time, and maybe even going over to her friend’s place and showing off her new prized possession. Whoever the owner was, they would then have a turnaround in their life that would have been impossible to anticipate. How could that little girl or her family ever have guessed that one day she would be executed, for no other reason than the fact that she was born a Jew? How would anyone have ever foreseen such evil and cruelty?
Top: Discarded Cyclon B cans; and, bottom:, the execution wall where many were shot. PICTURES: JIM REIHER
Cell blocks one metre by one metre, that held four adult prisoners each night, were likewise distressing sights. The “wall of death”, where thousands were shot for breaking rules in the camp, made our group go quiet. The remains of a gas chamber and the countless empty tins that had held the poisonous gas pellets (Cyclon B) made me shudder. Poison that was originally made for insects, was found to be very effective in killing humans as well. And ordinary men obeyed orders and tipped that evil produce into the vents that fed into the so-called shower-block, and killed up to 2,000 each time.
The first ruler of the camp was Rudolph Hoss. He had his own family and lived in a house on the campsite at Birkenou. His children played in a lovely garden just 50 metres from one of the crematoriums. He was supposedly a loving family man – a loving family man who killed thousands of other families of men women and children. I can’t understand it. How did he rationalise it in his own mind? How did he justify his life? He was caught after the war and tried. He was hanged back at Auschwitz on 16th April, 1947: a gallows was especially made for the occasion and still stands there today.
When it became apparent that the Nazis were going to lose the war, they blew up the four crematoria that burned the bodies of so many people at Birkenau (the rubble and outline of them is still there today). They burned down many of the barracks that housed prisoners. They destroyed most of the storage sheds that contained stolen property from the Jews who arrived there with their most valuable possessions. Nevertheless they could not destroy all the evidence of the camps and some of the structures still stand as they were, 60 years ago. Likewise some of the stolen property (mentioned above) was also left behind.
From where does such cruelty come? Is it just in the heart of humanity to be so evil? Is it madness or a sickness? Some say that such evil and hypocrisy must be spiritual. It is too horrible and too cruel to be just human sinfulness. Perhaps. Maybe too, there is the potential in all of us to do great harm. Even to such extents.
But not just that. There is also the potential in all of us to do great good as well. The world has not only seen the Hitler’s and Hoss’s. We have also witnessed the Mother Teresa’s and the William Wilberforce’s, the Gandhi’s and the Martin Luther King’s. Some humans will display great evil, but others demonstrate great good.
As I walked slowly over the railway line, I found myself praying. “God may this never happen again. May we humans learn from this, and aspire to never let it happen again. Give us – give me – the courage to stick up for that which is right, and to speak out against injustice.” I couldn’t help but think of that famous saying: “For evil to reign in this world, it only requires good people to do nothing.” God save us from good people who do nothing.
ALONE WITH GOD ON NEDS BEACH
5th June, 2011
BIANCA TALEVSKA finds parallels to her walk with God in the crash of the waves on Lord Howe Island...
ISLAND PARADISE: Lord Howe Island off the coast of New South Wales. PICTURE: © John Carnemolla (www.istockphoto.com)
Calm, stillness, a beaming sun, the feeling of the velvety sand underneath a bare foot, the chirping of birds and sounds of local wildlife. The loudest roar is to follow, it silences all creatures, it draws its attention upon itself, the glistening sun is forgotten, trees stand silent in the background, the roar detracts and is followed by a crash, so loud, it’s all that the eye and ear can see and hear.
Another moment of calm, the birds fight to be heard, the trees’ leaves rustle in the soft swirl of the wind, then the cycle is repeated; the roar, the crash and the soft trickle of the bubbly water making its way up the shore.
Lord Howe Island situated off the east coast of New South Wales. The words tropical paradise don’t do it justice; pictures don’t tell the same story as seeing it before your very eyes. As I sat on the soft sand of Neds Beach, I looked out into the distance, silently observing the stillness of the crystal clear water. I sat for some hours, at times praying, at other times closing my eyes and sitting in complete silence.
As I silently sat alone, it occurred to me that the stillness of the water is how I should be living my life in God, with complete peace. It was here that I had a revelation like no other; one that was so crucial to my walk with God both at the time and today. The roar of the wave returned, and God reminded me of the troubled times I was going through. At the end of the roar there was a crash, the wave came down, slowly subsiding as it made its way up the shore, dampening the dry sand. As I closed my eyes again, I realised that the walk with God was much like this, at times it would be rough and in times of despair, problems could resonate as loud as the roar of these waves, but just as the wave came down and the waters returned to complete stillness, He would get me through and make the rough waters still.
During my time on the island, I had the opportunity to snorkel for first time, to go fishing and hiking. I had the chance to interact with sea creatures, swim with fish of all sizes and colours, and experience just what it may feel like to live the life of a marine animal. These experiences, though one of a kind, didn’t quite compare to my lone experience with God on the shores of Neds Beach.
As I looked around, I marvelled in the creation, from the sand, to the trees, to the colours of the water. How incredible that the God that created this was the same God that just gave me a revelation. With hardly any signs of human life around, I took the opportunity to lie back and just listen, and for once not hear the sounds of the busy city life I had left behind back home. As the warm sun beat down on me, all I could do was look around and soak in an atmosphere that would stay imbedded in my mind and heart forever.
MOUNTAIN OF INSPIRATION
PILED HIGH: The stones of the Burrup Peninsula.
25th November, 2010
JEFF BAKER spends some time on a "mountain of stones" in Western Australia...
I climbed a mountain of stones today to pray, on the Burrup Peninsula, Dampier.
They mound up a 100 metres like a giant mole had been burrowing along beneath the red earth. Each stone was separate from the one next to it. For miles these mountainous piles of massive ironstones cover the land forming gullies where spinifex and white gums grow. Many of the stones would weigh tonnes and lay piled upon each other in a frozen avalanche of rocks.
Climbing up, one can stand on a stone and it feels as solid as the ground, but every now and then one might move slightly with your weight added to it and the revelation of how precarious these hills are comes crashing in. I pondered the ‘tipping point’ phenomena and drew a large breath.
But this shortly became a game of wits. I would survey the cascading rocks as I ascended, avoiding sections or stones that appeared unstable. Suddenly the mountain became a giant three dimensional puzzle, and reaching the summit of my mini-mountain maze was a personal victory no-one might appreciate.
Enjoying the rugged and beautiful grandeur before me, and talking to the Maker about it, my thoughts pondered how equally precarious life is. We live on the broken crust of a spinning rock with a hot gooey centre, hurtling through space at a 108,000 kph, protected only by a thin layer of atmosphere wrapped around it. ( Sometimes in the desert at night you can get a small sense of our place sitting in the Milkyway Galaxy).
Within our sphere of existence too, there is enough chaos potential to, at any given moment, turn our lives upside down; or right-side up, for that matter. A surprise opportunity, the loss of a loved one, an unanticipated windfall, a sudden life threatening sickness, fair weather, or a car turned sharply into your path...
I am reminded of the words of God, "There is no other Rock, besides Me." (Isaiah 44.8) The three dimensional world, and life in it, is totally unpredictable. It makes sense to trust in the one transcendent to it.
As I was descending, I put my hand on a large red ironstone and it moved. It would have weighed 5,000 kilograms, but it moved! I froze and looked about me. A moments' complacency had me surrounded by a million tonnes of collapsible rock, and my imagination did the rest. I carefully moved sideways around it.
Do we dance with death too, as we descend to the inevitable? Leaping from one seemingly stable rock to another. From the rock of youthful confidence, to the rock of social standing, to the rock of 'financial security', superannuation, insurances, to the rock of health preservation and medicine, finally to the crumbling rock of palliative care. Often only then we think about God and the looming spectre of the grave.
I finished my climb with a fresh sobriety for life and a renewed confidence of faith in the Stone that the builder's rejected, Jesus the Chief Cornerstone. All else with crumble and fall one day; any day, but He remains forever.
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."- II Corinthians 4: 18.
WADI RUM - "VAST, ECHOING AND GOD-LIKE"
SPECTACULAR: The mountains and desert of Wadi Rum in Jordan. PICTURE: Cristiano Galbiati (www.sxc.hu)
20th October, 2010
Journalist DAN WOODING, founder of Assist News Service, describes his visit to Jordan's awe-inspiring Wadi Rum valley...
TE Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia - once described Wadi Rum as "vast, echoing and god-like."
He was writing about the maze of monolithic rockscapes rising up from the desert floor; imposing, towering rocks and crags - God's skyscrapers - that are all over this stupendous and timeless area of Jordan.
Time seem to stand still as we saw the tents and camels of the Bedouins of the area who still practice a semi-nomadic lifestyle, grazing their flocks of sheep and goats for months at a time before packing up their goat's hair tents and moving on to better pastures.
Then our Jordanian guide took us inside one of the spectacular rock formations and showed us carvings that had been created many years ago by people who had lived there which portrayed aspects of their life and then we were taken to a nearby tent and enjoyed sweetened tea served to us by the ever hospitable Bedouins.
Lawrence, in his book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, wrote, "Our little caravan grew self-conscious, and fell dead quiet, afraid and ashamed to flaunt its smallness in the presence of the stupendous hills."
I felt just the same. Just traveling through this incredible area, one can only marvel at God's breathtaking creation.
Our group of writers from all over the United States, then settled onto the sand for the highlight of the whole experience and we watch the sun quickly dip below the rocks and then a full moon appeared. It wasn't long before literally thousands of stars, some with the faint glow and others shining brightly and glistening, appeared. It was like watching a tapestry of celestial spheres.
As I looked heavenwards, I was brought back to early when I felt my cell phone suddenly vibrating; it was a call from my wife Norma in Southern California. So there, right in the middle of this great and spectacular desert, we were connected and I was able to share with her what I was seeing so she could enjoy a word's-eye view of such a wonderful, yet nightly event, in Wadi Rum.
In a world so much of hate, violence and ugliness, Wadi Rum provided for me, an incredible experience of drawing closer to God and marveling at his great creation.
And by the way, much of David Lean's epic 1962 movie Lawrence of Arabia starring Peter O Toole, Alec Guinness and Omar Sharif was filmed on location in Wadi Rum.
But if you want to experience the real thing - you are going to have to visit there yourself.
FACE-TO-FACE WITH THE CHILD SOLDIERS OF UGANDA
PICTURE: Courtesy Small House Records
13th July, 2010
Melbourne-based singer/songwriter LEVI McGRATH is currently on a national tour sponsored by World Vision. Small House Records have just released his latest album, Children of War, written after McGrath spent five months in Uganda last year during which he was involved in rehabilitating child soldiers. Here, the musician reflects on his time in Uganda...
"African grass dances rhythmically in the hot afternoon breeze. At the end of the dusty track stands a smooth, round mud brick hut in a clearing of finely-swept red earth. Its grass-thatched roof – tightly packed bundles of straw and bamboo – sits atop the mud walls like a Chinese hat. Smoke from a charcoal stove fills my nose while scrawny chickens scratch the dirt at my feet.
"The doorstep, made of clay, stands just high enough to keep rain out during the wet season. Here sit a worn pair of black school shoes with no soles. A buckled timber frame borders a weather-beaten, peeling wooden door. Twelve years earlier a rebel commander stood on this same doorstep, shouting and beating on this same thin door. Here my best friend, Paul, then only 12, was brutally stolen and made a child soldier.
"Whether I stand there in person or in my memory, I hold my friend, now free. His story has changed my life forever. And so I share with you his hut, his door, and his worn, black pair of shoes baking in the hot African sun".
KING DAVID'S CALCULATOR
A CALCULATED RISK: A statue depicting David's triumph over Goliath - and, at his feet, the calculator he used? PICTURE: Karyn Markwell
27th January, 2010
KARYN MARKWELL finds an unlooked for treasure in Old Jerusalem...
In the labyrinth of Jerusalem’s Old City, just about any scene could have appeared around the next corner.
Already that long, hot day I’d turned down a hundred different lanes - all seemingly identical to begin with. I’d slapped the soles of my locally-made sandals down many kilometres of smooth stone paths and had been disoriented not only by the maze-like layout of the ancient city, but also from the giddying sense of possibility: what would I discover next!?
I hadn’t fully absorbed one marvel before I was rushing on to find the next, so anxious was I to squeeze out every sensation possible from this city which was my temporary home.
I’d turned one way and had been confronted by a busy lane of market stalls, with vendors aggressively trying to sell me everything from frankincense and myrrh to Spongebob Squarepants T-shirts written in Hebrew. I’d turned a different way and had found myself suddenly staring down the barrel of a submachine gun, firmly held by an 18-year-old soldier keeping watch for terrorists. He had chuckled when he saw the startled expression on my face.
Yet another direction - an upward climb this time - brought me onto the flat roof of an ancient mud-brick building with a spectacular view of the Mount of Olives, where Christ had been betrayed and arrested 2000 years ago. Following a stream of locals and tourists through a metal detector had brought me to the crowded Western Wall, Judaism’s most holy site, where devout men and women mourn the loss of their Temple.
The setting sun had started to paint the city with the distinctive hue that gives it the name ‘Jerusalem of Gold’, when I abruptly came face-to-face with a statue of the boy king David. This rather modest figure wasn’t the most striking or emotional sight I’d seen that day, but nonetheless I’ll never forget it. For not only did the giant Goliath’s severed head lie at the conqueror David’s feet, but also a distinctly 21st century calculator. ‘I calculated the risk,’ David’s confident poise - hand on hip - seemed to suggest, ‘and decided it was worth taking on Goliath.’
It was just another one of those marvellously idiosyncratic moments in time - treasured by all travellers - which I gleefully captured in my camera for viewing long after the forgotten piece of office equipment would have no doubt been reclaimed by its rightful owner.
RETURN TO THE CON
OPPORTUNITIES ABOUND: Kris Bather spent time at the Comic-Con with the Christian Comic Arts Society, who always make sure to "shine the light" on the Con floor. PICTURE: Kris Bather
22nd August, 2009
KRIS BATHER makes his second trip to Comic-Con in San Diego...
Last year was the first time I ventured to the spectacle that is San Diego Comic-Con. I'd always had a desire to go to America, but particularly to Comic-Con. For people like myself that grew up on comic books, and who devour pop culture with relish, the Con is the place to be. My first visit in 2008 was somewhat overwhelming, but although I was new to the city and didn't know anyone, it was still a very enjoyable experience.
This year was very different. Thanks to the tremendous opportunity of writing for comics' site Broken Frontier as well as my on-line magazine, Extra Sequential, I had interviewed dozens of comic book pros, and formed good relationships with various publishers in the 12 months since my first Con extravaganza.
That meant that this time at the Con, I was able to introduce myself to many people that I'd only known by name and was able to “talk shop.” I passed out almost 200 business cards and got loads of freebies for review purposes. I felt like a VIP! What a difference a year makes. However, within that year a lot of hard work had been done. Most nights at home after my day job in an architectural firm were, and still are, spent in front of my laptop typing away at the next interview or article, or trying to get images. There's a tangible sense of peace and purpose through it all though, and I can see His grace at work.
For me, Comic-Con represents the fellow fans and peers in the industry I love and shows me what an awesome God we serve. He's given me a great opportunity to forge a sought after creative career. Amongst the 126,000 attendees at this year's Con was the Canadian publisher who has picked up Extra Sequential for print earlier this year. Myself and my ES partner, Dave are working on the first issue for release in January now. It's more hard work, but it's fulfilling.
San Diego is a special place because it represents opportunities, not only for me but also for the tremendously talented writers and artists that show their wares amidst the sights and sounds of upcoming films, TV shows and games, not to mention the Hollywood celebrities that always have a presence there.
On Saturday night I hung out with the friendly gang from CCAS (Christian Comic Arts Society) and we had a great time of fellowship. The CCAS team have been going to the Con for years and always make sure to shine the light in the crowded Con floor. On Sunday morning we also had our own service, which was a packed house. It served as a reminder that there's nowhere that God can't reach out to people, and even though we were all there for our love of sequential art, our love for Jesus also united us and created new friendships.
San Diego is a city much like my hometown of Perth. It's sunny, the people are friendly and the cost of living is relatively inexpensive. Every year for 5 days in July however, San Diego transforms as swarms of people from across the globe descend upon the harbour town. News crews, police officers, volunteers, and people in costumes of varying quality are everywhere. Comic-Con owns San Diego during late July. Hotels and restaurants receive massive business and there's just a general welcoming warmth that permeates the streets. Strangers talk to each other and everyone is accepted.
I'm planning on going again next year, which will be a different experience yet again, as I'll be a professional, and the third issue of the magazine I'm working on will hopefully be out. It's an exciting time, but it will also be an exciting place.
"EVERY DAY IN GHANA IS A GOOD DAY FOR BARGAINING"
ALL THE COLOR OF THE GHANIAN MARKETPLACE: Peppers on sale in Jamestown. . PICTURES: William Stadler (www.sxc.hu).
30th May, 2008
CHOE BRERETON writes about the color and life of a Ghanaian marketplace...
What is it about the evocative markets of Ghana that urge me to shout "Eureka" in semblance to many an intrepid explorer? Perhaps it’s the tangible excitement of being introduced to one of the many dense social hubs that serve to collectively form the very heartbeat of the country. An apparent hive mentality operates within these markets where it seems the whole of the capital descend to buy their provisions on the very same day you choose to.
Every day in Ghana is a good day for bargaining, and today the sun lies high over Medina markets, which splay out as far as the eye can see in a heaving throng of stalls, street vendors, hagglers and carrier women. Cars, trucks, and people, lots and lots of people share the same narrow roads with a degree of reluctance, and ducking and weaving, jostling and shoving is all I can do to escape being absorbed and flushed away by the thicket of bodies. Two fingers are all that connect me to Dominic my husband; there is not enough room to hold onto his whole hand. He is walking bare foot again, and hysterical howls and whoops of “Obruni - white man,’ and ‘Mungo Park!’ rise up from the women and children that sit dutifully selling their aromatic pyramids of produce by the roadside.
Today we have come to find Alhajiah, one of the few Ghanaian women who have made a pilgrimage to Mecca and back; something rarely heard of among the country’s folk least of all the women. Her stall hugs the corner of the main road and continues down a narrow alleyway where every cubit of space is taken up by browsers and street vendors. My mother, Dominic and I fall into single file like trained camels as we literally squeeze past a convoy of sweating men that carve through the crowd hauling rumbling carts. They pull and push the large wooden wagons with the determination of blinkered oxen. “Argo” they yell, “Argo - excuse us, excuse us!” Outside Alhajiah’s stall we huddle close together and my mother yells her name. Alhajiah bobs up from behind a stack of chillies and dried fish and animatedly welcomes my mother with beefy open arms. Wrapped in white Kente, the traditional cloth of Ghana, she looks every bit the pais pilgrim save for the gold teeth and the very loud voice.
After complaining for a spell that my mother has not visited in a long while, she then guides us up some stairs to the back of her stall and to worn nylon sacks of my mothers favourite chicken feed. It’s the best, mum tells me, and she won’t buy chicken feed anywhere else. Dominic and I stand in the cool dim room whilst mum barters on price. I watch the two women haggle like clucking chickens, doing best what is mandatory at all Ghanaian markets. They speak animatedly until Alhajiah throws up her hands, pulls a hurt face then walks away stiff-necked. “You’re killing me,” she yells. It’s all an elaborate role – play, a distinct part of our culture where no word is fully expressed without suitable gesture. There are lots of raised eyebrows and sucking of teeth. Hands flail, point and jab in every direction. They cross and uncross, sit on the hips only to be thrown wildly into the air again. It is mesmerising to watch. Ghana’s culture is beautiful, with an intricate medley of languages that communicate through a type of story telling. Mum leaves with her chicken feed at a compromised price and collars a thirteen year old girl who’s only job is to carry heavy goods in a large bowl for shoppers. She is younger than me, skinnier than me, and yet is able to balance about 10 kilo’s on her head whilst threading through the masses with the ease of a small rodent.
We lose mum and our carrier girl for a while and find them a little way ahead standing in front of a stall with tomatoes and chillies. The sun is sweltering and some of the gutters are beginning to smell. Mum is haggling again, throwing back tomatoes and rooting through the pile to find the best ones. The lady who owns the stall stares quizzically at Dominic as he comes to stand next to my mother. She completely ignores me. The people on either side of her stare too.
“He is my son,” my mother says matter-of-factly.
The woman smiles, and hands over the bag of tomatoes. Whilst mum fossicks in her bag for money, I take a moment to glance around at the children who should be in school but are instead helping their mothers earn a living. I look at the mothers, who nurse their stalls by sunlight during the day and by kerosene lamp after sunset. And everywhere there is so much food. I tilt my head back and sniff. I smell dried fish, fresh tomatoes, ripe plantain and fruit, lots and lots of fruit. The streets are speckled with colour; fire engine reds, and melting yellows, earthy greens and beckoning oranges. Women call to passers by to come and inspect their precarious arrangements. It’s a mathematical feat how they stack everything so precisely.
Behind us a van slowly noses past, toots, then clips a passerby on the shoulder. There is an uproar as witnesses reprimand the driver by slapping the sides of the van with their open palms. Mum looks up, shakes her head and sucks her teeth. It’s time for us to go and rodent girl follows us to the van. Mum pays her and she smiles beautifully, gratefully, then evaporates into the crowd. Dominic brushes off his feet before climbing into the back seat. As I roll down the window to let some air in, I momentarily catch a stillness in time where I see more than just a market. Instead, I glimpse a gathering that encompasses all that is good about Ghana; the business, the beauty, the colour, the abundance, the serenity despite the masses and the hardworking mentality of its people. Mum puts the car into gear and toots people out of the way as we head back to our cool and uncrowded house.
RUSTIC DELIGHTS IN CORNWALL
SEDUCTIVE CHARM: Boats in the harbour of St Ives, Cornwall, in the south-west UK . PICTURES: Perry Mountier (www.sxc.hu).
17th February, 2008
CHOE BRERETON forgets her cares in St Ives...
The road that winds out of Hayle into St Ives slips by scenery that is almost as beautiful as the town itself. Tangled banks and brushes, glassy coastlines that escort the road a way, and stringy ribbons of tarmac the width of bike lanes that zigzag through locally governed settlements. Modernisation has left no footprint on Cornwall’s rustic charm much to the shared delight of residents and tourists.
The entire Cornish region is studded with copycat towns that guide you dreamily back in time to antiquated beauty and wholesome simplicity. Without exception St Ives is one such area that delicately baits you into leaving your cares behind. The sight of the matchstick hamlet from the brow of the shrub lined A30 is a picture of history in stasis. The buildings, despite their ancient masonry, are deceptively modern inside, equipped to cater to the contemporary fancies of any punter from the big smoke.
The town is set out like a tidy set of teeth; orderly with little space in between. From the air the architecture appears gapless, too dense for even a rabbit to squeeze through. Yet the closeness of each to their neighbour cumulates at the height of St Ives’ quaintness. There are cottages, not houses, and a disproportionate sway of bed and breakfasts to hotels. The streets are cobbled; narrow and winged with shops that Beatrix Potter herself would feel giddy in.
Everything is cute, from the surf commodities that have evidently trickled down from neighbouring towns like Newquay, to the aromatic pastie shops that denote the grassroots of the Cornish. A seemingly isolated fishing village on the north edge of a rugged peninsula that kicks off to England’s south west, St Ives is one of many sweet spots frequented by thousands every year. The masses churn through like herded cattle, attracted it seems, by the very things that we are; space to breathe, space to reconnect, and the chance to savour a respite from life.
My husband and I are at home amidst the starkly English pubs that hock stout and toad in the hole, and the antique granite and stone work that muzzle close to the town’s harbour. In rain or shine the district is beautiful, and we spend days shuffling excitedly down threaded cobbled streets to explore shops with muted lighting. On occasion we have caught the lugging in of the day's catch. Fishermen, with clichéd roving beards, rouged cheeks and woolly hats reel nets and lobster traps onto a beach secluded from the local tourist sunspot. Mammoth crabs snap huffily as they are hauled out of the sea and tossed into a plastic box or into the back of a truck. The sight looks like something out of a storybook, but it’s life for those who live here and an endless well of enjoyment for us.
St Ives apparently has history, from virgin saints to death on the gallows; none of which appeal to me. Neither does the blip of progression in the form of the Tate art gallery, supposedly an offshoot of the Tate in London and the jewel of St Ives’ arts hub. What makes me giggle and spread my arms to catch the breeze are the old comfortable bedsprings at Audrey’s Sunshine Bed and Breakfast, and the bacon strips served every morning with pancakes and maple syrup. I love Audrey, I love the crackle of wood fires, and I love starring into the sunrise or sunset as it arcs out into the horizon beyond the harbour’s break wall.
In that small enclave of British heritage you will find the things that we most love about life; the sights, smells and sounds that trigger carefully bundled memories, and the experiences that I long to one day relive.
REMEMBERING AUSTRALIA'S WARTIME PAST IN BORNEO
IMAGES OF A WARTIME PAST: Top - A window in St Michael's and All Angels Church; Middle - Around 7,000 Australians visit St Michael's and All Angels Church every year; and Bottom - Plaque recalling Sandakan's role in World War II. PICTURES: Steve McFie.
13th November, 2007
PHIL SMITH makes a pilgrimage to Sandakan...
Australians have become a pilgrim people.
In recent years, an often ill-defined search for meaning has seen tens of thousands travel to places that have become shrines to an 'Australian spirit': the ANZAC heritage of mateship, sacrifice and significance beyond this life.
The best known is Gallipoli. The Kokoda Track has become a magnet. Long Tan draws men back to their youth.
But Sandakan, at the start of the Death March across Borneo, is the place that most mystifies. In 1945 more than a thousand men were forced by their Japanese captors to march 265 kilometres through the jungle to Ranau. Six survived.
In Sandakan town is a church building that connects history and eternity and leaves visitors puzzling over matters such as forgiveness, purpose and peace.
The banner outside St Michael's and All Angels Church announces the 'December Youth Camp'. The drum kit nestled in a knave adjacent the pulpit reflects today’s healthy youth ministry in this colonial era stone church.
The young men who huddled on the hardwood pews and cement floor on the night of 18th July, 1942, would not have been much older than those who come here now. Some were only teenagers. Yet the prisoners of war were within months of death as they rested on arrival from Singapore. They had been sent as slave labour to build a runway.
The church building holds many memories within its unique granite block walls. Since Reverend William H. Elton became the first rector in 1888, it has been a special place. The 19th century church fathers in England thought a timber structure would be sufficient, but the Province of South East Asia thought otherwise and colonial authorities used prison labour to quarry the stone for a building that has survived the tropical environment and the violence of men - including a world war.
The solid stone and heavy timber building speaks powerfully of the actual church.
Immediately after the liberation of Borneo by Australian forces, in June 1945, the surviving Christians gathered for worship, lead by 2/43 Battalion’s padre, Alex MacLiver. They gave him a home-made pulpit banner sewn with scripture verses. It hangs in the tiny chapel.
Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, peril or the sword?
Above the chapel, perfectly placed to catch the setting sun, are stained glass windows donated by public subscription and unveiled on ANZAC Day 2005. The Archbishop of the Anglican province of South East Asia, the Most Reverend Yong Ping Chung, unveiled ‘The Great West Window’, as a memorial to the British and Australian POWs and the people of Sabah who helped them.
Inscribed, By the strength of your arm preserve those condemned to die, the beautiful work shows the Acts account of Peter in prison, the guards' dumbfounded and powerless.
The deliberate and vital reference to the sacrificial generousity of the Sabah people is taken up in a depiction of the Good Samaritan.
Endurance, Honour, Compassion, Courage & Sacrifice.
More windows have been crafted in Sydney. They will be shipped and installed in coming months.
According to local authorities, approximately 7,000 Australians visit the church and memorial gardens in Sandakan each year. Thousands of British also make the pilgrimage. Along with ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day, the people of Sabah mark the 15th August as Sandakan Day - marking the last execution of an Australian prisoner of war.
The lively worship on Sundays, the sound of school children next door during the week and the silence of St. Michael's at sunset combine to challenge visitors with the present and everlasting significance of the past.
BERLIN - A PIECE OF HOME
REMEMBERING A PAINFUL PAST: Nils von Kalm at the site of the Berlin Wall.
12th August, 2007
NILS VON KALM writes about a homecoming, of sorts...
In 2003 my wife and I visited Berlin as part of a trip through Europe and the US. My parents grew up in Germany during the Second World War, so to go back to the capital city of their birthplace was a special time for me.
With our base right around the corner from the Brandenburg Gate we set out to see the history of this amazing city. Places like the Victory Column, the Brandenburg Gate itself, the Reichstag, Zoo Station (made famous by U2) and of course the remains of the infamous Berlin Wall came alive to us as we made our way down the old streets where so much had taken place over the years.
Throughout Berlin you can see bricks in the ground where the Wall used to run, literally cutting across streets and cutting families off from each other. When thinking of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, I have this lasting image of being in the kitchen at home with Mum, tears streaming down her face, watching it all unfold on the TV in front of us. Mum could vividly remember the Wall going up, as did my Dad, who never thought it would come down in his lifetime. We watched people dancing on the Wall, laughing and crying as they were reunited with loved ones from whom they had been separated for almost 30 years.
The lady who was taking us through the city described to us how she used to feel when she would occasionally make the trip from East Berlin to the West in those days, and the relief she would feel as she crossed the checkpoint back into West Berlin. The day she was with us she told us how those same emotions came back to her as she literally stepped over the same line where the Wall used to be.
I felt a mixture of emotions as I thought about my heritage in this old city, this city of division and now of amazing reunification. What happened in Berlin in 1989 was just part of a tidal wave that swept across eastern Europe as a whole system of government collapsed, seemingly overnight. In fact the build-up to it had been coming for months, but when it happened it was one of those moments in history that nothing was going to stop. It was a privilege to be there and experience a city reunited. Those few days in Berlin are ones I will not forget in a hurry.
IN! Rarotonga Lagoon in the Cook Islands. PICTURE: Richard
HARKNESS recalls a visit to a tropical paradise...
crystal clear, aquamarine, tropical temperature water.
Think snorkelling, where you only have
to duck-dive three to four metres, or floating in liquid light
where everything below you appears to be in arms reach.
Think Finding Nemo opening up
before you when you are no more than ten metres from the shoreline.
And what can you see? Cod, clam, butterfly
fish, staghorn coral, boxfish, anemone, sea cucumber, starfish,
filefish, angelfish, hermit crabs and more.
Having snorkelled in Hawaii and on the
Great Barrier Reef the obvious advantage this reef has is
its no cost accessibility.
And where in the great Pacific am I? I'm
on the island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.
The colour and variety is amazing. I loved
being able to dive down into a school of fish and anchor myself
on the sand beside the reef for as long as a lung full of
air would allow. The world became a liquid, ethereal otherness
as curious fish took delight in checking out a goggle eyed
oddity in their small domain.
A significant sight? It was certainly great
snorkelling and great fun getting there on a hired scooter
with my wife clinging to the back.
OF THE DAY? Russell Stubbing's son Jacob reels one in.
STUBBINGS finds a fisherman's delight...
Narooma is a relatively untouched, picturesque town on the
south coast of New South Wales, about 70 minutes from Merimbula.
Still largely undiscovered by tourists, Narooma has managed
to largely avoid the trappings of progress that have afflicted
its neighbors Bateman’s Bay and Merimbula. You won’t
find a McDonalds, or a KFC, or a shopping mecca, but what
you do find is untouched beauty, pristine beaches, an inlet
that snakes its way inland surrounded by bush, pockets of
rainforest, and the lure of Montague Island some seven kilometres
Apart from its natural beauty, Narooma
is a fishing hot spot. Offshore fishing can net species such
as tuna, kingfish, snapper, flathead, shark, even marlin.
The inlet is renowned for big flathead, mulloway, bream and
mullet. But, for my family, it's the beaches that stretch
endlessly along the coast that provide hours of fishing fun.
While the male members of the family - myself and our lads
Nathanael and Jacob - tend to do more of the fishing, the
girls (my wife Rhonda and teenage shopping and fashion queens
Emily and Grace) also like to wind in the occasional fish,
or just enjoy the magnificent walk along the beach.
On a recent holiday to Narooma we had opportunity
to fish the beach at Dalmeny, only three or four kilometres
to the north. This stretch of beach is one we were thoroughly
familiar with from previous encounters. At times the salmon
and tailor swarm along the beach, seeking food in the white
breakers, deep gutters, and rips that form at various points
along the beach. Dream fishing sessions are common. Salmon
around the two kilogram mark and tailor of various sizes are
regular catches. On one trip about four years back Jacob,
who was only seven at the time, hauled in five salmon around
two kilograms while his Pop was doing the same. This was within
the space of about 90 minutes! Indeed you would be very unlucky
to visit this spot and come home empty-handed.
The fishing action was not as rapid as
we would have liked on our recent trip but we still managed
to pull some hefty salmon and a few tailor form the surf.
The technique we favour (this is obviously top secret information)
is to walk the beach casting lures just beyond the breakers
and winding rapidly with regular twitching movements to simulate
a baitfish. Inevitably the salmon cannot resist. They hit
the lure at full speed and pull line off the reel. The effort
to beach the fish is adrenaline pumping. The salmon often
launch themselves out of the water like mini marlin. Bringing
through the whitewash is a challenge that requires keeping
the line tight. Any sign of slack line and the salmon will
be off and swimming to freedom!
Apart from the sensational fishing, Narooma
for me is a place where I feel close to God. Surrounded by
the breath-taking beauty of God’s creation, sea eagles
soaring gracefully and effortlessly overhead, feeling the
warm sun on your face, salt water swirling around your feet,
and listening to the roar of the rolling breakers is a spiritual
experience. Creation testifies to the creator! The consistency
of the waves breaking one after the other, the regularity
of the tides, remind me of God’s unchanging faithfulness.
Narooma is a reminder of paradise, a small pocket of what
the Garden of Eden may have been like, a fingerprint illustrating
the creativity and majesty of God.
A ROCK AND THE OPEN AIR
KELSALL tells of a place where he goes to gain some perspective...
Arapiles (in western Victoria) brings to mind bold elements
of rock and sky; sandstone reds colliding with violent blue
infused with native greens scattered by the wind in what appears
an effort to soften the harshness. Jetstreams loom overhead
signalling that I am in the middle of nowhere, yet this is
the destination for thousands from all over the world every
Once the home of the hardest climb in the
world, it is now a pilgrimage for the ‘trad’ climber.
Traditional climbers espouse the ethos of carrying everything
you need to get from the bottom of the cliff to the top. This
is in contrast to the modern style of sport climbing where
bolts are placed in-situ in the crag and you don’t necessarily
start at the bottom or even get to the top.
'Trad' is focused on adventure - sport
involving intensely difficult movements over rock. The guide
book I have lists over 2000 climbs. Grades start at three
(the easiest) and range up to 32 (stupidly overhanging and
sloping bits of rock facing upside down and sideways). Each
climb stands as a physical and cognitive jigsaw puzzle waiting
for your hand and feet to connect the pieces. It is this connecting
that is the magic of climbing. The huge world of noise and
images, status and social norms, cars, phones, banana’s,
petrol and money suddenly become zero as I focus intensely
on a small ripple of rock under my finger, my rubber shoes
smearing for friction on the glassy bulges. Climbing is a
true paradox in that at this very second in time nothing is
more important than hanging on and placing the right gear
in the rock so it catches the rope I am attached to if I fall.
I will invest significant amounts of mental, physical and
even emotional energy just to get to the top. Yet it’s
meaningless and unimportant.
So why do I do it? I don’t know why.
Especially harder to explain when most times you get to the
top you fix a rope and abseil right back down to the start
again! Maybe it’s unimportance is what’s important.
There are other reasons I can think of such as the rare experience
of flow which psychologists have identified as being key to
good mental health. Or the night time campfire bravado where
everyone gives details to the speck of the day’s climbs
while listeners champ at the bit to relate their epics. Mostly,
however I think the importance of climbing is overstated and
overindulged. Mt Arapiles, to me, is a place to be quiet and
gain perspective, to sit on a ledge shared with skinks and
falcons, talk to God and high up on this cliff face be reminded
that life is a big place in which to live.
HOPPING IN TONGA
GRAY recalls an island experience...
picture dates from September 2005, when our family took a
trip to celebrate my husband, Geoff’s, 50th birthday
to the South Pacific islands of Tonga. We had decided
to see as many of the 176 islands in Tonga as we could and
ended up visiting four - Tongatapu, Eua, Ha’apai and
The ferry to Eua from Tongatapu was easy
and took us about two hours, although we were told it could
be rough going. We did, however, have to wait a little while
for our driver to pick us up once we got to the other side
after a mix up that was eventually solved after a phone call.
Once there we stayed at a quaint place called Hideaway right
in front of the ocean where on several occasions, whales would
pass by or stop to play in the water. We took a bike ride
and hiked into the hills. This island stopover was to become
known as the ‘fitness island’ by the youngest
member of our family, Gretah.
After Eua we took another ferry north from
the main island Tongatapu to Ha’apai. This was also
a smooth boat ride of about 13 hours, all day and into the
night. Having heard later that the ferry’s nickname
is ‘The Yellow Spew’, we did well to get the lack
of winds. This island was small and a lot less touristy than
the others. We spent time beachcombing and took a boat ride
out to other beaches, finding some wonderful places to swim
and snorkel. The water here was incredibly clear and clean
and our accomodation - Fifita’s Guest House - was clean
comfy and good overall value. Here we could do our own cooking
so it was a chance to save a little.
From Ha’apai we flew to Vava’u.
This cost considerably more than the ferry would have, but
it gave us a whole extra day of holiday time.There we stayed
at a hostel run by a New Zealander called Adventure Backpackers
which had lovely clean, large private rooms.
While here we took a boat ride out to the
other smaller islands in the hope of spotting whales and swimming
with them. We eventually found a mother and baby swimming
together which proved an exhilarating experience. These creatures
are so huge and there we were, swimming just six metres above
them. They would lie on the ocean floor and then come up for
air and swim off again. We were able to follow them for over
an hour. This is one of two places in the world where you
can get this close to the whales in the wild. We also visited
an underwater cave with water so pristine that you could see
so clearly hundreds of fish and the rock formations. A beautiful
Flying back to Tongatapu, we headed to
the western side of the island to a place called Otuhaka.
We shared this beach ‘resort’ with only a couple
of other people. Along the water front was a reef which, with
the right winds, produced a good wave for surfing. The rest
of the time was spent snorkeling and fishing.
Tonga is a beautiful place to visit but be prepared for the
unexpected if you wish to organise it all yourself. Still,
its a great way to save money and gives you an opportunity
to see the “real thing” and meet local people
as you travel.
LONG AND WINDING ROAD BACK FROM A HAWAIIAN BLACK BEACH
DAVID ADAMS recalls a visit to a black sand beach in Hawaii...
"I took this picture on my honeymoon in Hawaii back in
1994. It was late in the day and my wife, Linda, and I were
on our way back to our hotel near Lahaina on Maui’s
west coast. It was a wet day and so we’d decided to
go for a drive to Hana on the other side of the island. The
road was torturous with scores of one-way bridges and curves
- in our minds it even made the Great Ocean Road in Victoria
seem like a walk in the park.
"After a relatively brief stop at
Hana, we decided to head back to our hotel on the other side
of the island. It was around dusk when we stopped at the black
sand beach. Neither of us had ever seen black sand before
so it was quite an amazing experience. It looked like mud
in the half-light and it was only when feeling it’s
texture that I could convince myself it was indeed sand. (I’m
still amazed when I see black sand - we went to a black sand
beach in New Zealand a few years later and that too was a
pretty special experience.)
"Anyway, having spent longer than
we should have at the sand, we hopped back in the car. It
was quite dark now and, unfamiliar with the road and driving
on the wrong side of the road (for an Australian), we set
off at a crawl. All the locals seemed to drive their 'pickup'
trucks at 100 mph, headlights beaming straight into our eyes
as they came charging around the tight bends - not a fun experience
when you’re crawling around hairpin curves and across
one-way bridges! We did eventually make it back safely to
the hotel and it was only when flicking through a tourism
brochure later on that evening that I spotted the message
warning that the road to Hana was not safe for tourists to
travel after dark."
HOLT will be packing her wetsuit next time she heads for the
northern coast of Scotland...
guides on Scotland said nothing about packing beach gear.
Or a surfboard. All I’d read were weather warnings,
because this northern, nuggetty chunk of the UK is notoriously
climatically moody. Scotland can wrap you in tendrils of sunshine
then spit you out in a storm.
"Driving through the north-west highlands a few
years ago, there was nothing but sunshine and breathtaking
scenery. Wild crags, tranquil lochs, foaming rivers and ancient
castles. But the significant (and somewhat startling) sight
was when we swung onto the northern coast. The beaches were
stunning. Not the paltry waves and stony outcrops of England’s
south, but long, warm stretches of golden sand and crashing
"The road that hugs the northern highlands coast
contains a beguiling list of locations: Smoo Cave, Tongue,
Bettyhill, Scrabster and John’O’Groats. But it
also holds some of the UK’s finest surf. The most reputable
reef break is said to be at Thurso where the North Atlantic
swell creates world class waves. Apparently it’s this
arctic swell, reeling off a narrow continental shelf, that
makes the north Scottish coast one of Europe’s surfing
"For many tourists, Scotland is all about castles,
crags, tartan and haggis. But for me, it will always be significantly
remembered for its surf. Not the least because it was surprising.
Next time, I’m packing a wetsuit."
South Australian TERRY WILLIAMS writes of a recent visit to
the forests of south-western Victoria...
have seen a bit of the world. I’ve enjoyed exquisite
English countryside, been transfixed by Cape Town's Table
Mountain, and savoured the Pacific’s tropical shores,
but for me the most significant sights I have seen have been
down in Victoria. Last year we toured the Grampians and the
Great Ocean Road.
"The combination of spending time
with good friends, seeing great scenery and experiencing the
glory of God made this a memorable trip. On so many occasions
I had my breath taken away and simply wanted to linger longer
and gaze on the beautiful scenery. The picture I have included
is from the aptly named Paradise in the Otway Ranges but I
could have picked any of the dozens of others I picked up
along the way. I want to go back."
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