A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Andyf

Isle of Rum

The forbidden island

Rum is a round island reaching out of the Sea of the Hebrides with a crown of jagged peaks. Long the private reserve of the Bullough family, wealthy Lancashire industrialists in Edwardian times who kept visitors off, it's now owned and run as a nature reserve by Scottish Natural Heritage. The Bulloughs party house, Kinloch Castle, is grand but dilapidated, and visitors can take a short tour of the impressive interior rooms.

Size: 40 square miles
Population: 22
Ferry: CalMac Small Isles Ferry
Airport: none.
Accommodation: various.
Island Website: www.isleofrum.com
Map: OS Explorer 397 buy

Rum is the largest of the Small Isles in the Inner Hebrides.

Day visitors can take a Saturday afternoon cruise from Mallaig, with 2.5 hours on the island. It's a fifteen minute walk from the pier to Kinloch, where the shop and village hall (incorporating self-serve tearoom) are situated, as well as the impressive Kinloch Castle. Castle tours take 45 minutes, cost £9, and are timed to fit in with the ferries. Highlights include the billiard room, grand staircase, and purpose-built mechanical musical Orchestron built underneath the staircase.

Although there are short walks for the day visitor, the classic hike here is a tour of the Rum Cuillin hills - Barkeval, Hallival, Askival, Trollaval, Ainshval and Sgurr nan Gillean - a circuit which takes around 12 hours.

Posted by Andyf 02:25 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland rum hebrides inner_hebrides small_isles isle_of_rum kinloch kinloch_castle bullough scottish_natural_heritage Comments (0)

Isle of Skye

Skye is the largest of the Inner Hebrides, home to the most dramatic mountains on the islands.

Size: 639 square miles
Population: 10,000
Ferry: bridge, and CalMac ferry from Mallaig to Armadale on the Sleat peninsula
Airport: Broadford
Accommodation: lots
Island Website: www.isleofskye.com
Maps: OS Explorer 407 - Dunvegan buy
OS Explorer 408 - Trotternish & The Storr buy
OS Explorer 409 - Raasay, Rona & Scalpay buy
OS Explorer 410 - Portree & Bracadale buy
OS Explorer 411 - Cuillin Hills buy
OS Explorer 412 - Sleat buy

Skye is connected to mainland Scotland by the free Skye Bridge, which opened in 1995. As well as giving the island a road connection, this means you can drive across Skye to Uig for the shortest ferry crossing to the Outer Hebrides.

The island is famous for two geographical features - the Cuillin Hills and the Trotternish Landslip. The Cuillins are among Britain's most difficult mountains to climb, characterised by rocks which flake away dangerously. An easy walk nearby goes to the Fairy Pools.

Further north on the Trotternish ridge the lengthy landslip has created a number of interesting landforms which attract visitors, walkers and photographers. The Storr and the Old Man of Storr are just north of the island's capital town Portree. The old man is the largest of a number of enormous rock pinnacles - it's about an hour's walk to visit, on a good track and with a free car park by the roadside. A little further north along the ridge is the Quiraing ("kih-rang") where on a back road a parking area at the top of the pass leads to a path through a dramatic broken landscape.

Other popular stops near here are KIlt Rock waterfall and the Fairy Glen, a minor valley near the village of Uig where the landscape is jumbled on a small scale, allowing the visitor to ascend what look like castles and towers in a few seconds. Dunvegan Castle is also popular, as is Neist Point where a rocky peninsula points out to sea.

Skye is easy to visit due to the bridge, and is only around 2 hours drive from Fort William, but once on Skye the scale is deceptive and distances are longer than you may expect from being on an island.

Minor islands off Skye are Raasay, Rona and Scalpay.

Raasay

Size: 24 square miles
Population: 160
Ferry: CalMac from Sconser. £3.70 return for foot passenger. £12.20 per car.
There's a ferry almost hourly. The ferry docks near the main settlement, Inverarish, so a day on foot is possible.
Airport: none.
Accommodation: Hostel, B&B, self-cater, and camping.
Island Website: www.raasay.com
Map: OS Explorer 409 - Raasay, Rona & Scalpay buy

Rona

Size: square miles
Population:
Ferry:
Airport: none.
Accommodation:
Island Website:
Map: OS Explorer 409 - Raasay, Rona & Scalpay buy

Scalpay

Size: square miles
Population:
Ferry:
Airport: none.
Accommodation:
Island Website:
Map: OS Explorer 409 - Raasay, Rona & Scalpay buy

Posted by Andyf 09:23 Archived in Scotland Tagged skye isle_of_skye storr broadford uig raasay portree rona scalpay cuillin trotternish fairy_glen fairy_pools quiriang Comments (0)

The Isle of Eigg

As you approach Eigg by ferry, the view is dominated by the pitchstone stump of the Sgurr reaching for the sky. A remarkable island.

The chief island of the four Small Isles in the Inner Hebrides, Eigg has a habitation history dating back to at least the Bronze Age. Nowadays it is a progressive community which has in recent years secured a community buyout from private ownership and has developed a green electricity network (Eigg Electric) meaning the island runs virtually completely on renewables - solar arrays, wind turbines and a small hydro turbine in conjunction with batteries and a traffic light system for users mean it falls back on diesel generators just 2% of the time.

Size: 11 square miles
Population: 83
Ferries: The Small Isles Ferry (CalMac) from Mallaig; MV Sheerwater from Arisaig.
Airport: none.
Accommodation: hostel, self catering cottages and bed & breakfast
Bike hire: £15/day, next to the ferry pier.
Island Website: www.isleofeigg.org
Map: OS Explorer 397 buy

By the ferry pier at Galmisdale is the cafe/bar/restaurant, post office and shop, craft shop, toilets and bike hire.

On Mondays it is practical to visit on the large CalMac ferry from Mallaig, fare £7.70, which makes two visits to the island thus giving you about 5 hours on the island. On Saturdays you can do similar, with 4.5 hours ashore, though the ferry makes a meandering cruise around all of the Small Isles - ideal if you want to see them all. This is April - October.
Most days (except Thursdays) the private MV Sheerwater runs from Arisaig to Eigg, giving from 4 to 5 hours ashore, fare £18. April - September.

The obvious activity is a walk up the Sgurr. It's about 5 miles for the round trip, taking 3 - 4 hours, on paths from the ferry pier. While approaching it seems inaccessible, but in fact the path turns right underneath the base and leads up an easy route around the back, leading you onto the summit on a pavement similar to the Giant's Causeway or the Isle of Staffa. From here you have, on a clear day, an impressive view across the Sea of the Hebrides taking in the mountains on Skye and Rum, the other islands scattered around you in the sea, and mainland Scotland.

Other things to see on the island include the Singing Sands at Laig Bay. This is across the island's one road which heads about 4 miles across a low ridge to reach the hamlets of Cleadale and Laig. There's a small free museum about half way, and a cottage which offers cream teas.

To the south of the Sgurr is the abandoned settlement of Grulin, and nearby the Massacre Cave where in the 1700s all 400 of the island's residents died during a clan feud - they'd hidden in the cave and the MacLeods of Skye set a fire at the entrance which asphyxiated everyone. En route here at low tide you can also visit the Cathedral Cave. This is a 2 hour walk.

Posted by Andyf 07:14 Archived in Scotland Tagged hebrides inner_hebrides eigg isle_of_eigg small_isles sgurr an_sgurr sgurr_of_eigg Comments (0)

The Hebrides

How to visit Scotland's islands

The west coast of Scotland is littered with islands, over 50 of them inhabited. This guide sets out to show you how to visit them.

They split into two main groups - the Outer Hebrides, and the Inner Hebrides. The Outer Hebrides are a linear chain of islands connected by causeways and ferries to each other, while the Inner Hebrides are each usually accessed from mainland Great Britain. A state-funded ferry operator, Caledonian MacBrayne (or CalMac) provides lifeline access all year round, while there are also some other ferries and flights.

Beyond that, these islands defy categorisation. Some are remote, some are in smaller archipelagos, some are close in to shore. Some are low and sandy, some mountainous and rugged, some with thriving communities while others limp along. There's even no firm agreement on which islands are part of the Hebrides. So I'm aware that this guide will always be less than perfect in some eyes. Even so I hope to collate in one place a visitor's guide to them, which I've not found available elsewhere.

Ferries to the islands are heavily subsidised by the government, even more so recently with the introduction of "RET" or Road Equivalent Tarriffs, based on the premise that someone shouldn't be disadvantaged by the lack of a road and so the ferry fare should be the same as a bus fare would be. However, some of the focus of the subsidies may catch you out - foot passenger fares will seem low compared to taking your car over. And multibuy deals seem to be subsidised further, supporting the regular local traveller over the visitor. Fair enough. The upshot is that you'll find it very cheap to go as a foot passenger, less of a bargain with your car. To the extent that you may look for ways to hoof it even if your default method of travel is to take the car. Also non-landing cruises aren't subsidised, so getting off at an island will be cheaper than staying aboard.

Of necessity I'm going to break this down into some individual island articles, then one article for the Outer Hebrides, and various smaller satellite islands will have to be treated as offshoots of their larger parent island. Complicated!

The Outer Hebrides

Also known as the Long Island and the Western Isles (which confusingly is also used for all of the Hebrides), these are quite culturally distinct from mainland Scotland, with a high number of Scots Gaelic speakers, and generally being more religious and traditional. The main islands, from North to South, are Lewis and Harris (which are actually joined as one island), North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Barra. To visit these islands is a more major undertaking, with longer ferries or flights, and the need to figure a mode of travel around once there. Ferries leave from three main points on the mainland - Oban, Uig on Skye, and Ullapool.

Uninhabited St Kilda lies beyond the Outer Hebrides, is sometimes considered part of them but usually treated separately.

The Inner Hebrides

Skye is mountainous and spectacular, an extension of the Highlands, and is now bridge-linked to the mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh. There's also still a ferry across from Mallaig, a short crossing which avoids the hours of drive to Kyle. The brittle rocks of the Cuillin Hills attract rock climbers and more capable hillwalkers, and in the north the long landslip of the Trotternish Peninsula has led to exciting landforms such as the Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr (a bulbous rock pinnacle), and the jumbled landscape of the Fairy Glen. Satellite islands include Raasay, Rona and Scalpay.

The Small Isles are four little islands served by one ferry out of the port of Mallaig. Rum is the largest, it's mountainous with a range called the Rum Cuillin; the island was the private playground of a Lancashire industrialist in Edwardian times, and his holiday home Kinloch Castle can be toured. Nowadays Rum is a nature reserve, home to deer and eagles. Eigg is the most populous of the four islands, and was traditionally seen as the chief island of the group. It's dominated by a dramatic pitchstone stump called the Sgurr of Eigg, which is actually an easy walk. The remaining two are Canna and Muck, each the home to mere handfulls of people, but providing a quiet retreat in a spectacular setting.

Mull is large, second in size only to Skye in the Inner Hebrides. It's linked to the mainland by three ferry routes, and has a population of around 3000 with the bulk of these living in the only town, Tobermory at the northern end. The main ferry is from Oban to Craignure. Satellite islands include Ulva and Gometra on the west, and Iona and Staffa in the south-west. Iona is famed as the place St Columba brought Christianity to Scotland, while Staffa's geology makes it a big draw - composed of lava which cooled into hexagonal blockwork like the Giant's Causeway, but with an incredible sea cave Fingal's Cave.

Further out than Mull are the twin islands of Coll and Tiree. Tiree holds the record for the most sunshine hours in the UK.

Jura, Islay and Colonsay make up the informal grouping of the Southern Hebrides, though Colonsay sites remotely on its own. Jura is mountainous and sparsely populated, while Islay is lower-lying and home to over 3000 people and a number of distilleries.

Then we have all the bits which don't fit in elsewhere. The Slate Islands are close to shore, south of Oban, bridging the gap to Jura. Offshore from Oban are Lismore and Kererra. Gigha is just offshore from the Kintyre peninsula of the mainland, looking across to Islay. Further north beyond Ullapool are the Summer Isles, though many would hesitate to call them Hebridean. And inwards from Kintyre, in the broad Firth of Clyde, we have Arran, Bute, and Great and Little Cumbrae. Again these are probably beyond our scope.

Other Scottish Islands

Off the North coast of Scotland is the Orkney archipelago, and further on is Shetland. North Rona is and island which lies north from both the northwest tip of the Scottish mainland and the Outer Hebrides. It's now uninhabited, impossible to visit without chartering your own boat, and not normally considered one of the Hebrides.

This is the parent article for individual island articles which will be added later.

Posted by Andyf 04:16 Archived in Scotland Tagged islands scotland scottish hebrides calmac western_isles Comments (0)

New Zealand

Some ideas for what to include in your itinerary

People often know that New Zealand is famed for its wonderful landscapes, but they don't have any details yet to help them plan a route. I'm going to try to give a basic circuit round the islands, listing the "must-sees" and a few of the "also-rans".

Four weeks is my idea of a minimum time to comfortably zip round both islands. Your travel style may vary from mine - you may be happy with longish drives, see the big attraction, and move on. I've seen people take that approach and tour NZ in two weeks. But, to me, a lot of the appeal is being able to linger in a varied landscape and take some time to dig into the detail. I also like hiking, so my trips there are laden with walks, and are light on museums!

I've met people who set out to tour both Australia and New Zealand, and allocated the time according to their relative sizes - so 6 weeks for Aus and 2 weeks for NZ - only to regret it. Australia is a fine place but, forgive me, it's relatively empty - many of the sights are a collection of cities around the edge. NZ, in comparison, is packed with variety. It's said that no-one ever visited New Zealand for its cities, but it does have mountains, lakes, forests, glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, Maori culture and their interaction with the British settlers, whales, kiwis, Art Deco, jetboats, bungee jumping and a whole adventure sports scene, fiords, and wine.

If you only have 2 weeks, I'd only visit one island.

The typical visitor may travel from Auckland through the central and southern parts of North Island, then a circuit of South Island ending in Christchurch. (People often skip the East and West parts of North Island (New Plymouth and Gisborne), and Northland beyond Auckland.) This leads to a lot of cars being hired in Auckland and left in Christchurch, so reverse route deals can often be had.

My itinerary

Most people are flying in across a number of time zones, and most international flights come into Auckland. So spend a couple of days here getting over some of your jetlag before trying to drive, then grab an internal flight down to Christchurch.

(Flights also come into Christchurch, and it used to be a lovely city, but currently it's still a bit of a mess following an earthquake a few years back. Personally I'd skip it at present.)

As well as looking round Auckland proper, there are a couple of options to get out further. The coast to coast path connects parks and hills across Auckland, and in particular Mount Eden is a good viewpoint of the city. Or take a ferry from the downtown pier over the Rangitoto Island for a hike up the volcano. There are lava tubes to crawl through, and a little museum about the historic "bachs" or holiday homes on the island.

A number of budget carriers run from Auckland to Christchurch. Once at Christchurch Airport there are a choice of car hire companies. I've previously used Usave and had a bargain with their older-model offers. I'd get a morning flight in and head straight off south. If you want to linger, as well as the city centre there's Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula.

Next to the airport is the excellent International Antarctic Centre. The connection is that most flights to the Antarctic go from here. I recommend it, along with the ride in a Hagglund all terrain vehicle.

There are two routes south: to Dunedin, or via various glacial lakes (Lake Tekapo, Lake Ohau) and Mount Cook to Queenstown. If time is tight I'd skip Dunedin and head straight for Queenstown area.

Dunedin was built by Scottish colonists and has a distinct Scottish influence. There's a scenic drive from here down the Otago Peninsula, and you can visit NZ's only Scottish baronial style castle Larnach Castle. En route to Dunedin you pass the Catlins, a scenic area with plenty of walking.

Queenstown is adrenalin central, and the main hub for fiordland. It can be a love-it-or-hate-it place. It's situated in a stunning location, by the shores of Lake Wakatipu and with views across to the Remarkables mountain range. An adventure sports industry has sprung up, along with plenty of bars, restaurants and shops. The hill at the back of the town has a gondola cable car with a complex at the top - fantastic views. Down the valley is the quieter Glenorchy. People use Queenstown as their base for seeing all of the fiordlands, but from there the big sight Milford Sound is a very long daytrip, and I'd suggest also spending at least a few nights in smaller quieter Te Anau.

New Zealand has a range of Great Walks (multi-day hiking trails), along with loads of day hikes, and in the fiordland area there are plenty of day sections of the Great Walks which you can do. The Department of Conservation website is a good starting point to find these.

At minimum I'd stay two nights in Te Anau, allowing a full day to visit Milford Sound and see some things along the Milford road. The boat trips on the Sound take a couple of hours.

The next stop should be Wanaka, the lovely town that's the main settlement for Mount Aspiring National Park. Again, there are walks aplenty. Try to see a film at the quirky cinema where you can sit in a sofa or an old Morris Minor car.

Heading up the West Coast are the twin glaciers of Fox and Franz Josef. Each has a small town serving it. You can walk to the toe of each glacier, and you can take a helicopter onto them to "heli-hike". Basically they have an "upper icefall" where the ice is flowing downhill, onto a plateau, then down another steep bit into the valley. Where the upper icefall hits the plateau the ice churns in slow motion, creating ice caves. The plateau is relatively stable so helicopters can land here, and walkers can wear crampons and pick their way to the ice caves. Amazing. But expensive.

Heading further up the West Coast, you have the option to go over Arthur's Pass to loop back to Christchurch for those short on time. Otherwise, Pancake Rocks is a popular sight. The towns up the West coast are maybe less of interest.

At the Northern end of South Island, Abel Tasman National Park is the highlight. Pretty beaches, lush forests, and speedboat water-taxis to take you out to a section you can hike back along via the shore. Or to the photogenic Split Apple Rock. A taste of paradise.

For those of a less beachy disposition, the Nelson Lakes National Park has a couple of lakes surrounded by nice mountains with hikes across them which are manageable in a day. It's pretty quiet and overlooked here, I think it's a good place to add in if you have time.

All roads lead to Picton for the ferries to Wellington. But wine-lovers will want to visit the wineries of Marlborough first.

The only thing this route doesn't give you is the whale-watching at Kaikoura. It's between Picton and Christchurch. At the time of writing the road is out due to an earthquake, but that'll be temporary. Offshore there's an undersea current coming from deep waters, and this upwelling brings plenty of nutrients, which is what attracts the whales.

Once on North Island, if you like capital cities spend a little time in Wellington. It's renowned as "Windy Wellington", but can be lovely. Te Papa is the national museum, on a nice spot by the waterfront, and free. The botanic gardens has my personal favourite, the quirky Cable Car Museum, all about the personal cable cars which have been built to make inaccessible building plots around Wellington practical.

Heading north, if architecture is your thing, and in particular Art Deco, then head for Napier. The town was rebuilt following an earthquake, just at the right time for Art Deco to be all the rage, consequently it has the best selection in the Southern hemisphere.

Otherwise, you'll probably be heading next for Tongariro National Park and its trio of volcanoes, made doubly famous in the Lord of the Rings films as Mount Doom. The easiest experience is to head from National Park village up the slopes of Mt Ruapehu by cable car, and from the top station take a short (but awkward on volcanic clinker) walk onto the summit ridge for great views on a clear day across to the other volcanoes. For more intrepid walkers there's the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is a strenuous day walk crossing some amazing landforms.

We're now in the geothermal heart of New Zealand, and there are lots of volcanic sights to see from Tongariro to the Bay of Plenty coast. Next up from here is Lake Taupo, followed by Rotorua, while a highlight is the offshore White Island volcano, accessible from Whakatane by boat trip.

Taupo town itself is a decent enough base but the main sight nearby is Huka Falls just north of town, close to Taupo Bungy.

On the road from Taupo to Rotorua is my favourite of the local municipal developed hot springs, Waikite Valley. It was built by the local community council in the 1970s and is a lovely, uncommercialised, hot springs. Admission is about $17. For completely free thermal bathing, near here is a spot known as "Hot & Cold". Off the main road is a loop road to Waiotapu springs, and on the southern bit of this lane is a little bridge with informal parking bays either side. The water here is the confluence of a hot stream and a normal cold river - you can bathe freely, and find the perfect spot where the waters mix to make the right temperature for you.

In Rotorua itself you have the Polynesian spa, the Whakarewarewa Maori Thermal Village, a free thermal walkway by the lake, and free fumarole pits in the local park. Rotorua is tourist-central, hence its nickname Rotovegas.

A popular detour west from the Taupo/Rotorua area is to Otorohanga and the Waitomo gloworm caves, a cave system with water running through so you explore by boat. There's also blackwater rafting for the adrenalin junkies.

Across on the coast, from Whakatane you can visit White Island volcano with White Island Tours; it's a pricy daytrip at $219 but you spend a couple of hours exploring the volcano with plenty of activity going on. The fumes can be a little overwhelming but a gas mask is provided. This is a fascinating experience.

Further up the coast from here is Mount Maunganui, a nice lump of rock with pleasant walks up to the top and a thermal baths at the foot. It's a nice resort with pretty beaches.

Inland, close to Matamata, is the Hobbiton film set used in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. When it was rebuilt for the Hobbit, it was made to be permanent and is now a great visitor attraction. For Middle Earth fans this is a top pick.

The Coromandel Peninsula is a popular playground as you get back closer to Auckland. At Hot Water Beach there's a hot spring which emerges within the sands, so at the right tide time you can dig your own hot pool in the sands and mix seawater with hot springwater to get a comfortable temperature. But my favourite find in the Coromandel was Driving Creek Railway - built by a local sculptor without bothering with permits, this miniature railway originally took him to collect clay. Now it winds through switchbacks and forests, through cuttings and tunnels built with winebottles he had to empty in pursuit of the project, to the summit where he's built the wooden Eyefull Tower (geddit?).

For those getting back to Auckland with time to spare, a good add-on is heading up to the Bay of Islands. The main town is Paihia, with ferries over to Russell, the original capital of New Zealand. The Waitangi Treaty House is here, where the British arguably conned the natives into signing away their country. Further north is the misnamed Ninety Mile Beach leading to Cape Reinga.

That's a quick tour of NZ including the most common places, but it scratches the surface on a complex country. The roads aren't fast - a lot of the terrain is a volcanic jumble that's hard to lay straight roads through - so don't plan on fast driving times. Outside of Auckland and Wellington don't expect to find motorways. There are amenities for the traveller everywhere, with free public toilets frequently placed along the roads, and lots of friendly backwaters. Hostels and motels are all over the place. Grab a road map and plan your trip in detail.

NZ is a real treat - I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Posted by Andyf 06:47 Archived in New Zealand Tagged art queenstown auckland volcano new glacier zealand route sound itinerary milford deco Comments (0)

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