Monthly Archives: January 2009

Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca

Posted by on January 25, 2009

World Heritage Site #43: Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca

Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca: My 43rd UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca:

Melaka and George Town, Malaysia, are remarkable examples of historic colonial towns on the Straits of Malacca that demonstrate a succession of historical and cultural influences arising from their former function as trading ports linking East and West. These are the most complete surviving historic city centres on the Straits of Malacca with a multi-cultural living heritage originating from the trade routes from Great Britain and Europe through the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and the Malay Archipelago to China. Both towns bear testimony to a living multi-cultural heritage and tradition of Asia, where the many religions and cultures met and coexisted. They reflect the coming together of cultural elements from the Malay Archipelago, India and China with those of Europe, to create a unique architecture, culture and townscape.

Melaka and George Town represent exceptional examples of multi-cultural trading towns in East and Southeast Asia, forged from the mercantile and exchanges of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures and three successive European colonial powers for almost 500 years, each with its imprints on the architecture and urban form, technology and monumental art. Both towns show different stages of development and the successive changes over a long span of time and are thus complementary.

George Town was designated a World Heritage site just a month before I arrived. There were still banners and signs all over the congratulating themselves on the accomplishment.

George Town was a former British trading city in Malaysia along with Melaka and Singapore. Many people have told me that George Town is what Singapore would look like today if it hadn’t become independent of Malaysia.

In addition to the European architecture, there is also a strong Chinese influence in the city, the remnant of Chinese traders who settled there.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malaysia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 1:22 am

Musandam Ahoy!

Posted by on January 24, 2009

The red part is Musandam

The red part is Musandam

If all goes well, tomorrow I’ll be taking the world’s fastest ferry to Musandam, Oman. That is the hunk of Oman which is separated from the rest of the country and sticks out into the Strait of Hormuz.

The ferry connects Musandam with Muscat and has been clocked at 55.9 knots. From what I’ve read it is losing money hand over fist as there wasn’t a lot of thought put into the business. The boats are more expensive than flying, take longer than a flight (6 hours vs 45 min), and were only designed for shorter, one hour trips. The tickets are out of the price of most Omanis and there are only 30,000 people who live on Musandam. Also, no facilities for the ferries were ever built and no one was trained prior to the arrival of the ships.

So, I’m taking the trip while I can.

From Musandam I’ll then be heading back to Dubai briefly, passing through the remaining Emirates I haven’t been to, before flying to Doha, Qatar. I really hope the internet in Qatar is better than Dubai or Oman because I have a ton of photos to upload.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Posted by on January 24, 2009

World Heritage Site #42: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park: My 42nd UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park:

This park, formerly called Uluru (Ayers Rock – Mount Olga) National Park, features spectacular geological formations that dominate the vast red sandy plain of central Australia. Uluru, an immense monolith, and Kata Tjuta, the rock domes located west of Uluru, form part of the traditional belief system of one of the oldest human societies in the world. The traditional owners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta are the Anangu Aboriginal people.

There isn’t much to say about Uluru that I haven’t already said.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 20, 2017 @ 3:10 am

Shark Bay

Posted by on January 23, 2009

World Heritage Site #41: Shark Bay

Shark Bay: My 41st UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Shark Bay:

On the Indian Ocean coast at the most westerly point of Australia, Shark Bay’s waters, islands and peninsulas covering a large area of some 2.2 million hectares (of which about 70% are marine waters) have a number of exceptional natural features, including one of the largest and most diverse seagrass beds in the world. However, it is for its stromatolites (colonies of microbial mats that form hard, dome-shaped deposits which are said to be the oldest life forms on earth), that the property is most renowned. The property is also famous for its rich marine life including a large population of dugongs and provides a refuge for a number of other globally threatened species.

One of the superlative natural phenomena present in this property is its stromatolites, which represent the oldest form of life on Earth and are comparable to living fossils. Shark Bay is also one of the few marine areas in the world dominated by carbonates not associated with reef-building corals. This has led to the development of the Wooramel Seagrass Bank within Shark Bay, one of the largest seagrass meadows in the world with the most seagrass species recorded from one area. These values are supplemented by marine fauna such as dugong, dolphins, sharks, rays, turtles and fish, which occur in great numbers.

The hydrologic structure of Shark Bay, altered by the formation of the Faure Sill and a high evaporation, has produced a basin where marine waters are hypersaline (almost twice that of seawater) and contributed to extensive beaches consisting entirely of shells. The profusion of peninsulas, islands, and bays create a diversity of landscapes and exceptional coastal scenery.

While I was able to visit Kakadu and Purnululu during the right time of year, I probably visited Shark Bay at the wrong time of year. It would have been much better to visit during the Australian summer. Nonetheless, I got to see the one thing I really wanted to see at Shark Bay…..stromatolites!

Here is the podcast episode on stromatolites I shot in Hamilne Pool:


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 12:54 am

Like Taking Roast Lamb On A Stick From Strangers

Posted by on January 22, 2009

I had an experience yesterday which was interesting to say the least. In the morning I checked out of my room and walked several kilometers to the Nizwa Fort. I could have taken a taxi, but I figured the walk would do me good. When I got back I got my bags and went out to the road to hail a taxi. Some guy pulled up to me offered to give me a ride.

Actually, I only assumed he was offering me a ride as he spoke no English and I spoke no Arabic. I was only going a short distance to the roundabout down the road where taxis would wait to take people to Muscat. Muscat is about 90 minutes from Nizwa and the cost of a taxi seemed pretty cheap from what everyone has told me.

The man who picked me up told me he was going to Muscat and would drive me there. By “told me” we sort of gestured and figured out what we were saying to each other. He had to get his car washed then we could go. His name was Fazid (I think. Again, that wasn’t totally clear).

We were supposed to be ready in 30 min, so we went to a coffee shop nearby and had something to eat. (the coffee shops here seem to be more diners or restaurants than cafes). We got some saffron rice and chicken. I offered to pay but he refused.

I must admit my American travel sense was tingling. As an American, you are raised to be suspicious of anyone offering you anything: candy, free rides, free vacations in exchange for listening to a time share pitch, or five CDs for only a penny, are all things which should be viewed cautiously. I had no idea if this guy was a serial killer or what. Then again, only a American would probably assume that someone trying to help was a serial killer….but I digress.

After two hours, the car was washed and we were ready to go. This entire ride was only going to save me about $6, so I easily could have said “thanks but no thanks” and taken a taxi, but I decided to go with it. (As an aside, all the cars in Oman are really, really clean. They give tickets for unwashed cars. Likewise, all the buildings are clean and look as if they have been recently painted.)

We took off down the very nice highway to Muscat. The Nizwa/Muscat highway is as good or better than any stretch of interstate you will find in the US. Four lanes, divided road, on ramps and off ramps, and most of the road has lighting. He put in a CD of the only music he had which was in English for me, which turned out to be some of the nastiest hard core rap I’ve ever heard. I had no idea who the artists were, but one song was from Eminem. The funny thing is he probably had no idea what they were saying.

As we were going down the road, the sun set and he eventually turned off the road. He said something in Arabic but I didn’t understand. Was he taking a short cut? Was he stopping to see relatives? Was he going to the ditch he was going to dump my dead body into? I had no clue.

We ended up going through a small town where he pulled over to buy some lamb kebobs from a vendor on the street. Again I tried to pay, but he refused any money. We pulled out again and eventually got back onto the highway.

Eventually as we got to Muscat I told him I was going to Ruwi, where I wanted to stay. I don’t know where in Muscat he was going or if Ruwi was far out of his way, but he gladly took me there, dropped me off, shook hands, and left.

Since I’ve been in the Middle East, I’ve met surprisingly few Arabs. Most of the people I met in Dubai were Indian, Pakistani or Filipino. In Oman I’ve met western tourists and here to most of the people you deal with in hotels and restaurants are Indian. Fazid was the first Arab I’ve been able to spend any time with…..and we couldn’t speak a word to each other.

In the end, he bought me lunch, a kebob, drove me to Muscat and paid for gas. He didn’t accept any money nor expected anything in return. He just picked me up off the street and drove me 160km.

When people ask me if as an American I’m scared of being in the Middle East, I’m going to tell them about Fazid. Not only is there nothing to be scared of, these are some of the nicest, most generous people you will meet on Earth.

Purnululu National Park

Posted by on January 22, 2009

World Heritage Site #40: Purnululu National Park

Purnululu National Park: My 40th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Purnululu National Park:

Purnululu NationalPark, located in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, covers almost 240,000 hectares of remote area managed as wilderness. It includes the Bungle Bungle Range, a spectacularly incised landscape of sculptured rocks which contains superlative examples of beehive-shaped karst sandstone rising 250 meters above the surrounding semi-arid savannah grasslands. Unique depositional processes and weathering have given these towers their spectacular black and orange banded appearance, formed by biological processes of cyanobacteria (single cell photosynthetic organisms) which serve to stabilize and protect the ancient sandstone formations. These outstanding examples of cone karst that have eroded over a period of 20 million years are of great beauty and exceptional geological interest.

Although Purnululu National Park has not been widely known in Australia until recently and remains relatively inaccessible, it has become recognized internationally for its exceptional natural beauty. The prime scenic attraction is the extraordinary array of banded, beehive-shaped cone towers comprising the Bungle Bungle Range. These have become emblematic of the park and are internationally renowned for Australia’s natural attractions. The dramatically sculptured structures, unrivaled in their scale, extent, grandeur and diversity of form anywhere in the world, undergo remarkable daily and seasonal variation in appearance, including striking color transition following rain and with the positioning of the sun. The intricate maze of towers is accentuated by sinuous, narrow, sheer-sided gorges lined with majestic Livistona fan palms. These and the soaring cliffs up to 250 meters high are cut by seasonal waterfalls and pools, creating the major tourist attractions in the park with evocative names such as Echidna Chasm, Piccaninny, and Cathedral Gorges. The diversity of landforms and ecosystems elsewhere in the park are representative of the semi-arid landscape in which Purnululu is located and provide a sympathetic visual buffer for the massif.

Purnululu is hard to get to. It is in the outback of the outback. It is three hours from the Turkey Creek roadhouse (truck stop), which is three hours from the town of Kununurra….which is in the middle of nowhere.

The primary attraction of Purnululu are the erosional features of the Bungle Bungles. The beehive domes are the most famous feature, but the gorges are also stunning. The photo above is of Cathedral Gorge. Click on the photo to see the larger version of the photo get a sense of scale. The woman is the photo was our bus driver/tour guide for the day.

Purnululu is only open a few months each year during the dry season. During the wet season, the creeks can get very high with very rapid currents.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 12:51 am

Kakadu National Park

Posted by on January 21, 2009

World Heritage Site #29: Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park: My 39th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Kakadu National Park:

Kakadu National Park is a living cultural landscape with exceptional natural and cultural values. Kakadu has been home to Aboriginal people for more than 50,000 years, and many of the park’s extensive rock art sites date back thousands of years. Kakadu’s rock art provides a window into human civilization in the days before the last ice age. Detailed paintings reveal insights into hunting and gathering practices, social structure and ritual ceremonies of Indigenous societies from the Pleistocene Epoch until the present.

The largest national park in Australia and one of the largest in the world’s tropics, Kakadu preserves the greatest variety of ecosystems on the Australian continent including extensive areas of savanna woodlands, open forest, floodplains, mangroves, tidal mudflats, coastal areas and monsoon forests. The park also has a huge diversity of flora and is one of the least impacted areas of the northern part of the Australian continent. Its spectacular scenery includes landscapes of arresting beauty, with escarpments up to 330 meters high extending in a jagged and unbroken line for hundreds of kilometers.

The hunting-and-gathering tradition demonstrated in the art and archaeological record is a living anthropological tradition that continues today, which is rare for hunting-and-gathering societies worldwide. Australian and global comparisons indicate that the large number and diversity of features of anthropological, art and archaeological sites (many of which include all three site types), and the quality of preservation, is exceptional.

Many of the art and archaeological sites of the park are thousands of years old, showing a continuous temporal span of the hunting and gathering tradition from the Pleistocene Era until the present. While these sites exhibit great diversity, both in space and through time, the overwhelming picture is also one of a continuous cultural development.

Kakadu National Park doesn’t get as much attention as other sites in Australia, but it is arguably the best. Kakadu is home not only to more wildlife than you will find almost anywhere else in Australia but is also the home to some of the oldest rock paintings on the continent.

Kakadu is a 2-3 hour drive from Darwin in the Northern Territory. In addition to saltwater crocodiles and kangaroos, you can see stunning waterfalls and enormous termite mounds.

Much of what you experience will be determined by the time of year you visit. I visited at the beginning of the dry season, which was a great time to view crocs on the river, but not so great for going to the waterfalls (the roads were closed).

Many of the outback scenes from the movie Crocodile Dundee were shot in Kakadu National Park.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 12:46 am

Three Strikes In Nizwa

Posted by on January 21, 2009

My time in Nizwa has been frustrating to say the least. There are three World Heritage Sites I wanted to visit in this area. All three are within easy driving distance, but I’ve had some terrible luck.

I rented a car yesterday and drove about 150km from Nizwa to the village of Bat hoping to visit the archaeological Sites of Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn. I navigated my way to Bat flawlessly, but couldn’t find what I was looking for. There were no signs. Nothing. I stopped to try and get directions, but no one knew what I was talking about or didn’t understand me. I ended up spending several hours driving around for what amounted to nothing. I never ended up finding it. Strike one.

The second site was the Bahla Fort. That was easy to find as I drove past it on my way to Bat. When I stopped there on my way back, there were no signs or anything to instruct you where to park or where to go. No entrance, no nothing. The fort is under construction so I assume it was closed, without any signs saying it was closed. I took a few photos from the outside, but that was it. Strike two.

The third site I wanted to visit was the Aflaj irrigation systems of Oman. There is no one location, but I knew that one of the irrigation channels was in Nizwa, so I figured I could easily take my rental car and go visit the next morning. I ask for directions and am told that I need a 4-wheel drive to there. Also, there is no water flowing right now. I didn’t see the point in getting a special vehicle to visit an empty irrigation channel.Strike Three

All that being said, the mountains in this part of Oman are dramatic and beautiful. The landscape is very similar to what you can find in the mountainous deserts in Nevada or Arizona. Had I not come to Oman on a whim, this would be a great country to road trip in. I’ve met many travelers who are running about the country by car. All the roads are in great condition and the signs are in Arabic and English. Fuel is dirt cheap at 0.114 Omani Rial per liter (about $1.12 per gallon).

There is a surprising amount of tourism here. I was going to stay at this hotel another day, but it is booked solid tonight, mostly it seems with large tour groups.

I’m off to the Nizwa Fort (which looks much better than the Bahla Fort to be honest) and the souk today. I’ll probably take a bus back to Muscat or get another room for the night. I’m not sure yet. I’m more frustrated than disappointed to be honest. While I didn’t get to my destinations, the drive was worth it for its own sake.

Wet Tropics of Queensland

Posted by on January 20, 2009

World Heritage Site #38: Wet Tropics of Queensland

Wet Tropics of Queensland: My 38th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the eensland:

The Wet Tropics of Queensland, or Wet Tropics, stretches along the northeast coast of Australia for some 450 kilometers. Encompassing some 894,420 hectares of mostly tropical rainforest, this stunningly beautiful area is extremely important for its rich and unique biodiversity. It also presents an unparalleled record of the ecological and evolutionary processes that shaped the flora and fauna of Australia, containing the relics of the great Gondwanan forest that covered Australia and part of Antarctica 50 to 100 million years ago. All of Australia’s unique marsupials and most of its other animals originated in rainforest ecosystems, and their closest surviving relatives occur in the Wet Tropics. These living relicts of the Gondwanan era and their subsequent diversification provide unique insights in the process of evolution in general. They also provide important information for the interpretation of fossils of plants and animals found elsewhere in Australia, and about the evolution of Australia’s sclerophyll flora and marsupial fauna in particular.

The property supports tropical rainforests at their latitudinal and climatic limits, and unlike most other seasonal tropical evergreen equatorial forests, is subject to a dry season and to frequent cyclonic events. Many of the distinct features of the Wet Tropics relate to its extremely high but seasonal rainfall, diverse terrain, and steep environmental gradients. In addition to its complex array of species and life forms, the Wet Tropics is also recognized as an area possessing outstanding scenic features, natural beauty and magnificent sweeping landscapes.

Like the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, the Wet Tropics of Queensland encompasses a large stretch of land along the coast of Northern Queensland. There are many places you can visit, the most popular ones being outside of Cairns. Cairns prides itself as being one of the only cities in the world which sits between two World Heritage sites: the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef.

I visited Girringun National Park which is one of the southernmost parks in the World Heritage Site. It is also the home of Wallaman Falls, the highest waterfall in Australia.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 12:40 am

Great Barrier Reef

Posted by on January 19, 2009

World Heritage Site #37: Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef: My 37th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Great Barrier Reef:

As the world’s most extensive coral reef ecosystem, the Great Barrier Reef is a globally outstanding and significant entity. Practically the entire ecosystem was inscribed as World Heritage in 1981, covering an area of 348,000 square kilometers and extending across a contiguous latitudinal range of 14o (10oS to 24oS). The Great Barrier Reef includes extensive cross-shelf diversity, stretching from the low water mark along the mainland coast up to 250 kilometers offshore. This wide depth range includes vast shallow inshore areas, mid-shelf, and outer reefs, and beyond the continental shelf to oceanic waters over 2,000 meters deep.

Within the Great Barrier Reef, there are some 2,500 individual reefs of varying sizes and shapes, and over 900 islands, ranging from small sandy cays and larger vegetated cays to large rugged continental islands rising, in one instance, over 1,100 meters above sea level. Collectively these landscapes and seascapes provide some of the most spectacular maritime scenery in the world.

The latitudinal and cross-shelf diversity, combined with diversity through the depths of the water column, encompasses a globally unique array of ecological communities, habitats, and species. This diversity of species and habitats and their interconnectivity make the Great Barrier Reef one of the richest and most complex natural ecosystems on earth. There are over 1,500 species of fish, about 400 species of coral, 4,000 species of mollusk, and some 240 species of birds, plus a great diversity of sponges, anemones, marine worms, crustaceans, and other species. No other World Heritage property contains such biodiversity. This diversity, especially the endemic species, means the GBR is of enormous scientific and intrinsic importance, and it also contains a significant number of threatened species. At the time of inscription, the IUCN evaluation stated “… if only one coral reef site in the world were to be chosen for the World Heritage List, the Great Barrier Reef is the site to be chosen”.

As I noted in my World Heritage Site overview, it is hard to get a real grasp of the size Great Barrier Reef from the surface of the Earth. Unless you are in a jumbo jet flying over the reef at 30,000 feet, you can’t see how big it is, and even in a jet, you can only see a fraction of it.

There are several locations in Queensland where you can access the reef. I went diving in the Whitsunday Islands off Airlie Beach and in Cairns. I also had the chance to do some real underwater photography with my camera.

If you visit Australia with the idea of standing on a hill and taking in the majesty of the Great Barrier Reef….forget it. You can’t see it from shore in most places. You’ll need to take at least an hour long boat ride to get out to the reef.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 12:33 am