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Kate Webster

Kate Webster

Kate Webster is a world traveller, ocean lover and conservation warrior who is determined to make every moment count for not only herself, but the world around her. An editor and travel journalist, Kate travels the globe in search of vivid imagery and compelling stories that capture the essence of the people and places she visits. She is a passionate conservation advocate, sustainable traveller and always travels with reason and cause. Born out of a life-long love of travel, the ocean, wildlife and conservation and fascination with the world around her, is Kate’s inspiration behind her writing and photography.

Tradition warms the heart and soul

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It is hard not to feel gratitude daily in Laos’ Luang Prabang, as Kate Webster discovers through age-old traditions in this heritage rich city.

Laos is a country that remains lost in time, retraining many traditions that seem to have disappeared in a frenzy of development elsewhere in the region. Here you will discover a country untainted by mass tourism, an Asia in slow motion.

The magical Luang Prabang is a prime example of this, as hundreds of saffron-robed monks glide through the streets every morning in a call to alms, one of the region’s iconic images.

A tradition that dates back to the 14th century, the alms giving ceremony takes place daily as the sun rises, beginning on the main street of Luang Prabang before spreading out to all the side streets. Buddhist monks depart from temples in this UNESCO-listed town to gather their daily meal from locals whom wake early to prepare the food and wait quietly by the roadside to give their gifts.

Travellers to the area can also take part in the ceremony. I sat patiently waiting with my basket, contemplating what this simple meal of sticky rice meant to the monks and as they lined up to collect their share, I felt daily gratitude for being invited to take part in this age-old tradition.

In a heart-warming turn of events, I also bore witness to monks returning the favour and sharing some of their alms with children on the street so that they can take food back to their family.

This warming of the soul through simple gestures carries over to another ceremony specific to Laos, the Baci Ceremony. Practiced for hundreds of years, the ceremony involves the tying of white cotton strings around person’s wrists during a prayer saying or well-wishing for the person that the ceremony is intended for. The term commonly used for this is “Sou Khuan” which means “spirit enhancing or spirit calling”.

The people of Lao believe that a human being is a union of thirty-two organs, each has a spirit or Khuan (Lao word for spirit) to protect them. I am told that these spirits often wander outside the body causing unbalance of the soul.

I sat on a mat in the fitting surrounds of the Sofitel Luang Prabang. Originally built as a French Governor’s residence in 1900s, the property is located in a quiet residential quarter and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Next to me is a colourful delight, a handmade marigold pyramid centrepiece known as a Pha Khuan. In front of me is an elderly man known as the Mor Phon (wisher or master of ceremony usually a respected and knowledgeable person in the community) and a number of older women. To begin, I am handed a glass shot of Lao whisky and the prayers are said.

This was shortly followed by the tying of white string around my wrist by the older women as they murmured words of prayer to invite good wishes. This can also include quoting from Lao poetry and proverbs. The tying of the white string represents tying of the 32 spirits to the body putting them back in harmony as well as bringing good luck and prosperity.

With my wristed adorned with white strings, we all gather around the Pha Khuan and lay our hands palms down on its edge as the prayer continues with “Hai Kuard Nnee, Dee Kuard Kao” meaning “bad is swept out, good is wept in”.

The white strings tied around my wrists remained weeks after the ceremony as I was told to wait until they fall off as cutting the strings means the good wishes might be severed. I was too believing to remove them, and they were a warming reminder of my time in the lovely Laos.

PUBLISHED in ESCAPE

My counter poaching camp experience in Africa

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The sun is breaking over the horizon, a saffron glow engulfs the treetops. The view is beyond spectacular and you could be mistaken that all is calm with the sunrise’s friendly embrace.

Things are not as they appear though. The air holds a sense of unease. A tension that is hard to place. For this place is not entirely safe. Not for me, nor the wildlife, and I worry what the morning light will show from the evening’s activities. 

I am in Limpopo National Park, a 1.2 million hectare area of bush in Mozambique that borders Kruger Nation Park and stretches as far North as the Zimbabwe border. Sat in the camp of the Dyck Advisory Group Conservation Trust, I am here for the week to gain an understanding of what this counter poaching team engages in on a daily basis. 

The Dyck Advisory Group Conservation Trust (DAGCT) carries out conservation and wildlife protection through its counter-poaching involvement and operations on the ground. The unit prides itself by operating on the front line and in many cases behind enemy lines to neutralise poaching activity and ensure the safety of today’s endangered and targeted wildlife. 

You would expect a full-blown team of grown men to tackle such a massive task, however I am overwhelmed to discover it is a small group of young men, some as young as 21 years old, dedicating their lives to the cause. I think to myself what a massive responsibility these young men have, and I am in awe of their professionalism, passion and comradery. 

Being a non-profit organisation, DAGCT rely on these men to go above and beyond to get the job done, with funding and donations from sponsors. There are just three DAGCT managers and one chopper pilot in camp. They are responsible for some 100 trackers, a majority of which are local Mozambicans. 

This tight-knit group focus on the Intensive Protective Zone which only equates to about 30 percent of the total area. This is where most of the action happens, so they concentrate most of their resources to where threats are greater, and wildlife is more abundant. With more funding the group hopes to extend this region to cover more of the area. 

Before arriving in camp, I felt I was somewhat prepared for what I was to experience. I had been in contact with Henk, one of the other DAGCT managers whom was absent on my visit, for nearly eight months prior via whatsaap messages. He gave me an eye-opening insight into life in camp and the work they did. It was that communication that ignited the fire within me to get involved, from some 11,500kms away in Australia. 

It was quite surreal to be sat in the very place I had seen so many photos of and heard so many stories about. The camp was exactly as I imagined. Tents are set up, makeshift but somewhat secured long term. There was a sense of home here, everything had its place. 

My morning started spending some time with Sean Van Nierkerk, the head of Operations in camp. At a young 28 years of age, the leadership and responsibly he emits astounds me. I hang off every word he tells me. Over a coffee at the fire, Sean divulges, after completing his Bachelor of Commerce Degree at the University of Pretoria, he followed his passion for conservation by becoming a qualified Field Ranger and Ranger Trainer. After a few years guiding in Mozambique and South Africa, Sean now focuses his efforts towards conservation in Mozambique carrying out counter-poaching operations for Dyck Advisory Group Conservation Trust. 

He has a charismatic charm to him, but you can see in his eyes a story that goes much deeper. A burden that I feel, only the few members of the team truly know. It wasn’t long before those other team members arrived around us and I felt the sense of team engulf me. There were inside jokes, playful banter and I longed to be a part of it. 

Mornings begin with patrols. Teams of three or more trackers are dropped off at various locations within the detection zone. Sometimes they are gone for the day, other times requires a more extended patrol of three to four days at a time. A high-density patrol could mean the trackers and rangers are in the bush for over a week, unassisted, carrying their own equipment and living rough in the bush. 

Armed with shotguns, AKA 47s or Dashprods, these trackers and rangers mean business. They go searching for or following pre-recorded tracks of suspected poachers. These tracks most commonly run from the local communities in the reserve to the border and across into Kruger National Park. 

They are on mission greater than just finding the poachers that target the larger wildlife like rhino. They are also fighting to eliminate the all too common problem of poaching bushmeat. Trapping devices called snares, usually consisting of a noose (made from wire), are used to captured animals for food and even hides. These death traps do not discriminate, so more often than not, they captured more than was intended. The removal of these snares is part of everyday life for the team, in addition to capturing those who set them. 

A team of trackers pile into the back of the Landcruiser and we drove off into the bush. The terrain is hard going, ranging from dense bush to rocky loose gravel makeshift roads. Intel from the previous days dictated the drop zone. The team offloaded, had a quick chat about their mission for the day and checked their guns, chambered a round, before walking off into the bush. 

Driving back to the main camp I felt worried for them. What would they come across? Would it be poachers where they are faced with contact? Would they stumble across a carcass of a poached animal? I couldn’t help but think what a brutal world they are living day in and day out. Suddenly a giraffe’s head appeared through the bush and curiously glanced at us as we drove past. It snapped me out of my sombre thoughts and the reality of what the fight is all about hit me. To see a wild animal doing its thing without fear of human threats truly is the most blissful thing. 

Back at camp, I spend some time in the Forward Operating Base tent with the Colonel. Colonel Lionel Dyck (aka the Colonel) heads up the DAGCT. After decades of commanding and controlling military, security, explosive disposal, humanitarian and conservation operations and organisations around the world, Col. Dyck created the non-profit organisation Dyck Advisory Group Conservation Trust, to help combat the rapid decline of wildlife throughout Southern Africa by illegal poaching. Col. Dyck identified the massive, crucial and immediate need for successful counter poaching operations in highly dense and threatened wildlife areas. 

From what I gathered; the man was the stuff of legends. Not the type that stand up and wave a flag declaring his victories but has a reputation built from the spoken words and stories amongst those who work under him. I was expecting a hard man that was to be feared if you put a foot out of place. I experienced none of that. He was passionate, kind and caring, even if he didn’t want to depict that. The team respected him, and I saw a kind of father figure in him amongst these young men. 

I felt honoured to be in the presence of such an incredible man, as we discussed the role of DAGCT in the area, past stories from his experiences and future plans. I was keen to be involved help where I could. I took the private moment to deliver some of the much-needed gear I had collected for the team. To my delight, he welcomed the bag of equipment, including headlamps, car dash cams, cameras, binoculars and more. I felt in a small way I was contributing to the cause. 

By late afternoon I took to the air in the helicopter to see an aerial view of the camp and the area being protected. Within moments of being in the air I was taken back by the landscape below me. To begin with, dense bush continued for miles below me before we traversed across a valley where a river flowed below me. Leaning out of the open helicopter I saw hippo’s heads bob under the water, massive crocodiles scurry off into the water and elephants drinking at the waters edge. 

Werner, the helicopter pilot, was cool and in control as we weaved along the river’s twists and turns. Banking to the right, the cliff faces of the gorge rose beside me as we flew lower to the ground. My adrenalin was pumping. Rising in altitude, the setting sun filtered across the land and I lost my breath. My imagination could never have dreamt up such a sight. I extended my arm out into the wind and felt the suns warmth on my fingers cooled by the force of the world flying pass me. I stole the moment, the feeling that flowed over my fingers and deep into my soul. My heart burst and it felt good. 

Even after landing, my head was in the clouds. I had discovered an even deeper love for a continent that I had already found home in. That evening as I sat around the braai with the rest of the team, I felt a sense of belonging and knew, I would be back again one day. 

The following days in camp, I was exposed to the daily operations more. I am not sure if it was a blessing, but no poachers were encountered during my time. I am not sure how I would have dealt with it should they had to be honest. I was under the belief that the poachers were desperate to make a living, maybe feed a family or help a dying relative. What I did learn, pure greed drove the poachers. Not a dire need to survive, but a need to have more in a materialistic world. It made my blood boil and I was thankful in my time there not to encounter such a person. 

What I did encounter, was people dedicating their lives to protect the wildlife that were defenceless to human destruction and greed. People who do not live an ordinary life. They are isolated, living without the comforts the rest of us take for granted. They don’t do it for the money. They don’t do it for the recognition. The do it because they care. And they do it without question. Day in and day out. 

I walked away from that camp with an immense respect and compassion for the people who wake every day and fight a fight many of us know nothing of. I have never felt more honoured to be invited into the world of DAGCT, if only for a moment. It is a moment that will stay with me forever, and in that forever I will continue to help in any way possible. For I have seen it. I learnt it. I understand it. So I can work to protect it.

Travel apps I swear by

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I must admit, I live on my phone these days. I am not proud of it, but I really do depend on it to get me through my day to day. So, when it comes to travelling, I make sure I am armed with apps that will make the journey just that bit easier.

Convenience is key and having information at my fingertips saves on time and effort when overseas. I also find travel apps very useful in giving me information, tips and advice I sometimes never knew I needed.

Before you travel, here are some of the apps I suggest you check out, you won’t regret it.

Google Translate

Google Translate is one of my best companions! I like to talk to locals, a lot, and while I always make an effort to learn some of the local lingo and use it, more in depth conversations can be hard. It is arrogant to think your language will be spoken in countries around the world and let’s be honest, learning a new language takes time. Apart from being able to talk or type into the app in one language and have it translated to your choice of language, there is a brand new feature that allows you to snap a photo that features text, highlight it , and then translate it. This can be especially helpful when it comes to street signs, menus and store signs. With this app you turn into a multilingual traveller.

TripIt

I love TripIt! It is like having your own personal travel manager in your pocket. I did fork out for the paid version and it is worth every penny. Any reservations or bookings, I email to the app and it sorts it into an easy to access and view full itinerary. Everything from flights, hotels and transfers to tours and car hire drops into the itinerary. You can then share your trips with family, friends or colleagues so they know your plans. Additional information provided also helps, like airport maps, nearby places of interest and more. I also like that I can see at the end of the year a little recap on my travel – how many flights I did, countries visited and more. There is a free version and a paid version.

Trip.com

Travelling normally requires flights, accommodation, tours, car hire and more. If you are anything like me, searching for the best deals is time consuming, confusing and well, even risky of fraud or scams. This is where Trip.com becomes your best go to app for planning your travel – prior to departure and while on the journey.  What I love about this app over the other online travel agent apps is that not only can you discover and book the best hotels, flights and more with the free Trip.com App, but you get exclusive member deals when you sign up. And 24 hour support where you can actually call someone if you need help. I am also a sucker for frequent flyer/stay memberships and Trip.com app gives you Reward Coins every time you book that can be used for future travel.  Winning! While you are travelling, you can get handy information from the app such as destination information and even book last minute tours if you have a free day to explore.

Lounge Buddy

I hate waiting at airports and can’t justify paying over $30 for a simple meal! Which is why, lounge access is so worth it! Access to an elegant lounge, especially ahead of a long trip or during a long layover, can make all the difference in the world. Lounge Buddy loads up all the lounges near you, including photos and lists of amenities, and offers access to them via one app. Book ahead when you know you have a layover, or open it up when you arrive. When lounges are not accessible, the app will explain restrictions so you can avoid wasting your time. A one-off lounge pass in some cases starts from as little as $25.

Elk Currency Converter

Unless you are mega rich, chances are you will be watching those pennies while you travel. If I could count the number of times I have been jibbed at night markets because I got my currency conversions wrong, well let’s just say I would lose count. Until I discovered  Elk Currency Converter. For me, it is essential that a currency app should be simple to use, but also easy to read. This app is one of the best-looking converters out there, and one whose design serves a distinct purpose: to thwart sticker shock when traveling abroad. Where Elk shines against the competition is its clean, no-clutter design. When you type in one conversion, you also get that value times ten, with numbers listed in big text on one screen, so you can quickly judge how much one croissant costs, or if you can splurge on two.

DuoLingo

Now I don’t use this app as much as I want to, and I always keep saying I will use it more, but for those travellers who want to delve a little deeper into the country they are visiting (and prefer not to cheat with the previous Google Translate App) there is DuoLingo. This app allows you to learn a language before travelling, so you can be prepared on arrival to speak the local lingo. Depending on how quickly you pick up new languages, this is an app you need to spend time on prior to arrival. It is good to learn some of the basics at least and locals will approve it. Mental note – start learning my next language NOW!

PRODUCT REVIEW: Canon EOSR vs 5D Mark IV

Canon 70-200mm lens

I recently took the Canon EOS R with RF 24-105mm Lens and the Canon 5D Mark IV with 70-200mm Lens to Africa to test them out.

When it comes to wildlife photography, there is a lot you need to take into account and therefore to have the right camera equipment is essential.

I have always been a fan of Canon and really could not see myself switching to any other brand. With Canon, you know you are getting a superior product that delivers. So, imagine my excitement to have both cameras in my hands (which was very handy when switching up without having to change lenses).

Canon EOS R

First of all, the Canon EOS R is the first full-frame mirrorless camera. Yes, it comes with a bit of a hefty price tag but it is worth every penny as it will have even the most amateur of photographers taking photos like a professional.

This camera is enhancing performance like never before. It’s intuitive control captures movement in any light with the fastest, sharpest Canon lenses, hyperfast autofocus and 30.3MP Full Frame CMOS sensor.

Not only does it take remarkable images with vivid colour, it does so with incredible intelligence in auto shooting mode. There is really not much need for post editing on your images.

The light weight mixed with deep handle makes carrying this camera a breeze. Easy to use buttons for fast control certainly makes using this camera a pleasure.

Features include intuitive control with revolutionised feel and functionality. The full frame means its image sensor is roughly the same size as a piece of 35mm film, and mirrorless meaning it doesn’t have a mirror that mechanically flips up and down (like a DSLR). Not only does it capture movement in any light with the fastest, sharpest Canon lenses, hyperfast autofocus and a 30.3MP Full Frame CMOS sensor, it is much lighter to carry than previous Canon models.

The new RF system has a wider 54mm mount with a shorter 20mm flange, meaning it’s a lot wider to let more light in, and the distance from the lens to sensor is shorter, which should aid in its focusing capabilities. All of Canon’s new RF lenses will have a new ring on them (in addition to focus and zoom rings) that can be mapped to control aperture, shutter speed, ISO, or exposure comp. Canon has three adaptors that allow you to use your old glass without any loss in quality.

Most importantly for first time users, the dials and buttons on the EOS R are easily customizable to shoot your way while each RF lens features Canon’s new lens control ring for fast control over your choice of aperture, shutter speed, ISO or exposure compensation.

Canon 5D Mark IV  

Canon’s 5D Mark IV is truly versatile camera, delivering top-notch images and 4K video while continuing with the 5D range of latest innovations.

The design and dimensions of the Mark IV are similar to the predecessor, the 5D Mark III, but it features a new sensor, with 30.4 megapixels, and it’s a full-frame number.

61-point (41 cross-type) AF covers an expanded sensor area and delivers focus at EV-3 in viewfinder shooting mode, or EV-4 in Live View mode. Dual Pixel RAW file format allows photographers to fine-tune images in post-production such as adjusting or correcting the point of sharpness.

The high resolution 3.2-inch LCD with full touch panel operation is combined with a new AF area selection button providing quick AF point selection.

Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC enables remote operation and secure file transfer (FTPS/FTP) via smart devices using the Canon Camera Connect app.

A truly versatile camera, EOS 5D Mark IV delivers DCI 4K shooting at up to 30 fps and the ability to extract 8.8MP JPEG images from 4K videos. Take creative control of time – speed things up with built in time lapse movie mode or slow things down with Full HD 60p and HD 120p movie recording.

The power of this camera and lens when paired together deliver quality grade images that can be further enhanced in post-production. The video shooting options are fantastic for those who are looking at doing more than just photography.

Opinion

To be honest, I really enjoyed using the EOS R as it was so light weight, perfect for when I am travelling tough and jumping in and out of vehicles, helicopters and more. I do however know the buttons and settings of the EOS 5D Mark IV better and preferred this for those wildlife photos where you can be up close or in a distance.

Canon EOS R Body RRP: $3,099.00 | Canon 5D Mark IV RRP: $3,999.00.

For more visit www.canon.com.au/cameras/    

Serendipity and sunsets in Sri Lanka

Lion Rock in Sri Lanka

No matter where you are in Sri Lanka, one thing I found is the sunsets are magic. Some people collect souvenirs from their travels, I tend to collect sunsets.

Something about sunsets I find alluring and romantic. It is a time to reflect on the day and give thanks for the experiences you have had, while holding the excitement that a new day is just around the corner, wrapped in mystery and adventure yet to be discovered. Also, the fact that a sunset goes hand in hand with a sundowner, you can’t lose.

My first Sri Lankan sunset arrived as I was sat in a car driving from Sigiriya to Dambulla. I had spent the morning exploring the infamous Lion Rock, an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province, Sri Lanka.

The 200-metre-high rock is a site of historical and archaeological. The name Lion Rock is derived from the small plateau about halfway up the side of this the form of an enormous lion is carved into the rock. Climbing Lion Rock sets up back USD$30 and will take about 2 hours to take in the entire complex. It is best to visit early morning to avoid the crowds and give you enough time to move on to your next destination.

The drive from Sigiriya to Dambulla is quite scenic, winding through the country roads and avoiding the constant intervention from local buses but does take time. I unfortunately did not prepare for this, so by the time I was arriving at Jetwings Lake in Dambulla, I had to suffice for my first Sri Lankan sunset moment hanging out the window of the car. Still, it was satisfying, as the sun dipped below the mountains and farming land I passed along the way.

Dambulla

Waking for sunrise as a substitute the following day, I was not disappointed. Jetwing Lake is situated on a lake and surrounded by what can only be described as a serene panoramic vista. Birds morning calls broke the silence as the mist lifted off the lake and engulfed the mountainous surroundings. The golden glow spilled across the horizon as the sun rose and a hot air balloon floated silently across the horizon. For a short moment, I felt I was cheating on my love for sunset as the sunrise warmed my heart.

A property that has been built with the harmony of its surroundings in mind, Jetwings Lake is open and airy which offers an ambience of being one with nature. There was a feel of tread lightly here, not only in the fact the property’s dedication to sustainable living is evident in their operations, but the staff also seemed to breeze around with a delicate balance of helping when needed but leaving you to just enjoy being there at the same time.

From Dambulla it was time to move south. Determined to arrive at my next destination in time for sunset, I set off early. This time the chaotic traffic was broken for a moment when an old blue train chugged past and I felt transported back in time. I am told these blue trains are quite the experience in Sri Lanka and I am disappointed I am missing out on it.

Yala

Located where the southern and eastern coasts meet, Yala is the gateway to Yala National Park. The journey through provincial greenery and coastal roads is most scenic. As I get closer to Yala National Park the vegetation turns more to grassland and the sightings of elephants begin.

The elephants in the area seem accustomed to the human activity and roam right onto the road. I asked my driver to continue past the elephants and avoid feeding them in fear it just entices them more to humans.

As the sun was getting low in the sky, I made my way along the outskirts of Yala National Park to check in at Jetwing Yala. Sprawled over 38 acres of uncharted coastal wilderness; Jetwing Yala is the closest hotel to Sri Lanka’s most popular natural reserve.

I was taken back by the raw beauty and wild luxury that lay before me. Harmoniously nestled amongst the surrounding bush and resting upon the shoreline of the Indian Ocean behind the dunes, Jetwing Yala makes you feel like you are one with wilderness. After a speedy check-in, I was sat on the balcony of my room, a drink in hand and marvelling at the changing colours of the sky from pastel pinks into a burnt orange glow that reflected off the waves lapping on the shore. My mind wandered as I thought about what the following day would bring in this little piece of paradise I had found.

An early morning start took me on a game safari into Yala National Park. Being a frequent visitor to Africa and many game safaris there, I was keen to see the difference between the two destinations. Unfortunately, I found the experience quite busy and disorganised so returned to the hotel quite deflated and disappointed.

This disappointment soon dissolved as I returned to find Jetwing Yala had a glamping option, Yala Safari Camp, and there was an opening for me to stay. The tent was hardly like one you would pitch in the back yard. Nestled in the picturesque dunes of coastal, these elegant tents bring together the pleasure of camping with creature comforts of modern living. A large wooden deck stretched out into the bush and it was here I would spend my next sunset in Sri Lanka.

Not only was the afternoon greeted by the setting sun, but the wildlife began to stir, finding refuge for the evening or waking for the evening hunting. I sat watching a nearby family of wild pig, making snuffle noises as they fossicked for food under the bushes. As darkness fell the snuffle noises became louder and I realised it was no longer just the wild pigs present. The crack of sticks and rustle from the nearby bushes confirmed the presence of an elephant. As the last of the light drained from the sky, I thought to myself, you don’t need an entire National Park when the wild life comes to you at Yala Safari Camp.

Hiriketiya Bay

From Yala I headed West along winding scenic coastal roads that lead to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Hiriketiya Bay. Hiriketiya Bay is a small stretch of beach that curves around the outside of Dikwella. Familiar with coastal towns, the relaxed vibe of Hiriketiya makes everyone slow down.

The place is a surfing mecca, as the curve forming a bay like shape causes the waves to come in high.  Also, a hot spot for yogis, potters and designers, Hiriketiya oozes that entrepreneurial vibe. Hipster restaurants and quirky cafes are dotted along the palm tree fringe beach. I checked in to Salthouse, a short walk from the beach, run by Australians Cristal Napper and Rob Dixon.

The guesthouse has a holistic approach to your stay, with a yoga shala available for daily practice, a healthy menu packed with goodness and smoothies to boot. Rooms are designed to keep you in touch with nature while keeping a local Sri Lankan flare about them. Impressed by the ambiance of Salthouse, I decided to spend a few nights here.

With plenty of time to spare for the afternoon, I wandered up the road, waving at the tuk tuk drivers that passed me. I had been told of a newly opened beachside café called Malu that served up some wholesome health in a bowl, otherwise known as a poke bowl. This sounded like a perfect lunch option before taking a quick swim to refresh from the heat.

The sunsets at Hiriketiya Bay would have to have been my favourite in Sri Lanka by far. An ice-cold glass of Mojito in my hand, funky tunes of Bob Marley serenading the crowd from a nearby café, my toes wriggling in the sand as the waves continuously lap at the beach in a rhythmic pulse. The salty air is warm and clings like a friendly hug.

It was time. The sky filled with colour, as if giving its last hoorah to the day. The sun began to set and I reflected on my time in Sri Lanka. This Land Of Serendipity had become for me, the Land of Sunsets.


Here are just some of the articles from the trip which will give you a little bit more insight into my time spent there.

If you want to read more about my adventures in Sri Lanka, please see the below published articles. While I was hosted by Jetwing Hotels, Salthouse Sri Lanka and AirAsia, they have not approved nor edited any of these articles and all words are my own.

Asian Journeys magazine – Chasing Sunsets in Sri Lanka

ESCAPE – Sri Lanka Snapshot

Captured Travel – Discover Sri Lanka

Captured Travel – Hotel Review: Jetwing Colombo Seven

Captured Travel – Hotel Review: Jetwing Yala

Captured Travel – Hotel Review: Jetwing Safari Camp

Captured Travel – Hotel Review: Jetwing Lake

Captured Travel – Flight Review: AirAsia

Where Wild Things Roam – Safari in Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park

Back to nature

Back to Nature

Kate Webster takes time to relax, unwind and recharge at Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat.

Every now and then I think it is important to switch off, completely disconnect from the world and tune in to nature. This really does recharge the mind and soul in the purest way.

Hidden on the Far North Coast of New South Wales, Australia in the Tweed region is Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat. A scenic hour drive from the Gold Coast and you are on the doorstep of this lush valley, surrounded on three sides by the world heritage-listed Numinbah Nature Reserve and Springbrook National Park.

As if seeing the beauty of this region from afar was not spectacular enough, Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat brings the rainforest to your very back door. My abode for a few nights was Lamington Lodge, one of the five Luxury Mountain View Lodges found higher in the Retreat.

These lodges are as breathtaking on the inside as the views outside. Luxurious down to the last detail while being environmentally conscious, the open planned space mixed with floor-to-ceiling glass windows make you feel at one with nature. I found my days spent on the back deck, enjoying the symphonies of the surrounding rainforest while cooling off in the private plunge pool.

Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat is a place where your living space is just as much your destination. There are no restaurants on site, instead a delicious hamper option for daily meals that you can cook yourself in the fully functional kitchen or out on the back-deck BBQ.

Dragging myself away from the blissful retreat, I ventured on a short walk through the rainforest to the rockpools. After a quick refreshing swim, it was time to retreat to the hammocks hung across the flowing creek below. Drifting off into a peaceful snooze, listening to the waterfalls over the rocks and rainforest birds call, is easy here.

After an evening at Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat, falling asleep to the rainforest’s natural orchestra of cicadas and wind in the leaves is only rivalled by waking to the sun rising over the silhouette of the canopy as morning birds stir.

By taking this time to get back to nature, I left with a floating feeling, refreshed and inspired to take more time out like this in future.

For more visit Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat at www.ccrr.com.au  

Read the full article here.

Snapshot of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Article

Featured in Escape, my recount of a whirlwind trip around Sri Lanka.

From the busy streets in the capital of Colombo to the serene shores of the south, Kate Webster takes you on a whirlwind road trip of Sri Lanka.

Ranking in Lonely Planet’s hot list, Sri Lanka is the place to visit in 2019. Just make sure you give yourself more than one week as it is just not enough time.

Touching down in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo at nearly midnight, I was frustrated to lose day one of just seven in Sri Lanka due to a delayed flight and system outage at immigration. I was determined to make up for time and squeeze seven days into six.

I had mapped out a snapshot road trip of Sri Lanka that would take a slightly different route to the norm. Unfortunately, my time restrictions meant I missed the experience of local trains and buses and instead hit the streets of Colombo to find myself a driver willing to go the distance. A quick negotiation later and I was on my way out of the capital with Sansuka, my driver.

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Chilling at Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat

Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat - Lamington Lodge - Plunge Pool Views. Image - Kate Webster

Every now and then I think it is important to switch off, completely disconnect from the world and tune in to nature. This really does recharge the mind and soul in the purest way.

Hidden on the Far North Coast of New South Wales, Australia in the Tweed region is Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat. A scenic hour drive from the Gold Coast and you are on the doorstep of this lush valley, surrounded on three sides by the world heritage-listed Numinbah Nature Reserve and Springbrook National Park.

Lamington Lodge

As if seeing the beauty of this region from afar was not spectacular enough, Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat brings the rainforest to your very back door. My abode for a few nights was Lamington Lodge, one of the five Luxury Mountain View Lodges found higher in the Retreat.

These lodges are as breathtaking on the inside as the views outside. Luxurious down to the last detail while being environmentally conscious, the open planned space mixed with floor-to-ceiling glass windows make you feel at one with nature. I found my days spent on the back deck, enjoying the symphonies of the surrounding rainforest while cooling off in the private plunge pool.

Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat is a place where your living space is just as much your destination. There are no restaurants on site, instead a delicious hamper option for daily meals that you can cook yourself in the fully functional kitchen or out on the back-deck BBQ.

Surrounding Crystal Creek

Dragging myself away from the blissful retreat, I ventured on a short walk through the rainforest to the rockpools. After a quick refreshing swim, it was time to retreat to the hammocks hung across the flowing creek below. Drifting off into a peaceful snooze, listening to the waterfalls over the rocks and rainforest birds call, is easy here.

After an evening at Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat, falling asleep to the rainforest’s natural orchestra of cicadas and wind in the leaves is only rivalled by waking to the sun rising over the silhouette of the canopy as morning birds stir.

By taking this time to get back to nature, I left with a floating feeling, refreshed and inspired to take more time out like this in future.F

For more visit Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat at www.ccrr.com.au  

Ubumuntu is what we all need

Ubunmuntu

Like many people around the world, I was horrified at news out of Christchurch, New Zealand, this week. Yet another racial attack on innocent people. I mourned for the deaths of people I don’t know, I cried for a situation that I feel is out of control and I was angered by a hatred I can’t comprehend.

It got me thinking about my recent visit to Rwanda. I arrived in this country that I knew nothing about, except that Rwanda had been through immense conflict with the genocide. It was a mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda during the Rwandan Civil War, which had started in 1990. Directed by members of the Hutu majority government, during the 100-day period from 7 April to mid-July 1994, an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed.

Neighbours killed neighbours, colleagues killed colleagues, lovers killed their lovers, all because they were different. This loss of life amounted to an estimated 70% of the Tutsi population. Over half of a racial population, eliminated in just 100 days.

To comprehend that as I walked around the Kigali Genocide Memorial hit me in the heart like a freight train. I felt so heavy with sadness as to how humans can inflict so much pain and destruction on a fellow human being just because of their differences.

Years on from that however, they have found such a resilient peace that has much to teach us. From those dark days, Rwanda has risen to a country that the rest of the world can learn from.

It was on the streets of Kigali that I learnt the word Ubumuntu. Ubumuntu is a Kinyarwanda word that means “to be human,” carrying a similar meaning to the word Ubuntu. Ubumuntu is to be humane: to genuinely care about others, to be generous and kind, to show empathy, to be sympathetic to the plight of others, and to recognize the humanity of others.

This word has been etched on my soul ever since I heard of it. To be human is such a profound thing. At the end of the day, we are all human, just skin and bones. There is nothing different between any race, just our beliefs. So how do we learn to hate just because of beliefs? Nelson Mandela once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” So why are we not choosing to love?

As a traveller, I appreciate nothing more than different. A different country means a different view of scenery, a different food to taste, but the one thing I take most pleasure and happiness from is a different belief and way of life from the people I meet.

I have been to church in Tonga, marvelled at mosques in Brunei, learnt the Buddhist ways of the Balinese, been healed by a Sangoma in South Africa, celebrated Independence Day in Malaysia, been invited to experience village life in Papua New Guinea and danced until the sun came up at an Indian wedding.

These are experiences that have made my life so much richer because of the cultural and religious differences of people from around the world. In exchange, every step of the way, I have shared my Australian way of life and culture with those I have met abroad.

That is the beauty of difference. It opens our hearts and souls. It teaches us something out of our ordinary. Is that not a lesson worth learning? As only through learning can we gain a sense of acceptance, and through acceptance, we can learn to love those differences.

Learn to love those differences for what they are. You don’t need to adopt those differences and change your way of life, but if you are open to understand them, then maybe we can get just a little bit closer to being united as one, instead of being so segregate.

So I ask you all, to learn the meaning of Ubumuntu and adopt it to your way of life. It is worth it.

ASIAN JOURNEYS MAGAZINE: Chasing Sunsets in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka 1

From the busy streets in the capital of Colombo to the serene shores of the south, Kate Webster takes you on a journey chasing sunsets in Sri Lanka.

No matter where you are in Sri Lanka, one thing I found is the sunsets are magic. Some people collect souvenirs from their travels, I tend to collect sunsets.

There is something about sunsets I find alluring and romantic. It is a time to reflect on the day and give thanks for the experiences you have had, while holding the excitement that a new day is just around the corner, wrapped in mystery and adventure yet to be discovered. Also, the fact that a sunset goes hand in hand with a sundowner, you can’t lose.

My first Sri Lankan sunset arrived as I was sat in a car driving from Sigiriya to Dambulla. I had spent the morning exploring the infamous Lion Rock, an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province, Sri Lanka.

The 200-metre-high rock is a site of historical and archaeological wonder. The name Lion Rock is derived from enormous lion is carved into the rock. Climbing Lion Rock sets you back USD$30 and will take about 2 hours to take in the entire complex. It is best to visit early morning to avoid the crowds and give you enough time to move on to your next destination.

The drive from Sigiriya to Dambulla is quite scenic, winding through the country roads and avoiding the constant intervention from local buses but does take time. I unfortunately did not prepare for this, so by the time I was arriving at Jetwings Lake in Dambulla, I had to suffice for my first Sri Lankan sunset moment hanging out the window of the car. Still, it was satisfying, as the sun dipped below the mountains and farming land I passed along the way.

Dambulla

Waking for sunrise as a substitute the following day, I was not disappointed. Jetwings Lake is situated on a lake and surrounded by what can only be described as a serene panoramic vista. Birds morning calls broke the silence as the mist lifted off the lake and engulfed the mountainous surroundings. The golden glow spilled across the horizon as the sun rose and a hot air balloon floated silently across the horizon. For a short moment, I felt I was cheating on my love for sunset as the sunrise warmed my heart.

A property that has been built with the harmony of its surroundings in mind, Jetwings Lake is open and airy which offers an ambience of being one with nature. There was a feel of tread lightly here, not only in the fact the property’s dedication to sustainable living is evident in their operations, but the staff also seemed to breeze around with a delicate balance of helping when needed but leaving you to just enjoy being there at the same time.

From Dambulla it was time to move south. Determined to arrive at my next destination in time for sunset, I set off early. This time the chaotic traffic was broken for a moment when an old blue train chugged past and I felt transported back in time. I am told these blue trains are quite the experience in Sri Lanka and I am disappointed I am missing out on it.

Yala

Located where the southern and eastern coasts meet, Yala is the gateway to Yala National Park. The journey through provincial greenery and coastal roads is most scenic. As I get closer to Yala National Park the vegetation turns more to grassland and the sightings of elephants begin.

The elephants in the area seem accustomed to the human activity and roam right onto the road. I asked my driver to continue past the elephants and avoid feeding them in fear it just entices them more to rely on humans.

As the sun was getting low in the sky, I made my way along the outskirts of Yala National Park to check in at Jetwing Yala. Sprawled over 38 acres of uncharted coastal wilderness; Jetwing Yala is the closest hotel to Sri Lanka’s most popular natural reserve.

I was taken back by the raw beauty and wild luxury that lay before me. Harmoniously nestled amongst the surrounding bush and resting upon the shoreline of the Indian Ocean behind the dunes, Jetwings Lake makes you feel like you are one with the wilderness. After a speedy check-in, I was sat on the balcony of my room, a drink in hand and marvelling at the changing colours of the sky from pastel pinks into a burnt orange glow that reflected off the waves lapping on the shore. My mind wandered as I thought about what the following day would bring in this little piece of paradise I had found.

An early morning start took me on a game safari into Yala National Park. Being a frequent visitor to Africa and many game safaris there, I was keen to see the difference between the two destinations. Unfortunately, I found the experience quite busy and disorganised so returned to the hotel quite deflated and disappointed.

This disappointment soon dissolved as I returned to find Jetwing Yala had a glamping option, Yala Safari Camp, and there was an opening for me to stay. The tent was hardly like one you would pitch in the back yard. Nestled in the picturesque coastal dunes, these elegant tents bring together the pleasure of camping with creature comforts of modern living. A large wooden deck stretched out into the bush and it was here I would spend my next sunset in Sri Lanka.

Not only was the afternoon greeted by the setting sun, but the wildlife began to stir, finding refuge for the evening or waking for the evening hunting. I sat watching a nearby family of wild pigs, making snuffle noises as they fossicked for food under the bushes. As darkness fell the snuffle noises became louder and I realised it was no longer just the wild pigs present. The crack of sticks and rustle from the nearby bushes confirmed the presence of an elephant. As the last of the light drained from the sky, I thought to myself, you don’t need an entire National Park when the wild life comes to you at Yala Safari Camp.

Hiriketiya Bay

From Yala I headed West along winding scenic coastal roads that lead to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Hiriketiya Bay. Hiriketiya Bay is a small stretch of beach that curves around the outside of Dikwella. Familiar with coastal towns, the relaxed vibe of Hiriketiya makes everyone slow down.

The place is a surfing mecca, as the curve forming a bay like shape causes the waves to come in high.  Also, a hot spot for yogis, potters and designers, Hiriketiya oozes that entrepreneurial vibe. Hipster restaurants and quirky cafes are dotted along the palm tree fringed beach. I checked in to Salthouse, a short walk from the beach, run by Australians Cristal Napper and Rob Dixon.

The guesthouse has a holistic approach to your stay, with a yoga shala available for daily practice, a healthy menu packed with goodness and smoothies to boot. Rooms are designed to keep you in touch with nature while keeping a local Sri Lankan flare about them. Impressed by the ambience of Salthouse, I decided to spend a few nights here.

With plenty of time to spare for the afternoon, I wandered up the road, waving at the tuk tuk drivers that passed me. I had been told of a newly opened beachside café called Malu that served up some wholesome health in a bowl, otherwise known as a poke bowl. This sounded like a perfect lunch option before taking a quick swim to refresh from the heat.

The sunsets at Hiriketiya Bay would have to have been my favourite in Sri Lanka by far. An ice-cold glass of Mojito in my hand, funky tunes of Bob Marley serenading the crowd from a nearby café, my toes wriggling in the sand as the waves continuously lap at the beach in a rhythmic pulse. The salty air is warm and clings like a friendly hug.

It was time. The sky filled with colour, as if giving its last hoorah to the day. The sun began to set and I reflected on my time in Sri Lanka. This Land Of Serendipity had become for me, the Land of Sunsets.

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