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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Grab a mini-break in tropical Port Douglas





Don’t want to burn all your annual leave in one go? Head to tropical Port Douglas for a short refresher. It’s a breeze.

Words: Sonia Lal
Images: as supplied


The inflatable yellow raft bobs excitedly in the water beside me while my hand firmly grips the rope handle on the front, ensuring it won’t slip away and escape down the rapids. Just an hour ago I was stepping out of an airliner onto the hot Cairns tarmac. Now I am in a full body wetsuit knee-deep in the Mossman River of Port Douglas.

Our group of six are embarking on a river-drift snorkelling adventure in the Mossman River, situated beneath the Mossman Gorge. The freshwater river is so pure, our guides Glen and Will inform us, is so pure it can be drunk. In fact, they encourage it.

Mossman River drift snorkel

Zig-zagging down rapids and snorkelling when the water is calmer is how we spend the next three hours. Translucent fish the size of my thumb swim in large schools beneath the surface and large rocks cover the river bed.

When the water is tranquil our rafts transform into makeshift lounges and we sit atop them, our legs dangling over the edge as we let the current lead us down the river.

During these serene moments, Glen and Will relate the history of the vegetation surrounding the river. The trees, ferns, and other plant species, we’re told, date back to Gondwanaland and are believed to be around 300 million years old. With the pride in their voices and the knowledge they possess about the ecosystem, it’s clear no two other people could love the Mossman River as much as they do.

It’s as if we are floating through prehistoric times.

To the Outer Reef


Aqua Quest on the outer reef

The AquaQuest lurches in the swell as it makes its way towards the outer perimeter of the Great Barrier Reef. Many of us are sitting outside on the upper deck in the hope of warding off seasickness and the fresh air proves helpful for some..

The rocky two and a half hour journey across the Coral Sea comes to an end at the first dive site - St. Crispin’s - and any thoughts of seasickness are quickly forgotten as excitement fills us.

“All divers to the bottom deck please!”

That’s our call and all introductory divers, including me, make our way down to the bottom deck. The much-anticipated descent to the Great Barrier Reef is about to begin.

Our instructor, Kai, gives us an in-depth safety briefing and talks us through the use of our scuba equipment. Sundresses and board shorts are quickly swapped out for wetsuits, weight belts and tanks. I find my tank a bit heavier than expected, but what did I expect? This is my first scuba dive and we all wobble comically, laughing nervously as we attempt to get to our feet.

Diving underwater for the first time can be frightening and some our group get a bit panicky the second our heads go beneath the surface. After several practice goes, we’ve overcome the instinct to rush back to the surface and breathing underwater becomes slightly less terrifying. Kai assesses us individually and gives us the thumbs up (down actually, which means, ‘let’s dive’).


Diving on the outer reef with Divers Den

Initially, the water is murky, thanks to recent storms, and not much can be seen. However, at three metres and below visibility improves and we begin to see coral in pastel hues of green, yellow and purple. The coral isn’t as bright as you see in the brochures, but Kai says that this is actually a good sign because when coral is stressed it releases algae, which causes it to become brighter in colour. So, the slightly subdued colours we see indicate a healthy reef.

Tiny bright blue damselfish skirt past us while clownfish weave in and out of the coral and rock hollows. A large cod glides inches above the ocean floor and not far behind it is a wrasse, distinguishable by its trademark thick lips. Schools of zebra-striped surgeon fish flit by and disappear further down along the reef. The marine life of the Great Barrier Reef is on full display.

Once back in the boat we remove the heavy diving gear and Kai starts to tell the story of how this dive site got the nickname Gone Again. It is a homage to the American couple who went missing in 1998 in the very same waters we’d just emerged from. We turned to each, mouths agape, glad he hadn’t mentioned this before.

To market, to market

Port Douglas Markets License (Flickr user variationblogr)

On our third day in Port Douglas the sun had definitely come out to play and the temperature nudged 30 degrees. After a magnificent tropical breakfast at the Sheraton Mirage Hotel, it was time to visit the Port Douglas Markets.

These markets are renown for their wide variety of fresh produce and that is exactly what immediately greets us. Colourful stalls are filled with bargain-priced fresh fruits and vegetables like avocados at just $4 a bag as well as more exotic foods like flavoured coconut chips, vanilla bean and cacao ice-cream, and pomegranate teas - all there for anyone with slightly more adventurous taste buds.

Food, however, isn’t the only feature of the markets. Stalls displaying all sorts of peculiar trinkets and salves like ‘magic’ crystals, crocodile facial oil, handmade ukuleles, pom-pom earrings, conical rainbow candles and silver turtle rings are there to tempt eclectic tastes.

When the adventure is done, spending some relaxing time at the markets is the perfect way to wind down a wondrous and thrill-packed weekend in Port Douglas. Easy does it.


FACT BOX

All these activities and more can be booked at:
www.visitportdouglasdaintree.com
or phone 07 4099 4588

Shortlink: https://rodei.me/TPDD

TAGS: Great Barrier Reef Drive #GBRDrive | Tropical North Queensland @tropicalnorthqueensland
#exploreTNQ | Queensland @visitqueensland #thisisqueensland | Australia @Australia
#seeaustralia

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Shennongjia Natural Reserve – China’s spectacular wilderness




As the world's most populous country, you may be forgiven for thinking that truly wild China no longer exists. However, you'd be wrong.

Just north of the Yangtze River lays the Shennongjia Natural Reserve – one of China's most spectacular and dramatic wilderness areas, which has inspired myths and legends for centuries.

Mingled in amongst the primeval forest that makes up much of Shennongjia are dense swathes of bamboo, creeping vines, and an assortment of shrubs, flowers and fruits. This thick covering of vegetation has made some areas completely inaccessible, and it is this inaccessibility that has protected the area from significant human development and destruction. It has also helped the region retain an element of mystery – especially surrounding China's 'Wild Man'.

Known locally as Yeren, various sightings of China's answer to Bigfoot have been recorded for over 2,000 years, and still continue today. This red-haired ape-man is said to stand well over six feet tall, living in the caves that scatter Shennongjia's rocky landscape, and coming down from the mountains only to feast on local villagers' dogs and chickens.

Despite numerous expeditions to the region, China's Wild Man has yet to be found. And the question of whether he really exists is one which has captivated the hearts and minds of adventurous Chinese travellers for generations.

Today the Reserve is becoming increasingly popular with Western visitors too. However, they come with the hope of catching a glimpse of something else entirely – the golden snub-nosed monkey. Known for their thick, golden fur and appealing bright blue faces, these unique and charming creatures are undoubtedly Shennongjia's star attractions. They are also one of China's greatest conservation stories, with the population having more than doubled in recent years.

Visitors can watch entire family troops swinging through the canopies overhead or visit the Golden Monkey Protection and Research Base to get up close and personal with these enigmatic primates.

Along with the golden snub-nosed monkeys, the area is home to an astonishing array of other protected wildlife including macaques, golden eagles, deer, and black bear. The Reserve is also famous for its unusually high percentage of albino animals, and there are even plans to relocate panda to the region.




Whether you're hoping to be the first to capture the Yeren on camera, or simply want to spend time hiking through this primeval wonderland, a trip to Shennongjia will not disappoint. This year for the first time, Sanctuary Retreats will be running three special 4-night sailings in July aboard the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer, which will include a day trip to Shennongjia Natural Reserve.

The elegant riverboat sets the standard for luxury cruising in China, with strong environmental commitments. Friendly and intimate, onboard service is a highlight with an atmosphere more private club than cruise ship.

Occupying four decks, the ship boasts the largest and best-appointed cabins on the river. Each has floor to ceiling picture windows, private balconies and ensuite bathroom. Dining is also a delight, with a team of internationally trained chefs delivering innovative à la carte menus featuring the finest of Chinese and continental cuisine.

China Tours


 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Samoa’s only island resort, in honour of a legend



Words Roderick Eime

If you look on Google Earth, you may still see the empty little island a few hundred metres from Apia’s deepwater port, just sitting there waiting for something to happen.

Well, wait no more, because that tiny oasis not much bigger than a football field, now plays host to arguably the most modern, contemporary resort in Apia, perhaps even Samoa.

Named after the legendary Polynesian beauty, Sina, the resort grew from the sand much like the famous coconut trees of the timeless folktale.

Taumeasina (Landing place of Sina) Island Resort opened in 2016 and has continued to grow in reputation and popularity and has already risen to number 3 on TripAdvisor’s list of top traveller-ranked hotels in Apia. The resort has also won the Samoa tourism excellence and best hygiene awards as bestowed by the Samoa Tourism Authority.

Close to the port and some of the waterfront nightspots, it’s still remote enough to be private and away from the downtown hubbub, just a five-minute drive away across the resort’s dedicated causeway.

With 80 hotel rooms and a mix of two and three bedroom self-contained villas on an island, Taumeasina Island Resort is the only resort of its type in Samoa and brings a new level of 4.5-star sophistication to Apia.



Beyond the swish accommodations, there is ample scope for meetings and conferences as well as weddings or private functions for up to 800 guests or delegates. There are smaller breakout rooms for board meetings and committees plus an outdoor wedding venue, delightfully located overlooking the ocean and also ideal for stunning evening events.

When it’s time to relax, swim in the waterfront pool in between cocktails, or indulge in a treatment or session at Fofo Spa & Sauna. The Spa uses both locally made Mailelani Samoa and the world's leader in professional marine cosmetics; Thalgo.

If you’re feeling a bit more energetic, or want to burn some calories, hit it out on the tennis court or the gym. There’s even an outdoor exercise circuit with gym equipment stationed around Taumeasina Island.

Dining can be either casual or formal depending on your mood or occasion. Lapita's Restaurant serves both continental and cooked breakfast, café style lunches and dinner in a casual dining atmosphere. There’s live entertainment every night and a themed buffet depending on demand. You can catch Taumeasina's famous Fia Fia night every week in this venue.

Sina’s Restaurant, on the other hand, is where Executive Chef, Bradley Martin loves to show off. Martin began as a kitchen hand 35 years ago and worked all over Australia, at numerous Hilton, Sheraton and Novotel hotels. Diners can choose either indoor or out from the seasonal menu featuring both traditional Samoan and internationally inspired cuisines.


Taumeasina Island Resort
Taumeasina Island
Beach Road, Apia
Samoa

Phone: +685 61000
Email: Info@taumeasinaislandresortsamoa.com
www.taumeasinaislandresortsamoa.com

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Wildlife spotting: Africa's Big Five


Tips for the best places to see them.

African safaris are usually top of most people's bucket list when it comes to wildlife viewing. Its multitude of national parks, reserves and conservation areas number amongst some of the most beautiful places on the planet and are home to an astonishing variety of wild animals, ensuring that a wildlife safari will undoubtedly be a major highlight of your trip.

And with so many exciting wildlife experiences to be had at in different destinations and indeed, different times of the year, any visit to Africa is guaranteed to be full of close encounters of the animal kind. But for many travellers, coming face to face with Africa's 'Big Five' – lion, leopard, elephant, black rhinoceros, and African buffalo, remains the pinnacle wildlife experience.

Originally a term coined by big-game hunters to describe the five most difficult African species to track and hunt on foot, today a 'hunt' for the Big Five is typically with camera and binoculars only.

But where are the best places to see them? Well, while animal viewing possibilities abound, the reality is there's no guarantee you'll see each one while on safari. Knowing animals' habits – as well as where to stay and what to do while on safari – will greatly increase your chance of success. Expert suggestions for where visitors to Africa are most likely to tick off their Big Five wish list.

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

First on the list is the inspirational Serengeti, a classic Tanzania safari destination and one of only a handful with populations of all five species.

Lying in a high plateau between the Ngorongoro highlands in northern Tanzania and the Masai Mara Reserve in neighboring Kenya, Serengeti National Park is considered one of the best places for safari for one very specific reason – the Great Migration. This annual event sees hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra pass through the park in search of food – and with the herds of grazers, come the predators. One of the best times to visit the park is in May when the grass becomes dry and exhausted and the wildebeest and zebra start to mass in huge armies offering a spectacular wildlife show.

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Next up, is the Ngorongoro Crater, another classic Tanzania safari destination. The breath-taking Ngorongoro Crater is a geographical wonder in its own right, with the caldera's high, steep walls looming steeply over the valley below. And it's these steep walls that also lead to the incredible abundance of wildlife in the crater, as they trap a rich assortment of large and small safari animals within.

With two rainy seasons – the long rains fall in April and May (into early June) and the short rains fall in October and November, the best times to visit are December, January, February or late June through to early October.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

With a well-deserved reputation as one of the best all-round safari destinations, the Okavango Delta forms part of the Kalahari Basin, situated at the southern periphery of the Great Rift Valley, and covers a massive 22,000 square kilometres. Although the periphery is semi-arid, the Okavango Delta itself is a patchwork of cool clear streams, lagoons, floodplains and forested islands.

Covering almost a third of the entire Okavango Delta, the Moremi Game Reserve comprises a diverse habitat where the desert and delta meet, comprising forests, lagoons, floodplains, pans and woodlands. Because of its unique terrain, the area contains the full spectrum of game and birdlife including all of the Big Five, as well as cheetahs, hippos and crocodiles and plenty of bird life, and offering up superb game viewing.

Moremi is best visited during the dry season, from July to October, when seasonal pans dry up and vast numbers of wildlife flock to where the floodwaters infiltrate the Delta, providing one of the world's most spectacular sights. June to August is peak season for most safari areas within the Okavango. But September and October when temperatures really start to climb, leads to even higher concentrations of game around the few available water sources.

Masai Mara, Kenya

The final destination on Sanctuary Retreats' list is Kenya's most popular game park, the Masai Mara. The Kenyan extension of the Tanzania's famed Serengeti, the Mara is one of Africa's most famous safari destinations and also plays host to the famous Great Migration. Considered the birthplace of safari, Kenya offers up amazing game viewing experiences, not to mention plenty of opportunities to experience Africa's Big Five.

The migration is usually present in the Mara between July and October each year. During this time, dramatic river crossings are the order of the day, with crocodiles lying in wait for wildebeest and zebra.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

New foodie trails for Autumn in regional Victoria


Vineyards come to life in Victoria
As the leaves of the trees begin to take on Autumnal hues, regional Victoria’s culinary hotspots offer up exciting new flavours of the season. Award-winning food writer Dani Valent has created a series of food trails around Victoria, especially for gourmands.

These self-guided road trips take in the hidden foodie gems of Australia’s most exciting culinary region.

Beechworth Bounty

Lunch at Provenance, a visit to the Beechworth Honey Shop and afternoon delights at the Moments and Memories Tea Rooms before stops at two breweries and Pennyweight Winery.

Bellarine by Mouth

Enjoy mussels caught that morning, delicious goats cheese and hand-picked berries all before a crisp cider at Flying Brick and a glass of wine from the cellar doors of Scotchmans Hill and Jack Rabbit.

Bendigo Feast

Journey through the streets and laneways of this historic city before tasting the delectable treats of Masons of Bendigo, Mr Beebe’s Eating House & Bar, El Gordo and The Woodhouse, among others.

Daylesford Wander

Wombat Hill House, a café among the trees at the Botanic Gardens, launches a walking trail that captures fine food, wine and whiskey, with visitors encouraged to consider the Farmer’s Market on the first Saturday of the month.

Geelong Jaunt

From the waterfront to the heart of the city centre, the day begins with coffee and seafood by the pier before visits to hip bars and cafés as you approach the famed Little Creatures Brewery in the south of Geelong.

Gippsland Dairy Trail

Cheese, cheese, a glass of wine, and more cheese. This is a trail for lovers of all things brie, camembert and blue, as they meander through the region famous for its creamy and aged delights.

Goldfields Gulp

Wood-fired pizza by the fire at Mount Buninyong is followed by brewery and winery experiences that will tantalise the tastebuds. Gin comes to life at Kilderkin Distillery and consider an overnight journey by breaking up this adventure with accommodation at Captains Creek.

Great Ocean Road Bite

From Torquay to Apollo Bay, this coastal extravaganza takes wanderers to Blackman’s Brewery, Bellbrae Estate, Captain Moonlite, a la grecque, IPSOS, Wye General Store, Chris’ Beacon Point and the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse.

King Valley Drive, Bike and Taste

Journey by bike and by car as the very best Italian hospitality comes to life at Chrismont, Pizzini Wines and Dal Zotto Vines, the latter a pioneer of Italian varietals in Victoria. Smoky ribs await at Gamze Smokehouse before a cheeseboard at Milawa.

Kyneton Crawl

Get ready for gluttony. This trail is only one kilometre long, but it packs a punch as you dine-out on something sweet, French bistro fares, wood-fired pizza and locally produced charcuterie.

Mornington Peninsula Meander

Jackalope, Pt. Leo Estate, Gourmet Paddock, Foxeys Hangout and St Andrews Beach Brewery, it’s the very best of both sides of the peninsula as travellers make your way from coast-to-coast

Yarra Valley Small Wineries

Experience the boutique wonders of the Yarra Vallery as you traverse through Payne's Rise Wine, Brumfield Winery, Five Oaks Vineyard, Elmswood Estate, Morgan Vineyards, Killara Estate, Badger's Brook Winery, Soumah of Yarra Valley and Boat O'Craigo

Not done yet?

Consider a food trail in Melbourne’s city centre, with one-day experiences in Richmond and St Kilda complemented by opportunities for those that love after dark adventures.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Foods, Festivals and Facelifts



News Tidbits from the Northern Territory

The Northern Territory is set to turbo-charge its way into 2018 with an unprecedented $103 million investment to increase visitation; to stimulate the Territory economy by accelerating infrastructure and tourism experience development including the implementation of a Visitor Experience Enhancement Program which will provide grant funding for existing infrastructure and tourism businesses.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ten Tips for Canada Travels in 2018



With Australian visitation to Canada rising exponentially each year, more Aussies than ever are expected to make 2018 the year they explore this diverse North American country. Read on for our top ten tips for planning bucket-list adventures in Canada this year.
  • Don't be fooled by unauthorised websites when you apply for your electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA). Use the official website to register for an eTA at a cost of $7 CAD. Beware of 'scam' websites charging up to $122 USD for the application. Australian citizens require an electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) before flying to Canada.
  • Peak tourist months in Canada are July and August, when flights and accommodation are more expensive. Consider travelling outside peak season during autumn for spectacular foliage in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, or winter and early spring for the ultimate winter wonderland.
  • Heading to Whistler? Make sure you experience the epic Peak 2 Peak Gondola and the new Peak Suspension Bridge, the tallest in North America, for mind-blowing panoramic views in every season. If you're there during winter, spend a day skiing or snowboarding with an Olympian, learning expert techniques, and hearing their stories of success. 
  • Head to the Maritime province of New Brunswick to witness the highest tides in the world at the incredible Bay of Fundy. Walk the ocean floor during low tide at the Hopewell Rocks or abseil down cliffs into the bay at Cape Enrage. Jump on a zodiac with Red Rock Adventure for a memorable Fundy Trail Tour, where you'll explore the longest stretch of coastal wilderness on the eastern seaboard, meeting seals and porpoises along the way.
  • For a true 'bragging rights' experience, road trippers can now drive the road made famous through the Ice Road Truckers television series. The 137-kilometre Tuktoyaktuk Winter Road, two hours from Inuvik in Canada's Northwest Territories, forms part of the famous Dempster Highway, allowing travellers to drive all the way from Whitehorse, in Yukon Territory, to the Arctic Circle in Northwest Territories on a sealed bitumen road, rather than sheets of ice!
  • Discover Banff Tours is now offering small group tours taking travellers from Vancouver to Banff and vice versa. This is a great option for those who catch the Rocky Mountaineer one way and would prefer to drive back rather than fly. It's also ideal for those wishing to explore the Rockies by road. The tour includes lunch in Revelstoke and accommodation at the Plaza Hotel in Kamloops. 
  • Who wants to stay in a conventional hotel when you can bed down in a house boat? From May 2018, visitors to Canada's capital city of Ottawa in Ontario can cruise the Rideau Canal on a state-of-the-art Horizon cruiser by Le Boat. Glide effortlessly through the charming downtown precinct, enjoying tranquil views of Parliament Hill the rolling green banks.
  • EdgeWalk at the CN Tower in Toronto holds the Guinness World Record for the “Highest External Walk on a Building” at 116 storeys high. This is an epic bucket-list attraction for thrill-seekers.
  • Visiting the east coast during summer? Get to know the salt-of-the-earth characters of Newfoundland and Labrador during the George Street Festivalfrom 26 July - 1 August 2018. George Street has been a magnet for musicians for decades and is famous for comprising two blocks of bars, pubs, restaurants – and nothing else.
  • If you're travelling to the US east coast, consider a road trip to Quebec. Make the 500-kilometre journey from Boston to Montreal via the picturesque Eastern Townships for an authentic French-Canadian experience. We're talking sparkling lakes, wineries, and chocolatiers, where the welcoming locals speak their native French.

GETTING THERE

Air Canada offers daily direct flights to Vancouver from Sydney and Brisbane. Additionally, Air Canada will commence year-round direct flights from Melbourne to Vancouver from June 2018. Direct flights from Sydney to Vancouver are also available on Qantas.

www.keepexploring.com.au
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