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Sunday, December 16, 2007

HONG KONG – ITS MORE THAN SHOPPING

HONG KONG – ITS MORE THAN SHOPPING

david ovens

Flying into Hong Kong is not nearly as exciting as it used to be when
your flight took you through the frighteningly narrow corridor between
the steel and glass towers of the Kowloon Peninsula to Kai Tak
airport.

Nowadays, the flight path goes elsewhere into the excruciatingly
modern Chek Lap Kok airport on Lantau Island but as the Cathay Pacific
flight attendant Sue Li Kim said as my recent flight circled before
landing, " You get a less thrilling experience but a really pleasant
view over Hong Kong's harbour townships.

As we approached Chek Lap Lok, she added, "There you can still get a
close up view of Hong Kong. I can just see the block of apartments I
live in at Sai Kung".

The fishing village less than an hour from downtown Tsim Shat Sui, the
heart of Hong Kong's shopping district, Sai Kung is a popular
residential area for ex-patriates and Cathay Pacific crew.

It is also home to the unique Duke Hotel, formerly the Duke of York
Hotel, which is something of a home-away-from home for foreign
residents, particularly those from Australia and the United Kingdom.

Saturday afternoon at the Duke is very like Saturday afternoon at any
pub in Waterloo, Carlton or Fortitude Valley. With the Fosters flowing
and the noise level rising, punters huddled over a form guide and
drinkers arguing about football it was a far cry from the tranquil
fishing village outside.

It used to be called the Duke of York but as one quite well-indulged
patron, perhaps unkindly, noted "the old name might have been
reflecting poorly on the establishment."

On the other hand remnants of Anglicanism may have been discarded when
the territory was handed back to the mainland Chinese Government.

Against a background of fishing boats bobbing at the wharf, lines of
stalls selling everything from shrimp to shark and a host of Chinese
cafes the Duke is something of a surprise.

With Hong Kong's great transport system getting around is easy – and
cheap – even for non-Cantonese speaking Aussies.

Getting there is 20 minutes on the speedy, spotlessly-cleat MTR
underground rail way to Choi Hung will cost a couple of dollars and
then clearly-marked mini buses run down through the mountains to Sai
Kung.

Sai Kung is not alone as an escape hatch from the hustle and bustle on
downtown HK.

Only about 30 minutes by bus from Central you will find a beautiful
little beach called Sheko . Through the Island skyscrapers past the
Colonial mansions at Repulse Bay, Sheko's crystal clear water and
golden beach lined with stalls selling superb seafood and tasty dim
sum snacks is a world away from the swirling, brown waters of Hong
Kong Harbour.

Further out of town are a number of islands which retain much of the
lifestyle of China of old. Reaching them by chugging wooden-hulled
ferry from the Outlying Islands wharf, just along from the Star Ferry
bon the Hong Kong side, is a bit of an adventure in itself.

Have a vegetarian meal at the monastery on Lantau, explore the tiny
villages on Peng Chau and try some of the wonderful seafood
restaurants on Lamma.

Kowloon and Hong Kong Island remain the primary target for those who
like to shop there are plenty of options for those who don't.

GETTING THERE: Cathay Pacific has 28 flights a week from Sydney
(effective February 2008), three a day from Melbourne, daily from
Adelaide and Brisbane, plus six times a week from Cairns and five
times a week from Perth.

Return economy fares vary seasonally from about $923 plus taxes
Australia wide. There are special offers from time to time, so it is
worthwhile checking with your travel agent or direct with Cathay
Pacific - 131-747 or visit

www.cathaypacific.com.au

Wendy Wu Tours has a range of stopover packages in Hong Kong for
passengers travelling on to Europe or add-on deals for tourists
going to China. They range from about $296 for a two night stay with
transfers and sightseeing to about $1100 for a six night stay in
Hong Kong and Macau, with transfers, ferry trip and sightseeing.
Details from 1300-727-998 or visit www.wendywutours.com.au

………………

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

ON the waterfront: colourful fishing boats cram the Sai Kung piers by
day after busy nights meeting Hong Kong's insatiable appetite.

THE Duke Pub: a friendly haven of Aussie beer, punting and footie arguments.

Photos: David Ovens

Sunday, December 9, 2007

STELLENBOSCH – AFRICA’S GRAPE ESCAPE

STELLENBOSCH – AFRICA'S GRAPE ESCAPE

david ovens

When Commander Jan Van Riebeeck planted the first grape vines at the
foot of Table Mountain in Cape Town in 1656 there were few who
imagined that South Africa would become a highly respected wine
producer.

There was good reason for the scepticism as the Dutch Free Burghers
were not blessed with great viticultural skills, but 20 years later
with the arrival of the Huguenots - many from well known wine regions
in France - things began to take a turn for the better.

These days South Africa has a fine international reputation for both
red and white table wines, not to speak of rich dessert wines and fine
sherries; and has turned its wine-growing areas into fascinating
tourist destinations to complement the natural wonders of Table
Mountain and the wild coastline running east from nearby Cape Town.

A close look at the four wine areas - Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Paarl
and Breede River- will take the connoisseur days, or even longer,
especially if one lingers is some of the splendid restaurants which
dot the countryside with frequency nearing that of the aged, shady
oaks which are practically the trade mark of the wine areas.

For the traveller who likes to maximise sightseeing the Stellenbosch
wine route has the added interest of the city after which the area is
named.

Of all the towns founded in the Cape by the Dutch East India Company,
Stellenbosch is the second oldest after Cape Town, and is one of the
best preserved in the whole of South Africa.

Know also affectionately known as Eikstad because of its proliferation
of graceful oak trees (some of which are declared national monuments,)
Stellenbosch is home to the finest examples of Cape Dutch architecture
to be found anywhere.

Now also a famous university city, it is the gateway to the wine
country and a virtual living museum. In the heart of the town on
Ryneveld Street is the recently completed Village Museum of six
restored houses, some of which date back to the late 1700's and all of
which are in the styles characteristic of several historical periods.

A military museum is housed in the Kruithuis (powder house) which was
built on the west side of the town in 1977 and in nearby Dorp Street
is the longest surviving row of houses in South Africa. All are more
than 100 years old and in splendid condition as modern residences.

Whether you're taking tea in the quaint Stellenbosch cafes, sitting
under shady pergolas at wineries or at tables in buildings of
yellow-wood beams, reed ceilings and Batavian floor tiles the cuisine
in this part of the Cape Province will invariably delay you.

Traditional Cape dishes, many referred to as Cape Malay, will be a
brand new experience, even for well travelled Australian palates.

Not to be missed is the smoorsnoek, a local salted fish, braised with
onions, potato and chilies, and bobotie a tangy curry of minced meat
baked slowly in the oven and topped with an egg custard. With the
right dedication of purpose one should then give serious consideration
to the Cape brandy puddings and melktert, a baked milk tart which will
appear on many a menu during your stay.

But, what is a splendid meal without the company of the region's
lifeblood - a glass a two of lush cabernet, some vintages of which
will remind Australians of our own robust red wines, or a finely
balanced white which many will find more reminiscent of German-style
whites.

There is ample opportunity for more of this at the scores of wineries
which hide among the giant oaks trees grouped around the rolling
plains with their craggy backdrop of shimmering grey mountains.

African holiday specialist Bench International has a range of packages
which include Cape Town and its nearby wine-growing areas. The area is
included in a 14-night Grand Tour of South Africa costing about $2400,
plus air fares from Australia. For travellers stopping off in Africa
on the way to Europe there's a three-night Cape Town package costing
from $720 including sightseeing. Details from Bench International
phone 02-9290-2877 or 1800-221-451 or visit
www.benchinternational.com.au

…………………

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

PICTURESQUE: the Cape Dutch-style Stellenbosch Hotel takes visitors
back to a charming earlier era in South Africa's famed winelands.

TABLE BAY nestles in the folds of Table Mountain that stands majestic
with its head and name-sake plateau in the clouds.

Photos: South Africa Tourism

Sunday, December 2, 2007

WATERY WORLD OF BANGKOK’S KLONGS

WATERY WORLD OF BANGKOK'S KLONGS

david ovens

Aptly called "Venice of the East", the Thai capital of Bangkok and
its myriad waterways are a way of life for tens of thousands of
people and a community in many ways self-sufficient.

The Chao Phraya river and its klongs are the real highways of Bangkok
and provide visitors with the wonderful contrast of glistening gold
spires and the multi-tiered roofs of Buddhist temples and royal
palace and lines of simple timber floating houses.

The way to view both is from the timber-planked seats of a hong Yao
(noisy, long-tailed speedboats which constantly weave their way
through the rows of houses anchored by chains fastened to huge poles
driven into the waterbed.

Boats of all shapes and sizes are the universal means of transport,
communicating and trade with the predominant vessel flimsy-looking
but sturdy canoes of the klong peddlers who trade within the water
community.

The small skiffs are deftly maneuvered with a single paddle, usually
handled by one woman whose face is barely seen beneath a
broad-brimmed hat of palm leaves, but whose strident voice can be
heard bargaining with customers seeking her vegetables, fruit,
firewood and other produce.

Every now and again travellers through the klongs pass by a stilted
wooden house whose front veranda is a clutter of cooking utensils,
groceries, flowers and some mod. con. electrical goods, like hair
dryers and torches.

Despite these advances the people of the klongs are not yet up to
washing machines and the like. The women of the community are
generally seen doing the family washing in the water passing down the
klongs to the main river.

But the klongs have even greater uses for their inhabitants. The
cackle of children's laughter is never far away as the naked brown
bodies of the youngsters plunge in and out of the water delighting
each other as they splash the passing tourists.

Even a friendly splashing is preferable to the raucous, ear­splitting
crescendo in the capital's streets.

For while the speedboats with their tiny engine at the end of a long
pole to allow them to travel through shallow water also make a
terrible racket the noise is not so intrusive in the rural atmosphere
as in the streets lined with glass and concrete.

What's more the rules of navigation in the klongs are paid much more
attention than the heed paid by drivers to the rules of the road.

It is customary, moving through the klongs during the high water
season to see that many of the houses have hung a red flag - or
sometimes a scrap of red paper - in a prominent place to persuade
water craft to pass slowly to avoid washing water into the lower
quarters of the house.

In this water-dominated community older traditional houses now rub
shoulders with some of more modern design, not necessarily so
pleasing to the eye, but evidence that some Thais are re­discovering
the pleasures of life on the klongs.

The hong yao which leave the wharf near the Royal Orchid Sheraton
Hotel take tourists on a journey of a couple of hours which
culminates in a slow cruise back to the wharf on a converted rice
barge.

The entire tour costs about $25 and is a genuine bargain for an
insight into the water peoples' culture.

Adventure World has a three-night package at the four star Pathumwan
princess hotel for $392. It includes breakfast, airport transfers and
a half day temples tour and is valid for travel until March 31, 2008.
More details from 1300-363-055 or visit www.adventureworld.com.au


.........................................

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

ALL klonged up: Bangkok's bustling river markets resound with banter
of trade between buyers and sellers.

COLOURFUL riverboat transport gets locals around these frenetic waterways.

Photos: David Baker

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

RIVERBOATIN’ ON OL’ MAN RIVER


FOR WEEK BEGINNING 26 NOVEMBER 2007;



RIVERBOATIN' ON OL' MAN RIVER

david ellis





The inventive Nicholas Roosevelt reckoned there had to be better ways
of opening up the American inland than by staring at the rear-end of a
horse from a slow-rumbling buckboard, or even the new-fangled railway
he'd heard about but had yet to reach his hometown of Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania.



And the Ohio River, that flowed past his very door to join the mighty
Mississippi and meander on to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico,
looked just the place to start.



But proving Old Man River could become a grand highway carrying crops
from the bourgeoning cotton farms and sugar plantations of the inland
to the coast, and bringing supplies and new settlers back on return
trips, turned out to be anything but plain-sailing.



It was 1811 and to start with the little wood-fired steamboat New
Orleans that Mr Roosevelt built with his mate Robert Fulton at a cost
of $40,000, caught fire just a few days into her pioneering journey
and was only saved by the quick action of her crew.



Then an earthquake created a tidal wave that caused the Mississippi to
flow backwards to the inland instead of to the sea, the resultant wild
maelstrom nearly sucking boat and crew under.



And if that wasn't enough they were attacked by Indians who thought
they were aliens who'd landed on their river – and no one mentioned
they'd have to run the Ohio Rapids that somehow weren't shown on their
charts.



To further add to all this confusion, Mrs Roosevelt went into labour
one night and gave birth to a son.



But after 28-days of such Boys Own adventures the brave little
side-wheeler steamed into New Orleans, proving Mr Roosevelt's point.
And within a few years dozens of ornate paddle- and stern-wheelers
were following his path, churning their way up and down the
Mississippi and her tributaries, linking New Orleans with such
emerging communities as Natchez, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis/St Paul and
Chattanooga.



Not short of a dollar himself – his family was well connected and he
was great grand-uncle to Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt who was to became
America's 26th President – Nicholas Roosevelt went on to pioneer many
new riverboat routes with his little New Orleans (that sadly sank
after striking a sunken stump in 1813.)



And for over a century they provided the main means of transport in
the South, carrying everyone from blue-blood plantation owners and
their Southern belles, to conniving gamblers and manacled slaves,
until falling victim to trains, planes and automobiles.



But today the Mississippi riverboat industry is flourishing once more,
although this time their cargoes are holidaymakers taking to these
oft-dubbed "wedding cake boats" (because of their ornate
superstructures) to explore America's fabled South at leisure.



Aficionados call such adventures "steamboatin'" and it seems
Australians have never been keener to get a bit of the action,
particularly cruise buffs looking for options to the traditional
cruise offerings.



Drifting down the Mississippi at a leisurely 10 or 12 k's aboard a
faithful replica of these gracious vessels from the 1800s and early
1900s is something the riverboatin' faithful swear you'll never
forget: picture yourself sitting on deck in a rocker, or tucking into
traditional riverboat dishes of Southern fried chicken, pecan pie and
chocolate brownies, or enjoying Dixieland, jazz, Delta blues,
Southern-style cabaret and vaudeville.



It's an almost-blend of Disneyland and Huckleberry Finn that rekindles
memories of childhood black & white flicks and the stories mum and
dad used to read us… yet there's the reality of seeing Civil War
battlefields, and the contrasts of grand Southern mansions and the
bayous and little pioneer settler communities of the poor.



Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays has 8-day/7-night riverboatin'
holidays from New Orleans to Natchez by way of Vicksburg with its
museum and Civil War sites, and Helena that's Arkansas' capital of
gospel and blues.



There's also a night each in Tunica and Memphis to pay homage to Elvis
Presley at his Graceland Mansion, and to visit the Rock & Soul Museum
that pays tribute to the life and times of the likes of Elvis, BB
King, Johnny Cash, Ike Turner, and Jerry Lee Lewis.



Prices start from $1995pp twin-share including all meals and nightly
entertainment by the high-steppin' onboard Southern Belles, with
longer cruises also available; air is extra. Phone 1300 79 49 59.





PHOTO CAPTIONS:



. BACK to the days of Huck Finn – yesteryear "wedding cake" American

Queen

. OL' time entertainment aboard American Queen

. SOUTHERN comfort: grand Oak Alley Plantation on the banks of the

Mississippi

. BLUES – signs like this dot towns where music is king on the routes of

the riverboats.



(PHOTOS: Majestic America Line)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

NEVER TOO MANY COOKS HERE

FOR WEEK BEGINNING 19 NOVEMBER 2007;

NEVER TOO MANY COOKS HERE

David Ellis

In the beginning, so legend tells us, there was Avaiki, the idyllic
heaven from whence the first adventurers set forth to inhabit the
islands that were to become the South Pacific.

And, say those same legends, in the case of the Cook Islands these
voyagers carried with them a unique spirit of serenity and tranquility
that became the beauty that has lasted in these islands to this today.

But just whether Avaiki lay on land, in sea or in the skies above,
legend does not say – suffice that life was not always heaven on earth
in these islands that laze in the sun just five hours or so to the
east of Auckland.

"We have a toast to our visitors," says a local, a grin as wide as the
pink and gold sunset that Cinemascopes the sky behind him. "Today, we
welcome you to sit at our table, because in days gone by we would
have welcomed you to be on our table!"

The London Mission Society first came to the islands in 1823, and
within 10 years the entire population had been converted from
cannibalism to Christianity; today there are eight denominations
amongst just 18,000 inhabitants.

And while tourists can visit an ancient marae where the chiefs once
held court and perhaps shudder a little at the sight of a crumbling
stone 'offering table,' today's extremely religious guides talk only
in offerings to the gods of fruits, coconuts and taro – not of the
human kind.

History passed down by word of mouth says that the first settlers
landed 'from Avaiki' around 800AD, and that in the 13th century Chief
Tangiia Nui from Tahiti and Chief Karika from Samoa joined forces to
capture the Cook Islands from these first Avaiki inhabitants.

Years later the itchy-footed Captain James Cook happened along, and
the island group was officially named after him, after he noted them
in his journal in 1773.

The tranquil Cooks don't get the big visitors numbers of some other
South Pacific destinations due to their remoteness, but visitors are
rewarded with a wonderfully laid-back environment in which the locals
welcome visitors much like long-lost relatives.

And the islands have plenty to amuse and occupy the holidaymaker – or
to lull those to whom the ideal South Pacific holiday is a late
breakfast, a good book, a hotel pool, a bountiful lunch, an afternoon
kip, a leisurely dinner with a glass or three or red or white, and
bed.

And rainbows of cocktails in-between, purely of course, to stave off
dehydration.

For the more active there's deep sea or reef fishing, bushwalking (the
main island of Rarotonga has 13 walking trails, including a 4.5 hour
cross-island trek along the once-feared Warrior Warpath,) village
tours, a sailing club, golf club, bowling club, diving and
snorkelling.

To get about you can hire motor scooters or rental cars, or take the
island bus for the 31km trip around Rarotonga, and a must-do is to
drop into the shops for unique colourful stamps and the rare black
pearl grown in the islands… and to dine on fish 'n chips at the
waterfront Trader Jack's.

Or to search for the unique Cooks Islands' $3 bills that are now
virtually out of circulation – due to the fact most have been snapped
up by tourists.

An interesting half-day tour is with 4WD Raro Safari Tours high into
the hinterland for spectacular views of the coast and lagoons. Their
driver/guides are a wealth of historical and cultural information: why
is there a church in every village, why do they bury their loved ones
next to their homes rather than in a public cemetery, what is this
magic cure-all called Nono, did Avaiki ever exist…?

And from high atop Arore Hill they'll show you the channel through
which seven great canoes set out on a voyage of exploration 700 years
ago that led them to discover New Zealand.…

For information about holidaying in the Cook Islands, see travel
agents, call Coral Seas Travel on 1800 641 803 or check-out
www.coralseas.com.au

…………………

PHOTO CAPTIONS

. ESCAPISM – the Cook Islands' beaches are a place of serenity and

tranquility.

. RESORT to relaxation in settings like this at Coconuts Bach Resort.

. COLOURFUL markets entice the visitor to the Cook Islands to part
with a few spare dollars.

. PEACEFUL now, but folk once-feared what may be around the corner on
the Cook Islands Warriors Trail.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sir George Hubert Wilkins: Hero of polar flight

by John Grierson from 'HEROES OF THE POLAR SKIES'' Heinemann 1967

George Hubert Wilkins was in many ways the most colourful of all polar air pioneers, due to the astonishing variety of enterprises in which he took a leading part. Born at Mount Bryan East, about a hundred miles north of Adelaide on October 31st, l888.

George, as he was always known until he achieved knighthood, was the youngest of a family of thirteen, though six had died in infancy. His father, who came from a family of settlers which had sailed from Lonclon fifty years earlier, farmed a 'station' of 2,000 acres. Consequently young George's childhood was anything but colourful in the surroundings of a sheep farm, though he made the best of things and tried to improve himself by reading as many books of learning as he could lay his hands on.

One of the most vivid impressions of his childhood was the terrible effect of a three-year drought, when he saw piles of dead animals surrounded by hordes of buzzing flies, with over all the stench of a battlefield. It nearly ruined his father, who had fortunately a little money in the bank, but only enough to finish off his son's education with a course in electrical engineering at the School of Mines in Adelaide.

Pondering the scenes of disaster at Mount Bryan East, Wilkins thought that if only accurate long-range weather forecasts could be made, it would be possible to forestall the effects of drought by moving cattle to more favourable areas. In this connection one of the greatest unknowns was the air circulation-particularly the upper air circulation, in the vicinity of the poles so that an onslaught on the secrets of these uncharted areas might provide far-reach¬ing benefits for mankind. With accurate long-range fore¬casts a great improvement in world economy should fol¬low, together with the promotion of happiness and the reduction of jealous tensions amongst the nations of the earth. It was this proposition which fired Wilkins's imagination in his early desire to go exploring.



Monday, November 12, 2007

END IS NIGH FOR THE FUTURE…

END IS NIGH FOR THE FUTURE…

david ellis

MORE people have hopped aboard it in fourteen years than three times
Australia's population, and while they've thought they've flown over
towns, plunged into icy caverns, found themselves in dormant
volcanoes, zoomed through ancient valleys and dropped over terrifying
cliffs, in all that time each has in fact travelled no more than just
three metres.

And its been done in neither trains, planes, ships nor automobiles,
but aboard the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios in
Hollywood, the entertainment park's first-ever high-tech ride that
opened in June 1993.

But now after 826,500 hours of thrilling, elating, or just plain
terrifying over 61-million riders, Back to the Future will plummet
down its last waterfall and park for good in the present next Monday –
America's Labor Day Long Weekend.

The ride involves a dozen eight-person units built to look like the
futuristic, gull-wing De Lorean autos that featured in Universal Film
Studio's Back to the Future trilogy, and to mark the ride's
association with the cars, one lucky visitor on the final day of the
ride will find themselves probably even more wobbly-kneed after they
alight.

That's because they'll be given the keys to drive away in their own
historic 1981 De Lorean, one of just 9000 hand-built in 1981-82, and
which has been the subject of much drooling and envy as a display
piece next to the thrill ride for the past few years.

The original Back to the Future ride was launched at Universal Studios
in Florida in 1991, but was closed without fanfare in March of this
year because of waning public interest.

And although the Hollywood ride did not suffer the same fate,
Universal decided that after fifteen years it was time to literally
look back to the future, close last-century's thrill-ride, and replace
it with a more up-to-date heart-thumper in early 2008.

The new one, that's yet to be named, will be based on the animated
sitcom The Simpsons.

A 21-metre high, twin-screen IMAX theatre was built at Universal
Studios to house Back to the Future, with creative input for the ride
and the IMAX film sequences from Steven Spielberg who produced the
Back to the Future trilogy; when the ride opened in 1993, there was so
much demand that for the first few weeks Universal had to open its
gates at 7am and stay open to midnight to handle the crowds.

And despite the bronco-bucking action that involves
3-minutes-45-seconds of pitching, rolling, and surging, the twelve De
Lorean look-alike ride-vehicles "travel" up, down, forwards, backwards
and sideways, less than three metres.

But that's enough for white-knuckled passengers to become part of the
exploits of the main characters of the trilogy, Doc Emmett Brown of
the Institute of Future Technology, and the run-amok Biff Tannen.

This includes such typically-bizarre Spielberg events as a high-speed
chase through a futuristic town, flying at virtual ground level at
terrifying speed over valleys and towns, crashing through flashing
neon signs, plunging into an icy cavern, escaping an avalanche,
plummeting down a waterfall, ploughing into a dormant volcano,
confronting car-swallowing dinosaurs and being spewed out again, and
riding a lava flow…

One hopes that for thrill-seekers having to wait until the next
northern Spring for their replacement fix, the new Simpsons Ride can
live up to what they've become used to with Back to the Future.

FOOTNOTE: As we don't have the wisdom of Spielberg to help us look
into the future, we thought we'd take you Back to the Past and what
was going on in the world in 1993, when Back to the Future opened.

. Paul Keating won the 'unwinnable election'

. Bill Clinton was President of the USA

. Schindler's List won the Academy Award for Best Picture

. Sydney was selected to host the 2000 Olympics

. TV's Sam Malone closed the doors of Cheers Bar for the last time

. Ray Martin hosted his final Midday Show and joined A Current Affair

. Czechoslovakia split into the Czech and Slovak Republics

. The Brisbane Broncos beat the St George Dragons to take the NSWRL

Premiership

. The Essendon Bombers defeated the Carlton Blues to win the AFL

Premiership

. …and Vintage Crop won the Melbourne Cup

…………..

PHOTO CAPTIONS: THE De Lorean that featured in the Back to the Future

film trilogy – one lucky rider
will win a similar car when

Universal Studios' Back to the
Future ride closes on

September 3.

POSTER boy: enticing the crowds to
the Back to the

Future trilogy.

GRAND HOTEL REWARDS A ROCKY RIDE

GRAND HOTEL REWARDS A ROCKY RIDE

david ellis

THE American railway magnate Louis Hill had a quick eye for a dollar,
and in the early 1900s he reasoned that there were some very quick
dollars to be had from those discovering the joys of the newly-founded
Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta in the Canadian Rockies.

So to indulge their passion for hunting and fishing in this grand
wilderness, he decided to build them a grand hotel that would cater to
their every whim, coupled with a luxury rail service to get them
there.

His hotel, to be known as The Prince of Wales, would have 200 rooms
with breathtaking views and the sort of service that, whilst not out
in the field with binoculars, rod or gun, would encourage leisurely
hours wining and dining in an almost fairy-tale setting.

But although he first mooted his hotel in 1913, between his own
renowned indecisiveness and the Canadian bureaucracy, it was not until
the mid-1920s that he actually started building it.

And when he was nearly finished the long, low, 3-storied affair with
spectacular 360-degree views overlooking Waterton Lake and Village, Mr
Hill suddenly decided he didn't like the look of it. So he had half of
it pulled down, and a fresh start made.

Then after a business trip to Europe he ordered that the entire top
floor be taken off the hotel and the roof be re-built so his hotel
would look more like a Swiss Alpine chalet. He also increased the size
of rooms, but to do this had to reduce their number from 200 to just
eighty seven.

During all this, and wearing his hat as President of the Great
Northern Railroad, Mr Hill was also struggling with building a rail
line through the mountains to his hotel.

The Rockies, he found, were aptly named, with the rock
as-tough-as-nails granite that was almost impossible to dig through.
In the end, with new-fangled motor-cars capturing the interest of
wealthy Americans and roads fast snaking across the Rockies, Mr Hill
gave up on his rail line nearly fifty kilometres short of its target.

Instead he used mule teams to haul hundred of tonnes of construction
materials those final 50kms, including a massive steel-framed window
that had been prefabricated in England, and was 3-storeys-high and the
full width of the hotel's lobby.

The window is still a highlight of the hotel today, offering diners
and those relaxing in the hotel's lounge one of the Rockies' most
spectacular vistas.

Violent winds that howled off the lake twice blew the hotel askew, so
steel cables were buried in massive underground concrete blocks on one
side, run up through the walls, across the loft, and down the other
side into equally enormous concrete anchors. The hotel still sways
slightly in high winds today, but is certified safe against the
fiercest gales.

The ingenious Mr Hill also built a timber mill and carpentry shop at
Waterton village and bought local cedar that he made into furniture on
the spot, rather than hauling ready-made stuff hundreds of kilometres
by road and mule train; much of this furniture is still in use today,
eighty years after the hotel opened in 1927 at a cost of C$753,000.

The Prince of Wales was closed during much of the Great Depression,
and again during the Second World War. Today it's open from May to
early September each year – from October to April the population of
Waterton township on the lake below the hotel dwindles to around just
120 hardy locals seeing out winter.

Dining at the hotel is still as grand today as Mr Hill envisaged it,
with mouth-watering traditional British and Canadian fare, and English
Afternoon Tea from 2pm to 4pm daily that is much sought-out by
visitors to Waterton Lakes, whether they stay at the hotel or not.

The hotel even has its very own tea blended for this spectacular daily ritual.

The Prince of Wales Hotel is a good base for fishing, hiking,
horseback-riding, golf and scheduled lake cruising – or just sitting
and taking-in the views over Afternoon Tea – and is easily accessible
by road in summer months.

Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays have packages to the Prince of
Wales Hotel, including air to Vancouver and self-drive to the hotel;
phone 1300 79 49 59.

…………………………..

PHOTO CAPTIONS: MAJESTIC: The Prince of Wales Hotel commands

grand views from its hilltop
site overlooking Waterton

Lake and Village amid Canada's Rockies.

HISTORIC Ford open-roof 'Jammer'
Buses are a novel way of

sightseeing National Parks in
the Rockies.

WILD – the area abounds with
wildlife, including

Bald Eagles that can be seen
from walking trails or

from boats on the Lake.

SHEARER’S GOLD FIND PANS OUT WELL

SHEARER'S GOLD FIND PANS OUT WELL

david ellis

WHEN a couple of shearers named Thomas Arthur and Harry Redfern got
whisper of traces of gold being found outside Queenstown in New
Zealand's Southern Alps in 1862, they helped themselves to a frying
pan in their boss's kitchen, deserted his sheep station and took off
to the site of the find.

But they needn't have bothered with the frying pan: they clambered
further up the wild-running Shotover River than where the gold had
first been found, and rather than having to pan for tiny specks they
picked up nuggets by the handful, returning to Queenstown several
weeks later with pockets and packs laden with the precious metal.

A newspaper at the time quoted them as saying they "picked up gold by
the pound" and that "gold lay everywhere in the canyon…"

Within weeks of their discovery, 12,000 hopefuls had flocked to the
area from all over New Zealand; ship's crews jumped vessel in coastal
Dunedin from where Queenstown drew its supplies to join the rush, and
even a Captain Duncan of a British cargo vessel telegraphed home that
as his entire crew had gone off in search of gold, he might as well
join them…

It was a good move: he made a fortune and the area was officially
named Skipper's Canyon.

By the time the Canyon's fields had been largely exhausted over the
next fifty years, they had given up more gold than Alaska's fabled
Yukon, although fossickers still make plenty of worthwhile finds to
this day.

But it did neither Thomas Arthur nor Harry Redfern much good: they
both died of alcoholism.

Accessing Skipper's Canyon was no easy task. Gold seekers wearing
heavy packs had to clamber through tortuous ravines with schist walls
that fell away from razor-back peaks at a near-vertical 75-degrees,
and follow hair-raising tracks worn by sheep through mountain passes…
one slip and it was a drop of several hundred metres to the river
below.

To get supplies in and out the government decided on an ambitious 32km
road that would zigzag through these ravines and the more rolling
sheep pastures, to slowly drop several hundred metres from Queenstown
to the level of the Shotover River.

The job took 200 men an incredible ten years, including a
white-knuckle section whose mere 300 metres that took two years to
carve around the almost vertical Pincher's Bluff.

To do this, men were lowered on ropes to drill into the schist, plug
dynamite into the holes – and then holler to their mates at the top to
haul them up quick-smart as they lit the fuses and watched the rock
blast away into the canyon below. They repeated this scary ordeal over
and again for twenty-four months.

Today the road is one of New Zealand's great tourist routes, with some
of the world's most spectacular alpine scenery. But it's not something
you take-on yourself – particularly as rental companies don't allow
hirers to take their vehicles into the Canyon.

Instead specialist Skipper's Canyon 4WD companies like Nomad Safaris
take visitors on four-hour excursions from Queenstown, their drivers
easing their 4WDs around the white-knuckle hairpin bends 100m or more
directly above the Shotover River, through the more open sheep
country, across an historic 1901 suspension bridge, and to the river
itself where there's time for a bit of gold panning.

The tours, that include well-researched historic commentary of the
gold rush era, also take-in such historic points as Heaven & Hell's
Gate, Maori Point, Lighthouse Rock, Blue Slip, and the tiny Skipper's
township.

There's also the remains of the Welcome Home Hotel that catered to the
original gold miners and continued trading for over 75 years to the
1940s.

Drivers also point out the tiny mountain cottage of John Balderstone
and his wife Fanny, a dancer who entertained the 1860's miners at
Skipper's pubs: John wanted to retire after the gold rush to the quiet
of the mountains, but Fanny liked the bright lights… so they struck a
compromise, and built their cottage exactly half-way between
Queenstown and Skipper's Canyon.

Nomad Safaris costs NZ$140pp for four action-packed hours, including
gold-panning and home-baked refreshments along the way. See travel
agents, phone ++ 64 3 442 6699 or go onto www.nomadsafaris.co.nz

…………..

PHOTO CAPTIONS: WHITE-knuckle driving – on the road into Skipper's

Canyon, looking down from the
scarily narrow

Pincher's Bluff.

WHERE it all began: the spot where
Thomas Arthur

and Harry Redfern "picked up gold
by the pound" and

started New Zealand's biggest gold rush.

START of Skipper's Canyon road,
and tribute to

Captain Duncan who jumped ship
with his crew to

make a fortune, and after whom the
Canyon is named.


- PHOTOS: Nomad Safaris

NO MYSTERY ABOUT ISLAND’S SPIRIT

NO MYSTERY ABOUT ISLAND'S SPIRIT

david ellis

IT'S got no electricity, no running water, no road, no telephones and
nobody even lives there, yet those who find themselves on this remote
South Pacific outpost have just voted it their "favourite port of
call."

But ask them when they return home from a cruising sojourn just where
on the map it was that took their hearts, most won't have a clue.

That's because to cartographers this touch of paradise is on their
maps as a tiny speck called Inyeug amidst the 80-odd islands that make
up Vanuatu – while to cruise companies it's on theirs as Mystery
Island.

And its history is as colourful as how Inyeug came to become known as
Mystery Island.

Go back over 160 years to when a South Seas trader and blackbirder,
Captain James Paddon found precious sandalwood trees, and strong
village men, on the island of Aneityum in the deep south of what is
now Vanuatu.

And coincidentally, at the same time a Canadian fire-and-brimstone
Presbyterian missionary, the Reverend John Geddie was coercing his
flock to finance a voyage to these very same far-flung islands to save
the souls of the heathens who lived there.

It was inevitable that when the blackbirder and the missionary
eventually confronted each other, fireworks would ensure. But such
encounters were brief and short-lived, as Paddon had already taken the
most precious sandalwood, shipped off the more able-bodied men of
Aneityum to work the bourgeoning sugarcane fields of Queensland, and
was planning on heading off himself to trade in greener pastures in
New Caledonia.

This left Aneityum to the Missionary Geddie to fiercely preach the
word of the Good Book and build the largest church for its time in the
South Pacific, a vast stone edifice with over 1000 seats for nearly a
third of Aneityum's entire population.

But while believing they were 'saving' the people of the island,
Geddie and his missionaries, as had Paddon and his workers earlier,
brought with them western diseases for which the isolated islanders
had no resistance, and within years Aneityum's population was
tragically decimated from nearly 4,000 to just 500.

And when he himself fell ill and died in Australia in 1872 while
seeking treatment there, Geddie's church succumbed to indifference and
an 1875 tsunami.

And interestingly Aneityum's little off-shore neighbour, Inyeug Island
continued to remain uninhabited: its owners eschewed Inyeug believing
it inhabited by spirits, so Paddon bought it for a song to build a
mansion there from which he would rule his South Seas empire, until
New Caledonia's riches looked more alluring.

Fast forward now to the 1980s when the migrant-ship-cum-cruise-liner
Fairstar began taking adventurous holidaying Australians into the
South Pacific. Her Captain, Luigi Nappa was captivated by little
Inyeug – just a mere kilometre long and half as wide – and often tried
to get his passengers ashore on what he could see was a spectacular
white sand beach.

But most attempts were thwarted by the unpredictable swell, with the
ship's cumbersome lifeboats unable to get safely through the surf to
the beach.

At the same time, Nappa and his PR man, the legendary Ron Connelly
were pondering "a more romantic, more South Pacific name" for Inyeug.

One day the irrepressible Connelly said: "Well, it's always on the
itinerary, but whether we actually get ashore there or not is always a
mystery – so why not call it Mystery Island?"

Nappa loved the idea, and so it's been to this day.

And with better facilities, P&O's Pacific Sun, Pacific Star and soon
Pacific Dawn, land passengers ashore for a day's swimming, walking
15-minutes around the uninhabited island, and buying shells, carvings,
necklaces and fresh fruits from the neighbouring Aneityum islanders
who paddle across in their canoes on 'ship days.'

If they've time passengers can also negotiate a canoe trip across to
Aneityum to see the remains of the Reverend Geddie's once-famous
church; a memorial on the site reads: When he landed in 1848 there
were no Christians here; when he left in 1872 there were no heathens.

In all, P&O will make twenty-five visits to Mystery Island in 2008,
landing around 45,000 visitors. See travel agents, phone 13 24 69 or
visit www.pocruises.com.au

(NEXT WEEK: We tell you how you can have Mystery Island all to
yourself for a truly Robinson Crusoe holiday.)

……………………..

PHOTO CAPTIONS: BEACH that cruise ship passengers voted their

"favourite port."

ALL that remains of once-biggest
church in the

South Pacific.

Photos:
Vanuatu Discovery Tours

GOING ROBINSON CRUSOE IN VANUATU

GOING ROBINSON CRUSOE IN VANUATU

david ellis

SO you wanna go Robinson Crusoe.

There's a little place in the South Pacific that's just what you're
looking for, but that doesn't mean you don't need to do some planning
if you're thinking of really escaping to a people-free paradise.

Because despite no one living on this miniscule 1.5-square kilometre
dot in the ocean that has no electricity, no running water, no roads
and no telephones, your peace could still be shattered by the hordes
storming the beaches.

Over a thousand of them, all keen to share what you thought was the
perfect haven to which to escape the crowds…

It's called Mystery Island, but on the maps you'll find it as Inyeug,
the most southerly island in Vanuatu. And no one lives here because
its traditional owners believe it's haunted at night by spirits.

In the 1850s Australian traders and blackbirders who set up their
wealthy operations on the larger Aneityum Island just across the
channel, chose to live on Inyeug, figuring that if the-then
cannibalistic Aneityum locals were scared of spirits, they'd hardly
attack spooky Inyeug.

Canadian missionaries also built the biggest church for its time in
the South Pacific on Aneityum, with 1000 seats filled on a good
Sunday, or about a third of the island's population.

The missionaries slowly drifted away due to ill-health or waning
years, and neglect and a tsunami put paid to the church; by the late
1800s Aneityum's near-4000 population had been depleted to just 500,
the result of western diseases introduced by the missionaries as well
as the now-gone traders, blackbirders, and whalers before them.

Aneityum and Inyeug faded into obscurity for over a century until in
the 1980s the Australian cruise ship Fairstar started visiting
Vanuatu, making many unsuccessful attempts to land passengers on what
appeared the archetypal South Pacific white sand beach.

Fairstar's owners, the Sitmar Line re-named Inyeug as Mystery Island
on the grounds that because of the unpredictable seas, it was a
mystery whether passengers would ever get ashore there or not, and
after Fairstar was reduced to razor blades, P&O started visiting with
its South Pacific cruise ships out of Sydney and Brisbane.

There's now a landing-jetty on the island, and next year P&O's Pacific
Dawn, Pacific Sun and Pacific Star will visit Mystery Island some
twenty-five times, putting around 45,000 visitors ashore over the year
for a day's swimming and snorkelling the coral reefs, walking the
beaches, or buying fresh fruits, shells, carvings, necklaces and other
souvenirs from the Aneityum people who come across to trade on "ship
days."

Mystery Island also has a basic 2-room coral, bamboo and grass thatch
Guest Bungalow for those seeking that Robinson Crusoe experience: it
has a simple kitchen, covered BBQ, two double beds, kerosene lighting,
and a bush toilet.

And you'll have the whole island virtually to yourself: Aneityum
villagers who may turn-up to occasionally fish, are always gone well
before sunset for fear of those spirits.

It leaves visitors at the guest house to rise in the morning when it
suits, maybe plan the day's activities over last night's lobster catch
grilling on the barbie, beachwalking, snorkelling the reefs, fishing
for lunch and dinner, and pondering what we poor fools are doing back
in "civilisation…"

And with no TV, radio, telephone or internet to find out what's
happening in the rest of the world, when deprivation becomes too much
it's a matter of waiting until someone arrives from Aneityum and
negotiating a lift by canoe to the local guest house and little
tourist office there… or to visit the remains of the historic old
church, bushwalk or mountain-climb.

Guests have to bring all basic food, water and personal needs on the
twice-weekly flight from Port Vila that lands on Mystery Island, whose
grass airstrip was built in 1960 to service the too-mountainous
Aneityum.

Arrangements can also be made to have someone from Aneityum deliver
local market produce, limited trade-store groceries and cook for you
if you want to experience the local fare.

And it's important to check whether during your planned stay, one of
those cruise ships is going to pop up on the horizon and disgorge over
1000 passengers to share the solitude of your island for a day.

For full details contact either Joseph Talo on
vandiscovery@vanuatu.com.vu (or www.vanuatudiscovery.com ;) or Olivier
Fidelio at trek@vanuatu.com.au (www.trekvanuatu.com)

…………………

PHOTO CAPTIONS: MYSTERY Island's 2-bedroom Guest House.

BEACH on Mystery Island that lure's
cruise-goers

by their thousands… but only 25
times a year.

ONCE the biggest church in the
South Pacific, all

that's left of the missionary
church on Aneityum Island.

PHOTOS: Vandiscovery Tours


Trek Vanuatu Tours

A GOOD BREAKFAST STARTS THE DAY WELL

A GOOD BREAKFAST STARTS THE DAY WELL

david ovens

The great Namibian stand-off was close to breaking point.

The scene: At one of a limited number of waterholes shrunken by the
blazing southern African sun.

The players: A small herd of zebra and a pride of nine lions including
a couple of cubs at foot.

The status: The lions are closer to the waterhole than the zebra but
one obviously very thirsty zebra is edging closer to the life-saving
waterhole.

But more of that in a minute...

Of the scores of national parks in eastern and southern Africa that
are home to the Continent's amazing wildlife, Namibia's Etosha
National Park and the Kalahari National Park in neighbouring South
Africa are unique in their hot, arid, desert nature.

They are home to the elephants, lions, antelope and other wildlife
commonly found in other game parks like Kruger in South Africa and the
famed Masai Mara in Kenya, but the desert inhabitants have inherited
minor genetic differences that make them better equipped to exist in
the harsh habitat.

Previously known as South West Africa, Namibia has a chequered history
with involvement of the Portuguese, British and Germans before being
placed under the administrative control of South Africa by the League
of Nations after World War One.

An independent country now, Namibia has a 1400–kilometre coastline but
oddly its rainfall is minimal as the cold Benguela Current's water
temperature of about 10C is too cold to allow much evaporation.

This cold current meeting hot, dry winds causes fog to move over the
desert, sustaining life in an otherwise arid area and leaving only
about two per cent of the country's soil arable – but making for
extraordinarily spectacular scenery of desert moonscapes and deep
canyons.

Hence the stand-off at the Etosha waterhole is a commonly-played-out
drama in wildlife reserves throughout the country.

Unbeknown to our single courageous but parched zebra reaching the
waterhole was not as fraught with danger as his colleagues imagined.

Beside the pride of sluggish lions lazing in the shade was the carcase
of a full grown gemsbok on which the pride had gorged breakfast and
were now, at high noon, resting their swollen bellies in the shade and
not the least bit interested in zebra for lunch.

But it was great theatre for the group of tourists taking in the scene
from an open-topped Land Rover about 30 metres away and watching the
zebra one by one venture to the prized waterhole.

Such drama is enhanced by the proximity within which vehicles can
safely approach wildlife throughout southern Africa. The animals are
thoroughly accustomed to being approached by vehicles and have come to
regard them as no threat as they go about their daily habits of
feeding, fighting and mating.

The animals recognise and do not fear the profile of the vehicles.
However, if someone should stand up quickly and break the profile of
the vehicle or make sudden sharp noises or move quickly in brightly
coloured clothing whilst watching animals at close range (predators,
elephants and the feared Cape buffalo in particular,) an afternoon's
game-viewing has been know to turn sour as frightened animals react in
the only way they know – attack.

But there were no attacks at the Etosha waterhole that autumn day. One
by one the zebras gradually plucked up courage to edge past the lions,
although there were some skittish moments as the odd lion raised a
sleepy head to sight the passers-by. Another day it could have been so
different.

To join an Africa safari, specialist in holidays to the country, Bench
International has a choice of holiday packages in Namibia ranging from
four-days to Etosha (costing around $1055) that can be combined with
other arrangements in the region, to a 10-might Classic Namibia Safari
(costing from $4150) that includes Etosha, the capital Windhoek, the
German enclave of Swakopmund on the coast and the Namib Desert.

There are direct flights from Australia to Johannesburg for connection
to Windhoek. Details from Bench International, phone 1800-221-451 or
visit

www.benchinternational.com.au


……………………

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

PARCHED waterhole in Namibia, scene of the great African stand-off.

A LIONESS with cubs at a desert waterhole.

OSTRICHES find little joy at this near-dry puddle.

- Photos: David Baker

ROMAN HOLIDAY – STAYING AT ONE’S USUAL PALACE



ROMAN HOLIDAY – STAYING AT ONE'S USUAL PALACE

david ellis

THERE's something rather nice about telling mates you're heading off to Rome, and rather than telling them you'll be staying at your usual pub, saying you'll be staying at your usual palace.

And for good measure, mentioning that your palace once starred in one of the big silver screen's biggest hits.

We're talking about the classic Sofitel Roma, a quiet haven of tranquility away from the frenetic main streets of Rome.

And yet while away from those main streets where it appears that traffic-wise, anything rules, the hotel is remarkably central: the famous Via Veneto shopping and dining boulevard (on which if you have to ask the price because its not in the window, it means you can't afford it,) is just two short blocks away, and the Spanish Steps an easy 10- to 15-minutes stroll – depending on your propensity for window shopping.

And a stone's throw away are the 80ha (148 acre) parklands of Villa Borghese, a one-time vineyard that in 1605 Cardinal Scipione Borghese turned into a park that's today complete with an artificial lake and an island with a small Ionic temple.

The Park was acquired by Rome City in 1903 and opened to the public, and is also home to several museums, an ampitheatre for concerts and a botanical garden.

The Sofitel Roma overlooks the Park from many of its rooms, and was originally built as a palace in the late 17th century by the noble family Ludovisi Boncompagni. If that's not enough to have your mates salivating, toss in for conversation that it was here that some of the scenes were shot for Federico Fellini's legendary 1960's classic la Dolce Vita.

The Boncompagni family sold out and in 1890 their palace was converted into a hotel, the Albergo Boston: by the 1930s and '40s it was the place to be seen in Rome, and gathering point for many Italian actors, film makers and writers who spent long hours ruminating over coffee and stronger stuff.

Sofitel completely renovated the hotel in 2000 in Roman Neo-classical style, putting in a marble lobby, mosaic floors in many of the hotel's public areas, large frescoes and huge statues, and completely refurbishing all rooms with a further quarry-load of marble.

Yet amazingly amongst all this, there's a bar that gives one the feeling they've been time-warped to rural England, something the hotel is very proud of.

There is much polished timber here, an adjoining almost-Cotswold library with porcelain hunting dogs with catch in mouth, a fire place and exposed timber ceiling beams, that all make for a delightful venue to enjoy drinks and light meals; there's also a separate lounge area.

And although it is boutique with just 109 rooms and four penthouse suites, the Sofitel Roma must have been an interior decorator's nightmare: no two rooms are the same size, and are a multiplicity of shapes – because when designed as a palace, rooms were created for the status of those who would occupy them… the noble Boncompagni family themselves, and the varying hierarchy of their more-than 100 butlers, maids, chefs, coachmen, grooms and general servants who bunked-up two or three to a room.

Yet all now-air-conditioned rooms are refreshingly spacious with silky-brocade curtains and bedspreads, desks and chairs of polished briar wood, marble bathrooms, Roger & Gallet toiletries, internet point, double phone lines and pay- and satellite-TV.

The four penthouse suites have separate bedrooms with king bed, over-size bathrooms, sitting area with desk and internet point, chaise longue, lounge chair, guest's powder room… and a large terrace with views of historic landmarks almost close enough to stretch out and touch.

The hotel also has a vast rooftop terrace open to all guests until 10pm; many take drinks and room service meals here to enjoy the sunsets and million-dollar views of Rome's major landmarks.

For dining the Antico Boston Restaurant (in what were once the royal stables,) is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with lunch and dinner menus featuring Italian specialties.

Breakfasts are huge continental buffet affairs (included in the room price) with fruits, cereals, over a half dozen varieties of fresh-baked breads and rolls, eggs, cooked ham, cold meats, ham off the bone, cheeses, olives, muffins, cakes and pastries.

The Sofitel Roma is listed among The Historical Places of Italy; rooms start from around Euro-250 per night. See travel agents or check-out www.accorhotels.com

………………….

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

ROME skyline from a suite at the Sofitel Roma… you can almost stretch out and touch historic landmarks.

ONE of the hotel's four penthouse suites.

HOTEL Sofitel Roma's English-style library adjacent to the bar.

TUCK in… the hotel's lavish breakfast buffet.

………………………

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Why Green is the New Black

Everywhere you turn lately, it seems, people are talking about climate change, global warming, carbon offsets and lower emissions. How can you take off on your next holiday with a minimum impact? What’s fact and what’ fluff? Roderick Eime looks at the arguments.

It would appear that even the most resistant critics have bent to the notion that the burning of fossil fuels is at least contributing to the climate change sweeping our planet. The jury is divided on whether it is the primary contributing cause or just part of an overall planet-wide cycle. Either way, pouring carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels like oil and coal and other greenhouse gases like methane and carbon monoxide is accelerating the process.

To highlight this issue, the government has launched the website, www.greenhouse.gov.au, with lots of “How You Can Help” tips, including transportation.

It’s no surprise that motor vehicles feature highly on the list of greenhouse gas emitters, and car usage is something we can influence on a personal level. In reality, a great many of us will fly to our next holiday destination, either domestically or internationally, so what can we do to lessen this impact?

Offset Your Carbon Consumption

The very active minister responsible, The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, recently lauded the move by Virgin Blue to offer carbon offset packages to passengers concerned about their own “carbon footprint”.

“Virgin Blue customers can now go online and choose to make each leg of their air journey carbon neutral for an average of a dollar a trip,” the minister said.

“Australian air passengers have never before been able to directly offset emissions from their flights. This is a first for the Australian aviation industry and an important step for the transport sector.

“Air commuters choosing to offset their emissions will be able to make a difference to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions of which the total domestic air aviation transport sector currently contributes almost five megatonnes.”

When we travel, whether it is by road, rail, sea or air, our desire for sightseeing and leisure is adding to the problem, especially when it involves long distance travel.

Can You Travel with Carbon Neutrality?

Environmentally responsible and sensitive travel is not a new phenomenon, but has certainly become a more widely recognised alternative in the last few years. Apart from travellers seeking out new and exciting destinations with an emphasis on nature and culture, travel operators are now enticing environmentally conscious travellers with taglines extolling their low carbon emissions and offset policies.

One of that rapidly growing number of tourism businesses claiming “carbon neutral” is Ecoventura, who operate a small fleet of expedition yachts in the Gal├ípagos. This iconic group of islands west of Ecuador is one of the most precarious eco-systems anywhere on the planet and has attracted all sorts of attention over the decades, including poaching, over-fishing and habit degradation from human intervention.

The CarbonNeutral Company, one of the new wave of climate monitoring companies, has calculated the amount of carbon dioxide that Ecoventura emits and has come up with a number of projects to counteract those effects including funding for reforestation in Chiapas, sustainable energy projects in Sri Lanka and India, and methane recapture in the US.

Kerry Lorimer, an avid eco-conscious traveller and author of the Lonely Planet guidebook, “Code Green” offers this advice:

“Since virtually any type of motorised transport emits greenhouse gases, the obvious thing is to go for non-motorised transport such as walking, riding a bike or catching a train. Using public transport is another obvious way to lessen your personal emissions.

“Jet travel has had a bad rap for its high levels of greenhouse emissions. Look to the shorthaul and stay local where practical. If all you want to do on holiday is lie on a beach, do you really need to fly to the other side of the world to do it? For business, do you really need to have a face-to-face meeting? Could a video conference get the job done?

“And when you do fly, consider off-setting your emissions via organisations such as climatefriendly.com. Their websites have carbon calculators that can compute the amount of emissions for your kilometres travelled. You can then pay to 'offset' these through projects such as tree planting and community development projects.”

Look for Low Carbon/Low Impact Destinations

“Do your bit for domestic tourism - choose a holiday destination close to home!” adds Kerry Lorimer, “We have some of the most amazing travel experiences in the world, right in our own backyard, yet many Australians think first of an overseas destination when planning a holiday.

“Walking or trekking holidays are one of the best ways to keep your carbon emissions to a minimum. Peregrine, for example, offers a range of trekking holidays around the world - close to home there are treks in Borneo, PNG and the Himalaya. The company is currently assessing all of its operations and has pledged that all its tours will be carbon neutral by 2009. Trekking is also a great way to get to know the locals and to reach views and villages that are otherwise inaccessible. There's only one way to the top of a Himalayan peak!”

Although it may be difficult to label any single destination as “carbon neutral”, you can quickly determine your impact by assessing a few simple factors:

• How much carbon do I create to get there? Family travel and group travel in general is more efficient as resources are shared.
• How much carbon will I burn when I’m there? Will I walk around or drive? Will I be using lots of air-conditioning or camping? Will my activities be responsible?

For example, a camping holiday with your family, not far from home is a great idea. Look at some of our great national parks like Shark Bay or the glorious World Heritage-listed Bungle Bungles. Folks come from all over the world to see these places!

Beware the ‘Greenwash’

Kris Madden of the Eco Media Group, is a consultant to government and industry on eco- and sustainable tourism, warns not to fall into a green trap.

“Although I acknowledge the contribution to global warming that mechanised travel can make, I’m still a little suspicious of all these carbon offset schemes popping up,“ warns Kris, “there is no framework of operation, no benchmarks and no real checks and balances under which these schemes operate. One has to wonder whether there is a real environmental benefit from some of them, or whether it’s just ‘greenwash’.”

The ‘greenwash’ to which Kris refers is the sceptics’ appraisal of these efforts to create a greener environment. In the competition for consumer sentiment, true carbon consciousness and fake green window dressing will be difficult to isolate as more and more businesses fly the “carbon neutral” flag.

“Sure, it’s better than doing nothing and it certainly raises awareness of the problem, but I fear it is more important for some of the worst offenders to be seen to be reacting to the climate change issue than actually making a difference.”

Tree planting is one example. Although reforestation is a critical activity in many areas, trees planted today will take at least twenty years to reach maturity. The critics will argue that attention needs to be directed at “now” schemes. What can we do to offset emissions today?

Think Globally, Act Locally

Kris reminds us that the popular catch phrase is just as important, if not more so.

“People can really make a big difference if they modify their own behaviour on a micro scale. Walk when they don’t need to drive, car pool and generally use less energy, especially around the home. It’s like earning your own offset credits and you can feel less guilty when you do decide to travel.”

Preserve Culture and the Environment

Responsible and sustainable travel is not just about how much fuel you burn, it’s about how you treat the locals and how much cultural damage you do without even realising it. Genuine travel experiences are quickly vanishing in the rapidly globalising world and some of the lowest emission travel like walking, canoeing and cycling will enable us to maximise the few remaining truly enriching experiences.

Many experts believe our Great Barrier Reef will only exist for the next generation or two. Already it’s showing signs of decay from the small rise in water temperature and it’s one destination you should see soon.

The Arctic and Antarctic is thawing. Vast glaciers are collapsing at a frightening rate and they will soon be a past feature of the pre-climate change planet unless we turn the tide. These are certainly the predictions of the scare mongers, and can we really challenge these gloomy forecasts?

Be Informed and Make Your Own Judgement

Clearly there will be a lot of “smoke and mirrors” in this climate and carbon debate with some entrepreneurs seeing an opportunity to be the new emissions trading millionaires. If you feel inclined to contribute or invest in these schemes, then do so carefully. The ultimate responsibility, however, falls with the individual. Do you really need to run a computer simulation of your intended journey to visualise your impact? Or can it be boiled down to simple common sense and more considerate and simple day-to-day living? You make the call. It’s your planet.


<< break out >>

Some quick calculations by The CarbonNeutral Company [www.carbonneutral.com]:

Approximately one tonne of emissions is produced by 5000 kilometres of driving in an over 2.0 litre car.

The same amount of travel on commuter trains produces just 200kg.

A direct flight from Perth to London (14500km) produces 1.6 tonnes of emissions per person.

So, if you took the train every day to work instead of driving, you could earn enough carbon credits to offset your flight. For those who can’t do without their car, the company offers “offset packages” up to A$50 that come in a ribbon bound folder complete with certificate. The money is channelled to community projects and energy-efficient technology development.

<< end break out >>

<< Break Out >>

Low Impact Destinations

• Shark Bay: Gorgeous swimming, corals and whale shark and dolphin encounters.
• Purnululu National Park: Home of the Bungle Bungle Ranges. There’s great hiking and canoeing in this region.
• Kimberely Coast Cruises: Consider a small ship cruise along this spectacular and remote coast.
• Great Barrier Reef: The best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world.
• Tasmania: Arguably the hiking and trekking capital of Australia. Some great white water rafting too.
• New Zealand: Our near neighbour offers an enriching cultural and environmental contrast.
• Antarctica: The big one. You can’t fly there (yet) and it’s the ultimate ‘tread lightly’ experience.

<<< End break out >>>

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Coral Princess Cruises Goes Tropical to Celebrate 25 Years in 2008

Multi award-winning Coral Princess Cruises, pioneer of small-ship expedition cruising in Australia and the South Pacific, has kicked off its 25-year anniversary celebrations with a new brochure that brings together some of its most remote and exotic cruise destinations: Papua New Guinea and Melanesia.

The new brochure features five different culturally and environmentally sensitive cruises – ranging from 10 to 15 nights – to far-flung reaches of Papua New Guinea and Melanesia including the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

In March, Coral Princess founder Captain Tony Briggs and his wife, Vicki will host the 15-night "Noumea to Cairns" cruise aboard Coral Princess’s purpose-built luxury expedition vessel, 'Oceanic Discoverer' – a far cry from the World War II submarine chaser on which Tony started expedition-style cruising on the Great Barrier Reef in 1984.

The "Noumea to Cairns" cruise - the first of a series of special anniversary cruises for 2008 hosted personally by Tony and Vicki - explores the Melanesian archipelago. Accommodating a maximum of just 72 guests, 'Oceanic Discoverer' explores the spectacular cone volcano that forms Vanuatu’s Ureparapara Island and, at Santa Anna Island, guests are greeted by warriors bearing swords and blowing conch shell horns. And there’s plenty of opportunity to snorkel among pristine coral gardens and large pelagic fish.

'Oceanic Discoverer’s' purpose-built excursion vessel, 'Xplorer', glass bottom coral viewer and fleet of inflatable Zodiacs also allow passengers to intimately explore the reefs and remote islands.

Excursions are guided by naturalists and experts who interpret the natural, cultural and historical highlights of the region. In true expedition style, the itinerary may vary to take maximum advantage of opportunities to view wildlife, go snorkelling or diving, or visit local villages and attractions.

'Oceanic Discoverer' is designed to provide all the comfort and facilities of larger cruise ships, yet is small enough to access remote and pristine sites inaccessible to other ships.

Prices for the 15-night "Noumea to Cairns" cruise start at $10,150 per person, twin share, cruise only, in a Main Deck B stateroom. The voyage departs March 21, 2008. The 10 and 12-night cruises to Papua New Guinea start at $7,500 and depart October 2008 and 2009.

For further information and reservations contact 1800 079 545 or visit www.coralprincess.com.au.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Adventure Quest

Committed adventure cruiser, Roderick Eime, shares some insight on one of the fastest growing travel sectors.

Flick through the pages of any magazine or newspaper and you’re confronted with an overflowing smorgasbord of cruise travel possibilities. If this explosion of romantic ocean-going itineraries leads you to think cruise travel is on the up, then you are right. Cruising is on a rocket. But look closer and you’ll find, sometimes tacked on the end of a larger ad, adventure possibilities you may never have dreamed of.

Sure, everybody knows the irresistible, fairytale allure of the South Pacific, Caribbean and Mediterranean, but what about the frozen reaches of the Antarctic, the wilds of the Kimberley or the tiny atolls of Melanesia? Within this huge category of ‘cruising’ there exists a sometimes overlooked subset generally referred to as “adventure and expedition cruising”.

Once almost a secret society among wealthy adventurers and well-heeled thrillseekers, this type of travel has ignited the imagination of those looking beyond regular, packaged products. Travel marketers and advertising pundits are calling this emerging genre “experiential and transformational” travel where the journey is all about delivering uplifting and life-changing experiences.

Ships plying these waters can vary enormously too. They range from luxury pocket cruise-liners, replete with every creature comfort and a “quick response” crew ready to fulfill your every whim, through to refurbished ex-Soviet spy vessels. These Russian vessels are the ones largely responsible for opening up the frozen extremes of our planet and include mighty icebreakers and hardy oceanographic ships built to operate in the most challenging conditions.

At the softer end, vessels like the Australian-based Orion and Oceanic Discoverer, world-travelling Seadream I and II and Seabourne are examples of ships constructed to deliver a high, even opulent, level of luxury and still retain the flexibility and versatility of an expedition yacht. Orion, for example, not only cruises the rich tropical backwaters of PNG and the Kimberley, but ventures to the most remote reaches of Antarctica, well below the ‘circle’ and into the exclusive realm of Emperor Penguins and historic explorers.

What is ‘Expedition Cruising’?

The term ‘expedition’ has been more recently attached to cruise products in an attempt to give them a romantic, out-of-the-way appeal. The danger is that the original, authentic expedition cruise concept is being diluted and misconstrued.

A true expedition cruise consists of a voyage plan and itinerary that has inbuilt flexibility and redundancy. In the capricious Antarctic waters, all activities and sight-seeing is weather and ice dependent. Passengers are reminded of this time and time again and it is quite common for completely unscheduled landings to take place in fallback planning. The same exists in tropical waters.

As weather, currents and tides play out in the dense South Sea archipelagos, an expedition leader and his/her captain must ‘massage’ the itinerary constantly to capitalise on emerging opportunities and avoid those closing out.

If you are a devotee of the well-managed, big cruise ship experience, you may find adventure and expedition cruising unsettling. Others will crave that element of the unexpected.

A proper expedition vessel is more than just a smaller ship with zodiacs piled up on deck. A true expedition vessel is designed for the intended conditions and equipped to deliver the experience upon arrival, whether it be weaving through disintegrating pack ice or creeping past vivid coral atolls.

Passengers aboard expedition vessels have come to expect expert guides and lecturers to help them interpret the rich cultural and natural histories these exotic destinations deliver. Academics, researchers and authors are common both as lecturers and passengers, adding to healthy discussions and enrapturing dinner conversation.

Examine your intended product carefully and ask lots of questions, your consultant will be able to answer them.

Popular Adventure Cruising Destinations

Antarctica

This iconic destination is the epitome of the adventure destination. Sailing “off the map” and to areas only discovered within the last hundred years, makes Antarctica the must-do itinerary for all serious expedition cruisers.

Expeditions to the Great Southern Land take several forms. The simplest are short itineraries of perhaps a week to ten days to the Antarctic Peninsula from Ushuaia at the very bottom of South America. More ambitious journeys will be by icebreaker, way below the Antarctic Circle to places like McMurdo Sound and Commonwealth Bay.

Companies offering Antarctic itineraries include Adventure Associates, World Expeditions, Orion, Explorer and Heritage Expeditions.

The Arctic

A perfect complement to your southerly expedition, a trip to the Arctic can be as simple as a cruise to Iceland or Greenland or as heroic as a nuclear icebreaker to the North Pole itself.

Recent tales about retreating glaciers and thinning ice pack have created some urgency for visitors to this region as they attempt to see the great Polar Bear in its diminishing natural environment.

Apart from the North Pole, the great North-West Passage across the top of Canada is a true odyssey only a few will ever experience.

Companies offering Arctic expeditions include, Quark Expeditions, Oceanwide, ecruising.travel, Peregrine and World Expeditions

The Galapagos Islands

Charles Darwin’s evolutionary playground is a great drawcard for those with a penchant for warmer climes. A short flight from Ecuador, most visitors will spend about a week cruising amongst the many islands in this unique archipelago.

Following in the footsteps of David Attenborough, visitors will discover the crazy wildlife that makes this place so special. The sinister marine iguanas, the fierce land iguanas, the delightful giant tortoises and the many strange birds and plants make this place a naturalist’s wonder.

See Ecoventura or www.igtoa.org for a list of accredited oprators.

The Kimberley and Top End

The rugged and remote regions of Western Australia’s Kimberley and NT’s Top End were the ideal choice for expedition cruising in our region. Incredible rock formations, abundant birdlife, rich Aboriginal culture and weird natural phenomenon like the horizontal waterfalls attract thousands of visitors every year. Most cruise companies book out a year ahead, such is the popularity of this northern region.

True North, Orion and Coral Princess are the acknowledged experts in the Kimberley.

Papua New Guinea

Often the subject of bad publicity, the sublime islands of the Bismarck and Solomon Seas exhibit none of the rough lawlessness found elsewhere on the mainland. Expedition cruise companies are falling all over themselves to create itineraries in this region and the PNG Tourism authorities are extremely supportive of these initiatives.

New Ireland, New Britain, the legendary Trobriands and the mighty Sepik River are the key destinations on most itineraries. The wild frontiers of PNG, so close by, perfectly fit the description of “transformational” travel.

The growing list of operators include True North, Orion and Coral Princess.


Others:

Tasmania

Consider the supremely relaxing Gordon River cruises that explore the incredible and remote UNESCO World Heritage areas of Western Tasmania. Currently no overnight products are available, yet day trips leave regularly from Strahan.

See Orion for comprehensive live-aboard itineraries

Amazon

This huge river can accommodate cruise ships many hundreds of miles upstream. See the disappearing Amazon Basin jungles, visit remote indian tribes and mourn the vanishing landscapes.

For a wide range of vessels and options, see Adventure Associates

Russian Far East

Several companies are experimenting with itineraries in the area immediately north of Japan through to the Bering Strait in Siberia. Characterised by isolated ecosystems and volcanic activity on the western perimeter of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, these voyages will always be exclusive.

Heritage Expeditions and Quark offer exclusive itineraries in this seldom visited area.

Great Barrier Reef

Another threatened eco system, Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef has attracted millions of visitors over the years and continues to do so. Be quick, the reef will never be as good as it is now.

Coral Princess Cruises of Cairns deliver the widest range of Great Barrier Reef itineraries. Captain Cook Cruises are also prominent in the region. Further south, Fantasea Cruises operate from the Whitsundays.

New Zealand

The brilliant scenery and harbours all around New Zealand are attracting adventure cruise companies with ambitious itineraries, including Coral Princess’s semi-circumnavigation and Bay of Islands products.

Orion will join Coral Princess operating in New Zealand beginning 2008.


Expedition and Adventure Cruise Operators

Here is a selection of vessels and itineraries within easy reach of Australia or New Zealand, often by simple domestic airline link.

Company: Captain Cook Cruises
Website: www.captaincook.com.au

Company: Orion Expedition Cruises Pty Ltd
Website: www.orioncruises.com.au
Phone: 1300 361 012

Company: Coral Princess Cruises
Website: www.coralprincess.com.au
Phone: 1800 079 545

Company: North Star Cruises
Website: www.northstarcruises.com.au
Telephone: (+61 8) 91921 829

Company: Fantasea
Website: www.fantaseaammari.com
Phone: 1800 662 786

To the Four Corners …

Company: Lindblad Expeditions
www.expeditions.com

Company: Quark Expeditions
www.quarkexpeditions.com
Australian Rep: Adventure Associates

Company: Explorer Cruises
www.explorer2cruises.com
Australian Rep: ecruising.travel

Company: Ecoventura
www.ecoventura.com

Company: Heritage Expeditions
www.heritage-expeditions.com

Company: Oceanwide Expeditions
www.oceanwide-expeditions.com

Company: Polar Quest
www.polar-quest.com

Here is a list of some of Australia’s most experienced and respected companies:

ADVENTURE ASSOCIATES Pty Ltd
Level 7, 12-14 O'Connell Street, Sydney NSW 2000 Australia
GPO Box 4414, Sydney NSW 2001 Australia
Ph: (+61 2) 8916 3000 - Fax: (+61 2) 8916 3090 - Toll Free (Australia) 1 800 222 141
Web: www.adventureassociates.com

Aurora Expeditions

TELEPHONE +61-2-9252-1033
FAX +61-2-9252-1373
FREECALL (within Australia) 1-800-637-688
EMAIL auroraex@auroraexpeditions.com.au
Website: www.auroraexpeditions.com.au
182 Cumberland Street
The Rocks, NSW 2000

ecruising.travel
Level 9
64 Castlereagh Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Web: www.ecruising.travel
1300 369 848

Peregrine Adventures (with offices or reps in most states)

380 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel 1300 85 44 44 (within Australia) or +61 3 8601 4444 (outside Australia)
Fax (03) 8601 4344
Email websales@peregrineadventures.com
Website: www.peregrine.net.au

World Expeditions (with offices in most states)

Level 5, 71 York St,
Sydney NSW 2000
Toll Free. 1300 720 000
Email: enquiries@worldexpeditions.com.au
Website: www.worldexpeditions.com
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