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Monday, June 30, 2008

STEELING THROUGH THE NIGHT


frank linn

Travelling across Europe by rail is popular for its city-centre to city- centre practicalities, and here Frank Linn discovers an overnight train journey that combines room, bed, breakfast and travel while he dozes comfortably.

I LOOKED at the tiny compartment and thought: I can't sleep in that!

Twelve hours later I'd changed my mind: I had slept in that. And quite well, thank you.

THAT was a two-person Economy Class compartment for the 12-hour  CityNightLine train service from Zurich to Berlin, a little space measuring just 2m x 1.5m, with half the compartment occupied by a single bed.

A second bed above is folded back out of the way. Two small cupboards, a  handbasin with hot and cold water, mirror, electric plug for shaver or hairdryer and a small table under the window complete the infrastructure. The window is full width and there's a skylight window above, with blinds for both.

There are crisp white sheets, pillow, doona, towel, face washer and hand towel; lights are overhead, at the mirror and at pillow level for reading in bed.

I was a single traveller in a two-berth sleeper compartment that on some night trains are classified as Deluxe Singles complete with in-cabin breakfast dining.

A wander along the corridor reveals three and four person sleepers – in which chatting passengers are snacking on food they've brought with them for the journey.

A steward comes and asks me to stay in my cabin until she returns. What's this all about, I wonder? Ten minutes later she's back, takes my ticket and Passport, locks my compartment door behind me and ushers me to the dining car where she now becomes my waiter.

Chicken soup, steamed salmon and rice are washed down with Pinot Noir. I chat to a young couple who use the night train because their work has them in both Zurich and Berlin during the week.

They have a two-person Economy Class compartment, and use the CityNightLine rail instead of air as their commitment to combating carbon emissions.

(Research by Eurostar indicates flying between London and Paris or Brussels generates 10 times more carbon dioxide emissions than taking the train.)

While the train was more expensive than a cheap flight, my companions felt better about themselves for their choice, and say they genuinely enjoy sleeping aboard.

To bed. I call the steward-waiter to unlock my cabin. A couple of pages of my paperback murder-mystery under the reading lamp next to the pillow and I doze off…

We're now zipping through the dark countryside somewhere in Europe, with the consistent hum from the diesel engines up front and the swish of the steel tyres below broken only by the air concussion impact of the train entering a tunnel or another train flashing past in the opposite direction.

When the train pulls into one it's several anonymous stations in southern Germany and remains stationary for 10 minutes my sleep is deep, but I awake briefly each time as we swagger our way slowly back across the tracks to our  own dedicated fast line to the next city.

At 6:30am a different steward knocks on the door to take my breakfast order. It arrives just 10 minutes later with my Passport clipped to my ticket that in turn is clipped to the breakfast tray … ensuring the right Passport and right ticket get back to the right person.

Breakfast includes yoghurt, two bread rolls, a croissant, butter, strawberry jam, honey and a plastic-encased European breakfast (salami, ham, cheese) as well as hot water and a cardboard cup with teabag. It's a big start to the day with the yoghurt cold and the tea hot.

I use the small table under the window for the breakfast tray and sit on the bed until the train's PA system kicks into life, advising of our arrival time at the swish new Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

The experiences of fellow travellers are was much the same as mine, although one who suffers from slight claustrophobia changed the direction of her sleeping so her head was under the window – and she left the blinds up.

The CityNightLine service, and other night trains in Europe, can be booked in Australia through Rail Plus. See www.railplus.com.au

                                                        …………….

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

COMPACT: Room on rails – a 2-berth compartment on the CityNightLine.

BREAKFAST is served – hearty start to the day in a Deluxe Compartment.

EASY to identify at the station, the CityNightLine has its own dedicated fast track.

PHOTOS:  CityNightLine Rail

Friday, June 27, 2008

Orion's Antarctic Expedition: A Christmas toast to Douglas Mawson

Imagine spending the days leading up to Christmas, including Christmas Day and Boxing Day, onboard the purpose-built expedition cruise ship Orion, being part of an Antarctic expedition of a lifetime. A Christmas toast to Australia's greatest Antarctic explorer, Douglas Mawson.

This amazing voyage will take intrepid modern-day adventurers from New Zealand (Bluff) through the Great Southern Ocean, crossing the Antarctic Circle before heading for Cape Denison and a memorable visit to Douglas Mawson's historic huts built for his 1911-1914 'Australian Antarctic Expedition'.

These timber buildings are rare in a world context, being one of just six complexes surviving from the 'Heroic Era' of Antarctic exploration: a period of great human adventure, exploration, research and discovery on the last continent to be explored.

Regarded as the windiest place on earth, regularly whipped by ferocious katabatic winds, it is a wonder that there are any remnants of buildings left at all. Yet, remarkably, in addition to the historic buildings, there are plentiful examples of clothing, food, crates, sleds, ropes and kerosene tins remaining, literally frozen in time.

Mawson’s Huts are located at Cape Denison, 67° 0’ south, further south than the position of the south magnetic pole. Magnetic compasses are useless in these waters, an area that remains mainly unsurveyed.

At over twice the length and 10 times the weight of Aurora, Douglas Mawson's wooden ex-whaling barquentine, Orion (with the benefits of oversized stabilisers, retractable sonar and ice strengthened hull) provides her 100 guests with the needs of today's adventurers: technology, safety and creature comforts that include fine food and wines, a gym, boutique, hairdressing, sauna and massage facilities - as well as 75 staff and specialist expedition crew to look after every need.

Orion's 10 Zodiacs, the perfect expedition transport, will be put to good use for landings ashore in both Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic Snares, Auckland and Macquarie Island, breeding ground for countless wildlife.

On Macquarie the King penguin colony alone has some 3,000 birds. So rare are visitors here that they are usually ignored by birds, seals and penguins alike as they go about their daily business. See Elephant seals, some weighing as much as three tonnes - more than a car - and the massed gathering of Royal penguins coming and going from the sea.

This 16 night expedition concludes in Hobart, Tasmania, 27th December, 2008.

A never to be forgotten Christmas expedition to one of the most pristine and wondrous places on earth.


Orion’s Antarctic Continent – Commonwealth Bay 2008

16 night expedition: Bluff / Antarctica / Hobart

Expedition departs 11th December 2008 (ex Bluff, Invercargill, NZ). Bluff/ Snares Islands/ Auckland Islands/ Macquarie Island/ Commonwealth Bay region/ Hobart

NOTE: Please note that all Antarctic voyages are subject to possible variation according to prevailing weather conditions and as such are opportunistic in nature. On occasion intended destinations will need to be changed for safety or other reason.

Fares from $15,790 per person for an Ocean View category B Stateroom

Suites from $21,775 per person for a Junior Suite

Orion’s spacious Owners’ Suites are $33,055 per person

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Remote Papua New Guinea with Aurora Expeditions



Aurora Expeditions offers travellers the chance to experience the rich cultural heritage and unspoilt nature of Papua New Guinea with two new adventure cruises in 2009. Aurora has added some exciting new stops to its itineraries, exploring some of the least visited regions of this fascinating country.

These two distinct 11-day voyages go in search of the unexpected. In 2009 Aurora will be the only cruise vessel to visit the remote Admiralty Islands, the stunning Kamiali wildlife reserve and the isolated splendour of Tingwon and Woodlark Islands. On board the 100-passenger expedition ship Marina Svetaeva, spacious viewing decks and a fleet of Zodiacs make her an excellent vessel for an in-depth exploration of PNG’s hidden bays and striking coral reefs. On board, guests have the added options of kayaking and scuba diving in PNG’s azure waters or taking exhilarating helicopter rides to explore inland.

As with all Aurora cruises, emphasis is placed on a combination of interactive experiences with the environment and a strong educational element. Assisted by a team of expert lecturers, these expeditions aim to provide authentic experiences with the people of PNG and give a genuine insight into a traditional lifestyle that has changed little in centuries.

Voyage 1 – Alotau to Rabaul (Lost in Paradise)

Departs – 10th April 2009 (11 days)

‘Lost is Paradise’ is a broad exploration of the eastern New Guinea coastline and islands of the Bismarck Archipelago including Admiralty and New Hanover Islands. From walking in the vast tropical jungle to cruising along the tropical fjords of Tufi, this voyage will take in a staggering variety of pristine environments.

Voyage 2 – Rabaul to Alotau (Islands of Smiles)

Departs – 20th April 2009 (11 days)

‘Islands of Smiles’ begins with an in-depth look at the southern coast of New Britain where you will experience expedition cruising at its best as we go in search of adventure. We then explore the tranquil isles of Milne Bay province, a group of dramatic volcanoes and coral atolls where ancient traditions flourish.

Prices are from AU$5,290 per person quad-share, including all meals on board and Zodiac excursions.

For more details or to obtain a copy of the new Papua New Guinea 2009 brochure, contact Aurora Expeditions on 1800 637 688, visit www.auroraexpeditions.com.au or email auroraex@auroraexpeditions.com.au

=============

Aurora Expeditions is an Australian adventure company specialising in small group expedition-style travel to polar regions and other wild and remote places. A world leader in polar cruising, Aurora offers their travellers the chance to have an intimate experience in these regions with their flexible, innovative itineraries. On some voyages, mountain climbing, sea kayaking, photography and scuba diving options are available and Aurora’s expert naturalists, historians, staff and crew help to unlock the wonders of these special places. Deeply committed to education and preservation of the environment, Aurora's owners, Greg Mortimer and Margaret Werner are veterans of almost three decades of Antarctic research, private Antarctic mountaineering expeditions and polar travel.

For more information visit ~ www.auroraexpeditions.com.au

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cruise West adds to its Columbia River cruises

Enjoy the wonders of the Pacific Northwest from US$2,199 per person, twin share

To keep up with growing demand, Travel the World and Cruise West have announced 20 additional departures for its Columbia River cruises in 2009. Cruise West was the first cruise line to operate cruises on the Columbia River in 1992 onboard the Spirit of Discovery and has been sailing there ever since.

"Cruise West's rich 16-year history of Columbia and Snake River cruises demonstrates our commitment to the area," said Dick West, Chairman and Managing Director. "This year's new epicurean-focused itinerary, Taste of the Pacific Northwest, has been extremely well-received. Like its popular Columbia & Snake River fellow cruises, it offers a robust enrichment program, creating memorable experiences for our guests in an up-close, casual and personal environment."

The extended 2009 season will not only offer additional departures but four fantastic ships. Guests will have a choice of ten departures in spring and autumn on the Taste of the Pacific Northwest itinerary taking place onboard the 84-guest Spirit of Discovery. The Taste of the Pacific Northwest journey is a culinary cruise that basks the rich history and delicious flavors unique to the region. Guests will cruise down the mighty Columbia River through Washington's Wine Country round trip from Portland, Oregon. Prices start at US$3,299 per person twin share.

The Voyages of Discovery itinerary is offered onboard the 96-guest Spirit of '98, the 78-guest Spirit of Columbia and 78-guest Spirit of Alaska. Travelling round trip from Portland, guests will watch the Pacific Northwest's pioneering history brought to life with a special series of excursions, guest speakers and presentations by the on-board Exploration Leader. With 25 seven-night departures from April until October, prices start from US$2,199 per person based on double occupancy.

Travel the World can assist with bookings for Cruise West, and also put together combined air and tour packages. Contact Travel the World on 1300 766 566 or visit the website www.traveltheworld.com.au for more details.


About Cruise West


Cruise West – a second-generation, family-owned business based in Seattle – offers the opportunity to explore remote, worldwide locales by providing distinctive, one-of-a-kind, personalized itineraries not offered by the traditional larger cruise lines. Cruise West's smaller ships – ten in all – hold between 70-138 people each, and the casual style onboard encourages relaxation and congenial interaction between guests and crew alike. The experience is personally enriching through expert Exploration Leaders providing onboard narrative and lectures, special local guests from a wide variety of backgrounds, and the library provided on each vessel. All have forward lounges and ample outdoor deck space for viewing and photographing wildlife and scenery. All vessels are also equipped with inflatable landing boats for close-up exploration of remote areas and shore landings.

Destinations served include: Alaska and the Bering Sea, British Columbia, Columbia & Snake Rivers, California Wine Country, Mexico's Sea of Cortés, Costa Rica & Panama, The U.S. eastern seaboard, the Caribbean, Japan, the South Pacific, the Kuril Islands, and the Great Lakes


North Star Cruises and Expeditions



North Star Cruises Australia is the Kimberley region's longest established cruise operator and winner of national awards. The company now offers a suite of itineraries especially designed for the most discerning adventurer. For more information on North Star's full range of itineraries check out the website: www.northstarcruises.com.au


Hotham's Aussie Snow Job

Why drive to the snow each day when you can wake up in the thick of it?

If, like me, you get car-sick along mountain roads, then Victoria’s Mount Hotham is the ideal Aussie ski destination.

I stayed at Schnapps, a spacious apartment just a snowball’s throw from the chairlift, with killer mountain views. (Though at around $4000 a week in peak season it’s not cheap, with a kitchen, lounge, two bathrooms, and four bunks in the second bedroom it can comfortably house six.)

After hurling my suitcase to the floor, I couldn’t wait to whip on my ski gear and embrace the snow. Thankfully the complex known as Hotham Central – sporting cafes, ski hire and information desk – is just a three minute walk from my apartment.

“You on your own?” Aaron, a friendly young man from Guest Services at the front desk asked me as I stopped to collect a map.

Turned out his job was to guide visitors around the mountains. So Aaron, his colleague Anna and I spent the next 3 hours exploring the slopes together.
The next day I joined a group of ladies who’d paid up to enjoy five days of intensive lessons and a little pampering. They’d enrolled in the L’Oreal Visible Results Women’s Week, which includes four hours of skiing daily, video anaylsis, and massage and beauty lecture. The programme was devised by local instructor Heidi Pierce to help intermediate-level female skiiers reach advanced level. (This year’s course runs from July 21 to 25 but courses can be organized throughout the season. For details visit www.hotham.com.au or call Hotham Snowsports on (03) 5759 4444.).

“This is my second year in a row, and I’m twice the skier I was!” one lady enthused.

At night, there are plenty of fine restaurants to restock on the calories lost in the snow – I especially liked the delicious seafood at the hip White Room, designed by Italian architect Giovanni D’Ambrosio, at Hotham Central, close to traditional favourite, Zirky’s (which has a bustling bar next door.)

Nearby, the increasingly gentrified, tiny town of Dinner Plain – a 15 minute drive down the road - has some hot new eateries; from the delightful, tapas-style Cilantro (its meatballs and prawns were a knockout) to Japanese restaurant Tsubo (its chocolate tart was tantalizing).

Dinner Plain also boasts an impressive new spot for massage and pampering, the Onsen Retreat And Spa.

In the three years since my first Hotham visit, life off the slopes has improved in every way.

Hotham’s best restaurants and beauty parlours are now as good as those in any major city.

But what made my week memorable was the warmth and friendliness of the people. “We pride ourselves on our service,” nods communications manager Alistair Young. Our motto is, ‘it’s all about the guest.’”

Things to Do:
Lash out on a private lesson (two hours costs $210); it can make a huge difference. Visit www.hotham.com.au/snowsports >
or call (03) 5759 4430 for further details.

Go on the Sparkling Sunset Tour ($35 per person); get taken up to the summit on a heated grooming machine and clink champagne as you watch the sunset. (Bookings can be made at Guest Services at Hotham Central or call (03) 5759 4444.)

Daredevils can try the latest trend, snowkiting – in which skiers and snowboarders hover above the snow holding a kite. (Bookings can be made at Guest Services at Hotham Central or call (03) 5759 4444.)

De-tense with a massage at White Spa on the mountain or at Onsen at Dinner Plain. (Visit www.onsen.com.au or call (03) 5150 8880 for further details.)

How to get there: Hotham is located 4.5 hours drive from Melbourne and 9 hours from Sydney. Hotham has its own airport so the glitterati can charter a flight direct into the resort. Regular folk can fly to Albury (on Qantas, Rex or Virgin), board a coach and enjoy the drive through Victoria’s north eastern “gourmet” region.

Where to stay: The Alberg has single rooms (from $815 for five nights off peak, including breakfast) to three bedroom apartments.

Family friendly options include a two bedroom apartment at the Arlberg ($1870 for five nights off peak and can sleep six) or Alpine Heights ($2285 for five nights off peak and can sleep up to eight people.)

For more info visit www.hotham.com.au

Story: Jacqui Lang

Sunday, June 22, 2008

NAPOLEON’S GRAND MAURITIUS VICTORY SHORT-LIVED


david ellis

OF all the battles he fought, Napoleon Bonaparte won only one at sea – and remarkably that was not in his own backyard in Europe, but on the other side of the world in the Indian Ocean.

And while he was not personally involved in this historic skirmish in which a small part of his navy resoundingly defeated the British, Napoleon would not have even been around at all had it not been for an ironic twist of fate: when he was a 16-year old French Artillery Officer he applied to join an expedition to the Southern Ocean led by the explorer La Perouse, but was rejected.

As history tells us, La Perouse and his entire crew perished when his ship foundered off what is now Vanuatu, while the adventurous Napoleon whom La Perouse considered unfit for his South Seas foray, went on to become one of France's greatest sons.

In the early 1800s the trade routes from the lucrative Far East to Europe were highly prized, and after grabbing what is now Mauritius from the Dutch and renaming it Ile de France, the French established a naval base at Grand Port.

In August of 1810, four British ships made a surprise raid on Grand Port, and in the absence of the local French naval squadron that was away on patrol, the British continued to fly the French flag from the local fort so as not to give away their presence to the French squadron when it returned.

When that occurred on August 20 1810 the French with their three frigates and two captured East Indiamen (trading ships,) were immediately set upon by the British.    

A bloody battle raged for two days, and while the British squadron of four ships out-gunned the French with 175 cannon to 144, the French fought a masterful fight: due to the shallow waters of the Bay neither side was able to set sail to gain a manoeuvering advantage and had to fight from their ships that rode constrained on their anchors.

The French at one stage shot away the mooring chains of two of the four British ships, setting them free to drift ashore where they were blown apart as they floundered helplessly on the sands; the remaining two were then quickly captured.

And ironically when the French commander and a British captain were injured in this historic encounter, they were taken ashore by their crews for treatment at a local clinic – and found themselves in beds side-by-side and being treated by the same doctor. That clinic is now the National History Museum in the village of Mahebourg and well worth a visit to re-trace the exact details of the Battle of Grand Port.

Napoleon's only-ever naval victory over a British fleet was received with much jubilation in Paris, and was inscribed amongst his other victories on the Arc de Triomphe.

But jubilation was short-lived: just three months later the British, still coveting Ile de France because of its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, launched another attack on the island, this time landing on its northern shores and marching overland to attack the fort at Grand Port.

Not wanting another battle, the French immediately gave up the island and Britain renamed it Mauritius; twenty-five years later they abolished slavery there, giving sugar cane planters the-then very princely sum of two-million pounds as compensation for the loss of the slaves they'd brought from Africa and Madagascar, and to enable them to employ thousands of immigrants from India to work their plantations.

Mauritius gained independence from Britain in 1968 and is now a much sought-after holiday destination for Australians and Europeans, with excellent and well-priced beach resorts, exceptional dining with French and Creole influences, wonderful shopping and colourful markets, and plenty of local cultural and historic attractions.

In May 2010 the Mauritian and French governments are planning a 200th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Grand Port and a Tall Ships Regatta, promising what will be "a very colourful event in a very colourful country."

Keenly-priced holiday opportunities to Mauritius now and for the 2010 celebrations are available through travel agents.

                                                        ………………

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

MORE peaceful fleets than in Napoleon's day ply the waters of Mauritius today.

COLOURFUL markets are a highlight of holiday shopping in Mauritius that's a popular getaway for Australians.

Photos: Mauritius Media Centre

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Windstar Cruises named 'World's Most Romantic'


Enjoy unsurpassed romance and luxury, starting at $1991 per person, twin share

Travel the World is pleased to announce that Windstar Cruises has been named 'Most Romantic Cruise Line' by Porthole Cruise Magazine. With a three-ship fleet of luxury motor yachts, Windstar transports guests to the legend and romance of some of the most sought after settings in the world, including the Greek Isles, the Caribbean and South America.

A favourite of honeymooners and couples worldwide, Windstar offers guests the kind of true peace, solitude and relaxation that only days away at sea can bring. Its intimate size and personal service make guests feel as if they're on their own private yacht. Windstar's popular 'Romance Under Sail' option is an unforgettable way to celebrate a special occasion – whether it's romantic picnics on the beach, rejuvenating spa treatments or private shore excursions for two.

"It is our honour that guests choose to celebrate their special occasions with us," said Diane Moore, President, Windstar Cruises. "Our relaxed attitude, picturesque destinations and pampering service help ensure that the romance of Windstar Cruises endures."

Being named the 'World's Most Romantic Cruise Line' is just the latest in a series of accolades for Windstar. The cruise line earned top honors in Travel + Leisure's World's 2007 Best Awards and was voted among 'The World's Best Small Ships' by Condé Nast Traveler readers in 2007. Windstar was also recognised as the best small-ship cruise vacation by readers of Celebrated Living and named 'Best Tall Ship' by Porthole Cruise Magazine in their 9th Annual Readers' Choice Awards.

Experience Windstar's award-winning product on one of its spectacular voyages aboard msy Wind Spirit, msy Wind Star and msy Wind Surf. Travel the World have fantastic last minute 2008 Europe Specials offering a variety of 7-night cruises to Monte Carlo, Rome, Barcelona, Venice, Dubrovnik, Athens and Istanbul, with savings of up to $2,389 off the brochure price. Prices start at $1991 per person twin share (taxes and fuel supplements are additional). Departures on select itineraries are available from 20 July 2008 until 31 August 2008.

Those looking to spend a little longer on their Windstar voyage can enjoy a fabulous selection of 14-night cruises onboard msy Wind Surf. With departures from 13 July 2008 to 24 August 2008, these cruises depart and sail to such romantic destinations as Rome, Monte Carlo, Venice and Barcelona. Prices start from $2,688 per person twin share (taxes and fuel supplements are additional). Guests can save up to $7,498 off the brochure price with these special fares.

Travel the World can assist you with international flights, pre- and post-cruise accommodation, transfers and other travel arrangements. For further information or to make a booking with Windstar, contact Travel the World on 1300 766 566 or visit www.traveltheworld.com.au.


Orion Kimberley Voyages Declared One of Australia's Best Travel Experiences



Orion declared one of Australia's best travel experiences in Travelling In Australia Magazine

In the recently announced Travelling In Australia 20 Best Experiences Awards, Orion Expedition Cruises' Kimberley voyages have been nominated winner of the Cruise/Sailing Experience category.

TIAM set about finding the best of the best with a panel of hard-core Austraholics (international Premier Aussie Specialists) determining the winners.

One of the international judges, Sunnie Rossi, President of Aussie Experts, FCm Bannockburn Travel Solutions, USA, summed up her nomination of Orion by saying "Discerning travellers don't want to just see a destination, they want to experience it and feel it. Orion allows passengers to explore the Northern Territory's rugged coastline and see some ancient Aboriginal rock art. They can jump in a Zodiac and touch a cascading waterfall, or relax in the ship's jacuzzi sipping fine wine in five-star luxury."

The full list of Travelling In Australia 20 Best Experiences Awards Nominees is available by visiting www.travellinginaustralia.com.au/survey

Ranked #2 expedition cruise ship in the world in the current Berlitz Cruise Guide, Orion is the world's latest purpose-built luxury expedition cruise ship, featuring an unmatched range of onboard facilities.

With 75 crew and a maximum of just 106 passengers Orion offers the highest staff to guest ratio and guest to public space ratio of any ship based in Australian waters.

Further information on all Orion Expedition Cruises to the Kimberley and Arnhem Land can be obtained by visiting the website www.orioncruises.com.au

For reservations or to obtain a brochure call Orion Expedition Cruises: 61-2 9033 8777 (Sydney callers) 1300 361 012 (regional and interstate) or your travel agent. Email: info@orioncruises.com.au

Saturday, June 14, 2008

GOING TROPPO: IT’S ALL BUBBLES, BUSH AND BILLY TEA


 
 
david ellis
 
"LOOK for the bubbles," says Col Adamson as our party of hopefuls, victims of an itinerant tropical downpour, flounders along a muddy trail beside the Broken River in Queensland's Eungella National Park.
 
We're high in the rainforest hinterland behind Mackay, most of us more interested in the umbrellas we were told to bring, but didn't because only sissies carry umbrellas. Or billy tea and damper we're promised at a dry bush camp in the Bali Hai-cloudy mountains; anything in fact to compensate for the dinner we drank the night before.
 
"There they are," says Col. "Just off that sunken tree."  We see nothing but giant raindrops pock-marking the muddied river.
 
"Now, there," says Col, enthusiastic as a child. "Closer to the shore… there, there, here he comes… come on, mate, come on!"
 
Then we see it. Our first platypus in the wild. A tiny fellow swimming straight towards us, duck-bill up curiously sensing the presence of we intruders. Aggrieved, he slips beneath the surface without a ripple. "A young one, so there's a family around," says Col, the park's Number One platypus-spotter with a 100% record on-tour.
 
The rain stops, the sun comes out, and an adult of the family surfaces, but obviously equally disgusted at our presence, she too disappears.
 
 "They'll travel quite a way underwater looking for clearer water conditions," says Col. "Always look for the bubbles they breathe out while feeding before they come to the surface."
 
We note his advice and head for the mini-coach, still ruminating on the bubbles in last night's dinner.
 
Col Adamson and wife Jenny set up Natural North Discovery Tours in Mackay in 1995, did so well they were made an offer they couldn't refuse, and stayed on with the new owners who run a broader range of tours and excursions as Reeforest Tours.
 
In his years here, Col – who chucked-in running his own transport company in NSW to escape the rat-race – has taught himself enough about the area to fill a myriad reference books.
 
Want to know Mackay's history? Col will take you back to the 1860s when, in search of new pastures, a one-time seaman named Captain John Mackay, six stockmen and two Aboriginal trackers drove two bullock teams and 1200 head of cattle hundreds of kilometres north from Armidale. They named a river that ran through the fertile valley they discovered, the Mackay.
 
And why all the sugar cane? "The cattle got water-logged in the first wet season, so the settlers tried growing maze and sugar and even coffee and tea –  only the sugar survived the wet."
 
Col turns to the subject of Eungella. "It has the most rainforest of any National
Park in Queensland," he says. "It used to get over 2.5 metres of rain a year, but that's been leaner in recent years... the bird and animal life absolutely thrives here: kingfishers, cockatoos, honeyeaters, bowerbirds, golden crowned snakes, tusked frogs, platypus, geckos."
 
And 830m up in the clouds there's the Eungella Chalet, a circa-1930 guest house that at one time did just as well as a sly-grog joint because police found it impossible to raid with only one road through the dense rainforest.
 
"And in the 1940s," Col says, "the Americans used it for R&R for officers and put in a fire escape – not in case of fire, but so the girls they brought with them could get away if they saw the Military Police coming."
 
We stop now at one of the jewels on Col's tour: a serene bush camp dubbed The Finch Hatton Hilton in the spectacularly rugged Finch Hatton Gorge. Here the ever-affable Col prepares an impossibly grand bush barbie including billy tea and damper, all the time spinning tales both tall and true.
 
Then, well sated and last night's dinner forgotten, it's time to head for the airport. As we pass a small sugar town's tiny community hall, Col says a local lady used to sing there to entertain the mill families.
 
"But to try to further her career she and her hubby had to move away.
"Her name was Nellie Melba."
 
To join Reeforest Tours' Platypus & Rainforest ECO Safari, outback tours and excursions around the Mackay area and Whitsundays, phone (07) 4959 8360 or visit www.reeforest.com
                                                          ……………
 

Thursday, June 12, 2008

SILVERSEA CRUISES' NEW EXPEDITION SHIP, PRINCE ALBERT II, SAILS UNDER TOWER BRIDGE TO START INAUGURAL VOYAGE FROM LONDON


A new era in expedition cruising began on 11 June, when Silversea Cruises' eagerly anticipated Prince Albert II sailed under London's landmark Tower Bridge to welcome her first guests aboard.

In a display of the importance of this special event, all officers and crew stood on the bow of the vessel as she glided through the opened bridge at 9:30 a.m. (local time) with crowds of onlookers cheering and welcoming them to the English capital. The ship sailed directly from the naming ceremony held in the port of Monte Carlo last week, which was presided over by her namesake, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Along with many onlookers and well-wishers, Silversea Chairman Manfredi Lefebvre and President and CEO Amerigo Perasso were both present on the pier to see the company's latest innovative venture take up her challenge to be the world's first ultra-luxury expedition ship.

"It is indeed a wonderful sight to see this morning, our Prince Albert II sailing under Tower Bridge, with all the crew proudly escorting her into London to welcome their first guests," said Lefebvre. "It is our aim that this ship will not only offer guests the highest level of comfort and service, but also enlighten them to the rarity and beauty of the most remote places on earth."

Added Perasso, "In keeping with the environmental work of our ship's namesake, we are delighted to announce that Silversea has signed an agreement to support the Prince Albert II Foundation, whose aim is to highlight and take tangible action to protect and preserve the most vulnerable inhabitants and landscapes on Earth."

Fresh from a multimillion dollar renovation, the Lloyd's Register 1A ice-rated Prince Albert II weighs just 6,072 gross tons and will accommodate a maximum of 132 guests with a 1:1.2 crew-to-guest ratio, compared to the mass-market ships weighing in at over 150,000 gross tons with up to 5,000 passengers and a crew-to-passenger ratio of 1:3. Despite her small size, the Prince Albert II boasts the largest average size accommodations of any expedition ship. All 66 ocean-view accommodations feature luxurious living space and private marble bathrooms with bathtubs. Select suites offer double private French balconies or large private verandas, and additional elite amenities including butler service.

Silversea is a provisional member of the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), dedicated to managing respectable, environmentally friendly and safe expedition cruising in the Arctic. The company has also joined the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). This important organisation promotes and practices safe and environmentally responsible travel to Antarctica. In addition, Silversea plans to voluntarily adopt and apply similar operating procedures in all other destinations where the Prince Albert II will operate.

The Prince Albert II welcomes her first guests on Thursday, June 12, as she sets sail from London at 5:00 p.m. to embark upon an Inaugural Season of voyages of 10 to 22 days focusing on polar adventures. Sailing first to the Arctic Circle, Svalbard, Iceland and Greenland for the Northern summer, the ship will then reposition to South America and Antarctica for autumn and winter voyages.

**********

For more information please contact Silversea Cruises on +61 2 9255 0600 or toll free 1300 306 872 (Australia) or 0800 701 427 (New Zealand), or visit www.silversea.com

Silversea Cruises is recognised as an innovator in the luxury segment, offering guests large-ship amenities aboard four intimate vessels, Silver Cloud, Silver Wind, Silver Shadow, and Silver Whisper, all designed to offer an atmosphere of conviviality and casual elegance. With the addition of the regal expedition ship Prince Albert II in 2008, the company's itineraries encompass all seven continents. Silversea has for the past four consecutive years been named Best Cruise Line by readers of Australia's Luxury Travel and Style magazine. For nine consecutive years, Silversea has been named "Number One Small Ship Line" in the Readers' Choice survey conducted by Condé Nast Traveler magazine in the USA and in 2007 was the only cruise line named in the UK edition of Condé Nast Traveller's "Top 100 Luxury Travel Experiences" at the same time topping the Small Cruise Line award for the eighth time. Silversea has been selected as "World's Best Small Ship Line" in the US Travel + Leisure readers' poll for the past eight years.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

HIGHLAND FLING OF GARDENS, GALLERIES AND GOURMET DINING



john rozentals and david ellis

photos: sandra burn white



NEW SOUTH WALES’ Southern Highlands – just ninety minutes from Sydney have come a long way since their initial fame in the mid- to late-19th century centred on their coal mines, iron foundries, brick kilns and dairies that supplied “the big smoke.”

And in later-times, the author of Mary Poppins who created one of Hollywood’s most-magical characters from her home here in Bowral… and Australia’s first history-making ensuited motel.

Today the mines, the kilns, the dairies are something of history, Mary Poppins has become a household name, every motel has an ensuite, and the Highlands are now a year-round playground for Sydney-siders, Canberrans, South Coasters and overseas visitors drawn by their lush very-English gardens, flower festivals, quaint tearooms and cafés, fine restaurants and bounteous antique shops.

And for outdoors types, the spectacular Fitzroy Falls and Morton National Park; and whether you’re a sports fan or not there’s the region’s most famous citadel all, Bowral’s (Sir Donald) Bradman Museum and Oval.

Garden buffs home-in on Milton Park that was owned from 1910 to 1960 by the Anthony Hordern family of Sydney retailing fame.

Originally established along Edwardian formal and geometric lines, the magnificent gardens at the front of the mansion were gradually expanded to include a series of terraces, pools and spectacular garden beds amid the property’s many fine old trees.

After buying the property in 1910, Anthony Hordern renamed it after the South Coast town of Milton, which had been established by his grandfather John Booth.

It’s easy to spend an hour or two wandering these gardens, taking photos and discovering delights such as the three oldest weeping beeches in Australia and the oldest variegated tulip tree in the southern hemisphere.

These days, Milton Park is run as a guesthouse and spa resort and offers fine dining in Horderns Restaurant, where new executive chef Joel Bickford is doing wonders with local produce, including Li-Sun mushrooms from a disused railway tunnel now used by microbiologist Noel Arrold to produce a range of these exotic delights.

Accompanying perfectly seared aged, grain-fed beef at Horderns Restaurant, “tunnel mushrooms” provide a veritable explosion of earthy flavours.

A drive to Horderns for lunch, a stroll around Milton Park, and a diversion to Fitzroy Falls, comes highly recommended as a daytrip for those living in or visiting Sydney, Wollongong or Canberra.

And if you’re staying, many of Milton Park’s large, well equipped rooms open out on to the gardens, and there’s a heated pool, complimentary use of the spa pavilion (treatments are extra), tennis, and the opportunity for pre-dinner drinks and a game of snooker on the full-size table in the magnificently decorated bar.

Li-Sun mushrooms also feature on the menus here, and are part of an expanding list of Southern Highlands produce gaining international renown — including farmed barramundi, raspberries, pork, beef, honey, cheese and wine.

The wine industry is growing particularly quickly, with a bevy of small wineries being led by a couple of larger producers such as Centennial Vineyards and Southern Highlands Wines, who revel in their cool climate that’s ideal for fine wines; their proximity to Sydney, the South Coast and Canberra draws many visitors from these places to their cellar-doors and restaurants.

We enjoyed an excellent lunch at Centennial, beside an open fire and with sweeping views of the vineyards and countryside.

And if you’re interested in a round or two of golf, consider a couple of nights at Links House, just across the road from the Bowral Golf Club: purpose-built in 1928 for golfing enthusiasts, it offers very comfortable motel-style accommodation... and made history as the first motel in Australia to offer ensuite facilities.

Its present owner-managers take great pride in the lush gardens, sheltered courtyards and the cosy lounge and library areas.

The motel’s Vida Restaurant again features Noel Arrold’s mushrooms, with chef Phillip Whitton using them in his signature dish — Duck Confit with Tunnel-Mushroom Terrine, with Pomegranate and Pinot Noir Glaze.

If you’re interested in enjoying these indulgences and the many delightful indoor/outdoor cafés, antique shops and galleries throughout this popular Southern Highlands region, contact:

  • Milton Park: 02 4861 1522; www.milton-park.com.au
  • Links House: 02 4861 1977; www.linkshouse.com.au
  • Centennial Vineyards: 02 4861 8700; www.centennial.net.au
  • Tourism Southern Highlands: 1300 657 559; www.southern-highlands.com.au

………………

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

MILTON Park Gardens – a spectacular horticultural explosion of old and new for garden buffs

DELIGHTFUL outlook over the vineyards from the all-weather verandah of multi-award winning Centennial Vineyards

BREKKIE with a view: Links House dates back to the 1920s.

(Photos: Sandra Burn White)

Story Bridge Climb: A 10th birthday to remember

By Adrienne Costin

“Those people down there look like munchkins!” exclaimed my excited daughter as she looked down on couple walking through the park below while she climbed up the stairs in the first span of Brisbane’s Story Bridge.

I knew then that my 140cm “Wizard of Oz” fan was now quite comfortable with the thought that she was climbing to the top of the bridge she had only previously driven over or played under. A few minutes earlier, she, and her friend Emma who is a similar height, had been unusually quiet as they concentrated on guiding their harness ropes up the safety wire on the side of the steps leading to the 80m summit of the bridge.

Sammie is the wild child of my mob – the one who is crazy about animals, always likes to do her own thing and on the lookout for adventure. When asked if she’d like to do a Story Bridge Adventure Climb for her 10th birthday the day couldn’t come soon enough. Even more thrilling was the fact that the climb operators had recently dropped the minimum age of climbers from 12 years to 10, so she and Emma could boast about being some of the first 10-year-olds to climb the Brisbane landmark.

Even more poignant than sharing this special occasion with Sammie, was the thought that some of the people who built the bridge were probably only a few years older than her and they certainly handn’t had the benefit of a guide, special climbing suits and jackets to keep out the wind and rain, headsets for communication and safety harnesses.

The climb leaders are a collection of extra-ordinary people who spend their days hosting people like us up and over the bridge, all the while supplying an entertaining commentary on Brisbane and the Bridge and making sure the safety rules of the climb are followed at all times. It is they who check you don’t have any objects stashed away on your person that may fall on the cars below, who breathtest you before the climb, who show you how to put on all the gear from the suits through to the harness, two way radios and headphones and then take photos of you while on the climb.

Everything is catered for – even people with runny noses can rest assured they won’t have to endure embarrassing drips because handkerchiefs with elastic arm bands are provided, along with other items like hair scrunchies (you have to until your hair it is has been pulled back), lanyards for glasses and so on. Even the wind jackets which can be put on over the climb suit are clipped in a bag hanging from your waist. Just unzip, pull it on and again, it’s even attached within the bag so there is no chance to wind will take it from you.

This was an evening climb – 4.20pm on a weeknight evening in Autumn, so we saw the sun go down and the moon and stars come up. The lights of the city came on, the traffic grew heavier and the magic of the experience continued to grow as time went on. There’s something quite lovely about being away from the hustle and bustle, about seeing it all from on high. The climbs were leaving at 20 minutes intervals this day so we were able to wave at other groups on different stages of their climb, all of whom seemed suitably awed by the beauty of the evening and the experience. Incredibly the very windy day had also transformed into a relatively peaceful night with only a gentle breeze caressing us.

Beau, our lanky leader, who later admitted we had been his first unsupervised climb, was great company, was not at all phased by the fact there were two little ones in the group. In fact he seemed to like the fact that his every word was being hung onto like the rail on the side of the stairs.

He happily chatted throughout the climb, admitting early on that as an engineering student he found the whole concept of the bridge and its construction amazing. He was keen to answer questions and happy to share a string of very corny jokes with us climbers.

As we cleared the top of the bridge once more and began our descent both girls groaned a little about their adventure ending but agreed it had been really ‘cool’ and maybe they were getting a little tired from all the excitement – after all it was a school night and nearing bed time!

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It takes around 2.5 hours for each climb and this includes pre-climb briefings, suiting up, the climb which goes up and over the first arch of the bridge then down into the centre of the structure where you pass over to the other side and climb back over the arch of the other side of the bridge.

Climb costs from July 1 for children (10-16 years) start at $75.65 for day climbs and night climbs from Monday to Friday, $84.15 for Saturday and Sunday night climbs and Monday to Thursday twilight climbs. Adult only prices apply for Friday-Sunday twilight climbs ($130). Family rates are $288 for a maximum of four people including one or two adults. All children must be a mimimum of 130cm tall and must be accompanied by an adult. If climbing in groups, then every three children must be accompanied by at least one adult.

All climbers receive a Climb certificate and a Return Climbers Pass enabling them to climb for free for a period of 12 months when they book again with 2 full paying climbers.

For more information and bookings visit www.storybridgeadventureclimb.com.au or call 1300 254 627.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Fiji Deal extended


Captain Cook Cruises has extended it 'partners can cruise at half price' deal for all Fijian cruise bookings until June 30th. The deal is still valid for travel until March 31st 2009.

Passengers will discover the pristine beaches, turquoise waters and remote villages of the 'real' Fiji on these Yasawa Island cruises.

Offering a truly cultural experience, guests will visit unspoilt Fijian villages and handicraft markets, experience a traditional village sevusevu ceremony and Meke and Lovo feast, tour a village school, visit a village church and even experience the beautiful sounds of the children's choir singing.

As well as being immersed in Fijian culture there is plenty of time for relaxation and appreciating the beautiful marine life. Snorkell over amazing coral reefs, laze on warm white sandy beaches, bask in crystal clear waters or dive in spectacular blue lagoons. Passengers can even take a glass bottom boat ride to witness the abundance of marine life that thrives on Fiji's coral reefs.

The three-night Southern Yasawa Cruise departs Denarau on Saturday afternoons at 2.00pm and guests will discover the beauty of the Southern Yasawa Island group including the islands of Waya, Naviti and Viwa and the friendly warmth of its people. Prices start at $1175 twin share for the first person and from $588 twin share for the second person.

The four-night Northern Yasawa Cruise departs Denarau on Tuesday afternoons at 2.00pm. Guests will visit the private island of Tivua and cruise the spectacular passage from Yaqeta Island to the Yasawas northern reaches. Prices start at $1567 twin share for the first person and from $784 twin share for the second person.

The seven-night Yasawa Islands Cruise combines the three and the four night cruises for the ultimate Fijian Yasawa Islands experience. Prices start at $2604 twin share for the first person and from $1302 twin share for the second person.

To receive this deal all Fijian cruises must be booked before June 30th and are valid for travel until March 31st, 2009.


SILVERSEA'S NEW EXPEDITION SHIP IS DEDICATED BY HSH PRINCE ALBERT II IN MONACO

In the heart of Monte Carlo's harbour this morning, the expedition ship Prince Albert II officially joined the Silversea fleet during a naming ceremony conducted by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco. As in the time-honoured tradition, the dedication included a blessing of the ship by H.E. Monsignor Fabrice Gallo, Prelate of the Pope of Rome.

Guests listened attentively to speeches and then raised their glasses in a toast when the red and white ribbon (representing the heraldic colors of the Grimaldi family) was cut by HSH Prince Albert II, marking the launch of a new era in expedition cruising -- one that will offer authentic and respectful adventures from a base of easy-going luxury.

"This is a very exciting and proud day for Silversea," said Manfredi Lefebvre, chairman of Silversea. "We are extremely honored that His Serene Highness Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco, has personally dedicated the ship that will bear his name. May her many journeys of discovery always honor His Serene Highness through a commitment to responsible travel."

Added Silversea President and CEO, Amerigo Perasso, "It is indeed a great privilege that His Serene Highness is here with us today and is the namesake of our new ship. In keeping with his legacy of exploration and environmental conservation, it is our hope that by educating and connecting people with distant cultures and wildlife, the Prince Albert II can open eyes and foster respect and greater care for our planet and its inhabitants."

Fresh from a multimillion dollar renovation, the Prince Albert II boasts the largest average size accommodations of any expedition ship. An unmatched selection of 20 premium suites has been created especially for the discriminating traveller with 350 to 675 square feet of luxurious living space, double private French balconies or large private verandas, and additional elite amenities including butler service. All 66 ocean-view accommodations are tastefully appointed and have private marble bathrooms with bathtubs.

The Prince Albert II welcomes her first guests on June 12 as she sets sail from London on an Inaugural Season of voyages of 10 to 22 days focusing on polar adventures. Sailing first to the Arctic Circle, Svalbard, Iceland and Greenland for the Northern summer, the ship will then reposition to South America and Antarctica for autumn and winter voyages.

From mid-August to November, the Prince Albert II will journey from the east coast of North America through the Panama Canal to Los Angeles before heading south to Antarctica. Along this special repositioning route are opportunities to explore the Sea of Cortez (with an optional overnight excursion to Copper Canyon), the Chilean fjords, Falklands and South Georgia Island. Pricing starts at US$3,867, per person, double occupancy, and includes most shore excursions as well as Silversea's signature all-inclusive amenities.

For most of 2009, Prince Albert II will be positioned in Tahiti offering a series of non-traditional itineraries exploring the idyllic lagoons and coral atolls of French Polynesia, including the southernmost Austral Islands, the sprawling Tuamotu Archipelago and the northernmost Marquesas Islands. The ship will spend the balance of the year in South America and Antarctica.

Silversea is a provisional member of the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), dedicated to managing respectable, environmentally friendly and safe expedition cruising in the Arctic. The company has also joined the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). This important organisation promotes and practices safe and environmentally responsible travel to Antarctica. In addition, Silversea plans to voluntarily adopt and apply similar operating procedures in all other destinations where the Prince Albert II will operate.

For more information please contact Silversea Cruises on +61 2 9255 0600 or toll free 1300 306 872 (Australia) or 0800 701 427 (New Zealand), or visit www.silversea.com


Silversea Cruises is recognised as an innovator in the luxury segment, offering guests large-ship amenities aboard four intimate vessels, Silver Cloud, Silver Wind, Silver Shadow, and Silver Whisper, all designed to offer an atmosphere of conviviality and casual elegance. With the addition of the regal expedition ship Prince Albert II in 2008, the company's itineraries encompass all seven continents. Silversea has for the past four consecutive years been named Best Cruise Line by readers of Australia's Luxury Travel and Style magazine. For nine consecutive years, Silversea has been named "Number One Small Ship Line" in the Readers' Choice survey conducted by Condé Nast Traveler magazine in the USA and in 2007 was the only cruise line named in the UK edition of Condé Nast Traveller's "Top 100 Luxury Travel Experiences" at the same time topping the Small Cruise Line award for the eighth time. Silversea has been selected as "World's Best Small Ship Line" in the US Travel + Leisure readers' poll for the past eight years.

Monday, June 2, 2008

LUXURY TAHITI CRUISE ESCAPE LIKE NO OTHER


With sixteen crew to look after just twenty-four guests, mega motor-cruiser Haumana offers something totally unique in calm-water cruising on the spectacular Rangiroa Lagoon in Tahiti’s Tuamotu Archipelago.

Three-, four- and seven-day cruises are available on Haumana, whose Polynesian crew lead guests on a variety of daily activities that can range from beach and bush walks to village tours, kayaking, snorkelling, and game and handline fishing with a live-aboard fishing guide.

There’s even a unique French-style picnic one day of each cruise, with tables and chairs set in the water under a thatched grass sun-shelter at an uninhabited island.

And back aboard ship, crew welcome returning guests from each day’s activities with songs and guitars, while complimentary wines are offered with exceptional French and Polynesian dishes created from fresh-caught fish, lobsters and island-fresh fruits and vegetables.

For prices of 3-, 4- and 7-night cruises and fly, cruise and stay packages, see travel agents; information about Haumana’s cruises is available on www.tahiti-haumana-cruises.com
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