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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cruise West to Antarctica


Seattle, WA - Continuing to add exciting new destinations to its global offerings, exploration cruise line Cruise West (http://www.cruisewest.com) is pleased to announce that it is adding an exclusive, 19-night Antarctica expedition to its product line-up for 2010.

On board the 114-guest, all-suite Corinthian II, a very select group of guests will have the opportunity to explore the very best that the most remote continent on earth has to offer. Ports of calls and sites include the Falkland, South Georgia and Orkney Islands as well as the Antarctic Peninsula and the myriad of islands that dot its shore.

"Cruise West is making a conscientious effort to keep itinerary offerings fresh and intriguing," said President and CEO Dietmar R. Wertanzl. "We are seeking out destinations that complement our core products, create excitement for repeat guests and appeal to new guests - so introducing Antarctica was a natural progression. The Corinthian II is a sister ship to our Spirit of Oceanus, so we know our repeat guests will feel right at home."

Diversity - in cultures, landscape and temperatures - will be one of the hallmarks of this maiden voyage as guests begin their adventure in luxury at the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Hotel in Buenos Aires before departing for the quaint, southernmost city in South America, Ushuaia.

After boarding the Corinthian II, guests will gain fascinating insight on the flora, fauna, history and geology via presentations by an expert staff of eight naturalists. In the tradition of Cruise West's up-close, casual and personal style, guests will have extraordinary opportunities to view Rockhopper penguins in the remote British outpost of the Falkland Islands; thousands of King penguins and nesting grounds of wandering albatross in South Georgia, while simultaneously admiring the water-loving larger species of whales, fur seals, elephant seals and the icebergs and glaciers that surround them.

Antarctica, owned by no country but managed under a 46-country scientific treaty, is the fifth largest continent on the planet while remaining the least populated. Its exotic remoteness combined with legendary stories of exploration and adventure spur on the fantasies of armchair travelers and documentary-watchers all over the globe; for 114 Cruise West guests, the fantasy has now become an attainable reality.

Cruise West's 19-night maiden voyage to Antarctica will depart February 7, 2010. Prices start at $13,899 (US dollars); save $1,000/person, based on double occupancy, by booking and paying in full by May 1, 2009.

To learn more about this itinerary or other Cruise West voyages, consumers are encouraged to attend one of the company's online live presentations - Visit http://www.cruisewest.com/presentations to view the schedule.

More information about advance reservations for this itinerary - as well as Cruise West's other itineraries to destinations as diverse as Alaska, Panama and Costa Rica, Mexico's Sea of Cortes, Japan, Vietnam, the Galapagos, the Pacific Northwest or the romantic rivers of Europe - can be found online at www.cruisewest.com, by calling 1-800-296-8307 or contact a Travel Professional.

www.cruisewest.com

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cruise The Ring Of Fire

Kamchatka And Beyond

Including the Kamchatka Peninsula, Kuril and Commander Islands

Book before 30 April 2009 and receive US$1,000 discount off your selected option!



Cruise these little known and seldom visited regions on board the polar class passenger vessel Spirit of Enderby. Cruise accompanied by a world-class team of biologists and historians ensuring an experience of a lifetime. Limited to 50 passengers.

CRUISE ONLY:

10-21 July 20009

Priced from US$5,436

Airport and hotel transfers is Russia - One night's accommodation/meals prior to the cruise - 10 Night cruise - Free Russian Visa invitation letter (required for obtaining visa).

ESCORTED TOUR OPTION:

9-22 July 2009

Priced from US$8,367
Ex Seoul (South Korea)

Return flights to/from Seoul & Petropavlovsk - Two night's accommodation/meals prior to cruise (Additional cost if flight schedule requires additional nights) - 10 nights cruise - One night’s accommodation/meals after the cruise - Airport/hotel transfers in Seoul and Russia - Free Russian Visa invitation letter (required for obtaining visa) - Services of Russian/English speaking escort.

ESCORTED TOUR AND CRUISE:

7-24 July 2009

Priced from US$10,997. Includes additional days in Vladivostok and Kamchatka Regions - Fully escorted.

Return flights to/from Seoul & Petropavlovsk - 7 nights pre and post cruise accommodation - 10 nights cruise - All meals except 5 dinners and 5 lunches - Airport/hotel transfers in Seoul and Russia - All admissions as per final itinerary - Free Russian Visa Invitation letter (required for obtaining visa).

*All prices are twin share per person in US$ and subject to change without notice.

Contact our Expedition Cruise Experts on 1800 222 141 for complete details, itinerary and bookings.

Adventure Associates

Monday, February 23, 2009

Coral Princess Increases PNG Departures in 2009


It might be our closest neighbour, but Papua New Guinea hasn’t really registered on travellers’ radars up to now. But Coral Princess Cruises’ expedition-style cruises have proven so popular, the company has increased the number of its departures for 2009, exploring further and deeper into one of the world’s least developed regions than any other operator.

Papua New Guinea is still largely unexplored: there are vast expanses of thick tropical jungle nurturing over 3,000 kinds of orchids and its surrounding waters support unparalleled bio-diversity - its reefs are a magnet for SCUBA divers from around the globe.

The 10-night Rabaul to Port Moresby cruise aboard Coral Princess’s purpose-built luxury expedition vessel, Oceanic Discoverer, immerses passengers in the gorgeous scenery that ranges from pristine coral atolls to volcanic mountains and dense tropical rainforest. Passengers also meet many of the local tribespeople: PNG is one of the world’s most culturally diverse nations, with over 1000 recognised cultures.

Accommodating a maximum of just 72 passengers, Oceanic Discoverer visits the spectacular Trobriand Islands and retraces the World War II history of Madang and Alotau, where Australian forces fought off the Japanese offensive during World War II. No other vessel sails as far down the Sepik River, taking passengers to the Middle Sepik region, renowned for its bird watching and the unique art and artefacts of the local villages.

The Oceanic Discoverer’s purpose-built excursion vessel, Xplorer; glass bottom coral viewer and fleet of inflatable Zodiacs allow passengers to intimately explore the reefs and remote islands, where flotillas of canoes full of welcoming locals greet the ship’s arrival.

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.

The Oceanic Discoverer is designed to provide all the comfort and facilities of larger cruise ships, yet is small enough to enable access to remote and pristine sites inaccessible to other vessels. On board facilities include a large sundeck and spa pool, reference library, lecture lounge, two cocktail bars, a boutique and dive shop.

There are three Papua New Guinea itineraries, with eight departures in 2009/10. Prices for the 10-night Rabaul to Port Moresby and the 10-night Alotau to Rabaul cruises start at
$7750 per person twin share in a Main Deck B stateroom for the November, 2009 departures. Subsequent 2010 departures start at $8250.

There is also a 12-night cruise from Cairns to Rabaul, departing in November, 2009 and November, 2010, costing from $8,150 per person twin share.

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

Blue Lagoon Cruises: Fiji Time Machine

From Today's Cruise Weekly

Everybody knows Fiji as the epitome of the romantic tropical getaway. But cloistered inside the sanitised confines of a premium Denarau Island hotel or resort, what are you going to see of the real Fiji?

Long associated with genuine Fiji island cruising, Blue Lagoon Cruises operates two 4-star and one 3-star vessel on 6-, 3- and 2-night itineraries throughout the Yasawa Islands and, with the 'Historical and Cultural Cruise', beyond to the far northeastern reaches and dateline.

Those wishing to indulge their hedonistic urges can opt for the Yasawa Island cruises, but for those wishing to truly explore and discover, the 6-night, tri-annual 'Historical and Cultural Cruise' is for you.

Aboard the French-built, 60m catamaran 'Fiji Princess', up to 72 passengers cruise comfortably to infrequently visited ports and islands like Levuka, the 19th Century colonial capital and wild Rabi (pron. Ram-be) past Vanua Levu where resettled Micronesians from Kiribati and Banaba still cling to traditional language and customs. The schoolchildren enthrall visitors with energetic dancing and song.

Besides school and village visits, there is plenty of time for swimming and snorkelling among the gorgeous reefs and SCUBA diving can be arranged on day six at Nanuya Lailai during the layover. Guests may fish from the vessel at any time and DVDs play around the clock to in-cabin flat screen TVs.

The 13 sqm cabins are not large and it's definately one at a time in the ensuite bathroom. Food is hearty and plentiful with daily variation, but you won't find any Michelin stars on board. There are no cabin phones or onboard Internet, but mobile reception is available most of the cruise for those who must stay in contact. But to fully enjoy the relaxing Fijian experience, learn to turn it off.

While slightly behind international standards of 'luxury', the Fiji Princess has spacious public areas with plenty of 'air'. While there are wall maps and bridge visits, a small library with reference books would be a nice addition.

Staff are attentive and friendly in true Fijian style, but be aware the word 'urgent' does not translate in the local culture. Be calm and patient and your request will be addressed.

Founded in 1950 by Trevor Withers, a young, starry-eyed New Zealander, Blue Lagoon Cruises grew to become the defacto national cruise line of Fiji. Initially planned as a tuna fishing enterprise, the potential for tourist and passenger transport soon overtook the failing fish business. Withers had fallen in love with the Fiji Islands, particularly the idyllic Yasawa Group to the North West of Viti Levu, and felt sure he could persuade well-healed Americans to soak up the sun and surroundings.

The first vessel was an ex-military fast launch converted to carry just six passengers with a second vessel acquired in anticipation of more business.

It wasn't until the mid-1960s that Blue Lagoon Cruises hit its straps and in 1966 BLC was sold to Claude Millar, a fellow New Zealander who further expanded the fleet with the sturdy and robust Fairmile Class ex-naval 34m motor launches. Millar added more vessels during the 1970s, replacing the aging Fairmiles.

Upon retirement in 1978, Millar sold out to David Wilson who continued to grow the company with the introduction of Princess-class vessels. In 1996, the sleek 188ft Mystique Princess joined the fleet, creating a whole new level of opulence. In 2001, BLC became a majority Fijian-owned company and supports the remote Yasawa Island communities through development funds and capital works.

Prices for the 6-night/7-day 'Historical and Cultural Cruise' start at $7,774.80 per cabin (2 persons) but at time of writing early booking incentives were offered. Check with your agent.

Web: www.bluelagooncruises.com

Sunday, February 22, 2009

American Safari Cruises to operate under new company with former CEO Dan Blanchard


American Safari Cruises former CEO Dan Blanchard, who headed the company from 2001 to October 2008, has formed a new company, InnerSea Discoveries, which purchased the assets of American Safari Cruises and will operate the ASC brand beginning with the 2009 Alaska season. Based at historic Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle, the new parent company plans to add several new brands to complement the American Safari yacht cruising experience of up-close, interactive exploration of the routes less traveled.

The InnerSea Discoveries executive team of Blanchard and Tim Jacox, executive vice president of sales and marketing, has a combined 60 years of experience in yacht and small-ship cruising. “Tim and I are extremely excited to be back at the helm of a product we love and to build on the strong name of American Safari Cruises,” Blanchard says. “Showcasing nature up-close has been our true passion for decades, and we are looking toward new opportunities for bringing people closer to nature in small-group comfort.”

To ease agent and consumer anxiety in the current economic climate, InnerSea Discoveries is voluntarily placing client payments into a secure acoount. “We believe this to be a sound business practice for our new company model,” Blanchard says. “This is our own decision — we are not required to do this by any regulatory agency.”

Under ASC’s “Alaska – Even More Beautiful At 50″ promotion, travel agents who book an Alaska cruise before April 15 will save their clients $500 per person, receive their normal commission plus a $50 thank you, and will be entered in a late-April drawing for a free Alaska cruise.

For the fall 2009 season, the company is introducing new nine-day, eight-night one-way cruises along the Columbia and Snake rivers on its flagship Safari Explorer; details will be announced in late February.

InnerSea Discoveries will continue to provide cruises that focus on natural history and environmental education, all within the framework of luxury cruising. They are retaining the elements that led to ASC’s unique reputation – an inclusive experience onboard yachts carrying from 12 to 36 guests; the choice to book private charters or individual staterooms; a two-to-one passenger-crew ratio; professional expedition leaders with specific backgrounds in the cruise route; an enthusiastic all-American crew; an unstructured schedule where the captain follows the wildlife; and itineraries that avoid tourist-clogged towns in pursuit of up-close encounters with nature.

Kayaking, hiking and shore boat excursions remain a top priority, and guests enjoy fine cuisine prepared with fresh, local ingredients and a complimentary bar stocked with premium spirits, wines and microbrews. In 2007, ASC was named one of the world’s top five luxury small-ship/specialty cruise lines by the Virtuoso luxury travel consortium.

ASC’s Alaska itineraries maximize whale encounters, bear viewing, glacier visits and exclusive explorations such as an unprecedented two days exploring spectacular Glacier Bay National Park with an onboard park ranger. Yacht sizes range from the elegant 105-foot, 12-guest Safari Spirit to the 145-foot, 36-guest Safari Explorer. The 2009 Alaska Inside Passage season runs May 2 to Sept. 11; prices begin at $4,495 per person double occupancy.

The yachts are available for private charter for family or business and incentive travel. To secure charter space, early confirmation is highly encouraged. For information: 888/862-8881 or www.amsafari.com.

TIM’S PERCHED, READY TO LURE THE BIG ONES

david ellis

WHEN angler Tim Baily says he keeps "a few small fry for the plate," we have to wonder at the size of his plate.

Because to Tim, "small fry" are anything up to seven kilograms (which, if you've still not come to grips with metrics, is around 15 pounds or so.)

But then Tim is not your average angler: when he takes people fishing, they come home talking about catching fish almost as big as a grown man, and of total "bags" that at the end of the week can be measured not just by the tens, but by the hundreds of kilograms.

And they're happy to confine their bragging rights back home to photographs, because Tim is a catch-and-release man – except for those 7kg "small fry for the plate" for he and fellow anglers.

Tim Baily as you've probably already appreciated is not your average angler. He was running a UK tour operation specialising in travel to Egypt when, fifteen years ago, he talked the Egyptian Government into giving him the first licence to operate game-fishing safaris on the man-made Lake Nasser.

What started off with Tim, a couple of fishing boats, a few local Nubian staff and a lot of patience waiting for anglers to be convinced of the thrill of going after monstrous Nile Perch and fighting Catfish and Tiger Fish (that are a relative of South America's Piranha,) is now so successful its been emulated by others.

Tim calls his venture The African Angler and the ink seldom dries in his record books: the current "official" record is a whopping 104kg (230-pounds) Nile Perch – although a retired Indian tea planter on one of his safaris hooked another brute that broke the scales as the needle passed the 113kg (250-pounds) mark, and so could not be officially recognised.

And such catches are not just the domain of the blokes: a diminutive five-foot-nothing (1.55-metre) Scottish lady was trolling out the back of one of Tim's boats in the late 1990s when the boat shuddered to a near halt as, in her  words, "my line felt like it had hit a concrete block."

After a thirty minute battle she was pulling a Nile Perch alongside, but she, her fishing companion and their onboard guide couldn't haul it aboard. In the end they jumped into the chest-deep water and manhandled the fish ashore where it took two men to lift onto the scales.

It weighed 90kg (200-pounds) and was just under 2m (6ft 6-inches) in length. After giving it a pat on the back, they push it back into Lake Nasser and watched it swim off into the sunset.

Tim Baily's clients mostly hail from the UK, USA and Europe, but ten per cent come from Australia, and the number is increasing.

And some fifty per cent of clients are repeat visitors, which is probably little wonder with the size of Nile Perch catches and the fighting qualities of the Catfish and Tiger Fish to be had in the lake, that was created in the 1960s when the Nile was dammed at Aswan.

This flooded an area of over 6200 square kilometres and today catches of 40, 50 or even 60 kilo Nile Perch are regular events on Tim's safaris, while 10 to 20kg beauties are pretty much par for the course – like those 7kg "small fry."

Tim has five "mother ships" that provide dining areas, showers for anglers and accommodation for staff, while fishing is done from a fleet of ten 9-metre sleep-aboard fishing boats that take anglers out for the day with a guide-cum-driver.

And there's no lack of the good life throughout 6-day fishing safaris: chefs create bountiful meals that are a mix of Western and local Nubian – the latter including such dishes as Tajine, a popular casserole of lamb, beef, fish or quail that's slow-cooked with vegetables and spices until the meat falls of the bone.

Hearty cooked breakfasts start the day and picnic lunches are provided while fishing; prices for a 6-day fishing safari start from $2195pp including all meals and fishing tackle (although many anglers prefer to take their own.) Air is extra.

Details from The African Angler's Australian office on (02) 9966 9316, peter@african-angler.net or check-out www.african-angler.co.uk    
                                                            ……………..

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] IT'S catch and release with The African Angler, so bragging rights are with photographs only.

[] "I PAID a lot for that lure – it's got to be in here somewhere."

[] "WOW Mum, wait till I tell Dad about this!!!"

(Photographs: The African Angler)

 

Clelia II: A New Ship for Antarctica


Clelia II
(100 Passengers)

To be re-launched early in 2009 (constructed 1991) for Antarctica expeditions, the all-suite luxury ship Clelia II was extensively refurbished, redecorated and otherwise improved to offer the finest in small-ship cruise travel. This private, yacht-like, ice-strengthened expedition ship accommodates only 100 guests in 50 suites. Each suite provides ocean views, measures 215 square feet or more, and includes a sitting area or separate living room, twin or queen-size beds, spacious closets, air conditioning.

Amenities

Decorated with rich fabrics, handsome wood, polished brass, rare antiquities and fine works of art, the yacht’s public spaces are warm and inviting. These include:

• Library with Internet access
• 2 Lounges with audiovisual facilities
• State-of-the-art gym/spa
• Beauty salon
• Boutique
• Hospital
• Elevator serving all passenger decks
• Dining room
• Two sun decks
• Jacuzzi
• Swimming platform

Clelia II complies with the latest international and U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations and is outfitted with the most current navigational and communications technology as well as with retractable fin stabilizers for smooth sailing, an ice-strengthened hull and a fleet of Zodiacs. Clelia II is staffed by 60 European officers and crew. Taken together with her limited guest capacity, excellence of design, craftsmanship and material, Clelia II's spaciousness and intimate ambience combine to make her ideal for distinctive cultural and expedition voyages.

Specifications:

Length: 290 ft
Beam: 50 ft
Draft: 12 ft
Gross Tonnage: 4200

The Clelia II will be operated by Polar Cruises of Oregon, USA and can be booked in Australia by Cruise Traveller.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cruise ship carrying 105 runs aground in Antarctica. All safe, ship appears undamaged.


MORE than 100 people on a cruise ship that ran aground off Antarctica have been transferred to another ship.

Ship operator Quark Expeditions said the 106 people from the Bahamian-flagged Ocean Nova were now sailing on another ship operated by the Clipper Adventurer company.

Seven Australians were among the 65 passengers, 30 crew and 11 expedition staff on the Ocean Nova, which ran aground on Tuesday.

The Clipper Adventurer will return to Ushuaia, Argentina's southernmost city and the original jumping-off point for the 15-day voyage exploring the polar circle.

The Ocean Nova ran aground amid high winds and was unable to break free during the rising evening tide as officials had hoped.

Quark Expeditions said continuing high winds thwarted the attempt to dislodge the ship on Wednesday.

But several hours after the passengers were rescued, the late evening tide lifted the Ocean Nova away from the rocky shore.

An inspection by divers showed no damage or leaking, and the operator said the ship would host a separate 20-day expedition of the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands beginning on February 22.

The company, based in the US state of Connecticut, said the ship had been on a two-week cruise costing up to $US18,290 ($A28,618).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Orion expeditions to Sub-Antarctic islands

Immerse yourself in some of our planet's most extraordinary biodiversity. 

Protected by the Southern Ocean, secluded and seldom visited, the Australian and New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands, recognized by UNESCO as one of the worlds' precious regions of unique biodiversity, will be visited by the expedition cruise ship Orion in December, 2009.

Today these remote nature reserves enjoy World Heritage status, recognised for their volcanic and glacial geological formations and extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna - much of which endangered or recovering since being discovered and later plundered in the late 1700's and early 1800's by sealers and whalers.

Home to over half of the world's seabirds, some of which exist nowhere else, this wildlife paradise contains 40% of the world's albatross species and 50% of the world's penguin species including the endangered yellow-eyed penguin, plus hundreds of thousands of other endemic birds - petrels, prions and cormorants. 

The expedition team will include the highly respected British zoologist and naturalist Dr John Sparks, who travelled to Antarctica onboard Orion in 2006.  

At Snares there is every expectation guests will see Sooty Shearwaters, the endemic Snares Crested Penguins, Snares Fernbird and Tomtits.  On Enderby Island expect to see pipits, parakeets and plovers, Hooker's Sea Lions, and perhaps even the Auckland Island Flightless Teal and Sub-Antarctic Snipe. Campbell Island, home to the Southern Royal Albatrosses, has the highest diversity of breeding albatrosses of any island in the world. 

And then there are plant species that have to be seen to be believed, including 5 meter high tree daisies on Snares, giants compared to their relatives in more temperate climates. 

With convenient embarkation in Bluff (Invercargill, New Zealand) or Hobart, Orion will head south to visit (depending on voyage) Macquarie, Campbell, Stewart, Snares and Auckland islands as well as spending time exploring New Zealand's beautiful Fjordlands (including Milford and Doubtful Sounds).  

These two expeditions to the Sub-Antarctic islands are designed for nature lovers and photographers alike. The remnants of the old whaling station on Macquarie Island, the high cliffs and numerous caves and arches formed by marine erosion on Campbell Island and the enormous sea stacks on the southern peninsulas of Snares present dramatic contrast to the prolific bird life, penguins, seals, sea lions and flora in this remote sanctuary. 
……………………………………………………………………………….. 

Dr John Sparks has travelled all over the world making wildlife films, including five with Sir David Attenborough; he has written 11 books and visited Antarctica on many occasions. Details available at www.johnsparks.org 
……………………………………………………………………………….. 

Orion Fares Guide:

13 night Sub-Antarctic Adventure –departs Hobart 1 December 2009 or Bluff (Invercargill) NZ  14 December 2009. Itineraries vary.

Fares from $10,630 per person twin share for an ocean view Category B stateroom

Suites from $14,660 per person twin share for a Junior Suite

Owners' Suites with French Balcony are $22,265 per person twin share 

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 Antarctica, Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, Asia, New Zealand, the Kimberley and Arnhem Land can be obtained by visiting the website www.orionexpeditions.com  

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, February 14, 2009

Blue Lagoon Cruises 'Historical & Cultural Dateline' cruise early birds


Cruise specialist offering 'early bird' rates on May, August and November sailings

Blue Lagoon Cruises has announced it will again offer 'early bird' rates on the three remaining 'Historical & Cultural Dateline Cruises' it has scheduled for 2009.

Departing the Fijian cruise company's home port of Lautoka on 18 May, 17 August and 09 November, the cruises offer a unique opportunity to see the largely uncharted and seldom visited reaches comprising Fiji's remote north-eastern tip.

While lying in the shadow of one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, Fiji's north-eastern tip rarely receives attention from the outside world.

Blue Lagoon Cruises' 60-metre flagship MV Fiji Princess is in fact one of the very few commercial vessels to have visited the region in recent years.

Prices for the cruises start from AUD3089*" per person twin share.

However all bookings for any of the three departures received prior to 17 May 2009 will qualify for the 30 per cent discount – a saving of AUD927* per person.

Operated to the boutique cruise company's highly regarded 'Gold Club' standard, the seven-day itinerary includes Kioa Island, home to some 300 Polynesian Elice Islanders who migrated into the region in the 1940's.

The cruise will also visit the 4,000 Micronesian Banabans who have inhabited Rabi Island since 1946.

Rabi remains virtually the same since the Banabans first arrived from Kiribati to escape the ravages phosphate mining had dealt to their home islands.

The cruise schedule also includes visits to Fiji's original capital city, Levuka, on Ovalau Island and Nananu-I-Ra Island, the home of the Fijian Serpent God Degei who according to local legend created the Fijian archipelago.

Hands-on cruise activities include the opportunity to visit these islanders in their villages and participate in several of their ancient ceremonies.

These include 'Yaqona root' (Kava) drinking, lashings of traditional entertainment and a trip to the 180th Meridian and International Dateline at Taveuni where passengers can stand with one foot in each of two different days.

The cruise also includes a walking tour of Levuka and a guided tour of Taveuni, including the Bouma Eco Park and waterfall.

A high spot of the overall cruise is the greeting by Kioa islanders, resplendent in traditional war dress, paddling out to the MV Fiji Princess in outrigger canoes to ferry passengers ashore for a traditional welcome.

For cruise reservations telephone Blue Lagoon Cruises in Lautoka, Fiji, on +679 666 1622, facsimile +679 666 4098 or via email on reservations@blc.com.fj.

For more information please visit www.bluelagooncruises.com.

*Conditions apply. Please note prices do not include international airfares or beverages (other than tea or coffee).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Go North, everyone! Arctic cruising is all the rage.


By Teresa Earle for Canada Tourist Commission

This summer, record numbers of intrepid travellers are boarding ships headed north of the Arctic Circle. Cruise North is leading the charge.

The North is hot—and I’m not talking about global warming. Arctic eco-tourism is all the rage, with a record number of cruise ships calling into ports north of the Arctic Circle this summer. Much of this traffic is bound for Nunavut Territory and northern Quebec, bringing curious visitors to high-Arctic outposts with tongue-twister names like Auyuittuq, Pangnirtung, Kuujjuaq and Akpotak Island, plus the enduringly-named Resolute.

Riding this new wave of Arctic cruising is Cruise North Expeditions, a Toronto, ON-based company owned by the Inuit of Northern Quebec (Nunavik). Once the exclusive domain of the wealthy, today touring the Canadian Arctic by ship is comfortable, affordable and geared to outgoing, inquisitive travellers.

Cruise North’s president, Dugald Wells, sums it up nicely, calling his brand of ship-based exploration the “anti-cruise.” Passengers care far more about birds than bikinis, and their idea of a good time is photographing beluga whales at 3 am.

Could this trend spell the end of the boozy, hedonistic Caribbean cruise? Not likely. But for some intrepid adventurers, there’s clearly more to cruising than the cruise. Hmmm, let’s see… should I explore fragile Arctic ecosystems and learn about Inuit culture aboard a 122-passenger expedition vessel, or should I sign up for another tour of duty-free shopping and Vegas-style entertainment on a 2,000-passenger “fun ship”? Exactly.

www.cruisenorthexpeditions.com
www.nunavik-tourism.com
www.nunatour.nt.ca
www.nunavuttourism.com
www.bonjour-quebec.com

Monday, February 9, 2009

OMAN’S MUSANDAM PENINSULA

THE LEOPARDS, DOLPHINS AND FJORDS OF ARABIA:

MUSANDAM:

Straddling the world’s most important shipping lanes (Persian Gulf) is Musandam, which nurtures Oman’s most dramatic coastline. Interspersed with serrated cliffs that abruptly rise to 2,100 metres, quaint fishing villages and jagged peaks that form part of Oman’s expansive Hajar Mountain range Musandam is also surrounded by a narrow inlet of water with a cluster of islands that were shaped by ancient, violent earthquakes and visited by Arabia’s earliest mariners and explorers

At the heart of Musandam’s waters is the Strait of Hormuz, a passage sprinkled with fishing boats and dhows and teaming with coral reefs, marine life (dolphins, whales and shoals of fish) and a host of beautiful and secretive khors – the fjords of Arabia – none more alluring than Khor Shim, the largest fjord in Musandam.

Often coined “The Norway of the Arabian Gulf”, the Strait’s warm waters and ubiquitous cliffs additionally offer visitors some of the world’s finest deep-sea diving and snorkelling experiences. The small islands of Mushroom Rock and Limah Rock provide divers with the perfect location to view Oman’s marine life; so ideal the islands almost replicate an outdoor aquarium, where barracuda, plankton and batfish weave in and around a kaleidoscope of iridescent purple, yellow and green-hued coral.

Visitors to Musandam who want to recreate the seafaring journeys of Sindbad the Sailor can also cruise the khors in a dhow or visit the fishing villages by speedboat that dot the coastline.

Because much of Musandam is mountainous, camels are not a common sight however visitors will see plentiful Bait A Qufl, - small rectangular houses built of local stone with roofs made of wood and earth by local tribesmen. Inside the dwellings the floors are constructed one metre below the ground, designed for sleeping and storing food.

The highest peak in Musandam is Jebal Harem (mountain of women) that stands at 2087 metres. Nurturing a carpet of wildflower – iris and gladioli, visitors will additionally view cave paintings and rock art on the boulders. The most northern part of Musandam (and Oman) is Kumzar, which can only be reached by sea.

Khasab, Musandam’s capital, which was settled on a pretty harbour and built around three saw-toothed hills, is also bustling with local markets and colourful souqs. A city built of white-flat roofed houses and built near a sheer rocky wadi, visitors can walk the town or few the port’s bustling activities – from visiting Iranians engaging in contraband (only upon their return to Iran) or livestock including goats, arriving by speedboat.

Khasab is equally famous for Fort Khasab, an 18th century citadel built by the Portuguese during their occupation of the region. The fort also has three cannons facing towards the sea, which were used up until recently to signal the presence of the full moon, indicating the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid.

MUSANDAM’S WILDLIFE:

Though Musandam’s marine life is largely the main attraction it is the elusive and rare Arabian leopard, which prowls and hunts in Musandam’s foothills (and in Dhofar in the southern region of Oman), that gives the region its special mystique. Protected and endangered, the Arabian Leopard is one of the last surviving species of large cats that roam the Arabian Peninsula, evidence of its presence in Musandam has been found around secluded waterholes and goat herders in the deep chasms of the Hajar Mountains have also heard its rasping snarl.

Other nature reserves have been established throughout Musandam (and the Sultanate) to protect the natural habitats of Oman’s wildlife – from the Arabian leopard, Oryx, gazelle, desert fox to the wild cats, turtles and ibex. Also home to 22 species of whale and dolphin, Oman is a member of the International Whaling Commission and follows the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species, which prevents the trade of endangered animals.

SUSTAINABLE RESORT AND SPA:
LUXURIOUS SIX SENSES HIDEAWAY:

Visitors to the Arabian Gulf seeking a classic Arabian getaway in the tranquil folds of a Small Luxury Hotel property - and on a strip of land that once saw the Portuguese and Persians fight to take possession of – should visit Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay in Musandam, the smallest and most northern region of Oman.

Musandam’s private beachfr0nt enclave was the perfect location for Six Senses Hideaway to build a luxurious yet self-sustainable resort spa and villas for the discerning traveller. Just a short flight from the Arabian Gulf airline hubs of Abu Dhabi City and Dubai - and located in a region that is separated from the rest of Oman by 70 kilometres of the United Arabs Emirates - Six Senses Hideaway is the ultimate romantic or corporate incentive retreat.

Located on a secluded beach near a quaint fishing village at Zighy Bay the property also offers luxurious villa accommodation, which includes infinity pools, immediate access to 1.6 kilometres of private beach and a wealth of activities (such as paragliding and snorkelling), a private marina and the Six Senses Spa, featuring the ultimate in holistic treatments, including their signature Sensory Spa Journey.

With its provincially chic décor and personal space, which includes bathrooms that extend to outdoor showers, Six Senses Hideaway offers a beautiful contrast to the bustle of Dubai, especially for visitors wanting to blend the quiet customs and hospitality of old-world Arabia with contemporary luxury.

And how to sell Six Senses Hideaway? Imagine going on a picnic atop an ancient mountain, enjoying a luxurious spa treatment or strolling the beach overlooking the cerulean waters where pirates once clashed and dolphins still play. This quiet pocket strip of old-world paradise is truly the ultimate Arabian getaway.

Unlike other popular Arabian Gulf getaway destinations, great importance has been placed on preserving Musandam’s unblemished landscape and heritage through the Sultanate’s visionary 2020 economic charter, which ensures controlled sustainable tourism throughout the region.

The recommended stay is two-three nights.

FAST FACTS:

* Oman Air offers three direct flights from Dubai to Khasab in Musandam as well as direct services to Muscat. www.omanair.aero
* Khasab is only 3 hours by car from Abu Dhabi and approximately 2 hours from Dubai
* Private luxury car transfers (from Dubai or Abu Dhabi) are available for guests staying at Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay (a member of Small Luxury Hotels).
* Visitors can also stay at Golden Tulip Khasab Hotel or Khasab Hotel. Their locations are ideal for organising diving and boat trips.
* Opening 2009: Alila Villas Musandam, Designed to blend unassumingly into the surroundings, it will offer a rare and privileged lifestyle on the towering cliffs overlooking the sea. A true oasis of luxurious living that creates a surprisingly different experience to perfectly complement the extraordinary surprises of this unique destination.

For further information please contact Oman Ministry of Tourism

Telephone: +61 2 9113 5959
Email: info@tourismoman.com.au
Visit: www.omantourism.gov.om

On track for an unforgettable journey

david ellis with frank linn

IF urged to put our money on the city to take out the title of World's Most Traffic-congested, we'd have to put it on Bangalore, just beating out Bangkok and Cairo.

On a recent visit to this bourgeoning Silicon Valley of India, our driver from the airport to the rather grand Leela Palace Kempinski Hotel, confided that his city had seven million, eight million or nine million inhabitants.

It depended, he explained, on who you were talking to at the time: on our day we were certain that all seven, or eight or 9-million were there on our road at the one time, creating six solid rows of honking cars, motorcycles, trucks, vans, taxis, buses and motorised rickshaws that had jammed themselves with great dexterity into the official four lanes.

And remarkably without a hint of road rage.

Having survived it to the rich Vijayanagar Empire heritage that is now the Leela Palace Kempinski, we found ourselves amid a bygone era of not only architectural opulence, but of magnificent colonial-era landscaping… a quiet oasis of aged trees, colourful forever-Spring-time garden beds, and cooling waterways that cocooned us from the outside cacophony and bustle of the city.

And remarkably we would experience similar moments time and again in coming days of exploring the State of Karnataka aboard a new train, the Golden Chariot Railway that offers an eye-opening seven-day, 1500 kilometre exploration of the State and the neighbouring beach-resort Goa on India's west coast.

It is to prove itself an unforgettable journey into the culture, history, world heritage sites, National Parks and the cuisine of this fascinating region, and as we await our Golden Chariot at Yashwantpur Station the masses of people thronging the platforms for local and country services seems to rival the cars on Airport Road.

Thus small sighs of relief exhale when a string of carriages, smart royal purple trimmed with gold, slide quietly before us.

And it is now that we first cross paths with Satish, a forever-obliging, turbaned young man from India's south who is to look after our every whim for the next seven days.

It is Satish who escorts us to elegantly furnished air-conditioned cabins with crisp cotton sheets, a flat-screen TV with news and movies on call, and to a telephone that proves itself a 24-hour hotline to his amazing efficiency and courtesy.

Need a hot cuppa at 7 am? A late-night Panadol? A button for a recalcitrant shirt? Satish is your man

He's also there to rectify the daily havoc one creates in one's cabin, greet us with chilled fruit juice on our return from sightseeing excursions, and show us the way to the on-board internet café, massage room or mini onboard-gym.

And it turns out that there are Satishes everywhere. They're in the plush dining room each evening, the separate breakfast room of a morning, the cosy cocktail lounge and bar before dinner, and opening every door as we pass from carriage to carriage.

All up a couple of dozen of them amongst the 53 crew looking after a maximum of 103 guests – and on our journey, which is in the train's infancy of late 2008, just thirty indulging this extravaganza of hospitality.

And if it's possible that anyone is going to have more impact on our enjoyment than Satish, it is Executive Chef Deepak Chaubey who came to the Golden Chariot from world-ranking Le Meridien hotels in Bangalore and Delhi.

Although no longer enjoying the luxury of spacious kitchens and battalions of ovens and hot plates to do his stuff, the variety of Indian and international dishes he produces from the cramped quarters of a railway carriage amazes all.

Suffice to say that in seven days, Deepak's selection of Indian thali found its way to our table most lunches, and every dinner but one when we did the patriotic thing and chose roast lamb…that proved itself an equally splendid choice.

A week-long Golden Chariot Railway package from Adventure World costs from just $3742, including onboard accommodation, meals and comprehensive sightseeing daily.

Special rates for pre- or post-rail stays at the luxury Leela Kempinski Hotel in Bangalore can be combined with the rail itinerary.

Details on 1300 363 055 or visit www.adventureworld.com.au Air travel is additional. ………………….

[] The Golden Chariot's Dining Car – home of grand cuisine

[] Chef Deepak's Thali – a lunchtime must

[] Oasis of peace and silence: grounds of the Leela Palace Kempinski Hotel

[] Six into four just goes in Bangalore's chaotic traffic

IMAGES: David Baker

New Life for Ms. Tydeman


Artists impression of rebuilt vessel

MV Plancius started her life in 1976 as an oceanographic research vessel for the Royal Dutch Navy and was named Hr. Ms. Tydeman. In June 2004, the vessel was taken out of active service for rebuilding.

Still under construction, but available for Polar expeditions in June 2009, the vessel will be completely rebuilt as a 112-passenger vessel and shall comply with the latest SOLAS-regulations (Safety Of Life At Sea), is classed by Lloyd’s Register in London and will fly the Dutch flag.

The vessel will be comfortable and nicely decorated, but is not a luxurious vessel. Its voyages in the Arctic and Antarctic regions are and will still be primarily defined by an exploratory educational travel program, spending as much time ashore as possible. This vessel will fully meet the demands to achieve this.

M/V “Plancius” can accommodate 112 passengers in 54 passenger cabins with private toilet and shower in 4 triple private cabins, 40 twin private cabins (ca. 15 square meters) and 10 twin superior cabins (ca. 21 square meters).

The vessel is manned by 30 international crew members (inc. 10 stewardesses/cabin cleaners), 6 hotel staff (4 chefs, 1 purser and 1 steward-barman), 6 expedition staff (1 expedition leader and 5 guides-lecturers) and 1 doctor.

MV Plancius is operated by Oceanwide Expeditions and represented in Australia by Adventure Associates

Friday, February 6, 2009

Blue Lagoon Cruises Historical and Cultural Cruise


By James Shrimpton, specialist cruise writer and former Travel Editor, (AAP)

LAUTOKA, Fiji, AAP - A sparkling greeting from locals ashore awaits the infrequent shiploads of tourists which venture around Fiji’s distant northeastern islands, far from regular sea routes.

From scores of villages and isolated homes, using hand-mirrors reflecting the sun’s rays, they flash signals of welcome directed to passengers and crew,

Aboard the cruising ships, those with similar mirrors respond in kind, while crew members on the bridge may use other reflecting implements such as silver-coloured CDs.

Blue Lagoon Cruises (BLC) sends one of its four small cruising vessels on seven-day northeast-bound voyages three or four times a year, in aqddition to its regular three- or four-day sailings from Lautoka, Fiji’s second largest city. around the Yasawa and Mamanuca island groups off the northwest coast of Viti Levu, the main island.

Our "historical & cultural" cruise was on the 1,228-ton catamaran Fiji Princess, carrying up to 72 passengers, which joined the fleet three years ago from the African side of the Indian Ocean where she operated as Pearl of the Seychelles in and around that island republic.

Atmosphere on board is laid-back Fijian friendly, with crew and passengers on a first-name basis from the opening get-together in the ship's lounge when it was hand-shakes all round, from skipper Saulo Tuiloma (who also plays guitar in the ship’s band!) and cruise director “Big Joe” to the ever-attentive stewards of both sexes.

On the cruise were a good mix of travellers from Australia, New Zealand, England, the United States, Canada, Austria, Germany, Italy and Sweden.

All cabins are compact, en-suite and have TV carrying recent DVD movies.

The program mixed excursions ashore to white-sand beaches for swimming, snorkeling and diving with informative and entertaining looks at the history and culture of some of the more remote of Fiji’s 322 islands and their people - preceded by night-before talks from local experts Allan Griffin from Blue Lagoon and Fiji-born Alan Roxburgh.

On its northeastern voyage, Fiji Princess was also a seaborne aid project, delivering to needy villages goods donated by BLC and Australian groups such as Rotary and Variety Club Queensland.

They included 20 sets of bunk-beds and mattresses for weekly boarders at a school at faraway Druadrua on the north coast of Fiji's northern and second largest island Vanua Levu, and items such as books, pencils, teachers’ aids, toothbrushes and toothpaste to other village schools.

(Druadrua head teacher Mosese Cabecuva touched many passengers' hearts when he described how his boys practised rugby using coconuts because of a lack of footballs.)

BLC has been one of the pioneers of Fiji tourism since it began virtually from scratch in the early 1950s by New Zealand stockbroker Trevor Withers after he abandoned plans with Australian aviator partner Harold Gatty.

North Star Cruises: Last Minute Availabilities


Spoil your TRUE LOVE with a cruise on the TRUE NORTH!

Give the gift of adventure this Valentines Day and book a cabin on our West Coast Explorer cruising from Fremantle to Dampier (28th Feb – 10 Mar), or come walkabout and get lost with your loved one on our stunning Kimberley Wilderness Cruise.

The following cabins are available to book now:

West Coast Explorer Cruise
28 February - 10 March
2 cabins remaining

Kimberley Wilderness Cruise 1
14 March - 27 March
1 cabin remaining

Kimberley Wilderness Cruise 2b
04 April – 10 April
1 cabin remaining

Kimberley Wilderness Cruise 4a
25 April – 02 May
6 cabins remaining

Kimberley Wilderness Cruise 4b
02 May – 08 May
3 cabins remaining

Highlights from our West Coast Explorer Cruise:

A classic ‘blue water’ experience with fishing, snorkeling and diving offered.

Visit the very spectacular Steep Point – Australia’s most western point.
Explore Dirk Hartog Island – site of the first ever European landing on Australian soil.

Snorkel Ningaloo Reef & Coral Bay. World class!

Highlights from our Kimberley Wilderness cruise:

Get up close & personal with this ancient land that is over 1.8 billion years old.

Knowledgeable crew onboard to interpret the history, geology, art, flora & fauna.

Amazing excursions daily including optional scenic heli flights up gorges, over river systems and waterfalls

Excellent Fishing – guaranteed to catch one! (Barramundi, Mangrove Jack, Fingermark Bream, Queenfish & Salmon)

Go Wild in Style!

PO Box 654 Broome Western Australia 6725
Telephone: (+61 8) 9192 1829 Facsimile: (+61 8) 9192 1830
Email: cruise@northstarcruises.com.au URL: www.northstarcruises.com.au

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Heritage Lines releases new Jayavarman impressions


With construction of its 58-metre luxury flagship The Jayavarman right on track for its September launch date, Trails of Indochina's luxury Mekong River cruise specialist Heritage Lines has released two new impressions of how the vessel and its luxury cabin accommodation will look once complete.

The featured cabin image is of one of the vessel’s 11 Deluxe standard ‘Indochina-style’ cabins.

The cabins offer 24m sq of space which when complete will making them the largest of their type on any vessel operating Mekong cruises.


Operated by Ho Chi Minh-based Heritage Lines and part of a project estimated in excess of USD4 million, the 58-metre deluxe river boat has been conceived in what the company describes as a fusion of traditional eastern shipbuilding craft and avant-garde French colonial design overlayed with state of the art technology.

Accommodation ranges from two ‘Bao Daop’ Royal Hue themed junior suites (26m sq) to the 11 Deluxe standard ‘Indochina-style’ cabins and 14 Superior standard (21m sq), each of which will be themed individually.

The ship’s spacious facilities also include a spa, a spacious restaurant serving eastern and western cuisine, two expansive lounges, a shop and a library spread over 800 square metres on a total five decks.

Following her maiden voyage The Jayavarman will commence operation of a medley of Mekong Delta cruise itineraries structured over two, three, four, five and eight days.

W: www.trailsofindochina.com

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sail to the Top and Bottom of the World with Peregrine – and save 15 per cent.


For centuries, the North Pole was the ultimate prize for explorers, reached at a cost of inestimable hardship. Now Peregrine is making the Pole more attainable, reducing the cost of all its journeys aboard the world's most powerful icebreakers – to both the North Pole and Antarctica – by 15 per cent.

The Kapitan Khlebnikov and the nuclear-powered 50 years of Victory (which took 20 years to build) are two of the world's most powerful icebreakers, able to break through heavy pack ice to reach further into the icy realms at either end of the planet than any other passenger ship.

Peregrine's 15-day North Pole icebreaker adventure begins in Murmansk, Russia, above the Arctic Circle, before sailing north across the Barents Sea, carving a path through the sea ice. Seabirds are constant companions; whales are frequently seen – and on-board helicopters enable passengers to gain an aerial perspective of the vast expanses of ice. It takes approximately eight days to reach the North Pole, and stand at the top of the world – perhaps even take a swim. Heading south, the voyage visits Franz Josef Land, one of the most recently discovered archipelagos in the world. The 191 islands that make up the archipelago are the most northerly islands in Eurasia and are renowned for their inhabitants – from polar bears, artic foxes and nestling seabirds to whales and walruses.

The North Pole voyage departs from Murmansk on June 27 and July 9, 2009 aboard the 50 years of Victory at the new cost of US$19,286 per person, twin share, a saving of over US$3400, including arrival and departure transfers, two nights' hotel accommodation, all voyage activities and excursions, education program and meals.

At the opposite end of the world, the icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov ventures into the Weddell Sea on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Peregrine's 14-day Emperor Penguins: Snow Hill Island Safari crosses the Drake Passage from Ushuaia, Argentina, rounding the tip of the Peninsula to reach the Snow Hill Island emperor penguin rookery, home to over ten thousand penguins. The group will spend three days with these fascinating birds, which thrive in the world's harshest environment: no other animal can survive on land through the Antarctic winter. Last year, passengers were treated to the sight of chicks sitting on their parents' feet, a la Happy Feet, the movie. Passengers can helicopter from the ship or walk through a sculpture garden of towering ice – keeping out of the way of the adult emperors tobogganing to sea to feed!

The voyage also explores the western side of the Peninsula, visiting highlights such as iceberg alley (the Lemaire Channel) and going ashore to visit Adelie, gentoo and chinstrap penguin rookeries and seal colonies and cruising in the Zodiac inflatable boats for close-up whale watching.

Prices for the Emperor Penguins: Snow Hill Island Safari start at US$15,291 per person, twin share– a saving of over US$2600, including arrival and departure transfers, one nights' hotel accommodation, all voyage activities and excursions, education program and meals.

For an even more extensive exploration, this voyage continues to the sub-Antarctic islands of South Georgia and the Falklands. The 22-day Emperors and Kings: Snow Hill and South Georgia voyage departs Ushuaia, Argentina, on November 15, 2009 and costs from US$24,216 per person, twin share- a saving of over US$4200. These islands – some of the most remote on the planet – are inhabited by overwhelming numbers of penguins, seals and seabirds, which throng the beaches beneath massive mountain peaks in one of the world's most spectacular wildlife displays.

For voyages onboard the Kapitan Khlebnikov, Peregrine guarantees not to impose a fuel surcharge, regardless of the price of oil when the voyages depart.

For further information, contact your travel agent or Peregrine Travel Centre, call 1300 854 500, or visit www.peregrineadventures.com.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Aurora Expeditions Seeks Marketing Coordinator


An exciting opportunity exists for a passionate person with great marketing skills to join Aurora Expeditions. Aurora is a leading adventure travel company specialising in ship-based travel to the world’s remote places including Antarctica, the Arctic, Papua New Guinea and the Russian Far East. This is a varied role, which requires responsibility for all areas of the marketing mix and would ideally suit someone with travel industry experience.

Marketing Coordinator:

Please view the attached job spec for more in-depth details of the position that currently exists.

Essential requirements:
• Minimum two years marketing experience
• Relevant tertiary qualifications
• Great communication and presentation skills written & oral
• Strong attention to detail & organisation skills
• Enjoy working at a fast pace
• Capacity to manage consecutive tasks
• Excellent & accurate computer skills

Highly desirable:
• Exposure to and/or interest in the adventure travel industry
• Desktop publishing skills

Travel within Australia and to specific destinations may be required.

An attractive package in accordance with industry experience will be negotiated.

HUNTING DOWN CANADA’S COOLEST ADVENTURES

david ellis

Pic 1THERE's almost no mercury in the thermometer at minus-26C in winter, and on Christmas Day there might be five hours of sunshine – if there's any of the stuff at all, because most Christmases it's snowing. Twenty-four hours.

But mid-year things change: on balmy summer's days the locals frolic in 20-hours of daily sunshine as temperatures soar to a sizzling average-eight. That's right, eight. Celsius.

Yet rather than looking on such conditions as negatives, the 31,000 folk of the Canadian city of Iqaluit see them as positives – and want the world to beat a path to their door, where they say the greeting's far warmer than the weather.

And that they'll gladly share their table with you too: whale blubber and muskox, caribou, seal, walrus, chicken, game fish, clams, shrimps and lobsters.

And bear's feet, with those lucky enough to be invited to a private home, or who choose a "country food" café where the local Inuits dine, find themselves chowing-down as their hosts do: with the fingers, and savouring those tasty morsels raw or frozen.

"Remarkably, after the initial shock, visitors find this hospitality not only a very unique part of a fascinating cultural and adventurous holiday, but a very touching one too, as the people are just so accommodating," says Ed Smith whose Sydney-based Canada and Alaska Specialist Holidays is funnelling increasing number of inquisitives Aussie holidaymakers to Iqualuit.

"These visitors find there's so much to do in the fascinating outdoors for the hunter armed with gun or camera," says Smith, himself an expatriate Canadian who is quick to point out that you don't have to survive on "country food" when visiting Iqualuit.

"There are all the regular restaurants, pizza parlours, Mexican diners and Chinese takeaways, and you'll even find tropical fruits in the supermarkets in the coldest depths of winter," he says.

Iqaluit is on Baffin Island and is the capital of Nunavut, Canada's newest territory covering a vast 1.95 million square kilometres (20% of the country,) and was created a decade ago through the most comprehensive settlement ever reached between a state and an aboriginal group.

Long occupied by nomadic Inuits, Arctic Nunavut was first visited by white man in the 16th century when English explorer Martin Frobisher came upon Baffin Island during his search for a Polar route to China.

On a third visit in 1578 he also took 300 Cornish miners to excavate a thousand tonnes of what he thought was gold-bearing ore. But back in England it turned out to be nothing but iron pyrite (Fool's Gold,) and ended up as filling for pot-holed country roads.

Within 100 years of Frobisher's visits, the Dutch were whaling the area, and in 1670 the famous Hudson's Bay Company was established – one of its earliest trading posts was re-located in 1949 to what is now Apex 5km from Iqaluit, and its historic buildings are a fascinating drawcard for visitors.

The unusual Igloo-shaped Anglican Cathedral in Iqaluit is another attraction, as are the Legislative Assembly and the local museum.

But it's the outdoors that attract most visitors – sport-hunters who team-up with professional outfitters to seek 800kg polar bears (more than half the world's polar bear population live here,) muskox, foxes, lemmings, wolves and Arctic hares to name a few.

They also fish through holes cut in iced-over rivers and lakes, dangling lures that attract a variety of species that are speared rather than hooked… and when the ice melts, fly-fish from the shores for lake trout, fighting Arctic char and Arctic graylings.

Non sport-hunters armed with cameras hike or dog-sled spectacular trails in search of many of these creatures too, and walruses, seals, whales and countless species of birdlife from ptarmigans to snowy owls, ravens, gulls, terns, loons, ducks and geese.

And snap the amazing dancing lights of the aurora borealis, or hunt in the local stores for carved walrus tusks, sealskin mittens, hand-made jewellery, custom-made parkas, fur clothes and animal-skin boots.

Iqualuit is 2000km north of Ottawa and so pilots and Santa can't miss it in the snow, its airport passenger terminal is painted bright yellow.

Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays can add a short-break to Iqaluit to a Canada, Alaska or USA vacation, or create hunting or outdoor adventure packages year-round; phone 1300 79 49 59.



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Cruising lesser-known Australia: The Islands of Torres Strait aboard Orion

The tiny islands of the Torres Strait were the first clues Seventeenth Century explorers had to the existence of the mysterious Southern continent. Modern adventurers are now rediscovering these otherwise insignificant islands and uncovering their role in our nation’s history.

Virtually next door to Cape York, on Possession Island, is a rather tired-looking white concrete monument, yet it represents a place of significant importance for all Australians both newly arrived and indigenous. It marks the spot where, in August 1770, Lieutenant James Cook, laid claim to the whole eastern coast in the name of King George III.

In 1606, the Portuguese explorer Luis Váez de Torres sailed these same waters and the Strait now bears his name. Only weeks before, Willem Janszoon in the tiny Duyfken (Little Dove) was the first European known to have sighted the coast. He landed, but due to a bloody altercation with the “'wild, cruel, black savages', did not lay claim. So, after exploring and laboriously charting much of the east coast, it was left to Cook to make the historic claim to the Great Southern Land.

Now, some two centuries later, the state-of-the-art expedition vessel, Orion has brought modern-day adventurers to make their own discoveries in the Torres Strait.

Possession Island is one of those remote, inaccessible and forgotten parts of Australia few people ever visit and perhaps that is its own special beauty. An old, long-abandoned gold mine, now occupied by a colony of bats, stands guard over the forlorn monument to Cook’s odyssey.

A few days later, we find ourselves on Lizard Island, standing at the summit of Cook's Look. From here one can vaguely grasp the enormity of the task undertaken by early maritime explorers and navigators, subject as they were to tidal changes and seasonal prevailing winds. As far as you can see, north and south, lies Cook’s so-called ‘labyrinth of reefs’. We now know this as the formidable Great Barrier Reef. With no charts for reference it is truly amazing how Cook eventually managed to find a way in, through and out of this vast patchwork of coral reefs in the flat bottomed 33 metre bark Endeavour. It wasn’t without incident however.

Today, onboard the 103 metre mega-yacht Orion, a glass of vintage Hunter Semillon in hand, we have no such concerns. This purpose-built 5-star expedition cruise ship, just three years old, contains all the necessary technical equipment to ensure safe and comfortable passage through any Torres Strait or Barrier Reef - even Antarctic seas, as she does during our summer months.

This seven night voyage to Torres Strait includes a diversity of destinations and activities from snorkelling on isolated sandy outcrops and coral reefs, to experiencing the laid-back colonial atmosphere of Thursday Island (Waiben).

Located 45 kilometres from the tip of Cape York and lying in the Torres Strait that separates Australia and New Guinea, Thursday Island, or TI (as it is known locally), with its strategic importance and pearling history, is the principal administrative and trading centre for the islands.

We arrive early morning and have to wait until the tide eases before we can anchor. Alongside TI's main wharf is a grey-hulled Customs intercept ship deployed to monitor movement in this area. Unfortunately these islands provide convenient stepping stones to and from New Guinea for illegal immigration and smuggling. Occasionally surveillance helicopters and fixed wing aircraft buzz overhead, lingering for an extra look at Orion, now at anchor in the jade-green waters of the harbour.

In town, the locals (seafaring islanders of Melanesian extraction unrelated to mainland Australian Aborigines) move with that slow, particular gait that is a hallmark of people used to living in high temperatures and humidity. Well aware that any hurried activity will result in unsightly sweatiness, they smile knowingly as we bustle past, eager to discover the secrets of TI. But for us there is no need for concern. A handful of well placed pubs, yellow and red ‘XXXX’ signs beckoning, are set at convenient intervals along the wide main street that forms the commercial heart of Thursday Island. Peak hour may see four vehicles on the road at the same time. For us, peak hour catches a few Aussies in the pub watching the Ashes unfold. Some things never change regardless of where we are.

Historically TI has been well guarded. Overlooked by Green Hill Fort with its array of big six-inch guns, it was constructed to repel a feared Russian invasion in 1898. Used again in World War II, the fort is worth a visit and houses an impressive military museum within a complex of tunnels and bunkers. A strenuous walk up the hill to the fort will bring more knowing smiles and waves from the locals. Better to take the bus.

Also worth visiting is the well presented Gab Titui cultural centre on the waterfront near the wharf. It offers visitors an insight into the diverse island cultures and the impact of the pearling trade. The art gallery, featuring indigenous art (often representing stories linked to the sea) may tempt you with an irresistible must-have painting or carving. The art from this area is highly regarded around the world.

The history of pearl diving in the area is a fascinating and often tragic story. Take a visit to the Japanese Shinto cemetery where literally hundreds of hard-hat pearl divers are buried, victims of the dreaded 'bends'. The ‘lucky’ ones were merely crippled; while the unlucky suffered a painful death. It is believed the reason Thursday Island was not bombed by the Japanese during World War II was because so many Japanese are buried there.

Like somewhere out of a Somerset Maugham novel, Poruma Island is a narrow coral strip bounded by fringing coral reefs. Most of the 180 'saltwater people' still use traditional methods to catch the Spanish mackerel, sailfish, marlin, trevally, shark and dugong that inhabit these clear waters. Nowadays the Torres Strait Islanders are friendly and welcoming. Years ago, or so we are told, trading between some islands included the odd shrunken head.

Our scheduled visit to Masig (Yorke) Island was cancelled because “they were not ready for us.” Unfazed, the expedition crew organised a visit to Roberts Island. Totally uninhabited, Roberts is an idyllic small sand island, surrounded by vodka-clear waters perfect for snorkelling. The Zodiacs shuttled guests between Orion and the beach to allow everyone to stay for as short or long a period as they wished.

This is not ‘cruising’ in the popular sense. This is an emerging form of cruising for Australians: Expedition Cruising. A little harder edged, Expedition Cruising offers engaging experiences and soft adventure in more remote areas.

Zodiacs are the preferred form of transport to explore waterways (or the labyrinthine reefs), and provide access for guests who would rather hands-on experiences in preference to watching the world (life?) slip by from a recumbent somnambulant state, as their ship glides from one predictable port to another.

Yes, there are deck chairs, a sauna and a spa but certainly no quoits, bingo or fancy-dress parties. Expedition Leaders replace Social Directors. Typically the ‘ELs’ and Guest Lecturers include marine biologists, anthropologists, botanists and historians - onboard specialists and guest presenters who provide in-depth information about aspects of the destinations to help enhance the experience and broaden the mind.

A glance at a typical expedition cruise itinerary will invariably include a range of destinations (some unfamiliar, but that is all part of the adventure) that take passengers into remote places where you can get your feet and hands dirty and meet the locals. No sign of fast food or tacky souvenirs on these voyages. Just the occasional XXXX.

Our stop at Stanley Island, as we return southward to Cairns, is a highlight for those interested in indigenous rock art. Here we see numerous cave paintings – but with a difference. Many are just a few hundred years old, the most recent completed as recently as last century. Hence there are paintings of first contact with Europeans including a variety of ship designs indicating a range of visitors and time frames. Fascinating. Returning to the ship we see numerous turtle tracks left in the white sand but there is no temptation to swim as even here there is the risk of crocodiles.

Cairns marks the end of our remarkable journey. At the very north of Australia, and then some, lies this undiscovered region - at least in the modern sense - remote, vibrant, tropical, reflecting an absorbing blend of mainland and island cultures. Almost forgotten by Cook, now rediscovered.


BREAKOUT QUOTE

Facts on Orion

With 75 European officers and hand picked crew and just 106 guests (100 maximum for Antarctica) Orion has the highest staff to guest ratio of any Australian based ship, ensuring life onboard is anything but rugged.

It is, however, the luxurious accommodation and facilities that distinguish it most from other expedition ships in Australian waters. All 53 staterooms and suites are exterior and include a sitting area or living room, direct Internet access, flat screen TV, DVD and CD player, marble bathroom and choice of twin beds or queen-size bed. All cabins offer large oval, rectangular, or sliding glass floor-to-ceiling windows.

Five-star amenities include a spa, sauna, masseuse, hairdresser, boutique, several lounges and a computer centre equipped with Internet access.

The dinner menu is created by Sydney's renowned chef Serge Dansereau (of The Bathers' Pavilion fame), as recently featured in OCEAN. Presenting local produce, as far as possible, and offering an extensive wine list, life onboard combines luxury with expedition cruising, proving that even in the Torres Strait they are not mutually exclusive.

Combining mental food for thought and a stimulating environment, Orion is a ship with plenty of opportunity for an exhilarating holiday.

For further information contact Orion Expedition Cruises: 1300 361 012 (Australia), visit www.orioncruises.com.au or see your travel agent.
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