Sunday, June 28, 2009

Blue Lagoon cooks up 'lovers' breakfast' special

Blue Lagoon Cruises has added to its highly romantic onboard 'private dining experience' menu serving up a new 'lovers' breakfast in bed' option for its four and seven-day 'Gold Club' cruise passengers.

Priced from FJD247* per couple (around AUD150*) the package includes a fresh fruit and juice selection and a choice of cold dishes including yoghurt, ham and camembert cheese, Danish pastries, muffins and croissants.

For those who prefer a cooked breakfast, the 'lovers breakfast in bed' menu ranges from a traditional English breakfast to four different egg choices, steak, pan fried walu and stacked pancakes layered with fresh bananas, cream and maple syrup.

The offer also includes private car transfers to the wharf from Blue Lagoon Cruises' dedicated pre-boarding lounge area in Lautoka, a 'bubbly' breakfast in bed the next day, 'his and hers' gifts at breakfast, complimentary chocolates on turn down.

Further massaging the value, the offer 'lovers' breakfast in bed' option also features a 30 minute 'his and hers' back rub.

The new breakfast option compliments the boutique cruise specialist's highly romantic candlelit 'private dining experience'.

Priced from FJD150* per couple (around AUD91*) the 'private dining experience' package includes an appetiser, entrée, main and dessert plus port, a cheese platter and a complimentary bottle of wine.

Venue for the dinners is a sealed off section of the Sky Deck on board MV Mystique Princess and the Sun Deck on board MV Fiji Princess ensuring complete privacy.

Prices for a four-day/three night 'Gold Club' cruise lead in at AUD1184* per person twin share.

The seven-day/six-night 'Gold Club' cruise is priced from AUD1654* per person twin share.

'Gold Club' program highlights include complimentary champagne and Hors d'œuvres at sunset on the first night onboard as a prelude to a 'Captain's Welcome' dinner.

All cruise itineraries include all meals and cruise activities. These range from daily shore excursions, bush walks and snorkeling safaris to fish feeding, fishing and glass bottom boating.

Cultural experiences include a 'Lovo' feast, visits to remote villages, Kava ceremonies and a day spent at Blue Lagoon Cruises' private island of Nanuya Lailai.

Prices for both the 'lovers' breakfast' and 'romantic dining' packages are valid until 31 March 2010.

*Conditions apply. Please note cruise prices do not include international airfares or beverages (other than tea and coffee). A daily fuel surcharge of FJD25 per person also applies.

See for full itineraries.

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

Seabourn takes delivery of new ship

The Yachts of Seabourn has taken delivery of the cruise industry’s first ultra-luxury vessel to launch in six years. Built at T.Mariotti shipyard in Genoa and with a gross tonnage of 32,000, Seabourn Odyssey will be launched and named in Venice on June 24 before embarking on her maiden voyage.

“This is certainly a very historic day for our company, as today we took delivery of our beautiful new yacht, Seabourn Odyssey,” said Pamela Conover, president and CEO of Seabourn. “This moment marks a milestone occasion in Seabourn’s history; Seabourn Odyssey is the first of three new sisters to be introduced over the next two years and sets a new standard for the ultra-luxury cruise industry. We hope our guests will be as delighted as we are and we look forward to welcoming them aboard to enjoy a new era in Seabourn’s yachting life.”

The $250 million Seabourn Odyssey will be launched in an intimate ceremony with the unmistakable skyline of Venice as the backdrop. In a twist from traditional naming ceremonies, all guests sailing on the Maiden Voyage will be named ‘godparents’ with the breaking of a bottle of Italian Prosecco to mark the occasion. An ingenious bottle breaking mechanism has been designed especially for the event. Following the on-deck event, all ‘godparents’ will receive a commemorative certificate and their names will be affixed to a plaque displayed onboard.

American Safari Offers $500 Savings on New River Cruises

American Safari Cruises announces a new itinerary and introductory savings for fall and spring cruises on the Columbia and Snake rivers of Washington, Oregon and Idaho aboard the 145-foot, 36-guest Safari Explorer. The yacht’s entry into the region helps fill the void left by Majestic America Line when it ceased operating three riverboats in the area. Called “Rivers First” in honor of the Safari Explorer’s inaugural season on the rivers, the promotion offers savings of $500 per person on river cruises booked by the July 24 deadline. The eight-night itinerary is one way between Lewiston, Idaho, and Astoria, Ore.

“River cruising in America is very popular,” said Tim Jacox, executive vice president of sales and marketing. “And yet with Majestic America pulling its boats from the Mississippi River as well as here, and RiverBarge Excursion ceasing operations for this year, the opportunities to enjoy this experience are very limited.” Jacox says that the company decided to do one-way cruises because of the time required to lock through the eight dams on the Columbia. “If we did roundtrip itineraries, we’d have to go through 16 lockings and we’d see a lot more of the dams than the river, the spectacular scenery and historical side trips,” he said.

As with all ASC cruises, guests explore by double sea kayaks and motorized skiffs, and also take guided hikes. Because the route lies in the Pacific flyway, birding opportunities abound as more than 200 species of birds rest in the area during their annual migrations.

The Safari Explorer offers luxury amenities and activities including complimentary massages, exercise equipment, a sauna, top-deck hot tub, and yoga sessions. Staterooms feature Tempur-pedic mattresses, heated tile floors in the private bathrooms and DVD players. There is a complimentary bar with premium spirits, fine wines and microbrews; cuisine with fresh, local ingredients; a wine library; and a crew-guest ratio of 1-to-2. Cruises include a jet-boat excursion into Hells Canyon; wine-tasting at two Washington state wineries; a visit to Hood River, the wind-surfing capital of the world; a tour of Bonneville Dam; and the Lewis and Clark Discovery Center in Ilwaco, Wash.

Dates for fall 2009 cruises are Sept. 30, Oct. 8, Oct. 16, Oct. 24, Nov. 1, Nov. 9, Nov. 17 and Nov. 25. Prices begin at $5,295 per person. Spring 2010 dates for a seven-night cruise are March 20, March 27, April 10 and April 17. Prices begin at $3,395 per person. April 3 is a wine and culinary themed cruise featuring eight winery, distillery and brewery visits along with vintner and guest chef-hosted wine and food pairings to be held in the onboard wine library. Prices for this program start at $4,295 per person. For more information, call 888-862-8881 or visit

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Four Ships, Four Distinct Itineraries

SEATTLE, WA – Drawing on its 63 years of tour/cruise experience in Alaska, Cruise West (, is introducing a new seven-night Alaska's Inside Passage itinerary that highlights more wilderness and Zodiac experiences and authentic ports of call. Four-night departures will be offered on Glacier Bay Highlights and Glaciers of Prince William Sound voyages, and the popular 10-night Gold Rush Inside Passage returns with a new port of call. The deployment changes reflect the Spirit of '98 staying on the Columbia River and the Spirit of Oceanus venturing on a new epic world voyage in 2010.

"Our redeployment is in response to demand and current market conditions, while maintaining the integrity and heritage of our core Alaska products," said President and CEO Dietmar Wertanzl. "In addition, the new Inside Passage itinerary really reflects our core values as a company, which is to get off the beaten path and explore! The best attributes of both our Whales & Wilderness and classic Alaska's Inside Passage itineraries were combined for the new streamlined itinerary. The included ports of call and waterways are a natural for our small vessels and this itinerary also offers further exploration by small craft excursions."

The deployment modifications include 25 departures of the new seven-night Alaska's Inside Passage cruise roundtrip from Juneau, which includes a winning combination of authentic ports, an included shore excursion in every port and awe-inspiring wilderness cruising. Guests spend one full day exploring both historical Sitka where a choice of additional shore excursions awaits, and World Heritage Site Glacier Bay National Park. The company enhances the itinerary with Wrangell, a hidden jewel that offers a plethora of high action optional excursions including bear viewing from the Anan Bear Observatory and taking a jet boat up the Stikine River. The lovely fishing village of Petersburg features a performance by the Leikarring Dancers, beautiful walks, and the charm of the local people and their rich Norwegian heritage. Always a favorite is scenic cruising in Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage, considered the most prolific whale watching waters in Alaska. Also featured are two additional days spent searching for sea and wildlife, including opportunities to explore around Lake Eva, Red Bluff or Security Bay by Zodiac inflatable craft, and a full day at Icy Strait and the Inian Islands. The action takes place on the 138-guest Spirit of Yorktown and 102-guest Spirit of Endeavour. Prices start at $4,399, per person double occupancy.

Further, the 84-guest Spirit of Discovery will operate 24 departures of the four-night Glacier Bay Highlights itinerary, roundtrip from Juneau. This cruise offers two nights in Glacier Bay National Park, with a stop at Bartlett Cove for a special presentation and an opportunity to take a nature walk, and a full day of adventures at Haines and Skagway. Prices start at $1,599 per person, double occupancy. Pre and post night hotel packages are available to build in time for "Cruise West crafted" excursions to enhance your experience.

The 78-guest Spirit of Columbia will operate 19 departures of the four-night Glaciers of Prince William Sound itinerary, roundtrip from Anchorage. One fifth of the state's tide water glaciers are located in Prince William Sound and this is nature cruising at its finest. The glaciers and scenery are sure to stun even the most seasoned traveler. The small fishing village of Cordova, known for its prized Copper River salmon and inaccessible by highway, is a featured port stop offering adventure activities including kayaking, hiking and river rafting. Prices start at $1,199 per person, double occupancy.

Cruise West's popular 10-day Gold Rush Inside Passage itinerary has been revised to include Misty Fiords and the authentic Tsimshian community, Metlakatla. Ten departures will cruise between Seattle and Juneau at the beginning and end of the season on all four ships. Port calls include traditional favorites and many jewels: San Juan Islands; scenic sea and wildlife cruising in the Strait of Georgia, Frederick Sound, Tracy Arm and Sergius Narrows; the Norwegian fishing village of Petersburg, Sitka, Skagway and Glacier Bay National Park. This cruise offers exceptional value with prices starting at $3,599 per person, double occupancy.

Cruise West is the only cruise line that provides a land tour extension featuring a 3-night stay at the six million acre Denali National Park and Preserve, included in all standard land tours. Guests have more time to explore the park and enjoy included exclusive lectures by naturalists from the Denali Education Center and Alaska Geographic. For guests seeking an even more in-depth and active Denali adventure before their cruise, the company offers a more exclusive and intimate experience at two interior park lodges: Kantishna Roadhouse or North Face Lodge.

As always, Cruise West includes a shore excursion in every port and offers numerous optional excursions to further personalize the guest experience. For maximum value, book and pay in full by August 14, 2009, and save up to $700 per person. For additional information regarding Cruise West's Alaska voyages visit or to book a cruise call 1-800-296-8307 or a travel professional.

~Up-Close, Casual and Personal Cruising ~

Cruise West believes that small is beautiful. Small-ship exploration cruising allows up-close and personal experiences unmatched by the traditional larger cruise lines. For more than 63 years Cruise West has provided authentic travel experiences where the destination is the focus. Nine small ships with guest capacities ranging from 78-138 explore remote and distinctive destinations throughout the globe. A robust onboard enrichment program further enhances the guest experience through topical guest lecturers, additional exploration by Zodiac and included excursions at every port.


david ellis

AT a time in the early 19th century when young married women were expected to stay home and look after the children, or if they were rich, stay home and pay someone else to look after the children, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin turned such norms on their head.

The daughter of Count Nicholas Ponsardin, a wealthy and influential textile manufacturer through his friendship with Emperor Napoleon, Barbe-Nicole had inherited strong genes, and when she married winemaker Francois Clicquot immediately set out to prove she was never going to be your normal wife.

Sadly this came about somewhat quicker than she'd hoped: in 1805 her husband of only six years died.  Barbe-Nicole shocked family, friends and her late-husband's business associates by announcing that rather than taking on a business manager, she herself was taking change of his wine-making business at Reims in the north of France.

Sacre bleu cried the other winemakers. How could a woman run a company? Particularly a physically demanding winery?

But the 27-year-old veuve (widow) Clicquot soon turned Reim's winemaking industry upside down – literally.

And the result is that two centuries later, we still toss down the drop she made famous by one of her innovations, Veuve Clicquot Champagne.

And while she borrowed from her rich father-in-law to help market her tipple, it was her invention of a novel technique called riddling after the primary fermentation of Champagne that put her on the world stage.

Until then, Champagnes had a cloudy appeared caused by dead yeast in the bottle.

To get rid of this, Barbe-Nicole came up with the idea of having holes cut in her kitchen table, and put her Champagne bottles upside down in these so that the dead yeast fell and settled in the neck against the cork. After several weeks the corks were taken out, the dead yeast removed and new corks put in.

To further improve the technique she and her cellar master, Antoine de Muller devised a rack that held the bottles at a 45-degree angle, and each day a cellar-hand gently shook and turned each bottle; when the cork was eventually removed the yeast sediment was discarded, the bottle topped up with sweetened wine and re-corked to encourage secondary fermentation – and, hey presto, Champagne was now ferociously bubbly and sparkling clear.

Her other move was to re-open trade in Champagne with Russia – which had stopped during the war with France. And as she got in before other makers, her label soon captured a huge slice of Russia's renewed interest in French bubbly.

By the time she died in 1866 at the age of 89, Barbe-Nicole had become known as La Grande Dame de la Champagne, a title that lives on with a prestige cuvée of the same name.

And today tourists come from around the world to visit her famous cellars in Reims.

For €13 (around $23) they get a 90-minute guided tour of the winery and some of the 26km on underground storage tunnels – and at the end, a tasting of the famous Champers.

Reims is just 45 minutes from Paris by super-fast trains that travel at 320km/hr; it's a fascinating city, with some 80 per cent of the city having been destroyed in World War I, but lovingly restored to its original design – with much of the funding actually coming from American billionaires such as John D Rockefeller.

One particular must-visit is the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Reims, where the old Kings of France were crowned – with the celebrants toasting the future of their new monarchs with Champagne, of course.

There are 2300 religious statues in the cathedral, and if you don't suffer from vertigo, it's worth climbing the 249 steps to the narrow walkway around the roof for a spectacular view of the city.

Find time also to go to the so-called Salle de Reddition, an old schoolhouse where German generals surrendered to General Dwight D Eisenhower in May 1945 at the end of World War II. It's been preserved as it was on that day.

The French renamed the street on which it sits 'rue de Franklin D Roosevelt', after the American president.

If you're heading to France, ask your travel agent to include a visit to Reims, and the Veuve Clicquot cellars.



[] CLEAR view on Champagne – the widow Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin with one of her granddaughters

[] FAMOUS Reims Cathedral – crowning point for France's kings of old

[] HISTORIC 1920s enticement to visit France's Champagne region

[] PICTURESQUE Reims: a 16th century chapter house gateway

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Travel on a $20,000 Expedition for Free!

Quark Expeditions is searching for an Official Blogger to join a voyage to Antarctica. Do you have a passion for the polar regions? A commitment to the environment? An insatiable urge to photograph penguins?

Post your entry and tell the world why you should be our blogger. Be creative! On September 30, 2009, the entrant with the most number of votes will be selected as the winner.

The Official Quark Blogger will travel with a guest to Antarctica in February 2010 and blog about their experience, chronicling the action, the emotion, and the drama as their polar adventure unfolds.

Cruise Weekly Comment: Adventure cruising, expedition cruising, now eco cruising.

Product differentiation in the travel business is an ongoing challenge for those marketing existing products and even more so for those launching new ones and trying to get their heads above the noise.

A couple weeks back I attended a function aboard the superb ten passenger charter vessel, MV Platinum. The premise for my attendance was the announcement of new “adventure cruising” and “eco cruising” itineraries aboard this sparkling new vessel.

First and foremost, the 38m MV Platinum is like no other vessel offering adventure cruise itineraries. It’s lavish, exclusive and oh-so posh. Immediately I’m thinking of visiting royalty and uber-celebs chartering this vessel for a week or so between coronations or Academy Awards. I see flowing evening gowns, balmy moonlit nights and lots of champagne.

So where does this lovely boat fit in with chunky ex-Russian spy vessels and 50-passenger expedition yachts? To be honest I’m not sure.

Platinum’s idea of eco-cruising is white sandy beaches, a spot of snorkelling, gourmet meals, relaxation and hand-and-foot pampering. 5-day itineraries between the Gold Coast and Whitsundays run at around $800pp/day, fractionally more expensive than our regulars in this market but without the included excursions. If you’re planning a honeymoon or smart get-away-from-it-all break this would be hard to beat, but adventure seekers might find themselves left to their own devices. Where are the kayaks and Scuba tanks? BYO I imagine.

The 32-cabin Fantasea Ammari struggled throughout 2008 with itineraries in the Whitsundays and was eventually withdrawn back to Brisbane last October. The Ammari is a perfectly capable vessel, more in line with regular adventure yachts like Coral Princess’ Oceanic Discoverer and Captain Cook’s Reef Escape. Her so-called ‘adventure cruises’ were more leisure orientated.

“I see her as a sort of floating beach house,“ said Fantasea Cruises patriarch Hume Campbell at the time of the vessel’s re-introduction, “somewhere where guests can slow down quickly and relax.”

If Fantasea’s experience is anything to go by, there seems to be something missing from the “kick back” small ship cruising model, especially in our region. I would argue that in order to apply the ‘adventure’ or ‘expedition’ label, a cruise itinerary needs much more than fine wine, marble bathrooms and scenery. Luxury is all well-and-good, but enrichment and the oft-touted “experiential and transformational” need stirring into the mix too. Our big ship brigade seem to have “laid back” down pat, especially in the $200pp/day price bracket.

Have a clear idea what you want out of your next small ship cruise and scrutinise itineraries and activities closely. In my mind at least, adventure cruising needs ‘adventure’.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Whale watch in the Kimberley – and save 15% on Orion

Late July and August is the prime time to see migrating whales in the Kimberley – and what better way to see the largest Humpback whale population in the world as they head north from the Antarctic to rest and calve than from on board the luxury expedition cruise ship, Orion?

Limited space remains for some of Orion’s 10 night Kimberley Expedition Kimberley voyages in 2009. Take in the highlights between Darwin and Broome, including visits to mighty King George Falls, the dramatic Horizontal Waterfalls, Montgomery Reef and the spectacular ancient indigenous rock artwork of Bigge Island – plus the chance to see whales breaching, tail slapping and blowing.

Kimberley Expedition – Select from 5 voyages between 22 July and 31 August 2009:10 nights. Darwin/Broome and v.v. typically including King George River and Falls, Vansittart Bay, Bigge Island, Hunter River (for Mitchell Falls), Montgomery Reef and Raft Point, Talbot Bay/Horizontal Waterfalls, Cape Leveque, the Lacepedes – refer to specific itineraries for details.

Fares Guide:

Special offer – save 15% on these prices

Fares begin from $8,790 per person for an ocean view Category B Stateroom.

Suites begin from $12,125 per person for a Junior Suite and Owners Suites with French Balcony are $18,410 per person

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

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:

Cruise the Kimberley with Coral Princess – and Explore the Reef for free.

Coral Princess Cruises has added two extra departures for its most popular cruise: a voyage exploring the remote Kimberley coast between Broome and Darwin. And for new bookings before 31 August 2009, Coral Princess is offering a second three- or four-night cruise on the Great Barrier Reef, valued at up to $4392 per couple, for free.

Due to ever-popular demand, the two extra voyages aboard the company's luxury flagship Oceanic Discoverer depart on October 2 and 12 2009. New bookings will also include a free Great Barrier Reef cruise that can be used any time in the 12 months following the Kimberley cruise and can even be passed on to family members as a memorable gift.

The 10-night Kimberley cruise visits Kuri Bay, home of the South Pacific pearl industry, and ventures ashore to view the world-famous Bradshaw (Gwion) paintings, - the world's oldest known indigenous art – and the towering, 80-metre King George Falls, the tallest waterfalls in Western Australia. There is an optional helicopter flight over the Mitchell Plateau for views of the impressive four-tiered Mitchell Falls, as well as excursions into secluded gorges and to rock pools perfect for swimming. The cruise explores the Buccaneer Archipelago – made up of 800 islands – and includes an exhilarating Zodiac ride through the 'Horizontal Waterfall', where the tide floods between rocky cliffs.

The Kimberley wilderness of Western Australia is three times larger than England with a population of just 30 000.

Coral Princess operates two ships in the Kimberley. The Oceanic Discoverer accommodates a maximum of just 72 guests and travels with a purpose-built excursion vessel, Xplorer and inflatable Zodiacs. Coral Princess accommodates a maximum of just 48 guests. In true expedition style, the itinerary may vary to take maximum advantage of opportunities to venture ashore or to explore the many waterfalls, river systems, reefs and other natural attractions.

Prices for the 10-night Kimberley cruise start at $6450 aboard Coral Princess and $7750 aboard Oceanic Discoverer. Prices are per person, twin share and include the cruise, all meals, lectures and services of expedition staff on board and group transfers. There are regular departures from both Darwin and Broome between April and October 2009.

For further information and reservations contact Coral Princess Cruises on 1800 079 545 or visit


david ellis

I FEEL I am still in recovery, having been hurled, whirled, blasted, inverted and reverted forwards, backwards, upside down and sideways at a near-100 white-knuckle k's an hour – and for good measure dropped, plunged, soaked and spun dried.

Then tossed more times in 3-minutes than a Caesar salad.

Even when my feet are planted firmly back on terra fIrma for a sedate ol' fashioned steam train ride I find myself bailed-up by a couple of baddies wanting to spoil my ride by wielding six-guns in my face, and when I choose a genu-ine wild west Butterfield Coach for a more sedate amble, I find its sides disconcertingly peppered with equally genu-ine bullet holes…

Welcome folks to Knott's Berry Farm, America's oldest theme park, 10 minutes from Disneyland in California's Orange County, and a must-do on that USA holiday whether you're six or 60, and whether you're looking for a hell-raisin' coaster rider, or just mosey-in' around for photo opportunities with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy and the Peanuts Gang.

Walter and Cordelia ('Ma') Knott were struggling to make a living on their berry farm in the 1930s Big Recession when Cordelia had the idea of frying up some of their farm chooks and serving them to visitors to help make ends meet.

Her first eight customers on a June day in 1934 ate their meals off the Knott's wedding-present china in the family dining room, and so good was Cordelia's home-recipe golden fried chicken, creamy potato mash and tasty gravy, that most came back, bringing family and friends with them.

Soon folks were queuing for Ma's chicken dinners, and to kill time while they waited for a table, Walter brought-in some abandoned ghost-town buildings they could wander through; he then found a rusting old 1880's Denver and Rio Grande steam train that no one wanted, did it up and offered visitors rides on this on a narrow gauge track he laid around the farm.

Then came that rattling old Butterfield Stage Coach: America's first theme park was born.

Today, Knott's Berry Farm serves 1.5-million of Ma Knott's original family-recipe chicken dinners a year, and nearly as many servings of cherry, rhubarb or boysenberry pie, buttermilk cookies, ice-creams and preserves.

And from Walter's still-standing ghost town buildings there are now over 160 rides, shows, attractions, and shops to while away a day or two…

We late-in-life thrill seekers head straight for GhostRider, a 1400-metre long wooden roller coaster that reaches speeds of 100k's. It includes a 35-metre high swooping drop, and 13 hills, banks and turns, and has been voted by coaster freaks as America's "best ride."

Then its to the hair-raising Supreme Scream in which we're hauled up a steel tower the height of a 30-storey building, with nothing but fresh air and a safety-belt holding us to our bench-seat – and not dropped, but blasted ground-wards… at over 100k's an hour in just 3 seconds, springing bungy-like half-way up the tower again. Twice.

Others in the Knott's arsenal of speed thrills are heart-stoppers Boomerang and Montezooma's Revenge, Bigfoot Rapids, and Perilous Plunge – the world's tallest, steepest and wettest water ride in which 24-passenger coasters hurtle down a 75-degree water-slide from 40-metres up – creatng a splash at the bottom the height of a 4-storey building.

We get ourselves spun-dried after this in a cage that spins riders 25m into the air... then head for Silver Bullet, a near-1000m long coaster on which we're propelled at 90kmh through six 360-degree inversions and dropped almost vertically 33-metres.

For the kids and the more sane-minded there's Camp Snoopy's Charlie Brown Speedway mini-racers, a Ferris wheel, Snoopy's Red Baron Airplanes, Rocky Road Trucking Company's mini 18-wheelers, a kid-sized roller coaster called Timberline Twister, a restored 1896 Carousel, the steam train (now the oldest ride in the park) and that stage coach.

And a sedate splash through the easy-going Timber Mountain Log Ride, a simple runaway ore train ride in the blacked-out Calico Gold Mine, and Lucy's Tugboat…

Go visit: you'll find it a quick and reliable heart check you should see if you can claim on your health fund.

(For USA holiday packages incorporating Knott's Berry Farm phone Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays on 1300 79 49 59, or email



[] IT'S wise to do Montezooma's Revenge before lunch

[] UPSIDE down view of the world at a hundred k's on the Silver Bullet

[] BOOMERANG – twists and turns to get back where you started from

[] MORE sedate: steam train ride is the oldest attraction at Knotts Berry Farm

[] ORIGINAL wild west building that kick-started America's first amusement park

STRUTH! The Tiddly (Wink)


IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS says there's certainly truth in advertising in the little English village of Ellerdine near Shewsbury in Shropshire: while the pub's official name is the Royal Oak, so many villagers know they'll collect their wobbly boots on a visit there, that they simply dub the place 'The Tiddly.'

After years of trying to promote the real name of the pub, the Royal Oak's publican decided some years back that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and put up a new sign (see pic) for his watering hole.

And OF COURSE  The Tiddly's the best pub in Ellerdine – it's the ONLY pub in Ellerdine!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blue Lagoon offers 30 per cent discount on four-day/three-night Yasawa 'Club' cruises

Blue Lagoon Cruises is offering a 30 per cent discount on all four-day/three-night Yasawa Island 'Club' cruises from now until 31 August 2009.

Pricing for the special starts from AUD1209* per person twin share in a 'Hibiscus' class cabin with travel valid until 31 March 2010.

All Blue Lagoon cruises programs include all meals and cruise activities ranging from daily shore excursions and snorkeling safaris to fish feeding, fishing and glass bottom boating.

Cultural experiences include a 'Lovo' feast, visits to remote villages, Kava ceremonies and a day spent at Blue Lagoon Cruises' private island of Nanuya Lailai.

*Conditions apply. Please note cruise prices do not include international airfares or beverages (other than tea and coffee). A daily fuel surcharge of FJD25 per person also applies.

See for full itineraries.

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

Friday, June 19, 2009

Wildest Dream

Mark MacKenzie

ISBN 0719521238(978-071-952123-2)
RRP $35.00 April 2009
John Murray Paperback (C)

In 1924, George Mallory and Sandy Irvine disappeared into the clouds encircling the peak of Everest. Whether they were the first men to reach the top of the Earth's highest mountain remains a mystery. They never returned from their ill-fated expedition. Seventy-five years later, the then-unknown mountaineer Conrad Anker made an extraordinary discovery. He spotted 'a patch of white' standing out against the rock; it was Mallory's frozen body. Mallory's treacherous route on Everest's northern slopes remains one of the most demanding challenges in mountaineering. So, is it possible that Mallory and Irvine - exhausted, confused and oxygen-starved - could have made the ascent all those years ago without artificial aid? Last year, Anker returned to Everest to find out. His partner was Leo Houlding, a freakishly talented young British climber with an appetite for death-defying ascents but untested at extreme altitude. Houlding, the lightning-fast, wild child of climbing, stands poles apart from Anker, a soft-spoken altruist and environmentalist. Kitted out in replica clothing and with a film crew recording their every move, they set off to solve Everest's oldest mystery.


For readers of the bestselling "White Mischief" and "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"--"Vanity Fair" contributing editor Mark Seal tells the mesmerizing story of the captivating life and shocking death of world-renowned naturalist Joan Root.

From her passion for animals to her storybook love affair to her hard-fought crusade to save Kenya's beautiful Lake Naivasha, "Wildflower" is naturalist, filmmaker, and lifelong conservationist Joan Root's gripping life story--a stunning and moving tale featuring a remarkable modern-day heroine.

After twenty years of spectacular, unparalleled wildlife filmmaking together, Joan and Alan Root divorced and a fascinating woman found her own voice. Renowned journalist Mark Seal offers this breathtaking, culturally relevant portrait of a strong woman discovering herself and fighting for her beliefs before her mysterious and brutal murder.

With a cast of characters as wild, wondrous, and unpredictable as Africa itself, "Wildflower" is a real-life adventure tale set in the world's fast-disappearing wilderness. Rife with personal revelation, intrigue, corruption, and murder, readers will remember Joan Root's extraordinary journey long after they turn the last page of this utterly compelling book.

Journalist Mark Seal set out to investigate the tragic death of environmentalist Joan Root, but he ended up telling the amazing story of her life. In 2006, the 69-year-old Root was murdered by gunmen in her home in Kenya, in what police believed was a botched robbery. As Seal began to look into the case, he found that it was far more likely that Root was intentionally targeted by the poachers and/or urban developers she had dedicated her life to stopping. In his research, Seal uncovered Root's diaries and letters and gradually became enchanted with the love story that defined her remarkable life. He finds that Root was a vibrant soul who fell in love with her husband Alan against the spectacular backdrop of colonialist Kenya, and the two spent twenty years pursuing adventure and producing award-winning nature documentaries. As Kenya developed, the unique wilderness began to disintegrate, causing Root to reinvent herself as a political activist promoting conservation, a crusade which likely led to her terrible death.

ISBN 0733624375(978-073-362437-7)
RRP $32.99 July 2009
Hachette Aust Paperback (234 x 180)

Sunday, June 14, 2009



IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS says you wouldn't want to be a hotelier at Boryeong in Korea in July – that's when 40,000 revellers descend on this town on the country's Yellow Sea Coast to wallow like, well, pigs in mud.

Mud found on the flood plains around the town's Daecheon beach has long been famous for its cosmetic properties, and in 1998 local tourism officials decided to go beyond just promoting the stuff in jars and tubes for visitors to take home, launching their first slap-up Mud Festival that proved such a hoot it's been held every year since.

Between July 11 and 19 this year you can wallow in all the medicinal values of Boryeong mud with such events as mud facials, mud hair rinses, mud surfing, mud wrestling, mud sliding, a Mud King competition and a Human Pyramid (or should that be Pyramud?) contest, a mud cavalry battle, mud canoeing – and at night, wallow back in pools of mud to watch fireworks.

Then go back to your hotel and those nice crispy white sheets…

What would your Mudder say?


david ellis

YOU wouldn't think there'd be too much interest in getting married at a hotel that's been boarded-up and derelict for seventeen years, but in Hawaii couples are lining up for just such an opportunity.

And it's all because of two people: Elvis Presley who was married at this now-decaying place in the 1961 hit-movie Blue Hawaii, and a passionate Hawaiian historian, entertainer and cultural enthusiast, Larry Rivera who has been associated with the hotel for an amazing 58 years.

The Coco Palms Resort was opened on the island of Kauai in the early 1950s. It started with a mere 24 rooms, but like Topsy, just growed and growed to eventually by the 1980s embracing close-on 400 rooms, suites and thatch bungalows.

Legendary hotelier Grace Guslander was the first to put the place on the map when she and husband Lyle took it over in the mid-1950s, introducing such novelties as having doormen welcome arriving guests with a blast on a huge conch shell, and picking bare-chested male staff with perfect physiques to run through the grounds at 7.30pm each night lighting scores of oil flares – a "Call to Feast" that let guests know that dinner was served.

And with a reputation for embellishing history and never allowing the facts to spoil a good story, Grace soon earned Coco Palms a more exalted position than it deserved in Hawaii's royal history. This included declaring a plantation of 2000 coconut palms to be the "royal grove" of Queen Deborah Kapule, Kauai's last reigning queen who once lived on the site – even though the grove was not planted until 1896, forty-three years after the Queen's death.

To give further importance to this "royal grove" Grace Guslander invited film stars, sporting personalities and royalty to plant new coconuts that would be named in their honour, the invitations being enthusiastically taken-up by, amongst others, Bing Crosby, the von Trapp Family Singers, Hawaii's famed Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, and the Prince and Princess of Japan.

During the Guslander's time running the resort, a young local, Larry Rivera got his first job there, working in the cocktail bar and dining room in 1951, but leaving for a while to serve with the Army during the Korean War.

On his return in 1954, the Guslander's gave him his job back and Larry worked there until Hawaii's most ferocious hurricane, Iniki swept across Kauai in 1992 with winds of 300kmh, including one gust of 365kmh (227 miles per hour;) the resort was trashed and despite numerous proposals has never re-opened.

Larry Rivera, however, has a special love of the place, and today as well as still being one of Kauai's most-popular entertainers with his singing, ukulele and guitar playing in various venues around Kauai and on radio and TV, this near-octogenarian organises weddings and renewals of vows ceremonies in the grounds of the old resort.

These include the couple being serenaded as they travel on a circa 2009 replica of the same double-canoe and on the same lagoon as that which Elvis Presley (Chad Gates) married sweetheart Maile Duval (played by Joan Blackman) in Blue Hawaii back in 1961.

And whether the simplest service or the most spectacular with the replica Presley canoe, Larry treats each with the same care and "feeling of aloha" as he would if it were for one of his own daughters or granddaughters… and while the buildings may be trashed, the maintained tropical gardens around the lagoon are still to those who marry there, "the last paradise,"

Simple ceremonies start from US$600 and range up to the spectacular "Blue Hawaii Wedding" that costs US$2500 plus tax and includes a non-denominational minister, the replica Blue Hawaii double outrigger canoe massed with tropical flowers, two canoe paddlers, a conch shell blower, Larry serenading as the canoe slides down the lagoon and during the service… all culminating with his spine-tingling Hawaiian Wedding Song.

The couple also receive an album of thirty-six 5X5 colour photos, two enlargements, a DVD, two orchid leis, a Haku plant headband for the bride, and a wedding certificate.

For more details of weddings and renewals of vows at Coco Palms, airfares to Hawaii, accommodation and sightseeing there, phone Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays on 1300 79 49 59, or email


[] LARRY Rivera serenades a local couple as they make their way to their  Renewal of Vows on the replica Elvis Presley Blue Hawaii outrigger canoe.

[] A COUPLE married in the grounds of the Coca Palms Resort enjoys Larry's spine-tingling Hawaiian Wedding Song.

[] ELVIS slept here during the making of Blue Hawaii, choosing the last bungalow on the left so he could come and go without being seen by other guests.

[] THE still boarded-up remains of the Resort trashed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992 – the lush tropical gardens along the lagoon are maintained for weddings and vow renewals organised by Larry Rivera.

  Photos Dexter Olivas/David Ellis

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Original Kimberley Quest destroyed by fire

Note from Editor: Kimberley Quest II continues to sail advertised voyages


FIRE has destroyed a $2.3 million luxury cruise liner in the West Australian town of Broome.

The fire was reported about 11.30pm (WST) yesterday and was still burning late this morning.

Police spokeswoman Ros Weatherall said it was believed no one was aboard the boat.

The Kimberley Quest, a 24.9m fiberglass vessel built in 2000, had been in port at the Broome slipway undergoing repairs.

Ms Weatherall said two arson squad detectives were on their way from Perth to investigate the cause of the blaze.

"Because it is still burning, no one has been able to get too close to the boat,'' Ms Weatherall said.

"Hopefully the fire will be out soon and police can take a closer look at it.''

The boat's owners have asked police to clarify that the destroyed vessel was not the Kimberley Quest II, which is currently cruising the Talbot Bay area with 18 people on board.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

One Ocean Expeditions secures expedition ship ‘Akademik Ioffe’


Canada-based ONE OCEAN EXPEDITIONS, represented by ACTIVE TRAVEL in Australia, has announced a significant coup for the forthcoming 2010 Antarctic season.

Commencing 16 January 2010, ONE OCEAN will operate the well-known Russian research vessel, Akademik Ioffe, formerly chartered by US-based Quark Expeditions.

ONE OCEAN'S CEO and ex-Australian resident, Andrew Prossin, said " Akademik Ioffe has been sold in the Australian market for years. I worked with this vessel for many seasons and in my opinion she is the best-equipped Antarctic expedition vessel in the world. I am delighted to have secured her for the 2009/10 Antarctic season".

The Akademik Ioffe was commissioned by the Soviets in 1989 and was originally designed as high-tech "spy ship". She was never really used for that purpose however her sophisticated ballast systems and ultra-quiet engines make her an ideal vessel for polar exploration. According to Prossin, she is "about as quiet and vibration free as they come".

Andrew Prossin is a veteran of approx 150 voyages in Polar regions and is at the forefront of polar innovation. Some years ago he introduced sea-kayaking options to the Australian market and his 2010 programmes contain a number of creative options. First, he will reduce passenger numbers from 110 to 86, providing the highest staff/client ratio in the industry. Secondly, each voyage includes four 'Adventure Concierges', setting new standards for customer service. Their role is simply to engage with passengers at whatever level is required, to ensure they get the best from their Antarctic adventure.

ONE OCEAN is also unique in the expedition cruise industry by offering a wide variety of options to clients every time they leave the ship. These include sea-kayaking, guided hikes, zodiac cruises, bird-watching programmes – with passengers able to choose their preferred activity each time they go ashore. And an overnight adventure camping option (normally over A$200) is free of charge including all necessary gear.

By reducing passenger numbers from 110 to 86, there is considerable extra space on board. Each expedition will now include a massage therapist and a new onboard spa will provide a variety of relaxing and therapeutic services at an additional cost. The company has also developed an 'Active Cruising' programme, bringing fitness and adventure together into a unique package. An onboard personal trainer will offer a regular programme of fitness and training sessions so that participants are well prepared for daily activities – and for the delicious meals prepared by the Canadian chef!

Five expeditions are offered next year, including three 10 night cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula, a 12 night expedition to the South Orkney Islands, Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula and an 18 night trip to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula.

For brochures and further information contact ACTIVE TRAVEL in Australia on 02-9264 1231 or visit

Cruise Weekly Comment: Changes Afloat

Like so many travel industry segments, the so-called global financial crisis has caused many operators to reevaluate their strategic planning. Even so, several were committed to new vessels and itineraries devised in the glory days leading up to the collapse.

Certainly one of the most ambitious and adventurous itineraries would have to be Cruise West’s Voyages of the Great Explorers, a 335-day circumnavigation of the world. Departing Singapore on March 6, 2010, the 120-guest, all-suite Spirit of Oceanus will sail westward, following the sun, to return to Singapore on February 3, 2011.

This remarkable journey includes visits to 242 ports in 59 countries and 85 UNESCO World Heritage sites while crossing 14 seas and oceans, transiting three canals, as well as a voyage tied to The Famed Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Scotland’s colorful military musical spectacular. This is really a fine weave voyage, over twice as long and visiting nearly five times as many ports as a comparable Cunard, ‘big ship’ itinerary.

Another vessel that re-emerged after an expensive refit was Silverseas’ Prince Albert II. The luxury small ship cruise line jumped the adventure bandwagon by picking up the ex-Society Expeditions MS World Adventurer in 2007 and following her relaunch last year, immediately placed her on a leisurely schedule in French Polynesia. Fortunately that was quickly corrected and she is now embarking on proper polar voyages.

GAP Adventures were obliged to find a new ship after the high profile loss of Explorer in Antarctica in November 2007. The new 105m Expedition re-entered service last month and follows a popular recent trend among operators of converting arctic ferries into adventure vessels along the lines of Quark’s Ocean Nova, which was reborn from the Danish-flagged Greenlander, Sarpik Ittuk, in 2007.

Quark Expeditions, by the way, is in the process of rejigging their itineraries in response to the new challenges and an announcement is due any day on the revised plans. Stay tuned.

The giant, century old, Norwegian Hurtigruten cruise line (formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyages) is currently negotiating choppy waters. The decision to embark on a major fleet upgrade was a bit of unfortunate timing and the company is one of many caught in the global mess. There is a major push to get travellers aboard the newest expedition vessel, MS Fram. Built in 2007, she is one of the bigger expedition vessels with 318 berths and a GRT of 12,000.

In a more classic vein, the 1976-built Royal Dutch Navy vessel, Hr. Ms. Tydeman will be transformed to the 112-passenger MV Plancius and begin polar voyages next year in Antarctica with Oceanwide Expeditions.

As you’ve seen written many times already, now is certainly a great time to go adventure cruising with many companies offering enticing specials and deals. Go see your travel agent today.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Travel Solo Minus the Hefty Surcharge

Captain Cook Cruises have reduced their single's surcharge to only 25% on normal twin share prices on all Fiji, Murray Princess and Sydney Harbour accommodated cruises and Fiji Sailing Safari cruises.

Traditionally singles travelling alone, pay the same cost for their accommodation as a couple, which is normally a 100% increase on a twin share per person price.

"A lot of our competitors charge a 75% or even 100% solo surcharge, so we feel we are offering exceptional value." said Jackie Charlton, Joint Managing Director, Captain Cook Cruises.

Small ship cruising is a great option for single travellers allowing them to easily meet other passengers. Captain Cook Cruises accommodated vessels sleep up to only 120 passengers, so cruises are very intimate and solo travellers can meet other solo travellers or groups of people and make lifelong friends

Captain Cook Cruises offer 3, 4 and 7 night cruises in Fiji and on the Murray River and a 2 night Weekend Explorer cruise on Sydney Harbour.

Fiji cruises onboard the Reef Escape start from $1500 for sole occupancy, Murray River cruises onboard the Murray Princess start from $944 for sole occupancy and the two night Sydney Harbour cruise onboard the Captain Cook Explorer starts from $588 for sole occupancy.

Cruise prices include all meals, guided tours, onboard entertainment and use of the ship's facilities.

For reservations and enquiries please contact Captain Cook Cruises toll free on 1800 804 843, Int +612-9206 1111 or visit


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Struth! Across the Pacific by Tin Can



IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wonderous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS says the tiny South Pacific island of Niuafo'ou in Tonga is also known as Tin Can Island.


Its because Niuafo'ou has no harbour and no wharf, and in early days of European visitation and settlement, during bad weather passenger and cargo ships would give it a miss as there was no way of either landing or picking up freight or passengers.


But because mail was so important to the tiny community – there are still only around 650 people live there today – an ingenious local storekeeper came up with the idea of getting mail out to ships in bad weather by using old tin cans in which biscuits had earlier been delivered to his grocery store.


He put the mail inside the tins, soldered them up so they were watertight… and had a powerful local swim them on a floating pole out to ships standing in rough seas off the island.


Ship's captains refilled the tins with the mail for Niuafo'ou, and the habit quickly became known as Tin Can Mail; a local postmaster later convinced the Tongan government to print special Tin Can Mail stamps for the island, and these are still used today and treasured by stamp collectors around the world.


Our pic shows a postcard mailed from the island in 1936 with the official Post Office cancellation DISPATCHED BY TIN CAN MAIL.



david ellis

WHEN he was little more than knee-high to a grasshopper, and not even at school, Larry Rivera would watch and listen in awe to his mother pickin' the ukulele at their home on Hawaii's paradise island of Kauai.

And when other family or friends dropped around with their own instruments to play and sing island songs, the young Larry would get hold of one of the many spare ukuleles that lay around the place and copy-cat their every movement.

Still not old enough to go to school he was soon playing simple tunes on his own, and already sensing that music would be a part of his life, took ukulele lessons as soon as he did start school... and by 16 had written his first song.

All that was before Japan invaded Pearl Harbour and America became involved in the Second War, and today the near-octogenarian – he's 79 this year – entertains holidaymakers when they arrive at Kauai's Lihue Airport every Tuesday to join a cruise from there, has a spot on a local TV station, and puts on a weekly lunch show at a popular local restaurant entertaining a delighted 400 guests at a time.

Somehow between all this he finds time to compose his own words and music – he's recorded sixty of his compositions on seven CDs and another is about to be released – and joins-in promotions of his island at shopping centres, trade shows, on radio and TV on the American mainland, Canada and Japan.

And as something of a grand finale, he also organises weddings and renewals of vows, and sings, picks his ukulele and plays a guitar at these.

And they're anything but your ordinary wedding or vow renewal: his are conducted on a replica of the barge and on the same lagoon at Kauai's Coco Palms Resort on which Elvis Presley married his sweetheart, Maile (Joan Blackman) in Blue Hawaii. 

Larry, who has six children and 16 grandchildren, also manages to find time to conduct tours six days a week of the historic Coco Palms that was trashed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992, telling the history of the now-derelict resort and the making of much of Blue Hawaii there, singing and ukulele pickin' along the way…

Larry and the Coco Palms, one soon learns, are virtually as one: his got his first job there in 1951, and apart from a stint with the Army during the Korean War, has been associated with the place ever since... a whopping 58 years.

When he first started in 1951 his mum would drive him to work at 4pm, he'd serve cocktails 'til dinner, wait on tables through dinner, collect diner's payments as they left, put on a little show for those who stayed on, sleep in the office after that (if anyone turned up late and wanted their key they'd wake him and he'd walk them with a torch through the palms to their bungalow)… and then he'd serve breakfast in the dining room for early departers before his mum would pick him up and take him home at 9am.

Phew! Just listening to all this has you wanting to sit and take a deep breath. And understand why the Governor of Hawaii and Mayor of Kauai got together and declared this extraordinary one-man-show, Kauai's Living Treasure of Music.
After his Army stint Larry was returning to Kauai in 1954 and on the plane sat next to Lyle Guslander, who mentioned he was the new owner of Coco Palms. Larry told him he'd like to get his job back there and Mr Guslander said "Tell the manager I sent you."

Larry did, starting all over again tending the bar, waiting at table, serving breakfast – and singing to guests, including two who asked one night if they could join him on stage: their names were Elvis Presley and Patti Page.

Today he's still there and showing no signs of easing up. If you'd like to visit Kauai and meet Larry, see one of his shows or tour the old Coco Palms Resorts get details from Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays on 1300 79 49 59, or email

(NEXT WEEK: Like to get married or renew vows where Elvis tied the knot in Blue Hawaii? We'll tell you how.)


[] LARRY Rivera during one of his many stage shows on Kauai.

[] DESPITE many plans to restore it, the historic Coco Palms Resort is still derelict and boarded up from Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

[] LARRY sings, strums the guitar and picks his ukulele on historic tours of the old Coco Palms; he does tours six times a week.

New 2 day Whitsunday Sailing Adventure

Barefoot Cruises Australia has just increased their range of sailing and cruise products in the Whitsunday’s with the 18 metre ex racing yacht Apollo III. Launched in January this year this sailing holiday operates a 2 day 1 night experience and is aimed at the time poor traveler who still wants to experience the highlights of the Whitsunday’s, those on a budget and those who are not sure that 3 nights at sea is for them.

The cruise visits Australia’s famous Whitehaven Beach and guests also have the opportunity to snorkel the magnificent fringing coral reefs of Hook Island. Being a fast ocean racing yacht she is able to cover these distances fairly quickly and therefore is able to offer a number of different experiences over a short time period. Catering for a maximum of only 12 guests, this is a small group hands on experience. Guests are encouraged to participate with setting the sails, grinding the winches and taking a turn at the helm.

Costs for a single berth is only AUD$319 with doubles available at AUD$339 per person. Price includes meals, morning and afternoon teas, linen and snorkeling equipment. There are 3 departures per week from Abel Point Marina in Airlie Beach on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.

Further information is available from

Barefoot Cruises Australia. PO Box 519 Airlie Beach Qld 4802 Tel: 07 49461777
website: or by e-mail

Magical Melanesia - Cruise International - destinations, port guides and cruise reviews

Papua New Guinea is a wild, untamed land full of sorcery, magic and bizarre rites and practices. Some tribes are yet to see their first white face. Take this scene, add the luxurious expedition ship MV Orion, and you too will fall under the spell. WORDS AND PICTURES: RODERICK EIME

Dobu Island, part of the D'Entrecasteaux Islands
Dobu Island, part of the D'Entrecasteaux Islands
Fergusson Island, a prehistoric landscape of boiling lakes and the site of the famous Dei Dei hot springs, is just one of the numerous excursions we enjoyed during the expedition ship MV Orion's 11-night "Highland Cultures" cruise along the "spine" of Papua New Guinea's mainland. Located between the tropical north coast of Australia and the Indonesian archipelago, Papua New Guinea, or PNG as it's known, is a mysterious, mountainous land of tropical landscapes and amazing coastal scenery.

Read full story

Saturday, June 6, 2009


david ellis

Students of New Zealand's one-time Miss Gibson's Private School for Girls would have trouble coming to grips today with the new-found life of their old alma mater.

For rooms in which six, eight or even more young ladies of the rural well-to-do of New Zealand's South Island once crammed into to sleep, are now individual suites for guests in the plush and re-named Charlotte Jane Boutique Hotel.

And no more are there the communal toilets and showers that would run cold after the first few pupils drained them on shivering winter's mornings; in their place are now vast walk-around ensuites serving each luxury air-conditioned suite.

And gone too are the school-day dining routines that forbade anything but the devouring of meals in strict and stoney silence: In their place today is dining of grand proportions, with 5-star gourmet cuisine shared at a leisurely pace over suitably talkative reds and whites from the best of New Zealand's vineyards and others around the world.

The story of Miss Gibsons Private School for Girls and the 5-star Charlotte Jane Boutique Hotel provides a wonderful step back in time in the history of Christchurch, a time in the 1880s when an Englishman, Captain Frederick Gibson and his wife Mary settled with their family at Lyttleton outside Christchurch where he took up the position of Port Officer.

As the family grew to ten children, the Gibsons moved to a more spacious block, and with 640-pounds given by their two elder school-teacher daughters, built a large and rambling home, part of which they turned into Miss Gibson's Private School for Girls.

In 1891 eight students were enrolled. This quickly doubled, then trebled and by 1922 with nearly 70 pupils – and classes often having to be held outdoors – the Gibsons decided to relocate to a new site at Christchurch's Merivale that their now-historic buildings still occupy today.

Around the mid-1920s Captain Gibson, a stickler for good manners, became increasingly liverish about the name of his school being referred to colloquially as "Gibbies," and called on an old friend, the once-feared Maori warrior Paoro Taki to ponder a more suitable, traditional Maori moniker.

Paoro Taki thought about it for a while and came up with Rangi-Ruru – meaning Wide Sky Shelter – and as the school continued to grow it moved yet again.

The Gibsons sold the newly-located Rangi-Ruru (that today is one of New Zealand's leading church schools,) and with their family growing up and moving away, also moved out of their home-cum-schoolhouse, and the twin-buildings became a womens' refuge, and then flats and finally abandoned.

Then in the mid-1990s Moira and Siegfried Lindlbauer discovered the still-hauntingly gracious buildings and set their hearts to turning them into a fine guest house. Moira, from Singapore and Siegfried from Germany, spent two years  ripping out make-shift walls, tearing-down tacked-on classrooms – and  discovering priceless, century-old handcarved Kauri and Rimu timber-work from which they painstakingly removed coat upon coat of garish green and pink paint.

They also found in every room intricate cast-iron fireplaces that had been boarded up… and behind cupboards, old newspapers and postcards sent from holidaying students to their teachers.

In 1997 the Lindlbauer's opened Charlotte Jane Guest House (named after one of the first ships to sail from England to Christchurch in 1850,) offering twelve vast guest rooms, each with a gas fire, walk-around ensuites, furnishings of recycled rare timbers, and most with views over the landscaped gardens.

And a tradition of fine dining that continues to this day: gone are the Gibson girls' breakfasts of porridge and toast and tea, replaced with fresh fruits and cereals, warm breads and croissants, fruit juices, eggs and bacon and lamb cutlets and grilled tomatoes…

Gone too are the girls' night meals of mutton chop stews, cold silverside and slabs of bread – and in their place such choices as prawns marinated with Moroccan herbs on a bed of tabbouleh, goat cheese soufflé with red pepper coulis, Canterbury lamb shanks on sweet potato and carrot mash with Cognac peppercorn jus, beef Bearnaise, Grand Marnier crème brulee with almond biscotti, sticky date pudding with vanilla bean ice-cream…

(If such suite life appeals, Charlotte Jane Boutique Hotel prices start from NZ$280 per night for two people, including full-cooked breakfasts; book through travel agents or


[] CLASS OF ITS OWN – the one-time Miss Gibson's School for Girls, now a 5-star boutique hotel

[] VINTAGE offerings: the wine cellar at the Charlotte Jane Boutique Hotel

[] SUITE LIFE in one of the hotel's luxury suites


David Ellis

There is, in this travel writing game, an inherent risk of madness brought about by an occupational hazard known as TSI.

TSI is The Site Inspection, a professional encounter that's been known to reduce granite-hearted men to tears, morph otherwise normally rational human beings into gibbering idiots, and in worst-case scenarios, have travel-hardened scribes pass-up free drinks to avoid a TSI ambush.

TSI is what these writers engage-in in the hope that they we will splash enough ink around their pages about the hotels or resorts they visit, to in fact pay for their stay ten times over.

Every stay invariably begins, ends, or is interrupted by TSI. The occasion is generally conducted by a smiling young thing who has done it twenty-something times already that week for travel agents, writers, meeting organisers, wedding coordinators and anyone else who can help put bums in beds.

And they have it down so pat that if they miss a floor in the elevator they'll happily be describing what a beautiful ballroom we're in, whereas in fact we're in the dunnies on the level above.

So it was with horror that fellow scribes learned that in Hawaii recently, we occupied a couple of spare hours voluntarily taking a TSI.

"He's finally lost it," was one colleague's summation. "Keep it up, and you'll go blind," warned another.

But we convinced the sceptics that roaming Waikiki's oldest hostelry  (the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, circa 1901) and learning its little-known history, was time both professionally and personally rewarding.

And there was no trim young thing leading us, but rather a happily overweight bloke (the result, he says, of a ritual of fried Spam and egg breakfasts,) who sported an Aloha shirt and a lei in place of a clipboard.

His name was Tony Bissen, a likeable out-of-the-ordinary Moana Reception Clerk who is so proud of his historic hotel that six times a week for the past seventeen years he's walked guests and other visitors for free hour-or-so journeys amidst its corridors of memories.

And there are no dunnies in place of ballrooms, no comparisons of twin-bedded rooms with single-bedded rooms, rooms with garden views as opposed to one's with beach views, rooms with spas compared to rooms without… or the obligatory Royal Suite that king someone-or-other once slept in.

Rather, Tony begins with a flickering black-and-white film of old Waikiki, talks us through a fascinating collection of historic hotel paraphernalia including bulky woollen neck-to-knee bathers, century-old dinner-ware, postcards, old steamer trunks and their fashion contents – and a room key recently returned by the family of a guest who'd forgotten to give it back it after a stay in 1920.

He then shows us lop-sided windows caused when the half-built hotel started sinking in the sand 106 years ago and had to be propped-up, and a corridor with a decided downhill slope caused by that same sinking feeling.

He points out the massive banyan tree in the garden under which Webley Edwards broadcast Hawaii Calls every Saturday afternoon for nearly 40 years through 650 radio stations world-wide.

And takes us into a yester-year of old-world charms supported by 21st century technology and indulgences, rattling off homilies along the way: Mickey Rooney took surfing lessons here, Admiral Bird rested at the hotel before going to the Antarctic, Clarke Gable became mates here with legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku, Shirley Temple sang The Good Ship Lollipop under the banyan tree, Sinatra crooned From Here to Eternity… and Amelia Erhard called it home for a night or two.

And what about the Mystery of Room 120? Was it murder, or was it misfortune? Tony says that's another story for another day…

To join Tony's free tours – he shows over 6000 visitors a year around the hotel – simply turn up at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider on Waikiki at 11am or 5pm any Monday, Wednesday or Friday; you don't have to be a hotel guest – most participants actually come from other resorts.


TWISTED view of Waikiki: Tony Bissen and just some of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider's lop-sided window frames, re-cut to fit after the hotel got that sinking feeling.

YESTER-YEAR charms with 21st century technology make for stay to remember at Waikiki's oldest on-the-beach hotel.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wallace Family Celebrate 30 Years of Cruising

Jim and Jo Wallace, the Cairns-based owners and operators of Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises, are celebrating 30 years of cruising to the Great Barrier Reef.

The couple recognised the importance of the Great Barrier Reef long before it was inscribed on the World Heritage List, first sharing it with visitors on June 9, 1979 when they started daily cruises to Low Isles, off Port Douglas, on the Martin Cash.

“We have had 30 wonderful years in an industry we love. Sharing the magnificent Great Barrier Reef with others is simply the best job in the world,” Jim said.

“Our challenge as one of the early reef operators has been to set new standards for our competitors to follow and we have done this on many counts.

“In the late 80s we changed the ‘face’ of the reef cruising industry by introducing the revolutionary, comfortable and fast wavepiercer vessels. This year, we are the first reef operator to achieve a Zero Carbon Footprint and as a result have been awarded the highest level of certification under Eco Tourism Australia’s inaugural Climate Action Certification Program.”

The Wallaces operated Quicksilver Connections at Port Douglas for 10 years before selling in 1989 to the current owners.

However, it was only a year before Jim and Jo were back in the cruising industry, buying Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises in 1990.

They expanded the company’s capacity to Green Island from 200 to 320 in 1997 when they bought Reef Jet and merged the two permits. In 1999 they built the Reef Rocket to replace the Reef Jet vessel and the following year purchased the original Quicksilver III, refitting it and renaming it Big Cat.

The next major expansion was in 2004 when Jim and Jo bought Terri Too and changed the name to Cairns Habitat Cruises. This expanded the business from half and full day trips to Green Island to include day trips on Trinity Inlet to the Cairns Crocodile Farm and sunset cruises in the evening.

Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises truly is a locally-owned family business with Jim and Jo’s daughter, Paula Wallace, appointed Managing Director of the company.

The Wallace family’s winning formula of friendly and helpful service has earned Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises an induction into the Tropical North Queensland Tourism Awards Hall of Fame after winning the Best Major Tour and Transport Operator in 2004, 2006 and 2007.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

North Star Cruises Special Offers

Travellers offered unique opportunity to experience ultra luxury adventure cruise ship True North with special ‘beat the economic slowdown’ incentives.

North Star Cruises has unveiled a raft of special incentives to battle the economic slowdown.

For a limited time, consumers can take advantage of three 10% discounts.

North Star Cruises General Manager Peter Trembath said there had never been a better time to experience the luxury and adventure of a True North cruise.

“If you were ever thinking of experiencing the iconic True North, now is the time, with discounted special deals that are never likely to be repeated,” said Mr Trembath.

Specials include:

Previous Guest Discount: All previous guests will receive a 10% discount on repeat arrangements.

Early Bird Tariff Discount: All guests will receive a 10% for bookings outside 12 months.

Early Bird Deposit Bonus: All bookings received for departures outside 12 months will be subject to a 10% deposit only. The balance of the normal 25% deposit will become payable 12 months from departure.

The special deals are valid for all new bookings and will continue until further notice.

Mr Trembath said incentives could be combined meaning some excellent savings for those who qualified for more than one special deal.

“For many people, the True North is that once in a life time experience – so if you’ve ever dreamed of experiencing one of our cruises, it’s time to take advantage of these unbeatable special offers.”

“We travel to some of the most exotic locations in the world including the stunning Kimberley coastline, and into the Pacific Islands.”

Highlights for the rest of the 2009 season include:

• The Kimberley Photographic Workshop with renowned photographer Christian Fletcher onboard the Kimberley Wilderness Cruise departing Broome August 29
• The West Papua Discoverer cruise which explores an untouched paradise of hidden culture and incredible natural scenery departing Darwin in October.

For more information visit or phone 08 9192 1829.

True North Background

The multi award winning adventure cruise ship, True North, allows discerning guests to experience wilderness in surroundings more akin to one of the world’s most exclusive hotels. Lavish features include:

• A sundeck, forward observation lounge, ship’s lounge, alfresco bar, internet café, plasma screens with interpretive information, lower deck dining room with large panoramic windows, and fine dining.

• All cabins feature enhanced décor, en-suite facilities, in-house entertainment and satellite telephones.

• Multiple expedition boats allow passengers to do “what they want, when they want”.

• The True North is the only Kimberley adventure-cruise ship that sails with its own helicopter.

• The purpose built True North is able to explore the upper reaches of shallow river systems.

• Adventure cruises and expeditions operate along the magnificent coastlines of Australia and the South Pacific.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Orion Wins Covetted Adventure Award

GT Travel Awards 2007: Best adventure tourism
Orion Expedition Cruises

Source: Gourmet Traveller Magazine

Orion’s great success in its three years of operation has been to make the inaccessible accessible, and to do so in supreme comfort. Until Orion commenced cruising in 2004, it was almost inconceivable that you could explore the fascinating but remote Kimberley coastline without your own yacht and a sense of adventure. Similarly, the Torres Strait Islands and Papua New Guinea used to be off-limits to all but the most courageous travellers; now it’s possible to explore these demanding destinations with Champagne in hand and expert commentary on tap. Zodiac excursions, sea-plane flights and outback sightseeing by 4WD offer further opportunities to experience areas off-limits to most Australians. Onboard Orion’s custom-built craft, ocean views and internet access are standard in all suites, as are flat-screen televisions, gym and sauna, and ample staff to cater to the needs of a maximum 100 cruisers. With menus created by Sydney chef Serge Dansereau and five-star facilities at their disposal, Australian explorers never had it so easy. Judges’ comments: "Orion combines luxury, intimate cruising, top accommodation, superb service and exceptional cuisine with the opportunity to journey to places that are way off the beaten track."

Orion Expedition Cruises (02) 9033 8700 or 1300 361 012,

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