Category Archives: Australia and Oceana

wonders of the world

10 Wonders of the World

The wonders of the world have been presented in various media with different listings, but there is a common agreement regarding seven of them, featuring in the “the 7 wonders of the world.”

However, taking the wonders of all ages into consideration, here are guest writer Gabriella Reznick’s top wonders of the world.

10. Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

This is the only wonder of the ancient world that is still standing, and it is great in every aspect. Built over 20 years (2580-2560 B.C.), the pyramid held the record for the tallest man-made structure in the world (at 480.6 feet) for over 3800 years.
wonders of the world

9. Stonehenge, United Kingdom

Composing of large stones that are in a standing position, and form a circle, Stonehenge is believed to have been built around 2500 B.C. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Recent studies have led archaeologists to believe that it was used as a burial site in its time.

8. Golden Gate Bridge, USA

Completed in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge is an engineering marvel for its times and can be considered a wonder of the world. Connecting San Francisco to San Marino, the Golden Gate Bridge is considered by the Frommers Travel Guide as “possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed bridge in the world.”

7. Machu Picchu, Peru

The literal translation of Machu Picchu is “Old Mountain.” It is located 2430 meters above sea level on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is believed to be a Inca site.

6. Mount Everest, Nepal

Though not man-made, the absolutely amazing peak of Mount Everest certainly deserves a place in the top 10 wonders of the world, as a natural wonder. Standing at 8848 meters tall, it is the highest peak in the world above sea level, and was first conquered by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

5. Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

Certainly one of the most known structures in the world, the leaning Tower of Pisa is indeed a leaning structure, standing at 55.86 meters tall. The Tower used to lean by 5.5 degrees, but restoration work carried out between 1991 and 2000 has reduced that angle to 3.99 degrees.

4. Chichen Itza, Mexico

Meaning “at the mouth of the well of the Itza”, Chichen Itza is a large site built by the Mayans, and consists of many stone buildings; all of which are under various stages of preservation. All structures are connected by a network of roads that were formerly paved, called sacbeob. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is monitored by the National Institute of Anthropology and History, Mexico.

3. The Coliseum, Italy

The Coliseum is a massive structure, which is actually an amphitheatre, and is the largest ever built in Italian history. The Coliseum is elliptical in shape and is capable of seating 50,000 people! Though damaged partially by massive earthquakes and stone-robbers, this marvelous feat of Roman engineering has stood to survive all the tough times, and is a must visit.

2. The Taj Mahal, India

The Taj Mahal, meaning “crown of buildings”, is a breath-taking structure made of marble, and is located in India. Built over 30 years, the Taj Mahal comprises of a dome mausoleum, and also has the shrines of its creator, the emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Mumtaz Begum, in whose memory the structure was actually built. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal is a symbol of iconic beauty and love.

1. The Great Wall of China, China

This structure is also one of the most famous ones in the world. Built originally to protect the northern borders of China against attacks, the Great Wall is actually a collection of walls built across centuries by many dynasties. The whole series, collectively called the Great Wall, spans 8851.8 kilometers, and is a fascinating wonder.

Gabriella plans to visit all of the world’s wonders and blog about them at World Wonders but tells us that her site isn’t ready yet. If you would like to guest blog or submit your own list of wonders at Vagobond, submit your travel story, list, or tips for review using the button at the top of the page.

5 travel adventures

5 adventurous destinations around the world

Adventurous destinations are the stuff of travel dreams. This week, Rebecca Kelly offers us plenty to imagine, work for, and dream of with five adventurous destinations from around the world.

Everest Base Camp, Nepal
Mount Everest is known by all as the highest peak in the world, it is known by climbers and adventurers however as an immense challenge that is best left to the professionals. A classic Himalayan trek with incredible views and rewards that can be enjoyed by all adventure enthusiasts is a trek to Everest Base Camp. Trek takes you through an exciting forest and over mountains giving you stunning views of the surrounding peaks whilst the dramatic landscape around you changes as you continue to climb higher and higher up the Khumbu Valley.

Grand Canyon, Colorado
For adventurers, the most exciting way to appreciate the Grand Canyon’s natural capacity and power is to raft through it; the Colorado River through canyon is one of the wildest stretches of white water in the United States. 5 travel adventuresThe full journey through the canyon (from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead) is 275 miles in length and makes for a challenging, fun adventure with some staggering scenery, white-water thrills, and magical hikes.

Masai Mara Safari, Kenya
For a safari with real-life, thrilling adventure try a Masai Mara Safari. The Masai Mara reserve is one of the best destinations in the world for viewing wildlife in its natural habitat and offers plenty to see. During the winter months, it’s easy to assume that all will be quiet on the reserve however you couldn’t be more wrong. Many tourists aim to target their trip to coincide with the migration season but there is life to be seen throughout the year. Between August and November, you can spot the two million wildebeest charge across the green-land as they migrate from the Serengeti in search of water, or in spring, experience the first sightings of new-born life. For frightening thrills, predators such as lions, cheetahs and leopards can be spotted prowling the terrain whilst graceful giraffes can be found flaunting their astonishing stature.

Inca Trail, Peru
Being the best-known and most popular hike on the South-American continent, the Inca Trail is an exhilarating, challenging and unforgettable experience. The journey starts in the village of Qorihuayrachina and takes three or four days of strenuous walking to complete. The trail is surrounded by breathtaking scenery, crossing the Andes mountain range and sections of the Peruvian jungle and rain forest  Ending at the old citadel of Machu Picchu provides a rewarding finale and time to discover the ancient citadel. Together, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu make up one of the wonders of the world.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef, covering over 350,000 square kilometers of the sea and is the only living collection of organisms that are visible from Earth’s orbit. Most of the Reef’s diversity occurs in the top 4 meters of water and the best way to experience this is by snorkeling  The reef is believed to be the densest assemblage of living organisms to be found in any comparable area in the world thus the thousands of beautiful coral gardens and abundant marine life will leave you mesmerized.

Shipboard Gingerbread house

Cruising with Santa on the Holland America Cruiseline

Special to Vagobond with 4 original photos © Susan McKee

New Zealand Santa ClausSanta Claus just doesn’t look quite right standing next to palm trees and bougainvillea wearing his red suit trimmed in white fur in 80 degree temperatures. But, the earth’s rotation being what it is, summer begins in the southern hemisphere just as radio stations in the northern are playing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Dashing Through the Snow”.

It’s all rather routine to Australians and New Zealanders, of course, but Christmastime Down Under provides a bit of cognitive dissonance to those of us from North America. We’re more used to wearing parkas and boots than shorts and flip-flops as we browse shop windows during the holidays.

Fleeing winter does have a certain appeal, however, so I took advantage of an invitation from Holland America Line to join one of their Australian cruises from Sydney, Australia, and around New Zealand earlier this month.

Cruise Ship ChristmasAbout halfway through the voyage it occurred to me that I could avoid cold weather perpetually by arranging to spend half the year in Oz. Like those legendary surfers pursing the perfect wave around the globe, I could find “Endless Summer” by dividing my time between North America and New Zealand.

While my friends back home were battling sub-freezing temperatures as fall segued into winter, I witnessed spring bursting forth into summer while holiday tunes played in the background.

“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” blared from loudspeakers as rollerbladers zipped past shoppers on the sidewalk in Napier. “Good King Wenceslas” contemplates snow that’s “deep and crisp and even” as shellers in Akaroa scan the beach for that perfect specimen.

At every port – and there were seven along our route – traditional symbols of the holiday decorated houses and shops. The major department stores in Wellington and Auckland had the usual animated windows with artificial snow, icicle-trimmed houses and all the other traditional markers of the holidays.

Christmas tree in New ZealandEverywhere, there were the usual Christmas trees – the pine varieties (albeit mostly fake) trimmed with ornaments, lights and tinsel. Snowmen complete with black top hats were crafted from metal, adorned with lights and set to guard downtown intersections.

Peppermint candy canes, Christmas cookies, and imported holiday specialties such as Stollen cakes imported from Germany and panettone from Italy filled store shelves – it all seems just like home, until you run into the native New Zealand Christmas trees.

These don’t look at all like their Victorian pine and fir namesakes. Known formally as P?hutukawa, the Kiwi Christmas tree is a type of myrtle often planted along coastal roadways and sidewalks of the North Island as a landscape ornamental – bushy dark green and (usually) stubby evergreen trees that, conveniently, burst forth with crimson blooms in the days leading up to December 25.

My ship, the ms Volendam, was festively decorated for the season, with lavish swags of greenery, red ribbons and glittery ornaments everywhere. The culinary staff explored their artistic side by using gingerbread, icing, gumdrops and other candy bits to create fanciful (but, alas, inedible) mansions and castles. (These are much grander than the usual gingerbread houses because they start with plywood bases rather than cookie slabs.)

Confections abounded on this cruise. Not only were the desserts varied each meal, but there was an ice cream bar offering sundaes and cones open every afternoon. On one evening during the cruise, the culinary staff whipped up a dessert extravaganza with massive ice carvings, chocolate sculptures and all sorts of fanciful sweets served buffet-style at the unusual hour of 10:30 p.m.

I’d not been on a cruise like this one before, so I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a range of dining opportunities. There was the usual: a cafeteria-style buffet with everything from sushi and salads to prime rib and sandwiches. But there was also a white-tablecloth restaurant with flowers and candles and a menu that varied each day, a small bistro featuring Italian delights — and the Pinnacle. As its name suggests, this was the fine-dining option (with a small surcharge – the other locations were included in the cruise price). Here’s where I found lobster macaroni and cheese, lamb grilled on a skewer, baked Alaska and chocolate truffles served with after-dinner coffee.

Kids (and grownups) celebrating birthdays during the cruise are serenaded at dinner by the mostly Indonesian dining room crew with a traditional Southeast Asian song
(thereby avoiding all the “Happy Birthday” copyright issues).

In fact, there never was a dull moment on board. There was internet access via satellite, game tables for chess and checkers (not to mention a whole cabinet of board games), jig-saw puzzles, jewelry shops, a casino (this was the only indoor smoking area onboard), daily trivia and bingo games, a library, DVDs for the television in the cabins), presentations on everything from “eating right” to the aboriginal culture of Australia, two swimming pools, a hot tub, ping-pong table, spa, art auctions, gym, yoga classes, Tai Chi, religious services and AA meetings.

My personal favorites were the frequent demonstrations in the Culinary Center. Ever heard of Lamingtons? I thought not! This Aussie specialty is a sinfully rich dessert that starts with an egg-and-butter cake dipped in chocolate and layered with icing, whipped cream embellishments such as coconut, banana and honey. I even learned how to create marzipan roses and fold towels into fanciful animals during the demos.

The lure of the cruise for me, however, was the chance to explore both the north and the south islands of New Zealand. Port stops began at Oban on Stewart Island (off the country’s extreme southern tip) and continued at Port Chalmers, Akaroa, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga and Auckland.

Rain interrupted my visit to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, obscuring the signature skyline with fog. By the time I got back on board, I was soaked through.

Unfortunately, the last scheduled stop, Bay of Isles, had to be scrubbed because of high seas. A storm to the north of us meant that we’d need the extra time to steam around the high winds and waves on our way back to Sydney. Total distance round trip? 3290 nautical miles.

(Full disclosure: I was the guest of Holland America Line aboard the ms Volendam earlier this month on its 14-day New Zealand & Australia cruise.)