Category Archives: Australia and Oceana

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.)

Miss Trinidad and Tobago

What am I doing here? Revisiting the World Travel Market in London

Vago Damitio. What am I doing here?
Writing about London, from Sefrou
21 NOV 2012

Hard to believe the world is going to end in just a month – or not. One thing for certain though, the world is a big, wide, wonderful place.  If you don’t believe me on that, all you have to do is take a visit to the World Travel Market in London or one of the other massive global travel shows that take place in various cities around the world.

My main purpose in visiting the WTM was to research new destinations to write about, find interesting destinations, and to connect with the businesses and tourist boards for those regions so that when we do have writers visit, we can get the best possible information and resources to share with you, our readers.  My secondary purpose was to travel the entire world by going to one destination.

Miss Trinidad and Tobago I’m happy to report that both goals were met. I was fortunate to visit Trinidad and Tobago – home of the lovely ladies you see here and a fascinating mix of Caribbean, Indian, British, and African cultures.  I jumped to Bermuda, Guyana, Costa Rica, and Mexico before discovering the Maya and Inca trails of  Guatemala, Honduras,  and Central America. In Brazil I was able to drink great coffee and stiff rum and down the road in California, I indulged in some great wines before heading to Vegas to see show girls and Elvis and finally on to Florida for some Disney and Cuban culture.

Tripping around to Asia, I marveled in the beauty of Sri Lanka and felt the spiritual buzz of India’s many regions. I stopped by Japan and then enjoyed some traditional treats in Taipei City before heading on over to the smiling bartender of the Philippines.

WTM SRi LankaI trekked through Nepal, and of course, I had to visit the magnificent islands of the Maldives and the Seychelles before I wandered into the storybook land of the human happiness index – Bhutan.
In Africa I journeyed through the Serengeti  witnessed the great migration in Kenya, Tanzania. The spices of Zanzibar, the mystique of Mozambique, and the party life and wild life of sensational South Africa. Old friends were there and I enjoyed visiting Egypt and Morocco with Henna and Pyramids before moving on to the exotic Middle East. Ultra modern Dubai, Iraq, making it’s way back – after all, the cradle of the world. Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, and the UAE – Syria…not there, but my old friend Turkey filling one of the biggest areas of the entire show. Turkey – so magnificent, so big. Everyone is going to go to Turkey.

London India Travel MarketAustralia, New Zealand, and the sparse regions of the Pacific islands – not very settled. Not very present at the show…too far away I think, but the Aussies were serving plenty of cold beer and at times, the entire show felt like Burning Man.  Different camps and different parties. Fantastic.

London WTM at Excel centerDon’t think that I’ve forgotten about Europe.  I spent time exploring the churches, wines, and culture of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan before jumping into Siberian adventures and back into Russia where I was taught to weave and shown the wonders of a land that might be the most exotic of them all in my mind. Then it was onward, Westward…to Poland, Spain, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and don’t forget beautiful, quirky, lovely little Belgium.

From there, North, North to Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the ice fields, volcanoes, and little people (elves) of Iceland. The cold Atlantic sister island to my beloved Hawaii. Yes, I must go to Iceland…I must feel this place.  I must go.

World Travel Market SeminarsAnd, the added benefit of leaving each day to be in magnificent London, the world’s best theme park and to have each end of my trip buffered by visits to Marseille and Aix-en-Province in France. My life really is magnificent. I admit it. I’ll be telling you about some of the amazing places I stayed and saw soon.

There were fantastic talks, seminars, and booths and exhibitors who focused on the cutting edge of where travel is headed in the coming years. The Social Travel Market was gangbusters and told me one thing in particular – those that don’t adapt, are certain to die in the age of mobile and social travel.  Don’t expect to see many travel blogs in the coming years – a few will survive and most will become relics that die as the owners decide to skip paying the $14 domain registration fees each year. If you want to see some of what I’m talking about, you can watch most of the sessions on the WTM YouTube channel.

Photo from Hostelbookers party courtesy of Hostelbookers
That’s me in the hat between  Melissa Ruttanai and Neil Freidman. Paul Dow is on the left at the Hostel Bookers Party in Soho.

In a word, I just have to say, the WTM was magnificent. the chance to meet people from all over the world. The opportunity to meet friends and colleagues – new, old, and future. It was a wonderful opportunity. There were plenty of parties (like this one, photo and drinks courtesy of Hostel Bookers) where we all got to relax and enjoy life.

But all of this leads me to the inevitable conclusion. What did I learn at the World Travel Market in London?  Is there a hot list for destinations for Vagobond or that we recommend to our readers in 2013. There is indeed.  Here is what we want to see and do in 2013.

Here it is – our hot-list Top 10 for 2013!

1) Tanzania and Zambia Photo Safaris
2) Trinidad and Tobago Cultural Holidays
3) Iceland Walking Tours
4) Honduras Eco Tours
5) Sri Lanka for pretty much everything
6) Hyderabad and Anwar Pradesh in India
7) 7000 Islands of fun in the Philippines – all of them
8) Siberian Tribal Adventures
9) The Maldives – Luxury Travel
10) Armenia – exploring the food and culture of the first Christian land

There was so much more to share…but hopefully, I can share it all in person over time.