A to Z of Adventure Travel: T is for Tasmania

29 05 2009

Port Arthur

If there is one place that could justifiably be called the single most underrated destination for soft adventure, my vote would go to Tasmania.

Australia’s only island state is located 150 miles south of eastern Australia, separated from the mainland by the Bass Strait. Roughly the same size as Ireland, Tasmania is a superb destination for anyone who likes natural beauty, a touch of history and unspoiled wilderness. Its size also makes it easily accessible for anyone with limited time and a variety of accommodation from well-appointed campsites to luxury lodges makes it ideal for every budget.

Tasmania is easily reached by regularly scheduled flights from most Australian cities or by overnight ferry from Melbourne. Once there, getting around is easy by self-drive, organised tour or local transport with no more than a few hours travel between most key sights.

Hobart is the state capital and the island’s largest city. It not only offers culture and history from the island’s European discovery by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642 and first European settlement in 1803, but also boasts many wonderful restaurants, cafes and wine bars with plenty of fresh, succulent local produce. For the best samples of local cuisine, beer and wine, head to Salamanca Place’s restored 19th century waterfront warehouses which hearken to the city’s whaling days. Not far from Hobart sits the quaint the quaint village of Port Arthur, site of the former penal colony around which much of the island was first settled. Today, the site has been preserved and tells the story of its first inhabitants.

As wonderful as Hobart and the island’s other population centres are however, it is the wilderness that draws most visitors. With a mild climate, rugged coastline and immaculate secluded beaches encircling the state and the coast never more than a few hours drive, Tasmania is the ideal destination for anyone who likes the crash of breaking waves and the scent of salt air.

Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park, is one of the most idyllic spots on earth with its perfectly curving beach and pristine surroundings. The best views belong to those who make the effort to climb to the lookout, although small environmentally-friendly cruises are now offered for anyone less energetic or with less time. Another site in the Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness Area is the magnificent Cradle Mountain which attracts one quarter of all visitors to the island. The mountain also forms the start of the 40 mile Overland Track for those who want to stretch their legs and properly experience the region’s distinctive flora and spectacular scenery.

Bruny Island has some of the most breathtaking coastline in the world and award-winning three-hour cruises are a popular way to explore the crashing waves, towering cliffs and the local wildlife. Recently voted one of the greatest day trips in the world, Bruny Island is an unforgettable destination for any visitor to Australia.

Thanks to Looney Tunes, most people are familiar with the Tasmanian Devil but many more may have forgotten the island’s other eponymous creature, the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger. The last known example died in captivity in 1936, but many people claim sightings of this large striped carnivorous marsupial every year. Even if you don’t see the Tiger, there are always devils, wombats, platypuses and plenty else to keep wildlife buffs happy.

For active adventure seekers, Tasmania also offers plenty of hiking, mountain biking scuba diving, wreck-diving and sea kayaking in some of the most spectacular surroundings anywhere. Tasmania makes a wonderful addition to any visit to Sydney or Melbourne, but is truly a perfect destination in its own right.

Posting by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

Photographs by: Discover Tasmania

Wineglass Bay





Sydney, Sydney or Sidney…Sidney?

28 05 2009

Sydney harbour mw

      “I can’t get over how much it looks like Australia!”    (Sydney Harbour)

Recently, I was in my local bookshop when I spied a book on Eritrea in the Asia section. I contemplated advising the staff member of their error, but decided that simply re-shelving the book in the correct spot was better than being publicly identified as the geo-geek that I am.

Eritrea is a relatively new country so their mistake can, I suppose – and somewhat reluctantly – be forgiven. Finding a CD of Paul Potts in the Cambodia section would be less excusable.

There are many places in the world that share similar or identical names despite being separated by thousands of miles. Like Dakar, Senegal and Dhaka, Bangladesh or San Jose, California and San Jose, Costa Rica. It’s not surprising then that every year travellers end up somewhere other than where they intended.

A famous one was a British honeymoon couple who ended up in Sydney, Nova Scotia…instead of Sydney, Australia. It’s an understandable error given that both are in former British colonies, located by the ocean, renowned for their fresh seafood and overrun with kangaroos. The young couple had booked their flights on the internet and couldn’t believe the bargain price. They weren’t particularly alarmed when their first flight headed west to Canada rather than east to Australia as they assumed they were “…going the long way round.” Their eyebrows only arched in Halifax when they boarded a small propeller-driven 25-seater for the trip to Sydney. When their story reached the media they were treated like royalty by the locals…but I’m still not sure that the affection made up for not seeing the Opera House or throwing another shrimp on the barby.

Another error that made the news was of a London businessman who left a terse message with his secretary to book a seaside cottage in Donegal for a week. The secretary, accustomed to her boss’s requests and armed with his credit card, struggled to find a property but eventually succeeded in making the arrangements. The documents were issued and dispatched. He didn’t bother to look until he was on his way to the airport…at which point he discovered he was booked for a week in Senegal, West Africa and not Donegal, Ireland.

Finally, there was the passenger booked to connect in San Francisco for Oakland, California. He arrived in San Francisco late and dashed to his gate hearing his flight called as he ran. He raced on board as the last passenger, and the doors were closed. It was only once airborne and the pilot announced that their flying time was expected to be 16 hours and 20 minutes  via Honolulu that the passenger became alarmed…as Oakland was only 12 miles away. Once the aircraft had finished climbing he signalled the flight attendant and explained his confusion. She checked his boarding pass – which is more than can be said for the boarding agent – and somewhat sheepishly advised him that the flight was destined for Auckland, New Zealand and that he had gone to the wrong gate. Two days later he arrived back in California.

Rule of thumb here is to ensure that you have a good travel agent…and always pay attention – unless you want two weeks in your Speedo in January in St Petersburg, Russia instead of St Petersburg, Florida!

 

Post and photo by: Simon Vaughan © 2009





The Devil of a Problem

26 05 2009

Tasmanian devil

             “Psst…gimme 5 bucks and I’ll dish the dirt on Bugs’ carrot dependency.”

My head is like a refrigerator. Not because it’s square, white and cold – which it is, especially in winter – but because it’s a great place to stick lists.

One of the most frequently consulted of these is the one that details the places I most want to visit. Some are fairly easy and inexpensive to reach, others will likely remain unfulfilled for quite sometime due to cost or difficulty. Some are there because of an appetite for the untouched – like Angola or the Northwest Passage. Others for culture – like Vietnam and Cambodia. While another good chunk have earned their positions on my list because they are home to wildlife that I would really like to see. These could be creatures that have long been of interest – like orcas or orangutans – or because they are endangered and I want to see them while I still can, like tigers or polar bears. Sadly, the endangered list has a new member today: the Tasmanian Devil.

Late last week, the Australian government upgraded the devil from vulnerable to endangered. This change not only assures that the small marsupial gets greater legal protection and increased funding, but is also an indication of the challenges that the species is currently facing.

Just over ten years ago, scientists on the island state of Tasmania discovered a disease ravaging their most famous animal. The disease was diagnosed as a form of cancer which spreads through bites and causes grotesque facial tumours which prevent the devils from eating and eventually kills them. Since 1996, the island has lost more than 70% of its devil population and scientists are struggling to prevent it from wiping out the wild species entirely.

Tasmania is the only place where the creatures live in the wild. Aggressive captive breeding programmes have been introduced in zoos on the Australian mainland in an effort to prevent the species from becoming extinct and with the hope of reintroducing them into the wild at a later date. In Tasmania itself, efforts are underway to protect isolated populations of devils which have so far remained unaffected by the rampant disease.

Visitors to Tasmania have long sought glimpses of the devil. Although not quite as ferocious as their Looney Tunes’ namesake, the devils do possess powerful jaws and a terrifying growl. While extremely violent amongst themselves, they pose little threat to humans, and many local tour operators offer night-time excursions into the bush hoping to spot the shy and elusive animals. For many visitors, such a sighting usually ranks amongst the highlights of their trips.

Today, these opportunities are obviously more limited than before but places do still exist where the chance of a sighting is still quite good…and some of these reinvest the proceeds from tourism into conservation programmes.

A decade ago the thought that the Tasmanian Devil might be wiped out within our lifetime was unthinkable. Although there is nothing yet to suggest that their plight can be tied to human encroachment or Global Warming, it is a sobering example of just how vulnerable our Home Planet and all of its species truly are.

Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009





Human Males Soon To Be Extinct!

25 05 2009

Mara hippos 2 mw

“Excuse me, are you a male? I’m looking for a male. Excuse me…”  (Masai Mara, Kenya)

A researcher has revealed that human males are on the road to extinction. Apparently, the number of genes on the male Y chromosome is slowly fading away and will eventually disappear completely. From a peak of 1,400 genes on each Y chromosome approximately three hundred million years ago, there are now only 45 left. It wasn’t known what would happen once the Y chromosome disappeared entirely – although it was possible that at that point humans would be more inclined to ask for directions.

Unfortunately, the Y chromosome isn’t expected to disappear for another five million years…so my sci-fi fantasy of being amongst the last males on a planet otherwise entirely inhabited by women is still a long way off.

However, this story did lead me to wonder which countries of the world have the highest women to men ratio in their populations (strange how the mind works, isn’t it?). Some people might use statistics like this as criteria for selecting their next holiday destination. Some people are also the most likely to leave the bar alone, and to request a single supplement for Honeymoon trips.

But I’m not judgemental.

So…here we go. The top 10 countries with the highest women to men ratio according to a 2005 United Nations report:

 

  1. Latvia (1.19 women for every 1 man – not sure what .19 women look like!)
  2. Estona (1.18)
  3. Ukraine (1.18)
  4. Russia (1.16)
  5. Armenia (1.15)
  6. Lesotho (1.15)
  7. Belarus (1.14)
  8. Lithuania (1.14)
  9. Georgia (1.12)
  10. Antigua & Barbuda (1.09)

 

 

And for the women, here are the top 10 countries with the highest men to women ratio:

 

  1. United Arab Emirates (2.12 men for every woman)
  2. Qatar (2.08)
  3. Kuwait (1.49)
  4. Bahrain (1.32)
  5. Oman (1.28)
  6. Saudi Arabia (1.18)
  7. Palau (1.12)
  8. Jordan (1.09)
  9. Samoa (1.09)
  10. Andorra (1.07)

 

Forget adventure travel, I think I have found a whole new market! 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009





A to Z of Adventure Travel: S is for Santiago

22 05 2009

Santiago is the capital of Chile and is surrounded by sweeping vistas of snowcapped mountains. An ancient colonial city and thriving modern cosmopolitan centre, Santiago is an excellent destination in its own right or the perfect place to spend a few days before or after some travelling.

Settled by Spanish conquistadors in 1541, a number of buildings from that period survive to this day, despite being located in a significantly seismic area. One in particular is the Church of San Francisco which was built between 1586 and 1628 and is the oldest building in the city. The neighbouring convent is home to the Museo de Arte Colonial and its unmatched collection of colonial art and artifacts. The courtyard with its lush garden and wonderful tranquility also provides a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the busy city.Santiago 2 mw

There are enough museums and galleries in Santiago to occupy a week without seeing anything else. Whether your taste lies in mystifying pre-Columbian treasures or modern art, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Sadly, with only a handful of notable exceptions, Latin American art is generally overlooked and neglected by the rest of the world and Santiago’s museums provide an excellent crash course with some of the finest collections anywhere.

The Presidential Palace, or Palacio del Moneda, is not only an impressive building and worthy home to the country’s seat of power but has also featured prominently in the country’s history. In 1973, the forces of General Augusto Pinochet shelled and bombed the building in an effort to remove President Salvador Allende from power. The coup was successful although the palace suffered considerable damage in the process. Fully restored now and featuring works of art in the palace’s courtyards, the only evidence of its violent past lie in photographs and displays. Unlike many similar buildings throughout the world which keep its citizens well away behind barbed-wire topped walls and concrete tanks traps, Chile allows anyone to stroll past the ceremonial guard and through the palace’s gates to show the openness and democracy that replaced years of totalitarianism.

For an overview of the city, visit Cerro San Cristobal, the highest hill in Santiago and one that provides panoramic views. There is a funicular that operates almost to the top and the hill also offers beautiful botanical gardens and other sites of interest. At the foot sits the eclectic Bellavista neighbourhood with its studios and great bars and restaurants.

And of course, Chile is renowned for its wines and there are several vineyards within easy distance of Santiago that offer tours and tastings including Vina Concha y Toro, Vina Cousina Macul and Vina de Martino.

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009





Geography Quiz

21 05 2009

A few years ago I had a meeting at the Hilton. When the meeting was scheduled, I politely declined directions because I am a male and we do not require geographic assistance to get anywhere. I jumped on the subway and confidently strolled down the sidewalk secure in the knowledge that my planning would have me enter the revolving door at the absolute minute of our appointment.  Just a few steps away my heart skipped a beat and I went cold. What had formerly been a Hilton was now a Westin.

I stammered and stuttered to the doorman.

“Hilton?” I pleaded almost silently.

“Two blocks south and 5 blocks east” he answered.

“Hilton?” I again murmured pathetically.

“Changed names about three months ago.” He added, before assisting someone else.

I sprinted off to my meeting, arriving breathless and late. I learned a very valuable lesson that day. No, not about accepting directions or consulting maps – don’t be silly! I learned that even hotels can change names…just as cities, countries and even rock stars formerly known as Prince, can.

Author Harry Campbell has just penned a book entitled “Whatever Happened to Tanganyika? The Place Names that History Left Behind” which investigates the phenomenon of countries changing their names and the fascinating stories behind place names like Affpiddle of the Islands of Samson and the Ducks. As an inveterate traveller it’s always good to keep up with current affairs and geography so that you don’t pass up a ticket to Mumbai because you’d rather see Bombay.

Here’s a little test just to see how map-literate you are. Below are 20 former place names. All you have to do is provide the name by which the following are currently known.

  1. Leningrad
  2. The Trucial States
  3. Ruanda-Urundi
  4. Ceylon
  5. Abyssinia
  6. British Honduras
  7. Dutch East Indies
  8. Gold Coast
  9. Constantinople
  10. Aden
  11. Portuguese Guinea
  12. Stalingrad
  13. Nyasaland
  14. New Amsterdam
  15. Dutch Guyana
  16. Mesopotamia
  17. Berlin, Ontario
  18. Upper Volta
  19. Formosa
  20. Bechuanaland

 

Answers: 1. St Petersburg   2. United Arab Emirates  3. Rwanda and Burundi    4. Sri Lanka   5. Ethiopia   6.  Belize   7. Indonesia   8. Ghana   9. Istanbul   10. Yemen   11. Guinea-Bissau   12. Volgograd   13. Malawi   14.  New York City   15. Suriname   16. Iraq   17. Kitchener   18. Burkina Faso   19. Taiwan   20. Botswana

How did you do?

16-20: If you’d lived in Atlantis, it would never have become the Lost City

11-15: Where were you when Shackleton needed you?

6-10: Not bad, but I bet you still confuse Moldova and Moldavia, don’t you?

0:    Are you a friend of Wrong-Way Corrigan, by chance?

 

Post by:  Simon Vaughan © 2009





A Chip Off The Old Block

19 05 2009

Stonehenge mwIt was recently reported that two U.S. tourists have returned a small piece of Rome’s Colosseum that they chipped off 25 years ago. The fragment of stone, small enough to fit into a pocket, arrived in Italy in a package from California and was accompanied by an apology that explained they “…should have done this sooner.” The couple said that every time they looked at their little souvenir they felt guilty and realised that if every visitor chipped off a piece of the Colosseum as they had done, there would be nothing left.

I was reminded of visiting the pyramids and crouching down beside the great structures to tie my bootlaces. The shade of the massive limestone blocks provided a wonderful respite from the blazing sun and as I pulled my laces taut, I realised I was kneeling on a treasure-trove of tiny fragments of the ancient monuments that were far superior souvenirs to the mass-produced papyrus sold around the corner. It would have been easy to casually pick up a particularly appetising fragment and slip it inside my boot for transport home –until I noticed the heavily-armed Tourism and Antiquities Police officer standing a few feet away smoking a cigarette.

Even if I hadn’t spotted the machine-gun glistening in the sun and the nicotine-stained finger idly caressing the trigger, I am pleased to say that I actually wouldn’t have slipped away with a morsel of ancient Egypt. Partly out of respect for the site and future visitors, and partly out of fear for being caught with my illicit souvenir at the airport and spending 20 years in a Cairo prison. But I can appreciate the temptation and understand the Colosseum tourists’ actions – except for the bit about actually carving off a chunk: that goes beyond souvenir-collecting and headlong into sheer vandalism.

I imagine that Rome and Egypt aren’t the only places that have this problem. In fact, every famous site in the world likely has similar difficulties. It is likely only perimeter ropes, security and pangs of conscience that have prevented Stonehenge from being whittled down to a ring of miniscule stone-teeth over the years. There was a similar dilemma in Israel with the mountain-top fortress of Masada. I once read that the problem of visitors collecting rocks and pebbles from this ancient site became so great that the authorities began trucking in a load of gravel every week to top-up the ground on which the visitors walked. This not only helped preserve the site – and stopped Masada being turned from a mountain into a molehill – but also means that there are likely thousands of tourists around the world who treasure shards of rock from some anonymous southern Israeli quarry!

 

Photograph and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009