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

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A to Z of Adventure Travel: Q is for Queenstown

7 05 2009

queenstown-header-1

 

Queenstown, New Zealand is commonly regarded as the Adventure Capital of the World for it was here that a Kiwi named A J Hackett took the sport of bungee jumping – created in Vanuatu centuries earlier and resurrected by Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club –  and made it a commercial enterprise. Unlike its participants, it has been soaring ever since and a whole adrenaline industry has sprung up around it.

 

Situated on South Island, Queenstown sits on Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Although it began life humbly as an 18th century gold mining camp, today its wealth lies in the visitors it attracts from New Zealander and all over the world drawn by its ski slopes and other outdoor activities.

 

As if the skiing, fly-fishing and mountain biking weren’t enough, A J Hackett’s influence led to Queenstown’s coronation as Adrenaline Central. River surfing, aerobatics flights, jet-boating, canyon swings, ziplining, hang-gliding, heli-skiing, hot air ballooning, quad biking, skydiving and paragliding all flourish surrounded by the area’s natural beauty.

 

Queenstown also offers some of the best hiking in the world. There are dozens of well-marked routes that range from a few hours to several days or more. Although hikers must carry all of their own equipment and provisions, the Department of Conservation maintains more than 950 backcountry huts along these trails. There is a small fee to use the huts with those on more popular routes generally require reservations, especially during peak season. Regardless of the trail that is chosen, all tracks guarantee spectacular scenery and lots of fresh air.

 

Many visitors also head to Milford Sound, a breathtaking fjord within Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site. Once referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by Rudyard Kipling, the Sound is located 295 kilometres from Queenstown on the country’s west coast. Not only does it have the distinction of being New Zealand’s wettest inhabited spot, but also with more than half-a-million tourists each year, its most visited. The Sound runs 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea and is surrounded by sheer cliff faces that rise upwards of 1,200 metres on all sides. The boat tours that are offered are not only highly recommended in order to properly experience the remoteness and stark beauty of the area, but also often feature in rankings of the best day trips in the world.

 

Queenstown also offers some of the best accommodation in all of New Zealand with luxury 5-star wilderness lodges providing seclusion and unrivalled views equally popular with discerning travellers and international celebrities alike. And if after a busy day of adventure or simple sightseeing you want nothing more than a relaxing evening with a nice meal and wine, there’s no shortage of great restaurants, clubs and bars in which to recharge.

 

Queenstown can be reached by road from Christchurch, or is connected by air from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney as well as most New Zealand cities.

 

 

Photo by: Destination Queenstown

Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009





A to Z of Adventure Travel: P is for Peru

1 05 2009

 

Whether your personal choice is culture, history, wildlife or simply pushing yourself to your limit, Peru is one of the greatest adventure destinations on the planet.

 

Peru is synonymous with Machu Picchu and hiking the Inca Trail to the former royal city is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for many travellers. The Trail itself is most easily accessed from Cusco, the historical capital of the Inca Empire and an ancient colonial city high in the Andes. At over 10,000 feet altitude, Cusco is also the place that most people acclimatise before tackling the trail or travelling the 80 kilometres to the ruins by train. Served by an international airport, the city is home to both Inca ruins and colonial architecture and hosts a number of spectacular festivals.

 

Most people who opt to hike to Machu Picchu start their trek at kilometer 88 or 82. Due to limits imposed on the trail to protect the environment, all hikers now require permits which are strictly limited and must be obtained from the authorities many months in advance. Most operators not only provide these permits in their tours, but also include local porters and guides thereby allowing trekkers to gain better enjoyment of their experience. The trek generally takes 3-4 days and although it requires no technical skills, it does demand a good degree of physical fitness due to the distances covered and the high altitude.

 

The final morning of any trek emerges at at the Sun Gate and provides the classic sunrise view of Machu Picchu below. Trekkers also have the advantage of being able to explore the legendary site before the crowds arrive by bus.

 

For those with less time, Machu Picchu can also be reached by train from Cusco through the Urubamba Valley with a stop in the small town of Aguas Calientes and its eponymous natural mountain hot baths.

 

Machu Picchu was started in AD 1430 on a mountain ridge more than 8,000 feet above sea level and overlooking the Urumbamba River almost 2,000 feet below. Built for the Inca rulers but abandoned a century later, it became known as the “The Lost City of the Incas” until  ‘rediscovered’ in the late 19th century by the outside world and then popularised by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911.machu-picchu

 

Further south in Peru lies the city of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. At more than 12,000 feet altitude, the lake is the highest navigable body of water in the world. Although boasting many colonial buildings, most people use Puno as their staging point to visit Taquile and Amantani islands and the floating islands of the Uros people. For centuries, the Uros have built their floating island homes from bundles of totora reeds as protection from more aggressive neighbours. They are most hospitable to visitors and it’s also possible to arrange a homestay in the area.

 

For a complete change of scene from the Andes and ancient cultures, head west into the Amazon jungle. Starting in Puerto Maldonado, travel by motorised canoe and on foot to a remote lodge deep in the jungle. From there, spend your days exploring the thick forest and winding waterways or the evenings looking for caiman. At night, lie in your bed listening to the distant roll of thunder, the rain pounding your thatched roof and all the wild sounds of the jungle.

 

And if all of that wasn’t enough, there’s always cosmopolitan Lima, local markets, Nazca Lines, Colca Canyon and the rugged Pacific coast.

 

 

Post by:  Simon Vaughan © 2009





A to Z of Adventure Travel: N is for North Island, NZ

16 04 2009

 waitomo-caves-wm

 

     Got a flat tyre? Call the Waitomo Caves Pit Crew! (Waitomo, New Zealand)

 

New Zealand’s North Island is the 14th largest island in the world and home to 76% of the country’s population and its biggest city, Auckland. While its South Island is renowned as one of the world’s great adventure and outdoor playgrounds, the North Island should never be overlooked.

 

Auckland is a cosmopolitan city of hills and extinct volcanoes on the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea. Having several times hosted the America’s Cup, at any given time, its harbour is filled with some of the most impressive and expensive private and racing yachts in the world – with the latter often available for charter or sightseeing trips. Restaurants, pubs and nightlife abound making it the perfect starting point for exploring this South Pacific nation.

 

To the north of Auckland almost at the northern-most point of the country lies Paihia and the Bay of Islands with its spectacular coastline. Boat trips are offered in search of dolphins and whales as well as skydiving, parasailing and scuba diving.

 

The geothermal capital of New Zealand is Rotorua, located south-east of Auckland. Rotorua is a wonderland of spas, bubbling mud pools and geysers, providing you don’t mind the smell of sulphur! Rotorua is also the centre for Maori culture and offers plenty of opportunities to learn more about New Zealand’s first nations through visitor centres and cultural villages.

 

For those seeking something different, there’s Zorbing! Created in New Zealand, Zorbers roll downhill in enormous clear-plastic spheres…a bit like being trapped in a large bubble machine except with gravity. If you want to try something that your neighbours haven’t and that doesn’t involved flinging yourself off a bridge, this is it!

 

Beneath Waitomo lies a vast network of caves displaying stalactites, stalagmites and glow-worms as well as the cave weta – a spider that even horror film directors couldn’t exaggerate! The subterranean world can be explored by abseiling from ground level and then wading and swimming through eel-infested waters before wriggling through narrow openings into chambers that seem undiscovered and untouched! Alternatively there are boat tours through the glow-worm caves or cave rafting down underground rivers. Great for the adventurous…but not for the claustrophobic or squeemish!

 

If after all your giant spiders, eels, geysers and zorbing you just want to relax and enjoy some beautiful scenery, North Island offers something for everyone from Wellington and Napier all the way to Cape Reinga.

 

 

Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

Photo by: Doug Fry





A to Z of Adventure Travel: M is for Malawi

9 04 2009

 nyika-plateau-mw

“If we hide here long enough, perhaps Angelina Jolie will find us first.”  (Nyika Plateau)

 

Until Madonna started visiting orphanages there, Malawi was relatively unknown to many people. This small South-east African country is bordered by Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia and offers some of the most picturesque scenery in southern Africa.

 

Although not a great destination for the Big Five, Malawi is a wonderful addition to any classic safari or for anyone seeking somewhere a little different. The country’s most popular attraction is Lake Malawi, a crystal clear freshwater lake that teems with tropical fish and is lined by pristine beaches, unspoiled wilderness, small villages, farmers’ fields and a few rustic lodges and luxurious resorts. Although not as safe as the government sometimes like to suggest thanks largely to the presence of bilharzia, Lake Nyasa as it is also known is still a perfect place to fish, relax and swim. Resting on the shoreline at sunset, sipping a cool drink and listening to the haunting call of African fish eagles is just about as good as Africa gets!

 

To the country’s north sits Nyika Plateau, a beautiful montane highland plateau that’s more reminiscent of Scotland or northern Europe than Africa. At over 2,000 metres altitude, the park offers great hiking and horseback riding amid rolling plains and thick forests. Immortalised by Laurens van der Post’s classic “Venture to the Interior”, the park has likely changed little since the great South African author visited more than half a century ago. Although looking like Europe, the plateau is home to plenty of wildlife including hyena, zebra, roan and eland and one of the highest populations of leopard in all of central Africa. Sitting around a campfire in a pine forest clearing on a cool evening and hearing the ‘sawing’ sound of a leopard is a surreal yet unforgettable African experience. Nyika offers few amenities so trips need to be properly planned.

 

Although not exactly a shopper’s paradise, Malawi is famed its wooden carvings that include small tables with interlocking legs carved from a single piece of wood and intricately detailed chairs. Although often also found in neighbouring countries, Malawi offers the highest quality – and best prices – and it’s often possible to purchase them in small markets from the actual artisan who made them.

 

Amongst Africa’s least developed countries, Malawi has a limited tourist infrastructure but no shortage of warmth and friendliness for those who visit this beautiful and largely undiscovered country.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





A to Z of Adventure Travel: L is for Luxor

3 04 2009

 tomb-of-tutankhamun-mw

“With a sign that big, I can’t understand why it was so hard for Howard Carter to find it!”

 

Although the Pyramids may get the headlines, no trip to Egypt is complete without a visit to Luxor.

 

Located in Upper Egypt, Luxor (or Thebes, as it was once known) straddles the Nile and is the starting (or finishing) point for most Nile cruises and home to the fabled Valley of the Kings.

 

Starting on the East Bank, visitors to the Valley of the Kings must first cross the wide expanse of the Nile. Although there is a bridge a few kilometres upstream from the city centre, most visitors prefer a trip through time and instead opt for the ferries that regularly cross the river. Once on the West Bank, transportation to the tombs of the pharaohs range from buses to taxis – although yet again, for the more adventurous there is only one option: a donkey! Dodging traffic and racing along the busy roads before winding in amongst the spartan hills and into the valley itself is a great start to what will undoubtedly be an unforgettable day.

 

While the treasures of the Pharaohs have long since been moved to museums around the world, it is the tombs that concealed that wealth and which were intended to be the Pharaohs’ final resting places that can be visited in the Valley of the Kings. Each tomb has its own entry fee and not all are open on any given day, but it is well worth visiting as many as time and budget permits. Photography is generally not permitted inside the tombs but postcards and books are widely available in the visitor centre and in town.

 

While the Valley of the Kings may not be the hottest place on earth, it certainly feels like it after a day of exploring. The relentless sun bounces mercilessly off the neighbouring hills broiling ill-prepared visitors below. With very little shade available, if not properly equipped with hat, sunscreen and plenty of water, visitors can soon fall victim to a climatically-controlled Curse of the Mummy.

 

While still on the West Bank, don’t miss the Valley of the Queens, the spectacular temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the Worker’s Village and the Colossi of Memnon. With a sharp eye, you may even spot the house that archeologist Howard Carter lived in while searching for King Tut’s treasure.

 

Back on the East Bank, the Temple of Karnak is as grand as anything anywhere else in the country with its vast size, huge monuments and pristine colours while the Luxor Museum is home to treasures that would form pride of place in any institution in the world yet often go overlooked here.

 

Although it may be the Pyramids of Giza or the treasures of King Tutankhamun and Cairo’s National Museum that lure you to Egypt, it may well be Luxor that makes the greatest impression.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





A to Z of Adventure Travel: K is for Kenya

26 03 2009

gerenuk-giraffe-gazelle-mw        “Phone home…..”                                      (Gerenuk – Samburu, Kenya) 

 

Although there may be a better park or more prolific wildlife somewhere, nowhere else offers the variety and diversity of Kenya in such a compact and accessible area. In short, Kenya offers the one-stop-shopping of safaridom.

 

The East African country is of course best known for its wildlife and game parks. It’s most famous is the sprawling Masai Mara which lies along the Tanzanian border and is the Kenyan continuation of the Serengeti. For most visitors, the Mara is Africa: rolling amber plains filled with herds of elephant and antelope; rivers teeming with hippos and crocodiles; flat-topped acacia trees; rocky outcrops; mud-hut villages and resplendent warriors. When you’re in the Mara there is nowhere else on earth you could be than Africa.

 

The Mara is renowned for the annual wildlife migration which sees massive herds moving from one grazing rea to another while predators line up like rugby players at a buffet. Although the migration is every bit as great as any television documentary suggests, the Mara is just as awe-inspiring at any time. If you visit only one park or reserve and want a truly African experience, it must be the Masai Mara.

 

Further to the east and still on the Tanzanian border is Amboseli, a great wildlife park in its own right, but with Kilimanjaro in the background, one of the most scenic parks on the continent. Anything photographed standing before the snowcapped peak immediately becomes poster-worthy. Be forewarned, however…Kili can often be shrouded in cloud leaving nothing more than its lowest slopes visible.

 

For a different taste of Africa, try Samburu in the mid-north. Nestled in the semi-desert, Samburu is reminiscent of the Australian Outback…except with lions and leopard. For keen wildlife buffs, there are also species found here and not in parks further south, like the gerenuk or giraffe gazelle. Samburu is also home to the Samburu people who branched off from the Maasai many generations ago and have maintained their own traditions and customs.

 

The Rift Valley provides epic scenery from its origins in Mozambique until its demise in Jordan, but few countries benefit from it as greatly as Kenya. From soda lakes painted red by millions of flamingos to volcanoes and baboon-strewn escarpments, Kenya’s Rift Valley is a magnificent wonder.

 

Lake Naivasha was a playground for colonials before independence, but its tranquil waters and reed-lined shore belie the hippos that lurk beneath. “Born Free” author Joy Adamson’s home is now open for overnight visitors or just for afternoon tea, while Hell’s Gate National Park provides a rare opportunity to get out and walk amid the wildlife – thanks to the absence of most of the more dangerous animals!

 

If a week on safari has you yearning to stretch your legs, there’s always Mount Kenya to provide a challenge. Although conquering Africa’s second-highest mountain requires no technical skill, it is a much tougher trek than Kilimanjaro but every bit as rewarding. Climbs generally take 5 days with an additional day necessary to get to and from Nairobi.

 

Kenya’s Swahili coast is a wonderful mixture of relaxation and cultural enrichment. The palm-fringed beaches caress crystal clear waters while the towns bustle with busy markets and the call to prayer. For a truly tranquil experience, try to find a quieter property on the edge of town. Or, for a spot of adventure take the legendary “Man-Eater Express” sleeper train from Nairobi, so named for the lions that stalked the men who laid the track more than a century ago.

 

Whether starting or ending your trip in Nairobi, be sure to visit the dusty National Museum and the legendary Carnivore restaurant. And, if you want one last taste of wildlife that’s not as literal as that at Carnivore, take a spin through Nairobi National Park for the opportunity to catch some of the Big Five with the city’s skyscrapers in the background.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan