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: R is for Rwanda

15 05 2009

Gorilla 4a mwIn April 1994, the aircraft on which Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira were travelling was shot down by a missile while landing at Kigali airport. The two leaders were returning to the country from peace talks in Tanzania implemented to put an end to the Hutu-Tutsi fighting that had long plagued both countries. Sadly, the assassination of both leaders instead lead to a genocide in Rwanda that resulted in the slaughter of as many as one million people in just 100 days – or more than 15% of the entire population.

Rwanda is a small country that sits just below the equator in east Africa and is bordered by Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although picturesque, Rwanda would likely have been overlooked by mass tourism except for one attraction: the mountain gorillas.

One of only three countries that is home to the mountain gorilla, Rwanda has always been a popular place for those travellers willing to trek their way through thick jungle to see these magnificent creatures. As the entire Great Lakes Area has always been unsettled and troubled, travellers have invariably had to alternate between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to get their glimpse of these endangered great apes. After the genocide, Rwanda was off-limits to all but the most intrepid of travellers for several years. Today, tourism has recovered sufficiently to now account for more than USD$200 million a year in revenue.

Gorilla visits are strictly controlled by national parks authorities and every trekker must obtain a permit. These permits are snapped up many months ahead of time, although it can sometimes be possible to obtain one on site if there are cancellations. If permits have not been pre-purchased, it is advisable to be able to spend several days in the area awaiting an opportunity. Alternatively, many tour operators offer packages that include permits. All trekkers are accompanied by a guide and trackers and although there is never a guarantee of being able to see one of our closest genetic relatives, the chances of success are generally quite good. The forests of Rwanda are also a good place to see chimpanzees.

Although the gorillas are still the main draw for visitors to the country, ironically the genocide has attracted some travellers of its own. There are several sites around the country that mark the massacre and remember the victims, the most moving arguably being the Murambi Technical School, now known as the Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre. It was in the school that some 60-70,000 Tutsi took refuge at the height of the slaughter. It is estimated that at least 45,000 were murdered there by Hutu Interhamwe. The museum offers a background to the genocide and memorials to those who died there. It is a sombre place that puts faces and names to the statistics and brings the horror of mass murder to life.

Rwanda can be reached by international flights into its capital city, Kigali, or overland from its neighbouring countries. Many companies offer tours just to see the gorillas or that include other sights. A number of overland companies include visits to Rwanda on trips to Uganda and or Tanzania.

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009





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