A to Z of Adventure Travel: W is for Western Australia

18 06 2009

Wave Rock 2 mw 

Everyone knows Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef and Ayers Rock…but for a fresh taste of Downunder, Western Australia offers some of the most spectacular scenery and untouched wilderness in the entire country – and far fewer tourists! 

 

The state of Western Australia (WA) occupies almost one-third of the country and includes spectacular coastline, ancient forests, rugged outback and natural bushland. WA’s Indian Ocean coast has some of the country’s most beautiful and most unspoiled beaches and offers extensive snorkelling, sea-kayaking and some of its best seafood. At Monkey Mia, north of the state’s capital of Perth, visitors travel from all over the world to interact with wild dolphins whereas in Exmouth it’s possible to swim with giant whale sharks in season. The unspoiled Ningaloo Reef offers magnificent snorkelling and scuba diving with its and its colourful coral and vast array of sealife or from nearby Coral Bay, hope aboard a catamaran in search of humpback whales, dugongs, manta rays and turtles.

 

If you’re feeling energetic and want to explore the area on foot, The Bibbulmun Track is one of the world’s great long distance walk trails, stretching nearly 1000 kilometres from Kalamunda near Perth to Albany on the south west coast. Designed for foot traffic only, it meanders through peaceful rural and coastal towns like with names like Dwellingup and Balingup. Not physically challenging like the trails in New Zealand or elsewhere, the Bibbulmun offers the quintessential Australian bush experience and is best enjoyed point to point with the help of a good map. Trekkers can either make it a wilderness experience by camping out or do it in comfort staying at accommodation in towns along the way.

 

Several hundred kilometres east of Perth sits Wave Rock, a mammoth rock formation that resembles a giant surf wave of multicoloured granite about to crash onto the bush below. Formed perhaps 2,700 million years ago, the 15 metre-high barrier stretches for 110 metres and pre-dates even the dinosaurs and is as spectacular as it is isolated.

 

If it’s Baz Luhrman’s ‘Australia’ that you want, then it’s the movie’s location in WA that you should visit. The Kimberley is one of the world’s last great wilderness areas. Covering almost 423,000 square kilometres and with a population of only 30,000 it has fewer people per square kilometre than almost any other place on Earth. People come here to immerse themselves in the awesome landscape and to meet the locals. The Kimberley has two distinct seasons – the dry and the wet. During the dry, which continues from May until October, the temperature is warm and comfortable. The wet, which extends from November until April, is characterised by heavy and short downpours in the evening or late afternoon, providing a refreshing change to the heat of the day.  This is the real Australia of red earth, jagged rock formations, wilderness and wildlife, waterfalls and billabongs.

 

Although Western Australia sees fewer tourists than some of the country’s other regions, the area’s recent mining boom has created some headaches for visitors seeking hotel accommodation. If planning on visiting WA and exploring its endless unspoiled and natural wonders, make your arrangements before you arrive…unless you’re traveling with your own tent!

 

 

Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan © 2009

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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





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





Lessons Learned the Hard Way – No. 27

21 08 2008

“Now that’s what I call an isolated shower!”   (Seljalandsfoss, Iceland)

Always test water-resistance before starting your travels.

 

I was to spend two weeks hiking, trekking and camping in Iceland in the middle of summer. Although I wasn’t exactly anticipating tropical conditions, I did think the last week of July and first week of August would be mild and probably sunny despite the island’s northerly location.  Still, taking every precaution I packed a hooded rain jacket, rain trousers, Gore-Tex gloves and boots, thick socks, a woolly-hat, fleeces and long underwear…as well as shorts, sandals, t-shirts and swimsuit. In other words, I was prepared for every eventuality. Or so I thought!

 

Iceland is a magnificent land of rugged starkness. Its coastline jagged from the timeless assault of the North Atlantic. Its interior chalked grey, brown and black from its volcanic centre. Its lakes and rivers brilliant blue from its pure glacial lifeline and its greens the verdant pulse of a land more geologically alive than any other on earth.

 

The coast road loops around the entire country, pressed between the sharply-hewn cliffs, the black sand beaches and the crashing waves of the sea. As I gazed up at the cloud-shrouded peaks one morning through the rain-lashed windows of the mini-bus, I mused that it must be a magnificent spot in summer…only to quickly remember that July was as good as it got! By afternoon, strong winds had pushed the clouds away and a flawless blue sky served as a perfect backdrop to the waterfalls, wildflowers and magnificent desolation beneath.

 

Alas, quicker than you can say Hafnarfjordur, the rains returned with a vengeance soaking the long grasses, pooling in the low-lying areas and driving a drenching fog across the land. I donned my best raingear, pulled the hood’s drawstring tight around my face, zipped up the jacket and tightened my hiking boots before setting off for more spectacular scenery.

 

The rain belted down but in no way detracted from the pristine views. I have always enjoyed being exposed to the elements when warm, dry and properly protected and Iceland was no exception…until my toes felt their first hint of moisture. I glanced down and the boots were still properly laced with the rain pants over the tops. There were no obvious holes, but there was obviously water around my little digits.

 

My socks were soon saturated and my toes became chilly and uncomfortable. Like a pin-prick in a balloon, there was no stopping the leak now. My feet began to squelch in the growing wetness. I could feel the warmth flooding from my body as quickly as the water flooded into my boots. The discomfort continued for several more hours and by the time I reached the glorious warmth and dryness of the bus, my toes were white, wrinkled and hell-bent on revenge. I could envisage waking up in the night to wracking bouts of foot cramp for months to come as they got even for their torment.

 

There was no apparent vent in the seams, no obvious rip in the lining and no holes anywhere. Clearly, my boots had finally expired. The Gore-Tex had died and sucked in the water like a sponge….and it was only the third day of my trip. For the rest of the time I uncomfortably slipped my feet into plastic bags before putting on my boots but the perspiration this quickly generated was almost as wet as the rain it tried to prevent. On the warm, sunny days, I left my boots outside to dry and each night hoped for fine weather the following morning.

 

The discomfort and inconvenience barely registered compared to the wonders of Iceland, but even now, in the middle of the night when I am fast asleep and dreaming wonderful thoughts of Salma Hayek and sun-drenched desert islands, my toes wrench me back to consciousness with agonising and gut-wrenching cramps. As I hobble to my feet and attempt to end the torture, I can still hear them cackle and taunt as they exact their bitter Icelandic revenge.

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan