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





Snakes On A Plane….for real!

17 04 2009

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What time’s the next flight to Melbourne?                       (Python in Amboseli, Kenya)

 

I love babies and small dogs and have a soft spot for old people. Any façade of stoic, disinterested masculinity evaporates when confronted by a wide-eyed, bubble-blowing, gurgling, bouncing bundle of joy, and I am genuinely more than happy to help any blue-tinted, zimmer-framed, slow-motioned senior reach the pureed apple from the top shelf of the supermarket…but I confess to harbouring a deep resentment towards both while on long flights.

 

Flying is not only a way of getting from point A to point B, but it’s also a wonderful reprieve from the stresses and strains of cell phones, e-mails and everyday life –even if I lose the feeling in my feet after a couple of hours. It is also a perfect opportunity to read that book I’ve been crawling through for several months or to catch-up on much needed sleep ahead of a busy schedule of meetings or sightseeing. So, woe behold anything that gets between me and a positive aerial experience.

 

Fortunately however, teething, kicking, flatulent babies and hearing-impaired seniors who bellow every word and pound the back of my seat in an effort to get their entertainment systems working are generally the only annoying things I have ever experienced on any flight – and even that annoyance is tinged with guilt at my own intolerance.

 

Some passengers on a recent flight in Australia were almost not quite so lucky.  During a two and a half hour flight from Alice Springs to Melbourne, four pythons escaped from their container in the aircraft’s hold and started slithering their way throughout the plane.

 

Fortunately, none made their way into the cabin – or at least if they did, none were spotted stealing the packets of pretzels or using the paper seat-covers in the toilets. Unfortunately, when their absence was discovered upon arrival, the aircraft had to be pulled from service and searched from nose to tail.

 

The Stimson’s pythons were each about 6” long, which makes them less threatening than a fully-grown constrictor with cold scaly skin, beady little eyes and a darting tongue…but also means it’s easier for them to climb into your seatback pocket, your bag in the overhead locker, your discarded shoe…or up your trouser leg while you sleep. Luckily, Qantas thought of all that as well, and after a fruitless search, eventually elected to fumigate the plane rather than risk having one of the serpents drop down with an oxygen mask during a safety briefing.

 

Passengers incovenienced by the delay were said to be understanding when they realised the alternative.

 

 

Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan © 2009





The Last King of Scotland

14 04 2009

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        “Och, I’m looking for the Idi Amin tartan, please.”  (Market day, western Uganda)

 

 

It is said that lazy foreign correspondents gauge a country’s mood by chatting with taxi drivers. Given that taxi drivers spend almost as much time chatting with locals as bartenders and barbers, their feelings probably are somewhat of a barometer of a nation’s opinions and it’s an easy trap in which to fall.

 

I must confess that I’ve probably learned more about world affairs from taxi drivers than from CNN Bureau Chiefs. An Eritrean driver in Toronto taught me all about that country’s brutal independence struggle against Ethiopia, while an Iranian in Melbourne related what it was like to be a westernised bank manager in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. But as fascinating as those conversations were, probably the single most memorable of all came in Uganda.

 

Kampala’s international airport is located on the shores of Lake Victoria in nearby Entebbe. To any student of history, Entebbe is synonymous with a 1976 act of terrorism when a hijacked Air France Airbus was directed there after sympathetic Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada promised safety to its Palestinian and German hijackers. After several days during which all non-Jewish hostages were released, Israel launched a daring commando raid and safely rescued almost all the hostages.

 

It was early morning when my aircraft swept in over the impossibly blue lake. I strolled into a new terminal building but as my taxi drove away, we passed the old building now overgrown, falling apart and still pockmarked by the raid’s bullets. When my head swivelled to get a better look, the cabbie noticed my interest.

 

“Over there is the plane,” he said, his eyes making contact with mine in the rear-view mirror. The Air France livery was sun-bleached to nothing, and the aircraft had been picked-apart to remove anything of use or value. The area around it was overgrown with weeds and grass but it seemingly sat as an unintended monument to one of the world’s most famous acts of terrorism…and to an infamous Ugandan dictator.

 

Even before Giles Foden’s novel and Oscar-winning movie “The Last King of Scotland”, Idi Amin’s name was synonymous with a blood-thirsty – if slightly buffoonish – dictator. Amin rose to power in a coup in 1971 and soon reaped a reign of terror that included human rights abuses, political repression, murder and war. Amnesty International estimated he was responsible for as many as 500,000 Ugandan deaths while former colleagues claimed he indulged in cannibalism. By the time of his death in exile in Saudi Arabia in 2003, Amin’s place in history as one of the world’s most feared tyrants was complete.

 

My driver tutted as we drove past.

 

“I wish we had him now,” he muttered quietly.

 

“Amin?” I asked, trying not to let my incredulity show at his confessed support for a man that most of the world still considers a monster.

 

“Yes, Amin” he said. “We wouldn’t have the problems that we’ve got now. There was law and order here. People had jobs. We were powerful. Now we have terrorists in the north and AIDS everywhere. It wouldn’t have happened under Amin.”

 

For once I was at a loss for words and quietly stared at the passing scenery. Perhaps a tabloid journalist would have reported that Uganda “longs for return of strong man”, but during the following weeks I spent in the East African country, his was the lone voice of support I heard.

 

Most likely, he was not alone but just like the London taxi driver who believed that Milli Vanilli were musical geniuses who were framed, he was certainly in the minority.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009





Travel Photography 101 14/18

29 08 2008

Confessions, musings and tips from a snap-happy wanderer.

Mr Bean stars in Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’    (Melbourne)

The Art of Photography/The Photography of Art

 

We so often take for granted street art in our own cities. We may pass something every single day and never stop and properly look at it, even though it’s so often these sculptures, paintings or abstract installations that add a bit of life to the concrete jungles in which we spend so much of our lives. When travelling, don’t overlook the street art wherever you are in the world. Take a moment to have a look and if you like what you see, to photograph it.

 

Those works can tell you a lot about the city you’re visiting and their shape, colour and creativity will add some variety to your other photographs of the more customary tourist sights and attractions.

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





Travel Photography 101 16/18

8 08 2008

Confessions, musings and tips from a snap-happy wanderer.

The Great Wall of Primer                                                    (Melbourne, Australia)

 

 

Always look both ways before you cross the road.

 

Or, more accurately, always look both ways when walking down the road! Check side streets and alleys for interesting shots. Sometimes you find quaint shops or hidden corners of the city untouched by commercialisation or modern development. Sometimes it can be intriguing shadows or unique graffiti, or perhaps a nice tunnel to frame whatever is at the far end. It is these tiny streets and curious alleys that often provide a glimpse into a city’s true identity and character.

 

Just make sure that nothing unwelcome is lurking in those shadows!

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





The Wall of Terror

16 06 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We do have elevators, you know?!” (Tourism Victoria)

 

 

Adrenaline has a wonderful way of conning you into believing that things that are quite obviously dangerous and unquestionably stupid are in fact a great idea and jolly good fun. Like face-first free-fall rappelling down the side of a 7-story building. I mean, unless you’re dressed in black and rescuing hostages or unimaginably fearful of elevators, what could possibly prompt you to run down a wall towards the ground tethered by only a rope clipped to your belt?

 

I had always fancied myself as some sort of Special Forces commando, parachuting in pitch-darkness with a dagger between my teeth, popping the canopy just inches before the ground and then casually overthrowing an evil potentate. When I found myself in Melbourne presented with the opportunity to forward-abseil instructed by the ex-Special Forces trooper who had invented the manoeuvre, well, commonsense simply went out the window!

 

After reaching the roof, I found myself unnecessarily staring at the car park 70-feet below. I attempted to say “Oh, terribly sorry, I seem to have forgotten my wallet”, and make a rush for the stairwell, but unfortunately the sudden dryness in my mouth had sealed my lips shut and someone had evidently cemented my feet to the roof when I wasn’t looking. Instead, while I stood utterly transfixed like a deer in the headlights of the truck that’s about to render it an elaborate hood-ornament, I obediently stepped into a harness while someone plonked a big helmet onto my head and handed me a pair of heavy-duty gloves.

 

A wicked wind whipped across the roof-top while dark wispy clouds raced in from the coast, raising hopes that inclement weather would not only save face but also my life.

 

Alas, it wasn’t to be.

 

“You’ll be sheltered once you go over the edge.” My instructor said, noticing that I’d started to perform an optimistic rain dance.

 

I have helped little old ladies cross the road, voluntarily surrendered my seat on the bus and bought cookies from Girl Guides. Death doesn’t scare me. But dying does. Especially when it involves falling face-first into a car park.

 

It’s funny the things that bother some people.

 

My rap-jumping lesson continued as a rope was looped through the figure-8 belay and clipped onto the harness that would, in theory, prevent me from leaving a perfect imprint of my face in Melbourne’s new “Adrenaline Walk of Fame” below.

 

I walked to the edge and against every better instinct, swung my left leg over the low wall. Rush-hour traffic streamed past and I could read the lips of parents gazing skyward exhorting their children to “Wave good-bye to the nice man!”

 

“Look straight ahead at the horizon” I was instructed, as if concentrating on the black and white building ahead would cause me to forget the literal and figurative gravity of the situation. My right leg involuntarily joined the other followed by a torrent of some of the most foul obscenities I had ever heard. I initially thought it was my ex-military instructor and hoped that something was wrong and the jump was to be aborted…until I realised that the expletives were my own and apologised sheepishly.

 

There have been many moments in my life when I have done things against my will. Getting vaccinations as a child, eating liver, attending a Celine Dion concert…but going over that wall was, well, special.

 

The instructor was admirably patient and encouraging, although I had no idea what he was saying as I was too busy watching my life flash before my eyes. After several hours perched on the edge, I finally took the plunge. As my body dropped into thin air, so my eyes dropped from the horizon to the ground and I emitted a silent scream that killed all dogs within a 20-mile radius.

 

Remarkably, the instructor hadn’t lied and the rope and harness held just as he had promised. Sadly though, the death-grip of my right-hand on the rope prevented me from moving and I simply stood there perpendicular to the building…staring straight down like a gargoyle.

 

After much coercing by the instructors – and then pleading and eventual threatening – I released the rope and began to move. Confidence growing, I started to run and bounce down the wall, feeling the rope slide comfortably through my gloved hand and watching the face of the safety-man at the bottom drawing closer. I landed gently and beaming an adrenalin-fired smile, started to strut arrogantly…until pulled almost off my feet by the rope still attached to my belt.

 

My instructor patted me on the back, nodded towards the roof and asked if I was ready to go again. Hoping he wasn’t looking below my waist, I surreptitiously renewed my gyrating rain-dance.

 

Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008