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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Prisoner: Hotel Room H

15 01 2009

  

 

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                   “I said I wanted a room with a bar, not bars!!!”   (Istanbul)

 

As long as I have a book, I am quiet happy to be confined to a small room for extended periods of time. Perhaps this stems from a childhood spent in solitary confinement when banging my tin cup across the bedroom door was frowned upon, but I am quite contented in my own company…when prepared for it.

I always travel with a small library of books. When I know that I am staying alone in modest budget hotels in distant lands, I always pack a small shortwave radio to keep me company. I am generally happy enough to sit in my room in the evening, listening to the fizz and crackle of a weak radio signal while through the mosquito net bustles the world or the airborne nasties that want to sup on my flesh.

However, if I am not expecting such confinement and I am not prepared for such sensory deprivation, I have been known to end up like Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape” and spend my time throwing rolled-up socks against the wall.

I was due to spend a couple of nights in a good centrally-located hotel in Sydney, Australia on my way home. I had arrived in the late evening after a long day and a tiring flight and headed to my room. Although tastefully appointed, it was conservative in size…but did have a television at the foot of the bed. I dashed out to get some food, laid my feast on the bed and flicked on the television ready for an evening of Australian “Big Brother”.

As I tucked into my burger, the TV warmed up to a soft glow. Alas, there was no picture. I played with the remote but got nowhere. I crawled over the scattered fries and played with the TV itself, but still nothing. Finishing my gourmet meal, I phoned the front desk and told them of my predicament. They replied that cable was down for most of the city and would be fixed by the morning.

During the flight I had finished my last book. It was too late to get a newspaper and there were no magazines. My iPod had died so I rolled over to the bedside table to explore the clock radio. Unfortunately, it was all clock and no radio and offered no entertainment beyond watching the LED digits changing.

I drew back the curtain hoping at least for a view of a park full of frolicking possums, but instead I stared into a canyon of large, dark office buildings. I returned to the bed. I didn’t need to re-pack my bag as I had done that expertly that morning. There were no holes to sew in my socks; I wasn’t keeping a diary; I’d sent my postcards; I always lost when I played noughts-and-crosses by myself and had never bothered to download games onto my mobile phone. I was too tired to go out for a wander and too awake to go to sleep.

Lying on my back, I tried to name the countries of the world, but kept losing count and repeating myself. I tried capital cities but became similarly lost. I attempted to count the stucco on the ceiling but went cross-eyed. Finally, I removed my socks, rolled them into balls and played catch…by myself. Eventually, I felt sufficiently tired to attempt sleep, climbed into bed, turned off the light and lay in the darkness watching the red light of the TV taunting me mercilessly.

The following morning I awakened early and flicked on the TV. There was still no signal. I looked into the hall to see if I had a newspaper, but I didn’t. I phoned the front desk to request one but was told I had to have ordered it the previous evening. I would have had a nice leisurely soak in the bath, but there was only a stand-up shower. It was a Sunday and too early for anything to be open…and the rain made a walk fairly unappealing. Eventually, it was time to venture out. I had a full and rewarding day of sightseeing with friends, an early dinner and returned to my room ready for a quiet evening of TV viewing ahead of an early trip to the airport.

I kicked-off my shoes, sprawled on the bed and flicked on the TV. The screen warmed to a milky white. I stared, disbelieving until distracted by a rustle at the door. A notice had been delivered announcing that the cable was still off and wouldn’t be returned until the following afternoon. Newspapers were available if requested by 8pm. I looked at my watch: it was 8:05pm.

I picked up my socks and returned to the centre of my cell.

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





Jorn Utzon and the Sydney Opera House

2 12 2008

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“It’ll never make it under the bridge, cap`n!”  (Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge)

 

 

Jorn Utzon has died at age 90. I must confess that I didn’t recognise his name and if pressed, I might have guessed he was a founding member of Abba…until his age suggested this unlikely. As I read further I felt ashamed that I didn’t know him because Jorn Utzon designed one of my favourite buildings in the world: the iconic Sydney Opera House.

 

Although architects sport top designs and are renowned for their figures, they rarely attain the fame of supermodels.  And though few are household names, their creations are instantly recognisable the world over.

 

There are a few exceptions. Many people know that Christopher Wren was responsible for St Paul’s Cathedral; Filippo Brunelleschi had a rather impressive dome in Florence; Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia was the work of Antoni Gaudi and Gustave Eiffel attained the pinnacle of his profession with the pinnacle of Paris, but most other architects do not achieve their wide level of fame.

 

Sydney would be a beautiful city even if Utzon hadn’t flirted with controversy and submitted a design for the city’s new opera house that resembled a ship in full sail cruising into the harbour. The bridge would still be eye-catching; the skyline would still provide a dramatic backdrop; the green spaces and beautiful homes that roll down to the shoreline would still give the city a welcoming air and the busy marine traffic in the harbour would still be captivating, but it is the Opera House that sits like a radiant carnation in the lapel of a perfectly-cut suit.

 

Sydney regularly features in lists of the most beautiful cities in the world alongside Cape Town, Venice, Vancouver and others and Jorn Utzon’s contribution is more than a little responsible for those accolades.

 

Right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was perched on a cloud with a pencil in his hand helping St Peter design a new set of Pearly Gates. If so, I bet they’ll be just as cutting edge and controversial.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





Travel Photography 101 18/18

22 08 2008

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

 

Wave!!!                         (Sydney Harbour Bridge and Australian ensign.)

If flags are good enough for Jasper Johns and Charles Pachter, they’re good enough for you!

 

Every country and most territories and cities have their own flag. In many cases, these internationally recognised symbols have become synonymous with their regions so why not feature them in your travel photography?  Flags are often colourful and eye-catching flying against a clear blue sky, or better yet, when beside a famous monument or landmark. They also provide an instant identifier for the country in which the photo was taken. Look for a good angle or background…but take caution: in some countries it is illegal to photograph the flag.

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





Shilo’s Cities: Sydney in a Week

29 01 2008

Sydney is a cosmopolitan city on the edge of the Australian world, on the scale of New York or Paris but with a big and beautiful harbor, a fun-loving population, and beaches with shades of blue you never thought possible. The adventure that is Sydney could never be “done” in a week or even a lifetime, but if you have a few days to get a taste of the energetic Aussie metropolis, these are my suggestions:

DAY 1: Victoria Harbor and Sydney Bridge 2007-sydney-031.jpg

When you arrive by subway or taxi in the city, your feet automatically propel you to the oldest and most interesting part of the city or any city in my opinion: the waterfront. Victoria Harbor is a busy blue mess of ferries, sailboats, speedboats, tour boats, and cruise ships. For an unbeatable view of the giant harbor and the expanse that is Sydney, book yourself on the Sydney Bridge Climb. If you can climb a ladder, you can climb the 440-ft bridge, right up to the tallest part of the top arch. Your legs will shake, your heart will beat along with the traffic flying past you, and you will climb back down SO much more hard core. Too chicken to climb? No worries, piker, you can get a similar view from the bridge’s pylon, no harness needed. You are also in place to explore The Rocks, Sydney’s oldest neighborhood which is chock full of shops and restaurants serving mean pavlovas. One hundred years ago this was the dirtiest, nastiest place in Sydney; today it is a manifestation of architectural incongruity as shiny steel skyscrapers swing into the sky right behind stone buildings over a century old.

DAY 2: Bondi Beach 2007-sydney-238.jpg Surf’s Up!

I thought I knew what the color blue was before I went to Bondi. I was wrong. Even if you are not a beach bum, you will enjoy this world-class surfing beach with non-stop pounding waves, soft rock-free sand, shops selling sun hats, and hundreds of surfers bobbing in the flow, waiting to grab their next mother’s nightmare of a wave. Stroll the boardwalk, munch some fish and chips, slather yourself with coconut oil and bake with the topless babes, then go for a swim in the crazy crashing waves (you might want to hold onto your bikini bottom, however, as the waves at Bondi ARE NOT playing around). Walk south along the coastline from the southern end of the beach to access several more beaches, inlets, ice cream shops, and hot surfers. Finish off your Australian beach day at a pub with a nice cold pint of Victoria Bitter- there is no other way.

DAY 3: Taronga Zoo 2007-sydney-449.jpg Meerkats hard at work

Taronga Zoo is across the harbor from the CBD (Central Business District); you must arrive via ferry, a languid ride right past the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House (great photo opportunities)! Taronga is a very cool zoo, a conservation haven which cascades down a verdant hillside and is home to a wide variety of all kinds of animals, including the native marsupials in their natural habitats. Visit the sunbathing crocs, say what? at the size of the kangaroos, hide your baby from the dingoes, take a picture of yourself with a baby koala, laugh at the idiotic duck-billed platypus, spend way too much time with the meerkats and finally figure out what the heck a wombat is. Catch the bird show (backdrop: Sydney and her harbor), then ride the gondola back down across the zoo to catch the ferry back to the waterfront.

DAY 4: Find a treasure! 2007-sydney-371.jpg The Rocks Market

Sydney is a shopper’s paradise; there are tons of stores and awesome prices thanks to the continent’s close proximity to Asia’s inexpensive goods. Billabong and Ripcurl are popular clothing brands to bring home (and oh-so-Aussie cool), and if you are into name-brand shopping then you will have no shortage of options in this city, especially down George Street and the area nearby. Budget shoppers are in heaven too, as heaps of warehouse-sized clothing stores burst at their seams with supercheap clothing and accessories; the quality isn’t top notch but for $5 dresses and $2 shirts, who cares? The weekend Rocks Market by the waterfront is an excellent source of Aussie-made products like crocodile jerky, gold-coated eucalyptus leaves, and money pouches made out of a kangaroo’s scrotum.

DAY 5: The Royal Botanic Garden and the Sydney Opera House 2007-sydney-310.jpg Friday Night

Sydney’s Botanic Gardens are more than a green oasis in a bustling city, they are a living museum of Australian flora. Wander the grounds and picnic by the crashing waves; go for a jog or check out the Herbarium which contains plant specimens collected by Captain Cook’s crew. Close by is the stunning Sydney Opera House; don’t just stare up in awe at the tiled, sail-like immensity of the building- buy a ticket to a performance and experience the Opera House aurally. Get tickets in advance or at the box office for operas, ballets, and symphonies. If that isn’t your thing, enjoy the Opera House from the outside and have a glass of Australian shiraz at the open-air bar next to the waterfront promenade. On Friday nights there is no better place to be in the South Pacific.

DAY 6: Chinatown and Darling Harbor 2007-sydney-362.jpg Music at Darling Harbor

Only twenty years ago Darling Harbor was a run-down, unsavory place for lowlifes and outta-lucks; now after a massive urban redevelopment it is a Mecca of Modern. It is home to the shark-filled Sydney Aquarium, the epically peaceful Chinese Garden of Friendship, the National Maritime Museum, and a plethora of other attractions including an IMAX theatre, a gigantic shopping mall, waterfront cafes, free outdoor music performances, theaters, and water-based architecture, all under the quiet whisp of the Sydney monorail. Next door is Chinatown with pink-budded trees, red archways, and Paddy’s market at Haymarket, a HUGE indoor marketplace selling crafts, food, souvenirs, clothes, animals, leather goods, and electronics, with all the familiar clamor of a traditional bazaar.

DAY 7: Get Lost! 2007-sydney-386.jpg

This is YOUR trip to Sydney, and your journey should have plenty of free time for discovering, wandering, and following your heart’s desire. You see some of the best things when you are lost! Chill out in curious cafes and pubs, explore buildings that catch your eye, amble down strange streets, meet weird people, and stumble onto new experiences. This idea of unplanned free time runs counter to many Americans’ idea of traveling: to see as much in the shortest time possible. In Sydney or any other foreign city, take some free time (okay, even PLAN some free time if you have to) to explore your passions and you will return from your travels not only with a wider world view, but with an updated understanding of yourself as well.

“God made the harbor, but the devil made Sydney.” Mark Twain

See you on the beach!

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Photos and post by Shilo Urban





Sydney Bridge Birthday Party

19 12 2007

“Happy birthday dear Shilo, happy birthdaaay…toooooo….yooouuuuu.”

I am on top of the world as the familiar song wraps up. Well, okay, on top of Sydney, Australia. At my fingertips are the glistening skyscrapers and the old rock buildings; the high flying opera house and the sprawling, boat-filled harbor she overlooks. I have just climbed up the Sydney Harbor Bridge past zooming traffic and commuter trains, over decades-old pylons, sailboats and ferries, and now stand overlooking one of the most beautiful and thriving cities in the world. Of course I had my pick of Sydney birthday experiences to choose from- surfer ogling and fish and chips at Manly Beach, a Bach Symphony in the wooden concert hall of the Sydney Opera House, a morning of shopping at the Rocks market followed by a meal of kangaroo and pavlova, an afternoon with the koalas and meerkats at the Tuaranga Zoo, or maybe surfer ogling and ice cream cones at Bondi Beach…

The options are numerous but what can I say? Every place I visit I have the inexplicable urge to get to the highest point, and soon upon arrival I find myself on top of the Space Needle, the ocean-side cliff, the Eiffel Tower, the London Eye, the cathedral’s north bell tower, the roof of my hotel, or wherever I can best fill my eyes of amazing new vistas. As much as some people are afraid of heights, I am drawn to them, addicted some might say. So for me the choice is easy, and an afternoon spent crawling and climbing up one of the world’s most famous bridges and the pride of Sydney turns into my best birthday ever.

The final notes of my birthday song float along the warm South Pacific breeze and down across the amazing city, and soon I too descend back to the streets to see what the rest of the day has in store for me…there’s a little party called Mardi Gras tonight I want to check out.

Best. Birthday. Ever.

Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb www.bridgeclimb.com

Shilo Urban