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February 23, 2009

TIM’S PERCHED, READY TO LURE THE BIG ONES

david ellis

WHEN angler Tim Baily says he keeps "a few small fry for the plate," we have to wonder at the size of his plate.

Because to Tim, "small fry" are anything up to seven kilograms (which, if you've still not come to grips with metrics, is around 15 pounds or so.)

But then Tim is not your average angler: when he takes people fishing, they come home talking about catching fish almost as big as a grown man, and of total "bags" that at the end of the week can be measured not just by the tens, but by the hundreds of kilograms.

And they're happy to confine their bragging rights back home to photographs, because Tim is a catch-and-release man – except for those 7kg "small fry for the plate" for he and fellow anglers.

Tim Baily as you've probably already appreciated is not your average angler. He was running a UK tour operation specialising in travel to Egypt when, fifteen years ago, he talked the Egyptian Government into giving him the first licence to operate game-fishing safaris on the man-made Lake Nasser.

What started off with Tim, a couple of fishing boats, a few local Nubian staff and a lot of patience waiting for anglers to be convinced of the thrill of going after monstrous Nile Perch and fighting Catfish and Tiger Fish (that are a relative of South America's Piranha,) is now so successful its been emulated by others.

Tim calls his venture The African Angler and the ink seldom dries in his record books: the current "official" record is a whopping 104kg (230-pounds) Nile Perch – although a retired Indian tea planter on one of his safaris hooked another brute that broke the scales as the needle passed the 113kg (250-pounds) mark, and so could not be officially recognised.

And such catches are not just the domain of the blokes: a diminutive five-foot-nothing (1.55-metre) Scottish lady was trolling out the back of one of Tim's boats in the late 1990s when the boat shuddered to a near halt as, in her  words, "my line felt like it had hit a concrete block."

After a thirty minute battle she was pulling a Nile Perch alongside, but she, her fishing companion and their onboard guide couldn't haul it aboard. In the end they jumped into the chest-deep water and manhandled the fish ashore where it took two men to lift onto the scales.

It weighed 90kg (200-pounds) and was just under 2m (6ft 6-inches) in length. After giving it a pat on the back, they push it back into Lake Nasser and watched it swim off into the sunset.

Tim Baily's clients mostly hail from the UK, USA and Europe, but ten per cent come from Australia, and the number is increasing.

And some fifty per cent of clients are repeat visitors, which is probably little wonder with the size of Nile Perch catches and the fighting qualities of the Catfish and Tiger Fish to be had in the lake, that was created in the 1960s when the Nile was dammed at Aswan.

This flooded an area of over 6200 square kilometres and today catches of 40, 50 or even 60 kilo Nile Perch are regular events on Tim's safaris, while 10 to 20kg beauties are pretty much par for the course – like those 7kg "small fry."

Tim has five "mother ships" that provide dining areas, showers for anglers and accommodation for staff, while fishing is done from a fleet of ten 9-metre sleep-aboard fishing boats that take anglers out for the day with a guide-cum-driver.

And there's no lack of the good life throughout 6-day fishing safaris: chefs create bountiful meals that are a mix of Western and local Nubian – the latter including such dishes as Tajine, a popular casserole of lamb, beef, fish or quail that's slow-cooked with vegetables and spices until the meat falls of the bone.

Hearty cooked breakfasts start the day and picnic lunches are provided while fishing; prices for a 6-day fishing safari start from $2195pp including all meals and fishing tackle (although many anglers prefer to take their own.) Air is extra.

Details from The African Angler's Australian office on (02) 9966 9316, peter@african-angler.net or check-out www.african-angler.co.uk    
                                                            ……………..

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] IT'S catch and release with The African Angler, so bragging rights are with photographs only.

[] "I PAID a lot for that lure – it's got to be in here somewhere."

[] "WOW Mum, wait till I tell Dad about this!!!"

(Photographs: The African Angler)

 

February 10, 2009

OMAN’S MUSANDAM PENINSULA

THE LEOPARDS, DOLPHINS AND FJORDS OF ARABIA:

MUSANDAM:

Straddling the world’s most important shipping lanes (Persian Gulf) is Musandam, which nurtures Oman’s most dramatic coastline. Interspersed with serrated cliffs that abruptly rise to 2,100 metres, quaint fishing villages and jagged peaks that form part of Oman’s expansive Hajar Mountain range Musandam is also surrounded by a narrow inlet of water with a cluster of islands that were shaped by ancient, violent earthquakes and visited by Arabia’s earliest mariners and explorers

At the heart of Musandam’s waters is the Strait of Hormuz, a passage sprinkled with fishing boats and dhows and teaming with coral reefs, marine life (dolphins, whales and shoals of fish) and a host of beautiful and secretive khors – the fjords of Arabia – none more alluring than Khor Shim, the largest fjord in Musandam.

Often coined “The Norway of the Arabian Gulf”, the Strait’s warm waters and ubiquitous cliffs additionally offer visitors some of the world’s finest deep-sea diving and snorkelling experiences. The small islands of Mushroom Rock and Limah Rock provide divers with the perfect location to view Oman’s marine life; so ideal the islands almost replicate an outdoor aquarium, where barracuda, plankton and batfish weave in and around a kaleidoscope of iridescent purple, yellow and green-hued coral.

Visitors to Musandam who want to recreate the seafaring journeys of Sindbad the Sailor can also cruise the khors in a dhow or visit the fishing villages by speedboat that dot the coastline.

Because much of Musandam is mountainous, camels are not a common sight however visitors will see plentiful Bait A Qufl, - small rectangular houses built of local stone with roofs made of wood and earth by local tribesmen. Inside the dwellings the floors are constructed one metre below the ground, designed for sleeping and storing food.

The highest peak in Musandam is Jebal Harem (mountain of women) that stands at 2087 metres. Nurturing a carpet of wildflower – iris and gladioli, visitors will additionally view cave paintings and rock art on the boulders. The most northern part of Musandam (and Oman) is Kumzar, which can only be reached by sea.

Khasab, Musandam’s capital, which was settled on a pretty harbour and built around three saw-toothed hills, is also bustling with local markets and colourful souqs. A city built of white-flat roofed houses and built near a sheer rocky wadi, visitors can walk the town or few the port’s bustling activities – from visiting Iranians engaging in contraband (only upon their return to Iran) or livestock including goats, arriving by speedboat.

Khasab is equally famous for Fort Khasab, an 18th century citadel built by the Portuguese during their occupation of the region. The fort also has three cannons facing towards the sea, which were used up until recently to signal the presence of the full moon, indicating the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid.

MUSANDAM’S WILDLIFE:

Though Musandam’s marine life is largely the main attraction it is the elusive and rare Arabian leopard, which prowls and hunts in Musandam’s foothills (and in Dhofar in the southern region of Oman), that gives the region its special mystique. Protected and endangered, the Arabian Leopard is one of the last surviving species of large cats that roam the Arabian Peninsula, evidence of its presence in Musandam has been found around secluded waterholes and goat herders in the deep chasms of the Hajar Mountains have also heard its rasping snarl.

Other nature reserves have been established throughout Musandam (and the Sultanate) to protect the natural habitats of Oman’s wildlife – from the Arabian leopard, Oryx, gazelle, desert fox to the wild cats, turtles and ibex. Also home to 22 species of whale and dolphin, Oman is a member of the International Whaling Commission and follows the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species, which prevents the trade of endangered animals.

SUSTAINABLE RESORT AND SPA:
LUXURIOUS SIX SENSES HIDEAWAY:

Visitors to the Arabian Gulf seeking a classic Arabian getaway in the tranquil folds of a Small Luxury Hotel property - and on a strip of land that once saw the Portuguese and Persians fight to take possession of – should visit Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay in Musandam, the smallest and most northern region of Oman.

Musandam’s private beachfr0nt enclave was the perfect location for Six Senses Hideaway to build a luxurious yet self-sustainable resort spa and villas for the discerning traveller. Just a short flight from the Arabian Gulf airline hubs of Abu Dhabi City and Dubai - and located in a region that is separated from the rest of Oman by 70 kilometres of the United Arabs Emirates - Six Senses Hideaway is the ultimate romantic or corporate incentive retreat.

Located on a secluded beach near a quaint fishing village at Zighy Bay the property also offers luxurious villa accommodation, which includes infinity pools, immediate access to 1.6 kilometres of private beach and a wealth of activities (such as paragliding and snorkelling), a private marina and the Six Senses Spa, featuring the ultimate in holistic treatments, including their signature Sensory Spa Journey.

With its provincially chic décor and personal space, which includes bathrooms that extend to outdoor showers, Six Senses Hideaway offers a beautiful contrast to the bustle of Dubai, especially for visitors wanting to blend the quiet customs and hospitality of old-world Arabia with contemporary luxury.

And how to sell Six Senses Hideaway? Imagine going on a picnic atop an ancient mountain, enjoying a luxurious spa treatment or strolling the beach overlooking the cerulean waters where pirates once clashed and dolphins still play. This quiet pocket strip of old-world paradise is truly the ultimate Arabian getaway.

Unlike other popular Arabian Gulf getaway destinations, great importance has been placed on preserving Musandam’s unblemished landscape and heritage through the Sultanate’s visionary 2020 economic charter, which ensures controlled sustainable tourism throughout the region.

The recommended stay is two-three nights.

FAST FACTS:

* Oman Air offers three direct flights from Dubai to Khasab in Musandam as well as direct services to Muscat. www.omanair.aero
* Khasab is only 3 hours by car from Abu Dhabi and approximately 2 hours from Dubai
* Private luxury car transfers (from Dubai or Abu Dhabi) are available for guests staying at Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay (a member of Small Luxury Hotels).
* Visitors can also stay at Golden Tulip Khasab Hotel or Khasab Hotel. Their locations are ideal for organising diving and boat trips.
* Opening 2009: Alila Villas Musandam, Designed to blend unassumingly into the surroundings, it will offer a rare and privileged lifestyle on the towering cliffs overlooking the sea. A true oasis of luxurious living that creates a surprisingly different experience to perfectly complement the extraordinary surprises of this unique destination.

For further information please contact Oman Ministry of Tourism

Telephone: +61 2 9113 5959
Email: info@tourismoman.com.au
Visit: www.omantourism.gov.om

On track for an unforgettable journey

david ellis with frank linn

IF urged to put our money on the city to take out the title of World's Most Traffic-congested, we'd have to put it on Bangalore, just beating out Bangkok and Cairo.

On a recent visit to this bourgeoning Silicon Valley of India, our driver from the airport to the rather grand Leela Palace Kempinski Hotel, confided that his city had seven million, eight million or nine million inhabitants.

It depended, he explained, on who you were talking to at the time: on our day we were certain that all seven, or eight or 9-million were there on our road at the one time, creating six solid rows of honking cars, motorcycles, trucks, vans, taxis, buses and motorised rickshaws that had jammed themselves with great dexterity into the official four lanes.

And remarkably without a hint of road rage.

Having survived it to the rich Vijayanagar Empire heritage that is now the Leela Palace Kempinski, we found ourselves amid a bygone era of not only architectural opulence, but of magnificent colonial-era landscaping… a quiet oasis of aged trees, colourful forever-Spring-time garden beds, and cooling waterways that cocooned us from the outside cacophony and bustle of the city.

And remarkably we would experience similar moments time and again in coming days of exploring the State of Karnataka aboard a new train, the Golden Chariot Railway that offers an eye-opening seven-day, 1500 kilometre exploration of the State and the neighbouring beach-resort Goa on India's west coast.

It is to prove itself an unforgettable journey into the culture, history, world heritage sites, National Parks and the cuisine of this fascinating region, and as we await our Golden Chariot at Yashwantpur Station the masses of people thronging the platforms for local and country services seems to rival the cars on Airport Road.

Thus small sighs of relief exhale when a string of carriages, smart royal purple trimmed with gold, slide quietly before us.

And it is now that we first cross paths with Satish, a forever-obliging, turbaned young man from India's south who is to look after our every whim for the next seven days.

It is Satish who escorts us to elegantly furnished air-conditioned cabins with crisp cotton sheets, a flat-screen TV with news and movies on call, and to a telephone that proves itself a 24-hour hotline to his amazing efficiency and courtesy.

Need a hot cuppa at 7 am? A late-night Panadol? A button for a recalcitrant shirt? Satish is your man

He's also there to rectify the daily havoc one creates in one's cabin, greet us with chilled fruit juice on our return from sightseeing excursions, and show us the way to the on-board internet café, massage room or mini onboard-gym.

And it turns out that there are Satishes everywhere. They're in the plush dining room each evening, the separate breakfast room of a morning, the cosy cocktail lounge and bar before dinner, and opening every door as we pass from carriage to carriage.

All up a couple of dozen of them amongst the 53 crew looking after a maximum of 103 guests – and on our journey, which is in the train's infancy of late 2008, just thirty indulging this extravaganza of hospitality.

And if it's possible that anyone is going to have more impact on our enjoyment than Satish, it is Executive Chef Deepak Chaubey who came to the Golden Chariot from world-ranking Le Meridien hotels in Bangalore and Delhi.

Although no longer enjoying the luxury of spacious kitchens and battalions of ovens and hot plates to do his stuff, the variety of Indian and international dishes he produces from the cramped quarters of a railway carriage amazes all.

Suffice to say that in seven days, Deepak's selection of Indian thali found its way to our table most lunches, and every dinner but one when we did the patriotic thing and chose roast lamb…that proved itself an equally splendid choice.

A week-long Golden Chariot Railway package from Adventure World costs from just $3742, including onboard accommodation, meals and comprehensive sightseeing daily.

Special rates for pre- or post-rail stays at the luxury Leela Kempinski Hotel in Bangalore can be combined with the rail itinerary.

Details on 1300 363 055 or visit www.adventureworld.com.au Air travel is additional. ………………….

[] The Golden Chariot's Dining Car – home of grand cuisine

[] Chef Deepak's Thali – a lunchtime must

[] Oasis of peace and silence: grounds of the Leela Palace Kempinski Hotel

[] Six into four just goes in Bangalore's chaotic traffic

IMAGES: David Baker

February 02, 2009

HUNTING DOWN CANADA’S COOLEST ADVENTURES

Canada

Polar Bears - there are more in
Nunavut Territory than anywhere else in the world
Canada
Adventurous holidaymakers ready
for anything in Canada's Arctic around Iqaluit

david ellis

THERE's almost no mercury in the thermometer at minus-26C in winter, and on Christmas Day there might be five hours of sunshine – if there's any of the stuff at all, because most Christmases it's snowing. Twenty-four hours.

But mid-year things change: on balmy summer's days the locals frolic in 20-hours of daily sunshine as temperatures soar to a sizzling average-eight. That's right, eight. Celsius.

Yet rather than looking on such conditions as negatives, the 31,000 folk of the Canadian city of Iqaluit see them as positives – and want the world to beat a path to their door, where they say the greeting's far warmer than the weather.

And that they'll gladly share their table with you too: whale blubber and muskox, caribou, seal, walrus, chicken, game fish, clams, shrimps and lobsters.

And bear's feet, with those lucky enough to be invited to a private home, or who choose a "country food" café where the local Inuits dine, find themselves chowing-down as their hosts do: with the fingers, and savouring those tasty morsels raw or frozen.

"Remarkably, after the initial shock, visitors find this hospitality not only a very unique part of a fascinating cultural and adventurous holiday, but a very touching one too, as the people are just so accommodating," says Ed Smith whose Sydney-based Canada and Alaska Specialist Holidays is funnelling increasing number of inquisitives Aussie holidaymakers to Iqualuit.

"These visitors find there's so much to do in the fascinating outdoors for the hunter armed with gun or camera," says Smith, himself an expatriate Canadian who is quick to point out that you don't have to survive on "country food" when visiting Iqualuit.

"There are all the regular restaurants, pizza parlours, Mexican diners and Chinese takeaways, and you'll even find tropical fruits in the supermarkets in the coldest depths of winter," he says.

Iqaluit is on Baffin Island and is the capital of Nunavut, Canada's newest territory covering a vast 1.95 million square kilometres (20% of the country,) and was created a decade ago through the most comprehensive settlement ever reached between a state and an aboriginal group.

Long occupied by nomadic Inuits, Arctic Nunavut was first visited by white man in the 16th century when English explorer Martin Frobisher came upon Baffin Island during his search for a Polar route to China.

On a third visit in 1578 he also took 300 Cornish miners to excavate a thousand tonnes of what he thought was gold-bearing ore. But back in England it turned out to be nothing but iron pyrite (Fool's Gold,) and ended up as filling for pot-holed country roads.

Within 100 years of Frobisher's visits, the Dutch were whaling the area, and in 1670 the famous Hudson's Bay Company was established – one of its earliest trading posts was re-located in 1949 to what is now Apex 5km from Iqaluit, and its historic buildings are a fascinating drawcard for visitors.

The unusual Igloo-shaped Anglican Cathedral in Iqaluit is another attraction, as are the Legislative Assembly and the local museum.

But it's the outdoors that attract most visitors – sport-hunters who team-up with professional outfitters to seek 800kg polar bears (more than half the world's polar bear population live here,) muskox, foxes, lemmings, wolves and Arctic hares to name a few.

They also fish through holes cut in iced-over rivers and lakes, dangling lures that attract a variety of species that are speared rather than hooked… and when the ice melts, fly-fish from the shores for lake trout, fighting Arctic char and Arctic graylings.

Non sport-hunters armed with cameras hike or dog-sled spectacular trails in search of many of these creatures too, and walruses, seals, whales and countless species of birdlife from ptarmigans to snowy owls, ravens, gulls, terns, loons, ducks and geese.

And snap the amazing dancing lights of the aurora borealis, or hunt in the local stores for carved walrus tusks, sealskin mittens, hand-made jewellery, custom-made parkas, fur clothes and animal-skin boots.

Iqualuit is 2000km north of Ottawa and so pilots and Santa can't miss it in the snow, its airport passenger terminal is painted bright yellow.

Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays can add a short-break to Iqaluit to a Canada, Alaska or USA vacation, or create hunting or outdoor adventure packages year-round; phone 1300 79 49 59.



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February 01, 2009

Cruising lesser-known Australia: The Torres Strait Islands aboard Orion

GreenHillFort_7749
Green Hill Fort, Thursday Island
The tiny islands of the Torres Strait were the first clues Seventeenth Century explorers had to the existence of the mysterious Southern continent. Modern adventurers are now rediscovering these otherwise insignificant islands and uncovering their role in our nation’s history.

Virtually next door to Cape York, on Possession Island, is a rather tired-looking white concrete monument, yet it represents a place of significant importance for all Australians both newly arrived and indigenous. It marks the spot where, in August 1770, Lieutenant James Cook, laid claim to the whole eastern coast in the name of King George III.

In 1606, the Portuguese explorer Luis Váez de Torres sailed these same waters and the Strait now bears his name. Only weeks before, Willem Janszoon in the tiny Duyfken (Little Dove) was the first European known to have sighted the coast. He landed, but due to a bloody altercation with the “'wild, cruel, black savages', did not lay claim. So, after exploring and laboriously charting much of the east coast, it was left to Cook to make the historic claim to the Great Southern Land.

Now, some two centuries later, the state-of-the-art expedition vessel, Orion has brought modern-day adventurers to make their own discoveries in the Torres Strait.

Possession Island is one of those remote, inaccessible and forgotten parts of Australia few people ever visit and perhaps that is its own special beauty. An old, long-abandoned gold mine, now occupied by a colony of bats, stands guard over the forlorn monument to Cook’s odyssey.

A few days later, we find ourselves on Lizard Island, standing at the summit of Cook's Look. From here one can vaguely grasp the enormity of the task undertaken by early maritime explorers and navigators, subject as they were to tidal changes and seasonal prevailing winds. As far as you can see, north and south, lies Cook’s so-called ‘labyrinth of reefs’. We now know this as the formidable Great Barrier Reef. With no charts for reference it is truly amazing how Cook eventually managed to find a way in, through and out of this vast patchwork of coral reefs in the flat bottomed 33 metre bark Endeavour. It wasn’t without incident however.

Today, on board the 103 metre mega-yacht Orion, a glass of vintage Hunter Semillon in hand, we have no such concerns. This purpose-built 5-star expedition cruise ship, just three years old, contains all the necessary technical equipment to ensure safe and comfortable passage through any Torres Strait or Barrier Reef - even Antarctic seas, as she does during our summer months.

This seven night voyage to Torres Strait includes a diversity of destinations and activities from snorkelling on isolated sandy outcrops and coral reefs, to experiencing the laid-back colonial atmosphere of Thursday Island (Waiben).

Located 45 kilometres from the tip of Cape York and lying in the Torres Strait that separates Australia and New Guinea, Thursday Island, or TI (as it is known locally), with its strategic importance and pearling history, is the principal administrative and trading centre for the islands.

We arrive early morning and have to wait until the tide eases before we can anchor. Alongside TI's main wharf is a grey-hulled Customs intercept ship deployed to monitor movement in this area. Unfortunately these islands provide convenient stepping stones to and from New Guinea for illegal immigration and smuggling. Occasionally surveillance helicopters and fixed wing aircraft buzz overhead, lingering for an extra look at Orion, now at anchor in the jade-green waters of the harbour.

In town, the locals (seafaring islanders of Melanesian extraction unrelated to mainland Australian Aborigines) move with that slow, particular gait that is a hallmark of people used to living in high temperatures and humidity. Well aware that any hurried activity will result in unsightly sweatiness, they smile knowingly as we bustle past, eager to discover the secrets of TI. But for us there is no need for concern. A handful of well placed pubs, yellow and red ‘XXXX’ signs beckoning, are set at convenient intervals along the wide main street that forms the commercial heart of Thursday Island. Peak hour may see four vehicles on the road at the same time. For us, peak hour catches a few Aussies in the pub watching the Ashes unfold. Some things never change regardless of where we are.

Historically TI has been well guarded. Overlooked by Green Hill Fort with its array of big six-inch guns, it was constructed to repel a feared Russian invasion in 1898. Used again in World War II, the fort is worth a visit and houses an impressive military museum within a complex of tunnels and bunkers. A strenuous walk up the hill to the fort will bring more knowing smiles and waves from the locals. Better to take the bus.

Also worth visiting is the well presented Gab Titui cultural centre on the waterfront near the wharf. It offers visitors an insight into the diverse island cultures and the impact of the pearling trade. The art gallery, featuring indigenous art (often representing stories linked to the sea) may tempt you with an irresistible must-have painting or carving. The art from this area is highly regarded around the world.

The history of pearl diving in the area is a fascinating and often tragic story. Take a visit to the Japanese Shinto cemetery where literally hundreds of hard-hat pearl divers are buried, victims of the dreaded 'bends'. The ‘lucky’ ones were merely crippled; while the unlucky suffered a painful death. It is believed the reason Thursday Island was not bombed by the Japanese during World War II was because so many Japanese are buried there.

Like somewhere out of a Somerset Maugham novel, Poruma Island is a narrow coral strip bounded by fringing coral reefs. Most of the 180 'saltwater people' still use traditional methods to catch the Spanish mackerel, sailfish, marlin, trevally, shark and dugong that inhabit these clear waters. Nowadays the Torres Strait Islanders are friendly and welcoming. Years ago, or so we are told, trading between some islands included the odd shrunken head.

Our scheduled visit to Masig (Yorke) Island was cancelled because “they were not ready for us.” Unfazed, the expedition crew organised a visit to Roberts Island. Totally uninhabited, Roberts is an idyllic small sand island, surrounded by vodka-clear waters perfect for snorkelling. The Zodiacs shuttled guests between Orion and the beach to allow everyone to stay for as short or long a period as they wished.

This is not ‘cruising’ in the popular sense. This is an emerging form of cruising for Australians: Expedition Cruising. A little harder edged, Expedition Cruising offers engaging experiences and soft adventure in more remote areas.

Zodiacs are the preferred form of transport to explore waterways (or the labyrinthine reefs), and provide access for guests who would rather hands-on experiences in preference to watching the world (life?) slip by from a recumbent somnambulant state, as their ship glides from one predictable port to another.

Yes, there are deck chairs, a sauna and a spa but certainly no quoits, bingo or fancy-dress parties. Expedition Leaders replace Social Directors. Typically the ‘ELs’ and Guest Lecturers include marine biologists, anthropologists, botanists and historians - onboard specialists and guest presenters who provide in-depth information about aspects of the destinations to help enhance the experience and broaden the mind.

A glance at a typical expedition cruise itinerary will invariably include a range of destinations (some unfamiliar, but that is all part of the adventure) that take passengers into remote places where you can get your feet and hands dirty and meet the locals. No sign of fast food or tacky souvenirs on these voyages. Just the occasional XXXX.

Our stop at Stanley Island, as we return southward to Cairns, is a highlight for those interested in indigenous rock art. Here we see numerous cave paintings – but with a difference. Many are just a few hundred years old, the most recent completed as recently as last century. Hence there are paintings of first contact with Europeans including a variety of ship designs indicating a range of visitors and time frames. Fascinating. Returning to the ship we see numerous turtle tracks left in the white sand but there is no temptation to swim as even here there is the risk of crocodiles.

Cairns marks the end of our remarkable journey. At the very north of Australia, and then some, lies this undiscovered region - at least in the modern sense - remote, vibrant, tropical, reflecting an absorbing blend of mainland and island cultures. Almost forgotten by Cook, now rediscovered.


BREAKOUT QUOTE

Facts on Orion

With 75 European officers and hand picked crew and just 106 guests (100 maximum for Antarctica) Orion has the highest staff to guest ratio of any Australian based ship, ensuring life onboard is anything but rugged.

It is, however, the luxurious accommodation and facilities that distinguish it most from other expedition ships in Australian waters. All 53 staterooms and suites are exterior and include a sitting area or living room, direct Internet access, flat screen TV, DVD and CD player, marble bathroom and choice of twin beds or queen-size bed. All cabins offer large oval, rectangular, or sliding glass floor-to-ceiling windows.

Five-star amenities include a spa, sauna, masseuse, hairdresser, boutique, several lounges and a computer centre equipped with Internet access.

The dinner menu is created by Sydney's renowned chef Serge Dansereau (of The Bathers' Pavilion fame), as recently featured in OCEAN. Presenting local produce, as far as possible, and offering an extensive wine list, life onboard combines luxury with expedition cruising, proving that even in the Torres Strait they are not mutually exclusive.

Combining mental food for thought and a stimulating environment, Orion is a ship with plenty of opportunity for an exhilarating holiday.

For further information contact Orion Expedition Cruises: 1300 361 012 (Australia), visit www.orioncruises.com.au or see your travel agent.