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June 28, 2009

BUBBLY WIDOW’S RIDDLE PUTS SPARKLE IN CHAMPAGNE

david ellis

AT a time in the early 19th century when young married women were expected to stay home and look after the children, or if they were rich, stay home and pay someone else to look after the children, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin turned such norms on their head.

The daughter of Count Nicholas Ponsardin, a wealthy and influential textile manufacturer through his friendship with Emperor Napoleon, Barbe-Nicole had inherited strong genes, and when she married winemaker Francois Clicquot immediately set out to prove she was never going to be your normal wife.

Sadly this came about somewhat quicker than she'd hoped: in 1805 her husband of only six years died.  Barbe-Nicole shocked family, friends and her late-husband's business associates by announcing that rather than taking on a business manager, she herself was taking change of his wine-making business at Reims in the north of France.

Sacre bleu cried the other winemakers. How could a woman run a company? Particularly a physically demanding winery?

But the 27-year-old veuve (widow) Clicquot soon turned Reim's winemaking industry upside down – literally.

And the result is that two centuries later, we still toss down the drop she made famous by one of her innovations, Veuve Clicquot Champagne.

And while she borrowed from her rich father-in-law to help market her tipple, it was her invention of a novel technique called riddling after the primary fermentation of Champagne that put her on the world stage.

Until then, Champagnes had a cloudy appeared caused by dead yeast in the bottle.

To get rid of this, Barbe-Nicole came up with the idea of having holes cut in her kitchen table, and put her Champagne bottles upside down in these so that the dead yeast fell and settled in the neck against the cork. After several weeks the corks were taken out, the dead yeast removed and new corks put in.

To further improve the technique she and her cellar master, Antoine de Muller devised a rack that held the bottles at a 45-degree angle, and each day a cellar-hand gently shook and turned each bottle; when the cork was eventually removed the yeast sediment was discarded, the bottle topped up with sweetened wine and re-corked to encourage secondary fermentation – and, hey presto, Champagne was now ferociously bubbly and sparkling clear.

Her other move was to re-open trade in Champagne with Russia – which had stopped during the war with France. And as she got in before other makers, her label soon captured a huge slice of Russia's renewed interest in French bubbly.

By the time she died in 1866 at the age of 89, Barbe-Nicole had become known as La Grande Dame de la Champagne, a title that lives on with a prestige cuvée of the same name.

And today tourists come from around the world to visit her famous cellars in Reims.

For €13 (around $23) they get a 90-minute guided tour of the winery and some of the 26km on underground storage tunnels – and at the end, a tasting of the famous Champers.

Reims is just 45 minutes from Paris by super-fast trains that travel at 320km/hr; it's a fascinating city, with some 80 per cent of the city having been destroyed in World War I, but lovingly restored to its original design – with much of the funding actually coming from American billionaires such as John D Rockefeller.

One particular must-visit is the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Reims, where the old Kings of France were crowned – with the celebrants toasting the future of their new monarchs with Champagne, of course.

There are 2300 religious statues in the cathedral, and if you don't suffer from vertigo, it's worth climbing the 249 steps to the narrow walkway around the roof for a spectacular view of the city.

Find time also to go to the so-called Salle de Reddition, an old schoolhouse where German generals surrendered to General Dwight D Eisenhower in May 1945 at the end of World War II. It's been preserved as it was on that day.

The French renamed the street on which it sits 'rue de Franklin D Roosevelt', after the American president.

If you're heading to France, ask your travel agent to include a visit to Reims, and the Veuve Clicquot cellars.

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PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] CLEAR view on Champagne – the widow Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin with one of her granddaughters

[] FAMOUS Reims Cathedral – crowning point for France's kings of old

[] HISTORIC 1920s enticement to visit France's Champagne region

[] PICTURESQUE Reims: a 16th century chapter house gateway


June 22, 2009

CALIFORNIA FUN PARK KNOTT FOR FEINT-HEARTED

david ellis

I FEEL I am still in recovery, having been hurled, whirled, blasted, inverted and reverted forwards, backwards, upside down and sideways at a near-100 white-knuckle k's an hour – and for good measure dropped, plunged, soaked and spun dried.

Then tossed more times in 3-minutes than a Caesar salad.

Even when my feet are planted firmly back on terra fIrma for a sedate ol' fashioned steam train ride I find myself bailed-up by a couple of baddies wanting to spoil my ride by wielding six-guns in my face, and when I choose a genu-ine wild west Butterfield Coach for a more sedate amble, I find its sides disconcertingly peppered with equally genu-ine bullet holes…

Welcome folks to Knott's Berry Farm, America's oldest theme park, 10 minutes from Disneyland in California's Orange County, and a must-do on that USA holiday whether you're six or 60, and whether you're looking for a hell-raisin' coaster rider, or just mosey-in' around for photo opportunities with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy and the Peanuts Gang.

Walter and Cordelia ('Ma') Knott were struggling to make a living on their berry farm in the 1930s Big Recession when Cordelia had the idea of frying up some of their farm chooks and serving them to visitors to help make ends meet.

Her first eight customers on a June day in 1934 ate their meals off the Knott's wedding-present china in the family dining room, and so good was Cordelia's home-recipe golden fried chicken, creamy potato mash and tasty gravy, that most came back, bringing family and friends with them.

Soon folks were queuing for Ma's chicken dinners, and to kill time while they waited for a table, Walter brought-in some abandoned ghost-town buildings they could wander through; he then found a rusting old 1880's Denver and Rio Grande steam train that no one wanted, did it up and offered visitors rides on this on a narrow gauge track he laid around the farm.

Then came that rattling old Butterfield Stage Coach: America's first theme park was born.

Today, Knott's Berry Farm serves 1.5-million of Ma Knott's original family-recipe chicken dinners a year, and nearly as many servings of cherry, rhubarb or boysenberry pie, buttermilk cookies, ice-creams and preserves.

And from Walter's still-standing ghost town buildings there are now over 160 rides, shows, attractions, and shops to while away a day or two…

We late-in-life thrill seekers head straight for GhostRider, a 1400-metre long wooden roller coaster that reaches speeds of 100k's. It includes a 35-metre high swooping drop, and 13 hills, banks and turns, and has been voted by coaster freaks as America's "best ride."

Then its to the hair-raising Supreme Scream in which we're hauled up a steel tower the height of a 30-storey building, with nothing but fresh air and a safety-belt holding us to our bench-seat – and not dropped, but blasted ground-wards… at over 100k's an hour in just 3 seconds, springing bungy-like half-way up the tower again. Twice.

Others in the Knott's arsenal of speed thrills are heart-stoppers Boomerang and Montezooma's Revenge, Bigfoot Rapids, and Perilous Plunge – the world's tallest, steepest and wettest water ride in which 24-passenger coasters hurtle down a 75-degree water-slide from 40-metres up – creatng a splash at the bottom the height of a 4-storey building.

We get ourselves spun-dried after this in a cage that spins riders 25m into the air... then head for Silver Bullet, a near-1000m long coaster on which we're propelled at 90kmh through six 360-degree inversions and dropped almost vertically 33-metres.

For the kids and the more sane-minded there's Camp Snoopy's Charlie Brown Speedway mini-racers, a Ferris wheel, Snoopy's Red Baron Airplanes, Rocky Road Trucking Company's mini 18-wheelers, a kid-sized roller coaster called Timberline Twister, a restored 1896 Carousel, the steam train (now the oldest ride in the park) and that stage coach.

And a sedate splash through the easy-going Timber Mountain Log Ride, a simple runaway ore train ride in the blacked-out Calico Gold Mine, and Lucy's Tugboat…

Go visit: you'll find it a quick and reliable heart check you should see if you can claim on your health fund.

(For USA holiday packages incorporating Knott's Berry Farm phone Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays on 1300 79 49 59, or email sales@canada-alaska.com.au)

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PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] IT'S wise to do Montezooma's Revenge before lunch

[] UPSIDE down view of the world at a hundred k's on the Silver Bullet

[] BOOMERANG – twists and turns to get back where you started from

[] MORE sedate: steam train ride is the oldest attraction at Knotts Berry Farm

[] ORIGINAL wild west building that kick-started America's first amusement park


STRUTH! The Tiddly (Wink)

STRUTH !

IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS says there's certainly truth in advertising in the little English village of Ellerdine near Shewsbury in Shropshire: while the pub's official name is the Royal Oak, so many villagers know they'll collect their wobbly boots on a visit there, that they simply dub the place 'The Tiddly.'

After years of trying to promote the real name of the pub, the Royal Oak's publican decided some years back that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and put up a new sign (see pic) for his watering hole.

And OF COURSE  The Tiddly's the best pub in Ellerdine – it's the ONLY pub in Ellerdine!

June 15, 2009

STRUTH! WHERE THE MUDDY HELL ARE YOU....

STRUTH !

IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS says you wouldn't want to be a hotelier at Boryeong in Korea in July – that's when 40,000 revellers descend on this town on the country's Yellow Sea Coast to wallow like, well, pigs in mud.

Mud found on the flood plains around the town's Daecheon beach has long been famous for its cosmetic properties, and in 1998 local tourism officials decided to go beyond just promoting the stuff in jars and tubes for visitors to take home, launching their first slap-up Mud Festival that proved such a hoot it's been held every year since.

Between July 11 and 19 this year you can wallow in all the medicinal values of Boryeong mud with such events as mud facials, mud hair rinses, mud surfing, mud wrestling, mud sliding, a Mud King competition and a Human Pyramid (or should that be Pyramud?) contest, a mud cavalry battle, mud canoeing – and at night, wallow back in pools of mud to watch fireworks.

Then go back to your hotel and those nice crispy white sheets…

What would your Mudder say?

SPINE-TINGLING ‘I DO’ IN BLUE HAWAII

david ellis

YOU wouldn't think there'd be too much interest in getting married at a hotel that's been boarded-up and derelict for seventeen years, but in Hawaii couples are lining up for just such an opportunity.

And it's all because of two people: Elvis Presley who was married at this now-decaying place in the 1961 hit-movie Blue Hawaii, and a passionate Hawaiian historian, entertainer and cultural enthusiast, Larry Rivera who has been associated with the hotel for an amazing 58 years.

The Coco Palms Resort was opened on the island of Kauai in the early 1950s. It started with a mere 24 rooms, but like Topsy, just growed and growed to eventually by the 1980s embracing close-on 400 rooms, suites and thatch bungalows.

Legendary hotelier Grace Guslander was the first to put the place on the map when she and husband Lyle took it over in the mid-1950s, introducing such novelties as having doormen welcome arriving guests with a blast on a huge conch shell, and picking bare-chested male staff with perfect physiques to run through the grounds at 7.30pm each night lighting scores of oil flares – a "Call to Feast" that let guests know that dinner was served.

And with a reputation for embellishing history and never allowing the facts to spoil a good story, Grace soon earned Coco Palms a more exalted position than it deserved in Hawaii's royal history. This included declaring a plantation of 2000 coconut palms to be the "royal grove" of Queen Deborah Kapule, Kauai's last reigning queen who once lived on the site – even though the grove was not planted until 1896, forty-three years after the Queen's death.

To give further importance to this "royal grove" Grace Guslander invited film stars, sporting personalities and royalty to plant new coconuts that would be named in their honour, the invitations being enthusiastically taken-up by, amongst others, Bing Crosby, the von Trapp Family Singers, Hawaii's famed Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, and the Prince and Princess of Japan.

During the Guslander's time running the resort, a young local, Larry Rivera got his first job there, working in the cocktail bar and dining room in 1951, but leaving for a while to serve with the Army during the Korean War.

On his return in 1954, the Guslander's gave him his job back and Larry worked there until Hawaii's most ferocious hurricane, Iniki swept across Kauai in 1992 with winds of 300kmh, including one gust of 365kmh (227 miles per hour;) the resort was trashed and despite numerous proposals has never re-opened.

Larry Rivera, however, has a special love of the place, and today as well as still being one of Kauai's most-popular entertainers with his singing, ukulele and guitar playing in various venues around Kauai and on radio and TV, this near-octogenarian organises weddings and renewals of vows ceremonies in the grounds of the old resort.

These include the couple being serenaded as they travel on a circa 2009 replica of the same double-canoe and on the same lagoon as that which Elvis Presley (Chad Gates) married sweetheart Maile Duval (played by Joan Blackman) in Blue Hawaii back in 1961.

And whether the simplest service or the most spectacular with the replica Presley canoe, Larry treats each with the same care and "feeling of aloha" as he would if it were for one of his own daughters or granddaughters… and while the buildings may be trashed, the maintained tropical gardens around the lagoon are still to those who marry there, "the last paradise,"

Simple ceremonies start from US$600 and range up to the spectacular "Blue Hawaii Wedding" that costs US$2500 plus tax and includes a non-denominational minister, the replica Blue Hawaii double outrigger canoe massed with tropical flowers, two canoe paddlers, a conch shell blower, Larry serenading as the canoe slides down the lagoon and during the service… all culminating with his spine-tingling Hawaiian Wedding Song.

The couple also receive an album of thirty-six 5X5 colour photos, two enlargements, a DVD, two orchid leis, a Haku plant headband for the bride, and a wedding certificate.

For more details of weddings and renewals of vows at Coco Palms, airfares to Hawaii, accommodation and sightseeing there, phone Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays on 1300 79 49 59, or email sales@canada-alaska.com.au
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IMAGE CAPTIONS:

[] LARRY Rivera serenades a local couple as they make their way to their  Renewal of Vows on the replica Elvis Presley Blue Hawaii outrigger canoe.

[] A COUPLE married in the grounds of the Coca Palms Resort enjoys Larry's spine-tingling Hawaiian Wedding Song.

[] ELVIS slept here during the making of Blue Hawaii, choosing the last bungalow on the left so he could come and go without being seen by other guests.

[] THE still boarded-up remains of the Resort trashed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992 – the lush tropical gardens along the lagoon are maintained for weddings and vow renewals organised by Larry Rivera.

  Photos Dexter Olivas/David Ellis


June 08, 2009

Struth! Across the Pacific by Tin Can

STRUTH !

 

IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wonderous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS says the tiny South Pacific island of Niuafo'ou in Tonga is also known as Tin Can Island.

 

Its because Niuafo'ou has no harbour and no wharf, and in early days of European visitation and settlement, during bad weather passenger and cargo ships would give it a miss as there was no way of either landing or picking up freight or passengers.

 

But because mail was so important to the tiny community – there are still only around 650 people live there today – an ingenious local storekeeper came up with the idea of getting mail out to ships in bad weather by using old tin cans in which biscuits had earlier been delivered to his grocery store.

 

He put the mail inside the tins, soldered them up so they were watertight… and had a powerful local swim them on a floating pole out to ships standing in rough seas off the island.

 

Ship's captains refilled the tins with the mail for Niuafo'ou, and the habit quickly became known as Tin Can Mail; a local postmaster later convinced the Tongan government to print special Tin Can Mail stamps for the island, and these are still used today and treasured by stamp collectors around the world.

 

Our pic shows a postcard mailed from the island in 1936 with the official Post Office cancellation DISPATCHED BY TIN CAN MAIL.

 


NUDGING 80, LARRY’S LIFE IS MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC…

david ellis

WHEN he was little more than knee-high to a grasshopper, and not even at school, Larry Rivera would watch and listen in awe to his mother pickin' the ukulele at their home on Hawaii's paradise island of Kauai.

And when other family or friends dropped around with their own instruments to play and sing island songs, the young Larry would get hold of one of the many spare ukuleles that lay around the place and copy-cat their every movement.

Still not old enough to go to school he was soon playing simple tunes on his own, and already sensing that music would be a part of his life, took ukulele lessons as soon as he did start school... and by 16 had written his first song.

All that was before Japan invaded Pearl Harbour and America became involved in the Second War, and today the near-octogenarian – he's 79 this year – entertains holidaymakers when they arrive at Kauai's Lihue Airport every Tuesday to join a cruise from there, has a spot on a local TV station, and puts on a weekly lunch show at a popular local restaurant entertaining a delighted 400 guests at a time.

Somehow between all this he finds time to compose his own words and music – he's recorded sixty of his compositions on seven CDs and another is about to be released – and joins-in promotions of his island at shopping centres, trade shows, on radio and TV on the American mainland, Canada and Japan.

And as something of a grand finale, he also organises weddings and renewals of vows, and sings, picks his ukulele and plays a guitar at these.

And they're anything but your ordinary wedding or vow renewal: his are conducted on a replica of the barge and on the same lagoon at Kauai's Coco Palms Resort on which Elvis Presley married his sweetheart, Maile (Joan Blackman) in Blue Hawaii. 

Larry, who has six children and 16 grandchildren, also manages to find time to conduct tours six days a week of the historic Coco Palms that was trashed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992, telling the history of the now-derelict resort and the making of much of Blue Hawaii there, singing and ukulele pickin' along the way…

Larry and the Coco Palms, one soon learns, are virtually as one: his got his first job there in 1951, and apart from a stint with the Army during the Korean War, has been associated with the place ever since... a whopping 58 years.

When he first started in 1951 his mum would drive him to work at 4pm, he'd serve cocktails 'til dinner, wait on tables through dinner, collect diner's payments as they left, put on a little show for those who stayed on, sleep in the office after that (if anyone turned up late and wanted their key they'd wake him and he'd walk them with a torch through the palms to their bungalow)… and then he'd serve breakfast in the dining room for early departers before his mum would pick him up and take him home at 9am.

Phew! Just listening to all this has you wanting to sit and take a deep breath. And understand why the Governor of Hawaii and Mayor of Kauai got together and declared this extraordinary one-man-show, Kauai's Living Treasure of Music.
 
After his Army stint Larry was returning to Kauai in 1954 and on the plane sat next to Lyle Guslander, who mentioned he was the new owner of Coco Palms. Larry told him he'd like to get his job back there and Mr Guslander said "Tell the manager I sent you."

Larry did, starting all over again tending the bar, waiting at table, serving breakfast – and singing to guests, including two who asked one night if they could join him on stage: their names were Elvis Presley and Patti Page.

Today he's still there and showing no signs of easing up. If you'd like to visit Kauai and meet Larry, see one of his shows or tour the old Coco Palms Resorts get details from Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays on 1300 79 49 59, or email sales@canada-alaska.com.au

(NEXT WEEK: Like to get married or renew vows where Elvis tied the knot in Blue Hawaii? We'll tell you how.)

                                                      …………………….

[] LARRY Rivera during one of his many stage shows on Kauai.

[] DESPITE many plans to restore it, the historic Coco Palms Resort is still derelict and boarded up from Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

[] LARRY sings, strums the guitar and picks his ukulele on historic tours of the old Coco Palms; he does tours six times a week.


June 07, 2009

BOUTIQUE NEW ZEALAND HOTEL A CLASS ACT

david ellis

Students of New Zealand's one-time Miss Gibson's Private School for Girls would have trouble coming to grips today with the new-found life of their old alma mater.

For rooms in which six, eight or even more young ladies of the rural well-to-do of New Zealand's South Island once crammed into to sleep, are now individual suites for guests in the plush and re-named Charlotte Jane Boutique Hotel.

And no more are there the communal toilets and showers that would run cold after the first few pupils drained them on shivering winter's mornings; in their place are now vast walk-around ensuites serving each luxury air-conditioned suite.

And gone too are the school-day dining routines that forbade anything but the devouring of meals in strict and stoney silence: In their place today is dining of grand proportions, with 5-star gourmet cuisine shared at a leisurely pace over suitably talkative reds and whites from the best of New Zealand's vineyards and others around the world.

The story of Miss Gibsons Private School for Girls and the 5-star Charlotte Jane Boutique Hotel provides a wonderful step back in time in the history of Christchurch, a time in the 1880s when an Englishman, Captain Frederick Gibson and his wife Mary settled with their family at Lyttleton outside Christchurch where he took up the position of Port Officer.

As the family grew to ten children, the Gibsons moved to a more spacious block, and with 640-pounds given by their two elder school-teacher daughters, built a large and rambling home, part of which they turned into Miss Gibson's Private School for Girls.

In 1891 eight students were enrolled. This quickly doubled, then trebled and by 1922 with nearly 70 pupils – and classes often having to be held outdoors – the Gibsons decided to relocate to a new site at Christchurch's Merivale that their now-historic buildings still occupy today.

Around the mid-1920s Captain Gibson, a stickler for good manners, became increasingly liverish about the name of his school being referred to colloquially as "Gibbies," and called on an old friend, the once-feared Maori warrior Paoro Taki to ponder a more suitable, traditional Maori moniker.

Paoro Taki thought about it for a while and came up with Rangi-Ruru – meaning Wide Sky Shelter – and as the school continued to grow it moved yet again.

The Gibsons sold the newly-located Rangi-Ruru (that today is one of New Zealand's leading church schools,) and with their family growing up and moving away, also moved out of their home-cum-schoolhouse, and the twin-buildings became a womens' refuge, and then flats and finally abandoned.

Then in the mid-1990s Moira and Siegfried Lindlbauer discovered the still-hauntingly gracious buildings and set their hearts to turning them into a fine guest house. Moira, from Singapore and Siegfried from Germany, spent two years  ripping out make-shift walls, tearing-down tacked-on classrooms – and  discovering priceless, century-old handcarved Kauri and Rimu timber-work from which they painstakingly removed coat upon coat of garish green and pink paint.

They also found in every room intricate cast-iron fireplaces that had been boarded up… and behind cupboards, old newspapers and postcards sent from holidaying students to their teachers.

In 1997 the Lindlbauer's opened Charlotte Jane Guest House (named after one of the first ships to sail from England to Christchurch in 1850,) offering twelve vast guest rooms, each with a gas fire, walk-around ensuites, furnishings of recycled rare timbers, and most with views over the landscaped gardens.

And a tradition of fine dining that continues to this day: gone are the Gibson girls' breakfasts of porridge and toast and tea, replaced with fresh fruits and cereals, warm breads and croissants, fruit juices, eggs and bacon and lamb cutlets and grilled tomatoes…

Gone too are the girls' night meals of mutton chop stews, cold silverside and slabs of bread – and in their place such choices as prawns marinated with Moroccan herbs on a bed of tabbouleh, goat cheese soufflé with red pepper coulis, Canterbury lamb shanks on sweet potato and carrot mash with Cognac peppercorn jus, beef Bearnaise, Grand Marnier crème brulee with almond biscotti, sticky date pudding with vanilla bean ice-cream…

(If such suite life appeals, Charlotte Jane Boutique Hotel prices start from NZ$280 per night for two people, including full-cooked breakfasts; book through travel agents or www.charlotte-jane.co.nz

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] CLASS OF ITS OWN – the one-time Miss Gibson's School for Girls, now a 5-star boutique hotel

[] VINTAGE offerings: the wine cellar at the Charlotte Jane Boutique Hotel

[] SUITE LIFE in one of the hotel's luxury suites


WAIKIKI HOTEL LEANS TOWARDS YESTER-YEAR

David Ellis

There is, in this travel writing game, an inherent risk of madness brought about by an occupational hazard known as TSI.

TSI is The Site Inspection, a professional encounter that's been known to reduce granite-hearted men to tears, morph otherwise normally rational human beings into gibbering idiots, and in worst-case scenarios, have travel-hardened scribes pass-up free drinks to avoid a TSI ambush.

TSI is what these writers engage-in in the hope that they we will splash enough ink around their pages about the hotels or resorts they visit, to in fact pay for their stay ten times over.

Every stay invariably begins, ends, or is interrupted by TSI. The occasion is generally conducted by a smiling young thing who has done it twenty-something times already that week for travel agents, writers, meeting organisers, wedding coordinators and anyone else who can help put bums in beds.

And they have it down so pat that if they miss a floor in the elevator they'll happily be describing what a beautiful ballroom we're in, whereas in fact we're in the dunnies on the level above.

So it was with horror that fellow scribes learned that in Hawaii recently, we occupied a couple of spare hours voluntarily taking a TSI.

"He's finally lost it," was one colleague's summation. "Keep it up, and you'll go blind," warned another.

But we convinced the sceptics that roaming Waikiki's oldest hostelry  (the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, circa 1901) and learning its little-known history, was time both professionally and personally rewarding.

And there was no trim young thing leading us, but rather a happily overweight bloke (the result, he says, of a ritual of fried Spam and egg breakfasts,) who sported an Aloha shirt and a lei in place of a clipboard.

His name was Tony Bissen, a likeable out-of-the-ordinary Moana Reception Clerk who is so proud of his historic hotel that six times a week for the past seventeen years he's walked guests and other visitors for free hour-or-so journeys amidst its corridors of memories.

And there are no dunnies in place of ballrooms, no comparisons of twin-bedded rooms with single-bedded rooms, rooms with garden views as opposed to one's with beach views, rooms with spas compared to rooms without… or the obligatory Royal Suite that king someone-or-other once slept in.

Rather, Tony begins with a flickering black-and-white film of old Waikiki, talks us through a fascinating collection of historic hotel paraphernalia including bulky woollen neck-to-knee bathers, century-old dinner-ware, postcards, old steamer trunks and their fashion contents – and a room key recently returned by the family of a guest who'd forgotten to give it back it after a stay in 1920.

He then shows us lop-sided windows caused when the half-built hotel started sinking in the sand 106 years ago and had to be propped-up, and a corridor with a decided downhill slope caused by that same sinking feeling.

He points out the massive banyan tree in the garden under which Webley Edwards broadcast Hawaii Calls every Saturday afternoon for nearly 40 years through 650 radio stations world-wide.

And takes us into a yester-year of old-world charms supported by 21st century technology and indulgences, rattling off homilies along the way: Mickey Rooney took surfing lessons here, Admiral Bird rested at the hotel before going to the Antarctic, Clarke Gable became mates here with legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku, Shirley Temple sang The Good Ship Lollipop under the banyan tree, Sinatra crooned From Here to Eternity… and Amelia Erhard called it home for a night or two.

And what about the Mystery of Room 120? Was it murder, or was it misfortune? Tony says that's another story for another day…

To join Tony's free tours – he shows over 6000 visitors a year around the hotel – simply turn up at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider on Waikiki at 11am or 5pm any Monday, Wednesday or Friday; you don't have to be a hotel guest – most participants actually come from other resorts.

                                                        ……………

TWISTED view of Waikiki: Tony Bissen and just some of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider's lop-sided window frames, re-cut to fit after the hotel got that sinking feeling.

YESTER-YEAR charms with 21st century technology make for stay to remember at Waikiki's oldest on-the-beach hotel.

June 01, 2009

Struth! 30,000 Jaffas on the loose

STRUTH !

IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wonderous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS says that if you thought it a ridiculous waste of pocket-money rolling Jaffas down the aisle at the local Saturday afternoon flicks, consider how much it will cost to let 30,000 of the little red critters loose on a public street in New Zealand in July.

It's all part of the annual Cadbury Chocolate Festival at Dunedin that celebrates the local Cadbury factory being responsible for 75 per cent of all New Zealand's commercial chocolate production.

And it's not any old street they'll be rolled down: Baldwin Street is recognised as the world's steepest roadway, falling at an average rate of one metre in five over its 350-metre length, and at one stage one-in-three.

All 30,000 Jaffas will be numbered and sold on behalf of local charities at a dollar each, with the 20,000+ spectators who turn out for the bizarre event hoping to win prizes ranging from holidays to mobile phones (and of course chocolate hampers) for the first handful of Jaffas across the line.

The Chocolate Festival will be held in Dunedin from July 11 to 17, with activities from the Great Jaffa Roll to kids cooking events (with chocolate of course,) Choc-Art exhibitions and an evening of Chocolate, Jazz and Shiraz.

Travel agents have details.

 

Founders of Cathay Pacific

WORLD THEIR OYSTER FOR AIRLINE PIONEERS

david ellis

THE first thing most would-be company owners do when musing over what to call their new outfit is to bring in the big guns of marketing, advertising, logo design and corporate law.

But back in 1946 two blokes who were to create what would become one of the world's most successful airlines, had no interest in such normal business practicalities: instead, one simply went to a Manila pub to get inspiration there, telling some foreign correspondent mates he drank with when visiting the Philippines, that he wanted a name for an airline he was planning with a business partner in Hong Kong.

Over a philosophical glass or eight the wordsmiths came up with Cathay Pacific – "Cathay" being the historic name for China, and "Pacific" because the partners wanted to one day fly to Australia.

And so an airline was born, its owners Roy Farrell, an American and Sydney de Kantzow, an Australian having known each other from their Second War flying days in Asia, and each having a vision for an airline linking China, Asia and Australia.

Both had business interests in Shanghai, but moved to Hong Kong where they paid HK$2 to register their partnership, and in September 1946 launched Cathay Pacific with a cheap surplus US Air Force Douglas DC-3 they dubbed "Betsy."

It was an instant success, and an import-export company they set up to generate airfreight business equally so – particularly de Kantzow's idea to fly fresh Sydney rock oysters to Hong Kong for luxury-strapped British expats.

To meet demand for seats and airfreight the partners bought a second DC-3 within a few months, five more the following year and two Catalina flying boats to operate to the Portuguese colony of Macao off the coast of China; in their first six months they carried 3,000 passengers and 15,000 kilograms of cargo between Asia and Australia alone

But like most airlines, turbulence lay in wait for the fledgling Cathay Pacific, and in 1948 the British Governor of colonial Hong Kong dropped the bombshell that as "foreigners" the partners could in fact not own more than 20 per cent of their own airline. They would need a British partner who would relieve them of 80 per cent.

John "Jock" Swire, head of prominent Hong Kong trading company, Butterfield and Swire liked the idea, invested the required 80 per cent and assumed an active role in Cathay Pacific's day-to-day operations.

Then in 1948, Cathay made unwanted history when the Catalina flying to Macao became the world's first victim of air piracy: a group of Chinese gunmen hijacked the plane inflight, mistakenly believing there was a cargo of gold aboard. They shot the pilot and the plane crashed into China's Pearl River estuary.

Ironically the only survivor of the 23 passengers and three crew was one of the hijackers, Wong Yu-man who was held for three years but never charged as neither Portuguese Macao nor British Hong Kong had laws covering air piracy; on release from prison in 1951 Wong died in China in what one newspaper dryly observed "appeared a suitably contrived accident."

And as a result of the hijacking, Cathay Pacific became the world's first airline to screen passengers and freight with metal detectors.

Further turbulence followed when Britain and Australia, protecting their own BOAC (later British Airways) and Qantas, restricted Cathay Pacific flights to their countries, and it was many years before both routes were fully freed to Cathay Pacific.

Another incident in 1972 once-again focused world attention on Cathay Pacific. After one of its jet-engine Convairs crashed in Vietnam, Hong Kong police charged a Thai police officer with sabotage and murder, alleging he'd put a bomb in the bag of his wife whom he had insured heavily before putting her aboard with their child.

He was acquitted and no one else was ever charged.

Today Cathay Pacific Airways operates 97 passenger aircraft and 24 freighters to 120 destinations world-wide, employs 18,800 staff globally and carries approximately 1-million passengers a month.

Pretty good results from a beer in a bar, and one old DC-3 – which, incidentally, is on display at Hong Kong's Science Museum having been sold by Cathay in 1955, and bought back 30 years later after being found still flying freight around the Australian Outback.                                                               

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] BOEING 777-300ER – flagship type of Cathay Pacific's fleet of 121 aircraft.

[] ONE of the airline's first two Douglas DC-3s, restored and on display in Hong Kong.

[] AUSTRALIAN wartime pilot, Sydney de Kantzow (second from right) with fellow pilots before he co-founded Cathay Pacific Airways.