.

December 31, 2012

Gold Coast Top 10 Hotel Requests In 2012

Sofitel Gold Coast
As the Gold Coast's extensive list of five-star hotels and resorts continues to grow, these exclusive establishments remain determined as ever to deliver on their customer's ongoing holiday needs, to ensure a happy and fun-filled stay in Australia's favourite playground.

In 2012, requests have ranged from romantic overtures, indulgent luxuries to the more extravagant and out of the ordinary.

See below a list of the top 10 special requests made of Gold Coast's exclusive five-star hotels.
  1. Asked to purchase alpacas for a Middle Eastern royal family.
  2. An overseas visitor asked if he could organise a day trip to visit Sydney, Melbourne, Alice Springs and the Great Barrier Reef all in the same day!
  3. Organised a private jet for the Argentine Polo team to fly from Gold Coast to Malaysia with 6-hours' notice.
  4. Booked rooms on different floors for wife and girlfriend
  5. An elderly couple looking to renew their wedding vows at the hotel asked two staff members to be Bridesmaid and Best Man. As regulars to the hotel the couple knew these staff members very well.
  6. Organised dinner for two at Gold Coast Hinterland hotspot, "Table Mountain". Guests arrived by helicopter where a personal chef, waiter and Spanish guitarist were waiting.
  7. A guest left his luxury sports vehicle to be sold by a hotel staffer as he had to unexpectedly leave the country
  8. A unique wedding proposal - with a gentleman proposing to his girlfriend as staff from the resort all wearing t-shirts that spelt out MARRY ME while a beautiful rendition of somewhere over the rainbow being played on the ukulele from a gentleman who just appeared to be walking by.
  9. Exclusive use of the gym for various celebrities
  10. Exclusive use of the Executive Lounge for a wedding proposal

Other more common requests of Gold Coast hotels include:
  1. Unpack suitcases and hang clothes
  2. Run a warm bubble bath
  3. Arrange flowers for wife/girlfriend (or both)
  4. Arrange Rose Petals and candles on the Bed
  5. Cook dinner in the room
  6. Arrange high protein foods and menus for athletes
  7. Arrange birthday cakes
  8. Stay in a certain room on a certain floor every stay

Struth! Shortest air route also world's most expensive

Heli Air Monaco flies 48 times between Monaco and Nice every day on
what is possibly the world's shortest and most expensive scheduled air route

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis wonders if Monaco's Heli Air can claim to have the world's smallest scheduled air service timetable – it has just one route, and that's a mere 7-minutes between Monte Carlo in the Principality of Monaco, and Nice Airport in France that it flies 30 times a day in each direction.

And while it started in 1976 with just one helipad and in its first year flew just 747 passengers, it now has ten helipads at its base on Monte Carlo harbour and in 36 years has carried around 1.7-million passengers…with no other airport facility within Monaco's tiny 2sq km land mass, and the road journey to Nice Cote D'Azur Airport taking 40-minutes, the quick 7-minute helicopter service is popular with business travellers and upmarket holidaymakers happy to pay E220 (AU$271) each for the round-trip.

Heli Air flies its route from 8.30am to 7.45pm daily, and as well also flies to select destinations on the French Riviera, in Switzerland, Corsica and Italy, the longest flight being 2hrs 35m to Rome and the shortest just 12m to San Remo; but these are non-scheduled flights, and are flown on an as-requested basis.

Traveloscopy editor asks: Is this also the world's most expensive air route? YO 1745 E110 for 7 minutes = E943/hour (US$1244/hr). Concorde took 3hrs 20mins between LHR and JFK (BA172) and a cheap fare was US$3000 one way. (US$909/hr)


December 20, 2012

Top Tips to Enjoy Singapore's Green Side




Unbeknownst to many, Singapore the metropolis is in fact filled with lush green spaces and incredibly rich and diverse fauna and flora, with tree-lined streets, more than 50 parks and four nature reserves.

Sitting at the crossroads of East and West, it has intrigued naturalists since the 19th century with over 8,300 species having been recorded in Singapore over the last 150 years. Today, for every five-star chef, visionary architect and high-end designer, visitors will find an attentive botanist or careful gardener tending to the beguiling landscape. Follow these top tips on the best ways to explore Singapore's green side.

Gardens by the Bay

Spanning 101 hectares, Gardens by the Bay is a showcase of horticulture and garden artistry, capturing the essence of Singapore as the premier tropical "City in a Garden". Catch the OCBC Light and Sound Show nightly from 7:45pm; a stunning display of magical lights and music amid the 16 storey, solar energy harvesting Supertrees. Other features include the Cloud Forest, a mountain environment set in a cool-moist conservatory, the Flower Dome where spring never ends, Dragonfly & Kingfisher Lakes and the Heritage Gardens. www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en/home.html

Singapore Botanic Gardens


Founded in 1859 over 32 acres of virgin rainforest and overgrown plantations, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is home to innovations such as rubber cultivation and orchid hybridisation. Features include the Evolution Garden, the rejuvenated Tanglin Gate, the Jacob Ballas Children's Garden and the occasional free weekend concert on Symphony Lake. Best of all - entry is free! www.sbg.org.sg

National Orchid Garden



The National Orchid Garden showcases the results of the Singapore Botanic Gardens' orchid breeding programme which began in 1928. With about 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids over three hectares, and 600 species and hybrids on display, the National Orchid Garden is the largest display of tropical orchids in the world. www.sbg.org.sg/centralcore/nog.asp

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve


One of only two cities in the world to feature a rainforest within its boundaries, Singapore offers lush green and scenic jungle trekking in the heart of the city at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Jungle activities include strolling, hiking, rock climbing, abseiling and mountain biking, and trekking routes included a hike to the highest point in Singapore - the Bukit Timah Hill, which sits at 164m above sea level. www.nparks.gov.sg/cms/index.php?option=com_visitorsguide&task=naturereserves&id=46&Itemid=75/
www.forestadventure.com.sg

MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Lined with old rubber trees and surrounded by lush vegetation, Singapore's MacRitchie Nature Trail provides an unforgettable botanical experience, and now with boardwalks and walking trails, is a relaxing escape from the city. Visitors can enjoy aerial views from the HSBC TreeTop Walk - a 250 metre aerial free standing suspension bridge or relax with a picnic lunch, a spot of canoeing, a brisk walk or a lazy afternoon in the sun. www.nparks.gov.sg/cms/index.php?option=com_visitorsguide&task=naturereserves&id=49&Itemid=75

Pulau Ubin


A reminder of old Singapore, this boomerang-shaped island is covered in trees and dotted with beaches and old Malay houses which are full of character. It contains the country's last kampongs where villagers still count on wells for water and generators for electricity. The best way to explore is by bike, which costs SGD$3-$8 to rent, with three cycling trails which lead past old fruit and rubber plantations, mangrove swamps, water-filled quarry pits and old wooden houses. www.nparks.gov.sg

December 17, 2012

Putting style back in romance five hotel picks from around the globe.


Movies, dance classes, dinner for two – are you suffering from date night doldrums? www.designhotels.com/romantic_escapes

Paris is always there to save the day. While it may be the embodiment of romance, these two elegant properties will show you a whole new side to this city. La Maison Champs Elysées offers a world of comfort and French elegance, where reality blends with surreal style. Between the Avenue Montaigne, the Champs-Élysées and the Grand Palais, the hotel is located in the heart of Paris' Golden Triangle. In another part of the city, Hotel Gabriel Paris Marais emits an aura of privacy and calm with its intimate design. The hotel's façade, a gorgeous Art Deco ornamentation, belies the minimalist interiors. On the island of Koh Samui, the strikingly pure structures that make up The Library are set amongst a lush grove. Designed as an outpost of casual elegance, the hotel is situated on the lively Chaweng Beach. The Vine is a luxurious retreat on the island of Madeira, known for its wine, abundance of flowers and breathtaking nature. The hotel is located in Funchal's historical centre, just steps away from the Cathedral. Situated near Majorda Beach, Alila Diwa Goa peers out onto lush, verdant rice paddies leading to the Arabian Sea. This getaway offers the best of beach and green holiday.

Dans la Maison



The entrance to the townhouse at No. 8 rue Jean Goujon is discreet, an address one must know to discover. Behind its doors, the stage is set for Maison Martin Margiela's first hotel interior, La Maison Champs Élysées. The minimal, yet sophisticated and offbeat décor sets the stage for a show of romance. Seventeen rooms and suites belong to the Couture Collection, and are decorated with a whimsical touch that plays with proportion and perception. Every space feels surreal, with each room different than the next. Even in the newly opened Blind Bar and at the restaurant, La Table du 8, the chairs appear to be floating above the concrete floor, while oversized mouldings and pretend doors add to the illusion. Here, romantic candlelight dinners are only enhanced by the exquisite, seasonal fare and fine selection of French wines. La Maison is just steps away from the Seine and numerous landmarks, ideal for a moonlight stroll with that special someone.

Zen in the City



Close to one of Paris's most vibrant districts, Hotel Gabriel Paris Marais stands out as a Zen haven of relaxation. Couples will be enchanted by the intimate interiors, celebrating minimalist charm in white and pastel. The juxtaposition of linear furniture with cruise-liner portholes and curves creates a harmonious balance. The signature dancer design motif scattered throughout the property adds a whimsical touch to the dreamy 1930s feel, lending an air of grace to elements as mundane as cupboards and bathroom doors. Hotel Gabriel is the first hotel to employ the NightCove sleep companion, giving guests a soothing rest with diffused light and sound according to melatonin levels. The hotel is situated close to some of the city's best boutiques, art galleries and restaurants – great to discover together on foot, and returning to the hotel's incredibly relaxing ambiance.

A Secret Garden




On the idyllic coast of Koh Samui, 26 discreet, minimalist cabins hide amongst lush vegetation. The Library is an outpost for style, with a bold colour scheme emphasizing red and white elements, echoed by the signature red swimming pool and white library complex on-site. The new Bookmark suite is the hotel's most luxurious accommodation, where soft, flowing fabrics create a tactile contrast to sleek angular furnishings, and the impressive en-suite conservatory with Jacuzzi is why holidays in Thailand are a fantastic idea year round! The hotel can arrange western or traditional Thai-style weddings, with a golden beach, glimmering azure waters and the sound of crashing waves as an enchanting backdrop. Guests can enjoy the old-growth forest on the expansive 6,400 square meter grounds and the lively beach.

In Vino Veritas



In the heart of the charming and picturesque capital city of Funchal, The Vine is the ideal retreat on Madeira, the island of flowers. The hotel's namesake comes from the local vines used to make the world-renowned Madeira wine, and the four floors of the hotel feature design inspired by the seasonal changes of the island's vineyards. Vinotherapy treatments are offered at the hotel's spa, sure to detox and revitalize the body while relaxing and refreshing the mind. The island's stunning natural beauty provides the perfect romantic escape, with spectacular hiking trails through the lush nature. Back at the hotel, Uva, the rooftop restaurant with panoramic views of the harbour, offers "divine dining" using fresh produce from the island. Chef Antoine Westermann, distinguished with 3 Michelin stars, combines French savoir-faire with the best in regional fare.

A Play on Tradition



A mere 500 meters from the Gonsua beach, Alila Diwa Goa looks out to verdant paddy fields leading to the Arabian Sea. A blend of contemporary Goan architecture displays the region's rich cultural traditions within a verdant surrounding landscape, a great choice for a romantic retreat. From wedding ceremonies to honeymoons, Alila Diwa Goa has an array of facilities to make every occasion special. The resort's 153 guestrooms and suites located in three wings – the South, West and exclusive Diwa Club, each feature private balconies with superlative views of emerald green paddy fields. Couples can enjoy joint spa treatments blending ancient Asian healing techniques with traditional beauty recipes, or the views from the hotel's infinity pool while sipping on cocktails. The three on-site restaurants and poolside Edge Bar serve delectable global exotic cuisine.



Design Hotels™ Best Rate Guarantee
For reservations, please refer to the following webpage www.designhotels.com/romantic_escapes
or the appropriate Design Hotels™ toll-free number: 00 800 37 46 83 57

www.designhotels.com

www.madebyoriginals.com


December 10, 2012

Flight Centre Travel Group’s top 10 spots for 2013.


TRAVELLERS with a keen eye for emerging destinations should check out the Flight Centre Travel Group's top 10 spots for next year.

The list was created by the team at Flight Centre, according to three factors – what the company believes to be emerging hotspots, what its customers are enquiring about and what the travel industry is offering next year.

To get the most out of a holiday, speak to a Flight Centre travel consultant about cheap flights, accommodation options, cruise itineraries and private tours available this year.


1.     New Zealand

New Zealand has made it to many people's bucket lists for next year. This may be attributed to the availability and frequency of cheap flights across the Tasman, not to mention the plethora of activities to do.
Thrill-seekers have been getting their dose of adrenalin in Queenstown for decades, but the demand for family holidays and couples escapes has been growing each year.
Couples who enjoy the odd tipple can map out the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, from Hawke's Bay to Marlborough, while families are unearthing the Maori culture, visiting bubbling mud pools and taking part in sheep-shearing.
The travel industry is predicting a rush from die-hard movie fans of The Hobbit trilogy, after this film hits cinemas on Boxing Day.
Plus, cyclists will soon be able to navigate 19 new cycling paths, including gentle loops around Hawke's Bay wineries and unique geothermal landscapes, which form part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail.

INSIDER TIP: Wine and food lovers should check out Waiheke Island, just a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland. This is a fantastic place to go with a group of friends or a few couples. Renting a house is easy, with plenty of properties offering great value for money, self-contained facilities and outstanding views across the ocean. Explore the wineries, olive groves, forest trails, farms and beaches or just enjoy the laid-back coastal vibe.

2.     Hong Kong


Hong Kong's calendar is buzzing with events year-round, from its Chinese New Year celebrations and Halloween bashes to international sports tournaments, such as the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.

According to Hong Kong Tourism Board, 58% of Australian arrivals are a repeat visitor, which confirms the destinations popularity, so hopes are set high for 2013 as more people share their travel stories with friends and family.

The buzzing city of Macau is tipped to be hot on the travel radar, following the release of the new movie Skyfall, where James Bond plays his cards right in the Floating Dragon Casino.

From mid-2013, Hong Kong will open another cruise terminal at the former Kai Tak Runway on the East Kowloon waterfront to complement its Ocean Terminal. The new cruise terminal is expected to boost cruise tourism in Asia and encourage cruise passengers to extend their stay pre- or post-cruise in Hong Kong.

INSIDER TIP: If you want to witness the pizzazz of Hong Kong, visit during the annual Hong Kong Summer Spectacular from late June to late August to see the Dragon Boat Carnival and Lan Kwai Fong Beer & Music Festival. Or, if you love food and wine, visit during the Hong Kong Wine and Dine month in November.


3.     Cook Islands

Those looking for an island escape that offers a genuine taste of Polynesia and great value for money, should consider plunging into the Cook Islands.

Each year, the islands are welcoming more Aussies, with around 20,565 Australians visiting in the year ending at June 2012, up 22% on 2011 and 40% on 2010, according to Cook Islands Tourism.

The Cook Islands serve up the perfect blend of tropical highlights and recreational activities, so there is something for everyone, whether you want to snorkel year round among rainbow coloured parrotfish in clear turquoise lagoons, explore the mountains and jungles by foot or 4WD, eat some of the Pacific's best seafood and fresh produce from the lush plantations, or learn to dance as the locals all do.

The 15 islands are positioned halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, flanked by Samoa and Tahiti, and are roughly about six hours flying time from Australia in the Pacific Ocean and.

Getting there is easy, with Air New Zealand offering direct flights between Sydney and Rarotonga every Saturday, and services via Auckland, with Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia.

INSIDER TIP: Water lovers looking for the ultimate paradise should venture across to the coral atoll of Aitutaki, home to only 1200 people. The island is famed for its giant triangular lagoon and diverse array of wildlife, including giant clams, turtles, yellow angelfish, blue starfish and white-spotted eagle rays.


4.     Queensland Islands

Bet you never thought to pitch a tent on one of the Great Barrier Reef islands, but this is a unique and affordable way to experience the world's largest coral reef system.

The demand for cheap holidays in our own backyard has risen in the past few years, as more people tighten their belts and opt to stay close-to-home when they travel.

Camping is a great way to save a few pennies and perfect for holidays with large groups.

From as little as $5, you can camp out under the stars on one of the Whitsunday Islands, as well as Lady Musgrave Island, Lizard Island, Dunk Island and Fitzroy Island. This is a portion of the price you would pay if you stayed at a luxury resort, which can set you back anywhere between $400 and $600 a night.

The Whitsundays are superbly equipped for caravanning and road trips too, so there is the option to camp or park at a holiday park at night and explore the drive trails by day.

INSIDER TIP: Booking a camping permit prior to your trip and book a spot on the islands can be done 11 months in advance. Facilities on the islands are good, but it's best to bring your own fresh water.


5.     Burma

Burma, or Myanmar, remains one of the world's most mysterious and untouched destinations.

The country is now on people's travel radars as a holiday destination, following the encouraging actions of President Thein Sein, who has put the country on the path to democracy.

Tour companies in Australia are reporting an overwhelming interest in travel to Burma already, following the release of new tours in the region, so predictions are that 2013 is going to be big.

Luxury hotels have started to pop up and remote areas are now accessible to travellers, however even the most populated Myanmar still feels authentic.

According to Burma's tourism authority, there were 816,000 international arrivals in the last year, which is up 30% on figures from 2011.

The county offers a mixed and colourful culture, with up to 135 different ethnicities, and its location between India, China and Thailand makes it the perfect an add-on for those wanting to explore all of Indochina.

INSIDER TIP: It's best to explore Burma with a reputable tour operator. These companies organise guided treks into surrounding hill tribe areas, so travellers have the opportunity to share stories with the village people, explore the floating markets and learn the history of monasteries, pagodas and Buddhist temples.


6.     Hawaiian Islands

Aussies are flocking back to Hawaii. Anyone visiting the nation in the past year would have heard Aussie accents everywhere, especially on the Hawaiian Islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Island.

According to Hawaii Tourism Australia, visitor numbers from Australia have grown dramatically, with records at October 31, 2012 showing around 33% increase on the previous year.

Hawaiian Airlines began its Brisbane to Honolulu route in November 2012 and just announced added services on the Sydney to Honolulu route to begin in April and May 2013.

Jetstar will launch Melbourne to Honolulu flights in mid December and continue to fly five times per week from Sydney to Honolulu. Qantas has three flights per week from Sydney to Honolulu.

Experts say the trend has been for Aussies to book a holiday to Hawaii that includes at least two Islands.

Getting to Hawaii's four main islands is very easy, with short 30 to 50-minute inter-island flights departing from Honolulu regularly.

INSIDER TIP: Hawaii Island, the 'Island of Adventure', is the place to explore Hawaii's only active volcano. Kauai, known as the 'The Garden Isle', is a place to rejuvenate body and spirit, inviting you to renew your connection with nature, while Maui, the 'Magic Isle' has been voted the best island in the world by travellers and magazines and has a small population, making it a great place to escape the crowds.


7.     Morocco

New luxury campsites, boutique souks and lavish hotels have sprung up across Morocco in the past year, which has all signs pointing to another big year in travel.

Travellers who want a taste of Africa are spicing up their holiday with a side trip across to the region to explore the Atlas Mountains, take part is cooking lessons and camp out in the desert.

The new 73-suite Delano Marrakech, decorated in velvet drapes, marble floors and intricate carvings, features a rooftop bar with panoramic views across the medina to the Atlas Mountains and beyond.

The Selman Marrakech is another new glamourous country estate that opened this year, run by a Moroccan family and home to 16 Arabian horses.

Safari seekers should check out the Sahara Safari Camp in the Draa Valley, near Zagora and Tagounite. This luxury tented wilderness camp has excellent eco-credentials, featuring bio-toilets, solar lighting and local produce, as well as partnerships with the tribal community to help minimise impact on the land.

INSIDER TIP: Visit Essaouira, a laid-back little port on Morocco's Atlantic coast. It's a magnet for musicians, mainly because it hosts an array of music festivals all year round, from a classical music festival in April to an exuberant jazz and world music festival in late June to a gypsy and flamenco-based festival in October.


8.     Abu Dhabi

Aussies are curious about The Middle East, for its cosmopolitan lifestyle and forward-thinking infrastructure, so the destination has been a generating a lot of interest.

Whether you are into camel trekking or culture, Abu Dhabi  is welcoming more Australians who want to see its attractions, including Emirates Palace, the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

According to the Emirates tourism authority, the number of guests staying in Abu Dhabi hotels reached a new record in the first nine months of the year ending June 2012.

Each year, sporting events like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, HSBC Golf Championships and Abu Dhabi International Triathlon are encourage tourists from around the world to visit the nation.

INSIDER TIP: Take the plunge at the new Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi. The waterpark on Yas Island is set to open in January 2013 and rumoured to be the world's biggest water parks, featuring 43 rides, slides and attractions.



9.     Côte d'Azur

Rather than just flying to the main cities in Europe, many travellers are looking to get more out of their holidays. A popular option is to hire a car and drive along the Cote D'Azur, better known as the French Riviera.

Chic and elegant, the destination is famous for its rich and beautiful lifestyle, from its lavish resorts to balmy beaches and perfumed streets.

The popular towns of Nice, Cannes, St Tropez and Monte Carlo draw a well-heeled crowd, but history buffs can get lost in the stunning old town of Antibes or pay their respects to Grace Kelly in Monaco.

INSIDER TIP: Independent travel is a great way to explore southern France, so consider staying in Nice and planning day trips to the nearby towns. Watch out for peak summer periods, as the Parisians head south for their holidays.


10.  Family themed cruises

Cruise holidays have created big waves in the travel market in the past year or two, but 2013 is expected to be big for families.

Parents have caught on to benefits of an all-inclusive cruise package, as well the idea that you can sail to more than one destination without have to catch several planes and trains to get there.

Disney Cruise Lines' itineraries in the USA and Europe are a popular choice with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck fans. On board, kids will have the chance to meet their favourites Disney characters at breakfast appearances, themed shows, photo sessions and outdoor movie sessions.

From Australia, Royal Caribbean International's ships feature DreamWorks characters from Shrek, Madagascar and more. Interactive classes and enriching activities designed by Fisher-Price are featured at kids clubs on board, such as the Royal Babies for bubs aged from 6 to 18 months or the Royal Tots for babies from 18 to 36 months.

In addition, Carnival Cruises' ships have some of the fastest and steepest waterslides on any cruise ship, as well as a 9-hole putt putt golf course and pool parties for kids.

INSIDER TIP: Cruising with the kids is very affordable, so plan out your preferred travel dates and destination, and then speak to a cruise expert about which ships and itineraries are available to you. Most family discounts tend to be promotions for early bookings, rather than last-minute specials, so sign up to newsletters to keep informed.



PHONE FLIGHT CENTRE ON 1300 939 414 OR SPEAK TO A CONSULTANT AT YOUR NEAREST STORE.

VISIT OUR TRAVEL BLOG AT www.flightcentre.com.au/travel-news/destinations/top-destinations-for-2013/.

Case of the Island That Never Was


David Ellis

A 19TH century whaling ship, Sydney University, today's Australian Hydrographic Service, a New Zealand museum researcher, and for good measure Google, would appear pretty-much unlikely bedfellows.

Now chuck in suggestions of the CIA and it becomes an even less-likely mix.

But just such a mix came to light recently when scientists from the University of Sydney sailed aboard the Hydrographic Service's vessel to research a relatively small blob shown on most charts, maps and even Google Earth as Sandy Island. And it was interesting because most unusually for such a small surface area it rose straight out of South Pacific waters a whopping 1,400m deep.

But when they got to where they expected to find their island or reef, they found they had something of a quandary on their hands: there was neither island, nor reef.

Nothing. Just deep blue ocean – despite "Sandy Island" having been shown on most ocean charts as far back as the late 1800s, and brought into the 20th and 21st centuries by the wonders of Google Earth mapping.

And we say "most ocean charts," because equally strangely those many charts put it in French territorial waters between Australia and French-governed New Caledonia… yet the French do not acknowledge it on any of their maritime charts.

Puzzled, the Australian scientists returned to Sydney to try to find what had happened to their once-was-now-isn't blob. And rather than returning with exciting new scientific information about Sandy Island, they had to report that what was a new island in the 19th century, had in the 21st century become The Island That Never Was.

How this ghost blob came to be on official charts in the first place appears to go back to 1877 when the captain of the whaling ship Velocity returned to his home port of Hobart, and reported sighting "heavy breakers" and "sandy islets" at a point between Australia and New Caledonia. He had even detailed the spot on his ship's charts – and passed the information on to others he knew sailed the South Seas to help them with their navigation.

Then 31 years later in 1908, the object that Captain J.W. Robinson had detailed after a near-year-long voyage in the South Pacific in 1876 and 1877 suddenly appeared on an official British Admiralty chart issued in London.

And it remained there until now, being copied and transferred to most other maps and charts that had any semblance of British inheritance.

Enter Shaun Higgins, a pictorial librarian at the Auckland Museum who read about the Sydney researchers' Island That Never Was in one of many articles in newspapers across the South Pacific, in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and even on the BBC's World Service.

Intrigued he started looking up old documents, and found the British Admiralty chart dated 1908 that depicted "Sandy Island" as a dotted circle… an indication that, at that time, it was possibly a reef and thus a hazard to shipping.

And Mr Higgins also discovered an even earlier Admiralty Hydrographic Department South Pacific directory dated 1879 that referred to "Sandy Island," which it noted the Master of the Velocity had reported while sailing east of Chesterfield and Bampton Reefs – that were already known and surveyed.

Mr Higgins says that Captain Robinson would most likely have been using a sextant and compass for navigation, and could possibly have got his co-ordinates wrong. "As whalers were often the first explorers in many South Pacific areas, as a responsible master, Captain Robinson would have taken note of islands or reefs he believed were uncharted," Mr Higgins said.

"So that his 'Sandy Island' could in fact have been closer to either the Chesterfield or Bampton Reefs," he said. "And therefore further west than where he'd marked it, and part of one of those reefs."

And as the BBC's Australian correspondent, Duncan Kennedy reported, cartographers are now "rushing to un-discover Sandy Island," and removing it from all maps, charts and Google Earth.

But what of the CIA and our Island That Never Was?

One loony British report suggested that "Sandy Island" could have been "removed" from the face of the earth by the CIA – after being used by the service as a secret electronic base to spy on shipping around Asia...

Well, it is the Silly Season.

………………..

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] OFFICIAL maritime chart showing "Sandy Island" in the South Pacific… but in fact, it isn't.

[] VELOCITY, the whaling ship that started it all lays in "dry dock" in Hobart.

Photos: Wikimedia


December 07, 2012

Airstream trailers: To move like a stream of air


The Founder of Airstream, Wally Byam, had a dream to create lightweight travel trailers that slipped cleanly through the wind. And with it was born another dream, one of new freedoms, new places, new experiences, and new friendships. It was a dream so powerful and so enduring that it did far more than create a new way to travel; it created a new way of life shared by thousands upon thousands of families.

In 1929, Wally Byam purchased a Model T Ford chassis, built a platform on it, towed it with his car to a campsite, and painstakingly erected a tent on it. The effort was tiresome and unpleasant, especially when it rained. Spurred on by his first wife Marion, Wally built a tear-drop-shaped permanent shelter on the platform that enclosed a small ice chest and kerosene stove. He then published an article that ran under the headline, "How to Build a Trailer for One Hundred Dollars." Readers wrote to Wally for more detailed instruction plans, which he sold at a cost of one dollar each.

The response was extraordinary, earning him more than $15,000. After building several trailers for friends in his backyard, "the neighbours started complaining that I was making too much noise," Wally observed, "so I went out and rented a building." Airstream Trailer Company went into full production in 1932, when fewer than 48 trailer manufacturers were registered for business. Five years later, nearly 400 companies squared off against each other. Today, of those 400, only Airstream remains.

Let's only make improvements

Anecdotes are legion about Wally's passion for product innovation. "Let's not make changes, let's make only improvements," was his familiar refrain. In quest of these, Wally scoured the world looking for efficient hot water heaters, door hinges, butane lamps, chemical toilets, small porcelain sinks and chairs — myriad large and small items that would make an Airstream more functional and liveable. In Europe he discovered a heating system that took up little space but gave off plenty of radiant heat. He borrowed the design, improved it, and renamed it the Byam Burner.

In France he spied a compact gas refrigerator manufactured by Dometic. He arranged for the refrigerators to be installed in Airstreams, making an end to ice-electric refrigerators that required travellers to be constantly on the prowl for ice. More than 50 years later, Dometic still supplies refrigerators to Airstream.

When nothing suitable was available on the world market, Wally urged someone to manufacture it. In 1954 he persuaded Max Bowen, president of Bowen Water Heater Co., to develop the first workable hot water system for a trailer. Other innovations were brought directly to him by customers. Frank Sargent, an engineer, approached Wally in 1960 with a novel toilet valve that used steam pressure for flushing waste into a holding tank. Sargent's Thetford toilets have been used in Airstream models since the 1961 model year. Wally tallied several inventions of his own, including the idea of a flat-sided underbelly to reduce wind resistance, and an 18 x 40 inch escape window in the back of the trailer in case the side door was jammed.

International Signature


Quality, innovation, and design

The list of "firsts" in the trailer industry attributed to Airstream is a long one, including the first holding tank, the first ladder frame, the first pressurized water system, and the first fully self-contained travel trailer — the 1957 Airstream International. "Self-containment" was a term Wally had coined to describe full freedom from external trailer hook-ups, such as outside sources of power. He once said he wanted to build a trailer that "my lovely old grandmother might tow … to the middle of the Gobi Desert, there to live in gracious metropolitan luxury … without reloading, refuelling, recharging or regretting."

Nearly 80 years after its backyard beginnings, Airstream maintains an unwavering commitment to the tenets upon which it was founded: Quality, Innovation, and Design.

A who’s who and what’s what

Overseas celebrity owners of Airstream include Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Matthew McConaughey, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Lenny Kravitz and Sandra Bullock while in Europe Today Celebrity occupants include George Michael, Hugh Grant and Gerri Halliwell.

The most recognised aluminium travel trailer in the world has featured in numerous movies and television shows including NBC’s Grey’s Anatomy and CSI LA. In season three of The Apprentice, Donald Trump challenged contestants to create mobile business ventures using Airstreams. They have appeared in numerous films including Charlie’s Angels, Independence Day and Wall Street II.

For many years a customised Airstream was prominently displayed at MTV’s headquarters in Santa Monica, California and a 1960 Airstream Bambi is part of a permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art for excellence in style and design.

In 1969, Neil Armstrong and members of Apollo 11 were quarantined for three weeks in a specially built Airstream after returning from the first voyage to the moon.

Several specially built Airstreams are commonly used to transport American officials around the world. Strapped down inside military cargo planes Airstreams have transported Vice Presidents, First Ladies, Generals and Admirals in comfort. First Lady Laura Bush travelled cocooned inside her personal Airstream which had been installed inside the transport aircraft when visiting the troops in Afghanistan in 2008.

Australian website: http://AandA.com.au

US website: www.airstream.com

December 05, 2012

Struth! Bottled History Resurfaces


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that a beachcombing couple in New Zealand have miraculously saved a note in a bottle that's been floating goodness-only-knows-where for the past three-quarters of a century…

Geoff Flood and Leanne McAlees found the bottle on Ninety Mile Beach in the country's far north earlier this month, and most amazing was that the note was still dry and readable even though the bottle's cork had been pushed back inside the bottle. "Another high tide and it could have been swamped and the note inside ruined and lost forever," said Mr Flood.

Dated March 17, 1936 – that's 76 years ago – the note was written on paper with a P&O company logo and a picture of its liner, SS Strathnaver that sailed between the UK and Australia. It was signed H.E. Hillbrick, and asked that if found it be forwarded, with details of where found and when, to Mr Hillbrick at an address in Leederville, Western Australia.

And although Mr Hillbrick has long since departed this world, Mr Flood tracked down a distant member of Herbert Ernest Hillbrick who said he was "very excited" about the find, but had no idea where his forebear may have tossed the bottle overboard between Australia and England.

And STRUTH can reveal that Mr Hillbrick was an employee of the Western Australian Railways, that he died in 1941, and that coincidentally the mother of his wife, Ethel Louise Porter migrated to Australia from, where else but, New Zealand… making for another of life's little coincidences.

(Photo shows Geoff Flood's son, Shayde aged 5, with bottle and note, and the late Herbert "Bert" Ernest Hillbrick and family.)


Struth! Gingy Hungry for Travel


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says a pint-sized doll in the shape of a gingerbread man – and appropriately named Gingy – looks set to become Australia's most-travelled doll companion.

Travel industry publication Travel Daily broke the story of Gingy this month after its journalist, Matt Lennon ran into the little bloke in Fiji where he was attending a conference of TravelManagers travel agents with Brisbane-based Personal Travel Manager, Gayle Dawson – who'd come up with idea of sharing Gingy around members to help them network on a more personal level.

Gayle says Gingy has been inundated with offers of trips, and that in just a few months has been with TravelManagers members to places as diverse as Phuket, Egypt, Fiji and Nimbin… and is booked up for the next six months for jaunts  to Hawaii, Hong Kong, Disneyland – and on a luxury ocean cruise.

And she says he insists that wherever he goes, a photo is sent back home to show agency members the wonderful time he's having enjoying the good life.

(Photos show Gingy with Gayle in Fiji – and lapping it up poolside in Egypt.)


December 04, 2012

What happens when three crazy guys on three yachts set sail for the South Pacific?

Dancing across the South Pacific

Sailing to paradise with humor as your guide


What do you get when you put three crazy guys on three yachts with dreams of a sailing adventure around the South Pacific? Enough stories to last a lifetime!

Canadian Alan Boreham, Australian Peter Jinks and New Zealander Bob Rossiter set off from different points in the world—one on his first high seas adventure, one racing aboard a classic wooden yacht, and one in the company of a Hollywood star.

"We encountered people so unusual that you couldn't hope to invent them," says Boreham. "We decided we wanted to share these sailing experiences and these characters with people who would never have the opportunity to venture out there themselves."

Beer in the Bilges offers a fascinating glimpse into sailing voyages where three men have to rely on their skills, their wit and, most importantly, on each other.

"These real life sailing adventures, both funny and dramatic, introduce you to curious characters and peculiar situations in remote parts of the idyllic South Pacific," Jinks says.

These stories, a mix of humor and drama, will provide readers with a temporary escape from their world.

"This book takes a comical, honest, edgy and at times irreverent approach," says Rossiter. "While some or all of us are featured in each chapter, we are generally only a vehicle to introduce the interesting people, situations and places we experienced in our travels."

One of the classic yachts featured prominently in the book, the Ron of Argyll, has hosted many interesting guests during its life, one of which was Marilyn Monroe. The other featured yacht is Yankee Tar, owned by Hollywood actor Hal Holbrook, who, with his wife Dixie Carter, donated it to the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia in 2006.

Beer in the Bilges
By Alan Boreham, Peter Jinks and Bob Rossiter
370 pages
Hardcover 6x9, retail price: $34.95
Paperback 6x9, retail price: $24.95
E-book, retail price: $3.99
ISBN: 9781475928815

Available at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.

December 03, 2012

ON TRACK TO 150 YEARS OF WELSH HISTORY


David Ellis

WHEN a group of Welsh businessmen decided in 1863 to use steam engines to haul slate from the mountainous inland of Wales to export wharves on the coast, there was much chortling from cynics across the border in England.

Amongst them was Robert Stephenson, son of railway pioneer George Stephenson and who like his father was a railway engineer and locomotive builder, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer responsible for England's Great Western Railway.

The reason for their mirth was that they were building trains that would run on tracks a generous 4-feet-8½-inches wide (1435mm) giving comfort and speed for long passenger and freight trains pulled by large and powerful locomotives, while the steam railway proposed for Wales would run on puny, unstable things of under a mere 2-feet (597mm.)

"Locomotives for such a narrow line will not have the power to haul wagons loaded with heavy slate," the critics scoffed. "It is all an unsafe folly."

But with booming demand for slate, the Welsh ordered four Lilliputian-size steam engines for their Ffestiniog Railway Company (in Welsh Rheilffyrdd Ffestiniog Ac Eryrl) – until then their "slate trains" were operated by a simple combination of horse-power and gravity.

And as if the ghosts of those rail pioneers are today rubbing the noses of their detractors into the slate their little trains once hauled, Ffestiniog is now the world's oldest surviving railway company, next March celebrates 150 years since the introduction of its first steam engine – and as a member of The Great Little Trains of Wales is one of Britain's major tourist attractions, with its sister company the Welsh Highland Railway carrying 300,000 guests a year between them.

And that tiny first steam engine, that was called Princess and which went into operation in 1863, is still around today, currently enjoying a make-over for those 150th anniversary celebrations after somewhat bizarrely being "conserved" since 1981 in the bar of a Welsh pub.

When the "railway" first opened in 1832 slate mined from around the mountains of North Wales was loaded into rail wagons at Blaenau Ffestiniog, and allowed to free-run by gravity 13½ miles (21.7km) downhill to the wharves of Porthmadog – with two brakemen in a rear wagon controlling their speed.

And a horse was carried in another wagon called a "dandy," to haul the eight empty wagons those 21-odd kilometres back up to the mines.

But such was world demand for Welsh slate, particularly for making roofing tiles, that the rail company realised it needed to get its trains back into the mountains faster than its horses could haul them, and decided in 1863 on its diminutive little steam engines.

They proved an instant success, and it's known that many visitors to Wales would also request a quite illegal ride into the mountains in the empty steam-hauled slate wagons, prompting the railway to build pint-sized passenger carriages that it added to its slate trains to earn extra income from locals and tourists.

But by the 1940s new roofing materials were replacing slate, many overseas markets had been lost during two world wars, tourists in the 1930s had turned to the motor-car and charabancs (long wheel-base, open-air sightseeing vehicles,) and the little trains of the Ffestiniog Railway were considered out-dated and run-down.

Thus the railway closed in 1946 – but dedicated rail enthusiasts refused to see it die, and miraculously between 1954 and 1982 re-opened it by largely volunteer labour section-by-section along nine stations as a tourist line. And as part of the track had been submerged when a new dam was built, they also had to construct a 4km deviation and blast a 280m long tunnel through solid granite.

Three of the original steam engines were also restored together with recovered historic carriages and put back into service, while others including a unique double-ended Fairlie were more slowly restored for increasing tourist runs from Porthmadog through the spectacular Snowdonia National Park to Ffestiniog.

The first, Princess was not deemed capable of running again and was spruced up and "conserved" in the bar of Spooner's Pub in Porthmadog – where it remained until several weeks ago, when it was moved to London for a make-over to look nice for next year's 150th anniversary celebrations of the world's first narrow gauge steam railway.

Details on www.festrail.co.uk.

……………….

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] FFESTINIOG Railway Little Train in spectacular Snowdonia National Park. (Photo: Ffestiniog Railway Company)

[] DWARFED by the mountains, a Little Train appears even smaller. (Photo: Ffestiniog Railway Company)

[] FFESTINIOG Railway restored Little Train readies for a tourist run – note how the driver just fits in. (Photo: David Ellis)

[] HISTORIC photo of Ffestiniog Railway Company's first-ever steam engine, Princess in Porthmadog 1870. (Photo: Ffestiniog Railway Company)

[] PRINCES all tidied up and "conserved" in Spooner's Pub in Porthmadog for 31 years. (Photo: Spooner's Pub, Harbour Station, Porthmadog)

[] UNIQUE early double-ended Fairlie steam engine, restored and back in service. (Photo: Ffestiniog Railway Company)

[] HOW horses travelled down the track from Ffestiniog to Porthmadog to haul empty slate wagons back to the mines. (Photo: National Railway Museum.)