January 26, 2009


david ellis

EVELYNE Geber knows her husband John's not the sort of bloke to do things by halves.

So when he was on a business trip to the Barossa Valley in 1998 and rang their Sydney home to say he'd just put down an option to buy the derelict remains of what was once Australia's grandest chateau, she was not all that surprised.

"My first reaction was 'Wow, how many bedrooms has it got?'" she says of the call, in which John asked her to jump on a plane and come down for an inspection before he handed over a cheque.

Today, ten years and somewhere in the vicinity of $8m later, their Chateau Tanunda has been restored to the spectacle of its winemaking heyday of over a century ago, complete with a Grand Ballroom for entertaining near-on 500 guests, a croquet court and a sunken garden, and a cellar big enough to hold five million litres of wine in the event of dehydration.

And for cricket-tragic John, a full size oval to which he annually invites some of the biggest names in the world game for something that's a bit more than your average backyard stuff.

John Geber is a marketing whiz who made a name flogging the virtues of English round teabags and Danish sugar-free gum in Australia, before venturing very successfully into marketing our wines overseas.

It was on wine business in the Barossa in 1998 that he came upon Chateau Tanunda. "Derelict as it was, I was blown away by it," he recalls. "There was a 'Do Not Enter' sign so I rang a friend to ask about it; and he told me it was for sale, although there'd been no interest in it for five or six years."

And the first person he spoke with at the owner's headquarters thought he was a nutter, but within 24 hours John had signed up to buy what he discovered was not only one of Australia's most iconic chateaus, but an important part of our history as well.

"The Chateau had been the core of a kind of co-operative to export Australian wine to Europe where vineyards had been wiped-out by phylloxera in the late1800s," John says. "Around 560 mainly-immigrant growers in the Barossa supplied grapes exclusively to the Chateau, being paid a-then enormous one-pound a gallon for the juice of their crops… enough for many to pay off their farms in just a few years."

When it opened in 1890 the Bavarian-style Chateau Tanunda was the biggest building in South Australia and the largest winery in the Southern Hemisphere; bricks were made on-site and bluestone brought in from a nearby quarry to construct cellar walls a-near metre thick for the 2-storey, 3500 sq metre winery and its 21 metre high tower.

Its last owners before John Geber stripped and abandoned it in the early 1990s and tragically, John says, dumped everything including the original architectural plans and records of the first owners and co-operative members.

He slept on the floor for the first three months because the chateau had never actually been a residence, and discovered it really was haunted by ghosts of suppliers and members past. "I had some interesting nights!" he says.

John's idea in restoring the Chateau to its former winemaking glory was to make it a winery first, and a tourist attraction second. "We found ballast from ships of the 1800's at a local abattoir and used that to cobblestone around the Chateau … and 27,000 tonnes of brick and concrete we'd demolished was used to level-up a sloping site for our cricket oval.

"The oval cost $200,000 but we saved three times that in not carting the rubble away and dumping it."

Today an annual Masters Charity Cricket Match between an Australian Invitational Team and each year's visiting nation is played on the oval – this year it'll be against the West Indies in November.

John Geber has achieved his dream of re-creating one of Australia's greatest wineries and chateau, but says he still has much to achieve.

"I'm not a get-in and get-out person; I'm here for the long haul."

For details about Chateau Tanunda's wines, the cellar door, functions and attending the cricket in November, phone (08) 8563 3888 or visit www.chateautanunda.com



[] FORMER glory: the restored Chateau Tanunda.

[] THE Chateau's Cricket Ground rises from the rubble.

[] Inset: John Geber sees his Chateau's future in its past

[] Inset: Chateau Tanunda early last century.

(Photos: Chateau Tanunda)

January 19, 2009

Michael Palin: To Travel or Not to Travel

Times are hard, but we must resist the temptation to stay at home, pull up the drawbridge and look after number one. The economic crisis, this time around, is global. And to understand it we need, more than ever, to keep in touch with the rest of the world, to see how others are coping and hopefully to learn something along the way.

And let’s face it, you wouldn’t be logging onto this website if you didn’t feel, like me, that the urge to travel is not a tap that can be switched on and off at will. It’s a persistent, niggling feeling, fed by curiosity and, hopefully by concern as well.

Those of you who caught Around The World In Twenty Years, our BBC One documentary at Christmas, will have seen the joy and pleasure on all our faces when I showed the old Eighty Days DVD to some of the dhow crew we tracked down in North-East India. I was as moved as they were. Despite being able to share very little of each other’s language, the re-union showed that it’s worth reaching out, and that the effort to re-connect can be reciprocated. It wasn’t life-changing for either side, but the shared laughter and the enjoyment of our differences made me feel happy and safe, several thousand miles from home.

On that same journey we came very close to seeing the other side of the coin. Only three weeks after we’d filmed in the Taj Hotel and Leopold’s Bar in Mumbai, those who prefer to live by hatred and division had turned both places into killing grounds. And it’s no coincidence that the Taj Hotel and Leopold’s were both places in which people from all over the world came together to meet and talk.

This, it seems was the very reason they were targeted. For those with closed minds, places like these represent an intolerable threat to their own malign sense of certainty.

The attacks in Mumbai, and anywhere else in the world where people are prepared to kill rather than listen, are as clear a reason as there ever need be to keep meeting, talking, travelling and connecting.

As for me, well, I’ve no great projects in the pipeline right now. Much of the year ahead will be spent getting Diaries Volume Two 1980 -1988, the Film Years (working title) together. It’s due to be published in September, and I’ve no doubt it will send me on some promotional travels come the autumn. But I haven’t stopped buying maps or cancelled my subscriptions to Geographical, Geo or The National Geographic magazine. Nor have I stopped reading the wise and wonderful experiences of the Polish writer Ryszard Kapuscinski. His latest, “Travels With Herodotus” has so much wit and wisdom, and he tells a darned good story too. Check him out.

And check out a slim, evocative volume called Traveller by Michael Katakis (published by Burton & Park of San Francisco). I wrote the introduction because Michael represents all the best things about travelling. He listens, he learns, he writes about his love of the world simply, clearly and with feeling. And he loves eating !

Happy travels. See you on the road.

Michael, London, January 16th 2009

January 15, 2009

Aussies linked to treacherous North East English heritage

As Scotland urges Australians to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors at ‘Homecoming’ in 2009, North East England also gives Australians the opportunity to learn more about their past; and some may find stories of tragedy and treachery.

Within the borders of North East England and Scotland lie many stories of Australian heritage and ancient family connection. The Border Reivers, who many Australians’ surnames are linked to, ruled North East England and created chaos across the North East England and Scottish border. The Reivers were made up of Scottish and English clans and families, who as a result of their geographical position, were constantly subjected to violence associated with the various armies passing through the townships during the war between England and Scotland in the 13th – 17th Century.

The Reivers (robbers) were known to have a strong allegiance to their family rather than to their country, and their craft at defending and raiding became so notorious the hierarchy in both England and Scotland employed them as a first line of defense against invaders.

Many Australians can trace back their family history to that of the Border Reivers. Popular names such as Armstrong, Davidson, Gilchrist, Collingwood, Cranston, Young and Scott, can be traced back to the Reivers’ clans.

A popular route taken by travelers to Britain is the Newcastle to Edinburgh track, which sees visitors leave Newcastle, travel throughout North East England and cross the border into Scotland. Travelers pass through the beautiful Northumberland district, visiting the historic Alnwick Castle, known for its role in the Harry Potter films; and north to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, famous for its Christian links and Lindisfarne Mead. Further north, the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed offers travelers a unique travel experience, where locals are sometimes English and sometimes Scottish. Bisected by the great River Tweed the historic town is scattered with local farmers markets and local arts and theatre performances.

“With Homecoming in 2009, taking the route through North East England into Scotland is the perfect opportunity for Australians to discover their past, explore the beautiful scenery of two wonderful countries and learn about the historic border battles of centuries past,” said Kim Heaselden, International Brand Manager of One North East.

The areas of North East England and Scotland are steeped in history that can be explored when visiting the region. North East England is home to the largest number of castles in the UK, with many of the castles remaining in the hands of the descendents of their original owners.

Aussies can check to see if their family name was associated with this synonymous time in British history and even find a castle or its remains that was partially occupied or used by their ancestors by visiting www.BorderReivers.co.uk.

To take it a step further and visit the towns in which the Border Reivers lived, visit www.northeastengland.com.au to find suggested travel itineraries and accommodation packages available in North East England.

January 13, 2009

It’s Easy being Green, especially in Queensland

Travelling with an eco-conscience is easy in Queensland with its myriad of tours and hotels doing their bit to help save the fragile natural surrounds writes Jessica Reid.

The Daintree Discovery Centre is an award-winning interpretive facility an easy two hour drive north of Cairns where visitors can explore the surrounding World Heritage-listed environment via boardwalks, a 23m high canopy tower and an aerial walkway in the rainforest canopy. The Centre itself provides an introduction to the wonders of the rainforest and runs a range of programmes and activities including a Tree Planting Initiative designed to restore a nearby degraded rainforest habitat. www.daintree-rec.com.au/carbon.html

Daintree Eco Lodge and Spa prides itself on ecotourism activities which are as extensive as the services it offers to guests. Management systems, best practice techniques like energy, waste and environmental management, specialist strategies and strategic alliances are all put into regular practice. Emphasis is also placed on preserving Aboriginal culture in the cultural tourism activities and following strict guidelines, protocols and ethics relating to Aboriginal affairs. Guests at the lodge stay in rainforest villas and can enjoy pampering at the Spa and dine on contemporary Australian cuisine with a native touch. www.daintree-ecolodge.com.au

Also in the Daintree, Red Mill House offers deluxe accommodation for guests interested in nature, wildlife and conservation. A philosophy of 'rethink, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle' helps Red Mill House identify, manage and reduce their environmental footprint. They also work closely with the local school, helping students calculate their environmental footprint and reduce energy and waste levels. Red Mill House undertakes best practice activities in water, electricity and waste management areas. www.redmillhouse.com.au

Adventure diving and marine research are combined on Undersea Explorer's liveaboard scuba diving operation on the Great Barrier Reef. Operating since the 1980s, their goal is to provide a stimulating environmental experience for divers while caring for the environment and conducting research projects which contribute to marine conservation. Two complimentary berth spaces are provided for marine scientists each week and a biologist is employed as a crew member providing for valuable research on a regular basis on remote coral reefs. www.undersea.com.au

The award-winning Skyrail rainforest cableway at Kuranda is one of only 18 attractions in the world, and the only one in Australia, to receive the prestigious Green Globe Gold Certification. It is awarded to companies who achieve Green Globe Certification for five consecutive years, demonstrating outstanding, continuous commitment to environmental performance and improvement. The Skyrail Rainforest Foundation reinforces its commitment, increases awareness and protects the rainforest environment. www.skyrail.com.au

Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours, Cape Tribulation, is a unique and exhilarating way to experience the Daintree. The series of flying fox cables and tree platforms were constructed entirely by hand after nine years research and development. Their innovative design allows each platform to sit securely around the tree without a single nail or bolt penetrating the trunk, ensuring 'jungle surfers' have a minimal environmental footprint while still enjoying unprecedented access to all levels of the forest canopy. Paths in and out of the forest follow fauna trails, all boardwalks and buildings utilize recycled materials, waste products are recycled, and the entire operation runs on renewable solar and hydro power, with fossil fuels used only in the transfer vehicles. www.junglesurfing.com.au

Hidden Valley Cabins and Tours are Australia's first carbon neutral accommodation and tour company operating on renewable energy. Situated 90 minutes drive from Townsville, the resort offers the perfect 'get away from it all' environment and operates entirely on solar power. The interpretive centre explores the operational aspect of renewable energy. www.hiddenvalleycabins.com.au

In a first amongst Great Barrier Reef cruise operators, Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises has achieved the highest level of certification under Eco Tourism Australia's inaugural Climate Action Certification Program and gone carbon neutral. The award-winning company runs half and full day cruises to Green Island. It has implemented numerous emission reduction actions and is offsetting the remaining through Greenfleet Australia. Passengers on Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises will also be invited to offset their own carbon footprint at cruise check-in. www.bigcat-cruises.com.au

Management of the environment is a "way of life" at Capricorn Caves in Central Queensland, winners of the Steve Irwin Ecotourism Award at the 2008 Queensland Tourism Awards. Located north of Rockhampton, the system of above-ground caves in a limestone ridge has tours ranging from easy walking and wheelchair accessible to wild caving adventures. Protection of the caves, the remnant vegetation and the dependent native fauna including bats is vital and management at the caves is also involved in revegetation programmes, weed eradication, best water and energy management practices and natural lighting. A Threatened Species Recovery programme in conjunction with Greening Australia is also in place to save the fern, tectaria devexa, from extinction. www.capricorncaves.com.au

Wilson Island is a tiny coral cay, surrounded by, and part of, the Great Barrier Reef. It is also the site of rare turtle and bird breeding grounds so precious the island closes for a month in late January for the bird breeding season. A maximum of 12 guests stay in comfortable, designer-inspired tent accommodation and enjoy exceptional snorkelling, bird watching and island and reef walks. The eco-accredited Voyages resort provides all power by battery or solar and is rainwater reliant. Wilson Island is located north-east of Gladstone and is accessed by boat and helicopter. www.wilsonisland.com

'Conservation through exciting education' has always been part of Australia Zoo's philosophy. The multi-award winning zoo on the Sunshine Coast is committed to raising awareness and protecting the world's environment. The Wildlife Warriors organisation aims to protect and enhance the natural environment, provide information to and educate the public, raise awareness of wildlife issues, undertake biological research and research and assist in the protection of threatened or endangered species. The Australian Wildlife Zoo, Endangered Species Breeding, Priority Species Breeding, Field Study, Habitat Acquisition, Rescue and Documentaries are other conservation programs run by Australia Zoo. www.australiazoo.com.au/conservation/ and www.wildlifewarriors.org.au

Mt Barney Lodge Country Retreat, a 90 minute drive from both Brisbane and the Gold Coast is a proud member of Wildlife Tourism Australia and a founding member of the Rainforest Way drive linking 14 World Heritage-listed National Parks. The retreat offers guests cabin and camping accommodation as they escape to the bush. A philosophy of living in harmony with people and nature is projected to guests through a variety of initiatives including CREATE (Children's Recreational and Environmental Activities That Educate), the lodge's holiday programme for kids. www.mtbarneylodge.com.au

Hire vehicle companies, KEA Campers and Europcar, are doing their bit to combat climate change. KEA offers late models, environmentally-friendly campers with solar panelling, renewable materials, advanced emission control standards, best-practice waste management systems and the lowest fuel consumption rates of any campervan rental company in Australia, New Zealand and Southern Africa. They are also the only Australian campervan rental company to achieve the Leave No Trace certification of the Campervan Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA). Europcar Australia has partnered with Greenfleet to offset the carbon emissions of every new vehicle added to its fleet by planting 17 native trees per car. These trees help create a forest to absorb the greenhouse gases the car produces in one year. www.keacampers.com and www.europcar.com.au

Some of Queensland's best natural regions, including three World Heritage Areas, can be explored on the world-class walking tracks which form the Great Walks of Queensland. The Walks at Fraser Island, Gold Coast Hinterland, Mackay Highlands, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Wet Tropics and Whitsundays are already open and another four will open at Carnarvon in Central Queensland, the Conondale Range and Cooloola on the Sunshine Coast and the Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail in the next two years. Ranging from short, easy strolls to half and full-day walks and extended overnight adventures, people of all ages and abilities can enjoy Queensland's parks and forests. www.epa.qld.gov.au/parks_and_forests/great_walks

January 12, 2009

Tasmania's Wild North West: Beyond the Ramparts of the Unknown

By Roderick Eime

Flying into the tiny north-western regional hub of Wynyard, you could easily imagine you are in the middle of nowhere – and that is why so many visitors come!

With a heritage that can be traced back to the early 19th Century, this far flung Van Diemen’s Land outpost was referred to in King George IV’s Royal Charter as “a huge tract of unsettled land, beyond the ramparts of the unknown.”

An easy 20 kilometre coastal drive from the working town of Burnie and a further 50 kilometres to Tasmania’s third largest city and Spirit of Tasmania ferry port, Devonport, Wynyard is perfectly placed to springboard nature lovers into the world-famous wilderness areas along the north and west coasts.

Before heading off into the wild, swing by Burnie and see why it is shaking off the outdated industrial character that has defined it for so long. At the Lactos Cheese Tasting and Sales Centre you can sample fine cheeses, including major brands Tasmanian Heritage, Mersey Valley and Australian Gold. Premium food produce is fast becoming a Tasmanian specialty and you’ll find Australia’s largest single malt whisky distillery in Burnie. Hellyers Road Distillery makes fine, single malt whisky distilled from Tasmanian grown malted barley and famously pure Tasmanian rainwater. The distillery also produces the Southern Lights brand premium grain vodka. If you’re visiting in winter, this stop-off is almost mandatory.

For a fortifying meal of local fresh seafood, visit Fish Frenzy located on the waterfront in Burnie. Tasting Tasmania author, Graeme Phillips, describes it as a “bright and spacious modern café with fresh fish and seafood every which way and then some.”

Eventually the lure of the renowned Tasmanian wilderness will beckon you but the “clarion call” will come from many directions.

Most will yield to the irresistible allure of the UNESCO World Heritage Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park, a mere 70 kilometres drive. From the swank Voyages Cradle Mountain Lodge to modest hiking cabins, the options are plentiful.

The raw appeal of the Tasmanian mountainscape has captured the imagination of visitors for decades and none more so than pioneering outdoorsman, Austrian-born Gustav Weindorfer, who built a rough chalet next to the iconic Dove Lake in 1912.

Weindorfer is revered as the “founder” of Cradle Mountain wilderness recreation and is fondly remembered as an eccentric, idealistic yet jovial man who would host guests with generous lashings of his garlic and badger (wombat) stew.

“A mixture that would kill me in five minutes,” recalled local Bill Perkins in a eulogy to the colourful Austrian in 1982. Perkins first met Weindorfer in 1930, just before his death. Today you can see an authentic replica of Weindorfer’s cottage and outbuildings and get a feel for how people enjoyed the country almost one hundred years ago.

If you do nothing else, be sure to complete the Dove Lake circuit, a relaxed two hour dawdle around this imposing feature that is one of Australia’s most instantly recognisable vistas next to Uluru and Sydney’s Harbour Bridge.

If you really want to earn your “Wild Tasmania” badge, head north west from Wynyard into the Tarkine Forest region (the largest temperate rainforest in Australia) and plot a circuit via Stanley, Smithton, Corinna, Zeehan and Strahan. Get lost in the oblivion of true wilderness, a commodity that is fast disappearing in our shrinking, globalised world.

The intriguingly-named Dismal Swamp is a natural blackwood forest sinkhole, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world. Thirty minutes (40km) south west of Smithton, the visitors’ centre showcases Tasmanian specialty timbers with a contemporary interior crafted from blackwood and Tasmanian oak. From there the walkway descends to the floor of the sinkhole, or if you’re game take the exhilarating 110m slide from the viewing platform to the swamp floor. There’s an electric buggy option too.

Proclaimed by Bass and Flinders in 1798, historic Stanley is a delightfully sleepy hamlet distinguished by its characteristic, 150m high “nut”, a long extinct volcanic plug that forms an imposing natural citadel overlooking the town. Take the chairlift or walk to the top for panoramic views of Bass Strait.

The nearby Highfield Historic Site epitomises the optimistic early settlement and is the site of land granted to the Van Diemens Land Company (VDL) in 1824. The homestead is a rare example of the elegant Regency period. Edward Curr, the chief agent of the VDL, started construction in 1832, and later additions were made by John Lee Archer, the colony's first important architect. The harsh life reaped a toll on the residents, particularly the convict labourers and there are many stories of ghosts still wandering the dark corridors including that of Curr’s infant daughter killed in an accident. She has been known to tug on the skirts of women visiting the property. If you dare, take the popular night-time ghost tour.

From Smithton, it’s a two hour drive to the remote village of Corinna, a former gold mining town settled in 1881. Today the entire village is a self-catering, eco-wilderness experience with authentic miner’s cottage accommodation, a totally refurbished hotel and river cruises aboard Arcadia II, a magnificent Huon pine river vessel. Kayaking, walking, fishing, bird watching and nature experiences are some of the activities available to guests.

A further 100 kilometres via Zeehan is Strahan, a once thriving lumber town, now a picturesque bayside site overlooking gorgeous Macquarie Harbour. Before Strahan, there was Sarah Island located within the harbour and reputably the worst penal colony in the land. The ruins are still there and "is remembered only as a place of degradation, depravity and woe." (Rev. John West, anti-transportation activist and publisher, 1842). Local historian and author, Richard Davey, conducts semi-theatrical lamplight tours of the island and he almost channels the spirits of the long-dead convicts as you survey the scattered brickwork that once served as shelter for the wretched men. He’ll tell you glee the tale of the men who escaped from the island and turned cannibal and those who seized a boat they built themselves and were eventually arrested in South America.

Complete your experience with a day cruise on the harbour and into the now legendary Gordon River or take the historic steam train to Queenstown, one of the most significant such journeys in the country.

Where to Stay:

Luxury: Voyages Cradle Mountain Lodge
“showcases the best Cradle Mountain has to offer”
http://www.cradlemountainlodge.com.au/ 1300 134 044

Motel: Best Western Murchison Lodge, Burnie
“Your base for a North Western experience”
http://murchison.bestwestern.com.au/ 03 6435 1106

Wilderness: Corinna Cottages
“an oasis in the heart of the Tarkine”
http://www.corinna.com.au 03 6446 1170

B&B: Sealers Cove Restaurant and Accommodation
“well-appointed, comfortable and homely”
http://www.stanley.com.au/ 03 6458 1414

Must-do, Must-see Checklist:

• Lactos Cheese Factory, Burnie
• Dismal Swamp, near Smithton
• Corinna Wilderness Experiences
• Strahan Experiences
• Highfield Historic Site, Stanley
• Hellyers Road Distillery, Burnie

Food and Wine:
Visit Graeme Phillips’s comprehensive and authoritive website:

Getting There
Regional Express flies six times each day from Burnie to Melbourne

For more details on all Tasmania has to offer, visit the official site:

January 08, 2009

Know Howe

by Louise Southerden, ASTW Travel Writer of the Year - Responsible Tourism

First Published: G Magazine, April 2008

It's hard not to be swept off your feet by Lord Howe Island. After two hours of flying over featureless blue, suddenly there it is, an oasis of natural beauty: the twin peaks of Mt Lidgbird and Mt Gower that dominate the island's southern end; isolated northern beaches populated by hundreds of thousands of seabirds and accessible only by sea kayak or on foot; a settlement of 350 locals and just 400 visitors; and a long, blue lagoon bounded by the most southerly coral reef in the world.

Even David Attenborough once wrote that it is "so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable ... Few islands, surely, can be so accessible, so remarkable, yet so unspoilt."

But Lord Howe is not just a pretty face. Because of its isolation, the island is an important site for in situ conservation of many rare and endemic species - almost half its 241 native plant species are found nowhere else in the world; the same goes for both the island's reptiles, a skink and a gecko, and almost a thousand insect species.

According to Ian Hutton, Lord Howe's resident naturalist and author of 10 books about the island (he was also awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2006 for his contribution to conservation and tourism), "People talk about the Galapagos Islands because of Darwin's connection, but there's more diversity on Lord Howe Island and it's so intact - the island is very much as it was when it was first discovered."

Wildlife wonderland

Within an hour of arriving, we'd "rented" (by leaving a donation in the honesty box) masks, snorkels and fins at Ned's Beach and were communing with the fishes. The water was tropically warm, the visibility an astonishing 25 metres. Stepping off the beach, we entered a world of butterfly fish and rainbow-coloured wrasse, green turtles and blacktipped reef sharks, stingrays, clownfish, giant clams, corals and 14 kinds of sea. urchin.

It was like snorkelling through an aquarium. And no wonder: the warm East Australian Current that swirls down the Australian coast flows out to Lord Howe too, where it meets cold southern currents, bringing together more than 500 fish species and 90 different corals. This array of tropical and temperate marine creatures is protected within the Lord Howe Island Marine Park.

Lord Howe is also the best place in Australia to watch seabirds. Almost 170 species have been recorded living on or visiting the island group, and hundreds of thousands of seabirds nest there every year. Between September and March, just by standing on the beach at dusk you can witness a spectacular show: hundreds of muttonbirds skidding ashore then dashing through the palm forest to their burrows.

The day we went birdwatching with Ian Hutton at North Bay, we walked past sooty terns sitting silently on their nests just metres from our sandy feet, then entered a dark forest of Norfolk pines where, looking up into the branches, we saw dozens of nesting black noddies, some within easy reach of human hands.

All the birds seemed supremely unbothered by us. "That's one of the really special things about seabirds on Lord Howe Island," Hutton told us. "The birds have been on this predator-free island for millions of years, so they don't see us as anything but another bit of nature."

Green living

It's tempting, when you find a place like Lord Howe, to wonder: what would it be like to live here? It seems so idyllic. There's no mobile phone coverage and no litter - the morning after the 25h World Heritage anniversary concert, the only sign that a few hundred people had been partying on the grass at Ned's Beach was a couple of pairs of thongs, waiting for their owners to return.

There's also no crime: no room keys, no bike locks and you can leave your belongings safely on the beach while you swim. The locals are friendly too; it's easy to get used to complete strangers waving as you walk or ride by on the island's quiet roads.

It's also something of an eco-community. Green living isn't just a nice idea on Lord Howe; it's part of daily life. The island locals are dedicated to conserving water (supply is rainfall-dependent) and energy (electricity comes from a diesel-powered generator with fuel transported in steel containers to reduce the risk of a spill).

You can go a whole day without seeing a car, or needing one; even local businesspeople get around on bicycles. And transport back to your lodge is included when you dine at any of the island's fine restaurants.

Then there's the recycling system. Every public garbage bin on the island includes a section for food scraps as well as one for recyclables. All the island's organic waste - from homes, restaurants and public bins - plus sewage sludge, and paper and cardboard that has been shredded, go into a Vertical Composting Unit which creates compost that residents use on their gardens. It's the first time such a system has been used in an isolated community with World Heritage status.

Recyclable plastics, aluminium and glass are taken off the island and sold, which helps pay for the freight. Plastics and other nonrecyclables are compacted and shipped to a rubbish tip on the mainland. There's a userpays system to discourage dumping of household junk such as TV sets and old bicycles. And to encourage re-use of containers there's a Co-op store that stocks food and cleaning products.

It's sponsored by the Lord Howe Island Board - the island equivalent of a local council - which reports directly to the NSW Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water.
Lord Howe also leads the world in the eradication of noxious weeds and feral animals. The Board conducts compulsory inspections of people's properties with the goal of ridding the island of noxious weeds. Teams of six to 12 "weeders" go up into the mountains and hills every day to remove cherry guava, the worst weed on the island.

Thanks to $1.8 million in federal funding, in the last two years, 600,000 cherry guava trees have been removed. Asparagus fern, another voracious weed, is targeted by the island's popular Weeding Ecotours.

Since 1999, there have been no feral pigs, goats or cats on the island either, so species such as the Lord Howe island woodhen, one of the rarest birds in the world, have been able to make a comeback from the brink of extinction. The Lord Howe Island phasmid, the world's largest stick insect, is also on its way back. Since its rediscovery in 2001, it has been in a captive breeding program at Melbourne Zoo and will be reintroduced to Lord Howe when rats are eradicated, sometime in the next few years.

Mountain time

On our last day we climbed Mt Gower (875m), the "Everest of Lord Howe", to experience the island's ruggedness first hand. With much of the track unmarked and sections so steep that fixed ropes have been put in to help you climb up (and down) it's no wonder the walk takes a solid eight hours.

But it's worth it. At the top, we were rewarded with views of Ball's Pyramid, a volcanic sea stack which rises eerily from the sea mist 23 km away, and cool cloud forest - Lord Howe is one of only a handful of islands in the world to have a true cloud forest. It's a miniature fairy glen of mosses, ferns and epiphytes, the kind of place Gollum from The Lord of the Rings might inhabit.

That evening, back .at sea level, I stepped outside to savour the night air and the stars. Oh, the stars! The island is so far from any city that the night was star-spangled like a desert sky. As if I needed another reason to love Lord Howe.

Fast facts

Getting there: Lord Howe Island is 700km north-east of Sydney. QantasLink flies daily from Sydney and Brisbane (www.qantas.com.au).

Where to stay: Earl's Anchorage is one of the greenest accommodation options on the island. Its sustainable design ideas are based on lightweight construction and energy efficiency; there's solar hot water, with excess electricity stored in a battery bank, and greywater is treated and recycled on site (02 6563 2029, www.earlsanchorage.com.au). Pinetrees is the oldest and most central guest house (02 6563 2177, www.pinetrees.com.au). At the luxury end of the spectrum there's Arajilla (02 6563 2002, www.arajilla.com.au) and Capella Lodge (02 9918 4355, www.lordhowe.com). Camping is not permitted.

Howe to have fun

• Go swimming, snorkelling or sea kayaking, or take a sunset cruise on the lagoon with Islander Cruises (02 6563 2021) and Howea Divers (02 6563 2290 or visit www.howeadivers.com.au).

• Feed the fish at Ned's Beach; BYO stale bread, wade in up to your knees and hand-feed dozens of metre-long kingfish, wrasse, silver drummer and various other species.

• Explore the island's 11 beautiful beaches, all easy biking distance from town. Ned's Beach was voted Australia's Cleanest Beach in 2004.

• Go birdwatching with Ian Hutton: visit www.lordhowe-tours.com.au. For a calendar of mating and nesting seasons for a number of bird species, see www.lordhoweisland.info.

• Walk one of the island's many trails. Pick up a copy of A Rambler's Guide to Lord Howe Island for $10 from the museum.

• Climb Mt Gower (access is with a licensed guide only). Contact Sea to Summit Expeditions (02 6563 2218, www.lordhoweisland.info/services/sea.htmi) or Lord Howe Environmental Tours (02 6563 2214, www.lordhoweisland.info/services/environ.html).

• Scuba dive more than 50 world-class sites, including Ball's Pyramid, with Islander Cruises and Howea Divers (see above).

• Lord Howe Island Museum is open 9am-3pm Mon-Fri, loam-2pm weekends; public talks 5.30pm on Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday.

More info: Call Lord Howe Island Visitor Information Centre on 1800 240 937 or visit www.lordhoweisland.info

On 17 December 2007, the Lord Howe Island Group - comprising Lord Howe Island, Ball's Pyramid, the Admiralty Islands, Mutton Bird Island and surrounding coral reefs - celebrated 25 years of being World Heritage listed.

Weeding Ecotours run from June to August, removing asparagus ferns in the mornings with afternoons free to explore the island. Visit www.lordhowe-tours.com.au for more information.

January 01, 2009

Top 5 Unknown Tourist Attractions Of the World


If you want to find "Neverland" here is some help with the best secret tourist attractions on Earth. We are sure that you and the others have not heard of them before:

Willunga, Australia: This town in Australia is an hour’s drive towards the south of Adelaide. You will find the town in the McLaren Vale area and its specialty lies in the abundance of Shiraz and other red wines that taste heavenly. The limelight is taken away by Russell's Pizza - a local pizza parlor. The Willunga Farmers Market also offers fresh stuff and the beef found here tastes great, as the cows are grass fed only.

Chapada Dos Veadeiros, Brazil: The 253-square-mile national park in Chapada dos Veadeiros is the ideal place to get refreshed. It gives you all the positive vibes and has a large concentration of natural quartz crystals that are considered to have magical powers. According to most Brazilians, this place has the highest concentrated energy than any other place in the world. The place also makes way for many interesting activities like hiking, swimming, bird watching and waterfall exploration.

Graskop, South Africa: This South African town has a lovely mix of hip artists and traditional Afrikaner farmers. Anyone interested in traditional and contemporary African culture would like to visit this place. You can meet many African groups here and have a taste of their culture. The artistic scene here is colorful due to the recent inflow of Zulu, Shangaan, Swazi, and other African groups that have crept into this area since the end of apartheid.

Weymouth, England: Sandy beaches, cobblestoned streets and Georgian homes of Weymouth run along the English Channel. All those who love this kind of an atmosphere should visit Weymouth for a memorable experience. Weymouth is also one of the best diving spots in the world with waters teeming with Roman shipwrecks, submarines from both world wars and the remains of a 16th-century Dutch sailing fleets. The charm of the English city is superb and it will give you that old English feeling.

Gaziantep, Turkey: The food flavor is wonderful here. It may be normal to have just 4 spices in Turkish food in most parts of Turkey, but here they use at least 15 spices. Do not leave the place without tasting the food here. The dessert's main ingredient - pistachios, are found in abundance in the surrounding countryside.

Six Travellers Who Changed The World Forever

Today, you can circumnavigate the entire world within a day but it has not been like this always. Travelers of the earlier centuries had to get through some of the most difficult routes, encounter deadliest hazards and sail through deep ruffling waters to unknown destinations and that too without food and plagued with unknown diseases. Their unparalleled efforts and ruthless itineraries will continue to inspire and influence the world travelers for generations.

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