November 30, 2009


THE Ilikai Hotel Waikiki: opening scene for every episode
featured a camera zoom-in of super-sleuth
Steve McGarrett on the central top-floor balcony
david ellis

WE'VE never been averse to making dopes of ourselves in the cause of a good yarn, so the spectacle of us being loaded into the back of a police car in Honolulu was somewhat par for the course.

And a source of obvious bemusement amongst fellow hotel guests awaiting more normal means of transport.

That was way back in 1990, and we were reminded of it recently when word leaked that Hollywood's CBS was to pilot a re-make of one of TV's most successful-ever police series, Hawaii Five-0.

Our 1990 visit to Honolulu had been, amongst other yarns we were seeking, to search-out Jack Lord who'd played Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-0 for twelve years from 1968.

And we need not have worried about any difficulty in finding him: unlike most former stars, he was openly listed in the Honolulu phone book. And he happily agreeing to an interview that very day – even suggesting we do it at his favourite Chinese restaurant, and offering to send his car around to save us having to catch a cab.

So a couple of hours later we're standing with those other guests outside our Waikiki hotel, with no idea which the star's car may be amid the endless line of family autos, taxis and stretch-limos rolling-in to collect their human cargoes.

And a police car.
THE Five-0 team, a mix of professional actors
and mates of Jack Lord who did it for the fun of it

This of course quickly becomes the focus of everyone's attention, including our own, particularly when an attractive lady in full police uniform steps out. And the more-so when she enquires: "Anyone here Ellis?"

Scarlet-faced we raise a limpid hand, and nervously croak: "I'm Ellis."

"Please come with me," she says, opening the car's back door and ushering us aboard - now the focal point of a suddenly growing crowd of gawkers, each no doubt secretly appraising our potential demise.

And along the way to Diamond Head where Jack Lord lives, the lady tells me that No, she's not really wearing a police uniform, it's a replica. And No, the "police car" is the last of several used by McGarrett in Hawaii Five-0, and allowed by the Governor of Hawaii to be used on the road by Lord after the TV series ended – a "Thank You" for the enormous publicity Five-0 had generated for Hawaii.

Lunch proved rewarding, even if every question we put was interrupted by other diners seeking autographs. And never once did Jack Lord deny the 30, 40, 50 or more requests put to him, scribbling on paper napkins, pages from our dwindling notebook, and even on cigarette packets "Aloha (name of person) – Jack Lord."

And what did we learn about Jack Lord the man, and Hawaii Five-0 the series?

Firstly he admitted he'd got the star role of McGarrett by default. It had been offered to Gregory Peck who'd declined, and Lord was then invited to cast for it on a Wednesday, was told he had it two days later, and was shooting the first episode in Honolulu the next Monday.

"It was some week!" he recalled.
JACK LORD – only actor to appear in
all 278 episodes of Hawaii Five-0

Jack Lord was the only actor to play in all 278 episodes, the others being a mix of professionals for varying periods, including Khigh Dheigh who played McGarrett's arch-enemy, the evil Chinese agent Wo Fat, and James MacArthur (McGarrett's side-kick "Dano" Williams throughout most of the series.)

Others included mates of Jack Lord who did it for the fun of it – one, veteran Honolulu Police Officer Kam Fong, played one of McGarrett's team, Chin Ho for ten years between his real police duties.

And Chin Ho, Lord told us, was named after another of his mates who owned the Ilikai Hotel on Waikiki – scene of each episode's opening shot in which a helicopter camera zooms-in on McGarrett on a top-floor balcony – while Wo Fat was named after a Chinese Restaurant in downtown Honolulu, and is still there today.

Fast-forward now to 2009. CBS has engaged veteran writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci ("Transformers," "Mission Impossible III" and "Star Trek") to script the pilot for a potential new series of Hawaii Five-0, which will have McGarrett's son Chris succeeding his famous dad as head of the Hawaiian State Police.

And, yes, if a new series goes ahead, it'll include McGarrett's now pop-cult catch phrase, "Book 'em Dano" with each episode's final scene arrest.

STRUTH! Worlds Largest Cruise Ship


IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says the world's newest and largest cruise ship will give trivia buffs plenty to play with – and port authorities equally plenty to ponder over as they work out how to get more than 5000 passengers off and back on again in one day in ports of call.

The 225,000 tonne Oasis of the Seas cost US$1.5 billion and a further US$75m was spent on revamping a pier at Fort Lauderdale in Florida for her exclusive use.

She is nearly five times larger than the Titanic, 360m long (longer than three-and-a-half football fields,) 47m wide (greater than the distance between a Boeing 747's wing tips,) while her 20-storeys rise 72m above the waterline.

And so she can get under bridges that would normally bar her way, her funnels retract telescopically into her interior.

Oasis will normally carry 5400 passengers, but can carry as many as 6360, so if you don't want to run into someone for a second time, it will be easy enough to avoid them. She has 21 swimming pools and Jacuzzis and two artificial sand beaches complete with surfing simulators, an ice rink, two rock-climbing walls, basketball and volleyball courts, a real-grass chip and putt golf course and gardens with 97 varieties of living trees, shrubs and flowering plants.

There's a boardwalk surrounded by restaurants and a 'fun park' with full-size carousel, and the whole ship is divided into seven "neighbourhoods," much like theme parks with various specific attractions in each. These include a mini, mini New York Central Park overlooked by dozens of the ship's cabins and staterooms, with zippy flying fox running over its full length.

Six diesel engines generate 13,000 horsepower to drive the electric motors and provide power throughout the vessel – that's distributed via 5280-kilometres of electrical cabling and 100,000 power points.

Ice-making machines can produce 50-tonnes of ice every 24hrs for the 37 bars and 20 cafes and restaurants… which will use 60,000 serviettes a day.

Passengers and crew will use 2,350,000 litres of water a day that will be stored in 31 vast inboard reservoirs, and a sweet shop will stock 72 different types of confectionery.

And the casino has no fewer than 450 poker machines, and 600,000 litres of paint went into decorating the ship.

And a final note for trivia buffs – huge as she is, Oasis of the Seas has no rudders: she is powered by three stern-mounted azimuth thrusters that each contain an electric motor driving a 6m propeller, and which can be rotated during docking, a process assisted by four 7380hp bow-thrusters.

Oasis of the Seas was launched last month in Finland and will sail her maiden passenger voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Haiti this week; she'll begin regular Caribbean cruises from mid-December.


November 28, 2009

STRUTH - All Bets are Off in Catalina's Casino


IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS says that despite what The Four Preps assured us, Catalina Island is not twenty-six miles across the sea, but in fact 22-miles miles (which means its not forty kilometres in a leaky old boat, but thirty-five kilometres.)

And it's full of life's little mysteries. The main town, Avalon has a Third Street but no First or Second Streets, the Post Office doesn't deliver the mail (but if you ask the home-delivery grocer he'll pick it up for you,) and the local cabs deliver for Avalon's pizzerias.

It's also got an official Bird Park that was once one of the biggest in America, but today its aviaries are empty and people go there to walk and cycle

There's a multi-million dollar 'wedding cake' art deco Casino that despite its name has never been used for gambling but only for dances, dining, movies and concerts, and the 4000 locals are outnumbered 250-1 by 1,000,000 visitors a year.

Local legislation limits the number of cars and trucks on the island, and to get around this the locals drive golf buggies – of which there are more on the roads than all other kinds of motor vehicles combined.

And no one knows why Catalina Island's Constitution is the only one in America that was written in pencil rather than in ink.

Actress Natalie Wood drowned off the island in 1981, actor Phil Hartman was murdered there by his wife in 1988, Winston Churchill once caught a marlin off the island, and a local 1930s disc jockey went on to become one of America's most successful actors with 53 movies to his credit – and after that, President of the United States.

His name was Ronald Reagan.


david ellis

OWNERS of nags that have won the Melbourne Cup haven't always been the most appreciative types when it's come to accepting their prizes – but then they didn't get what owners do today when their steeds win the richest handicap horse race in the world.

In fact when Toryboy won the Cup in 1865 his owner was so horrified with his trophy that he sold it.

And in the early 1890s others growled when their 'cups' turned out to be not grand gold or silver affairs to show-off on the mantle-piece, but rather bone-china types for taking tea.

And John Mayo whose horse Lord Nolan won the Cup in 1908 didn't even get a cup at all: he got a near-metre long wooden plaque atop a garish red base, and on which was mounted a silver silhouette of a galloping horse – that local wits reported looked more like a galloping greyhound.

While somewhat bemused, Mr Mayo accepted his winnings in good spirit from the Governor-General – to whom he'd earlier given a tip that Lord Nolan would win the Cup – and took his horse and his trophy home to Newcastle.

Another of the more unusual Melbourne Cup trophies was that won by Mentor in the Centennial Year 1888. It comprised three silver horses on a silver-plated base, the lot weighing 280 ounces (nearly 8kg) and costing around $5000.  When it sold at auction in 1987 it fetched a whopping $177,000.

In some years there were no trophies at all, just cash, and from 1942 to 1944 Cup winners were awarded War Bonds.

The first Melbourne Cup winner's prize in 1861 was a gold watch. It was won by the owners of the great Archer which had been walked 800km from Nowra to Melbourne by a group of stable-hands, a journey that took three weeks – and the horse won again the following year, but this time got to Melbourne by steamer.

The first owner to publicly criticise his Cup trophy was Mr B.C. Marshall, when his Toryboy won the 1865 race.

The outspoken Melbourne draper told Victoria Racing Club officials his $200 silver bowl topped with a horse and rider was "a monstrosity," and promptly sold it to the Flemington Hunt Club which inscribed it with the names of winners of its annual Hunt until Melbourne ran out of foxes.

Melbourne stockbroker W.T. Jones was the first 'tea- and coffee-cup' recipient when his horse Bravo won the Cup by a length from the formidable Carbine in 1889. As well as a purse of cash, his prize contained a set each of cups, saucers, tea and coffee pots, presumably so he could have folk around to discuss Bravo's success.

Similar packages continued to be awarded over the next few years, prompting one outraged owner to tell the Melbourne Press that such trophies were "to the proper glory of the Melbourne Cup as flat soda water is to live Champagne."

The controversial prizes were replaced by more conservative trophies in the early 1900s, after Mr Mayo received that somewhat cumbersome plaque for Lord Nolan's win.   

Mr Mayo had never doubted his horse would win the Cup, and on a tram from his Melbourne hotel to the race track proffered such advice to anyone listening – and at the track, to Governor-General, Lord Dudley.

After the race, the G-G confided how "a strange, grey-headed old man told me before the race that Lord Nelson would win; I took little notice – then to my astonishment he came up to collect his prize."

By the 1920s a 'loving cup' design had been permanently adopted; today's gold cups are valued at around $190,000 each – and for good measure come with cash components for first, second and third place winners comprising a cosy $5.5m.

Little wonder the race now attracts starters from England, Ireland, Japan, the USA, Germany and the UAE.

HOOFNOTE: Most successful Melbourne Cup trainer, Bart Cummings has had eleven winners, while jockeys Harry White and Bobbie Lewis share riding honours with four wins each.

And the legendary Phar Lap that was bought for a mere $330 and earned over $100,000 in prize money, won only one Melbourne Cup from three starts – in 1930. Race-fixing criminals had tried to shoot him four days before the race, and he later died of arsenic poisoning.


[] JOCKEY Glenn Boss rode Makybe Diva to Melbourne Cup victories in  2003, 2004 and 2005

[] THE mighty Phar Lap: one only one Melbourne Cup just days after race-fixers tried to shoot him – and he later died of arsenic poisoning.



Captain Berg on the fly-bridge of SeaDream I
david ellis

IF ever there's a bloke can say he's got the sea in his veins it's a Norwegian named Valter Berg.

Captain Berg is a man of the sea, by the sea. His father was a sea captain, and his father's father one, too. And his father's father's father was one before that.

His uncles were all sea captains and his two brothers both still are captains at sea.

So it was only natural that Valter would become a sea captain.

But he can boast something beyond the reach of the others: he was born on the sea.

The Berg family lived on one of Norway's off-shore myriad specks of land just under the Arctic Circle, a miniscule dot that bravely called itself an island and was home to a handful of families.

His father was skippering his small freighter on a run to the Middle East at the time his pregnant wife went into labour, and so Valter's uncle came to the rescue – rushing his fishing trawler to collect his sister-in-law from her island home and get her to a mainland hospital.

But the young Valter was already impatient for a life at sea, and came into the world before his uncle's fishing boat – its engines running hot – reached the mainland.

Today, aged 62 Captain Berg can look back at a colourful life both on the sea and under it: not only has he worked on fishing trawlers and cargo ships and passenger liners since officially going to sea at age 15, he did his compulsory Norwegian Navy service aboard a submarine.

When he first began his working sea career Valter was happy to initially enjoy the trawlers on which he worked; at a remarkably young 24 years of age he was officially appointed a captain, and went on to command freighters on which he expected he would happily work out the rest of his days.

But one day 20-something years ago he got a call from a cruise company that had affiliations with the freighter line for which he was working: one of its small 5-star cruise ships had lost a captain to illness while visiting Sydney in far off Australia.

Could Captain Berg come to the rescue and take command so the cruiser could continue its Pacific cruise?

He jumped at the idea as something of a change – a change that was in fact to alter his entire life.

After successfully completing the Pacific cruise, Captain Berg was asked if he would be interested in joining the luxury Seabourn Cruise Lines that was owned by a fellow Norwegian, Atle Brynestad and which included in its fleet two boutique motor-yacht-cruisers, Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II that carried just over 100 guests each in absolute indulgence.

Captain Berg knew that the small Seabourn was about to merge with the goliath Cunard Line and accepted the offer.  But in 2001 Cunard decided bigger was better, and to "let go" of the diminutive two Sea Goddesses in favour of mega-liners.

Brynestad, horrified at the perceived-error of their ways, bought back his beloved Sea Goddess motor yachts from Cunard, relinquished his interest in the company, and founded SeaDream Yacht Club, re-naming the Sea Goddesses as SeaDream I and SeaDream II.

They're now the world's highest-rated boutique mega motor-cruisers, carrying just 112 guests each served by 95 crew in uber-5-star indulgence that eschews Black Tie Formal in favour of Country Club Smart Casual.

But now after over two decades of SeaDreaming, Valter Berg has decided that in May of next year he'll roll up his charts on the bridge of SeaDream I for the last  time.

"No," he admits. "It won't be easy. I was born on the ocean, the ocean is part of me – and I am part of the ocean."

But he's got a nice little flat back in Norway that he's long planned to "tinker with and finally give myself a permanent home," his son Valter Jnr is at university – and his daughter Janelle is a backstage photographer with Australian country musician Keith Urban.

And after a lifetime at sea does he have any regrets?

"Yes," he confesses sheepishly. "After all those lifeboat drills I ordered for ships passengers and crews, I'm glad we never had an emergency.

"Because in 47 years at sea I never learned to swim."


Holman Estate house provides an escape from the Hunter’s touristy hustle and bustle.
TRANQUILITY: Holman Estate house provides an
escape from the Hunter's touristy hustle and bustle

David Ellis and John Rozentals

IF getting it right in real estate jargon means position, position, position, then it's a safe bet that the Hunter Valley's Holman Estate guest house is one place that's got it right.

Located right in the middle of the parish of Pokolbin, itself the very heart — geographically, historically and spiritually — of the valley's renowned wine country, Holman Estate has that position, position, position…

From it's broad verandah you can look across the estate's own vineyards to the corner of Broke Road and McDonalds Road, where Hunter Valley Gardens rubs shoulders with Brokenwood Wines and the futuristic Tempus Two. Or take-in the Valley's magnificent landmark, the oh-so-Australian, Brokenback Range.

A 10-to-15-minute drive will have you sipping reds, whites, sparklings or fortifieds at several dozen wineries, almost as many restaurants in which to dine, and a range of galleries, craft-shops and antique dealers to browse and buy. And if you don't want to drive, it's just a stroll across the driveway to Scarborough Wines, recently named as having the Valley's best cellar door,

Yet for its seemingly busy surroundings, there's a tranquillity that appears to remove Holman from the touristy hustle and bustle normally associated with the Hunter. It's silence is interrupted only by the few vehicles that make their way to the end of Gillards Road.

The house's boutique accommodation is of a quite grand scale for three couples in double bedrooms, with twin beds in another room and an option of two pull-out single beds in the billiards room if you've maybe a large family or group of friends staying for a couple of nights.

Part of the Mount Eyre Vineyards, the property also includes the Three Ponds Vineyard which was established in 1999 by the Iannuzzi and Tsironis families, migrants respectively from Italy and Greece and with a naturally goodly amount of wine culture in the their blood.

They have created magnificent gardens around the hilltop Holman house, which has been lavishly furnished to reflect their love of fine art.

The long, painting-lined hallway leads past the bedrooms to an enormous combined lounge and dining area whose plush furnishings and huge fireplace provide the feel of a European chateau.

The modern kitchen has top-of-the-line appliances and all the utensils required by even the most ardent foodie.  Essentials such as tea, coffee, sugar, olive oil, etc are provided, and there's a supply of Mount Eyre wines to help yourself to on an honour system,

And then, of course, there's the billiard room. The table isn't full-size but it's a  good one for a few games of after-dinner billiards, snooker and pool – and best of all, there's no slot marked "insert coins here".

It's easy to spend a few days relaxing in the house and doing some touring without having to leave Gillards Road: at the end of the road is the small tasting room of Constable Estate — surrounded by immaculate parklike gardens that include more than 70 varieties of camellias, separate rose and herb gardens, and an impressive sculpture garden featuring work by prominent Australian artists.

The latest addition here is a larger-than-life bronze of renowned English cellist Jacqueline Du Pre.

At the other end, where Gillards Road intersects with McDonalds Road, is Il Cacciatore, which for seven of the past eight years has been named the Hunter's best Italian restaurant in the Restaurant & Catering NSW Awards for Excellence. They're still trying to figure out what happened in 2006.

Run by Mark and Noreen Gottaas, it's part of Hermitage Lodge, and executive chef Michael Haines has put together a scintillating menu of Italian-inspired delights, including his speciality of pan-fried gnocchi with local chorizo, roast pumpkin, wild rocket and basil pesto.

And after lunching here on a Saturday or Sunday you can always do a tasting at Scarborough as you toddle the few minutes back to the house.

Tariffs at Holman Estate range from $1350 to $1800 for two nights for eight adults, and the bonus is that with the vast living and entertainment space you don't feel like you're living out of a suitcase in a motel room.

For further information: Holman Estate — visit  or phone 0438 683 973.

Constable Estate —

Il Cacciatore —

Scarborough Wines —

Photos courtesy of Sandra Burn White

November 24, 2009

STRUTH - Dial a Lama


IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says it's easy to see why journalists seeking a quick scoop should take a moment to check the facts.

When a recent radio news report in Johannesburg said the Dalai Lama was reportedly seen in rural South Africa and speculated he was on a secret mission to was to seek South African government support, a suspicious local newspaper went to the town in which the holy man was supposedly staying during his "negotiations."

As our photo shows, the radio station should have taken the same investigative response as the newspaper before going to air…

November 04, 2009

The 7 Deadly Sins of Travel

By: Lucy Corne -

If you travel often I’m sure that at some point you’ve found yourself listening to a fellow backpack-toting wanderer berate his peers for not being ‘good travellers’. But really, is there such a thing as a good traveller? I mean, it’s hardly rocket science is it? Jumping on and off trains, packing and unpacking your bag or finding a place to sleep for the night – not endeavours that require any specialist skills.

Of course, while the nuts and bolts of travel are easy to master, there are always a few ways that you can screw up, ways to offend your hosts or make other travellers cringe. Whether you’re a novice nomad or a seasoned explorer, you’re still at risk of committing one of the seven deadly sins.

I’m not talking about the list of seven you might remember from high school Religious Ed class. Sloth is practically a pre-requisite for a long-term backpacker and what’s a food market without a little greed and gluttony? Scratch pride, wrath, lust and envy from your guilt list – if you’re planning to globetrot, the list you need to worry about covers the seven deadly sins of travel.

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