July 25, 2011

Struth! New Twist on Security

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says there's been yet another complaint about a woman having her breasts "squeezed and twisted" during a security check at an American airport…

But this time the complainant wasn't a passenger – it was one of the airport's own security staff.

And in an even more bizarre twist – to excuse the pun – the lady against whom the charge was made is 61-years of age, and has become something of an overnight hero across America, with more than 2000 sympathisers responding in 24-hours to a Facebook page set up in her support.

Businesswoman Yukari Mihamae was accused of "squeezing and twisting" the security agent's breasts with both hands after refusing to comply with a passenger screening procedure at Phoenix airport.

After it was made public that Ms Mihamae had been arrested and charged with sexual abuse, her story spread like wildfire with national coverage across America in print and on radio and TV, as Americans become increasingly hostile to what they say are over-zealous and obtrusive x-ray imagings and pat-downs at airports.

And in a surprisingly quick response to the public outrage over her case, just 48-hours after she was arrested, authorities suddenly dropped the charges and freed Ms Mihamae.



david ellis

FOR a highly successful businessman, the American railway magnate Louis Hill could be remarkably indecisive.

But he had a quick eye for a dollar, and it was this that generally saved him from his own indecisiveness.

Thus in the early 1900s his quest for the greenback saw Mr Hill turn his attention to the Canadian Rockies, where he reasoned that there were some quick profits to be had from those enjoying the newly-founded Waterton Lakes National Park in the Province of Alberta.

And to indulge their passion for hunting and fishing in this grand new wilderness, he decided to build them a grand hotel that would cater to their every whim, coupled with a luxury rail service to get them there.

He would call his hotel The Prince of Wales in an unsuccessful bid to have the visiting Prince (later King Edward VIIII) officially open it; it would have 200 rooms with breathtaking views and the sort of service that, whilst not out in the field, would encourage leisurely hours wining and dining in an almost fairy-tale setting.

But although he first mooted his hotel in 1913, between his own indecisiveness and the Canadian bureaucracy, it was not until 1926 that he actually started building it.

And when he was nearly finished the long, low, 3-storied affair with spectacular views overlooking Waterton Lake and Village, Mr Hill suddenly decided he didn't like the look of it.

So he had half of it pulled down, and a fresh start made. Upwards.

Then after a business trip to Europe he decided he didn't like the look of the top of his hotel. So he had that pulled down too, and re-built to look more like a Swiss Alpine chalet. He also increased the size of rooms, in the process reducing their number from 200 to just eighty seven.

And throughout all this, Mr Hill was also struggling with getting his Great Northern Railroad line through the tortuous Rockies.

The mountains, he found, were aptly named, their granite in places almost impossible to dig through. And in the end, with motor-cars and roads fast snaking across the Rockies, he gave up on his rail line nearly fifty kilometres short of its target.

Instead he used mule teams to haul hundred of tonnes of construction materials those final 50kms, including a massive steel-framed window that had been prefabricated in England, and was 3-storeys-high and the full width of the hotel's lobby.

That window is still a highlight of the hotel today, offering diners and those relaxing in the hotel's lounge one of the Rockies' most spectacular vistas.

Violent winds that howled off the lake twice blew the hotel askew, so Mr Hill had steel cables buried in massive underground concrete blocks on one side, run up through the walls, across the loft, and down the other side into equally enormous concrete anchors. The hotel still sways slightly in high winds today, but is certified safe against the fiercest gales.

The ingenious Mr Hill also built a timber mill and carpentry shop at Waterton Village and bought local cedar that he made into furniture on the spot, rather than hauling ready-made stuff hundreds of kilometres by rail, road and mule train; much of this furniture is still in use today, nearly 85-years after the hotel opened.

The Prince of Wales is open from May to early September each year – from October to April the local population dwindles to around just-over 100 hardy locals who see through winter.

Dining at the hotel is still as grand today as Mr Hill envisaged it, with traditional British and Canadian fare, and English Afternoon Tea from 2pm to 5pm daily that is much sought-out by visitors to Waterton Lakes, whether they stay at the hotel or not.

The hotel even has its very own tea blend for this daily ritual.

The Prince of Wales Hotel is a good base for fishing, hiking, horseback-riding, golf and scheduled lake cruising – or just taking-in the views – and is easily accessible by road in summer months. Just accept that it was built in 1927.

Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays have packages to the Prince of Wales Hotel, including air to Vancouver and self-drive to the hotel; phone 1300 79 49 59.


MAJESTIC: The Prince of Wales Hotel commands grand views from its hilltop site overlooking Waterton        Lake and Village amid Canada's Rockies.

HISTORIC Ford 'Jammer' Buses are a novel way of sightseeing National Parks in the Rockies. 

WILD – the area abounds with wildlife, including Bald Eagles that can be seen from walking trails or from boats on the Lake.

(Photos: National Parks Canada)

Originally issued for FOR WEEK BEGINNING 25 JULY 2011

July 19, 2011


David Ellis


SOME more-cynical Americans had a bit of a chuckle when they heard that business magnate Robert McCulloch was buying the 140-year old London Bridge, and shipping it from England to Arizona to attract tourists to a new development he was planning for the middle of the desert.


But they should have known better than to laugh at a man who had made a  fortune from selling the chainsaws that bore his name, and turning the profits of these sales into other equally prosperous engineering and oil enterprises.


Mr McCulloch had heard that the historic circa-1831 London Bridge was to be pulled down and sold because it was sinking into the River Thames, a bit like in the nursery rhyme "London Bridge is falling down..."


Simply, the bridge was the victim of its own immense weight, and as well was succumbing to the burden of tens of thousands of cars, trucks and buses that crossed it every day.


So much so that in 1968 the City of London Corporation knew it would have to replace the bridge. But what to do with the old one?


Enter bureaucrat Ivan Luckin, who came up with the idea that the corporation sell it as an antique, albeit a very large antique.


The idea crashed like a lead balloon, with not a single expression of interest in buying the bridge when it was advertised world-wide. Then Mr McCulloch arrived on the scene, hinting he was willing to part with a sizeable sum to have the bridge help put his Arizona real estate development on the map. 


And when the shrewd American billionaire pointed out that the "antique" bridge London was trying to sell him was only built in 1831, Ivan Luckin had a ready answer.


"London Bridge is not just a bridge," he pointed out in true Sir Humphrey style. "It is the heir to 2,000 years of history. It goes back to the First Century AD. To the Roman times. To when this place was known as Londinium..."


Mr McCulloch was won over, paying US$2.46 million for the old structure, and a further $7.5 million to have it dismantled and each stone block numbered to ensure it was replaced in the correct position.


On top of that he had to ship it across the Atlantic to Arizona.


Folklore has it that McCulloch decided on what he was willing to bid for the bridge by doubling the cost of pulling it down, and then adding $1000 for every year of what his age would be when its reconstruction was completed.


His answer to this? "Hogwash."


And when he rebuilt London Bridge it was not over a river or a creek but on a dry-land peninsula in Lake Havasu, a man-made waterway around which he had planned his project.


Once the bridge was completed in 1971 a canal was dug through the peninsula and under the bridge, and Lake Havasu City and its famous London Bridge were open for business.


But Mr McCulloch and his teamed had actually cheated a bit. To ensure their new tourist attraction didn't sink into the ground like it had in London, a steel framework was first built and this was then clad with the stone from the London Bridge.


And when he found he had some stone left over, the entrepreneurial Mr McCulloch used this to create miniature London Bridge souvenirs which continue to sell in his Lake Havasu City souvenir shops to this day… making one wonder just how much stone was "left over."


Today Lake Havasu City is a thriving community, with many residents originally tourists who had come to see the London Bridge – and become so enthralled with the location, climate and golf courses that they ended up buying homes and settling there.


And despite those cynics who said Mr McCulloch had been duped into buying the pretty ordinary London Bridge and not the famous Tower Bridge with its roadway that opened to allow ships to pass through, it didn't take long for the bridge to become one of Arizona's top tourist attractions.


And to his dying day in 1977, Robert McCulloch insisted he had never believed he was buying the iconic Tower Bridge that still opens two or three times daily so small ships can pass through.



Photo captions:


[] LONDON Bridge as it is today, rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

[] LAKE HAVASU's spectacularly colourful London Bridge at night.

[] EARLY days as the Bridge is reassembled in Arizona in 1971.

[] MEMORIAL to Robert McCulloch (left) and his City Planner, C.V. Wood in

   Lake Havasu.

[] LONDON's Tower Bridge which many claim Robert McCulloch mistakenly

   thought he was buying, but which he denied to his dying day.


July 15, 2011

Qantas Insider: Five Top Scenic Australian Road Trips

Autumn splendour: near Khancoban, NSW (Australian Scenics)

by John Carey | Qantas Travel Insider

From mountain to mulga... enjoy five epic Australian journeys on roads much less travelled, but far more rewarding.

To drag your fingertips across Australia’s textures and grasp its scale, drive. From the soft, red sandhills of the centre to the sharp-edged sea cliffs of the coast, the changes come at a leisurely pace that’s best appreciated travelling, earthbound, at a tempo to match.

Through the windscreen of a car every wrinkle and groove of the continent’s weatherbeaten geography can be seen and savoured.

Three of these long drives are routes between major cities of the east and south. None of them is the most direct, but that’s not what makes an epic. The suggested routes favour corners over straights, two-lane over freeway, hills over plains and scenery over signage.

The remaining two are different. One is a circuit of Tasmania. This verdant island packs more wonderful driving into its compact dimensions than any other part of Australia; from its pretty capital to the majestic tree cathedrals of its wild forests. It’s hard to imagine a drive more different from lapping Tassie than the Gibb River Road in the north of Western Australia. Dusty and often corrugated, prudence rather than panache is needed behind the wheel, but it will be rewarded with seeing some of the most remarkable places this remote corner of the country has to offer.

Before setting out on these trips, be sure to buy a good quality road map. The distances are for the basic route described (rounded to the nearest 100km), not taking any side trips into account.

1. Murray Meander

Adelaide to Canberra: 1800km

Tracing the Murray River from muddy mouth to mountain source is a drive to remember. There are relics of colonial-era endeavour, places where agricultural abundance is coaxed by precious water from arid earth, vibrant towns, sleepy backwaters, cliffs carved by the wandering river, river flat forests and, finally, the big river’s small beginnings beside the continent’s highest mountain. Although the suggested route could be covered more quickly, five days is a sensible minimum to allow. From Adelaide head first to Goolwa, the town near where the Murray empties from Lake Alexandrina into the Southern Ocean. Skirt the lake, via pretty Strathalbyn, to catch the ferry across the river at Wellington.

Through Tailem Bend, Murray Bridge and Swan Reach to the run-down old river-steamer stop at Morgan, then Waikerie, Loxton, Berri and Renmark, the river gradually changes from a place for play to a source of income. Irrigation has made these upriver towns greenly productive, but for a reminder of how naturally dry this part of Australia is, take the dirt road north of the river from Renmark to Wentworth, where the Darling River joins the Murray. Nearby Mildura is a lively regional centre that has developed a reputation for fine food thanks to people such as Stefano di Pieri. Dinner at his excellent restaurant, Stefano’s in Seventh Street, is a treat and his adjacent cafe is a fine place to breakfast before hitting the road again.

Cut across New South Wales to Euston and Robinvale, then continue on the Victorian side to Echuca. This town was once the turnaround point for the Murray’s 19th-century paddle-steamers. You can take a short cruise on a puffing survivor. At Yarrawonga, take the road north of Lake Mulwala to Corowa, site of several conferences that eventually led to Federation in 1901. On the other side of the river, Rutherglen, known for its wines, especially fortifieds, is another good place to stop, rest, eat and drink. After passing through Wodonga, turn right in Albury for Hume Weir. The beautiful road to Walwa follows the south bank of the Murray. Make the short detour into Corryong for good food and espresso coffee at the Pepper Leaf Wine Bar & Restaurant before heading into the hills beyond Khancoban. Tom Groggin is a locality, not a town, and your last chance to dip a toe in the Murray. The road to Canberra, over Dead Horse Gap and through Thredbo, in Mount Kosciuszko’s shadow, then Jindabyne and Cooma, is a real driver’s delight, and a great way to end this meander.

DRIVE: an effortless, Australian-made mile-eater such as the Ford Territory.
STAY: Mildura, Echuca or Rutherglen.

2. Brine & Wine

Melbourne to Adelaide: 1000km

Built to honour Australian soldiers who died in World War I and to provide employment for those who returned, the Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most unusual war memorials. Its 243km length faithfully follows the rugged Victorian coastline through seaside settlements and past spectacular natural landmarks.Reaching the beginning involves a dull 110km freeway drive from Melbourne to Geelong, worth a pause for its attractive waterfront area, and Torquay. But between Torquay and Lorne, the road’s magic begins to unfold.

Eat at either Lorne or Apollo Bay in preparation for walking to the lookouts over the majestic, sea-carved limestone formations, including the famous 12 Apostles, to come on the next leg of the drive, through Port Campbell to Warrnambool. A little further on, strike inland from Port Fairy to take backroads (the C184 and C176) to Heywood. Join the Princes Highway and drive to Mount Gambier. There’s a tough choice to be made at this point between more water, and wine. Sticking by the coast leads to the town of Robe, then from Kingston SE to Meningie along the inland fringe of The Coorong, a desolately beautiful lagoon.

After Meningie turn at Wellington for the drive to Adelaide through the rolling hills around Strathalbyn, or continue to Tailem Bend to join the M1 freeway. Striking north from Mount Gambier, through Penola and Naracoorte to Keith, will take you through the renowned Coonawarra and Padthaway wine regions, birthplaces of many of Australia’s best reds. To not stop for a sample sip would be foolish. At Tailem Bend there are the same options as for those who drove up the coast. There’s a straight and dull drive into Adelaide, or the scenic route through Wellington and Strathalbyn.

DRIVE: Holden Commodore Sportwagon, Mazda 6 wagon or anything that’s fun to drive and able to easily swallow a few dozen of the Coonawarra’s finest.
STAY: Port Fairy, Robe or Naracoorte.

3. Lap of Tassie

Hobart to Hobart: 1000km

It’s no longer a secret that the island state has some of the world’s most wonderful roads, thanks largely to Targa Tasmania, the tarmac rally run annually since 1992 and loosely modelled on Sicily’s legendary and long-gone Targa Florio. But winding roads are only part of Tasmania’s charm. There’s a spectacular coastline, unspoiled wilderness, remnants of Australia’s convict past, as well as pretty cities and towns to see.

This route begins and ends in Hobart, but both Launceston and nearby Devonport, where the car-carrying ferries dock, are viable starting points. Three days are enough to complete the circuit, but five or six are better. From Hobart take the A3 to Sorell. For a 73km each-way side trip to Port Arthur, turn right. Alternatively, drive on through Triabunna and Swansea to Llandaff, jumping-off point for the drive to the Freycinet Peninsula.Continuing north up the east coast, be sure to turn left for the Elephant Pass, a Targa Tasmania stage, leading to St Marys. There are five more stages to enjoy on the road via St Helens and Scottsdale to Launceston. From here head west to Deloraine, Railton and Sheffield to pass the northern edge of the wild Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair National Park.

The road, via Rosebery and Zeehan, to Strahan on the west coast is brilliant. Stay overnight and take a cruise up the eerily inky Gordon River. The challenging climb out of Queenstown through a bare, barren moonscape, a legacy of the town’s mining past, is yet another Targa stage. And the drive back east, through Derwent Bridge, Hamilton and New Norfolk to Hobart, contains several more. In Hobart, stay somewhere close by the dock area. It’s the place to find fine food and woodcraft, something of a Tasmanian specialty.

DRIVE: a real sports car, something with pedigree handling, such as a Porsche 911 (which has a great Targa track record) or a Mazda MX-5.
STAY: Freycinet, Launceston or Strahan.

4. King Gorge

Derby to Kununurra: 700km

Don’t be deceived by the relative shortness of this trip compared with the others; this is easily the most serious drive of them all. Travelling the Gibb River Road across The Kimberley, like any journey in remote Australia, involves Boy Scout-level preparedness. But the rewards are truly exceptional. There’s a magic to this empty, and often dusty landscape, dotted with hidden gorges, pools and waterfalls. And the folk who live here are always welcoming. Directions are simple. Drive 5km out of Derby (there’s only one highway) and turn left onto the GibbRiver Road. Almost 700km later, turn right when you reach the bitumen for the short 50km-plus drive into Kununurra. You’ll drive further than the 700km of this basic route, as the Gibb River Road is simply a starting point
for side trips to The Kimberley’s remote beauty spots. How much further is your choice.

From Derby to Kununurra, the publicly accessible gorges and pools are Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek, Lennard Gorge, Bell Gorge, Adcock Gorge, Galvans Gorge, Manning Gorge and Mt Barnett Gorge. Not all have camping grounds. Choosing to stay under a roof at one of the stations or sanctuaries off the Gibb River Road that have accommodation means more than not having to pitch a tent or unroll a swag. Most allow their guests access to places that aren’t open to the public and some offer organised outdoor activities. Best known is El Questro, near the northern end of the road. Check out others on www.gibbriverroad.net

The Gibb River Road is usable from around May – when post-wet season grading has smoothed it out – to October. Driving at dawn, dusk or night isn’t wise, as the road is mostly unfenced and wildlife can be an issue. Carry spare fuel and water, and stay with your vehicle should trouble strike. Listen carefully to local advice on where it’s okay to swim and where it’s not.

DRIVE: anything wearing a Toyota LandCruiser badge, preferably diesel for longer driving range and better fuel availability.
STAY: anywhere pitching a tent is permitted.

5. The Other Way

Sydney to Brisbane: 1100km

There’s an alternative way to drive from Sydney to Brisbane. It wriggles between the slow-moving Pacific Highway on the coast and the dreary New England Highway inland. These often empty roads swoop and dive over the wrinkles of the Great Dividing Range and occasionally go through charming, out-of-the way country towns. Allow at least two days for this one. Escape Sydney on the M2 tollway.

At Windsor, find the right turn onto Putty Road. Long a favourite of motorcyclists, this road wends mostly through national park wilderness to Singleton in the Hunter Valley. Then aim for Gresford, Dungog and Stroud Road, turning left here for Gloucester. Hunger, thirst or coffee withdrawal are best taken care of in Dungog or Gloucester – both have good cafes. Heading out of Gloucester towards the Barrington Tops National Park, find the right turn onto Thunderbolts Way.

Named for 19th-century bushranger Fred Ward, known as Captain Thunderbolt, this road was dirt until not so long ago. These days it’s bitumen all the way, but relatively unknown. Be sure to pause for the view from Carsons Lookout between Gloucester and Nowendoc, before pressing on for Walcha through forest and farmland. This quiet town has hotels, motels and B&Bs. From Walcha aim for Uralla, then take the New England Highway to Armidale. Leave the highway there and find the road that winds through Ebor and Nymboida to Grafton.

Take the Summerland Way to Casino, turn left on the Bruxner Highway towards Tenterfield, but leave it again near Mummulgum for the pretty road north to Woodenbong. Join the winding Mount Lindesay Highway to cross the NSW-Queensland border and head, via Beaudesert, to Brisbane.

DRIVE: Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Volkswagen Golf or something else smooth-riding, yet agile.
STAY: at Walcha – and for breakfast, try CafĂ© Graze.

July 11, 2011

Struth! GPS to Guide Delhi's Rickshaws

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that drivers are up in arms, but passengers are delighted, with a decision by authorities in New Delhi to order that satellite navigation devices be fitted to all of the city's 55,000 motorised rickshaws.

It's being done to reduce the number of disputes over whether drivers have taken the shortest route possible to their destinations, with the first twenty-five GPS devices being installed on a trial basis this week, and laws coming into force at the end of July making it mandatory for all rickshaws to be similarly fitted.

Passengers, in particular Indians from out of town and tourists, have complained for years about being taken on unnecessarily circuitous routes, so the new devices will be connected to a government monitoring centre in which officials will be able to record routes taken by the rickshaw drivers in the event of a dispute.

The satellite navigation systems will also come with a panic button for female passengers to instantly alert police if they feel threatened or harassed.

Drivers who say they can't afford to buy one of the GPS devices will be able to rent them from the government for a small monthly fee.

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