July 28, 2014

Naked 'savages' shock missionary

David Ellis

WHEN the missionary John Harris arrived off the South Pacific island of Tahuata from England back in 1797, he was horrified by the sight of local labourers coming aboard-ship to off-load cargo near-naked – and worse, accompanied by robust female companions bare-breasted and nothing more than a leaf or two draped from vines around their waists.

And when his ship's milk-providing goats decided that those few modest leaves instantly represented lunch – thus leaving the women equally-instantly naked – missionary Harris lapsed into near-apoplexy.

Yet it was nothing compared to what awaited in those then-heathen Marquesas Islands north of Tahiti. For when he went ashore just days later with a fellow missionary to begin their evangelical work, Mr Harris was greeted by an affable local chief who had set-aside two modest village huts for the men at the behest of white island-traders who'd long lived there.

And he told Mr Harris that as he was going away for several days, in a spirit of friendship he was leaving him his wife "to treat as if his own" whilst he was absent.

Harris, here to protect and not abuse even such heathen souls, was aghast and fled to his hut in horror. But despondent, and "considering herself neglected," the rejected wife called upon female friends to that night, when Mr Harris fell asleep, "satisfy themselves concerning his sex" – doing so in a reportedly "not very peaceable way."

Being so roughly awakened as Harris later said, "by so many enquiring hands," he had been "greatly terrified and alarmed at what they were doing… (and) determined to leave this place where people were so abandoned and given to such wickedness..."

But before he could flee, the women made-off, laughing uproariously, with his outer clothing, leaving the poor man in just his underwear.  Panicked, he re-dressed from his travelling trunk and fled in darkness to the beach in the hope of attracting the attention of his ship still anchored off-shore. Unsuccessful, he was sitting awaiting daylight when a group of local village men came upon him – and for the second time that night, John Harris found himself stripped to his underwear.

A compassionate passing fishermen came to his aid by swimming out to the ship, and a boat was sent to collect Mr Harris. Back aboard, he was described as "being in pitiable condition, like one out of his senses..."

Others aboard had previously, however, questioned his suitability as a missionary in the first place, observing that "he disapproved of every thing (sic,) complained of the poverty on the island, judged the scene before him a solemn one, and seemed entirely to have lost his firmness and ardour."

And while his London Missionary Society companion who had gone ashore with him, William Crook, expressed disappointment at Mr Harris' return to the ship, he wrote in his diary that he was "not shaken by this desertion, (but) it would have greatly increased my happiness to have a friend and assistant who might comfort in time of trouble."

Remarkably Mr Crook remained alone on Tahuata for two long years, at times almost starving to death amongst the islanders who largely ignored him, and then spending four years in Tahiti before sailing to Sydney where he worked tirelessly for his church, including establishing the first boarding-school in Australia. He returned to Tahiti from 1814 to 1830, and on his final return to Australia worked assiduously until his death at 71 in 1846.

After Tahuata, John Harris also spent some years in more-welcoming Tahiti, and moved from there to Norfolk Island in 1800 to become chaplain and teacher within its penal community. He later moved to Green Hills (now Windsor outside Sydney,) before returning to England in 1808 to become a Curate in County Durham.

Tahuata meanwhile dreams on; it's the lowest-populated island in the Marquesas group with just 700 residents, has no airport (the nearest is 4km away on Hiva Oa, with village boats running between the two as required,) a 4-bedroom guest house, but no hotel.

The 3,800 tonne Papeete-based cargo-cum-cruise ship Aranui 3 has a day here for swimming, snorkelling, sightseeing and a picnic lunch on its twice-monthly, 14-day Marquesas voyages with up to 200 holidaymakers; see travel agents about Aranui's unique fly/cruise packages or visit  www.aranuicruises.com.au


[] THE cargo-passenger ship Aranui 3 in a spectacular Marquesan setting. (Aranui
[] DELIGHTFUL beaches await the visitor to the Marquesan Islands aboard Aranui 3
   today. (WikiMedia)
[] PEACEFUL island interiors are now anything but the threat that confronted poor
   missionary John Harris 200-odd years ago. (Tahiti Tourisme)
[] CHURCHES today abound across the Marquesas Islands as the result of the work
   of John Harris, William Crook and other early missionaries. (Tahiti Tourisme)
[] EARLY lithograph of a Marquesan warrior by L. Le Breton in 1846. (The
   Wayfarer's Bookshop)
[] DRAFTSMAN James Webber on Captain James Cook's ship Resolution,
   sketched this early scene in the Polynesian Islands. (The Wayfarer's Bookshop)

Struth! Mowin' em down with this ride-on regatta

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that while most of us see getting out the lawnmower as a chore, there are growing numbers in this country who salivate over their mowers for another reason – they modify and race aboard them at speeds of up to a bizarre 140kph.

The idea of racing around on ride-on lawnmowers goes back to 1963 in America and 1973 in the UK, while in Australia five blokes are said to have decided to race each other on their mowers to the top of a local hill in 1978 – after taking a glass or three at the Harrietville pub in Victoria, and then coasting back down to the bottom.

And as a result of that, says Brian Guzzardi, Public Relations Officer for the Australian Ride-On Lawn Mower Racing Association (AROLMRA,) "lawn-mower racing was born in this country."

Today half a dozen clubs in Victoria, NSW and Queensland boast a-near 200 members who are required by club rules to keep the original bodies of their ride-on's, but can re-work everything underneath from engines to chassis and wheels to enable mowers to reach those amazing 140kph speeds.

Regular meets are held with distance races, sprints and endurance events, while many members also show-off their machines at country carnivals and shows, with funds raised from many of these events going to local community organisations.

And yes, they do remove the blades for obvious reasons; if the idea appeals, www.arolmra.net



[] THEY'RE racing – giving whole new meaning to "getting out the mower."
[] ENTHUSIASTS admire modified ride-on mowers that can reach speeds of up to 140kph.
(Photos: Australian Ride-On Lawn Mower Racing Association)

July 21, 2014

Struth! Americans have this holiday licked


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that in America locals and visitors alike have just licked their way  through more ice cream in 24 hours than any other day of the year.


But it had nothing to do with the heat and possible mid-summer madness, rather to something a lot higher than that – an Official Proclamation in 1984 by the President himself (Ronald Reagan) that the Third Sunday of July of every year was to be recognised forever thereafter as American National Ice Cream Day.


And loyal subjects have been obeying that command ever since, contributing to the $11-billion a year they spend on ice cream, and eating their way through 26 litres per head of the stuff annually. This makes them the world's biggest consumers of ice cream, with New Zealanders, interestingly, in second place at 23 litres per head per year, and Aussies third with 18 lip-licking litres.


And for a bit of trivia, in the late 1800s after the introduction of the first new-fangled "soda fountains," churches criticised the eating of "sinfully rich sodas" in these places on Sundays. In response, soda fountains stopped serving ice cream with soda and flavouring in voluminous tall glasses, and instead offered just ice cream and flavouring in small bowls on the Sabbath – selling their creations as Ice Cream Sundays.


Then later to even further appease the churches, the ice cream parlours got together and jointly changed this name to Ice Cream Sundae… while quietly increasing the size of bowls and serves.






[] ICE CREAM'S wonderful world of flavours. (Wikimedia)


Just a SeaDream



David Ellis


David Ellis is travelling, and this week fellow travel writer, Roderick Eime takes over his reins.


IF good things come in small packages, then when it comes to luxury cruising, SeaDream Yacht Club knows exactly what it's all about.

Launched just a couple of weeks before the calamitous events of 9/11, its founder, Norwegian-born entrepreneur Atle Brynestad, thought he was doomed. But against all predictions, not only did SeaDream Yacht Club survive, it flourished.

I've had my eye on these ships (whoops, 'yachts') for years and when their ground-breaking Asian itineraries were announced last year, I pounced. It was a calculated risk for the regular Mediterranean- and Caribbean-operating line, whose growing legion of repeat guests were asking for new playgrounds to explore. Long time onboard Club Director, Richard Jones, now Thailand-based Business Development Director Asia, joined the Asia-push, overseeing the 13 first-time itineraries that included ports as distant as Yangon, Singapore, Hong Kong, Phuket, Langkawi, Bali, Bangkok and Cairns. 

Constantly lauded by the cruise industry's independent arbiter, the Berlitz Guide, SeaDream has consistency ranked at or near the top of its tables for 'Boutique Ships' category –  and against some pretty stiff competition.

Chatting to repeat 'SeaDreamers,' many of whom count days aboard in the hundreds, they say it keeps coming back to service. Being treated like royalty with your every need predicted, but without being fawned-over or stifled. Our sommelier, Frank, a lively Hungarian with ten years with the company, would address we Australians cheerfully with 'How ya going mayte?" then proceed to elaborate on the salubrious wine list for the evening's fine dining menu in the main Deck 2 restaurant. 

But dining is not limited to Deck 2, and in the balmy evenings a pre-dinner G&T is a perfect prelude to a meal at Deck 5's al fresco Topside Restaurant. From there, it's but a meagre amble up to the Top of the Yacht Bar for outdoor nightcaps.

There are three passenger decks on SeaDream with pricing working upward from Deck 2, but honestly, unless you've opted for one of the suites (and there are just two,) there is little difference except for staterooms on Deck 2 having twin portholes, and all others picture windows. The two suites are the Owners and the Admiral; all 54 others (called Yacht Club Staterooms) are identical, except for those portholes on Deck 2, and with some having inter-connecting internal doors.

Another favourite of repeat guests was the all-inclusive beverages. Super quality wines, aperitifs and spirits are there for the asking. Okay, if you want Dom PĆ©rignon, there's a surcharge but the included drinks would satisfy most discerning tastes and many a late night was had at the Top of the Yacht Bar in entertaining company.

SeaDream might sound like it's only for well-heeled seniors, but on my sailing most passengers were middle-aged or older couples, some with young adult families enjoying true luxury time together. For active types 'water toys' included Jet Skis, kayaks, Hobie Cats and others, and there was a 30-course golf simulator.

To find fault with this well-oiled offering is to appear churlish, but if pressed I would say the bathrooms are a bit tight (especially if you've been enjoying the cuisine) and simple, included shore excursions would be nice, such as city walks led by crew or staff members. The excursions on my itinerary were add-ons ranging from Shwedegon Pagoda ($49) to Bagan by air ($795.) The only included tour was a tender visit to the Sea Gypsy village.


Voyages are typically seven days, some 10 to 14, and with early-booking discounts.

SeaDream II and twin sister SeaDream I each carries a maximum 112 guests and 95 crew, and in the revered Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships 2013,  achieved the top two placings in the 'Boutique Ships' category (50-250 passengers.)


SeaDream II is now in the Mediterranean for its Northern Summer season to October, and specialist cruise-holiday travel agency, Cruise Express has some exceptional prices during this time – for example seven nights from Athens to Rome in October with inclusions detailed above, six ports in Greece and Italy, plus historic Corinth Canal and viewing volcanic Mt Stromboli, starts from US$4726pp twin-share.


Details Cruise Express on 1300 764 509 or visit www.cruiseexpress.com.au






[] SEADREAM II with colourful local boats at Patong, Thailand. (Richard Jones)         

[] THE "surfboard bar" is set up whenever possible in a different bay each day with Champagne and Caviar. (David Ellis)

[] AND quickly SeaDream's guests are lured from beach to that in-water bar….   (David Ellis)

[] STEWARD Severin polishes guests sunglasses as they relax on an Asia beach before a barbecue lunch. (David Ellis)

[] ONE night dinner was a lavish affair on a remote beach, culminating with guests sending Asian "lucky lanterns" aloft into the inky sky. (Richard Jones)

[] AND back on board SeaDream, it was more Champagne and Caviar, of course…  this time on deck poolside. (SeaDream Yacht Club)



July 19, 2014

Emirates largest operator of A380 still remembers the little things



David Ellis


WHILE many a corporation has foundered as a consequence of talking big, but fatally thinking small, one that's conversely proven the success of talking big, and then very deliberately thinking small, is Middle East-based airline Emirates.


First taking to the skies in 1985 with just two leased aircraft, Emirates in less than 30 years has built-up a fleet of more than 210 wide-bodied passenger aircraft – and has orders in for an extraordinary 377 more that'll cost it an almost mind-paralysing 162-billion US dollars.


And today it flies to more than 140 destinations in 80 countries – including 84 services a week from Australia that go either direct from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, or via Singapore, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, to its Dubai home-base, and onwards world-wide from there.


And it also has 29 flights a week from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to New Zealand as well.


While all this perhaps suggests that Emirates is purely about all things big, and yes it does have whole departments doing just that to constantly expand its operations world-wide, it equally has others figuring answers to very-much smaller questions.


Such as answers to what special little treats it can offer those business and holiday travellers between meal-times in plusher First and Business Class cabins in the "pointy end" of its planes – while at the same time, how best to entertain, amuse and occupy all from toddlers to teens, mums, dads, grandparents and solo travellers "down the back" in Economy during long hours in the air.


To make possible the huge number of flights it has, Emirates has spent US$87.3 billion in the past six years alone to make it the world's largest operator of the massive double-deck Airbus A380, with 45 of these giants currently in service and another 93 on order, while its also got no fewer than 124 Boeing 777s in service, 59 more on order, and options for another 20 on top of this.


Yet the breath-taking enormity of all this is balanced by the effort it puts into, in its own thinking, a very special group of passenger. And that's its youngest guests, from the tiniest of bubs to toddlers and teens… those that it hopes will grow up to become life-long Emirates aficionados and frequent-flyers for decades to come.


For the wee-est of these guests the airline carries everything aboard from milk formula and baby bottles to two types of jar food, nappies and bassinets, and for their mums and dads it has fleets of strollers on-hand to help those arriving into Dubai with toddlers.


At the same time to keep kids of all ages amused inflight, widescreen in-seat digital entertainment systems feature a-near-dozen new release children's movies, scores of Disney classics, 30+ dedicated kid's TV channels, 60 hours of others like Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, Fireman Sam, and perennial favourites Tom & Jerry… with special children's-size headphones for a snug fit.


There's even a dedicated Quiksilver channel of surfing and skating programs for teens.


Plus hundreds of music channels feature favourites from One Direction, Demy Lovato and Taylor Swift , to Olly Murs, Little Mix and Justin Timberlake, and for a change in pace, free Inflight Activity magazines called 3,2,1 for pre-school travellers and e-kids for older children that are packed with games, quizzes, stories, puzzles and colour-ins.


Pre-schoolers also get their own 'Fly With Me Monster' toys from a choice of a dozen wrapped around soft polar fleece children's blankets that they can snuggle up with on long flights, (and dubbed Blanket Buddies) or clipped onto seatbelts to encourage safety (Seat Belt Critters.) Kids can take these Buddies and Critters home to start their own Monster Toy collections at flights-end…Emirates giving away an amazing 3.5 million since 2012.


And kid's meals include regular favourites plus Asian and vegetarian options (and dietary meals that can be ordered 24 hours before flights,) with cabin crew trained to assist parents with children, particularly those with several, however they can.


And young passengers can even (with parent's or guardian's permission) sign up to their own frequent-flyer program, earning their very-own points towards free future flights, Apple iPods, games, and the latest fashion accessories.


For more information about flying Emirates with kids, see travel agents, phone 1300 303 777 or visit www.emirates.com/au






[] EMIRATES A380: the airline has 45 of these giants of the skies already in service, and 95 more on order. (Emirates)

[] HUNDREDS of movie, TV, music and other channels are available for children, families and adults to while-away the longest flights. (Emirates)

[] PLAYFUL Fly With Me Monster, Zaive meets-up with a couple of players from AC Milan which Emirates sponsors; Emirates has given away 3.5 Monster toys to young passengers since 2012. (Emirates)

[] CABIN crew give a break to parents of Sophia and Alexander Booth from Bundanoon (NSW) on a flight to London. (Kimberley Booth)

[] COLOURFULLY presented children's meal with playful Monster and zany eyeshades. (Emirates)

[] 3,2,1 is a free children's Inflight Activity magazine packed with games, quizzes, stories, puzzles and colour-ins. (Emirates)


Sourtoe Cocktail hits the spot in Dawson City

David Ellis

WE confess to much hearty research into the skills of imbibing over our half-century or so in this writing game, and certainly it's introduced us to some pretty extraordinary liquid creations over that time.

But it was a colleague who came back from Canada's Yukon recently had us heading to the computer to drop a line to management of the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, to enquire if that colleague was having us on (and thousands of others as well) with a piece she'd written in a journal called The Saturday Paper.

Because in it, globe-trotting Karen Halabi told of parting with ten bucks to tackle the Downtown's most-celebrated drop that's served in its Sourdough Saloon.

And it's called a Sourtoe Cocktail, because it contains just that: a dehydrated, pickled human toe. (We kid you not, and if you're feeling squeamish already, read no further.)

The hotel has been serving this bizarre creation for forty-odd years since a colourful Yukon local, Captain Dick Stevenson found a bloke's wizened toe preserved in alcohol in a jar while cleaning out a remote backwoods cabin in 1973. Captain Dick took the toe along to his local bar to show drinking mates, and after one or seven drinks (no one quite remembers the number) ordered a beer glass full of Champagne – dropped the toe in and drank it… although the fizz only, not the toe.

Not to be outdone his mates followed suit, and the Sourtoe Cocktail was born, to be quickly moved – should we say transplanted? – to the Downtown Hotel as a regular attraction for those possibly heading towards the same state of pickling as the toe.

Local legend says that first toe had belonged to a miner and rum-runner named Louie Liken back in the 1920's Prohibition days. But when he got word that the Canadian Mounties were onto him, Louie fled town on foot, only to succumb to severe frostbite in the snow.

When he returned to town for medical help, doctors amputated a severely-affected toe that Louie put into the jar with alcohol, to be found 50 years later by Captain Dick.

Today visitors line-up at the Sourdough Saloon for a Sourtoe Cocktail, but rather than Champagne, most now opt for a shot of local Yukon Jack Whiskey – complete with added gnarled preserved toe pre-dipped in salt – with the reasoning that a shot's quicker to get it over and done with, than a whole glass of bubbly.

And no, they're NOT encouraged to swallow the toe… in fact there's a C$2,500 charge if they do, as toes are not easy to come by and eight have been swallowed or stolen over the past 41 years.

Those who do take the challenge have to swallow their drink, with a Toe Captain witnessing the toe touching their lips. Their reward is a Sourtoe Club Membership Certificate and Card – over 60,000 qualifying since 1973.

And what's it like joining the Sourtoe Club? As colleague Karen wrote: "A little queasy, I join the small queue of first-time toe-drinkers.

"When it's my turn someone pushes me forward. It's too late to back out. Time stands still as I raise the glass to my lips and close my eyes. There's a slight medicinal odour, I taste salt and a liquor burn, there's a bump against my mouth – then it's all over.

"I'm full of adrenalin, someone shakes my hand…"

And as the next potential Club Member steps (is pushed?) forward, other patrons are clapping and filling the bar with the ritualistic Sourtoe Cocktail Chant: "You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have gotta touch the toe…"

And medicos say there's no harm in participating as the toes have been professionally removed and preserved in medicinal alcohol – while the whiskey's own alcoholic strength would be enough to kill most infections anyway.

Toes for the cocktail have been donated by people as diverse as frost bite victims and a Yukon old-timer who gave two of his in return for his personal nurses getting free drinks at the hotel while-ever he was alive.

And one toe even arrived in a jar of alcohol with a warning note: "Don't wear open-toe sandals mowing the lawn…"

(Read Karen Halabi on theluxetraveller.com )



[] YOU can drink it fast, you can drink it slow: Aussie lady Shirley Hardy-Rix of Doncaster in Melbourne braves the Sourtoe Cocktail (aussieoverland.com.au)

[] FIRST roll your toe in salt... (aussiesoverland.com.au)

[] YOU want me to drink WHAT? This lady is not quite so sure… (lisajackson/eatdrinktravel.com)

[] EIGHT toes have been swallowed or stolen over 41 years, so the hotel needs to advertise for back-up stocks. (Wikimedia)

[] DAWSON CITY's Downtown Hotel – served over 60,000 Sourtoe Cocktails in 41 years. (Downtown Hotel)

[] SMALL town with a big reputation: Dawson City from the air. (YukonInfoCentre)

July 14, 2014

Struth! That's no way to park a Lambo

 IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says a hotel car-park valet in India has been given indefinite leave "to recover psychologically" from having crashed a guest's shiny white Lamborghini sports car – first into the back of another car, and then into a concrete wall.

The valet had moved the car from the Le Meridien Hotel's car park in New Delhi, briefly get out, re-entered the vehicle – and guests watched in horror as he took-off with a lurch, first slamming into the rear of the other car, and then sickeningly into the wall.

The damage bill is said to be around the AU$330,000 mark, with a hotel spokesperson saying the hotel forecourt had been wet from rain when the incident occurred.

"The valet has worked with us for 10 years," the spokesperson said. "He's on indefinite leave until he recovers psychologically… when he does come back to work, we may not put him straight back on valet as he could initially be quite nervous."





[] SORRY sight: the crumpled Lamborghini. (BigBoysToyzFacebook)


July 07, 2014

Cape Romano's forlorn landmark is the end of a dream


David Ellis


RETIRED American independent oil producer Bob Lee was well ahead of his time when in the early 1980s he built a family holiday home at remote Cape Romano on Florida's Marco Island, an almost space-age-like half dozen inter-connecting concrete domes squatting atop sturdy stilts overlooking the beach.


Today curious locals and tourists alike still make their way to the Cape for a look at Mr Lee's handy-work, but rather than coming upon a futuristic marvel, they're confronted with the sad sight of his igloo-like structures now collapsed, graffiti-covered and surrounded by sea – the victims of Mother Nature at her ferocious worst.


When the ever-inventive Mr Lee, a fervent tinkerer, handyman and dreamer, first thought-up the idea of a beachside dome house, he built and perfected a prototype where the family lived 1,100km away in Gatlinburg in Tennessee  –  that prototype still there to this day.


Retiring at just 44 on the wealth from his oil ventures, Bob Lee had to barge everything to Cape Romano for his isolated getaway, including even the fresh water to mix the concrete it would be built from.


And as it evolved, the most bizarre of rumours spread about it: that weirdo cultists living there had it protected 24 hours a day by machine gun-tottin' guards, that it was "a ghostly scary place" ventured close to at your peril – even that it was the work of aliens from another planet.


But in truth the only things bizarre about the dome house were Bob's extraordinarily forward-thinking self-sustaining inclusions, in a period of otherwise gross consumer excess. These included an 87,000 litre (23,000 gallon) water reservoir under one of the domes that was fed by rainwater off it and the other domes, and filtered and used in showers, dishwasher and toilets.


There were also vast solar panels set apart from the house to generate enough electricity to power lights, air-conditioning, hot water heaters, ceiling fans, refrigerator, even a hot tub and other playthings.


And for more-wintry weather Bob Lee devised an under-floor heating system – and for the family's bemusement and convenience, a conveyor to carry logs from a central storeroom, and drop them hands-free straight into the open fireplace in the den.


Yet despite two years completing his amazing structure, and his love of fishing and watching the local colourfully changeable weather, Bob and Margaret Lee and their daughter Janet lived there just two years, selling out in 1984 – only to repossess three years later after the buyer defaulted.


But Bob and Margaret did not move back in, offering it instead to Janet and her-now husband to live in, together with a separate Lee grandson.


Cruelly in 1992 Hurricane  Andrew bore down ferociously on Cape Romano, ripping away the house's outer-two domes from the rest of the structure, yet doing remarkably little other structural damage: as Bob Lee intended,  the hurricane-strength winds simply sweeping around, up and over the rounded-domes.


Worst damage was to the beach, much of which was washed away… leaving the space-age house that once stood inland amid sand and palms, now being lapped by seawater around its two outer-most domes. And when the Lee's sold it once more, unfortunately for the new owner, just a few months later another hurricane, Wilma in October 2005 pounded Florida with devastating 190kmh winds.


This time the house was less lucky. Numerous of its pillars were fractured by the massive seas, the domes subsequently slumped perilously, while wind and rain trashed interiors. And with much more of the beach gone and the house now forlornly stranded "off-shore" over 100m from where it had originally been built, the Environmental Protection Agency and local county authorities ordered its total removal.


But instead of complying the new owner simply walked away, and today the post-apocalyptic-looking remains of the dome house of Cape Romano are purely a curiosity for visitors. "It would break Daddy's heart to see it like it is," daughter Janet (Maples) said recently. "But he always said before he died, that it was worth it for the time he had it.


"It was just beautiful at one time."


(Our thanks to Janet Maples, Marco Island's Coastal Breeze News Editor Natalie Strom and Mila Bridger at Milabridger.com photography for assistance with this article. Cape Romano information: caperomanofl.com)





[] TRAGIC end to pioneering project: the dome house of Cape Romano now totally

   surrounded by water. (Wikimedia)

[] AS it was firmly on land amid sand and palms during construction. (Janet Maples)

[] THE house's once luxury interior. (Janet Maples)

[] AFTER Hurricane Andrew in 1992 washed part of the beach away, leaving the

   house on land and in sea. (Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve)

[] NOW a total write-off. (Mila Bridger)

[] THE house's builder and owner, Bob Lee "a fervent tinkerer, handyman and

   dreamer." (Janet Maples)







Struth! On the nose. Australia's biggest truffle.

TED Smith with his record-breaking 1.172kg NSW Southern Highlands truffle.
IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says the Southern Highlands of NSW has produced Australia's biggest-ever truffle that scaled-in at a whopping 1.172kgs (approx 2.5lbs.)

And Ted and Barbara Smith who own Yelverton Truffles at Robertson 2hrs south of Sydney, didn't even need their truffle-sniffing dog to find this one, because it had forced itself up through the ground amid their 300-plus truffle-inoculated oak trees.

And when their own scales gave up weighing it at 1kg, they had to take it to the local Post Office to get the exact weight there.

The Smith's got calls from chefs around Australia and even Asia keen to buy their outsize "underground treasure," that unlike most truffles that grow to between golf- and cricket-ball size, was more soccer-ball-ish.

But it's not gone to an eatery outside the Southern Highlands: Bowral's Centennial Vineyards Restaurant bought it to use in specialties that'll be on the menu during July, including truffle and scrambled eggs, truffle omelettes and truffle and pasta.

And while no-one's saying how much was paid for this French Black Perigord whopper, truffles can fetch $2,000 a kilogram in this country, suggesting this one would have been worth around $2,350.

Yelverton Truffles have regular Truffle Hunts during the May to August harvesting season, including a PowerPoint lecture, a truffle-dog sniffing-out hunt, and truffle tasting. Details info@yelvertontruffles.com.au or (02) 4885 1924.

FOOTNOTE: The world's biggest-ever truffle was unearthed in Croatia in 1999 and weighed 1.31kgs.

July 05, 2014

Get aboard Vanuatu sailing legend


David Ellis

WHEN they take to the 23m ketch Coongoola for a day of aquatic frivolity out of Port Vila in Vanuatu, it's a fair bet that not all aboard quite realise in what great footsteps of Australia's maritime history they are following.

Nor that was it not for her now-owner, Vila businessman Owen Drew, this grand Lady of the Sea could have been lost forever, robbing both Australia and Vanuatu of an extraordinarily irreplaceable legacy.

For while Coongoola today takes her daily load of fun-seekers out for a look at an environmentally-important turtle hatchery on one island, and then to a private beach for sun, fun, swimming, snorkelling and barbecuing on another – with the odd drink or three along the way – sixty years ago she was involved in more business-like activities.

Because back then Toowoomba businessman, G.H. (Bert) Griffiths had had Coongoola built to take himself with a professional crew, his family and samples of his Southern Cross Foundry's windmills, diesel engines and water pumps to South Africa to crack growing markets there.

And later over 15-months from 1952 into 1954 they all sailed on Coongoola once more, this time for an amazing round-world business-cum leisure trip, so joining just a handful of other Aussies who'd made similar such circumnavigations of the globe at that time, and writing Coongoola further into Australian history.

Then even further on, in the 1960s under new owners, Coongoola became the Radio Relay ship for several Sydney-Hobart yacht races, sailing amid the fleet to pass yacht's positions back to race headquarters in a time before high-tech communications, and to go to the rescue of those in trouble – cementing her even more into Australia's maritime history and folklore.

The British Government later bought Coongoola to ferry field staff around it's-then British Solomon Islands Protectorate, before replacing and virtually abandoning her in the early 1970s without a skerrick of thought to her extraordinary history. That's when Owen Drew found her in forlorn condition, her grand masts cut off so she could be loaded to the hilt as a motorised trading vessel, and with an amazing 27 coats of paints slapped one on top of the other over almost as many years.

With his love of boats and knowing Coongoola's heritage, Drew – who at that time ran dive and fishing charters in the Solomon's – bought the tragic hulk, painstakingly removed the 27 coats of paint, got hold of new masts, replaced rotting planks, and swung her into his dive and fishing charters.

He also contracted to assist with Coongoola in a 4,800km survey of the Solomon Islands' Economic Zone, before sailing off to the newly-independent Vanuatu (previously the New Hebrides,) which had invited him to train locals there in internationally marketing their country's copra, cocoa and kava crops.

When that contract ended he stayed on, developing various business interests, but with his heart firmly within the sturdy mahogany, spotted gum and ironbark hull of Coongoola.

Today, day-trippers are collected by mini-bus from their Port Vila hotels and taken the 40-minutes to Coongoola's anchorage in Havannah Harbour where the American fleet was assembled for 1942's Battle of the Coral Sea.

From there Coongoola sails first to Drew's Tranquility Island Resort on Moso Island, a somewhat Robinson Crusoe eco-getaway offering island-style accommodation with Western facilities, professional Padi dives and courses, snorkelling, canoeing, kayaking and beach- and bush-walking for those staying there, and to show Coongoola's day-guests it's breed-and-release hatchery that's helping rebuild endangered hawksbill turtle numbers.

Then it's over to another island and Coongoola's exclusive Hapi Tok Beach – so-named after the beach in the movie South Pacific, based on James A Michener's Tales of the South Pacific which he wrote after Pacific War service in Vanuatu with the Marines.

Here there's swimming, snorkelling in electric-blue waters over rainbow-ed coral reefs, laying-back in sun or shade, indulging a grand beach barbecue of steaks, island-style sweet-potato curry and salads… and with an ice-box at hand throughout the day with beer and soft-drinks payable via an honesty-box.

And finally before leaving Hapi Tok Beach, feeding thousands of now-tame fish that daily turn-up on cue for lunchtime's left-overs…

The whole highly-memorable day including transfers, land and water activities, snorkelling equipment and lunch, costs approximately AU$120pp at current exchange rates. Details from travel agents or www.southpacdivecruise.com.vu



[] UNDER sail on historic Havannah Harbour, Vanuatu – where the Americans
   massed their fleet for 1942's Battle of the Coral Sea.

[] SNORKELLING over rainbow-ed coral reefs off Hapi Tok Beach.

[] OR just lazing back in sun or shade.

[] LUNCH is on: a bountiful beach barbecue is included in the day's outing – with
   thousands of tame fish turning up for lunchtime's left-overs.

[] COONGOOLA's owner, Owen Drew still finds time to escape from the office for
   an occasional "drive" and to meet guests.

[] AS Radio Relay ship for the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race in the 1960s.

(Photos: Or lazing back in sun or shade – Vanuatu Tourism Office; all other images South Pacific Cruise & Dive)




Struth! World's narrowest house a hit

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says Warsaw in Poland is claiming title to having the world's narrowest house – it's just 72cm (28ins) at its narrowest point and 122cm (48ins) at its widest, and is jammed into an alleyway between two huge commercial buildings in Warsaw's once Jewish Ghetto district.

Architect Jakub Szczesny designed the home as part of a cultural event supported by the City Council, propping it on legs as an "elevated insert" between its imposing neighbours; access is by way of a stairway that leads direct into a diminutive kitchen with adjoining bathroom and ensuite, and from the kitchen a ladder goes up to a bedroom just big enough for a wall-to-wall single bed and a desk, while a 45-degree sloping glass roof allows light into the place (that otherwise has only one tiny window.)

And after trying to envisage just who could live in such seemingly-impossible confinement, and deciding that it would be someone who liked to spend time alone, the house is being provided free to visiting writers doing research work in Warsaw.

Originally intending to keep the house for just two years as somewhat of a curiosity and publicity-generator, the Council says that if sufficient writers want to visit Warsaw to research projects they are writing about the city, they may keep "the world's narrowest house" permanently for these writers' short-term stays.

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