December 24, 2015

Sir George Hubert Wilkins: Over the Top of the World


from 'The Aviators' by William Joy (Shakespeare Head Press, 1965)

GEORGE HUBERT WILKINS of Adelaide notched another "first" for Australia when, in 1928, with American Ben Eielson as pilot, he flew over the top of the world from Point Barrow in Alaska to Spitzbergen in the Norwegian isles north of Finland. Born in 1888 at Mount Bryan East, South Australia, and educated in engineering at the Adelaide School of Mines, Wilkins led a life of constant adventure. As far back as 1916, when he ended three years as photographer and second-in-command of Vilhjalmur Stefansson's Canadian Arctic Expedition to join the Australian Flying Corps, he had dreamt of exploring the icy Arctic wilderness in aeroplanes, chancy and unreliable though they then were. With Stefansson, Wilkins learned to live like an Eskimo. He tramped more than 5000 miles with the expedition and became as much at home on ice as an Arctic seal.

From the Flying Corps Wilkins was seconded as official photo­grapher to the Military History Department, in which capacity he was wounded several times taking photographs in battle. Having won the M.C. and bar, he flew with Val Rendle, Reg Williams and Gar Potts in the first England-Australia race in 1919, navigating the Blackburn Kangaroo aircraft which crashed in Crete. In 1920, Wilkins was second-in-command of a not-too successful British Imperial Expedition in which he helped survey part of the Antarctic coastline, then joined Sir Ernest Shackleton's last Ant­arctic Expedition as naturalist and photographer. Switching back to the sun, he roamed tropical Australia for two adventurous years collecting natural history specimens for the British Museum.

Now (1926) aged 38, he returned again to his earlier dreams of exploring the Arctic from the air and of being the first to fly from America to Europe by the polar route. With his own savings and financial help from Australian friends, Wilkins sailed for America to seek backing there for his polar plans. The City of Detroit voted him a substantial sum. With this and 25,000 dollars from a North American newspaper Alliance for exclusive news coverage of the flight, Wilkins had enough to buy two Fokker aircraft-one tri-motor, the other single-engined. His old Arctic commander, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, put him in contact with Dakota-born 28-year-old Carl Ben Eielson, a crack young "bush pilot", thus forming a partnership that ranks high in Arctic ex­ploration and aviation history.

Sir George Hubert Wilkins
Sir Hubert Wilkins (publicity photo)
At the beginning, it looked as though their plans were hoodooed. Both aircraft crashed during tests. Before they could be repaired the Arctic fogs set in and forced them to postpone the big attempt for a year. To make things worse, their press agent, Palmer Hutch­inson, walked into a spinning propeller and was killed, and Wilkins himself broke an arm man-handling an aircraft out of a snowdrift. All they could hope to do that first year was to ferry stores and fuel to their base at Point Barrow, by dog team, snow tractors and by air, in which they flew over rugged snow-bound mountains, never before seen by man.

In March 1927, Wilkins and Eielson, with two new planes were ready for another aerial attack on the Arctic. Admiral Richard Byrd, the American, had forestalled them to some extent by fly­ing from Spitzbergen to the North Pole and back in 1926, but the whole of the Arctic north of Alaska was still unexplored, and no one as yet had flown from one Continent to another over the North Pole. Most experts declared it just could not be done.

Wilkins decided to start his 1927 programme with a 600-mile flight towards the pole to see if there were any substantial stretches of land or islands still waiting to be found in the vast wastes of ice and snow. They took off from Point Barrow with a blizzard on their tail and were going well 550 miles out when the engine fal­tered. Rough ice lay beneath them. There was nothing much they could do. They just had to risk a landing. Eielson eased the plane down. The ice held. She skidded along on her skis and came gently to rest in the first landing ever made on Arctic ice.

While Eielson fixed the engine, Wilkins cut a hole in the ice and made a sounding with a listening device and dynamite. He found the ocean mote than three miles deep at that point. They took off and again were forced down. They worked on the engine for some hours in sub-zero temperatures in which four fingers on Eielson's left hand froze. Black clouds blocked the light when at last they were airborne again. Now they were battling, a gale-force headwind without a chance of getting back to base before their fuel ran out. They were not surprised therefore when the engine cut out. Eielson felt his way down to a landing. The wing tip struck an obstruction and spun the plane into a snowdrift.

Neither Wilkins nor Eielson was hurt. For five days they sat out the blizzard in the cabin of their plane, resting snugly in their sleeping bags and living comfortably on their emergency rations of pemmican, biscuits, chocolate, nuts, raisins and malted milk tablets. Then, with a pocket compass and two watches, they set out to walk nearly 100 miles across the ice, back to civilisation. Carrying rifles and with 30 lb. of food bundled with their instru­ments into sleeping bags, they trudged, stumbled and, in some places, crawled southwards over the ice. Eielson, in constant pain from frostbite, plodded doggedly along with Wilkins. Tragedy was near when the ice gave way under Wilkins while he was skirting a lead of open water. He managed to scramble, soaked to the skin, on to firm ice. Only his knowledge of Arctic lore prevented him from freezing to death. After 13 days of privations, the two men reached a trader's house on Beechey Point, a few miles from Port Barrow. Eielson was taken at once to hospital where surgeons amputated a finger from his frost-bitten hand.

Again Wilkins was forced to postpone his main objective, a flight over the Pole from Alaska to Northern Europe. During the winter he went to San Francisco where, as previously recorded, he met Charles Kingsford Smith and C. T. P. Ulm and sold them the sturdy plane he had built from the Fokkers he smashed up in the Arctic. In San Francisco, Wilkins saw and fell in love with a trim little Lockheed Vega monoplane, whose sleek, bullet-like body offered a minimum of wind resistance and was just the plane for Arctic exploration. The money he got from Smithy and Ulm helped him to buy a Vega. In April 1928, he and pilot Ben Eielson were poised at Point Barrow for the great adventure.

As usual, nothing went smoothly. They had to marshal scores of Eskimos to clear a runway through the snow. Twice, the Vega, greatly overloaded, refused to rise. They had to wait for a head wind before, on April 15, the Vega rose smoothly from the snowy runway and headed for Spitzbergen, 2500 miles away. Weather was mixed. After seven hundred miles they ran into black clouds and were lucky to be able to check their position by glimpses of Greenland mountains. Next they encountered a blizzard which cut visibility to 100 yards. Nearing the end of their journey, they narrowly escaped crashing into the sea. Fuel, now, was dangerously low. Wilkins guided Eielson down to a small strip of ice, con­fident they had succeeded in their mission and were somewhere in the Spitzbergen group of islands. The 2500-mile flight across the top of the world had taken 20 hours, 20 minutes.

For five days, however, they were stormbound in the cabin of the Vega. Then they took off and, a few minutes later, saw the masts of the wireless station at Green Harbour, where the Nor­wegian operator and his crew found it difficult to believe they had crossed the Arctic from Alaska.

Honours poured on Hubert Wilkins. King George V knighted him. Scientific bodies and ordinary folk all over the world hailed him as a great explorer and aviator. The newspaper tycoon Wil­liam Randolph Hearst advanced 25,000 dollars towards the cost of an aerial exploration of the Antarctic. With Ben Eielson as first pilot and another famous airman, Joe Crosson, as second, Wilkins arrived with two Vegas at Deception Island and, in Nov­ember 1928, made the first flight over Antarctic snows. In Decem­ber he was off again flying 600 miles out over the high plateau of Graham Land where the foot of man had never trod. On a spot left blank on the map he plotted plateaus, bays, channels and chains of islands none knew existed, returning safely through a fierce storm to base at Deception Island. Not for nothing were Wilkins and Eielson known as "The men who always came back".

Hubert Wilkins and Suzanne Bennett
Romance came to Sir Hubert Wilkins in 1929 when he married the beautiful Australian actress Suzanne Bennett in America.

Wilkins now took two years off from flying to embark on an­other adventurous project, the possibility of exploring beneath the Arctic ice cap in a submarine. For the token price of one dollar, the United States Navy let him- have an out-of-date sub­marine, about to be scrapped. Lady Wilkins christened it Nautilus. Wilkins fitted the submarine with runners and shock absorbers on top of the hull and with a hollow drill in the conning tower to enable them to cut through the ice for air. In Nautilus, Wilkins hoped to sail from Spitzbergen under the North Pole to Alaska in 42 days.

The Nautilus project was dogged by misfortune. She made one or two trial dives under the ice to prove it could be done before the experiment was abandoned. Wilkins' faith in submarine voyages under ice was vindicated when American nuclear-powered sub­marines made such trips after World War II.

For the next six years, Sir Hubert Wilkins was manager of the Lincoln Ellsworth Antarctic Expedition. In 1937 he was called back to active flying to search for Russian airman Sigismund Levanevsky, the Soviet Lindbergh, who vanished with five com­rades on a flight over the North Pole. Before the search was called off, Wilkins had flown 44,000 miles and searched 170,000 square miles, 150,000 of which had never been surveyed before. Altogether Hubert Wilkins made more than 30 polar expeditions. He died at Framingham, Mass., in 1958. His ashes were taken aboard the American nuclear-submarine Skate which dived under the Arctic floes and surfaced through the ice to scatter them in the vicinity of the North Pole.

Further Reading:

December 23, 2015

Struth! Seattle’s Market Theatre - artists sticking to their gums

By gum, they reckon this is art

IN his continuing search for the more weird and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says this popular and colourful "art wall" in Seattle, Washington is made up, would you believe, of 1,000,000-plus pieces of used chewing gum.

December 14, 2015

Struth! It's all Greek. Minack Theatre in Cornwall

ONE woman's dream: Rowena Cade spent every winter for
ver a half-century from 1932 to her death in 1983, improving
the unique Minack Theatre in her home's back garden in Cornwall.
(Image: Minack Theatre
IN his continuing search for the more weird and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says that it looks like a typical open-air live theatre in Greece or elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

But in fact this is at a little village called Porthcurno 6.5km from Land's End in Cornwall in England, and has been home to local and visiting theatre companies since the early 1930s.

The theatre was the brainchild of Rowena Cade who had built a home for herself and her mother on Porthcurno's Minack Point just after the end of World War I, and when a local theatre company was looking for an ocean-side setting to stage Shakespeare's The Tempest, she had offered her home's garden with its appropriate open-sea background.

Then she and her gardener, Billy Rawlings spent weeks hauling materials from the rocks and beach below to create a stage and seating – so successful the play being, that Ms Cade spent every winter until her death in 1983 aged 89, improving and developing the site with the assistance of gardener Rawlings and a friend, Charles Angove.

Today up to 20 plays are performed at the Minack Theatre every summer by UK and visiting overseas companies, with an average 80,000 a year coming to watch – and an inquisitive 100,000 more paying to simply have a sticky-beak of the unique site.

Travellers: Beware of Pickpockets


David Ellis

TRAVEL writing colleague David Potts says it was over in the blink of an eye:

standing in line for a bus outside the Prado museum in Madrid, a well-dressed man bumped him from behind.

When David suggested "There'll be room on the bus for all of us," the man seemed embarrassed and walked off. David stayed in the line – and when he went to pay his fare, realised his wallet was gone.

"I'd been pickpocketed by that man. And then came the hours of inconveniences: reporting to police, the credit card company, getting onto the bank….and the feelings of invasion of privacy – and my own stupidity."

Unfortunately, too many travellers can relate to these experiences, with professional pickpocket theft on the rise, tourists primary targets.

So sometime later when David coincidentally met Bob Arno – who reckons he's the world's only legal pickpocket – he asked him for advice, and got such a fascinating response he offered to share what he learned with us.

Swedish-born Arno was, David says, a war photographer in Vietnam when he encountered his first pickpockets, their targets mainly American servicemen and about whose misfortunes Arno wrote several newspaper articles.

These exposés caught the attention of the U.S. Military, and when Arno was invited to give lectures on the subject they were so well-received he took his "act" into show business, and with wife Bambi today travels seven months a year with his pick-pocketing lecture-show that's been seen by millions world-wide.

Now living in the USA he also works as a security consultant to high-profile business clients, law enforcement agencies and corporations world-wide on how to combat street crime… and never misses an opportunity to film pickpockets and other street thieves in action against unsuspecting tourists.

Arno, who dubs himself Professor of Pickpocketry, even sets himself up to be robbed in known pick-pocket hang-outs – so he can make contact and get to understand better both they and their methods, and thus get to know more about the game than many professional pickpockets themselves..

"We lure them into conversation and pick their brains the way they pick their victims pockets," he says. "Most thieves love to brag."

And so what's his advice to travellers?

"Prepare before you leave home," he says. "Make photocopies of all travel documents, including tickets, passports and itineraries, phone numbers of your credit card companies, your insurer and other important contacts, numbers of your travellers' cheques, and carry them separately from the originals.

"Also scan these documents and email them to yourself – so you can internet access them when travelling.

"As well, carry three credit cards, each on different accounts, and always leave one with your valuables in the hotel safe... and make sure your room number is not on the hotel key or card, because if you lose either, a thief has your hotel address."

Attach two labels to each piece of your luggage with your name, country and email address – but not your home address, which would tell thieves where your home's empty. Put a third label inside your bag.

"And very importantly, at airport security checkpoints don't put your valuables on the scanner belt until you are certain you can walk through the metal detector without delay. Be especially wary of someone cutting-in to separate you on one side and your belongings on the other side of the scanner – phones and laptops are commonly stolen this way."

Pickpockets, however, are the worst hazard facing tourists. "They'll spill something like ice-cream on you, then helpfully offer to wipe you down – and in doing so dip into your pocket.        

"Or they'll brush against you in a crowd to feel where your wallet is. Back pockets and loose and gaping front pockets are easy targets – the safest place for valuables is a small pouch that hangs from your belt and inside your pants, or from a string around your neck and under your shirt or blouse," Arno says.

"Carry minimum cash and spread it around your pockets and pouch, and if you need to carry passport identification, carry only a photocopy of the relevant pages…. And beware thieves who take-off with laptops in hotel restaurants while you're filling your plate at the buffet."

For more tips on how to travel safely, visit Bob Arno's website



[] OH so easy: Bob Arno shows how easily it's done during an "accidental" bump in the back.

[] A COUPLE of deft fingers and a wallet sticking carelessly out of a back pocket is gone in seconds.

[] ALL in a day's work – Bob Arno with what a good pickpocket can get away with on a successful day.

(All images courtesy Bob Arno)

December 02, 2015

Chopin and Party Time in Majorca

CHOPIN and his mistress Aurore Dupin painted by their friend, French artist Eugene Delacroix. Persons unknown ultimately cut the original in half and sold each "portrait" separately; this is a Photoshop of how the original would most likely have looked. (Wikimedia)
VALLDEMOSSA outside Palma where Chopin lived
and worked for a year in a former monastery-cum-hotel. (Wikimedia)
THE Valldemossa monastery/hotel is now the Chopin and
George Sands Museum with items from the time of their stay –
although not this piano which was purchased after Chopin had left.
PALMA's grand Cathedral of Santa Maria has towered over
the local harbour since the early 1600s. (Helen Read)

David Ellis
Malcolm Andrews

THERE'S no escaping it: to the majority of the 12.25 million who invade the place every year, the tiny Mediterranean island of Majorca off Spain's southern coast, is Party Central.

For here on this little blob that would fit into mainland Tasmania some 18 times over, and where all those visitors outnumber the locals by more than 12-to-1, the capital Palma de Majorca is crammed with 24 hour hip bars and cafés whose operators don't believe in Happy Hours – to them their customers come here for Happy Days

And this means carousing around the clock and, for some bizarre reason in a place where the local cuisine can be amongst the most-tempting in Europe, frequenting countless cafés that boast not wonderful Spanish temptations, but 24hr  'English Breakfast' – eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, hash browns, toast, and more, all fried-up in copious amounts of sizzling fat any time you want.

Crowding around tables and tucking into these grease bombs you'll find Germans (3.4 million last year,) Brits (2.25m,) Scandinavians (340,000) and others in their equally hundreds of thousands from across Europe, and to a lesser-extent other parts of the world.

Yet there are thousands of others come to Majorca for a very different and certainly quieter reason. And that's to pay homage to one of the greatest classical composers of all time, the Polish-born Frédéric Chopin who spent less than a year on the island, but whose influence on local life in that short time remains indelibly etched 177 years later.

PLAYTHINGS of the rich and famous fill Palma harbour,
attracted by 300 days of sunshine a year. (Helen Read)        
The 28-year-old Chopin, wracked with tuberculosis, arrived during the winter of 1838-39 with his mistress, the French, somewhat-Bohemian, cigar-smoking, male-dressing author Aurore Dupin, who published under the pseudonym George Sands.

They'd chosen Mallorca with its 300 days of sunshine a year to escape the freezing conditions of winter in Paris where they lived, and after finding lodgings in a suite of former monks' cells in an old monastery-cum-hotel at Valldemossa 20km outside Palma, Chopin wrote to friends back home: "A sky like turquoise, a sea like lapis lazuli, mountains like emerald, air like heaven…"

But one of Majorca's most brutal-ever winter's bore down upon them, and after seeing several doctors for his deteriorating condition, Chopin wrote again on December 3: "Three doctors have visited me. The first said I was going to die; the second said I was breathing my last; and the third said I was dead already."

But he continued to produce some of his finest compositions, including Prelude in D-flat major that later was appropriately re-titled Raindrop (Chopin never named any of his works, giving just the genre and number of each composition, with devotees after his death giving suitable word-titles to his scores of pieces.)

Today, an annual Chopin Festival every August is centred on that old monastery-hotel in which he'd spent that short time in 1838-39 and which is now a Chopin/Sands Museum… visitors to the Festival, and any other time to the museum, able to see the rooms in which he stayed with Sands (and her two children,) some of his original furniture, rare photos, and his extensive and much-loved garden.

And while in Palma an also must-visit is the Cathedral of Santa Maria (also known as Le Seu) that is one of the tallest churches in the world, its 45m high central nave just 1m lower than that of the Vatican's St Peter's.

Interestingly the cathedral, that was begun in 1229 but not completed until 1601, sits atop the site of a former mosque, and which in turn was developed over the remains of an even earlier Roman temple.

The cathedral overlooks Palma's harbour that plays host to a drool-over collection of mega motor-yacht playthings of the super-rich and famous, and daily visiting cruise ships.

And also on your must-visit list should be Palma Old Town that's the city's historical centre, and where motor vehicles are forbidden so that pedestrians can safely amble it's pretty squares and courtyards, the narrow yester-year laneways, and admire the Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic architecture…

And take a quieter coffee or meal away from the more frenetic waterfront area with its 24hr Majorca Party Central and fried-up English Breakfasts.

(Frédéric Chopin died at home in Paris in October 1849 during a tuberculosis coughing fit; he was just 39.)

Struth! Charging into NSW Southern Highlands

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says that while Australians may not yet be taking as enthusiastically as some other nations to the concept of electric cars – Britain's Aston Martin is even developing an electric version of James Bond's favourite 4-door Rapide – there's one popular NSW regional centre believes it's jumped the gun on many others with a just-opened electric vehicle (EV) recharge facility at its local visitors' centre.

November 18, 2015

Robben Island - Birthplace of South Africa

David Ellis
David Potts

ROBBEN Island is a flat, featureless and seemingly insignificant dot in the ocean seven cold and windy kilometres off Cape Town, yet it is one of South Africa's foremost destinations for visitors.

For it was here on this tiny blob just over 3kms long and 2kms wide, that South Africa's first black president and Nobel Laureate, Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner in a tiny prison cell a mere 2.4 metres long by 2.1m wide (8ft by 7ft.)

Today that cell has become a shrine for the thousands of visitors who shuffle past it and wonder how one man could not only survive, but actually strive forward in a place designed to crush the morale of those like himself fighting racist apartheid.

Nelson Mandela had been sentenced in 1963 to life here by South Africa's apartheid rulers, who were determined he would die behind its bars with fellow freedom fighter political prisoners.

Now, with apartheid officially ended from April 1994, Robben Island has become a worldwide symbol of "the strength of the human spirit over adversity, suffering and injustice;" in 1997 it was declared a museum, and two years later a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Visitors today talk of the immense power it has over them as they take one of four daily tours of 3.5hrs of the island, including the half-hour boat trip across Table Bay from Cape Town's Victoria & Albert waterfront, with many speaking openly of the enormous impact of seeing what greeted every prisoner on Robben Island.

And that's a concrete gateway still bearing the emblem of the apartheid prison service – and it's sickening apartheid-era motto: "We Serve With Pride".

Buses operate guided tours of the island with its village, houses once used by apartheid prison staff, a modern-day prison, a garrison church and a cemetery. Lastly there's a walk-through of the original apartheid prison.

This includes the limestone quarry where Mandela and his fellow political prisoners toiled in the sun for up to eight hours a day, damaging their eyesight in the glare reflected from the white limestone. It was here, however, that they could, in secret, talk-the-talk that would shape a future nation.

And the quarry includes a cairn that began with a single stone laid by Mandela on a reunion visit in 1995 on the anniversary of the 1991 closure of the political prison… with other former inmates who followed over the years adding their own individual stones to that cairn.

But the main interest for visitors is the drab concrete cell-block which held political prisoners for 30 years from 1961, and where one, Jama Mbatyoti, who spent five years of incarceration from the age of 19 for leading anti-apartheid student protests, is one of today's tour guides.

Jama describes the hell of prison life, shows the cells, washrooms and communal centres, and tells how political prisoners were allowed one 30-minute visit and one letter every six months. And how anything deemed "political" in their letters would be cut out, so that often the prisoner received nothing more than an indecipherable remnant of tattered paper.

And he shows Mandela's cell, furnished the way it had been when he was prisoner number 46664, with nothing but a bedroll on the cement floor, a tiny stool and a waste bin.

Through the barred window Jama points out Mandela's garden where he grew vegetables – and hid cocoa tins which held the first draft of his autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, written at night in his cell.    

Despite poor food, inadequate clothing in the wet and windswept Cape winter, and heavy labour in the island's limestone quarry, Mandela remained unbroken. "The challenge for every prisoner, particularly every political prisoner," he wrote, "is how to survive prison intact, how to emerge from prison undiminished, how to conserve and even replenish one's beliefs... The authorities' greatest mistake was to keep us together. For together we were able to support and gain strength from each other. We shared whatever we knew and whatever we learned, and through sharing, we became stronger"

Aside from what's to be seen on the island, Robben Island Museum has a number of long-term exhibits at its admission-free mainland site at the V&A waterfront.

(David Potts travelled with the help of



[] THE tiny 2.4m X 2.1m (8ft X 7ft) cell that was home for Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner during South Africa's hated apartheid.

[] THE limestone quarry where Mandela and other political prisoners worked for up to eight hours a day. In the foreground is a stone cairn begun with a single stone placed by Mandela on a 1995 reunion.

[] VIEW of Cape Town and Table Mountain seven kilometres away from Robben Island.

[] TOUR guide today, Jama Mbatyoti was a political prisoner on Robben Island at just 19 years of age for leading a student protest against apartheid.

[] NELSON Mandela's vegetable garden inside the walls of the prison on Robben Island. He hid the draft of an autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, inside tins buried in the garden.

[] THE sight that greeted prisoners arriving on Robben Island: a concrete gateway with the emblem of the apartheid prison service and its motto "We Serve With Pride." Many visitors today speak openly of the sickening impact the sign has on them.

(All photos: David Potts)

November 09, 2015

Struth! Guaranteed no seasickness on this cruise

A no seasickness 'cruise holiday'

But be careful if you are afraid of heights

IN his continuing search for the more weird and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says you'll have no fear of getting seasick aboard the 30,000 tonne luxury ship Sun Cruise at Jeongdongjin in north-eastern South Korea – because it sits on a cliff-top 90 metres above the sea.

This bizarre land-based "cruise ship" has virtually everything you'll find on a regular liner, except perhaps for water lapping around its "hull." And to make up for that, the sound of waves against steel plays softly over loudspeakers throughout its public places, coupled with an occasional ship's horn.

Fancy a Cruise? Get these brochures for free

Guests can choose between half a dozen dining options from Korean and Western restaurants to a Sky Lounge, Bakery and Snack House, and take drinks in several venues that include a revolving bar on the top deck and a nightclub... and take-in what are said to be the best sunrises in South Korea.

There's also an on-deck saltwater pool, a gymnasium, volleyball court, golf range, karaoke lounge… and a souvenir store and supermarket, several convention and meeting rooms, and a wedding hall. And Sun Cruise has its own private beach nearby with power and sail personal watercraft.

The Sun Cruise Resort is 165 metres long, and has 211 rooms and condominiums, the condos having their own kitchenettes. Room prices start from 80,000 South Korean won a night – approximately AU$98, plus VAT and the cost of onboard meals that are not included in the price.

To book see travel agents or visit

[] CRUISING to nowhere – this bizarre "ship" atop a 90m cliff in South Korea is a luxury hotel in which you can indulge shipboard life without the fear of seasickness.


October 18, 2015

Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort - showering with elephants

Showering with #Thailand’s gentle jungle giants

Elephant shower at Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort (supplied)

by Ian McIntosh

The small, brightly painted traditional Thai long tail boat was racing along the mighty Mekong River so quickly the ripples sounded like we were smacking rocks. We flashed past the huge Buddha marking the Golden Triangle – ahead was Burma, to my left Thailand and to the right Laos. And here is our resort, my lovely guide Tuk yelled in my ear. She was pointing to a hill of thick bright green jungle and a rather decrepit looking landing. Resort? Not that I could see.

September 28, 2015

The story of Mary Watson and Lizard Island


David Ellis with Roderick Eime

IT was 134 years ago this month, on October 12 1881, that young English woman Mary Watson died in the most horrendous of circumstances on a remote far north Queensland island, her agonising death writing her into history as our first and most extraordinarily courageous, yet little known, folk heroine…

Born in Cornwall in 1860, Mary migrated with her family to Maryborough in 1877. There, while still in her teens but with a good education, she ran a small private school for a short time before becoming governess to the children of a local publican, and later moving to remote Cooktown to open another private school there.

She met in Cooktown a Captain Robert Watson, a Scotsman who ran a beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) fishing business from Lizard Island some 100km away, and after a brief courtship the couple married, Mary giving birth to a son, Ferrier in June 1881.

In October, with Captain Watson away fishing, Mary was in the family hut when some mainland Aboriginal people landed on the island, and while what actually happened will never be known, the Watson's Chinese gardener, Ah Leong was speared to death and the house servant, Ah Sam severely wounded before the tribesmen withdrew when Mary fired a rifle into the air.

To the Aboriginal people, Lizard Island was revered in mythology and Dreamtime stories as a sacred place "owned" by the myriad goannas that abounded there, and which were a source of special food and medicine.

Realising the peril she was now in, Mary and the wounded Ah Sam loaded what food and water they could into a roughly 1300mm (51 inch) square by just 610mm (24 inch) deep cast iron water tank that Captain Watson used for boiling beche-de-mer, squeezed themselves and baby Ferrier aboard, and began paddling in search of a safer island.

For five days they paddled and drifted under a blazing tropical sun, occasionally landing on reefs and islands – but at each island, finding signs of Aboriginal life they moved on, critically unable to have collected fresh water. Finally on reaching the unoccupied No 5 Howick Island – an amazing 65 kilometres from where they had taken off in their water tank – they staggered ashore in the stifling heat, their water totally gone, little food remaining, and all in rapidly deteriorating condition.

Remarkably, throughout their ordeal Mary maintained a daily diary, cataloguing their journey with brief, unemotional and uncomplaining entries. And on October 12 1881, five days after landing on the island, she wrote her last tragic message: "Still no rain. Ah Sam preparing to die. Baby more cheerful.  Self nearly dead with thirst."

It was not until January 1882, three months later, that the crew of a small cargo ship seeking shelter from a storm found the body of Ah Sam on the beach, and those of Mary and Ferrier in the tank that was now full of rainwater.

All were taken back to Cooktown where 650 people attended their funerals; Mary Watson was just 21 years of age and her son 4 months. A diary she kept on Lizard Island and the one she wrote aboard their little water tank, are in the John Oxley Library within the State Library of Queensland, and the water tank itself in the Queensland Museum.

Today Lizard Island, 250km north-east of Cairns, is a protected National Park and home to one of the most luxurious resorts on the Great Barrier Reef. The resort occupies but a tiny portion of the island, with the remainder grass and woodlands, mangrove swamps, white sand beaches (twenty four) and a 'mountain' that rises 359m above sea level.

There is also a National Parks campground with toilets, picnic tables and gas barbecue – but campers or other visitors to the island are not permitted to enter the Resort.

Lizard Island Resort offers forty indulgent rooms and suites, a legendary spa, reef diving and snorkelling that's amongst the Barrier Reef's finest, game fishing, visits to an extraordinary 'Cod Hole' that's frequented by massive 100-plus kilogram Potato Cod, and beach and bush walking.

Access is by small plane only from Cairns or Cooktown, or private boat. Coral Princess Cruises also visits the island (not the Resort) weekly as part of Great Barrier Reef itineraries.

For more information



[] THE TINY water tank in which Mary Watson, baby Ferrier and house servant Ah Sam spent five days escaping from Lizard Island. (Queensland Museum)

[] PORTRAIT of Mary Watson – she was just 21 when she died. (Queensland Museum)

[] LIZARD Island as seen from atop its highest point. (Roderick Eime)

[] INDULGENCE: Lizard Island Resort is one of the most luxurious on the Great Barrier Reef. (supplied)

August 31, 2015

Struth! Jumping to conclusions


High price for a liner's one-liner

IN his continuing search for the more weird and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says a British family – three of them in their 80s – have learned that frivolous one-liners can prove costly… in their case being put off the luxury cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas, less than 24 hours after  going aboard.

Two of the octogenarians had been shouted a return-week from England to Europe by their daughter and son-in-law in celebration of their diamond wedding anniversary, with daughter, son-in-law and his 89yo mum going along as well.

But on the first night the celebrating husband and father (85) complained to the Maitre d' at dinner that he'd got paint on his trousers from work done in his cabin just before they'd gone aboard… and that the cabin's wet paint was enough to make him want to "jump ship."

The "jump ship" comment soon reached the Bridge – where duty officers read it as a possible "jump overboard" suicide threat.

So the family were deemed a "security risk," met with, and told they were to be put off next morning at the ship's first port of call, Zeebrugge in Belgium.

A security guard was also stationed outside the parents' cabin for the night with regular torchlight checks inside as well, and next morning the entire family put ashore. The shipping line subsequently refunded all five cruise fares in full, met the cost of replacing the paint-damaged trousers… and even paid all the family's travel expenses back to the UK.

An apology? Nope.

St Michaels in Maryland - home to the Cannonball House

David Ellis

IT'S over 200 years since the locals of little St Michaels in Maryland employed a wily scheme to save their town from attack by the British Navy during the relatively little-known War of 1812, and which led to St Michaels to this day being known as "the town that fooled the British."

Founded in the mid-1600s as a trading post for pioneering tobacco farmers and trappers, St Michaels later went on to become an important shipbuilding town on America's north-east coast, with a half-dozen yards of significant size by the 1800s.

And when America declared war on Great Britain in June of 1812 in its first-ever such aggression on another nation, the British saw the importance of putting a stop to the output from those St Michaels shipyards.

(The reasons for the War of 1812 were many and convoluted, to the forefront being America's anger at Britain's meddling in its fledgling international trade, the capture of American merchant ships and the impressment of their crews into Britain's Royal Navy, and Britain's support for Indian tribes opposed to white American expansionism.)

So pre-dawn on August 10th 1813 the British moved a small fleet carrying 300 red-coated marines into Chesapeake Bay on which the St Michaels shipyards were located, and in darkness sent these men ashore. Long anticipating such an attack on their yards, the residents of St Michaels got a few rounds away from some cannons they had along their harbour-front, but knowing they were greatly out-numbered, fled back into the darkness.

Delighted, British Admiral Sir George Cockburn recalled his men to their ships, declaring he'd wipe little St Michaels off the map with cannon fire from those vessels. And it would be with the assistance of the townspeople themselves – whom he noted to fellow-officers, had foolishly left so many lights on overnight in homes and shipyard buildings that they made for perfect targets.

After firing off some hundreds of cannonballs and seeing the number of those lights diminish with each salvo, Admiral Cockburn declared his job well done and sailed off into the sunrise without even bothering to check the extent of damage he'd caused.

Had he done so, he would doubtless have been mortified to find that for all his effort, he had in fact hit just one building. And that was a private house through whose roof a cannonball had crashed into the attic below, and from there bounced down the stairway to land at the feet of a very shocked Mrs William Merchant and her baby daughter who'd been awakened by the bombardment….

And the reason for so little damage to St Michaels township was simple: the canny locals had actually turned off every light in town, and the myriad "town lights" Admiral Cockburn had seen were in fact hundreds of lanterns those townspeople had lit and strung amid trees on a hillside behind their blacked-out township…

So Admiral Cockburn had simply sent his cannonballs sailing harmlessly over the darkened settlement into that forest behind St Michaels, earning it the title "the town that fooled the British…"

Two hundred and two years on, Mrs Merchant's house is still a private residence, although officially listed as the Cannonball House on America's National Register of Historic Places.

Shipbuilding in St Michaels waned in the later part of the 1800s to be replaced with oyster harvesting and crab catching, and today tourism is the major industry in this little town of a mere thousand or so leisurely living folk.

Once listed Number 8 in the Top Ten of Romantic Escapes in the USA, St Michaels has also been described as "a treasure on Maryland's Eastern Shore" with colourfully picturesque Colonial, Federal and Victorian era homes, churches and public buildings, and prides itself on its rich maritime heritage.

Visitors can also take to the local waters for daily sightseeing tours on an historic 1886 oyster dredging sailboat, the Rebecca T Ruark that's a skipjack for which St Michaels was once famed for churning out from its shipyards, or join organised day fishing trips on others.

For foodies, local restaurants put great emphasis on the local crabs and oysters still harvested and caught today, there are numerous boutiques, and for the curious a fascinating maritime museum and excellent antique shops.



[] ST Michaels today has just a handful over a thousand residents, but tourists flock
   there by their tens of thousands annually. (
[] ITS once busy shipyards long gone, St Michaels' harbour today provides a haven
   for pleasure boat owners from a wide neighbouring area. (St Michaels Marina)
[] THE historic oyster dredger Rebecca T Ruark was built at St Michaels in 1886 and
   is today a popular sightseeing vessel on the harbour. (
[] THE Cannonball House was the only building struck during the British raid on the
   night of August 10th 1813; a private home today it still attracts the curious to view
   from the outside. (Ellen Coxe Maryland Historic Trust)  
[] ADMIRAL Sir George Cockburn who led the British raid that hurled hundreds of
   cannonballs harmlessly over St Michaels into a forest of lantern-lit trees.
[] SEAFOOD restaurants lure lovers of oysters and crabs to feast on these local
   delights. (

August 28, 2015

Macau: The Stage is Set


Beyond the glittering halls of your 21st century resort, a city resplendent in history and culture awaits.

Words by Roderick Eime

Their arms flail wildly while their feet kick savagely at each other. Higher and higher they go, 20 metres, 25 metres, toward the dizzyingly high ceiling. The hero, in white of course, strikes the villain in the chest and he falls, arms and legs twirling, into the deep pool below. The 2000-strong crowd gasp, then gasp again when the hero falls too. Some stand to get a better look while others just cover their faces.

But don't worry, it's all part of the show here at City of Dreams' spectacular $250million production, The House of Dancing Water, which plays to capacity crowds five nights per week. The award-winning 85 minute show, which opened in 2010, has enthralled more than 2 million guests with its 80 performers who high dive, motorcycle jump, leap, contort and dance around, in and on top of a 17 million litre pool.

House of Dancing Water - Macau

This awe-inspiring, super hi-tech show is the glittering centrepiece of the integrated entertainment resort, City of Dreams, opened in June 2009. With some 1400 guest rooms in three sprawling luxury hotels, plus more than 20 quality food and beverage venues and 175,000 square feet of sparkling retail space, there's almost no need to leave the resort. But in a city as rich in heritage and history as Macau, you'd be missing out on a wonderful sightseeing and cultural experience if you didn't venture out.

Even though Macau is best known for its rich Portuguese heritage, the town’s maritime history dates back to the 5th century and earlier when coastal traders and fishermen used Hoi Keang, as it was then known, for resupply.

Macau’s unusual European cultural fusion has also spawned a range of colourful cultural events including arts, music and fireworks festivals, a dragon boat regatta and a marathon foot race. Golf and the legendary Guia Motor Race and Macau Grand Prix complete the international sporting calendar.

Furthermore, the United Nations, through their cultural arm of UNESCO, recognised the very special significance of the architectural heritage of Macau by listing the centre of the old city as a World Heritage site of cultural significance. The imposing centrepiece is the preserved façade of the Cathedral of Saint Paul. Built during the last decade of the 16th Century by the Jesuits, the building was destroyed by fire in 1835.

Rainy days are plenty around the middle of the year, a perfect opportunity to take in any of Macau's superb museums. For MOP$25 you can buy a museum pass for entry to the Grand Prix Museum, Wine Museum, Maritime Museum, Lin Zexu Museum, Museum of Art and Museum of Macau.

And for a grand finale, if you want to outdo the brave high divers at The House of Dancing Water, you can strap yourself in for a 233m plunge off Macau Tower in the world's highest commercial base jump. There's thrills aplenty in Macau.

Macau Government Tourist Office, phone +612 9264 1488,

August 26, 2015

Rent your own private island

Have A Private Island All to Yourself with These 13 Rentable Estates Available to Book Through TripAdvisor

With the glimmer of spring just breaking on the horizon, TripAdvisor®, the world's largest travel site* is showcasing extraordinary private islands you can book for your next trip.

From the idyllic African island of Mauritius, to the rugged backdrop of the Isle of Skye, TripAdvisor Holiday Rentals offers more than 720,000 properties worldwide, giving Aussies a reason to daydream at their desks as we wait for summer.


Located 1,931 kilometres off the coast of Africa, this luxury villa offers four bedrooms and a large terrace that boasts panoramic views of the turquoise Roches Noires lagoon. Parts of the property are open-air, allowing guests to enjoy beautiful island scenery from the comfort of the couch or a chaise lounge perched in the sand.

"What a place! Absolutely stunning and unique location," says one TripAdvisor traveller. Prices start from $623AUD per night.


Just a short trip from Isle of Skye located in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, this quaint cottage comfortably sleeps four and offers a secluded coastal escape. This luxury vacation rental was recently renovated and comes with a cosy wood burning stove, cotton linens and more.

A TripAdvisor traveller said, "The cottage was immaculate, modern and cosy. The island really is a paradise; a real get-away from everything." Prices start from $1,628AUD per night.


Located on a 150-acre island within the gates of Colleton River Plantation, this cottage is nestled among massive oak trees overlooking the water of the Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge. The comfortable cottage comes with cathedral ceilings and large windows where guests will enjoy magnificent views.

A TripAdvisor traveller said, "The cottage is lovely, classy, clean and very comfortable." Prices start from $342AUD per night.


Sheltered behind the Belize Barrier Reef, this private two-acre island is available for your exclusive use. The beautiful private island offers a picture-perfect sandy beach and surrounded by some of the finest coral reef in the area. The rental includes a caretaker who will cater to your needs, including catching and cooking fresh seafood for dinner, as well as kayak and snorkelling tours.

A TripAdvisor traveller commented, "A beautiful well maintained island surrounded by reef." Prices start from $520AUD per night.


Situated on an idyllic island 4.8 kilometres from San Pedro, this property boasts nine bedrooms and overlooks the cerulean surf and white sand beaches. Guests are invited to relax in the comfort of their plunge pools, enjoy a day on the beach or take part in activities including snorkelling and scuba diving.

A recent guest remarked, "No five star resort comes close to our experience at Cayo Espanto." Prices start from $18,479AUD per night.


Located just over a kilometre off of the Atlantic shores of Marathon in the Florida Keys, this private island boasts a pristine vacation rental home that comes with more than 5,000 square-feet of living space, including a spacious veranda, boat dock, helicopter launch pad, swimming pool, and a 25-foot boat to get back and forth to the mainland.

One TripAdvisor guest stated. "Nothing else like it." Prices start from $1,369AUD per night.


Off the coast of Bar Harbor in Downeast Maine, travellers can enjoy a tranquil stay on Spectacle Island. This six-acre private oasis offers sweeping ocean views and guests are invited to use the 16-foot sailboat or kayaks to explore the New England scenery./div>

A TripAdvisor traveller said, "It's hard to describe just how perfect Spectacle Island is if you are looking for the combination of northern outdoor adventure, the sea, great food, comfort, relaxation and superb hosts." Prices start from $2,053AUD per night.


This luxurious private island offers three magnificent villas. Located in the World Heritage Marine Reserve near central Belize, this opulent property will not disappoint. Amenities include a personal chef, an outdoor bedroom, expansive windows where guests can capture the impressive views, modern décor and more.

One reviewer commented, "This is a once in a lifetime lovely, relaxing, fun and pleasant place to vacation." Prices start from $7,118AUD per night.


This multi-million dollar cottage boasts six bedrooms, six bathrooms and lavish amenities both indoors and out. Prices start from $12,451AUD per week.


About 160 kilometres southeast of Fort Lauderdale, Little Whale Cay hosts guests in three luxury villas that can accommodate up to 12 people. Seated on 93 acres, this remarkable property boasts an infinity pool with coastal views, ornate furnishings, a gym, tennis court, blossoming gardens, private white sand beaches and even its own airstrip.

Prices start from $12,661AUD per night.


Head to the middle of the South Pacific for a majestic island getaway in the Tuamotu Archipelago. Fafarua Lodge is what you'd see on a postcard: shimmering azure waters, rings of coral reef, white beaches and coconut palms. You'll enjoy an all-inclusive vacation, with full catering provided by the home's staff.

A visitor to Fararua Lodge recent commented, "Breathtaking scenery and a huge and extraordinary lagoon." Prices start from $1,458AUD per night.


"A different getaway," raves one previous guest. At first arrival in Jakarta you'll be whisked away by the host's 60-foot yacht as you head towards your secluded island escape in the Java Sea. The serenity is Isle East Indies' biggest draw, with stunning views day and night and open-air rooms throughout the multiple rental bungalows.

"Perfectly shaded by the trees; I can't think of a better place to spend a relaxed afternoon curled up with a book." Added another TripAdvisor reviewer. Prices start from $2,772AUD per night.


Situated within the beautiful Thousand Islands National Park, this private island is home to two separate rental cottages. Experience breathtaking views and an abundance of outdoor recreation like swimming, hiking, kayaking and fishing.

"Little Aubrey is by far the best cottage I have ever been to. The sceneries are amazing, there's lots to see and lots to experience" said a guest on TripAdvisor. Prices start from $409AUD per night.

To browse all TripAdvisor holiday rentals, visit

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