March 26, 2018

The world's shortest place names


David Ellis

WOULD you believe there are nearly a dozen villages in Norway, Denmark and Sweden that have simply one letter in their name – just A for the greater majority of them, and O for one in Sweden.

And somewhat bizarrely, they're not the only places in the world that have pretty economic names when it comes to spelling: there are some thirty-odd towns, villages, municipalities, rivers and mountains have simply a single letter in their name in everywhere from Scandinavia, England, Scotland, France and Poland, to the USA, Panama, Micronesia, Madagascar, Japan, Tibet, Vietnam and Russia.

While A accounts for around a third of them – A means "brook" or "small river" in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish – there are five simply named U, another four that identify themselves only as O, three communities named Y, a couple E and rivers named the D in Oregon in the USA and Y in the north of Russia.

And in France, an historic chateau that's now a popular tourist attraction near Mortree in the north of the country is simply known as Chateau O, while in Argentina there's an eco-hippie community in Buenos Aires that identifies itself only as Commune A.


[] PROBABLY the world's simplest to make road sign – telling motorists they are leaving the village of Y in Somme in northern France. Around 100 people live in the village, referring to themselves as Ypsilonennes.

March 25, 2018

The Outback and fascinating Lava Tubes at Undara.

Len Rutledge goes 'down the tube'

Slam, bang, biff, pow! I awake to unfamiliar sounds and cautiously pull up the blind. Oh, it's just two kangaroos having a 'friendly' stand-up fight just outside my window. There's nothing unusual about that at Undara.

I'm rapidly discovering that very few things are considered unusual at Undara. The wildlife, the vegetation, the lava tubes and the railway carriage accommodation would all be considered very different elsewhere but here they are part of the amazing Undara Experience ( ).

I am in North Queensland revisiting one of the most fascinating Outback destinations easily accessible from the coastal cities. I first visited Undara with cattleman Gerry Collins back in the late 1980s when he had a dream to develop this unique area into a tourist attraction. At the time he was battling the Queensland Government for approvals and was trying to save his land from compulsory acquisition.

In the end he succeeded with his dream and Queensland has a unique top quality experience for both local and international visitors. It is a wonderful destination from either Townsville or Cairns.

It takes awhile to sort out the Undara Experience. The whole package consists of accommodation, meals and facilities, tours and activities. You can cherry-pick bits and pieces but you will find that more is always better because this experience is very special.

For accommodation, we choose the beautifully restored one hundred year old railway carriages. These are set along the original Cobb & Co. coach road and are shaded by tall trees and a canopy roof. The rooms contain a very comfortable double bed, old railway seats, ceiling fans, and a bathroom.

The carriages are unique, comfortable and romantic. We love them. Other options are the permanent swag tents, some of which have their own kitchen, the caravan park and camp ground, and self-contained air-conditioned Pioneers Huts.

After settling in we go exploring. We find the free tea and coffee that is always available and then relax in the deck chairs by the lagoon pool. This is perfect after the drive from Townsville. After recharging, we go on a self-guided bush walk. There are nine tracks ranging from 1.5km to 12km return. We climb a nearby knoll and gaze over the plateau towards some of the 164 old volcanoes in the province. There is no sign of human occupation as far as we can see.

We enquire about tours and are told about the Wildlife at Sunset trip that departs each day at around 5.30pm. Naturally, we go on it. We watch the sunset while enjoying sparkling wine and cheese and then are taken to the entrance of a lava tube at dusk to see pythons and tree snakes capturing a meal of microbats as they emerge from the darkness in their thousands.

Dinner at night is at the Iron Pot Bistro. The a-la-carte menu has beef, Georgetown sausages, chicken, fish, and vegetarian noodle stir-fry dishes. Meals are large, delicious and filling. We linger over several glasses of wine and then share a 'chocolate volcano' dessert. After dinner, we relax around the campfire, enjoy the brilliant starry sky then wander back through the Australian bush to our railway carriage 'home' for a good night's sleep.

It's morning. The kangaroos have woken me so I watch nature's world through the window. There are wallabies, wallaroos, parrots, kookaburras, currawongs and magpies all happily going about the business of eating. I guess it is time for our breakfast.

We wander off into the bush along a well-defined track and soon come upon the Ringers Camp. The fire is burning, the billy tea is boiling and the freshly brewed coffee spreads its aroma throughout the camp.

Cereal, fruit, sausages, baked beans, eggs, sautéed vegetables, bacon and a variety of juices make for a great breakfast. We toast bread over the coals of the fire and spread it with honey and jam. Why do I eat so much more when in a setting like this?

It's 8am and we gather for the Archway Explorer tour. There are ten of us in the minibus as we drive to a lava tube. Lava tubes are the result of volcanic lava flowing down depressions. Eventually, the surface cooled and formed a crust but underneath the lava continued to flow.

The eruption eventually stopped and lava flowed out of the far end of the tubes, leaving tunnels beneath the land. Eventually, holes appeared when the roof collapsed on the tubes and rainforest sprang up in these dark, moist hollows.

We enter one of these depressions and are surrounded by life. The dry savannah has given way to lush vegetation. Dozens of butterflies flit around our heads. We are in a different world. The huge entrance to a lava tube is straight ahead.

Entering the tube is a wonderful experience. We come face to face with 190,000 years of history. Timber walkways lead deep into the darkness. Our Savannah Guide gives us environmental, geological and historical information on the region.

We visit two other tubes. A long wet season has raised the water table and some tubes are part-filled with water. At one, we strip to our swimwear and bathe in the clear water. We're told that this is a very rare experience, happening on average, once every twenty years!

While it is possible to experience the highlights of Undara by staying one night, a two-night stay is clearly better. This gives you time to take a second tour to a different section of the tubes, explore more of the walking trails and visit some of the other attractions in the area.

Words: Len Rutledge Pictures: Phensri and Len Rutledge

Feature supplied by:


1. Train carriage accommodation
2. Breakfast is on the way
3. Entry to the tube
4. Inside the Lava tube
5. Scenic viewpoint

March 24, 2018

Return to Paradise: When Hollywood Came To Samoa

(United Artists)

How a Hollywood movie changed the lives of an entire Samoan village.

Words and images by Roderick Eime additional images as noted

In 1951, when the famous director Mark Robson and his studio scouts had finished scouring the South Pacific for a location to shoot the James A Michener follow-up, Return to Paradise, they settled on the tiny remote village of Matautu on the southwest coast of Upolu instead of their intended Hawai’i.

Wanting to present a realistic backdrop of island life, Robson chose the idyllic island of Upolu for its beautiful natural scenery, one of the film's strongest assets.

The movie was a sequel of sorts to Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 book Tales of the South Pacific, which had famously spawned the smash 1958 Broadway musical and film South Pacific.

A year later, the Hollywood circus arrived at the tiny village, bringing with them such stars as Gary Cooper and Roberta Haynes to begin the months of filming that would occupy the community continuously throughout the period. A great many locals participated in the production as extras and crew.

“The film crew and producers needed lots of local help,” recalls Ramona Su’a Pale Gilchrist, whose father was the chief and became the trusted quartermaster for his greatly expanded village, “because he was a trusted and honest man, he was given this great responsibility. Plus he also worked building many of the sets and props they needed.”

An American drifter comes to a remote Polynesian
island controlled by a Puritanical missionary and
turns the social life of the island upside-down.
The movie was released a year later in July 1953 and was a box office success and also launched the career of local actress, Moira Walker, who was plucked from behind the counter of the bank when the producers went to do business and she caught their eye.

In an amusing twist, the vivacious 21-year-old provoked the ire of leading lady Roberta Haynes, who played her mother for being rather too attractive.

““When Cooper would walk by me he would playfully say, ‘Hello daughter’ and kiss me on the forehead and I would flirt a little,” recalls Moira, now 85.

She recalled Haynes becoming so jealous she threw Moira’s costume in the latrine just before she was due to shoot a scene. But she laughs heartily about that now.

“The whole cast and crew including all our locals became one big family and that’s what happens in families sometimes," she laughs.

Since the movie’s releases, cast members have returned over time for reunions and anniversaries. In a famous speech made by Haynes in 2015 at a gala ball in her honour, she famously announced:

“I am so happy to be back. I remember the beach so well. It is still beautiful and the Return to Paradise Resort that has been built here is absolutely stunning. I really feel this is where I belong and this is where I want to be my final resting place.”

The spirit that evolved from those few short months in 1952 clearly left an indelible mark on the idyllic beach that faces the glorious setting sun every evening and it became the perfect setting for the resort built by Ramona and her family in 2014.

Perfect romantic setting (supplied)

Despite many tempting offers from big resort businesses the community, through their chiefs, declined each application, preferring to retain customary ownership for the benefit of their people.

Then finally, a group of Samoan investors provided support for Ramona and in 2011, the work began. The jungle which stretched down to the beach was cleared by hand, and the 100 per cent Samoan owned and operated resort you see today is proudly staffed and operated by the extended family.

The movie is screened every week in the bar and the beach, with its very recognisable rocky outcrops, can be seen from every table. A wedding chapel has been added to the tiny headland where couples receive the blessing of the waves along with their vows.

“Even though we have a modern resort here on the beach, the essence of our land remains and every guest experiences the same special Samoan hospitality that captured the imaginations of Hollywood all those years ago,” says Ramona as she gestures toward the horizon.

Ramona Su’a Pale Gilchrist in front of the beach where the movie was filmed (RE)

Ramona is clearly onto something as the guest feedback is overwhelmingly positive. The critical TripAdvisor website rates Return to Paradise Resort a whopping 4.5 with such comments as “our week at Return to Paradise is our new benchmark” and “surpassed all expectations”.

Ramona invites you to experience for yourself the unique serenity of Lefaga Samoa.

“At Return to Paradise Resort, you can expect to experience our Samoan way of life through activities such as basket weaving, umu (underground cooking), prayer sessions, island night bands, visits to nearby villages and even thrilling fire dances.  While some of these are showpieces, we are far more than that, and we hope you see and learn, and most importantly, feel the real ‘Samoa’ in every personal conversation, smile and encounter while you stay with us.”


The resort offers 59 rooms in the following types: Suites, Kitchenette, Non-Smoking Rooms, Family Rooms, Accessible rooms

Ideal for romantic escapes, weddings, conferences and meetings

Relax at Return to Paradise Resort (supplied)

There a wide range of ethical local tours available including swimming with turtles in a secret location and snorkelling in the village's own giant clam reserve. Open daily for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. The Bar opens 10am-10pm daily. Day guests are welcome and may swim at the beach if dining in the restaurant.

For bookings, please email:

Samoa Airways flies to Sydney from Apia every Thursday and Saturday (OL855/856) see or your preferred travel agent

For information about tours and activities in Samoa, see

March 18, 2018

Sailing Mekong’s Past In The Present

David Ellis cruises from Vietnam to Cambodia.

ABOUT to step aboard the little riverboat Toum Tiou 1 in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City for a trip up the mighty Mekong River to Siem Reap in Cambodia, we suddenly baulk at what we see lays before us.

For surely if everything else aboard this tiny vessel is like that which we are now facing, and amongst which we are soon to be immersed for a whole eight days, we wonder should we rather be kitted-out in khakis and pith helmets from another era, and not our so-recently acquired fashions of the 21st century?

Because although launched just sixteen years ago in 2002, Toum Tiou 1 was built in the traditional style of Mekong riverboats of colonial France many, many decades past, and delightfully finished and decorated throughout in the tasteful style of those eras gone by. This includes lacquered wooden panelling, brass fittings, wickerwork armchairs for relaxing on top-deck, almost antique furnishings, and traditional woven straw wall coverings to mention just a few.

And all of which contribute to a sailing vacation that's a virtual yesteryear-on-water, and which most who've already indulged, say is simply unmatched.

At a tiny 38m in length, this little gem carries just twenty guests in ten cabins, and because of her shallow draft of 1.7m can sail at literally arm's length of riverbanks and beaches, jungles' flora and fauna, and villages and historic buildings for wonderfully up-close viewing and picture-snapping.

And that shallow draft means she and sister-ship Toum Tiou 2 are the only passenger vessels that can sail the Mekong unhindered for a near 500km from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, as others on the river have to transfer passengers to buses in places where waters are too shallow for them to cross.

We had chosen an 8-day sailing on Toum Tiou 1 that was a sell-out with almost half those on board French, and the remainder Australian and English, all pampered throughout by an enthusiastic Captain, officers and crew determined we should go home with lifetime memories.

And our waiters manning the dining areas both indoors and out, quietly responded to the mix of nationalities amongst us, setting up two large tables in each area, one for those French guests who basically spoke no English, and another for we English-speakers who basically spoke no French.

Plus dining itself was a delightful foray into Vietnamese and Cambodian fare of the regions through which we passed daily.

And awaiting us at each day's end was our comfortable air-conditioned cabin with king bed and a hair-dryer for m'lady.

Days could be spent ashore with fascinating land adventures led by Toum Tiou's own Cruise Director, who shared an extraordinary knowledge of everything from village life, to the histories of fabled temples and pagodas that we visited (yes, there is a difference between a temple and a pagoda – but we won't go there!)

And sights ranged from the amazing ruins of Angkor Wat, at 163ha (402 acres) the largest religious monument in the world, to buzzing markets with their diversities of fruits and vegetables, seafood and meat products.

Plus we poked our noses into village life on shore and on stilts over the river, and probably most memorable of all, dropped into a class at a tiny school where the kids' boisterous welcome for us was nothing short of eye-watering.

And when finally back on board Toum Tiou it was cold drinks on the upper deck and a relax on day beds or those wicker chairs for a chat with fellow guests under another spectacular sunset…

Toum Tiou 1 also offered onboard cooking classes where we learned a bit about how to whip-up Asian delights on our return home, talks were given on the region's history and culture, and there was even gear aboard for a spot of fishing too.

Certainly one of the more unusual and memorable of on-water holidays, 8-days aboard the little ten-cabin Toum Tiou 1 starts from USD$3699 for a double/twin cabin for two (for one person from USD$2799,) including meals, some drinks, daily and sometimes twice-daily shore excursions with English and French speaking guides, and entrance fees.

For more information or to book, see your licensed travel agent.

Words: David Ellis

Feature supplied by:

Images: As supplied

1. Toum Tiou 1
2. Stateroom
3. Upper Deck
4. Local produce to market
5. En-suite
6. Captain at the helm

March 10, 2018

Cuba Calling

By Glenn A. Baker

There is a constant, inescapable sensuality to the entire Cuban experience. For all the crumbling decay, the tarnished and faded glamour, and the shortages and sacrifices of a country whose economy virtually collapsed when the Soviets cut off the drip-feed more than a decade ago, there is nothing dormant or moribund about the place.

Italian Treat: Amalfi Coast and Capri with Tauck

It’s the haunt of celebrities and the glitterati with an ancient past. Italy’s Amalfi Coast will delight the visitor.

Words and images Roderick Eime

The last time I toured Italy extensively, I was sleeping on trains, rummaging through my backpack for loose lire and generally travelling rough. Okay, at 17 you don’t know any better and it’s all just one great adventure.

Now, 35 years and several full passports later, I’m ready to surrender to the wisdom and experience of one of the world’s great tour companies. Tauck, a US-based family-owned brand, have honed their product to a razor sharp edge over 90 years of continuous operation and I’m joining them for their much-praised “Week in Rome, the Amalfi Coast and Capri” tour.

Our entire group of 22 fits easily onto a single coach, so there is no crushing or squeezing and our tour guide, Roberta, is as authoritative as she is charming, seamlessly taking charge of our cavalcade as we rollick through this most picturesque region of Italy.

Like wide-eyed school kids on an excursion, we stood at the wharf at Naples waiting for the Capri ferry. This legendary island sits like a bejewelled apostrophe at the head of the Amalfi Coast, further to the east on the Italian mainland.

Our hour-long ferry ride deposits us and several hundred daytrippers at the Marina Grande on the northern shore and in the shadow of the towering cliffs of Monte Cappello and Monte San Michele, the larger of the two soaring to more than 500m. Capri (pronounced CAR-pree) has enjoyed resort destination status since Roman times when Emperors Augustus and Tiberius erected their own holiday villas and gardens well before timeshare was ever a concept.

Marina Grande with Monte Capello in the background, Capri (RE)

Even in June, shoulder season, the tourism machine is in full swing. Convertible taxis, the signature transport of Capri, are loading furiously at the wharf. Roberta ushers us into prearranged vehicles and we head up the steep, narrow laneways to the Piazzetta where the big brand names occupy niches and slots in the miniature shopping district, cheek by jowl with pizzerias and gelato stalls.

It’s no stretch of the imagination to picture Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida swanning about the designer boutiques as men swoon and collapse at their feet. There are no bargain shops here and neither is our hotel, the Grand Hotel Quisisana, where the bellboy challenges me to produce a room key, lest I be some lowly blow-in from the streets outside. A simple beer will set you back 8 euro.

Fortunately, great pleasure can be achieved by simply walking the cobblestoned footpaths, taking the chairlift to the summit for a magnificent view or visiting any of the historic sites. Make sure you leave with a bottle of famous limoncello liqueur or floral perfumes from any of the eager vendors.

The Amalfi Coast looks for all the world like one big movie set. The serpentine roads twist and curl around the precipitous hills, each corner revealing a new and breathtaking view. Clearly our coach captain has driven these byways before, as he guides the big vehicle smoothly around the sharp bends and forks avoiding the self-drive tourists with one eye on their maps.

Positano (RE)

The city of Positano has had more leading roles than Brad Pitt, with notable appearances in ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ and ‘Only You’. In 1953, the writer John Steinbeck waxed lyrical about the town in Harper’s Bazaar, cementing the place forever in tourism folklore.

‘Positano bites deep,’ he wrote, ‘It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone’.

Similarly, the ancient city of Sorrento can boast a modern history of more than 2500 years when the Osci people settled there before the Romans swallowed them up.

In a fitting farewell, we head back to Naples via the sea, watching the traffic squirm on the ledge-like roads that join the settlements perched on the impossible cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

In the distance, is that a whiff of smoke from the ominous peak of Mount Vesuvius? Let us not forget just who is in charge around here.

Doing it:

TAUCK’s signature tour is ‘A Week In The Amalfi Coast, Capri & Rome’


Call 1300-732-300 or your travel agent

March 09, 2018

Racing into motoring's record books

STILL in perfect working order today, and fetching E2m-plus at auction in Paris. (Bonhams Auctions)

David Ellis

IT came fifth in France's famed Le Mans 24Hr endurance motor-race, so it's probably little wonder that when it went to auction this month this spritely racer sold for a whopping E2,012,500,  or around AU$2.8m.

But what is of some wonder, is that it was not last year's Le Mans in which this Aston Martin Ulster placed fifth, nor the year before that, nor even the year before that… its big 5th placing was an amazing 82 years ago in 1935.

Yet when it went to auction in Paris in still perfect working order this month, four bidders quickly pushed the final price of the historic race-car past the experts' estimations of E1.8m, to that E2m-plus.

 ONCE wheels for a pop idol: this grand 1947 Cadillac convertible was a star of Bonhams auction of classic and antique vehicles in Paris this month. (Bonhams Auctions)

The Aston Martin – that had sold new in London for 750 British Pounds (AU$1,220) back in 1935 – was one of 132 classic and historic vehicles that went to auction under the hammer of prestigious British auction house Bonhams in Paris on February 9.

They ranged from a 1900 Benz single cylinder 4.5hp 'motorwagen' that fetched E212,750 (AU$296,000,) to E41,400 or AU$57,400 for a 1947 Cadillac convertible once owned by French pop idol Claude Francois, whose hit "Comme d'habitude" became a Frank Sinatra record-breaker when Ol' Blue Eyes re-titled and belted it out as "My Way."

And a rare 1957 Bentley S1 Continental of which only 31 were ever built, sold for E1,070,100 or just under AU$1.5m, while a half-century old 1966 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL 'Gullwing' Coupe also sold for a touch over E1m… with the Aston Martin, making up three vehicles to pass the magic-million price-point on the day.

March 04, 2018

Ride Jasper on a Harley-Davidson

Jasper and 'The Wild One'

The roar of the engine had John Newton's adrenaline flowing immediately.

It was my first time on a Harley Davidson and what made it even more pulsating was that I was heading for the dizzy heights of Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada writes John Newton.

Clad in all black leather from virtually head to foot, I certainly looked the part but, unfortunately, it wasn't me with my hand on the throttle. I was all tucked up in the sidecar, while my (easy) rider/guide did all the work.

The spick and span (CAD$60,000) Harley was purring as we picked up speed on the way up to Marmot Basin, a renowned alpine ski area high above Jasper, in search of bears, moose and elk.

Look in every direction and you'll see unobstructed mountain views, emerald green lakes, waterfalls and the magical colour changes of the forest in the Canadian Fall.

But, despite going to the places he knew best, my rider – Rob – just couldn't find any wildlife along   the deserted, winding mountain roads in the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies.

With time running out during the one-hour tour, Rob noticed my frustration and decided to head back towards Jasper as bears, moose and elk are often spotted walking across the main highway  – and even into the town itself.

Then, just off the highway near the Athabasca River, there were cars pulling over to the side – a sure sign of wildlife. Unfortunately, it wasn't a 'bear jam' (as the locals call it when traffic banks up by the roadside). It was a family of elk grazing by the river, oblivious to the crowd building up behind them.

Parks Canada rangers were soon on the spot to stop people getting too close, but there are always one or two prepared to venture closer to get a better view - despite warnings that female elk instinctively protect their young.

During the elk rutting season – September 1 - October 15 – anything (like cars) and humans that get too close or come between a male and the females may be attacked.

The elk family eventually moved on and Rob revved up the Harley for the short journey back to base.

Jasper Motorcycle Tours is owned by Candace Broughton, who set up the business 11 years ago with a 2007 Roadking classic and a 2007 Electraglide, both with side-cars. "It was something that had never been done before in North America," she said.

"The response has been phenomenal and I am truly living my dream".

Jasper Motorcycle Tours now runs six Harley Davidsons with side-cars and often takes out up to 80 people a day.

The company, which was recently featured in a Harley Davidson documentary, has about 20 riders, two of whom are female, including Candace. "We all are of mature age and very experienced," she added.

For more details, go to

Hashtag: #MyJasper

Another Jasper company – Sundog Tours – run a Wildlife Discover experience in which its guides are well-versed in the ecology, geology and history of the area and its many wild mountain animals. These include bears, deer, elk, horned sheep, mountain goats, foxes, coyotes, wolves and moose.

The guides help passengers learn all about the way these animals contribute to the rich diversity of the Jasper National Park.

More at

Accommodation: Mount Robson Inn, features 80 rooms and suites and is a short stroll from Jasper township. Among other things, the property offers free breakfast, free parking, laundry facilities outdoor hot tubs and ski storage.

More information at:

Gemstone in second image: Korite Ammolite is a Canadian gemstone – one of the rarest on Earth – found in Southern Alberta's Bearpaw Formation.

A one-hour Harley Davidson Tour costs CAD$125 + tax per passenger (pillion and sidecar passengers) or CAD$165 + tax for a single passenger. A two-hour tour is priced at CAD$185 + tax each for two people and CAD$240 + tax for a single passenger. And for a three-hour trip, the cost is CAD$235 each for two people and CAD$310 + tax for a single passenger.

Jasper Motorcle Tours provide chaps (leather pants and jacket) and doorags (bandana, helmet and glasses). Prices quoted may change.

Jasper National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. It covers 11,000 square kilometres of untamed wilderness.

American motorcycle manufacturer – Harley Davidson - was founded 114 years ago in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Widely known for its loyal following, it's one of only two major American motorcycle manufacturers to survive the Great Depression. It's now one of the world's largest motorcycle manufacturers and an iconic brand.

Prices quoted may change.

For the latest please go to:

The writer travelled with the assistance of Destination Canada and Tourism Jasper.

Words and images: John Newton

Feature supplied by:

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