May 23, 2019

Ultimate Driving Tours on pole for Monaco

An Australian-based luxury tour company has grabbed pole position in Monaco – a sold-out crowd for its most popular event, a visit to this weekend's iconic Formula One race.

Clients of Ultimate Driving Tours were able to choose to enjoy their F1 Grand Prix spectator duties as a stand-alone experience (May 23-26), or combine their stay in the beautiful principality with a four-day European Supercar Tour through France, Switzerland and Italy, before or after the event.

Ultimate Driving Tours first offered a driving tour including the Monaco F1 event back in 2012. This year, a total of 48 drivers have booked out the two tours, with another 50 people opting to join them just for the race weekend. All will enjoy the race from a privately chartered superyacht moored in a prime location in Port Hercules, beside the track.

This is a capacity crowd for this tour combination, one of the most popular of Ultimate Driving Tours' range of more than 10 tours, which take clients to destinations in Australia, Europe, America and the UK. All tours allow clients to drive a selection of the world's best cars.

For this month's tours, participants have also chosen from a list of popular optional extras – adding on an evening with Australian F1 star Mark Webber and/or driving a real F1 car on a closed circuit.

"We were sold out for the Grand Prix six months ago," says Ultimate Driving Tours CEO, Anthony Moss. "It's so popular that next year's Grand Prix is filling fast, with only limited spots available, while on current indications, the related driving tours either side of the 2020 Monaco Grand Prix will be sold out next month."

Mr Moss says many of his clients describe visiting the Monaco Grand Prix as a 'bucket list' item. Adding a driving tour either side is the cream on top.

"They say they are surprised by what incredible value they get for the price. Four days driving the world's best cars on the world's best driving roads and staying in amazing hotels paired with excellent food and wine.

"People want to reward themselves for their efforts in their life. We see parents that have children who have graduated or moved out of home, businessmen and women who have sold companies and others who just have a passion for cars."

Clients can certainly indulge that passion to excess with Ultimate Driving Tours. Thanks to the company's special partner arrangements, they can get behind the wheel of vehicles such as Ferraris (458 Spider and 488 GTB) and Lamborghinis (Huracan and Aventador), as well as the Porsche 911 GT3 and GTS, the Aston Martin DB11 and the McLaren 720S.

Until this year, the iconic Monaco Grand Prix was the only F1 event on Ultimate Driving Tours' calendar, but the company is now offering a package to the Italian Grand Prix(September 6-8), which is already nearly 80 per cent sold out.

Clients wanting to book a driving package with Ultimate Driving Tours can combine it with any other plans in Europe. The tours are created as exclusive end-to-end luxury travel experiences with every detail arranged by the company's team of European specialists who can recommend many other things to do and see, and do the bookings too.

Ultimate Driving Tours was born from a passion for all things motor-related, and an appreciation for the finer things in life. The company specialises in exclusive and unforgettable supercar driving tours, motorsport packages and track events, as part of a luxury travel experience.

More information is available on the website:  www.ultimatedrivingtours.com

May 19, 2019

Relive Riverboat History on the Murray River aboard a paddle wheeler

Words: Roderick Eime

Australia’s riverboat history is a colourful one. What began as a challenge between two entrepreneurial merchants in the infant colonies, turned into a thriving industry for over half a century.

19th-century paddlesteamer 'Queen' loading cargo (Port Adelaide Railway Museum)

Spurred on by a prize of 4000 pounds offered in 1851 by the governor of South Australia, Sir Henry Fox Young, William Randell and Francis Cadell started the romantic and hectic era of paddlesteamers along the Murray River with their own modest vessels. Within a few years, around 250 vessels were plying the river, carrying general goods, wheat, wine and other produce to market.

But the river, like any other, was fickle and prone to periods of high and low water. Boats were often stranded for weeks on end with perishable cargo on their decks, and before a series of planned locks could be completed, the river trade was overtaken by road and rail. Many boats were abandoned where they lay, left to rot in the mud.

Even though the river trade may have almost died out, the tourist demand kept the big paddlewheelers afloat. Taking a few days for a leisurely cruise along the Murray River has been a tradition for the best part of a century - with comfort and refinement gradually increasing to its peak with the PS Murray Princess, the largest and grandest vessel yet.

For example, two of the busiest ports from the heady days of 19th Century paddlesteamers, Mannum (SA) and Echuca (VIC), keep the tradition alive with both restored and replica vessels taking part in regular re-enactments’ and tourist cruises. Here is a quick summary of the ways and where’s you can relive the glory days of Murray River paddle steamers.

South Australia

Mannum, founded by William Randell around 1850 expressly to service his paddle boat empire, is still the home of the famous 110-year-old PS Marion. This delightful historic vessel still operates cruises.

The century-old PS Marion

For information, see www.psmarion.com or telephone +61 8 8563 2720 or +61 407 937 487

Also based at Mannum is the impressive sternwheeler, PS Murray Princess, the biggest paddlewheeler ever to operate on the Murray and claimed to be the second largest in the southern hemisphere. Carrying 120 passengers at a leisurely 6 knots, the PS Murray Princess operates 3-, 4- and 7-night itineraries between Mannum and Blanchetown, depending on river levels. Excursions include wine tasting, history and museums, a sheep station and Aboriginal heritage.

For information, see https://www.murrayprincess.com.au/ www.captaincook.com.au or telephone +61 2 9206 1100

PS Murray Princess,  the largest paddlewheeler ever to operate on the Murray River and the largest paddlewheeler in the Southern Hemisphere (SeaLink) 

Murray Bridge in South Australia is another historic river port where you can take a short day cruise aboard the modern Captain Proud or a 2- or 5-night cruise aboard the 1982-built, 40-passenger Murray Expedition (formerly MV Proud Mary)

See www.rivermurraycruises.com.au or www.captainproud.com.au

The Riverina port town of Renmark is known as the oldest irrigated township in Australia and was also a major player in the river trade. Today the paddlesteamer, PS Industry (1910) calls Renmark home.

See https://www.facebook.com/PSIndustry.Renmark/

At the mouth of the great river is the town of Goolwa, home port to the century-old PS Oscar W. Formerly work barge C24, Oscar W was restored as a paddlewheeler and after a colourful career on the Murray it now serves exclusively as a day-cruiser. Goolwa offers a double treat for history buffs because it is also the terminus for the ‘Cockle Train’, a steam locomotive operating between the wharf and Victor Harbour.

See http://www.oscar-w.info/cruises.html and www.steamranger.org.au


The twin towns of Echuca Moama boast the largest fleet of paddlewheelers in the world including the oldest wooden-hulled paddleboat, the 1866-built PS Adelaide and the TV star, PS Pevensey (1910). Other vessels have included PS Alexander Arbuthnot (1923), PS Emmylou (1980 replica with a 1906 engine), PS Hero (1874) PS Canberra (1912) and PS Pride of the Murray (1924).

Port of Echuca (VisitNSW)

While one or more of these vessels may be under maintenance or restoration by their volunteer staff, there will be still a choice of several vessels on which to cruise. A good time to visit Echuca Moama is during one of their annual festivals like the Celtic Festival (March), Winter Blues (July) or the American Iron Heritage Truck Display (September).

For a full listing of events, activities and cruises, see www.echucamoama.com


Trivia: In 1984, a 6-part television miniseries, All the Rivers Run, based on a historical novel by the Australian author, Nancy Cato, was filmed in and around Echuca. It starred veteran Australian actors John Waters, Sigrid Thornton, Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell and Gus Mercurio. The starring vessel was the century-old PS Pevensey renamed ‘Philadelphia’ for the series.

Mildura is one of the largest cities on the Murray River and today is a bustling rural centre with modern, sophisticated accommodation and dining. Paddlesteamers Melbourne (1912) and Rothbury (1881) operate regularly from the wharf with Melbourne departing twice each day as it has done continuously for the past 40 years. The Mildura fleet also includes the modern replica Mundoo.

For further information on the Mildura fleet, see www.paddlesteamers.com.au

Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement is a recreated 19th century river township that includes the genuine historic river vessel, PS Pyap (1896) as part of its activities.

See www.pioneersettlement.com.au

New South Wales
As the Murray River forms the border between New South Wales and Victoria, it was natural that the northern state (or colony as it was before 1900) be part of the busy river trade. The town of Wentworth is the home port for the PS Ruby (1907) after it was presented to the community following restoration in 1996. One of the last remaining vessels purpose-built for passengers, Ruby is operated by volunteers on a cruise schedule based on demand and does not have onboard overnight facilities.

PS Ruby (Visit NSW)

See http://www.murrayriver.com.au/ps-ruby-wentworth-inc-1241/ for scheduled cruises

The many surviving and restored Murray River paddlesteamers are operated and lovingly maintained by squads of volunteers, reflecting the great affection held for the vessels themselves and the history they represent. Cruise aboard one of these magnificent antique vessels and share in the romance of Australia’s greatest river.

For a summary of all cruising and activities along the Murray River, see www.murrayriver.com.au http://www.murrayriver.com.au/river-cruises/

May 14, 2019

Bucharest: Ready for a post-Soviet future

Len Rutledge finds that Bucharest now welcomes all visitors

"There is no such thing as vampires," I'm told on my first afternoon in Bucharest, Romania. "Dracula is our country's biggest brand, but he is fake." My wife and I had not come to Bucharest to find vampires. In fact, we were uncertain why we had come but a few days later it was clear. We had come to see a place once known as the "Paris of the East" which had suffered badly under five decades of communism but was now re-emerging as a welcoming place for all visitors.

Bucharest is unlikely to win any awards for beauty or style, but it surprised us with its cosmopolitan vibe and energy. Although much of Romania's capital was bulldozed by the communists, the old town survived and is abuzz with bars, cafes and restaurants.

Nicolae Ceausescu, the megalomaniacal ruler for many years, ripped out a huge area of the historical centre — 30,000 houses, schools, and churches — to create his dream city with wide boulevards, stone-faced apartment blocks, and gurgling fountains modelled, it is said, on Pyongyang, North Korea. That is still there but thankfully so too are some wonderful art nouveau buildings, ancient churches and monasteries, lush parkland, lakes and elegant boulevards.

Romania joined the EU in 2007, but it is not in the Euro zone. Instead we changed our money to Romanian lei, and received a pleasant surprise with the result. That is another reason to stay longer than planned.

We started our sightseeing by visited the indisputably jaw-dropping Palace of the Parliament, a gargantuan concrete folly and an embodiment of communist-era might. Ceausescu bled the nation dry to erect the second-largest building in the world (after the Pentagon) and the huge annual maintenance bill is still a drain on resources. It finally opened in 1994 — five years after Ceausescu was executed in a bloody revolt.

We toured in a small group through a fraction of the 1100 rooms. Most are empty to this day but the ones we saw were lavishly decorated. Finally, we moved on to the balcony in Union Hall to take in the view down Unirii Boulevard. To visit, you need to have your passport with you and there is high security.

Palace Square was where in 1989, Nicolae Ceaușescu realised that the 80,000 people that had gathered had not come to hear his speech but to start a revolution. He began to deliver his speech but he was quickly airlifted by helicopter from the roof top. He and his wife were executed three days later and the square was renamed Revolution Square.

Around the square are the tall white Memorial of Rebirth Obelisque, the former Royal Palace which is now the National Museum of Art of Romania, and the mid-19th century Roman Athenaeum opera house where the Romanian Philharmonic Orchestra plays.

The National Museum of Art is separated into a European Gallery, with an impressive quota of old masters, and a National Gallery of Romanian art. Just north, the Roman Athenaeum is arguably the most beautiful building in town, and it's worth visiting to sample its acoustics and to gawk at its opulence. This building is a Romanian symbol and appears on a 5 Lei note.

Art of a different kind is seen on the streets. There seems to be graffiti everywhere but as one local put it," They're just buildings being 'spruced up' with graffiti."

One of the surprising delights was roaming around without a plan. Fresco-filled churches hide in corners where they escaped communist building projects. The majority of the population are Eastern Orthodox, and you will find Orthodox churches dotted throughout the city. Tiny but beautiful Stavropoleos Church is in the Old Town while St Apostles' Church and Antim Church, are both near Unirii Boulevard.

For something different we strolled in the gorgeously landscaped Cismigiu Park and watched the boats on the lake. There is a chess and backgammon retreat for seniors, the most seats I have ever seen in a park, and buskers for entertainment. This is just one of several nice parks and gardens.

In another park, mills, parts of churches, old homesteads and agricultural structures are all on display in the National Village Museum, an open-air delight on the banks of Herăstrău Lake. It is comprised of some 300 buildings. It is a very long walk from the Old Town but several buses run past the museum.

Romanian food is not well known outside the country so we went to Caru' cu Bere, the Old Town's most famous beer hall with gorgeous painted vaults to try the Romanian national dish; cabbage rolls stuffed with mincemeat, with a side of polenta. It was excellent. We later tried this dish in other places and always found it enjoyable.

Bucharest was a surprise. After several days we were still finding new things to see, new places to eat and drink (the Old Town has hundreds of restaurants and bars), and new experiences to enjoy. We could happily go back there.



There are no direct flights from Australia to Bucharest but there are connections from many European capitals.

Australian passport holders do not need a visa for a tourist visit of up to 90 days.

Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


1. Palace of the Parliament
2. Revolution Square
3. Orthodox Church of Sfantul Anton-Curtea Veche
4. Old Town Restaurants

May 11, 2019

Unlocking Australia’s Convict and Criminal Past

Words: Roderick Eime (originally commissioned for Tourism Australia)
Australia was built on the sweat of convict labour. Beginning with the arrival of the first fleet in 1788, transported lawbreakers were the backbone of the construction and work force for the new colony that would become this great country over a century later. Bridges, public buildings, roads and civil engineering were all heavily reliant on the use of prisoners on hard labour.

Many convicts were set free in Australia and went on to make lives for themselves and even fortunes. Some rose to high office while others served the country as architects, doctors and merchants. Once upon a time, Australians would seek to erase their convict heritage, but now it’s seen as a ‘badge of honour’ for those tracing family roots.

One of the lasting monuments to Australia’s convict past is the many gaols and penitentiaries still standing, most in use up until very recently. The UNESCO World Heritage Convention has even recognised sites such as Port Arthur (TAS) and Norfolk Island as being of ‘cultural significance’. Some are even touting for new clients, inviting visitors to stay over and experience a night in a cell.

Here are some of our more interesting, lesser-known examples and the special visitor experiences they offer.
VIC: Old Melbourne Gaol
Victoria’s oldest surviving gaol, Old Melbourne Gaol started its ghastly life in 1839 and was subject to constant remodelling and reworking until it finally closed in 1929. Located right in the heart of Melbourne, it’s easily reached on foot or public transport.
This grisly building was the scene of 135 hangings, including the infamous bushranger, Ned Kelly in 1880 at the tender age of 25. His death mask and revolver are on display.

Ned Kelly being led to the gallows

This old lock-up is full of history and, many believe, ghosts. In 1972 it was re-opened as a public museum after being placed on the National Trust of Australia’s heritage list in 1957. Today the gaol offers one of the most complete visitor offerings from simple self-guided tours to the ‘arresting’ watch house experience where guests are locked up in a simulated custodial event. At night, take part in a spine-chilling hangman’s tour or even a ghost-hunter tour with authentic paranormal investigators as your guides.
NSW: Maitland Gaol
When Maitland Gaol, in NSW’s Hunter Valley, closed in 1998, it was Australia’s longest continually operating prison with a history of 150 years. It too incarcerated some of this country’s most repugnant inmates including the convicted murderers Ivan Milat, John Travers, underworld hitman and thug, Neddy Smith, as well as the notorious bank robber and escape artist, Darcy Dugan.
Its unpleasant past included 16 hangings, many of them public, as well as floggings and riots.
Today the old heritage-listed gaol is a true multi-function centre offering venue space for private and corporate events, functions and even laser skirmish. It is regularly used in film and television shoots as well as exhibitions and is the current home to Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles.
Tours include audio/self-guided and themed tours conducted by ex-warders and ex-inmates highlighting the colourful history and escapes. There are school tours, psychic tours, private tours and even sleepovers in C Wing under full lockdown. This is definitely not for everyone.
WA: Fremantle Prison
One of the UNESCO-listed convict-era sites, Fremantle Prison was opened in 1852 after having been built by convicts requested by the free settlers expressly for the purpose of labour. One woman and 43 men were hanged here, the last in 1964.
Penal transportation was relatively brief in WA, being only from 1850 to 1868, but the gaol quickly filled to its 800 inmate capacity and continued to house both male and female prisoners until 1970 and males only until it closed permanently in 1991.
One of the cool and spooky things about Fremantle Prison is the kilometre of tunnels that were dug beneath the building to reach the limestone-filtered water that was used to supply the growing colony as well as ships in port. These tunnels now have their own tour and won’t suit the claustro- or acrophobics. School and group tours are available too as well as a creepy torchlight tour that takes in the morgue, gallows and whipping post.
SA: Adelaide Gaol and The Old Mount Gambier Gaol

Along with Maitland, Adelaide also claims to have the longest continuously operating prison in Australia. Built in 1841, just five years after the establishment of the free settler colony, it housed over 300,000 prisoners until closure in 1988 and remains one of the two oldest buildings in South Australia. Between 1840 and 1964, 45 men and one woman were executed by hanging. No transported convicts were ever brought to South Australia.
Since closure, the gaol has been managed by the Adelaide Gaol Preservation Society Inc. and both guided and self-guided tours are run. No gaol tour would be complete without a ghost and paranormal tour – and Adelaide runs these three times a week.
Down south in the sleepy town of Mount Gambier, is the Old Gaol. Built in 1866 from local stone, it closed in 1995 and now offers one of the most accessible overnight cell experiences. For just a few dollars, it provides quirky backpacker-style accommodation and is a talking point for your travel blog. One execution was recorded there in November 1871.
QLD: Boggo Road Gaol
From 1883 until 1989, Annerley (Boggo) Road was the site for men’s and women’s prisons, the latter being built on 'modern' penological principles of the 19th century which ensured its heritage listing today. Currently the site is under repair and tours are not expected to recommence in the short term.
TAS: Penitentiary Chapel
Away from the better known Port Arthur and right in Hobart CBD, is the Penitentiary Chapel historic site. Originally built to provide the growing number of convicts with a place of worship and religious instruction, it soon took on a macabre second life with the installation of an execution yard and solitary confinement cells. Curiously the punishment cells were directly beneath the chapel and tortured prisoners often interrupted the services and 32 executions were performed in the ‘holy’ yard. Guided day and night (ghost) tours take place every day.

May 05, 2019

Khao Lak - Thailand beach holiday hotspot

Words: Len Rutledge
It was once one of the fastest growing tourism areas in Thailand. Then it was hit by a massive tsunami. Now it is a charming retreat from the hustle of Phuket. With excellent accommodation options, several interesting attractions, and a growing reputation in the trade, Khao Lak is proving to be an appealing destination for many Australians.

Before you go, you need to understand the pros and cons of this destination. The pros are nice beachside resorts, white sandy beaches, a laid-back vibe ideal for relaxing, and some enjoyable attractions. The cons are the spread-out nature of the area, a lack of tourist transport, little nightlife, and limited shopping opportunities. Perhaps the last two are actually cons!

Here is what makes the area appealing to me.

Little Amazon

At the Little Amazon entrance. The sign says "Welcome to Thailand river jungle version of the Amazon. Here you will experience ancient Banyan trees, exotic animals, and other beauties Thai nature has to offer." Perhaps this is overstating it a little bit but the one-hour trip in small inflatable canoes with a paddler/guide was fascinating.

You cruise slowly along a little river which winds gently through the swamp and you can see monkeys, egrets, monitors, mangrove snakes, and mud crabs. The huge banyan trees with their spreading roots are quite spectacular and majestic.

Unfortunately, our trip was dampened by a heavy tropical downpour but in fine weather this would be a photographer's paradise.

Old Takua Pa town

Well known to local tourists but largely shunned by foreigners, the old Sri Takua Pa district, located about 7 km south of the main Takua Pa town, features picturesque old architecture that comes from Takua Pa's glory days as a tin mining and port centre.

Both sides of the main Si Takua Pa Road that bisects the old town are dotted with period buildings conspicuous by their Sino-Portuguese architecture, Chinese shrines and tea houses. The town seems to house mainly elderly people who sit chatting in front of their homes or walk or ride bicycles to the local market.

It is very much a laid-back attraction but if history or architecture have any interest to you, it is easy to spend several hours wandering around absorbing the scene.

Khao Lak beaches

The Khao Lak beaches are the main reason why many people choose this tranquil area of Phang Nga Province as their holiday destination. Khao Lak Beach is the most southerly developed strip of sand and this gives its name to the whole area from here to Banglut Beach many kilometres to the north. Stately trees line the edge of the beach and a headland blocks this beach from its neighbours to the north.

The most peopled beach is Nang Thong Beach - La On Village. The half-dozen resorts that front the beach have sea-view pools so some guests don't ever make it all the way to the sand.

Bang Niang, immediately to the north, is the second most populous beach. There are a few longtail boats here, while resorts overlook the beach, and basic-but-cheap Thai restaurants and massage huts are found nearby.

Further north again, Khuk Khak Beach, with only a couple resorts tucked among the pine trees and palm groves, runs north to Pakarang Cape.

Police Boat Memorial

Nothing brings home the power of the 2004 Tsunami better for me than seeing Police Boat 813 that was swept 2 kilometres inland and is still sitting on site, now as a memorial. This boat and another that sunk killing all on board was anchored about a kilometre out at sea as a protection to members of the Royal Family who were holidaying in Khao Lak at the time.

Adjacent is a two-storey International Tsunami Museum created by an American university in association with the local authority. A visit here helps to put things in perspective and your entrance fee and anything you buy contributes to help the local community as most of the benefits go to victims.

The Ban Nam Khem Tsunami Memorial Centre is further north near the coast in an area that suffered very badly. Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be well managed and some visitors are quite disappointed in the faded photographs and cracking concrete.


We stayed for several nights in the excellent Khao Lak Laguna Resort which fronts the Andaman Sea. The resort has villas and extremely large well-furnished rooms which are set in delightful gardens. There are several restaurants, a spa with excellent service, two beachfront swimming pools, gym, sports facilities and a lounge with evening entertainment.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and we expect that the same could be said for several other resorts in the same general area. There is some budget accommodation in Khao Lak but this tends to be away from the beach.

Getting to Khao Lak

There are buses and vans from Phuket International Airport. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the main part of Khao Lak. There are also buses travelling the long route 4 from Bangkok.

Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge


Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


1. Khao Lak Laguna Resort

2. Little Amazon

3. Pld Takua Town

4. Police Boat Memorial

5. The Beach Front

April 30, 2019

The Falkland Islands: A fascinating destination on your Antarctic journey

Join John Maddocks as he wonders at nature and isolated islands.

The black-browed albatross sweeps low over our heads, landing rather elegantly beside its nest, a solid pillar of mud set in tall tussock grass. It joins hundreds of other nesting albatrosses on the steep slope that leads to a dramatic cliff edge on West Point Island, our first landing place in the Falklands.

For nature lovers, this is a significant moment. We're metres from these legendary birds and their nesting neighbours, a large colony of Rockhopper penguins. The albatrosses and penguins show no fear of us and they don't interfere with each other. And the reason we're seeing so many black-browed albatrosses is that the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas to Argentines) is home to eighty-five percent of the world's population, around 680,000 pairs. Little wonder that West Point was once called Albatross Island.

I've been fascinated by the albatross ever since reading Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at school, in which the bird symbolises nature. In the poem, an albatross follows the mariner's ship into Antarctic waters, but despite the albatross being regarded as a lucky omen by sailors, the mariner shoots it with a crossbow. From that moment the ship and crew are doomed.

I am reminded of the poem when I sight an albatross soon after our ship sails from Ushuaia on the southern tip of Argentina. Our expedition vessel, heading for Antarctica, is quickly circled by black-browed albatrosses which follow us all the way to the Falkland Islands. But instead of aiming a crossbow at them, I shoot hundreds of photos of these majestic birds as they soar effortlessly and swoop close to the ocean's surface.

Albatrosses can live up to seventy years, often spending months at sea flying for thousands of kilometres and only coming to land to breed, so while we feel privileged to be so close to these amazing seafarers on West Point Island, the comical rockhopper penguins show no respect. These penguins spend a great deal of time waddling between the albatross pillars in an ungainly way collecting bits of grass to build their own nests. Looking at their stocky bodies, it's hard to believe they move like torpedoes under water.

After climbing down to the beach, we encounter a sleeping fur seal who seems oblivious to our presence. Half-a-dozen Magellanic penguins come out of the ocean and make their way up the beach. Some Upland geese walk beside the water with their chicks, unconcerned about a Magellanic penguin strolling beside them. Gentoo penguins gather on grassland behind the dunes. Things seem quite harmonious in this remote part of the world, at least in the animal realm.

But there hasn't been much harmony in the human world. Countries have been fighting over the Falklands for centuries. The French and Spanish made early claims on the islands and later the Germans and Americans showed an interest. But the British have held sway here since 1833 and still do after winning the 1982 war with Argentina. Tensions remain, however, as Argentina continues to claim the islands.

The excellent Historic Dockyard Museum in the capital Stanley has a fascinating gallery devoted to the Falklands War and curating staff are happy to discuss the exhibits, some of which include confronting stories of the inhabitants' war experiences.

With a population of just over two thousand, Stanley is more like a quaint English village of red phone boxes and Land Rovers than a British Overseas Territory's centre of government. Nevertheless, there is a Governor who resides in a rather splendid government house and a functioning Legislative Assembly. And if the locals often seem more British than the Brits themselves, that's because 99.8% of them voted to remain British in a 2013 referendum. Patriotic fervour is obvious in places such as the Victory Bar, which is festooned with Union Jacks and Falklands flags. Here you can chat to friendly locals and have scampi and chips washed down with a warm ale from the Falklands Beerworks.

Stanley is a very welcoming place and, as you walk around, there's a genuine feeling of a far-flung outpost with an overwhelming sense of community. Christ Church Cathedral is a prominent landmark, as is the nearby arch made from the jawbones of blue whales in 1933. The weekly Penguin News keeps inhabitants informed about local and international events relating to the Falklands.

From a traveller's point of view, the Falklands present a rare opportunity to experience exceptional wildlife in one of the planet's last functioning colonial outposts

The writer travelled courtesy of One Ocean Expeditions.

Getting There: Air New Zealand flies to Buenos Aires via Auckland and code shares with Aerolineas Argentinas for flights from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. www.airnewzealand.com.au

Other One Ocean Expeditions' journeys commence in Chile. Qantas flies to Santiago and code shares with LATAM Airlines for flights from Santiago to Punta Arenas. From Punta Arenas you either fly to the Falklands or commence your sea voyage. www.qantas.com/au/en.html

Cruise: One Ocean Expeditions have cruises to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica commencing as early in the season as October 20, 2019. Visit www.oneoceanexpeditions.com or phone 1300 368 123 or (02) 9119 2228

See John's new book Against the Odds: surviving the world's worst tsunami and overcoming trauma at www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07CZCHX8S/

Story and images (except #6) by John Maddocks

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


1. Hundreds of black-browed albatrosses and rockhopper penguins nesting on the cliffs.

2. A black-browed albatross and chick on West Point Island.

3. Rockhopper penguins sunning themselves on West Point Island.

4. A Magellanic penguin stroll beside a family of Upland geese.

5. Colourful Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands.

6. Flags at the Victory Bar leave no doubt about the Falkland Islanders allegiance to Britain. (Image by Jeff Topham)

7. The distinctive whalebone arch at Stanley.

April 23, 2019

Is this the friendliest ship in the world?

Dallas Sherringham and Michael Osborne find that going on a luxury voyage aboard Captain Cook Cruises Fiji is like going off to explore Paradise with a group of close friends aboard your own superyacht.

The cruise staff and crew aboard their superb ship Reef Endeavour are quite simply the friendliest people I have ever had the fortune to travel with in my time as a travel writer. I recently went on a seven-night voyage to eastern and northern Fiji to explore the cultural and colonial history of the islands.

It was also a cruise also featuring great natural beauty including the famed Garden Island of Taveuni and some of the world's best diving and snorkeling experiences.

However, it was the crew who captured everyone's hearts, giving guests a real taste of the famous Fijian hospitality.

They sang, they danced, they smiled constantly, they welcomed us with a heartening "Bula" and "Vinaka" at every opportunity; they wined an dined us in great style and when it was time to say "goodbye", tears flowed as they sang the hauntingly beautiful Fijian song of farewell, "Isa Lei".

Under the guidance of skipper Ian Davison and Cruise Director Carol Crumlin, they took us to isolated, unspoilt places only a few people from around the world ever get to experience,

Reef Endeavour is a top of the range luxury expedition ship, perfectly appointed to provide a unique experience in Paradise. It has a large expedition boat which is easy to access on a hydraulic ramp and is simply lowered into the water and away you go. The expedition boat doubles as a glass bottom boat and snorkeling and diving base.

Captain Cook Cruises is known for its quality diving experiences and they have two expert instructors on board. The reefs of the Somsomo Strait and the surrounding area have some of the best soft coral displays anywhere on earth and the divers on board my cruise raved about them.

And how refreshing it was after a stunning day of exploring and snorkeling to sit on the back deck, enjoy a cleansing ale with new found friends and watch the sun go down over the endless South Pacific.

The evening meal was a la carte with a quality selection of Australian and New Zealand wines and plenty of excited banter amongst the guests. The meals on Captain Cook Cruises are always a highlight and Reef Endeavour well and truly matched the constantly high standards of the cruise line.

Taveuni, the legendary Garden Island, has always been on my list of places to visit for many years and it didn't disappoint. We went ashore in the expedition boat and a local tourist bus was waiting to take us to the base for the easy walk to Tavoro Bouma Waterfall and rock pool in the Bouma National Heritage Park on the eastern side of the island.

The cool waters of the pool are a refreshing reward as the waters of the raging falls plunged more than 20m from above, through virgin rainforest. That night we went ashore again for a traditional Fijian welcoming ceremony and concert, at followed by a Luau, at a local village on the shores of Taveuni.

The old Fijian capital of Levuka on Ovalau Island was a highlight of the cruise. It is the best preserved island town in the world and has gained World Heritage status for its Wild West style buildings stretching along Beach St, framed by vertical rainforest clad mountains.

At Savusavu, you visit the capital of Vana Levu, the northern or "second" island of Fiji. Locals say you will never want to leave when you visit- and I could soon see why. It is a beautiful place, with quiet beaches framed by Indian rain trees, hot springs that occasionally turn into geysers, a bustling commercial area and old wharves straight out of a Somerset Maugham South Seas story.

The water is so clean and pure in the bay, a giant volcanic crater flooded by the sea, that pearl farmer Justin Hunter has set up a unique operation in conjunction with the local community. His farm produces the world's rarest pearls in shells that dangle suspended under the ocean on secured lines.

We also visited the former leper colony at Makogai Island, in the heart of the Lomaiviti Group, where more than 4000 sufferers from throughout the Pacific were sent to battle the devastating disease. The quiet, deserted cemetery is testament to the tragic end of that long battle for many patients.

However Makogai is now bringing new life and hope to the region in another way. It is home to an experimental station that is growing giant clams and returning them to the sea. The clams have disappeared from the reefs of Fiji due to cyclones and harvesting, but they are now being replaced. The clams play a vital role in keeping reefs healthy and eliminating Crown of Thorns starfish prodigy.

I really enjoyed this Captain Cook Cruises adventure. It was relaxing, fun-filled, friendly and unique, typical of their excellent itineraries and experiences. Ideally suited for singles, couples, mature travellers and extended family groups

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji is currently offering some great deals,

For further information and bookings, please contact Captain Cook Cruises on T: +61 9126 8160 or from within Australia: 1300 To Fiji (86 3454)

Email: fiji@captaincookcruisesfiji.com or visit www.captaincookcruisesfiji.com

Or contact your local travel agent.

Words: Dallas Sherringham
Images: Michael Osborne using a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


1. Reef Endeavour at Wairiki
2. Taveuni Bouma Falls
3. Levuka waterfront
4. Savusavu
5. Going ashore Makogai
6. Charlie from Canada had a birthday

April 14, 2019

An Odyssey on India's Ganges River


With its magic trinity of rich history, diverse culture and exceptional riverside scenery, much different from rest of modern India, the 8-day odyssey on the River Ganges from teeming Kolkata to historic Murshidabad abroad luxury vessel Ganges Voyager 1 can be deemed by SANDIP HOR as a journey of a lifetime.

Surely it was like that for me considering the trip's indulging on board experience combined with stimulating off shore excursions to several riverside locations, rarely visited by world travellers.

One of the world's most revered waterways since mythical time, River Ganges, locally called Ganga, originates up north in the Himalayas and empties into the Bay of Bengal after flowing for almost 2500 km through Indian plains. Since time immemorial it has been a silent witness of many episodes of the land's volatile history, religious turn arounds and cultural expressions. So a week-long raw encounter with this legendary river and its edging land is nothing less than a lifetime sensation. The comforts and luxury of the boat adds to this exotic feeling.

Delhi based Exotic Heritage Group built this 56m long vessel in 2015 as an epitome of luxury on water. There are 28 tastefully decorated, high-ceilinged and fully carpeted suites of five categories to choose from to accommodate 56 guests. Crafted with hand-painted murals, each of the suites include almost everything that comes to mind when thinking of top end plush and stylish accommodation.

In addition to featuring a floor to ceiling French balcony to enjoy the outside passing parade, even the entry-level suite includes a large double or twin beds with soft linen and generous pillow selection, bedside drawers, dressing table, two lounge chairs with a centre table plus all modern amenities from in-room safe and minibar to iPod docks, alarm clock, international electrical plugs and a flat screen television. While the spacious wardrobe includes comfy bath robes and slippers, the private bathroom is nicely done up with a rain shower, hairdryer & premium quality toiletries.

The vessel has three decks. While the lower two accommodates the suites, the top one features the sun deck fitted with comfortable seating for lazing around and to enjoy the passing scenery, the gym and the spa to stay well and fit and the Governor's Lounge to socialise. Fitted with comfortable seating, this lounge is a very popular hub for the guests not just because of the well-stocked bar but also being the usual venue for lectures, after dinner movies and making new friends.

Food is always an important part of any travel and here it can be summed up as a gastronomical delight presented by an incredible mix of tasty and healthy Indian, other Asian and continental cuisine. Sumptuous meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at the East India Dining Room located on the lower deck.

Our itinerary began and ended at the 350-year-old, teeming city of Kolkata, earlier called Calcutta. We stayed two nights on board there and glanced through many of its iconic sites which are mostly the products of the British Raj which ruled India until 1947. This includes the majestic Victoria Memorial, a white marbled edifice built in 1921 in memory of Queen Victoria who after annexing India to her British Realm in 1858 directed building of this city on the Ganges like London on the Thames. She lovingly referred to this city, which was the capital of British-India until 1911, as the second city of her kingdom. While in Kolkata we also visited Mother Teresa's home.

Every day there were halts at riverside locations of historical, artistic or religious significance for shore sorties.

While the 19th century temple architecture of Hindu temples at Kalna and Baranagar or the Islamic art inside the Imambara shrine in Hooghly impressed us, we were soaked in the vastness of the Hare Krishna temple complex in Mayapur and got immersed in history of power, greed and treachery at Murshidabad, now a shabby little township but a bustling settlement 250 years ago when it was he capital of the Bengal Province. It was here the infamous "Battle of Plassey" was fought in 1757 where British commander Robert Clive overpowered Nawab Siraj Ud Dullah, the 27-year-old Muslim ruler by traitorous means bribing his senior minister Mir Zafar and flagged off the journey of a long colonial rule in the subcontinent for the next 200 years.

Overall it was a rejuvenating journey for all of us. When disembarking I noticed a kind of bliss on everyone's face. Perhaps that was the parting gift from the holy river.

Fact File

Getting there –. Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) operates daily flights from Australia to Singapore from where, as per current schedule ,they fly to Kolkata, four days ( Mon, Wed, Fri & Sat) of the week; other days Singapore to Kolkata flights are operated by their regional carrier Silk Air (www.silkair.com).

Kolkata Accommodation –Taj Bengal Hotel (www.tajhotels.com ) very reminiscent of British India

Cruise Info – The cruise runs from September until March. For departure dates and reservation refer to www.exoticheritagegroup.com

Visa – Australia passport holders will need a valid visa to enter India. For more info on how to obtain a visa please see www.vfsglobal.com.

Words and images: Sandip Hor
Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


1. Ganges Voyager 1
2. Lounge area
3. Victoria Memorial
4. Murshidabad
5. Krinhna Temple

March 26, 2019

Around the World with Captain James Cook

Lonely Planet: Curiosities and Splendour
The latest travel literature anthology from Lonely Planet,
Curiosities and Splendour is a collection of classic writing from
29 great authors and adventurers from the past
 – including Captain James Cook.
The Three Voyages of Captain James Cook around the World

By James Cook

From Chapter IV

The next morning, at low water, I went and sounded and buoyed the bar, the ship being now ready for sea. We saw no Indians this day, but all the hills round us for many miles were on fire, which at night made a most striking and beautiful appearance.

The 21st [June 1770] passed without our getting sight of any of the inhabitants, and indeed without a single incident worth notice. On the 22d we killed a turtle for the day’s provision, upon opening which we found a wooden harpoon or turtle-peg about as thick as a man’s finger, near fifteen inches long, and bearded at the end, such as we had seen among the natives, sticking through both shoulders: it appeared to have been struck a considerable time, for the wound had perfectly healed up over the weapon.

March 24, 2019

Sri Lanka is the top destination for 2019

World traveller John Savage visited the island to make sure it lives up to the reputation

According to The Lonely Planet, the island once known as Ceylon is the number one destination for 2019 not only because of its many attractions but also because it caters for all comers from the money-strapped ‘backpacker’ to the really affluent.

March 11, 2019

Hokkaido – A Japanese Winter Wonderland

Michael Osborne heads to Japan in search of ancient traditions and birds that enjoy the snow.

Where is Hokkaido?

When we think of Japan we always think of Tokyo, Kyoto, Mt Fuji, Osaka, Hiroshima and Sapporo beer. So where is Hokkaido? Well, it is the big island to the north and it is also the home of Sapporo beer.

Hokkaido is an island of unique culture and nature, rich in history and sensational natural beauty and an abundance of wildlife including the Tancho crane, Japan’s natural bird figurehead. An auspicious bird that was once thought to have gone extinct. The bird’s beautiful contrasts of white, black and a red crest make it even more distinctive. The Tancho crane has been called Sarorun Kamuy (deity of the wetlands) by the Ainu people since ancient times. The Tancho crane is also revered as a symbol of a good marriage because the birds stay together in mating pairs for their entire life. The depth of this love and devotion is evident in the anecdote where a wounded male who could not fly carried food from a feed site to his family far away on foot.

Members of the Ainu culture in traditional dress at the Ainu Museum, Hokkaido Japan. (Roderick Eime)

The original inhabitants are the Ainu people, who have been here for thousands of years and many still follow their ancient customs and beliefs. Using bird feathers for clothing, gathering food for winter and following traditional song and dance as part of their lifestyle.

But firstly, let’s talk about the weather. I travelled in early January when the temperatures ranged from around zero to minus 20 Celsius. This creates a huge amount of some of the finest powdery snow that skiers love. The island is dotted with ski fields and resorts. The best one, they claim is Niseko The prince of powder’ with many resorts and around a thousand hectares of skiable snow. Most resorts also feature the Onsen or hot springs. They say these are so relaxing you can hear the snowflakes falling!

For those wanting to go in warmer time’s agriculture is the mainstay of the island. The freshest of products combined with the Japanese methods of preparing food creates gourmet heaven. As we were there in winter the Ramen style was ideal to warm us up for the outdoor challenges.

Sushi delights (Michael Osborne)

There are four different ramen soup bases that originated from the island: miso (Sapporo), shoyu (Asahikawa), shio (Hakodate), and curry (Muroran). Everyone tends to have a personal preference for which flavour they like with their noodles, but why not try them all before you make up your mind.

In spring and summer, the weather is mild and with very little humidity, making it ideal to explore the wonderful and listed National Parks and Wildlife Reserves.

The places we are going to visit.

The two-hour flight from Tokyo lands at Wakkanai which is the northernmost town and capital of the Soya Subprefecture of Hokkaido.

In the Ainu language, Wakkanai seems to mean ‘cold water river’. Cape Soya in as far north as you can go and they say that on a clear day you can actually see the Russian island of Sakhalin. We were lucky to see more than a few hundred metres due to the snow storm.

Then heading South we arrive at the town of Toyotomi, which is the gateway to the sensational Sarobetsu Wetlands and wilderness area.

A visit to the Centre is a must where you can watch a video of the year-long changes to the 20, 000 hectares of wonderful nature at its best.

The red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis), also called the Manchurian crane or Japanese (Tancho) crane
(Martha de Jong-Lantink / Flickr)

Not far away is Lake Saroma, the largest brackish lake in Japan and year-round home to a huge selection of wildlife and where I see my first Tancho Crane. The lake is separated from the ocean by a 25-km sand spit which protects some very special flora and fauna.

Furano is a more laid-back destination famous for picturesque rolling fields of lavender and other summer flowers in warmer times. In winter, top-class skiing and snowboarding opportunities are on offer in this scenic rural area.

Abashiri City is on the ocean and is noted for the drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk. Also noted for its museums, national parks and wildflower reserves.

As it was minus 20 when I was there I really appreciated the heated footpaths when checking out around the city.

In the following reports of my Hokkaido adventure we will go into more detail of the places visited, but if you can’t wait:


Michael Osborne travelled as a guest of Hokkaido Tourism

Main Pic: jacky ding (Flickr)

March 04, 2019

The things people take from hotels


David Ellis

THERE wouldn't be too many of us haven't done it – seen the unopened toiletries in the hotel room we're about to vacate, and helped ourselves to at least some, if not all, of them.

But talk to hoteliers, from those running 5-star places in the biggest cities to others with a half dozen rooms in country towns, and you'd be amazed at just what else some guests decide should be theirs.

Like the three blokes at one city hotel in the UK who, dressed in overalls, nonchalantly wheeled the pub's nightclub piano right past staff in Reception, through a service door and down the street, never to be seen again.

And here in Australia, others who've borrowed hotel luggage trolleys, and walked them off loaded with suitcases and suit and garment carriers – and tucked away amongst those, their room's flat-screen TV or the fridge from the mini-bar.

Which makes those toiletries like shampoos, soaps, body lotions and shower gels seem pretty boring stuff to want to knock off. And which is why most hotels cost these into the price of the room from the start, as they expect the majority of guests will help themselves anyway.

RELATED STORY: Light-fingered guests

But internationally, would you believe the most things pinched after hotels' toiletries are actually light globes from bedside and floor-lamps. And after them room and pool towels, bath mats and bed sheets, even batteries from TV remotes and the remotes themselves, followed closely by room service crockery and cutlery, snacks and drinks from the mini-bars, pot plants, hairdryers, coat-hangers… and even those Bibles put in rooms by the Gideons.

Plus more bizarrely some guests have unscrewed and taken off with the numbers from their room's doors, while at one hotel in the UK a couple checked-out – and took the owner's pet dog with them.

But you CAN take things home. Just be prepared to pay. One Marriott GM told Traveloscopy:

"A guest room should feel like a home away from home. If the guest enjoys something enough to want to take it home with them, they are welcome to do so, but at a charge. We give guests the option to purchase the items that they are fond of, with everything from the 700 thread count linens and mattresses to the Conrad Miami signature terrycloth and waffle robes." 

March 03, 2019

Vale: David Ellis

David Ellis spent 20 years as a journalist with ABC Radio and Television News, including 10 at Rabaul in the New Guinea Islands, brief stints in Jakarta and Singapore, and the remainder in Sydney where he rose to position of Chief of Staff, Radio News before leaving in 1979 to set up his own public relations business and to write Travel and Wine.
Ellis had been writing Travel and Wine for 30 years, venturing as far afield as the Arctic Circle to interview Santa Claus, South America for Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs’ real story, to France to fly aboard the-then experimental Concorde, across Antarctica by air, and with James A. Michener to retrace where the author conceived his immortal Tales of the South Pacific.
Along the way, he sipped the local reds, whites and bubbles… for purely scholarly reasons, of course.

David's wife Gwenda advises:

"For those of you receiving this column and who knew David personally, I am writing to let you know that David passed away suddenly and peacefully, in his sleep during an afternoon nap on Friday afternoon, 1st March. He had just been diagnosed on Tuesday with severe sleep apnoea and fitted with a CPAP mask for sleeping at night. His doctor thinks that he suffered a seizure due to obstructed sleep apnoea but we are comforted to know he had lived an amazingly full and adventurous life and enjoyed his writing with a passion."