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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

Images

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

Images

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


#IncredibleIndia

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

Images

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