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October 27, 2019

Akaroa: New Zealand's historic port town



Dallas Sherringham explores a once-sleepy town that only came alive in the summer holidays, but that all changed when the cruise ships started arriving en masse after the earthquake in nearby Christchurch.
The beautiful little town set inside an extinct flooded volcano now hosts 90 cruise ship visits a year, sometimes hosting two in one day.
That puts the population of just 600 under some stress, but business people don't mind as it has extended their opportunities far beyond even the most optimistic of them could ever hope for in days gone by.
And Akaroa has always been a town divided: there is a British town centre and a kilometre away there is a French town centre.
The French kind of "discovered" it first but the British claimed it and the two communities lived side by side for many years.
I learnt all this recently when I arrived on Ruby Princess while cruising from Los Angeles to Sydney via New Zealand and I hopped on a minibus driven by "Big Trevor".
Now Big T, as everyone calls him, knows Akaroa like the back of his hand.  He hosts tens of thousands of visitors every year on his Hop On, Hop Off service around the highlights of the twin towns while telling the story of the area he loves.
High on the hill behind the French town is the world-famous Giants House.
An easy walk from the Akaroa waterfront up Rue de Balguerie, this is a grand and elegant two-storey villa, lovingly restored and converted into a B&B by owner and artist Josie Martin. It was built of native timbers in 1880 for the local bank manager, intended to be impressive, and it certainly awed the toddler who unwittingly named it after saying "it looks like a Giant's house!"
The garden is sensational. Not just because it's beautifully designed and maintained, and full of flowers and topiary, but because of the ornamentation.
 Josie started 20 years ago by using pretty bits of broken china she'd dug up while gardening to make a mosaic doorstep – and just kept going. Now there's a full-size grand piano outside the main entrance, along with an accompanying band, a sailing ship across the lawn, a pool and fountain.
Along the winding paths up through the terracing beside the house are various life-sized and bigger people, cats, dogs, birds and other animals real and imaginary, all painstakingly shaped and decorated with broken china, tile, mirror and glass.
 It's all mosaic: paths, steps and walls, benches, arches and seats, surreal sculptures and realistic figures like mime artist Marcel Marceau, all of them colourful, witty and literally fantastic. There's something new to enjoy around every bend in the path, from ankle-height marvels of delicate artistry to impressive steel-structured engineering looming overhead. French music tinkles, so does the fountain, and time evaporates

In the French quarter also stands Akaroa's fascinating museum which tells the story of the town in professionally designed displays, typography and images. It includes two original rooms of the town's first house, built in the 1840s out of locally cut hardwood.
Across the road are eateries flying the tricolour of the French flag and set beside streets with names starting with "Rue de".
The war memorial, built after World War One, is one of the best I have seen in any country town or village.
If you are travelling the South Island, Akaroa needs to be on your "musts" list.
It is rich in delights ranging from harbour-side restaurants, great walks, penguins, viewing of the rare Hector's dolphin, kayaking, sailing, harbour cruises, tours, sheep dog displays or simply eating fish and chips on the end of the wharf as the sun sets.
 And then there's the shopping: arts, crafts, souvenirs, food, and three colours of pearls, jewellery, possum fur and woollen clothing, wine.
Entering and leaving Akaroa on a ship is spectacular. High, rugged hills and cliffs shrouded in mist and rain with occasional shafts of sunlight spearing through, lighting up the green fields or blue water light a giant spotlight.
Then the tiny town emerges from the mist as you approach it in the ships tender.
And as you leave you already pledge to return one day, such is the allure of New Zealand's very own Brigadoon.
Words and Images: Dallas Sherringham and supplied.
Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

October 17, 2019

Outback ballooning in Australia's Northern Territory



A view of Australia's wondrous Outback the few visitors will see. Ellen and David Hill take to the air in silence and awe.

BEING caught between the cusp of a new day and the last flickers of night is like witnessing two of nature’s most intimate acts – birth and death. Secret and mysterious, only a select few are privy to its glory.

Today, we are that select few, a group of strangers pressed together in a wicker basket like sardines in a can, suspended 1000ft above the ground on the outskirts of Alice Springs, smack bang in the centre of Australia.

In the pre-dawn silence when the nocturnal animals have bedded down before the birds awake, the sun sends tentative golden strands across the red dirt until it glows like an ember. Its radiant tentacles stretch out slowly as they have done for millennia, highlighting desert features of oaks and mulga scrub, rock wallabies and craggy outcrops.



On the opposite horizon a sleepy full moon melts down like an egg yolk behind the rugged outline of the MacDonnell Ranges, leaving the sky silvery blue in its wake.

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and the 30m tall balloon with its cargo of Outback Ballooning Alice Springs passengers is carried along with it.

Hot air balloons are the most basic of aircraft. But all fears and concerns for the world below and the flimsiness of our craft have whooshed above our heads as the pilot pumps the burners to send jets of orange, blue and white hot propane fuel into the balloon.

We float aimlessly through the first heaven, unaware of our progress. There is no airspeed, no aerodynamic lift, no vibration and no wind noise. We cannot pitch or roll.



The G-free experience is like gently levitating rather than flying.

My seven-year-old son, almost too terrified to join the flight, pops his head up from the base of the basket to get a better look at the unfolding palette before us.

He remains there mesmerised until the basket scrapes the top of a tree on its final descent back to terra firma.

Out here, the ranges are no fuzzy-topped mountains emanating a soothing blue haze but a jumbled stretch of rocky outcrops and hills that appear much larger and further away than they really are because the pathetic scrub is no more than a few patches of scrub and that accursed spiky buffel grass.

This is one of the most isolated and arid places on earth, a place where you can wander far into the horizon and not see another soul. A place where all there is for company is the melancholy “Ark, Ark, Aaaah’’ of a lone crow, the crunch of your feet in the never-ending dirt and the gentle wail of the breeze. Where the sun beats down so hard it feels like it’s pushing you into the rock hard earth.

Here in the second largest desert in the world, clouds become a myth and the clumps of spinifex grass haul themselves out of what must be imaginary moisture. This desert of 1.3 million sq miles receives just a Biblical rich man’s drop of water on its tongue – 5 inches a year. Some parts of central Australia only get relief once or twice a decade, just enough to torment. This collection of small deserts is called the Outback, and takes up 44 per cent of the continent.

Mile after mile of river and creek beds wind their way through this parched land, baked to that red dust and rock in the merciless Outback sun. The ``Floodway’’ signs that appear at regular intervals along the highways seem ludicrous as the waterways snake through the landscape as a mocking reminder of the thundering rains that will surely come.

Then myriad dry lakes fill with water and the lowest point on the continent, the half million square mile Lake Eyre Basin, floods as the rivers drain into its bowl.

But sometimes nature taunts the thirsty tongue and parched earth. Sometimes the rains don’t come and the Todd River remains a shortcut walkway into the town of Alice Springs from outlying settlements.

Reality hits as the basket bumps and scrapes along the ground, sending puffs of ochre coloured dirt into the air. We hadn’t even noticed our descent.

Still trapped in the romance of the experience, we tumble awkwardly from the basket and stomp our boots on the dirt.

Reality hits when we’re summoned to help the crew pack up the nylon balloon into its bag before breakfast and a glass of sparkling Australian wine or juice.

Cost:

30 minute flight: $305
60 minute flight: $395
Chase and breakfast for non-flying partners: $50
Separate mandatory insurance fee: $30 per passenger

How to get there:

Passengers are collected from their accommodation in Alice Springs and dropped back after the flight.

Bookings:

Toll free: 1800 809 790 (within Australia) or sales@outbackballooning.com.au.

October 13, 2019

Cruising royally on Ruby Princess



From Editor At Sea, Dallas Sherringham, on board Ruby Princess

Ruby Princess's first deployment to Australian waters is proving to be a major success with tens of thousands of passengers already booked. Princess fans are a devoted group: I know because I am one of them.

And I am spending a month onboard cruising from LA to Sydney via Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa and New Zealand. The weather is sublime, the crew is friendly, the food is great and there is plenty to do and see on board an impressive newer style ship with luxury appointments throughout.

I was sitting chatting with Captain Ron Wilson the other day and he casually asked a group of us what the best feature of the ship was. Bruce from Melbourne came up with the best answer: "When you first walk up the gangplank, you feel like you have come home to a special place."

And that sums up the joy of cruising and the consistency of the Princess brand in particular. We anticipate, they deliver.

There are dining options galore in board including the superb experience of Share by Curtis Stone. The Grill, Pizza Place an International Cafe compliment two formal dining rooms with traditional sittings, a dine any time restaurant and the regular Horizon Court buffet for informal brekky, lunch and dinner.

I have sailed on a lot of Princess ships, but I particularly like "Ruby". She is a happy ship and rides well. There is plenty of deck room and three pools, so she never seems crowded.

The Grand Atrium with beautiful mosaics is the heart of the ship and you can often sit and enjoy relaxing live music while dreaming over a cappuccino or sipping fine wine from Vines.

My cabin on Baja Deck is most relaxing with a roomy balcony to watch the world go by and a king-size bed and plenty of hanging space. The TV options are good with the latest movies, TV series and Live Sports available.

Princess Cruises for all Australians and New Zealanders

Princess Cruises have already announced that the 2019/2020Australian cruise season will be their largest in history, cementing the brand's position as the leading cruise line in Australia and New Zealand. The record-breaking 900+ day deployment will see Princess carry more guests than ever onboard five ships on itineraries from Sydney, Perth (Fremantle), Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland. The maiden arrival of the 113,561 tonne 3,080 guest Ruby Princess and the second season return of the 143,700 tonne 3,560 guest Majestic Princess. Cruising 444 cruise days out of Sydney, Majestic and Ruby will generate a combined landmark capacity of over 100,000 guests, a 25 per cent increase on the 2018/2019 season.

"Princess is gearing up for our largest Australian and New Zealand deployment in history, which will see a record number of people cruising on Princess ships over the 2019/2020 season," said Senior Vice President Princess Cruises Asia Pacific, Stuart Allison "Our largest ever deployment will feature five ships sailing from six homeports on over 125 departures across more than 60 itineraries to over 100 destinations in 30 countries.

The arrival of Ruby Princess, combined with news of Majestic's return before she's completed her maiden season here, means we'll have 2 of the 4 latest Princess ships sailing in this region which speaks to the momentous growth of our market.

"In another milestone, Princess will spend an unprecedented141 days deployed in Fremantle, the largest financial commitment made to the state of Western Australia by a cruise brand. South Australia will also see a surge in cruise ships sailing to and from the region, with Golden Princess, Sun Princess and Majestic Princess completing itineraries to and from Adelaide. In Brisbane, Sea Princess will return to complete itineraries spanning 2 to 35 days, calling to destinations across New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Coral Sea, South Pacific, and Hawaii.

Highlights include a new 10-day voyage to Tasmania, with calls to Burnie, Port Arthur, Hobart, and Sydney. In Melbourne, Golden Princess returns, sailing to destinations in New Zealand, South Australia and the South Pacific. Highlights include a new 14 day Queensland cruise with calls to Airlie Beach, Yorkey's Knob, Port Douglas, Brisbane, Newcastle and Sydney and a new 7-day Southern Australia Explorer with late-night calls in Adelaide. For more information, see a licensed travel agent; call 1324 88 or visit www.princess.com

Words: Dallas Sherringham, who travelled at his own expense.

Images: Dallas Sherringham (1.2.3.) and supplied

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

October 06, 2019

Germany’s Romantic Road


Magnificent medieval architecture, the dramatic Alps, pretty green rolling countryside, castles and some of the most picturesque villages in Europe combine to make Germany's Romantic Road a very special drive.  Len Rutledge travels off by heart
We began in Füssen in the south with its large former monastery and castle and finished in Würzburg 350 kilometres to the north. While this drive could have taken four hours, in fact we took three days and felt rushed in the process.
These were some of the highlights.
Schwangau
This small village is home to one of Germany's most iconic sights, Schloss Neuschwanstein, the fairy tale castle that inspired Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. Commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a personal retreat, the castle has enough towers, turrets, balconies, pinnacles and sculptures to satisfy anyone.
You can visit the castle with a timed ticket but you will share the trip with hundreds of others during busy times. I suggest the best view is from Marienbrücke, the suspension bridge behind the castle where you can see the dreamy castle in all its glory.
If you have the time, also tour the less-visited Hohenschwangau, the neighbouring castle where King Ludwig II grew up and dreamed about his magical castle.
Augsburg
The city was founded in 15 BC and was a free imperial city until the early 19th century. Due to a flourishing textile trade, luxurious palatial homes, civic buildings, baroque fountains and gothic churches were built.
Constructed in the early 1600s, the "Rathaus" still serves as the administrative centre of the city. Next to it you can climb an ancient Perlachturm tower, built over 1000 years ago to serve as a watchtower.
Harburg
Towering over the town, Harburg Castle exemplifies medieval architecture. It comes complete with sentry walk, prison tower, dungeon and ballroom. There is a small hotel inside if you wish to stay.
Nördlingen
This has beautifully preserved town walls and the Rieskrater Museum, where you'll learn about the meteor that struck this area some 15 million years ago. In fact, the entire almost perfectly round walled old town is built inside a massive crater. Because it sees fewer tourists than Rothenburg or Dinkelsbühl, the other two walled towns, it can be enjoyed more quietly.
Dinkelsbühl
Dinkelsbühl was not bombed in the Second World War, so it stands as it was in the Middle Ages, when it was created.
St. George's Minster, a late 15th-century Gothic masterpiece, dominates the town while magnificent gabled buildings, dating from around 1600, line the central Weinmarkt. Many are now restaurants and cafés. The square hosts many festivals and celebrations throughout the year.
I strongly suggest a walk on the town walls with their 18 towers and four gates. The views are nice but the thought of walking where many armed defenders have been over hundreds of years makes it something special.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
This is a very popular tourist destination overlooking the Tauber River, so it can get quite crowded. You have a real sense of stepping back into Renaissance era Germany and most visitors love it. The narrow cobblestone streets feel like they haven't changed in hundreds of years.
Late afternoon is the best time after the tourist buses have left and the shops are closing, leaving only the restaurants open. It's a calm atmosphere allowing you to really take in the town.
Rothenburg's well-preserved town walls which completely encircle the old town are great for walking along. It is free and it was one of the highlights for us.
Parking is almost impossible inside the walls so we chose a hotel close by with its own car park and we left our car there the whole time.
Walking along cobbled streets, you'll notice that each building here is special. There are various popular photo points but we equally enjoyed walking the back streets and making our own discoveries.
Bad Mergentheim
This is home to one of Southern Germany's spa resorts. If you're looking for a massage, an Ayurvedic treatment or some time in a sauna, this is the place for you. There is also a large castle and a wonderful Rococo church.
Würzburg
Built around the Main River and surrounded by rolling hills, the city of Würzburg has impressive architecture and a nice vibe.
In 686, three Irish missionaries made a vain attempt to convert the town ruler to Christianity. Later, Würzburg had a bishop appointed and became a duchy as well, and the ruling prince-bishops brought their wealth here causing the city to experience a period of growth and lavishness.
You see this today in the Wurzburger Residenz a baroque palace now inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list and once the seat of the reigning prince-bishop; the rococo-style church Käppele; and Festung Marienberg, a medieval fortress high above the city.
Words: Len Rutledge  Images: Phensri Rutledge
Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

1.      Schloss Neuschwanstein
2.      Dinkelsbühl
3.      Rothenburg
4.      Würzburg