January 26, 2020

Tierra del Fuego: Adventure begins at the end of the world

When the plane descends over the Martial Mountains and lands safely, the passengers clap and cheer. This display of gratitude becomes my welcome to Ushuaia, known appropriately in Spanish as fin del mundo, the ‘end of the world’. Located at the southernmost tip of Argentina, Ushuaia is the remote port from which many expedition cruise passengers leave for Antarctica. But before I join them, I want to see as much of the legendary Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) as I can.

Despite an influx of travellers, Ushuaia has the history and feel of a frontier town. Its colourful early past includes a failed goldrush and a prison modelled, incredibly, on Tasmania’s convict experience.

Next morning I’m picked up from my hotel by guide Juan and we head for the southern entrance of Tierra del Fuego National Park, just twenty minutes from Ushuaia. The park covers a total area of 63,000 hectares and is bordered in the west by the Chilean border, in the north by the extensive Lake Fagnano and in the south by the Beagle Channel. The park is home to an impressive 20 species of mammals and 90 bird species.

Today we’re in the region of the Beagle Channel, named after the British ship HMS Beagle, which came here in 1832 with its famous passenger Charles Darwin. We stop at Lapataia Bay, a beautiful fjord connected to the channel, which is surrounded by ancient sub-Antarctic forests.

Lapataia means ‘wooded bay’ in the language of the indigenous Yaghan people. The area has prolific birdlife, including upland and ashy-headed geese, ducks, albatross and oystercatchers. We also get close to some small birds, including the thorn-tailed rayadito. A highlight is spotting a Magellanic woodpecker nearby, which produces a flurry of camera action.

From the bay we move to the forest, where the flora is equally fascinating. Trees include the world’s southernmost conifer and three kinds of beech. Winds are so strong that exposed trees grow twisted from the force. Juan tells us that they are called ‘flag trees’ because of the shape they take in their struggle with the wind.

Juan also points out strange, orange, golf ball shapes in the trees. They turn out to be colourful parasitic fungi named after Charles Darwin, who collected them during his visit. We also see a rare dog orchid and swathes of unusual fachine flowers. We walk beside large expanses of colourful peat tundra before driving inland to hike beside the Pipo River.

This easy hike reveals some stunning vistas of the surrounding mountains, which are the southernmost section of the Andes range. The dark greens of the countryside bring the snow-capped peaks into stark relief as we reach the last scenic point for the day at the dramatic Rio Pipo Cascades. 

Next morning I’m off to the northern section of the national park at Lake Fagnano. To get there we travel on national route 3, stopping to see a magnificent view of the lake at Garibaldi Pass. Then we take some rough off-road tracks similar to those I’ve travelled in the Australian outback. We stop at a dam created by beavers, which were unfortunately introduced from North America in the 1940s. The beavers, which have no natural predators in the region, cause havoc as they kill trees by raising the water level around their roots.

Lake Fagnano turns out to be big – very big. In fact, at over 100 kilometres long it’s one of the largest lakes in the world, occupying a geological depression that separates the South American and Scotia tectonic plates. The size of the lake becomes apparent as we wind down the hill to the water’s edge.

After a snack by the lake, we walk in the primeval forest before continuing on the four wheel drive track to Lake Escondido. Despite overcast and slightly choppy conditions, we manage some canoeing on the water, followed by an excellent Argentine wood barbecue and some welcome malbec.

The return journey to Ushuaia turns out to be as exciting as the trip out, providing a lasting memory of the rugged, starkly beautiful Patagonian countryside.

John Maddocks travelled courtesy of Tierra Turismo.

Getting there: Latam and Aerolineas Argentinas fly from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia.

Staying: There are numerous 3-5 star hotels in Ushuaia. I stayed at the centrally located Hotel Albatros (4 star). http://www.albatroshotel.com.ar/?lang=en

Getting around: Tierra Turismo offers a number of tours from Ushuaia in both summer and winter https://tierraturismo.com/home/

Words and images: John Maddocks

January 20, 2020

Tahiti Looks Nice aboard Paul Gauguin Cruises

Michael Osborne finds a Tropical Paradise with Paul Gauguin Cruises

‘la ora na e mamava. Welcome!

What do the ‘Islands of Tahiti’ inspire in you?

Remember a personal soap TV commercial where a woman suggests to her husband whilst flying along in their private jet, that “Tahiti sounds nice’’! He replies to the pilot, ‘Simon, Tahiti! And we dreamt of one day of even going there.

Well, our dream came true! Following an invitation from Paul Gauguin Cruises to select from one of their multi-award winning cruises, we selected the 14-day cruise from Papeete to the Marquesas’ visiting Fakarava – Fatu Hiva – Hiva OA – Tahiti and Nuku Hiva. Then the Society Islands of Huahine – Bora Bora – Tahaá – Moorea and returning to Papeete

This was all arranged through the Sydney based travel agency, Wiltrans who are the Paul Gauguin Cruises experts in Australia. To set us in the Polynesian Paradise mood as soon as possible, we utilised the cooperation and support of the national airline, Air Tahiti Nui, who fly regular flights from Auckland New Zealand direct to Papeete using their ‘state of the art’ brand new Boeing Dreamliners.

To ensure we didn’t get caught with flight delays, we chose to fly to Auckland a day early and took advantage of the airport hotels run by one of our favourite hotel groups, Accor, who have the Novotel and the Ibis right next to the airport.

Paul Gaugin cruising Bora Bora (Pacific Beachcombers/Paul Gauguin Cruises)

The Paul Gauguin cruise ship.

Big enough to be very comfortable, yet small enough to gain close access to the islands we are exploring, being 153 metres long and a draft of 5.2 metres.

On board

The boarding process is quick and efficient and we are being escorted to our new home for the next 14-days. It is always exciting when you see your stateroom for the first time and we were not disappointed!

As our luggage was delivered, our cabin attendant introduced herself and explained how all the things worked. This included a new state-of-the-art TV system where we could order electronically anything from a coffee to a main meal to be delivered. It also offered almost everything you could imagine as far as restaurants, bars entertainment and excursions.

Now to explore the ship.

The passageways are a-buzz with excitement, as guests settle in, unpack and get ready for our first sail-away party.

Owing to the fact that the ship is going to Singapore in April for a US$80 million make-over. I won’t say too much about the staterooms, restaurants, bars, lounges and public areas.

The Restaurants

The smallest problem was which one first

La Veranda which is open seating for breakfast and lunch, with free bookings for dinner. Casual during the day and more sports formal of an evening.

Le Grill located behind the pool for open breakfast and lunch and free bookings for the evening. Great for the fragrant tropical air.

L’Etoile The more formal of the restaurants, which translated means The Star. Perfect for joining new friends in a more subdued atmosphere and to try and select from the ever-changing specials on the menus.


As the menus are ever-changing, the best way to comment is to call it a culinary adventure. The meals are designed by award-winning chefs; the staff are highly trained and knowledgeable in suggesting a wine to complement your choice.

Watersports marina

At the stern, they have a fold-out marina where the fit and adventurous can access various toys to enjoy the calm waters of the lagoons and safe bays when moored.


Le Grand Salon

Every evening a live show is presented with international artists and special shows from the Polynesian crew, in this theatre style lounge.

Their fitness and natural rhythm is a delight as is the sometimes alluring island music.

Bars and Lounges

A small casino is next to the Piano Bar, a great spot for pre-dinner refreshments.

Our favourite was La Palette, where you can have a continental breakfast or afternoon drinks and as it is on the top deck at the stern, a simple few steps to enjoy the air and the scenery and picture taking.

Very popular before dinner to capture the vivid sunsets

And even better after dinner, for a relaxing beverage and to walk out on deck to enjoy the millions of stars and the fresh air. Also, to enjoy the music and to dance to the band.

The Pool Bar

Loved by the sun worshipers and the main venue for the sail-away events, with the band playing lively music.

Guest lecturers and Experts

Like to learn of the history, flora and fauna and sea-life – well each cruise has a selection of experts in their field, who present daily sessions.

Shore Excursions

The Shore Excursion Desk has them all ready. From relaxing on a private island to watersports, scuba, lagoon boat trips and helicopter flights, even a chance to fly a plane. Maybe an escorted hike or sightseeing in buses and 4WDs.

The Crew

Having had the privilege to enjoy many cruises, I would have to say that this crew are amongst the friendliest and efficient I have come across. The quickly remembered your name, your seating, food and drinks preferences.

Find out for yourself why they won The World’s Best Mid-Size Ship Cruise Line Award for 2018 (Travel + Leisure) and many other international awards.

https://www.pgcruises.com /

For the best information and to answer any enquiry about Paul Gauguin Cruises, please contact the Australian experts:

Wiltrans: http://www.wiltrans.com.au / travel@wiltrans.com.au

Toll Free: Aust. 1800251174. NZ: 0800446376

Mature Traveller sailed as a guest of Paul Gauguin Cruises and the support of Air Tahiti Nui *** Accor Hotels and Canon Cameras.



https://www.canon.com.au /

Words and images; Michael Osborne

January 14, 2020

Let’s Twist Again: Montenegro’s tight and tantalising Serpentine Road.

Roderick Eime

You’ve all seen those ridiculous hairpin roads in Europe like the famous road from La Turbie to Monaco where Princess Grace drove her Rover P6 over the edge into oblivion.

These tortuous thoroughfares, so beloved by daring Mini Cooper drivers and mad motorcyclists are all over the mountainous midriff of Europe right down to the Mediterranean naval. But one such road, once hidden behind the communist curtain of the former Yugoslavia, is reemerging as a riding ritual.

The Cetinje-Kotor Road or just R-1 (Regional Road 1) is a 38km length of road between the town of Cetinje and the historic port of Kotor. The most challenging part of the road is the short 8.3km stretch with 16 hairpins dubbed Kotor Serpentine, while the whole length of the road itself has almost 30.

[Google map https://goo.gl/maps/4D6rSNA22MTD5RSx6]

The road was built in the late 19th century when Montenegro was just a fledgeling nation and motor vehicles were the stuff of fantasy. The country was later subsumed into Yugoslavia in the early 20th century and is tucked into a cosy little geographic alcove surrounded by Albania, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.

When the Serbs and Montenegrins stopped shooting at everyone in 1995, the region slowly began attracting tourists. Montenegro gave Serbia the cold shoulder in 2006 and went their own way, signalling an influx of foreign investment from mainly Russia and Saudi Arabia. The sheikh loves to tie up his squillion dollar superyacht in the nearby harbour while his many wives spend small fortunes at the designer shopping strip he built adjoining his five-star hotel.

When I visited last year on the ebb of the peak tourist season, cruise ships were still disgorged their sandalled hordes on the dock at Kotor to wander and rubberneck through the old town, a streetscape that would befit any episode of Game of Thrones. But then, Dubrovnik (aka Kings Landing) is just around the corner.

This pair of Spanish Triumph Tiger riders are ready for action (RE)

Our little gang of novice yachties commandeered a minivan (and driver) and took it to the peak of the highest mountain, Lovcen, where the Mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic-Njegos, the great saviour of the Montenegrins rests in peace. It’s a magnificent drive and it broke my heart that I wasn’t able to make the ascent on a Moto Guzzi. Probably a good idea though, as I may well have broken several of something else.

The ride is definitely not for the faint-hearted and it’s curtailed numerous overambitious egos over the years. Fortunately, the road has been widened in many places, from four metres to six, but that is of little consequence when you come face-to-face with a 50-seat tour bus. Bewildered tourists in tiny hire cars and clearly out of their motoring depth are also frequently encountered. Such standoffs inevitably require one party to capitulate and reverse. Downhill traffic claims the right of way, but often the bigger you are, the more ‘way’ you get.

For a crazy video, see Kotor Serpentine - R1 road (Cetinje-Kotor)

Considering the width of the road, the very short straight sections, the often-absent safety barriers and the type of traffic you are likely to encounter, it must be stated that caution is paramount. A misjudge or snap avoidance could see you over the edge and down a very long way (think: opening scene from Italian Job) leaving your colleagues with lots of unwelcome paperwork.

There are several viewpoints to stop for obligatory photos and it was here that we met many of the motorcyclists. Germans, Spanish and Austrians seemed to dominate our survey, riding everything from the predictable BMW GS’s, Ducati Multistradas, Triumph Tigers and even some Japanese machines such as Yamaha Tenere and Suzuki V-Stroms, all of which seemed perfectly capable.

View from Restaurant “Nevjesta Jadrana” (RE)

As for dossing down en route, there is not much in the way of Hiltons or Marriotts, so “when in Rome” seek out a homestay or village inn where you can enjoy some local hospitality and home cooking. The prosciutto is to die for, even if the wine takes a bit of getting used to. Several restaurants are strategically placed along the route for great views and tucker - or go all the way to Pete Petrovic’s for the lookout restaurant.

Avoid the summer peak season (June through August), the traffic is crazy and it’s very hot.

January 12, 2020

Slovenia: Walking the way to go

Predjama Castle, the largest cave castle in the world

“And where exactly is Slovenia?” my 60-something friend asked when I suggested she join me on a hike through this small central European nation.

While the experience-hungry hordes have been flocking to Croatia, its little northern neighbour is still largely untouched by tourists, although the call of its countryside is growing ever louder.

 Europe’s Highway A1

And the walk?

“What better way to see a country,” I say to my friend, before whispering, “It’s about 100km.”

Fully organised by the UK tour company On Foot Holidays, all we have to do is pull on sturdy walking boots, shrug on a backpack, grip a pair of walking poles and we’re off.

Officially the walk is from the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, to Trieste in Italy, although local driver Gregor drops us off at our starting point in Landol, about 60km down the highway.

Armed with lots of innocent enthusiasm, comprehensive maps and blow-by-blow instructions as well as On Foot’s valuable “Blue Book” guide to everything, we set out into the wilds of Slovenia.

The first day is described as a 3½ hour easy to medium walk, although we somehow manage to turn 15km into five hours.

First stop is the magnificent Predjama Castle, the largest cave castle in the world that looks like to has dropped straight from a Harry Potter films. As it turns out, it was used in one film, the 1986 movie, Armour of God, by starring Jackie Chan
From there, it’s on through woods and meadows ablaze with wildflowers, a stop for lunch under an ancient elm in Strane, and on to the first night’s stop at a mountain-backed tourist farm in Hudivec.

And what a joy it is to see it come into view. I’d survived day one.

Hosts Emilijan and Katya introduce us to the local soup, jota, a delicious mix of sauerkraut, garlic, beans, garlic and ham, followed by the biggest slab of meat I’ve ever seen served with vegetables, and then cream cake.

Next morning our hosts hand us a picnic lunch before we depart for a 16km trek across the lower slopes of Mt Nanos to Vipava.

Even though we decided against taking the high route, it proved to be a strenuous walk through woodland and forest, across scree, and down rocky trails, all the while delivering spectacular views across the valley under the shadow of Nanos.

The last few kilometres, all downhill, are the hardest so it is sheer bliss to cross a pretty little bridge and enter the clean and postcard-perfect town of Vipava.

Meadows of wildflowers for the walker

Following the instructions provided, we soon arrive at the arched entry to a courtyard and the day’s reward.

Host Nevenka makes us welcome with a drop of her pear firewater and then, as we sit in her shady courtyard under a big old tree dripping with figs, her son delivers a bottle of riesling from his boutique Wipach winery. The region’s grapes and sweet water make it an excellent drop.

Next morning, breakfast is huge and the table open to pack lunch.

Before setting out on another 16km walk, mostly uphill to Stanjel, we wander around Vipava, which has 25 bridges, flowers blooming from every balcony and path, and streets so clean they appear to have been mopped that morning.

The route is meadows and woodland dotted with villages.

Stanjel, once called St Angel, is a walled hilltop village with quaint narrow streets. Host Marija directs us to the nearby Ferrari Garden, a peaceful place of terraced lawns, a pond, and panoramic views of forest-coated hillsides, mountains and vineyards.

Dinner is in Goce, a tiny village on the next hill where the Mesesnel family delivers a full degustation experience with wines from their own cellar.  Despite being off the beaten track, it’s a winner. So far, visitors from 140 countries have been wined and dined in style.

Fortunately, the next day’s walk is an easier 11km to Tomaj and with picnic lunch on board, we head out across the wooded Karst to the home of the Teran wines, and local prosciutto and pancetta.

Signpost on the trail under Mt Nanos
By now, the walking is easy – past vineyards, cherry trees loaded with fruit for snacking, and through meadows of wildflowers.  It’s a cruise into Nassa Desella, the Tomaj accommodation where, as always, the luggage is waiting.

We will spend two nights here to take time out to see the famous Lipizzaner horses at Lipica, the town which gave them their name.

And then it’s the final leg. As always there are shortening options for walkers, so with the heat bearing down as we trudge across the border into Opicina in Italy, we decide to take the recommended bus and cut the walk from 21km to 15km.

We celebrate with a spritz on the Trieste canal front and congratulate ourselves.  For two non-walkers without any training or preparation we had succeeded.

Did I say a stroll? No, it was much tougher than that but if someone who had only walked a block to the shops in the months preceding can do it, anyone can.

The Karst Culture and Landscape walk is one of 32 inn-to-inn self-guided walks offered by On Foot Holidays. This one was easy to medium but there are all ability levels available and a choice of 12 European countries.


Words and images: Dot Whittington

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