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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Road Trips On Australia’s East Coast

Australia’s East Coast offers plenty to get excited about for road-tripping explorers. Along sun-bleached blacktop, you’ll find picture-perfect beaches, hip cities, lush rainforests, the Great Barrier Reef and abundant native wildlife. Driving routes can meet any interest and range from epic long-haul adventures to pinpoint itineraries of must-do experiences. So pack your surfboard, your hiking boots and your appetite and hit the East Coast road.

The Great Barrier Reef Drive: Cairns to Cape Tribulation (1 week)

By embarking on this trip, you’ll journey up the coast in far-north Queensland, passing classic old towns and luxe resort hubs with eye-popping Great Barrier Reef views en route. Starting ebullient Cairns, a snorkelling or dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef is a must. After that, pinball between the city’s botanic gardens, hip restaurants and buzzy bars.

Next up, head inland via gondola cableway or scenic railway to Kurandafor rainforest walks and the storied markets (try some macadamia nuts!). Don’t miss detours to picturesque Millaa Millaa Falls and a rainforest hike in scenic Wooroonooran National Park.

On Cairns’ northern beaches, check yourself into a plush Palm Coveresort, then pull off the road for a photo-op at Rex Lookout above Wangetti Beach further north. Port Douglas in next – an up-tempo holiday hub with fab eateries, bars and further reef-trip diversions.

At Mossman Gorge, lush (and Unesco World Heritage-listed) rainforest enshrouds the photogenic Mossman River: take a guided walk and cool off in a waterhole. At Daintree River, book yourself onto a crocodile-spotting cruise then have lunch in Daintree Village. Cow Bay awaits nearby for a few hours of beachcombing. Last stop is Cape Tribulation, a magnificent collusion of rainforest and reef. Spend a few nights at one of the upmarket lodges nooked into the rainforest here.

High energy Brisbane to the laid back Gold Coast (7-10 days)

Watch your worries fade away as you trek out of the lovingly big-cityBrisbane and out into the chilled-out Gold Coast surf towns and northern New South Wales. Before you leave Brisbane, though, you’ll want a couple days to enjoy Queensland’s river-city capital, a semitropical boomtown dappled with brilliant bars, cafes and bookshops (the pillars of civilised society). Don’t miss the excellentGallery of Modern Art (GOMA), the Brisbane Powerhouse arts hub, craft-beer bars and live tunes in the West End. Save a night on the tiles in hedonistic Fortitude Valley and make time for a ferry trip out to North Stradbroke Island for surfing, sea kayaking and fish-and-chips on the sand. Back on the mainland, scoot west to the Granite Belt region for cool-climate wineries and some boulder-hopping in Girraween National Park.

An hour south of Brisbane, the Gold Coast bares its beachy, brassy soul. The epicentre here is celebratory Surfers Paradise, with its brazen sun and after-dark good times. More relaxed and surf-centric are Burleigh Heads and laid-back Coolangatta. Head a quick 50-minute dash south into New South Wales and you’ll find the alt-lifestyle haven of Byron Bay, home to endless beaches, delightful accommodation, delectable food and more. The local charisma is so strong that many wandering nomads stop in Byron Bay only to never leave.

The Great Beach Drive: Sunshine Coast & Fraser Island (10 days)

Maybe your idea of a winning road trip depends on access to high-profile outdoor adventure. If so, you want to take on the aptly namedSunshine Coast in southeast Queensland. Start by meandering through the curious geology of the Glass House Mountains, with their breath-robbing panoramas and outstanding rock-climbing. Nearby is the superb Australia Zoo – brilliant if you have the kids in tow (and even if you don’t).

Next up, sunny Mooloolaba has solid surf and chipper beach vibes and boasts fresh catches of local ‘Mooloolaba King’ prawns. Another half-hour north and you’ll reach Noosa and its lush national park (home to sometimes-spotted koalas), river kayaking and a first-class foodie scene.

A couple of hours north is gorgeous Rainbow Beach, full of surfing, fishing, paragliding, hiking, skydiving, horse-riding and more. From here, explore the huge dunes, beach ‘highways’, bushwalks and crystalline lakes on the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, the largest sand island on the planet (BYO 4WD, or take a tour).

Looping south, visit historic Maryborough, birthplace of Mary Poppinsauthor PL Travers; then explore Tin Can Bay, home to an improbable number of sea turtles, dugongs and rare Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins.

Offshore adventure: Airlie Beach to Magnetic Island (10 days)

Road trips and islands don’t make obvious pairing, but Queensland’s offshore offerings are so dense that you can survey a good bit of them in one trip linked with unforgettable coastal coastal drives.

Start in Airlie Beach. Here you can cut loose an unending population of travellers before booking a boat trip out to the glorious Whitsunday Islands archipelago. There are myriad Whitsunday daytrip options, but a multiday sail will let you leave your footprints on remote beaches with no one else on them. Don’t miss Whitsunday Island itself and a memorable swim off sublime Whitehaven Beach, often touted as Australia’s prettiest.

After cruising the islands, book a few nights at a swish offshore resort – Hamilton, Hayman and Daydream islands await. Feeling more adventurous? Sign up for an overnight kayaking trip with island camping.

Next you’ll want to head about three hours north to Townsville. Here, promenade along the waterfront, check out the excellent Reef HQ Aquarium, clamber up Castle Hill and lunch into Townsville’s impressive eating and drinking scene (try the seafood, of course). Experienced divers can book a dive on the famous wreck of the SS Yongala offshore.

Wind up your journey on Magnetic Island, an unpretentious isle with easy-going beach villages, rampant wildlife and scenic bushwalking aplenty.

Little bit of everything: Sydney to Melbourne (1 week)

By now, you’re far from the rugged charms of Queensland, but the coast road between Sydney and Melbourne offers an abundance of national parks, surf beaches, ocean wildlife and disarming small-town vibes.

Sydney is Australia’s biggest and brightest city, offering iconic experiences like the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, harbour ferries to Manly and the bustling Bondi Beach. Just south, though, you’ll find the dramatic cliffs and bushwalks of Royal National Park and the elevated Grand Pacific Drive roadway, arcing out above the ocean for impressive ride. At Jervis Bay, you’ll find white-sand beaches, cavorting dolphins and national parks. With quick detour inland, you can visit Australia’s capital Canberra to check on proceedings at parliament house and visit the nation’s best museums.

Coastal Narooma has pretty beaches and solid surf. From here, catch a ferry to Montague Island, an important Aboriginal site and an impressive nature reserve. On south-coast NSW, sleepy Eden is famed for whale watching, and don’t miss historic, picture-perfect Central Tilba.

Crossing into Victoria, you can glide through forests, farms and the Gippsland Lakes district to Wilsons Promontory, with its fab bushwalks, camping and beaches. Beyond lies Phillip Island, where penguins, seals and surfers frolic in the brine. Finally, it’s the big smoke – Melbourne.

A southern coastal classic: Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road (7-10 days)

This classic rite-of-passage road trip tracks south from sophisticated Melbourne along the craggy Great Ocean Road – expect lovely little beach towns, great waves and epic scenery. Melbourne has enough to keep frequent-flyers grounded for months: laneway bars, galleries, live music, shopping, coffee culture, Australian Rules football and more. But an hour south, Great Ocean Road beckons.

Start in the surfing mecca of Torquay and check the swell at legendaryBells Beach, then roll into family-focussed Anglesea for a surf lesson and a riverside picnic. Aireys Inlet is just around the bend: tour the lighthouse then spend the night in urbane little Lorne.

West of here, Great Ocean Road gets wiggly and seriously scenic, winding between the churning sea and the forest-clad Otway Ranges. Unwind in the artsy fishing village of Apollo Bay for a few days (great pub!), then swing by Cape Otway to spy some koalas and the iconic lighthouse.

Next up is Port Campbell National Park and its famed Twelve Apostlesrock formation: count them from the clifftops or book yourself onto a scenic flight. Scan for whales off the Warrnambool coast, then continue west to the quaint, rather Irish-feeling Port Fairy. The folk festival here every March sends the wee town into hyperdrive!

Find Sydney’s best beaches

Sydney is one of the world’s luckiest cities when it comes to beaches literally on its doorstep. There are harbour beaches where toddlers can paddle as well as challenging surf breaks best accessed from rocky headlands – but in the height of summer Sydney’s city beaches can get busy. Here are our tips on how to enjoy the best of Sydney’s beaches, without dealing with the crowds.

Secluded spots

Sydney is famous for its surf beaches but there are many secluded hideaway beaches dotted all around the harbour. Some are more popular than others, depending on their accessibility, but our top tips are the diminutive Lady Martins Beach at Point Piper, not far from central Sydney and tucked between the salubrious suburbs of Double Bay and Rose Bay.

On the northern side of city, head for Balmoral Beach near Mosman. It is an excellent beach for families, with a netted enclosed swimming area and large shady Moreton Bay fig trees to escape the heat. Lastly, look for Collins Beach at Manly, a long circuitous walk from the Manlyferry pier, where you may well find yourself alone for a good part of the day.

Autumn sun

This may surprise many first-time travellers to Sydney, but autumn (March to May) is a perhaps the best time to hit the beach. Sydney is blessed with a fairly temperate climate so it can stay sunny and reasonably warm right into late May (the beginning of the Australian winter). It takes some months for the ocean to cool down to the same temperature as the land which means the sea can still be surprisingly warm even if days are not baking hot.

Rise and shine

You can beat the heat, and the summer hordes, by heading down to the Sydney’s most iconic surf spot, Bondi Beach, early in the morning. There’s nothing like watching the sun rise over the ocean, and you’ll be sharing the experience with locals surfing, running, and doing their early morning sun salutations. Bondi gets busier as the day wears on – by midday traffic can clog the main routes down to the shoreline. Book an early lunch at Icebergs, which overlooks the iconic ocean pool, then make your escape.

Go south

If you do hit Bondi in peak hour, you can also head south to Bronte andCoogee via a cliff-side walking path (unfortunately you won’t be the only one doing this walk!). Beyond Bondi there are further ocean pools for the less confident swimmers to take a paddle where you’re protected from sharks as well as the swell. You’ll still be swimming with the same breath-taking views of sandstone headlands, sea birds and the occasional band of whales ploughing their migration routes along the Pacific.

An even less touristy option is the beach Maroubra, another few headlands further south of Coogee. Maroubra means ‘like thunder’ in the local Indigenous language and is part of Australia’s second National Surfing Reserve. If you just want to sit on the sand and watch the action, the breaks here provide plenty for skilled surfers.

First-timers can hire a surfboard and sign up for lessons at the local surf school both at Bondi or Maroubra.

Trips Travellers Who Want Learn Something New

Sure, sitting on the beach and sipping cocktails is fun. But if you’ve got more than a few days away, nothing beats seeking out local guides and learning something new.

Whether it’s perfecting your front crawl in an English lake or getting to grips with your camera on a photography safari, these trips will thrill knowledge lovers as much as pleasure seekers.

Cook up a storm in Chiang Mai

Blessed with some of the world’s best street food, you could be forgiven for coming to Chiang Mai and spending your entire trip indulging in everything from the spiciest tom yum soup to searching for the perfect pad thai. But chances are you’re going to want to learn how to make these delicious dishes yourself. Thankfully, Chiang Mai has several options for curious cooks looking to pick up new culinary skills, with schools dotted through town.

Based on the edge of the city, teachers from Thai Farm Cooking School (thaifarmcooking.net) will collect you from your guest house, take you shopping in local markets and teach you about spices, rice and flavours. You’ll then decamp to its organic farm base, where you’ll learn to cook six dishes. After cooking up a storm, pupils and teachers sit down together to taste everyone’s creations.

Become a gaucho in Argentinian Patagonia

Forget childhood riding classes on sleepy farmsteads. Hopping on a horse in Argentina’s spectacular Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi in Patagonia means scaling mountains and splashing through rivers, all while learning how to round up cattle on vast ranches.

23km north of Bariloche, Cabalgatas Carol Jones (caroljones.com.ar) is the ideal place for first-timers and seasoned riders. The eponymous Carol Jones runs half-day, whole-day and multi-day trips around her ranch and beyond, teaching you how to control your steed and bring cattle to heel as well as giving consummate lessons on the area’s wildlife and history. She’s eminently qualified, too – her grandfather, Jarrod Jones, was a Texan pioneer who came to the area in 1889.

Sharpen your photography on a Kenyan safari

For many people, an African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime trip that’ll see your camera called into service constantly. But those who want to get incredible shots of big game need an expert guide and plenty of time in one of the continent’s richest reserves.

Paul Goldstein, Exodus Travel’s resident safari photographer (exodus.co.uk), leads six-day trips in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, where visitors will learn how to capture leopards, cheetahs, lions and black rhino perfectly. Drives start before daybreak and can last all day, but the rewards are plentiful. Few travel experiences can match standing in the back of an open-sided 4×4 taking pictures as a pride of lion pads across the open plain or a herd of elephants stops for a drink at a waterhole as the sun comes up.

Get to grips with yoga in Bali

Stretching out on a yoga mat is a surefire way to feel healthy and blissed out on your travels. The pretty town of Ubud, deep in the heart of Bali, is arguably the best place on the planet to get your fix and perfect moves you only practise once a month at the local gym.

The Yoga Barn (theyogabarn.com), set on the edge of town and overlooking green paddy fields and swaying palms, has 15 classes a day to choose from, as well as offering regular, multi-day retreats and multi-class passes for those staying longer term. The three large, open-sided studios have views to die for, while the in-house café is the perfect place to prolong that chilled vibe once class is over.

Become a kendo master in Japan

The Japanese martial art of kendo, literally ‘sword way’, sees hardened participants don armour and take each other on using bamboo swords. Its techniques are similar to those used by ancient samurai warriors, making the modern sport a gateway into the history of this fascinating country.

Atlas Japan Tour (atlas-japantour.com) runs a special class for visitors in the northern town of Nonoichi, taught by locals every other Saturday. They’ll give you a crash course in the sport’s past, as well as teaching you how to safely take on and beat your opponents. Fear not, all kit is supplied and you don’t need to be a hardened swordsman to take part either.

Dive into wild swimming in the English Lakes

The mountains of England’s Lake District have long been a magnet for walkers. But there’s a quiet revolution going on, with visitors wading out into the waters of Buttermere, Wast Water and the area’s other stunning lakes for a refreshing dip instead of taking a long hike.

For those who’ve never swum outside the confines of an indoor pool, Swim The Lakes (swimthelakes.co.uk) has a half-day ‘introduction to open water swimming’ course, suitable for complete beginners through to hardened triathletes. Experienced guides will take you into the cooling depths of Windermere and tell you about technique and how to build stamina, all while getting a frog’s eye view of this beautiful corner of the British Isles.

Master painting in Virginia

Carving out time to learn how to draw or paint can be tough when everyday life gets in the way. The glorious Shenandoah Art Destination (shenandoahartdestination.com) in Virginia is the ideal spot for anyone looking to perfect their artistic streak while on holiday. It offers weekend, four-day, six-day and ten-day vacations for artists of all levels.

Trekking through Borneo’s rainforests

The all-enveloping equatorial rainforests of Borneo’s fine national parks are great for day hikes, but nothing beats an overnight trek to really experience these incredible jungles. A world full of orangutans, carnivorous pitcher plants, gargantuan Rafflesia flowers deserves in-depth exploration. But the land is diverse and conditions change throughout every trek, so having the right gear (there are some pretty unique needs out here) can mean the difference between a thrilling voyage of discovery and sodden misery.

Dressing for the climate

Borneo – made up of the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, the sultanate of Brunei and Indonesian Kalimantan – has wetter seasons and dryer seasons. Exactly when depends on where you are, but downpours of biblical intensity are possible any time of the year. And even when you’re not slogging through a deluge, the heat and nearly 100% humidity will ensure that you’ll stay soaked with your own sweat. The best way to minimize discomfort is to bring kit made from materials that do not retain water. That means cotton is out, while synthetics – such as nylon, polyester, Lycra and (for higher elevations) Polar fleece – are in. All your gear, from socks to photographic equipment, should be packed in waterproof bags.

Bring two sets of clothing – one for hiking and the other to wear at the end of the day and at night. Your trekking duds will be soaked within minutes and will stay that way until you get back to civilisation. Keep your day and night kit strictly separate or you’ll find that you have two sets of wet clothing. Talcum powder can help alleviate chafing caused by wet underwear.

Coping with creepy-crawlies

Mosquitoes are not a huge problem in most parts of Borneo, thanks in part to the millions of insect-eating bats that inhabit the island’s countless caves, but you are likely to find yourself in a battle of wits with two varieties of leech. First is the ground-dwelling brown leech, notorious for its painless bites (you won’t know you’ve been tapped until you see blood soaking through your socks). The other is the tiger leech, which drops onto passing humans from overhead branches, inflicting a bite that stings like some ant bites.

You’ll hear lots of theories about the best way to keep the slimy blood-suckers at bay but one widely accepted method is to put an impenetrable fabric barrier between their jaws and your capillaries. Knee-length ‘leech socks’, made of tightly knit calico, do the trick. Some also use Spandex and some even use panty hose. Either way, a barrier is key. Beyond that, if you find that a leech has attached itself, salt is your primary weapon – touch the leech with a thin-fabric bag filled with a spoonful of salt and it will recoil pronto. Show good form when dealing with a leech – my Borneo trekking guide, Al Davies, advises that ff other people are around when you’ve removed the leach, you should permanently neutralise it by chopping it in half with a parang(Bornean machete).

Sleeping safely and dryly

To keep yourself safely isolated from ground-dwelling insects, reptiles and small mammals while you sleep, hang a lightweight hammock between two trees. To protect yourself against flying insects, wrap the hammock with a mosquito net soaked in permethrin. Then, to stay dry, hang a wide basha (tarpaulin) over the entire ensemble. Finally, climb into a lightweight sleeping bag with a comfortable liner to make this whole setup cosy.

Overnight, the rain-protected space under your basha bivouac can also used to dry out your footwear, socks and trekking clothes.

Rainforest first aid

Even a seemingly innocuous scratch can quickly get infected in the heat and humidity so bringing along proper first aid is essential. Apply an antiseptic such as povidone-iodine to cuts and scrapes. To reduce itching from insect stings and bites (and thus the urge to scratch, which can invite infection), use calamine lotion, sting relief spray or aloe vera. Purify local water using a filter or tablets.

Foot care is essential so after you take off your boots and peel off your soaking socks, completely dry your feet and then apply anti-fungal cream or powder as needed. Ask your doctor about bringing along a just-in-case supply of broad-spectrum antibiotics – and the conditions under which they should be used.

List of essentials

For a healthy, safe and enjoyable trek in the Bornean rainforest, here’s a checklist of the essential kit you’ll need:

Basha – waterproof tarpaulin for keeping the rain off your hammock.

GPS tracker – in the rain forest, figuring out where you are can be tricky. All day long, no matter where you are, all you can see is trees.

Hammock – string it between two trees to keep you and your sleeping bag comfortably above the slime, snakes and centipedes.

Hat – a wide brim will keep the rain off your face (and, if you wear them, your glasses); an absorbent band will prevent sweat from dripping into your eyes.

Hiking shoes – for well-used trails, running shoes with good traction should be fine, but for trekking in remote areas you’ll need serious hiking boots with mud-gripping cleats; make sure they’re well broken-in before you set out.

Leech socks – these serve as an impenetrable barrier between your blood and the leeches that crave it.

Medications – anti-fungal cream or powder will keep your feet, groin and other areas free of rot; talcum or prickly heat powder can soothe chafing from wet clothes; and sting relief spray, calamine or aloe vera will reduce itching from bites.

Mosquito net – keeps the bugs at bay while you sleep; especially effective if soaked in permethrin.

Parang – used by the indigenous Dayak peoples, Borneo’s version of the machete is essential for everything from whacking thorny vines to finishing off leeches.

Rain poncho – help keep some of the rain off you and your pack in a downpour.

Water purification agent or water filter – makes local water supplies safe to drink.

Waterproof bags – use a dry bag to create a waterproof space inside your pack, then fill it with plastic zipper storage bags containing, separately, your hiking clothes, dry clothes, electronics, medications and other gear.