The Kyoto vs. Osaka debate: The experts weigh in
You’ve squeezed one last week’s leave from work and you’ve scored an amazing flight deal – but now you’ve only got time to see one city. So which is it going to be: Osaka or nearby Kyoto? We’ve asked a couple of experts to weigh in on this sumo-style showdown between two very different cities. Kyoto: the elegant elder The ancient capital of Japan before it was left behind by the expanding court, unable to fit in between its perfect circle of five mountains, Kyoto has remained a kind of time capsule containing everything that is intricate and beautiful about Japan.   Despite the estimated 50 million-plus tourists who descend upon its temples and shrines, forests, cobbled streets and even modern neighbourhoods, there are still quiet moments and flashes of pure tradition in every day spent here.   A geisha (or ‘geiko’ here in Kyoto) can still be found shuffling quickly through the alleyways of the Flower District (Gion) to a tea ceremony job or evening entertaining important corporate guests; in the post-sunrise languor of the day, it’s still entirely possible to have the pathways of the sacred Arashiyama bamboo forest entirely to yourself, the shafts of sunlight curling amongst the incense smoke from the Shinto shrines within it.   “Kyoto’s ability to preserve history and tradition whilst keeping it relevant is a constant source of fascination for me,” says Kyoto expert Alison Roberts-Brown, who works with Kyoto City Tourism. “It’s a place that beckons you to return again and again; there’s so many layers of history and culture which have never stopped evolving, there is always another layer to discover.” [caption id="attachment_48444" align="alignnone" width="643"] The peaceful Arashiyama Bamboo Grove[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48445" align="alignnone" width="643"] The grand Fushimi Inari Shrine should be a must see in Kyoto[/caption] It’s impossible (and inadvisable) to visit Kyoto without giving over a few days to its enviable roster of temples and shrines, from the golden temple of Kinkaku-ji and the ultimate Insta-destination Shinto gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha, to the edifice that is Kiyomizu-dera temple, presiding over streets lined with perfectly presented souvenir shops that – mostly – keep things typically tasteful, Kyoto-style.   Even the sweet shops expect you to dress respectfully and, preferably, elegantly – especially those that predate most of the buildings around them. “The 17-generation-old Kyoto sweet company Toraya is good example,” says Alison. “One of Japan’s oldest confectionery businesses, they were supplying the Imperial family back in the 1700s, and the business now operates 70 odd shops and even one in Paris.   Their traditional confectionery is still exquisitely presented; I recommend saving an hour to sip tea and sample their wares at the location they have been operating since 1628, the Toraya Ichijo Shop and Cafe.” [caption id="attachment_48435" align="alignnone" width="628"] Employers of sweet company, Toraya, back in 1925[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48449" align="alignnone" width="629"] A Toraya product - 'Mt Fuju in Four Seasons'[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48451" align="alignnone" width="629"] A traditional tiered confectionery box made in 1776[/caption] Just like its sweet-making, Kyoto takes its arts and crafts extremely seriously, Alison says. “Trades or craftsmen’s skills are passed down from generation to generation, and it’s not unusual to find a traditional artisan in Kyoto whose family business spans more than 10 generations.”   Keen to share these inherited arts and crafts Kyoto City has established the ‘Kyoto Artisan Concierge’, which connects people in search of genuine experiences with artisans so they can observe artisan demonstrations in the creative atmosphere of their studios and have hands-on experiences too. Quietly, carefully, beautifully.   But just a touch over an hour away by train, there’s a very, very different vibe indeed. [caption id="attachment_48446" align="alignnone" width="578"] Don't pass up a visit to the magnificent Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto[/caption] Osaka: the cheeky little sister Let’s get this out of the way – Osaka is not that little at all. In fact, with a city population of 2.6 million and a greater metropolitan population of over 20 million people, it’s one of the world’s larger cities and outstrips Kyoto. However, in its tastes and its ambience, shopping-mad, food-obsessed Osaka is as different from Kyoto as chalk from cheese, with a cheeky vibe that contrasts sharply with the latter’s conservative bent.   “If Kyoto is serene and soothing, Osaka, just a short train ride away, is the opposite,” says Bea Holland, doyenne of all things Japan at japlanguide.com. “Bustling, noisy, maybe a little grimy, Osaka is fun from beginning to end.”   From end to end, really, if you look at the Osakan city map, crisscrossed with kilometres-long, pedestrian-only ‘shopping streets’ that form the bones of any visitor’s itinerary and are fleshed out, on visiting, by day-to-night crowds bustling shoulder to shoulder through each arcade.   It doesn’t stop as you descend the ubiquitous staircases underground; Osaka is built upon a subterranean wonderland of unashamed capitalism, making up some of Japan’s longest and densest underground shopping malls.   [caption id="attachment_48437" align="alignnone" width="653"] Dotonbori is one of Osaka's prime tourist destinations[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48441" align="alignnone" width="651"] Visit one of the largest aquariums in the world- Osaka Aquarium[/caption] You can easily dive from the main railway station, JR Osaka, into the Umeda shopping area, then happily bob along in the sea of humanity sweeping through the 600-metre Shinsaibashi shopping street, take a deep breath at the canalside Dotombori pedestrian mall, before diving headfirst back into the bargains and impossibly kawaii (cute) goodies in the boutiques along Ebisubashi arcade.   Don’t forget the way back to Dotombori, though, because the fickle and fun-seeking Osakan crowd will be flocking here come sunset for their second obsession after shopping: food.   The canyon-like walls of the Dotombori mall are like a Tetris stack of food offers, jumbled together in an overwhelming patchwork of colour that lights up come nighttime to pick out a giant waving crab here, a cartoon octopus waving a cartoon knife at passersby there. Watch where the queues form and jump in behind them. Today’s hot restaurant property is tomorrow’s has-been heap with this lot.   “Osaka is about all things octopus,” tips Bea, “and you have to indulge in both takoyaki (fried octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (a local specialty cabbage and seafood pancake) while you're there. Grab takoyaki from any street vendor and they will be delicious. For okonomiyaki, find a bar with a sizzling hot plate and settle in. Our record is five in one sitting, but I look forward to breaking this!” she grins. [caption id="attachment_48452" align="alignnone" width="644"] Okonomiyaki - a delicious savoury Japanese pancake[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48439" align="alignnone" width="465"] Try tasty Japanese snack, Takoyaki (fried octopus balls)[/caption] Part of the fun of Osaka is not only following the ‘It’ crowd, but the alternative crowds too, who have made this quirky city their home the way traditional Kyoto may never be able to stomach.   The cool kids of Amerikamura neighbourhood seem to have the greatest density of tattoos and body art in the country – a gutsy effort, when this is still absolutely associated with organised criminals in Japan – and you’ll most likely find them rocking out in the very street, accompanied by someone’s retro ghetto blaster, or someone else’s speakers from an open window.   Over in Den Den Town, it’s all about electronics, but it doesn’t take long to wander into serious manga and otaku territory: where the kids live cosplay 24/7, hanging out outside sex shops and cartoon shops with equal insouciance.   Certainly, Osaka has all the straight-up, more family-friendly attractions too. The bayside aquarium is gobsmackingly beautifully done and is actually the world’s largest, with multistorey tanks you can walk around on walkways that take you side by side with giant sea creatures such as sharks, rays, jellyfish and king crab (the safest guys in this crab-hungry city). Beside this, in the harbourside area, the 112.5-metre Tempozan Ferris Wheel makes for an impressive ride for the non-vertiginous.   One of the many toy stores in Den Den Town [caption id="attachment_48442" align="alignnone" width="614"] A beautiful Osaka sunset behind the Tempozan Ferris Wheel[/caption] But when it comes to what makes Osaka different, it always comes back to its subculture: its hedonism and complex cool.   “There is no nicer way to spend an evening than exploring the wonders of the Chuwa Dixie building, Osaka's 'jazz bar building',” Bea says of her favourite pastime here.   “There are five floors, each one holding a unique and interesting bar to enjoy. Find a favourite and hole up, or work your way up or down. You might stumble across live performance, but for the most part, you'll find bar owners presiding over a huge record collection and choosing favourites to play on their very superior sound system.”
8 Ways to experience Mt Fuji without hiking
From a ferry trip with uninterrupted views to a brand-new architect-designed observatory, here are eight alternative ways to experience Japan’s iconic Mt Fuji. Mt Fuji is big. Really, exceptionally big. Big enough to see from Tokyo, over 100 kilometres away; even its foothills span two prefectures. But its influence over Japan stretches way past its mere size.   That perfect volcanic cone features everywhere in Japanese folklore and has over the millennia, been recreated in everything from cakes and seasonal sweets to soap, towels, toys, even cartoon-character mountains that enter the national subconscious from an early age.   So we really think turning up on a bus, taking a quick pic from a lookout on a day trip from Tokyo and heading home again does not do the mighty Fuji-san nearly enough justice – nor the mind-blowingly beautiful and fascinating surrounds that count Fuji as an ever-present part of the scenery. So here we have eight amazing ways to give Fuji-san the love it deserves, and make your trip to central Japan something special too.   1. Cross Mishima Skywalk suspension bridge   How else to give Japan’s tallest mountain the proper gravitas than to gaze upon it from Japan’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge, the fabulously engineered, 400-metre-long Skywalk.   This thing sways in the wind over a forest gorge in the most picturesque of locations, so the views should stop you looking down. You can also catch sight of Japan’s deepest bay, Suruga Bay, forming a suitably spectacular spot with photo stops galore. [caption id="attachment_48362" align="alignnone" width="452"] Japan’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge, Mishima Skywalk[/caption] 2. Hang upside down on top of a mountain – or simply soak your feet   The Japanese really know how to live, with thoughtful ways to make visitors happy every step along their sightseeing route.   Atop the mountain at Izunokuni Panorama Park (you can guess the main star of the panorama here), you can not only gaze across an incredible vista that stretches from bay to hills to forests to the star of the show, Fuji, but your mini ninjas can choose to do it from the cute obstacle play course set right here on the mountaintop, while you can get your shoes and socks off and blithely sit with your tootsies in a steaming bath, right here out in the open, while you enjoy and photograph the view. [caption id="attachment_48363" align="alignnone" width="575"] Enjoy panoramic views of Mt Fuju from Izunokuni Panorama Park[/caption] 3. Drink craft beer made from Fuji’s 100-year-old snowmelt   The respect the Japanese hold for Fuji-san does not end with the mountain itself.   That snowy peak basks in the sun, slowly melting into the purest of water, which then soaks into the volcanic earth itself and is filtered over and over again before finally emerging, a century later, into the streams and waterways around the region. This water is rather reverently used for such purposes as nourishing the finest (and therefore most delicious) of eel, helping to produce breathtakingly expensive tofu, and also highly prized sake.   Over at Baird Brewing Company near Numazu, however, they’ve come up with a more novel way of tasting the snow that melted at the end of the First World War, give or take. The range of specialty craft beers do indeed taste rather crystalline in their clarity, and visiting the forest-bound brewery to sample them is worth the trip. [caption id="attachment_48364" align="alignnone" width="430"] For the best craft beer, visit Baird Beer at Numazu Fishmarkets[/caption] 4. Take a golf-buggy ride to a fairway with a view   The luxe Izu Marriott Shuzenji not only boasts views of Japan’s favourite volcano from its Fuji-facing rooms, but its deer-speckled golf course is also perfectly positioned for maximum vistas.   Guests can even jump in the driverless electric golf buggies for a spin around the course at sunset to watch Fuji-san’s western face turn golden, forming a heart-melting backdrop as dusk brings the resort’s antlered wildlife out to reclaim the golf course for another evening. [caption id="attachment_48368" align="alignnone" width="838"] Izu Marriott Shuzenji premium guest room has magnificent Mt Fuju views.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48369" align="alignnone" width="838"] Enjoy the views while relaxing in the Marriott's hot spring spa[/caption] 5. Take a holographic tour at brand-new Yume Terrace   With the Tokyo Olympics rapidly approaching, its stadium architect Kengo Kuma is flavour of the month (or even year) – but the stadium is far from his only triumph. In Shizuoka Prefecture, his dreamy, octagonal observatory and deck is making a name for itself in its own right.   Nihondaira Yume Terrace, fashioned from local cedar and swathes of glass, is a quiet, mindful space seemingly a world away from the busier lookouts and decks closer to Mt Fuji, and inside are ultramodern displays using everything from stained glass to holographs to detail the story of Mt Fuji’s formation.   6. Rise early for seafood breakfast with the clearest view   A whole lot more hectic is Japan’s second-busiest seafood markets, the Numazu Fish Market on deep Suruga Bay.   As the 5am markets heat up inside, the sunlight strengthens outside to reveal Fuji-san reflected in the waters and dominating the view, though the workers around you may continue to bustle from boat to bobcat, auction room to loading dock. Charm your way as close as you dare to espy the three-metre Suruga Bay spider crabs, giant deep-water fish and tuna, down to the tiny baby mackerel and whitebait that typify traditional breakfasts around here.   Head to any of the restaurants in the surrounding streets for a bowl overflowing with fresh seafood – as raw as you dare – for a breakfast you won’t forget. [caption id="attachment_48372" align="alignnone" width="569"] Seafood stores in Numazu Fish Market[/caption] 7. Ride the rainbow ferry across incredible Suruga Bay   The high-speed ferry across Suruga Bay from Toi to Shimizu may well be one of the most underrated experiences in the area. The deep waters beneath make the surface mirror-still, there are fresh seafood sticks and sweet buns being grilled out on the back deck, and even the ferry itself is daubed with a rainbow to make the experience as lovely as possible.   And of course, watching over you for the 65-minute journey is Mt Fuji, in an uninterrupted view across the water to rival any lookout you can name. [caption id="attachment_48373" align="alignnone" width="613"] View of Mount Fuji with Suruga Bay and Numazu town[/caption] 8. Stay at the hotel with Fuji in every window   For such an incredible spot, gazing remarkably close-up upon perhaps Asia’s most famous mount, it seems astounding that there isn’t another foreign face to be seen at Nippondaira Hotel – but that was this reviewer’s experience.   The hotel doesn’t even pretend to want anything else for its guests, with Fuji-facing rooms enjoying uninterrupted views across a flat landscaped garden, and multi-storey floor-to-ceiling windows spanning almost every public space in the hotel so you can breakfast, lunch and (yummy fine French) dinner with Fuji-san himself. [caption id="attachment_48374" align="alignnone" width="581"] Stunning views of Mt Fuju from Nippondaira Hotel (photo: Jac Taylor)[/caption] For more information about travelling around Japan, visit our Japan guide. 
6 unique and unexpected things you can do in London
Once you tick off London’s iconic attractions there is a whole host of unexpected experiences to uncover. Big Ben and Westminster; the London Eye and Buckingham Palace; icons like red phone boxes and black cabs. All are among London’s classic drawcards, yet the UK capital offers much more than what meets the eye.   Dig under its surface and you’ll find some unexpected locations and experiences that will open your eyes to a different kind of London, the kind that Londoners love.   Here is how to explore the unexpected in London. 1. Get under the rails Once home to industrial storage, motor services and shady characters, the railway arches of London look very different today.   Most visitors exit the London Bridge tube station with the Shard as their goal, before wandering towards the River Thames to explore the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.   Unbeknownst to the crowds, the old and dirty brickworks of the railway arches just a few streets behind these attractions have been transformed into some of the most popular local hangouts.   live with markets, microbreweries, bakeries and gin distilleries, these arches are now the place to be. Check out the popular Maltby Street Market for amazing gourmet street food, bars and cafes, or keep going along the other side of the railway line and join the Bermondsey Beer Mile to sample London’s finest craft beers. [caption id="attachment_48189" align="alignnone" width="600"] Where the locals hang out (Photo: Amy McPherson)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48188" align="alignnone" width="600"] Maltby St Market (Photo: Amy McPherson)[/caption] 2. Street art of the East End London’s East End was not traditionally considered glamorous. Once notorious for pirates, prostitution and – in more recent years – dodgy curry houses, its cheap rents first made it a haven for artists and creative types in the 1990s and the area has since transformed into one of the city’s coolest. [caption id="attachment_48190" align="alignnone" width="600"] Street art prevails in East End[/caption] Today’s East End is a sassy gourmet hot spot, full of fashionable boutiques and mixed with an edginess that still lingers in the atmosphere. The community of artists have transformed it into an open gallery of street art, which is best discovered on foot.   Go for a walk along the famous ‘Curry Mile’ on Brick Lane and venture through the narrow alleyways and car parks for the best graffiti in town. Even better, combine it with a culinary experience at Eating London Tours, to get a true taste of a part of London that was once neglected. You might even stumble upon a Banksy on your stroll. You just never know. 3. Yoga on the bridge Catching a double-decker bus across the iconic Tower Bridge is a rite of passage in London. As is photographing it from the riverbanks of the Thames. But you’ve probably never thought to do your morning yoga session along the walkway at the top of the bridge. Well, now you can! [caption id="attachment_48191" align="alignnone" width="600"] You've probably never thought of finding zen in the middle of a bridge...[/caption] On a selected day every month you can sign up for a session of Yoga in the Walkways. Not only will you be energised for another day of sightseeing, you’ll be treated with great views of the city while saluting the sun.   Sessions are limited so book early. 4. Enjoy Jane Austen era’s high society It is compulsory to mingle with high society on every trip to London. What does that mean exactly? Enjoying the best high teas London has on offer. If you’d like to keep it traditional, book your afternoon high tea at the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at the prestigious department store Fortnum & Mason. For a more modern experience, make your booking with a London Landmarks architecture-themed afternoon tea at The Kensington hotel. [caption id="attachment_48192" align="alignnone" width="600"] Fortnum & Mason tea salon[/caption] Granted, having high tea isn’t the most unexpected thing you can do in London, but here’s where things get extra special. Once you’ve had your fill of the delicious sweet treats, it’s time to get your dancing shoes on.   Attention fans of Jane Austen: Mrs Bennet invites you to dance at a ball! Yes, this is a proper regency dancing class that will have you dancing like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy in no time. Mrs Bennet’s Ballroom classes are run in Surbiton, Fulham and Camden. Book your class in advance and pencil in some extra time to explore the neighbourhood while you’re there. 5. Hang out by the canals King’s Cross station isn’t just a gateway for the cross-Channel Eurostar trains, it’s also the perfect place to start exploring the Regent’s Canal. Stretching all the way from Paddington in central London to the River Thames at Limehouse in the east, the canal was once used to transport London’s cargo throughout the country. [caption id="attachment_48194" align="alignnone" width="600"] Canal book shop (Amy McPherson)[/caption] Kick off your canal tour by stopping in at the London Canal Museum and learn the history of the canals, as well as the stories of the people who once worked and lived there. Around the corner you’ll find the Word on the Water floating bookshop: a repurposed 1920s Dutch barge and surely the most unique bookstore in London.   Continue along the footpath to find the narrow houseboats that line the canal, and for something a bit more adventurous you can tour the waterways on a kayak with London Kayaks. 6. Get drinks in an underground loo Going to the loo has a very different meaning in London these days. You’ll find some of the city’s trendiest bars and restaurants are now located in old underground public toilets. Don’t let their former function put you off. You’ll want to start your morning with a cup of quality coffee at Attendant in Fitzrovia. The former loo is still decorated with the original troughs and flush. For an amazing selection of fine wines, meats and cheeses, head to the WC in Clapham Common.   If you’re planning a night out on the town, you can’t go past Ladies and Gentlemen in Kentish Town. Choose from a selection of inventive cocktails in what were formerly – you guessed it right – public ladies and gents!   Alternatively, for all things public toilet related, why not try a quirky way to get to know London intimately by taking a Loo Tour? It really does exist, and is surprisingly fun and informative!
Antarctica
20 reasons to add Antarctica to your bucket list
For many, an adventure to Antarctica is the trip of a lifetime, but here are 20 reasons why you should add it to your own list. 1. It’s the world’s largest wilderness region Measuring 14 million square kilometres, Antarctica is an untouched, virtually uninhabited expanse of rock and ice that remains protected under a treaty signed by 53 influential countries. [caption id="attachment_47593" align="alignleft" width="600"] Antarctic Landscape with Icebergs and Mountains[/caption] Though it’s bigger than Australia, India and Argentina combined, its infrastructure is limited to that around the 80 research stations sprinkled across the continent, meaning there are no roads, no shopping malls and zero pollution. 2. Because there is nowhere else on Earth like it Have you ever imagined having the Taj Mahal or Angkor Wat all to yourself? Well, here you can. The vast emptiness of the southernmost continent cannot be exaggerated. Antarctica is the only place on Earth never to have had an indigenous population and there’s no evidence anyone ever set foot here until the 19th century.   It’s only when glacier walls or icy mountains dwarf the figures beneath them that you begin to appreciate the immensity of this place. It really is out of this world. [caption id="attachment_47594" align="alignleft" width="600"] Cruising Wilhemina Bay[/caption] 3. So you can add another continent to the list How many people have stepped foot on the world’s seventh continent? About 50,000 people per annum, that’s how many. Which is not much, is it? Especially when compared to the 85 million or so who visit France each year.   You won’t be able to show your friends an immigration stamp as evidence that you’ve been to Antarctica, but you can ask the staff at the world’s most southerly post office at Port Lockroy to stamp your passport. You can even send a postcard. 4. It’s surprisingly convenient Cruise ships are the most practical means of visiting Antarctica, eliminating transport and accommodation hassles in one fell swoop. The Patagonian port of Ushuaia is the departure point for most commercial cruises because of its proximity to the Antarctic Peninsula, two days sailing away. Cape Town, Hobart and Christchurch are other ports. 5. For a historical insight into Antarctic exploration Few of us haven’t heard the tales of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance crew or Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated race to the South Pole. You can retrace Shackleton’s steps from Elephant to South Georgia Islands, and enter Scott’s hut at Cape Evans. But you can also see whaling stations and sealers camps. [caption id="attachment_47595" align="alignleft" width="600"] Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was a British polar explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic.[/caption] 6. It’s a complete disconnect Forget calling home. Forget the internet. There are no mobile phone towers, no telephone wires and no television antennas, so there’s absolutely no point in trying to keep up with the Kardashians.   Unless you’re prepared to fork out gazillions of dollars for tediously slow satellite connections, an Antarctic cruise is an opportunity to switch off and tune in to your surrounds. 7. Because it never rains Don’t get me wrong – Antarctica is cold. The coldest place on Earth, in fact, with a temperature of minus 89°C recorded at the Soviet station Vostok in 1983. But did you know that Antarctica is the world’s driest continent? Its largest desert? It’s so cold here that rain simply freezes into snow.   And as long as you’re dressed accordingly, there’s no reason why you can’t get outside and embrace it. Trust me – it will wake you up. 8. For close encounters with wildlife It’s a hard-hearted person who isn’t immediately smitten upon sighting a penguin tripping clumsily over its own feet. [caption id="attachment_47983" align="alignleft" width="600"] Gentoo penguins saying hello[/caption] The wildlife in Antarctica is a major factor for visiting Antarctica, with seals, whales and seabirds all exhibiting no fear of humans due to our limited interaction with them. What that means is close-up encounters with birds and mammals on a daily basis. [caption id="attachment_47602" align="alignleft" width="600"] A Gentoo Penguin colony at Neko Harbour[/caption] [caption id="attachment_47598" align="alignleft" width="600"] A humpback whale appears[/caption] 9. To get active Apart from land visits on foot, cruise ships now offer kayaking, snowshoeing, diving and skiing excursions. There’s even the chance to camp overnight on ice. [caption id="attachment_47599" align="alignleft" width="600"] It never rains in Antarctica, making it the driest continent in the world[/caption] 10. To swim in the world’s biggest ice bath It will make you hyperventilate. And it’s potentially deadly if you persist for too long. But it’s also mightily invigorating. A polar plunge, as a quick dip in the zero-degree seawaters is called, is a rite of passage for Antarctic cruisers. Once you’re in the water, you’ll surprise yourself at how fast you’re capable of swimming in order to get out. 11. For the chance to float among icebergs It’s crazy to think that you’re only looking at 10 per cent of an iceberg above the water’s surface. They’re mysterious, and they’re utterly enthralling. Sculpted, shaped, towering and blue – you’ll never appreciate how beautiful a chunk of ice can be until you float among them. 12. So you can savour the silence Only 4000 people live in Antarctica’s 80 research stations at any one time. You won’t hear car horns, jet engines or pesky drones overhead; the latter are prohibited. Instead, cock an ear for the hunger cries of an infant penguin, a barking fur seal or the rumble of a distant avalanche. 13. To watch a glacier calve The world’s largest ice sheet is more than four kilometres thick in places, with frozen tongues licking at the ocean for more than 3000 metres. [caption id="attachment_47600" align="alignleft" width="600"] Deville glacier calving in Andvord Bay near Neko Harbour[/caption] You’ll never see more glaciers on Earth than here, with Graham Land’s Neko Harbour a favourite destination for witnessing huge chunks of ice breaking off and tumbling into the sea. 14. For the chance to watch a leopard seal hunting Leopard seals menacingly circled two of our Zodiacs, even taking a nibble of rubber. And another group got to watch one catch a poor chinstrap penguin in its mouth, just like you’d see on a nature documentary. But merely seeing one of these giants up close is impressive enough. [caption id="attachment_47603" align="alignleft" width="600"] Leopard Seal on Floating iceberg in Antarctica[/caption] 15. To visit an active volcano Truly the land of fire and ice, Antarctica is home to two active surface volcanoes, including Mt Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano. [caption id="attachment_47604" align="alignleft" width="600"] Mt Erebus is one of two active surface volcanoes in Antarctica[/caption] More accessible is Deception Island, a sunken caldera with its own micro-climate in the South Shetland Island group off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. 16. You get two for the price of one A trip to Antarctica is the perfect opportunity to tie in a holiday to South America. Flights from Australia usually land in Santiago or Buenos Aires before transferring to Ushuaia, in Argentinian Patagonia, so why not add a side trip to Machu Picchu or Iguazu Falls? [caption id="attachment_47606" align="alignleft" width="600"] Take a side trip to Patagonia while you're at it...[/caption] Maybe you’ll want to hike in Torres del Paine National Park or tango the night away in Buenos Aires. You’d be mad not to. 17. It’s seasonal For obvious reasons, commercial visits to Antarctica are confined to the summer months when the seas are calmer, the temperatures bearable and when daylight lingers. November, the start of the season, is when the landscapes are at their most pristine, with the snow at its whitest. December and January have longer, warmer days. Penguins begin hatching in January and moult from February to early March. Migrating whales are best seen in February and March, when breaking ice improves accessibility to some places. [caption id="attachment_47597" align="alignleft" width="600"] Penguin Habitat Gentoo Penguin in Neko Harbour[/caption] 18. To appreciate the environment It’s doubtful you’ll ever see another place so untouched by man. And there’s a long list of rules in place to protect that natural order. You can’t souvenir anything, like rocks, for example. And you can’t approach closer than five metres to any wildlife. Of course, that’s not to say they won’t approach you. 19. It’s perfectly fine to go solo I was completely surprised by the number of single travellers during a recent cruise to Antarctica. For those who really value their privacy and need their own space, most ships will have a small number of single cabins. A cheaper option is to share a cabin with someone else travelling alone, with cruise operators usually doing admirable jobs of matching single travellers according to age and gender. Meal times are always a good opportunity to meet other passengers too. 20. It’s a photographer’s dream Whatever you do, bring a camera. And then bring plenty of memory cards. And spare batteries as well, for insurance against the cold.   The sheer multitude of photogenic locations and opportunities, from big-sky landscapes to shapely icebergs and brash wildlife – many of which you’ll see nowhere else – ensure that you’ll take plenty of memories back home with you. It might even prompt thoughts of a slide show revival when you get home. [caption id="attachment_47984" align="alignleft" width="600"] The mighty Ocean Atlantic[/caption]   Mark Daffey travelled to Antarctica courtesy of Chimu Adventures.
The ultimate Grand Canyon travel guide
For many, Grand Canyon National Park is a sightseeing coach stop, a natural tonic for the lights of nearby Las Vegas and a ‘been there’ photo opportunity. But the world’s most famous canyon in Arizona, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a national park, deserves better. As you’ll see here, it’s been home to people for thousands of years, and it took millions of years for the Colorado River to expose billions of years of geological history as it scoured a path down into the bedrock.   Bordered by several Native American reservations, the World Heritage site is steeped in Navajo, Havasupai and Hualapai culture and you can spend days walking trails with vistas of unparalleled scale. Perhaps you should pop to Vegas for a day and spend a week here instead… Getting there The Grand Canyon is split into two distinct zones, the North Rim and the South Rim.   It’s about a four-and-a-half-hour drive to get from one rim to the other, so ensure you  plan your trip accordingly. [caption id="attachment_47355" align="alignleft" width="600"] Toroweap Point – a jewel of the North Rim[/caption] If you’re keen to visit the North Rim, your best bet is to fly to Las Vegas, then drive the four and a half hours to the park.   If you're heading to the South Rim, from Phoenix it’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive.   For those without a car, the Arizona Shittle runs vans from Flagstaff to to the village three times a day. When to visit The best times to visit the Grand Canyon are March through May and September through November, when the crowds have shooed and daytime temperatures are predominantly cool.   If you decide to visit during the summer (the park's peak season), be prepared for hordes of tourists and very limited lodging availability. What to bring When travelling through Grand Canyon National Park, it's best to over prepare with your packing. We suggest sunscreen, a water bottle, optimum snacks, a camera, a small first-aid kit and a backpack to carry it all in. What to see Fit these natural and woman-made wonders into your Grand Canyon itinerary. Havasu Falls You’ll need to reserve a permit to hike to this natural spectacle in the Havasupai Indian Reservation.   A 30-metre waterfall cascades into a brilliant aqua-blue plunge pool that owes its colour to the high levels of calcium carbonate in the water, forming a stark contrast with the steep ochre cliffs of the creek. [caption id="attachment_47356" align="alignleft" width="600"] Havasu Falls – a view from the top[/caption] The 16-kilometre trail to the campground takes four to seven hours to hike, passing through the village of Supai. Horseshoe Bend See the Colorado River at its dramatic best from this vantage point on the rim of the Grand Canyon.   A view of the river carving a tight meander through the red rock, it’s perhaps the best spot to see how the power of water has hewn the steep sides of the Grand Canyon over millions of years.   Just outside the northern confines of the park, take a short walk from the highway to reach Horseshoe Bend and get snapping. Mary Colter architecture You wouldn’t think that architecture should be on your Grand Canyon agenda, but you’ll find the works of architect Mary Colter, who designed gift shops and other tourism structures sympathetic to the landscape here in the first half of the 20th century.   One of the few female architects of her day, she was the pioneer of a rustic style that incorporated Native American touches and traditional pueblo design. Make sure you head to Colter’s Hopi House and Desert View Watchtower. Tusayan Ruins Having marvelled at 20th-century faux Pueblo Indian architecture you can see the fascinating remains of the real thing at the 800-year-old Tusayan Ruins, a snapshot into the lives of people here before European settlement.   The low stone semi-circular walls of the main living area, storage rooms and a kiva, a ceremonial space, can be explored with a guide or by yourself on a short trail.   The Tusayan Museum here is a reconstruction of a Hopi Indian house. Whitewater Rafting One of the most spectacular places on the planet to go rafting, the Colorado River surges and at times sedately pours past gargantuan cliffs. Take a multi-day trip with experts in the field like advantage. Go Hiking The South Kaibab Trail gives you a taste of the gradients that make this place so special, rewarding you with the best views for your efforts.   It winds down the canyon to a campsite on the Colorado River, taking about four to five hours each way. [caption id="attachment_47353" align="alignleft" width="600"] Views from a hike in the Grand Canyon National Park[/caption] Desert view drive Rent a convertible for this one, a scenic drive that affords sweeping vistas of the Grand Canyon dotted with pull-over viewpoints along the way.   Plus it takes in the Tusayan Ruins and Museum, and Mary Colter’s Desert View Watchtower. Animal spotting Mountain lion You’ll be fortunate to spot the biggest predator in the park, aka the cougar; don’t worry, they’re not interested in humans. Tarantula The Aphonopelma behlei, a species of the world’s biggest spiders, lives here. Watch you don’t step on the four-inch beasts. Gila monster Like miniature Godzillas, these lizards have orange and black blotchy scales and lounge around in the surrounding deserts. Tiger salamander Look out for this striking black and yellow amphibian in pools and creeks around the Grand Canyon’s rim.  
Titlis Rotair Switzerland
12 world-record breaking attractions you’ll only find in Switzerland
Switzerland might be a small country that is roughly two-thirds the size of Tasmania, but this country is an overachiever when it comes to breaking world records. You’ve read about the scenic train routes, the picturesque cycling routes and skiing in the shadow of the Matterhorn but the Swiss also have 12 world-record breaking attractions you'll want to add to your travel itinerary. 1. World’s steepest cogwheel railway [caption id="attachment_47290" align="alignnone" width="600"] Switzerland is home to the world's steepest cogwheel railway and can be found in Lake Lucerne.[/caption] The cogwheel railway is one of the most popular attractions on Lake Lucerne thanks to its 48-degree gradient. Ascending 1635 metres from Alpnachstad (where the ferry stops), the railway travels 4618 metres up to the fun park of Mt Pilatus. The ride itself takes about 30 minutes and operates between May and November. 2. World’s longest suspension bridge [caption id="attachment_47291" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Charles Kuonen Bridge is the world's longest suspension bridge and connects a hiking trail between Grachen and Zermatt.[/caption] There's nothing like crossing a suspension bridge to get your heart rate up, and you'll find the world's longest in Switzerland. The Charles Kuonen Bridge connects a hiking trail between Grachen and Zermatt and stretches 494 metres in length. The views from the bridge are equally thrilling, being set against the world’s most recognisable mountain peak, the Matterhorn. 3. World’s longest tunnel [caption id="attachment_47292" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Gotthard Base Tunnel is 57-kilometre long; making it the longest in the world.[/caption] The Gotthard Base Tunnel has a long and legendary history originating in the 13th century, but it's the length of the tunnel that breaks the world record. It took 17 years to construct the 57-kilometre tunnel that runs through the mountain at a depth of up to 2300 metres. Not only is the Gotthard Base Tunnel an engineering feat, but it's also powered by hydroelectricity. 4. World’s oldest covered wooden footbridge [caption id="attachment_47293" align="alignnone" width="600"] The world's oldest covered wooden bridge dates back to the 14th century and can be found in Lucerne.[/caption] The Chapel Bridge in Lucerne dates back to the 14th century and was part of the original fortifications of the city. Destroyed in a fire in 1993 , it was quickly restored back to its original form. The bridge is one of Lucerne's most charming attractions and is decorated with pictorial panels that depict historical life in the country and city during the 17th century. 5. World’s first revolving cable car [caption id="attachment_47294" align="alignnone" width="600"] The glacier chairlift of Mt. Titlis, the Ice Flyer, is the world's first revolving chairlift.[/caption] Not far from Lucerne is the 3062-metre-high Mt Titlis, home to Europe’s highest suspension bridge and the glacier chairlift ‘Ice Flyer’. To get up there you'll need to take a 30-minute scenic ride on the Titlis Rotair – which is an experience in itself. As you travel above the spectacular alpine landscape, take note of the fact that you're riding on the world's first revolving cable car. 6. World’s highest consumption of chocolate [caption id="attachment_47295" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Swiss enjoy their own chocolate as even more than the rest of the world.[/caption] They've given the world Nestle, Lindt and Toblerone, so it comes as no surprise that the Swiss are their own biggest fans when it comes to chocolate, taking home the record of consuming the highest amount of the sweet treat in the world. In 2017 alone, the average consumption hit 8.8 kilograms per person. That's a lot of Lindt balls! 7. World’s highest density of Michelin-starred restaurants per capita [caption id="attachment_47296" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Michelin starred Ritzcoffier Burgenstock.[/caption] Switzerland recorded a total of  128 Michelin starred restaurants in 2019, securing its position as the country with the highest number of top-rated restaurants per capita. Pavillon in Zurich and focus in Vitznau are the country's most recent restaurants to make their way into the Michelin guide. 8. World’s longest downhill ski race [caption id="attachment_47297" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Lauberhorn-Wengen FIS Alpine Ski World Cup is the world's longest downhill ski race.[/caption] Attracting an average of 30,000 spectators each year, the history of the Lauberhorn-Wengen FIS Alpine Ski World Cup dates back to 1930 and takes place every year in mid-January. With the downhill course stretching over 4.4 kilometres, run times are usually 2.5 minutes where top speeds reach about 160 kilometres per hour. 9. World’s longest staircase [caption id="attachment_47298" align="alignnone" width="600"] You can climb 11,674 steps to reach the peak of Nieson; making it the longest staircase in the world.[/caption] Located in the Bernese Alps, the pyramid-shaped mountain peak of Niesen overlooks Lake Thun in Interlaken from 2362 metres above sea level. Ascending the peak can be done via a funicular, which departs every 30 minutes from 8am to 5pm, or by the impressive 11,674 steps. 10. World’s only peak-to-peak suspension bridge [caption id="attachment_47299" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Peak Walk at Glacier 3000 is the world’s first suspension footbridge linking two mountains peaks.[/caption] Boasting spectacular views of more than 24 snow-capped peaks of at least 4000 metres above sea level including the Eiger, Monch, the Matterhorn, Jungfraujoch and even Mont Blanc, the Peak Walk at Glacier 3000 is the world’s first suspension footbridge linking two mountains peaks. 11. World’s oldest vegetarian restaurant [caption id="attachment_47300" align="alignnone" width="600"] Haus Hiltl in Zurich first opened its doors in 1898, and it holds the record for the oldest continuously opened vegetarian restaurant in the world.[/caption] Having first opened its doors in 1898, Haus Hiltl in Zurich holds the record for the oldest continuously opened vegetarian restaurant in the world. You can take healthy indulgence to a whole new level at Hiltl, with its selection of 40 varieties of salad, fresh food juices and Indian buffet. 12. World’s best tennis player [caption id="attachment_47301" align="alignnone" width="600"] Roger Federer, who was born Basel, is currently the world's best tennis player.[/caption] Apart from incredible natural assets, impressive engineering feats and talented chefs, Switzerland is also home to the world’s best tennis player, Roger Federer, who was born Basel. The nation’s art and architecture capital, Basel is located on the River Rhine and borders France and Germany.   Planning a trip to the home of the Swiss? Make sure you check out the rest of our guide to travelling Switzerland.
What to do in Bern, Switzerland
Bern, the capital city of Europe’s most scenic country, Switzerland, looks as though it is peeled directly from the pages of a fairy-tale book. With the old city surrounded on three sides by the turquoise waters of the flowing river Aare, a sea of medieval buildings spanning the old town and the spire of the Bern cathedral piercing the blue sky, Bern is a sight not to be missed. Staying in Bern Switzerland is renowned for being one of the most beautiful (and most expensive) countries in Europe. Bern is no exception – particularly when considering accommodation. The Bellevue Palace If you have the money to spend, for around $600 a night you can book yourself into Bern’s best hotel: the Bellevue Palace. With five stars and set in the heart of the city, the Bellevue was built in 1865 as an upmarket hotel, and has remained that way. [caption id="attachment_47240" align="alignleft" width="600"] Grand exteriors of The Bellevue Palace[/caption] Luxe red velvet curtains, decorative cornices and bay windows are some of the features of this luxurious hotel, where even sleeping is an experience in itself. Hotel Jardin For a more affordable stay in Bern, consider the Hotel Jardin for $195 a night. Offered in this price is a comfortable queen bed, free tea and coffee in the concierge and free use of public transport throughout the city. [caption id="attachment_47243" align="alignleft" width="600"] Hotel Jardin is a more affordable accommodation in Bern[/caption] With colourful rooms, all the modern amenities and great customer service, this is an excellent and less costly alternative to the Bellevue. Floating on Aare The best experience to be had in Bern, if the weather permits, is to go floating down the crystal clear waters of the fast-flowing river Aare. Dissecting the city, a swim down the river not only offers Bern’s most unique experience, but also some of the best views. [caption id="attachment_47245" align="alignleft" width="600"] The River Aare in the heart of Bern[/caption] The water, flowing from the Upper Rhine, is essentially glacial water making its way down from the mountains, meaning the river is both fast and freezing (and remarkably refreshing).   This activity is not for the faint-hearted, although reasonably safe, with exit points all along the river.   It is advisable for non-so-confident swimmers to engage a flotation device like a ‘Wickelfisch’, which seconds as a bag to store your clothes and shoes. Bear spotting at Bärengraben Legend has it that the city of Bern was actually named after a bear, the first animal that the Duke of Zähringen found on a hunt in the surrounding areas. [caption id="attachment_47246" align="alignleft" width="600"] The bears can be watched from above[/caption] Therefore, visiting the Bear Pit, stationed beside the River Aare, is a fitting thing to do while in town.   The three bears – Finn, Björk and Ursina – can be watched from above, or below (through a glass divider), paddling in the fresh river or scaling the hill to find a good sunbaking spot.   You can also enjoy a delicious dinner at Brasserie Bärengraben, situated above the bear park in a historic building. At this restaurant you can enjoy duck terrine with onion confit, foie gras with wine jam and marinated mussels. [caption id="attachment_47248" align="alignleft" width="600"] Enjoy a delicious dinner at Brasserie Baerengraben[/caption] Explore the old town on foot Only six kilomtres at its widest point, the Bern’s old town is perfect for exploring on foot.   A UNESCO World-Heritage site, it’s renowned for its perfectly preserved medieval buildings and is home to the Bern cathedral and clock tower. These monuments, straight out of the storybooks of your childhood, should definitely be on your Bern itinerary. [caption id="attachment_47249" align="alignleft" width="600"] The old town clock tower[/caption] While in the old city, have a wander through the boutique shops and admire the sculptured fountains, framed by posies of red flowers against the carved stone. These fountains, found all through the Old Town, are the perfect place to wash your face and fill your water bottle, as the water is pumped straight from the glacial waters below. [caption id="attachment_47239" align="alignleft" width="600"] Wander through the streets of this UNESCO world heritage site[/caption] Immerse yourself in Swiss cuisine Swiss food, although somewhat pricey in Bern, is an important part of exploring the city.   Swiss chocolate, the most famous chocolate in the world, is best eaten at Läderach. With three stores in the city, it offers chocolate slabs that come in an immense range of different concoctions. [caption id="attachment_47251" align="alignleft" width="600"] Laderach chocolate is a local favourite[/caption] Try the hazelnut milk (we are talking whole hazelnuts), classic milk or caramel fudge.   To supplement the above food group, head out and try a Swiss rösti. The rösti, essentially a big hash brown, is often accompanied by a range of hearty ingredients. The best rosti in Bern can be had at the famous Kornhauskeller, where they’re served with tomato, bacon, onion and cheese.   Other delectable items on the menu here include boiled beef with smoked ham and bacon, thin-skinned beef carpaccio and grilled sea bass fillets with tomatoes, olive oil and thyme. Not only is the food brilliant, but the Kornhauskeller also boasts baroque architecture and is located in a vault in the centre of the old town. [caption id="attachment_47252" align="alignleft" width="600"] Kornhauskeller is waiting[/caption] Other places to consider a night out are Krone restaurant for a delicious Mediterranean feed and Wash Bar (a trendy bar for ‘coffee, drinks and laundry’) where you can multitask your afternoon away, meeting some locals while you clean your clothes. Satisfy your inner child with a toboggan run down Gurten Gurten, Bern’s resident mountain, has a lot to offer. Standing tall at 860 metres above sea level, you can scale it by train or foot for a fantastic view over the city and three lakes region.   Add toboggan runs for all seasons into the mix – one of Bern’s most loved and cheap-as-chips activities – and you’ll find a day on Gurten is a day well spent.
Norway landscape
4 travel hotspots you need to explore this year
Norway, Antarctica, Greece and the UK – four of the hottest destinations on the planet right now. Bentours and Tempo Holidays are ready to help you tick them off your bucket list. Norway Experience everything the diverse land of Norway has to offer, from majestic mountains to deep fjords, the wild Norwegian Sea and more. Discover the country’s prettiest towns and most dramatic landscapes on an unforgettable scenic rail journey, then be welcomed aboard a Hurtigruten cruise liner for an 11-day coastal cruise through the intricate archipelago of the Lofoten Islands. It’s all part of the Complete Norway tour – and it’s all done in effortless style thanks to Bentours, the Scandinavian and Polar specialists. United kingdom [caption id="attachment_46912" align="alignnone" width="600"] Make your way out of the cities and into the picturesque UK countryside[/caption] To truly experience the UK’s rich history, you must travel beyond the cities. Ancient sites such as Hadrian’s Wall – a Roman fortification stretching 117 kilometres from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth – lie waiting for you in the Yorkshire Dales. And while you’re venturing north through the Lake District, why not cast your eye towards Scotland and Wales, the land of Celtic culture and castles? Some lie in ruins, others have been home to the same family for generations, and some have been transformed into magnificent hotels for you to explore. Antarctica [caption id="attachment_46911" align="alignnone" width="600"] A once in a lifetime expedition[/caption] Antarctica’s abundance of wildlife and stunning landscapes are simply awe-inspiring. As you cross the Antarctic Circle and approach the shores of the great white continent, the air temperature dips dramatically – but the breathtaking scenery and unique fauna of this frozen wilderness make it all worthwhile. Marvel at some of the highest and most spectacular glacier walls, or be inspired by the Lemaire Channel that is so beautiful it has been dubbed ‘Kodak crack’ by photographers. Greece [caption id="attachment_46914" align="alignnone" width="600"] Visit the iconic ancient site of Olympia which hosted the inaugural Olympic Games[/caption] If you love history, sunshine, amazing food and classic postcard images of crumbling temple ruins or whitewashed houses with blue shutters, Greece cannot be equalled. Imagine having the chance to explore 4000 years of history at iconic sites such as the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Then imagine what it must have been like for athletes from a different time, striving for glory at the ancient Olympic Games site at Olympia. Then just lie back and relax by the sea on one of Greece’s stunning islands, contemplating which Mediterranean culinary delight to sample for dinner.   For tailor-made holidays, package tours, expedition cruising and more, visit bentours.com.au and tempoholidays.com or see your selected travel agent.
Reflection of road in car side mirror
Three of the best USA road trips: canyons, national parks and the blues
Tour the United States the way you’ve always wanted to, with DriveAway. When it comes to enjoying the open road, it’s hard to go past the USA. Go off-route, find your own way, and explore this vast country and its fascinatingly diverse states with DriveAway, the self-drive specialists.   With limitless stretches of highway, breathtaking landscapes, classic routes, and of course the Mustangs… the United States just might be the best country for a self-drive road trip. Vast and varied, you’ll encounter everything from snowfields to deserts, and beaches to forests.   The best thing about travelling through the US on four wheels is you’ll have the freedom to make detours and discover unexplored roads. Hire a car or motorhome with DriveAway and see where the road takes you. There are countless must-see stops along the way, but your journey is only limited to your imagination. [caption id="attachment_46774" align="alignnone" width="600"] Feel the wind in your hair.[/caption] Head to DriveAway to find a number of inspiring drives that are sure to ignite your wanderlust, here’s a few to get you started. Grand Canyon National Park This year the Grand Canyon National Park is celebrating its centenary, making it an excellent time to visit. The park may be your destination, but when you self-drive you have the freedom to take the long way around. Make it a desert experience, and stop by Palm Springs, taking in Joshua Tree National Park, before heading to Las Vegas for a little fun. Yellowstone National Park The world’s first National Park, Yellowstone is incredible no matter the season. Go hiking, camping, fishing, or choose to take a leisurely horse ride in the warmer months. Visiting in winter means skiing and snowmobile tours. Pick up one of DriveAway’s comfortable motorhomes and make your way to the park, allowing the attractions of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota to lead you astray in the most enjoyable way. Follow the blues Let the unmistakable rhythm of the blues direct a relaxed itinerary from Nashville, Tennessee to New Orleans, Louisiana and discover one of the USA’s most celebrated treasures. During your visit, stay and linger in towns with incredible live music scenes, or pass through Tunica, Mississippi dubbed ‘The Gateway to the Blues’. Pay a visit to Elvis’ Graceland, and indulge in the rich Creole culture of vibrant New Orleans.   For more USA driving routes and to book the perfect car or motorhome, see your local travel agent or visit driveaway.com.au/top-drives and begin planning the road trip of a lifetime.
visit Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine explora hiking
7 reasons to visit Patagonia this year
Few places in the world are as wild and untouched as Patagonia. But that’s not the only reason to go there, writes “There was no sound but the wind, whirring through thorns and whistling through dead grass, and no other sign of life but a hawk, and a black beetle easing over white stones.” So wrote Bruce Chatwin in his 1977 classic In Patagonia and the southern tip of South America has barely changed since.   Apart from a few more lodges and trekking trails, Patagonia still exudes the mystique of a wild and unknowable place.   Named after a race of giants encountered by Portuguese explorer Magellan in the 1520s – the ‘patagones’ were said to be twice as tall as Magellan’s men – this largely uninhabited region occupies the curved tailbone of South America, jutting into the Southern Ocean further than any other non-polar land mass on Earth.   It’s a landscape of lonely peaks, wind-beaten grasslands and massive glaciers. And closer to Antarctica than to Santiago, Chile’s capital; the mercurial weather constantly reminds you of that. You soon get used to dressing in layers and carrying sunglasses, a down jacket and rain gear whenever you step outside, which just ramps up the adventure of being there.   To experience one of the most untouched places on the planet, Patagonia is hard to beat. Here are seven more reasons to put it on your must-see list this year: 1. To get far, far away You don’t have to be misanthropic to want to get away from the rest of humankind now and then, and Patagonia is the perfect place to escape to. Just getting there makes you feel you’re off the map. The first part is easy, particularly with LATAM Airlines now flying non-stop from Melbourne to Santiago (LATAM and Qantas also fly direct from Sydney to Santiago). From there it’s a three-hour flight to Punta Arenas at the bottom of Chile then a five-hour drive to Torres del Paine National Park, which is about as remote as you can get without crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica. 2. To see the Torres del Paine Imagine Patagonia and it probably looks like this: a monolith of three granite spires piercing the sky. While 90 per cent of Patagonia lies in Argentina, these Torres del Paine (‘blue towers’; paine means blue in the indigenous Aonikenk language) are in the Chilean part.   They’re made even more formidable by their southerly latitude; Everest was climbed before the highest of the three peaks, the 2884-metre Paine Grande (by an Italian mountaineer in 1957). See them on a rare blue-sky day and you’ll feel blessed by the gods, but they’re just as compelling when storm clouds and rain squalls play hide-and-seek with sheer rock faces and snow-dusted slopes. ‘Spectacular’ doesn’t even come close. [caption id="attachment_38930" align="alignnone" width="1500"] The summer snows of Torres del Paine National Park (photo: Louise Southerden).[/caption] 3. For the best ‘room with a view’ ever At first glance explora Patagonia, an award-winning lodge in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park, looks like a ship that ran aground on the shore of a turquoise Lake Pehoé 25 years ago (it opened in 1993).   But it’s what’s inside that counts or, in this case, what you can see from inside. The Torres del Paine come to you when you stay in one of explora’s 50 rooms. Whatever you’re doing and wherever you are – lying in your king-sized bed, taking a bath, relaxing in the lounge with a glass of Chilean pinot noir, enjoying a meal in the lodge’s dining room – you’ll be distracted by unbeatable mountain views. [caption id="attachment_38931" align="alignnone" width="1500"] How's the view: Torres del Paine from the explora Patagonia lodge (photo: Louise Southerden).[/caption] 4. To brave the elements The room rate at explora Patagonia includes plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in the scenery as well as look at it. Half-day guided hikes are a good start, taking you through Antarctic beech forests, across hanging bridges, along pebbled beaches fringing iceberg-choked lakes – and back to the lodge for an à la carte lunch.   There are also more challenging full-day hikes; you can even do the famous multi-day “W” trek, with transfers to the trailhead each morning and accommodation at the lodge each night. 5. To ride with huasos The other main activity in Patagonia is horse riding. You’ll wear suede half-chaps (knee-length coverings to stop the stirrups rubbing your legs) and ride with beret-wearing huasos, the Chilean equivalent of Argentinian gauchos.   The beauty of riding, in contrast to hiking, is that you don’t have to watch your feet; you can gaze as you go. Back at the stables afterwards, the hausos will make mate and pass around a mug with a metal straw – the traditional, social way of drinking this bitter, invigorating tea. [caption id="attachment_38932" align="alignnone" width="1500"] Hiking Patagonia takes you through Antarctic beech forests, across hanging bridges, along pebbled beaches fringing iceberg-choked lakes (photo: Louise Southerden).[/caption] 6. For photo ops It goes without saying that Patagonia is photogenic. But it’s not just the peaks that are Insta-worthy. There are surprisingly green deciduous beech forests that blaze with oranges and yellows in autumn.   There are Curacao-blue lakes, towering icebergs, vast glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Icefield, the third largest in the world after those in Greenland and Antarctica. Then there’s the sublime and ever-changing light, thanks to Patagonia having the cleanest air in the world. 7. To see a puma There’s a good chance you’ll see one of these beige big cats in the national park and they’re not as dangerous as their North American cousins. But there are plenty of other, more benign, wild creatures to see too, including guanacos (long-necked orange and white llamas), rheas (small emus), condors (vulture-like birds with the second-largest wingspan in the world) and armadillos (armoured echidnas that can often be seen crossing the road).   Louise Southerden travelled to Patagonia with LATAM Airlines and Adventure World.
Samoa To Sua ocean Trench
Explore Samoa three ways: for couples, families and adventurers
With its rugged beauty and vibrant, 3000-year-old culture, this South Pacific island paradise packs enough punch to have something for everyone. Long known for its pristine beaches, rainforest-covered volcanic mountains and fringing coral reef, Samoa’s 10 postcard-perfect islands offer a multitude of experiences for every kind of traveller – often in vastly different environments. Samoa for families Forget the old school ‘drop and flop’; the beauty of Mother Nature’s playground will turn the youngest of travellers into New World explorers, whether its swimming with turtles in the peaceful waters of a lagoon, enjoying the natural waterslides at Papaseea Sliding Rocks or playing a spot of kilikti (Samoan cricket) with the local kids. [caption id="attachment_46500" align="alignnone" width="600"] Samoa offer fun for the whole family.[/caption] Will they find buried treasure among the lush jungles surrounding your resort? Will they come across pirates in the watering holes in which they play? Get their hearts racing and imaginations ignited by visiting the restored colonial homestead-turned museum of Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of much-loved children’s book, Treasure Island. It could provide the inspiration for a trip of a lifetime. Samoa for lovers Dreaming of reconnecting with your partner (or celebrating your honeymoon) away from the hustle and bustle of the summertime crowds? Picture a frangipani-scented paradise filled with deserted beaches (perfect for that picnic for two) and azure water holes where your only company is the odd rainbow pop of tropical fish. Out here, it’s just you, your partner and a magical backdrop made for romance. [caption id="attachment_46501" align="alignnone" width="600"] A picture-perfect romantic escape[/caption] If you can force yourself to leave your over-water bungalow (and yes, it can be a struggle), navigating the winding jungle trails through emerald forests hand-in-hand should make the list – but only if it’s bookmarked by a fresh seafood lunch and a relaxing Samoan massage. And repeat. Samoa for adventurers Bust out your inner Indiana Jones and give yourself over to the thrill of conquering a wild landscape filled with lush jungles on steep volcanoes, cascading waterfalls and mysterious lava caves begging for exploration.   There’s nothing to suggest one need turn their holiday into a caffeinated drink commercial; those looking for ‘action lite’ can enjoy an afternoon of kayaking with turtles, touring the islands by bicycle or taking an organised snorkel trip. Others may prefer diving her coral reef, surfing her breaks or hiking three kilometers through dense rainforest up to Volcanic Crater Lake. [caption id="attachment_46504" align="alignnone" width="600"] Conquer your fear of heights in lush tropical surrounds.[/caption] Whatever you do, just don’t miss experiencing the Falealupo Canopy Walk in Savaii, a thrilling walkway 40 metres above the rainforest floor among giant Banyan trees. It’s a Samoan highlight.   For more information visit www.samoa.travel
Mount fuji
How to find the best Wendy Wu Tour for you
However you like to travel, Wendy Wu Tours has crafted a tour style to suit your personality. Discover what type of traveller you are to begin your next adventure! There are so many ways in which we can explore our vast and wonderful world. While every journey we take makes it that little bit smaller, there’s still so much to experience in a single lifetime. To gain as much from our travels as possible, we want to do more than merely skim the surface. We need to be sure we’ve burrowed deep enough to uncover the essence of a land, its unique culture and its people.   Wendy Wu Tours has spent 25 years developing immersive ways to travel that are as diverse as their clients. Knowing we all interact with the world in different ways and draw inspiration from many places, their tours are carefully curated to ensure there is one to suit your particular style of travel.   Whether you enjoy diving headfirst into a destination with a group of people you’ve just met, or prefer to travel with a select few, Wendy Wu can accommodate your needs with their highly skilled team and unrivalled expertise. From Asia to South America and beyond, there’s not a corner of the globe we don’t know intimately, enabling us to craft the perfect itinerary and making sure you don’t miss a thing.   Not sure what your tour style is yet? Here’s just a few ways we can take you on your next adventure…   Classic Tours Type of traveller: The easy-going adventurer   What to expect: Ranging from comprehensive itineraries to shorter trips that tick the bucket list sights, Classic Tours are all-inclusive with international flights, visas, and accommodation taken care of for you. You’ll be exploring with their dedicated National Experts, whose in-depth knowledge far surpasses any guidebook. To ensure the expert guides give you the best experience possible the groups are capped at 28.   Where can I go? Just about anywhere! Some of their Classic Tours will take you off-the-beaten track, while others are designed to give you a good insight in a shorter length of time.   Popular destinations: If your feet are getting itchy, explore Wendy Wu Tours’ Wonders of China, Majestic Yangtze, or Cities of the Orient Classic Tours here.   [caption id="attachment_46372" align="alignnone" width="600"] There's always time to see the Great Wall of China[/caption] Immerse Yourself Tours Type of traveller: The eager explorer   What to expect: Deep dive into a destination with the Immerse Yourself range of tours. These itineraries are designed for a more engaged experience though cultural excursions and active touring. You’ll still see all the big sights, but you’ll discover another layer, too. These 18-people-or-less groups allow for more free time and less meal inclusions, so you can explore at your leisure.   Where can I go? Pack your hiking boots because Immerse Yourself Tours take you off the pages of your guidebook. Go for a hike along the Great Wall, cycle through rice fields in Vietnam, be blessed by a Lama in Nepal, or meditate with a Taoist master in China.   Popular destinations: Wendy Wu Tours is the expert in Asia and their Immerse Yourself Tours go to the next-level. If Asia is on your radar, they’ll take you deeper. Start your Asian adventure with the Sichuan Explorer, Yunnan Adventure, or Tibetan Wonders. Find more Immerse Yourself Tours here.   Private Tours Type of traveller: The independent tourer   What to expect: Wendy Wu’s Private Tours have been created for those who like to go at their own pace with their own people. If you love the convenience of touring, but aren’t sold on travelling with a group of strangers, this is for you. Private Tours are fantastic for families, groups of friends, or those wanting extra privacy. Expect a personal touch and the peace-of-mind that everything is taken care of, you can even choose the dates that best suit you and your companions.   Where can I go: You can travel to all the destinations in the Wendy Wu collection, with the comfort of your own exclusive tour guide.   Popular destinations: Gather a posse and go In Pursuit of Pandas, travel the Majestic Yangtze, or Angkor to the Bay. See more Private Tours here.   [caption id="attachment_46373" align="alignnone" width="600"] Spend as much time as you want exploring ancient Angkor Wat temples[/caption] Tailor-Made Type of traveller: The bespoke holidaymaker   What to expect: Knowing that not everyone likes to stick to the plan, Wendy Wu Tours designed Tailor-Made touring. For people who are looking for a little more flexibility to do things their own way, these packages take in all the major highlights but allow for you to shape your perfect holiday.   Where can I go: It’s up to you! You design your ideal escape with the assurance you’ll be in the skilled hands of their award-winning guides.   Popular destinations: You already know where you’d like to go, so simply get in touch.   [caption id="attachment_46376" align="alignnone" width="600"] Imagine cruising through the natural wonder of Ha Long Bay[/caption]   Deluxe Tours Type of traveller: The discerning globetrotter   What to expect: No less than the very best. The Deluxe Tours are all about luxury accommodation and five-star experiences; they offer the chance to see the world in style.   Where can I go: Explore China, South East Asia, and India in the upmost of luxury.   Popular destinations: Live like a rajah on our Exquisite India tour or an emperor on our Exquisite China tour.   If none of these tours sound quite like you, visit Wendy Wu Tours or call reservations on 1300 177 506 to explore their many other tour styles, such as Solo and Short Stays.

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