Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring in the English Lake District (England)

guest post by Amanda Andrews

The English Lake District is an area that has inspired writers and artists for centuries, and there is no better time of year to understand why then in spring. One of William Wordsworth most famous poems, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, was inspired by the large swathes of daffodils that spring up yearly along the crystal lakes and is a sight that everyone should be treated to in their lives. With sunshine on your face and fresh air in your lungs a spring holiday in the Lake District will leave you feeling refreshed and relaxed like no beach holiday ever could.

The Lake District really does offer activities for everyone. The area is probably most famous as a walker’s paradise with endless trails through the hills and fells. There are walks for all ability levels and ages, from the 39 Miles without Stiles trails that are suitable for wheelchair users or families with pushchairs, to the epic Coast to Coast which reaches from the Irish Sea to the North Sea and takes from 12-14 days to complete!

Many people who holiday in the Lake District regularly like to set themselves up in one of the many Lake District cottages where they can set off on a walking trail right from the front door. Most of the walks through the Lake District are well trodden paths so you don’t need to worry if you aren’t generally a cross country walker and there are sure to be endless places to stop for a rest and take in the amazing scenery en route.

For a slightly slower pace of holiday there are endless beautiful gardens to visit across Cumbria and the Lake District, some of which were designed by the areas most famous residents. Brantwood, home of John Ruskin, is an estate filled with the treasures and curiosities of an artistic genius. The 250 acre estate offers some of the best views in the Lakes and includes walks designed by Ruskin himself, such as The Zig-Zaggy which is said to have been inspired by Dante's Purgatorial Mount.

William Wordsworth is said to have been a keen landscape gardener and the four acres of gardens at his home Rydal Mount (top photo) remain very much to his design. The garden consists of fell-side terraces and in season provides breathtaking displays of daffodils, bluebells, and rhododendrons. Take some time while you’re here to visit the Wordsworth house, where he wrote some of his most famous works, as well as the lovely on site tea room where you can treat yourself to a spot of tea and cake.

Coming up shortly in the Lake District is The Keswick Mountain Festival, a must attend event for adventure seekers! Held over five days from 16th-20th May 2012, the festival will be filled with activities, including sporting competitions, adventure challenges, and great inspirational speakers like Monty Halls and Sir Chris Bonington. Local food and drinks will be available and all this will happen on the banks of beautiful Derwentwater, in the shadows of Skiddaw and Catbells. There are lots of great last minute cottage deals by Sykes Cottages still available, and tickets are still on sale so don’t worry if this is the first you’ve heard of the event.

The English Lake District is one of the UKs great landscapes and offers an unforgettable spring holiday location. With the sun overhead and soft green grass under your feet all of your worries will quickly melt away. Whether you’re looking for a slow pace, or non-stop adventure, the English Lake District has something for you and there is no better time to visit then right now, in the beauty of spring.

Amanda is a writer and traveller who is currently based in the UK. She has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, and Australia and takes every opportunity to discover new and exciting places. Amanda is currently writing about great UK destinations for, who offer great holiday cottages across the UK and Ireland.

Photo credits: Wordsworth house, daffodils, Brantwood, Derwentwater

Thursday, March 29, 2012

WOW: A World of Cars and Couture (Nelson, New Zealand)

"Athletes have the Olympics; actors have the Oscars; musicians have the Grammys; and designers and costume creators have WOW"
Bob Haven, professor in Costume Technology at Kentucky University.

Like a cocktail of Cirque du Soleil and Carnivale, every September an extraordinary Wellington spectacular morphs choreographed music, theatre, colour, lighting and dance to showcase a magical evening of fantasy, fashion and art. Called the World of WearableArt (WOW for short) and the brainchild of Suzie Moncrieff, a challenge was issued in 1987 to designers and artists to create a piece of art that could be worn and modelled. Now in its 25th year, the show continues to grow in scale and imagination with prizes in a number of categories.

With its rich arts culture and as the birthplace of this now worldwide extravaganza, Nelson hosts the superb and unique World of WearableArt and Collectible Cars Museum (the WOW website is here). Proudly showcasing the award-winning costumes from recent shows visitors can experience the creative talents and wild imaginations of some of the world’s finest designers.

The first gallery couples artistic music and lighting with a stage area and seating. The bizarre garments are beautifully showcased on a moving carousel of catwalk mannequins while other creations inspired by dragonflies, birdlife and sea creatures float overhead. A full range of avant-garde materials including shiny metal plates, bicycle inner tubes, sea shells, wire, bottle tops, light bulbs, papier-mâché, drinking straws, fruit, cutlery, fine silks, dried food and more are mixed to create truly spellbinding outfits.

Eye-popping WearableArt bras are especially notable for their creative approach covering a full spectrum of ideas from metallic space wear to bowls of fruit and nautical-inspired designs.

A second gallery is darkened to showcase a psychedelic array of fluorescent costumes. Akin to wandering the inky ocean depths, a neon gallery of exotic headwear, dresses, bras and winged costumes phosphoresce vivid reds, blues, yellows, violets and greens.

A theatrette (which I’d suggest viewing first though it is at the end of the galleries) shows clips from recent WOW events in Wellington highlighting some of the exceptional designs and living the founder’s dream of taking art off the wall to adorn the moving body.

Within the same museum is a superb collection of around forty classic cars. Presented as a celebration of automotive design and workmanship, iconic cars from every decade of last century are represented. Historic Fords, Cadillacs, Ferraris, Studebakers, Bentleys and convertibles (along with a personal favourite – a 1929 Packard) glisten with immaculate chrome and paintwork, all in sound mechanical condition. For the true car enthusiasts, a further 100 cars are accessible in a separate nearby warehouse, the collection rotated on a regular basis.

WOW is the word. It is little surprise that as the creative arts capital of New Zealand, Nelson has a museum dedicated to fashion and design but the World of WearableArt and Collectible Cars Museum exceeds all expectations. Ensure you stop by this airy modern two-in-one museum with a difference and enjoy a beautifully displayed showcase of spellbinding creative outfits along with a lovingly assembled collection celebrating automotive excellence. The gift shop is worth a browse for a thoughtful range of locally-sourced arts and treasures well outside of the normal souvenirs.

The costume photos are copyright of World of WearableArt and Collectible Cars Museum and have been reproduced with permission.
         Image 1: Dragon Fish, designed by Susan Holmes
         Image 2: Firebird, designed by Susan Holmes
         Image 3: Superminx, designed by Simon Hames
         Image 4: Ornitho-Maia, designed by Nadine Jaggi
Please respect the copyright of these works of art.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Abel Tasman: Seals, Sand and Scenery (New Zealand)

Abel Tasman National Park is one of the most alluring and beautiful natural wonders in New Zealand. On the protected and more weather-friendly side of New Zealand’s South Island, the 54 kilometre three to five-day coastal track combines lush forests with sculpted granite cliffs and pristine bays and coves fringed by golden sands. Tiny rocky islands sit enticingly offshore supporting a rich variety of native marine and bird life.

While the national park is named for a mid-1600s Dutch sailor Abel Tasman who fled without landing after being spooked by the local Maori population, the French explorer D’Urville navigated and anchored in the area leaving his mark with exotic French names for some of the bays and landmarks.

Outside of a walk and the general stunning coastal scenery, two notable highlights are Split Apple Rock and Tonga Island. As if cut cleanly in half by a giant’s axe, a large granite boulder perches in aquamarine water just off the coastline. While legends abound, there appears no certain explanation as to the rock’s perfect dissection except that it happened a very long time ago.

Despite the inclement weather, on Tonga Island, New Zealand Fur Seals luxuriate and relax on the rocks while fur seal pups exuberantly swim and play in the rock pools that fringe the islands. Acutely aware of the sharp tidal differences of over five metres, mother fur seals feed at low tide making for a shorter dive to harvest the rich pickings of the sea floor. Dolphins are seen travelling in the bow wave of the boat while I spot a couple of shy blue penguins as they bob their tiny heads above the water. The captain points out that he never announces penguin sightings as by the time he has said pen, the bashful birds have dived away.

In one slightly strange phenomenon, the sands on the various beaches vary distinctly from a reddish colour and gritty feel to near white and powdery soft on the feet, caused by the angle of the beaches, the size of the granite sand grains and the bleaching effects of the sun.

The excellent services of Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle allow visitors with only a few hours or a day to experience a portion of the park without embarking on the full multi-day walk (click on the map below to enlarge). Chatting with returning passengers, one couple had spent a week camping, relaxing and taking short strolls at the northerly point of Totaranui while a group of three spoke enthusiastically after returning for a second year to walk a different section of the track. Yet another couple had enjoyed lunch and a short walk at Awaroa Lodge while two youngsters spoke of kayaking the shoreline near Coquille Bay.

By taking a later return shuttle, people can combine a scenic cruise with walking a leg of the coastal track, kayaking a section of the rocky coastline and/or lunching at the Awaroa Lodge. Others simply stay on board to enjoy the scenic cruise with a commentary describing the history of the park while visiting a number of forest-fringed golden beaches, the seal colony and unusual rock formations. For those without access to Kaiteriteri, a bus runs from Motueka while the first service of the day travels from the thriving artsy city of Nelson (50 minutes away via boat), returning with the last service of the day.

Sitting shallow in the water, the Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle water taxi vessels are purpose-built for the Abel Tasman National Park accounting for the high tidal variations, beach landings, space for bags and gear for campers and a small refreshing café where snacks, hot and cold drinks are available. Their cleverly designed ramps unfurl from the front of the vessel and allow easy access to and from the beach without a need to ever get wet feet, wet gear or to climb steps.

From the reddish-tinged sands of Kaiteriteri, the Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles stops at six different beaches and bays dropping hikers, kayakers and day-trippers off and picking others up. With parts of the walk involving stream or estuary crossings only passable around low tide, the vessel’s crew offer plenty of advice to ensure that walkers time their ventures with the tides.

Sometimes omitted from visitors' itineraries, the top of New Zealand's South Island is stunning highlighted by the magnificent coastline, beaches, wildlife and forests of Abel Tasman National Park. While it is easy to spend a week in this picture-postcard park, it is easy for those with limited time to get a taste of this scenic area, experiencing its secluded beauty by any combination of trekking the fine coastal path, paddling a kayak or soaking its panoramic vistas from the comfort of a water taxi.

Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle provided a complimentary journey to the author. As always, the content and opinions are mine and are not influenced by the provision of discounted or free services. In this case, I highly recommend Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles. This award-winning family business has a deserved fine reputation for their comfortable and innovative catamarans, competitive pricing, enthusiastic helpful crew and for their tremendous knowledge and passion for the Abel Tasman area.

Further details on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track are available here.
Map courtesy of Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Swimming Hikes on Kauai (Hawaii, USA)

guest post by Great Vacation Retreats

The island of Kauai, of one of the main islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, is noted for its jugged mountains, palm fringed beaches, and beautiful tropical scenery. For those that enjoy outdoor exploration, Kauai offers many exceptional hikes. An especially enjoyable and unique activity is combining hiking and swimming. There's nothing quite like cooling off with a swim in the ocean after the exertion of a strenuous hike. Below, we outline four hikes on Kauai that begin and end at the ocean.

The first hike is an easy 1.5 mile round trip that starts and ends at Moloaa Bay on Kauai's northeast coast. Moloaa Bay is a beautiful crescent shaped beach, made famous when it was used for the first episode of the TV series Gilligan's Island. The trail begins at the north end of the beach and makes its way along the coast, eventually coming to a dead end at private property. The ocean views along the trail are soothing, and in the winter months you may even spot migrating Humpback whales. You can end your hike with swimming or snorkeling at the bay. For a convenient picnic lunch, the Moloaa Sunrise fruit stand nearby sells all sorts of healthy and tasty treats, from smoothies to sandwiches.

One of the most famous hikes in Hawaii is the Kalalau Trail along Kauai's rugged Napali coast. The Kalalau Trail is 11 miles long and suitable for experienced hikers who are prepared to spend a night camping in the Kalalau valley. For a challenging day hike one can hike the first two miles of the trail to Hanakapi'ai Beach. Resist the urge to swim at this remote beach as it's one of the most dangerous on the island with strong currents at all times. At this point you can turn back, or hike inland for 2 miles to the 300 foot high Hanakapi'ai Falls. Including the falls this makes for an 8 mile hike that takes around seven hours. It's important to prepare for this hike with hiking gear and plenty of water and snacks. The trail changes elevation frequently and can be very slippery when it rains. The Kalalau Trail starts at the end of the highway on Kauai's north shore at Ke'e beach. This beach has excellent swimming and snorkeling, especially in the summer months when the ocean is calmer.

In the town of Kapaa on the eastern coast of Kauai is the Kapaa Bike Path, a four mile long ocean side paved path. This hike is ideal for those that don't like inclines, or need a smooth walking surface. The path passes by Kealia Beach, a life guarded beach with swimming, surfing, and boogie boarding. The beach actually makes for a good starting and ending point. Walking north from Kealia takes you through the most scenic section of the path and to another beach called Donkey Beach. This segment is approximately three miles round trip.

In Poipu on the southern coast of Kauai is the Mahaulepu Coastal Trail (also see top photo). The trail starts at Shipwreck Beach in front the Grand Hyatt hotel and continues along undeveloped coastline for about three miles, passing remote Mahaulepu Beach two miles into the hike. It's not uncommon to see an endangered monk seal napping on the sand. The solitude and beautiful ocean views make this one of the best hikes on the island. Although there are no inclines the hike is still fairly strenuous as parts of it are over sand and there are few trees to provide shade from the hot Hawaii sun.

This article (and photography) was provided by Great Vacation Retreats, a Kauai vacation rental agency. Great Vacation Retreats manages a number of rental properties including rentals at Puu Poa, a luxury condominium complex in Princeville.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Photo of the Week: Queen Charlotte Sound (New Zealand)

The peaceful early morning waters of Queen Charlotte Sound is one of the most enchanting vistas among the number of channels and waterways that make up the majestic Marlborough Sounds. Long tentacles of water separated by heavily forested serrated hills pierce the ragged northern coastline of New Zealand's South Island meaning a number of tiny villages along the shoreline are only accessible by boat.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Go with Oh Competition

Travel Wonders promotes very few competitions but this one caught my eye. Currently my good friend, Sherry Ott is spending four weeks in Europe across four different European cities (Rome, Venice, Vienna and Berlin) as part of the Go with Oh promotion by the Open House Group. Of course, Sherry will share her thoughts on these European gems on her blog, Ottsworld, with her fine writing that details stories beyond the typical sights combined with stellar photography.

Travellers can win prizes by offering Twitter suggestions as to good things to do in Sherry’s selected cities (tweet to @GowithOh) or by entering their Facebook competition. The best entries will receive a selection of spot prizes including iPods, cameras, luggage, guide books and T-shirts.

Travel bloggers can even win a similar trip next autumn in their favourite four European cities.

More details can be found at

Monday, March 19, 2012

Life as a Fur Seal (Ohau Point, New Zealand)

While the undoubted highlight of Kaikoura is seeing the mighty Sperm Whales in the coastal waters, just through the energetic main town is Point Kean, a favourite haul-out area for adult New Zealand Fur Seals (or kekeno). At any time, several large fur seals rest among the rocks relaxing after their exploits at sea but watchful of the visitors as they rock hop for the best vantage points for their photos. They are more closely related to sea lions with their tiny external ears (most seals have no external ears) and greater agility on land.

More interesting is a roadside lookout Ohau Point around 25 kilometres north of Kaikoura. Impressive numbers of tiny seal pups frolic in the protected rock pools or athletically clamber over the rocky shoreline. Waves still pound the rocky shore and the odd pup gets rollicked around but they move on undaunted. Whether entangled in kelp, leaping over each other in the rock pools or exploring crevices in the rocky outcrops, the young fur seal pups lead a gregarious joyous and carefree childhood.

Born in November or December, these pups as photographed are around three months of age. Mother fur seals watch protectively over their youngsters or head to sea to satisfy the pups’ immense appetite for the rich fatty milk. The seals chatter to each other with their disturbing gutteral grunts and growls, heavy snorts and rhythmic shrieks - nothing melodic but mothers seem to be able to pick out their own pups.

Mother seals are among the most impressive of parents in the animal kingdom. Their adult life is spent in almost permanent pregnancy with an 11 and a half month gestation period (including a clever mechanism of delaying the implantation of the embryo) with births every year.

As the pups mature, the female fur seals spend longer at sea, the pups boldly venture up a nearby stream to Ohau Falls, an elegant narrow waterfall in ferny rain forest (how do they know to go there?). From April for several months, the pups spend time in the stream near the falls returning every few days to Ohau Point for feeds from their mother until fully weaned.

Separated from their mothers, this period of playful adventure around the stream is seen as essential to build key bonding and social skills as well as strengthening their bodies for the rigours of hunting for themselves, and must make for quite a sight in the tiny waterfall pool.

Kaikoura’s coastal waters play host to a remarkable array of aquatic mammals and birdlife with a chance to view at close hand the power of giant Sperm Whales, the joyous playfulness of New Zealand fur seals and the aerial grace of royal and wandering albatross.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Five Spectacular Secret Beaches

guest post by Craig Patterson

Considering that for many people luxury holidays are epitomised by the classic white sand, blue ocean and swaying palm trees archetype, there does seem to be a growing attitude that if you’ve seen one stretch of coastline you’ve seen them all. Perhaps with the proliferation of international travel over the last 30 years it was inevitable that attitudes towards beach travel would become defined by popular culture, where now juxtaposed against the palms and the parasols is the cocktail bar, the burger van and an army of distractingly colourful novelty inflatables.

Like any form of popular culture though, travel or otherwise, there will always be reactionaries, groups and individuals who want to break from the norm or who simply aren’t satisfied by the commonplace - they seek the unusual, the adventurous and exciting. There is something inimitably rewarding and fundamentally appealing about walking the unbeaten (or at least less popular) track; a sense of discovery, awe and privilege that comes only from the knowledge that by simply being there and seeing what you now see, you are experiencing something that very few other people have and will ever experience in their lives.
Coastlines are magical places, marking the periphery between two worlds. Without further ado then here is a list of some of the most remote and beautiful beaches on earth.

1) Skeleton Coast, Namibia - So here already, is a slight compromise, not so much a secret the vast Skeleton Coast National Park is larger than the metropolitan areas of New York and Tokyo combined. Despite its desolation it is a beautiful and stirring landscape which earns its rather morbid nickname from the number of shipwrecks and whale skeletons which litter the extensive sands. Rolling mists and convergent tides make the waters just off the Namibian coast notoriously difficult to navigate although watching from onshore the force and drama of the waters is a humbling site. A helicopter ride over the divergent sands is a particularly rewarding experience revealing the sheer scale of the region. Despite all this the Skeleton Coast still remains a largely unexplored area of Namibia which as a country is undergoing through somewhat of a tourist renaissance.

2) Sandwood Bay, Scotland - Perhaps overlooked by many, Scotland is a beautiful and rugged part of the world that withholds a superfluity of isolated escapes that have over the years inspired some of the great works of art and literature. Sandwood Bay, though perhaps lacking the tropical climate of other features in this list, certainly makes up for it with unprecedented spectacle and natural grandeur. A four mile trek from the nearest road, which is itself nothing more than a fine thread of tarmac it’s likely that you will not see another soul while you are here. The mile and a half wide bank of pinkish sand is flanked by high cliffs and just out near the rocks stands the sentinel-like Am Buachaille stack.

3)Pansy Island, Mozambique - A short dhow ride from the port of Inhambane and 30 minutes from the remote Bazaruto Archipelago, Pansy Island is technically a sand bank, usually only visible at low tides. An ideal getaway from the nearby luxury resorts that have sprung up around the islands of Bazaruto the sand is stunningly white and perennially warm waters ensure this diminutive island is perfect for relaxing, picnicking and embracing the beauty of the Indian Ocean. The beach is also littered with Pansy shells, the creature from which the island takes it’s name; a curious and very rare relative of the sea urchin (though quite harmless) which features a striking five-leafed pansy design on the back of its shell.

4)Papak’lea (Green Sand) Beach, Big Island, Hawaii - The islands of Hawaii are home to some of the most striking coastline in the world, the black sand beach of Big Island, the iron rich earth of red beach in Maui and perhaps most unusual of all the otherworldly green sand of Papak’lea Beach, also on Big Island. The surreal volcanic landscape of Big Island asserts it as one of the most spectacular places on earth forged from the mineral rich molten rock that continues to spew forth from the three active volcanoes on the island. At the most southern tip of Big Island (also the most southerly of the United States) and a good trek or off-road ride from the nearest road you can find the famous Green sand beach which because of the olivine crystals deposited there exhibits its now famous green glow.

5) Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands, Australia - Perhaps a little contentious as its popularity increases to grow, there is however no denying the beauty and brilliance of this sheltered bay nestled off the coast of Northern Queensland. Accessible by boat, anchorage is usually found at the opposite side of the island which then requires a short trek through the leafy forests to access the beach. Perhaps most rewarding is first trekking to the nearby viewing platform that looks out from the trees over the bay and promises one of the most stunning views in the world. Beautiful, unspoiled and peaceful; the sands here are brilliantly white and rich in silica which, as the local guides will attest, when rubbed on the skin helps to encourage the perfect sun tan. The waters are ideal for swimming and snorkelling and sea turtles are known to frequent the bay(along with jellyfish at certain times in the year but stinger suits are usually provided).

Craig is an experienced travel writer and guest blogger and works closely with Turquoise Holidays, experts in luxury holidays and honeymoons.

Photo Credits: Whitehaven Beach, Skeleton Coast, Sandwood Bay, Pansy Island, Green Sand Beach

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sperm Whales (Kaikoura, New Zealand)

Last October, I was in the whale-watching capital of Kaikoura as part of The Great Crusade (article here). Bad weather limited any sea ventures to only a few hundred metres from the coastline, ruling out sightings of the sperm whale but offering the chance to see various dolphins and seabirds. Having a chance to return to Kaikoura a few months later, sunshine and a sparkling peaceful ocean means the whale watch tours are running this time.

Beautifully perched on a bay with the sharply rising Southern Alps as a backdrop, Kaikoura sits only a few kilometres from the continental shelf which plunges to ocean depths of over two kilometres (called the Hikurangi Trench). This creates a feeding paradise for Sperm Whales, ocean leviathans measuring around 18 metres, the same size as our vessel, but at 60 to 70 tonnes, several times the boat’s mass. At the apex of the food chain, the sperm whale boasts a position as the world’s largest toothed whale and the animal with the largest brain mass.

Albatross, circle the waters soaring majestically and effortlessly with their giant wingspan. With a special technique to lock their outstretched wings, albatross glide without expending energy allowing them to spend years at sea and to skilfully fly the ocean updrafts tirelessly.

With spotter planes and clever gadgetry, the boats keep an accurate monitor for the sperm whale’s feeding grounds. Boarding Aoraki or Cloud Piercer (the Maori name for New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Mt Cook), the boat buzzes towards the sperm whales, past flocks of albatross, gannets and petrels towards the edge of the continental shelf. As these whales dive to depths of over half a kilometre to feed on their favoured giant squid, beyond the point that light penetrates, once they dive they can be away for an hour or more. The boats keep track of the dive times of the whales being aware of when they are likely to surface.

Bobbing about on the glistening cobalt blue ocean surface for several minutes like a fallen log (with its huge block-shaped head, the front third to half of the whale stays visible), the sperm whale feverishly inhales and exhales shooting plumes of water droplets into the air through its unusual S-shaped blowhole. One graceful move and a flick of the tail and the sperm whale disappears on its next feeding dive for another hour or so.

Each tail fluke is like a human fingerprint, uniquely identifying the whale. As residents of the area (unlike other species of whales, these sperm whales do not migrate to Kaikoura seasonally but live here the entire year), each sperm whale has been named. Our first sighting is Tutu possibly due to its elegant sleek dive.

Heading towards the coastline, Hector’s Dolphins, the world’s smallest and rarest of this favourite marine mammal, prance in the aquamarine shallows racing alongside and under the boat. Small groups dive playfully and athletically, their mesmerising antics and agility difficult to photograph but a treat to watch.

Other wildlife experiences are on offer including a chance to swim with dolphins or New Zealand fur seals, view albatross and kayak the picturesque waters.

The Kaikoura weather is problematic and trips on occasions don’t leave for several days, but the Whale Watch folks are confident of seeing whales offering an 80 percent refund if unsuccessful. A chance to spend some precious times with the giant Sperm Whales along with the antics of the dolphins and the dazzling flight skills of seabirds, makes Kaikoura a wonderful wildlife experience.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Last Year on Earth Bucket List

If the world were to end in 2012, what would you do? From First Choice – The Home of All Inclusive

What if the Mayans are correct (which I think is unlikely) and the world finishes on 21 December this year. How would you spend your last year?

First Choice recently asked a group of travel bloggers, including Travel Wonders for their bucket list of destinations if they only had one year to live, resulting in this fine infographic (click on it for a larger view). It resulted in the selection of countries that represent some of the finest in natural travel wonders and cultural diversity. Where would you choose to go?

A wider survey showed that over half would spend it with family and a little under a quarter would spend the year travelling.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lake Matheson: A Taste of the South Island of New Zealand

The picture-perfect reflections of the Southern Alps in the slightly tannin-tainted Lake Matheson offers a preview of the wondrous, visually inspiring South Island of New Zealand. The next few weeks sees a journey, I've alliteratively titled Kiwi Kapers that circles New Zealand's larger but less populated island exploring the natural travel wonders of snow-capped mountains, sweeping glaciers, sparkling fjords, rock formations, verdant pastures and marvellous marine life.

On a clear day, New Zealand's highest two mountains, Mt Cook and Mt Tasman (sadly, Mt Cook is masked by cloud) mirror into this small lake near the foot of Fox Glacier.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ten Places to Visit in Taipei (Taiwan)

guest post by Flight Centre

If you are thinking of taking a vacation in the near future and the call of cultural alarms are ringing in your head, you may want to start checking flights to Taipei. Located on the Tamsui River, Taipei is the economic, cultural and political center of Taiwan. There are many diverse attractions to be found for tourists in Taipei, and certainly something for everyone to enjoy. Here are ten popular attractions that are worth exploration.

For museum buffs, the National Palace Museum is a must-see place to be. With over 680,000 artifacts from the ancient Chinese period, this collection is one of the largest in the world. Pieces include bronzes, ceramics, paintings, jades, documents in Manchu, Mongolian and Tibetan, as well as calligraphic works, tapestries, coins, and carvings. Some of these relics can be traced back to the 10th century. For historians that may be interested in a more specialized type of art, the Museum of Jade Art may be of interest. It is the first museum in the world devoted specifically to jade art.
Outdoor adventurers may want to consider Yehliu, a cape located on the north coast of Taiwan that canopies 1700 meters into the ocean. Its distinguishing features referred to as hoodoo stones, are tall pinnacles that extend from a dry terrain, where rocks and soil have been abraded by water and wind.

For those not faint of heart, the Taipei 101, at 509 meters high, or 1670 feet tall may just what the fearless ordered. Until the Burj Khalifa was built in Dubai, the Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building with 101 floors above ground, five floors below, multi-level shopping with a deluge of restaurants, stores and clubs. Elephant Mountain is also an easily accessible hiking trail with great views of Taipei 101 and downtown Taipei. Maokong Mountain is great for viewing the entire city of Taipei and is also well known for its tea plantations and tea houses.

The National Revolutionary Martyrs Shrine is a great testament built in the memory of 330,000 men who died during the revolutionary years. It is located on the slope of the Chingshan Mountain overlooking the Keelung River. It is guarded by military officers trained to remain unflappable in the presence of visitors. The ceremonial changing of the guard is very popular at this site. The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was built to memorialize the former Taiwan President Chiang Kai-shek. It is covered in blue, white and red, the colors of the Taiwanese flag, and it embodies equality, independence and universal love.

Religious connoisseurs may be enticed by the Longshan Temple. It is often called the meeting place of the gods due to the affluence of the gods that worshiped there. Those who loved to be entertained should certainly investigate the Taipei Eye. This attraction is the home of the Traditional Chinese Performing Arts and the show includes folk music, folklore, aboriginal dance, opera and much more.

As you plan your next trip for business or pleasure and continue to consider flights to Taipei, just remember, your perfect pastime artistic pleasure awaits your arrival.

Photo Credits: night, Yehliu, guards, Longshan Temple

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