"Travelling - it gives you home in a thousand strange places, then leaves you a stranger in your own land"
Ibn Battuta, Moroccan traveller
TRAVEL

UNUSUAL HOTELS
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Despite the latest coral bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef, a holiday on one of it's idylic island resorts remains travel gold...
posted by Richard Green on 21/04/2017
 

The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s preeminent natural wonder, a vast string of coral shallows off Queensland’s Pacific coast running 1,400 miles from north of Cairns almost to Brisbane. The mindboggling expanse is matched by magnificent marine life and stupendous coral gardens, as well as beautiful beaches and luscious low-key resorts.

However, its fragile ecosystem is threatened by man and by climate change, and recently the reef has suffered another bout of coral bleaching. This is where the coral turns a ghostly white thanks to rising sea temperatures, the growing acidification of the oceans, infestations from crown-of-thorns starfish, or damage from pollutants like fertiliser run-off.

It’s a bleak picture, as until recently Australia’s great reef was actually faring better than others around the world, partly because tourism has helped keep the reef in the public eye.  

Tourism on the reef began in the 1920s when a few intrepid groups were escorted out from Cairns to enjoy the marine life and for ‘turtle riding’. It wasn’t an auspicious start: tourists would compete to stand on a turtle’s shell for the longest, holding onto a rope lassoed to a female turtle’s neck as she crawled seawards after laying her eggs.

The spectacle - from the 1930s - of tourists enjoying turtle riding on a Great Barrier Reef island

Visitors are better behaved these days and all the Great Barrier Reef hotels issue strong guidelines on turtle watching, urging no flash photography or torches, and to stand well back from the turtles. But in the huddled groups that I’ve been part of there were flashing cameras, bleeping phones and people within inches of the giant carapace. 

When David Attenborough - that most beguilling of eco-warriors- made his first visit for his ground-breaking 1957 documentary Zoo Quest, getting to the reef was a huge investment in time and money, so visitor numbers were fairly low. Around 125,000 people visited in 1963. However, the boom in long haul travel, the invention of fast multi-hulled sailing vessels and the proliferation of helicopters and light aircraft, have seen visitors today soar to around two million annually.

Snorkelling practise at Heron Island. Splendidly uncrowded, but two million tourists now visit the reef annually. Photo Heron Island

The Great Barrier Reef is made up of many thousands of reefs that form a long, narrow loop that’s about the length of Italy. Its size means that choosing where to stay is the tricky part, but handily the reef comes to within 10 miles of shore in the north, before gradually veering up to 100 miles out to sea further south. Fast boats and helicopters mean getting to the reef from gateway towns like Cairns and Port Douglas in the north, Townsville and Airlie Beach in the middle, and Gladstone in the south, is easy enough. You just need to decide whether to experience the reef on a day trip by boat, a yacht cruise, or from an island resort.

My first trip out to an island resort was in 2012, when I joined three other holidaymakers in a chopper at Gladstone airport, 340 miles north of Brisbane. The young pilot, Simon, was tousle-haired and laconic, and the flight to Heron Island took about 30 minutes, but after take off, we were greeted by an ugly orange sea-slick: “There are 26 empty coal ships waiting for a berth right now,” said Simon, “and that mess is from dredging to expand the harbour.”

Finding your own Nemo (aka Clownfish) is a certainty almost anywhere on the Great Barrier Reef

Heron, at least, was as advertised. It’s a wooded 29-acre island surrounded by turquoise sea, with 109 cheery rooms connected by sandy paths. There’s super snorkelling and diving, and like several other island resorts, it runs semi-submersibles around its part of the reef. It feels like a Disney ride, but the sharks, turtles, and fabulously coloured fish are real enough – as are the excited shrieks from kids spying orange and white Clown Fish, aka the famously misplaced ‘Nemo’.  

The resorts – even at the cheaper and family-oriented end of the scale like Heron – are pricey, but you can do the reef on a budget by day-tripping out to a floating platform.

I boarded a jolly-crewed catamaran in Cairns for the 90-minute journey out to the reef, then snorkelled, demolished an Aussie buffet and rode in a glass-bottomed boat. I did a try-dive too – even though getting into the water in a metal gantry beneath the pontoon felt more Poseidon Adventure than I would have liked.

Much of the coral is in water that’s shallow enough for snorkelling. And even if you don’t swim, you can sit on a scooter-like contraption called a Scuba Doo. (Presumably fashioned by Q during his apprenticeship with Fisher Price, it’s a bright yellow ‘submarine scooter’ with an upside down goldfish bowl on top supplied with air.) 

If you crave coral gardens right off your luxury suite, then you’ll need to splash out on an upmarket island resort. I stayed four nights on Orpheus Island and was very reluctant to leave. The five square miles of forested National Park are deserted save for one luxe resort with a manicured lawn, swanky infinity pool, perfectly pitched service and outstanding food.

Here, dives on the reef were made from a snazzy motor launch rather than a pontoon, and instead of being hectored to put my wetsuit in the right storage box, I was greeted after diving with, “Would you care for a chocolate muffin and a cold beer?”

A deserted sandy inlet in the Whitsunday Islands

The 74 islands of the Whitsunday group are about half way between Cairns and Brisbane and 40 miles from the outer reef. They’re famous for yachting and the relatively developed resort island called Hamilton. Cruise Whitsundays boats leave here for the large ReefWorld pontoon - a viewing and diving platform about the size of two tennis courts.

It’s where I enjoyed a unique reef experience called a ReefSleep.

After the day-trippers had finished with their snorkelling, I waved them off on their homeward journey. It was 3pm, and I suddenly had the pontoon to myself, except for a couple of crew divers and a host. Up to nine guests a night are allowed to sleepover, so I swam and snorkelled some more, watched the sunset and ate a marvellous meal of seafood chowder and steak in the surreal surroundings of a deserted pontoon. Then I bedded down on the top deck in an Aussie ‘swag’ - a canvas sleeping bag, in this case with a mattress, linen sheets and fluffy pillows.

Helicoptering to the outer reef is big with the Whitsundays’ jetset, and the most wildly popular patch of reef to fly over is ‘Heart Reef’. Even I cooed along with the honeymooners when the extraordinary heart-shaped coral came into view. 

Most southerly of the reef resorts is Lady Elliot Island, which is reached by light aircraft from the mainland town of Bundaberg. It has the look and feel of a research institute, though with a buffet restaurant and tiny pool. Soon after landing I was treated to a hearty dinner of lamb stew, then invited to go turtle watching. Before long I was lying in the warm sand - I confess a lot closer than I should have been - to watch a female turtle digging her egg chamber. Then out popped dozens of eggs like squidgy Ping-Pong balls.

To witness this fragile wonder and the rich marine life that supports it you should visit now, while it’s still glorious. The threats are mounting, and as David Attenborough warns in the third episode of his 2015 swansong documentary, ‘These [changes] are going to happen in five years or 10 years… it’s the severity of the changes and the swiftness of these changes which [are] going to be catastrophic.’

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Choosing a Barrier Reef Island resort

There are thirty Great Barrier Reef island resorts and choosing the right one is a giant conundrum. Incredibly, the reef is as long as Italy, and the resorts all have different atmospheres, styles and costs. Luckily, divine turquoise water, abundant marine life and gorgeous white sand beaches come as standard, but which is the best resort for you?

Best for families: Heron Island

Sandy paths connect simple but cheery accommodation in this 109-room island resort. The family friendly vibe is terrific, plus there’s a cute little swimming pool, decent bar, buffet meals and chipper staff. Budding naturalists spy Nemo’s from the semi submersible and the Junior Rangers programme covers themed walks, presentations and snorkeling lessons.

Aerial shot of Heron Island and its lagoon. Photo Heron Island

There’s no TV or mobile signal on the 39 acre coral cay, but lots of free reef fun, and dive rates are affordable - from just £40. Details, B&B Family Rooms sleeping four are from £207 per night, with free transfers from Gladstone airport to the marina, then it’s two-hours by ferry for £53pp return. See Heron Island

Best for sybarites: Orpheus Island Resort

Orpheus Island is rugged National Park land covered in dense acacia, surrounded by reef and edged by seven kilometers of shoreline. The low-key luxe resort is by a west-facing beach and has 21 rooms in crisp white décor, a manicured lawn and large infinity pool. Service is perfectly pitched, and weekly BBQ’s keep things convivial -or you can enjoy a romantic dinner a deux, ‘Dining with the Tides’, on the jetty.

Roughing it not required at the Orpheus Resort. Photo Orpheus Resort

The reef is rich and accessible right off the island, or there are free motorised dinghies. Details, pool ‘try dives’ are free, reef dives are £160. All-inclusive doubles are from £749 per night, and the 30-minute chopper flight from Townsville is £294pp return. Orpheus

Best for ecologists: Lady Elliot

This is the most southerly of the island resorts: handy if you are driving up from Brisbane – 226 miles away. Its 41 rooms include basic eco cabins through to private Island Suites. The resort staff are passionate environmentalists, as is owner Peter Gash, who’s installed solar panels and a desalination plant and made the resort carbon neutral.

Swimming with turtles is a cinch on Lady Elliot Island. Photo Lady Elliot Island

Marine life is spectacular, with coral gardens easily reachable snorkeling straight off the beach. There’s a dive centre and small swimming pool, but no TV’s or radios, and rooms are fan cooled. Details, boat dives are from £59, twin eco cabins from £176 per night half board, and light aircraft flights from Bundaberg are £147pp return. Lady Elliot

Best for divers: Lizard Island Resort

Cyclone Ita walloped the island in July 2014, which after extensive rebuilding is due to reopen in March 2015. The island is four square miles of hilly granite, with 24 beaches and a dreamily blue lagoon. It’s 150 miles northeast of Cairns too - far from pollution sources. The plans is for a super contemporary resort with a spa, gym and tennis court, but the diving here is unsurpassed, with teaming reefs right off the beaches.

Another Day, another private beach at the Lizard Island Resort. Photo Lizard Island Resort

There are also boat trips to the famous Cod Hole where you can swim/dive amongst the big gawping groupers. Details, dives cost from £94pp, double rooms will be from about £800 per night, all-inclusive. Sixty-minute light aircraft transfers from Cairns are £337pp return. Lizard Island

Best for castaways: Haggerston Island

Roy and Anna Turner run a Swiss Family Robinson style retreat that’s actually closer to Papua New Guinea than Cairns – though light aircraft transfers leave from the latter. The 100-acre island caters for just 15 guests, has lagoons off the beach rich with fish and coral, and thatched timber huts among the forests. Ingredients for dining in the Main Pavilion come from the garden and surrounding waters. You can catch fish off the jetty, or aboard the 40-foot Jojo III.

Hang out with a Robinson Crusoe crowd at Haggeston Island. Photos Haggerston Island

Off-the-beach coral gardens make for fabulous snorkeling, or on the outer reef there’s a shallow water shipwreck from the 1840s. Details, double huts are £444pp per night, all-inclusive except alcohol. There’s no dive centre, and it’s an equally eye-popping £615pp return for the two-hour transfer from Cairns. Haggerstone Island

Best for exclusivity: Bedarra Island Resort

Australia’s first super-luxe boutique resort played host to Elton John, Cameron Diaz and Princess Stephanie, and then Cyclone Yasi ended the fairytale. The excess has been pared down to create a less ostentatious tropical haven, with only seven villas (formerly sixteen). Each is wooden-decked and wonderful, nestled amongst the treetops with tremendous ocean views.

Not your average bedroom, at Bedarra. Photo Bedarra Island Resort

The island is rugged and thickly forested, but you can kayak around it in about 20 minutes, or take a gourmet picnic in a motorized dinghy (included in the rate). The pool is sublime; the gardens lush, and there are no kids under 16. Details, suites are from £583, all-inclusive. Thirty-minute ferry transfers leave from Mission Beach, 86 miles south of Cairns, for £211 per couple return. www.bedarra.com.au


TRAVEL NEWS
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The writing's on My Bathroom Wall - travel news 21st April 2017
posted by Richard Green on 21/04/2017
 
33 Low cost long haul flights from London Gatwick to Singapore

Norwegian looks east for its latest new route announcement from Gatwick airport. Adding to its current flights from Gatwick to nine US destinations, including recently announced Seattle and Denver, the airline will add Singapore to the destinations served nonstop with new Boeing 787 Dreamliners from London. Flights start on Sepetember the 28th, anf fares are on sale now, from £179 one-way.

  Norwegian
33 Novotel opens 39-story hotel tower at Canary Wharf, London

Joining Novotel's 11 other London properties, the group has opened a 39-story glass tower at Canary Wharf. The on mode industrially inspired interiors are topped off by the top floor BOKAN bar, restaurant and roof terrace. There's no reception desk in sight - instead 'welcomers' will help you use the check-in tablets. The hotel has 339 rooms, a coffee cafe, gym and pool.

 

Novotel Canary Wharf


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Iberia introduces Premium Economy

Iberia is to rollout a Premium Economy offering across it's fleet, starting on flights from Madrid to Chicago, New York and Bogota on May 1st, and with Mexico, Miami and Boston to added over the summer. Compared with economy on Iberia, the seat pitch is 37" (as against 31"), 19" wide (18.1"), with noise cancelling headphones, connection ports, a welcome drink, table linen, amenity kit, priority check-in and new menu.

 

For more info see Iberia


33 New airline routes to Lisbon, Madrid and Bangkok
TAP Air Portugal has announced a new route fromLondon City Airport to Lisbon, starting on October 27th. It's good news for East Londoners wanting to city break in Lisbon, and for anyone connecting on to TAP's extensive African and Latin American destinations. Also re new routes, Iberia Express has started flights from Cardiff to Madrid, and low cost Indian carrier Spicejet has launched flights from Delhi to Bangkok.
 

London City Airport, TAP, Iberia Express, SpiceJet


34 Latest coral bleeching of the Great Barrier Reef threatens some of the world's best eco resorts

There are almost 30 hotels on the Great Barrier Reef, which covers an area about the size of Italy. The lodges are highly regulated and eco focussed; most have research institutions on their islands, are low key and have relatively few rooms, and push the educational side of a reef visit to their guests. Arguably well managed reef tourism is one of the factors needed to keep the plight of the reefs in the ublic eye. See My Bathroom Wall's look at the best of the Great Barrier Reef resorts.


FILM INSPIRED TRAVEL
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Wadi Rum - star location in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia - is perhaps the most spectacular patch of desert in the world...
posted by Richard Green on 13/04/2017
 

Sunset at Wadi Rum - time to take stock of the day, cool off in the evening air and chat. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Wadi Rum is so beautiful and monumental that it would have become a significant destination for tourists even had it not featured in such a famous film. Yet David Lean's 1962 movie, 'Lawrence of Arabia', has been bedazzling cinema-going audiences with it's incredible scenery since its release. 

And marvellously - and unusually - using Wadi Rum as a location in the film was entirely true to the story. Larence passed through the area several times during the Arab Revolt of 1917-18, most famously when he led the Arab armies through the desert on his way to capture Jordan's most southerly city of Aqaba. He wrote about it in his Seven Pillars of Wisdom novel thus... 

"The crags were capped in nests of domes, less hotly red than the body of the hill; rather grey and shallow. They gave the finishing semblance of Byzantine architechure to this irresistible place: this processional way greater than imagination. The Arab armies would have been lost in the length and breadth of it, and within the walls a squadron of aeroplanes could have wheeled in formation. Our little caravan grew self-conscious, and fell dead quiet, afraid and ashamed to flaunt its smallness in the presence of such stupendous hills."

Mountains rise sheer almost 1,700 metres from the valley floor. Photo My Bathroom Wall

It's no surprise that it has become a must visit on any holiday to Jordan, as Wadi Rum is an astonishingly beautiful and thought provoking place. Once you are away from the little settlement where you'll meet your guide and camel, or your giude and 4x4, the grandeaur of the weathered rock and sand is somewhat overwhelming. And once the engine stops then the vast sheer walls of the canyon seems to lock in an ancient silence.  

Heating coffee and cooling the engine on a Beduoin adventure inside Wadi Rum. Photo My Bathroom Wall

In truth, though Wadi Rum did play itself in Lawrence of Arabia, much of the rest of the film was actually shot in Spain. The grand buildings in Cairo - like for example the officer's club where Lawrence’s Arab companion is refused a drink after the desert crossing - uses the frontage of the Palaçio Español in Seville's Plaza de Españain, and then for the scen in the courtyard moves into that of the Hotel Alfonso XIII

The film even used a purpose-built Aqaba instead of the real deal - and erected a fake townscape on Playa del Algarrobico, not far from Almeria in southern Spain. Even the attack on the train scenes weren't filmed in Jordan, but instead at Genovese Beach, San Jose on Cabo de Gata nearby. 

But it doesn't matter a jot, as Wadi Rum is such an extraordinary place that any visit is a revelation regardless of whether you've seen the film or not. Although because it is such a good film and puts the south of Jordan into some sort of context, I'd strongly suggest that you watch it before and take it with you too.

One more thing...

The main films to have been partly shot at Wadi Rum are Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Passion in the Desert (1998), Red Planet (2000), Transformers: Revenge has Fallen (2009), Prometheus (2012), Krrish 3 (2013), May in the Summer (2013), The Last Days on Mars (2013), Theeb (2014), Hyena Road (2015), The Martian (2015), and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016).

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Reasons to be cheerful: unlike many of the world's most spectacular bits of desert, Wadi Rum is easilly accessible - just little over an hour from the Jordanian city of Aqaba, and on good roads. Like Jordan as a whole, locals are extremely gracious, and have been dealing with tourists for many decades, so there'sa warm welcome. Whether a quick camel ride, jeep tour of the valley, or overnighting in a camp, it's a cinch to organise. 

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You can't always get what you want: the scruffy little settlement that surrounds the visitor's centre is disappointing and has no romance. But it's the place to book trips into the desert, and almost everyone arrives at Rum via it. The harsh and protected environment keep the tourist camps very low key -  often the accommodation is simply large bedouin style tents, and so don't expect any luxury. 

puzzle

How to fit Wadi Rum into a trip: few people travel all the way to Jordan just to visit Wadi Rum, although it would certainly make an exotic long weekend break. The norm is to build Wadi Rum into a trip around Jordan; which has the stunning ruins at Petra, the Roman remains of Jerash, the small beaches of Aqaba and the resorts of the Dead Sea.

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Getting there: Wadi Rum is 60 kilometres east of the Jordanian coastal city of Aqaba, where the country is pinched to a short coastline by Israel and Saudi Arabia. Aqaba is a small airport and its only year round flights at to Amman with Royal Jordanian. However, most people reach Rum by road from Amman - an interesting drive 300 kilometre drive along the historic Desert Highway. Amman's Queen Alia International Airport handled 7m passengers in 2015 and has flights across Europe and the Middle East. Royal Jordanian destinations from Amman include Amsterdam, Bangkok, Barcelona, Chicago, Dubai, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, Montreal, Moscow and Paris.   

weather

When to go: Jordan is a year round destination, but the best time to visit the desrt is in the Spring, when its hot and dry, and the wildflowers are in bloom. Though the 'khaseem' wind that blows across the Middle East can darken skies with sand-laidened clouds for a few days at a time. The hot winds of summer can be uncomfortable, and temperatures in the south will reach 45°C and upwards. Autumn is short, and winter is chilly in Amman, but still warm enough for comfortable travelling in Rum.

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More information: see Visit Jordan. Local desert camps include Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp, Bedouin Advisor Camp, Bedouin Experience Camp, Bedouin Lifestyle Camp, Rum Stars Camp, and Wadi Rum Travel Camp

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Visa and safety: Always check your government's travel advice before booking, and check that your travel insurance is valid in this country. See here for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice

 


FAVOURITE HOTELS
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Escape those chains. Five fabulous family run hotels...
posted by Richard Green on 11/04/2017
 

Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel, Amalfi

This refined heritage property makes the most of its impressive cliff top setting with a breathtaking cascade of terraces and infinity pool. The 20 rooms are furnished with Italian antiques and the spa uses exclusively developed products from the oldest pharmacy in Florence. Bianca Sharma is the owner - she first saw the former monastery by chance in 1999 while boating in the area on a family holiday. It was abandoned, but little altered since the 17th century - Bianca says it looked like ‘stone emerging from stone’. She has a home nearby and splits her year between Amalfi and the USA, and her son is heavily involved in the running of the hotel.    Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel

What's it all about, Amalfi? Seductive step terracing at the Monastero Santa Rosa. Photo Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel

Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island, Australia

A sinew of suites straddles the dunes overlooking the ocean, with no landfall south till Antarctica. It’s a super lux property that uses a bold fusion of glass, wood and stone in its design, and as with the 21 sea-facing suites, the Great Room lounge bar is a masterpiece of simplicity and style. The hotel is one of three in the Baillie Lodges group that was created by Australian couple James and Hayley Baillie. They were drawn to this site by the unspoilt coastline, prolific wildlife and array of local organic produce. The couple has fond memories of holidaying on Kangaroo Island with their four boys – all under 13 – and visit the lodge regularly. Southern Ocean Lodge

The lodge rooms have superb ocean views. Photo Southern Ocean Lodge

Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa

Facing the shallow waters of dazzling Paje Beach is the Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas. The 11 seclusive villas are decorated in creams and white, with light wood furniture. A meandering wood decked pathway connecting them to the fine dining restaurant and rooftop bar. It’s the dream come true of Polish kite surfing fanatic Andre Niznik, who fell for Paje Beach and set up a pro kite surfing school, and then opened the lodge in 2014. The whole family are involved: Andre runs the business, his partner is the interior designer, while daughter Natalia (19) assists in the running, son Yan (26) looks after the kite school and IT, and when not studying Alex (19) is a kite surfing instructor. White Sand Villas

One of the family two-bedroom villas, as seen from a palm tree. Photo Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa

The Goring, London

Distinguished as London’s only luxury hotel that is still owned and run by the family that built it, the Goring is a charmingly eccentric property. Cute sheep-shaped footstools are in every room, cuddle toy sheep are on the beds, and staff wear ties with a sheep insignia too for starters. Its 69 rooms are decorated in elegant English style, there’s a crochet lawn at the rear, and the restaurant is renowned for beautifully prepared English classics. Jeremy Goring is the current owner - his great-grandfather opened the place in 1910 when he realised his dream of creating the world’s first hotel with a bathroom in every bedroom. The Goring’s recent refurbishment is subtle enough for Jeremy to comment that his ‘Great grandpa would still recognise the place’. The Goring

The very recognisable front entrance of Belgravia's Goring Hotel. Photo The Goring Hotel


A SPOT OF HISTORY
   4317 views   
A stroll along East London's Lee Navigation; for history, hipsterdom, and London's only lighthouse...
posted by Richard Green on 09/04/2017
 

London's only lighthouse - formerly for training lighhouse keepers, and HQ for Faraday. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The River Lee is the easternmost major tributary of the London's River Thames. It flows from the Chiltern Hills down through east London to where it joins the River Thames opposite from the O2 Arena - the vast canvas structure formerly known as the Millennium Dome.

The Lee is little known by visitors to London, and frankly most Londonder's are fuzzy on it too, but a walk along its banks is a brilliant way to discover a uniquely historic and rejuvenated part of the capital. And never fear - as this is no dry history walk, as there are cosy cafes, hipster bars, pop-up restaurants, and a flourishing sports and arts scene to dicover along its banks.

A metal tree growing out of a taxi is one of many pieces of public art at Trinity Buoy Wharf. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Let's start at a once forlorn industrial area at the Lee's mouth - the fascinating Trinity Buoy Wharf. It was opened in 1863 and was where the buoys used to assist shipping navigate the River Thames were maintained and stored. Now the wharf a thriving arts quarter, with buildings used by English National Opera, the Royal Drawing School, The Faraday School and the university of East London.

The wharf area is cut off on three sides by water, and the main road leading to it doesn't look at all promising, but the start is marked by a taxi pierced by a tree, after which the sprouting of graffiti art and installations let you know you are heading in the right direction.

Ten minutes later and you'll find yourself walking amongst a jumble of heritage buildings, with an office block made from jauntily arranges shipping containers set back from the water, several vintage lighthouse ships, and an actual lighthouse.

Perhaps London's smallest museum - the Faraday Effect is an evocation of the spirit of Faraday. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Next door is a shed-sized art installation called the Faraday Effect, dedicated to Michael Faraday. This whirlwind of a man discovered electromagnetic induction, which is the principle behind the electric transformer and generator. He was the scientific advisor to Trinity House and conducted his experiments in the roof adjacent to the test lighthouse here for nigh on thirty years.

On the other side of the Lighthouse is Fat Boy's Diner, where you can get reasonably priced American fare served in a red and silver period trailer. There are burgers, hot dogs, wraps salads and milkshakes and milkshakes - the original 6oz burger with fries is £7.50. The other eatery at the wharf is the Bow Creek Cafe, which has created a cosy collection of wooden furniture with a small outside space too. It serves home made snacks and sandwiches, but unfortunately, like the American diner too, it hasn't an alcohol licence.

Half way up the lighthouse is the unexpected surprise of a large wood-beamed room to the side, containing a carefully placed array of Tibetan singing bowls that together form a soundscape and installation called the Longplayer. The project provides a soothing backdrop to your visit to the lighthouse and is envisaged to play for a thousand years. It began playing at midnight on the millennial New Year's Eve in 1999, so you've plenty of time to see and hear it for yourself.

Carry on up the modest staircase for outstanding views of the Thames and across to the Greenwich Peninsula - dominated by the white dome and latticed yellow spikes of the O2 Arena.

View from the lighhouse across the Thames to the O2 Arena. Photo My Bathroom Wall

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Trinity Buoy Wharf is on the north bank of the River Thames in East London, a 15-minute walk from Canning Town tube station. Exit the tube station and walk over the red footbridge to London City Island - walk through the development and follow the signs. See Trinity Buoy Wharf and Visit Lee Valley


CULTURAL QUIRK
   6666 views   
It's Tiki time again; retro Polynesian pop culture is alive and well...
posted by Richard Green on 07/04/2017
 

Cocktails phalanxed with fruit and foliage - Tiki Tuesdays at the Radio Bar, Miami Beach. Photo Radio Bar

What is it? Starting in the 1930's and reaching dizzy hula heights in the 1950's and 1960's, Tiki culture spread faux exotic venues across America. And though it almost petered out, Tiki's medley of South Pacific motifs is back in fashion - cue grass skirts, A-framed thatched roofs, paper parasols in cocktails and a hibiscus blossom behind the barman's ear.

Where did it come from?  Ever since Captain James Cook sailed through the South Pacific Islands in the 18th century, sailors returned from the region with tales of beautiful islands where locals were alluring and the lifestyle sublime. American servicemen in the Second World War Pacific theatre brought more tales of island culture back with them, and pretty soon grass skirts, wood carved heads and cocktails brimming with paraphernalia were all the rage.

These days we can choose how ironic to be about Tiki, because many of us have actually been to Hawaii, and even beyond, and who hasn't been exposed to a wiff of South Sea popular culture in the air - from Magnum P.I., Hawaii Five-O, Castaway, and even the Surivor series.

Yet back in 1941 only 32,000 tourists reached the Hawaiin Islands, which was unimaginably remote to the average mainlander. That remoteness changed abruptly with the Attack on Pearl Harbor, which led to huge numbers of American servicemen fanning out to fight from their bases on Hawaii.

The islands didn't become the fiftieth US state until 1953 and by the time I fist holidayed there twenty years later, tourist numbers had soared to 2.7 million per year.

I remember the indescribable thrill of being presented with a lei of hibiscus flowers around my neck once through arrivals. I'd imagined that this was standard practise in the South Seas, until I got a bit older and I realised that it was paid for (included in the package holiday price, but arranged by the tour operator).

Now some nine million people visit Hawaii annually, and the tradition of a lei greeting is continued - for those that want it - by companies like Lei Greeting, who offer 'true Hawaiian hospitality' and a 'warm aloha' across four islands; from the 'Classic Orchid Lei ($28.80pp), through to the 'Fragrant Double Tuberose Lei' ($54.45), to the Ohana four lei special for $103.66.

Tiki Icons

Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room: I lived in Los Angeles for three years in the early 70s and well remember semi-regular visits to Disneyland, most often for friend's birthday's. The attractions that caught my imagination most powerfully were Pirates of the Caribbean and the Enchanted Tiki Room.

"All the birds sing words and the flowers bloom" in Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room. Photo Flickr/Sam Howzit

It's hard to believe that it was the original 1967 boat ride adventure that spawned the multi million dollar film franchise, rather than the other way round, but it's true. We can count ourselves lucky that the Tiki Room was overlooked for its filmic potential, but the original squalking extravaganza is still there, though now the experience is joined by similar ones in Walt Disney World, Florida; and Tokyo Disneyland.

Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room in 1963. Photo Flickr/Tom Simpson

As a five year old I may have thought that the singing parrots were real. In fact they were an impressive and the first attraction anywhere to feature Audio-Anamatronic technology. The quartet of Macaws were and are hilariously stereotypical - Jose is Mexican, Michael's Irish, Pierre French, and Fritz German. But in a world convulsed by hatred, that level of cultural clumsiness seems charmingly harmless.     

Trader Vic's was partly responsible for the whole Tiki phenomenon. It is a restaurant business that was started in 1934 by Victor Jules Bergeron, who ten years later gave the world the Mai Tai cocktail too - a claim disputed by rival 'Don the Beachcomber', but more of that in a moment.

The concept of stuffing his restaurants with Polynesian paraphernalia and serving exotic cocktails was an instant success, and the resulting expansion was one of the first examples of the 'themed chain'.

The trademark Tiki A-frame of the Trader Vic's Vancouver, c1961

The fad purveyed Polynesian escapism to millions before it all felt too kitsch for comfort, and restaurants began to close. But Trader Vi's has stayed the course, and today it has resurrected itself with 18 restaurants worldwide. Though the locations are as bizarre as the Tiki concept itself - the conceit of being transported to the South Seas by a few wood carvings on the walls and half a pineapple in your drink.

Amazingly, London is the oldest one in its original location - it opened in 1963 in the Park Lane Hilton. Others include include Atlanta, Bangkok, Mumbai, Munich, and Tokyo, plus a smattering across the parched Middle East, in Al Ain, Amman, Abu Dubai, Doha, Manama, Muscat and Riyadh.

And there has to be an ocean of irony in having a Trader Vic's restaurant in Mahe in the Seychelles of all places. Yet I pulled up its website and the first picture was an advert for 'Menehune Month'. The Menehunes are a forest dwelling dwarf people in Hawaiian mythology apparently, and this was to celebrate the restaurant's first anniversary in the Seychelles with - wait for it - a Hawaiian Inspired Menu and a Cuban Band.

Resolutely unswayed, the company strapline remains the deliriously optimistic - 'Join us in Paradise'. Find out more at Trader Vic's

Perhaps even more incongruous is the The Sip N Dip Bar - which is an historic Tiki Bar in Great Falls, Montana that opened in 1962. There's the usual bamboo on the ceiling and nauticalia in the decor, but the back wall of the bar is a below-the-water-level window into a swimming pool where perhaps even as you read this, 'mermaids' (and the odd 'merman') entertain guests with gently suggestive sub aquatic gymnastics.  

The Sip 'N Dip in Great Falls, Montana - not your ordinary dive bar. Photo O'Haire Motel

Find out more at the O'Haire Motor Inn

London's Tiki Bars: a famous example of the fashion in the UK was the Beachcomber Bar opened in 1960 in the basement of the Mayfair Hotel. A Pathe film of the time shows tiki carvings, a live band with hula dancing, and pond with real crocodiles in it. Flamboyantly served cocktails such as the Kahlua Kiss or a Missionary's Downfall were served, and whole suckling pigs brought to the table with "your own personal unused chopsticks to take home and practise with".

The fame of London's Beachcomber spawned wannabe's of the same name, including several across the Butlin's holiday camp chain, and another at the Shanklin Hotel on the Isle of Wight.

A postcard showing the Butlins Beachcomber Bar in Skegness, where patrons made do with halves of bitter

And who would have guessed, but London's Tiki scene is alive and well and surprisingly vibrant. Bars include the Kona Kai in Fulham, Trailer Happiness in Notting Hill, The Sugar Cane in Clapham, Kanaloa Club in the City, and London South Pacific in Kennington. The Mahiki London is an upmarket nightclub where Usain Bolt - no less - partied till the early hours in 2014.

The Two Floors Bar, London. This is the saddest Tiki bar I've ever seen. It's downstairs below a bland, though harmless enough drinking place. But instead of decor that makes you smile, staff that chivvy along the atmosphere and cocktails true to Tiki tradition, I found a sweltering and drab armpit of a Tiki Bar. 

Workmanlike glasses, tired Tiki tat, and apalling drinks and service at Two Floors. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Yes there is bamboo on the walls and a few fishing nets strewn from the ceiling, but the space lacks love and execution. The staff were extremely surley and served cocktails in glasses that you might find in a school canteen - i.e. no Tiki mugs, no straw, parasol, plastic monkey, or even ice and a slice. It was the worst West End cocktail I can remember and I had left before it was finished. Two Floors, 3 Kingly St, Carnaby, London W1B 5PD

Tiki time in Moscow

Yes even Moscow has its Tiki Bar, about a 15 minute walk west of the Duma (parliament) and Red Square. It has all the paraphernalia that you might expect - from sawn off rowing boats holding Bacardi bottles and ceramic mugs behind the bar, to a floor-to-ceiling Tiki statue and surfboards pinned to the wall.

Authentic Tiki trappings, Moscow style. Photo My Bathroom Wall

It was a tad quiet when I visited for a Mai Tai, where some of the world's palest Tiki staff were doing their best to recreate a South Sea vibe in the Russian capital. The nautical decor included the usual coils of rope and fishing nets, but in addition here is a rather random steel ferryboat that takes up one entire wall of the large bar.  

My Mai Tai set me back 490 Roubles and came in an orange tiki face pot with an orange slice and cherry on top, and (not always the default service mode in Moscow) a smile. 

The Russian ferry boat grafted to a wall houses another bar and extra seating. Photo Tiki Bar Moscow

And in case you've an urge to remodel your living room into Luau central, then the chaps at Cheeky Tiki will sell you everything from a pink ukulele mug (the four strings convert to straws) to the whole grandly designed fandango, complete with bamboo bar, lobster pots and Tiki totems. 

One more thing...The Tiki Dalek conversion is the creation of Kevin Roche, who describes himself as a 'spintronics Researcher, reader, costumer, singer, musician, science fiction fan, and conrunner'. His delightful re-interpretation of Dr Who's nemesis - in a grass skirt with coconut shells, bamboo, plastic hibiscus and a cocktail to hand - has toured widely, including to London's World Science Convention. Some wag suggested the famous metallic death cry of 'exterminate' be replaced by 'inebriate, inebriate...'

Tiki Dalek in holiday garb, on tour at the WorldCon in Reno, Nevada. Photo Flickr/Cory Doctorow

 


TRAVEL NEWS
   9392 views   
The writing's on MyBathroom Wall - April 7th 2017
posted by Richard Green on 07/04/2017
 
 
33 Ryanair to offer checked through luggage on connecting flights

In a major move for the low cost carrier, Ryanair is launching checked through bags on connecting flights through it's Rome hub, to be rolled out across it's network 'pretty quickly'. You'll need a minimum of three hours between flights, but it's a big help for passengers connecting on Ryanair flights.

  There's nothing live on Ryanair's website about this yet, but for a guide on how to make hassle free flight transfers, see My Bathroom Wall
33 Conrad opens new Bora Bora hotel with 86 overwater villas

Located in a private cove on Motu To'opua, 20 minutes from Bora Bora Airport, Conrad Hotels has opened a 200 room resort, including 86 overwater bungalows. There are already a dozen resorts offering overwater accommodation around the island, which join a staggering 8,000 stilted villas worldwide.

  See Conrad Bora Bora, and for the lowdown on whether an overwater villa is all it's cracked up to be, see 'Is a dreamy overwater villa always better than a beach room?' on My Bathroom Wall, and The South Pacific made simple on My Bathroom Wall
33
 
Boom times for Manchester Airport

Manchester airport is seeing a boom in the number of flights and destinations, with new daily flights to Muscat with Oman Air (starting on May 1st), to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific (up from five flights per week to daily from the 1st of December), and daily to Casablanca with Royal Air Maroc (started 4th of April). 

 

See Manchester Airport, Oman AirRoyal Air Maroc, and Cathay Pacific


33 London's V&A most boring exhibition ever, the History of Plywood
Opening on July the 15th, the venerable V&A is dedicating a whole exhibition to 'the eclectic history of plywood'. More than 120 objects will be brought together - including hatboxes, tea chests, surfboards, and illustrations of the highest flying aircraft of WWII, the Mosquito (made from plywood). From fragments of layered board found in Egyptian tombs, to the downloadable and self-assembly WikiHouse, the exhibition will reveal all you ever wanted to know - and perhaps more - about the history of plywood.
 

The exhibition, Plywood: Material of the Modern World, is free and runs from July 15th to November 12th 2017. V&A


34 Boeing reveals economy squash for all of its new 777-9 series planes 

The hugely unpopular 10 abreast economy seating is likely to be used by all new customers for the new aircraft - a mainstay of the long haul holiday market. Currently BA, Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines all offer the roomier 9-abreast configuration on their 777 planes, but BA is changing it's older 777's flying from Gatwick to be 10 abreast, and so too will airlines ordering the new 777 version, including Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines.


AIRPORTS
   7655 views   
All you need to know about connecting flights...
posted by Richard Green on 06/04/2017
 

Glancing hurriedly at the departure's board can eat up a few minutes at the world's biggest airport hubs

Making a transfer between two flights can be a great way of getting somewhere cheaply, but it can prove stressful too, and especially so if the first flight is delayed, or if the connection is tight.

Happily, every airport has an MCT (minimum connecting time), which is a semi-scientific calculation of the time needed to change planes there. It takes into account the amount or walking involved for passengers to get from one gate to another, and how quickly the airport is able to move hold luggage from one plane to another.

The MCT is different for each airport. Vienna airport’s MCT is just 30 minutes, but Heathrow - between terminals 1 and 4 say – is an hour and a half.  

The good news is that airlines, web booking sites, and travel agents, will only book connecting flights that are equal to or more than the MCT for the transit airport on your journey.  

However, things don't always go to plan, so here are some tips on how to make a smooth connection...

When booking: save stress and book flights that are a decent time apart - 90 minutes is a sensible blanket minimum. It makes sense to have some leeway, just in case, plus I prefer to stretch my legs, browse of the shops, and as likely as not have a beer in the bar. 

If you are worried at the booking stage, choose an aisle seat towards the front of the aircraft - it could save you a good 10 minutes when you are trying to disembark from a packed flight.

When packing: it's vital to know what's happening with you hold luggage. If you are transiting an airport like Dubai or Singapore on the way to your final destination, then you won't need to collect your luggage as it will be checked all the way through. However the rule is that you need to clear customs at your first point of entry to a country, so if you are flying from London to Baton Rouge via Atlanta, then you will need to collect your luggage in Atlanta, check in and make your way to the next flight's gate.

Try to keep your hand luggage to a minimum as you will have to lug this between gates when you change planes.

Airport signage can resemble a challenge from the Crystal Maze. An airport map can save time

In flight: the departure gate of your connecting flight may be printed on your boarding pass, but if your flights are long haul it is unlikely the airline will know so many hours in advance.

some airlines have real time flight connections information on the in-flight entertainment menu, or sometimes this is shown on the overhead screens just before landing. You can save valuable time if you already know the gate number your next flight leaves from before you land. To stay ahead of the game you should download a flight status app onto your smart phone or tablet - handy for airlines with in-flight wi-fi.

Once you know the gate number of your next flight, you'll probably find a gate map of the airline's hub airport in the in-flight magazine. If not, look for one on the airport's website using wi-fi, or look at the airport map that you printed out before you left home.

Some terminals are vast and have bewilderingly complicated signage - especially confusing if you are in a hurry with little time to spare - as you can't always afford to make a mistake. If you don't know the gate, look at the first departure screen you see, or ask a member of airport staff so they can point you in the right direction.

If your first flight is delayed: the airline will help out – possibly by delaying the second flight, or by escorting you to the next plane. And if you miss the second flight altogether, and through no fault of your own, the airline will book you onto the next available option, at no extra cost.

Don't suffer in silence; the sooner you let the airline staff know, the better. Tell the cabin crew, as they can help with terminal directions, seat you towards the front on landing so you can get off quicker, or if you are very late, get someone to escort you to your next gate, or even drive you across the tarmac to your next flight.

Low cost airline connections: none of the above applies if your flights are on two different bookings, even if they are with the same airline. If so you are on your own.

The same goes for connecting on low cost airlines like Wizz and EasyJet etc. Though Ryanair has just announced that it plans to introduce the ability to book connecting flights through its website. The company is trailing the idea in Rome and plans to roll the concept out 'pretty quickly'. You'll have to leave a minimum of three hours between flights, and then bags will be automatically checked through to your final destination. 

Air Baltic is a low cost carrier based in Riga, Latvia, which already operates a booking and baggage system that handles connecting flights, so that passengers flying from London to Tbilisi say, will have their bags checked through.

As airports grow ever larger, walking distances between gates balloon too

Cities with multiple airports: like Paris, New York, Tokyo or Buenos Aeries, can be tricky. Only book flights that connect through the one airport. London has six airports, and schlepping from one to another is a big hassles. You'll have to cart all of your luggage (including any checked into the hold) to the next airport, plus the extra expense of taxis and traffic.

At first glance you might think that using the Underground or Metro system is the best option, but you'll have your hold luggage with you. Best to book a direct bus between the two airports.

Do you need a transit visa? Travel agents should tell you if you need a transit visa to make a connection in another country, but this won't be the case for online bookings.


YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
   4756 views   
Is a dreamy overwater villa always better than a beach room?
posted by Richard Green on 04/04/2017
 

The classic Bora Bora shot of the sun setting behind a string of overwater villas

Overwater villas are wonderfully romantic, of course. They have private steps down into the sea and are therefore brilliant for swimming and snorkeling. They feel supremely decadent, make for glorious photos and hands down provide the best bragging rights at dinner parties.

And yet, there are a few factors to keep in mind when choosing to book an overwater villa...

Overwater villas mean no shade, wooden planks too hot for barefoot, tightly clutered villas, and long walks to the bar. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Barefoot Luxury; think again

For starters, if you have daydreamed for month about enjoying some truly barefoot luxury on your next holiday, then I have to disappoint by passing on the fact that getting to and from your villa - or even from your front door to the electric buggy - will need some footwear.

Resorts place large jugs of water with ladles in them to stop guest's feet burning on the hot walkway. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Those attractive wooden walkways looks great and give that lovely landing stage or yacht club ambience, but they swiftly heat up in the sun and are blisteringly impossible to tramp along bare foot over. Some places provide buckets of water with wooden ladles in them so that you can douse your feet, but after a while it just feels a bit of a fag.  

The long walk home

Okay, so having to don flip-flops is hardly the end of the world, but even with suitable footwear the walk from your villa to back to the main resort can be a longish one. And you'd be surprised how many times a day you'll be making the trip - for breakfast, for a dip in the pool, group yoga on the beach, for a cocktail, lunch, to meet your friends, dinner...well you get the picture.

The larger resorts have many buggies and a system of taking guests to and from their villa to the mean resort in them. The first time is a little thrill. The second to the firth go is fine. And I know this is hard to believe, but after that a 10-15 minute delay in your buggy arriving can start to grate.

The long schlepp home from lunch. Photo My Bathrom Wall

A good compromise here is to ask for an overwater villa that isn't at the end of the pier, as it were.

Noisy neighbours

Mind you, if you do book a villa at the end of a frond of rooms, you probably won't hear any noise from other guests as they walking to and from their rooms – sometimes late at night, and sometimes a little worse for wear - or the passing staff buggies taking guests hither and thither, or personnel for room cleaning, or room service.

"I'M AT MY OVERWATER VILLA!" is a common phrase from other guests passing by. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Less room to stretch out

As it happens, beach villas are almost always more spaced out too, and they often enjoy some shade from the island's palm trees. Even if the island didn't originally have any trees on it, which is often the case, then it will be planted with a fairly dense cluster of palms at its centre. This is in contrast to the fierce burning sunshine that you'll be toiling under on the treeless and snaking wooden walkways.

Overwater villas may be built closer together than you think. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Children in deep water

For families and those travelling with children, it is an awful lot easier to relax with little ones when you are on dry land and can control the time that they may have near to the water. The over water villas - by definition - come with the added hazard of having ledges, decks and steps right (all slippery after you've had a shower, or a rain shower from the clouds). And there's no gradual increase in the depth of the water, as there is on a beach. The over water villas are built out over water that is immediately deep enough to be safe for swimming and diving. 

The posher the resort the less likely it is to have child-proof barriers around the villa's decking. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Strong swimmers only

The same goes for anyone who isn't a strong swimmer. All of the overwater villas have a flight of steps leading down into that gorgeous turquoise sea, but chances are that you will be immediately out of your depth - perfect for snorkelling, but not so hot if you happen to be a bit of an unsure swimmer.

Sitting out stormy weather

And if you should be unlucky enough to hit a patch of poor weather, then the noise of the waves slapping against the villa's stilts can be irksome at night, plus you may just be the sort of person who just feels more comfortable to ride out a storm on terra firma.

Make way for buggies transporting guests, staff, laundry, and room service. Photo My Bathroom Wall

 


DESTINATIONS
   8237 views   
The South Pacific made simple...
posted by Richard Green on 04/04/2017
 

Sandbar schmandbar, where's the bar? Apart from that, another day in paradise. Photo The Brando

There’s nothing quite like a Pacific island for its total daydreamy perfection. The sense of relaxation is beyond compare, as is the quality of the beaches, reefs and surf, and the friendliness of the islanders. And this is not just a courtesy shown to tourists either, but a deeply ingrained way of life that's guaranteed to buoy your spirits.

The Pacific is a gigantic ocean, however, arrived at only after a long and expensive flight — and, beyond the South Seas stereotype, the individual island nations are very different. It's a big investment in time and money to get there, so before you go its vital that you choose the right island for you.

Here is a run through the best of them...

Hawaii

What’s it like? Hawaii’s most famous strip of sand is Waikiki beach, in Honolulu. As a city beach resort, it’s a hoot, with a real holiday vibe, good restaurants and cracking nightlife. The gargantuan surfing waves at North Shore, snorkelling at Hanauma Bay and the evocative Pearl Harbor memorial are all a short drive away (on very good roads).

Honolulu is very American it's true, a world away from the more traditional islands of the Pacific. And it’s a world away from Hawaii’s seven other main islands, too. Leave it and you leave behind three-quarters of the 1.4m population, and are set to stumble on experiences as wonderful as any in the Pacific.

Great for black sand beaches and scrabble, the Waiʻanapanapa State Park on the island of Maui

On the Big Island, you can watch fresh lava fizzing into the sea and visit upland cowboy ranches. On Maui, you can ride across the moonscapes of Haleakala Crater and drive the Hana Highway, over single-lane bridges and around heart-stopping hairpins. On Lanai, a ghostly tanker lies fast on the reef at Shipwreck Beach, and there’s a weird rock-strewn desert called the Garden of the Gods. On Molokai, take a mule ride along a narrow cliff ledge, 1,650ft above the waves, and trek the Halawa Valley for top-flight rainforest birding. And on Kauai, stroll boardwalks above the misty Alakai swamp and lie on Lumahai beach, where Mitzi Gaynor vowed “I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair” in South Pacific.

Sunset at the Mauna Kea volcano on the Big Island. Photo Kurt Johnson

One more thing...the Union Jack is on the flag of Hawaii, reputedly because King Kamehameha flew the Royal Navy’s red ensign from his palace after it was given to him as a present.

A King Kamehameha I statue, with the current Hawaiian state flag behind

Getting there: the main gateway to the Hawaiian Islands is Honolulu International Airport, which handles over 20 million passengers a year. There are flights from 20 mainland US cities, and other regional destinations including Auckland with Air New Zealand, Beijing with Air China, Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo with Japan Airlines, Seoul with Korean Air and Asiana, Sydney with Qantas , and Vancouver with Air Canada

If you are planning a round the world trip, or want to take in other Pacific Islands, then there are connections to Apia, Kiritimati and Nadi with Fiji Airways, Pago Pago and Papeete with Hawaiian Airlines, and Chuuk, Guam, Kosrea, Kwajalein, Majuro, and Pohnpei with United Airlines

Getting around: the high standard of living in the islands ensures regular and affordable inter-island flights, with Hawaiian Airlines, Island Air , and Mokulele Airlines.  

More information: see Go Hawaii

Fiji

What’s it like? Fiji is the South Pacific at its best — with 333 islands and a population nudging a million, there are diversions aplenty. It has fabulous beaches, of course, as well as timeless traditions and decades of experience of welcoming tourists. It’s one of the easiest island groups to get around, too, and every budget, from top-end to backpacker, will find a beach to call home.

If you’re just stopping over, it's best to head for the 20 Mamanuca islands, off the coast from the main airport. Protected by a reef, they can be as beach party or secluded luxury as you like. On a longer trip, explore the main island, Viti Levu. It’s a fabulous four-hour drive along the Coral Coast highway from the airport to Suva, the Fijian capital. Along the way, you’ll find great family-friendly resorts, hiking in the central mountains and the pretty thatched village of Navala.

Pool bar at the Castaway Island resort in the Mamanuca group. Photo Castaway Island

From Suva, you can hop on a ferry to many of the other islands, including Ovalau, home to the ramshackle town of Levuka: a former whaling station, it has a cutesy collection of clapboard colonial buildings. Stay at the faded but fabulous Royal Hotel, one of the oldest in the Pacific.

In this part of the world, kava is a semi-ceremonial drink made from the root of a pepper-related plant. You’ll find it across the Pacific, but Fijians drink lots of it. Slurp down the cloudy liquid, pass the bowl to your right, then feel your lips numb and your outlook mellow. It tastes like dishwater, but it’s rude to refuse.

One more thing...the grass skirt has evolved into the sulu on Fiji, and is worn by men and women. The smarter version is called the sulu va taga (“with pockets”), and is sported by businessmen, the police and ceremonially by the armed forces.

A passing out parade of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces

Getting there: Fiji has two international airports on the main island, of which by far the largest is Nadi Airport over on the west coast. Fiji Airways  has flights to Adelaide (starting June 2017), Auckland, Brisbane, Christchurch, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Melbourne, San Francisco, Singapore, Sydney and Wellington.

Flights to other Pacific Island nations include Apia, Funafuti (Tuvalu), Honiara (Solomon Islands), Kirimati (aka Christmas Island), Nuku'alofa (Tonga), Port Vila (Vanuatu) and Tarawa (Kiribati) with Fiji Airways. Other island connections include Noumea and Wallis Island with Aircalin, Honiara and Port Moresby with Air Niugini, Port Vila with Air Vanuatu, and Nauru with Nauru Airlines

On the far east of the main island Nausori International Airport is near to the capital Suva, and has flights with Air Vanuatu to Port Vila, and with Fiji Airways to Apia, Auckland, Funafuti and Nuku'alofa. There are flights to 16 domestic destinations too, with Fiji Airways and Northern Air Northern Air.   

More information: see Tourism Fiji

Cook Islands

What’s it like? Arriving in Rarotonga is an instant tonic. It’s the main island of the Cooks, home to three-quarters of the archipelago’s 20,000 people, yet the longest hotel transfer is 10 miles. The air is hibiscus-scented and the people are disarmingly friendly: you’ll likely bump into the chap who stamped your passport in a bar later.

Day tripping by boat to reef in the Aitutaki Lagoon. Photo Cook Islands Tourism

Waves crash onto the island’s encircling reefs, protecting azure lagoons, white-sand beaches, palm trees and a thickly forested interior. The tourist industry is well developed, spanning barefoot luxury and barefoot backpacking, and it has good restaurants and raging nightlife. Sights are few, but do catch the Saturday markets, Sunday service in a coral-built church and an “island night” dance show.

If all that sounds too lively, make for Aitutaki, an hour’s flight north. It’s popular for its Bora Bora-style scenery and overwater bungalows.

A local bloke up a tree. Photo Cook Islands Tourism

One more thing...Albert Royle Henry was the Cooks’ first premier, but when it was discovered that he had illegally flown in hundreds of supporters from Auckland on voting day, he was stripped of his knighthood. He remains much loved; his bust, often garlanded, is in a cemetery on Rarotonga. See a piece on the statue, on My Bathroom Wall

Canoe races and regattas take place in many of the Pacific Islands. Photo Cook Islands Tourism

Getting there: Raratonga International Airport has flights Air New Zealand to Auckland, Los Angeles and Sydney, Air Tahiti to Papeete, Jetstar to Auckland, and Virgin Australia to Auckland. Air Raratonga flies domestically to Aitutaki, Aitu, Mangaia, and Mauke.

More information: see the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation

Samoa

What’s it like? The main attractions here are the beauty of the islands and the unspoilt way of life. You’ll soon unwind to the local rhythm, which in Samoa is very slow indeed. Apia is the capital — home to about 40,000 people, as well as the Palolo Deep Marine Reserve, the Maketi Fou market and the Museum of Samoa. There are some excellent resort hotels around the main island.

A beach on the southeast of the main island. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Take a gentle drive round the island and you’ll pass villages with open-sided thatched fales (houses), women playing a form of cricket and men playing rugby — a religion here, as it is in Fiji and Tonga. Over on wilder Savaii are blowholes, waterfalls, lava fields and forests.

One more thing...Robert Louis Stevenson spent the last four years of his life at Vailima, a couple of miles south of Apia. The grand villa he built is now the fine Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. Climbing up to his tomb on Mount Vaea, behind the house, is sticky as hell, but the inscription and the views are worth it.

The superb Villa Vailima, now the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. Photo Flickr/Michael Coghlan

Getting there: Faleolo International Airport is 40 kilometres west of the Island's capital, Apia. It has flights to Auckland with Air New Zealand; to Honolulu, Nadi, Suva with Fiji Airways; to Pago Pago and Tau with Inter Island Airways; to Maota and Pago Pago with Polynesian Airlines; to Asau, Canton, Fagali'i, Funafuti, Maota, Pago Pago, and Vava'u with Samoa Air; to Pago Pago with Talofa Airways; and to Auckland, Brisbane and Sydney with Virgin Samoa. 
 
One more thing...Samoa Air charges passengers by weight - the passenger's weight that is. The company weighs them plus their luggage, and then calculates the ticket price based on that. It's a small player on the island, unlike the big rugby blokes who are clobbered by this fare system, but the airline has just two small Cessna light aircraft and mainly operates taxi and air charter services around the country.
 
The Samoa Air maintenance crew sporting their 'A kilo is a kilo is a kilo' T-shirts. A company Cessna. Photos Samoa Air

More information: samoa.travel

Tahiti

What’s it like? The turquoise lagoon and ragged peaks of Bora Bora are a seductive interplay of land and sea. The water is clear, the sharp-peaked mountains soar 2,000ft above the sea, and there is nothing to do but do nothing. Birthplace of the overwater bungalow, Bora Bora has dozens of super chic hotels fronting astonishingly beautiful beaches. It’s magnificent fly-and-flop territory, but it’s expensive and presents a rather Disneyfied version of the Pacific. If you aren’t rich and famous, or plotting a blowout honeymoon, you are better off on the black-sand beaches of Tahiti island or the white-sand sensations of Moorea, 10 miles to the west.

Bora Bora is overwater villa central. The first was built in 1970, now there are over a dozen. Photo Tourisme Tahiti

To find the pristine beauty of traditional Polynesia, you should venture to less visited parts of the Society Islands, of which Bora Bora, Tahiti and Moorea are all part. Inhabitants of Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa share their magical islands and enviably uncomplicated lifestyle with just a handful of idyllic retreats.

Bora Bora is 230 kilometres northwest of Tahiti, dominated by the 727 metre high Mount Pahia

One more thing...Marlon Brando fell for a local girl, Tarita Teriipia, while filming Mutiny on the Bounty in 1962. He built his bolt hole 36 miles north of Tahiti, on Tetiaroa, and opened a hotel there in 1973. It has now closed its doors, but a new environmentally friendly 35 villa lodge called, inevitably, The Brando, opened in 2014.

By the looks of it, even the bogs at The Brando are sublime. Photo The Brando

Getting there: Fa'aa International Airport is the gateway airport for all of French Polynesia. It's located on the Island of Tahiti. five kilometres from the capital of Papeete. It handles international flights from Auckland with Air New Zealand and Air Tahiti Nui, from Honolulu with Hawaiian Airlines, from Los Angles with Air France and Air Tahiti Nui, from Noumea with Aircalin, from Paris with Air France and Air Tahiti Nui, and from Raratonga with Air Tahiti. And Air Tahiti flies to 25 French Polynesian Islands.

More information: Tahiti Tourisme

Vanuatu

What’s it like? Vanuatu is one of the closest island nations to Australia, and gets a fair number of Aussie package holidaymakers, but it’s still friendly and far from overdeveloped, with good hotels and great beaches.

Not of all the Pacific is pricey; Hideaway Island has simple room for about £30 a night. Photo Lisa McKay

It was once shared between the British and French empires, hence the French ambience in the lovely little capital, Port Vila, and the decidedly tasty food. Things get livelier on the outlying islands. Tanna has wild horses, a half-mile coral reef drop-off, hot springs, waterfalls and Mount Yasur, the most accessible active volcano in the world, where you can stand and marvel as the earth trembles and spumes of lava spit skywards. Just off Espiritu Santo island, there’s a pearl of a wreck dive — the luxury liner turned troop ship SS President Coolidge hit a friendly mine in 1942, and now lies with her stern 240ft underwater.

One more thing...the land-diving ritual takes place on Pentecost Island on Saturdays between April and June. Young men jump from rickety towers with vines tied to their feet. It’s bungee jumping without the elastic, helmets or safety equipment — so freakishly scary-looking that it can be tough to watch.

Getting there: Bauerfield International Airport is close to Port Vile, the capital of Vanuatu. It handles flights from Auckland, Brisbane, and Sydney with Air Vanuatu, Brisbane with Virgin Australia. Flights from other Pacific nations include Noumea with Aircalin, Port Moresby with Air Niugini, Honiara with Solomon Airlines, and Nadi and Suva with Fiji Airways. Air Vanuatu flies to 14 of the country's islands.  

More information: Visit Vanuatu


Tonga

What’s it like? The kingdom of Tonga was never colonised by Europeans, something that has kept the island as a crucible of Polynesian tradition. The sleepy capital, Nuku’alofa (“Abode of Love”), is on the main island, Tongatapu. It’s flat and largely cultivated, with watermelons, bananas and more. Sights are in short supply, but for a glimpse of royalty, scrub up and head to the Centenary Chapel for the Sunday service — even if the king isn’t in town, the singing is heart-warming.

Yachts in a lagoon. Photo Tourism Tonga 

This is one of the poorest countries in the Pacific. It’s totally unspoilt, but may be too laid-back for some — the extreme torpor could well become frustrating. If, however, you can adjust to the notoriously elastic “Tonga time”, you are in for a treat.

One more thing...Tonga is the only kingdom in the Pacific. Queen Salote attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and thrilled spectators by riding in an open carriage, waving all the way despite the pouring rain. The current king is the 58 year old Tupou VI.

Getting there: Fua'amotu» International Airport is 35 kilometres from the capital of Nuku'alofa. It handles flights from Auckland with Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia, to Nadi and Suva with Fiji Airways, and Sydney with Virgin Australia. Real Tonga flies domestically to 'Eua, Ha'apai and Vava.u.

More information: Tourism Tonga


Micronesia

What’s it like? The Federated States of Micronesia occupy 1m square miles of ocean, yet have a combined land area just greater than the Isle of Man’s — and they sure do reward the effort of a visit.

Swinging hammocks on the island of Chuuk

Chuuk (formerly Truk) has more than 50 shipwrecks in its lagoon, mainly Japanese ships from the second world war, and is a diving nirvana. Yap guards its traditions with gusto: here, dance is central and some men still wear loincloths. Kosrae is a lush island with great diving, and Pohnpei is home to Nan Madol, an extraordinary ruined city made up of 100 islets, in a system of canals dating from the 12th century.

One more thing...Yap is the home of stone coins, known as rai, which look like cast off car wheels from the Flintstones. Up to 12ft across, they can weigh several tons.

Yapese dancers with a stash of cash behind them. Photo Global Environmental Facility

One more thing...

The Guamanian flag is an endearingly homely affair that dates back to 1917. Apparently it was designed by the US base commander's wife, Helen Paul, who made many sketches of Guam, including one showing a single palm tree on a beach at the mouth of the Hagåtña River.

Her sketch was then copied by some students in a home economics class - which sounds about as random as one of my school 'cookery classes', in which I was made to stand in the corner for the entire lesson as punishment for wearing my grubby old woodwork apron.

Anyway, here it is, with the central oval echoing the shape of a local Chamorro slingstone weapon, the passing boat a traditional 'proa' sailing boat, and in the background is a representation of 'Two Lover's Point' where legend has it that two lovers refused to be separated, tied their hair together and jumped of a cliff.

More information: Visit Micronesia


ISLANDS
   4071 views   
Azura Quilalea Private Island - off the coast of Mozambique - is about as good a private island lodge as there is...
posted by Richard Green on 02/04/2017
 

The 27 islands of the Quirimbas archipelago are strung out lazily off the northern coast of Mozambique. The pristine beauty of their beaches and reefs is pure Indian Ocean, but their human history is an interesting mix of African and Arab: mainlanders have fished for their suppers here down the millenniums; and from the 15th century, Omani traders sailed their dhows this way to cast their nets more widely for spices and slaves. Today, it’s relatively unknown to outsiders – just a remote marine wilderness teeming with undersea life and dotted with day-dreamy desert islands.

The Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, is a 10-hour flight from Heathrow, and from there it’s an 80-minute turboprop hop to Pemba. Then comes three hours in a 4WD along a dusty dirt track before reaching the sea. It’s pretty knackering, but the last leg of the journey makes it all worthwhile: I rolled up my trousers and paddled out towards a speedboat for the final 25-minute skim to the island.

There’s a distinctly African beauty about the elements here — the far horizons, the immense height of the boiling white clouds, the intense blue of the sky. The mainland diminished to a thin line of green and purple trees, and, closer by, neighbouring islands were underscored by slithers of sand and backed by dense jungle. All around were the dazzling blue-green waters of the Indian Ocean.

I could walk around the island in the time it would take a cast-away to reach “record number four” on Desert Island Discs. The rippling strips of sand are entirely footprint-free of course; mangrove clusters are anchored in the intervening shallows; and two sturdy outcrops of coral cliffs top and toe the island to the north and south.

I felt exhilarated, like an explorer who’s achieved their quest, and suddenly the delicious quantity of time in which to do extremely little hit home. Inactivity is the main activity on Quilalea, but there is snorkelling on a coral reef just a short swim from the shore, or you can ask the staff to push the boat out for canoeing, diving, fishing, or some exploring of the nearby islands.

I’d stepped barefoot from the boat onto the beach and was welcomed by a member of staff and offered a cold towel. This was almost the first such artificially chilled and scented flannel that I encountered on arriving at a ‘hotel’, but then again this was by far the poshest place I’d ever stayed in.

I acclimatise swiftly enough though, and minutes later I was lounging on the bed and gazing through the glassless windows onto a panorama of paradise. And it really did make me come over all over-awed. I mean, there beyond my large, shady veranda was a white-sand beach, rocky outcrops and the most inviting sea imaginable — at a sublime 28C to boot.

The lodge has just nine ocean-facing thatched chalets, each 485 square feet. They are simply and tastefully decorated, with deep-hued woods, white linen and a shower that opens straight onto the beach view. Breakfasts are simple, lunches light, but the evening meals were exquisite.

Nathan was the chef at that time, and he introduced each meal with justifiable pride. Poached trevally, chargrilled king mackerel, wahoo sashimi, succulent grilled dorado — all fresh and succulent.

I felt utterly distressed from the moment I put on my in-room sarong – when in Rome eh – and the three night stay on the island panned out into a sublime experience that I’ll not forget. 

***

puzzle

Fitting Quilalea into a holiday: It's a magical island to be sure, but the complex and time-consuming journey means that staying less than a week isn't advisable. Unless you split your time between other parts of the country - I spend three nights at Quilalea, after a couple of days in the capital, Maputo, and a short stay at the Bazzaruto Archepelago.

31

Getting there: the island is a three hour drive and 30-minute speedboat skim from Pemba in northern Mozambique. Pemba has a small airport with a few domestic and regional flights, including Johannesburg with Airlink and LAM Mozambique Airlines; Dar es Salaam and Nairobi with LAM. LAM also runs domestic flights to Maputo, Beira, and Nampula. And also Ewa Air flies to the overseas French territory of Mayote. 

weather

When to visit: the humid equatorial climate here means temperatures change little across the year - and average around 30°C. There is hardly any rainfal between May and December, which are the best months to visit. The rainy season here is a proper one, with over 120mm of rainfall in each of the wet season months.

35

More info: I travelled as a guest of Audley Travel. Or try Scott Dunn and Abercrombie and Kent. For more information on the lodge see www.azura-retreats.com, and for country info there's Mozambique Tourism

30

Visa and safety: always check your government's travel advice before booking, and ensure that your travel insurance is valid in this part of the country. See the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice.


FAVOURITE HOTELS
   5015 views   
Five of the best home away from home hotels...
posted by Richard Green on 02/04/2017
 

The lake and the 'pub', with the main building behind. Photo Twin Farms

Twin Farms, Vermont. Tucked away in a pocket of rural Vermont is the gorgeous home away from home idyll of Twin Farms. Centred around a 1795-built farmhouse, the 300 acres of rolling countryside is home to nine rooms and 11 cottages, an outstanding restaurant, a clubhouse with a games room and bar, a spa and a boating lake. All rooms have fireplaces and are richly and romantically decorated, and the cottages are extremely private and cosy. Staff are discreet to the point of invisibility, yet anticipate guest’s every needs. Ice-skate on the lake and a tray of hot chocolate and cookies might magically appear. www.twinfarms.com

From the dining area through to the garden. Photo Tas Hotel

Tas Otel, Alacati, Cesme Peninsula, Turkey. Alacati is perhaps the most fashionable village in Turkey; a glorious restored village with rustic-chic boutiques and restaurants and beautiful old stone houses. Zeynap and her staff are on hand with a warm welcome at the Tas Otel, and serve home made preserves at breakfast and cakes for afternoon teas. The lounge has a large fireplace and sagging sofas, and the six rooms – plus a stone cottage behind two palm trees – are bright and airy, with white walls, wooden floors, and blue window shutters. Behind there’s a high-walled garden with a vine-shaded breakfast terrace overlooking a sparkling swimming pool. www.tasotel.com

Dining area at the estancia. Photo House of Jasmins

House of Jasmins, Salta, Northwest Argentina. Its adobe walls are swathed in jasmine, its roofs are terracotta tiled, and colonnaded terraces provide shade and shelter from the summer sun. The Andes Mountains rise in the distance behind the House of Jasmins, and the colonial city of Salta is 20-minutes drive away. It’s a family run 14-room estancia and a haven of homely tranquility. Built 120 years ago, the patina is authentic, and today it’s augmented with white curtains, indigenous art and rugs, and occasional cowhides. It sits in 247 acres of land, has a super swimming pool, a spa and an excellent restaurant called La Table that has a cosy interior and a graceful canvas roofed terrace. www.houseofjasmines.com

The sea views from the decking and pool area. Photo Cape View Clifton

Cape View Clifton, Cape Town, South Africa. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from the heights above trendy Clifton, the Cape View Clifton is an intimate five-suite guesthouse that is clean-lined and contemporary. All nine rooms and suites have a comfy lounge area and kitchen, private balconies, Jacuzzis, and terrific views – out to sea, across to the rugged peaks of the Twelve Apostles and the swanky seaside suburbs of Clifton and Camps Bay. It’s a seaside bolt-hole that feels like a private home – one with exquisite taste, knockout views, a swimming pool, large decked areas, private terraces, and a laid-back honesty bar. www.capeviewclifton.co.za

The lodge and gardens. Photo Loch Nes Lodge

Loch Ness Lodge, Scotland. The Loch Ness Lodge is a stylish and secluded retreat that emphasizes highland hospitality. Its seven large rooms are decorated in contemporary country house chic style, with muted lichen, russet, stone and heather influenced tones, refined furnishings, and enveloping beds with goose-down duvets. The elegant drawing rooms are ideal for reading a book in, and the breakfast area is filled with antique furniture. After some hiking, castle touring, fishing or golf, it’s delightful to return to a dram on the garden terrace in summer or by the fire in winter. www.loch-ness-lodge.com


TRANSPORT QUIRK
   5193 views   
No wonder the West dubbed it the Caspian Sea Monster, the Soviet Ekranoplan was a gigantic threat that never was...
posted by Richard Green on 01/04/2017
 

Nicknamed the 'Caspian Sea Monster' by NATO, the other-worldly Erkanoplan was a ground effect vehicle designed in the Cold War as a high speed Soviet troop transporter. The idea was to fly at extremely low levels across the Caspian or Black Seas, entirely under the radar, and surprise the enemy by disgorging hundreds of troops onto their shores.

It was designed to capitalise on the 'ground effect' whereby keeping an object airborne requires a lot less energy if it flies close to a flat surface. Flick a sheet of paper across a polished table and you'll see the force at work - allowing to sheet to skim across the table with just a modest push.

It can travel far quicker than say a hydrofoil and more fuel efficiently than a conventional aircraft, but it can't actually fly at any greater altitude than a 10 metre high skim. The Ekranoplan took the concept to its extreme - using the ground effect principle, but weighing 380 tons, with a wingspan of 44 metres, and using eight weirdly mounted jet engines for it's propulsion.

Thanks to the machine's proximity to water, on which it can obviously float, the Ekranoplan was a safe enough concept, in the sense that engine failure would simply lead to impacting the water like a seaplane. However, as ground effect vehicles are unable to climb above potential hazards, the problem of keeping out of the way of shipping is a real one.

The idea was for the ground effect vehicle (GEV) - technically not an aircraft - to use the better lift-to-drag ratio of skimming close to the sea, to fly across the sea at an altitude of about four metres full of troops. Khruschchev Only a couple of these Ekranoplan machines were ever made. It first flew in 1987 and was retired sometime in the late 90s.

The original Ekranoplan is thought to have 'crashed' in the 1980s, but a smaller spin-off machine called the LUN survives, though only just, and is now rotting and neglected in a small harbour at Kaspiysk on the western shore of the Caspian Sea.

The forerunner of the Caspian Sea Monster was the A-90 Orlyonok, a somewhat less sinister machine that mainly used ground effect, but that could actually fly higher to, in this case up to about 3,000 metres. It first flew in 1972 and five of them were made, before being retired in 1993.

One is displayed on pylons in the Moscow Canal to the northwest of the city, outside the Russian Naval Museum (Russian language only).

A marooned A-90 Orlyonok on display by the Moscow Canal

Although the Soviet programme wasn't a great success, the concept lives on, and several ground effect vehicles are in stuttering development. See Wing Ship Technology in South Korea, Universal Hovercraft in the US, and Wigetworks in Singapore. 

And just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, the Russian news agency Sputnik provided a 21st century Erkanoplan scoop. On July 10th 2017, Sputnik stated that 'Russia to build new ground effect vehicle'.

The article went on to state that a new ground effect vehicle capable of transporting a 15-tonne payload was under development and scheduled to appear 2019-2020. Dubbed the Chaika-050, it seems that the machine will act primarily as a search and rescue, and reconnaissance craft.

A model of the proposed new Ekranoplan, the Chaika-A050

Commenting on the GEV's export potential Ivan Antsev (General Manager of Scientific and Production Enterprise) floated the following - "For instance" Antsev said, "India has BrahMos cruise missiles, and our GEV can be equipped with them".

And there is even a mock-up of an old style 'Sea Monster' in field hospital/medivac mode too. 'Spasatel' is Russian for 'rescue', and as you can see, there is a Russian flag under the tailplane, rather than a Soviet one. The model was actually on display at a 2016 Gidroaviasalon international hydroaviation exhibition. The 2018 exhibition takes place between the 13th and the 16th of September, so watch this space for further Ekranoplan developments.

One more thing...

Owing to the strict sanctions regime that were in force against Iran for many years, the country was forced concoct some unconventional home-grown projects for its armed forces. 

The 'Bavar 2' is a ground effect vehicle unveiled by Iran in 2010. It's though to be for avoiding radar detection while on offshore patrol missions, and could be used offensively in the Straits of Hormuz to confuse an enemy. Each carries one or two members of the Revolutionary Guard, an inbuilt camera and machine gun.


 
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