FOR PEOPLE GOING PLACES
JAN-MAR, 2016 NZ. $12.90 AUS. $12.90
LIVING LIKE A PL AY ING W IT H
f i r el oa cn ad l i c e
Destinations represents a new breed of travel magazine. In print and digital form, we connect divergent people, places, cultures, lifestyles, and perspectives through intelligent, thought-provoking written and visual storytelling. Our mission is to inspire, challenge, and inform, providing a compelling medium for global engagement. We create goals to aspire to, and entice those who have an innate curiosity for the diverse world in which we live.
Fire and Ice explores the contrast of these two elements that have such an impact on this Earth and our experience of it. We visit hot and cold destinations that push the human body to extremes, attesting to the effect of climate in the evolution of our visible and physical surroundings, as well as the many ways that temperature shapes our experience of different places. Travelling back in time, we investigate sites that retain evidence of the Earthâ€™s extreme geological and climatic heritage and look at how animals have adapted to such changes. These responses spur us to consider the ways in which humans may also have to adapt as climate change remodels the surface and fabric of our world.
FIRE AND ICE SPECIAL FEATURE
22. Running Hot And Cold A volcanologist and glaciologist offer their thoughts on the current state of their fields, particularly with regards to climate change.
78. The Element Of Surprise In Kyrgyzstan, an often-forgotten part of the world, choosing the ‘wrong’ time of year to visit can be unexpectedly revealing.
32. Stellar Synthesis Profiling the best places in the world to stargaze, we reflect on the lessons these fireballs can teach us about our world.
86. In Cold Pursuit Traversing the highlands of Iceland offers an opportunity to contemplate the increasing scarcity of the country's eponymous element.
50. The Heat On Palestine In a destination that is growing smaller every day, the people of Palestine make the best of a challenging physical and political climate.
94. Opposites Attract New Zealand’s Central North Island offers a fascinating geologic history, meaning fun in the snow and relaxation in the hot springs.
58. The Humpback Of The Sahara Trekking the Sahara on camelback offers a unique and authentic way to connect with the desert, its cultures and creatures.
102. Breaking The Mercury From deserts to ice sheets, the temperature rises and drops as we journey through the hottest and coldest destinations on Earth.
66. Tectonic Tantrums Over the lava fields and into the depths, we profile some of the most spectacular – and spectacularly destructive – volcanoes across the globe.
116. Extreme Adapations Some of us are just not cut out for extreme conditions – but from volcano-dwelling birds to frozen frogs, some creatures are exactly that.
ISLANDS ON OUR MIND
16. Talk Travel Contributors share their climatic preferences and touch on the very real issues associated with climate change.
128. Fire Island We explore the natural wonders of an island where volcanic activity has given life to an idyllic environment.
20. People Going Places: Simon Beck We speak to an artist whose passion has him taking to the snow across the world, using the land as his canvas.
136. The Layers Of Napoli Mt Vesuvius â€“ and its impact on the nearby city of Pompeii â€“ looms large over history, and the present-day Bay of Naples.
192. Destinations Stays Our writers and photographers share their thoughts on the places they stay as they journey across the globe.
144. A Night In The Sound An overnight cruise offers the perfect way to get up close to Doubtful Sound’s epic glacial wonderland of waterfalls and wildlife.
172. The Cognac Generation To celebrate Martell’s 300th anniversary, we visit the birthplace of this warming winter beverage in search of its founder’s legacy.
148. Odyssey Of The Gods Following in the footsteps of the ancients, we cruise past the arid climes of Corinth, Delphi, and Ephesus on an ocean oasis.
176. Made In Morocco Cooking skills are refined and culture absorbed on a trip to Morocco: we explore the souks and perfect our tagine.
152. Back To The River We forget the temples, bars and malls to cruise the river and khlongs of one of the hottest cities in the world, Bangkok.
184. A Sweet Situation We scream for ice cream in parlours around the globe taking a different approach to this sweet treat.
160. The Coldest Continent An Antarctic cruise provides a once-in-a-lifetime experience, observing the ice up close and from a distance.
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the one pla ce on earth that hasn’t sPEd up.
After 3,000 years, Samoa’s traditional pace of life is still refreshingly laid back. Only three and a half hours acros the glistening Paciﬁc you’ll take just moments to unwind, as you explore spectacular scenery and a culture celebrating time-honoured traditions.
Touch down and you’ll discover the beating heart of Polynesia. Sure Samoa has all the mod cons you’d expect today. But it also has something completely unique. Fa’aSamoa, our way of life!
TAIWAN'S LARGEST CARRIER AND LEADING AIRLINE.
China Airlines is Taiwan's largest carrier and leading airline, with a 4 star SkyTrax rating and full service experience. Operating to Taipei from Auckland via Sydney or Brisbane, and from Christchurch via Sydney or Melbourne, the airline also flies to a 62-city Asia network covering Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia and India, as well as another 30 destinations in Europe, the USA, Guam and Palau. China Airlines flies daily ex-Auckland & 6 times weekly ex-Christchurch.
Publisher Stephen Brown Editor Rowena Bahl Associate Editor Dominique van de Klundert Cruise Editor Michael Hooper Editor-at-large Glenn A. Baker Graphic Designer Tristan Lewis Design Assistant Ellen Kelsey Production Executive Anita Sanghera Contributors Lauren Owens, Daniel Beltrá, Sally Blyth, Nick Walton, Zara Bowens, Annalee Jones, Bernhard Edmaier, Thomas Seear-Budd, Talia Carlisle, Mike O’Connor, Henrik Knudsen, Andrea Boccini, Christina Huntington, Clint Burkinshaw, Kurt McManus, Amos Chappel, Phil Yule, Elliot Yule, Justine Tyerman, Ana Barbono, Scarlett Cook, Chloe Skeggs, Mariusz Potocki, Suman Bhattacharya Proofreader Anna Varghese Account Executive Mark Hobday Printed By Image Centre Distribution Print: Netlink, Shout Media Online: PressReader, Zinio, Magzter Subscriptions email@example.com Editorial Enquiries firstname.lastname@example.org Destinations Publishing Ltd Destinations is a registered trademark of Destinations Publishing Ltd. Destinations publishes four editions each year. The contents of all are copyright and cannot be reproduced without the consent of the editor. Destinations Publishing Ltd’s acceptance of all contributed material, words, images and illustrations, is on the basis that these will be used internationally in all forms of the magazine’s distribution and marketing, be that print, digital or social networking. All articles, images and illustrations submitted will remain open for reading, reference and retrieval without time limit through all forms of distribution. All material is received on this basis only. Contact Physical: Level 4, 156 Parnell Road, Parnell, Auckland 1151 Postal: PO Box 137-067, Parnell, Auckland 1052 Email: email@example.com Phone: +64 9 377 1234 Website: destinationsmagazine.com Social: facebook.com/destinationpublishing | twitter.com/destytravelmag instagram/destinations_mag
On the cover: Greenland #1 Photo by Daniel Beltrá, courtesy of Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago Read: Running Hot And Cold on page 22
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EDITOR’S WORD RIGHT. This photo was taken by nature photographer Kerstin Langenberger on a cruise around Svalbard. The bear was lying on a single ice floe on a straight of open water. When it got up, she was shocked to see that it was only skin and bones. When the image was posted on Facebook, it went viral within a day with 7 million views, 50,000 shares and more than 5000 comments, perhaps indicating the power that photography holds
14 / Our Word
I never truly understood the extent of the impact that climate change is having on our world and the wonderful creatures that inhabit it until I sat in a recording studio creating Destinations’ very first podcast, listening to our publisher chat with two scientists, Eric Rignot, a glaciologist from NASA and Stephen Sparks, a volcanologist based in the UK. Eric’s point of view, in particular, helped me come to terms with the fact that rising sea levels are a reality we can no longer deny. Global warming has certainly become a hot topic: we are bombarded by crisis headlines on a regular basis. However, when such an issue is sensationalised, audiences begin to subconsciously tune out. The headline becomes a meaningless message, where viewership takes precedence over real knowledge. We are living in a world where environmental awareness is at a peak: global summits to ‘save the planet’ are happening everywhere, yet there remains a ‘missing link’ between the awareness and action. Regardless of the internet’s potential to bridge gaps, in-depth knowledge and the drive to act remains, for the most part, with experts in the field. As Eric suggests, the answer to this could lie in visiting some of these destinations for ourselves. For me personally, the answer arrived in the form of some shocking photographs by Kerstin Langenberger and Ashley Cooper. These two images (as pictured) really spoke to me. I had an emotional, visceral reaction, which led to a ‘eureka’ moment: a personal, direct connection among the abstract concept of climate change, its devastating concrete effects, and our own responsibility when it comes to both contributing to and responding to this issue. I believe this genuine sense of personal responsibility is the missing piece of the puzzle between awareness and action. The good news is that — no matter what the headlines tell us — there is plenty of hope for the future once we reconnect and take responsibility, allowing our hearts to feel once more.
Rowena Bahl — Editor The Idealist
ABOVE. Photographer Ashley Cooper captured a male polar bear that had starved to death. Polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt seals, which make up most of their diet. The western fjords on Svalbard that normally freeze in winter remained ice-free all season. This bear headed north, looking for sea ice to hunt on, but was unable to find anything suitable. It finally ran out of energy, collapsed and died. Recent scientific studies show that polar bears are geting thinner and weighing less, as they have less time to hunt in the winter and a longer fasting period in summer
By contrast, political leaders gathering in Paris must address the slower, intergenerational effects of climate change. In comparison with volcanic activity, climate change is insidious — a slow, silent, largely invisible ‘killer’ that nevertheless moves closer each year to destroying the Earth’s alpine environments, both arctic poles, the world’s island states and most of its coastal margins. Whereas volcanoes are spectacularly bellicose in expressing their ‘clear and present danger’, climate change and the gradual loss of both habitats and resources — including myriad travel destinations — is so apparently gradual that it is often hard to believe that it’s actually happening. Yet, this amplifies its very real threat. Consequently, we can only hope that the politicians are ultimately able to ignore national enmities, big business propaganda and the economics of now to forge a path that prevents this time bomb from taking a toll which ultimately makes Lake Taupo look like kids’ stuff.
Stephen Brown — Publisher The Sophist
15 / Our Word
This edition of Destinations focuses on the ways in which extreme events have shaped the planet that we rely on for survival and the multiplicity of physical environments that underpin our fascination with travel. While most of the world’s leaders jetted their way to Paris for a massively important summit on climate change, I joined 7000 other cyclists wending their weary way around the periphery of Lake Taupo in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island. Despite the fact that most of my struggle was a blur of seemingly endless hills, articulated trucks, and repeated heavy rainbursts, the terrain and shape of Lake Taupo took me back to a conversation barely a week before with world-renowned geologist Steve Sparks, who reminded me that the lake was the site of the world’s last ‘super volcano’ some 26,500 years ago — ejecting some 1170 cubic kilometres of material into the atmosphere and collapsing hundreds of square kilometres of land to form the present-day caldera. The modern equivalent of such an explosion would quite literally send much of the Southern Hemisphere into a bleak, cold, ‘dark age’ of technological dislocation, starvation and economic collapse.
From one extreme to another. Antarctic ice by Nick Walton and volatile volcanoes by Bernhard Edmaier
16 / Talk Travel
Michael Hooper The Wine and Food Guru
Annalee Jones The Socialite
Zara Bowens The Free Spirit
Nick Walton The Luxe Master
How do you see climate change affecting travel and tourism?
How do you see climate change affecting travel and tourism?
How do you see climate change affecting travel and tourism?
How do you see climate change affecting travel and tourism?
Climate change is part of environmental change, which humans have caused, but take little responsibility for. This is affecting the world through which we travel; it sullies its beauty and saddens the sentient traveller.
With more awareness, I hope that people demand the industry to become more ecofriendly, and put their money in places that give back to the Earth.
It depends on how conscious travellers are about where they are visiting: it will definitely affect the more extreme adventurers who have witnessed changes over time.
If anything, it's creating greater awareness of destinations under threat, from the Maldives to Spitsbergen, Antarctica to the Northeast Passage. People want to go and learn and experience these places for themselves.
What are your thoughts on the notion of seeing a place 'before it disappears’?
What are your thoughts on the notion of seeing a place 'before it disappears’?
The idea that a place can 'go extinct' really scares me. It's sad that for future generations gorgeous landmarks and natural wonders may only feature in stories we tell about them.
As long as we are supporting a ‘disappearing place’ and not doing it harm with our presence, it is important to see it while we can.
What are your thoughts on the notion of seeing a place 'before it disappears’? Places will always disappear, unlike the memory of them. Everywhere should be enjoyed to the max while available, as long as our crowding does not exacerbate their decline. When they go, more of us will hold the memory.
Do you prefer cold or hot destinations, and what do you think has influenced this? Given some shade and water for relief, I would vote heat. I guess that is called backing the winning team.
Do you prefer cold or hot destinations, and what do you think has influenced this? Although the heat can be a bit much to handle after growing up in Christchurch, warmer destinations — especially in Asia — have always been my favourite places to visit.
Do you prefer cold or hot destinations, and what do you think has influenced this? I do prefer hotter destinations, especially those near the ocean. That's perhaps because I associate such places with relaxation. In saying that, it’s hard to beat the view of a mountain frosted in snow.
What are your thoughts on the notion of seeing a place 'before it disappears’? It's a great idea because awareness might help instil change, perhaps enough to help turn things around.
Do you prefer cold or hot destinations, and what do you think has influenced this? I spend a lot of time in the tropics but I always love my time in the cold, whether it's cruising the Arctic Circle or attending the opera on a snowy night in St Petersburg.
Dominque van de Klundert The Philosopher
Henrik Knudsen The Perfectionist
Thomas Seear-Budd The Explorer
How do you see climate change affecting travel and tourism?
How do you see climate change affecting travel and tourism?
How do you see climate change affecting travel and tourism?
How do you see climate change affecting travel and tourism?
I’m hopeful people will start demanding more from their travel providers to show they are committed to the environment — we can travel sustainably, but this requires all of us to make changes.
Destinations themselves are changing, but I think we’re also becoming more aware of the environmental costs of our travel. Whether the resulting sustainability measures are helping the environment or just our consciences is another question.
Eco-friendly travel will become more of a necessity. I guess we will all have to consider travel destinations a little closer to home. No harm in that, though.
Tourists are now seeking out 'climate change attractions'. As these landscapes and creatures become scarcer, more and more people will venture to far-off lands just to witness them.
What are your thoughts on the notion of seeing a place 'before it disappears’? It can be a great motivator to get out and travel. If it gets people off the couch and on a plane, it’s good by me.
Do you prefer cold or hot destinations, and what do you think has influenced this? Cold — despite being one of those people who feels every single degree of it right to my bones. I grew up in a cold city, and ‘home’ is where the mercury drops.
What are your thoughts on the notion of seeing a place 'before it disappears’? I feel the instinct — but have to wonder if it’s the best approach: could we be doing more damage by visiting than leaving it be?
Do you prefer cold or hot destinations, and what do you think has influenced this? I gravitate toward warm places — which is strange given I am not great in the heat. Growing up in ‘Sunny Dunedin’ has likely influenced both.
What are your thoughts on the notion of seeing a place 'before it disappears’? There are innumerable fantastic destinations to discover, and we should seek out the ones that appeal to us the most. That may or may not be the rarest location.
Do you prefer cold or hot destinations, and what do you think has influenced this? Growing up with the changeable weather of Scandinavia, I like to feel a fresh chill in the air, and to embrace the capricious weather conditions that tend to create the most interesting photo opportunities.
What are your thoughts on the notion of seeing a place 'before it disappears’? Everyone should have the ability to experience them. However, the risk is that under-resourced landscapes and communities become overloaded. It is important that visitors are actually aware of the changes occurring and why.
Do you prefer cold or hot destinations, and what do you think has influenced this? I am drawn to colder regions, places that are going through much change. They tend to be less popular, unexplored and more interesting to study through photography.
17 / Talk Travel
Mike O'Connor The Environmentalist
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31.01.2016 destinationsmagazine.com Destinations is kicking off the new year with a new website catering to the discerning traveller. Readers can expect snazzy styling, in-depth extended features, podcasts, travel videos, special interest sections, and a definitive calendar of the best events from all across the globe. Destinationsmagazine.com will be the hub for travel information â€“ all hand-picked by our passionate and perceptive editorial team.
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Tramping on Mt Howitt, Hooker Range, high above the Landsborough Valley Photo: Mark Watson / Highluxphoto
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PEOPLE GOING PLACES Words by Zara Bowens
20 / People Going Places
Beck’s working relationship with snow began when he bought an apartment in Arc2000, a ski resort in France. He recalls that when the ski lifts closed "one fine day in December 2004,” he found that he had “both time and energy to spare,” and his craft developed from there.
British artist Simon Beck uses the world as his canvas, his medium most often being the unpredictable snow. He describes what he does simply as “using snow tracks to make drawings,” though to the rest of us these 'drawings' truly are unique, even ethereal, works of art.
Beck works tirelessly to create large-scale patterns in the snow, the majority of which are made up of his popular symmetrical geometrical designs. The Koch snowflake is one of his favourites because, he says matter-of-factly, “it is easy to make and makes good use of a circular area.” Beck is open to the possibility of creating more 'organic' drawings, however, and emphasises the need to keep his patterns fresh, as drawing the same ones repeatedly can become monotonous for both artist and viewer. Due to the visual impact of the designs, it would be easy to conclude that there is a profound meaning within the work — but Beck maintains, “there is no deep message." Some of his drawings are accompanied by slogans, such as ‘Protect Our Winters’, and others contain hidden codes which the artist does not elaborate upon. However, the main purpose of the designs is aesthetic. Because of the nature of Beck's work, a fair amount of planning goes into these designs. There is no chance of making it up as he goes, and there isn't a lot of flexibility to change one’s mind once in the middle of a snow creation, as this can become "a bit of a minefield." Thorough planning results in less time spent in the field, with the added bonus that when "the brain work" is done he can have a much more pleasant time listening to music and enjoying the process. This methodical approach, eliminating unnecessary timewasting, is crucial when one considers how long it takes to bring some of these designs to life: Beck’s most complex creation to date took him 32 hours in the field to complete. Beck also works with sand to create his art,
and notes the advantages of the medium’s pleasant texture, the often-sunny working environment and the possibility to measure out a design without leaving tracks. However, his connection to the snow is not dampened by his work with other mediums: he maintains that not only does snow art look better, but a small amount of unwanted snow or rainfall does not do significant damage to the drawing and there is no time limit to complete it. Further, as no one else is making snow art, working in snow is a more lucrative field. Beck generally works alone, as it is difficult for others to commit to a shifting schedule caused by ever-changing weather. With plenty of skiers around to communicate with as he works, though, he doesn’t find it too lonely. When the ski fields have closed for the day and he is working alone on the final phase of his drawing — the shading — Beck puts on his music and is “pretty well wrapped up in [his] own little world.” Content with this process, Beck appreciates each step's importance in the realisation of such grand-scale pieces of art. The artist has been commissioned to work in a number of exciting destinations, but one of his favourites is a familiar one: the Lac Marylou at Arc2000, “an outstandingly good site as it is exactly the right size.” He also makes note of the places that are ideal but perhaps more difficult to work with alone, such as the super lake at Verbier, which would require “a whole team of about 10 people (preferably marathon runners) to make good use of it.” On his wish list of other mountainous destinations, Beck says that he would aim for those where spectacular and wellknown mountains could be incorporated into the photographic documentation of the drawing, such as Patagonia, Alaska, the Himalayas and Yosemite. He is also interested in working urban locations, including Central Park in New York, the open spaces around Salisbury Park and Christchurch Meadow in the UK, and Moscow’s Red Square. However, with
21 / People Going Places
these places “clearly one would need a lot of luck to be in the right place at the right time.” Beck stays in Arc2000 except when he is asked to go somewhere else to create new artworks, which is happening more often as word of his talent spreads. Apart from his commissioned drawings, Beck takes all of the photographs of his art himself, having learned quickly the ideal locations and times of day to document the work. Though he gets hounded for video documentation, he prefers to keep it simple, observing that he is “apparently out
of step… in preferring high quality, nonmoving photography.” Beck has also been involved in a corporate collaboration with Icebreaker, wherein his designs were reinterpreted by the company’s graphics team for placement on the company’s merino wool clothing — perfect for snowy environments. For Beck, Icebreaker was an attractive company to work with as “they are built of the right kind of people who care about the environment and hike up mountains and go trail running and make the effort to see that the animals are well cared for.”
Beck is careful to treat his snow canvas with care. Some of the proceeds from his collaboration with Icebreaker will go to Protect Our Winters, a group dedicated to fighting climate change. In relation to this issue, he notes that climate change would eliminate some potential sites for his art, but he is optimistic, adding that "there remain ample venues high enough" that they are not affected. Beck's exquisite but temporary pieces of art, created using only natural sources, are such valuable expressions of a rare skill. Here's hoping that he always has an abundance of snow at his feet.
RUNNING H OT A N D C O L D We gain insight into the world of fire and ice from two scientists experimenting on opposite ends of the elemental chart: volcanologist Stephen Sparks and glaciologist Eric Rignot observe Earth from its surface through to its core.
INTERVIEW BY STEPHEN BROWN
STEPHEN SPARKS Volc an olog i st
24 / Fire and Ice Special Feature
Stephen Sparks explains how countries and cultures around the world manage the challenges posed by volcanoes - from Indonesia, where volcanism is a daily reality for many people, to Iceland, whence an unexpected ash cloud managed to disrupt global air traffic.
Your research over recent years has looked at ways to predict volcanic activity using a mixture of mathematical and physics-based modelling and onthe-ground monitoring. Do you think we are making real advances in the prediction and management of volcanic activity? I think we are, yes… I have been almost four decades looking at volcanoes and I think there have been dramatic changes and improvements in that time period, partly driven by technology. The techniques [for] monitoring volcanoes have improved greatly [with] new things like satellite remote sensing... At the same time, the sort of modelling you just mentioned has improved a great deal and part of that is also technological: computing power. You can model things now that you couldn't have modelled even 10 years ago, because the speed of computers has increased greatly. [This] also helps with techniques, because you can handle huge amounts of data now that you couldn't have done before. I would hope that myself and… colleagues around the world have also had some insights and developed some new ideas of course... And then the final reason… that management of volcanic emergencies has improved is [due to] an increasing
realisation that it's not just science that is needed. If you are monitoring in a volcanic emergency or interacting with the public… civil protection organisations, and often politicians who have got to make decisions about how to deal with the management… A lot of that, as I say, is not just science. It is having good communications, being able to define risks and make estimates of what those risks are, to help people make decisions. So I think there has been huge improvement in the interaction between science and, if you like, society in the last few decades.
So, it has been a multi-layered, multi-pronged approach. Yes, that’s right. And although it is almost a cliché, [it’s] what people call interdisciplinarity. When you have a volcano, you need people who are specialists in the volcanic gases, people who are specialists in the chemistry, people who are specialists in earthquakes, people who are expert in modelling. You need a whole range of disciplines to work together in a team and I think that increasing recognition of the need for different sorts of experts to work closely together is again another factor in improvements.
I would just like to focus a little bit on a comment you made at the third world conference on disaster risk reduction in Sendai, Japan. You made the suggestion that a third or more of the world's global volcanic risk is focused in Indonesia, home to more than 60 active volcanoes and over 200 million people. So this raises the question: in a world of burgeoning populations and governments that seem to be hard-pressed financially, especially in developing countries, is risk management really achievable? Or is it just achievable at a global level, or only for those countries that can afford it? There's a certain assumption in the question: what does one mean by achievable? There is always going to be risk, and risk from volcanoes, because we have got 1500 of them around the world. As you said, some…are very active and they are also in… densely-populated areas. So there is always going to be volcanic risk, just the way there are going to be hurricanes and typhoons and earthquakes and so forth… The goal really is to reduce that risk — of course you can never get rid of the risk completely. So in principle, you can always do a little bit better. There is not [an] end point… but you can work towards reducing risk and improving
TITLE PAGE. Top: An ice sheet swells around mountain tops and slides into the sea. Bottom: Crust slabs on a glowing lava stream
PREVIOUS PAGE. Mt Merapi Photo by Bernhard Edmaier
Photos by Bernhard Edmaier
resilience of cities. There is always room for improvement and that is what we should be looking at.
26 / Fire and Ice Special Feature
Developing countries have a harder time because they have far fewer resources and they have to make priorities — do they spend money on volcano observatories, or hospitals or disease vaccination programs? [There are] different calls on their scarce resources. It is never going to be quite enough.
No, and I suppose the other problem you face is one of complacency: you have societies, such as those living on Java, for whom volcanoes are such a regular part of their existence that they don’t really see them as being something exceptional. Of course, there are some people in… Yogyakarta… who have seen Mt Merapi erupt most of the time for the last 200 years, so those communities around the volcano… are… used to living with the volcano, and their risk is probably relatively low compared to other communities in Java which have not really experienced volcanic activity much. A good example of that would be Mt Sinabung in Java, which has never had a historical eruption until 2010 — so the people living around that particular volcano are much less used to the dangers… than they would be if they were living around Mt Merapi. So… even within a country like that, there are quite a lot of variations in the knowledge of people about volcanoes and… their preparedness to respond when an eruption starts.
Tell me, how do you manage volcanic risk and the effects associated with volcanic activity? Is there real progress being made in places like Java? Indonesia I think has done well. As you say, in the 2010 eruption of Mt Merapi, there was a sort of spiritual leader who other people followed around the volcano, [listening] to him rather than the government or the scientists… As you probably know, the spiritual leader was killed during the eruption. The head of
the Indonesian volcano observatories recommended an evacuation and actually a large number of people did evacuate. Although there were some deaths in that eruption — a few hundred — it could well have been thousands, if not tens of thousands, had that evacuation not happened. They saw the Indonesian scientists working with some help from, in particular, the US geological survey scientists, spotted the danger signs, advised the government, and a lot of people did get out of harm's way. So there was an avoidance of something absolutely catastrophic. Not to say that a few hundred deaths wasn't tragic, but it could have been an awful lot worse. And in fact, after the eruption, I was told that some of the Indonesian people had T-shirts where they adopted the head of the scientists as a sort of new ‘spiritual leader’.
In the March 2015 Nature News, there was a discussion about the more than 280,000 people killed by volcanoes over the last 4 centuries. Meanwhile, we know that, for instance, more than 30,000 people each year die in motor vehicle accidents in the USA alone. Volcanoes are visually spectacular, but they have a quite limited impact on the world's 7 billion inhabitants. So, why is the prediction of volcanic events still important? Compared to… big earthquakes, or floods or typhoons, the death toll from volcanoes has historically been quite minor. There have been a few very big mass casualty events, but they are few and far between… I think there is a much bigger effect which isn't really reflected in loss of life, which is… disruption of livelihoods and… economic losses associated with eruptions... So it depends on what you use to measure impact... Montserrat volcano in the Caribbean… probably cost well over a billion and half, possibly 2 billion dollars in terms of losses, and you can measure those losses in all sorts of ways: people losing their homes and having to move somewhere else, cost to deal with the emergency, loss of infrastructure, loss of
livelihoods, tremendous disruption to the people of Montserrat. And if you took the Icelandic ash which disrupted all the aviation in 2010… There was no loss of life but there was something like 200 million euros a day lost by the airline industry… close to some quite major airlines going bankrupt if it had gone on much longer… [Similarly], 2 or 3 years ago there was an ash eruption in Java which closed down Bali for 24 hours, so all the flights could not go in there. So that was again an economic loss for the people of Bali, not to mention the tourists that were hoping to go there for their holiday. And of course we are living in a globalised world where, for example, farmers in Kenya couldn't transport their flowers and beans to Europe for sale during the ash crisis, and had to throw lots of material away — so volcanoes can be very disruptive. The other element is that volcanoes are really the only natural hazard that could produce a global scale catastrophe... no other hazard apart from meteorites could do that… The last one that happened was in 1815 in Tambor, Indonesia, and that caused famines in Europe and the eastern United States… The global atmosphere was heavily polluted for several years… and that led to major climatic effects which included frosts in New England which basically destroyed all the crops over the summer… And [continuing] on the climate theme, volcanic dust and pollution is one of the significant factors in global forcing of climate, so it is an area where we still need to understand an awful lot more if we are going to make a better forecast about global warming.
I would like to come back to the issue of climate change, but there is also a lot of public fascination with the socalled 'super volcanoes'. In this context, Yellowstone always seems to rear its head, doesn’t it? It does. The last super volcano eruption was in New Zealand: from Lake Taupo, about 23,000 years ago. That is the youngest super eruption on the planet.
So are we all secretly waiting for the big one — a bit like the car wreck at a Grand Prix? That’s right… the last super eruption on Yellowstone was 600,000 years ago. The last one in New Zealand was a much, much more recent.
And it’s difficult to measure the risk associated with such an eruption in modern times: for example, the recent Icelandic eruptions had this major effect on air travel which for most of human existence didn't happen. No, that’s right. Thirty years ago, that same eruption would have minimal impact because there weren't an enormous number of commercial passenger jets flying around Europe. So that's an emergent risk that really didn't exist 30 or 40 years ago.
Considering the other side of travel and tourism associated with volcanic activity: we see people flocking to the likes of Mt Etna, Kilauea in Hawaii and Vanuatu's Tanna. Much of this attraction occurs in countries that have limited resources and tourism infrastructure. How do those countries balance the demands of tourism with the very real risks that the volcanoes pose? A lot of things in life are trade-offs. In some ways, having a beautiful volcano which tourists want to see is a good thing. People get a lot of pleasure by climbing… volcanoes make very attractive landscapes… and often they have got interesting stories associated with them… or maybe… myths and legends... They
The answer of course is to manage the threat by having good monitoring observatories which keep an eye on the volcano and obviously create restrictions on people's access when the volcano threatens to… or does erupt. So I think it’s all manageable. Again, if we take Indonesia, it’s a rapidly developing economy — the sophistication of its science is improving all the time. In general, many countries with volcanoes are improving their ability to manage the risk.
Now very briefly returning to climate change: volcanic eruptions impact climate change negatively through the production of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, but also positively through the production of ash and sulphur dioxide as aerosol particles that help to deflect sunlight. So does volcanic activity have some potential to offset, for certain periods of time, some of the effects of climate change? Big eruptions, usually for a few years after the eruption, will generally cool the earth because the aerosols, sulphuric acid and dust… reflect light and therefore counteract the build-up of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and so forth in the atmosphere. So it can temporarily halt global warming — if you got a big eruption — but of course it is only a temporary thing. [However], it might actually create unusual weather in different parts of the world as a consequence… because the dust and the aerosols… also absorb heat, so the stratosphere actually becomes warmer… The surface of the planet becomes, on average, colder — but actually the stratosphere gets warmer, and this creates global circulation changes which manifest themselves in things like frosts… and actually areas which get a lot warmer than expected, so it changes rainfall patterns.
This has an impact on agriculture [which] may not be necessarily beneficial. I think the other point… is volcanoes are going off all the time. It’s not just the big ones, there's background effects. The carbon dioxide probably isn't very important compared to human activity, but the aerosols and the dusts and sulphuric acid… are there. So if we go through a period where, by chance, the rates of [volcanic] activity are increased a bit, then maybe we are suppressing global warming — so it’s actually worse than we think it is. We don't really know very well what the background effects of natural volcanism are on climate. This is one of the factors that makes the prediction of global warming more uncertain.
So where to from here? Something again that is linked to society — we have got a number of projects…. A less obvious one is that we have got a lot of research money from the mining industry… to look at the natural resource of copper. The reason they have come to… our research group is because about 70 percent of the world's copper is found in the eroded roots of old volcanoes, so that's essentially what they mine to extract much of the world's copper… We have been given quite generous support by a big mining company (BHP Billiton) to research how it is that some volcanoes become very rich in copper. So we are embarking on that as a new venture and coming up with ideas: of course the modern world wouldn't run without copper, so that’s… if you like, a different aspect of volcanology contributing to society.
An extended interview will be available as a podcast January 30th, 2016 destinationsmagazine.com
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Yes, but… going back to the point that these events are very, very rare… an eruption big enough to devastate the planet may only be, we estimate… probably every 20 or 30 thousand years. So we would be very unlucky to have one of those while we are alive.
make nice ski resorts. So there are lot of benefits of volcanoes, and in particular benefits for tourism. Countries that are less well-resourced… could create jobs… around volcanoes. I think on a whole it is a good thing.
ERIC RIGNOT Glac i olog i st
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Eric Rignot has been studying the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets for years, and candidly casts doubt on global efforts to slow the melt. He discusses some potential (and alarming) scenarios, but reserves hope that younger generations will bring about positive action.
I wonder if you could start off by telling us a little about your role at NASA and what it entails? My role at NASA is to collect research about ice sheet mass balance. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are being lost to the ocean and we are trying to find out what the physical processes… controlling this are… We are using a suite of satellite instruments and airborne platforms with sophisticated technologies to measure with precision what the ice sheets are doing over time.
How long has this research been going on? The polar programme started to focus on Greenland in the early 1990s, when we started to fly airborne lasers [there], and it has been growing into large experiments, including satellite missions, over time.
You express uncertainty about our ability to slow global warming, and the related loss of the world’s ice sheets. Do you think humanity is facing a real doomsday scenario? I would not like to call it ‘doomsday’. [My research] is all really to check on how fast
we are losing ice in the polar regions. What the last twenty-plus years of research have shown is that the polar regions are reacting to climate change in a much stronger way, much sooner than what was expected. In a sense, if we say that the ice sheets collapse in the next decade…. some of the processes that are in place contributing to this mass loss are going to continue acting for centuries. So we have to keep the long term perspective… and not just think about what it’s going to be like tomorrow, to see what this means for the coming centuries.
That raises the question of the sorts of effects that humanity can expect as sea levels and temperatures rise and we lose that ice mass. There are two aspects to this. One is the loss of the sea ice in the Arctic… It is going to change the Arctic drastically, exemplifying climate warming at high altitudes. The other is the melting of the glaciers around the ice sheets, affecting [only] a few areas in the Antarctic, [but] the entire ice mass of Greenland in the north. This is contributing to progressive sea level rise. The sea level is rising only a few millimetres per year at present… but two-thirds of that is due to melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica [and] also ice caps.
What we have to realise is that this is just the beginning of a long-term trail, where the sea level is going to keep rising faster with time as more ice starts to melt over large areas. Right now we are going to reach a one-metre rise by the end of the century and unfortunately there is no simple way we can push the stop button. It will keep rising beyond 2100. If we want to think about adaptation strategies to protect ourselves from sea level rise, we have to plan for this now, for the next 30 to 40 years… An additional complication is that the sea level is not rising uniformly: it is rising fast in some places and slowly in others. You have to look at the… context.
The other issue that’s going to confront populations in general, but also tourism industries, is the loss of alpine environments. These issues are separate from sea level rise and are directly connected to the loss of alpine glaciers. This loss has a direct effect on the local hydrology. The melting of ice in Greenland and Antarctica is not going to affect fresh water resources for anyone except in Greenland… In the Alps, in New Zealand, in India, in South America, the progressive disappearance of glaciers and ice caps will affect access to fresh water resources… With the glaciers
PREVIOUS PAGE TOP. UC Irvine glaciologists muscle away icebergs from delicate and expensive sonar equipment used to map remote Greenland fiord bottoms for the first time
PREVIOUS PAGE BOTTOM. Greenland #3: meltwater flows into a seasonal lake atop the Greenland ice sheet Photo by Daniel Beltrá, courtesy of Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago
Photo by Maria Stenzel for UC Irvine
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gone, you only have water when it rains or if it is stored in lakes and reservoirs; the glaciers will no longer provide a regular source of fresh water year round.
Your work has clearly carried you to some interesting, awe-inspiring, and even dangerous environments. The process of watching many of those alpine and aquatic environments change, and disappear before your eyes, must be, at times, pretty disheartening. It is disheartening, because it is beyond our hands to protect those ice masses, although there are some examples [where people are trying]: I know recently in Argentina they passed some laws to protect access to glaciers, in order to protect them from overuse by mining companies… I think that is an interesting initiative: passing some laws that would protect our glacial environments from climate warming; anything that is done against that should be penalised. It’s an important resource right. We protect our water resources, we protect our shorelines — [so] we should have some ways to protect our glaciers and ice caps, which are our long term water reservoirs. And the biggest threat to these is climate warming.
There are tourism businesses now starting to use climate warming as a marketing tactic: advising people to go and see places ‘before they disappear’. This raises a bit of an ethical issue. I would [be in] favour [of] tourism to look at these natural entities. Of course, you would not necessarily want to encourage mass tourism, especially in places like the Antarctic. But… for people to be a little
more familiar with these issues, going to visit places like Alaska or Greenland… [or] the alpine glaciers, brings some connection between nature and people… If more tourists did that… I think they would connect with issues a little bit better. They would appreciate for themselves, also, some of the changes as a result of climate warming. They might always have a little doubt about some of these issues when they hear about them in the media or in the press. Even if you listen to some esteemed scientist… it is quite a different thing to see it for yourself, to go to some place where ice is retreating very fast, and see it with your own eyes.
Your own studies have found that the glacial melt from West Antarctica into the Amundsen Sea and from Greenland appears to be unstoppable. Do you think there is any way of mitigating or slowing these effects? Geoengineering perhaps? Geoengineering… makes me smile because I think we are far from having a solution that could scale up to the problem. There is good intent behind it, but it is another thing to come up with solutions that can be operated on a grand scale. There are some physical processes that take place in the polar regions which might slow down the decay of ice sheets, [but] there are a lot of things we still do not know. The most obvious and immediate thing is to appreciate that climate warming is occurring too fast. It’s producing changes on a global scale that are too rapid for us to have enough time to adapt — so the most important thing to do is to slow down the rate at which we are warming the climate. That means going to natural
resources, that means going for solar energy, migrating as soon as we can to a zero carbon economy. I really think that the technology is there to enable this, but it is a tremendous shift in the way we live.
There has been a lot of comment about a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius as a safe temperature threshold, while 6 degrees is seen as the ‘death zone’ for humanity. We are already on the verge of reaching one degree above preindustrial temperature levels. Do you think there is a safe threshold? I think the 2-degree limit is a threshold that has been set up mostly by politicians out of thin air, just so that we can find some sort of target down the line that we can refer to. There are numerous reasons … that 2 degrees… is not a safe goal. To put it into perspective, the carbon concentration in the atmosphere has been varying between 180 ppm and 280 ppm over ice ages. We are at 400… already, way outside the range of natural variation to concentration over the past million years. With 2 degrees there is evidence that parts of Greenland and parts of Antarctica [will not be] stable. They will eventually melt down. Studies dating back to 125,000 years ago [show] climate was about 1-2 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures, so pretty much along with this target you just mentioned — and sea level was 6-9 metres higher than today. This means that part of Greenland was gone, parts of east Antarctica and west Antarctica were gone as well. So I wouldn’t call that a safe limit. To think that we would lock ourselves into a climate where sea level will eventually rise by 6-9 metres, that would displace
We live in an era where the young generation have much more economic power than ever before, so you find yourselves with young entrepreneurs in their late twenties or early thirties at the head of major companies, with billions of dollars that they can invest in research and… a desire to change the way we live. They can actually have a big impact on that.
Do you think the general public actually understand what contributes to climate change and what they can do to help? I think it is a little bit in human nature, that even if we are aware of some of the wrongdoing and some of the problems, it takes a big slap in the face before you decide, ”Hey, we have to move on and do something different here.” Look, I would be the first one to blame myself. We complain about carbon dioxide emissions, but I still drive my car around. I still haven't changed fundamentally my way of living. I haven't put solar panels in my house, even though I have been talking about that with my wife for a number of years now. There is a natural inertia in all of us [with regards to] changing the way we live in a significant way. Fortunately, when people have the courage to do that, they always find something better on the other side. I really think that the world will be much better off if we move from burning fossil fuel to using solar energy — stating the obvious there. Another problem is that in order for that change to occur, it is pretty clear that we need some strong federal incentive… Sometimes I compare this situation to
reducing the speed limit on a freeway. If somebody tells you that the speed limit on the freeway is 50 miles per hour, but you like to drive fast, you’re going to drive 100 miles per hour because it is more fun. But if you get a ticket for that, you will respect the speed limit and drive like everybody else, no more than 50 miles an hour. Right now, there is no ticket for carbon emissions. You can burn as much as you want and put it in the atmosphere. As a result, it's sort of easy to continue living in that mode.
In your Climate Change Elevator Pitch video, produced with blogger Peter Sinclair, you said that the power to change where we are headed lies in the hands of the young generation. What do you think the youth of today can do to actively change what looks like a rather dismal future? It is very hard to change the establishment because it is difficult for the older people to change the way they live. It is much easier for younger minds to try to aspire to something a little bit different. We live in an era where the young generation have much more economic power than ever before, so you find yourselves with young entrepreneurs in their late twenties or early thirties at the head of major companies, with billions of dollars that they can invest in research and… a desire to change the way we live. They can actually have a big impact on that. A number of these want to change the world and are working actively to do that. I don’t know if you saw the announcement earlier this year by Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla. He is going to sell these batteries for individual homes — he is the head
of SolarCity. The solar solutions that he proposed to these problems can actually operate on a grand scale. He might be one of the people on the planet who is going to come up with a solution and actually do it. He is a very young guy. He comes out of nowhere and he might be starting a revolution.
The contrast to that is a study Harvard University undertook about ten years ago — they were concerned about the intergenerational response to climate change, so they decided to look at how people respond to more immediate threats. They looked at people's behavioural response to heart attacks and found that most people change their habits for about six months and then revert to past behaviour. We cannot be so pessimistic. I think eventually good will prevail. My point about the younger generation is that I see stronger advocacy and stronger will to actually do something in the younger generation. These people, their minds are more adaptable to change. In fact, they may desire change as generational aspiration: “We want to do something different [from] our parents… we want to live in a world that doesn't burn fossil fuel.” And they are absolutely right, it is going to be a better world.
An extended interview will be available as a podcast January 30th, 2016 destinationsmagazine.com
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hundreds of millions of people and cost billions in moving infrastructures, not to mention immigration problems. Welldeveloped countries can more easily adapt: they have the technologies, they can move their industries. In some other countries, they cannot afford to do that: people would have to move away... And that creates, as you can see in Europe right now, tremendous problems that affect everybody, not just the people moving out of their country.
STELLAR SY N T H E S I S It begins with a cold, dark cloud of interstellar gas, dust, and exploded star remnants, floating somewhere in the cosmos. Over time and under the weight of its own gravity, the cloud collapses until it breaks apart into scattered pieces. As these globules linger in space, they begin to compress and spin, generating such extreme heat within their core that nuclear fusion finally occurs. It only takes 10 million years, but just like thatâ€Ś a star is born.
WORDS BY CHRISTINA HUNTINGTON
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As a child, I can recall looking out at the night sky and feeling that somehow that was where I came from, my true home. My fascination with the cosmos was fed through visits to Los Angeles’ Griffith and Mount Wilson observatories, where giant telescopes brought the seemingly unreachable planets directly into my perception. Seeing Saturn’s rings for the first time, not just in a textbook but with my own eye, as if I could reach out and touch them, filled me with a deep wonder that still remains, for the universe and my place within it. Humans have been observing the heavens since the dawn of man. In fact, astronomy is our oldest science. Ancient civilisations quickly figured out that the sun’s shifting position in the sky and the lengths of days coincided with the change of seasons, allowing them to create the first calendars to aid in the planting and harvesting of crops. Suddenly, time could be measured just by watching the sun, which was believed to orbit around the Earth. In observing the night sky, while the moon changes shape, the patterns of the stars seem to remain fixed. The first nomads began using the stars to guide their journeys, bringing about the origin of astronavigation. Ancient sailors utilised precise observations of the sun, moon, and stars to provide clear direction where no landmasses were visible, and to predict shifting ocean currents. Celestial navigation soon became the basis for all future seamanship. While the majority of stars appeared to remain constant, there were a few ‘wandering stars’ that became questionable. These wandering stars were actually planets, their erratic behaviour later explained by the fact that they did not orbit around the Earth, but the sun. Ancient sky-gazers organized the stars into 12 constellations based on familiar imagery, through which the sun, moon, and planets moved. This formed the zodiac, giving birth to astrology and the belief that celestial bodies moving through the sky were responsible for corresponding
events on Earth. Leaders from around the globe would consult the stars before entering into battle, taking long journeys, or planning celebrations and rituals, in order to ensure the most auspicious timing. The Ancient Greeks were the first civilisation to turn cosmic observation into a science, by creating mathematical models of the universe. Their calculations led to the discovery that lunar eclipses were not caused by vengeful mythological figures in the sky, but by the shadow of our own planet. While Aristotle and Ptolemy had astronomers in agreement that the universe was geocentric (Earth-centred), Aristarchus is credited with envisioning the heliocentric model in 250 B.C., placing the sun at the centre of our orbiting planets. Unfortunately, this theory was promptly ignored for almost 2000 years, until Copernicus picked it up and refined it during the Renaissance, altering our view of the world and our place in the universe forever. Amidst the Scientific Revolution of the 1500s and 1600s, Galileo became the first man to observe the cosmos through a telescope, solidifying the theory of a heliocentric solar system — for which he was found guilty of heresy and subjected to lifelong house arrest under the Inquisition. Just 50 years later, Sir Isaac Newton developed laws of motion and universal gravitation that drew upon the theories of all who came before and set the stage for those who would come after, finally laying the geocentric model to rest for good. The father of modern astronomy also developed the reflector telescope — the standard design for the optical and radio telescopes that we use today. As space theories evolved over time, so has the equipment used to view the heavens. Optical refractor telescopes — simple magnifying lenses which bend light to be viewed directly — are still used, along with Newton’s optical reflectors, which utilise a concave mirror to reflect light back to a central eyepiece. With the technological advancements of the Second World War, radio telescopes were developed. For the
first time in history, humans could observe cosmic matter that did not emit light. These days, it is hard to imagine life before the portable technology we carry so readily at our fingertips. Contemporary stargazers are blessed to be able to hike into the most remote locations on Earth and find any information we desire with just a single touch of a mobile phone or tablet. The myriad star-finder apps available now are like travelling with a planetarium in one’s pocket — just point up at the stars and wait to be told exactly which heavenly bodies are on display, no astronavigation training required. The one thing that is certain as the science of astronomy progresses is that nothing is ever fully certain. Theories are constantly challenged and changed as new information comes in with each new technological advancement. For instance, it is only in the last decade that the hunt for dark matter and dark energy has taken centre stage. Theorised to make up the majority of the landscape of the universe, but previously undetectable since neither substance emits light, scientists are only now becoming able to observe dark matter and dark energy — though their function is still a complete mystery. Likewise, recent discoveries have now proven the existence of previously unknown supermassive black holes at the centre of all galaxies — including our very own Milky Way. New planets and solar systems are discovered each day as scientists continue investigating their observations that the universe seems to be infinitely expanding and not contracting, as had been thought since the origin of the Big Bang Theory. One thing we do know is that, just like humans, all stars are born, grow old, and eventually die in their own unique series of expansion, contraction, and explosion. New stars and all life form from the very particles of the deceased stars. Carl Sagan first articulated what this means for us Earthlings: that we are all made of stardust. Perhaps this is why, when we look up at the night sky, we feel like we are home.
TITLE PAGE. The multi-coloured glow of gas clouds and wispy tendrils of dark cosmic dust in the Eagle Nebulaâ€™s Pillars of Creation
BELOW. Visualisation of dark matter, posited to account for most of the mass in our universe Art by Tristan Lewis
Photo courtesy of NASA
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Theorised to make up the majority of the landscape of the universe, but previously undetectable since neither substance emits light, scientists are only now becoming able to observe dark matter and dark energy.
ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE This desert has one of the darkest, clearest night skies on Earth, making it a number one stop for astro-tourists. High altitude, clear skies, dry climate, and low light pollution provide the perfect combination of elements for prime stargazing. The Paranal Observatory holds the Very Large Telescope, one of the worldâ€™s biggest. Specialised tours abound, leading the quest for the perfect cosmic viewing. But it is the ALMA Observatory that has space enthusiasts clamouring to visit. Here, the worldâ€™s strongest radio telescope is able to look billions of light years into deep space, all in broad daylight. Photo by Adhemar Duro/ESO
KIRUNA, SWEDEN The northernmost town in Sweden is preparing to become Europe’s new space tourism centre. The Space Travel Alliance, along with the Esrange Space Centre, aim to offer civilians short trips into space. These ‘space jumps’ would reach a 100-kilometre altitude, allowing tourists a space-eye-view of Earth in zero gravity before descending back home. Until then, the cosmically curious should visit during winter’s perpetual darkness for stunning views of the Northern Lights without the need for any equipment. An added bonus is the Kiruna Snow Festival, home of the international snow sculpting championships, with giant jaw-dropping snow sculptures on display 27th - 30th January, 2016. Photo by Aaron Oaks
YANGTZE RIVER VALLEY, CHINA Located in China’s lush countryside along Asia’s longest river, the Yangtze River Valley offers beautiful views of the night sky. Here, one can become immersed in China’s longstanding history of astronomy, dating back to the 4th Century B.C. The Chinese built some of the oldest known observatories between 1276 and 1442. Ancient stargazers carefully mapped the movements of the celestial bodies for their solilunar calendar, resulting in the production of the oldest existing complete map of the stars. Hike through the Three Gorges area of the Yangtze for mountain views or take a river cruise for glittering views from the water. Photo by Fan Jun Wei
HOVENWEEP NATIONAL MONUMENT, USA Hovenweep National Monument in Utah contains six Ancestral Puebloan village ruins believed to date back as far as 900 A.D. Several solar calendar petroglyph panels still amongst the ruins suggest that this ancient agricultural community relied on astronomy to track summer and winter solstices and aid in crop planting. Now a national monument, Hovenweep is a certified gold-tier International Dark Sky Park, ensuring that the natural night sky will be preserved for many generations of future stargazers. A remote and wild stretch of the Utah and Colorado border, this offthe-beaten path destination requires that one be their own tour guide. Photo by Jacob W. Frank
MAUNA KEA, HAWAI'I On the Big Island of Hawai'i, Mauna Kea is home to a prestigious collection of observatories and telescopes for optical, infrared and submillimetre astronomy. Located 4200 metres up the summit of the mountain, the best time to visit Mauna Kea Observatories is when the sun can be viewed setting behind the cloud line instead of the ocean. Once the observatory closes at dusk, the Visitor Information Station halfway down the slope offers a free stargazing program every night of the week from 6pm-10pm, no reservations required. Organised stargazing tours are also available for those who want a personalised experience. Photo by Ric Noyle
CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN Spainâ€™s Canary Islands offer myriad venerable stargazing destinations and events. The Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma boasts the largest single-aperture optical telescope in the world â€” the Great Canary Telescope. Tenerife, the most-visited of the islands, is home to the semi-annual Starmus Festival. A science conference unlike any other, Starmus is an international celebration of the cosmos hosting talks by such luminaries as Stephen Hawking, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong. It was created by Queen's lead guitarist Brian May (who also holds a doctorate in astrophysics). Starmus 3 will take place 27th June - 2nd July, 2016. Photo by Martinez Moran
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Smith & Wesson Galaxy LED Flashlight The Smith & Wesson Galaxy 28 LED Flashlight goes beyond the call of duty in terms of versatility, providing an array of options for standard, night vision, or lowlight viewing. The 20 Ultra Bright White LED's operate on a separate switch than the 4 Red and 4 Blue LED's for optimal handling. Additional shatterproof technology makes this a worthy investment. Visit smith-wesson.com
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Wood Wonders Catsperch Observing Chair
T H E H E AT O N PA L E S T I N E WORDS BY DOMINQUE VAN DE KLUNDERT
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The sun is only peeking over the horizon as I disembark my taxi at Beit Jala junction in the West Bank, south-west of Jerusalem, near Bethlehem. Birds chirp, dogs bark, and the orange glow provides a striking, if somewhat contrasting backdrop to the concrete compound behind me, clad in netting and barbed wire. Israeli flags flutter in the breeze, and it takes me a moment to register the armed forces stationed in the tower and the large red sign warning citizens of Israel that entering the area is forbidden, illegal, and “dangerous to your lives.” It is an almost peaceful scene. I am here to meet Hijazi Eid, owner-operator of Palestinian touring company Hijazi Travel, to explore the village of Battir. The area has recently been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, representing Palestine as the ‘land of olives and vines’. However, it was simultaneously added to the list of world heritage ‘in danger’, due to the threat posed by Israel’s ever-extending separation barrier, also known as ‘the wall’. We set off down a gentle slope, and the famous Battir terraces immediately come into view, hand-built dry-stone walls winding their way across the dry grass of the hills, dotted with the greenery of olive trees and other flora. Pausing at a fig tree, I have my first taste of the fresh fruit which is so elusive back in my part of the world, while Hijazi explains how the terraces work to irrigate the landscape, allowing water to reach the crops on each level plain. This system has been used in Battir for millennia, and is still alive and well today. As we stroll along the floor of the valley,
sectioned-off plots become apparent, as do the farmers’ different approaches: there are brand new seedlings and established trees, diligently-cultivated fields and those that have been left to their own devices. Wildflowers intersperse the crops. Historically, the terraces were protected by watchtowers, known locally as qusoor (palaces), into which families would move during olive picking season. In addition to serving as a vantage point and a temporary home, the structures’ stone construction provided shelter from both hot and inclement weather — a function that they still serve today. It is not only farmers that have use for the area, though — we run into a pair of local teens, blasting Rihanna on their portable speakers, who have come out early to do a photo shoot on the terraces. We clamber up Al-Kolleyeh rock for an elevated view of the valley, before ascending the opposite slope towards the village. We peer inside a square opening carved out of the rock, which Hijazi identifies as a Roman tomb — if the terraces themselves were not enough evidence of this area’s long history, such ruins and the pieces of ancient pottery scattered about are a useful reminder of the generations which have existed here. Arriving at the village, we stop in to visit a welcoming couple, friends of Hijazi’s, who ply us with tea, snacks and sweets as we shelter from the already-strong mid-morning sun in the shade of their olive trees. Climbing a different kind of terrace — their rooftop, strung with vines overhead — the valley is laid out before us and the necessity of the struggle to protect it becomes even clearer: this is their home. The village survives on its internal relationships, born out of cultural traditions and agricultural necessities, and cemented by external pressures. Increasingly Battir’s people are also looking outwards for support — hence the drive towards UNESCO recognition: if the site is internationally-protected, it has a much better chance of retaining its autonomy. A central part of this initiative is the newly-established Battir Landscape Ecomuseum, which is tasked with facilitating local, participatory conservation and management of the site’s natural and cultural heritage. We sit down in the cool of the stone building overlooking the valley, built in a similar style to the nearby Dar Abu Hassan Guest House. Hijazi and the museum’s administrative manager, Wisam Owaineh articulate the sense of responsibility they feel for this place. To live as a Palestinian in the West Bank is to live under constant pressure: violence aside, the restriction of mobility by walls and checkpoints takes a mental toll. It is a theme that will be repeated many times during my travels here: while there is always the option to leave and build a more comfortable life, there is a stronger obligation to stand one’s ground. In the meantime, both Hijazi and Wisam find their freedom in hiking the local landscape.
TITLE PAGE. Sunset over Battir Photo by Wietse Michiels
BELOW. Graffiti on the Israeli separation barrier near Bethlehem Photo by Faris Baidoun
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Birds chirp, dogs bark, and the orange glow provides a striking, if somewhat contrasting backdrop to the concrete compound behind me, clad in netting and barbed wire... It is an almost peaceful scene.
TOP. A charateristic street scene in Ramallah Photo by Alex K端hni
BOTTOM. Ancient irrigated terraces in the Palestinian village of Battir, in the occupied West Bank near Bethleheim
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Photo by Skip Schiel
Navigating through the checkpoint, the driver flashes his ID and I hand over my passport, our innocuous nationalities allowing us to be waved through. Soon, I am alighting at the East Jerusalem Central Bus Station, near the Old City’s Damascus Gate, to catch a bus to Ramallah. Not being a huge fan of this mode of travel, I am pleasantly surprised to find the #218 easily locatable, and a very reasonable 8 shekels later I am happily ensconced in aircon and on my way. The bus pulls up at Qalandiya checkpoint, where locals disembark to cross on foot through the metal turnstiles, waiting to see whether they will be allowed through that day, or denied. I have no real concerns in that regard, but no one is exempt from the palpable sense of uncertainty — of being at someone else’s whims. The air clears as we trundle further from the checkpoint, eventually arriving at the station in central Ramallah, near al-Manara square. It is a short shared cab ride from here to the Mövenpick Hotel, an absolute
sanctuary after a long and serious day. The check-in staff are extremely friendly, and I’m ushered up to a spacious Junior Suite overlooking the pool area. It’s difficult to choose whether to collapse onto the king-sized bed, decked out in fresh white linen, or lounge around the elegantlyfurnished living area. The bathroom features a refreshing rain shower and all the touches expected of a 5-star hotel, including, appropriately enough, hand soaps made from Palestinian olive oil. However, I am soon drawn downstairs to Allegro, Mövenpick’s restaurant boasting Ramallah’s only Italian chef. A perfectlybalanced capricciosa pizza is preceded by fresh breads and, of course, a plate of olives, and the service is second-to-none. The next morning, I return to the bus station and ask around until I find the parking garage inhabited by the yellow sheruts (minivans) which service the surrounding towns. I’m pointed in the right direction for the sherut to Taybeh, and once it is almost full, we make our way out of the city. Half an hour and several stops later, I am kindly dropped at the doorstep of the Taybeh Golden Hotel. Having studied and worked in the United States for 2 decades, brothers David and Nadim Khoury were inspired after the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993 to return to this village to start the pioneering Taybeh Brewing Company, the first microbrewery in the region. The beer is brewed according to the German purity law, with no additives or preservatives. We visit the brewery — where the small batch production process can be seen in action — and sample a delicious and refreshing golden variety, just one of a range including dark, amber, light, white and non-alcoholic iterations which are distributed across Palestine, into Israel, and as far as Japan and Europe. Local beer culture has been celebrated each year for the past decade with Taybeh’s
own Oktoberfest. A more recent initiative is the family’s winery, led by Nadim’s son Canaan, who has also returned from overseas along with sister Madees, the only female brewer in Palestine. An important focus for the winery is the study and use of indigenous Palestinian grapes, sourced from local vineyards with specific terroir informed by volcanic soils, blazing summer heat, high elevation, and large daily temperature variations. These conditions enable the winery to produce unique varieties. In addition to the standard labels one might expect, we are therefore able to taste a new, indigenous variety while marvelling at the state-of-the-art facility on display in the tasting room: Zeini is a medium-bodied wine with aromas of apple and pear, perfectly refreshing. Not one to rest on their laurels, the family have also founded a stylish contemporary hotel where suites and conference rooms look out onto an expanse of olive groves — so visitors can sample the wares to their hearts’ content and simply roll upstairs. It’s clear the Khourys prioritise the touristic and economic development of their hometown, and just as Hijazi and Wisam described, this has an inescapable political dimension. We drive back into Ramallah together, and Madees points out the Israeli settlements, matchbox houses on the crests of the hills. Back at the hotel, I enjoy a bar snack (and why not, another Taybeh Golden) as I admire the contemporary art adorning the walls in the common areas, representing Palestinian artists. According to general manager Nicolas Pezout, this reflects the Mövenpick way: to integrate the group’s reputation for quality and professionalism with local sensibilities. This even comes down to the lovely staff: the employees — with the exception of imported management and the Italian chef — are all locals.
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Battir survives on a series of water springs, which collect each day in two pools around which the village is built. The precious resource is distributed communally among the eight main families of the village, each of which directs one day’s worth of water towards their crops using an intricate system of canals. I fill my now-empty water bottle with chilled, fresh water from one of the springs, and we hit the road. Due to travel restrictions, Hijazi cannot accompany me back to Jerusalem, so we pause just short of a checkpoint to await a taxi driver who can. As we stand by the roadside, I take in my first view of the infamous wall. It cuts decisively and uncompromisingly through the landscape, clearly delineating one territory from another, and hammering home the foreboding that residents of Battir must feel at its potential encroachment.
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My next field trip takes me north of Ramallah. As the bus attempts to leave the city, we are stalled by an impromptu roadblock: four grey and yellow concrete blocks placed seemingly arbitrarily across the road. We circle back, taking ‘the scenic route’ to the other side of the blockade, and go on our way. The old city of Nablus combines historical architecture with contemporary protest art to striking effect. Walls are adorned with posters of citizens who lost their lives in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was brought to the town with devastating effect in 2002. A larger-than-life flag is draped down a building, and street art features a particularly Palestinian brand of nationalism: the ensign’s black, white, green and red are incorporated with renderings of doves and figures giving the peace sign. Architect Naseer Arafat talks us through his efforts to conserve part of the city’s heritage via a restored soap factory, now a cultural centre. A significant project here is represented in the many homeless doors that are scattered around the courtyard: they have been decorated by local children, bright colours and upbeat scenes providing a sense of hope against the more difficult aspects of life represented here. We visit a store which specialises in an unlikely combination of knick-knacks and seasonings — I am tempted by several embroidered flamingo scenes, and the colourful and aromatic spices on show: whole star anise, galangal, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon, along with dried pomegranate. However, it is the regional speciality of knafeh — a syrupy pastry oozing with cheese — that steals the epicurean show. After another relaxing evening at the Mövenpick in Ramallah, our touring of the surrounding country resumes the following afternoon. We take the same route out of town as the previous day, and pause at the same roadblock, its purpose now abundantly clear: yellow bulldozers command a nearby lot, demolishing some unlucky Palestinian houses. A small crowd
looks on, the destruction completely out of their control. We learn that this is par for the course: building codes are set by the Israeli military, and Palestinian residents will routinely be issued notices of demolition with no set date attached — meaning families have no idea if or when the bulldozers will show up. This precarious state must be almost as trying as the eventual loss of property and land. Cityscape and olive trees give way to a camel-coloured plateau of dry grass scattered with rocks. Makeshift pens of corrugated iron stand ready to contain herds, and the by-now pervasive watchtowers, penned in themselves with barbed wire, whizz by as we descend into the Jordan Valley. We drop in at a Bedouin camp, and sip tea under the shade of a communal tent, a light breeze making its way in through the open sides. As always, the conversation turns to resource management: although demolitions, along with forced eviction, are aggressivelypursued strategies here, the primary concern in this area is water rights — desperately needed in this climate. The region actually has ample springs for irrigation, but uneven access means that many groups can utilise only a fraction of the available resources — and some are off the grid altogether. I am reminded of my conversation with Madees Khoury a couple of days earlier, as our host gestures up the hillside, to the settlements only a few hundred metres away which do have access to this precious resource. Again, this creates a dilemma for the tribe: will they continue their traditional way of life here, as the people of Battir have managed to do, or buckle under the pressure to move to a more amenable environment? As we continue our exploration of the valley, the juxtaposition indicated by our Bedouin friend could not be more evident than in the artificial oases which generate the settlers’ fig crops. Row after row of tall, healthy trees dominate the dry plain. We pull up at a small Palestinian village, one orange wall covered in dozens of multi-
coloured fish swarming from a water tap — an anachronistic image given its surroundings; one that speaks to an imagined plenitude just out of reach. Departing in the bus, two teens mime throwing rocks — a stance all too familiar from countless photographs of violence in the region — only to morph their fist into a peace sign. It’s both witty and disheartening: it would surely be exhausting and frustrating, to be so conscious of how I am represented globally; to be trained to constantly reinforce my pacifism in the face of propaganda painting me as a terror. Winding our way back up and out of the valley as the sun sinks onto the horizon, the view is incredible: the hues of the land, bleached in the sunlight earlier in the day, take on new definition, and the seemingly infinite expanse of this area — one with so much potential — stretches out into the distance. Returning to Ramallah, the ubiquitous black water tanks which populate the roof of nearly every building are silhouetted against the sunset sky, reinforcing the fact that the battle over resources is not only contained within the valley. On my final evening, I am treated to a traditional feast at Mövenpick’s Al Riwaq restaurant. Perfectly crispy kibbeh — torpedo-shaped meat croquettes — segue into a rich musakhan of tender chicken, tangy sumac, and sweet caramelised onions topped with pine nuts. I celebrate my good fortune, brought into clear view by the last few days, with a glass of Palestinian red. Exiting Ramallah on approach to Qalandiya once again, this side of the barrier is covered in defiant and idealistic slogans: “One wall, two jails”; “Imagine war is over.” But another aspect of the built environment also speaks to the tenacity of the Palestinian people: brick columns and the wires contained within reach skyward from the roofs of existing structures, ready for the second storey to be built — a sign of growth in progress, a commitment to standing ground and moving forward.
BELOW. Canaan Khoury of Taybeh Winery
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Travel Tracker Things we love about Palestine: Its landscape, fresh produce, and resilient people.
Currency: Israeli New Shekel. Language: Palestinian Arabic.
Getting there: Fly into Tel Aviv then train or bus to Jerusalem and on to Palestine, or cross the border from Amman. Transport: Buses are the best bet between main centres, then taxis or sheruts to smaller villages.
Climate: Mediterranean, with long, hot and dry summers and cool winters.
T H E H U M P B AC K O F T H E SA H A R A WORDS BY JUSTINE TYERMAN
Location: THE SAHARA DESERT, MOROCCO
Cleverly adapted to the desert environment, camels' humps store fat and fluid which they convert to energy, giving them the ability to travel up to 160 kilometres without water. When they stop to drink, they can take on a staggering 130 litres of water in just a few minutes.
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The stately creatures obligingly folded their knees on command, allowing us to climb on board. The species has a reputation for being bad-tempered and obstinate, but our camels were mild-mannered, patient and extraordinarily obedient. I wanted to bond with my mount, so was keen to know his name. My camel minder said the animals were nameless, but some had numbers. Unfortunately, mine had neither, so a version of the song about riding through the desert on a dromedary with no name (or number) was on constant replay inside my head as our tall ships made their stoic way up the steep dunes, led by a tribe of blue-clad Berber boys.
My clothes and I had a shower at midnight in the Sahara. Conscious of conserving precious water at our camp in the desert, I decided to combine my laundry and personal ablutions. I watched the ochre sand stream off my camelriding regalia and run in rivulets down the plug hole. I washed my hair last, lingering over the memory of the kind, young, dark-eyed Berber boy who had expertly wrapped his own purple shesh (turban) round my head and face because my flimsy Western scarf was no protection from the elements. Not that we needed any protection: the elements all behaved perfectly on our camel trek across the Merzouga Desert to watch the sunset and dine in the dunes. We met our camels — or more accurately, single-humped dromedaries — at a base in the Merzouga after a 40-minute four-wheel drive off-road trip, departing from the town of Rissani across a vast, barren reg, a stone desert pavement. Close up, the animals have the most quizzical faces, with large lips curved in a permanent smile, small hairy ears, bushy eyebrows, two rows of long curly eyelashes to shade and protect their eyes, and elongated nostrils that they can seal shut in a sandstorm. They look like comical caricatures of themselves.
Having ridden many a horse, I expected to feel quite at ease, but the rocking-rolling motion was far more exaggerated than in horse riding, no doubt due to the camels’ long, gangly limbs and larger body mass. I had to hold on at all times to the sturdy handle attached to the front of the saddle — which made taking photos a bit of a challenge. Our camel boys obliged by running alongside, barefoot in the hot sand, taking dozens of images of the novices. I was mesmerised by the tall graceful shadows we cast as our small caravan made its way up the sharp dune ridges, and fascinated by the prints left behind us by the camels’ thick footpads, which splay out as they walk, helping them navigate rough terrain and shifting sands. The colours of the desert were chameleon — they played games with my eyes, constantly changing with the light and shadows. From a distance, the dunes appeared terracotta-red, but close up, the sand was ripe apricot, glowing in the late afternoon sun, and after dusk, a warm beige, the colour of the camels. Had it not been for their brightly-coloured passengers, the animals would have merged into the landscape, perfectly camouflaged. As the sun began to fall from the bleached blue sky, we dismounted and climbed a short distance to the highest point on a sand dune mountain, just 55 kilometres from the Algerian border. It was slow going, uphill in the sliding sand: one step up, two down, collapsing in fits of laughter. The boys gallantly hauled the less able of our party up the slope, fearing we would miss the finale of the ‘show’.
TITLE PAGE. Berber leading a party into the endless expanse of the Sahara Photo by Bill Winters
BELOW. The quizzical camel
FOLLOWING PAGE. The shifting colours and shapes of the desert
Photo by Andrea Boccini Clockwise from top left: Photos by Tariq Mohammed Almutlaq, OJM Photography, Nik Barte, Hocine RĂŠda
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Sunset in the desert is a spectacular phenomenon, a dazzling kaleidoscope of burnt orange, crimson and gold. I held my breath, transfixed as the blood-red orb slid behind the shimmering horizon in a final display of fire. Sitting on a hot sandy ridge in the Sahara, my thoughts skittered far away to another spell-binding sunset months earlier, high on a frozen mountain in Switzerland. Fire and ice: elements at opposite ends of the spectrum, but both with the power to hypnotise and all but paralyse me. I found myself unable to move: I knew I would never pass this way again and wanted to savour every second. The heat radiating off the sand was intense, but when I buried my hands below the surface it was wonderfully cool. I felt somehow connected to this land of sand. After a gentle nudge that brought me tumbling back to reality, I reluctantly remounted the nameless one, and we plodded on to our campsite for dinner. The surreality of the experience continued as our camels graciously knelt down outside what appeared to be a mirage. Here in the Sahara, almost invisible inside a necklace of sand dunes, was a luxurious tented enclave, with spacious private bedrooms and ensuite bathrooms surrounding a carpeted, openair courtyard. After freshening up, we sat around a campfire to be entertained by a troupe of highly-talented musicians and dancers from Senegal and Mali. We joined in the dancing, feeling clumsy and bumble-footed beside the tall, slim, elegant young men in their white and indigo robes. Despite it being the height of the fast of the holy month of Ramadan, our charming hosts served us delicious hors d'oeuvres and a lavish three-course feast of Moroccan salads, tagine, couscous, and platters of fresh fruit, washed down with ice-cold beer and wine. Chilled rosé has never tasted so good as that night in the desert. In accordance with their Muslim faith, none of our hosts, guides or the camel boys had had anything to eat or drink from sunrise until sunset, despite the extreme heat. I admired their fortitude but was relieved to see them finally break their fast after sunset and take long swigs of water from their flasks. Later in the evening, we clambered up a sand dune behind the camp to do some serious star-gazing. I lay back on the sand, still warm from the sun, and scooped up handfuls of the primordial stuff, acutely aware of the sensation of the fine grains running between my fingers.
The moonless sky was an immense dark canopy studded with a myriad of brilliant diamantes. Once debate over the constellations on view had quietened down, the silence was complete and overwhelming — such a rare thing in this noisy world. Time stood still and I felt a deep sense of peace and serenity. It was an oddly spiritual, floaty, out-of-body experience that brought tears to my eyes, as though I had briefly touched another realm beyond the physical here and now. Weeks later when I arrived home, grains of Sahara sand were still embedded in my camel-riding socks and shoes. I shook them out and kept the tiny bright granules in a little glass jar, a timeless memento of the desert. They sit beside a treasured 400 million year-old ammonite fossil I bartered for at a roadside stall en route to the Kasbah Xaluca Maadid, where we stayed after our camel trek. The kasbah (fortress), with its palms, tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools and tented pavilions, is a beautiful oasis in the barren reg. Located near Erfoud, 'the door to the desert', the hotel is constructed of adobe bricks, the traditional Moroccan building material. The huge suites are decorated with local treasures and artworks, and the lobby is furnished with magnificent ornate chairs, couches and tables, lovingly made by craftsmen from surrounding villages. I fell in love with the adobe architecture of the region, dwellings constructed from the earth on which they stand. Made up of cubes, rectangles and castle-like towers, they sit so comfortably in the landscape that they are almost invisible. Some are deserted, crumbling gracefully back into the earth, leaving no ugly scars or skeletons behind like our Western equivalents. Nabil, our veteran local guide, told us about the historic city of Sijilmasa at the northern edge of the Sahara. Founded in 757 A.D., at its peak it was inhabited by 100,000 people, but it has all but disappeared, absorbed back into the earth whence it came. Back in my lush, green homeland, I often think about the Sahara. It seems like a dream to have communed with the world’s largest desert, an expanse covering a staggering 9 million square kilometres. The mere mention of the word, derived from the Arabic sahra, meaning 'desert', evokes a flood of vivid sensory memories — visions of elongated shadows ascending shimmering apricot-red sand dunes, the smell of the shesh around my face, the sweet taste of figs and apricots in the tagine, the silky feel of the grains of sand, the absolute silence of the starry black night. But there’s another elusive dimension, a je ne sais quoi that flits away whenever I try to grasp or define it — like a mirage.
BELOW. In the belly of the Sahara, Berbers rest from their journey with singing and mint tea by a bonfire Photo by Andrea Boccini
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Travel Tracker Things we love about the Sahara: The dazzling sunsets, the everchanging colours and feel of the sand, the long shadows cast by the camel caravan, the taste of sweet tagine and chilled rosé, the immense star-studded sky, the absolute stillness of the desert, the surreality of the whole experience. Getting there: Fly Emirates to Casablanca, via Dubai. Visit emirates.com. Transport: Take the Ancient Kingdoms Holidays tour of Morocco with The Innovative Travel Company, specialists in travel in Morocco. The company has 25 years — in-depth experience and can design tailor-made group and private tours to suit individual
tastes and budgets, providing local hosts and guides who are wellversed in the language, culture and customs of this extraordinarily beautiful country. Visit innovativetravel.co.nz. Language: The official languages are Arabic and Berber. French, Spanish and English are also spoken. Currency: Moroccan Dirham. Climate: To avoid the extreme heat, the best time to visit is during the shoulder seasons of March to June, and September to November.
T E C TO N I C TA N T R U M S INTERVIEW BY ROWENA BAHL PHOTOGRAPHY BY BERNHARD EDMAIER
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BERNHARD EDMAIER Bernhard Edmaier began his career looking under the Earthâ€™s surface as a geologist, but watching over and capturing it from above, he learned about the planet from a whole new perspective. Merging his obsessions for geology and photography provided an outlet for the symphonic flow of his passions.
Edmaier’s training as a geologist has been an essential ingredient in his photographic work, providing the knowledge necessary to find appropriate locations and understand the processes that create striking geological features. He has been tracking ‘alien’ formations on earth for the last 20 years. Destinations asked Edmaier a few questions about his work, to accompany this photo-essay exhibiting the best of his book, Earth On Fire. We hope it helps readers gain a better understanding of these forces that have played such an important role in the formation and evolution of the planet.
Geology is still within my main focus… Angelika… is a science journalist and writes the text to my photo books. I am trying to make books with images which not only show the fascinating phenomena on the Earth's surface, but also tell the story behind them: how have they come into being, or why does the Earth’s surface look the way it [does] in a particular part of the world? It is important to us to show our readers and visitors to our exhibitions the natural beauty of our planet and to give them visual impressions of places untouched by human hands, but it is also important to us to provide our audience with some interesting information to go with them. So with our background in geology, it is much easier to understand the story of the Earth and impart our knowledge in a (hopefully) exciting and entertaining manner.
What is the most spectacular volcano you have seen, and is there a particular aspect of that volcano that captured you? That’s difficult to say and [always] changing as well. Maybe I should tell you about quite a memorable shoot on Hawai'i. I travelled to the Big Island… to
Just a few days before I arrived… a huge coastal bench had collapsed on the slopes of Kilauea - so there was a good chance to get a freshly broken-up lava tube. I chartered a helicopter to get as close as possible to the site of the bench collapse. As we arrived at the coast, the location was densely covered with vapour and smoke due to violent reactions of hot lava with sea water, with no way to see anything. But my expert pilot Zac, probably remembering his experiences as a Vietnam veteran, started hovering sideways, closer and closer… Suddenly, the wind of the rotor blades blew away all the hot steam. And what a surprise! A perfect circular lava tube appeared, and plenty of red, glowing lava was pouring out of it into the sea… one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ shots.
Why do you shoot from the air? From the aerial perspective, I can most effectively tell the narrative of a landscape. When it comes to large structures, such as mountain ranges or a chain of volcanic cones on a fissure in the Earth’s crust, it is much better to shoot them from the air than from the ground. Aerial photography is for me the technical means to create a better understanding of natural processes on our planet. Only from a bird’s eye view can I manage to depict these phenomena according to my vision of an 'ideal’ composition.
What are some of the similarities and differences in the volcanoes you have seen? Simply speaking, there are two types of volcanoes: the explosive ones, like Mt St Helens in the USA or White Island in New Zealand, and… the 'calmer' ones, like the volcanoes of Hawai'i or Erta Ale in Ethiopia. The highly-explosive ones eject mostly ash clouds high into the air, create very dangerous hot rock and gas avalanches — so-called pyroclastic flows — and their lava flows are often short and very viscous. The eruptions of the
so-called effusive volcanoes are much less explosive, their lava is mostly more fluid and they can produce very long lava streams. In general, every volcano has its own character, and many of them erupt somewhere in-between highly explosive and less violent — like Mt Etna in Sicily.
How do volcanoes shape our landscape? Volcanoes are the most awe-inspiring, fascinating, but also potentially devastating geological phenomena on earth. The most dramatic and beautiful landscapes of our planet are shaped by volcanic activity. Every time a volcano erupts, we are violently reminded that we live on a fireball and only a solid thin crust separates us from the extremely hot interior. If hot molten rock beneath the Earth’s crust — magma — breaks through the thin crust in volcanic vents, it creates single cones and craters or even whole mountain ranges. In active volcanic landscapes you'll find geothermal areas with geysers, fumaroles and hot springs. Those areas are often very colourful because of special minerals deposited by boiling water and hot volcanic gases, like sulphur, and because of heat-loving algae and bacteria. In regions shaped by volcanism, destruction and creation are closely interconnected. For instance, vigorous eruptions cause disaster and devastation, but on the other hand, new land will be created, and fertile material for future agriculture is deposited.
What led you to create your elemental series? Generally speaking, my photo projects have always been supposed to provide a ‘window’ on geological processes. In our imagination, the Earth or its surface is something eternal, or with very little changes. But the opposite is true: infinite processes are continuously remodelling the surface and interior of the Earth. In showing fractures, rock folds, erosional patterns, coastlines — and of course, volcanoes and volcanic landscapes — I have been trying to visualise these geological and geomorphic processes and make them a bit more comprehensible to all.
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We understand your partner, Dr Angelika Jung-Huttl, is a geologist as well. Is it nice to still have your foot in the door in regards to the study of the Earth?
take pictures of the ongoing eruption of Kilauea Volcano. I was mainly focused on so-called active lava tubes, a rare volcanic feature and quite tricky to shoot.
Bledug Kuwu Indonesia The bubbles of this geyser shoot up 10 metres into the air before they suddenly burst, sending blobs of mud flying around and releasing a white cloud of carbon dioxide. These spectacular mud eruptions occur at short intervals after rainfalls when the mud is still very wet.
Kilauea Hawai'i The lava of Kilauea is very fluid. It can form tunnels â€” underground outflow pipes â€” through which it flows all the way down to the sea, thermally insulated. A large section of Kilauea's brittle and unstable coastal area breaks off and tumbles into the ocean, often cutting through these lava tunnels out of which the glowing material flows. Usually hidden by clouds of steam, this phenomenon is rarely seen.
Rincon de la Vieja Costa Rica Rinc贸n de la Vieja is one of the most closely-watched volcanoes in Costa Rica, its active crater in particular. Filled with a hot acid lake, it has a diameter of around 500 metres. Hot corrosive mudslides rush down the mountain during eruptions, endangering villages and plantations at its foot.
Maelifell Iceland Maelifell, the remnant of a proud volcanic cone, is constantly washed by melt water flowing from Myrdalsjรถkull. It is just 100 metres high and covered by a thick layer of green spring moss.
Arenal Volcano Costa Rica This 1680-metre-high giant is the youngest and most active stratovolcano in Costa Rica. Scientists have dated its activity back 7000 years, though it lay it dormant for millenia before erupting again unexpectedly in 1968.
Goubbet Al Karab Djibouti The Bay of Ghoubbet lies in the centre of a highly tectonicallyactive region, where violent movements of the Earthâ€™s crust cause it to split. Fissures criss-cross the surface around it and on the sea floor, from which hot magma flows out or is spewed high in the air through volcanic necks, forming small craters. Coral reefs have formed on the solidified underwater lava rock.
White Island New Zealand White Island is the peak of a volcano stemming from the sea floor. This volcanic island is situated in the Bay of Plenty, 48 kilometres from the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Measured from the sea floor, the volcano is around 1000 metres high, but only 321 metres are above sea level. The crater acquired its characteristic horseshoe shape during a fierce eruption, which crushed its wall.
Laguna Roja Chile It looks as if a giant has emptied a bucket of paint on this plateau in the unpopulated mountains of the Parinacota volcano region in northern Chile. The blood-red water that collects in the Laguna Roja has a temperature of 40â€“50 degrees Celsius. The vivid colour is due to thermophilic algae that thrive at these high temperatures.
THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE WORDS BY MIKE O'CONNOR
I’d wanted to visit Central Asia almost as far back as I could remember. I’d spin our old dented globe, drawing my finger across as it slowed on its wobbly axis. The Soviet Union was huge, but underneath Moscow and St Petersburg there seemed to be great swathes of nothing — like someone had grown bored of making cities and had abandoned the task in favour of something else instead.
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Nestled high in the glaciers of the Tien Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan is the progressive, forward-thinking brother of the four other nations that remain in the region today. Thanks to an abundance of food and water — helped in no small part by more than 3000 lakes — the country has largely escaped many of the ravages of communism that have so deeply scarred its neighbours. The faces on its streets — Turkic, Russian, Balkan, Mongolian, and many others, are a reminder of Stalin's forced process of ethnic relocation that characterises Central Asia. Cities like New York or London have been defined by immigration where people moved voluntarily, seeking a better life. Here, few people moved by choice — more often as a result of coercion or force. Such ambiguity meant I seemingly passed not as a foreign tourist, but as any other city dweller — at least until I opened my mouth.
It took me just 2 days to warm to Kyrgyzstan in winter. When I first arrived in Bishkek, it was grey and cold. Swerving across empty lanes, my taxi negotiated its way around potholes, and horse drawn carts plodding slowly on the muddy road. Cinder block apartments leaned drunkenly next to bloated government buildings coated with grey concrete skins. This was Soviet architecture at its most brutal: a sea of cheap construction; an ocean of boxy structures. I wondered again what it was that had drawn me here. Yet, by the next day, I was beginning to see the capital in a softer light. The ‘thaw’ began with a simple walk. Young couples wandered hand in hand and kids played on a wooden slide in a square — the frozen puddle at the end not an obstacle, but a target. With brightly-coloured scarves wrapped tightly, babushkas peddled cigarettes while office workers waited for the bus. The trees had no leaves, but it was clear the boulevards would be quite beautiful when they did. True, Bishkek wasn't quite Europe — but it could almost pass for it.
My visit to the national museum revealed more of this curious history. Outside, the changing of the guards on the hour drew a few locals. Men with heavy old cameras stood nearby smoking; hopeful for business, but seemingly resigned to having none. Despite its openness, unemployment in Kyrgyzstan is high and many people escape abroad at their first opportunity. As the hour ticked over and the guards frog-marched past, children danced at their feet trying to break their steely gaze. Maybe change is coming. However, the museum’s huge collection of Soviet memorabilia suggests it may be some time off yet. A mural on the ceiling depicted a satanic President Reagan in a cowboy hat, seemingly caught in a staring contest with a cabinet of traditional wooden flutes. I was doggedly followed by a surly attendant who first turned the lights on as I looked around, and then quickly turned them off at the slightest hint I was finished. Ducking inside a replica yurt, I peered out from the beautifully decorated interior at a sad-looking stuffed horse. It was a nod to Kyrgyzstan's nomadic history and the rugged self-reliance that comes from living off the land.
TITLE PAGE. A winter sunrise in Bishkek. The mornings are clear before everyone ignites their coal-powered central heating and smog settles into the valley
TOP. Apartment blocks in Bishkek, the Kyrgyzstan capital
FOLLOWING PAGE. Sunrise at Lenin Peak, on the border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan
Photo by Mike O'Connor
Photo by Artem Vasilenko
Photo by Eric Anderson
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It's a sure bet that any country where a 100-dollar bill can be exchanged for two thick wads of local currency is probably not doing too well. Yet, at the bus station, smartphone-wielding teenagers swarmed, out-yelling each other with names for destinations the length of the country. I paid NZ$2 to one for a bus, known as a marshrutka, to Karakol.
Asia and was previously home base for the Russian Olympic team.
On board, the seats were broken and the upholstery looked like it had been chewed up by a herd of goats. I packed in, shoulder to shoulder, with families returning home. I grinned at the woman next to me, dressed in a glorious flower print dress with an equally striking kerchief. Her broad smile revealed a mouth of gold teeth as she took off her shoes and lit up a cigarette. As the final passenger leaned half against the seat and half against my shoulder, we lurched forward with a belch of smoke.
The next day I stepped around slushy snow to hire my gear. Inside Karakol Ski Hire, black and white photos showed moustache-clad men clutching poles in one hand and dead pheasants in the other. On the walls, wooden skis, leather boots and wool tunics jockeyed for space with medals awarded at ancient skiing events.
The steel floor of the bus rocked and rolled as we tore over increasingly icy roads. I huddled beneath my jacket, the cold slowly seeping through my feet. The land became mountainous before dissolving into vast plains peppered with tiny shacks. I could almost hear the distant thunder of hooves. A picturesque town on the edge of Lake Issyk-Kul, Karakol is the spiritual home of Community Based Tourism, or CBT. A unique Silk Road Airbnb of sorts, CBT has been a runaway success, helping to encourage scores of tourists to visit Kyrgyzstan following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Families offer homestays, while shepherds in remote mountain pastures put up guests in yurts. The program successfully links guides, translators and tourists together. But my visit was in winter, where temperatures regularly drop to minus 10 degrees Celsius and below. The yurts were packed up and CBT along with them. I’d have to find something else to do. My brilliant and friendly host, Talaai, suggested I try skiing. I was in the basement of his hotel, warming my hands around a huge bowl of shorpo, a Kyrgyz dish of meat and vegetables served in broth. His wife kept returning to top it up. The hotel was twice the size of any other building and a warm sanctuary from the snow outside. I was the only guest. “Many people come especially to Karakol for the skiing,” Talaai said, as I failed to turn down a third helping. “It’s quite good here.” He wasn’t kidding. The ski resort at Karakol is the highest in Central
Just like the nomads who moved to warmer pastures in winter, Taalai was adapting his business to meet the demands of tourists year round. As well as skiing, there were nearby hot springs and even paragliding on offer.
Thankfully, the hire gear was definitely more of this century. I was suited up by a friendly and enthusiastic teenager and was out the door with a new set of carving skis and boots better than any I’d ever hired. Bouncing up a road designed more for mountain goats than Soviet-era cars, we skidded around a corner and narrowly avoided a broken-down tractor. The ski field appeared from behind a snowdrift. With a basic but functional chairlift providing the grunt, I chugged my way up and over the beautifully groomed field. I lumbered next to keen skiers making gracious turns down the powdery slopes before disappearing into the pine forest, while beginners navigated a gentle incline. Far above, two para-skiers soared down from up high, only dropping to skim the snowy surface with the lightest of touches. At the end of the day, I rode the chairlift one final time to the top of the mountain, puffing as I climbed the last few metres in the crisp air. The entire Tien Shan mountain range was at my feet. Stretched far into the distance and at the same time encircling our little summit, many of these peaks would never have been climbed. It was an opportunity to reflect. Before visiting, I had expected to meet a people with strong Russian ties, living like the USSR had never collapsed. In reality, Kyrgyzstan is much more complex. The self-reliance of Kyrgyz people I’d learned of in Bishkek still defines the culture, but like many developing countries it’s been joined by an enthusiasm from a new generation hungry to make their voices heard and move on from the past. A place of shy smiles, warm welcomes and gracious humility, this part of the world has been forgotten for too long.
BELOW. Riding the bus in the midst of a downpour Photo by Pasha Bolshakov
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Travel Tracker Things we love about Kyrgyzstan: Fresh bread for sale at nearly every corner and amazing headwear everywhere; summer or winter, it's an outdoorsy delight.
Language: Kyrgyz and Russian.
Getting there: It isn't easy, but Turkish Airlines flies to Bishkek via Istanbul.
Climate: Very warm or very cold, depending on the season.
Transport: Local buses (marshrutkas), and taxis are the best bet.
Currency: Kyrgyzstani Som.
IN COLD PURSUIT WORDS BY THOMAS SEEAR-BUDD & TALIA CARLISLE
where I could conduct an exploration into the relationship between Iceland’s melting ice and the black desert that lies in its wake. I began my search for ice by poring over maps, looking for a geographically significant point from which I could conduct my study over a number of days. Was it possible to choose a single destination from which to inhabit Europe’s largest desert? I discovered the geographic centre of Iceland sat within the very middle of the highlands.
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Despite being characterised as one of the largest uninhabited regions in Europe south of the Arctic circle, the Icelandic highlands were once traversed on horseback by only the bravest of men. Their route, and mine, was the lengthy Sprengisandur, an ancient pass that slices through the middle of the desert and connects the north and south coasts. The Sprengisandur route is characterised by a seemingly never-ending path through a foreboding interior desert, which is famous in Icelandic history. For hundreds of kilometres, the stark plains of rocks, ash and sand starved horses of fodder and humans of shelter as monstrous winds whipped the landscape. These features gifted the area its name, which is derived from the Icelandic noun sandur, which means ‘ash deserts of the centre of the island’. The verb sprengja denotes ‘to ride a horse to death,’ or ‘to be on the point of bursting after running for too long’. A daunting proposition. The walls of my dust-covered tent shook like a toy lost in the desolate landscape, while winds screamed like an angry dragon across endless black sands. The shriek brewed with my feelings of fear and loneliness, born from extreme isolation in Europe’s largest desert. This disastrous concoction diminished my hopes of sleep until the sun crested above sandy dunes and the wild winds dissipated into a mere breeze. At 65 degrees north and 18 degrees west of nowhere, this was no tropical holiday. But despite the 24-hour daylight, I was more thankful than ever for my trusty red tent: my refuge in the cold, black and hollow heart of Iceland. The geographic centre of this small island country is a theoretical point located in the middle of the infamous highland desert. It had taken numerous adventures in the weeks leading up to this moment, both on four wheels and two, to find this empty moonscape where volcanic rocks, ash and sand spread beyond the horizon in every direction. The beauty of Iceland is no secret: the destination is known for its abundance of cascading waterfalls, bright moss-laden mountains and towering geysers. However, what I find most fascinating is the desolate, minimalist terrain of the central highlands, a place that tourists tend to avoid and locals drive past. I couldn’t ignore the spirit of the desert, calling me to the highlands. I felt there was more to see, more to experience, if only I stopped and inhabited the space with open eyes and intrigue, rather than naively riding through. I was on a search for the true essence and beauty of Iceland. To experience the land’s climatic and environmental tensions, I sought a place to settle within the isolated and raw highlands,
It wasn't just the harsh climate and landscape or the infinite bleakness that made the Sprengisandur such an undesirable route. According to Icelandic legend, ghosts, giants, elves and outlaws roamed the sands. Consequently, the highlands were avoided as both a place to inhabit and travel through. So if crossing them was necessary, the traveller would ride as hard and fast as possible in order to exit this unruly place into civilisation before running out of provisions or encountering foe, supernatural or otherwise. Visions of giants, ghosts and exhausted horses filled my mind as I rode not a horse, but a jittering old bus to within a few kilometres of the geographic centre. As I gazed out the dusty windows, lush grass fields, vibrant flowers and gushing rivers transitioned before my eyes into a wild amalgamation of rocks, ash and sand underneath the sad sky. Plummeting further into the windswept and rain-saturated highlands, I understood at once why most people never enter, let alone settle in such a hostile environment. Hours passed as the driver wrestled the bus across the highland desert, swerving to avoid large potholes and wheel-breaking rocks. Then, suddenly, the bus came to a halt. Mutters of confusion arose amongst the passengers as I gathered my bags and leapt off into the unknown. Abandoned on the side of the road, I watched the bus disappear across the sand in a mighty cloud of dust. I had almost arrived at my destination in the middle of nowhere, but had a lonely walk ahead until I reached the real centre. I decided to split my trek into two stages. The first would be somewhat of a recon mission, leaving my big heavy pack at the river. As I walked out across the landscape, GPS in hand, the true
TITLE PAGE. Landmannalaugar: an area packed with mountains, craters, lakes and dried lava fields
BELOW. Canyon slicing through the landscape within the highlands Photo by Thomas Seear-Budd
FOLLOWING PAGE. A mixture of grey, black and brown earth, lava and volcanic ash defines the surface of Iceland's highlands
Photo by Ab Wubben Photo by Thomas Bourgery
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force of the wind and depth of the sand hit me. My pace was immediately slow as I trudged, one foot in front of the other, heels sinking into the black earth and head bowed to embrace the oncoming southerly. One glacial river sliced its way through the black vista, providing a welcome, albeit freezing break. I trekked the undulating Icelandic desert for an hour before my GPS clicked over to 65 degrees north and 18 degrees west. I looked up and grinned, having found what I was searching for. There was nothing there: only me, nestled with the sand, wind and sky. I was standing in complete isolation, feeling as if I was the first to set foot on this land. The dark desert met the bright sky with such elegance. The wind howled, the sand stung and my heart beat with excitement. I was enveloped in a world where thunder transitions into incredible silence, where the earth fuses into the sky like a majestic Rothko painting, where light seeps into pure darkness. The geographic centre was bleak, wild, ferocious, yet incredibly beautiful and intriguing. I began studying the details in the sand, the interaction between the incredibly kinetic sky and equally powerful static ground. As I cleared rocks to form a flat site to set up my tent, huge clouds brushed shadows between which pockets of light filtered across the desertscape. I felt very small in what was to be my new home for the next 5 days. As the extent of my remoteness set in, I made my way back to the road to collect my pack and extra food. Then came an even slower and more painful journey back to the centre. It was 4 hours before all my gear was in one place and my tiny one-man tent was set up, anchored to the earth only by a collection of rocks. Standing back to assess the stability of my modest refuge, I realised the power of shelter and how much we take it for granted. In this case, my tent wasn’t just my retreat from the harsh Icelandic elements, it was a bright red beacon in the barren landscape. Apart from the blue sky, it was the only piece of colour in my now monochromatic environment. For the next few days, my simple life at the geographic centre consisted of reading, eating and sleeping, in between periodic excursions out onto soft, dark sand. I would lie in my tent reading about others’ adventures in harsh environments, occasionally glancing away from the page to watch the clouds gently wisp across the sky, their shadows trailing behind them across the sands. Slowly the sun would dip towards the crisp horizon, causing the dark sand and rocks to glisten and shimmer. On the odd occasion, the winds would cease altogether and I would perch myself against the outside of the tent to experience the completely silent landscape. No wind, no birds, no traffic, no people, no life — nothing. During these times, the silence was so extreme I could hear the blood in my head pumping. These were rare but incredibly profound moments. When patters of rain fell, I took shelter in my little red retreat. Water cascaded down the fly to be absorbed back into the earth. The steam from my freshly brewed coffee fogged up my glasses,
but warmed my now-freezing hands. Finally, the rain began to ease, and a moment of calm approached. It was like the Earth took a breath, a pause before the imminent heavy rain I could see forming in the horizon. With a burst of energy, I headed out west into uncharted territory. Trudging across the sand, my path intersected with numerous other tracks striking off in different directions. All of these were my own footsteps, a record of precious journeys and wanderings across the sands. Many of the footsteps I did not recall making. However, this path felt different. Something in this direction was pulling me forward as the wind picked up and light rain dirtied my glasses. Cresting over yet another mound of sharp volcanic rocks and gritty sand, my mind was blown by what lay in front of me. In this rugged moonscape sat quietly a valley of pristine white ice. Within the valley lay large dormant chunks, melting slowly into a stream striking through the dark sand. Was it the ruins of a glacier? Or remnants of last winter’s snowfall, still frozen in the unbearably cold air? The ice’s past was unknown to me. But what I did know was that my search for ice — my search for a hidden treasure at the centre of Iceland —was over. The source of the magnetic force that pulled me to this location in the desert had revealed itself. With the light fading and weather closing in every minute, I descended the steep, rocky slope into the valley. My hand touched the ice as I clambered up onto its sculpted surface — a sudden, yet powerful introduction. I was surprised at how foreign the ice felt in this landscape. Second by second it melted, as I traversed its surface with a delicate foot and sympathetic eye. This tiny portion of gleaming white tells a story about Iceland’s past and its future. Iceland’s precious ice caps and glaciers cover just 10 percent of the country and, according to geoscientist Kathleen Compton, are losing an average of 9.5 billion tonnes of ice a year. In fact, the annual volume of ice lost and not replaced with new snow would fill 50 of the world’s largest trucks every minute for an entire year. However, what is even more shocking is that despite the high volcanic activity in Iceland, 95 percent of the melting can be attributed to global warming, making Iceland one of the fastestwarming countries on the planet. The permanent loss of some of Iceland’s glaciers has already occurred, with many more up for extinction in the near future. Without their nation’s eponymous element, Icelanders can’t harness power from glacial rivers or tap into glacial ice stores. Ice is part of life in Iceland — it’s imbued into the country’s soul and those of its occupants. That is what makes this pocket of ice I found at the geographic centre so precious, no matter what its origin. It is symbolic of the relationship between the reduced ice and expanding desert, and emphasises the enigmatic and isolated qualities of Iceland’s remaining glaciers and ice caps.
BELOW. Ice valley at the geographic centre of Iceland, illustrating the tension between the melting ice and expanding black desertscape Photo by Thomas Seear-Budd
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Travel Tracker Things we love about Iceland: The mythical and ever-changing landscape, intensified by temperamental weather, makes every day and place unpredictable and incredibly special.
Language: Icelandic and English.
Getting there: Iceland Air is the main national carrier and will travel to Iceland from most main cities in Europe and the United States. WOW Air can be a cheaper alternative.
Climate: Iceland's climate is much milder than many people expect considering its location near the Arctic Circle. Summer days, with 24-hour sun, can sometimes reach 20 to 25 degrees Celsius. However, the dark winter days can reach -10 degrees Celsius around the perimeter, with much colder temperatures (-25 to -30 degrees Celsius) in the interior highlands.
Transport: Iceland has an extensive bus network that travels around the ring road with a few routes going into the highlands. We travelled by rental car and bicycle.
Currency: Icelandic Krona.
OPPOSITES AT T R AC T WORDS BY ANA BARBONO
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Location: CENTRAL PLATEAU, NEW ZEALAND
I am on a chairlift being winched up the side of an active volcano. Under my dangling feet, bright, neon-jacketed snowboarders and skiers are tiny figures that carve swishing paths through the snow. To my right, a stream of frosty water gushes down the side of a mountain, falling onto the rocks below. The mountain, Ruapehu, is rising ahead of us, a meringue pile of snow. My husband is oblivious to it all, clutching the bars in front of him. He is afraid of heights and this scenic chairlift ride is climbing to an altitude of 2020 metres above sea level. He chatters nervously about a horror movie he has seen, in which three teenagers get stuck, mid-climb, on a chairlift in Chamonix, France. "Remember the part where one of them jumped down, broke his leg and got eaten by wolves?" He is almost hyperventilating. We are at Turoa ski field, 4 hours' drive from Wellington. There are masses of people here on this fine, sunny afternoon. They have come from all over the country, slipping and sliding down the side of a volcano that erupted as recently as 2 years ago. In fact, a couple of days after we leave, a warning is issued for the entire area due to the possibility of further activity. We ended up here because I had a deep craving for snow. The craving is corny and clichéd: the type of whim that drives women to break out a floral dress on the first day of spring or families to make a beeline for ice cream on a sunny day. I surprise myself by entertaining a vision of whizzing down ski slopes — I am not sure where this sporty fantasy came from. Usually, as soon as Daylight Saving time hits in winter, the only thing I have my heart set on is a good book, a blanket, and a premium spot in front of a heater. Just like animals who use the winter to hibernate and conserve their energy, my modus operandi during the colder months of the year is to stay still and do as little as possible.
TITLE PAGE. The Champagne Pool of Wai-O-Tapu Photo by Bernhard Edmaier
BELOW. Ruapehu dominates the skyline in Tongariro National Park Photo by Nerijus Strumila
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OPPOSITE. Mt Ngauruhoe. Seen by most as a volcano in its own right, it is technically a secondary cone of Mount Tongariro Photo by Bryan Toro
My destination set, the next crucial goal is to find the right time to go. For weeks, I am on snow watch. I obsess over the weather and track its progress up and down the country. I stockpile woollen jerseys, knitted socks, and waterproof gear. I listen intently to conversations about the best ski fields in the North Island and ask for tips to improve my (almost non-existent) skiing skills. "To stop, make your skis look like a wedge of pizza," one person says. I know what pizza looks like. Stopping should be a piece of cake. I conveniently forget that the last time I skied was 4 years ago, when I bowled over a group of children on the bunny slopes. At work, I find myself solemnly watching the live webcam footage of the Turoa ski fields and nodding with satisfaction as, every day, I watch the millimetre measurements of snow fallen overnight climb higher and higher. In Japan, during cherry blossom season, a weather department is solely dedicated to reporting on the 'cherry blossom front'. By the time the car is packed ready to go, I am my own weather department, dedicated only to the status of the probability of snow flurries and showers occurring in the Central Plateau. We base ourselves in Horopito, a tiny place that had its heyday during the early 20th century as a sawmilling town. Now, it is bisected by a state highway and the school has been turned into a museum. It has two
remaining claims to fame. One is Horopito Motors, a 60-year-old junkyard piled with mouldering, rusting car parts, some dating from the 1940s. A 1981 New Zealand film about car racing, Smash Palace, was filmed in the junkyard and even today, the images from that film remain iconic. We drive past often during our stay, but the gloomy grey weather does not make traipsing around the junkyard in the open air terribly inviting. Horopito's other distinguishing feature is a cycle trail along the Old Coach Road, a historic cobblestoned path between Horopito and Ohakune. The road was built almost 110 years ago and lay overgrown by the undergrowth until, in 2002, a local deer hunter bush-bashed his way through. Around 8.5 kilometres of the original 10-kilometre road remains covered in cobblestone, and it climbs to about 700 metres above sea level. We hire mountain bikes from Ohakune and start the trail from the thankfully less steep Horopito end. The trail is a mix of open farmland, wellmaintained mountain bike tracks, and teeth-rattling sections of the cobbled road, which is fighting to survive against being overtaken by massive, knobbly tree roots. We clatter over the wooden structure of the old Taonui viaduct, which rises like a grand old dame 35 metres above a stream and a thick canopy of native bush. During our ride up into the mountains, flurries of snow begin to fall, coating the tracks and trees around us. Pretty soon, we are riding in the middle of a snow storm — and turning back is not an option. It is an electrifying experience, mountain biking through a snow storm on a 100-year-old road, surrounded by native ferns and trees coated in powder. We pass fewer than ten people on the trail. One man grins and whoops as he rides past us, and his excitement is contagious. I cannot help but feel thrilled at being part of such a unique experience. I also cannot help but think about what we would do if the storm did not stop and we could not carry on. This is about as far out of my normal comfort zone in winter as I could possibly go. During bad weather, the people travelling on the road 100 years ago, in
coaches or on foot, might have felt the same strange mix of emotions: joy at their surroundings, such a beautiful sight to behold, but also fear — because who could really be sure that they were going to make it home? Three months later, my snowy adventures remain fresh in my mind as I head back to the Central Plateau on a long weekend. It is now spring and the snow has melted. I fly into Rotorua airport and for the first time, I get a bird's eye view of the 12 lakes that are spread around this area. These lakes have been formed by water spilling into ancient craters and calderas, and some of them are bordered by age-old lava flows. The Rotorua region has always been a well-known site of geothermal activity, marked by a wealth of hot springs, steam vents, geysers, and bubbling mud pools — along with a distinct sulphuric smell that takes a few days of getting used to. Tourists from all over the world have been visiting this area, from as far back as the 1800s. Royalty, celebrities, and novelists flocked to bathe in the pink and white silica terraces that cascaded down to Lake Rotomahana. A famous Victorian novelist, Anthony Trollope, described bathing in the terraces: "The baths are… like vast open shells, the walls of which are concave, and the lips ornamented in a thousand forms… I have never heard of other bathing like this in the world." There was so much tourist money flowing through the area that the paua shell eyes usually used to adorn indigenous carvings were reportedly replaced with gold coins. Tragically, in 1886, the terraces — by then widely known as the 'eighth wonder of the world' — were supposedly obliterated by the devastating eruption of Mt Tarawera. In March 2012, scientists rediscovered parts of both the pink and the white terraces submerged under about 50 metres of lake water. However, the sights that stunned and awed tourists from the 1800s have been largely lost in their original form. The closest I will get is a spray-painted depiction of the pink terrace in its prime, splashed on the side of a two-storey building in the Rotorua city centre.
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In the North Island, the best bet for snow is the Central Plateau. Tongariro National Park makes up a large swathe of this area (almost 80,000 hectares). It has been a World Heritage Site since 2003, characterised by a seemingly endless terrain of arid soil, jagged rocks, brown tussock, alpine meadows, waterfalls, and ancient lava flows. The landscape is dominated by three active volcanoes — Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu — with both Turoa and Whakapapa ski fields located on Ruapehu. The scenery is so dramatic that one does not quite know where to look. It is like watching a blockbuster movie full of beautiful and talented A-list stars, all jostling on screen for our attention.
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Unlike the Old Coach Road, rescued from being swallowed by the undergrowth and repurposed as a trail for everyone to enjoy, the pink and white terraces have been relegated to the history of this region. To get a sense of what those old-time tourists might have experienced, however, today's travellers can visit Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland Park, about a 40-minute drive from the Rotorua town centre. Before the Tarawera eruption, the White Terraces rose 30 metres above the lake, contained 50 wide, scalloped steps, and covered an area equal to seven football fields. The turquoise and white terraces at Wai-O-Tapu are tiny in comparison, but still manage to make their mark. Various paths guide visitors through a collection of wildly-coloured hot water springs draped by curtains of steam and craters that cradle bubbling mud and mineral-laced water. The colours are surreal. The Champagne Pool, a large, bubbling hot spring bordered by jagged rocks, is a saturated orange and emerald green. The Artist's Palette is an opalescent blend of yellow, grey and pink. There are a few white and turquoise
silica terraces, formed by the deposits from mineral springs developing into a hard crust. Up close, the terraces glint like raw gemstones with a pearly sheen. It's a bittersweet experience, equal parts awe at the spectacle at hand and wistfulness for what might have been. The region does not disappoint in terms of finding other hot springs to bathe in and enjoy. Kerosene Creek is a popular spot, a few kilometres down a gravel road. Those who know the right place to turn off or have the good luck to spot the tiny sign along a major state highway are rewarded by a babbling stream which leads to a 30-degree Celsius swimming hole fed by a 2-metre waterfall. Overhead, the sunlight is dappled by the canopy of native trees and bush. The steam that rises from the water to meet the light throws a lazy haze over the entire scene. The Waitangi Soda Springs in Lake Rotoma was once a spot known only to the locals and, as recently as a couple of years ago, was free to the public. A local Maori tribe claimed an interest over these springs
as part of Treaty of Waitangi settlement claims and were successful in having their historic guardianship rights over the springs recognised. Today, there is a very reasonable NZ$8 admission fee and visitors can stay as long as they like, luxuriating in waters that are a perfect blend of hot and cold springs. I do as the locals do and bring my own pool noodle with which to bob around the water. Another tip I learn from a friendly lady standing by the side of the pools is to make use of the rust-coloured bits of magnesium that float on top of the water as a body exfoliant, for extra smooth skin. I become hooked on hot springs. Nothing compares to the way the entire body unwinds and loosens when it slips into warm water in a beautiful, rustic setting. The whole world slows down and quietens; the entire experience boils down to sitting and observing the world go by as I simmer in waters heated from the planet's interior. I exit the springs with floppy limbs, gleaming skin, and an urgent desire to drink a lot of water and fall straight to sleep.
Travel Tracker Things we love about the Central Plateau: Landscapes straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster and lots of outdoor activities, no matter the weather.
Language: English (although a bit of Te Reo Maori wouldn't hurt in places like Rotorua). Currency: New Zealand Dollar.
Getting there: Fly into Wellington or Auckland, pick a State Highway and drive around 4-6 hours. There are also smaller regional airports in Rotorua or Taupo which would cut down on time on the road. Transport: Rent a car. Public transport is available for getting around bigger towns like Rotorua or Taupo.
Climate: Snow in parts during winter, sunny and muggy in summer.
BELOW. The Devilâ€™s Bath at Wai-O-Tapu. The colour is caused by excess water from the Champagne Pool mixing with sulphur and salts Photo by Benjamin Jones
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BREAKING T H E M E R C U RY WORDS BY LAUREN OWENS
Frost-crusted statues in a park commemorating the Second World War, Yakutsk, Russia Photo by Amos Chapple
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OYMYAKON, RUSSIA This frosty village in a remote corner of Siberia is the coldest inhabited place on Earth. Its 500 residents work as reindeer-breeders, hunters and ice-fishermen â€” so a hearty meal here could include reindeer meat, raw flesh shaved from frozen fish and ice tubes of horse blood with macaroni. In 1924, the village recorded a low of -71.2 degrees Celsius. However, in summer, bones are warmed when temperatures hit a much more civilised 30 degrees. Photo by Amos Chapple
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DEATH VALLEY, USA In spite of its name, this National Park supports an abundance of life across its 3000 square kilometres. Death Valley's wildlife includes redtailed hawks, wild burros, the highly-poisonous sidewinder rattlesnake and over 1000 plant species. Native American Indians settled here more than 9000 years ago, but today the park's 250 locals mostly work as rangers or in the local resort. During a 5-day heat wave in 1913, temperatures maxed out at 56 degrees Celsius. Photo by Abu Zar
NORTH ICE, GREENLAND In 1952, the British North Greenland Expedition was sent to the barren ice of Greenland for scientific exploration and training in an Arctic environment. Over 2 years, more than 30 men travelled there â€” including one who didnâ€™t make it home. Known as the fifth-coldest place in the world, the explorers braved it through 16 days straight at temperatures ranging from -59.4 degrees Celsius to a low of -66.1. Photo by Jude Conning
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FLAMING MOUNTAINS, CHINA Explanations abound for the striking red colour of these mountains, from the blood of a local dragon killed by a warrior, to molten lava dating back to the 98-kilometre-long rangeâ€™s volcanic formation 50 million years ago. The region was home to many oasis towns and monasteries on the Silk Route. Today, it boasts an oversized thermometer to celebrate its record highs, reaching up to 66.7 degrees Celsius in 2008. Photo by Antony Watson
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DENALI, ALASKA This National Park in south-central Alaska is home to the tallest mountain in North America, from which the park gets its name. The mountain is so tall at 6190 metres that it has its own weather system, along with more than 600 earthquakes a year thanks to the fault line running below. Temperatures here have fallen as low as -73 degrees Celsius. Photo by Michael Rogers
DASHT-E-LUT, IRAN Translating to 'Emptiness Desert', Dasht-eLut lives up to its name. The desert is 51,800 square kilometres of salt flats, plateaus of dark lava, and sand dunes up to 300 metres high. It’s so desolate and devoid of life, there aren’t even permanent temperature monitors here. However, it has been recorded as reaching readings of up to 70 degrees Celsius. Photo by Jürgen Büttner
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HELL, NORWAY Insert obligatory 'freezing over' joke here: on average, this small village of 1500 people is frosty for a third of the year. Despite this, it does quite well in tourism — and surprisingly, the name wasn’t a marketing ploy. It stems from the Old Norse hellir, meaning 'overhang' or 'cliff cave', while in modern Norwegian it means 'luck'. In winter, temperatures sit around -13 degrees Celsius, but have been known to drop to -25. Photo by Jørn Konradsen
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CERN, GENEVA In 2012, scientists obliterated the previous record for the hottest man-made temperature. It previously sat at 4 trillion degrees Celsius, but when researchers recreated the conditions of the Big Bang within CERN's Large Hadron Collider, they momentarily created a temperature of 5.5 trillion degrees. To put that into perspective, the centre of the sun tops out at a paltry 15 million. Photo by James Weber
YUKON, CANADA The Yukon is known for outdoor pursuits such as dog-sledding, canoeing, salmon fishing and viewing the Northern Lights. On the other hand, it also gets so cold here that metal can freeze and snap. The territoryâ€™s record low occurred when a chill from Siberia blew in, causing a drop at Snag to âˆ’63 degrees Celsius. Reportedly, the cold, dense air allowed sound to travel clearly kilometres away. Photo by Robert Postma
EXTREME A D A P TAT I O N S Blistering hot, freezing cold, bone dry, or simply poisonous â€“ the worldâ€™s most adaptable animals inhabit a range of unexpected locales. While humans are relatively adept at changing the way we dress or behave to adapt to our environment, we have nothing on the ability of these animals' evolution in remote, harsh landscapes. We take a look at how a handful of amazing creatures manage to survive in some of the most uninhabitable places on the face of the Earth.
WORDS BY ANNALEE JONES
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Polar bear The Arctic
Although the ice is sadly melting under their paws, polar bears remain a classic example of how an animal adapts to its environment. To make it through the Arctic winter, the bears have two layers of fur, and their small ears and tail minimise heat loss, allowing them to survive in the unforgiving polar climate.
Photo by Paul Souders
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Wood frog North America Truly one with their environment, the wood frogs of Alaska and Canada have the unique ability to freeze and thaw with their surroundings. Thanks to an anti-freeze-like substance pumping through their veins, these frogs can sit through winters with up to 65 percent of their blood frozen, and thaw out when warmer temperatures come around. Photo by Brett Amy Thelen
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Green parakeet Nicaragua Green parakeets, also known as chocoyos, are found in Nicaragua’s Masaya Volcano. Yes, inside the volcano. Despite it being perhaps the most unlikely habitat for a feathery creature to set up shop, these birds have adapted to breathe the sulphur smoke in their environment, and happily call the volcano’s inner craters home. Photo by Céline Bissat
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Thorny devil Australia Its spiky, predator-deterring appearance may give the thorny devil its name, but the way this lizard keeps hydrated is its most fascinating survival feature. In the dry Australian outback, the thorny devil collects water from the condensation that forms on its body at night. As the dew settles on its skin, the water flows to the lizardâ€™s mouth via grooves between its scales.
Photo by Scott Trageser
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Fennec fox North Africa Living in the Sahara of North Africa, the fennec fox endures extreme heat during the day, and freezing temperatures at night. Under these conditions, the foxesâ€™ ears and fur play a vital role in keeping them alive. Their large ears act as radiators and dissipate heat, while a head-to-toe coat of thick fur keeps them warm at night.
Photo by Markus Buetler
Is l a nd s On Our M i nd
FIRE ISLAND WORDS BY ROWENA BAHL PHOTOGRAPHY BY CLINT BURKINSHAW
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TITLE PAGE. Falefa Valley on Upolu
BELOW. To Sua, a lagoon connected to the ocean via an underwater passage
My eyes closed, I can sense nature all around me. My lips form a knowing smile as a light breeze works its way over my body, blowing back my hair and exposing my face to the warmth of the sun. I now know what dogs feel like when they pop their heads out the window of a moving vehicle, eyes squinting, tongues out, laughing without a sound. They look so pleased with themselves, as if holding a secret to which everyone else is oblivious. Right now, I would like to poke my tongue out too, just to see if it contributes to the overall effect: if not to add to the pleasure, at least to exhibit to the world what I am feeling. With my head lifted towards the heavens, I am experiencing the bliss that can only come from escaping to a tropical island.
Enough daydreaming. I open my eyes, and I am greeted by the beginning of sunset unleashing a semicircle of magical rays that scatter across dense vegetation. I am on a natural high, sitting on the roof of our vehicle as it picks its way through unruly layers of lowland, mountain and cloud forest. I watch the dipping and rising of contours basking in the late afternoon sun. The only man-made elements interrupting the wild terrain are the van and road beneath me. This is the type of natural vista one can expect in most of Samoa, with 80 percent of the population living in rural coastal areas. Historically, the locals lived away from the sea due to the prevalence of cyclones and tsunamis. However, as tourism developed and resorts opened closer to the coast, jobseeking locals followed the bread. The only form of truly urban development can be found in Apia, Samoa’s capital city. Apia sits on the central north coast of Upolu, one of the two main islands. Upolu hosts the bulk of the country’s population, with approximately 135,000 residents, while the larger island of Savai’i has over 43,000 and is also the fourth-largest island in Polynesia. The rest of the population is distributed across seven smaller islands, while two remain uninhabited. Winding our way down the road through the mountainous, forested landscape, I cannot help but ponder the beauty of this almost untouched land, and whether it will remain this way. It is certainly a paradise for locals and visitors alike, but one that is slowly being ‘discovered’ by money-hungry developers. Caution must be taken so that Samoa does not end up as another Bali or Fiji — destinations that have been progressively destroyed by mass tourism.
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Perhaps the escapism associated with an island is due to the isolation factor — the fact that we know there is a large body of water separating us from those large continents that breed our ‘developed’ worldviews as to what ‘civilisation’ looks like. An island has either broken away, somehow freeing itself of man’s shackles in the process, or risen from the sea of its own accord, starting anew; fresh clay ready to be sculpted.
PREVIOUS PAGE. Afu Aau Waterfall
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However, my current investment in paradise is not that of a developer. Instead I am an explorer, spending my days navigating the islands of Upolu and Savai’i, where I find a jar of little delights. The layers of landscape that I view from on top of the van soon become layers of discovery on a micro level, in-depth and up close. To Sua Ocean Trench is located in the village of Lotofaga, on the south coast of Upolu. Viewed from above, it looks like a big hole in the ground. There are actually two such holes here, created as a consequence of ancient volcanic eruptions. Only one of them gets any attention though, as it holds the picturesque waters in which we can swim. Ironically, the second hole is where the real magic lies. It is named To Le Sua, ‘without water’. Legend has it that the spirits who used to live in To Sua moved to sister hole To Le Sua when the ocean water came in. Thankfully, this allows visitors to float the aqua waters safe in the knowledge that there are no spirits taking a dip along with them. Once I leave the protection of the viewing area and make my way down the steps into the sinkhole, its true depth sinks in. What was an awe-inspiring spectacle becomes more like the 'hole of no return'. But braving the 30-metre-high wooden ladder allows us to play and swim freely in this crystal clear lagoon, in perfectly safe, tranquil water. The lagoon is connected to the ocean, only metres away, via an underwater passage, whence the tide comes in and out over the course of a day. Floating on my back, gazing up, the cliffs surround me in every direction, making me feel like I am tucked far away in a hidden paradise. The surrounding areas feature lush gardens, complete with fales for rest and relaxation, and for viewing pleasure, a beach on the western side of the site puts on a wondrous sunset after our swim. Beaches, sunsets, volcanoes, rainforests and waterfalls recur in scenes right out of Jurassic Park as we roam in our van. Most places we visit are hours away, so we spend a good deal of time in transit, enjoying looping around vast green landscapes sipping niu (young coconuts). There is plenty of entertainment along the way. Farm animals regularly cross our paths: pigs are followed by piglets; cows, calves and bulls stroll around without a care in the world. Several times, I manage to convince our guide, John, to stop along the way so that I can hang out with some of these carefree animals, hoping to have some of their relaxed nature rub off on me. On closer inspection, one of the bulls expresses an interest in charging at me, so I leave the dangerous acts to our photographer, Clint, who is all too happy to eye the bull back with his lens. Funnily enough, none of this seemingly local wildlife is local at all
OPPOSITE. Clockwise from top left: Wildlife encounters – crabs, cows and bulls on Upolu; the remains of a church on a barren lava field in Savai'i
— it has in fact been introduced to the island, with some animals, like pigs, rats and cats, posing a risk to the Samoan ecosystem. With anticipation, we hop onto a boat to the island of Savai’i, claimed by Samoans as the cradle of Polynesia. “You haven’t seen Samoa till you see Savai’i,” John tells us, and the excitement levels rise. The biggest of the nation’s islands, Savai’i’s central region comprises over 72,000 hectares of rainforest, forming the largest mass of undisturbed high-altitude forest in all of Polynesia. Hundreds of volcanic craters scatter this region, a reminder of the disruptions that gave rise to the wilderness we enjoy. The greatest range of Samoa’s native flora and fauna is found here as well, making it an area of importance in terms of global conservation efforts. We experience the depths of this vast forest-scape in the lowlying tropical Falealupo Rainforest Reserve in the north-west of the island, where we climb to reach a canopy walk 40 metres above the ground, surrounded by giant banyan trees. It is a little daunting to walk across the shaky, swinging bridge, but when we make it to the viewing platform at the top, our bravery pays off. Switching from our micro explorations back to the macro view, all of Savai’i unfolds before us. Returning to earth, we decide it is time to find what the island is made of — literally. On the central north coast of Savai’i, the village of Sale’aula stands on a field of barren lava. Between 1905 and 1911, eruptions of nearby Mt Matavanu sent lava flowing over 40 square kilometres of land, at depths of up to 120 metres. The lava covered all of Sale’aula, reaching as far as villages to the east. Although many villages in the path were destroyed, not a single person died because of the slow flow, which gave residents time to escape. We come across the remains of a church, where the lava has flowed in and out, leaving the skeleton of the main framing. It is an eerie feeling to see parts of a place of worship ‘frozen’ in the process of being eaten alive by the earth. As I sit on the ground of hardened lava, the rock’s coldness seeps into my skin. I find it rather strange, knowing that this very spot was a fiery flow of liquid a century ago. Back in Upolu, I perch on the crest of a waterfall, looking down over the cul-de-sac of a grand valley that's covered in thick lush jungle: the perfect place for my pondering self to gather my thoughts about Samoa, the island of fire. The volcanoes on this very island — and dotted all over this beautiful Earth — are only a micro expression of a much larger fireball extravaganza, one that spans beyond the Earth itself, into deep time. From the Big Bang to the lava fields, fire is the giver of life, from which all things come.
T H E L AY E R S OF NAPOLI
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WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY BY HENRIK KNUDSEN
…in a future generation, when crops spring up again, when this wasteland regains its green, will men believe that cities and peoples lie beneath? That in days of old their lands lay closer to the sea? Nor has that fatal summit ceased to threaten. – Statius, Silvae, A.D. 90s
Blazing fire, blistering heat, billowing smoke… No wonder the virtuoso pizzaioli have to be skilful and quick as they manipulate the pizzas in and out of the fierce ovens at Naples’ fabled pizzerias, the mastery of their craft passed through the generations at the base of mainland Europe’s only active volcano. The respect and adulation bestowed upon the most celebrated establishments is evident when speaking to Giuseppe, a native of the Vomero neighbourhood who is fiercely loyal to his city and the region. He is convinced that living in the shadow of Vesuvius has an effect on daily life around the Bay. Like many, he credits the quality of the region’s produce — the sweetness of the tomatoes, the velvety softness of the mozzarella and even the unsurpassed crispness of the crust of the pizza dough — to an undetermined ingredient in the subterranean water
supplies. Mere proximity to the volcano and its power seems to permeate the produce and instil in the people of the region a pride and a spirit unique to this part of Italy. According to popular folklore, the Margherita pizza was devised in Naples by Raffaele Esposito, to celebrate the Queen Consort of Italy’s visit in 1889. Whatever the veracity of the tale, it is however one of the simplest, most classic of recipes, and perhaps the most successful. Comprising just three toppings — tomatoes, mozzarella and basil — the colours of the ingredients represent those of the Italian flag. If prepared according to the stringent guidelines of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (the regional dish’s own regulating body), it is a thing of beauty. “When I go to Michele with my friends, I always order one of each!” Guiseppe exclaims, not without a hint of pride in his voice. In addition to the Margherita, L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele on Via Cesare Sersale has served up just one other variation of traditional Neapolitan pizza since 1870, the pizza marinara. The operation is now overseen by the fifth generation of the Condurro family. The day we visit, we are welcomed by Luciano, who deftly allocates the restaurant’s 50 seats to lengthening queues of expectant
visitors arriving well ahead of the busy lunchtime hour to secure a table. The interior is plain and functional, and although lingering is not encouraged, the room offers a moment of respite from the unrelenting traffic just off the busy thoroughfare of Corso Umberto I. Of course, the intensity of the red-hot embers of the pizza oven is nothing compared with the all-consuming inferno of the volcano not far away. When Vesuvius last flared up in 1944, the temperature of the molten lava rivers reached more than twice the 485 degrees Celsius required to prepare a traditional Neapolitan pizza in 60-90 seconds. At that time, the volcano devoured the small town of San Sebastian al Vesuvio and several other villages on the western slopes of the volcano, and clouds of smoke and ash caused further damage to a large area of the Bay of Naples. Quiet since then, Vesuvius gently towers over the area. Visible from near and far, it makes its presence felt on the landscape and the densely populated neighbourhoods at its base. The close proximity of the volcano prompts feelings of veneration and trepidation in equal measure. A spectacular view of the cone can be
Outside L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele
PREVIOUS PAGE. Fissures at the crater of Vesuvius
BELOW. Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel
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Photo courtesy of Monastero Santa Rosa
had from the terrace of Grand Hotel Parker, the oldest hotel in Naples. This grande dame of Naples' establishments is completely in keeping with the rest of the city, offering comfortable accommodation and charming service in authentically quaint surroundings. The old-school, family-run fish restaurant Da Dora is located in a narrow side street just a stone’s throw from the hotel. Above a corner table at the back of the restaurant, a painting of Vesuvius takes pride of place amongst the news clippings and pictures of famous guests on the tiled walls. Even whilst enjoying the excellent house specials of linguine alla Dora and frittura di calamari, one doesn’t lose sight of the volcano. Setting off from Naples in the early morning and finally seeing Vesuvius closer up, the sudden lushness of the landscape on the mountainside is striking and unexpected. It is as if all the eruptions over the years have produced a volcanic soil of amazing fertility. Everything is vibrant, thriving and green, suddenly making the attractiveness of the area more
understandable. To people whose livelihood depends on the farming made possible by the rich soil around the volcano, living here is a risk worth taking. The peak of the volcano is only accessible by foot. The landscape changes again, becoming ragged, grey and lunar-like. The top is often completely shrouded by clouds, and the trail around the crater offers only periodic glimpses of the otherwise impressive views towards the Bay of Naples on one side and Pompeii on the other. The geothermal steam from the fissures in the crater mixes with the cloud formations and makes the whole experience quite otherworldly. On our way down, we get momentarily lost and end up in Santa Maria delle Grazie. There is an almost delirious sense of expectancy and celebration as we pass a driveway where a family of three generations are gathered, awaiting the arrival of a pair of newlyweds. We can’t help stopping and immediately we are drawn in, surrounded by the crowd of family members, invited to take photographs and given small bite sized babà cakes, drenched
in limoncello syrup. A further present of five little sugared candy almonds in a box reminds guests in the traditional Italian manner that ‘life is both bitter and sweet’. This delightful encounter perfectly encompasses the Neapolitan spirit of hospitality that we experience wherever we go. Like the wedding guests toasting the couple, oblivious to the volcano that acts as a backdrop to the celebrations, the inhabitants of Pompeii didn’t see it coming. The destruction in 79 A.D. happened quickly, and the ash fall buried the once-bustling city, essentially freezing it in time. Walking through the well-preserved remains provides a great insight into life in the Ancient Roman Empire. Although the streets and squares do get crowded with visitors, there is still a sense of space, and the ruins don’t feel as precious and protected as some monuments from the past.
Seeing the volcano disappearing on the horizon as the hovercraft speeds across the bay for a short hop to Capri feels like waving goodbye to an old friend. Although it is part of the region of Campania and less than an hour away from the mainland, Capri somehow seems unique and offers a welcome escape from the furnace of Naples. On arrival, the fumes of the big city evaporate and are replaced by intoxicating, herbal scents of fennel, lemon and anise. Capri is literally a breath of fresh air. It is understandable that the island became the bolthole for Roman Emperors Augustus and Tiberius and later, via the Hollywood stars of the 50s, for the celebrities of today, escaping or embracing the paparazzi’s probing lenses according to their preference. The island can be extremely crowded during the high season in July and August, when day trippers from Naples and Sorrento arrive to take in the highlights, and long queues form for the funicular that takes visitors from Marina Grande to the famous Piazetta in Capri Town, above. As part of its service, staff from the modern Hotel Capri Tiberio Palace meet guests at the quayside on arrival, and offer luggage transport as well as pre-purchased tickets for the funicular, potentially saving a long wait at the sole ticket office. The hotel is positioned conveniently to the town centre, but sheltered from the busiest shopping areas, providing a quick get-out for exploration of the eastern part of the island. Although shopping is the name of the game in the narrow streets and alleys around the Piazetta, with every fashionable brand represented, the pleasure of Capri really lies in wandering along
The road from Capri to Anacapri, the second of the island’s main towns, is best travelled by bus or by one of many available taxis. Hiking along the short strip of zig-zagging road connecting the two towns is definitely not recommended. The local drivers know their way around here, they drive fast, and there is not much room left when two cars need to pass. Much better to climb the Phoenician Steps, all 900 of them, that lead to Anacapri from Marina Grande in under an hour. From here, a rather pleasurably swaying 12 minutes on the funicular takes us to the top of Monte Solaro, Capri’s highest point, for spectacular views back over the island towards the last stop on our tour, the fabled Amalfi Coast. The drive along the coastal route to Hotel Casa Angelina, on the edge of the cliff near the little seaside town of Praiano, offers impressive views across the bay towards Positano. The allwhite surroundings of the spa hotel provide tranquility and the extensive breakfast buffet showcases local delights of freshly cured meats and cheeses, as well as homemade cakes, bread and pastries. House-prepared small dishes of rice and pasta salads round out the extensive menu and set us up for a day of exploring the rugged coastline. Some of the best views can be had by venturing further into the landscape, away from the hairpin turns along the seashore. Perched on the edge of the cliff, Monestero Santa Rosa sits a couple of kilometres from the seaside town of Conca dei Marini. Each room is named after herbs grown in the delightful private gardens sloping down towards the infinity pool. The subtle and discreet service is a welcome retreat from the busy tourist spots of Amalfi and Ravello just down the road. Taking a shortcut across the mountain back towards Naples and the airport, I can’t help thinking that this southern part of Italy may have fewer of the monuments, the paintings and the cultural landmarks of the north. However, this area offers an alternative understanding of Italian history and sensibility and welcomes visitors with open arms. Naples is a whirlwind of action. It is a city that embraces life, beauty and decay in equal measure. The Neapolitans have long learned to live with the threat of death and destruction and this seems a natural way of daily life in the city. There is an unconcerned let's-just-get-on-with-it attitude that permeates every bit of life here. The fact that the volcano might one day erupt again and could lay waste to entire areas of the Bay of Naples doesn’t seem to preoccupy the people we encounter. Almost everyone seems to have an optimistic and sunny outlook, taking no notice of any potential doom hanging over this corner of the world. Cities may well lie beneath the craggy deposits of ancient times. But for now, that fatal summit is dormant.
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The Italians, always sensitive to design, have shown incredible restraint when it comes to the signage inside the site. This means that it is sometimes necessary to revert to a guidebook or the illuminating audio commentary available to find additional information, but there is a great sense of order within the grid layout. Visitors really get a feeling for the anatomy of the ancient city, how people lived and interacted, and their private accommodation as well as infrastructure and shared spaces. The slightly casual approach to the conservation of the site is troubling some archaeologists, but it seems to me just another example of the way things are done around here.
meandering paths, taking in the dramatic landscapes along the rugged coastline. The island only covers 10 square kilometres, and almost any place of interest can be accessed by foot.
Cr ui s e Jo urna l s
A NIGHT IN THE SOUND
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WORDS BY CHLOE SKEGGS PHOTOGRAPHY BY KURT MCMANUS
There are few places in the world that remain unscathed by man. Doubtful Sound, Fiordland, is one of them. Still, serene and inaccessible by road, it is no wonder the majestic fiords are also known as Patea, or ‘the place of silence’. Doubtful is a destination frozen in time, having remained mostly unchanged since its final flourishes were added during the last ice age 15,000 years ago. Captain Cook originally named the sound ‘Doubtful Harbour’ in 1770, when he first approached but failed to enter the inlet, as he was unsure if it was large enough for safe manoeuvring. He later returned, and his visit preceded a chequered history of European exploration and near-exhaustion of the land and its inhabitants. Large sealing and whaling industries were established in the 1790s and 1820s respectively — the former leading to the collection of 4500 skins per year, until fur seals around the southern coasts were threatened with extinction. Later, runholders arrived, along with gold miners: there was a small rush in Martins Bay in 1886, though it was abandoned within the year due to meagre returns. At a staggering 421 metres deep and 40 kilometres long, Doubtful Sound is the deepest and second-longest of New
Zealand’s fiords; it has a surface area 10 times larger than that of its better-known sibling, Milford Sound. Yet the World Heritage-listed site is just a tiny groove in the map of Fiordland National Park, which at 1.2 million hectares is the largest of New Zealand’s national parks. To explore Fiordland, Te Anau provided the perfect base, just 2 hours from Queenstown and less than a 20-minute drive from the departure point of our Doubtful Sound cruise. The picturesque Lake Te Anau covers 344 square kilometres and our spacious, newly-refurbished accommodation, the Lakefront Lodge, was separated from it by only a single road. The well-appointed premises comprise 13 self-contained units, ranging from studios to one-bedroom units with a queen bed and two additional singles. Each unit is roomy, tidy and fully equipped with far more than the standard facilities: there is a kitchen, free Wi-Fi, Sky TV and a luxurious spa bath. I was delighted to find I only had to step through the glass door of my unit to admire the breathtaking landscape. The picnic table on the patio was perfectly positioned to provide an unspoilt view of the peaceful lake and its mountainous backdrop. As a result, we opted to enjoy a
takeaway dinner at the table rather than go out. Consumed by the view, we ate mostly in silence — except to remark at the beauty before us or eagerly discuss what might be awaiting us the following day. We arrived at Pearl Harbour on Lake Manapouri at 9:30 in the morning to begin our own discovery of the sound. There we met the affable Diane — who, along with her husband Chris, owns and operates Deep Cove Charters — and the rest of our tour group. Just seven of us in total, including Chris, our skipper and guide, were to embark on an intimate cruise that takes up to 12 guests at a time. From Pearl Harbour we took a 45-minute boat ride across the lake to the West Arm, after which we hopped in a minivan and were driven 20 kilometres along the rugged, twisting Wilmot Pass, climbing to a height of 671 metres before descending into Deep Cove, the terminus to the sound. During the drive, we stopped frequently to take photographs, as the height of the road provided a vast outlook over the sound. I began to feel car sick from constantly turning my head, every moment distracted by another roadside waterfall or high-rise view of the dramatic U-shaped valleys below. Rarely pausing for breath, Chris shared his extensive knowledge of the
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PREVIOUS PAGE TOP. A seagull wants its cut of the catch
PREVIOUS PAGE BOTTOM. Fiordland’s famous rainfall provides an unbelievable atmosphere, especially when it joins forces with the sun’s rays
TOP. A boat cruise is the best way to immerse oneself in Doubtful Sound — just make sure to take a warm jacket for those Titanic re-enactments
BOTTOM. Tomorrow’s lunch is hauled aboard every day by the skipper
area with us; a bridge we just crossed had 3 weeks ago been completely washed away by the river. At Deep Cove we excitedly boarded the comfortable and modern passenger boat, Seafinn — 19 metres long, with six individual sleeping cabins — and began our scenic overnight cruise. What awaited us was nothing short of spectacular. Mountainous, snow-powdered peaks stretched out before us, soaring hundreds — even thousands — of metres in the air, shrouded by fog and drizzle. The rain — which would have been dismal anywhere else – ensured we had prime viewing of hundreds of waterfalls that poured off huge granite precipices into the corrugated glassy water. Radiometric age dating shows that the oldest rocks in the Fiordland National Park date back 450 million years, well before the islands of New Zealand even existed. The fiords were first formed during the ice ages, as large quantities of snow accumulated in the mountains, compressed under newer snow until it melted and refroze to form glacial ice. The landscape we see today was carved by glaciers embedded with rock fragments. It is no wonder the ancient and imposing site is associated with Maori legend. Eight hundred years ago, ancient Maori began travelling to the area to collect pounamu, or New Zealand jade. Too incredible to have been formed by chance, they believed the fiords were shaped by the ‘titanic mason’ Tute Rakiwhanoa with his adzes. The explanation seems fitting.
Chris then informed us that we were entering the Elizabeth Island Marine Reserve as we passed by the left side of the island and into increasingly choppy waters. We then continued into Crooked Arm — shaped just as one would expect from the name, this is one of three main arms in the sound — venturing as far as Turn Point. Along the way we were taken to the feet of the most impressive waterfalls of the cruise, including Browne Falls — at 1200 metres high, the tallest waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. After enjoying a delicious crayfish lunch, we journeyed into the more sheltered waters of Gaol Passage in the First Arm. Our group was provided with rods and bait and issued with instructions (only half-jokingly) to catch dinner. It was very much a fisherman’s heaven, as we only needed to have our bait waiting at the bottom for a brief moment before the nibbling began. As luck would have it, I managed to catch a large blue cod, contributing to the number of Jock Stewarts and blue cods that we caught between the seven of us. Later we did indeed have the fish for dinner, cooked to perfection along with deliciously tender venison. Even as we covered greater distances, it was difficult to appreciate Doubtful’s great expanse. To feel the wild beauty outstretched before me, with all of my senses, was a truly humbling experience. While floating in the cool, crisp air, I truly understood my smallness — and yet, I had never felt so tranquil. In the afternoon we ventured further, the sound continuing impossibly on. Cutting through The Gut, we reached the Shelter Islands at the ocean entrance to the Tasman Sea. Though standing at 15 metres tall, Chris informed us that two rocks called the Hares Ears are sometimes completely submerged by
With still more to see, we glided past Secretary Island, sliced from the mainland by glacial ice. In 2003, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake raised the island by an astonishing 18 centimetres, the epicentre being just 12 kilometres deep and directly below the sound itself. Coastal Fiordland is one of the most seismically-active parts of New Zealand, and as a result, earthquakes — along with rock falls and tree avalanches — are some of the many natural forces reshaping the landscape. Following trips into Thompson and Bradshaw Sounds, we stopped to enjoy a delicious dinner (and a few wines) on the Camelot River: certainly up there with the very best spots any of us had ever enjoyed a drink. The moment provided pause to reflect on the significant day we’d had. My travelling companion remarked that pictures simply do not do it justice — words that held particular weight coming from a photographer. The next day we awoke to the sight of a fresh dump of snow dusting the mountain peaks: a reminder that although it was November, Fiordland is ultimately a glacial wonderland. In winter, a thick layer of ice develops over the surface of the water — so thick it has been known to trap and damage boats. The marine environment in the fiords is like no other in the world. The body of water is made up of two distinct layers that scarcely mix: a 2 to 10-metre layer of fresh water fed from the neighbouring mountains, on top of a layer of saline water. Light struggles to penetrate through the fresh water layer due to the dark tannins, and as a result, many deep-sea species inhabit the relatively shallow waters. This includes black coral: usually found at depths of 30-40 metres, it can be seen just 10 metres deep in the sound. Not long after rising for breakfast, while at the corner of Gaer Arm, a pod of bottlenose dolphins joined us at the bow. This was far from the only wildlife sighting of the day. Along with dolphins and penguins, it is also possible to sight fur seals and whales in the sound. We saw proof of the latter when Chris showed us several photographs on his camera of a whale he had spotted on a trip just days before. At Seymour Island, we came upon more crested penguins — a larger group than we had seen the previous day. Amused, we watched as just a few metres in front of us, one penguin appeared to take charge and order the others around. Being part of a small charter — particularly one run by such an expert as Chris — certainly had its benefits, as it allowed us to get just inches away from these sights. Hall Arm was the final stop on our adventure, including a look at Commander Peak, a truly impressive summit that reaches 900 metres high. The last moments of the cruise were marked by a silent stillness. Captured, as if by a spell, we stared out in a final, desperate attempt to commit every image and sensation to memory. When we met Diane back at Lake Manapouri, where our journey had begun, she asked me whether I had enough material to write this article. “Too much,” I replied truthfully.
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The first major feature we passed on the cruise was Rolla Island, home to a 500-year-old rimu tree, along with several rata — also known as the ‘southern Christmas tree’ — blooming with bright red flowers. It was there, too, that we experienced our first exciting encounter with a small group of crested penguins, identifiable by the two symmetrical yellow-feathered ‘mohawks’ above their eyes.
the waves, highlighting the ocean’s startling tenacity and brute strength. Slowly the sun began to set, shining its last rays on the rugged landscape like spotlights on a stage. We watched as, in the distance, a sailing boat slowly, peacefully crossed the horizon. It was only then, seeing the ship dwarfed by its backdrop, that I could begin to understand Doubtful’s impressive scale.
ODYSSEY OF T H E G O D S
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WORDS BY MICHAEL HOOPER
Over millennia, fire and fumes have belched destruction from the navel of the Earth, while her boundless sea has nurtured but also inundated cities of elegance and luxury. To walk among the ghosts of oracles, centurions and prophets, where destiny has shaped history — and to do this from one of the world’s most exclusive motor yachts — is the cruise experience of a lifetime. Rome had been a baptism of fire, with searing heat sending us hopping from shadow to shadow under spindly trees, before swooning into cool trattorias. It was still 41 degrees Celsius as we slipped past the palisades and towers of Civitavecchia aboard SeaDream towards barren islands and hillside towns that would further test our endurance. On our floating oasis, we would immerse ourselves in the lives and deaths of classical civilisations that had withered under the breath of the gods. We anchored off Taormina, Sicily, among the cones and craters that clustered under the shrouded 3296-metre peak of Mt Etna. Lunch on the after-deck was accompanied by an impressive display of forked lightning, in the midst of which a chancing parasailor flirted with fire on the end of a string into heaven’s tympani. Next on the menu was picture-perfect Monopoli. SeaDream docked close to the beautifully-preserved old town, its church domes, archways and steeples beckoning us to explore the narrow streets lined with whitewashed buildings sparkling in the hot sun. We chose Osteria Pricci, a century-old, family-run trattoria where we enjoyed fresh, simple, authentic local seafood and olives. Out in the glare of the square, we licked gelato cones of lemon and basil, mango and pink pepper, and ricotta with fig. Later came Kotor, the capital of Montenegro. The walled town is at
the end of a long fiord, finally accessed through a rocky passage 300 metres wide. In the Middle Ages, invading Ottoman ships were scuppered by chains across this gap. From the sea, high, protecting stone walls rose steeply up the cliff backdrop to safely girdle the town. Passengers from five cruise ships braved the heat and the persistent wasps to spill into shaded outdoor cafés and soak up free Wi-Fi under mist-spraying fans. We raised a cold beer to cruise director, Hayden McFarlane, who, with scoutmaster enthusiasm, had offered to lead a 2-hour walk uphill to Castel St John. The mercury was bubbling past 40 degrees again and he had few takers. The underworld was getting closer. A brief stop at Parga allowed guests to paddle in the porch of Hades — in the River Styx, or Acheron, as it is known today. Others revved up water sports toys, or simply swam from the aft marina platform. From the port of Itea, buses and taxis crawled up folding hills, past huge olive groves — windblown leaves flashing silver — to take tourists to Delphi. Pencil-sharp cypress trees punctuated the land like darts dropped by the gods, and oleander fringed the hairpin road up to the breathtaking museum of preserved statues, and the 5th century B.C. omphalos, the stone beehive-shaped 'navel of the Earth'. The Oracle at Delphi was, quite likely, one of the world’s greatest con jobs. Kingdoms were won and lost following the advice of Pythia, ‘the Oracle’, whose mystic babble was interpreted by her priestesses. Science has since discovered that the holed stone on which she sat actually did have a direct connection with the breath of the gods — specifically the hallucinogenic gases,
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PREVIOUS PAGE. Overnight star-beds, water-sports toys and fewer than 100 guests: SeaDream is more private yacht than cruise ship
TOP. The ruins of mountaintop temples and ancient treasuries shimmer in the haze at Delphi
BOTTOM LEFT. The only thing 'chilli' at a waterfront store in Positano on the Amalfi Coast Photo by Michael Hooper
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Photo courtesy of SeaDream
Photo by Michael Hooper
BOTTOM RIGHT. The Library of Celsus at Ephesus, erected 135 B.C. Photo by Chris Swannell
Now cats on a hot stone roof prance nimbly from relic to relic and lounge on antiquity, as visitors paw their way over the ruins.
That evening, as the sun set reddish-gold, we approached the Corinth Canal, a 6.4-kilometre channel connecting the Gulf of Corinth with the Aegean Sea. When ancient emperors (including Julius Caesar and Caligula) dictated that it would be dug, there were fears that the water would flood from one ocean to the other. The project finally began when Nero set 6000 slaves to work in the 1st century A.D. Just over 21 metres wide, the canal does not accommodate many modern vessels, but SeaDream was towed through in almost reverent silence. The thin channel of sea separating the slices of rock rising either side reminded me of a sandcastle moat as we emerged to approach Hydra. Donkeys are the island’s mode of transport and the SeaDream tender landed at the feet of Diva and Amazon, a pair waiting patiently to clomp up the arid hills. We chose a stylish restaurant 5 minutes’ walk along the sea wall, with white tables — each punctuated by a sole Spartan lemon — set against the amethyst blue of the Aegean. Under shade umbrellas, with local wine poured, we watched Hydriots pass by in the sweltering sun. From the Turkish port of Kuşadasi, I found my cruise highlight — a 'land adventure' to Ephesus. St Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians 2000 years ago, and so well preserved and restored are the streets, temples and houses, that I was easily transported back. Excavations are now revealing marvellous mosaics, sophisticated plumbing, central heating and sewerage, and enabling visitors to
walk through houses equipped with everything but the internet. The roof of one property forms the terrace of another above as they stretch up the hill opposite the Temple of Hadrian. The city of a quarter of a million and the birthplace of democracy finally came to an end when the River Meander and the port silted up and Earth had the final say. Now cats on a hot stone roof prance nimbly from relic to relic and lounge on antiquity, as visitors paw their way over the ruins. SeaDream is authentic, and while expensive, nothing is charged onboard except internet and excursions. She can dock at small ports, queues don’t exist, and there’s always a crew member nearby who knows one’s personal tastes. With just 91 passengers, she feels more like a large home, where staff outnumber guests. That meant cool towels and cold water were always at hand for those slogging up the gangway, while tents were set up to offer shade in ports of call. Sitting at the captain’s table, overlooking the pool deck one balmy eve, with just five guests, Master Bjame Smorawski epitomised the bespoke nature of SeaDream. An understated seaman, with 53 years on deck and a dry Scandinavian humour, he relaxed in crisp, short-sleeved whites. He chuckled about the time he chose to stop mid-Atlantic for guests to swim. “We told them later that the water was 10,000 metres deep.” Now that is very cool.
Destinations flew into Rome and out of Athens with Singapore Airlines, whose extensive network facilitates the open jaw travel often required for cruising. Visit singaporeair.com.sg.
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including methane, which rose through the fissure. The career path became quite short: after the first Pythia succumbed, replacements were slipped in. Despite the heat radiating from rocks, fascination with the myth led me up further to the Temple of Apollo. Finely chiselled into the blocks on its lower wall were the names of 8000 slaves whose freedom was proven only when 'written in stone'.
B AC K TO THE RIVER WORDS BY DOMINIQUE VAN DE KLUNDERT
Starting my 72 hours in Bangkok as I mean to go on, I forgo the taxis waiting patiently outside Wat Saket, the city’s ‘Golden Mount’, and seek out the ‘water bus’ which departs along the Saen Saeb khlong (canal) from Phanfa Bridge.
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The route map is a little tricky to decipher, but with the assistance of some friendly locals I am soon gingerly boarding, clambering over blue tarpaulin and clinging to the rope strung along the sides and across the boat’s canvas ceiling as a handrail. I take a seat on a long wooden bench as a crew member swiftly unties the craft from its temporary mooring. Other passengers pulley up the tarp to protect us from the notoriously toxic canal water, and we speed along, pausing at Bo Bae Market and Ban Krua Nua before reaching my stop at Hua Chang Bridge. From here, it’s a short walk to the high-end retail haven of Siam, or one more hop on the boat to alternative shopping at Pratunam. As tempting as these destinations are, today I keep my blinkers on, making a beeline for the iconic Jim Thompson House. I stroll along one of the concrete walkways on either side of the khlong, potted plants and vines softening the impact of the railings to the side and overhead. Striking, brightly-coloured graffiti along the walls stands in contrast to the black water beneath, which is sprayed exuberantly by further passing boats. Taking a left turn, I arrive at a tall, nondescript wall, enclosing a garden compound comprising six traditional Thai teakwood houses. Jim Thompson was an American architect and art collector who settled in Thailand in the 1940s, devoting the remainder of his life to reviving the Thai silk industry. Since Thompson mysteriously disappeared in the Malaysian jungle in 1967, the house has served as his legacy, enshrining his eclectic, East-meets-West taste. It’s easy to imagine gatherings of fascinating, if privileged characters, reclining in the summer heat, fans fluttering, in the luxurious open-sided upstairs living room overlooking the canal. After some quality time marvelling at the gardens, the décor, and Thompson’s vast collections, I rest up at the house’s café next to a pond of water lilies and fat koi carp, readying myself for an action-packed afternoon. I meet the Co Van Kessel team at their headquarters at the River City Shopping Centre, on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the historical centre of Bangkok. Although they specialise in tours exploring the city by bicycle, I am excited to undertake a 5-hour multi-boat tour of the river, and the khlongs of Thonburi. At Marine Department pier, we board a longtail boat, settling into low wooden bench seats, and donning life jackets — more for the benefit of any watching authorities than anything else. We are soon skimming along the murky brown river, and I begin to appreciate the tarp from my previous boat adventure as I am sprayed with water. It may not be hygienic, but it is certainly refreshing in the humidity of one of the hottest cities in the world, so I soon give up the struggle and embrace it, soaking in the spray as well as the views. Riverside restaurants, hotels and temples are interspersed with charming stilted abodes built right on the water, and the contemporary lines of the Rama VIII bridge strike out confidently in the distance.
TITLE PAGE. Floating market traders Photo by Dainius Runkevicius
BELOW. Early morning on the crowded canals of Bangkok Photo by Suman Bhattacharya
FOLLOWING PAGE. Panorama of the Chao Phraya river from the 'ghost tower', the world's tallest abandoned building Photo by Suman Bhattacharya
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Passing the Siriraj hospital, where we learn the royal family has taken up residence due to the king’s failing health, we hang a left and get a passing glimpse of the Royal Barges Museum, where the richly-decorated golden ceremonial vessels, headed by dragons and other mythical figures, are stored and displayed when not in use. We pass temples, factories and a navy installation, its solid, muted palette contrasting with the now more ramshackle houses along the route. We pull up at a pier to await our next ride. Power poles stand nonchalantly ankle-deep in the water, as if planted on a standard, concrete roadside. The star attraction of our tour pulls up in the form of several small ‘rocket boats’, their sharplypointed bows a clue to their aerodynamic nature. Having gained iconic status featuring in the 1974 Bond classic The Man with the Golden Gun, the boats do not disappoint in the thrills department. We speed along the surface, whizzing under small bridges and slaloming around any obstacles, eventually slowing to a stop at a canal-side market and temple complex. The temple itself is surrounded by larger-than-life figures who merge traditionalism with contemporary culture: a dragon equipped with a walkie-talkie gives the ‘love’ hand sign: at first glance, I read this as the more metal — and incongruously hilarious — ‘devil’s horns’. However, the highlight here is the fresh pad Thai prepared by an old woman in a floating food stall. Having wolfed this down, it is back into our speed boats, to meet the longtail again on our way to the town of Nonthaburi. We alight
to find a swarm of catfish jostling to be fed by those wishing to ‘make merit’ by giving back to the teeming life of the river. We purchase a loaf of bread and some colourful pellets, and track the pieces as they fall to the water and are gulped down by the ravenous fish. Next up is a market where the flipside of this exchange is apparent in many stalls displaying seafood at varying stages of the butchering process. A tiny kitten enjoys a meal of fish heads. However, balance remains, with live fish and turtles also available for purchase and release into the river, another form of meritmaking. We end our journey with a river express boat, used by commuters and travellers alike to navigate the artery. Hopping on at the rear of the boat at Nonthaburi pier, this seems a more orderly, comfortable version of the Saen Saeb water bus: benches are upgraded to rows of plastic seating separated by an aisle, and life preservers hang reassuringly from the solid roof as we make our way back to base. After such a whirlwind of a day, I could not ask for a better place to retire than the legendary Oriental hotel. The first hotel in Thailand when it was built on the banks of the Chao Phraya in 1876, the establishment has gained a reputation for excellence as a flagship of the Mandarin Oriental group. The property — of which Jim Thompson was briefly a part-owner — is a celebrity favourite, particularly known for hosting renowned authors such as Joseph
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Conrad, Somerset Maugham, and Noel Coward. Individuallythemed authors’ suites pay tribute to the sensibilities of these famous guests.
Thai silk, of course — and admire the view of the ‘River of Kings’ from the floor-to-ceiling window before collapsing onto the welcoming goose down bedding.
Touring the hotel with PR director Etienne De Villiers, I am lucky enough to spend a few minutes in the high-end Oriental Suite, which has been known to host royalty and heads of state. Looking out over the river, Etienne gestures towards a construction site, where another Mandarin Oriental property, The Residences, is underway. These serviced apartments will offer long-stay accommodation, along with dining options and access to nearby shopping. It’s a sign, he says, of a turn back to tradition: while life in Bangkok expanded outwards from this early hub, now people are flocking “back to the river.”
Breakfast at the Oriental extends another chance to enjoy the river in style, at the Riverside Terrace buffet. I am learning quickly that nothing here is ordinary, and the buffet is no exception. Accompanied with a decent flat white and fresh orange juice, on offer is French toast with crispy bacon; croissants and camembert; hash browns, poached eggs and meatballs; dim sum; sushi, miso and seaweed salad… all executed to perfection. However, it is a divine bread and butter pudding that really stands out. By the time I have sampled as much of the array as humanly possible, the morning hustle and bustle of the river in my peripheral vision, I am more than ready to take on the day.
It is easy to see the draw of the Oriental: even my Superior Room — a simple space, comparatively speaking — presents a level of comfort a step above anything I have experienced. Tastefully decorated in sage and neutral tones and dark teak, the room features a magical desk where I am able to charge all my devices on a built-in universal socket — but what I am truly giddy about is my newly-acquired gold-embossed personalised stationery. Stepping back in time, I can just imagine ensconcing myself here long-term, sending out thoughtful hand-written missives about my travels to friends in far-off lands. I wash the day’s grime (and river water) away in the walk-in shower, slip on a bathrobe —
My target this morning is Baan Silapin, the Artist’s House, a canalside attraction back across the river in Thonburi. Just finding the place is a small challenge, but one well worth undertaking. The Oriental provides a convenient shuttle boat — in the style of a traditional teak barge — to the nearby Saphan Taksin Skytrain station, and from there I jump on the Silom train to the end of the line at Bang Wa. It’s possible to take a taxi from here, but I prefer the half-hour walk along narrow streets to the canal. A case of following my nose (and GPS map) to begin with, soon enough signs begin to point in the direction of Wat Kuhasawan,
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the nearby temple. I know I have arrived when I spot two lifesize sculptures, one white, one red: rotund, bald figures sitting peacefully at the edge of the narrow boardwalk, enjoying the ambience of the khlong as flower garlands, potted plants and puang ma hod — colourful cut-paper decorations — sway above them in the breeze. I join them for a moment to cool down, before heading briefly to the market next door. I lunch on the best penang curry I am likely ever to enjoy, and, as if that wasn’t enough, follow up with coconut ice cream that everyone should get the chance to try, elevated with black sesame sprinkles and chocolate sauce. Reeling from such good culinary luck, I head back to Baan Silapin in time for the traditional Thai puppet show. Performed at 2pm each day except Wednesdays, such a performance is a rare find. Visitors crowd around a small garden stage, filling benches and floor space, as black-clad performers manipulate intricate puppets to perform dances and narratives drawn from folklore. At times, the performers’ actions mirror those of the puppets, and at others, they fade into the background completely. After the show, the puppets make their way through the audience, ‘hugging’ and ‘kissing’ those who make a donation — and given the impressiveness of the show, most everyone does. Having browsed the extensive selection of art, crafts, books and stationery on display — I am travelling light, but for those so inclined, this would be a great place to pick up some souvenirs — I return to the Oriental to dress for dinner. Through the gorgeous lobby with its extravagant and artistic floral chandeliers, and I’m put into a waiting taxi by the supremely helpful door staff, who are emblematic of the warm welcome and impeccable service that takes a stay here to the next level. I have literally never been taken care of so well. After battling the Sathorn Road traffic, I arrive at the Banyan Tree Hotel to meet my dining companion. We are to experience the Apsara dinner cruise, but the evening would not be complete without stopping in at the hotel’s Vertigo Restaurant and Moon Bar. We take an elevator up to the 60th floor, and climb a few short flights of stairs to the rooftop high above the city. Appropriately for the time of day, I sip on the bar’s signature Vertigo Sunset as I take in the panoramic view: buildings stretch to the hazy horizon, Lumpini Park cuts a swathe of green below, and the ever-present Chao Phraya snakes across the middle distance. Evening sets in and the city lights come on — and while it’s tempting to stay for one more round, I have another boat to catch. We’re transported back to River City and from here step aboard a large converted rice barge in anticipation. The food is sublime: tasty entrees of prawn salad, snowfish, and shrimp wrapped in
a coconut crepe bring around even the seafood-shy, and the tangy tom kha chicken broth is just right. The braised beef curry with perfectly crispy-yet-doughy roti, however, is unforgettable. The experience is made even more special by the ever-changing views. This is the first time I have really paid attention to some of the notable sites along the river: at night, all lit up, Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) and the Grand Palace take on whole new, engaging personalities. Reflecting on the other opportunities available to cruise this same route — not just the commuter ferries and longtails, but the garish party boats we occasionally bypass, blaring music across the water — I am glad to be able to attend to these sights the Apsara way. We pause for a photo op outside the palace and slide under the Rama VIII bridge — its lit-up cables even more striking with this shifting perspective — before circling back to dock. My final day in the city is dedicated to relaxation. I escape the heat in a cabana by the pool until it is time for my massage appointment at the Oriental Spa, located across the river. I board the shuttle boat and in no time am installed in a treatment room, furnished with character and sophistication, within the centuryold teak building housing the spa. The strains of my past few days of activity are worked away — at times gently, at times not so — by the expertly-administered signature massage, then I am left to enjoy the facilities. I take my time, and float out and back across the river to the hotel's Bamboo Bar for a pre-dinner drink. Along with the classics, this classy joint specialises in signature cocktails created by in-house mixologists. The décor — part jazz memorabilia; part safari-chic; part low-ceiling, low-light speakeasy — is spot on. Making myself at home in a plush cane armchair, I peruse the menu, eventually settling on the irresistible gummy-bear-gin-based ‘Good Times’, followed up by the bar’s take on a negroni, given an added delicious note with a caramel infusion. I could stay here all night, but dinner beckons once again, this time at the Oriental’s Sala Rim Naam. The shuttle boat takes me across the river once more, where the trees of the spa and dining complex dangle with fairy lights, lending a whimsical air. I’m welcomed with a colombard from Monsoon Valley Wines while traditional instruments play in the background. As the first of many fine courses arrive at my table, mesmerising dancers in elaborate costumes command attention, echoing the movements of the puppeteers at Baan Silapin. Before long, it is time to depart for my late evening flight. I regretfully step onto the hotel boat one last time, and watch as the twinkling trees recede into the distance. I’ve been taken in by the charms of the river, and I know I’ll be back soon enough.
BELOW. The Apsara dinner cruise passes Wat Arun
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THE COLDEST CONTINENT WORDS BY NICK WALTON
+++With steam billowing from my mouth and snow up to my knees, I summit the small hill on the largest of the Aitcho Islands to a round of gurgling applause from the local gentoo penguin colony. But approval from the residents on this desolately beautiful rock isn’t the only reward for the 30 hours flying and 2 days sailing it took to get here. The view across the English Strait, which is bathed in glorious golden sunlight despite the late hour, is truly magnificent.
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If I were an explorer of old — glaring out from thick, round goggles, my beard flecked with icicles — I’d be looking for a good spot to raise my flag. I settle for erecting a tripod instead, as black and white chinstraps and gentoos the size of housecats fuss around my feet, oblivious to the wonder of their home or the captivated imagination of its newest visitor. Tiny, unassuming Aitcho, in the South Shetland chain of islands, is our first dry land since our ship, Aurora Expeditions’ pint-sized Polar Pioneer, left Ushuaia 3 days before. There, at the southern tip of Argentina, the port was busy with ships bound for the Falklands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic Peninsula as an everincreasing number of affluent and intrepid travellers make for the White Continent and its unique, awe-inspiring landscapes. It’s more reminiscent of a day cruise to some secluded picnic spot than the beginning of an expedition as we ply the calm waters of the Beagle Channel, enjoying glorious sunshine and views of the snow-dusted peaks which ring Ushuaia’s harbour. We mingle with fellow explorers from across the globe, pose for photos on the Pioneer’s bow, and trace the flight paths of sheathbills and sleek cormorants as they race across the glistening water in formation, their reflections never quite catching up. Just after dinner, our expedition leader, Dr Gary Miller, announces our arrival at the Drake Passage, and it’s time to batten down the hatches as we enter some of the most tumultuous waters on the globe. There’s nothing quite like 5-metre swells and 40-knot winds to bring out one’s inner explorer, and Aurora’s open bridge policy ensures those who venture up the ship’s narrow staircases feel like part of the Russian crew as they cling to supports and watch whitecaps slam against the hull, a cascade of cold, green sea pounding against the bridge’s windows. This is what Antarctic cruising is all about: it’s a journey to a remote land wreathed by turbulent seas and capped with inhospitable ice, ensuring only the most willing ever venture this far south. The Drake Passage and the icy environment are not the only detractors: international conventions strictly enforce rules on the number of tourists allowed to visit each season, ensuring the region remains pristine. The few cruise companies that are allowed to land (most of the estimated 40,000 visitors annually arrive by ship, with many on ‘cruise by’ itineraries that never actually land) are regulated by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators. The number of travellers allowed on the ice at any one time, and what they do when they arrive, is all strictly monitored.
TITLE PAGE. A receding snow storm reveals an emperor penguin family Photo by Daniel Armbruster
BELOW. Chinstrap penguins rest on an iceberg. These free-riders can travel many kilometres before jumping back into icy water Photo by Mariusz Potocki
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OPPOSITE. When sea ice forms during Antarctic winters, crabeater seals hunt for the krill that live under the ice surface Photo by Mariusz Potocki
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... we trace the wake of an inquisitive minke whale, capture the turquoise brilliance of freshly turned icebergs, and disturb the afternoon slumbers of a crabeater seal, the sunshine setting his fur a brilliant golden hue
Aurora Expeditions has been cruising to the Antarctic Peninsula, as well as many other remote locations, since the 1990s, and offers a truly authentic take on polar exploration for a lucky handful of travellers; the Polar Pioneer, a former Russian spy ship that’s much smaller than many of the other vessels that venture so far south, is far from luxurious. Instead, its hardy crew, comfort cuisine, and compact but practical cabins offer a true sense of how the many visiting scientific teams live. In fact, Aurora’s marine crew is complemented by a dedicated team of polar junkies — naturalists, biologists and photographers — on hand to lead visitors through this truly unique encounter with guided excursions and insightful onboard briefings.
The few hours spent on Aitcho is the first of a dozen such excursions that come part and parcel with an Aurora Expeditions cruise. By night, the ship navigates the frozen coastline, through the South Shetlands and then on to Antarctica itself, giving guests a chance to walk, climb, and even — in a rare opportunity only offered by a few expeditionary cruise lines — camp a night on the ice.
The atmosphere is positively electric through the ship’s narrow confines 2 days later, as the swells finally relent and Gary announces that we’ve made good progress through the Drake and arrived in Antarctic waters in time for an evening landing in the South Shetlands. Our complement of 50 passengers scramble into thick rubber moon boots and bright blue Aurora Expeditions jackets, cameras at the ready as they line the decks waiting for their turn to clamber down the gangway to a waiting Zodiac, and the prospect of our first Antarctic landing.
In narrow, sheltered Neko Harbour, on the west coast of Graham Land, passengers who had signed up for climbing follow their guides high above the bay, while the rest of us tour a sea of towering icebergs by Zodiac, serenaded by the penguins of a vast gentoo colony perched on rocks overlooking the harbor, as the noisy birds warn off dark green skuas hoping to steal from their nests.
At the Hydrurga Rocks, two small, snowand ice-covered rocky islands in the Palmer Archipelago, we watch Weddell seals and a solitary leopard seal lounging on the ice, with the sensational views of the Buache and Modev Peaks — towering mountains on nearby Two Hummock Island — as a dramatic backdrop.
As our captain crushes and barges our way through the ice of the mesmerising Lemaire Channel, virtually every passenger
stoops over the foresail rail to watch the ice floes crack and capsize in our wake (we are the first ship to pass through this ice gauntlet in over a month). My brother Dan and I board a Zodiac driven by Norwegian expedition photographer and bird fanatic Eirik Grønningsæter, and we leave the ship behind, its profile quickly hidden by icebergs the size of double-storey houses. Following the reflection of the valley’s snowy peaks on the water towards an endless expanse of ice floes, we trace the wake of an inquisitive minke whale, capture the turquoise brilliance of freshly turned icebergs, and disturb the afternoon slumbers of a crabeater seal, the sunshine setting his fur a brilliant golden hue. Under a dazzling sun, passengers of all ages leap from the ship’s deck — GoPro cameras at the ready — into the frozen waters, to rounds of applause from crew and guests alike. After the blinding cold of the Antarctic seas, the warmth of the sun is glorious and many passengers wander the decks in their swimming trunks, forgetting they're on the cusp of the Antarctic Circle. We meet fellow explorers in Port Lockroy, one of the peninsula’s most beautiful natural harbours. It is ringed by the jagged, brutal peaks of the Seven Sisters to one
PREVIOUS PAGE. King penguins huddle for warmth
BELOW. A majestic iceberg is driven by storm in Bransfield Strait
Photo by Zhiwei Wen
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Photo by Mariusz Potocki
side, and the imposing yet magnificent 1415-metre high Savoia Peak on the other. Here, four scientists work through the summer months, tasked by the British Antarctic Heritage Trust to maintain and restore past settlements on the peninsula, including historic Bransfield House, where they live. Bransfield is part museum, part science camp, and part gift shop. We take turns leafing through the kitchen's cookbooks, which detail recipes for seal stew and penguin pie, and sending letters from the only post box in Antarctica. Beyond the tiny camp, whale skeletons reach up from the snow, penguins stumble their way across the billiard table-flat sea ice, and blue-eyed shags take turns to race across the water and glide through the frozen thermals above the harbour. That night, a duo of humpbacks escort our ship leafing through the mirror-like waters of the Gerlache Strait.
The crew ferry passengers loaded up with special sleeping bags and bed rolls across to Useful Island, in the Gerlache Strait. Our little group works up a sweat digging a trench in the windhardened ice, piling the snow in a foot-high wall that will help protect us from the whipping polar gusts. Then we settle in for a night under summer skies, inquisitive gentoos stumbling across the ice to take a peek, great waves of cloud spilling over the mountain tops that ring the island, all of us snug in our sleeping bags, basking in the silence. We wave goodbye to Antarctica a few days later, as the ship slips back into the tumultuous Drake Passage, the first heaving waves arriving mid-way through dinner. But the ice camping isn’t our last chance to explore the wonders of the ‘Deep South’. After a rare landing at Cape Horn, where we climb steep staircases to the top of wind-whipped sea cliffs and visit the sole Chilean naval family that protects this last outpost, the Polar Pioneer berths at Puerto Williams, as the first commercial cruise ship to ever conduct an itinerary turnaround there. The remote Chilean town aspires to compete with Ushuaia, another 50 kilometres down the Beagle Channel, and our band of now-seasoned explorers make history as the first polar tourists to disembark at its tiny pier. It’s a fitting end to an unforgettable adventure to the world’s last frozen frontier.
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Finally, it’s our time to play true polar explorers. Ice camping is a hardy experience, but one that still seduces 80 percent of the ship’s contingent. Camping under the stars is one of the most popular in a raft of activities now offered by Aurora Expeditions: travellers can climb frozen mountain passes, kayak with specialist guides through fields of blue-white icebergs, and even snorkel and scuba dive on selected trips. While other companies offer a camping experience with tents and creature comforts, Aurora guests are encouraged to ‘rough it’ with nothing but sleeping bags between them and the awe-inspiring landscapes of an Antarctic summer night.
Ep i curea n Tra vel l er
T H E C O G N AC G E N E R AT I O N
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WORDS BY NICK WALTON
With a whoosh of hydraulics and a whine of turbines, our highspeed train from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle International Airport slips into Cognac’s humble little train station, a bustling place of tourists and locals eyeing departure boards and collecting luggage. There is that lovely laid back ambience of rural France, where nothing happens fast and no one seems to mind. We mount up into a convoy of sleek Mercedes vans and delve into the idyllic countryside. On either side of the road are farms with rustic cottages, copses of tall trees, and vineyards that run towards the horizon. We pass tractors hauling silage and clutches of school children in immaculate white uniforms. Soon, we’re surrounded by vineyards punctuated only occasionally by red-roofed farm houses and small batch distilleries. It doesn’t take long to figure out what binds many of Cognac’s 35,000 inhabitants. On the main roads out of town there are billboards for cognac tasting halls at every junction. All the major brands have dedicated visitor centres where cognac lovers from across the world can indulge in their passion and even purchase a rare drop for loved ones back home (or their own private stash). Thanks to great train access from Paris and its international airport, tens of thousands of travellers visit Cognac each year on whirlwind tours that often include several European capitals, along with other iconic locales like nearby Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. For many travellers it’s a grass roots education and a chance for major cognac brands like Martell, whose distillery and vineyards we first visit, to extoll their rich heritages and artisanal production. Cognac is essentially brandy — distilled wine spirit called eau de vie that’s then aged in wood barrels. The major difference is that only brandy made in this picturesque corner of the world, nestled on the banks of the Charente River 400 kilometres southwest
of Paris, can be called ‘cognac’, thanks to strict quality controls and the French appellation d'origine contrôlée certification that protects specific products from a specific geographic region. After lunch and a tasting tutorial in the shadow of towering copper stills at one of Martell’s main plants, we return to town, the sun above periodically breaking through low-hung clouds to douse the rural setting in vibrant colours. Many fellow visitors to Cognac can be seen walking its streets under the mid-morning sunshine, gazing up at the ramshackle collection of 15th to 17th century village homes that huddle around a main cobblestone square. They pose for photos before the Romanesque church of St. Léger and the sprawling Château de Cognac, the birthplace of the 16th-century King François I, and delve into the Musée des Arts du Cognac, a museum dedicated to the region’s single largest export. Instead, I head down the road towards a bold blue sign that stands above weathered stone walls. At the Martell visitor centre, housed in the brand’s former distillery, 90-minute tours are conducted in several languages, explaining the painstaking production process to travellers from across the globe — some of whom are true connoisseurs, and some who perhaps only know the luxury attributed to cognac without knowing how it’s made, or understanding its subtleties. It seems fitting that the oldest of Cognac’s great houses was also founded by a visitor looking to indulge his passion and create a legacy in the process. In 1715, Jean Martell, a young merchant from Jersey, journeyed to Cognac to try his hand at producing the spirit that was so beloved by the British at the time. Cognac, which stretches over two regions in western France — CharenteMaritime (bordering the Atlantic Ocean) and Charente (a little further inland) — had been producing wine since the 1st century
PREVIOUS PAGE. Benoit Fil, Martell Cellar Master
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Photo by Elias
OPPOSITE TOP. Château de Chanteloup, the very soul of the Martell House; Martell’s distillation in Gallienne distillery
OPPOSITE BOTTOM. Martell craftsmanship, photo by Elias; Charente vineyards, photo by Martinelli
but didn’t make eau de vie until Dutch settlers began distilling their vino in the 16th century so that it would last the long journeys across Europe.
way through the extensive collection of log books, bills of sale and loading, invoices and letters dating back as far as Jean Martell’s first days in Cognac.
Jean Martell worked closely with small eau de vie producers in the region’s six crus, or growth areas, to select, age and blend these colourless spirits to create the first exceptional cognacs. After his death in 1753, his widow and sons continued the tradition, eventually capturing the British market by 1814, and exporting their first bottles to China, Hong Kong and Japan in 1861.
Touring the archives, I come across thick journals with Jean Martell’s signature at the base, and a beautifully preserved but time-weathered poster advertising cognac in China, to coincide with the first shipments to Shanghai in 1861. After 300 years of production, Martell is now available in 130 countries, and all that history is here in extensive, protected collections.
Jean Martell’s journey from Jersey to Cognac was the inspiration for five stunning new cognacs — including the limited edition and much-coveted Martell Premier Voyage — created by cellar master Benoît Fil to mark the house’s 300th anniversary in 2015. Using 18 eau de vies from the same producers Jean Martell had worked with so closely, Fil was able to make a unique cognac that truly captured the Martell essence 3 centuries later.
That evening we’re lucky enough to experience another aspect of Martell’s lingering legacy, with dinner at Château de Chanteloup, Martell’s stunning manor in the Cognac countryside. The countryside of Cognac is dotted with grand old homes like this, many of which are now boutique hotels and B&Bs that welcome tourists looking to learn more about Cognac and its rich history.
Three hundred years is no small feat and the pinnacle of this monumental milestone was a star-studded party held at the Palace of Versailles, a landmark Martell has close ties with: its former resident, Louis XIV, the Sun King, was a patron of Jean Martell’s cognac and a symbol of France’s golden age, and the cognac house continues to support on-going preservation projects at the Palace. When he wasn’t making cognac, Jean Martell was clearly into record-keeping, as I discover with a behind-the-scenes peek at the house’s extensive archives — all 5 kilometres of them. The Martell visitor centre is actually wreathed around Martell’s original stone house, which has been preserved as a museum that can be toured by prior booking. Here, the hidden archives are the realm of resident archivist Geraldine Galland, who is slowly working her
Acquired by Theodore Martell in 1838, and re-built in the Norman style in 1930 by then-owner Maurice Firino-Martell, Château de Chanteloup acts as an exclusive guest house for Martell’s top customers, and epitomises the tradition, elegance and sophistication of Martell’s blends to a tee. The manor house is set within 147 hectares of manicured lawns, gardens, vineyards and forests and home to a resident deer population. On this beautiful summer evening it’s all ours, as our group, representing all the great cognac markets of the world — some of which didn’t even exist in Jean Martell’s day — dine on a menu of modern French dishes in a light-filled marquee. As the light fades and the deer peek from their glades, we toast to Cognac’s rich history, its bright future, and the characters like Jean Martell that made it all possible.
MADE IN M O R O CC O WORDS BY SALLY BLYTH
TITLE PAGE. Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech
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Photo by Andrea Boccini
TOP. The rooftop terraces of Dar Les Cigognes
BOTTOM. Sweet mint tea and chicken tagine
Sugar and spice are not what little girls are made of, but they do make Morocco tick. Mint tea, poured from great heights, is laden with sugar, and all manner of spices abound in the local cuisine. We’re not talking hot, mouth-tingling spices that can be hard to handle, but the subtle varieties that deliver a flavour bomb. Having evolved through the centuries, Moroccan cuisine blends together elements of Mediterranean, Arabic, Andalusian and Berber cooking styles. The Moroccans really do know how to mix and mingle spices to best effect and it is hard to go past the magic conjured up by a tagine.
Taxi drivers ply their business from salmon-coloured cars before cavorting onto the dusty roads. Horse-drawn carriage is a popular and rather charming means of transport for tourists. Men in loose, hooded djellabas rush past at pace and women in bright scarves meander by, many carrying trays of dough on their shoulders. Tall, slim young men greet us with smiles and compliments, cheery ploys they hope will lure us into their shops or allow them to be our guide. Negotiating all this while finding one's way around the labyrinth of lanes requires wits and instinct, but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of things. To wander through Marrakech is akin to walking across a busy roundabout, not sure which way to
The ‘big square’ is a hive of activity and cacophony of colour under the hot midday sun, with snake charmers, music, food stalls, beggars and so much more. Tourists can’t get enough of it all, and rightly so. When we stop and observe, sifting through the chaos, we can see the charm that resides deep in the heart of this amazing place. At dusk, as the day cools down, blue skies turn to orange and minarets light up. Everything steps up a notch, creating vistas and sensations that sink inside my core and will never leave me. After a day out and about in the heat and chaotic beauty of Marrakech, it is easy to switch immediately into relaxation mode upon returning to our riad, the Sanssouci Collection's Dar Les Cigognes. What a special place in the world this hotel is, offering seclusion, security and refinement. Ideally located on the edge of the medina, the modest front door gives no indication of what lies behind it. When the magnificent internal spaces are revealed, there is audible catching of breath. A cloak of stillness envelops us. Chaos becomes calm. Heat fades away. The excellent staff at Dar Les Cigognes ensure every need is met in the most professional and discreet manner. Rooms are tranquil and a perfect blend of comfort and visual beauty. All good things in life happen right here — rest, pampering, romance, fine dining and a sense of being in a true sanctuary. Excursions can be arranged to the mountains, the desert or the coast and access to both the medina and Gueliz, the heart of the modern city, is easy.
The gorgeous rooftop terrace, with its array of cacti and colour, looks out across the city with a birds-eye view of the cigognes (storks) after which the hotel is named. With giant nests atop the Royal Palace opposite, these large birds stand guard in pairs, primping and preening and literally shouting from the rooftops with their distinctive call. It’s a sight to behold and a unique backdrop for a sumptuous breakfast or delightful dinner served in a private outdoor space. Tagine (or tajin) is the best known dish from this part of North Africa, named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. Simple and clever design makes for easy one-dish cooking, infusing delicious flavours together. The distinctive conical lid, which fits snugly inside the base, traps steam as it rises within. Condensed liquid remains inside the pot, ensuring food is cooked evenly and swiftly, retaining moisture and enhancing taste. It’s a Berber design of pure genius that can be found all over Morocco in bright colours and all sizes. Some pots are better than others when it comes to design and practical use, though — so it pays to put in the research. The opportunity to get a grass-roots introduction to the basics of this cuisine through a private cooking class at our hotel is welcome indeed. Pierre, the delightful hotel manager, begins by taking us on a market tour. Originally from France, Pierre has lived in Marrakech for 11 years and is the only foreigner fully qualified to guide tours in the city. We start in the mellah, the Jewish area just behind the hotel. Taking a shortcut through a public hammam (bathhouse), we find ourselves in an underground public bakery where the locals bring their homemade dough, neatly formed into loaves, for the baker to finish in his oven. Around 4000 loaves are baked per day here, personal napkins denoting which belong to whom. Most
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Marrakech: a thronging, thriving city that emits an unruly vibe, like a tiger that won’t be tamed. It’s a city where expectations are sure to be exceeded, with surprises around every corner. Nothing can quite prepare us for the magnificent mayhem that is the medina, where motorbikes, cycles, donkeys and wagons vie with locals and tourists for space in the narrow lanes. Shops, souks, spice stalls, and barbers; resident cats; local palaces: just about everything in life is woven together here.
look or which route to choose as beautiful bedlam happens all around. Motorbikes are forbidden, but hundreds zoom by nevertheless, their riders not giving an inch — so it’s a balancing act between saving ourselves from mishap and savouring what is unfolding in front of us.
LEFT. Open air restaurants of Djemaa el Fna, in the medina quarter of Marrakech Photo by Javier Chor
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OPPOSITE TOP. Décor at Dar Les Cigognes
OPPOSITE BOTTOM Spice in the souks of Marrakech, Morocco Photo by Pavan Trikutam
homes do not have an oven, so each area of the medina has its own public bakery. We now understand where those women with trays of dough on their shoulders have been heading. It’s a great service, but hot and unrelenting work.
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Next stop is the food market, where we can select our own live chicken for dinner or have a slab of meat cut specially for us. Being some distance from the coast, fish is not high on most menus, but there is an area devoted to seafood alongside the various butcheries. In the late afternoon, the market is largely deserted, with several butchers taking a snooze and others cleaning their knives or scooping away entrails. Huge baskets of fresh fruit and vegetables stand alongside sacks of spices in a rather shambolic way, but it all looks enticing. With no resources available for sprays and chemicals, all the produce is organic, local, and seasonal by necessity. Prickly pears (also known as Barbary fig or cactus fruit) are everywhere. They are a popular snack, sold from roadside stalls all over town, and people eagerly slurp them down by the dozen. We are privileged to see the making of warka. This wafer-thin pastry, similar to phyllo, is made by specialists and used for delicious savoury pastries. Balls of dough are expertly spread onto a hot plate and then whirled by hand into impossibly thin and delicate round sheets. The skill of the warka-maker is not to be underestimated. Next, it is on to the spice market, where tall cones of bright spices attract attention and jars full of coloured powders line shelves like a psychedelic apothecary. Ground spices of all varieties and combinations are available, or customers can select various roots and seeds and put together their own concoction, which will be ground for them right there and then. Cumin, saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg — these are all common spices used in Moroccan cooking, along with fresh parsley and coriander, dried fruit and nuts. There are also some unusual offerings — chunks of cobalt blue, threads of green, buttons of yellow — and argan oil is available everywhere, used for cooking as well as anointing. We drink tea sweetened with a special leaf, which is becoming a popular sugar substitute due to an increase in diabetes in the country. We sip eucalyptus crystals infused in hot water, the cleansing zing enabling us to smell the spices even better. Now it is time to get down to business — cooking in the kitchen of our riad with Pierre and Fouzia, the resident dada (female chef). A dada has a lifetime of cooking under her belt, starting out at an early age helping her mother, so it goes without saying that Fouzia knows what she is doing in a Moroccan kitchen. On the wall are photos of well-known international chefs who have graced this modest but well-equipped kitchen, privy to Fouzia’s culinary secrets and no doubt sharing their own. We don aprons and get stuck in with anticipation. Pierre is the
conductor, Fouzia the quietly capable lead player, and we two travellers perform our parts when required. Each dada has their own specialties and ways of operating, and we watch Fouzia in action with admiration and respect, taking everything in. Gentle, smiling Sanae pops in from her office every now and then to see how things are going and join in regular bouts of laughter. And what would we do without twinkly-eyed Amir, who appears like a genie to manage such emergencies as empty wine glasses? We begin by making couscous from scratch, realising, once we understand how easy it is to change semolina into appetizing couscous, that there is no need to ever use a packet of bland again. The secret lies in good preparation, rubbing, raking, soaking, steaming, sprinkling, oiling, smoothing, drying. The idea is to swell the grains with as much water as possible without creating a soggy, lumpy mess. A large flat bowl is required for rubbing and raking, and a couscoussier (a large double boilerstyle piece of cookware) for the cooking process. We learn that authentically raking hot couscous by hand requires palms similar to a firewalker’s soles. Using spoons is a rather safer alternative. The main dish is a chicken tagine, with the Moroccan staple of preserved lemons. We prepare the vegetables, blend spices, garlic and ginger, and it all goes into the pot with chicken pieces. A casserole pot can suffice, but a tagine is a far superior option. And don’t overdo the preserved lemon. While our tagine is cooking, we assemble four different salads. Moroccan salads are often warm, vegetable-based affairs, rather than the crisp lettuce variety. The tomatoes here are large, dense and heavy, and lend themselves perfectly to being grated — a much easier way to get the grunt out of a tomato than the usual blanching and peeling. Grated tomato goes into most of our salads, including the tomato confiture, its sweet blend of honey, orange blossom and aromatic spices nothing short of sublime. It’s a totally unexpected taste sensation from the humble tomato. A courgette and egg salad is next, producing a delicate and unusual combination. The roast capsicum salad is the perfect blend of sweet, sour and piquant tastes and the aubergine caviar (zaalouk) is sensational. When class is over, we unwind with a drink on the roof terrace and Amir then serves our own creations to us in the courtyard as candles flicker, the fountain trickles and the blue sky turns to night. The meal is magnificent, even if we do say so ourselves, and soon enough it is ‘midnight at the oasis’. The following day we make a trip to the High Atlas Mountains, where the Berbers have lived for thousands of years. After some fairly intensive and highly scenic walking, we have earned a decent lunch and at a Berber guest house in the village of Imlil we get just that. A traditional Kefta tagine (meatballs, egg and tomato) is served on the colourful terrace, way up high, where our views are not dissimilar to those of the eagles soaring above. Morocco is intoxicating in its many dimensions, the food being no exception. Spicy, colourful, fragrant and delicious, it encompasses all the senses: definitely very ‘Moorish’.
A SW E E T S I T U AT I O N Ice cream often evokes memories of slurping cones on the beach in summer, or for some, melted messes not eaten soon enough. Mixed into milkshakes, eaten in a ‘sandwich’ or served in a single scoop, this delightful dessert is most likely to have a fond place in just about everybody’s heart — and stomach. However, this most ancient of treats is being given a thoroughly modern upgrade at these six ice cream parlours around the world. Whether frozen with liquid nitrogen, reinvented without dairy or taking a DIY tack, this is ice cream, but not as we know it.
WORDS BY SCARLETT COOK
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ROCAMBOLESC, MADRID Six base flavours make up the ice cream offering at Rocambolesc, with plenty of toppings and extras available to create a unique treat. But the real draw is the variety of take-away options available, including books, fragrances and, of course, the all-important ice cream itself â€” a bestseller is the milk dessert kit.
All ice creams here are inspired by Jordi Roca desserts and maintain a direct relationship with his work: in this case, chocolate ice cream topped with popping candy, chocolate cookies, cocoa and chocolate sauce.
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S N OW P I C N I C , TO K YO Proving that ice cream is not just for kids, step inside this slick space, which takes the art of ice-cream making seriously. Customers watch their order being made before their eyes, wonder at the smoky liquid nitrogen and then while away the hours in this tranquil spot in central Tokyo.
Coffee lovers can indulge their addiction with the espresso gelato, and watch as the ice-cream experts play with liquid nitrogen to create a dangerously delicious masterpiece.
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COCONUT GLEN'S, HAWAI'I Go off the beaten track and be rewarded with organic, vegan ice cream served in coconuts at this sustainable parlour nestled in the Maui jungle. Coconut Glenâ€™s makes for the perfect pit stop to indulge in a pick-me-up before continuing on to explore the rest of this beautiful island.
Coconut Glen himself recommends Lilikoi (yellow passionfruit) flavour ice cream at his parlour: it is incredibly light and refreshing, with pops of lilikoi seeds spun inside.
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C H I N C H I N L A B S , LO N D O N At Chin Chin Labs, visitors can treat themselves to nitro ice cream that’s sure to cool them down on even the hottest of days. Classic favourite flavours, including vanilla and chocolate, are available, but there’s ice cream for all at this parlour, with warm, sandwich and vegan options too.
The smell of a Christmas tree translated into an ice cream flavour, and sandwiched between two handmade brownie cookies? That’s what’s on offer in the Christmas Tree Brownwich, Chin Chin’s signature flavour for the month of December.
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PEDDLER'S CREAMERY, LOS ANGELES We're dying to scoot into Peddlerâ€™s Creamery for their array of unique and imaginative flavours, as well as the option to hop onto a cycle and churn our own ice cream. Indulge in a scoop or two and help local causes, as Peddlerâ€™s has a strong focus on sustainability.
Mexican Chocolate is a long-time favourite: the rich chocolate made from Peruvian cocoa is balanced out with cinnamon and spices, giving a subtle spicy kick, and finished off with the sweet and bitter crunch of dark chocolate pieces.
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E I S D I E L E R , AU S T R I A Ice cream parlour by day, events space by night, this minimalist parlour can satisfy sweet tooths and cater to cultural appetites too. A range of flavours are complemented by black sugar cones, giving a sophisticated edge to this simplest of desserts.
Eisdieler is where taste explosions meet the ‘spirit of the times’: try a white chocolate and cannabis seed creation, with anti-aging berries and a vegan cone.
D E S T I N AT I O N S S TAYS Our writers and photographers share their thoughts on the places they stay as they journey across the globe.
POSTCARD PROMISES FULFILLED AT FOUR SEASONS BORA BORA Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora is a cultural paradise, blending the relaxation and tranquillity of the South Pacific with invigorating Polynesian dance, song, cuisine, textiles, seafaring and sport. Guests can lose themselves in the deep serenity of the location, immerse themselves in local customs, or set off on one of the island’s many adventures, from outrigger canoeing and deep-sea fishing to inland safaris.
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The resort offers 100 overwater bungalows and seven beachfront villas, all designed with thatched roofs and decorated with indigenous artwork. Four restaurants cater to a vast range of creative culinary experiences, providing Polynesian and French, contemporary and traditional favourites. There are options for open-air dining, private ocean-side dinners and Tahitian beach parties with musicians and fire dancers. Set upon Bora Bora’s coral atoll, away from the bustle of the mainland, the resort is a vast tropical grove, replete with coconut palms and pandanus trees. Meandering channels of pure turquoise lead to the
property’s main beach or to smaller lagoons, which create secluded private beaches just waiting to be discovered. Every vista is breathtaking, and all have been incorporated into the design of the resort: views of the open water and its vast sky contrast with the lush green of the mainland, capped by the towering monolithic peak of Mt Otemanu and the domed summit of Mt Pahia.
privacy ideal for couples.
The Spa at Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora is where the forces of energy and relaxation meet in harmony — where the surging, raw power of the ocean meets the lagoon’s tranquillity, capturing the unique balance that defines Bora Bora. With its soaring 22-metre ceiling, the spa provides an expansive field of view in all directions, surrounded by native trees and the fragrance of the kahaia blossom.
Led by marine biologist Oliver Martin, the Lagoon Sanctuary offers activities for guests of all ages, including snorkelling, coral grafting discovery, fish and octopus feeding, and discussions on Polynesian ecology.
Raised walkways, suspended above a plantation of pandanus trees, lead to the Spa’s seven air-conditioned treatment rooms. The spacious Kahaia Spa Suite, with glass floor suspended above the lagoon’s pristine waters, is the ultimate experience for guests, providing absolute
Nestled within the grounds of the resort is an inner lagoon, teeming with exotic marine life. The Ruahatu (God of the Ocean) Lagoon Sanctuary is more than just a spectacular snorkelling location, but also a research facility. It is a place where the marine environment thrives, furthering the delicate and wondrous ecosystem.
The sanctuary is home to over 100 colourful species, including octopus, eagle ray, lizardfish, Picasso trumpet fish, soldier fish, fire fish, unicorn fish, spotted puffer fish, parrotfish, peacock damselfish, clownfish and butterfly fish. Sea urchins, anemones and shrimp are also present, along with many other native species of marine life. Visit fourseasons.com/borabora
VILLA & PALAIS DE L'O MOROCCO
Villa de L’O is luxury in every sense of the word, the decor a charming blend of French and Moroccan design aesthetics in calming neutral tones. An opulent and romantic French vibe mingles perfectly with all that symbolises riad-dwelling: the internal central courtyard, palms and pillars, birdsong and greenery. Aptly, the rooms here all begin with the letter 'O' and each has a different layout. We enjoyed the splendour of the spacious Octane suite, its magnificent sweeping views of the ocean engendering a resort feel. In traditional riad style, delicious Moroccan breakfasts and predinner cocktails are served on the panoramic roof terrace. The views are astounding. Situated in the perfect spot, just inside a medina gate, access to all that Essaouira offers couldn’t be easier. For those craving pure tranquillity, the beautiful rooms and the intimate hotel spaces will deliver that in spades. Palais de L’O offers a slightly different, though equally luxurious experience. On the fringes of the city, nestled amongst palm trees about 15 minutes from the centre of Marrakech, this place is a real retreat in similar neutral tones to Villa de L’O, with original mosaic tiles providing pops of colour. Each room is gorgeous, and I was rather taken with the various ceilings. The pool area is a focal point, perfect for lounging the day away under warm Moroccan skies, and a pedicure at the sunken spa/ hammam is a relaxing and purposeful experience. With plenty of activities on offer in the vicinity, it is ideal for couples wanting to savour some time out from busy lives. I would head back to either Unik Palais property in a heartbeat.
It would be hard to envisage a better base than Hotel Villa Real for my much-anticipated first visit to Madrid. Within walking distance of the best of this city’s offerings, the location is, quite simply, perfect. Being set on a peaceful plaza in the midst of this busy but compact city gives a sense of solace, yet the must-see attractions and busy squares are so close at hand. Orientation is easy. No transport required, just walking shoes. Classy, but not flashy, and elegant in the most refined way, the Villa Real is a hotel in true classic style. It doubles up as a museum, with an authentic art and artefact collection. The Syrian mosaics are superb and taking breakfast amongst the beautifully showcased Apulian vases whilst sampling the wide array of food fit for royalty is a wonderful way to start a new day. We enjoyed the luxury of a Superior Room, with his-and-hers washbasins, plush towels and a balcony off the sitting area overlooking the square, out towards the Prado Museum and the beautiful El Retiro gardens. As twilight arrives, street performers come to life from impossible poses. A stone’s throw away is the lovely Plaza Santa Ana with its lively bars and restaurants. On our final night we dined at the hotel restaurant East 47, billed as ‘Mediterranean cuisine with a touch of New York’. The surroundings are contemporary yet intimate, with a pop art flavour. The menu offers tapas as well as traditional dishes with an unconventional twist. My chicken burger was uniquely presented with a deliciously subtle curry flavour, and service was exemplary, as it is throughout the hotel. Hotel Villa Real offers understated 5-star comfort, with efficient, friendly and professional staff and everything a traveller needs, right on the doorstep.
Visit villadelo.com Visit hotelvillareal.com
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Part of the Unik Palais hotel group, these properties offer sumptuous and relaxing environments where one can truly retreat from the hustle and bustle of the world and experience the essence of Moroccan flair.
VILLA REAL MADRID
A HIP SCENE AT SOFITEL BRISBANE CENTRAL Located within walking distance of Brisbane’s city centre, the Sofitel Brisbane Central is a luxurious gateway to Queensland, Australia’s ‘Sunshine State’. Colourful and cosmopolitan, the Sofitel sits amid Brisbane’s tree- and park-lined streets, offering access to a relaxed city that is rapidly developing a reputation for fine cuisine, fashion, art, and theatre, with a calendar full of unique world class events that draw visitors from around the globe.
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Refurbished in 2005, 2008 and 2012 to become a key part of the Sofitel Luxury Hotels Collection, the Sofitel Brisbane Central offers a blend of sophistication and elegance, combined with a touch of l’art de recevoir. Its 433 rooms include 101 clubrooms and 22 luxurious suites. The first international hotel to open in Brisbane, it has long been established as the city’s top venue for meetings, conferences and gala events. For more intimate gatherings, the Sofitel Brisbane Central offers Privé249, which boasts a superb, fine-dining menu that features French-inspired modern
Australian cuisine. Privé249 also offers guests an extensive wine list featuring local, national and international libations that can be enjoyed while guests take in exquisite views of the city skyline. It is complemented by the Thyme2 restaurant, which delivers an inspiring dining experience featuring the theatre and movement of an open plan, interactive kitchen. At ground level, the Cuvée Lounge Bar indulges discerning champagne tastes with both vintage and non-vintage labels from 20 of the world's great champagne houses. By day, the lounge is a discreet meeting place; by night, contemporary live entertainment combines with subdued lighting to create the perfect venue for a decadent sub-tropical soiree. Nearby, the Harlequin Jack Lounge and Whistlestop bustle with both corporate guests and locals, while on Level 30, the exclusive Club Sofitel lets guests spoil their senses with an artistic tower of gastronomic delights and signature French pastries.
Gymnasium and Stephanie’s Spa Retreat, the Sofitel Brisbane Central is also a short stroll to the retail hub of Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall, and 1 kilometre from the eclectic designers of ‘The Valley’, a wellknown and vibrant district for live music, fashion and dining. The hotel also offers ready access to acclaimed riverside dining and weekend craft markets on the Eagle Street Pier, while nearby the Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland Cultural Centre, and the Performing Arts Centre cater for a range of other cultural pursuits and tastes. Alternatively, guests can explore the marine sanctuaries on the city’s doorstep, watch the city lights from atop the Story Bridge or visit the world’s largest koala sanctuary at Lone Pine. The Sofitel Brisbane Central is located 19 kilometres from Brisbane International Airport and the Airtrain located directly beneath the hotel offers transport to and from Brisbane Domestic and International Airports every 20 minutes. Visit sofitelbrisbane.com.au
Catering for other senses with the soFit
WANGZ HOTEL SINGAPORE
Ideally located alongside the Chao Phraya River, the Chatrium Hotel provides the perfect base from which to explore Bangkok. Entering the property’s impressive lobby, check-in is very smooth and professional, and before long I am accommodated in a spacious room with amazing views of the river and city from either the bedroom’s floor-to-ceiling windows, or a substantial balcony.
For a dose of sophisticated luxury, a treat for the senses and an experience to savour, Wangz is a family-owned boutique hotel full of surprises. It has a contemporary and somewhat industrial aesthetic, with clever aluminium cladding on the exterior to reduce internal glare and add privacy.
Rooms come fully equipped with a small kitchen, living space, and full bathroom. I am greeted with a delicious fruit platter, and the cool air conditioning provides welcome relief from the heat outside. Chatrium offers a Business Centre and Club Lounge for those who need to get a little work done, and for those looking for a workout, the Fitness Centre is well-equipped. The swimming pool, again overlooking the city and river, surrounded by tall palm trees and deck chairs, is a popular area in the late afternoons. Further relaxation can be found at the hotel’s Nemita Spa. There are many dining options, from the River Barge Restaurant’s international à la carte and buffet menus, to the elevated Silver Waves’ Cantonese cuisine and Pier 28’s alfresco riverside favourites — all making the most of the river location — while the Lobby Lounge, Pool Bar and Treats Gourmet offer more quick and casual options. Staff at Chatrium are consistently excellent, always smiling and greeting, including the cleaning staff. I am frequently asked if everything was to satisfaction, and everyone was incredibly helpful with organising travel plans and answering questions. Transport is easy as can be: a pleasant shuttle boat is provided to the nearest MRT (Skyrail) station, where visitors can then connect to head to the big shopping malls or other places of interest. As taxis are so reasonably-priced, it’s not a problem to take one direct from the hotel to desired locations either. Visit chatrium.com
Arrival and check-in is swift and friendly, and all the public spaces showcase unique artworks by an array of renowned artists from around the region and the globe. Step out of the lift on each floor and be greeted with one work of art after another, about which the staff is happy to share information. The hotel’s distinctive circular construction means no two rooms have the same layout: each one is completely individual, and all bigger than a standard hotel room. We enjoy the comforts of a Canopy room, and its amenities and aesthetics tick every box. Bathrooms are spacious, with floor-to-ceiling glass, rain shower, fine toiletries and little extra touches. Fabrics are sumptuous and bed linen is top quality. Each room has its own colour palette with bedding, artwork and furnishings all beautifully coordinated. Nectar restaurant is the hub of the hotel, with chairs in bright tones and plenty of plants and flowers. Service is efficient and comes with a smile. The buffet breakfast is a great kick-start to a busy day, with a wide selection of food to suit every diet and appetite. For a fine-dining experience, The Rabbit Stash, on the top floor, is the perfect place for a pre-dinner cocktail and the special degustation menu — a beautifully presented selection of dishes with delicious fresh Asian flavours, great wine and impeccable service. Only a 5-minute walk to the subway and on many bus routes, Wangz is a hop, skip and jump to all that Singapore offers, yet is a haven away from the skyscrapers and crowds. Visit wangzhotel.com
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A CINDERELLA STORY AT KAURI CLIFFS Want to feel like Cinderella on the evening of the ball — with an extended curfew of a day or two? Prance around a mansion on 2400 hectares of land overlooking the Pacific and indulge in wine and canapes with the assistance of a sommelier whose knowledge is astounding. Prince Charming had better be in one of the rooms next door, so we never have to leave the comforts of living like royalty.
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In fact, royalty is not too far off as to the type of international, big-spending audience that Kauri Cliffs attracts. The ones that come and stay for a week or more. The types who want to experience the best that New Zealand has to offer, in utmost luxury. Oh, and did we mention, Kauri Cliffs has an ‘Owner's Cottage’, allowing guests to stay in the very place millionaire Julian Robertson does when he visits his ‘pet project’. Situated at the centre of the golf course, the Lodge acts as the focal point from which all things radiate. The lodge’s design is a reflection of Georgian architecture
from New Zealand’s pioneering era. It features totara wood floors, custom lighting and wrap-around verandas, from where we can marvel at the magnificent golf course and ocean that unfold before us. The surrounding areas feature a working farm, three private beaches with exclusive activities to match, bush walks to a waterfall and a 700-year-old kauri tree, along with the expected pool, hot tubs and tennis courts. Guest suites are nestled at the end of a totara forest with private decks that have ocean views. The style of each guest room mimics that of a private residence, rather than a hotel room, making guests feel right at home. This is emphasised with attention to detail in furnishings throughout the space. Dinner is served at the lodge with a menu created nightly, led by Executive Chef Barry Frith. A set menu is on offer and can be paired with a selection of wines.
Local produce, seafood and New Zealand’s finest beef and lamb are served. Don’t forget to bring a formal jacket — old school elegance is embraced here. The cliff-top course was constructed to harmonise with the natural features of the land. Fifteen holes on the par-72, 6510-metre course offer stunning views of the Pacific, with 6 played alongside cliffs which plunge into the sea. After a long day pretending we are Tiger Woods, it is always a pleasure to visit the spa. A meander through the totara forest leads to a tranquil open-air spa area that makes us feel like the forest is part of the spa itself. The indoor-outdoor flow created throughout the space washes worries away, with the music of native flora and fauna making its way through. Jump into the lap pool pre-treatment and further relax muscles in the hot tub and sauna post-treatment. Visit kauricliffs.com
HOTEL YEHUDA JERUSALEM
Flying through stunning mountain ranges into Queenstown sets the scene for a holiday to remember. We picked up our rental car and headed straight to Eichardt’s Hotel, situated at the head of Lake Wakatipu, in the heart of the bustling café and restaurant precinct.
Set on the Massuah Hills in southern Jerusalem, Hotel Yehuda is still a great base from which to explore the city, while also offering a resort-like escape. A short taxi ride from the Biblical Zoo train station, the hotel offers a way to avoid the usual bus trip from Tel Aviv into the central city — visitors can instead enjoy a scenic and smooth train trip along the outskirts, easing themselves into their time in Jerusalem.
At check-in, any worries about leaving the car to be ticketed were assuaged with the hotel’s valet service. From this moment on I started to relax into the holiday. We were led outside the foyer and along the waterfront to an architecturally designed apartment with stunning views across the lake into the bay. On entering the room, our 6-year-old son piped up: “Where is the T.V.?” With a magic touch, it appeared in James Bond fashion from behind a painting above the fireplace. More amazement followed as he walked into the bathroom and discovered the spa bath. But first things first: we had to devour our cheese board and champagne whilst baking in the sunshine on the deck as the famous Earnslaw steam ship cruised past. Hungry for a further bite, we headed back over to the main hotel and ordered a selection of tapas. Short work was made of the rabbit stew and matching pinot noir, and being aficionados we were suitably impressed with the seafood chowder. After polishing off five sharing plates, we headed up to the den for a night cap. The room was huge and stately: I could just imagine being there in the 1860s when it was first opened. Lord of the manor. Retiring to our apartment, Master Six finally had his wish come true: he wallowed in the spa bath for over an hour, making faces with the bubbles. His final words before bed: “We should live here, Dad.” Agreed. Visit eichardts.com
My Deluxe Room is elegantly furnished in charcoal, beige and white, with rich, embossed and embroidered fabrics adding a sense of luxury. A contemporary bathroom — all white and chrome — is given a special touch with flowers and greenery. Walking out onto the expansive balcony, the panoramic view of the surrounding Jerusalem hills is spectacular — this is the perfect place to enjoy a morning coffee, brewed in-room, or an evening wine. The lobby lounge and coffee shop share similar views, with the added bonus of offering snacks, light meals, and refreshments. However, it is the pool area which draws me the most: while families play in the water, I lounge poolside, enjoying a good book accompanied by lunch and a perfectly quenching watermelon slushy. The hotel is also a popular venue for events, with several conference rooms as well as banquet halls and terraces often utilised for bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, and other celebrations, which take advantage of the property’s professional light and sound systems. Due to its combination of a sublime environment with easy access from the city, Hotel Yehuda is the ideal retreat for business or pleasure. Visit byh.co.il
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Mövenpick Resort Petra takes the experience of visiting this extraordinary place to the next level. Situated right at the entrance to the World Heritage Site, the resort allows for the best of both worlds: cultural exploration and creature comforts.
Heading south of Aqaba’s main centre, ports and barren beaches give way to a resort enclave sandwiched between rust-brown mountains that fade into a haze and the contrasting azure of the Red Sea. Looking out over Mövenpick Resort & Spa Tala Bay’s lush green gardens and 3000 square metres of pool space after days spent wandering the Jordanian desert, the impression is nothing short of an oasis.
Stepping into the lobby, a mosaic fountain, mirrored by an intricately-carved wooden ceiling and light fixture in geometric designs, establishes a calming and sophisticated atmosphere. The lobby opens onto a tall atrium, opulently furnished. With a real sense of historical glamour, seats here are snapped up quickly. I take the opportunity while I can and enjoy a casual lunch. The food is on point and the service incredibly warm. The room design is equally elegant — carpet in beige and cream swirls, reminiscent of waves or seashells, sets off neutral and sage furnishings. Touches of the iconic colours of the surrounding environment — red, purple, blue and burnt orange — can be seen in the abstract art on the walls. Exhausted after my first day at the site, I opt for cheerfullydelivered room service. However, Al Baraka Tea Room, with its Lawrence of Arabia theme, is great for an afternoon tea, and Al Maqa-ad Bar is the place to be for drinks. Al Iwan offers Mediterranean-inspired fine dining, while Al Saraya hosts casual buffets. I drop in to the latter for breakfast, and the beautiful staff are supremely helpful, introducing me to the regional specialty of foul, a fava bean-based dish bound to provide ample fuel for a big day exploring Petra. The pool is also essential. I head into Petra in the morning, return mid-day for a dip and a poolside snack, then stroll, refreshed, back into the site for the late afternoon. My last stop is the Al Ghadeer Roof Garden, with its views of the surrounding hills and sunsets — the perfect place to reflect on the experience of a lifetime.
The contemporary complex offers hotel rooms and family suites, tastefully decorated in earth and muted marine tones reflecting the surrounding environment. Artwork references wave formations and swaying palm trees, and a mosaic-influenced outdoor light fitting provides a touch of Byzantine style. While the kids’ pool and waterslide offers one kind of fun, I opt instead to lounge glamorously by the more adult-oriented infinity pools steps from the beach. Though it would be easy enough to spend days enjoying the resort itself, the Red Sea beckons, and the in-house diving and watersports teams are on hand to assist. Sinai Divers operates day and sunset cruises, but speedboat rides out to snorkel the various reefs further up the coast are ideal in between sessions by the pool. Harmattan Watersports offers other ways of experiencing the coastline: I forgo tubing for the jet ski, skimming the blue surface at speed (and occasionally ending up back in the water). After all this excitement, Zara Spa is the perfect place to relax. Facial and body treatments make appropriate use of Rivage’s Dead Sea salt and mud products — sourced from the region’s other famous body of water, just a couple of hours’ drive away. Day passes are also available, allowing guests to access the spa’s extensive facilities. Finally, a visit to the in-house salon, and one can walk out looking as good on the outside as the Mövenpick experience makes us feel on the inside.
Visit mövenpick.com Visit mövenpick.com
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